Monthly Archives: November 2010

“There will be no charge for anything. We are happy to help.” Huh?

Every once and a while someone does something really kind to restore my… OK I can’t say the words. I have very little faith in “humanity” with the garbage going on in Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, you get the picture.

Every great now and again someone does something truly compassionate and professional and it deserves mention. Not just by way of thanks, but due to the aforementioned countries and the miserable self serving nature of so many of our species. We owe it to each other to be mindful of the compassion that does exist and give that some press as well.

This Thanksgiving we had the kids over for a fine pig-out; ate till we hurt and then had desert – the usual. Next morning we were in our little enviro-Prius headed up to the wine country. I always bring my very new and very expensive camera with me when we go to the wine country. It was raining though, so I decided to pop that in the hotel safe and just shoot with my iPhone to keep my “Ferrari” dry.

Days pass, wine flows, spa treatments and gastronomic delights are had, and finally the hotel bill is paid. On the way out of Sonoma we stop for a breakfast of Jazz and eggs only to find that Guy Fierri had beaten us to the punch. Triple D indeed is everywhere in the Sonoma area.

Blissfully deserted roads lead us past the resplendently sunlit SF Marina all the way to our little Woodside turnoff. The car is parked, I run (bags in hand) to the door with a comfort stop in mind. The wifes bag goes on the bed, my bag goes on the chest in the office next to – oh shite – the empty camera case. Remember the part where I said I put the camera in the hotel safe?

Comfort stop quickly forgotten I yell out the window for the number of the Lodge we stayed at, half in terror that I’m going to get a “what camera?” response. I fear that I’ve travelled too often and become somewhat jaded. There is some solace in the fact that the staff had seemed genuinely nice in general, particularly the girls in the spa; not the snooty “Bitchy Barbie’s” one can often encounter in such places.

Instead the response I get from the desk of the Renaissance Lodge in Sonoma was “we’ll send someone right up to check on that for you.” In the interim the call is immediately connected to the Concierge, Cindy Riggs, who listens to the situation and agrees to contact FedEx to arrange the return of my abandoned baby. Cindy then offers to call me back with details when available and takes my number.

Still slightly trembling, half expecting the “what camera?” I wait. Thanksgiving in Sonoma is the busiest weekend of the year. Thoughts are running rampant with visions of crowds still checking out demanding her time, housekeeping staff grinning sleazily as they slip my “baby” in with the soiled sheets for a quick trip to the laundry room where, yes, the parked pick-up truck is then loaded with a mysteriously wadded bed sheet… oh the agony of the human mind. Then, barely a half hour later…

the phone rings, it is Cindy. “Mr. Ulrich we have located your camera and given it to housekeeping…” AHAA just as I feared – the swine “and they will be making the arrangements to have it shipped to your home.” Oh. This feels better. “I’ll call you with the details.”

Within another half hour she calls with the details. I ask for her address to send her a little “thank you” and she declines.

I ask her what the shipping charges will be and am pleasantly shocked to find that there will be none. Same question regarding having the thing boxed up, insured, etc. “Mr. Ulrich, there will be no charge for anything, we are happy to help.” When is the last time you have heard that? There are no words that could make a 30 year road warrior (me) and a 25 year corporate travel manager (my wife) any happier.

The FedEx tracking number, address confirmation, and shipping details arrive minutes later via email. Along with them arrives an official statement from The Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma thanking us for our visit, and for allowing them to be of service.

In this era of hidden costs and baggage charges it’s nice to see that the art of actually caring for people and showing honest compassion to a weary traveler is not dead. It lives in Sonoma.

Thank you Cindy.


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A new way to shape the people you’ll be hiring in 2014 (or sooner)

By – Annie  

When Ashkon Jafari was in college (starting at age 16), “I had no one to turn to for advice and felt lost,” he says.

Then he snagged an internship where he lucked into meeting a boss he now describes as “an outstanding mentor,” who helped him choose the right courses and find his first real job.

The experience proved so valuable that it inspired, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit Jafari launched last month.

StudentMentor is the first national online mentoring matchmaking service designed to pair up college students who have questions with experienced businesspeople who have answers.

Prospective mentors and mentees can join for free on StudentMentor’s web site and are matched according to their areas of common interest. Geography isn’t a factor, as most mentoring sessions take place online or by phone. In its six weeks of existence so far, 296 mentors have signed on.

Teisha Overton, who heads up Indie Recruiter LLC, a human resources consultancy in Garland, Tex., is mentoring a student in Las Vegas whom she met through the site.

“She hasn’t chosen a major yet, but one of her interests is HR and recruitment, so we’re talking about how she could focus her course work,” Overton says, adding: “In this tough economy, college kids are pretty shaken up about their prospects once they graduate. They’re also extremely motivated.”

Says Doug Brent, a California tech executive who has counseled several mentees since joining StudentMentor last month: “Most of their questions are about very specific situations, like ‘How do I get along with a difficult boss?’ or ‘What should I do to prepare for a job interview?'”

“Even kids who are really good at being students just haven’t yet learned basic business stuff, like how to network, which is where a mentor can really help. And you can meet via email, Skype, or whatever, so the process is efficient,” he says.

Brent, whose own two children are recent grads of Harvard and USC, characterizes himself as “a Boomer who wants to help”, adding, “Students tend to listen better to advice from people other than their parents.”


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Thankfulness, Compassion, and Business according to HHDL

By Carol –

Recently I “spent” two days with the Dalai Lama at the EngageNow conference in Calgary, Alberta. Hosted by the University of Calgary, the focus of the event was to inspire and create active participation in local communities throughout that city.

I was asked to speak at the conference, joining a global roster including F.W. de Klerk, Sir Richard Branson, Stephen Covey and His Holiness. Certainly I was honored to join such accomplished individuals. “When will I speak?” I asked the event organizers. “Directly following the Dalai Lama.” Humbled and curious, I inquired, “Why?” The answer was that they felt my life’s work and message about the power of business authentically embracing social issues would provide a perfect bridge for the audience.

A request like that causes one to deeply reflect. I reviewed my work spanning over 25 years guiding companies to genuinely embrace social issues. Our clients approached this strategy quite personally. Paul Fireman at Reebok, Jim Preston at Avon, Bruce Rohde at ConAgra, and more recently, Clarence Otis at Darden, Jim Rohr at PNC, Christina Gold at Western Union and Steve Loranger of ITT. Each desired to authentically and sustainably engage with a cause. Intuitively they knew this could be a powerful way to inspire employees, engage more fully with customers while enhancing their reputation and make a social impact.

In each case, the work with these companies resulted in innovative and long-term commitments to many causes, new awareness and increased funding, with each showing significant results. The issues and approaches varied: human rights, breast cancer, childhood hunger, youth enrichment, economic opportunity for migrants and access to clean water. While each CEO explained his or her vision in a different manner, they all had one thing in common: compassion.

Compassion? Frankly, in the years of our work, I never thought of it as the expression of compassion. That is, until I “spent” two days with this self-proclaimed “simple monk.”

Indeed, I had to ask myself, “Could business be compassionate?”

The Dalai Lama has a broad definition of compassion: “We are the same human beings. I want a happy life. You want a happy life. On that level we can work together and make a common effort for a better world,” he said in Calgary. He continued, “True happiness comes from a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood … We need to cultivate universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share … We all share a common humanity, no matter what country, young or old, rich or poor.”

His Holiness made a critical point just before I followed him onstage, “Trust is the basis of harmony.” I was thankful for that timely comment because, despite hours and hours of practice, I was not totally sure how I would open my speech. Trust, actually the lack thereof, is one of the primary reasons why business must embrace social issues, and it was the first point I had planned to discuss. Trust, I said, is absolutely critical in order to earn a daily license to operate, to attract and retain the best employees, to relate to today’s ever more skeptical consumers, communities, NGOs and government officials.

Carol shaking hands with the Dalai Lama



As he left the stage, His Holiness came into the crowd where I stood. I was so fortunate to briefly meet him. He grasped my hand for what seemed like an eternity and looked into my eyes. I mentioned I was next onstage to talk about business and compassion. I think he smiled. It all happened so fast.


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Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction – where my kids went to school

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.




REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

Your Brain on Computers

The Screen Generation

Articles in this series examine how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave.


Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Vishal Singh, 17, often chooses time on his computer over doing homework. Vishal, whose lighting gear is on the bed, is an aspiring filmmaker.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Students at Woodside High School are often reminded of the restrictions on their phones at school.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Allison Miller sends and receives 27,000 texts a month, carrying on multiple text conversations at a time.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Mr. Reilly, the principal, says that the unchecked use of devices can create a culture in which students are addicted to and lost in the virtual world.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Woodside introduced a popular audio course last year that uses digital tools to record music.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

It is a tension on vivid display at Vishal’s school, Woodside High School, on a sprawling campus set against the forested hills of Silicon Valley. Here, as elsewhere, it is not uncommon for students to send hundreds of text messages a day or spend hours playing video games, and virtually everyone is on Facebook.

The principal, David Reilly, 37, a former musician who says he sympathizes when young people feel disenfranchised, is determined to engage these 21st-century students. He has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students, introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a multimedia center.

He pushed first period back an hour, to 9 a.m., because students were showing up bleary-eyed, at least in part because they were up late on their computers. Unchecked use of digital devices, he says, can create a culture in which students are addicted to the virtual world and lost in it.

“I am trying to take back their attention from their BlackBerrys and video games,” he says. “To a degree, I’m using technology to do it.”

The same tension surfaces in Vishal, whose ability to be distracted by computers is rivaled by his proficiency with them. At the beginning of his junior year, he discovered a passion for filmmaking and made a name for himself among friends and teachers with his storytelling in videos made with digital cameras and editing software.

He acts as his family’s tech-support expert, helping his father, Satendra, a lab manager, retrieve lost documents on the computer, and his mother, Indra, a security manager at the San Francisco airport, build her own Web site.

But he also plays video games 10 hours a week. He regularly sends Facebook status updates at 2 a.m., even on school nights, and has such a reputation for distributing links to videos that his best friend calls him a “YouTube bully.”

Several teachers call Vishal one of their brightest students, and they wonder why things are not adding up. Last semester, his grade point average was 2.3 after a D-plus in English and an F in Algebra II. He got an A in film critique.

“He’s a kid caught between two worlds,” said Mr. Reilly — one that is virtual and one with real-life demands.

Vishal, like his mother, says he lacks the self-control to favor schoolwork over the computer. She sat him down a few weeks before school started and told him that, while she respected his passion for film and his technical skills, he had to use them productively.

“This is the year,” she says she told him. “This is your senior year and you can’t afford not to focus.”

It was not always this way. As a child, Vishal had a tendency to procrastinate, but nothing like this. Something changed him.

Growing Up With Gadgets

When he was 3, Vishal moved with his parents and older brother to their current home, a three-bedroom house in the working-class section of Redwood City, a suburb in Silicon Valley that is more diverse than some of its elite neighbors.

Thin and quiet with a shy smile, Vishal passed the admissions test for a prestigious public elementary and middle school. Until sixth grade, he focused on homework, regularly going to the house of a good friend to study with him.

But Vishal and his family say two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer. He became increasingly engrossed in games and surfing the Internet, finding an easy outlet for what he describes as an inclination to procrastinate.

“I realized there were choices,” Vishal recalls. “Homework wasn’t the only option.”

Several recent studies show that young people tend to use home computers for entertainment, not learning, and that this can hurt school performance, particularly in low-income families. Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University who led some of the research, said that when adults were not supervising computer use, children “are left to their own devices, and the impetus isn’t to do homework but play around.”

Research also shows that students often juggle homework and entertainment. The Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this year that half of students from 8 to 18 are using the Internet, watching TV or using some other form of media either “most” (31 percent) or “some” (25 percent) of the time that they are doing homework.

At Woodside, as elsewhere, students’ use of technology is not uniform. Mr. Reilly, the principal, says their choices tend to reflect their personalities. Social butterflies tend to be heavy texters and Facebook users. Students who are less social might escape into games, while drifters or those prone to procrastination, like Vishal, might surf the Web or watch videos.

The technology has created on campuses a new set of social types — not the thespian and the jock but the texter and gamer, Facebook addict and YouTube potato.

“The technology amplifies whoever you are,” Mr. Reilly says.

For some, the amplification is intense. Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.

Most of the exchanges are little more than quick greetings, but they can get more in-depth, like “if someone tells you about a drama going on with someone,” Allison said. “I can text one person while talking on the phone to someone else.”

But this proficiency comes at a cost: she blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report.

“I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”

Some shyer students do not socialize through technology — they recede into it. Ramon Ochoa-Lopez, 14, an introvert, plays six hours of video games on weekdays and more on weekends, leaving homework to be done in the bathroom before school.

Escaping into games can also salve teenagers’ age-old desire for some control in their chaotic lives. “It’s a way for me to separate myself,” Ramon says. “If there’s an argument between my mom and one of my brothers, I’ll just go to my room and start playing video games and escape.”

With powerful new cellphones, the interactive experience can go everywhere. Between classes at Woodside or at lunch, when use of personal devices is permitted, students gather in clusters, sometimes chatting face to face, sometimes half-involved in a conversation while texting someone across the teeming quad. Others sit alone, watching a video, listening to music or updating Facebook.

Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.

Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit.

“If you’re not on top of technology, you’re not going to be on top of the world,” said John McMullen, 56, a retired criminal investigator whose son, Sean, is one of five friends in the group Vishal joins for lunch each day.

Sean’s favorite medium is video games; he plays for four hours after school and twice that on weekends. He was playing more but found his habit pulling his grade point average below 3.2, the point at which he felt comfortable. He says he sometimes wishes that his parents would force him to quit playing and study, because he finds it hard to quit when given the choice. Still, he says, video games are not responsible for his lack of focus, asserting that in another era he would have been distracted by TV or something else.

“Video games don’t make the hole; they fill it,” says Sean, sitting at a picnic table in the quad, where he is surrounded by a multimillion-dollar view: on the nearby hills are the evergreens that tower above the affluent neighborhoods populated by Internet tycoons. Sean, a senior, concedes that video games take a physical toll: “I haven’t done exercise since my sophomore year. But that doesn’t seem like a big deal. I still look the same.”

Sam Crocker, Vishal’s closest friend, who has straight A’s but lower SAT scores than he would like, blames the Internet’s distractions for his inability to finish either of his two summer reading books.

“I know I can read a book, but then I’m up and checking Facebook,” he says, adding: “Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”

He concludes: “My attention span is getting worse.”

The Lure of Distraction


Some neuroscientists have been studying people like Sam and Vishal. They have begun to understand what happens to the brains of young people who are constantly online and in touch.

In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework.

On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like “Harry Potter” or “Star Trek,” rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV.

The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Markus Dworak, a researcher who led the study and is now a neuroscientist at Harvard, said it was not clear whether the boys’ learning suffered because sleep was disrupted or, as he speculates, also because the intensity of the game experience overrode the brain’s recording of the vocabulary.

“When you look at vocabulary and look at huge stimulus after that, your brain has to decide which information to store,” he said. “Your brain might favor the emotionally stimulating information over the vocabulary.”

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory.

In that vein, recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self.

Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities.

“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

“The headline is: bring back boredom,” added Dr. Rich, who last month gave a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled, “Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from the River of Electronic Screens.”

Dr. Rich said in an interview that he was not suggesting young people should toss out their devices, but rather that they embrace a more balanced approach to what he said were powerful tools necessary to compete and succeed in modern life.

The heavy use of devices also worries Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who is known for research showing that children are not as harmed by TV viewing as some researchers have suggested.

Multitasking using ubiquitous, interactive and highly stimulating computers and phones, Professor Anderson says, appears to have a more powerful effect than TV.

Like Dr. Rich, he says he believes that young, developing brains are becoming habituated to distraction and to switching tasks, not to focus.

“If you’ve grown up processing multiple media, that’s exactly the mode you’re going to fall into when put in that environment — you develop a need for that stimulation,” he said.

Vishal can attest to that.

“I’m doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. I’m doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I can’t.”

“If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d focus more on school and be doing better academically,” he says. But thanks to the Internet, he says, he has discovered and pursued his passion: filmmaking. Without the Internet, “I also wouldn’t know what I want to do with my life.”

Clicking Toward a Future


The woman sits in a cemetery at dusk, sobbing. Behind her, silhouetted and translucent, a man kneels, then fades away, a ghost.

This captivating image appears on Vishal’s computer screen. On this Thursday afternoon in late September, he is engrossed in scenes he shot the previous weekend for a music video he is making with his cousin.

The video is based on a song performed by the band Guns N’ Roses about a woman whose boyfriend dies. He wants it to be part of the package of work he submits to colleges that emphasize film study, along with a documentary he is making about home-schooled students.

Now comes the editing. Vishal taught himself to use sophisticated editing software in part by watching tutorials on YouTube. He does not leave his chair for more than two hours, sipping Pepsi, his face often inches from the screen, as he perfects the clip from the cemetery. The image of the crying woman was shot separately from the image of the kneeling man, and he is trying to fuse them.

“I’m spending two hours to get a few seconds just right,” he says.

He occasionally sends a text message or checks Facebook, but he is focused in a way he rarely is when doing homework. He says the chief difference is that filmmaking feels applicable to his chosen future, and he hopes colleges, like the University of Southern California or the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, will be so impressed by his portfolio that they will overlook his school performance.

“This is going to compensate for the grades,” he says. On this day, his homework includes a worksheet for Latin, some reading for English class and an economics essay, but they can wait.

For Vishal, there’s another clear difference between filmmaking and homework: interactivity. As he edits, the windows on the screen come alive; every few seconds, he clicks the mouse to make tiny changes to the lighting and flow of the images, and the software gives him constant feedback.

“I click and something happens,” he says, explaining that, by comparison, reading a book or doing homework is less exciting. “I guess it goes back to the immediate gratification thing.”

The $2,000 computer Vishal is using is state of the art and only a week old. It represents a concession by his parents. They allowed him to buy it, despite their continuing concerns about his technology habits, because they wanted to support his filmmaking dream. “If we put roadblocks in his way, he’s just going to get depressed,” his mother says. Besides, she adds, “he’s been making an effort to do his homework.”

At this point in the semester, it seems she is right. The first schoolwide progress reports come out in late September, and Vishal has mostly A’s and B’s. He says he has been able to make headway by applying himself, but also by cutting back his workload. Unlike last year, he is not taking advanced placement classes, and he has chosen to retake Algebra II not in the classroom but in an online class that lets him work at his own pace.

His shift to easier classes might not please college admissions officers, according to Woodside’s college adviser, Zorina Matavulj. She says they want seniors to intensify their efforts. As it is, she says, even if Vishal improves his performance significantly, someone with his grades faces long odds in applying to the kinds of colleges he aspires to.

Still, Vishal’s passion for film reinforces for Mr. Reilly, the principal, that the way to reach these students is on their own terms.

Hands-On Technology

Big Macintosh monitors sit on every desk, and a man with hip glasses and an easygoing style stands at the front of the class. He is Geoff Diesel, 40, a favorite teacher here at Woodside who has taught English and film. Now he teaches one of Mr. Reilly’s new classes, audio production. He has a rapt audience of more than 20 students as he shows a video of the band Nirvana mixing their music, then holds up a music keyboard.

“Who knows how to use Pro Tools? We’ve got it. It’s the program used by the best music studios in the world,” he says.

In the back of the room, Mr. Reilly watches, thrilled. He introduced the audio course last year and enough students signed up to fill four classes. (He could barely pull together one class when he introduced Mandarin, even though he had secured iPads to help teach the language.)

“Some of these students are our most at-risk kids,” he says. He means that they are more likely to tune out school, skip class or not do their homework, and that they may not get healthful meals at home. They may also do their most enthusiastic writing not for class but in text messages and on Facebook. “They’re here, they’re in class, they’re listening.”

Despite Woodside High’s affluent setting, about 40 percent of its 1,800 students come from low-income families and receive a reduced-cost or free lunch. The school is 56 percent Latino, 38 percent white and 5 percent African-American, and it sends 93 percent of its students to four-year or community colleges.

Mr. Reilly says that the audio class provides solid vocational training and can get students interested in other subjects.

“Today mixing music, tomorrow sound waves and physics,” he says. And he thinks the key is that they love not just the music but getting their hands on the technology. “We’re meeting them on their turf.”

It does not mean he sees technology as a panacea. “I’ll always take one great teacher in a cave over a dozen Smart Boards,” he says, referring to the high-tech teaching displays used in many schools.

Teachers at Woodside commonly blame technology for students’ struggles to concentrate, but they are divided over whether embracing computers is the right solution.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said Alan Eaton, a charismatic Latin teacher. He says that technology has led to a “balkanization of their focus and duration of stamina,” and that schools make the problem worse when they adopt the technology.

“When rock ’n’ roll came about, we didn’t start using it in classrooms like we’re doing with technology,” he says. He personally feels the sting, since his advanced classes have one-third as many students as they had a decade ago.

Vishal remains a Latin student, one whom Mr. Eaton describes as particularly bright. But the teacher wonders if technology might be the reason Vishal seems to lose interest in academics the minute he leaves class.

Mr. Diesel, by contrast, does not think technology is behind the problems of Vishal and his schoolmates — in fact, he thinks it is the key to connecting with them, and an essential tool. “It’s in their DNA to look at screens,” he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: “Frankenstein is in the room and I don’t want him to tear me apart. If I’m not using technology, I lose them completely.”

Mr. Diesel had Vishal as a student in cinema class and describes him as a “breath of fresh air” with a gift for filmmaking. Mr. Diesel says he wonders if Vishal is a bit like Woody Allen, talented but not interested in being part of the system.

But Mr. Diesel adds: “If Vishal’s going to be an independent filmmaker, he’s got to read Vonnegut. If you’re going to write scripts, you’ve got to read.”

Back to Reading Aloud

Vishal sits near the back of English IV. Marcia Blondel, a veteran teacher, asks the students to open the book they are studying, “The Things They Carried,” which is about the Vietnam War.

“Who wants to read starting in the middle of Page 137?” she asks. One student begins to read aloud, and the rest follow along.

To Ms. Blondel, the exercise in group reading represents a regression in American education and an indictment of technology. The reason she has to do it, she says, is that students now lack the attention span to read the assignments on their own.

“How can you have a discussion in class?” she complains, arguing that she has seen a considerable change in recent years. In some classes she can count on little more than one-third of the students to read a 30-page homework assignment.

She adds: “You can’t become a good writer by watching YouTube, texting and e-mailing a bunch of abbreviations.”

As the group-reading effort winds down, she says gently: “I hope this will motivate you to read on your own.”

It is a reminder of the choices that have followed the students through the semester: computer or homework? Immediate gratification or investing in the future?

Mr. Reilly hopes that the two can meet — that computers can be combined with education to better engage students and can give them technical skills without compromising deep analytical thought.

But in Vishal’s case, computers and schoolwork seem more and more to be mutually exclusive. Ms. Blondel says that Vishal, after a decent start to the school year, has fallen into bad habits. In October, he turned in weeks late, for example, a short essay based on the first few chapters of “The Things They Carried.” His grade at that point, she says, tracks around a D.

For his part, Vishal says he is investing himself more in his filmmaking, accelerating work with his cousin on their music video project. But he is also using Facebook late at night and surfing for videos on YouTube. The evidence of the shift comes in a string of Facebook updates.

Saturday, 11:55 p.m.: “Editing, editing, editing”

Sunday, 3:55 p.m.: “8+ hours of shooting, 8+ hours of editing. All for just a three-minute scene. Mind = Dead.”

Sunday, 11:00 p.m.: “Fun day, finally got to spend a day relaxing… now about that homework…”

Malia Wollan contributed reporting.

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Keeping your balance

Looking after oneself, one looks after others.
Looking after others, one looks after oneself.
How does one look after others by looking after oneself?
By practicing mindfulness, developing it, and making it grow.
How does one look after oneself by looking after others?
By patience, non-harming, lovingkindness, and caring.

-The Buddha (Samyutta Nikaya 47.19)


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B2BB: Reaching Boomers with Social Media

While many Social Media and Inbound Marketing techniques are geared towards large corporations with unlimited marketing staff, most of the tactics translate wonderfully to small businesses.

My self-appointed role is that of a filter, or more accurately, a translator.  I spend hundreds of hours perusing the new techniques and tactics of SEM, SEO, Social media, lead generation, etc.  Everything covered in business school, at least this time around, has led to hundreds of hours of free content.  Each Webinar  yields some great ideas, and maybe 10 minutes of information out of each one hour webinar are truly usable.  True, most of the free content ends up being a sales pitch, and they only “give” you about 80% of the goodies for “free,” but if you listen to enough of the freebies and get 80% enough times, it becomes pretty easy to put the whole enchilada together.  The 80/20 rule gets turned on its head.

That is at the niche that seems most interesting.  I was a sole proprietor for 5 years, had my own “rep” firm.  I know what it is like for these small business owners; therefore it is easy for them to work with me.  I know what the modern day entrepreneur needs, but is too swamped to do for themselves.  It is the old paradox from my days active in the travel industry:  The people you need to the help, to save time, don’t have the time to speak with you.

 Having worked a few years first, I did business school in the late 80’s. I have now taken a Masters in Internet Marketing in pursuit of the tools I found missing in my aging skill set. I have ended up overwhelmed. Between those organizations and LinkedIn groups probably 20 offers cross my screen for internet marketing webinars and white papers a week.   I have listened, read, queried, searched, analyzed, synthesized, reduced, and produced.  The latter two are by far the most important to me, and therefore to my clients.

In flipping “retro’s” or companies that employ mostly or only classic marketing tactics, two simple tasks stand out:

  1. Taking their websites from being libraries to being lead generators.
  2. Making them easier to find on the web.  People who cannot find them have far more difficulty buying from them.

Although there are hundreds of thousands of marketing people, if not millions, who understand social media and at least that many who are active savants in classical marketing, the numbers of people who are actually able to integrate the two are far scarcer. 

To have the education and practical experience to recognize what of the “old school” is still working requires more than just a gut feeling.  Metrics and tracking for campaigns and projects has grown to the point that some of the ole “ouiji board” cognitions have taken on a more scientific approach. 

What still lies uncharted are the things like “brand” advertising and what impact a generic brand recognition piece would have on specific ROI.  We take the institutional ads, like “Milk – it does a body good” and try to place a value on it.  Such things have always been subjective.  We learned over the years the intrinsic value of such things, but could only quantify them with our dart board. 

What digital media and dig marketing does is take away any of that ambiguity.  Those of us who are still alive that are able to intuit the former, and embrace the latter, are few and far between. 

When we were promoting the US soccer team with the logo in the bottom right corner of each ad, that there were great reasons to do so.  The space was relatively cheap for the media, the demographic was calculated and the exposure sure to gain us “top of mind” share.  What wasn’t known was how to justify that to the bean counters. We argued subjectively and the gurus got out the smoke and mirrors and it was eventually decided that x amount would be devoted to this kind of tribal sacrifice in the name of progress and evangelism, and that was just a necessary evil in the cost of doing business.

This knowledge and the grey art of its employ are by no means any less valid than they ever were.  The marketing world is expanding, and it is not a zero sum game.  There used to be the feeling that if you sold X then your competitor could only sell 100% – X or Y.  Not true now, and arguably not for some time (if ever).  Keynesian economics probably died before he did.

It’s not as if the average consumer of these economic times has unlimited disposable income.  What they have is an un-imaginable source of opportunities, and therefore demand.  This demand fuels the creative juices of the credit card companies and there is no end in sight.  The opportunities for the older establishments, whether “mom and pop” or just a corporate travel management firm that has been in business for 28 years, are unlimited. 

I, for one, am just happy to be able to have had teen-age daughters at precisely the right time.  They informed me 3 years ago that they don’t do email anymore and prefer to be contacted trough FaceBook.  Since that time I have gotten my FB account up to a couple of hundred friends, and my more professional platform “LinkedIn” is nearing 400.  I thought if I ever got to 100 it would be amazing.  In fact it IS truly amazing.

I have been teaching Social Media and LinkedIn classes for a bunch of marketing (and other) executives in a local “networking” forum for the past few months.  It is incredible the prejudices and total ignorance that some of our finest minds still harbor when it comes to using these tools.  Perhaps I have just been blessed (having ADHD) with enough of a lack of attention span that I think these new tools are just the “Bee’s Knees!”

These new tools are not going to go away. If you don’t, wont, or can’t embrace them – you just might!

Author: Steve Ulrich





Twitter:  @steveulrichmktg


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Note to self; don’t try to get through security in SFO with a 9mm Glock in your backpack

Everybody is a little absent minded upon occasion. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned traveler, worked for a corporate travel management company for years, security clearance… anyone can make the honest mistake of going through security screening with a gun in one’s backpack. Honestly, anyone. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I have a nice front porch that I built from scratch. It gives me much pleasure and satisfaction. I like to sit and read with a beverage at the end of a long day. You know, kick my feet up and relax. Upon occasion that pleasure is disturbed by the neighborhood Crows cawing in nearby trees. A quick B.B or two from my little air pistol is sufficient to send them to a tree farther away and less offensive to my tranquility (I never hit the birds, just the branches near them).

So as not to inflame the neighbors, I stow the little pistol (which is a replica of a 9mm Glock) in my day pack. FYI – apparently this last bit, the looking like a Glock, is not OK with the TSA folk. Off to visit the relatives in Denver we arrive at the airport, pay our $500 to check one bag at United, and proceed to security. The wife makes it through fine, but when I get to the end and start pulling up my pants and putting my belt on, the ashen faced security agent says “please have a seat here and do not make any attempt to retrieve your bag.” I’m thinking that I left a water bottle in the thing, happens all the time – the memory goes with age you know. “Roger, come here, you gotta see this.” O.K. I think to myself, was it one of those little tequila bottles from the Mexico trip? His friend looks in the pack and starts to back up.

Then I am informed of the discovery and immediately start laughing hysterically. This causes hands to approach the heretofore un-drawn firearms that are beginning to congregate in my general vicinity. My wife, behind me, utters a “What the fork?!?” half in disbelief and the other half in abject disgust. Around that time I feel that an explanation to all is in order. Relating the saga of the porch readings, the intrusion of the Black Crows, and the senility with which I packed for the trip, the tension at the gate 94 security booth is gradually assuaged.

The SF police are called in to review the situation and do so with amazing dispatch. The Kevlar Klad Kombatants are relatively amused by the situation, ask me a few questions related to national security and go on their merry way. They are obviously thinking of ways to have more than one good laugh at my expense.

Next up is a Federal Marshall. She is far more serious until I relate the aforementioned Crow saga then says something like “Are you out of your freeking mind? For someone who had the security clearance to escort (then Governor) President Bush through City Team in 1999 you sure are dumb.” I am asked far more pressing questions regarding my political affiliations, sports favorites, former residences, etc. She has obviously pulled up a rather large file on me, and wants to make damn sure that I am the genuine article before releasing me to the unshaven masses.

Upon verification of my DNA, blood type, rectal scan, finger prints, and first girlfriend’s dog’s middle name, we are released. My wife and I are again on speaking terms and the crowd is dispersing.

We board our plane with only a cursory visual pat-down by the flight staff, and have a wonderful trip. Other than that, it is a pretty uneventful flight.


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You will not BELIEVE I carried this on an airplane – 10 times!

I tend to be a creature of habit.  When I travel, lots of little items end up in my shaving kit.  I noticed last night that one of them had leaked, and resolved to empty the thing out and wash it thoroughly.  What I found in there was scary:  one  5” nail file, two pairs of razor pointed scissors, a box of matches, a flashlight, and 3 oversized  tubes that could have held enough plastic explosives to … well you get the idea.

This by itself is not so scary.  What is scary is that I always have this shaving kit in my carry-on in case they “misplace” my checked-in luggage.   This same shave kit has made it through security at the following airports at least once in the last year:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, Houston, Los Cabos, San Jose and Ft. Meyers Florida.

I have no editorial comment to share on this one; it kind of speaks for itself.  The last time I got on a plane from SFO to Denver there was a gun in my backpack, but that’s a story for Friday’s blog.  You don’t want to miss that one.  

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“Follow the New Yorker”, or in other words… God bless Texas

The Giants won, and that is amazing. I would never be able to express how much that means to me and my City. We need to also put into perspective what is happening in Sports and relate it to our own business models.

The Yankees have bought the best team imaginable, yet they didn’t win. The Texas Rangers had the best offense in the league but they didn’t win. Texas is more humble than NY so we like them a whole lot better. It reminds me of a night in Vegas when one of our convention attendees just announced “Just follow the New Yorker…” like the rest of us from all across the world were just schmucks. Arrogance, even when substantiated, is not attractive. After the “New Yorker” was slicing logs dreaming of Steinbrenner’s underwire, my now wife took a couple of our friends to the bar under the waterfall of the Bellagio. We were blessed to attend their wedding in India a little over a year ago. Flash has its limitations. Steinbrenner is dead and Jeeter is as old as my mother. Confidence is good, arrogance is not. In the new “Social” technology it’s all about the no crap offering of an added value and a no-bullshit way of offering it. The New York Yankees are great, but old, both literally and figuratively. People that work that way will be old very soon – if not literally, then certainly figuratively. The Giants are the new “America’s team” from sea to shining sea. My brothers all over the country embrace them. It’s not because they were the best team, although at the end they were certainly gaining traction and probably could have won 8 out of 10 more playoff games. The love affair for these guys is that they pulled together as a team. Barry Zito was a quintessential example. His end of year was disappointing, but if any of his 9 wins were omitted they wouldn’t have been at City Hall yesterday. Left off the playoff roster, he still joined the team and pitched batting practice throughout the series, without grumbling. His Zen wouldn’t let his ego acknowledge that he is still the highest paid pitcher on the staff. Let us all, in business, learn from what a few “misfits “can do working together, with humility, for a common goal.


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Congratulations GIANTS, World Champions!!!

Giants fan:   Hope you were all entertained by our little band of “mis-fits.”

My brother Mark, a Colorado resident and Rockies fan: 

You know that’s what makes it sweeter!!!   They were counted out so many times  but stayed together as a team and made it happen…and isn’t it ironic after the last pitch and the win…and them jumping up and down on the pitcher’s mound for about 10 minutes….there was no one else in Texas stadium for them to hug…alone as a team with the victory because that is what the MLB has positioned them throughout the year.

Sweet victory and all of your San Franciscoan’s can really throw them a proper party now when they come home with the title and trophy!!!


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