Thoughts on vacation

Indeed, I thought while I was on vacation. Along stretches of Highway Five and down along the Amtrak line, where you’re not found on a map and nobody really knows where you are, I had time to think. And to finish a book.  The long travel-based stretches were about it for thinking though — the rest ranged from peaceful family time to utter chaos, and often the chaos won. Certainly no time for thought there.

I’ve been playing around with SlideShare in attempt to both put a story to vacation and overcome my legendary dislike of PowerPoint.  Let’s see how far I get:

Ships and Service in the Great White North

Yes, friends, there is still ice – and cell service – in the great white north. Having nothing with which to previously compare it, I’m not sure if it’s a whole lot, but we did sail by a real-live glacier or two on a ten-day cruise up in the northerly direction recently. I still feel a little wiggly and think I’m not done getting my land-legs back.

For better or worse, we spanned a large amount of water to get to Alaska and whatever ice it has left (at least in its southern Canada-like tail) in a giant ship. And that water was, we were to learn, often rougher than ever.

Once we surmounted that outside passage, we happily turned to the inside and followed the falsely named Lynn Canal, tracing the passages (and apparently sailing over some carcasses) of the old ships of would-be goldseekers. The farthest we pushed north was Skagway, AK.

Since the gold is long gone, I don’t believe any of these towns would exist anymore were it not for the visits of seven cruise ships a day throughout half the year, though we were interested to note that in all of our ports of call, cell service was excellent. Tracy Arm Fjord aside.

I’ll never forget that icy canyon, freezing at 6am, not getting so close to receding glaciers, seeing the four tiny white dots of goats clinging to the canyon walls, all the while lumbering away in a giant cruise ship that somehow seemed false. I almost hope we stole away before anybody noticed, but the receding glaciers probably know.

Another fine example of service in the great white north – Alaska blogging. Check out this one for just one fine example: http://alaskatheviewfromuphere.blogspot.com/

The views are often achingly gorgeous. I definitely want to go further next time.

Often, though, one of the best things about going away –

is coming home.

ps: But did I mention Canada? We had a lovely stay in Victoria. Canada feels like home.

Sustainability and the Long Tail

It strikes me that the “long tail,” the economic model popularized by Chris Anderson, either IS or IS NOT about extinction. With the long tail, says Wikipedia, “Businesses with distribution power can sell a greater volume of items at small volumes than of popular items at large volumes.” What this means to me is that I can find and buy whatever I want, usually on the Internet.

It’s well known around our parts that legions of bookstores have been forced to close directly or indirectly because of internet competition. No doubt this was a factor in brick-and-mortar Tower Records’ demise as well. This greatly affects the quality of life in our communities. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to have the choice of what I want to buy – and to be able to buy exactly what I want.

Take lightbulbs. I have a lamp that in rather ominous terms calls specifically for “Type B” lamps: “RISK OF FIRE. USE ONLY TYPE B LAMPS.” Now – I don’t even know what Type B lightbulbs are. And did I find them when I walked to the local hardware store? Nope. Did I buy the dangerous, threatening Type A lightbulbs instead? Yep. Could I have found Type B lightbulbs on the long-tail of the internet? Most certainly. Given the choice, here I am willfully risking fire over the potential closure of local hardware stores. Provided the dangerous B bulbs don’t burn our house down, this means I choose sustainability.

For local, sustainable food, the long tail might mean a species, one way or another. Oddly enough, as Barbara Kingsolver points out in her latest great book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which of course mildly ironically has a corresponding Web site), widely consuming and hence escalating demand for rare vegetable foods means they are more likely to survive as species – for instance, special heirloom vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes. Not so for wild animals! For example, for our threatened pacific wild salmon. More consumption means more risk of extintion (though the salmon farmers would have you believe otherwise). It could be that long-tail models are both helping and hurting when it comes to sustainability.

Speaking of salmon, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s excellent seafood guides, the one place they still run abundantly free and wild is up in Alaska. And in fact I’ll be out for the next two weeks on the Dawn Princess as it leaves its long-tail wake in the oceans up towards Alaska. While I don’t expect to be twittering or flickring (well, probably flickring) nearly as much, you CAN catch a glimpse of everywhere we go with the bridge cam. I’m sure you’ll be on the edge of your seat!

We’ll try to leave a few salmon left over in the sea for everyone.

Whiskey and a Hammer

I’m on vacation next week (first of two in short order this summer), and I’ve been fond of thinking “it’s not a minute too soon.” The past couple of weeks have been very intense, but the work is fun and energizing. Above all, the best part about working is the collaboration, and without a doubt, the various social tools internally at SAP have opened up the world to me at work. This last week was so busy I usually didn’t know whether I was IM’ing or emailing – or twittering?

Among the highlights:

  • My instant-message working collaboration with Michael Biermann. Together with Craig Cmehil, we want to find a whole new way to surface trends and ideas. Michael and Craig are two-men machines of great ideas and skills (and right now may be the most dangerous guys in town); Michael nearly took down the internal wiki in the process – that’s a blast! Thanks Michael for the whiskey and the hammer: and it really does take a village.
  • Moderating the response to an internal newsletter relating to our wiki space, which has been phenomenal – nearly inexplicably so. Again, whole new communities open up to me and I count myself fortunate.
  • Watching and working on the wiki space redesign process between Phil, Will, and Dirk. I’ve concluded that email is not a great way to run design reviews, but I think in the end you guys can gain consensus. Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and really get a good look around.
  • Working with Jerome across timezones toward an understanding on knowledge architecture. Should be interesting to stay tuned.
  • Wrapping up Pride in San Francisco. It’s typically ironic to me that we get a month to be proud – and then after that? After Sunday we all go back to shame! But seriously – there was much energy inside and out this year. Another kind of importance of community.
  • Our daughter saying goodbye to her favorite teacher so far, Sarah. She drew her a heart and gave it to her. Not even three and she gives us a knot in our throats. Her community.
  • New fire-colored hair. Well, it’s actually apparently a very very bright red, but it looks pink. Is it fuego? Well… you’ll just have to see me after Bandon to find out…

First stop: Bandon, OR. Next stop: Palo Alto. Next stop: Alaska. See you somewhere there!