Category Archives: Technology

Bookshelf Review: the Rise of the Naked Economy

In the ongoing re-organization called Life, I came across this book and skimmed/read it to make keep/discard decisions.

It’s in the ‘Keep’ pile, but only just barely; and only for the function of identifying fallacies and wishful thinking.

I found the facile tone and smudged glossiness of the imagery very off-putting.

This book described happily the new work reality, in which many of us are super-specialists, providing very highly polished skills to a perpetually delighted market.

Others of us are to be generalists _ also very crucial, we’re told_ filling in gaps and doing – you know – general things.

All the infrastructure and ‘normal’ trappings of work are to be discarded – offices, established work relationships and protocols, permanence of any kind. Except for managers perhaps  – they can have trappings. But none for the rest!

It mentions at the end a few minor glitches – health insurance (and other benefits), collections problems, taxation policies that burden entrepreneurs vs. customers.

So ok, in reality – those minor things are kind of major, and many unstated problems exist which vastly outweigh the benefits.

For one thing, earning enough money to live on as a freelancer is very difficult to do in conjunction with maintaining the skill sets and knowledge base of a specialist. Apparently these new roles come with some sort of time-turning magical device!

Most utilization of freelancers takes place within a mature, structured workplace; because of all the ways in which that structure is necessary. The main body of activity in ‘getting things done’ will always need to happen within a permanent structure. Large groups of people engaging in innovation or existing service provision require permanent physical locations, computer and telephone technologies, long-standing interpersonal relationships.

There won’t ever be a ‘flash mob’ of people who are able to come together all as strangers for a short period to get a new design from research through the marketplace etc..

The flicking-off of a small percentage of positions from employment to contractor status weakens the people in those positions, as well as the organization itself: whether the specifics are adjunct faculty or accounting contractors. A great deal is lost when functional responsibility is lost in the shuffle.

I strongly feel that this push will turn out to have been profoundly wrong-headed; beneficial to small sets of people who managed the provision of freelance service and also to the people making the outsourcing decisions – at least until enough time passes to make clear the full impact of those decisions.

Meanwhile, from day one all the way through until a more complete relationship is re-established, the person providing the service is under-compensated. Financially, and on the wider basis as far as ongoing stability and life-planning foundation and career-wise and so on.

So many building blocks of a solid future exist only within the employment relationship. To actually replace those for freelancers – sincerely and in good faith – would take much more generous monetary compensation as well as a range of other substantive realities that have not at all been even explored, much less implemented. The reality is that these relationships have not been in good faith, but have been part of the hollowing out of the middle-class.

These authors – Ryan Coonerty and Jeremy Neuner – are themselves not distanced observers, but directly within the paradigm they’re discussing – they are both involved with NextSpace, an early pioneer in the coworking model.  Which brings up another aspect of this book – it weaves present and future, concrete realities and wishful generalizations, coal and diamonds to such an extent it’s difficult to digest.

But coworking itself is fascinating, and a great environment for certain types of functions. For folks in social media for instance, I can see how it would be perfect. It has its downsides (one example set), and will have growing pains as it matures (real estate prices for instance). But as it solidifies it also becomes one of the ‘infrastructure’ pieces that it itself is replacing, reminiscent of the conclusion of Vonnegut’s ‘Player Piano’.

This book also suggest using free resources whenever possible as a freelancer, to support the no-overhead model. Those free resources are reminiscent of procurement-chain management, in which smaller business were replaced with corporate/global supplies. Both paradigms deprive small, locally-held businesses of needed volume, causing constricted decision-making and diminished futures. More evidence of the wrong-headedness of this model

“Fun to Read!” says the book jacket. Not always ‘Fun’ to live!

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Escaping the Horrors of our current Economic Situation with Thomas Piketty

So I was watching a horror movie last night. It is called ‘The Apartment’ with Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurry and many others, written directed and produced by Billy Wilder. It came out in 1960, at the end of the black-and-white era.

At the time, it was produced as a light comedy. Since then however, much has changed.

For example, Bud, Jack Lemmon’s character (whose apartment the film is about) is one of approximately 10,000 employees at an insurance company, making about $95 per week. His precious apartment (due to its location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, close to Central Park) rents for about $110/month.

I didn’t watch it through, skipped around. But basically the higher-ups in his company take advantage of him, calling him names similar to drudge, and treat him poorly. He sits at a desk among a huge sea of desks on the 18th floor. They time when each floor can leave, so as to not overwhelm the elevators. The elevators are run by uniformed employees (including Shirley MacLaine’s character), the switchboard is still manually operated, etc..

So, let’s review.

This middle-aged man has a job of medium skill/intelligence, at a similar level as thousands of other employees, which is not yet much automated or supported via technology. He rents a wonderful apartment in a prime location, for just over 25% of his salary.

He is comfortable financially, isn’t conscious of that, and concerns himself with moving ahead. Presumably the other thousands of people he works with are also comfortable.

We know this – the 60’s were a time of widespread prosperity. It just hurts to see the characters so unaware of it. Kind of like in ‘Our Town’ how the people in the graveyard are aware of the people alive taking everything for granted.

My primary concern though is how we’re going to appear to people in 50 years. Will it seem to them that we have it amazingly well?  That is what would be horrifying.

And that scenario is not very far-fetched, according to the book everyone is reading that I finally picked up: ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ by Thomas Piketty (called by some “an Alexis de Tocqueville for the 21st century”.)

This article in the New Yorker describes Pinketty’s beliefs that the consequences of staying on our current course are ‘potentially terrifying.’  Piketty’s main point – growth of capital (in the hands of the rich) is higher than growth of the economy, resulting in permanent, ever-larger income disparities unless something is done.

So now I have my own copy of Piketty’s ‘Capital’, and I look forward to writing about it further in coming weeks and months. My initial reactions to the actual book itself: it’s big! Hardback of course only right now, and officially has 685 pages. Of course, the index starts at 671, the ‘contents in detail’ (?) list on page 657 (list of text headings), and general ‘Notes’ and references etc.. on page 579. So the actual ‘conclusion’ of the main text is on page 577.

I typed in a small section of text to one of those readability sites, it assigned a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 49 (scale of 0 to 100, higher score indicating more readable).  I notice just skimming that he does often state what he is going say or what he has said, provides lots of navigational clues as he’s going, there are lots of visual data items as well.

I’m excited to finally have it in my hands – kept hearing Piketty this and Piketty that the last several weeks. Finally looked him up, and came to understand that this book has broken all sales records for a book on economics! It is actually number one on multiple bestseller lists. There are suggestions that this book could actually play a significant role in changing the course we’re on. I sincerely hope so!

 

 

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Strength & Vibrancy of Twin Cities

There was a display at the Cargill room in the Downtown Minneapolis Library a few years ago, celebrating the sesquicentennial (150 years) of Minnesota. It contained displays showcasing Minnesota’s inventions over the years. They included an extensive array: Medical (pacemakers, etc.. work by Bakken and many others), Computer, Food (wheat varieties created by Borlaug, credited with saving  the lives of millions; zillions of apples and much more at the University of Minnesota). Also random things like the Tilt-a-Whirl, Roller Blades, and Spam (which has, again, saved the lives of millions probably).

The University of Minnesota, one of the original Land-Grant institutions, has been doing everything possible to improve life for Minnesotans – and Everyone – since the 1850’s. I graduated with a degree in Accounting from there. I don’t know if you can tell. Anyway, even with the University’s various campuses and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system,  we have a wealth of smaller Universities and Colleges as well. Truly something for every interest and life path.

We have much more diversity here than others imagine. Minnesota schools  are helping kids learn English in addition to their own languages – 200 different languages are spoken in their homes. Our four main languages in Minneapolis are English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong. We are a vibrant community of cultures, ethnicities, neighborhoods  and communities.

We have a thriving arts community, more theater per person than almost anywhere else, storytelling, dance, live music and much more.

Politically, there’s just no end. But let me just stress our high voter turnout, and leave it at that. Except to also mention politics at its best – the Center for Victims of Torture, based in Minneapolis, doing everything possible to heal the human spirit.

That is one nonprofit of hundreds in Minnesota – part of a thriving nonprofit community that seeks to ensure the vitality and well-being of its citizens and address today’s challenges in coordination with government entities, foundations, benefactors and volunteers; in a way that is transparent and accountable.

We have a thriving technology arena with innovation and real-world application, new breakthroughs and efforts to bring technology’s benefits to as many as possible.

Our Minnesota State Fair is perhaps a good place to stop. For many on the coasts (the reason this post exists, see here and here), the State Fair justifies your belief systems about Minnesota. And, as I’ve said before, there’s a certain level of inevitability about all this which I accept.

Despite that, I’ll just say this: the State Fair is like life.

You have huge numbers of people, all of whom are doing what they want to do for their own reasons. Some have brought to the Fair the best of their years’ efforts – animals, artworks, recipes, large vegetables, seed art. Some have brought information and arguing points to try and change others minds and spark action. Some have brought items to sell, and/or money to buy. Many are artists and performers, there to incite joy, laughter and dancing. Many-many are present to take it all in and have a wonderful time.

There is a little bit of almost everything, and a zillion choices at every turn. You can – as in life – decide what experience you want to have, and then set about to have that experience. Things may go a different way, and you can adapt. There may be streets filled to the brim with unwashed masses – and alternate routes. Long lines at these times, shorter lines earlier/later. Coupons and deals to utilize. Extensive work and volunteer opportunites. Too much heat, rain, cold and blah days, disappointment, social goings-on with drama and heart break, families (in matching t-shirts sometimes) with best intentions, crying babies and their huge baby carriages always in the way, people moving about with assistive technology, people physically adjusting themselves to all those around them constantly, people who’ve been coming to the fair for decades, people who only recently landed in Minnesota and are still just their bearings, breaking technology and the newest in kitchen convenience. It’s all there, it’s all in the Twin Cities, it’s all the same in slightly different ways everywhere.

We are completely engaged in what we’re doing here. You are welcome to join us. It’s ok if you want to keep doing what you’re doing where you are. But we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing our own selves, in any case. Namaste.

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Filed under Business, buy local, Community, Cooking, Entrepreneurship, Food, Fun, Infrastructure, Leadership, Local, Marketing, Minneapolis, Minnesota, NonProfits, St. Paul, Technology, Uncategorized

Workings – Accounting

Returning Online Message to the World. Hello World!

I do accounting, and I don’t talk about it. Almost ever anyway. The one time I do talk about it.. well, it’s this blog post! This is my sole episode of self-exposition, hopefully a foundation for the rest of my social media life going forward. There are links to this, so that other main posts can be as pithy as self-awareness suggests they be. I hope this is illuminating to those interested, while still not getting me in any trouble. (Maintaining that delicate balance is strenuous, hence the singularity of this event).

Accounting is a dynamic, variable, and intrinsically-confidential process that most people in the best of times are unaware of. In the current moment, the accounting process has been rendered even more invisible, because of the paradigms that have sprung up around it.

Talking about it in an interesting way that is relevant to others yet also maintains all necessary confidentiality is generally impossible. Despite that, I’m going to share some information about it this one time, in re-joining the social media world after a long absence.

In my work, I create and maintain accounting structures and practices that enable efficient, correct financial transactions; and that also result in those transactions generating a data trail. I do additional steps with sets of transactions at periodic or project-specific intervals, to put that transaction data into specific patterns. And then I turn that data into information, both to meet external requirements and to provide useful organizational and programmatic information to internal managers and staff.

All of that is done within the framework of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), as well as federal and state laws (regarding payroll, sales tax, and all sorts of other things), particular structures established within specific grants, and the body of established practice within each entity.

A significant part of the work is also engaging productively with the organization itself, participating in relevant decision-making, sharing information, and implementing change proactively; also helping with the organizational work itself sometimes.

All of that happened a certain way when I started out, in the mid- to late- 1980’s. That established ‘normal’ for me. I thought things would always be that way. I imagine now that, if they had, it’s possible I would have ended up in a certain comfort zone, a set of habits and practices within which I would have been content in a static way, and work would have existed within 9-5 and the rest would be my personal life.

Instead, things turned out differently.

These accounting practices in general have since been subject to a series of pressures that I did not at all foresee when I started out – as is the case with many work practices. I may write more about them at some point, but here’s a brief description.

Quickbooks – which I can honestly say I identified as a very mixed change agent right from the very beginning – operates on the basic premise that accounting as a theoretical framework or structured practice really doesn’t exist. Anyone can do it. There are qualifiers inherent in that statement over time, but that’s the basic gist. Anyone can do it, and any negative outcomes from that process are manageable. If outcomes are to be better managed, you can get help after the fact to fix it. (Stop rant now/)

And while I support all small businesses and entrepreneurs, and I know it’s been an effective tool for many to some extent, I am critical of the messaging and the implementation and the reaction to it by the other entities. (And that last part is something I’ll probably never talk about, which leaves a gap, but so be it).

Outsourcing of financial work has been another huge sea change. I only ever briefly worked for ‘Corporate America’ – but the shift from there of people looking for work has been substantive in the arena I do work within. It’s been just as impactful of the shift from the bottom up caused by the Quickbooks mindset. I was angry at India – you know, that one big entity that is India-of-Outsourcing-Fame – for a time; and then ended up in a discovery process with India, and became very fascinated and enthralled. More about that some time too perhaps. Not angry now (not directed there, anyway!).

And the last huge change has been the recession of course, which has had pervasive effects in the number of employment options for everyone everywhere in accounting, and the related pay scales. I know it didn’t affect me nearly as much as so many, but it’s still been quite a change agent in my life.

My mother has worked in organizational consulting in the practice of nursing for several decades; familiarity with her practice and implementation of it has fueled my belief that I could adapt sustainably to this all, and keep going. And I have done that. Some aspects involved have been SWOT, Social Media, continual learning and the serenity prayer.

I’ve considered other options, and explored some, discarding them due to the long lead-in time required, market aspects, investment requirements, my own interests/skills/strengths and so on.

The main other area I was interested in early on, and partway through my college career – computer technology – has also been very over-populated; in addition it’s been dominated by monopolistic entities and the barriers to entry at this point are as high as my interest level today is low. It still works well for me to simply focus on accounting software, and to some extent the relationships with related other software packages, web technologies and operating systems, although I haven’t done as much with that lately.

Writing and everything about the written word – always a primary interest core to my being – remains as an internally-rejuvenating interest only, for the time being at least.

So as a result of those pressures, and those explorations, and every experience to date, I’m still in accounting but it’s quite different from how it was in the 80’s. Not only no more ledger paper (sigh), but organizational paradigms are very different, cost pressures are huge, and regulations/adherence monitoring is much more significant. It’s a 24/7 continually changing social-media-enriched client-focused experience, very different from how I thought my career would be way back when.

I’m continually grateful that I have been able to continue in the practice of accounting, in a sector of it that I’m happy to be in (nonprofits, and entrepreneurial entities), in physical locations that are often Downtown and always transit-friendly, with organizations that are doing great work and people that are truly wonderful.

The social media result is that I’m here, but talking about myself as others do gehts nicht – it’s not going to happen.

I’m thinking now, after being away for a while and within my current complex work situation, that I may write something once a quarter or so, about distillations and non-specific accumulations that might have relevance.

The whole rest of the time though, my online presence is about the goals of my work, which is to support entrepreneurs, creativity, adaptation, communities, and best possible futures. Sometimes that support lends itself to writing, such as new technologies or new impactful situations etc.. but I like to support the writing of others who have invested much time and energy in doing that well also – I respect their commitment to that process.

There, hopefully we’re all still standing and no lasting damage has been done.I know I feel Better.

So you see, my lack of original writing: it’s just the way my work is.

Although I know it’s true – the one constant in life is change!

Comments/feedback always welcome! Thanks for visiting.

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Pinterest: Exciting new outlet.. but be careful!

Pinterest – located at pinterest.com – is a social photo-sharing website. Users can establish accounts, and then set up collections of images that reflect their interest.

Other users can browse their collections, ‘like’ various items, collect images from each other, and establish mutual interest relationships and so on.

Launching as a closed beta in March 2010, the site has in stages opened up to the public, and has generated a lot of enthusiasm in the process.

On August 16, 2011, Time magazine published Pinterest in its “50 Best Websites of 2011” column.(Wikipedia)

Just in the last few months – December, January – the site has been skyrocketing with users. It crossed the 10 million user mark last month, being one of the fastest sites to do so.

Users love it’s visuality, ease of use, and it’s ability to facilitate relationships with others of similar interests. It links in with Facebook, Twitter, has an RSS feed feature, comes with WordPress widgets and there’s an iPhone app for it too!

But recently, awareness has been growing of downsides for users of the site. In particular related to the very use of images that is such a big part of its appeal.

I literally only heard of this site about a week ago.

A few days ago, I retweeted this tweet about it:

56 Ways to Market Your Business on #Pinterestj.mp/yt2cO8 via @copyblogger RT @brasonja #in

And that tweet of mine was RT’d about 4 times, more than almost any other of my tweets. Clearly it is a topic of interest right now! So as I began to read today more concerns about the site, I thought I’d pull together this blog post about it all.

Here is a clearer link to that article on CopyBlogger: .

It talks about a wide spectrum of ways to use Pinterest for marketing your business, everything from social media immersion techniques to branding to traffic analysis techniques to webinar support. Seems all very exciting and wonderful, but read on, please!

Another Pinterest-excitement tweet I saw recently:

How the medical industry is using (and could use): Pinterest bit.ly/zaonKE RT @MelissaOnline

This MedCityNews article showcaseshow the medical industry already uses and could even more use Pinterest to boost patient morale, improve patient education and, of course, engage in cutting-edge marketing activities.

This page also mentions the revenue stream aspect of Pinterest, which involves affiliate marketing via Skimlinks and changing the codes linked to images to replace the original marketer with Pinterest . That practice, described further in this MarketingLand article: is generating interest and concern as more people become aware of it.

But copyright theft is a much more serious concern, since it involves legal ramifications that are completely beyond what users have in mind when they sign up to use Pinterest. This BusinessInsider article describes those concerns.

In a question and answer format, the piece explores the idea that Pinterest may be more illegal than Napster was, due to its use of images not owned by the user, thereby violating the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). Pinterest actually ‘requires’ that each user ‘own’ rights to the images they post, but they in no way reinforce that requirement.

This article explores the fair use argument and how it applies to Pinterest (and Tumblr, for that matter), and also mentions that Pinterest grabs whole sites when people ‘pin’ an image from that site, making it all even more serious.

Pinterest makes users even more uncomfortable in its statement that it reserves the right to sell any image posted by a user. This article by RWW mentions that several businesses, after initially signing up to use Pinterest, almost immediately closed their accounts as they more fully explored the implications. What it boils down to is that, if a user posts a photo which they don’t own the license to (a license given them free, world-wide, very broad and open rights to), they could be sued for posting it (and thereby granting Pinterest the right to sell it).

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Google Plus for Business is open! (for.. business!)

Google + has opened business pages to the wider community – I set up one for Clarity Solutions! I’m so excited!

I’ve been holding my breath ever since Google Plus first launched, waiting for this moment. I really want my primary presence online to be that of this business entity, Clarity Solutions. And then I also will have a business-owner Claire Stokes twitter, and Google Plus account (the original one). But those personal accounts will provide content that is specific to me, and is not intended to be “useful” necessarily, etc… Useful and constructive and sustaining and all those intentionalities belong to my business content, which will now finally be able to begin on Google Plus.

So, as when Google Plus first launched, I’ll post interesting tidbits here and will be interested in hearing about the experiences of others as well! Cheers!

Here are some resources for those of us just starting out with a business Google Plus page:

Here is the Google Blog Post about the roll out, and an intro (videos) in to some of the new features!

CNet article on the new features, including an interesting point – the Google Plus business page cannot follow a customer first – the customer must first follow, then the business can follow back. Also lots about ways to connect in to your Google Plus business page from your other sites, and so on.

Technorati enthusiastically jumps on the Bandwagon.

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Storify and Journalism: An Exploration (via Anna’s Cubby Hole: Ramblings of a Cub Reporter)

Interesting, have heard about this but not explored it yet. Thanks for the info!

Storify and Journalism: An Exploration It's a little embarrassing for a media/journalism junkie to admit, but I just discovered Storify this morning. I'm hoping to use it for future blog posts, but my first story will be an investigation of Storify's impact on media and journalistic potential. From what I can tell so far, Storify is an interactive tool for people to easily create stories using tweets, Facebook statuses and links. From their FAQ: Storify is a way to tell stories using … Read More

via Anna's Cubby Hole: Ramblings of a Cub Reporter

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