Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Domain names & widgets in Ireland

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

I’m back from my vacation, and it was terrific. Basically, Chris and I spent an entire week having fun and relaxing – and not a bit of work was done by either of us. It was a real vacation!

Of course, I may not have officially been working, but I was on the lookout for business ideas and interesting perspectives on the Internet during my time in Ireland. Only two things stood out:

1) Most ads, billboards and marketing that I saw in the country included a URL, and most of those URLs ended in .ie. I really was surprised at the prevalence of the country-specific domain name usage in Ireland. I can’t be sure if it was just Ireland that uses it’s country code, or if that practice is common across the world, but I definitely expected .com to be more popular in Ireland than it appeared to be, at least in what I was looking at as I drove across the country. This trend (or non-trend) is something that I am going to be watching closely for globalization projects.

2) In Ireland, a widget is related to Guinness, not the Web. In fairness, many people in Ireland probably think of the Web when they hear the word widget. But for us, during this trip, the widget was all about the Guinness.

According to this interesting post by Fred Wilson that I read when I got back from my trip (Why Widgets is the Wrong Word for What We’re Doing), widgets as they relate to the Web may soon be an outdated term (or concept) anyway. But for posterity, a widget is “an object on the computer screen that the user interacts with,” according to Wikipedia. It’s basically a piece of code that can be used on a Web page (or blog) to deliver specific content or functionality to a Web page. (I am not convinced that the widget is going away, although Wilson makes an interesting point.)

In terms of Guinness, the widget is a little plastic ball that is in the canned version of the beer that releases gases to help make the head that Guinness is so famous for. This link provides some very helpful information (and a picture) about the Guinness widget.

I told you I was on vacation and not working, right?

Becoming an entrepreneur & the things that inspire us

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

This week’s article for The Industry Standard is more personal than other articles that I’ve written for them in the past. It’s here: How to Make the Leap from Corporate Hack to Entrepreneur. I give some tips, but mostly the article is a first-person account of my transition from working at a big company to founding my start-up.

In the article I mention a vacation that I took to Arizona. That trip happened in May 2007 – Chris and I went to Phoenix, Sedona & The Grand Canyon to celebrate our first anniversary. At the time we went, I wasn’t thrilled with my job any longer. I was getting the itch to leave, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I loved the people I worked with, I had a good position, relatively good money…but I wasn’t really happy anymore and I couldn’t figure out why.

Then I went to Taliesin West.

I am not a huge architecture fan. I mean, I like architecture, but I don’t know much about it. Chris studied architecture for a year or two in school before switching to industrial design, but even so, going to visit an architecture-related exhibit isn’t what we would normally choose to do. But we were on a road trip and wanted to stop wherever the wind blew us, and however it worked out, we ended up at Taliesin West.

We took the tour. It was an hour-long, guided. In the tour, we went through various buildings on the school campus – Wright’s office, the studio and gardens, the private gathering room and even the family’s bedrooms. All along the way the guide kept telling us all these cool facts and interesting things, totally creative stuff that had my mind racing. Here are a few things that I saw and learned:

– There was an observation point on the grounds where Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his wives (he had three during his lifetime) used to bring chairs to every single night in the spring and summer, to look at the valley around them. There was nothing as far as the eye could see. Standing at that point today, the entire sprawl of Phoenix/Scottsdale was visible.

– The students who attended the school actually built the school before they could attend. They used only the materials that were available on the land. All of Wright’s designs were built to make sure that the buildings blended into the surroundings, and brought the outside inside, as well. This is called organic architecture, and he was way ahead of his time with it.

– Even after the grounds were built, new students didn’t get to live in the buildings. Their first year, they had to go out into the surrounding wilderness area and build their own dwelling on a slab that was there for that purpose. This was like a crash course in architecture – if your dwelling wasn’t good, you would be living with the insects and other animals. Married students often brought their families to experience this with them.

– Frank Lloyd Wright was a major movie buff, so there is a movie theater on the grounds. It’s pretty dark inside the theater, however, so he had the builders dig small cut-outs into the rock along the floor, and installed lights – the first track lighting ever.

– When Wright was a boy, there was a certain set of blocks that he always played with – Froebel blocks. He often credited these blocks as laying the foundation for the basic principles of architecture that he used throughout his career.

Ok, so those are some random things, and you might read them and think “so what?” Or you might think that some are cool and others are mundane. But I left Taliesin West with my mind racing about all the ideas that I had heard, and with the need to be creative burning up in my chest.

It took me a bit of time before I eventually left my job to start Pure Incubation. But this visit to Taliesin West started the avalanche. After this visit, I knew in my heart that I had to leave my corporate gig.

And this visit also reminded me just how important it is to find things that inspire us. To visit new places, see new things, meet new people, take a chance on something unexpected. You never know where inspiration might strike.

These pictures are all from various people on Flickr – all better than any of the pictures I took that day. They are all from Taliesin West.

Taliesin West
Photo by andy54321

Taliesin Sculpture
Photo by bluecanary_dreams

Japenese taliesin
Photo by bluecanary_dreams

Furniture taliesin
Photo by andy54321

10 reasons entrepreneurs should take more vacations

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

As I write this post, I’m getting ready to go away for a long weekend with Chris (my husband) to visit friends and family in Philadelphia. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that both of us are entrepreneurs – Chris helped start Spine Frontier a couple of years ago and I started Pure Incubation back in September. It may be obvious from that statement alone, but let me just come right out and say it – we are both insanely busy with our jobs. It is hard to get away for a vacation – even for a weekend – and to take a day off (gasp!) is practically impossible. But we are doing it this weekend.

Philly loveAs I was thinking about leaving, though, all the reasons why we shouldn’t go away kept swirling through my head. And they almost kept us from going (we didn’t book our flights until 5 days ago, for example). So I thought it might be useful to give my fellow entrepreneurs a list of 10 reasons that they should take more vacations. Refer back to this post anytime you are considering going away, but almost back out. Be strong! Take that vacation!

1) You work too much. I have no problem with working hard – or long – but if you are an entrepreneur, it’s likely that you work too much. Like to the point where you aren’t getting enough sleep, exercising regularly or eating well. Working a lot isn’t necessarily the best way to be productive and it’s hard to stop once you’re in the habit. So stop everything for a couple of days, get some sanity back, and you’ll be able to return to the job with a more realistic outlook on work duration – and you’ll likely be more productive during the hours that you are working.

2) New environments spark creativity. Right before I quit my last job, I took a vacation to Arizona. On the trip, we went to visit Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright school of architecture. I know very little about architecture, but seeing the amazing creative environment that was built at that school was so inspiring to me that I know that I had to leave my job. It opened my heart up again to the creativity that was just dying to come out – and that I could bury in the sameness of my everyday life.

Dance Philadelphia3) You are getting boring to be around. This is happening to me. I meet with friends for a drink or dinner, and they ask me what’s going on, and pretty much the only thing that I have to tell them about is my business. And to me, it’s really exciting and fun and interesting to talk about my work. But I can tell that their eyes are starting to glaze over at times. Going on a vacation will give me something else to talk about – outside of my work.

4) It’s been a long time since you’ve been on a vacation. Admit it – when’s the last time that you took a vacation? A real one. A work trip doesn’t count. If it’s been longer than 6 months, it’s time.

5) You need to reconnect. For me, the trip will be great because I’ll be able to reconnect with Chris. We see each other during the worst part of our days – in the mornings (when I can barely function) and after work (when all Chris wants to do is veg out and recover from the insanity of his day). A vacation is going to give us the opportunity to spend the good parts of our days together – and this is important. Maybe you need to reconnect with your spouse, or your friend, or your kids or your parents – or maybe you just need to reconnect with yourself (solo vacations are highly underrated in my opinion). Invite whoever it is that you’re missing to go away with you and spend the time reconnecting.

6) You need to get out of the house. OK, this one might just be for me. But my office is IN my house, and I can never escape work (or the house). I love where I live, I look at the ocean from my office window, but I need to get outside of these walls. If you work from home, which many entrepreneurs do for a season, you know what I mean.

7) It’s helpful to remind yourself why you’re working so hard. Most of us aren’t working our butts off for nothing. There is usually a dream, a goal, a vision to come at the end of it. For me, I want to be able to travel. So taking periodic vacations reminds me why I’m doing all of this.

Joan of arc of philly8) You need some fresh air. You’re probably working so hard and so much that you spend most of the daylight hours in your office, wherever it may be. You need to get outside, to breathe the air, to have the sun shine on your face. Typically people spend time outside on their vacations, whether it’s strolling through a neighborhood or doing something active.

9) Talking to people in other places will help your business. No matter what your company is doing or building, you have customers that you need to serve. And getting out of your familiar bubble will allow you to talk to people about what you’re doing – and will help you refine your ideas to make sure that you’re serving them better.

10) Vacations are fun. At least, they should be. And if a vacation isn’t fun to you, do something that is. The point is, you need to lighten up sometimes, have a little fun, laugh, joke around, remember that everything isn’t serious and at the point of imminent collapse (which is how entrepreneurs usually feel).

Bonus #11) Your employees want you to go away. (This is for those of you who have employees.) If you ever worked for someone else, you know how it is when the boss is away – there’s a feeling of freedom, of lightness, of relief. As the boss, you may not want your employees to feel this freedom. But it’s important not only for you to get a break, but for your employees to get a break from you. When you get back from vacation, you’ll find that they are refreshed, as well.

Happy travels!

(the pictures here are all from Philly – “Love” by vic15, Dance Philadelphia by my aim is true, Joan of Arc by pwbaker)

Holidays and family history

Friday, December 28th, 2007

I’ve spent much of the last week traveling to Binghamton, spending time with my friends and family celebrating Christmas. It was a really nice break and I enjoyed all of it – the food, the parties, the presents – with the exception of missing my brother and Michele (who spent Christmas in Switzerland this year) and my cousin Jeff and his fiance (who were in Ohio).

Each year, it seems like there are a few truly memorable gifts that are given or received. Last year, Chris and I made “Fix-it-Club” hats for my dad, Carol & DJ, as part of the “club” that was founded based around DJ’s propensity to break things, and my dad’s skill at fixing them. And last year, Michele gave all the women in my family bracelets in support of Breast Cancer Research, in memory of my grandma – it was our first Christmas without her, and the first Christmas Eve that we celebrated in my lifetime that wasn’t at her house.

Vintage Christmas Postcard

This year, three gifts top my list. Chris gave me two of them – a flute, which I mentioned to him in passing that I would like to start playing again; and tickets to see the Nutcracker in Boston. We went to the show last night, and it was fun and magical, just like it is every time I see it. If you live in Boston, go next year! It is worth it.

The other gift was something that I got from my Aunt Mary, and is incredibly special. The back story is that when my grandma was alive, she used to have a collection of about 50-100 old postcards that she would pull out from time to time to show people. My grandma had a ton of information bits like this – she would clip articles from the newspaper or find old photos and she would keep them in a drawer in her living room and would show us various things when we came to visit. She also would write all over these pieces of paper in her cursive scrawl, I think to try to make sure that she remembered the names of the people in the photos for when she was telling the stories about them.

Vintage Thanksgiving Postcard

So for Christmas, my Aunt Mary framed this collection of holiday postcards and gave a bunch to all the people in my family. SO COOL! I love these things. She knew that I would love them so she gave me six – I’m still trying to decide how best to display them. My favorite three are pictured in this post.

Vintage Valentine's Day Postcard

The coolest thing about the postcards, though, is that you can still read the backs of them. All of these were sent to someone (an ancestor of mine, possibly?) named Miss Frances Jennings from Candor, N.Y. That’s all that can be found in the address line – I guess you didn’t need too much information to get the postcards to the right house back in 1909, when sending a postcard cost only 1 cent.

Thanks to the Internet, I was able to do a bit of research on the people who sent and received the postcards. This is all speculative, because I can’t be sure that any of the people in the postcards are 100% definitely the people who I found on the Internet, but it’s interesting either way!

Back of Christmas postcard

The back of the first postcard (pictured above) provides a huge hint – which is that J. Herbert Jennings, Jr. was somehow associated with Miss Frances Jennings (likely her father). And I managed to find out some information about a J.H. Jennings Sr., namely that he was the local druggist at Candor Corners in 189? (random fact: at some point, the store burned down). It appears that he may have also been the town supervisor, the chief office in town, from 1894-1896. He married Matie Wells on December 21, 1871, in Oneonta, N.Y. I think that this is the father of J.H. Jennings, Jr. and the grandfather of Frances Jennings.

Some sad news for the Jennings family on September 29, 1904, when Mary Augusta Wells (the proper name of Matie?), wife of J.H. Jennings, passed away. In 1933, it appears that the Jennings were still in business and that both J.H. Jennings Sr. and Jr. were still living in Candor, based on the information in this old phone book.

Thanksgiving postcard back

The postcards were all sent by different people, but at least two of them seem to be from family members in Seattle, Washington – one from Auntie Ric (pictured above) and the other from Cousin Mable. They are postmarked with a stamp from the World’s Fair Seattle 1909, which appears to be the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a fair that was put on to publicize the development of the Pacific Northwest. I have no idea if the relatives were involved in that World’s Fair, but it’s wild to think that they were in Seattle in the early 1900’s when Seattle still looked like this and there were no airliners to take you there from New York:

World's Fair Seattle

One of the most interesting people in the Jennings family line is Eleanor Jennings, whose obituary says that she was born on May 1, 1924, to J.H. Jennings Jr. and Daisy Wales Hunt Jennings. Eleanor graduated from Candor High School in 1941 and in 1944 magna cum laude from William Smith College. She wrote a book about her family and their role in Candor called Echoes from Yesterday. (I am trying to get a copy.) She also taught and travelled extensively, and published both prose and poetry. She had a half sister named Frances Mary Jennings, who I believe is the Frances from the postcards.

There was also an Eleanor Jennings from Candor, N.Y., who served as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1928, but this must have been a different Eleanor – maybe another family member? This is still amazing to me, however, as the first woman didn’t get elected to the Senate until 1932. (The first woman went to the Republican National Convention as a delegate in 1900.)

I realize that this is just a lot of rambling about the possible history of some people that may or may not be my ancestors, but it’s very cool how much of the past the Internet has opened to us now that many old documents have been scanned and indexed. I hope that one day all of the books and documents that we have stored in warehouses and libraries are archived digitally.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

DeCordova Museum & Sculpture Park

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Pig SculptureThis weekend, Chris surprised me and took me out for a day of adventures that included a stop at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass. Even if I didn’t enjoy the art (which I did) the drive to this museum would have been worth the entire trip for me, as the DeCordova is located in a residential area of Lincoln where the houses are all historic and beautifully maintained. Along with the fall leaves and the rainy day that we had on Saturday, it was a gorgeous trip.

A bit of history from the museum’s Web site:

The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is located on the former estate of Julian de Cordova (1851-1945). The self-educated son of a Jamaican merchant, de Cordova became a successful tea broker, wholesale merchant, investor, and president of a glass company in Somerville, Massachusetts. Travel and art were his passions, and de Cordova once wrote that he collected “everything that took [his] fancy in every country of the world.” In an era before airplanes and automobiles, Julian and his wife Elizabeth were hardy tourists who transversed the globe several times. Inspired by his trips to Spain and his own Spanish heritage, Julian remodeled his summer home in Lincoln, Massachusetts in 1910 to resemble a European castle.

When de Cordova died, he left his collection and estate to the town of Lincoln with the stipulation that it would become a museum of art after his death. Ironically, independent appraisers found that his collection was not worth much (and was of little general interest) so the trustees turned the estate into what was at the time one of the region’s only museums of contemporary art. Today, the museum is dedicated to regional modern art. My favorite part of the museum was definitely the sculptures, which are scattered throughout the grounds.

This museum is much more impressive in person than over the Internet, but the museum’s Web site has some cool features, including a video of their current exhibit “Trainscape: Installation Art for Modern Railroads,” which includes commissioned exhibits from 12 New England artists who put together worlds for a traditional modern railroad.

A bad Web design could kill your business

Monday, October 29th, 2007

If you have a company, you have a Web site. If you work for a company, it has a Web site. If you don’t work, you use Web sites. OK, you get the point – Web design affects everyone. (Aside: If you have a company and do not have a Web site, it’s time to get one. At this point, there is absolutely no reason you should be without. Go buy a domain name, and get started.)

Even though Web design affects everyone, this post is really directed at business owners, or anyone who is in charge of or has an influencing role in the development and design of the Web site at their company. You may believe that the design doesn’t really matter, that as long as you have a “Web presence,” that’s enough and your company will be successful. This is a myth.

Your Web site is your #1 face to the world, your primary branding vehicle. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your offline presence is, if your Web site isn’t as nice – or nicer – than your store, or restaurant, or software or service, you will lose customers. This is increasingly true as more and more people use the Internet to research everything, and especially as the younger generations who grew up with technology move into consumer roles. This generation grew up using the Internet, and they use it to research everything because they don’t want to waste their time driving somewhere or ordering something only to find out that it’s not what they were looking for, for goodness sake, what a waste of time.

But what if you do have the product that they are looking for, but they just don’t think so because your Web site isn’t attractive? This happens! Let me give you two examples. First, I treated a friend to a day at the spa for her birthday, and I sent her the links to two spas that I had been to before. In person, they were very similar, nice, upscale spas. Here are the links: Paula’s and Bella Sante. Which do you think she chose? Yep – Bella Sante. It was actually less conveniently located, but she picked it solely because the Web site made it appear that it would be nicer. Second example – I went to Bermuda this past summer and stayed at the Grotto Bay Beach Resort. Did you go look at the site? Go now. I would 100% recommend this place to anyone – it was beautiful and we had a wonderful time there, but I would 100% NOT send anyone the link to the Web site. The reason? Their photography is so outdated that it makes the place look cheesy, like it hasn’t been updated since the 80’s. There are no up-close pictures of the beach, arguably the resort’s best feature, and even the models look outdated with their clothes and hairstyles. If someone else hadn’t booked this resort before I saw the site, I would never have gone there.

Web design matters; don’t try to fool yourself that it doesn’t.

Blacksmiths & the Internet

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Blacksmith

This past weekend I went to Stow, Ohio, for my cousin Jay’s wedding, and we had some down time on Saturday so my husband, brother and sister-in-law all headed to Hale Farm & Village. Along with square dancing (which Chris and Michele participated in), and kettle corn (different from the sweet version that New Englanders are used to but even more delicious, in my opinion), there was a working forge with a couple of blacksmiths demonstrating their craft. I could stand and watch them make their products for hours. I figured it would be a stretch to figure out a way to connect this traditional craft with the Internet, but a quick search online turned up a whole host of resources for blacksmiths, including AnvilFire.com, which features a number of online chats and discussion boards, step-by-step guides to metalworking, a glossary of terms, and a store to buy products.

Working on metal

Reunion in Baltimore

Monday, October 8th, 2007


USS ConstellationI spent the past weekend in Baltimore with some of my friends from high school – we stayed with one of them in Arnold, MD, (which just might be the best neighborhood in the world to live in if you have kids, by the way). Saturday we went into the city to the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, which is apparently what all the tourists who go to Baltimore do, but I enjoyed it since I had never been to the city before. We ate at Amicci’s in the Little Italy section of the city, which rather oddly bills itself as a “very” casual eatery (the quote marks are the restaurant’s doing).  Baltimore has gone through some serious upgrades in recent years. About 10 years ago my friend and her husband went into the city for dinner and were robbed at gun point, but today the city has been upgraded and the various neighborhoods connected through the renovations.

Autumn on I-88

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

I-88I just drove from Boston to Binghamton, N.Y., my hometown. The drive is long (depending on the traffic and number of stops, for which I’m notorious, it can take up to 6.5 hours), and can be tedious (in the winter – imagine seven hours of driving in the dark, your headlights illuminating the snow blowing at you in a way that makes you feel like you’re in some kind of warp-speed tunnel), but this time of year it is usually beautiful. The leaves, which are just starting to turn, can make all the difference. Well the leaves plus some sun. It’s rarely sunny in Binghamton so if the sun is shining, things look much better. Anyway, I missed the peak leaves by about a week, but it was still one of the better drives I’ve made to town. If you’re into tracking the changing of the leaves, Away.com has a fall foliage guide that will help.

Globalization, the Internet & Montreal

Monday, September 24th, 2007


Montreal flagThis summer, my husband Chris and I took a vacation from our home north of Boston to Montreal. When we were preparing to go, I asked a number of people who had traveled there in the past if it would be a big deal that neither of us spoke French. They all told us that it would not be a problem, that everyone in Montreal speaks both French and English. They described the Canadian city as being “very European” but said it was accessible, that we wouldn’t have any trouble traveling there even with our complete lack of French-language comprehension.

After hearing their reassurances, I admit that I didn’t think that Montreal was going to be much different than the United States. So I was surprised when we got to the city. The language wasn’t a barrier, exactly, but it was a differentiator. Although everyone I spoke to in Montreal did speak English, it was usually evident that they all would prefer to be speaking French. Every street name, sign, menu and all the directions that we came across were in French (although sometimes there was an English translation). And there were other subtle issues that made us feel like we were away – the food, the fashions, and the intangible but definite feel of the town that was so, well, different.

For me, our experience in Montreal served to highlight how hard it is to “go global.” I don’t mean this in a technical sense, because it isn’t difficult to set up a Web site that will reach an international audience. What I’m referring to is the ability to create an experience on the Internet that feels local to an international audience. That is very difficult indeed.

Certainly this isn’t a new challenge, and there are some companies that have been working on their international Internet strategies for years. The Global by Design blog has a great analysis of  the top 10 global sites. This list is comprised of both Internet companies (Google and Wikipedia) as well as more old-school technology companies (Cisco Systems and Phillips).  Along with these leaders, there are a number of Web 2.0 companies that are beginning to effectively reach into global markets. Flickr, the community-based photo sharing site, offers eight language options along the footer of every page. The site also greets its users with a welcome in a different language every time they come (today my page says “Shalom 16thletter! Now you know how to greet people in Hebrew!”) in an effort to make the global community “feel” part of its users’ everyday experience. Myspace.com announced in late 2006 that it would be extending its site internationally, and they now offer international options as part of each users’ account settings to allow people to customize their local experience.

But even though most companies have globalization top-of-mind when building their sites, it is still a challenge in the details. In this post from Angela Randall on allfacebook – the unofficial facebook blog, she lists the subtle issues that make Facebook annoying for her to use in Australia. Her complaints include issues such as the seasons (which are different in the Southern hemisphere), states (international states aren’t included in Facebook) and study levels (Australia calls different levels by different terms than are used in the U.S.). All of these issues create enough dissonance for her to write, “Yeah, we know Facebook was developed in the US and has evolved from there but it’s time to extend some of the usability to international users.”

Ikea logoAnd another example that I would offer up is Ikea. The Swedish furniture retailer is perhaps one of the most successful global sites today – the company’s home page features a list of countries from which to choose to customize my Web experience, and they do a good job when I arrive at the United States version of the Web site. But in a subtle way, perhaps because of that initial global landing page or maybe because of the slightly different design style that is the signature of the company and permeates the site, I am constantly reminded that this is not a U.S. company. This leads to the feeling that I am not “at home” on the site. It isn’t 100% comfortable and familiar.

And this is the heart of the matter – what does it mean that I don’t feel at home on the site because it isn’t 100% comfortable? That feeling, that experience – it’s not quantifiable or measurable by any scientific methods or usability testing. And it is just this type of intangible that we have to get right in order to effectively “go global” on a local level. And it is also what makes the process so difficult.

~ Today’s view: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13799608@N08/1432924547/