Wednesday, November 30, 2005

the personal and the public

So, why write a Publications Office blog?

This started out as an experiment after a staff meeting when, Daniel, our web guy, talked about corporations hiring people to blog for them and university admissions offices asking students to keep a blog about their lives on campus. Something about this sounded oddly interesting to me.

One day, I was stuck on a project. Instead of continuing to feel frustrated, I typed "blog" into Google. Yes, I am so not with it that I didn't actually have any blogs bookmarked or RSS subscribed. I was - and still am - shocked at the number of people communicating with the whole world via blog on a regular basis. In so many areas of our lives, the personal and the public seem to be blurring, while, at the same time, we compulsively protect our identity.

If a major of theme of the twentieth century was isolation and alienation, the twenty-first century seems to promise an era of connectivity and communication, even if at this exact moment we may feel a little too connected (as we talk on the cell phone, give hand signals to hair dresser, while keeping an eye on CNN being broadcast on a television screen hanging from the salon's ceiling). We may feel like we are communicating too much as we answer dozens of e-mails and IMs each day, all the while blogging our most personal thoughts to the entire world. And then we go home and the television gives us reality shows - glimpses into emergency rooms and people's living rooms.

But, even if it all seems a little crazy and ill defined at this moment, I think in a few years the novelty of posting home movies, sending camera phone photos, and posting intimate thoughts to the web will have faded and we will better understand how to use these tools to create a sense of worldwide community. I think as a society we will internalize what poets have always known: the written word is the individual's most powerful tool.

So, I guess I still haven't answered the questions "why write a Publications Office blog?" But I will keep working on it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Lost Footing

After a week off, I was walking rather slowly to work this morning. As I crossed Bradley Avenue towards Swords Hall, I found myself face down on the pavement. My right knee absorbed most of the shock from my fall, and I felt blood dripping down my leg. My grocery sack of coffee, tea, and granola bars was strewn out in front of me. I picked myself up and looked around to see if anyone had seen me wipe out. I was running a little late, so the sidewalks were clear. I found the culprit - a little round nut from a nearby tree. I hobbled into the building and to the bathroom to clean up the blood. My body felt jarred from the fall and my mind had a hard time readjusting to the workday. By midmorning I got into a groove and got some things done. In the afternoon, Paula and I walked across campus to check out some shelving that another office on campus had discarded. We were hoping we could use it to store over 100 years' worth of Bradley yearbooks that are currently in boxes. As we walked, I realized that my body was starting to feel stiff and sore all over.

Over Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law, Doug, came up from Kentucky with all sorts of tree climbing and trimming equipment. He had a purpose - to clear the dead and dying limbs from my mother's sycamore trees. He was doing great, despite all of our protests that we should hire a professional to do this. He was almost finished and was pulling on a rope tied to a limb. I'm not sure what happened, but the rope broke and the log slammed down on his ankle, breaking the small leg bone.

Nothing like time away from work to make you lose your footing and your focus.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Personal Stories

I had to run an errand after work yesterday. I was driving across town listening to NPR's "All Things Considered." I had missed the beginning of the story and came in on a description of a doctor twirling ice picks and of the sound the picks made as the doctor thrust them through the patient's eye during a transorbital lobotomy. Then Howard Dully, one of the doctor's patients, began to speak in a hoarse, measured voice. His story completely held my attention. I couldn't go in the store until after the piece, which turned out to be 25 minutes long, finished. The doctor had lobotomized Dully in 1960 and countless other people throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Dully tracked down the doctor's son and interviewed him. He reconnected with his father to try to get an explanation of why he would have allowed his 12-year-old son to be lobotomized. He interviewed other patients (victims) and their families. After living a life of anger and frustration over having lost a part of himself "in his ten minutes with Dr. Freeman," talking to others and telling his story finally brought him peace.

For me, this story reminded me of how inescapably fascinating it is to hear of the pain, suffering, excitement, and joy, of other people's lives. That's one reason why I find blogs so fascinating. I enjoy the political ones, but I am often captivated by the very personal ones, ones I find by simply clicking the "next blog" button on the "blogger" site. I read about a nurse going to visit a former patient as she lay dying at home. I read the story of a young mother going to WalMart trying to buy some makeup to make herself feel better and leaving empty handed and in tears. Stories from anonymous people, encountered accidentally, that affect me profoundly.

I think of this as I am working on a new publication. I need to keep focused on the fact that we love to read about other peoples' lives.

If you missed Howard Dully's story, "My Lobotomy," you can hear it at the NPR website.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My new buddies

I made a major change in my life today. I set up an Ichat instant messaging account and IM'd a "hello" to the two coworkers now on my buddy list. That was it - just "hi - I'm here!" So, I still don't know whether this new service has much to offer me. But, just making the connection was huge. For years, I have been a vociferous opponent of instant messaging. It seemed to me about the most annoying thing I could imagine. When I read that some corporations were requiring employees to use the service to communicate with each other, I shuddered.

Each time I have set up a new computer or installed a new operating system for the last few years, one of my fist moves has been to eradicate the AOL IM software. I wanted no part of the ubiquitous AOL, with their total lack of concern for the environment as they flood counters and mailboxes with heavily packaged free software CDs. The little IM man that would pop up on my screen as I started the new system seemed insidiously evil, part of a culture that I didn't want to be a part of.

I realize now that a lot of other software is available to IM. So, I decided to give it a try.

I have always loved e-mail. It gives me the opportunity to communicate in my preferred medium - the written word. I seldom get the urge to pick up the phone and chat, but I love to write e-mails. The trouble with e-mail, however, is that if you use it to exchange questions and short bits of information regularly, as I do, your inbox quickly becomes cluttered. So, I thought maybe instant messaging would be better for this type of communication. We'll see.

I'll keep you posted, good buddy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

All this stuff

I moved my office on September 1. The new space is roomier and less congested than my previous digs. The move happened during a busy time. I carefully packed and labeled current projects and essential information so I would at least be able to unpack those files and get back to work quickly. I had intended to leave the other boxes stacked in the corner and deal with them when things calmed down. The boxes didn't fit in a "corner" and jutted out into the doorway of my cubicle. After tripping several times and watching others clumsily negotiate the teetering stack, I dropped everything else one afternoon and unpacked. I opened the boxes and stuffed the contents into the metal cabinets. I tried to be somewhat organized, but my main goal was to empty the boxes. I'd organize later… so when will that be I ask myself now?

An important dichotomy can be made between people who insist on neat stacks of paper and those who don't. I'm in the latter camp. I hate clutter, but find that I also hate the time it takes to create neat rows of books, carefully sort papers and label files, or put everything away immediately after I am finished with it. My mind doesn't work that way. I like to have my tools at the ready, sitting out on the desk - not tucked into a drawer - so I can grab them quickly when I need them. Whereas some people love to take a day and clean and organize, I find that I cannot get into such a mindset until all other work is completed and the atmosphere is calm.

I was tearing through the cabinets today searching, unsuccessfully, for a software disk that I needed to reinstall. Digging in the cabinet, I found a treasured picture of me and my sister. I found thumbtacks scattered at the bottom of a file drawer. I also noticed that I have a stack of files sitting on the floor. Since our basement offices have been known to flood I need to find a better place for them soon.

My mother always says she is "going to get organized." But some new inspiration or new idea for a project often displaces that goal. She has a garage full of great things that will be useful as soon as she has some more time. But that is not my fate. As soon as I finish two other projects, I'll get right to cleaning this place up.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Siam Trucking Company

My day didn't start off well. When I walked into my office the message light on my phone glowed. That usually means someone is calling me because they are desperate - or they don't know me well enough to know that I'm not usually here to answer the phone at 7:30.

This morning, it was the latter case. Not only did this person not know me, she sounded like she was talking into a towel, I couldn't understand the message she left, and she didn't give me a number to call her back. I thought she said she was calling from the "Siam Trucking Company." All I could understand from her message was that I was supposed to call "Jim" to schedule my delivery. Then she gave a number, with about 11 or 12 digits, where I could reach him. He was apparently at another trucking company.

I am expecting, and the campus is expecting, with great anticipation, delivery of our telephone directories, which are later than ever this year. I assumed the mysterious "Jim" and the even more mysterious "Siam Trucking Company" had them — and they'd never be delivered if I couldn't return their call.

I listened to the message five times, and still came up with 11 numbers. Sometimes 12. So, I forwarded the message to Paula and asked her to listen. She came up with 11 also. She thought maybe what I interepreted as a "1" was really an "uhm." She listened again. "No, I guess it's a one."

She volunteered to call all of the different 10-digit versions of the number she could formulate. One was an airline, another a florist or something. She did reach a phone that kept ringing with no answer. She kept calling this number and finally spoke to Jim himself. He had no idea what we were talking about and had never heard of the Siam Trucking Company. He did mention another company - something like Sciatica - and we assumed that must have been who called.

He said okay you say I'm going to receive an order, maybe two skids, but you don't really know how big, and then I'm supposed to bring it to Bradley University, but I don't have this order and how am I going to deliver something I don't have?

I have promised the whole world the directories would definitely be here this week. Jim hasn't called me back. I just hope the books aren't sitting on a dock somewhere in Thailand.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

RSS feeds - Really Simple Syndication — or Rarely Seen Stories?

We keep hearing about how wonderful RSS feeds are as a communication tool, but I have been confused by them. Bradley recently added an RSS feed for news headlines - but I have had some difficulty accessing it. Like most people who haven't encountered many RSS feed addresses before, I first tried to click on the link provided. That, as you probably already know, takes you to a page displaying the code for the feed. You have to paste the address into an RSS feed reader, which will display the headlines. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work. I have discovered that some readers won't display some feeds. For example, I tried to paste the address into a couple different "widgets" on my "dashboard" and they could not communicate with the Bradley RSS feed.

I tried downloading one of the free RSS feed programs. That did display the Bradley feed nicely, but it also provided tons of others that I wasn't interested in. I didn't want to spend a lot of time customizing this to display the feeds I wanted in a manageable format, so I deleted it.

Someone suggested I use the Firefox browser. Its "RSS integration lets you read the latest news headlines and read updates to your favorite sites that are syndicated." That sounded great. I opened up Firefox, hoping I would be able to see right away how I could use this feature. It wasn't obvious, I got distracted with something else, and never went back to find instructions.

When Tim was here reinstalling my OSX(see previous entry), he showed me how simple this was. You go to, for example, click on the link for "RSS." Look down at the bottom of the screen for the orange signal icon. Tap it and you will see all the CNN feeds you can subscribe to. You will be given the option of adding the feed to your bookmarks bar. He also showed me how this blog already has an RSS feed, which I didn't know. We added it to my bookmarks, clicked on it, and then the titles for my posts appeared.

We have been talking about creating an RSS feed for some of the stories that appear in the many departmental newsletters Publications produces. How will we add the links? Where will the stories live? What do we call it?

Keep exploring, keep learning, keep trying!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hot coffee

One summer I worked as a documentation specialist for a consulting firm hired to create new Medicaid software for the state of Kansas. We were working for the large insurance company that would actually be using the software once it was completed. The company had several huge buildings, all connected by underground tunnels. Each floor of these buildings had a large coffee station with two industrial-sized coffee machines capable of making gallons of strong hot coffee. The company had one employee in each building who, I think, spent most of the day tending these machines.

The ritual started about 9:30 in the morning, when a woman would come to our floor and start the machine brewing. The pot would finish in time for morning break, when this same woman would return to remove the covering from the spout so we could serve ourselves. She would appear just about the time the machine stopped hissing and spitting. Once she had done this, heads would start popping up from cubicles and a line would form behind the "regular" pot. Programmers definitely seemed to prefer caffeinated over decaffeinated coffee.

The work could be tedious. I spent weeks creating the dictionary for the database, describing each field a user would encounter. The scalding dark coffee broke the monotony of the morning. Holding the flimsy Styrofoam cup with both hands and sipping the rejuvenating liquid was deeply pleasurable.

Coffee was served for only about 30 minutes. By 10:30, this same woman returned to empty the vats down the drain, clean the strainers, and wipe down the stainless steel counter.

Lunch was another opportunity for indulgence. Precisely at noon, the group of people I ate with would file down a surprisingly long hallway that tunneled under the parking lot and took us to the cafeteria. Here they served a feast of inexpensive, starchy comfort food, as well as many fresh vegetables and meat. They had taco salads, baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli, homemade soup and bread, macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers and french fries, French dip sandwiches. The kind of food that makes you feel well nourished and happy. Coffee and tea were free.

We would return to our cubicles completely sated and sleepy.

Just in time to save us from an afternoon of lethargy, the coffee woman would reappear around 2:00 and start the pots rumbling again.

Even though my current job tends to be interesting, I still treasure making a pot of coffee when I arrive to work each morning - and again in the afternoon. Freshly brewed coffee lifts you up and makes you feel as if you will be able to handle the obstacles of the day. Many coworkers drink tea - and a nice cup of freshly brewed tea also provides a lift to the spirits. For me, however, rich fresh coffee has no equal.

I wonder if people are becoming more sensitive to caffeine - I notice that only a few coworkers drink coffee regularly - and even fewer have a cup in the afternoon. I have a feeling, however, that at that big insurance company in Kansas, the sound of the coffee lady filling up the pots still provides an emotional lift to the hundreds of people who work in those grids of cubicles.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sad Mac

Remember when Macintosh computers used to show the "Sad Mac" icon when something significantly bad happened within the operating system? My beautiful Mac G5 would be scowling right now if it could, but they have removed that expression from the new OS.

Right now, my computer is sitting in "terminal" mode. I was attempting to create another user account on my machine so a co-worker could log in and access all the old newsletters, catalogs, and schedules of classes that I have stored. Something horrible happened in the process! Now, the regular Aqua OSX interface won't launch. I just get the Darwin terminal mode (a black screen with a blank line where you can enter commands - that is if you understand UNIX and/or Darwin commands. And I do not.) I am more visually oriented. I need the icons, windows, colors, and motions that are built into OSX to get anything done.

I called our software support specialist, Tim, and he apparently has had the good sense to take this beautiful fall afternoon off. So, I called our campus' other Mac person, Mike. Right now he is doing some research and will hopefully get back to me soon. I hate to leave my computer in this mess over the weekend. The whole Publications Office world is stored on that computer. Most of it is backed up - but it would be a major disruption if the computer went "down." I'm not going to worry, however. I know Tim and Mike will find a solution.

I will just have to rake leaves and plant bulbs and not worry about my sad mac this weekend.

Update: 11/7/05

Tim fixed the problem by reinstalling the system. When the install finished, I asked: "where are my widgets?" He calmly asked "you were using Tiger?" In my panic, I had grabbed the original disk that came with the computer, not remembering that I had upgraded to the newer "Tiger" operating system last spring. I was embarrassed - but Tim is one of the most patient people I know.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bring your dog to work

When we were selling our house two years ago, I brought my chocolate Lab, Lucy, to work with me so realtors could come and go as they pleased without disturbing her naps. I also didn't want to turn off any potential buyers suffering from dog allergies. Each morning I would sneak her in the back door and dash into my office. Sweet Lucy would curl up under my desk and fall asleep until she sensed that a dog lover had entered the office—then she would open her eyes and hope they noticed her.

I found I felt much more relaxed with Lucy stretched out across my feet. She's a warm, earthy smelling dog with soft fur. She sighs in her sleep. She is a comfort to have around and encourages you—by example—to take life easy.

Most people in the basement of Swords Hall never knew she was there—except the dog lovers. They would pop in every once in a while to pet her. The secretary let Lucy curl up underneath her desk when I had to go to a meeting. Many people agreed that we needed a dog in every office. (I'm sure others, however, would disagree—some people are just like that!)

When I have to work late, especially, I would love to have my faithful companion Lucy walking out to my car with me—or joining me on a stroll home in the dark.

Actually I would love to have her here all the time. And for coworkers to be able to bring in their non-aggressive pets. Dogs are good for the soul.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Print it or Perish?

For about the sixth time in as many years, my office is overhauling the university's printed schedule of classes. In this revision, we are trimming the amount of material we put in the printed version and asking users to go online to find, for example, a list of all evening courses offered or a form to apply for admission as a student-at-large.

Most of the afternoon I have been rearranging text boxes, reconsidering column widths and font choices, and hoping I don't leave an important piece of information on the pasteboard. Inevitably, no one would notice that it's missing until the printed version arrives on campus. The schedule contains so many dates and details, that I usually am whispering a chant or a blessing over the UPS package I send to the printer as I carry it to the drop box (or drive it to the UPS main facility because pick-up has already occurred at the box outside my office). If a horrible omission or error is discovered, we can make a correction on the website. Almost the minute I get back to the office from taking the package to the drop box, I begin the tedious process of creating web pages with all of the information contained in the printed version!

So, if all the information is online, why do we continue the painful ritual of creating the printed schedule?

Several years ago, when some people started making serious noise about eliminating the print version, I wondered if that would be the beginning of the end for the many print pieces our office produces. I think I resisted eliminating it in part out of stubbornness and concerns about job security. I know I had other more sound reasons, and a recent focus group of users reaffirmed my instincts. People like print publications! Some students were scandalized by the suggestion that we eliminate it.

"I know it's time to register when I see people carrying around the book," one user said.

Students have told me:

"My sorority has a registration party each semester. We sit around with copies of the book and recommend courses and instructors to each other."

"Get rid of the book? No way! Who can I talk to about that?"

"The covers are fun and surprising."

"It's easier to find stuff in the book."

Just last week a student poked her head in my office to ask when the books would be available. I told her not til next week, but that the information and course schedule were already available online. "That's okay, she said, I'll just wait for the book."

You can see Bradley's online schedule of classes at

But you have to come to campus to get a copy of the book.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

WebCam Window

I was just about to leave my office in the basement of Swords Hall on Halloween night. I knew on the walk home ghosts and super heroes would cross my path, but I didn’t know, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, whether I would be walking in darkness—and I didn’t know whether the predicted rain had started.

The office across the hall, which has windows, was already locked, so I clicked on the Bradley WebCam.

The WebCam, from its perch on the top floor of the Hartmann Center, offers a constant view of Founder’s Circle and Bradley Hall. What began as a way for Bradley alumni and potential students to see a glimpse of campus has become a window on the quad for the many Bradley faculty and staff who inhabit windowless offices.

I had tuned into the cam just at dusk, when a misty white glow surrounded the lamplights. The cam—which posts a new still shot every minute rather than showing motion—had caught several figures walking briskly and rendered them ghostly blurs. Besides being put in a somber mood by the eeriness of the Halloween evening, I was able to tell that, yes, I would be walking out into near darkness—good to know before I open the somewhat hidden back door that leads up from the basement. I could also see that a heavy mist was settling down on the area—creating a perfect atmosphere for trick-or-treating.

The WebCam is always on—day and night. Just as you might take a mental break and glimpse out your window, I click on the cam to see what’s happening outside. Sometimes I just enjoy the sun shining down on Bradley Hall, other times I mentally wave at a familiar face passing by. Bradley’s WebCam is at