Friday, February 4, 2011

Website Design And Development by SDOC Publishing Supports Taste of Dunwoody and Friends of CHOA

SDOC is proud to announce that we are an official corporate sponsor of the Taste of Dunwoody at the W Atlanta Perimeter TONIGHT, benefitting Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.

Tickets are completely SOLD OUT.  So if you have tickets, please come say hello!  If you didn't get tickets before now, the Aha! Connection has a website post where you can connect with others looking for tickets, or looking to sell.  Post here to sell tickets or announce that you're looking for them.

It looks like the weather is not going to slow this event down.  My other half and I will be there even if we have to slosh in our rain boots!

This cause is near and dear to my heart, and not just because I'm a parent.  Years and years before I started developing small-business and not-for-profit websites, my career was in medical research at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.    My first position was in a translational research lab in the Pediatrics Division (Today it's called the Childrens Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson)  Our lab's key project was to develop a way of diagnosing leukemia relapse before the symptoms recurred using custom-made DNA probes, designed to match each patient's unique genetic signature.

It took a lot of cooperation.  The patients, their parents, the clinic nursing staff, the medical staff (including my boss) and a slew of other "lab rats" like myself all had a different task.  My task was to take biopsies of bone marrow and grow them in a culture bottle.  Then I handed them off to my partner so that she could analyze the DNA and design the diagnostic probes. 

This process was exta work for everyone.  The patients were already getting their bone marrow analyzed as part of their treatment and maintenance.  That didn't make the procedure less painful.  I made the process easier by being the extra pair of hands everyone seemed to need.  If it didn't require an MD  or RN, I was there.  I found prep trays, wiped anesthetic bottles with alcohol, and made sure drapes were at the ready.  If the Lab Medicine department got slammed and wasn't able to come down to the clinic, I made the histology slides that the technicians would read to determine if the cancer was in remission or recurring.  There were lots of trips to the clinical lab! 

I held lots of things.  Usually hands and ankles.  I helped hold the patient still and talked them through the sampling.  Having bone marrow aspirated is like having your soul pulled out through a little hole in your iliac crest, so say the patients I worked with.  Holding still makes the difference between getting it over with quickly and getting injured.  The only people more worried about bone marrow testing than the patients, were their parents.  If a parent is going to be an a procedure with their child they have to be able to emotionally hold themselves together.  Otherwise the child is even more frightened and chaos ensues.  Most times, the parent couldn't bear to be in the room; a few got sick and spit up.  I held their hands - and sometimes their heads.

But it wasn't always a bad experience working with patients in the clinic.  I saw many of my teenaged patients at summer camp where I volunteered as a counselor.  I saw first loves, "summer prom", and even busted a few making out behind a cabin.  We saw high school and college graduation photos, and wedding photos.   Some have even returned as volunteers, or gone on to medical school. 

I have three children of my own today, so I can't imagine returning to this kind of job.  A lot of life-long lessons came from it.  First, it is critical to have a child-centered health facility.  Caring for children is different than for adults, from the size of the equipment to the dosing of various medicines, to managing their emotional state with the decor in the room. 

Second, communication is an art form.  Very complex information about the child's disease and how to treat it has to be delivered and perceived at the level the patient and their family members can understand.  On top of that they have to understand all of this complexity during the worst stress of their lives.  This lesson is one I use  every day in writing text copy for a website.  It's a unique art to make information that readily accessible that quickly.  I mastered the art of communication talking to patients and families.

Finally you can't have a childrens' health facility without the support of the community.  Fundraisers are not a hobby, they are critical to supporting the patients and their families that often roll into town on their last tank of gas to save their child's life.  But then they need to purchase incidentals to survive in the mean time.  I'm proud to support Dunwoody Friends of CHOA, and I am equally proud to join my Phi Mu sisters in the Star94 Radiothon for Childrens' Miracle Network in November.

That's the story behind the story of SDOC's support of Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.  I'll be glad to tell you more about our support of local charitable causes and other work - both websites and other - at tonight's gala.  I'll be there with rainboots on!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Where Is the Human Touch?

I usually write posts on this blog about customers or business in general but today I'm going to be self-indulgent.  Refill your coffee cup and settle in.  This is long.

How many times have you heard an acquaintance or colleague bemoan the lack of courtesy that used to be so common?  It's in every venue.  Some blogs I read describe  kids backtalking teachers - threatening, even, in some cases.  Reality TV has encouraged confrontation rather than conversation.  The immediacy of blogging has generated quick responses.  I work in a medium where every word and every image carries some subconscious meaning.  It's important to choose carefully not just the words you use, but when to use them.  Even whether to use them. 

It's easy to blame the Internet or TV.  They're new!  The technology is evolving.  The influence is growing.  The science behind the delivery of a message is more precise.  But it's not the Internet or TV.  It's us.  The humans.

I've been pondering this as I've watched groups of people in my own community use various tools to hash out new problems and old conflicts.  A big controversy at the moment is school redistricting.  Comments are flying fast and furious, electronic signatures appear on Internet petitions as quick as a keystroke.  Is it the Internet causing the intense reactions?  No - it's the basic mammailian instinct to protect one's young from perceived threats.  An instinct older than our species itself with a young medium to communicate it.

Soon after my family relocated to this area a situation arose where a homeowner wanted to change the zoning designation of her property, from residential to commercial.  Zoning is a passionate issue here, as homeowners feel they have had little protection from the government and other business interests over the years.  I'm inclined to agree - the county government looked the other way in many instances while a commercial enterprise flauted the law.  It's a key reason this region became a city.

The person making the request followed every procedure to the letter.  A public hearing w/ extensive notice was required.  A meeting room was secured.  Signs were posted.  Civic groups were notified.  A date and time were set.  I don't think they were prepared for the response they got.

The local community was opposed to the change.  Vehemently so.  Email groups fired up.  Civic group leaders banded together to plan their opposition.  Makeshift uniforms (red shirts) were organized.  This tiny meeting room saw 150 residents packed into it.  I was one of them - new to the area, to these people, to this process.  I agreed that the proposed change was a bad idea.  I still do.  But I have had many, MANY second thoughts over the years about how it was communicated and what kind of "people" we all turned into.

Some residents came prepared (armed?) with facts and figures explaining why the property did not qualify for the redesignation.  Others came with more appropriate recommendations for the type of business the individual wanted to open.  But all of that rational planning was overshadowed by the passion that became overwhelming.  Cheering, clapping, yelling.  "Yeah!  Get em!  Don't oppose us!  Because we'll band together and bring everything we've got to stop you!"  One hundred and fifty people yelling and offering legal threats - and one person facing them alone.   Since that time I tried to imagine myself in that person's position.   If I were the person up there calling this meeting, I would have felt threatened by a lynch mob.  I don't know how she kept from crying. 

I wouldn't have thought twice about this at a Braves game.  Pro sports aren't that personal.  But this was.  Everyone involved owned property and wanted to protect it and the local community.  A difference of opinion that could have been discussed calmly became a raving mob.

You'll notice it wasn't the internet.  It was the people.  Live and in person.

Ever since I realized how that scene must have looked, I've tried to be much more careful, in a lot of ways.  Words mean things.

When I see a civic group taking a stand on an issue, I tend to step back.  Is this going to be civil or will there be another mob scene?  I don't know.  I don't want to be a part of a mob.  I certainly don't want to face one alone either.  The same goes for community blogs and online newspapers.  I only recently started posting comments on issues where I feel I have something reasonable to say.  Is it because of the Internet medium and the instant transferral of thought?  No - it's the people involved in it.  The only difference is the location, Internet vs in-person meeting.  The people are no different.

That's a key thing I keep in mind when I'm working on a project.  I've met colleagues and other fellow web technology folks who are so wrapped up in what the machine can do that the needs of the people using it take a back seat.   It takes an enormous amount of effort to ensure that the message one delivers is the same one that gets received.  I think it's worth the effort.  Because we all have to live together.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Avoiding More Potholes in Telecommuting

This review began some months ago.  Time for an update now that we're snowed in!

Pothole #3:  You still need "face time"
Human beings need social interaction in person.  We thrive on non-verbal communication and are comforted by the sight of a real, live face to speak to.  Make time for networking, in-person meetings, and just socializing offline.  If you telecommute, make a regular in-office schedule for meetings or other followup.  Don't let the powerful communication tool of the internet become the ironic barrier to real personal interaction.

Pothole #4:  Know the Law and Follow It
Working from home either as a telecommuter or a business owner may not be completely up to you.  Your local municipality may have zoning laws that restrict what kind of work may be done in a residence.  For example, in some parts of New York City, business owners may live in the very same building as their storefront.  Or they may even live in their workspace if they have opted for an industrial loft-type of residence.  It's simply expected that work and home often occupy the same space.  On the other side, my community requires additional licensing permits for operating a business from a home; to actually meet customers at home requires a special land use permit from the City Council. 
Always check your local municipality's ordinances before you establish your business or begin telecommuting.  It's a lot easier to work within the law - and be a good business neighbor - from the beginning, rather than adjusting later to comply.

Pothole #5:  There Is No Such Thing as Multitasking
Again, put down the torches and pitchforks.  This isn't heresy.
When personal computers evolved in the mid 1990s, companies promoted their capabilities as "multitasking" - the ability to run more than one program at a time.  That wasn't exactly true.  The computer was fast enough to run a series of steps in a program in sequence so quickly that it seemed to be doing them all at one time.  But they really didn't.  The computer just did one thing at a time, very quickly.
People are the same way.  When you try to balance multiple tasks in exactly the same moment, something gets dropped.  You can avoid this by simply putting your tasks in order and running through them one at a time.  Not only will you get your work done faster and more efficiently, you won't feel overwhelmed and exhausted all the time.

Pothole #6:  Get Dressed
How many times have you seen an online program advertised on TV, claiming how wonderful it is to work or attend school from home because you can lie around in your pajamas all day?  It sounds wonderful - lounge and work at the same time.  That will last about a week, at most.
Whether you work at an office or at home, it takes effort to get your mindset focused on the job.  Getting dressed in "work clothes" goes a long way to set the tone for your work, even at home.  Whether it's business formal, business casual, or some type of uniform, if you look professional, you'll be professional.  That starts with your senses before anyone else sees you.

Anyone else have experiences in making working from home productive?  Leave a comment!