Friday, July 11, 2014

In Memoriam - John Earl Robinson - 4/14/1934 - 7/10/2014

My father died on July 10th, 2014. He was 80 years, 2 months, and 26 days old, approximately twice the age I am now. I am told he spent the last year or so of his life living with a female friend in a backwater town near where he grew up, my mother having died in 2010. If you read that post you will see some amount of yearning tenderness toward my mother. I'm less conflicted about my father.

Our relationship was fractured from the start. My earliest memory of him is when I was six years old and he, in a drunken rage, chased me with a fireplace poker. Once he caught me he beat me until I stopped crying. The next decade was less overtly violent but interspersed with threats to place me in a state home and crippling emotional abuse. I attempted suicide when I was 12, and again when I was 16. After my second suicide attempt a family doctor told my mother he was required to report the abuse and she was given a choice: either the state could take me into custody or I could leave my parents' house. My mother chose to have me live with my half-sister, Anita, for the next year. I escaped that world at age 18 and never looked back.

I don't grieve my father's death. I grieve for the childhood I never had. I mourn him never having the capacity to admit the wrongs he did or apologize for them. My goal in life is to never be the kind of person either of my parents were, and while I have a sister, half-sister, and half-brother, none of them are my family. I have chosen my family. They love, nurture, and support me. Some are related by blood. Most are not. I couldn't be happier, or more relieved.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The care and feeding of simple syrup

It's almost 80°F here today, so I'm calling it summer already. Along with summer comes icy drinks that you can never sweeten with granulated sugar because it doesn't dissolve. The solution is to make a solution: simple syrup.

The Solution

1 part sugar
1 part water

Combine both ingredients in a pot
Bring to a boil
Add to any beverage you want to sweeten

It really is simple to make. Keeping it, however, is a different matter.

Crystals Love Company

One thing you might run into is that the sugar crystallizes within a few days, creating a grainy, sticky mass more like sand mixed with honey than free-flowing simple syrup. Like this photo.

It still tastes the same and you shouldn't throw it away (see below), but it won't dissolve in an icy drink.

Solving The Solution

The crystallization is triggered by undissolved sugar crystals that latch onto dissolved ones and pull them out of solution. There are two primary approaches to preventing it. The first is to do everything you can to ensure all the sugar granules are dissolved. Stir it as little as possible, and use a wet pastry brush to wipe down the inside of the pan or put a lid on the pan so the steam washes the undissolved sugar off the sides. This will not give you 100% results, though.

The second, and easiest way to prevent crystallization is to use an interferer. Cream of tartar and lemon juice both contain acids that will prevent sugar from crystallizing. So, add a squeeze of lemon to your simple syrup after you remove it from the heat. Problem solved. Oh, and if you do end up with crystallized simple syrup, just heat it again to melt it and add some lemon juice. It'll be fine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Catching up

The following will only be news to anyone who isn't my Facebook friend.

On a Friday in June 2012 I was fired by courier. It boiled down to a pissing contest with a newly hired VP. He told me to pull a network cable between two buildings during a thunderstorm. I refused, citing the absurdity of being 30 feet off the ground in a metal scissor lift during a lightning storm, and offered to do it the following day. His reply: "Put on your man pants and do it." I pointed out my lack of such a thing, and since he apparently had them it made him the better candidate, so he should take care of it himself. That got me fired. The truly ironic thing is I was going to turn in my resignation the following Monday when my boss returned from vacation. Instead I got to collect unemployment for six months and they were left without anyone who knew their IT systems. From the word that got back to me, I got the better end of the deal.

The reason I was quitting is because Myron and I were planning to move to Mexico in October 2012 and open a bed and breakfast. I spent the summer of 2012 getting the house ready to put on the market. We were talking to realtors when, in early November, we learned the Mexican government had passed sweeping changes to their immigration laws that made it much more difficult for us to move. Our plans were put on hold indefinitely.

In November 2012 Myron finally left his job of 38 years at the Medical University of South Carolina, and I floated along until my unemployment benefits ran out in December. I contemplated returning to the IT field, but I and couldn't bring myself to go back to a field that I had grown to despise. We spent 2013 traveling a lot and talking about what we would do next. Since I was home all the time and Myron was only working one job it was easy to get away and do things, and we visited friends in Tennessee frequently. I think the mountains grew on Myron and we started talking about running a B&B in western North Carolina.

After one of these trips last summer, Myron asked me if I wanted to go back to culinary school. My last experience was pretty disheartening so I thought about it for a while, and finally decided I would. I started at the Culinary Institute of Charleston in January 2014 and anticipate graduating in May 2015 with an Associate's Degree in Culinary Arts Technology.

For those who have followed me for a while, this blog is going to be almost entirely cooking-related from here on out. The only tech stuff will be me struggling to enter the modern world from the consumer side.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

For my final in my Introduction To Baking class we had to make strawberry rhubarb pie. Here is the recipe we used. Note that this makes one 5" mini-pie tin. Double the pie dough and filling recipe for a regular 10" pie, and increase the streusel topping by a third. Also note that the filling has two separate water measurements, and they are used separately. Don't do as someone in class did and guesstimate how much 2 oz is and mess up your filling.

Pie dough

2.65 oz all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
small pinch of fine-grained salt (not kosher)
1.85 oz cold shortening
0.90 oz cold water

  1. Combine the flour and salt
  2. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture until small pea-sized nuggets form
  3. Add the water and mix gently until the dough just comes together and all the flour is incorporated. It will be very sticky.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface
  5. Pat into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Streusel Topping

1.5 oz all purpose flour
1 oz butter
0.50 oz brown sugar
0.05 oz cinnamon (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  1. Combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon
  2. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until small pea-sized nuggets form
  3. Chill until ready to use

Strawberry Rhubarb Filling

3.35 oz strawberries, trimmed and halved (weigh after they are trimmed)
3.35 oz rhubarb, medium chop
0.25 oz cornstarch
1.35 oz granulated sugar
1.35 oz water

2 oz water
0.05 oz cinnamon (about 1/4 teaspoon)

  1. Combine strawberries and rhubarb in a bowl
  2. Combine cornstarch and sugar in a separate bowl
  3. Add 1.35 oz water to the cornstarch mixture and stir until smooth
  4. Bring 2 oz of water to a boil over medium heat
  5. Add the cornstarch mixture to the boiling water and while over the heat whisk constantly until the mixture forms a gel and becomes transparent
  6. Pour the hot gel mixture over the fruit and stir to combine
  7. Stir the cinnamon into the filling mixture

Final assembly

  1. Roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick
  2. Line a 5" pie tin with the dough and trim the edges
  3. Fill the pie shell with the filling
  4. Top with streusel topping. You will have extra topping, just use enough to coat the top well.
  5. Bake at 375F for 30 - 35 minutes, until the streusel and the edges of the crust are lightly brown

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cucumber Lemonade

We've having a dinner party tonight and I want to serve a refreshing summer drink. I have made cucumber lemonade before by purchasing lemonade and pureeing it with cucumbers. This time I decided to make it all from scratch. The following recipe yields a gallon of cucumber lemonade.

2 quart saucepan
1 gallon pitcher
small sieve
optional - permanent coffee filter

2 C water
2 C sugar
2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 C water
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
pinch of kosher salt


1. Make simple syrup
  • Combine the sugar and water in a 2 quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • When the sugar is fully dissolved and mixture is clear, remove from the heat.

2. Puree the cucumber
  • Put the chopped cucumber in the blender carafe
  • Add a pinch of salt
  • Pour about half the lemon juice through a sieve into the blender
  • Mix on high until liquefied, about 2 - 3 minutes
  • OPTIONAL - Strain the cucumber mixture through a permanent coffee filter. This will give you a clearer lemonade. If you don't do this step the cucumber pulp will separate over time and you will have two distinct layers to your lemonade. Stir it before pouring and it will be fine.
3. Assemble the cucumber lemonade
  • Pour the cucumber puree, simple syrup, and remaining lemon juice into a 1 gallon pitcher. Add 6 C water and stir to combine. Taste and add more water if it seems too sweet. Chill before serving.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Charleston Restaurant Week - September 2012 Winners

Charleston Restaurant Week just wrapped up twelve crazy nights from September 5th through 16th. We had plans to be out of town for the closing weekend so we went out nine nights in a row, breaking our long-standing trend of going out every night.

While it's not a competition there are clearly some winners and some losers. The competition was fierce and this time Circa 1886 and Tristan tied for our favorites. Honorable mentions go to Husk and Il Cortile del Rey, which were both good but not at the same level as the first two.

Based solely on the food I would be hard-pressed to pick one over the other, but the service at Circa put them a notch above in my book. Here are photos of our dinner at Circa. We each got three courses, and we went with friends who were kind enough to let me photograph their dishes.

Roasted beets, whipped BLiS 9 maple vinegar, arugula, goat cheese aioli, house made buttermilk cracker

Hot corn custard, cold corn soup, red pepper caviar, micro greens

Tomato sourdough bread pudding, pesto, bloody Mary shooter

Seared strip steak, sauteed Napa cabbage, parsnip puree, Bordelaise sauce

General Sanders chicken, Carolina Gold fried rice, broccolini, carrot puree, sake poached peach

Antelope lion, browned butter sweet potato hash, chanterelle mushrooms, banyuls glace

Strawberry souffle, honeysuckle ice cream

And here is the dinner at Tristan for just the two of us.

Sweet corn soup, sheep's milk feta, lemon agrumato

Smoked Ligurian potato salad, piquillo peppers, house made mozarella (the snake)

Beef short rib, pearl barley minestrone, pickled ramps

Poached shrimp, fregola pasta, grapefruit, English peas, buttery carrot sauce

Honey cake, almond brittle, Greek yogurt, candied lemon

Chocolate cheesecake, sour cherry sherbet, pistachio crust

A parting mignardise - Snobiette of tiramisu cream

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

how not to compete with free

A while back I got an e-mail from Adam Osborne asking me to delete this blog post. [Note that the Adam I reference there is not Adam Osborne.] His primary bone of contention was that when people search for Defrag.NSF, a product he created and sells, my post is the third listed in Google. I'm sympathetic to his plight, but frankly that's not my problem.

Adam went on to say my post referenced DominoDefrag, and he objected to that because:
History shows that DominoDefrag has systematically implemented similar features as those contained in Defrag.NSF, even to the point where it implemented an algorithm that we had a patent for.
This pissed me off for a few reasons. First and foremost, Adam's inability to compete isn't my problem. Secondly, if you have a legal claim you need to take it up in a court of law. And finally, if you read my post you will see that I don't mention DominoDefrag. That's because I wrote this on 23 March 2009, three weeks before the DominoDefrag project was established.

Since Adam did cite a legal issue I asked if he had documentation of the infringement. He conceded he did not and cited legal costs as a deterrent. At this point I could have walked away, but my sense of fairness was tweaked. I thought the author of DominDefrag deserved to know that these accusations were being made. I looked up the project on OpenNTF and contacted  the project leader, Andrew Luder, to get his take on it.

Andrew was surprised because he thought this matter was resolved in September 2010. That was when he had his last correspondence with Adam. He admitted he had unknowingly infringed Adam's patent, which was only applicable in Australia. As soon as he was notified he destroyed that version and switched to a different technique. Andrew was astonished that over a year later Adam was still crying foul. He copied his lawyer on the e-mail thread, who advised Andrew and me that the matter was legally resolved. Since I didn't even mention DominoDefrag in my post I was clearly not at fault.

I am sharing this because Adam tried to bully me and slander Andrew. I won't tolerate that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How to connect a new user to an existing mailbox in Exchange 2003

We hired a new PC Tech and today he was fixing one of his mistakes. He sent a laptop to a user after having Ghosted it but without running Sysprep on the computer before he created the image. It caused all sorts of annoyances. In the process of fixing this mistake he made another. Instead of deleting the computer account from Active Directory he deleted the user's account. He didn't even think it odd or say anything when it prompted him to delete the user's mail.

It took a while but I finally found a way to register a new user and get him connected to the existing mailbox.
  1. Open Exchange System Manager and navigate to the old mailbox. Right-click and select Delete. It's okay, it won't really be deleted, it just gets flagged for deletion. It would have to sit like this for at least 4 days before it really gets deleted, unless you have changed the interval from the default. The important part is Exchange will remove the existing ownership information to you can reassign it to another user.
  2. Register the user from the Exchange server. Go through the setup as you would for any other user, including creating a new mailbox. You need to create it in a different message store than the existing one, though.
  3. After the user is registered and the processes have run to populate his SMTP and X400 addresses, right-click the user and delete his mailbox. This time it will really delete his mailbox, and that's okay since it was just temporary.
  4. Back in Exchange System Manager, right-click the old mailbox and select Reconnect. Enter the user's account name and click OK.
  5. Give it about 10 minutes you should be able to get to the user's existing mail.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


It's a new year so it's time for some resolutions.

  1. I resolve to make commitments, not resolutions.
That was easy. The difference between a commitment and a resolution is the former is a plan, the latter a promise. Last year I picked three words as promises and I didn't keep any of them. This year I'm turning those three into commitments.

  • Do - This has started already. I have a plan for getting my environment to be one that energizes rather than drains me. It includes a lot of change and diplomacy, two things I don't usually do well. I am also putting together plans to make my job more enjoyable and to do what needs to be done.
  • Share - I made a promise to share something I create with five people. I only completed it for one. The rest will get theirs by the end of March. It's part of that doing thing. I have also neglected this blog for far too long. I will be sharing on a weekly basis because that keeps me motivated to do more.
  • Joy - Like my friend Tom I get a lot of joy from being anonymously helpful. I volunteered to help build a park in my neighborhood, and every year we do our annual Dining With Friends dinner. I need to do more. This one is the hardest to plan because part of my joy also comes from the spontaneity of acts of kindness. I can't really plan to track down someone who needs my help. I can make myself open to it and put myself in a place where I find it more easily.
Here's to a year of energized commitments.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

Last night we had a party for Myron's alumni from Bishop England High School. One of the appetizers was Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, which is a recipe from Food & Wine Cocktails 2008. I don't know who Ike is but these are some fantastic wings. They are crunchy, salty, sweet, and the fresh herbs and fried garlic make them absolutely delicious.

In Charleston you can buy Vietnamese fish sauce at most Asian markets. I like the Three Crab brand, and get it at H&L Market.

Chicken wings
  • 3lb chicken wings, split at the drumette and tips trimmed off
  • 1/2 C fish sauce
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 4C to 6C vegetable oil, approximately
  • 1C cornstarch
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 T chopped cilantro
  • 1 T chopped mint
  1. Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Put the prepared chicken wings into a 1 gallon zip-top bag.
  3. Pour the marinade over the wings and refrigerate for at least three hours, turning occasionally. They can be left overnight, just be sure to put the bag into a bowl or baking dish in case it leaks.
  4. Remove the wings from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking them.
  5. Drain the marinade from the wings and reserve the marinade. It will be reduced to make the sauce.
  6. Place the wings on a layer of paper towels to dry.
  7. Pour oil into a large pot to a depth of approximately two inches and bring to 350F (177C) over medium-high heat.
  8. While waiting for the oil to heat, put the marinade in a pot and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Skim off the protein raft that forms on the top. Reduce to a syrup consistency, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Pat the wings dry with paper towels and dredge in cornstarch. Making sure they are covered thoroughly but shake off any excess cornstarch. Work in batches of four to six pieces, if you dredge too many and they sit for too long the cornstarch will get gummy and they won't be crispy.
  10. Fry the wings in batches of four to six pieces until crispy and chicken is done, about 8 to 10 minutes. Monitor the temperature of the oil  because it will drop when you add the wings. You can turn up the heat to help the oil return to temperature more quickly, just keep an eye on it. You don't want it to go above 360F (182C).
  11. Remove the wings from the oil onto a cooling rack or a platter lined with paper towels.
  12. When finished frying the wings, heat 2T vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.
  13. Add the minced garlic and fry, stirring frequently, until the garlic is golden brown. Remove the garlic from the pan and allow the garlic to cool.
  14. When the wings have cooled enough to handle, put them in a bowl and drizzle with half the syrup. Toss to coat, then cover with remainder of syrup and toss again.
  15. Transfer wings to serving bowl or platter and top with fried garlic, chopped cilantro an chopped mint.
I planned to take a picture but by the time I made it to the table they were gone!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Simple smoked salmon spread

Even though the temperature is still in the 90's and the humidity envelopes me like a hot wet blanket, September means cool weather is around the corner. While working as a fishmonger in college I learned that most salmon spawn in the Fall. What better way to combine the promise of Fall with the reality of the heat and make a delicious cold smoked salmon spread?

Smoked Salmon Spread

  • 1.5 lb fresh Pacific salmon fillet
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 small to medium shallot
  • 2t salt, more for seasoning
  • 2t sugar
  • 1T capers
  • cooking oil, enough to coat the bottom of a saute pan
  • 1T unsalted butter
  • Microplane grater
  • 4 quart mixing bowl
  • small bowl, approximately 1C
  • wooden spoon
  • saute pan
  • Cameron's Cookware stovetop smoker*
  • Peel the shallot and cut into a fine dice. Split the shallots into two piles of roughly 1/4 and 3/4.
  • Use the Microplane to zest half the lemon into the mixing bowl.
  • Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the zested half into the mixing bowl, being careful to keep the seeds out. Reserve the other half of the lemon.
  • Add 1/4 of the shallots, sour cream, salt and sugar to the mixing bowl with the lemon and stir to combine. Set aside.
  • Set up the smoker with 1T wood chips over medium-low to medium heat. I use apple, cherry, alder, or pecan. Don't use mesquite, hickory or oak, the flavor is too heavy for salmon.
  • While the smoker is heating up rinse the salmon under cold running water, pat dry, and sprinkle lightly with salt.**
  • When the first wisps of smoke come out of the smoker spray the rack with nonstick spray, place the salmon on the smoker rack skin side down, and close the smoker.
  • Set a timer for 18 minutes.
  • Heat the oil in the saute pan over medium heat.
  • When the oil ripples add the butter and swirl it around the pan while it melts.
  • Add the remainder of the shallot and saute until golden brown. Be very careful, it won't look like anything is happening then they will go from golden brown and delicious to burned and bitter very quickly.
  • Pour the shallots and any oil into a small bowl and set aside.
  • When the timer goes off turn off the heat and open the smoker slightly. Let stand for a few minutes, then open the lid fully and remove the salmon. Place the salmon flesh side down on a cutting board and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  • Peel the skin off the salmon and scrape off the grayish-brown layer that separates the muscle and skin. A spoon works well for this. Be gentle so you don't scrape up too much of the salmon flesh. Let the salmon cool for another 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Add the salmon and the sauteed shallots to the sour cream mixture in the mixing bowl and break up the salmon with your spoon. Stir vigorously, breaking up large chunks, until the salmon and sour cream mixture are fully incorporated.
  • Add the capers and stir gently. You don't want to crush the capers.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Check for seasoning, adding more salt or lemon if needed.
Yield: 20 to 30 cocktail party servings

* You could use an outdoor smoker, but since I don't have one I'm providing instructions for a Camerons Cookware stovetop smoker. This is an easy way to get smoky delicious food in the convenience of your kitchen. Note that it does leak some smoke, so if you're in an apartment or a small house you might want to open a window. If it billows like a locomotive it means you have the heat too high.

**Another variation would be to grill the salmon instead of smoking it. The last option I'll leave you with is to bake the salmon, and for smoky flavor you could add a sprinkle of smoked sea salt. The recipe will work no matter how you cook the salmon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My brushes with the space program

With the last shuttle mission underway a lot of people are recounting their experiences growing up and following the US space program. I never was that into it. I read sci-fi and dreamed of escaping to another world, but I never paid much attention to the space program.

That changed a bit in seventh grade because my science teacher was one of the ten finalists to be the first teacher in space, a spot ultimately won by Christa McAulliffe. She took every opportunity to share what she learned in her training and it was fascinating. We watched the Challenger launch in science class the morning on January 28, 1986 and were horrified when the shuttle exploded. The first thing that went through my mind was "That could have been Ms. Salyers!" She was my favorite teacher and it was gut-wrenching.

My partner Myron's father was a Captain in the US Navy. One of his missions was to lead the flotilla that would have picked up the capsule from the first moon landing if they had to land in the Atlantic instead of the Pacific. He spoke only vaguely of the experience, and said he was temporarily granted Cosmic Clearance so he could be debriefed. Unfortunately he never got to meet the astronauts, or at least he never talked about it. I'm still in awe that he was there for such an incredibly important point in human history, and there was a reasonable chance he could have played a role in it.

I wasn't glued to the TV for launches and I can't even name all the space shuttles, but the space program has still been an inspiration.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

If Sarah Palin was a waitress

Customer: "What's the special of the day?" 

Waitress Palin: "Our special...uh...cod. The Cod Special."

Customer: "Okay. How's that prepared and does it come with anything?"

Waitress Palin: "Well...uh...that's a good question and...uh...I appreciate you asking that question because it's good. The Special Cod is specially prepared by our fantastic chef who's just a real good, real hardworkin' American. He'll cook that right up for you, special-like, and it's just delicious. And then I'll bring it out and you'll like it, it's just real tastey."

Customer: "Okayyyyy...I'll just have the fish and chips with a Diet Coke."

Thirty minutes later, no fish and chips, no diet coke.

Customer to random other waiter: "Hey, can you get my waitress...Sarah, yeah her name was Sarah. I ordered the fish and chips with a Diet Coke thirty minutes ago and I haven't seen her since."

Random Other Waiter: "Ooh, sorry bro. Sarah just quit. Just up and quit and it was only halfway through her shift." 

Taken from NomNom83's comment on Gawker.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Dining With Friends 2011 - Ciao Baby!

It's that time of year again: Dining With Friends. This is the thirteenth year my partner Myron and I have hosted a party for this event. This year we're having our party on Saturday, May 14th. We selected Italian as the theme and Myron combed through over 30 cookbooks and magazines to come up with a master list of over 120 recipes. We eventually whittled that down to 19. Below is what we came up with, with links to the recipes.

Crostini bar:
Main courses:
Side dishes:
Other recipes:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A call for passive activism

IBM is celebrating their 100th anniversary by highlighting their top 100 contributions. One they selected is World Community Grid. From the World Community Grid website:
World Community Grid brings people together from across the globe to create the largest non-profit computing grid benefiting humanity. It does this by pooling surplus computer processing power. We believe that innovation combined with visionary scientific research and large-scale volunteerism can help make the planet smarter. Our success depends on like-minded individuals - like you.
Here's how it works: IBM donates the hardware and coordinates the projects that get submitted to WCG. People like you and me install an application on our computers that downloads work for these projects -- such as curing cancer, AIDS, and polio, or finding more nutritious strains of rice -- and then churns through it (or as I like to say "and a miracle occurs"). Once it's all analyzed the data is sent back to WCG where the IBM servers aggregate it for the researchers.

You don't have to leave your computer on all the time, or have it running constantly so it slows down your computer. The hour your screensaver is running while you're at lunch or in a meeting is an hour you could be contributing to solving the world's problems.

Incidentally, there is a WCG team for Lotus Domino Bloggers. There are 26 members but only three of us have been active in the last couple of months. If you're reading this through PlanetLotus please consider joining your peers.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Motorola Atrix is the reincarnation of IBM Meta Pad circa 2002

It's no secret that I'm a slow adopter of mobile technology. It comes down to one reason: IBM spoiled me with the Meta Pad. This little gem debuted out of IBM Research in 2002. That's right, nearly 10 years ago IBM was touting a mobile computer you could carry with you and connect to various docks for different purposes. Antelope Technology licensed the Meta Pad and sold it as the Mobile Computer Core. People stayed away in droves. It was incredibly expensive, heavy, bulky and slow. Antelope Tech closed its doors within a couple of years.

IBM's idea of carrying your computer with you and just plugging it in to different form factors has stuck with me for the last decade. I knew what was possible and I wouldn't settle for anything else. I never bought a smartphone because I didn't want a phone. I wanted a mobile device that was a lot more flexible.

Other devices entered this space, most notably the Oqo and FlipStart. To me they were awkward compromises, and they're still prohibitively expensive. The closest I have found to meet my wish list was the SmartBook from Always Innovating. The only problem with that is it's only WiFi. I wanted something I could use as a phone, but since the SmartBook was so close I was seriously considering purchasing it. I never expected any manufacturer to build what I wanted.

Then Motorola announced the Atrix. I read a review of it and I was stunned how closely this mirrored IBM's goals from a decade ago. It's a phone. Dock it and you can play music and videos to your home entertainment system, using a remote. Connect a keyboard and fire up a full version of Firefox. Insert into a laptop chassis and enjoy a larger screen while traveling. And it's not insanely expensive.

Thank you, IBM, for showing the world what was possible. You're often ahead of your time, but I'm glad in this case it has come full circle.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

your zone of influence (is much bigger than you think)

Last night I attended a volunteer training session for the upcoming Charleston Wine + Food Festival. A large portion of the session centered around customer service. There will be over 18,000 people attending the festival this year and there are more than 400 volunteers. We will be wearing burgundy aprons and we will be the most visible face of the Festival.

Over half the Festival attendees are traveling from out of state; one-third have never been to the festival before; and fifteen percent have never been to Charleston. If they don't have a positive impression of me it will reflect on that person's opinion the Festival as a whole, Charleston, the South, and who knows what else. It is critical that every volunteer leave every guest they influence with a positive impression.

David McNair, co-author of Exceptional Customer Service, is a Charlestonian and was there to talk about our zone of influence. This was defined as:
  • The number of people you actually speak to. Volunteers from last year said to expect to talk to 500 people in a 4 hour period.
  • People are highly visual and at events such as this anyone official-looking immediately draws attention. So add the number of people who pass within 10 feet that we don't actually talk to. This was estimated to be twice the number you do speak to, so that's 1500 people total. Yes, people you will form an opinion of you from 10 feet away. It's not fair, but that's life.
  • Most of the events happen in tents where people file through, but some are outdoors. In open spaces people will notice you from up to 30 feet away. The number of contacts jumped to 2000. So not only do you have to worry about the people you directly talk to, and the ones who pass 10 feet away, but the people three times as far who can't even hear your voice will also form an opinion of you.
  • And finally, he threw out the number 5, which he used as a multiplier. This is because on average every person we influence will tell five other people. If it's a positive experience they usually tell two to three people, and if it's negative they tell ten to twelve. On average it works out to five. That brings us up to 10,000 impressions made in a 4 hour period.
David went on to say that people form their first impression within seven seconds of engaging someone. That doesn't mean talking to them, that's simply from the point of first sight. If you have a 60 second conversation the other person has made a final judgment about you, including whether they find you trustworthy. How to you make sure someone you don't even notice but who sees you from 30 feet away forms a positive impression of you?

David talked about how simple things can make or break a good customer service experience. Since most of the people we are influencing are not even going to talk to us we need to be aware of the message we're sending. Are we smiling or do we look bored? Are we slouched over or are we standing with good posture? Do we appear energized or tired? These seemingly small details have a tremendous impact, up to 30 feet away.

It is a little daunting to think that I may be influencing 10,000 people in a single four-hour period. It's an incredibly important seven seconds.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

three words

I don't do resolutions. The idea of a point in time when you commit to lofty unattainable goals, or even realistic achievable ones, just doesn't interest me. I work toward what interests me, and that changes as my relationship to the world around me changes.

My friend Kat French posted about a meme among her friends of doing a three-word resolution. Encompassing your broad goals and intentions with bare language leaves more to interpretation. I can get behind this.

My three words are:

  1. Do
  2. Share
  3. Joy
Dreaming and wishing only get you so far. Doing actually makes things happen. All that doing yields results. Keeping them to myself isn't why I'm doing all the doing. I have learned that sharing brings me joy. When I share the results of my doing, know that I'm actually being selfish. It isn't about you, it's about me.

* Update 1/14/2010 to fix link Blogger screwed up.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Please take the time to read this

I had never heard of Bill Zeller until today. He created a bunch of projects that a lot of people use, though. He was also apparently incredibly smart. He committed suicide January 5th, 2010.

Bill's suicide note is long, but please take the time to read it. Bill endured horrors no one ever should and his note describing them is painful to read. I can tell you from my own first-hand experience it's much, much worse from his side. It struck a chord with me because I felt like he did for much of my life. I'm thankful for everyone, and especially Myron, who helped me see that life is worth living. It's tragic that so many people never get the chance to feel loved.