Technology Enabled Resolutions

It’s the start of a new year and, inevitably we’re all thinking about how to do things differently in the new year.  Whether or not you’re someone who believes in or can commit to New Year’s Resolutions, you have to admit there is something about the turning of the new year that allows for a fresh start, a new lease on life, a renewed commitment to something.  The New Year is hopeful, and most people I talk to seem to think that 2008 needs a good kick in the behind.  What better way to kick it than with a bright, shiny new outlook in 2009.  Resolutions look like a lot of things, and generally we keep them in our heads, or our diaries, and we commit for as long as we’re able.  Perhaps though, we could get a helpful boost from the Internet when our new year’s resolve is waning.  Here’s a few (free or inexpensive) web-based tools I found that might make your New Year’s Resolutions stick, at least until February.

  • is a free, web-based weight loss management and journaling tool.  We might as well admit it, we all have the best of intentions when it comes to shedding those extra pounds.  And those intentions are especially bright around the 1st of the year.  Who knows, it may be the extra garbage we consumed over the holidays, or the anxiety over an upcoming beach vacation.  I am not one to commit to or encourage weight loss resolutions because I think they are so easily broken.  But I do think that its a good idea to manage your health through awareness of your caloric intake and your activities.  In my opinion (and I’ll get lambasted for this I’m sure) its better for you to commit to healthful food choices and some kind of physical activity than it is to make pointless resolutions about dramatic weight loss.  Whatever the case, you can take advantage of FitDay’s free tools for setting your weight goal, logging your food intake, monitoring your caloric intake, calling out the nutritional value of the foods you eat, breaking out the carbs, fats and proteins and then checking it all against your physical activity. You can log your moods and see what sorts of correlating foods might be the cause for your headache or lethargy.  It’s all about data, people.  And there are pretty graphs that display that data for quick consumption. Be careful with this one – there’s an option to make your profile information public.  If you want your world policing what you eat, go for it.  I don’t share your desire to go public with every peanut butter cup.  But that’s just me.
  • is another free service that will let you upload a photo of yourself that will then automagically show you how you might look sans those extra pounds.  I know, why torture yourself, right?  But some people might just need the inspiration (or kick in the tush) to get moving on their healthful lifestyle resolution, and seeing themselves skinny might just do the trick.
  • Not all resolutions are about weight though.  Nor should they be.  I just had to get the obvious resolution material out of the way.  A few years back I made and kept what turned out to be one of the best resolutions of my life.  I resolved to be a better friend – to reach out, make and foster richer relationships with the people in my life. I, like so many people do, got caught up in my career and my professional interests and was horribly neglectful of my friends.  As a result, I found myself on the career path I wanted, but really lacking in the kinds of intimate, meaningful friendships that enrich one’s life in unexpected ways.  That was the year I actually made new friends, which, if you’re a woman over 30 with a career and a family, you know how hard that is to do.  I mean REALLY making new friends.  Not like the people you just have lunch with at work.  I made a conscientious effort to reach out and engage with a handful of people that are now so significant in my life I cannot imagine it without them.  You’re going to think I’m crazy, but you shouldn’t because if you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ve heard me say this before, social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually make me a better friend.  That is why the 3rd item on my list of resolution enablers is Facebook.  You laugh, but really, a small investment in using Facebook well means you’ll always see the latest photos of your friends’ kids, you’ll never forget their birthdays, you can quickly and easily offer words of encouragement, or even be reminded to pick up the phone and just call for a spontaneous lunch or cup of coffee.  If you’re still looking for a good resolution that will really have an impact – I highly recommend this one.  Be a better friend.  It changed my life.  
  • Weight and money are two resounding themes this time of year.  I hear so many people talk about getting a handle on their budgets, their savings, their spending, their debt.  This makes for very good resolution fodder.  There are so many helpful applications floating around on the web to help you gain insight and control around your spending behaviors.  My cohort and fellow geek girl, Meghan, reviewed what might be one of the best web-based financial management tools out there in November –  And now there’s even more minty goodness with the recent launch of an iphone application.  I can’t really speak from personal experience as the service claims to be available for my credit union, but the added level of security my bank requires for it’s web banking has made that interaction impossible.  The thing is I WANT to be a user.  I salivate when I see the interface, the features, the brilliant reporting examples.  It’s this geek girl’s fantasy to track my spending habits on  I live for the day when that can happen.  But until that happens for me, perhaps I can live vicariously through you?
  • I am a crazy list maker.  I am constantly making, revising and widdling away at ‘to-do’ lists.  If I’m honest with myself I have to admit that my lists of things ‘to-do’ are really goals I set for myself from day to day.  I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I’m able to make significant progress on items on my lists.  Turns out there’s this other guy, named Joe, who also makes lists of goals, schedules them out, and then tracks his progress from day to day.  Joe made a web application that’s free for you to use, and it’s pretty darn cool — it’s called Joe’s Goals.   If you’re resolved to getting more organized or being more productive then a simple little application like Joe’s Goal’s is ideal.  You can establish your tasks, or goals; schedule your goals and then track your progress toward those goals, all via this simple user interface. 
  • Maybe you’re reading this blog because you’ve resolved to ramp up your technology knowledge.  That’s great!  You might need a simple, web-based resource to look up terms with which you are unfamiliar.  I recommend Webopedia to folks for exactly this purpose all the time.  It’s a great stop in the middle of your day for the ‘term of the day’ – today it’s ‘geotagging’ and I’m not going to tell you what that is.  I am going to encourage you to look it up yourself and then bookmark Webopedia—because you know you’re going to be in a meeting and someone’s going to say something and you are going to think ‘huh?’  Well, now you know where to turn when no one is watching to get educated on all things web/internet/tech related.  Or at least to get better at speaking the language. 

This is just a short list of helpful resources for making successful New Year’s resolutions.  I’d love it if readers would contribute their suggestions to the list.  Leave some hints, URLs, tools, etc in the comments and share with the Geek Girl community.  We have to help each other stay on track.  And Happy New Year!

Are Blogs Really Dead?

Recently someone asked me what I thought of this article in Wired Magazine.  Are blogs really dead?  My answer might not surprise you, since this ‘blog’ was started within the last year, but I don’t agree.  I’ll tell you what I told this person, and what I’ve said to countless other people — the stuff that works on the web is content driven.  If you’ve got good content, if you have something to say that people want or need to hear, if you have value to contribute to the vast resource that is the interwebs — go for it.  Frankly, I think it’s a matter of symantics as to whether you call a website with essays a blog.  You add video, does that automatically make it a vlog?  Toss in some audio and some imagery, which all of the solid ‘blogging’ software allows you to do these days, and voila! you’ve got yourself a WEBSITE.  Blogs and blogging software have evolved.  The software really just allows self publishing of content.  It’s the content that makes the website.

The really true geeks like to think they call the shots in terms of what matters and what doesn’t on the web.  But it’s the audience that decides.  And audiences gravitate to content that is compelling, that matters, that influences their lives.  Let the ubergeeks say the blog is so yesterday.  That just means more good stuff for the rest of us to explore, and argue about, and digest, and learn.

Facebook, It’s All Grown Up

If you’re reticent to try Linked In you might be curious about, but avoiding, Facebook.  Or maybe you’re on Facebook because some high school friend invited you, but you’re mostly letting people find you.  Rethink that.  Facebook isn’t just for your kids any more.  And if networking is your thing, there’s no better network out there.  While Linked In is, for the most part, a professional networking site, Facebook is that and then some. I really want people to stop poo-pooing social networks that work.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  With the job market being what it is and money being tight, these are desperate times.

I’ve recently started to really grasp the full power of Facebook.  In addition to the obvious features, including a friends/contacts list, photo sharing, links/content sharing, and messaging – instant and otherwise – the experience can be significantly enhanced through one or several easily installed Facebook ‘apps‘.  You can share and learn about music, books and films.  You can align with particular causes or charitable organizations, you can support local businesses and promote your business through ‘fan pages’. You can share data from your itunes for real time info about what you’re listening to or what you’re watching.  There are a number of very frivolous activities like giving ‘gifts’ and ‘drinks’ or ‘little green patches’.  The good news is, you have the option to ignore those things.  I am always sort of intrigued by the people that don’t ignore the silly.  But who am I?  Facebook also integrates with Twitter via a simple plugin application.  So, if you’re tweeting what you’re doing right now, it’ll automatically update your Facebook status.  This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s no denying that Facebook is feature and content rich. 

Why am I so convinced that Facebook can add value to your professional existence?  Well, Facebook has spent the last year really working on building it’s member base.  And, according to information published by Facebook, they have more than 130 million active users.  More than half of facebook users are out of college, with the fastest growing demographic being over 25 years old.  Simply put, you will NEVER have access to that kind of network in any other setting.  Why is Facebook so powerful, beyond the sheer volume of users?  Because it allows users to share snapshots of their personal and professional lives to a broad audience of contacts.  Your list of ‘friends’ shares moments, victories, stories, interests and events with you, sometimes even as they happen.  This kind of an interaction suggests a kind of investment in those relationships.  There is an implied intimacy that people take pretty seriously.

We’re living through a period in history like no other.  Information is flying at us and its rare that we get an opportunity to stop and really pay attention to it.  Facebook gives us information on people we care about, have cared about or should care about, in small, digestable nuggets.  It frames it up in a way that makes it palatable.  Its that investment, whether personally or professionally (and let’s face it, these days, what’s the difference?) that makes Facebook so important. When we care about a person, even just enough to take in a morsel of information about them, we are more likely to want, and even invest in, their success.  We network because we want to, and with our network readily available to us, we network because its easy. 

People need to stop dismissing social networks as being fluff, or pointless, or time wasters.  They exist because we don’t have time.  They exist because we need access to the people in our networks, our communities.  They exist because we actually do want to be more connected.  Do I think everyone needs to have a profile on every social network?  No.  Am I selling Facebook for any reason other than the occasional usefulness of information?  No.  But I am suggesting that people who tap into a social network, especially one as huge and well established as Facebook, have an advantage.  If you are looking for a job, a deal on a car, a good insurance agent, a wedding dress, a babysitter – where better to look than right inside your own community.  And your odds are actually better online, because the community is broader.  Sure, you still have to apply the same common sense filters you would in any situation, but chances are you’ll get more useful information.

People have asked me why I like Facebook and I generally answer “. . .because I’m a crappy friend.”  I’m mostly kidding.  But there’s a grain of truth there.  With Facebook I can peek in on my friends lives and see pictures of their kids, find out about what books they’re reading, see what causes they are feeling passionately about, and comment on their latest flat tire or cold symptom.  I can do all of that in just a few seconds.  It keeps me current.  It makes me a better friend.  And, because my personal life bleeds heavily into my professional life, when I contribute content to this whole experience, I am really adding more color to my own story.  In this wildly connected universe we live in, we’re investing in our own brands –that brand called YOU.  If you’re authentic in voice and contribution, your community responds favorably.  They help you.  Professionally and personally.  It’s really what makes the web so useful and compelling.  The connections.  That’s why Facebook is worth your time.


More Linked In

After that last post I had a couple of relatively low-tech readers comment on how they have no use for a social network like Linked In.  I thought this topic deserved another post.  A few people in my immediate network have recently been laid off.  Its a tough time, and tough times require tough measures.  Sometimes that means operating outside of your comfort zone to, possibly, touch more people in your network.  That’s where a tool like Linked In deserves your time and attention.  You don’t have to be comfortable with tech to recognize the value in a tool like Linked In.  For instance:

  • it makes your network entirely portable.  If you get laid off tomorrow, you simply walk away from your work computer and log into your network at home. 
  • it automates the maintenance of your contacts – when they update their information, your information about them is automatically updated. 
  • real networking happens with this network – you can tap into your contacts for introductions to their contacts and build your personal network on the fly. 
  • Web based networking has a much broader, more immediate reach.  You can decide to hunt for a job tonight, after the news, in your pajamas, while sipping a glass of warm milk, versus waiting until tomorrow and pinging your contacts one person at a time via email or phone.
  • you have instant, one-click access to entire professional histories and snapshots of professional organizations you may never have thought of as relevant in your own search.
  • you have an instant link to your contacts websites, to start doing your homework to better position yourself for the next opportunity.
  • you have the ability to take advantage of the six degrees of separation between you and anyone you might need to meet.
  • it gives you access to job postings in your network right when they become news, sometimes even before the general public.

It’s not hard to figure out how to navigate within Linked In.  And it’s really easy to start tapping into the value of it.  You might think you have all you need with email and your cell phone.  But you’re wrong.  Get past your social network phobia and connect with people.  Because that’s the real value of the web.  Connections.

Linked In and People You May Know

Recently a geeky girl reader submitted a question about LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is a professional networking site that allows you to connect to and manage your professional contacts online.  It’s sort of a modern day Rolodex, if you will.  It’s handy in that you can connect directly to those people you know through professional association, like  current or past employers, networking groups and associations, school, conferences, etc.  If you don’t have direct information for whomever you wish to add to your network, you can connect with them via a current colleague or friend.  You simply ask your colleague for an introduction through email and the respondent has the option of confirming or denying your request.  A basic/free membership to LinkedIn is, at the very least, an excellent tool for keeping an up-to-date list of your contacts and colleagues.  A professional membership, however, takes networking to a whole new level, giving you greater access to contacts with whom you may only have a peripheral association, and letting you take advantage of more advanced features like tools for recruiting and job postings and, on the other end of the equation, job searching.  I know some employers who only use LinkedIn for recruiting and have great luck with the service.  All of that being said, I think most people I know use LinkedIn as a way of automating the maintenance around keeping their contact network current.  Based on what I know of her, I imagine our reader with the question is exactly that type of user – a casual subscriber who maintains her professional contacts list using LinkedIn. 

Our geeky girl reader wondered about the People You May Know feature on LinkedIn.  This feature shows up in your sidebar and recommends possible connections.  Miraculously the recommendations are pretty darn accurate.  Often those people you may know are actually people you DO know.  The accuracy of these recommendations has increased LinkedIn’s creepy rating by a factor of ten.  The service recommends people you may have never had any contact with through the website.  And sometimes those recommendations are so obscure AND accurate it borders on mind-blowing.  Our reader wanted to know how in the heck LinkedIn can figure out who we might know and how they can be so darn creepy about it — so I set out to find the answer.  I searched the web over and, come to find out, the people at LinkedIn know just how creepy and accurate they are and they work hard to keep this secret side of their code, well, secret.  There are a lot of techies and bloggers supposing how they do it out there in the webosphere.  But there are no proven theories about how they get to their lists.  After my own research I did the only thing a self respecting geek girl could do (pffft), I reached out to a member of the geek girls men’s auxiliary, one genius engineer and Director of Technology at Clockwork, Matt Gray.  I got way more than I bargained for in that exchange.  Matt sat both Meghan and me down and explained to us the intricacies of graph theory.  I’ll never be able to do any of that justice here.   Instead I’ll just give you my layman’s take on the discussion and invite Matt and other geniuses to comment on this post and correct me if I over-simplify it to the point of being wrong.  Remember though, our goal here on the Geek Girl’s Guide is to keep things simple.  And I aim to please. 

In very very basic terms you can think about each one of your connections on LinkedIn as a line — from you to that person.  If you were to draw lines for every connection you’d have a heck of a graph.  Say one of your friends, we’ll call her Rita, knows a guy named Bob.  Rita has a line from her name to Bob’s name on her personal (and invisible, hypothetical, stupid but useful for this discussion) graph.  That line in and of itself is just a connection.  But say another of your friends, we’ll call her Sarah, also knows Bob.  Suddenly the line from Rita to Bob and Sarah to Bob is bolder in terms of how it relates to your network.  Because not just one, but two of your connections know Bob, which increases the likelihood of you knowing Bob.  Throw another person from your network in there with a connection to Bob and, doggone it, Bob might just be somebody you might know and that’s how he shows up on your list.  The theory is that LinkedIn has programmatically harnessed graph theory to weigh your connections in terms of how they relate to everyone in your network.  They automagically layer all of these graphs over each other and make recommendations of people you may know based on the number of people in your network that share connections and the likelihood that those connections should be yours too.  They probably go a step further and factor in the invitations people send outside of their LinkedIn networks.  If two or more of your contacts invite the same person to use LinkedIN it’s likely you know that person too.  That’s probably how people you know, who aren’t currently using LinkedIn, end up on your People You May Know list. 

There you are.  An overly simplistic, but easy-to-understand explanation for why LinkedIn is so creepy in it’s accuracy.  Thanks to Matt for his help in laying it all out.  Thanks to geeky reader Ann for the question.  Now go ahead, people.  Comment.  Tell me how dumb I am.  Tell me the right answer.  Tell me how I could have explained it better.  I’m open to all of it.

Free is Never Free, But. . .

It’s counterintuitive for me to facilitate this discussion, but what the heck.  Who knows why, but people are always asking me where they can get an easy, free or very inexpensive website.  They want to be able to add content – photos, maybe a little video, text. Perhaps they are a consultant or small business and haven’t gotten to the point where their website is a real priority (perish the thought) or they want to have more than a blog to chronicle their family adventures.  There are many really good free blogging options out there, WordPress being, probably, the best one.  And, with some technical assistance and a little tweaking (the geeks call it hacking), WordPress can be a great web content management tool. But it still requires intervention from that geeky friend, brother-in-law, uncle who works in IT.  I encourage you to jump in and learn a little about how WordPress or other blogging systems work and try the tweaking yourself.  If you use the WordPress hosted option and you don’t install their software on your servers you can dive right into your website in no time at all.  If you’re still with me, I’m thinking that what you want is a simple, intuitive option that lets you bang out and publish a site in short order.  And maybe a ‘blog’ isn’t enough for you.  To tell the truth, there are some easy, free options out there, but you didn’t hear it here.  I don’t plan on making this post an exhaustive list of cheap, free or inexpensive web building tools.  Instead, I thought I’d look at a couple of free (or, ultimately very inexpensive) options for building and maintaining your own website.

I recently stumbled on an interesting service called Weebly.  Weebly is entirely web-based, which means there’s no software to buy and download or install.  This is a good thing.  You can build an entire site in just a few minutes.  This service lets you use drag and drop options for adding content to your site, you can add whole pages with just the click of a button.  The templates include all sorts of layout options.  And you can pull in things like photos from your own collections or from photo sharing sites like flickr.  You can drop in a blog for the day to day writing.  Or maybe you want to share a youtube video.  No problem.  Signing up is really easy.  The interface is very intuitive and the system walks you through the (seemingly) more complicated elements like pulling content in from these other websites.  If you want to get really adventurous the Weebly even gives you the option of pulling in GoogleAds so you can make money through your website.  Whoa!  What a concept.  Remember this, this is probably not appropriate if we’re talking about your small business website.  There are more advanced features in Weebly, but you have to pay for them.  The premium service let’s you password protect pages, have multiple websites, upload and store large files, use their proprietary audio player and get some more hands-on support.  This service is pretty reasonable, though.  It looks like it starts at around 4 bucks a month.  Here’s the thing that I think makes Weebly worth a look — the pages look decent.  Unlike a lot of canned offerings out there, these are clean and current in their design.  If you decide next week you hate how your site looks, no problem.  You can change that design on the fly.  Another plus is you can publish your site to your own domain.  If you don’t have one, you can get it through Weebly, for an additional fee, of course.  This is great because you can build your own site and publish it to in a very short amount of time.  If that’s not a big deal to you, or if you just want a site to show off your kid’s macrame you can just be a subdomain on Weebly like  Every time you log back into Weebly you get a snapshot of your traffic too.  You’ll know right away when the family starts visiting to judge you for how you dress junior in his most recent pictures.  All in all, I’d say Weebly is pretty impressive.  I built a Geek Girls test site in all of 10 minutes.  I could definitely see my lower tech friends and family members using this service.

There are other cool web building tools worth a look.  Matt Wilson, president of MIMA and a Geek Girls Guide Men’s Auxilliary member (whether he likes it or not) mentioned Tumblr to me and I thought I’d take a look.  I liked it right away for its ease-of-use and intuitive walk-through of my first post.  It didn’t give me a global view of the features as they relate to my layout in the same way that Weebly did.  But it did walk me through creating and publishing a post with a very elegant, user-friendly, step by step process.  I have the same kinds of opportunities with Tumblr to add audio and video, and outside content to my site.  I liked some of the mobile options – I can ‘tumbl’ from anywhere with my mobile phone or handheld device.  I can also publish to my own domain.  I don’t see Tumblr being as useful for a small business, or someone wanting a website with multiple pages AND a blog.  But it would be PERFECT for the beginner wanting to share family photos or videos or maybe journal through a trip or whatever simple little stories you might want to share. In fact, Tumblr is really geared toward those people wanting to offer a more media-rich experience to their users.  Its all about the video, audio, image-rich content.  Start a vlog!  Or a Photoblog.  You’ll impress your friends and it’ll be SO EASY!

Don’t take my word for it, though.  Try some website building services on for yourself and see what fits for you and your requirements.  Here’s a few more for you to take a peek at:

  •  The original web-based blogging software. Its a lot more feature rich, user friend and robust than it was when it first came along.  If you know it, it might be time for another look.
  •  Easy enough.  And free.  For the most part, anyway.
  •  The basic service is free but ad supported.  Nice feature-set.  Great templates.
  •  Blogging + social networking = xanga.
  •  Great interface.  Intuitive feature set.  Awesome designs. 

There you have it.  I’ve admitted some things can be free.  But you always pay a price.  You pay a price in terms of flexibility and scalability.  You pay a price in terms of support.  And, as you grow, you may really have to pay a price – to grow, and get more, and do more.  But as a stepping-off point, these services are worth a look.  I promise you, regardless of your level of competency with technology, if you can use a word processor, if you’re reading this post right now, you too can build and manage your own little website.  So, what are you waiting for?  Get on that!

Look It Up

The other evening, on a short diaper-buying trip to Target, I passed two young women in the electronics department (Yes, I get distracted in Target.  Who doesn’t?) asking the help of a young red-shirt wearing fellow.  The question I heard started like this – “We don’t know anything about computers.  We’re totally computer illiterate.”  One waif-like creature was speaking for both of them.  She went on to ask, “Is this a router?”  I didn’t wait around for the young man’s answer.  Instead I went on my way comparing Huggies to Pampers and trying to remember if I’ve ever had a bad experience with either.  But I got to thinking, as one is likely to do while tooling aimlessly around your neighborhood Target store, isn’t it funny that those two young women represent the generation we’re all convinced is technologically competent and well-versed?  The funny thing was, the young gentleman they were asking for help could not have been more than a year or two older than the ‘illiterate’ girls.  But they were comfortable looking to him for his expertise.  The whole scene struck me as unfortunate.

When I was a kid my parents purchased the Encyclopedia Brittanica from a tv ad.  Every month for 26 months (not counting the bonus books) we’d receive a giant, quite handsome, leather-bound volume to add to our collection.  Eventually the set took up an entire shelf in our family room book case.  In the evenings at dinner, or while attacking our homework assignments, every little question my sister and I would take to our parents got redirected to that shelf of leather bound books.  “Look it up,” my mother would say.  “Don’t ask me.  Find out for yourself.”  In the moment it was probably frustrating.  It would have been easier and maybe more efficient for me if my mother just had all the answers to everything.  But she didn’t and the closest thing we had was the books marked A-Z.  It changed our behavior, really.  We learned that if we needed to know something there were resources at our disposal, the encyclopedia was really just the tip of the iceberg. 

Fast forward about 25 years.  If my son has a fever.  If I can’t sleep.  If my car is leaking oil, or my grass isn’t green enough, if I need a map, or the names of constellations, or a recipe for creme brulee.  If I want to find the name of an obscure poem I thought I read.  Or the lyrics of a song.  If, say, hypothetically speaking, I want to know what a router is I have the same response, I go look it up.  I have, at my fingertips, this fast sea of interconnected resources.  I start with Google and I can surf my way through world history and pharmacology and urban legends and infant development and, well, you name it.  So why, with this kind of knowledge available, were these two young women so willing to let this pimply faced, red shirt wearing fella be a key influencer in the future of their LAN?  You didn’t ask me, but, here goes – I think its cultural and it has a lot to do with how we talk about empowerment and knowledge and the spirit of curiosity.  I think it has to do with having the permission to explore and to try and to fail.  And, at the risk of offending some of our readers, I think it is a particular concern in terms of how we talk to and encourage little girls. Add technology to that equation and we’ve (generally speaking) got a culture making a whole lot of assumptions about a generation of users without really empowering them to get the full benefit of the resources available to them. 

What can we do?  Well, as parents I think its our responsibility to have at least a basic understanding of how technology fits into our families, our homes, the classroom, our communities. Too many parents are intimidated by technology and they either believe all the hype and are terrified of strangers on MySpace, or they let their young son or daughter be the resident ‘expert’ without having any real sense of what systems they’re putting in place for the family.  This is really a whole other post, and I plan on writing it.  But for this one lets just say that in order to encourage exploration in knowledge, parents have to first model it.  If you’re concerned about MySpace or Facebook – get on them.  Find out what the buzz is about.  Get a sense of how they work.  And don’t let your kid be a member without ‘friending’ you. But more than anything, encourage their natural curiosity and their interest in creative problem solving.  If your teen daughter has the money to go to Target and shop for routers, she’s probably got a broadband connection available to her.  If she has that, why not talk to her about finding the answer for herself?  Perhaps take it a step further, suggest she compare routers on a hardware review website.  And, if you’re really cocky, maybe you can encourage her to map out her own plan for the home network.  Its not that complicated, I promise.  Sure there will be failure and frustration.  But what’s the fun in learning without figuring it out?  What’s better than accomplishing something?  Especially if its something that the general population thinks is complicated.

I do think we send different messages to girls over boys.  I think boys are encouraged to be adventurous in their thinking, where girls are encouraged to be careful.  Boys are encouraged to care little about being watched.  But girls are encouraged to consider who might be looking at all times.  Handling little girls with kid gloves teaches them to be tentative and it’s limiting.  We’ve come so far, and we’re defensive when these topics are broached because of all the progress we’ve made.  But come on, if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit the crap our parents subjected us to still comes out sideways.  And there is just way too much opportunity out there to be tentative.  There’s too much to learn.  Too many connections to make.  To many conversations to take part in. Women have got to be part of those conversations.  They’ve got to be influential in how those conversations are shaped.  And they won’t be if they aren’t encouraged to jump in as children.  I’ll stop preaching now.  But the moral of this story is simple.  Look it up.  When in doubt — look it up.


Reader Question: Parallels for Mac

This (great) question was submitted to the Geek Girls recently by one of our geeky readers, Vickie in Seattle:

Hello ladies. Well, it’s time for me to install parallels on my beloved Mac. I’m so resistant to this — it’s silly really. But admittedly it’s due to my long-standing distaste for Microsoft and my recent nightmare experiences with Vista and Microsoft Exchange servers. So, I’m wondering if anyone out there has any thoughts as to bugs, install issues, desktop sharing, back-ups, etc. before I head into this. Oh, and am I going to get a stomach ache when I see Microsoft desktop icons on my Mac?

I asked our resident Mac expert, and official member of the Geek Girls Men’s Auxilliary, Michael Koppelman for his expert advice and he had this to say:

I would first take a look at VirtualBox ( It is open source and works very nicely on Macs, PCs and Linux boxes. Parallels is very nice, though, and is probably a bit more mature, especially in terms of devices such as printers and network connections. In both cases you need to own a version of Windows if your goal it to run Windows. You can virtualize Linux and other operating systems, though, as well.

As for the Windoze icon induced stomach ache, well, a little pepto in the desk drawer can’t ever be a bad thing.   For the really specific information around bugs and backups, and every other little Parallels quirk, check out the Parallels Consumer Tech Blog.

Now, there may be some of you sitting there thinking, ‘what the heck is Parallels for Mac and why should I care?  Also a good question.  Simply put, Parallels for Mac is a program that lets you run Windows or Linux on your Macintosh computer (I know!  Why WOULD you?).  This is called ‘desktop virtualization’.  You may not be running a Windows machine, but you can feel like you are with this handy program.  So your desktop, your icons, your programs can all look and act like a Windows-based PC, when in fact you are working on your beloved Mac.  For more information about Parallels visit the website.

Deleting Typos in Form Data (WOO!)

Mike Engelby, proud member of the Geek Girls Men’s Auxiliary, sent us this tip and we thought it was worth passing on.  It’s a handy little tidbit on how to remove typos from form data you’ve saved in your browser. He says it’s an old tip.  But it might be news to you!

This works on Firefox 2.0 and up, Internet Explorer 7, and probably others.

If you use the browser option, save form data, and have a bunch of mispellings or things you don’t want in there; use the arrow keys to highlight the unwanted item, and press SHIFT-DEL on the keyboard.

and after pressing the SHIFT and the DEL key at the same time:

The Web Is Not Cheap

I should say right away that this post is in danger of turning into a rant.  That is not my intention.  I am not here to whine.  I am here, though, to put out into the universe a concept that needs to be discussed.  So, here goes. 

The web is not cheap. 

There.  I said it.

Before diving too deep into that argument, let’s review what the web IS. 

–The web is fluid. Every document that exists on the web, in order to be really useful, must be a living document.  Because the web is, by its very nature, a living, ever-evolving, content repository. 

–The web is accessible.  Anyone with a small amount of knowledge can publish to the web.  I always say the web is the great equalizer, suddenly we all have a voice and the vehicle through which we can be heard.

–The web is immediate.  Case in point – I was reminded about how much this issue bugs me about five minutes ago, and here I am saying something and publishing it to a (potentially) global audience five minutes later.

Let’s face it, everyone knows someone who does ‘web stuff’.  That’s what makes having high standards in this business really hard, and really necessary – the fact that everyone has a cousin or son or nephew or babysitter or neighbor girl who can make a website on a Saturday afternoon while goofing around in their garage/office.  Because the spectrum of talent engaging in this kind of work is so broad, and the perception of value associated with the work is equally as broad, it is really hard to truly understand the value of the necessary skillset and expertise that play into a well-defined web strategy and execution.  Heck my mother recently said she’d mastered ‘copying and pasting’ and maybe she could ‘help me out’ since we’re so busy.  She was joking, of course, but the irony is in the fact that she’s a trained professional — a physician.  I suggested that we just swap jobs for a day.  I’ll deliver babies, and she can build web stuff.  No problem.

The fact of the matter is, the web is an investment.  A real strategic approach is necessary to doing business on the web.  You can’t just expect to slap up a site and have it work miracles.  And once you do launch a site, you are not done, you’ve only just begun.  I think most people’s perception of their website is informed by an old school traditional marketing approach to print work.  You jump into drawing pictures and coming up with catchy, brand appropriate copy, you execute in line with the creative, you launch, you’re done.  That is entirely the wrong way to think about your website.  Yes, good creative is essential.  But creative is not strategy.  You have to define the why before you consider the how.  Creative is a ‘how’ not a ‘why’. 

The web is transactional.  You are engaging in some kind of business interaction on the web.  Hopefully in the process you’ve managed to learn more about your audience that allows you to interact with them on a more on-to-one level.  A microsite has its place. But microsites aren’t appropriate as often as they happen, trust me.  So you’re not getting off cheap by building half a site.  You might end up paying more in the long run by not considering how micro-content fits into your overarching strategy. And any interaction with your target should have some kind of integrated component with your primary brand presence on the web.  Even if its just data.  Data is really the key.  But that’s another post entirely.

Most people walk into a web shop and expect the vendor to define their budget.  They send RFPs out to a number of vendors that fall in a variety of spots along the pricing spectrum, and generally they award business based on price.  The lowest price, then, becomes their budget.  By selecting a vendor that way they miss the opportunities to think comprehensively about how to address their business objectives on the web, and how to appropriately evolve on the web.  Meghan always tell clients they should come to us with a problem, not a solution.  This is great advice when thinking about how to extend your brand, and do business, on the web.  Don’t walk in saying I want these 44 things and I want them all for under 10 bucks.  Instead, prioritize your objectives and look for a real strategic development partner to help you think about how best to implement your priorities.  This might require iterative development, or incremental roll-outs of features.  But that’s ok.  By moving some or all of your business to the web, you’re making promises to your audience.  If you are smart about how you move, and you choose quality and ease of use over cheap and fast, you’ll keep those promises and your audience will stick with you.  They will wait for a good experience to get better.  And they will be key influencers in how you improve on your feature-set. 

Money is an issue.  Don’t get me wrong.  You have every reason to want to control costs.  And you should.  But control them in a way that makes sense and doesn’t compromise the deliverable.  Control costs by working closely with your vendor/partner to identify your priorities and the time it will take to address them.  Then have checkpoints or deliverables on the path to getting there.  Budgets are generally eaten up by the intangibles — vapor.  Don’t let that happen.  Insist on helpful documentation, in language that makes good business sense, to help guide the project.  Then follow those roadmaps closely.  Be collaborative and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  No one knows your business better than you.  Ask for what you want and be clear about what you’re asking for before anyone starts coding.

The web is not cheap.  But it does make good financial sense if you approach it prudently.  It is an investment.  You can start small and work up to your ideal solution.  But don’t compromise good sense looking for a deal.  You end up paying for the work twice in the long run.  Once trying to be cheap.  And you pay the second time when you decide to do it right.  Get it right the first time.