My Electronic Jailer

No, it’s not locked onto my ankle (I thought that was a nice look on Lindsay Lohan but it tends to work better with Christian Louboutin’s, which are a tad out of my budget.).

Rather than lock onto my leg, my electronic jailer is firmly attached to my bra, where I conscientiously clip it first thing in the morning. It’s a chirpy jailer, greeting me everyday with an upbeat “Rock On!” And, “You Can Do It!” That’s the last nice thing I hear from it, though, because the rest of the day it is coldly counting how many steps I take, how many hills I climb, and how many calories I burn. My electronic jailer, aka my Fitbit, has the steely resolve I lack, and makes me feel incredibly guilty if I’m slacking off.

See what I mean? Man oh man…

Hey, just kidding. My Fitbit doesn’t really lecture. It does something worse, setting my own conscience on fire. Until I got my Fitbit, I thought my dog had the lock on making me feel horrible if I wasn’t jumping up first thing in the morning to walk her. Ha! The Boo, who is damn good at the pathetic stare, mind you, doesn’t compare to knowing that my steps are heartlessly being counted.

Consider this. There was a day not too long ago when I actually had to (gasp) work. All day long. I was tethered to my laptop, sweating a deadline. I wrote, I rewrote, I scratched my head, I played the occasional game of Bejeweled Blitz, I went to the garage for several diet sodas, I tossed my first draft and started again, I went to the kitchen to make a quick lunch, but that was about it. At the end of the day, would you like to know how many miles I had walked?

.34 miles.

Apparently mental gymnastics are not tracked by my jailer.

Did you know that doctors recommend you walk 10,000 steps a day? That pitiful third of a mile clocked in at about 680 steps. I know this because my Fitbit had me dead to rights.

I got my Fitbit at the end of October last year, because I’m compulsive enough that I knew an electronic jailer would actually get me moving. And it did. Here are some stats that I’ve racked up in the past six months:

  • 1,808,797 steps
  • 802 miles
  • 4,982 stories climbed (I live in the hills where it’s impossible to walk without putting in a fair amount of vertical effort)
  • Sneakers worn out: two pairs
  • Pounds dropped: 7
  • Jean sizes dropped: 1

I am NOT an athlete. Never have been. Never will be. So I am awed by what I’ve accomplished. The fact that Fitbit synchs with your computer and tracks your stats – plus you can compete with friends to see who walked the most each week – I find really motivating. Because I’m type A, neurotic and compulsive.  And although I complain about my Fitbit, it works. (Although it doesn’t get to go with me on vacation unless it’s a hiking vacation – everyone deserves a break now and then.)

You won’t find pricy Christian Louboutin’s on my feet. You will find well-worn Adidas, though. Can’t get 10,000 steps a day in when you’re wobbling around in six-inch heels, you know.


Facebook Begone?

The natives are restless.  I see it in an increasing number of posts and I’m hearing it in conversations over and over again.  Facebook has stuck its foot into the privacy issue, and users are not happy.

The war started in January, when Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg said that “the age of privacy is over.” As Marshall Kirkpatrick said in this blog, “I think Facebook is just saying that because that’s what it wants to be true.”

So inconvenient to have hundreds of millions of users and be obligated to keep data private.  Here are some eye-opening statistics for you:

  • More than 400 million registered people on its Web site (as of May 12, 2010)
  • 50 percent of those users log in every day (I’m one of them)
  • Users spend 500 billion minutes on the site each month

That’s a huge franchise, and one to be managed very, very carefully.

When I hear trusted friends who know far more about technology than I do raising questions about Facebook’s safety, I listen.  My friend and former colleague, Steve Nelson, is one of those people.  He makes his living architecting social media sites and intranets, giving him some pretty good credentials, in my view.  He’s spoken extensively about his view of the privacy issue in his blog, Clear Night Sky.  In his most recent post (well worth the read), Steve comments on Facebook’s VP of Public Policy Eliot Shrage’s comments on privacy, and summarizes the interview, along with his reaction.  My favorite is this one:

Schrage: “Our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users.”
My opinion: You gave them less control yet you still seem to think otherwise. They’re confused about why on earth you think you’ve given them more control. They’re confused because you created a confusing system.

Bingo. God knows I’m confused, and God knows I’m not alone.

Am I worried enough to kick the Facebook habit?  Could happen, although the very thought makes me sweat – I’m a true addict and I love how I can stay in touch with tons of people with whom I ordinarily could not ever stay in touch.  But do I want to worry about this?  No. And do I want to spend the time and mental energy required to understand the fine nuances of Facebook’s privacy policy? I really don’t, although I recognize that puts me in that very large category of people who don’t read the fine print.

Nick Bilton of the New York Times puts it this way:

Pop quiz: Which is longer, the United States Constitution or Facebook’s Privacy Policy?

If you guessed the latter, you’re right. Facebook’s Privacy Policy is 5,830 words long; the United States Constitution, without any of its amendments, is a concise 4,543 words.

If you want to know what this looks like in more detail, check out this link (I’ll spare the casual reader). Yikes.

Should you be worried? I don’t know.  I would guess that you don’t keep information on Facebook that lends itself to financial misconduct or blackmailing.  But consider this:  what if you had a teenage daughter who was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend?  What if you had a son who was gay and wasn’t ready to come out yet to the world but was comfortable talking about it with his friends?  What if you voted “yes” on California’s Prop 8 and now worry about being on the wrong side of that political misstep (I’ve stated my views on this before – I’d be horrified that you voted for such an outrageous law but I swear I wouldn’t stalk or smear you)?  Or, to take one from the other side of the political divide, suppose you’re pro-choice but don’t want to be car-bombed by some nut job?

Privacy lets us have conversations with people we trust.  Privacy lets us share our views and our lives with those with whom we have a relationship. Privacy…matters.

We all seem to get it.  Why doesn’t Facebook?

Cooking with

Charles Schulz’s Pigpen

Think of me as the old Peanuts character, Pigpen… dust and stuff whirling around me.  I am a creator of chaos, not order, unless I’m in that very focused eye-of-the-tiger mode when my superpowers spring into action and I can move mountains.

So I need to compensate.  And for me, technology is my co-pilot.  Thanks to the Internet, I don’t have to worry about filing items alphabetically or chronologically – apps will do that for me. I don’t have to worry about mislaying that important piece of paper – it exists electronically, not crumbled into a ball at the bottom of my briefcase.

What brought this subject to mind for me is that we entertained this weekend, and I was positively giddy about how easy technology made the whole process for me.  Let’s start with how I once did this….

I used to have a huge collection of cookbooks.  In each of those books, there might be one, two or maybe as many as five great recipes.  So when it came to entertaining, I’d drag those books out and start searching for something that I’m competent to create, is in season and goes well with other menu items.  Not a quick or a pretty process.  Then, once I located the recipe, I’d have to write down the ingredients so I could go to the market.  Which I would lose at least twice before getting to the store.  And when I finally started cooking, I’d inevitably realize that I had left at least one critical item off the list.  Which meant cooking interruptus – stop what I was doing and go back to the market, leaving something curdling on the stove top.

Even worse was my collection of clipped recipes.  They were always anywhere but where I needed them.  Some in an index box, others in an half-hearted attempt to organize in notebooks, too many free agents, floating around the house somewhere. This drove me crazy.  One year, I polled family members for their favorite recipes, added my own, pasted in photos of family cooking, and turned it into a pretty wonderful Shutterfly book.

But let’s face it, how often am I going to do that? (Answer: NEVER again!)

So I’ve been in search for another solution, and Sloane Mann gave me the ultimate answer:

Here’s how it works… You surf the Internet for a recipe, and when you find what you’re looking for, you click on ziplist and it immediately captures the recipe for you.  You are then given an opportunity to save the list in your recipe box or save it in the recipe box and have it generate a shopping list for you.  The shopping list is intelligently designed – it organizes, by market section, items you’ll need and then has a group of items that they believe you likely already have in the house – which keeps the list clean but also reminds you if you’re running low on salt or something.  Which means no more forgotten grocery items.

Pure genius.

Now, it’s not perfect.  I’ve discovered that while the program reliably copies in the name of the recipe and the ingredients, it sometimes misses the directions.  So watch out for that.  It’s an easy work-around with a little Control C action, but you need to remember to do it.  Even so, if you don’t, when you go back to your recipe book (which is searchable, BTW), the program has stored the original URL for you in case you need to go back to the online source.

So, if Apple wants to get me on board with the dreadfully named iPad, here’s my suggestion: Make it splatter proof and give it a sturdy grease-and-water-proof stand so I can access on it while in the kitchen cooking.  Now THAT would be fabulous!

And meanwhile, a big thank you to the smart people who created ziplist!  You are my cooking heroes!

I Am So Not The Demographic

This is the response I hear from Gen Y’s when I admit to my bafflement with the iPad love affair.  “But, lady, you are NOT the demographic this was designed to please…”

OK, fine.  I take a sip from my Malaax bottle and adjust my Depends so they don’t dig into my old lady stomach, as I ponder what this means. It’s true that I didn’t see many of my age(d) peers waiting outside Apple stores, giggling with anticipation at this latest toy. Probably because we’d have had to stay up past our bedtime.  On the other hand, if my slipping memory serves, didn’t Apple “thank” their most loyal customers who waiting hours for the first iPhone by dropping by the price by $200 within months of the first release? And then gave only a partial refund to the suckers who were so excited to be first on their block to get one?

Oh man, I am an old codger.

Things to be first in (in no particular order):

  • First in the eyes of your family
  • First in the eyes of your friends
  • First to defend your country, family and friends
  • First in line to get a piece of cake (they might run out, you know…)
  • First on the Southwest flight to pick your favorite seat.

Not first to try out the newest flashy gadget.  I don’t want to be the one to find out that you can’t plug in a smart card or use a standard UBS connection.  I also don’t want to test the limits of dropping it (which I’ve done with my Macbook, my iPhone and my Kindle, all with varying degrees of damage). I don’t want to find out firsthand how short the battery life is.

On the other hand, if I had young children at home, I would be tempted by the ability to download children’s books with beautiful illustrations to enjoy with my kids. If I were a video game addict, I would be tempted by the gaming experience.

But alas, I don’t and I’m not.  I love my iPhone, my iPod and my Mac laptop and desktop systems.  I use them constantly.  The only other appliance that gets this much use in our house is my Kindle, which is my favorite gadget of all. Even though it’s not in full color.  Even though it’s not backlit.  It is, however, perfectly sized and comes with a two-week battery.  You can read it in bed without disturbing your partner with a glaring screen. You can read it outside the sun without reflection.  For a reading devotee, it’s sort of perfect.

Does this mean I’ll never give into the siren call of the iPad?  Heaven forbid!  I gave into my jones for a Mini Cooper to the degree we now have two – one hard top and one soft. And I can see a day when the iPad will seduce me as well.  But not the first release, thank you very much.  Or the second.  Despite my advanced years, I think I’ll still be around when they come out with v3 which does amazing things never considered for v1 – and it will cost less, too.

Who knows?  Maybe it will even come with a Malaax bib to keep me from dribbling that white cocktail onto the iPad’s beautiful face…

Mining some glints of insight in the Participation Age

As I’ve commented before, Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, once said, “Want to learn something new?  Hang out with different people.”

So in September, my husband and I hung out with some very different people – copper miners inside a 15,000 foot mountain in the Andes, south of Santiago, Chile.  We spent the day seeing what it was like to mine copper, and over the course of six hours, traversed over four kilometers inside a series of three mountains, connected by elevators that hold 350 people and roads built deep inside the mountains themselves.


Here’s my big aha: thanks to technology, copper mining in Chile is no longer the killing profession that it was at one time.  Instead of tens of thousands of strong but poorly educated men armed with mostly pickaxes and courage, the mines now employ highly trained engineers and technicians who make use of sophisticated robotics and computer systems (nicknamed “Mother” inside the mine).  The revolution in the mining industry has helped turn Chile’s economy around and greatly contributed to its enviable political stability. (Of course, the high price of copper plus demand from China are major factors as well.)

My old image:  All mining is down underground, with rickety structures holding up walls.  Miners, breathing in toxic chemicals, work under imminent threat of mine collapse as they struggle to free the metals from the earth.

My new image:  Copper mining is done inside the core of the mountain, with the mine rising 8,000 feet from its base. (OK, that’s still a terrifying image for those of us with claustrophobia.)  Technicians sit at joystick-equipped chairs in front of large plasma monitors, commanding robots to move heavy equipment through the maze, crush rock and load ore.  Not a pickaxe in sight:


Mines still collapse – in fact, a mine in northern Chile suffered a collapse last June (a small fact my husband didn’t bother mentioning to me until AFTER we did our tour).  And yes, there is still a human component – they haven’t quite gotten to the point of robotizing the giant frontloaders, but I’m betting they will…


Fairness in reporting would require my adding one other insight, this one regarding the impact of litigation in the United States.  I’m guessing that there is no way that a mine, under U.S. tort laws, would let tourists into this situation!


I came away with a new appreciation of the work we do at Sun, bringing technology to the world. If you had any doubts that the Participation Age is changing the world, go to Rancagua and see for yourself the difference technology makes to the mining operations at El Teniente.