All posts by Jeff Larche

Lucy Dacus

Song Exploder Features Lucy Dacus

Lucy is an extraordinary singer / songwriter. The lyrics of her best songs are spare, incisive poems. Three years ago I was blown away by her song Night Shift. It was a break-up song I couldn’t help but blog about. Now she has outdone herself with Thumbs, from her latest album. It explores the complicated emotions from helping a friend endure a rare visit from her estranged father. Please don’t take my word for it, and listen to her interview about the song on the Song Exploder podcast. As always, it ends with the song in its entirety.

Lucy Dacus on Song Exploder

Technology changes how we see ourselves

I posted a version of this on my marketing technology blog in 2008, during an exotic summer vacation. This was just months after Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, and I had no idea I was living in the era of the migration of high quality cameras into our cell phones. The next 13 years would take the changes I observed below to far greater levels, with the assist of social media.

I documented my vacation using a digital camera. With every photo of friends and family that I snapped, I was thinking of the concept that had been sloshing in my brain for years. Still in a distant foreign country, I excused myself long enough to post this, even sketching the accompanying graphic. I’m rerunning the post here, and now, because of news of the well-hyped Poparazzi app, which takes the selfie off the menu for its users.

As I post this, I’m still on vacation in the Faroe Islands, where I’ve attended the wedding of a dear friend’s daughter. It was a traditional ceremony, blending ancient and new traditions. For instance, ancient Faroese and Danish songs were sung during the wedding reception, which also featured PowerPoint slideshows of photos and Quicktime videos depicting the bachelor and bachelorette parties. Digital cameras were everywhere.

I’ve thought a lot about how digital technology has changed the way we experience the world. We like to think that we craft our tools to serve us, but the limitations of these tools cannot help but change us as well, in the same way that our human eyes see a different spectrum of light than, say, the puffins I photographed the other day on the steep Faroese cliffs.

One example of this profound change is electricity. That’s obvious. The other I’ll describe is more subtle, and involves digital photography.

Electric Light: The Other Midnight Sun

Faroese weddings go on for two solid days. The first day, which included what Americans would call the reception, had three distinct meals (the formal dinner, the serving of cakes, and an early-morning soup course). The first meal was only just ending at 11 PM, which didn’t seem so late, since the sun was only just behind the horizon. What’s more, being so close to the Arctic Circle, the sun didn’t stay away for long. As it began to reemerge, at 4 AM, we were still dancing to a band that played exclusively American — and British Invasion — rock songs.

I was told that the wedding dancing of a few hundred years ago would have included a traditional Faroese dance that takes at least an hour to complete (danced, as it is, to a song with 300+ verses). Back then oil lamplight would have illuminated the steps. This certainly would have dampened some of the more boisterous aspects of the event!

So much about us has changed because of technology’s electric sun.

In Maury Klein’s The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America, I recently read of the pivotal day in September of 1882, when Thomas Edison, the man known as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” illuminated the first 400 electric lights installed in New York City.

What struck me about his description is the muted reaction of New York Times reporters. Keep in mind that daily news reporting is driven by extremely tight press deadlines. Yet before the electric light, there was much that could be forgiven. A reporter could more easily file stories developed over weeks — and in the process, get more sleep.

Edison’s “lighting of New York” included 27 electric lamps in the Times editorial rooms. And so, you may wonder, what was the account of this sudden conquest over darkness from the reporters of “The Grey Lady?” Well, the column on Page 8 (yes, 8!) of the next day’s paper said it was, “In every way satisfactory.”

Klein made the obvious point that the paper, “never fully grasped its significance.” Only hindsight could show these reporters that their careers were to be changed forever. And also their family life. The electric light would extend both wedding festivities and work responsibilities — allowing for a day that need never fade into darkness.

Life In A Digital Viewfinder

In my travels these two weeks I’ve visited some extraordinary families (and I have one more to meet, in Belgium, before returning to the States). On the walls of homes in Milan, Berlin, Copenhagen — and now Torshavn, Faroe Islands — I’ve admired photos of relatives that sometimes go back to the very first silver plate photographs of the mid-1800’s. These photos are sometimes right next to the latest generation’s photos. Having observed at the same time some very ancient European traditions, attitudes and mannerisms, I have to again posit that the medium has changed us as surely as we have changed the medium.

It was two years ago, when I saw this pose depicted in a still from a movie (illustrated below), that I first realized that the portability and disposability of digital camera technology actually created a new type of romantic embrace.

Compare the stock-still (and emotion-free) poses of couples and families in the tintypes of antiquity with this commonplace example of PDA (public display of affection), and you have to wonder if our cameras own us as much as we do them.

Traditional values — superseding romantic love with love of family, and narcissism with selflessness — may have been made quaint as much by our evolving tools as our evolving beliefs.

The physics of icebergs (re)explained

We learned about why ice floats when we were in our first science class, if not earlier. The density of ice means roughly 10% by volume juts above the surface of the water surrounding it.

The proportions of the illustration above (a modification of a creative commons image I found on a financial services site) are presumably correct. But if you’ve ever played with oblong pieces of ice, you know they don’t stay vertical in water for very long.

That means the illustration above is more science fiction than fact. I was reminded of this listening to the Revisionist Glaciology episode of the 99% Invisible podcast. It’s another engrossing episode of this outstanding podcast.

If you’d like to spend a few minutes playing with a fun interactive animation of how various chunks of ice would behave in water, I urge you to check out Iceberger.

When change happens, life coach Elvira Marie Chang is there to help

Late last year I was entering a time of transition. My job of 10 years became a casualty of Covid, and I was forced to take stock and decide where I wanted to go next. Elvira Chang helped me without even realizing it. All this through a single, getting-to-know you remote conversation.

Her skill appears to be asking the right questions while being disarmingly matter-of-fact. That, and understanding the business world from 15 years as a corporate product manager.

I was also intrigued to learn she is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. I learned my own strengths  using the CliftonStrengths system several years ago and was impressed by its power to focus a person on their “superpowers” as a person unique from anyone else.

Long story short, I ask if I could do a video follow-up interview with her, for this blog. Here is the result.

JL: How did you choose to become a Trainer and Life Coach?

EMC: You could say I was my first client. With a pretty typical story. I had a safe marketing job with a very stable company, one I’d been at for 15 years. But there was no one within the organization I could look to for inspiration — No one whose career path was one I saw myself emulating. I felt like there had to be something more.

So it came down to this: Was I going to stay in a job that provided security but no inspiration, or trust that something would unfold for me? So I made the leap. I’ve never looked back!

JL: Are your clients facing similar life choices?

EMC: Yes and no.

Yes, in that they often contact me because they are working on their career goals. But no, because we collaborate on all aspects of their lives, not just work.

In fact, these are the people I really love working with, because when I am coaching, I do want it to be about the whole person.

I am looking at people’s lives holistically.

What I mean by holistic is not just the workplace. There’s likely more going on that’s impacting them at work.  They may be working through a relationship challenge with their family, their friends, even their community.  So, what’s really impacting them at a deeper level?

Often people identify with what they do for work when it is only a small share of their lives. Which means if you are only focused on work, changes there may have less of an impact.

There is so much more to your life. When I am working with people and coaching them or doing training, I encourage them to extrapolate — to extend the topics we’re covering beyond just coworkers, workplace and projects.

For example: How do these topics impact your communication style? How do these topics impact your decision making? How do these topics impact your relationships? People may be coming to me thinking that their challenges are limited to work but a lot of times much of what’s impacting them is more importantly outside of work.

JL: So your work extends beyond work situations. It sounds like the common denominator is change of some kind.

EMC: Absolutely! I love people who are going through life changes. Often it’s a career change or a company change, which can be scary because it’s a changing corporate culture. You could be moving across the country. Family and relationship changes are less common as triggers as to why someone would initially come to me, but what happens is these emerge in discussing work. And sometimes people realize that the work uncertainties are less of an upheaval than the non-work changes and fears.

What ties my clients together is their need to reevaluate their patterns and beliefs, and make some major decisions and changes.

JL: And by “this work,” you include your StrengthsFinder training. How has this framework for reevaluation helped?

EMC: I’ll start with how it helped me. It served as a confirmation. Because I understand my CliftonStrengths Talent Themes, I can look back and see what worked for me, what kept me in past situations for so long, and why I ultimately chose to make a leap when most wouldn’t.

And since I left my corporate career and I went out on my own, clearly there are going to be moments when I am questioning what I did. But ultimately given my Talent Themes and who I am, the person who must believe in me and what I am doing is me.

There are going to be moments where you question yourself. But I look to my Talent Themes to remind myself to make sure I’m meeting my needs, that I’m creating a life that feeds my drives, and that aligns with my values.  I look at the moments where I am just in bliss — that I absolutely love — and I compare them to my talent themes and it was just so clear.

When I am working with somebody, when we are starting to really explore some of those deeper questions, there are self-realizations going on. It’s moments like that that are so empowering!

JL: This must be so exciting your for you as well, as the coach!

EMC: Absolutely! There is a high I get from that, not from being invested in them getting to an answer but just bearing witness to that process where that person did it for themselves.

All I did was ask a bunch of questions and bearing witness to those moments. It is not only fulfilling professionally but it is just fulfilling for me as a human being.

JL: Can you tell a story about a client who has benefited from the StrengthsFinder methodology?

EMC: There was one person who was going through major career changes. She had shifted careers a year ago December 2019. She was going into business for herself, so as you can imagine not only was she learning and going through the certifications she needed, she was also trying to network.

Then Covid hits four months into her transition! She was stressed about her decision, and faced financial uncertainties, but she pushed forward with her professional certification studies and found ways to slowly network online. Her stress level was high, and we talked a lot about how to reframe her situation through the lenses of her StrengthsFinder talent themes.

In her five themes she had one that dominated. A lot. It was as if the other four never got to express themselves individually. Achiever was her number one theme, and her second theme was only being seen through her achiever lens and so on.

It was a very unbalanced approach. But she learned the vocabulary of StrengthsFinder she was able to reframe things. Bringing in these other talent themes and exploring each individually added another color how she approached tough challenges and situations .

Not only did it shift how she looked at her current situation, it change how she looked at herself.

This is a person who is going through major changes, compounded by Covid, being alone, not being able to network in-person. So much!

But we met last week, and she is on a high. In fact, of all the members of a group I’ve formed, she is the one most eager meet on a regular basis stretching beyond our original plan of a limited timeframe.

JL: How can people get in touch with you?

EMC: I’m pretty old school, so the best way to reach me is through my email address. [I’ve overlayed it on her photo, to prevent it from being harvested by email-address-sniffing bots … if this is easier for you, it’s change {at} ryvercoaching {dot-} com]

[Note: I am in no way compensated for this post. I just thought you’d find her story and profession as interesting as I did.]

I’ve joined TA Digital!

I’ve joined TA Digital, a Customer Experience and Digital Transformation agency!

Teaming up with this extraordinary 20-year-old agency will give me new opportunities to build and deliver capabilities for our clients in Customer Insight Generation, Personalization and Advanced Analytics.

Formerly called TechAspect, TA Digital spans services in the following areas:

We’re Hiring

If you’d like more information on career opportunities, contact me (my LinkedIn profile is in the footer) or check them out here!

These 5 business travel tips can help ease your stress!

It’s 2021 and hopefully we’ll all soon be back to some semblance of normalcy. For me that will mean spending roughly a third of my time on the road. Maybe you as well. Airports, hotels and rented cars can be sources of considerable frustration. So as my gift to you, my fellow road warrior, I offer five of my tips to make your life on the road a little more pleasant.

1. Print your ticket, ideally on your home printer and not at the airport

Many of my colleagues, seasoned travelers all, find this one baffling. “Hey,” they say. “We all have cell phones. So why not just use the airline app to present and scan my ticket when I check in?”

My answer also happens to be why our recent presidential election was tallied with few incidents and, based on results coming out of audits and hand recounts, extraordinary accuracy. Paper rules. Even states that went electronic, such as Georgia, offered voting options on a touch screen but then printed paper ballots.

What’s more, I prefer printing my tickets at home and not at an airport kiosk. The reason has to do with redundancy. If I should forget to print my tickets prior to grabbing an Uber to the airport, I can always use a kiosk as a back-up. But countless times I’ve arrived to find many of my airline’s kiosks out of order, or all of them occupied.

Redundancy is also behind bringing something printed as opposed to using the app.

We all know Murphy’s Law. Exactly when you most need your cell phone to work, it doesn’t. I’ve been in a line of stressed-out travelers boarding a flight when someone’s cell phone wouldn’t turn on. And once the phone of the guy in front of me — just as he was about to swipe his bar code — received a phone call!

He needed to manually disregard the call to free up his screen.

Speaking of calls, another time I was one of the last off of my plane and had to make an urgent one. I dialed right at the gate, only feet from the departure door. Picture me waiting on hold when I saw a familiar passenger — a guy who had sat a dozen rows ahead of me — literally run back to the woman posted at the jetway door.

He explained that he had left his phone on the plane. The woman at the gate asked to see his ticket, because only those with a ticket could get back on — even to look around. He explained his ticket was the barcode on his phone! He had to wait until the cleaning crew was done. If they didn’t find his phone, they’d send someone back there to look specifically for it.

My phone call was completed well before he was (I presume) re-united with his phone. If only he had a paper ticket!

2. Always carry a bottle of non-prescription Afrin

I learned this lesson the hard way. Years ago I agreed to fly across the country on short notice, to fill in for a colleague who had a family emergency. I was to arrive on Day #1, learn her part in a presentation the team was preparing to give to a client (in an effort to win a large contract) on Day #2, and finally I’d present my 15 minutes of our proposal on Day #3.

When I agreed to this trip I was recovering from a mild head cold. No big deal. But when I boarded my first flight on Day #1, I was still a little stuffy. I needed to connect with a second flight to complete my trip. That means two take-offs and concomitant cabin air depressurizations, and two landings and re-pressurizations.

By the time I arrived at my destination I was in agony. Residual moisture and the germs contained therein was driven deep into my ear canals and sinuses.

Nothing helped. I even tried an improvised neti pot! The night of Day #2 I finally went to an urgent care at 1 a.m., coughing and congested. I was diagnosed with sinusitis and bronchitis. My presentation on Day #3 was a disaster, since the antibiotics and decongestants has little time to work.

But along with the meds, that wonderful physician who wrote out my scripts told me about Afrin.

It can be habituating, so use this over-the-counter topical decongestant sparingly. But when I think I’m even the least bit stuffy, I’ll take this miracle drug’s small squirt bottle — always in my packet of liquids ready to pass through TSA screening — and transfer it to my jacket pocket before boarding. Then, while we are taxiing on the runway, a couple of squeezes and I’m assured of never having another cabin-pressure-induced incident. I repeat the process on preparing to land.

3. Our personal transponders love to stow away in rental cars. This invention prevents forgetfulness!

This tip is the transponder equivalent of lashing a huge block of wood to a gas station bathroom key. I invented this device when I forgot — more than once, I confess — to take with me the transponder I owned in a car I was renting!

For those who haven’t rented a car in a while, they all come now with their own toll booth transponders. But the upcharge they attach when you use one is insanely inflated. So to spare my clients that ridiculous expense, I bring my personal vehicle transponder.

This is the device that makes sure I don’t drop off the car without grabbing it!

I’d gotten a free selfie stick at a conference. It remained unused (I’m not much for self-portraits) until I realized how I could create this travel hack. I affixed my transponder with a stout rubber band.

Behold! A retractable wand small enough to fit in an outside suitcase pocket, yet easily extended and jammed snugly into the crook of a rented car windshield!

4. Never again leave clothes in a hotel dresser drawer

For this solution, I’ll let journalist John Dickerson explain the predicament:

I’ve been there, John!

And before you, gentle reader, fault me (and him) for being careless, consider his follow-up tweet: “Obviously, only a moron uses the drawer, but when you’re on a longish stay you need that sense of normalcy.” I agree.

I’m sure there are other solutions to this problem, but this is mine:

Similar to the transponder hack, this makes leaving without the item(s) difficult or impossible. I always travel with a pair of running shoes. And to make my suitcase less bulky and able to hold more clothing, I pack the shoes for departure with clean socks jammed into them. It ensures there is no wasted space caused by the holes where my feet would go!

When I’m staying Monday-through-Thursday (which is typical for me), I’ll collect my used socks and underwear in a dedicated hotel drawer. It would be easy with such small items to leave them behind, except I have developed this shoe-stuffing habit. Of course upon returning home my socks are dirty. (And don’t be grossed out: Remember, my shoes held those dirty socks earlier, while I was wearing them.)

The point is I cannot pack my running shoes without first retrieving my clothing from the drawer. I’ve never left my clothing behind since!

5. Pay for an airline lounge and get your money’s worth

Some employers reimburse road warriors for the cost of an annual pass to use an airline’s lounges. Most do not, but I’m here to say that’s okay. Fork out the money … and then use those lounges for all they’re worth.

Here’s what I mean: Instead of arriving a hour before my flight, I might arrive two hours in advance and eat my breakfast in the lounge. The food isn’t terrible, and most provide convenient work spaces. You’ll be less stressed, and ready to act fast should your flight be cancelled or moved.

When I fly back from a week away, I’ll reverse the process:

My United Lounge pass would allow me access even on days when I’m on the return leg of my journey. So I’ll often go to the lounge before going home and have dinner there. Again, the food isn’t bad, and it’s free with the annual fee to get in. Plus, I can then time an Uber ride back to my Chicago apartment when traffic from the airport is least terrible, making my car ride as brief as possible.

I hope you find these tips useful. Fingers crossed you and I will be able to put these to practice in early 2021!

Salter Sinks are a $1B solution to hurricanes, returning many billions annually

But mental and political borders hinder Salter Sink deployments

The year 2020 has many claims to infamy. Of course there is the emergence of Covid-19, and unprecedented threats to U.S. democracy. But if that weren’t enough, let’s discuss the hurricanes. This year we had so many strong tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean, we needed to move from proper names to Greek letters. According to NOAA:

This is the fifth consecutive year with an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, with 18 above-normal seasons out of the past 26.

Record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season draws to an end, NOAA.gpv

We can blame — at least in part — climate change. This Economist cover article about our warming planet is accompanied by one of the best data visualizations I’ve ever encountered. Atlantic hurricanes gather their force from extremely warm surface temperatures. Eighty degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number needed to birth one of these devastating storms.

Many ideas have been tried to cool things down and otherwise disperse hurricanes. But there is one that shows dual promise: An invention by University of Edinburgh professor emeritus Stephen Salter could relatively cheaply take the wind out of hurricanes while also oxygenating the warm seawater. This second feature is promising because as seas warm, they hold less oxygen, creating dead zones such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico. Dead zones kill fish and other important marine life.

The invention is called a Salter Sink. It was created within Intellectual Ventures, a technology firm led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold. It was through Myhrvold that I first heard of the hurricane-fighting concept. The idea is surprisingly simple, and in many respects low-tech.

Imagine a plastic grocery bag the size of an athletic stadium. The mouth of this “sink” is kept circular, and at the surface of the sea, by employing a rigid lip and inexpensive floats. The bottom of the sink is also open, and has weights to make it stay well below the water’s surface. Unlike the top, the bottom opening has a valve mechanism. Water can flow down and out, but not back in and up.

When waves crash over the lip, warm water is pushed downward. That mixes the water with a much cooler layer. Over time a Salter Sink will replace warm surface water with cooler water that hurricanes hate and fish love.

To be effective, the U.S. would need to deploy thousands of these devices, out in deep water, and tether them to anchors or drone-like devices that would counter tidal drifting. The illustration at the top of this is from the patent application, showing where they could be placed to be most effective.

Mental and Political Borders

Estimates are that their deployment would cost somewhere near a billion dollars, and in their first year alone could save tens or even hundreds of billions in property damage and citizen displacement. This doesn’t include the seemingly inevitable loss of life that comes with a devastating hurricane.

So why aren’t we trying Salter Sinks?

I suspect the problem is a combination of mental laziness and opposition to government spending that could be targeted as wasteful or considered in part aid to neighboring countries. (Remember that threat to our democracy I mentioned at the top? It comes with populism that reasons, weirdly, that anything we spend taxpayer money on should only benefit the U.S.)

If I’m right, it’s a paucity of both imagination and generosity that will keep us bailing out hurricane-devastated regions of the U.S., year after tragic year, instead of investing far less money in prevention.

I’m reminded of that old joke, “Everyone complains about the weather. But do you hear about anyone doing something about it?”

In this rare instance, our country actually could.

No-kill is brilliant branding. The lives saved may be our future generations

For nearly a decade I’ve been crowing about our plodding progress toward lab-grown meat. The biggest barriers are from two realms: Scalability and consumer psychology. This piece in The Guardian describes how Eat Just seems to have addressed both. I couldn’t be more thrilled, and for reasons I’ll get into below, you should too.

Now being test-marketed in Singapore, their lab-grown chicken nuggets (made with other plant-based ingredients) have found a way to scale production of meat from chicken stem cells.

They’ve also addressed the “yuck factor” that can hinder consumer trial by emphasizing the humane nature of their product. “No-kill” is brilliant marketing.

Saving Our Planet While Sating Our Desire for Meat

What you might not realize is the life that is saved may be our climate, and possibly our very species. As I described in detail in my 2011 post, raising livestock not only harms our environment to the extreme (greenhouse gases, deforestation, fresh water depletion) but our very gut biome (the majority of antibiotics are used on livestock and not humans). And don’t forget the horrific working conditions that seems to be intractable within the factory meat industry.

For these reasons, I’m optimistic that we are finally making progress in addressing our evolutionary hunger for meat with products that do not introduce death throughout the farm-to-table equation.

Animals aren’t humans. But humans are animals

It’s self-evident that humans evolved from other creatures. We are not that genetically different from many other creatures, big and small. Consider chimps and bonobos. They possess DNA that matches ours to an extraordinary extent — 98.7 percent by one estimate.

So it stands to reason we can learn much from our animal peers. As long as the lessons aren’t mediated by really bad nature documentaries. I was reminded of this when I sampled a recent series on Netflix, Night On Earth.

We clearly have differences in motivation than, say, an ant. Or even a bonobo. But so often in these types of documentaries, the editing and narration urge the audience to think of these creatures as just different looking people. People with, you know, pincers. Or female sexual swellings.

I suspect this is why My Octopus Teacher — also on Netflix — is such a popular phenomenon. It dwells on the differences between the two creatures in the story (human, octopus — always in that order). You recognize curiosity and caution in both of the protagonists. But you never forget these species are different in extraordinary ways.

The ending helps to drive this home. No spoilers here, but it emphasizes that animals aren’t people. But people are animals.

Why I support Helen Zaltzman

You may know her as the host and founder of The Allusionist podcast, or the brother of Andy, John Oliver’s old partner in crime. I love language, and have truly relished her podcast episodes. On her latest, she surprised me with her announcement that she was leaving Radiotopia, and why.

It’s easy for us to turn our backs on the struggle of Blacks in the U.S. I applaud and admire her decision to join others who are calling out discrimination where it exists. I also just supported her and her show by becoming a Patreon contributor.

On the eve of the U.S. Presidential election, it’s a fitting reminder that after we’ve cast our ballots, there are other even more consequential ways we can seek justice and equality. I for one have been given tremendous opportunities that I know have for too long been denied others.

Let’s keep the fight for remedying injustices and systemic racism alive by questioning the status quo and making thoughtful, peaceful sacrifices for positive change.