A Cry for Help

Wow. It’s hard to call yourself a “blogger” with a straight face when the time between posts stretches out over a month! Turns out that trying to blog in addition to a full-time job, a toddler, and baby #2 on the way is harder than one might think!

I’ve been remiss in not keeping up with my Geek Chic of the Week posts; I’m going to try to get back on the wagon this Friday with an article on RSS.

One thing that we are trying to more clearly define both the audience and the universe of topics we cover. I’d love it if we could draw in readers from a variety of technical levels, but one of the things we also want to provide is a safe space for people to ask “dumb questions” and not feel dumb about it. So, as we try to come up with appropriate topics to write about, we’d love to hear from you:

What topics would you like to see covered on the Geek Girls Guide?

Email me at meghan [at] geekgirlsguide [dot] com
and let me know what kind of things you’d like to hear Nancy and/or I ramble on about. And keep an eye out for my RSS post on Friday. Now that I’ve said publicly that I’m going to do it, maybe I actually will!

Kill Your Television

Not like this is new news, but every day I’m reminded more and more that traditional television (and with it, traditional advertising) is dying.

For me, it started around 2002 with Netflix, which killed any need I had for cable TV. Why pay for HBO or Showtime when I could rent The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Sex and the City and gorge myself for hours in one sitting? The years since then have produced an avalanche of other factors. This past year, an EyeTV and an HD antenna on our roof meant that my husband and I could snag HD-quality shows off the airwaves, record them to a MacMini (hooked up to a projector) and watch them whenever we felt like it. Add ABC and NBC’s websites (and my discovery that the Firefox extension AdBlock Plus zapped ads inside the ABC episode player) and there was no reason at all to give a rip about stupid ol’ networks and their stupid ol’ commercials.

Hulu sealed the deal, allowing me instant access to shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (not to mention discovering oldies-but-goodies like The Bob Newhart Show and full-length films like Ice Age for my kid). While they have ads that are immune to the powers of AdBlock Plus, they are relatively unobtrusive and don’t require any “click to continue” nonsense. The frosting on the cake is the growing number of self-produced and online-distributed shows like 3Way and We Need Girlfriends, the latter of which has been picked up by CBS. (We can only hope it enjoys a better fate than the pile of suck called Quarterlife, which NBC picked up and then promptly dropped when it suffered worse ratings than the XFL.)

And how about the glorious day when I discovered Best Week Ever was a free podcast that I could sync to my iPhone along with TV shows I had purchased from iTunes? I haven’t experienced a boring airline flight since.

And yet, with all of that, the networks seem to be in utter denial about what’s happening. The CW made a huge gaffe this year when, in an attempt to “force” more viewers to watch Gossip Girl on the network, they decided not to make post-strike episodes available on their website. Presumably, this decision was made to get better ratings: the show was crazy popular on the CW site and iTunes, but not on the dusty old television. Surprise, surprise, pulling the full episodes from the site had almost no effect on ratings. After tasting the freedom of watching a show online whenever you felt like it, who the hell was going to sit down on the date and time the network decided and watch it on TV?!

Their decision was understandable in the sense that nobody seems to have figured out how to monetize online entertainment in the same way that they have on broadcast, and the CW presumably makes less when I buy the episode from iTunes than if I watch it on TV where they can sell ads. But how long can that last? Viewers aren’t flocking back to television; they are (like me) tossing their TVs and snuggling up to their computers.

So, my big question — and maybe some media buyer out there can answer this for me — is why? How can this not translate into better revenues for online advertising, or some new model for monetizing the distribution of online entertainment? Especially considering how damn trackable and relatively cheap it is compared to a TV commercial? At some point, won’t the old model crumble under its own weight? And can’t we come up with something better than just aping the existing broadcast model of interrupting the show with X-second spots?

While I love to pick on the ad industry (and bite the hand that fed me: I was raised by a copywriter and a print project manager), I don’t argue that there has to be a way to pay for this entertainment. I’m willing to watch ads if I’m getting a show for free (except during Lost. Sorry, ABC.), and I’m willing to pay iTunes to have Mad Men at my fingertips. I’m not the kind of girl that has illicit late-night encounters with BitTorrent. But — all that being said — advertisers need to find a way to reach us without assaulting us (I’m looking at YOU, movie theaters! I paid for my damn seat, don’t make me watch a car commercial before the show. Or how about TBS and their ridiculous “pausing the show for an ad” trick? See, that’s what drives us into the arms of AdBlock Plus whenever we have the option!) and consumers need to be realistic about their expectations around what is free.

But, I know that it’s unlikely any of this will change. The genie is out of the bottle: I have to read ads in bathroom stalls and my neighbors are all trading pirated files on Limewire. But, it sure would be nice if we could call a truce and allow more on-demand access to entertainment while also fairly compensating the businesses and people that create it. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy insane Nissan product placements while watching Heroes on and wait for this all to shake out.

UPDATE: Well, well, well. I was listening to MPR over the weekend and On The Media had a story about this very topic!

“…the most ambitious aspect of NBC’s Olympic plan might be its push to change the way advertisers pay TV networks for ads. NBC will use the Olympics to attempt to show the world that, despite gloomy reports for the future of the networks, their audience hasn’t abandoned them at all. They’ve just migrated to other platforms.

So, says, Grant Robertson, media reporter for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, NBC will be keeping meticulous track of the numbers of people watching the Olympics across all platforms, online, DVR, cell phones – and both people who still sit in front of the TV. And they’ll combine those numbers in a brand new way.”

It will be fascinating to watch this develop and see if and how it affects the future of advertising [cue futuristic music].

UPDATE #2: According to New York magazine’s Daily Intel, Gossip Girl is returning to the interwebs.

My favorite quote from their article? “As it turned out, illegal access to GG episodes increased by 45 percent when the CW stopped streaming it.”


Geek Chic of the Week: iPhone

On the day that Apple releases both the 3G and the 2.0 software, it seems appropriate to extol the virtues of one of my favorite new tools of the past year: the iPhone. As a relatively early adopter (when I can afford to be), I’ve had the phone since September 2007. And man, this thing keeps getting better and better.

My big gripe when it first came out was that I couldn’t customize my Home view (I didn’t care about links to Stocks or YouTube and wanted to get them out of my way). That’s now fixed. Not only can you rearrange the app icons, you can move them onto one of three homescreens and easily add shortcuts to WebApps (and now Apps) that you use more often.

From the very beginning, though, one of the best things about the iPhone is that there is almost no need for a user manual. My old phone (a Nokia 3650) was full of awesome cutting-edge features when I bought it, but I never used half of them because trying to interface with the thing was not intuitive. With the iPhone, things like merging two or more calls togther (which can be confusing as hell on other phones) are so easy it’s almost funny.

Another thing I didn’t like that when I took the phone to San Francisco last October it wasn’t smart enough to tell me where I was on a map (Before the trip I bookmarked spots I knew I’d be—the hotel, convention center, etc. so I could use the search feature to find coffee or food nearby. Pain in the butt.). That’s now fixed, too. And boy does it work! On a recent trip to France and Italy I used the “Pinpoint Me” feature several times on the streets of Paris. That, combined with a quick search on the word “Boulangerie” helped me score a sandwich in my time of need (It’s all about the saucisson, baby).

I shut down most of my email accounts while I was overseas to prevent myself from thinking about work, but kept one private account active on the phone and was able to get (and send) photos back and forth with my husband and child. Nothing cures a little homesickness like a picture of your sweet baby in the bathtub! The process of setting up the email accounts on my phone was really easy, and it appears that one of the biggest shortfalls of email on the iPhone (the inability to open attachments) is resolved, at least partially so, in today’s release. Depending on how connected I need to be at any given time, it’s simple to set the phone to check email often (every 15 minutes) or only manually. I’ve tweaked these settings many times depending on where I am and what kind of urgent messages I’m expecting. My one gripe about email on the iPhone is that there doesn’t appear to me much in the way of Junk filters. And it’s pretty annoying to get Viagra spam in the middle of Tuscany.

Before my recent trip to Europe, I downloaded Handbrake, converted two full-length movies and watched them on my iPhone during the flight. I also sync up unwatched TV shows and podcasts from iTunes (VH1’s Best Week Ever is the best free video podcast ever) and watch them on airplanes, in waiting rooms, or in any other boring locations where I want to be passively entertained. I can also keep up with This American Life podcasts and sync a few iTunes playlists up for audio entertainment. Even with my sad little 8GB first-generation version, I have yet to run out of room. (Except for that one time when I tried to put all of Gossip Girl, Season 1 on there. But that was just silly of me.)

Apps and WebApps
Again, when I first got the phone, you were limited to just what was on it. With the introduction of WebApps a few months ago, and Apps today, the opportunities to customize the phone seem nearly endless. Whether productiviy, finances, gaming—you can really make the phone your own.

Too Good to Be True?
So, what’s bad about it? First, you have to be disciplined about how available you allow yourself to be with this thing. It can keep you so connected that you can forget that sometimes you should be disconnected. Second, AT&T. Depending on where you live, having AT&T as your service provider may make you want to kill yourself. I’ve never had so many dropped calls in all my life. Third, the EDGE network is slow as molasses, but if you are in an area where you can jump on a wi-fi network with the phone, life is good. And the new 3G phones are apparently very zippy.

As for billing, I’ve heard horror stories about people receiving insane bills on their iPhones after international travel. Jury’s still out on this one; I signed up for an International Data plan during the month I was gone, and I turned off data roaming. I’ll update this post when my bill arrives to see if I did everything right, or if I have to take a second job at Starbucks to pay for my overseas usage.

Overall, I have to say: believe the hype. Not to sound like a total Apple dork, but they really got it right with this phone. Slowly but surely, this thing has become an accessory that I can’t leave home without. Pretty much all I need is my wallet and the iPhone. And, rumor has it, I might not need that wallet for much longer, either.

Oh, and one more thing: did you know this thing can make phone calls?

I Ain’t Much for Book Learnin’

Ooh! Ooh! Our very first reader question!

Whitney in Minneapolis wrote:
“I’m a young female who just recently got into the world of social/interactive marketing. I must say I think I’ve found that one thing I could do for the rest of my life. I was wondering though, without there being a specific degree in this would it be better to go the journalism route, or the IT route? I have an AAS degree in music business already, but I’d like to get your point of view on this. I was also browsing your “Sites We Dig” section and noticed the Clockwork link goes to the Future Tense site, not sure if that was intentional or a misdirected link.”

Um, first of all, I totally fixed that link. Then I fired myself for being so stupid that I screwed up the link to the company I work for. Don’t tell my boss!

Second, I wouldn’t worry about the degree. I have a degree in Journalism, but that’s because when I was young and foolish I thought I wanted to be a copywriter and work at an ad agency. (Not to mention the fact that in those days they had a special tutorial on how to use this new thing called “email” so getting a degree related to computers that wasn’t computer science was impossible.) Even now, with technology as pervasive as it is, higher education hasn’t really caught up. So, as you’ve noticed, there’s not really a good degree program for people that want to work in Interactive. I mean, there is if you want to be a programmer or a designer (kind of) but there’s not a clear path if you’re like me and end up going into strategy/project management type stuff. And it sounds like you are on a similar path doing strategy and planning-type stuff along with content development.

In the past I considered doing a degree in human-computer interaction (when I was thinking about focusing my career more specifically on IA) but in retrospect I think I might have found that approach a bit dry. So, my advice to you would be to continue doing what you’re doing now which is gaining real experience working with clients, websites and social media. When it comes right down to it, a degree is nice but most people making hiring decisions in this industry are going to look at experience (either as a portfolio of sites you’ve worked on, or a successful employment history where you can demonstrate how your role on the project had a positive effect on its outcome).

I believe that to truly be successful in Interactive, you have to love it. You have to live it, breathe it, consume it, and create it. You have to enjoy doing it even before you start getting paid for it and most of what makes you good at it isn’t something you can learn from a book. I don’t think that’s necessarily true for other careers. (Accounting, for example.) But, the best Interactive people I have met — even programmers in many cases — are those who are largely self-taught. The ones who stay up late at night staring into a glowing monitor just for the love of the game. Because those same people are the ones who continue to learn and stay on top of what’s new long after dust has started collecting on the frame of their diploma. And in an industry that moves as fast as this, those are the people you want working next to you.

Geek Chic of the Week: Online Calendars

One of the best things about technology is when you can use it to actually make life easier. As a woman who works full-time and has a two-year-old (and another on the way!), I appreciate finding things that streamline all the thankless crap I have to get done. (And some days, some of it really feels like thankless crap, doesn’t it?)

So, as a sort of counterpoint to my Technology Purge post, I’m going to focus on one tool a week that makes my life easier and how I implemented it. And if I run out of things I actually use, I guess I’ll just focus on something cool once a week. So, welcome to a little thing I’m calling “Geek Chic of the Week.”

This week’s focus: Online Calendars

The Problem

As a “married, with children” I have to keep track of lots of stuff to do: meetings and travel for work, doctor’s appointments for Kid #1, pre-natal appointments for Kid #2, family obligations with three sets of grandparents, social events, commitments for a business I help my grandmother with, and wondering when my husband will be working or out of town (he’s self-employed and his schedule varies).

You get the idea.

So, in the old world of stone tablets and Brontosaurus burgers, if someone invited me to something I’d have to look
at a paper calendar on the wall or at a DayTimer, wonder if there was anything
going on that hadn’t been written on the calendar for some reason, then
wonder if that was the same night of that business trip I had to take
for work, then bust open my laptop (or wait until I got to the office
if I was working on a desktop machine) to check my Outlook calendar,
figure out if we could go or not…meanwhile, by this time I’ve
probably lost the original invitation. Or, I’d make plans and
then my husband would remind me that that’s the same night as his
documentary club meeting. Or he’d get an email about an event and forget to do anything about it, resulting in us missing someone’s birthday party. Arg! Too much time and too much thought
wasted on something that should be quick and easy.

The Solution

I manage four calendars with Google: Work, Personal, Family, and Kid. My husband has two: Personal and Work. We both set up our calendars as private, but gave the other person access to view them (in the case of the Family calendar, we can both add/edit events as well). What this means is that I can add things to the Family calendar and know that it will show up on my husband’s calendar (so that he’s not surprised when he’s expected to be at his mother-in-law’s house for dinner). He knows that he can put social events or work commitments on his calendar and I’ll see that he’s busy. And, since we both sometimes travel for work, we each have a clear idea of when the other one will be in or out of town.

Perhaps this sounds a bit anal-retentive, but the power of a solid system like this is that — after the few minutes it took to get it all set up — it takes almost no thought to maintain. Someone invites us to something, I pull up my calendar, see the entire universe of commitments that we have (work and personal), make a decision about how to respond to the new invitation, RSVP, add it to our calendar…and move on with life. Even better? For $25, I bought a plugin called BusySync (It’s a Mac app. Sorry, PC users!) which syncs up my iCal and Google calendars. If my laptop is offline, I can add something to iCal and next time I’m online everything magically syncs with Google (therefore updating my husband on the new event). Keeping everything synced in iCal also means that everytime I sync up my iPhone I have a portable view of our calendar (and mobile pop-up reminders on events if I’ve set a reminder on the event).

I’m a geek married to a geek, so this system works like a charm and was easy
to implement. But, even if you’re single or your significant other
prefers to work on stone tablets, there’s got to be a way to streamline the calendars you manage and make life just a tiny bit easier.

Your Homework

So, how can you start experimenting with a similar system of your own? I’ve outlined for you the specific tools I use — but I have no reason to “sell” you on any of them. They may or may not work for you and your life. But the overall approach of finding some piece of technology to make your calendaring life easier should. With that in mind, here’s the list of generic next steps for you to take. Go ahead and see what tools you can find to do the job! (And please email me, or comment on this post if you find something fabulous to share with the rest of us!)


I chose Google (And I’d recommend it. Heck, it’s free so you can always try it and delete the account if you hate it!), but you can choose whatever tool you want. The important thing is to choose ONE thing where you can put everything you need to do. But, don’t commit to it right off the bat: give it a test run with just one calendar or a handful of events. If it doesn’t work for you, find something else. Make sure you like how it works, what it does, and how it looks. Yes, how it looks. If you don’t like how something looks, it doesn’t matter how well it functions. You won’t enjoy using it. The key to finding something that will work long term is finding something you enjoy using.

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to use just one calendar. But, if you’re like me and use a calendar for work that is dictated by the company you work for, the next best thing is to see if there’s a way to publish a feed that you can subscribe your central calendar to. I currently utilize the third-best option: I export events from my work calendar into my central calendar on a regular basis (once or twice a week, depending on how much meeting flux is going on). Anyway, the goal is to use the fewest possible calendars. If that means having two, so be it.  But do as much finagling as you can to see how to get everything in one place. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and it’s worth the effort to get it set up right at the beginning.


While you want everything in one place, you don’t want everything to look the same. When I look at a bunch of entries on a calendar, I want to know at a glance which things are mine, which things are my kid’s, which are fun, which are work, etc. So, find a way to categorize all the stuff you’re keeping track of in whatever central calendar you’re using. Maybe it’s by person (Mom, Dad, Kid) or by location (Work, Home, Cabin) or some other criteria. Doesn’t matter. Use what makes sense for you.

Make sure you can filter certain calendars out of view if you’re trying to focus on just one or two categories to make a decision about attending something. My husband subscribes to my Work calendar, but he almost never has it turned on in his calendar view. There’s just too many meetings and crap he doesn’t care about. But, if he’s wondering if I’ll be able to pick up the baby from daycare, he knows he can toggle it on to see what my day is like and if I’m stuck in a meeting until 5pm or free to go.

Lastly, don’t be shy about creating extra calendars for stuff you don’t know what to do with. I do have one extra calendar I haven’t mentioned yet called Events of Interest. If I hear about some random event that triggers me to think, “Hm, that might be kind of fun,” but I’m not ready to commit it to my official calendar, I put it on Events of Interest. If I’m looking for something to do, that’s my reminder: “Oh yeah, it’s Family Day at MIA today. Let’s go check it out!” Again, maybe for you that sounds like a nightmare. For me, I like knowing that if I hear about something interesting I don’t have to remember it in my brain; I can throw it on my Events of Interest calendar and I’ll see it later if I’m looking for something to do. Think about what you can keep track of on a calendar that will decrease your stress level. And then try it.


Share your setup with the people who need to see it; where possible, give them access to make edits so you don’t get stuck doing all of it. My husband can add stuff to our Family calendar, so if his mom invites us to something he doesn’t send it to me, he just puts it on the calendar. If you have kids that are older and managing their own schedules, see if you can get them to use the same tool and give you access to view a calendar. If they want to keep some things private, they can always have a personal calendar that you don’t have access to (which contains the events that they don’t want you seeing for some reason) and another calendar that they give you access to for sports practice, music lessons, babysitting gigs, etc. If you’ve got a kid with a driver’s license, or are a one-car household, you could even set up a calendar for the car so that people can schedule who’s using it on which days.


The last step, once your calendar empire is humming along smoothly, is to figure out how and where you can automate your system to take it to the next level of ease and technological sophistication. For me, it was using BusySync to add and view events when I’m offline, and syncing everything with my iPhone so I’ve got it in my hands no matter where I am. For you? Who knows. Finding out where these technology explorations will take you is half the fun.

Now, Go. Start Clicking.

Identify your needs when it comes to calendar management; you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to find a tool that will make it easier. And maybe even a little fun. The key is: experiment. See what you like, and what you don’t. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll go back to the way you’re doing it now. No harm done! The best thing that can happen? You might find that technology has lightened your load. And that, sisters, is what it’s all about.

Beauty and the Brain

Part of what I hope comes out of this Geek Girls project is getting more women and girls interested in technology, whatever that might look like. For some, maybe it’s as simple as learning what RSS is. For others, maybe it means being encouraged to go get a degree in Computer Science. The point is, I hope that it lessens the intimidation factor for a group of people that can sometimes fall victim to a “Math is hard, let’s go shopping” mentality. Keep in mind, this is coming from a girl who, in 4th grade, told her mother she hated math and wished it would die. So, despite the fact that I have ended up being a person who embraces technology at work and at home, I sure wish I would have gotten into it earlier and a lot more deeply.

So, when my husband sent me the link to the Geek Girls: Revenge of the Nerdettes story on, I began reading it with great interest. Yes! More geek girls! But, I found myself conflicted over the fact that the real reason these women are getting attention seems to be that they are smart and hot. If they were simply smart, that really wouldn’t be enough. They are smart and hot. They tell you that right away, in the subhead of the story, “Meet the Nerd Girls: they’re smart, they’re techie and they’re hot.”

On the one hand, I have no problem with this. Heck, I enjoy high heels and lip gloss as much as the next girl —assuming the next girl is not my co-Geek Nancy, who enjoys neither. AND THAT IS MY POINT. Whether or not you wear high heels or lip gloss should have no bearing on the attention you garner for your brainpower. So, shout out to Danica McKellar for writing “Math Doesn’t Suck,” (because I sure wish I would have read that in the 4th grade), but did you really have to pose for Stuff magazine right after that?

I guess I find it simultaneously encouraging (yay, women going into math, science and engineering!) and depressing (boo, we still have to look good in a swimsuit to get attention!). So, the attention garnered is both serious and salacious. Which doesn’t seem to happen to our male geek counterparts (aside from all the freaks I know who worship Steve Jobs).

You tell me: am I taking this all too seriously?

Update 1/14/10: Yet another “hot girls who use technology” article is causing some waves. Vanity Fair’s article on America’s Tweethearts. Too bad they couldn’t afford to give those poor women pants for the photo shoot!


Why I Love Interactive Designers

No offense to my print designer friends (and really, some of my best
friends are print designers, I swear!), I’ve lately been thinking about
how much I love Interactive designers. And production folks. And
developers. Maybe it’s because many people seem to think that a
designer is a designer is a designer and the result of this way of
thinking is working with clients who, for whatever reason, want the
person who designs their offline materials to also create their web
site. “You guys can work with so-and-so, right? He’ll do the design and
you guys can produce it.”

Sure. Sure, we can. But, the thing is, the web is a unique medium.
Compared to print, we have far less control over things like fonts, or
colors, or even alignment. I can’t tell you how many times in the past
couple of years (or even months) I’ve had to explain to a print
designer that the pretty, perfectly-sized boxes they laid out are going
to get jacked all to hell as soon as the client starts putting content
of different lengths in each one. Or how many times I’ve gotten a web
site design where everything is Flash and/or images because the
designer wants to make sure that they control every aspect of the

The reason why Interactive people are MY people, why I love them
with a burning passion matched only by my love of IKEA meatballs and Gossip Girl,
is that they are supremely flexible. They understand that what they
lovingly create in Photoshop will vary slightly when it’s produced, and
when it’s viewed by me on my Mac or their mom on a PC. They create
designs that can handle those variations. They are accustomed to
constantly reviewing and revisiting their design in production and
tweaking it to optimize both the display, and the end user experience.

Print designers*, on the other hand, tense up at the thought that
the headlines and body copy can’t all be [insert obscure font name
here], or that my Grandma
could increase the size of the body copy WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION. So,
when they are directing the creation of a web site, tension is created
between the well-controlled viewpoint of a print designer (who is used
to having the ability to tightly control font, layout, color and
overall presentation) and the chaos-theory viewpoint of a web
production team, who knows that they must plan for a variety of viewing
situations that range from cinema screens to Blackberries, PCs to Macs,
and browsers, browsers, everywhere!

But while it may make a print designer feel good to control the user
experience, and while that may be a perfectly reasonable way to think
about a print (or even television) experience — that level of
attempted control makes for a very poor user experience online. It can
make the site harder to find on search engines. It makes it impossible
for someone to resize the font for readability. It can make access by
disabled users difficult or impossible. In short, it can succeed at
looking good and fail at being usable. A controlled experience is great
in print, but it doesn’t translate well to the online world.

As I said, no disrespect to my print designer friends. But please, let my people go.

*I’m generalizing here, and I know it. I know there are a few
designers out there savvy enough to design well for both print and
online media. But, they are few and far between. So for the same reason
you wouldn’t ask your kickass web designer to create a billboard for
you, stop asking your kickass print designer to create your web site. A
good print designer and a good web designer can — and should — work
together under an overall creative direction and produce the best
representation of that creative direction in their respective medium.

[cross-posted on the MIMA blog

Working Women

It’s hard to talk to women about technology without also getting into a discussion about being a working woman. It’s certainly not necessary to both work and embrace technology (I was shocked—in a good way—at the number of active online communities of moms that I discovered on maternity leave), but considering that women now make up over 50% of the workforce (at, sadly, somewhere around 50% of the cost of our male counterparts) it’s a relevant topic.

I’m lucky to work for a family-friendly employer. So family-friendly, in fact, that Working Mother magazine named us one of the Top 25 Women-Owned Businesses in the nation. Holler!

Around the time of that award, they asked the women in our office to submit an application to be a Working Mother cover mom. I didn’t win, but it did get me to think about why I work instead of staying at home.

Why do I work?
Because being a working mom makes me a better mom.  Working feels right to me in the same way that staying home feels right to other moms. There was a time when I worried that liking my job—that looking forward to going to work at the end of my maternity leave—meant I was a bad mother. But, when I was fussing over the decision of staying home vs. working, a friend told me this, “In the first week or two, you’ll know. Your gut will either tell you that you need to stay home, or that it’s okay to stay at work.”

She was right. While the transition of the first week was hard emotionally (does anyone enjoy dropping their kid off at daycare the first time?!), I could feel in my gut that working was what I wanted to do. My friend’s gut told her the opposite, and she has since reduced her work schedule to 2 days a week. But, isn’t that’s really what it’s all about: being able to make the choice that feels best for you, and for your family?

I enjoy the time I have with my daughter before and after work, and she gets my full attention. There are certainly days when I come home tired and worn out, but most days I come home and can’t wait to hear everything that she did at “baby school” and tell her all about my day, and sit on the floor and read some books and eat dinner together. I certainly have less time with her than I would if I stayed home with her all day, but the time that we do have is so enjoyable and so focused. I feel like being able to have my own space at work means that I look forward to hanging out with my family at night.

What makes my job meaningful?

Doing work that I love, and working for—and with—people that I respect. I enjoy what I do for a living. I know and respect the owners of my company. I don’t feel like an anonymous cog in a machine; I can see the results of the efforts I put forward, and it feels really good. I love the feeling of looking at a completed project and knowing that I helped make it happen.

How do I handle work/life balance?
First, I’m extremely lucky to have a workplace that is supportive of working parents, and a husband that shares equally in the parenting and housework load. He is self-employed and saves my butt on most days by doing daycare dropoff and pickup. And we divvy up the other tasks too—like, if he cooks, I do dishes. If I give Trixie a bath, he does stories and bed time.

Second, I make conscious decisions about how to spend my time. When I am with my family, I make an effort to be 100% with them, and when I am working I try to be 100% in work mode. In a world where I can work from home, where anyone can contact me almost anywhere, anytime via phone, text message, IM or email, it’s easy to be “sort of” working all the time. Alternately, it’s just as easy to use part of your workday getting a bit of online shopping done, or sending an email to your friends or relatives.  The result of all this flexibility can be that your family—and your work—get half your effort and attention all the time.

I work in an office that is extremely permissive and flexible—we are all trusted as adults to do our job and manage our time appropriately. The key is to use the flexibility in a way that makes you more efficient, not less so.

Growing up, my parents never let us watch TV while we did our homework. I find that I follow a similar rule for myself in trying to keep myself focused and efficient in my work/life balance. If I work at home at night, I do it only after my daughter is in bed, and I don’t watch TV or do anything else at the same time (if I do, I find it makes me about half as productive, and who wants to work twice as long?). I could check my email before breakfast, but I don’t—because I want my family to get my full attention before we all head off to start our day. At the dinner table, there’s no TV, no books, no cell phones. Just our family, talking to each other and catching up. Conversely, when I’m in work mode (whether I’m at the office or working from home) I make an effort to focus on that.

One of the greatest challenges of my life?
Slowly coming to the realization that I can’t have it all. By that I mean learning that I can’t have a clean house, a harmonious marriage, a super-successful career, a perfect body and be an ideal mother at all times. So, I can either frustrate myself trying to achieve perfection, or I can stop amidst the imperfections and enjoy the beauty in the small moments. Because they go by fast. So, when I get home from a long day at work, I have a choice: I can either stress out about the million things on my to-do list, or I can stop worrying about how dirty the kitchen floor is for a few minutes and enjoy a tea party with my daughter. I’ve learned that the kitchen floor can get cleaned up later.

The Importance of Audience

One of the most disturbing things about the Web 2.0 Summit
in San Francisco last October (aside from the small number of women in
attendance) was a panel discussion by what one might call “average
users.” The theme of this year’s Summit was “Discovering the Web’s
Edge.” The organizers took that theme and explored the edges of gaming,
technology, social networking, and–in this case–the edge of the Web’s
users. Namely, older users (at the mid-to-high end of the baby boomer

The panel consisted of three men and two women and began as good, clean fun. One of the couples already had a YouTube presence,
which was discovered partway through the panel and then broadcast on
the big screen to the delight of the audience. The facilitator asked
questions about how they used the Internet which, not surprisingly,
consisted mostly of emailing, personal ads, and Craigslist–which one
user had recently discovered and was extremely excited about. Her
excitement was amusing to everyone. (In fact, she seemed to think
Craigslist was the Internet.)

But, what started out as a few giggles from the audience over one
user’s Craigslist enthusiasm soon grew into uproarious laughter over
just about everything that came out of the panelists’ mouths. At that
point, we looked at each other in horror and realized that the audience
was no longer laughing with this panel, but at them.
Everything at the Summit up until then had been a lot of preaching to
the choir: designers and developers talking to each other, about each
other and for each other. At that moment, the Summit audience should
have been listening more closely than ever. Sure, some of the
panelists’ statements sounded naive or silly or uniformed. But, like it
or not, these “technically impaired” users represent a far greater
portion of our audience than those that are more “like us.”

It’s easy to insulate ourselves from the real world and ignore the
needs of the average user. But, we’re not building experiences for each
other, we’re building them for a particular target. And we would
venture to guess that 9 times out of 10 a target audience is made up of
those “average” users. As developers, we run the risk of contributing
to the lack of usability on the web by building for ourselves in spite
of the research or user information we uncover in the process. Admit
it. We’re all guilty of it. You want your clients to “think outside of
the box” or grasp your brilliant “creative.” We’ve heard more than one
irritated Creative Director suggest, at one time or another, that the
client just doesn’t “get” the big idea or can’t possibly embrace this
cutting edge technology? We know they are out there. We’ve worked with

Yes, we have a responsibility to push our clients to think about
their business and the Internet in ways that may seem new and
unexplored. But, at the end of the day its not really about them, or
us; its about the user. The user that thinks that Craig’s List is the
internet. We don’t work with the average user. We’re barely aware of
them any more. We gorge ourselves on the latest trends as dictated by
our favorite blogs and news sources and summits and conferences and we
get farther and farther away from that user. But who says we’re really
the experts and we get to decide what’s bleeding edge? We’re just as
guilty of insulating ourselves by reading the same blogs, the same
feeds, using the same technology and not exploring anything outside of
our technological comfort zone. This leads to an unhealthy sense of
what’s happening in the world around us and what our mission as
creators of Interactive experiences is really about.

So, does every site need to be created with your mom (or grandma) in
mind? No. But we need to make real efforts to define and understand our
site audiences — even when their technology skills may not be as good
as ours. There are generations of people that aren’t “here” yet. But
that doesn’t make them stupid. If we don’t reach them, we’re missing
out on a significant faction of our commercial targets. And we’re doing
our clients a disservice by not reaching their intended audience.

[cross-posted at the MIMA blog

Technology Purge

As part of my resolutions for the New Year, I’ve decided to do a technology purge. This may sound odd, coming from a self-described "geek girl," but let me explain:

I recently read a post at 43Folders where Merlin Mann was describing the stress he felt about trying to keep up with his RSS feeds. Someone rightly criticized him because the stress was self-imposed and as such, was rather silly.

This got me thinking. I’m pretty good about keeping my RSS feeds culled down to only the ones I really want to read, but I realized that there are other pieces of technology that I’m either using, or abusing, to my own detriment. So, below is an audit of the technology I use: what’s gotta stay, and what’s gotta go:


Last year, I blogged about Twitter and got several friends and co-workers using it. At first, I thought it was sort of a fun little thrill. A few co-workers and I used it. But, very quickly, it became a burden. A few people I was following began tweeting about every move they made. Literally. I’ve started to realize that I am getting no value at all from this application, aside from being distracted every time someone decides to type, "I’m sleepy."
Verdict: Jury’s still out. But it’s on my shit list.


While Future Tense recently blogged about the fact that the younger generation views email as old-school and too slow, for this old dinosaur email is a vital daily tool. I not only use it to communicate with colleagues and family members, I use my emailboxes to manage my to-do’s, random stuff I want to read, things I’m waiting for. I centralize 6 different accounts into my MacBook’s Mail app, and now use it to track most of my RSS feeds, too.
Verdict: Can’t live without it.


My personal blog is sorely neglected. Frankly, so is my work blog (but we’re working on updating it and getting it rolling again). However, I do find that I get some amount of value out of blogging. I like that it gives my far-flung family a window into my life (and my kid’s life). I like that I can look back on what I was thinking or doing months or years ago. Professionally, I’m starting up this venture with Nancy, and am also making efforts to revive the Clockwork blog (once that’s done I’ll link to it here).
Verdict: I’m bringing blogging back.

Social Networking

This is the one I’ve really got a bee in my bonnet about. Where to begin? Let’s start with the one I’ve already purged: Friendster. I signed up for this when it was still a beta. It seemed intriguing at first, and of course I ran off to find everyone I knew and link them up. Then I kind of forgot about it. I remembered I had a profile when I was Googling myself (hey, a girl’s gotta keep an eye on her online identity!) and realized that another site was scraping profiles and aggregating them. Time to kill my long-neglected and never-used Friendster profile. My crosshairs are on MySpace, but I haven’t pulled the plug because once in a blue moon I’ll get a MySpace event invitation that actually sounds cool or fun. I have to keep Facebook one, mostly because…well, all the cool kids are doing it. But, I’ll publicly admit that I don’t quite "get it." The sole purpose of Facebook appears to be stealing my time. And steal my time it has. To minimize this, I rarely respond to "vampire bites" or the like and have removed most of the useless apps that I installed on a whim at some point.
Verdict: Some will stay, others must go.


Aside from the burning hell that is known as AT&T mobile service, I love my iPhone. It has made my life easier and continues to do so. I’m able to keep my phone easily synced with my calendar, check email, get maps and keep myself entertained on flights with videos and music on iTunes. Finding directions and coffee in other cities is so incredibly easy, that I don’t know how I lived without this thing. Now, if only AT&T could manage not to drop my calls several times a day…
Verdict: I’m in love.