Understanding Ukraine

[At a friend’s 60th birthday party last weekend, I met his sister Virginia Lee who had been in the Peace Corps in Ukraine 5 years ago. I asked her about the unfolding situation there, and her answer so enlightened me that I suggested she write it down. She asked me to post it because she didn’t have a blog. I was happy to because this is the kind of first-person truth about cultures around the globe that we should be helping each other discover. =Drummond]

Understanding Ukraine

ukrainePeople have been fighting over Ukraine for centuries. As a prime piece of real estate, it is strategically located between the Carpathian Mountains (and Europe) to the west, with the Black Sea (and access to the Mediterranean) to the south—and Russia on its northern & eastern borders. Not to mention that Ukraine has some of the most fertile soil in the world where sunflowers grow six feet high and heirloom tomatoes are the size of grapefruits.

Literally, “Ukraine” means “borderland,” which has been the perennially shifting border between east and west, Russia and Europe, however you want to draw the line. The Dnipro (or Dnieper) River flows right down the middle of Ukraine—through the heart of Kyiv actually—essentially separating east and west. To the credit of most Ukrainians, they embrace both cultures and both languages, as if their mother is European and their father is Russian. How can you choose between two parents? In any given Ukrainian city, you will find a Catholic church on one side of the street and an Orthodox church on the other side, with a Jewish synagogue either boarded up or hidden somewhere down the block.

So this tug of war between east and west is nothing new. What is new is that the Ukrainians finally have a chance to run their own country without the Lithuanians, Mongolians, Ottoman Turks, Poles or Russians telling them what to do, as has been the case for the past 1000 years. And this is the essence of the recent revolution in Maidan in Kyiv. In Ukrainian, it’s called “Maidan Nezolejnosti” and in English it’s “Independence Square,” which is where everyday Ukrainians have risked their lives to stand for freedom—the kind that we Americans take for granted.

I have learned most of this from my Ukrainian friends who I met during my recent Peace Corps service in Ukraine from 2007-09. I am in touch with them regularly, and what frustrates them most about the current situation is how their fight for freedom and independence has been co-opted by the media. To them, the real story is getting rid of Yanukovich, a Mafioso president steeped in corruption who bankrupted their country and ruined their economy. And then the focus shifted to the issue of Russians & Crimeans—a showdown between east and west and a rerun of the same old story, whose most recent version in history was the Cold War.

You can’t really blame Putin for seizing this golden opportunity to gain world attention, prove himself as a strong leader to his Russian following—and grab a prime piece of real estate in the process. Having visited Crimea several times during my Peace Corps service, I came away with the distinct impression that Crimea is both beautiful and dangerous, like a Russian hooker, who will not hesitate to betray (and exploit) you if you are not Russian. Regrettably, Ukraine has had to let Crimea go back to her lover.

I pray that the rest of the world will be there to help Ukraine heal her broken heart and rebuild her life. And not relive the horrors of Stalin and the Soviet era as well as the WW2 occupation of Hitler—and all the geo-political struggles that have been played out on the battleground of her sacred territory—all in the name of defining that elusive boundary between east and west. Perhaps it is Ukraine’s fate to be that borderland, so please let’s allow her the peace she deserves.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

The Seattle Seahawks Leave No Doubt

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks

After two weeks of reading about the NFL’s #1 all-time offense playing the #1 defense, my favorite stat from the Super Bowl was:

Denver 8 – Seattle Defense 8

It simply leaves no doubt.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

On Time

on-timeAlthough I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I am a fan of continuous improvement or Kaizen (taught to me by Vince Caluori, who spent 30+ years practicing it at Boeing). So I look at the holidays as a chance to make those small adjustments than can make a big difference.

This year mine is simple: be on time. For as many calls and meetings and deadlines as possible.

Why has this been hard for me? Because I like to give each person and each matter the attention and focus it really deserves. It’s the only way I’ve found to ensure quality.

So what do you do when the quantity of calls and meetings and deadlines rises past the drowning point?

My answer in the past has been to simply keep pushing things back—getting progressively later for every commitment of the day, and staying up far too late at night.

In 2014 that’s not going to work. We’re launching Respect Network this year, and as CEO it’s ultimately my responsibility to coordinate what must be done for it to be successful.

And to do that I must stay healthy and fresh and focused.

And to do that, I’m going to have to stay on time. I will have to leave some calls and meetings before discussions and decisions are complete—confident that the right people will do the right thing to complete them.

So if you are on a call or in a meeting with me this year, I will do my best to let you know up front when my next commitment is, and I will remind you again at least 5 minutes before we reach it. So please don’t be offended when I drop off the call or leave the meeting in order to be on time for the next one.

Make it your job to make sure you get from me what you need in the time allotted. And I’ll do my best to make sure I get it to you in within that time.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Gravity

Gravity_PosterIt’s hard for a major Hollywood film with big stars and flashy trailers not to over-telegraph the story and under-perform the hype.

Gravity does not fit that mold.

In fact, it does not fit any mold. It is breathtakingly original on multiple dimensions—the setting, the scope of the story, the stunning visuals, in fact the very way in which it is filmed (it is going to clean up on the technical awards at the Academy this year, case closed right now). And even what it wrings out of actors we think we know well.

See it. The night sky will never look the same to you again.

 

Posted in Movies | 1 Comment

Another Post about Vacation Mind (and Email Sabbaticals)

at-the-beachEvery year I come back from vacation wanting to doing another post to remind myself just how essential they are. Not just to one’s mental health and well being. But to one’s productivity, however you measure it.

In short, vacations are good for work. Period.

But here’s another lesson I learned this year: as I’ve long suspected, you can do as this BBC article suggests and simply ignore all the emails you get while on holiday. Call it an email sabbatical.

It really is that simple. Email is asynchronous communication. Life moves on while you are on vacation. So move with it.

Just ignore any email sent during your vacation, and re-engage with your email stream when you return exactly like you re-engage in your email stream every morning.

If that sounds preposterous, just try it once. That’s exactly what I did this year, and I didn’t miss a beat. Not a single one.

All I missed was the stress of feeling like I had to catch up with a week’s worth of email.

And it wouldn’t matter if it was two weeks. Or three. Or a month. Or two months.

I’m never going to stress about vacation email again. The important messages will find me. And in the meantime, the peace of mind is worth more to me—and my company—than all the email in the world.

Posted in Creativity, Email | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Was Google Thinking??? (A Rant about the Gmail Editing Toolbar)

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for 6+ months now. Since it’s a sunny Sunday morning in Seattle before I leave on a week’s vacation, I’m finally letting loose.

Here’s the bee in my summer bonnet (which has stung me enough times to write this post about it). For better or worse, I’ve been using Gmail as my primary email client for several years now (after being convinced by Adam Engst at TidBITs) and I’m about 90% happy with it. It has it’s share of quirks and bugs, but it also has awesome features like labels (not folders) and conversations (automatic thread tracking) that revolutionized how I manage email. And last fall they changed the main editing window to a new format that fixed several things  that made me even happier with it.

Except for one. One design decision that has me scratching my head so hard each time I have to use it I’ve just about dug a rut above my right ear.

It takes just a few pictures to explain. First, here’s a shot of the toolbar that now appears at the bottom left corner of a GMail email editing window.

what-was-google-thinking-1

One thing I immediately liked about this change was the big blue Send button which is always in the same place  (a big improvement over the previous interface where you often had to scroll to find it and could easily mistake it for another button).

And with just three other buttons, it does look wonderfully clean and “streamlined”, which is what I understand Google is trying to achieve across all it’s products.

But that’s where the rub meets the road. Because guess what those three buttons do?

The A Button

The first button is the “shortcut” for bringing up the text formatting toolbar. In other words, when you click it, you get this:

what-was-google-thinking-3

Great. Good job, Google. Now you just added an extra click  EVERY TIME I WANT TO ADD  TEXT FORMATTING TO AN EMAIL MESSAGE. Except if I want use a shortcut key. But—quick—who can remember the GMail shortcut keys for…

  • A bulleted list?
  • A numbered list?
  • An indent?

What’s worse, there ARE no shortcut keys for changing text color or background color—something I frequently do in email to highlight important text.

Which means I end out clicking this button almost every email I write. The only justification I have been able dream up for this bizarre design decision is that Google wanted the editing toolbar to look the same on all devices, and the text formatting toolbar was too big to fit all on one line on a smartphone.

But why penalize everyone who uses Gmail 90% of the time on a giant monitor like I do? With all the other Javascript wizardry in Gmail, why not just detect the window size and auto-expand the toolbar whenever there’s enough room?

Okay, so that’s bad enough. But it gets worse.

The Paperclip Icon

The second button is, together with the Send button, the other thing Google got right here. It’s the attachment icon. One click to add an attachment to your email. Works the same way all the time. Thank you.

Only ironic as hell because now Gmail supports drag-n-drop attachments. Just pick a file in the Finder, drag it anywhere over the body of the message, and let go. So I can barely remember the last time I used this button.

The Plus Button

Now we finally reach the main subject of this rant. The third button, the plus button, is…what?

what-was-google-thinking-6

Usually the + button means you are going to add something. What would you add to an email message? An attachment? But wait, isn’t that what the paperclip icon right next to it is for??

So try clicking the button and—whoa, this is really interesting—YOU CAN’T CLICK THE BUTTON! Because as soon as you hover over it, you get this:

what-was-google-thinking-2

The + button disappears and expands out into…FIVE MORE BUTTONS.

Seriously, Google: five more buttons? You want to force us to do a hover—not even a click—for FIVE MORE BUTTONS??

That might be fine if these were the “five buttons you’re never gonna use for the rest of your life”. In fact, four of these buttons just might meet that test:

  1. The Google Drive button is handy but you can also just cut-and-paste any Google Drive URL and Gmail already recognizes it as a Google Drive document.
  2. Same with Photos—much easier to just drag-n-drop it into the message.
  3. Emoticons DESERVE to be hidden away.
  4. The Calendar Invitation button lets you issue a calendar invite directly from your Gmail. Seems like a good idea, right? But: a) it only works with GCal; b) there’s already a way to issue an invite directly in GCal; and c) you always have to check your GCal calendar first anyway. So why would anyone do it here?

But—and this is a huge BUT— ONE of those five buttons absolutely DOES NOT meet that test.

The &^%$#@! Missing Link Icon

That’s right. The link icon.

what-was-google-thinking-5

The button you need every single time you want to turn email text into a link. Unless you remember the shortcut (quick—know that it is, right? Command+K for Mac users).

But keyboard shortcuts are not always a “shortcut”. To wit, my normal pattern is to go back and add links to an email message AFTER I’ve written it. When I’m doing my editing pass. WITH MY MOUSE. When my hands are NOT ON THE KEYBOARD. So it would be soooo easy to just CLICK AN ICON.

An icon that the Google designers, in all their infinite wisdom at a company that MAKES BILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR OFF OF WEB LINKS, decided to hide behind another icon THAT YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY CLICK but instead have to HOVER JUST RIGHT so you can SEE THE REAL ICON THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE &^#%$# TOOLBAR IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!!

Okay. There. Rant done. I feel better already. In fact, so good that I think I’ll go take a week’s vacation.

And my dream is that when I get back, in the infinite magic of cloud computing, some Google designer would have realized (or seen 100,000 tweets suggesting that they realize) how simple it would be to put the link icon permanently on the toolbar right next to (or even in place of) the almost-never-used Attachment icon.

And the next time I open up GMail—voila—there it would be, fixed.

(I can dream, can’t I?)

Posted in Customer Service, General, Usability | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Way, Way Back

The_Way,_Way_Back_PosterTime’s so tight these days (putting my boys through college and working on Respect Network) that I only have time to blog about the really special movies.

The Way, Way Back is one of them. My wife and I saw it last night in a nearly empty theatre after only one friend had mentioned it to us, so I was a little skeptical going in. But we chose it because:

  • I love Steve Carell, especially in sharp character roles like the one he played in Crazy Stupid Love.
  • Ditto for Toni Collette, if not more so—Little Miss Sunshine is still my all-time favorite comedy.
  • It was the only movie playing at our favorite local theatre that wasn’t all comic book heros and explosions.

What I didn’t realized is that it was written and directed by two of the three writers who earned an Academy Award for their adaptation of The Descendants. Or that they act in the film too (you’ll never guess who they are).

While it covers familiar coming-of-age territory, scene after scene had a sharpness and surety of tone that quickly won me over. And rather than land you in a closing shower of syrup, it twists into one of the most satisfying endings I’ve seen in years—one that drew an unexpected tear and made me want to give it a standing ovation even in a nearly empty theatre.

And one more thing: they nailed the soundtrack. I’m not big on buying music but I just bought the album. I hope it keeps the film with me for a way, way long time.

Posted in Movies | Tagged , | Leave a comment