Thursday, October 27, 2011

Doing Good and Doing it Well

When I saw
on the side of the building in downtown Chicago where Old Navy is located, I assumed it was a store campaign.  The simple block letters in black against a yellow background make a good logo that I can easily picture on t-shirts, hoodies and other items sold there.   After all, the company Life is Good started with  t-shirts featuring a smiling character named Jake with the simple message, “Life is Good” and propelled two brothers to commercial success beyond their wildest dreams.
The message to Go Do Good was compelling enough that I decided to look it up online and was surprised to learn that it was in fact a public art campaign put together by the Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) and United Way – Metropolitan Chicago (UW-MC) with the goal of inspiring people to do and record 100,000 good deeds.   The campaign launched in May 2011 with the six-story mural by Kay Rosen and apparently ended a few weeks ago although the mural will stay in place through spring 2012. 
It was surprisingly challenging to find reports of the results of this campaign.  Most of the articles I found were written in May 2011 announcing the launch and directing users to the  That site, however, briefly displays plain text, “Thank you Chicago” and immediately redirects to the UW-MC site where there is no information beyond the May launch - and I had to search the UW-MC site to find that.  The first summary article that comes up in a Google search ran in Time Out Chicago and was surprisingly critical of the initiative, citing the “debatable merit” of “arguably trite” suggestions, such as “thanking a CTA bus driver” and noting that “the campaign fell short of the 100,000 mark, with about 80,000” deeds recorded.   In the fourth page of search results, I found the CLA’s own assessment which was understandably more positive, and lists the highlights of over 90,000 good deeds.
Although I came late to the party, I applaud the Chicago Loop Alliance, UW-MC and Kay Rosen. I have never forgotten an important lesson I learned from Sociology Professor Dane Archer more than 20 years ago:
Dr. Archer sent a group of students to a busy grocery store to observe people’s behavior when one student “shopper” exited the store with a full bag of groceries, tripped and spilled the groceries.  As items rolled across the parking lot, the shopper attempted to retrieve them.  People glanced at the struggling shopper and walked around the mess on their way to or from the store. 
An hour later, Dr. Archer repeated the scene with the spilled groceries.  But this time, one person was designated to go to the shopper’s aid.  When one person started to help, almost everyone in the parking lot pitched in.  It only took one good Samaritan to motivate passerby to help.
I’ve never forgotten that lesson and try to make a point of setting the example and stepping up when help is needed.  I’d like to think that as a result of the Go Do Good campaign, someone thanked a bus driver, which prompted other passengers to thank the driver, which made the driver feel good about her job and maybe do a good deed in turn, whether for one of her passengers or later, on her way home from work.  Those 90,000 deeds recorded at represent only those deeds reported by tech-savvy users who had the time.  I would bet that far more good deeds were done as a conscious response to the Go Do Good initiative and that those 90,000 plus good deeds triggered exponentially more good deeds as a result.
Kudos again to CLA, UW-MC and Kay Rosen for a job well done or, doing so well at doing good.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saved by Scepticism

I'm back online after a bizarre "proactive" phone call from someone claiming to work with Microsoft.  Fortunately, I was only ever offline because I intentionally temporarily disabled my router when the caller started threatening me/my PC.  But let me start at the beginning:

My caller had a heavy Indian accent and told me he was calling to alert me to the fact that my PC had been severely compromised by a malicious virus.  He claimed that the "infection" had come to their attention because I was broadcasting personal data from my IP address.  I was immediately sceptical about his claims, but because I have had some "technical difficulties" in the past few days, I decided to listen to what he had to say without volunteering any information. 

My first clues that something was amiss was that the caller called my home phone, not my business line, and the caller ID was "Private caller".  Not only have I never heard of Microsoft making proactive service calls, I imagine that if they were, they wouldn't mask their identity.  I pushed back, "how do I know you are who you say you are?"  and got a rambling response about Microsoft being a big company and they were a department within Microsoft...or maybe they were a subcontractor helping out with this particular issue.  He finally consented to give me a link to "prove" his identity and sent me to (I am not printing this as a hyperlink as I don't want to drive traffic to the site.)

Meanwhile, he kept trying to get me back on task, which in this case was looking at the error and warning messages in the Event Viewer.  He had an answer ready for every objection I raised.  No visible warnings?  That's because my antivirus software has been compromised and blocked from giving me these warnings.  He said he was able to contact me because he called the "phone number associated with my IP address".

As I kept pushing for him to identify himself, he started to get hostile.  "You think you're clever?  You think you can solve this yourself?  I'm a certified Microsoft engineer," he insisted.  Well, yes, I do think I'm clever.  You see, although I'm not a certified Microsoft engineer myself, I've worked closely with many of them for years.  And, as the "technical translator" between engineers, developers and end-users, I'm quite comfortable navigating Computer Management screens, and tossing around terms like "IP address" and "Event Viewer".  Still, he made me nervous when he started threatening me, "if you don't listen to me, your computer is going to crash.  I have your IP address and as soon as you hang up the phone, your computer is going to crash."  I was 99% sure he didn't have access to my PC - because I knew I hadn't done anything to open the door.  Still, with the 1% uncertainty, I immediately unplugged my router and called my service provider just to be sure.  After all, my home phone is associated with my account - but I don't have a static IP so the relationship he claimed to identify doesn't really exist.  I also reset the password on my email - which I should do more frequently anyway.  Finally, my domain is hosted by a local business with excellent customer service and although they were unfamiliar with this scam, they researched it immediately and sent me this link - from the real Microsoft site describing the scam.

I trusted my instinct and did not trust the caller.  Still, it's easy to see how many would fall for the ploy.  Someone that sounds like a customer service representative who volunteers information that seems to make senseFuthermore, he throws around a lot of technical jargon that sounds impressive (and scary) if you're not familiar with it. 

Trust your gut and caveat emptor

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Following Directions, Detours and Delays

My husband Mahmoud and I went for a long bike ride yesterday. It was a glorious fall day in Central Wisconsin—a little past the peak of fall color, but beautiful nonetheless. I’d planned a 50-mile route from Castle Rock Lake to Petenwell and we expected to be out for about three hours. I printed out my Google map and didn’t worry too much about Google’s disclaimer that the bike directions were “beta”. Of course, it’s hard to read a map while moving. It’s also not particularly safe…
We cruised along Country Trunk G, passing the turn at 19th Avenue at about 20 mph, enjoying the long flat road with relatively light traffic. By the time we stopped at a busy intersection and checked the map, we’d gone two miles too far—but we misread the map and went another mile into heavy traffic before we stopped again and figured out our mistake.
Lesson #1: Stop and assess your position often enough to avoid costly mistakes.
We got back on course and paid closer attention to our route, only to discover that a proposed left turn did not exist. After circling around trying to find the non-existent left, Mahmoud commented, “Do you realize we’ve ridden eight miles so far and we’re only about a mile from our first stop?”
Lesson #2: Recognize when it’s time to plan an alternate route.
According to Google Maps, there should be a bikeable route that follows the shoreline of Petenwell Lake. We rode north along County Trunk G and made several futile attempts to reach the water. It appears that most of the lakefront is private property. There is a Wisconsin law that makes the first 100 feet of shoreline public, but that doesn’t mean that it can be accessed from anywhere on land. While the public has the right to walk anywhere along the lakefront, we found no evidence of a bikeable path. Meanwhile, we were running out of water and with the odometer reading 38 miles already, we were clearly not going to make it home within three hours or 50 miles.
Lesson #3: Make sure you have the resources you need to execute your plan.
Fortunately, although we were not on our intended route, we were never lost. Furthermore, we work well together and recognize each other’s strengths. Mahmoud is a big picture guy and has a better intuitive sense of direction. I tend to be more detail-oriented and better at following directions (but I’m also the one who misread our location at our first stop). We worked out a fairly direct return route, minimizing turns onto tertiary roads and planned to stop for food and water when we got to Highway 21.  We had to tweak our plan again when we discovered that both restaurants we’d seen were closed. We were able to buy water at the Hwy 21 Pawn & Gun shop, which will remain one of our more memorable rest stops!  After four and half hours and 66 miles, we reached our final destination, tired but happy – and ready to enjoy a glass of wine beside a campfire.
Lesson #4: Work as a team, leverage each individual’s strengths and make the best of the situation!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's in a name?

Polyglot. Pondering. Musing. KristinBrown. Who knew that it would be so challenging just to name a blog?

I went for a run along the Evanston lakefront and pondered the issue. I wanted something simple, easy to remember—and to spell—that said something about me or what the blog was about. I liked the idea of highlighting my love of languages and making connections to my experiences as a business consultant. Sitting down at the computer a few hours later, I quickly discovered that every variation on every idea I'd had was already taken.

Polyglot? Unavailable. Polyglot Perorations? Too pompous. Polyglotte? Poliglotta? Also unavailable. Even my own name, KristinBrown, is already taken!

Curious, I decided to see what the other Kristin Brown was writing. Nothing. I checked out other names I'd considered. All blank. I don’t mean private. Just blank. It seems like a lot of people have gone to a lot of trouble to "set up" their blogs—and then done nothing with them.

I considered a French name, “préciser” but without the accent it looks like “preciser” and I’m certainly not pretending to be “more precise” (or even necessarily precise) in my posts.

I finally settled on “dicodici”, or “I say, you say”. The Italian name pays homage to my interests in language and word play. The verb “dire” is recognizable in any language with Latin roots. Finally, “I say, you say” suggests a dialog. I hope this blog becomes a dialog about what I have to say about business issues and what you have to say in return.
Arrivederla. Arrileggerla.