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The Joys of Video Production

Of the many things I love about my current job, one that is at the very top of the list is the opportunity to dabble in video production again (check out some projects here). While I stayed active in college between Newhouse assignments and NATAS projects, there haven’t been a lot of chances to get back into shooting/editing/producing mode since I left AIER back in 2010.

While I’m still getting used to Final Cut Pro X (there are some things to love, but some things to hate), I had a lot of fun working with Fidelis Care employees out at our Buffalo Office. They’re holding a big “IT Professionals Career Day” on April 26 and we thought it would be a good idea to produce a video about what it’s like working in the IT Department at Fidelis Care to help promote the 4/26 event.

I encourage you to check it out and, if you happen to reside in the Buffalo area and are looking to start or continue your IT career, register for IT Professionals Career Day: http://www.fideliscare.org/careerday

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The Tale of Captain Whitecoat – A Tribute to Betty

“Betty” was not always known by that name…

You see, “Betty” was born on a ship…a pirate ship. By the time she was 25 (2 in human years), she had already earned the reputation of being one of the fiercest feline pirates on the seven seas.

She could drink grog with the best of them (earning her the nickname, “Boozer”), had as foul a mouth as ever there was one, and had seen her share of battles. They called her “Captain Whitecoat”–a name feared far and wide. The Captain was no stranger to violence–she had slain many a sailor and shown no mercy to her enemies. However, she was loved by her crew and they knew that she would always lead them to victory. 

Years of drinking and fighting would eventually have an effect on her. One day, she stood too close to a cannon in the middle of a battle and *KABOOM*–she lost her hearing. Swilling that grog also did a number on her kidneys–they began to fail her. The stress of always looking over her shoulder lead to high blood pressure and chronic nervousness.

Now in her 50s (10 in human years), she knew she couldn’t lead her crew much longer. One day, she gathered them ’round and told them she would have to leave them–it was the best decision for her and for them. They wished her well and gave her a small boat and some rations to sail away, hopefully to a tropical island to live out the rest of her years.

Unfortunately for Captain Whitecoat, her fierceness and loyalty didn’t translate well to a sense of direction–she got lost in the Atlantic. Adrift at sea for many weeks, clinging to a small piece of wood, she eventually saw land on the horizon. Now in her 60s, she did the only thing a famously fierce feline pirate would do: jump into the ocean and swim for land. At the end of her tiring swim, she found herself on the rocky coast of Maine–alone and without any food or friends.

Walking along the rocky cost, Captain Whitecoat had to draw upon the last of her energy and ingenuity to survive–battling fox, hounds, hawks, and other predators in a desperate battle to stay alive. Eventually, she found salvation.

IMG_2920That’s when we met Captain Whitecoat. My parents found her near their home on the Maine coast, deaf and very hungry. She had obviously been out on her own for many weeks, having seen her walking along the beach a few weeks earlier. My mother–a cat-lover herself, but with two kitties at home already–called me one night wondering if we would consider adopting the survivor. Giving ourselves a few days to think it over (we had just moved into our new house), we said, “yes.” We named her “Betty”–we had no idea then she was a Captain!–and brought her back to Albany. She was with us for two and a half wonderful years.

In her late years we shared together, her pirating days were over: she loved spending every second by our sides or on our laps.

On Tuesday morning, we lost Betty to chronic kidney disease.* Even though I always hoped she could tell us, we will never know Betty’s real story. But I prefer to think of her this way: a legendary fierce feline pirate who was the master of the seven seas. That’s the best story I can tell to do justice to her spirit. In her last years–as a “retired” pirate–she was our friend, our companion, and a wonderful gift to both of us.

We miss you Betty. Thank you for everything you shared with us.

*If you have a cat suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease (aka chronic renal failure), I encourage you to visit this website–it was an incredible resource for us as we tried to help Betty manage her symptoms: http://www.felinecrf.org/
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Open Letter to Twitter: Why I’m Not Buying Your Stock

Twitter,

I think it’s time we have a heart-to-heart.

When you first started out, I thought you were a little quirky, but you had a lot of promise. Over the years, I’ve come to accept you as an important part of any comprehensive digital communications strategy.

Admirably, you’ve grown beyond being a place to just stalk celebrities. Your introduction of hashtags has certainly changed the way the world talks, which has been both bad and good.

When you decided to become a publicly-traded company, I quickly came to your defense. I argued that you were more than just a fad or Facebook-lite. That you offered something unique and valuable.

I still think that’s true.

But investing in your company? That’s a whole different thing.

See, I thought that a company based on customer engagement would, well, offer customer engagement itself. But for the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to reach you. You don’t have a phone number listed. You only send automated emails. And you ignore most of my tweets.

Even when I’m speaking your language, you’re not engaging me. And that’s where you’re making your biggest mistake.

See, here’s the bottom line:

Nothing about you is innovative except your users.

Your users are what makes you great. They’ve done way more than you ever could have imagined.

davinci_paintbrushesNo one credits Da Vinci’s paint brush for his great works. We credit his mind, his creativity, his ingenuity, his unrelenting curiosity.

At the end of the day, you are a tool. An impressive tool, but a tool nonetheless. If you want to be a company that people believe in and invest in, you need to become more than a tool. You need to become a company that engages and supports its users. A company that protects and enables its greatest asset.

So, until that becomes your modus operandi, I’m not investing in you.

In the meantime, people are going to pull the curtain aside and find there’s no little man operating the wizard–they’re going to find that there’s no one there at all.

Sincerely,
Disengaged User

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Social Media Hypocrisy: Follow Your Own Advice, Twitter & Facebook

Facebook and Twitter like to give me a lot of advice.

They tell me that I should be posting more often from my phone to better engage my company’s followers.

Or they recommend “boosting” a post on Facebook or promoting a tweet on Twitter to get better visibility.

And underlying all these recommendations is a consistent message: use social media to engage my followers, listen to their concerns, and deliver excellent customer service.

I agree with all of their recommendations: social media is, after all, social. If a customer complains or has a question, we should respond (whether that response takes place on social media, by phone, by web chat, etc. doesn’t matter–all that matters is a response).

To return the favor, here’s a little advice for Facebook and Twitter: follow your own advice.

I’m sure the two companies would respond to their customers…if they actually offered their customers a way of contacting them.

Have you ever tried to contact Facebook? Let me tell you–you can’t. You’ll first get sent to a bunch of FAQs. Have a question that isn’t a simple one? You may find a backdoor way to send an inquiry, but Facebook tells you up front that there’s not much of a chance they’ll respond. If you’re lucky, they may send out a form response. But don’t expect to be able to have a conversation, over the phone or by email.

The same is true with Twitter. The company seems more willing to send out form replies, but there’s no way of actually engaging in a conversation. So, if you’re not happy with the response, tough luck–you won’t be able to get a more satisfactory response or get any additional information.

It’s fascinating that two publicly-traded companies who actively work with businesses to improve their customer engagement strategies don’t follow their own advice. It’s one of the reasons I’m not a fan of their long-term prospects (full disclosure: I do own some Facebook shares). If you look at other digital media leaders like Google and Apple, they thrive on offering excellent customer service. It’s incredibly frustrating that Facebook and Twitter can’t do the same.

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…And Our Solar Adventure Continues

You may have noticed that it’s been almost four months since our solar adventure began on this website.

After completing all the initial paperwork with Monolith, we had to wait a good deal of time to get various approvals: from the power company, from NYSERDA, etc. So, if you’re contemplating your own solar adventure, that’s an important detail to keep in mind.

Thankfully, we got notified a couple weeks ago that the installation was officially scheduled for last week and that we would finally see some work done after almost six months since we first started the process.

As of Friday afternoon, the panels were up on the roof, ready to supply ~106% of our electric usage through a 10.8kW system. I took a little time off work so I could get a view in the daylight and got to go on an extra “ride” for fun. See the pictures for highlights:

While we still have a little work left on the inside, we should be able to finish it up this week!

Again, we’ve been really happy so far. I’ll try to report back in the future about how efficient the panels are, but we couldn’t be happier with Monolith. The installation crew was incredibly professional and the whole process–even the long wait time–has been quite enjoyable. They have a nice customer referral program, so if you’re interested in starting your own solar adventure (and trust me, it was an adventure), please feel free to contact me. Between their unique business model, impressive customer service, and attention to detail, I don’t think you can go wrong.

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When It Comes to Music, Patience Reaps Rewards

I have very little musical talent, if any. I might be able to keep the beat (or off beat, depending on my mood) and I can usually tell if something doesn’t sound right. I tried to learn the piano for six years, but lacked the commitment to actually learn. I bought a guitar before going to college, but I think that was mainly to aid my “cool” factor–I doubt that did much once someone actually saw me pick up the thing or realized the guitar was never tuned up.

All that being said, I love music and think I have a good ear for new bands and artists. I take a lot of pride in trying to listen to as many genres as possible. This may be due to one too many car rides to Great Barrington with Eric. Or because about the only thing one could do in Maine growing up was go for a ride and crank the tunes. Whatever the cause, music is a great passion in my life.

I’m not an anti-mainstreamer, either. I appreciate a good pop song. I also appreciate a good indie song (although I can’t quite understand Napalm Death, Eric). And I love it when the two collide.

A small part of me dies when I play a great new song from an unknown band and the immediate reaction is, “What is this?!”. A part of me also whimpers when someone dismisses a good pop song for a variety of lousy reasons. However, it’s probably the former that gets me going the most.

If you only restrict yourself to the top 40 stations, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Expand your horizon! There is nothing as thrilling as finding a great new song from a band no one has really heard of. But beyond that, it’s often the individual components that make these songs truly unique: textured sounds, harmonic chaos, uneven vocals, stunning lyrics, etc.

When you come across one of these indie gems, it’s such a thrilling experience. I vividly remember the first time I heard “Evil Empire” by The National, “Head Rolls Off” by Frightened Rabbit, “Adventures in Solitude by “The New Pornographers,” and even “Hang With Me” by Robyn. In fact, I think most significant moments of my life have a song tied to them. The soundtrack of our lives, I suppose…

So, instead of exclaiming “What is this?!” the next time you hear something a little different, give yourself a chance to get past the deep vocalist (The National), potentially alienating lyrics (Frightened Rabbit), or techno-vibe (Robyn).  When it comes to music, patience reaps rewards.

Every now and then, you’ll hear one of these songs break through. Maybe it was that hit by Florence and the Machine. Or Gotye. Or Imagine Dragons. Those are all good songs. But you know what’s more important? These artists often have a number of other songs that are much better than the big “hit.” Go take a listen :)

So, regardless of whether the song is too unfamiliar or too poppy for your tastes, try to show a little patience. You’ll love the rewards.