Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thank You, Esther Cepeda

If you're familiar with this blog, or if you and I have ever had a meaningful conversation that lasted for more than 10 minutes, you already know that there's nothing I love more than to try and flip conventional wisdom on its head.

I'm not saying I take the credit for it -- there are great authors like Nicholas Nassim Talib and Malcolm Gladwell that make a living writing about such things.  There are books like Freakonomics that were written several years ago, but continue to spark lively debates about what we accept to be true, and why.  Just reading their stuff, and then talking to other people who also enjoy it, is often enough.

Anyway, I noticed in today's Sun that Esther Cepeda took on the whole "urban food desert" canard, while citing studies from the RAND Corp. and the Public Policy Institute of California.

What they found: "...low-income neighborhoods, in addition to having more fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, also have more grocery stores, supermarkets, and full-service restaurants than do more-affluent neighborhoods....A New York Times article summarizing the findings declared: 'There is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.'"

Cepeda goes on to describe the supposed "food desert" (as per the locator) near her home, which is chock full of smaller stores, predominantly Hispanic-owned, that sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats at lower prices than the chain grocery store three miles away.

So she's combined anecdote with statistical data.  To pile more anecdote on top of that, think about ANY place in Lowell.  The only way someone could say that ANY part of the city is a food desert would be to do so without any hands-on familiarity with the area they're talking about.  You couldn't live here for more than a couple weeks without realizing how plentiful the food options are throughout the city.

Trust me, I acknowledge the Left and the Right are equal parts guilty about some of the "truths they hold dear" that fall apart upon further examination.  In this particular case, the Left is deserving of a skewering -- the entire "urban food desert" idea falls in line with the thought that some undefined "they" is denying a certain group of people access to what would otherwise make them healthier, prevent obesity, save them money, etc.

The reality is much more complicated.  As Cepeda writes in the column "A lifestyle, not a food choice," the solution to fighting the obesity epidemic is going to have to involve people taking control of their own lives and their own destiny.  Portraying people as helpless, hapless "victims" of some unnamed food oppressor may play well with certain people's narratives, but it ultimately does a disservice to those who are supposedly being spoken for.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Empowering the 1% of the 1%

The Globe is really going full bore on the Joel Ward story.  Top headlines yesterday, spin-off stories, and then it's in the leadoff slot today.

Let me get this straight.  There are roughly 500,000 serious Bruins fans who were watching Game 7 (that's just based off some back-of-the-envelope math starting from the number who were watching the game and then working it down somewhat).  Chirpstory shows me that there were roughly 50 people ignorant enough to make classless, senseless, racist comments following Ward's game-winning goal.

That's not 1% of Bruins fans.  That's 1% of 1% of Bruins fans.  That's .0001.  To give that perspective, it means you would have to fill BOTH Tsongas and LeLacheur to near-capacity with men, women, and children hockey fanatics (just picture that for the visual, and yes, even Ted Leonsis would be on board with the venue choice), and somewhere in that crowd would be ONE Bruins fan who felt that it was okay to Tweet racist vulgarities following Game 7.

Racism is terrible, and it's indefensible.  When encountered, it needs to be addressed, and nipped in the bud.  That has already happened in the flood tide of social media running counter to the ignorance that a small number of people demonstrated after the game.

I think the Globe and some of the people quoted are really grasping at straws, though, when they make sweeping statements like, "This shows we haven't advanced..." or "This shows racism is alive and well..."  and the like.  No serious researcher in another field would take a one-in-ten-thousand as evidence of a trend....just imagine a medical study saying, "We found that one-in-ten-thousand people who drinks Poland Spring water daily will develop tooth decay," and then concluding that Poland Spring is part of a "disturbing" trend in tooth decay promotion?  Yet Charles Ogletree is opining in the Globe about the broad significance of a handful of ignorant Tweeters.

By framing the story that way, you're empowering those idiots.  They BECOME the story.  A city's reputation is stained (most of those Tweets, btw, did NOT originate in Boston) because of some stupid, impulsive fans (many of whom were teenagers), and trying to draw broad conclusions.

This is a victory ONLY for the people on the far right and the far left who promote racism for their personal advancement...and that's a group that's WAY smaller than 1% of 1% of the population.

As for everyone else?  We all lose something.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pivot Points

I caught a great Wall Street Journal on the way in to work today (yes, as in Reading While Walking) about how successful tech entrepreneurs 'pivot' when they identify better ways to do business, or even entirely new ways to use their sites.  The article, by the way, is here

Twitter, Instagram, and Groupon are all great examples of sites that became successful with a model that they didn't begin with.  As I wrote about a few days ago here, is a great example of a 'pivoting' success, too.  When Ben was on the Daily Show, he talked about the various site iterations with Jon Stewart; only when the site became petition-focused, he said, did it really take off. 

One of my favorite quotes in the article was this: "...That prompted Mr. Graham to launch a program targeting groups that don't have an idea yet.  It will begin this summer in Silicon Valley." 

I love it.  The guy who founded Y Combinator is basically saying that he doesn't care whether you even have a clue as to what you'll produce -- if the right mix of people with the right set of skills is in place, good things are just going to happen.

Beyond some of the obvious factors (tech skill, hard work, ability to 'pitch' to angels, etc.) I would add that there's an intangible that a successful entrepreneur needs, which is an ability to perceive market demand, whether in its current form or down the line.  The hardest thing for an entrepreneur to sometimes do is to step beyond 'The Big Thing' that's his or her passion, and ask the right questions about whether others would share the love, so to speak. 

To take it local, that's a big factor in what separates success stories (Brew'd Awakening) from colossal busts (Rimz-U-Like). 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anatomy of an Error

Some of the best advice I've ever heard anyone give -- ever -- is that anytime you're entering into conflict resolution, or a dispute, or you're responding to a perceived slight, etc. Always go in assuming the best intentions on the part of the other party.

Here is how something just got screwed up:

(1) CC calls today around 4 p.m. and says, "Can you provide me with ____." Being ever the dutiful staffer, and having that very document laying on the desk nearby, I say, "Yes. I can scan it and e-mail it right to you."

(2) I scan it, e-mail it, and consider it another task checked off, move on, and don't think about it again, until

(3) CC, speaking at Council meeting to Mayor, refers to document that was "sent out by your office."

(4) Another CC wonders, "Why didn't I have that information?" I can't blame the person asking the question. The way it was initially introduced, it sounded as if the information was being put *out* (as opposed to being sent to that individual, who had asked) which naturally begs the question of why everyone didn't have it.

(5) I watch at home, squirm a bit in my seat, and then see that things move on and then the meeting adjourns a few minutes later.

Lesson Learned: If any ONE of the group requests a document, info, a 'lookup,' etc. SEND IT TO ALL NINE. Even if the other eight are just carbon copied. This exact issue has come up with the CM before, so I sorta shoulda known...However, it didn't even occur to me in the moment (only when it came back up at tonight's meeting did I remember the previous iteration of this, which took place a couple years ago).

No one lost life, limb, or eyesight. The world will move on. No one acted with malice -- not the person who made the request, not me, not that person when he brought it up, and not the person who questioned it. Still, the post-mortem autopsy shows me where the error was made, and it won't happen again.

And I will conclude by asking anyone reading this (yes, all 12 of you!) to remember that the next time you see something that's screwed up, or even has the appearance of being screwed up, just remember that sometimes there's an explanation that can be explained by simple oversight or unfamiliarity with a procedure -- it's the same thing you'd want in return.

Frailty, Thy Name is Person!

I love people.

I am one of those people so extroverted that I score like 19 "E" out of a possible 20 on those Myers-Briggs things. I love to be around people, I love to converse with them (and am a reverse ventriloquist*, which you'll never believe 'til I point it out, and then you'll know), and love to hear their stories. In fact, when I look back on different life experiences, the things that stand out the most -- and that I sometimes miss the most -- are the stories that grow from those times and place, or even the storytellers themselves.

In fact, I love people so much that I married one. And we love each other so much that we made a whole new one.

So now that my people-loving credentials are firmly put on the line, let me say this: Sometimes, on some subjects, I've gotta part ways with 'em.

One of those subjects is rain, or the response to said weather phenomenon.

Until people start melting in water, or until something much more dangerous starts to fall from the sky (frogs? locust plagues?), I will be able to walk outdoors during while it's raining and generally be okay. In fact, I might enjoy it.

Upon arriving at the destination, my clothes, hair, and person might be somewhat wet, but my steadfast belief in the water cycle tells me that the dampness is just a temporary condition. Evaporation will take its course, and everything will be okay.

I'm not sure why people overreact to rain. Even on military bases, you can see some soldiers and sailors literally sprinting to get inside during a downpour (I would understand if they were in their dress uniforms, but I'm talking about guys in boots and cammies). It seems like the sprinting on a potentially wet surface must be much more dangerous than the threat of H20 particles hitting the body.

Office places, streets, and anywhere else are no exceptions. In general, I just think that as much as I love people, I'm going to throw them under the bus just enough to say I think they need to chill out a bit on this reaction-to-rain thing. Someone saw me yesterday after the downpour and based on the concerned expression and questions that followed, you would've thought I showed up bleeding in five places with maybe a bone or two protruding from somewhere.

Short of a corporate conspiracy being foisted upon us by the umbrella industry, I just don't see it the same way. On this subject, I guess I am the equivalent of that "third dentist" crazy enough not to endorse Trident.

* Reverse Ventriloquist. Unlike someone who appears to be talking but isn't, someone engaged in a conversation who, upon closer look, is revealed not to be actually speaking. In my case, applies only to conversations with people I don't know well [if it's a close friend I'm with, I can be a regular jaw-jacker...]

Monday, April 23, 2012

Then and There

Tonight at City Hall, Paul Belley opened up the Crime Victim Remembrance Event, sponsored by the Parents of Murdered Children, with a saxophone rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

After several speeches from local officials, Paul closed things up an incredible "America the Beautiful."

When the decision was made to hold the event inside, it was a call based entirely on the threat of rain, and the potential for damage to the sound system.

Besides making for a closer, more intimate gathering inside (and increasing the comfort level of everyone in attendance), the setting made for what Paul said were "great acoustics" that he wishes he could replicate everywhere he plays.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The McNulty File

A blog I wish to recommend is The McNulty File, which is written by an NCO who I deployed with last year. He lives in Medford, attends UML, and doesn't hold back with commentary that mostly focuses on politics, humor, and the military (and the intersection thereof). It's also now added to the blogroll here -- check it out!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fun With Nativism

John McWhorter is an African-American author who has gotten himself into a heap of controversy by saying heretical things about race from time to time.

Much of the thesis of his book "Losing the Race" has been badly butchered, misinterpreted, and made into a straw man separate from his original point. His original point, mind you, is that: (1) Yes, racism does exist in America, and it's not hard to find, but (2) Racism in America today is not SO pervasive that it presents a complete barrier to pursuing your goals (as a person of color). In other words, whether you want to be a surgeon, an attorney, an engineer, or whatever else it is, there's no barrier that's shutting the door, forcing you to stay out.

You can imagine some of the things he gets called. 'Uncle Tom' is just the beginning. Either way, he challenges the 'professional victim' ideology, so those who feel threatened by it often rephrase his point as saying, "There isn't any racism," which was never his point to begin with.
I take a very McWhorter-esque view of nativism here in Lowell. To clarify my point: (1) Yes, it exists, and can be found either at or just beneath the surface in several realms but (2) Nativism is not SO pervasive as to prevent whoever lives here from doing whatever it is they want to do. If you like [insert name of activity] and you're passionate about it, in other words, you're going to do just fine. Because it's a small city with so many little niches, in fact, if you're both dedicated and competent, you're more than fine. Look around at people who lead the civic organizations and who organize a lot of the cultural events, and you'll see my point -- there isn't some invisible barrier, based on birthright, that stops them. People mights say politics is an exception, but if they looked at the vote totals of people like Eileen Donoghue, Franky Descoteaux, or Bud Caulfield, they'd have to backpedal a bit. Even a lot of the non-elected leadership in the prominent slots at City Hall is from all over -- our CFO, for instance, went to school in Philadelphia and even had the gall to once live in Silicon Valley!

However, when that nasty nativism does pop up from time to time, it sometimes manifests itself in funny ways:

(1) Today, I got Mimi P to crack up a bit when I mentioned something I've been saying since I moved here, and which has also been said by Kad Barma and others: Somehow, according to the nativist's hierarchical creed, if you arrived in Lowell from the shores of [insert name of country, preferably in Africa, Latin America, or Asia], you're *okay.* That's somehow laudable, it's awesome, and good for you. However, if you come from some other place in the U.S., you're an alien. You don't *count* in the same way as a Burmaloconganese Trans-Saharan refugee does.

(2) People assume you can't possibly know where things are in the city. I've encountered this a couple times already in my new position -- it's not said or done in a nasty way, but it's usually by someone who is a bit up there in years and can't imagine how said aliens might be able to navigate. Two weeks ago, it was a non-profit director on the phone, who was talking about the history of her organization. She mentioned that they once had an office in Cupples Square, audibly gasped, and then stopped to apologize that I must have "no idea" what she was talking about (again, she wasn't being intentionally rude or obnoxious, so I very gently offered some familiarity reference points in a half-asking-the-question-for-her-confirmation sort of way). Today, I met a guy at the Armenian Genocide Remembrance who started telling me about his business, and by extension, his life story. When he mentioned that he grew up on "D Street," he stopped to apologize as soon as he said it, much like the first lady on the phone. Again, nothing mean in his spirit or tone -- his apology, much like that from a ref who accidentally called for a "Jump Ball" at a wheelchair basketball game -- was that of someone who had committed an unintentional gaffe. I just sort of grinned and bore what wasn't worth correcting someone in his 70s or 80s over.

To give a counterpoint back to that one, yes, there are tons of landmarks, streets, and parks that I frankly don't have a clue about. And yes, it would be overly touchy of anyone to get offended by someone trying to genuinely help them understand something. But Cupples Square? D Street? It's like, would you be so patronizing as to start telling a new immigrant to the U.S. where a certain state or city was, and without them asking the question or giving a quizzical expression, start explaining it? [come to think of it, new immigrants and people who speak accented English probably have to put up with patronizing B.S. that's way worse, on a much more regular basis].

[Quick aside: I know that blog writing is basically "toneless," but if I were speaking this in a Podcast or a Vlog, I'd be saying in a comedy routine sort of way].

(3) To reiterate something I've bandied out a time or two here on the blog, but will throw out again while I'm on the overall subject, most hand-wringing on the subject comes from my fellow non-natives. What I mean is people who preface what they say at meetings with, "No one will listen to me anyway because I'm not a [insert pedigree reference here]," or people who feel excluded when someone is introduced as a "lifelong Lowellian" (that's just a valid reference point, and much like any other [i.e. published author, world traveler, Nobel Prize winner, etc.] isn't said to invalidate people who don't hold that card). Fellow non-natives are often some of the guiltiest when it comes my first point, about preference based on story of origin. To the white liberals who act like caricatures of, well, white liberals, I am the least cool option possible -- an American-born straight white male from outside the region who believes in God. Were I from Outer Zamunda and trying to balance my tribal beliefs and customs against the funny things that people do in this strange new land, those same people would find it so "intereeeeesting" and "faaaaascinating," in a drawn-out, new-syllables-added-in sort of way to use those words.

What makes me so sure of this? The people I've become close to since moving here range from those newer to the city than even me all the way to the uber-pedigreed. What they tend to have in common is that they're open-minded, interesting people who care about ideas and are fun to meet up and chat with. Those with the storied lineage put a lot less importance on that when assessing others as is sometimes the perception. As for me, I'm not *using* or *exploiting* their city any more than I would be wherever else I would've other words, if I had moved to, say, Providence or Manchester or Portsmouth, I think I'd generally be doing the same sorts of things, in the same sorts of ways, for the same sorts of reasons, which basically boil down to being part of *the equation.*

And that's enough of that for now -- I meant for this to be a humorous post, but it's morphed a bit, and if it got any longer, well, I might be hand-wringing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Surprising Benefit

Poking around on the Internet, it doesn't take long to find lots of op-eds, videos, and long written screeds about the benefits of hiring veterans.

A lot of the standard stuff always factors in: they wake up early, they work hard, they can perform under stress, they can lead, they're aggressive, they work in teams, etc. All that is generally true, I would say, but I would emphasize generally. The military is comprised of all types. The closer people are to the military, the more they tend to understand that -- it's noble to raise your right hand, but it doesn't, and shouldn't, mean the world owes you a red carpet rollout from there afterwards. If you're upset about the demand fee on your excise tax, I feel your pain, but the minute you tell me that your four-year enlistment in the late 1980s means you "deserve better," you've lost points in my book!

But anyway, back to my point. Here's one benefit of military experience that doesn't make its way into a lot of the boilerplate 'let's hire vets' material -- it gives you a valuable understanding of organizational structure.

Maybe that could come from other places, too -- at a big corporation like GE or IBM, you'd probably get a similar foundation in how the various roles and responsibilities, i.e. the 'lanes in the road' come together to make the whole thing work. But you're guaranteed to get that in the military. From an E-1 boot Private to an O-10 General, you learn your sense of role and place, which means not just what you do, but also what you don't do, because it's handled by someone else. Put the whole thing together, and it all works (on paper, at least).

You also get a sense of frustration with bureaucracy. That's important, because if you're a highly-motivated individual, you learn what NOT to do (mindlessly pawn people off to 'someone else') and learn the real value in closing the loop and checking back up. In customer service, there's nothing someone would rather hear than "I got it" or at least "I'll tell you who 'got it' and make sure they get in touch with you." People know when they're just being transferred into a black hole, and they rightfully resent it.

I *shipped off* in 2004, and the job I have now is the first I've had since then that doesn't require a particular uniform, haircut, and shave. A substantial chunk of what I do (say, 25 percent) is traffic control. People have issues, concerns, problems, questions, etc. and they wind up on the other end of the phone, or in the inbox -- either because they went straight to what seemed like a logical choice, or because another department shunted them off to the second floor. In most cases, I don't have the power to solve their issue, but I can get their info, put it in our spreadsheet, figure out where to go with it, and then follow-up, either with the person or with the department that took it.

The follow-up is key. Last week, a guy really let me have it (subject: bleachers at Alumni Field) for what seemed like ten straight minutes on the phone. I didn't create the problem, and didn't have the power to solve it, but the guy didn't care. The amazing thing, though, was that after the guy had let off a lot of steam, he took and breath, completely changed his tone and said [in a much calmer, more rational sort of way], "You know what? I think this whole situation sucks, but I'm really glad you got back to me to let me know about the city's decision. I really appreciate that."

I could totally relate to the guy. I've fought so many bureaucratic mini-struggles over the past 7+ years (and I'm fighting one now about the Reading-to-Devens unit transfer that I'm trying to push through) that I know how much it sucks to be ignored by the person who should be helping you through. Everyone with even a modicum of maturity knows the world isn't perfect. Sometimes things take time, sometimes bleachers need to be removed on safety grounds, and yes, sometimes the graffiti doesn't get removed from the side wall of the Superior Court.

Everybody *gets* that. They get the system, and they get the process, but they just want the basic respect that comes from someone saying, "I've got it. You matter, and you're not being blown off."

And back to the 'lanes in the road' issue -- that understanding is what keeps any earnest person in the system from really screwing things up by trying to be a hero and do things that should be done by someone else.

No CEO or ex-General or President is ever going to get up and say, "Dammit! I want to see more veterans get hired because they understand organizational structure and can distinguish good bureaucrats from bad ones!"

But if someone ever does, I'll be the guy hitting the 'Like' button.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ben, Congrats

Thanks to everyone who voted for Ben Rattray to be named one of TIME magazine's 100-most influential people in the world.

Ben, nice job with this!

During a 2010 barnstorming tour of the East Coast, Ben wound up at the wedding pictured here in Dracut. He is the guy immediately to my right, though he looks way better in the TIME profile, hyperlinked one paragraph up.

There is a Guardian article that recently came about about Ben and his site, One of the interesting "takeaways" from that article is that although the site was launched in 2007, it underwent two seismic evolutions since then -- first, to take it more towards activism content involving bloggers and discussion forums, as opposed to a standard social media profile w/an activist focus; and the second, major one, which was towards a petition-focused site.

The petitions have really taken off, to say the least, and the rest, as they say, is history.

If hadn't adapted in the direction that it needed to go, however, it could've been just another Silicon Valley bust story. That's important. Yes, there's such a thing as 'dumb luck' but this isn't that, or anything's about having a vision but also paying keen attention to your surroundings, making the needed course corrections, and then having enough grit to see them through.

I think lots of entrepreneurs have vision, and lots have grit. Far fewer have their antennae properly tuned to what's going to matter down the line, and what could make the difference between swimming and sinking.

Vision, by the way, doesn't have to mean you're fixated on a single great idea.

Last week, Patrick Murphy and I got to meet Desh Deshpande. (Theresa, thanks for the intro!) He made some really interesting points in a very short amount of time about the value of for-profit organizations in the *social good* realm, the importance of the new crowdfunding legislation, and the way entrepreneurial hubs can be created with talent that already exists in an area (rather than the hub having to be set up to then draw talent from outside-in). There was another salient point he made that really hit home for me, and it was about would-be entrepreneurs not needing to have The Single Big Idea in their head before getting started. In other words, if you're drawn to the energy and excitement of start-ups, you can get into the realm, and THEN apply your own energy and talents to the ideas and projects that come up that excite you. The Big Idea doesn't have to precede everything else.

I liked that because I felt like it sort of validated my *plan* or lack thereof. I want to be part of the start-up community, whether that's the Merrimack Valley Sandbox crowd, the Kendall Square crowd, or the Totten Pond Road crowd....or anywhere in between. I just don't have a single big idea. Or technical skills. Or an Engineering degree.

I think there's also an application to It didn't START as a petition-based site, but it was started by someone with an extremely rare combination of intelligence, ambition, and charisma who was keen enough to realize where to take it when he came to the fork in the road.

And, I might add, someone with the willingness to work every night until collapsing face-down in his laptop at 3 a.m., only to wake up a few hours later to start the whole process again.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Liz Warren, Retail

I had never met Elizabeth Warren before yesterday. The only other time I had been in the same room as this year's Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate race in MA was at the St. Patrick's Day breakfast. Afterwards, I noticed, she delivered the same opener as had Senator Brown, word-for-word. I scored him the winner in that one.

Yesterday at the Cambodia Town event at Clemente Park, Elizabeth Warren and her entourage arrived just a few minutes after the speeches and formal portions of the program had ended. The Democratic nominee then began to work the crowd, moving across the park in a mostly-clockwise sort of way. She stopped to talk to my sister-in-law Michelle, my wife, and me, with big hugs for each. She was friendly, she was warm, she seemed like she had all the time in the world for us, and she even cracked a joke on the fly about trying to introduce her 15-month-old grandson to our 13-month-old daughter.

Well, big deal, you might say -- she's a politician, right? She probably makes that joke to all parents of babies, she's probably been coached on the one-on-one stuff, etc., right? You would think that the basic rules of working a crowd -- be warm, make people feel important, stay long enough to make a connection but not long enough to be awkward -- would be too obvious to even mention, but apparently they're not. Think about the last time you met some public figure presumably vying for your vote -- did he or she act that way?

I will stand by the post I made after the Scott Brown event at the SAC Club -- he was great in the small setting (even if the one-on-one interaction I had with him left me kind of disappointed). However, I'm not swept up by someone who needs to tell me half a dozen times in a two-minute speech that he's a "regular guy."

As for this November, I will wear my bias on my sleeve, as I think that the Olympia Snowe retirement means that the need for moderate Republican New Englanders in the Senate is even more important than it was beforehand. I also think Scott Brown generally tends to vote in a way I like -- in other words, gays in the military are okay, but the "Buffett Rule" is a worthless political show that doesn't even begin to address our serious budget problems.

Cliched as it may sound, I feel like I fall more and more into that "social liberal, fiscal conservative" mold all the time.

But back to the observation I made on Sunday -- if you think that the Brown v. Warren race is about a *real person* who drives a truck up against an *out-of-touch* elitist professor, I think you've quaffed the wrong flavor of Kool-Aid. I'm not too partisan to be able to admit that.

Make the effort (or just be lucky enough to be standing in the right place) to meet them both.

Then make that call.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Notifications from the City

If you're interested in receiving e-mail notifications of important news and events from city departments, go to the City of Lowell website, and click on the "Receive City Notifications" blue box right in the center of your screen. Click through to enter your info, and then click the boxes for whichever departments you'd like to hear from.

If you elect to receive updates from the Mayor's Office, you'll get an e-mail each Friday with a summary of major events going on in the city, as well as a link back to the Mayor's page with a more detailed, comprehensive summary of what's happening, complete with links to both external sites and other city pages. I could be biased, but I think that'd be a worthy one to sign up for..

Pols Throwing Dirt

h/t to Sarah Favot of the Lowell Sun for the pic and the pun suggestion. I had a couple happy snaps from the University Suites groundbreaking on the 5th, but they were nowhere near as good! (I couldn't get the picture any bigger without losing clarity, but if you click on it, you'll see it in its original greatness...CM Lynch, Chancellor Meehan, and State Rep. Golden are the first three from the left, and Mayor Murphy is fifth from the left).

Dirt throwing at uml new dorm groundbreaking #lowell @lowellm... on Twitpic

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Another Worthy Cause: Ben Rattray for TIME 100

By following this link, you can vote for Ben Rattray to be named one of TIME's 100-Most Influential People for 2012.

In addition to founding the website, Ben was a groomsman at my wedding, which took place over the course of two days in Dracut and Cupples Square (Hong Kong, 310 Westford Street). No surprise, he became a quick fan of Our Fair City.

Now, what more reason do you need? Polls close on Friday.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Google Sketchup: The Final Six

Beryl Reid's depiction of Lowell, Massachusetts is one of six world finalists in the Google SketchUp "Model Your Town" competition. Go the link in the previous sentence, and VOTE!

Livin' It Up...on the Long Tail

A few weeks ago, George Anthes teased me a bit about blogging. He told me, "Look, Greg. I don't read your blog, and I'm not going to. No offense meant, but it's just not where I'm going to go in order to find out about things I care about."

I told him, "none taken" at the time, and did the same the next time I saw him, when the subject came up again at the St. Patrick's Day Breakfast. I get it. There are a very small number of blogs that offer up some Inside Baseball that drives the debate of the chattering classes in Lowell (Gerry Nutter, LiL) and one in particular that leads the way - unrivaled - as far as understanding the city's current events and its history (Richard Howe). Then there are about a dozen or more others on the long tail -- this one certainly included. All the blogs in this second category have their own individual strengths -- but, as marketers know, too much choice often leads the would-be consumer to just say "No, thanks," and move on.

One thing I mentioned to George at the time was that I enjoy writing in and of itself, but blogging (as opposed to just writing in a private journal stored on a hard drive) is a surprisingly great way to stay in touch with friends. Of the half-dozen or so friends I keep in some form of touch with from high school, and the other half-dozen or so from college, we barely call or e-mail each other these days. With jobs, families, homes, and lots of other commitments, that's not much of a surprise -- but I'm always pleasantly surprised that when we do, we don't have to waste much time as I recount what I've been up to...they already know. Even the buddy of mine who teaches at a b-school a couple hundred miles away, and who isn't great about returning e-mails or voicemails, checks in here every few when we do catch up, it's that much easier. I might do a couple entries here a week, but the beauty in this is that any given friend doesn't even have to check in weekly, or even monthly, to do a quick scroll from time to time and get the basic update that would otherwise take lots of effort inspired by one-to-one, back-and-forth e-mails...and just like a back-and-forth rally at a ping-pong table, in which one side is required to lob one back to keep things going, any such e-mail or phone exchange is doomed to die if it requires tit-for-tat play.

But there's another, much much more important point I should've made to George. It gives a better reason as to why ANYONE should consider blogging if he or she wishes to tell the story through his/her own eyes for posterity. When you throw something out there onto the Interwebs, you're writing part of the story for anyone who wants it to find. Thanks to the power of Google, that matters not just the day you write it, but pretty much anytime thereafter.

Here's a powerful case-in-point: look at Corey Sciuto's recent post on City Hall, rich with history, photos, and interesting details about one of the city's most prominent, and beautiful, landmarks. Who cares whether it generates a lot of self-important blather on WCAP or City Life -- ANYONE who looks up "Lowell City Hall" and pokes around a bit with the results that come back from Google, at ANY point in the future, could discover this gem. It could inspire similar projects in other cities, it could promote the city of Lowell, or it might just get ripped off by a student working on a civics project for school. Either way, it's a tremendous gift that Corey has provided for someone who probably doesn't know it yet.

This principle still applies for things that are less interesting and creative. I realized this when I did a search today to read more about the former Platoon Leader I deployed with in 2006-07 who is now running for a State Senate seat in North Yarmouth, Maine. Sure enough, right on that critical first page of Google returns came my own little encomium from a couple days ago. That's not because of any special skill or talent on my part -- it's simply because I wrote publicly about someone, using his proper name. Now, when people in North Yarmouth, or Portland, or wherever his district boundaries are, wonder about him, they can read a first-person essay written by someone who served with him in Iraq.

The power of the 'virtual pen' goes far beyond the immediate impact of the written word. Even if you wrote a blog that just focused on your little street, or your little building, or your little family, that would someday be the primary source of someone who wanted to know about it -- regardless of who did, or didn't, read it at the moment you clicked, "Publish." In fact, the more hyper-local your subject is, the more likely it is to be someone's Google-enabled gem down the road...(think about it, if I try to write about a Mitt Romney speech, I'm drowned out against thousands...but if I can capture something Patrick Murphy says at the Aiken Street residence dedication, I would actually have tremendous power to *shape* that story).

Any blogger has that power.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pericles? Parry, Please

While the Lowell Sun devoted considerable The Column real estate to the unexplained migration of a Pericles bust from a secure location in City Hall to another secure location in City Hall, located maybe 20 feet away from the first, the Boston Globe ran this piece by John Laidler about Lowell leading the way among five cities selected (Lowell, Amesbury, Somerville, Woburn, Worcester) to receive a $373k grant to help set the example across the Commonwealth for performance-based management.

That's worth filing under 'Big Deal.' Especially when some reactionary types still question why the city needs a data analyst -- never mind the cost savings that the position has provided us so far, which are backed up, by, well, data.

The grant paves the way for Lowell and the other named cities to compare their municipal governing practices in order to find ways for all to improve performance and efficiency while minimizing costs. That collaboration will set the tone for the other 346 towns and cities to follow suit.