Saturday, December 30, 2017

Never underestimate the impact you have on others

"You might think that you don't matter in this world, but because of you someone has a favorite mug to drink their tea out of that you bought them. Someone hears a song on the radio and it reminds them of you. Someone has read a book you recommended to them and gotten lost in its pages. Someone's remembered a joke you told them and smiled to themselves on the bus.

Never think you don't have an impact. Your fingerprints can't be wiped away from the little marks of kindness that you've left behind."

Author unknown

Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners..." by Ira Glass

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it's just not all that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure this out than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through."

Ira Glass

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

  • I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  • I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Patton Oswalt on His Wife Michelle McNamara’s Tragic Death

"A lot of times with grief, it's not that you can plan what to avoid and what to go to. Memories can ambush you. And you get used to that. The plans and contingencies I make don't matter. This thing is going to have its way with me one way or another." Patton Oswalt

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grief, loss, death and waves

(From Reddit)

"My friend just died. I don't know what to do."

A lot of people responded. Then there's one old guy's incredible comment that stood out from the rest that might just change the way we approach life and death.

"Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.

"I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever someone I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter." I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.

"As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

"In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything... and the waves come crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

"Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of wreckage, but you'll come out.

"Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

You be you

Society tells us we should be beautiful and strong and successful to be valuable. But even though my husband's mom was all those things, not a single person has stopped over since her sudden and unexpected loss to say "we miss her, she was so beautiful!" "We are so sorry for your loss, she lived her life right!" (Isn't that what we do, look at our peers or things we want and say to ourselves, "this is how I *should* live, this is the 'right' way to be"?)


People remember kindness and sweetness and generosity and compassion. How you made them feel. That they always felt welcome in your presence, that they felt loved and appreciated. They notice positivity and how you never said negative things about other people. That you walked through life with love and an open heart.

So many or the things we place value on in this life don't really matter in the end.

Do not worry about bad hair days or "extra weight" or pimples or wrinkles or any of the other things people scrutinize when they look at themselves in mirrors. You be you, and know you are loved.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Redemption Song by Kevin Young

Finally fall.
At last the mist,
heat's haze, we woke
these past weeks with
has lifted. We find
ourselves chill, a briskness
we hug ourselves in.
Frost greying the ground.
Grief might be easy
if there wasn't still
such beauty — would be far
simpler if the silver
maple didn't thrust
it's leaves into flame,
trusting that spring
will find it again.
All this might be easier if
there wasn't a song
still lifting us above it,
if wind didn't trouble
my mind like water.
I half expect to see you
fill the autumn air
like breath — 
At night I sleep
on clenched fists.
Days I'm like the child
who on the playground
falls, crying
not so much from pain
as surprise.
I'm tired of tide
taking you away,
then back again — 
what's worse, the forgetting
or the thing
you can't forget.
Neither yet —
last summer's
choir of crickets
grown quiet.
Kevin Young

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

You will always be too much of something for someone...

"You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge." - Danielle LaPorte, The Positivity of Pride

Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit

"Listen to your own feedback and remember that you move forward through mistakes and stumbles and flawed but aspiring work, not perfect pirouettes performed in the small space in which you initially stood. Listen to what makes your hair stand on end, your heart melt, and your eyes go wide, what stops you in your tracks and makes you want to live, wherever it comes from, and hope that your writing can do all those things for other people. Write for other people, but don't listen to them too much."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Education is everything. (Sam Seaborn, The West Wing)

"...Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense.

"That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet."

- Sam Seaborn: The West Wing.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Which hobbies or experiences have made you a better designer? (Frank Chimero)

Photo by NOAA: cirrus clouds
"Here's what I believe: Reading and meditation open up your head and re-establish a better pace of time versus the frenzied internet. Cooking balances out the sensory experience of design work by giving you texture, smell, and taste. Personal loss forces you take your job a little less seriously. Self-reflection and good relationships help you see yourself as a part of the family of things. These don't necessarily have much to do with design, but if I take care of my whole self, the part of me that is my job follows. Nothing else has ever worked."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Limit feedback from people who don't make you better (by Seth Godin)

"I never met an author who said 'I just finished reading all the 1-star reviews of my book on Amazon and it made me a better writer.'

Limit feedback from people who don't make you better.

Don't engage.

It will get in the way of your work, and your work is too important."

~Seth Godin

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The greatest holiday gifts, by Carolyn Hax

"Given that the greatest gifts loved ones can give us are acceptance of our frailties and gratitude for our strengths, holidays are great opportunities for people to give one another chances to shine. Ask for things they give well, and erase expectations for things they rarely or never produce."

Monday, September 4, 2017

Art show (3 of my photos made it!)

We had an art show at work and three pieces I entered made it on the wall!

Wooded Snowfall
Reaching for the Sun
Assateague National Seashore

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A user interface is like a joke...

Photo credit unknown

A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it's not that good.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Open letter to Ann Coulter from Joh Franklin Stephens on her use of the "R" word

After Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as a "retard" in a tweet during Monday night's presidential debate, Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens penned her this open letter:

"Dear Ann Coulter, Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren't dumb and you aren't shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult? I'm a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public's perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night. I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have. Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next. Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift. Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more. After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV. I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash. Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much. Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged."

A friend you haven't made yet,
John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger Special Olympics Virginia

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I will not be another flower, by Erin Van Vuren

I will not be
another flower,
picked for my
beauty and left
to die. I will
be wild, difficult
to find, and
impossible to 

Erin Van Vuren

Monday, July 17, 2017

"Why you run might be different than why I run, but that's OK." Kyle Cassidy

"First, and most importantly: Everybody is Fighting Their Own War. The reasons we do things are all different and there's not a right one, or a wrong one....

...You can lose weight by doing many, many, many different things. You can ride a stationary bike, you can skip rope, you can use an elliptical, you can swim, but for me, the thing that I didn't have was the thing that the jocks kept me from getting in high school -- the ability to think of myself as an athlete. I wanted to do something that I could accomplish on my own.... And ... very secretly, I wanted into that club of athletes that closed the door on me. Not the towel snapping, not stuffing people in lockers, not the hazing, but the respect. I wanted people with trophies to say "Well, Kyle can get up at five a.m. and run ten miles in twelve degree weather, why don't you ask him?" (This is one reason that I admire Rollergirls so much. It's a sport that's rejected the towel-snapping jockocracy and said "we don't pick athletes out of a lineup, we make athletes out of people....")"

Kyle Cassidy

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Self-Portrait, by David Whyte ("It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods. I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned..."

It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods.

I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned,
if you can know despair or see it in others.

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need to change you.

If you can look back with firm eye,
saying this is where I stand.

I want to know if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living,
falling toward the center of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

~ David Whyte, 'Self-Portrait'

Monday, July 10, 2017

The magic of real human communication, by Ursula K. Le Guin

"Every act of communication is an act of tremendous courage in which we give ourselves over to two parallel possibilities: the possibility of planting into another mind a seed sprouted in ours and watching it blossom into a breathtaking flower of mutual understanding; and the possibility of being wholly misunderstood, reduced to a withering weed. Candor and clarity go a long way in fertilizing the soil, but in the end there is always a degree of unpredictability in the climate of communication — even the warmest intention can be met with frost. Yet something impels us to hold these possibilities in both hands and go on surrendering to the beauty and terror of conversation, that ancient and abiding human gift. And the most magical thing, the most sacred thing, is that whichever the outcome, we end up having transformed one another in this vulnerable-making process of speaking and listening."

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, describing what Ursula K. Le Guin explores in a magnificent piece titled "Telling Is Listening" found in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (public library).

Read more or subscribe to Maria Popova's excellent Brain Pickings newsletter:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Living in the body, by Joyce Sutphen

"Body is something you need in order to stay on this planet and you only get one. And no matter which one you get, it will not be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful enough, it will not be fast enough, it will not keep on for days at a time, but will pull you down into a sleepy swamp and demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.

Body is a thing you have to carry from one day into the next. Always the
same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same skin when you look in the mirror, and the same creaky knee when you get up from the floor and the same wrist under the watchband.
The changes you can make are small and costly—better to leave it as it is.

Body is a thing that you have to leave
eventually. You know that because you have seen others do it, others who were once like you, living inside their pile of bones and flesh, smiling at you, loving you, leaning in the doorway, talking to you for hours and then one day they are gone. No forwarding address."

Joyce Sutphen

Monday, May 1, 2017

"I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain..." by Stephen Jay Gould

"I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." - Stephen Jay Gould

Friday, April 28, 2017

Clearing by Martha Postlewaite

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Usability, the art (and science) of making things, well, easier to use...

Recently, a colleague  and I took a usability workshop and wanted to share what we learned.

What is usability? It's the study of making things usable, or, as you may know from filling out your taxes, backing up your computer (Mac users don't count), or even gassing up a different car, we all must do things that can be unclear at times.

Usability is not an entirely new concept but is finally becoming more mainstream: if things were designed with the end user in mind, how much easier could they be? How much money and time could be saved?

It's easier to find a parking spot at BWI now that green lights indicate open spaces. Universities that pour walkways before researching paths spend more reconstructing trampled lawns as students make preferred shortcuts known. Clear road signs can prevent existential crises, like what must happen to literally *everyone* at the below intersection:

A usable world is simply a better one.

The workshop, called "Introduction to Human-Centered Design" ("human-centered" is the preferred nomenclature in the field) was mainly an overview of the process: how to gather data, compile ideas, and make and test prototypes, and why it works to do it in a particular way (inquiry / prototype / test / repeat).

Problem-solving starts with identifying the problem. What is the issue? You may think it's one thing but until you talk to the people who experience it, you can't know for sure.

For example, chronically running late may appear to be a traffic issue but may actually be a planning one. Poor sleep quality may not be the mattress after all but instead too much light or noise at night.

In order to find out, you have to dig.

The class walked us through the process and had us leap almost immediately into the "field" to begin practicing our new interviewing skills. We used a generic question that could apply to anyone just for the sake of learning the process. We asked, "Is there anything that gets in the way of your health? Or of you being as healthy as you want?" (In a real case scenario, the questions would be tailored to the field.)

We roamed the building for people to interview. Not having been telemarketers in a previous lives made us shy approaching strangers but the class instructor gave us tips. "Approach gently and explain who you are and what you're doing. When you start hearing the same answers over and over, you'll know you've amassed enough data."

People eyed us suspiciously at first but when they realized we weren't collecting money, out poured the litany of health destroyers. They came in the form of many things: long commute, expensive food (broccoli costs more than ramen), picky children, gyms that were too far away and days that started before dawn. Our subjects looked weary just recounting all the things.

We dug deeper using techniques taught in the class, such as the "5 Whys" (a strategy no doubt borne from a toddler) where you ask "why" multiple times, or encourage a story or ask for a visual.

Answers did start to get repetitive and we found that the common thread was time. People weren't taking as much care of their health as they wanted because they didn't have enough time.

Next step: now what? People need more time, how could we make that happen?

Our team rejoined and after a brainstorming session that nixed moving to Venus just to have 5,000 more hours in a day, we developed possible "prototypes" -- actual, physical implementations to show people -- and marched back into the field to see how they'd fare.

We interviewed more people but this time sporting a poster and miniature booklet as visual aids to illustrate our ideas: policies to improve work/life balance, like telecommuting, and utopia where folks could live near their work. After all, some folks spent 4 hours on the road every day. That's horrendous.

Other teams in our class came up with different ideas for improving health, like tools for information dissemination, apps to make exercise easier, and even a snazzy business plan to offer healthy food on the metro so travelers could save time eating breakfast on their commutes.

During this secondary idea-sharing stage, teams are encouraged to ask each other: what would you add to this idea? What questions do you have? What else should be considered? (We wondered, who would clean up the extra trash? Would we lose our seats if we got up to purchase a banana?) Input refines the idea.

Design thinking is iterative, meaning it can go around and around in loops. You start with the question, gather data, test your idea, ask more questions, test more ideas, lather, rinse, repeat.

The field combines elements of engineering and the social sciences: engineering because of the prototypes, and social sciences because of the interviewing.

Marry the two and you have inquiry designing prototypes, not designing before you find out exactly how a thing might be used.

It's also important to note that how people say they will use something isn't always how they will *actually* use it, as anyone who's ever bought a treadmill will know. Observation will always reveal the most reliable data.

We can't wait until the next class!

If you're interested in learning more, see:
And now, for a little fun.

Examples of Usability Fails:


The cone of shame: healing aid or diet platform?

Now imagine you're rushing to your doctor's office...
Don't assume it's usable until you test it first!

Finally, an honest pop-up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The truth of nostalgia

"[H]ere is the truth of nostalgia. We don't feel it for who we were, but who we weren't. We feel it for all the possibilities that were open to us, but that we didn't take.

Time is like wax, dripping from a candle flame. In the moment, it is molten and falling, with the capability to transform into any shape. Then the moment passes, and the wax hits the table top and solidifies into the shape it will always be. It becomes the past – a solid single record of what happened, still holding in its wild curves and contours the potential of every shape it could have held.

It is impossible – no matter how blessed you are by luck, or the government, or some remote, invisible deity gently steering your life with hands made of moonlight and wind – it is impossible not to feel a little sad, looking at that bit of wax, that bit of the past. It is impossible not to think of all the wild forms that wax now will never take.

[...] But then you remember – I remember – that we are, even now, in another bit of molten wax. We are in a moment that is still falling, still volatile – and we will never be anywhere else. We will always be in that most dangerous, most exciting, most possible time of all: the now. Where we never can know what shape the next moment will take."

Welcome to Night Vale #21,
"A Memory of Europe"

Thursday, April 13, 2017

"You've got a stone in your shoe. We'll do what we can until you can get it out." Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox's wife

"Tracy was just like, 'You've got a stone in your shoe. We'll do what we can until you can get it out. In the meantime, if you limp with the stone, that's all right. You can hold my hand, and we'll get over that.' "

Michael J. Fox, on his wife Tracy Pollan after they received his Parkinson's diagnosis.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The process of dying, by Martha Jo Atkins

Photo by NOAA
   What's happening to me?

Your body is figuring out how to separate from your spirit.

     Oh. Yeah. That's it.

Are you having any anxiety?

     I'm restless in here...(pats his heart). I haven't done this before. I'm a little nervous.

Your body knows what to do.

     How long does this take?

The separation?

     Yeah. How long.

It's different for everyone. Your soul knows. The separation has already started. I can see it happening. Can you feel it?

     Yeah. I can.

     Thanks for telling me this stuff.

Yes sir. We're glad you're here with us.

     Me, too.

"He told us this morning his bags are packed and he's waiting for the train to come---and there's a female conductor. The staff pulled out his bags for him so he can see them. He's very excited to travel and see his family."

Martha Jo Atkins

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bernie Sanders on spirituality

"Every great religion in the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — essentially comes down to: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' And what I have believed in my whole life — I believed it when I was a 22-year-old kid getting arrested in Chicago fighting segregation — I've believed it in my whole life.

"That we are in this together — not just, not words. The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it's very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is 'I don't have to worry about them; all I'm gonna worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.' But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can't even understand. It's beyond intellect. It's a spiritual, emotional thing. So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child … I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say 'hey, this whole world , I need more and more, I don't care about anyone else.' That's my religion. That's what I believe in. And I think most people around the world, whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings. And it becomes more and more practical. If we destroy the planet because we don't deal with climate change … Trust me, we are all in it together, and … That is my spirituality."

Bernie Sanders

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Narrow Bridge of Art, Virginia Woolf

"We all know people…who are at loggerheads with existence; unhappy people who never get what they want; are baffled, complaining, who stand at an uncomfortable angle when they see everything askew. There are others again who, though they appear perfectly content, seem to have lost all touch with reality. They lavish all their affections upon little dogs and old china. They take interest in nothing but the vicissitudes of their own health and the ups and downs of social snobbery. There are, however, others who strike us, why precisely it would be difficult to say, as being by nature or circumstances in a position where they can use their faculties to the full upon things that are of importance. They are not necessarily happy or successful, but there is a zest in their presence, an interest in their doings. They seem to be alive all over."

-- Virginia Woolf, The Narrow Bridge of Art

Friday, February 24, 2017

On taking advice, by Penelope Trunk

"You should take yoga advice from people who write about NOT doing yoga. Because not doing yoga means the person is struggling to do yoga, which means waking up every day and trying to do something new and difficult. ... Failing in front of you is a sign that the person is living the kind of life you'd like to live – one where every day you wake up and struggle to do something difficult. ... My instinct tells me that the best advice comes from the people with the most difficulties. Not in the past. But right now. Because that's where you want to be: doing something difficult right this moment."

Penelope Trunk

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