Posts by dksheets

Corporate communications manager who is writing and editing my way through the coronavirus quarantine.

What’s wrong with CNN? Ask these women

cnn-logoThe two women sat at the end of a long hallway complaining about sitting at the end of a long hallway.

“I can’t hear them when they call us,” the one in a cable-knit sweater said to the other. “I don’t know why the waiting room has to be so long, anyway.”

“And, good lord, do they ever keep the AC turned up way too high!” said the woman with a slate-colored shawl draped over her bare shoulders. “You want to sit there in the draft under the vents, fine by me. I’m staying here.”

“No,” the first woman muttered. “This is better, I agree.”

To their left stretched rows of sling chairs, arm to arm like soldiers awaiting inspection. Down the white, sun-drenched hall, five other people waited with their faces tilted toward their smartphones. Six or seven chairs between each silent visitor assured privacy. The guests stirred only when a nurse in periwinkle medical scrubs and carrying a clipboard emerged from the far end of the hall to announce a name three times. Two people looked up. She left before anyone responded.

The second woman kept adjusting her shawl. While doing this, she discovered a second complaint.

“But whoever heard of a waiting room without a TV?” she said toward a point on the wall where she presumed one should be. “This one could have two or three.”

“Mmm,” her friend replied. “CNN or something.”

“Uh, gawd, no.” The woman in the shawl crimped her nose as if she had tasted sour milk. “I’ve tried, but I can’t watch CNN anymore.”

“Why? What is it?”

“Oh, you know, I’ll watch for like five, ten minutes, but it’s just so darn depressing.”

“… Mmm, yes, I know what you mean.”

The sweater woman picked at her sweater. The shawl woman removed and replaced her shawl.

“Price Is Right!” the sweater woman announced.

“Or Today. Or Kelly. Or whatever, yes. Just something not so, oh you know, not so depressing …”

“… But with Bob Barker instead, you know, ‘cause he was much better, much better. ‘Price’ was better then, I think.”

“Yes, it was. Or Ellen. I really like Ellen.”

“Yes, yes …”

“… But if CNN’s on somewhere, you know, I’ll watch that. I’ll watch the crawl, anyway. For a little while …”

“… If it’s on, it’s on.”

“Yes.”

The clipboard woman re-emerged and announced another name, half of which disappeared beneath a whoosh of air as the cooling system restarted. She left without looking up from the board.

“Did you hear that?” the sweater woman asked.

“Nope. Wasn’t us. They’ll come down here and get us if they really want us.”

More picking at the sweater. More sliding and adjusting of the shawl.

“Now, if I’m at the airport, I’ll watch the CNN they have on the TVs there.”

“Yes, me too. But that’s all they have on there.”

“That or The Weather Channel …”

“… Uh huh …”

“… But it’s all travel stories on CNN, places you should go or see. I saw one on France and the places you should go for good wine. Now, that was a good story.”

“Yes. I like those.”

“The rest is all so depressing. Bad news after bad news.”

“It’s all bad news.”

“I’m telling you.”

A second nurse in identical scrubs came around a corner by the women. She whispered to them, they acknowledged the same way in the affirmative, then they resumed staring at the spot where they believed a TV should be on the wall.

“But, you know, news is news. It’s all bad anyway. They wouldn’t say anything if it wasn’t.”

“News is news. Maybe. I’m not sure if it’s all news …”

“… Mmm …”

“… I mean, how can all those things be going on at the same time, all those awful things? I just get sick and tired of it.”

“Well, it’s CNN. They’ve been around forever. It’s what they do, they find the news. You remember the way CNN was? Everybody watched it. You just kind of had it on at home.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Remember John Lennon? That’s where I heard about John Lennon. And Princess Di?”

“Yeah, Princess Di. I do remember that. So sad, so sad. But now you hear stuff like that everywhere all the time – Marnie telling me things she sees on Facebook before you ever see them on TV, on CNN …”

“… Yes, yes. Everywhere. Everywhere …”

“… And I can’t keep up, you know. It’s just too much.”

“Uh huh. Un huh.”

“But, you know, if it’s on I’ll watch. If there’s, like, nothing else.”

“Yes, mmm. Yes. Me, too.”

The second nurse returned to bend and whisper to the women who rose and reached to collect their handbags. The shawl slipped off the second woman’s shoulders and into the open mouth of her bag, then the women followed the nurse around the corner.

As the sweater woman went out of view, I heard her ask:

“Excuse me, but is there a reason you don’t have a TV in this place?”

Tossing away another family’s memories

Trash CanLeaving Las Vegas for the final time, I tossed two large boxes of family memories into a motel’s trash bin.

The double-ply cardboard boxes had “U-Haul” stamped on the side and several thick, black words in my late mother’s handwriting. A single red line ran through each after the boxes’ previous purposes were served. Except for the last one: “T’s and P’s Things.”

They were boxes intended for protecting books or dishes, not memories. But for the four days they were mine, I guessed that is what they contained judging by a third item leaning against the boxes when I discovered them.

It was an oil painting of my step-grandfather.

In it, his necktie and eyeglasses recalled an era on the fringe of my memory. The eyes were piercing, more so than in life, and focused on a spot above and behind the viewer’s right shoulder. His own shoulders were forward as if he were leaning in to hear a whisper.

Appropriate, considering his profession. When people came to him, they carried crushing weight in their minds or in their hearts. His medical background informed how to remove the burden and stitch close the holes that had allowed them in. His practice served leaders and followers, criminals and saints, vibrant personalities one wished to either know or avoid. Whole hospitals sought his counsel. Learned men outside medicine valued his insight.

He was imbued with intractable urgency. He finished high school at 15, college at 18, and medical school at 20. By age 22, a medical center had formed around my grandfather’s practice, and he was venerated by colleagues and contemporaries three times older.

But when he reached their age, his prodigious gift trailed a loose ribbon that wrapped around a liquor bottle. As it dragged, it tripped one family – T’s and P’s – and nearly another, all the while his reputation remained sterling. The impatient visionary and civic wunderkind conceded the high ground at home. His heirs, however, remained amicable until another ribbon, my step-grandfather’s wealth, frayed as they tugged on it.

I was enjoined from much of the drama until the responsibility for those boxes and the portrait passed from my late mother to me. They were the last, lonely inventory of a rented storage space I discovered through a store of keys in her bank safe. The boxes were hard against a dusty corner of the space as far from concern as possible.

My calls and emails to T and P elicited no responses. A review of my late mother’s emails as I closed her accounts showed first, second, and third attempts before mine did no better. The disagreements over money had closed the connection. At that moment, T and P, whom I once called uncle and aunt out of familial courtesy, were as alive to me as my mother.

“We don’t have trash cans or dumpsters here,” the storage center manager said. “You want the deposit back on the room, we require it empty.”

The road into McCarran International Airport’s departures terminal furnishes visitors with last-chance stops for cheap memories: dollar gift shops, grab-and-go grocers, postal and package-shipping services, filling stations for topping off rental car gas tanks, and a brace of rental car drop-off lots for tourists too tardy to reach the main return center. Sprinkled between these enterprises are low-budget inns and motels that do their best business by the hour. I grew up in this town watching streets like this one rise and fall. It was suitable that I was leaving Las Vegas for the last time on one of them – a boulevard of dented and deferred dreams.

I had reached the next-to-last rental car drop-off lot before finding a trash bin close to the curb.

As I turned off and parked, the boxes’ contents clanked and clicked. As I removed the boxes from the trunk and pitched them toward the bin, those contents popped and cracked. A flash of regret followed them in. But I had done a favor for T and P: delivered their things to where they must have thought they belonged.

The portrait landed atop the boxes with a splintering crack. My step-grandfather’s empty eyes were gazing toward the airport.

The three R’s of Twitter literacy

 

twitter-iconLook around. It’s easy to see. From home to school, from work to play, we’re witnessing a disturbing change in America, 140 characters at a time.

That change, heralded by microblogs and trumpeted by our president, demands immediate satisfaction with digital communications, such that we’re compelled to tell networks of virtual “friends” what we’re doing minute by minute and expect the same in return.

Evidence of this abounds as people meander down busy sidewalks with heads bent and eyes focused on their smartphones. Even in groups, we prefer meeting each other through our digital devices instead of face to face.

Twitter alone has attracted an audience of well over 300 million people tapping out an estimated 6,000 tweets per second. Americans are tops at tweeting, constituting 30 percent of all Twitter users.

We could write off this behavior as endemic to a social species requiring engagement to survive and thrive. Instead, such time-consuming, attention-diverting devotion to information that is at once pertinent and pedantic softens society, inserts more space between ourselves and the world, and achieves the opposite of what we had hoped to accomplish through our amazing digital devices.

What would it take to disrupt this spreading inattentiveness before we’re reduced to letting technology do all the talking for us? Analysts say a refined Twitter temperament that fosters mature social networking is essential to sounding literate online, and the core curricula of that literacy can be boiled down to three R’s:

Restraint — We perceive our portals to the internet to be one-way mirrors when in fact there are hundreds of thousands of eyes peering back at us. Couple that with social media enticing users to give up details about themselves in the name of “brand awareness,” and little about us will remain private. This is why so many Twitter users tweet every thought they have every minute they have them. They wax lengthy on food and fashion choices, spill secrets and tell lies, and they do these things either unaware of or indifferent to their network’s varied interests.

The result: Instead of growing their networks, they lose followers, and their networks shrink.

The best tweeters are not so random or careless. Sree Sreenivasan, New York’s chief digital officer, says he will wait a full six minutes between tweets to ponder what he’s saying, how he’s saying it, and the possible reception from his followers. The alternative is a message that misses the mark and bruises his brand.

“I delete much more than I tweet,” he told the Society of Professional Journalists.

Research — Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.”

If only the Twitterverse were as insightful.

Instead, Twitter’s mix of immediacy and intimacy often blunts good sense. The tweets can circulate widely outside through hashtags and retweets, which entices users to announce rather than report on the notion that an authoritative-sounding tweet can grow their networks.

Proven knowledge — the kind based on unimpeachable evidence — gives each tweet more chirp because it demonstrates the sender’s diligence in pursuit of authenticity. Like quotes and facts in a newspaper article, embedded links pointing to legitimate, apolitical sources shore up the authority of tweets and improve the credibility of whoever sends them.

“It’s not just about knowing how,” says noted social critic and modern media analyst Howard Rheingold. “It’s about knowing how and knowing who knows who knows what. … Know-how is where the difference lies.”

Reciprocity — Social media’s best quality appears in its name. We’re drawn to tools such as Twitter because they’re both personal and public; some part of us and our followers threads its way through every exchange, intended or not. Moreover, Twitter’s easy accessibility encourages users to reach beyond their circles of close friends to network with anyone harboring vast reserves of knowledge and experience.

But to get real value from Twitter, that value must be exchanged.

“I think successful use of Twitter means knowing how to tune the network of people you follow, and how to feed the network of people you follow,” Rheingold says. “… If you don’t put out, you don’t get back.”

Of course, one of the greatest benefits of being part of a social network is staying up to date on current events and updates and providing social followers with information that is relevant and popular. Better still is sharing unique information – original, authentic content no one else has generated. Twitter users who do that are certain to attract a flock of loyal followers.

(Editor’s note: A version of this post first appeared on the Gateway Media Literacy Partners website.)

Angry St. Louis Rams fans should become Packers fans

PackersHelmetEdited

I never became a Rams fan despite the opportunities presented to me.

When I was in grade school, the Rams were the closest NFL team to my hometown. On the first weekday of each pro football season, most boys came to class wearing blue and white – the team’s colors back then – to signal their fandom, or to blend with the “in” crowd.

Years later in St. Louis, I bought a home within walking distance of the Rams’ stadium and was at Ground Zero for the huge showing of civic pride as the team won its only Super Bowl.

Around the same time, I became a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and had a hand in gathering the information that thrilled the Rams’ fan base. I worked closely with the reporters and columnists who sifted team minutiae for tidbits about Rams players and plays. I learned how to spell Oshiomogho Atogwe before Rams fans did.

A few years after that, I joined a company that had a professional and public partnership with the Rams. On occasion, I worked beside Rams staff, players, and cheerleaders at community-outreach events.

All those chances to emboss the curly horn on my psyche – and still, nothing. The Rams remained as distant to me as New England, or for that matter, Newfoundland.

Why?

Well, for one thing, the qualities of pro sports that most fascinate me, going back to my youth, are best described by dollar amounts, not player numbers. I prefer watching what goes on behind the scenes – the business deals, the machinations, the politics. Perhaps because I am not a player-sized person and lack player-sized athletic talent, my attention gravitated toward the average-sized guys working off-field to make a winner, or struggling to maintain one.

For another thing, I never believe that any team on any field, court, or rink plays for “me.” Pro sports in America started without spectators; the crowds came later because the games were entertaining distractions from the workaday routine much like movies and circuses were. Soon enough, the players and team organizers realized they could charge for attendance, and a revenue stream was born to justify continuing the games for reasons other than sport.

Today, pro sports – football, in particular – rely on TV revenue to build wealth. The same basic principle of recreational diversion applies, only now an NFL team can profit without a single fan showing up in person at the stadium (although, if that were to happen, the team would lose out on huge income from sales of concessions).

Team owners understand and relish this stark reality, and that is why every pro football city outside of Green Bay, Wis., is at risk of suffering the same way as St. Louis. If an owner can be persuaded to think that better TV revenue exists in another city, that same owner can be persuaded just as easily to relocate his team to that city.

Green Bay will never suffer that indignity. The smallest city in the NFL, at just over 104,000 residents, also has the sweetest ownership agreement. Its Packers franchise is publicly owned by more than 300,000 stockholders, none of whom are allowed to possess more than 4 percent of outstanding shares. The Packers are also a registered nonprofit corporation – the only one in U.S. professional sports.

This happened because back in the 1920s, before the NFL as we know it was born, the team’s owners elected to hold a stock sale as a means of escape from beneath crushing debt. Since then, the Packers have had four other stock sales, the most recent in 2011-2012 to upgrade its home stadium, Lambeau Field.

No other NFL team can attempt that business model now. The league outlawed it three decades ago but grandfathered in the Packers’ arrangement.

I should disclose here that I am among those 300,000-plus Packers shareholders. Given my pro-sports proclivities, the notion of owning a couple shares of stock appealed to me more than owning a Brett Favre jersey.

This means I am in league, figuratively and literally, with Rams owner Stan Kroenke, except nobody will ever ask me for input on how to pay for three levels of depth at inside linebacker, let alone try to sell me on moving the Packers to a new stadium in suburban Los Angeles.

Another key difference between us is that I feel the pain St. Louisans suffer now from their wounded pride. I see that pain in many of the faces I pass in downtown St. Louis, and I read it in social media comments. This city embraces its pro sports profile much the way Green Bay does; its love for baseball’s Cardinals and hockey’s Blues verges on passion, and that is why St. Louis routinely ranks high on lists of best sports cities in America.

A thoughtful, committed NFL team owner would have paid to produce a franchise worthy of comparable passion. But as St. Louis learns for the second time, pro sports run on money, not love. Kroenke took his team to where he thought the TV money was better and the love was negotiable. If Kroenke truly thinks that is central to producing a successful team, however, Los Angeles will suffer a worse indignity than St. Louis by losing the same pro franchise twice.

Despondent Rams supporters should switch their allegiance to the Packers. The fans own the team, not the other way around. And because of that, the Packers aren’t packing to leave Green Bay anytime soon.

Resolve in 2016 to stop texting while driving

Distracted Driving

I drive 18 miles of interstate each weekday before sunrise. Ahead of me, lines of fast-moving tail lights stretch into the dark toward the horizon, toward my destination, like glowing breadcrumbs aligned along a well-worn trail.

As I draw near to a set of those tail lights, I glimpse something else: the soft white glow from phone screens as people text or read while they drive. I see even more of them after dusk on the commute home, because traffic is heavier and slower at that time.

The least distracted among these drivers announce their divided attention by veering into other lanes and almost into other cars, or they drive 10-15 mph below the limit amid high-speed traffic with two wheels in another lane the whole time. Those drivers who fail to correct often wind up in a wreck surrounded by emergency vehicles on the roadside.

I see an average of one wreck per day along my short stretch of Interstate 64 in eastern Missouri. Usually, more than one vehicle is involved.

According to the National Safety Council, more than one-quarter of all car crashes result from smartphone use. But that percentage represents confirmed numbers. By my count, 60 percent to 70 percent of the people I can see in the other cars along my 36-mile round-trip commute have their faces angled down at their phones instead of up at the road, so I believe the NSC’s estimate is soft.

What happens when drivers stop looking at the road, even for what they think is only a moment? A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that sending or receiving a text requires an average of 5 seconds – the time it takes to drive the length of a football field at 55 mph.

The overall distance is longer when you consider that few of us on the interstates keep the speedometer at 55.

I admit to being one of those distracted drivers until a few years ago when, along the same stretch of I-64 on a cloudless day, an SUV bounced off the concrete divider and careered across all four lanes into my driver’s side door, totaling my car. (My phone was in my pocket at the time.)

Neither I nor the other driver were hurt, but he resisted giving me his name, address, driver license number, or insurance information for my own insurance records, saying the crash was not his fault. This sounded odd considering the road was dry, the weather was perfect, and witnesses at the scene said nobody was near his vehicle when he lost control.

So, I said, “Fine.” Then I turned to the police officer who was interviewing us for the accident report and said, “Either you obtain his cell phone records for your investigation, or I’ll find an attorney who will.”

The driver’s insurance company cut a check for all damages within 72 hours.

Few things in life are certain except these: death, taxes, and the risk associated with distracted driving. Dozens of studies going back more than a decade confirm this danger, underline it, and yet so many drivers still ignore it. This is why I drive Interstate 64 with a grip on my steering wheel that could strangle a garden hose, and I watch not just the other cars but other drivers as well.

I know, the pressure to look at our phones while driving is great. Driving is monotonous, boring, so we use smartphones as a cure. On top of that, each of us perceives ourselves to be superhuman in some way – like thinking we handle driving distractions better than everyone else.

But nine people die every day in the United States from distracted driving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the chief cause is smartphone use. Resolve to not inflate that statistic in 2016, and repeat that resolution – and stick to it – every New Year’s thereafter.

Avoid holiday phishing attacks by taking these 3 precautions

3 ways to avoid phishingThe season for giving is also the season for taking. Lurking among the people exchanging gifts and glad tidings are shady characters whose only goal is to pluck opportunity from the well of goodwill filled each year during the holidays. For them, a Merry Christmas involves sending malicious messages via email.

Security researchers say these kinds of messages, while not unusual, flourish around Christmastime as family, friends, and workplace colleagues exchange kind thoughts in the spirit of the season. The main vehicle conveying most of these thoughts has been the e-card, which grows in popularity as we widen our circles of digital friends.

Cyber criminals relish this growth because it improves the likelihood they will reel in a sucker when they go “phishing” in this stream of e-correspondence. Recent reports on data breaches say an estimated one in 10 email users wind up getting hooked by a phishing lure.

“It’s easy for busy, distracted consumers to become victims of these schemes,” said Craig Young, a researcher at Portland, Ore.-based Tripwire, a cyber security provider. “But armed with a few basic security practices, they can drastically reduce their chances of being victimized.”

Among the practices that Young and others advocate:

  • Avoiding email from unknown addresses, or email with undisclosed recipients, and not opening the attachments in these emails. That includes e-greeting cards. If possible, confirm who sent the greeting before opening it.
  • Watching for bad spelling and poor grammar in email subject lines. Cyber criminals focus on results, not quality, because they send thousands of messages at once hoping for just a few responses. A subject line containing errors is strong proof that opening the email would be an even bigger mistake.
  • Running anti-virus software and keeping it up to date. The protections within these programs may be enough to ward off threats in emails that are opened by accident.

Businesses are particularly vulnerable due to multiple users in corporate accounts – and multiple approaches to answering email among those users. That is why employees must be made part of the solution, instead of being left to become part of the problem.

“Enterprises … need to place more reliance on employees to help them defend their organizations,” said Rohyt Belani, CEO and co-founder of PhishMe, a threat management company based in Leesburg, Va. “Consistent training turns employees into informants that can spot attacks before they turn into catastrophes.”

Dive into the Deep Web (but watch where you swim)

Deep Web Image

If you ever watched the rain fill a hole in the ground, then you can understand where the term Deep Web comes from.

For the past 10,000 days – the approximate age of the World Wide Web – we’ve poured gallon after gallon of content into that vast networking structure known as the Internet and watched as that content seeped into every crevasse of our lives. And the number of sources is as vast as the structure itself; none of us truly knows where all that content originates.

Now, imagine that, instead of overflowing, the hole gets deeper and deeper to contain the content pouring into it. You can see across the surface and maybe a little below it. But other content submerges to where you need special tools for access.

Search engines such as Google and Yahoo! and web browsers such as Firefox merely skim this surface, collecting indexed information from its source. These kinds of tools probe only about 5 percent to 10 percent of the Web’s content.

Deep-Web diving, on the other hand, reveals the immense amount of information not indexed by standard search engines. Much of it is exchanged through peer-to-peer networks and resides on databases, unregistered websites, query-sensitive dynamic pages, limited sites, non-HTML sites, broken or hidden web links and backlinks, scripted content, and web archives, among other sources.

The list of useful deep-diving tools is long, but among the most common tools are Freenet, IceRocket, I2P, SurfWax, the WWW Virtual Library, a series of search applications provided by Deep Web Technologies, and the Tails operating system. There are also customized tools targeting specific caverns nestled in the Deep Web.

A word of warning, however: The deeper you go, the darker the Web gets. This is why in recent years the terms “deep” and “dark” have become conflated regarding the Web. At Deep Web’s bottom layer, there be dragons who dabble in questionable or outright illegal behavior. Using Tor, a free browser designed to protect the user’s anonymity, deep divers can peer into portions of this darker area.

Granted, not everyone at this depth wears a black hat. Good guys dwell down there, too, such as journalists, law enforcement, the military, and whistleblowers. But like anywhere else, trouble can be found if you go looking for it. So, exercise the same caution swimming in the Deep Web as you would in deep water. Keep a lifeline handy like this one (accessible through Tor) and enjoy the voyage.

Taco Bell’s certified-vegetarian menu could win me back

Taco Bell logoSurely, you’ve heard the jokes – or made up your own.

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Because there was a Taco Bell on the other side.

Q: What do you do after placing an order at Taco Bell?
A: Look the cashier in the eyes and say, “We never had this conversation.”

Or maybe when you heard Taco Bell’s former slogan “Run for the border,” you snickered and said “Run for the bathroom.”

Now, the company once famous for its talking Chihuahua mascot has taken a decidedly serious move. On Thursday, it announced a certified vegetarian menu, thus laying a claim as the first quick-serve restaurant to do so.

Among Taco Bell’s announced veggie items are the Cantina Power Veggie Bowl and the 7-Layer Burrito. The 35 ingredients that constitute the 13 all-veggie items also are certified by the American Vegetarian Association, and some of those ingredients can be swapped out to make the meals vegan.

All items are available now at each of Taco Bell’s 6,000 restaurants nationwide.

This matters to me because Taco Bell once was my fast-food place of choice. Their bean burritos and tostadas were better than typical fast fare, were less expensive, and they fit nicely into my family’s veggie-only lifestyle.

“We get it – being a vegetarian can be tough when you go out to eat,” Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol said in Thursday’s news release.

But not long after the chain trotted out Gidget, the Chihuahua star of its “Yo quiero Taco Bell” promotion in the late 1990s, Taco Bell’s image went to the dogs.

In 2000, Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Yum! Brands Inc., was swept up in a Kraft Foods recall of taco shells made from genetically altered corn. In 2006 and 2007, it was accused of having unsafe sanitation practices after customers were sickened by E.coli contamination traced to lettuce and spinach in some meals.

And in 2011, the chain battled accusations that its seasoned beef was less than 40 percent real beef. (Not that I had a beef with their beef, but the controversy planted doubts in many consumers’ minds about the authenticity of other ingredients.)

By catering to a veggie crowd – and with an AVA-certified menu at that – Taco Bell may be taking additional steps toward putting all that bad news behind it, and maybe win me back as well.

If the Chihuahua trots back out, however, watch me trot away and never return.

Colin Powell: Digital transformation success requires leadership

2008 photo of Colin Powell

Colin Powell in 2008. (Photo by Rob Reed / Creative Commons)

Digital transformations rely on much more than technology and investment to succeed; they require buy-in from everyone involved, from the board room on down. Ensuring that buy-in requires strong leadership.

No less an authority on leadership than Colin Powell insists as much. The former U.S. Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs is on the record as a firm believer in digital transformation.

In today’s digital society, “if you do not get at the front of change, change will override you,” he said recently. “(The world) has gone from analog to digital, and we are in up to our ears.”

Powell’s acknowledges his motives in this regard are more personal now; he says he stays abreast of the latest tech to keep up with his grandchildren. For a large portion of his career, however, Powell lived at the nexus of both war and peace, first as an Army four-star general, then as the nation’s top diplomat.

In both roles, he led large numbers of people through times of significant transition. The Cold War ended on his watch, supplanted by a globalized economy driven by economics and the information revolution. Two monolithic institutions, the U.S military and the State Department, suddenly needed to change course, and Powell was in the driver’s seat.

He admits being intimidated at first by the size and scope of the disruption. Yet Powell believes that his years of Army training prepared him for the challenge of quelling it.

“When I became … a general, and I was running wars and large military operations, I was surrounded by hundreds of people who were experts in their fields: communicators, artillery men, you name it, and I drew on their expertise,” Powell said in 2009. “It was important to know what they think.

“After listening to all the experts, I was supposed to use that expertise to inform my instinct. … It is an educated, informed instinct that is daily shaped by my experts, but at the same time you’ve got to apply judgement to it. That’s where the human dimension comes in.”

The same strategy applies to digital transformation in the business world. Transformations are large engagements requiring risk and resources. A well-informed CEO will understand how to balance the two.

“You’ve got to have CEOs who not only apply their experience but are willing to take the risks that your data people and subordinates aren’t willing to take, because that’s not their job,” Powell said.

Good CEOs also train their staffs properly, recognize good performance, correct poor performance, allow staff autonomy, and remembers to treat everyone with respect and compassion, Powell says. Each of these elements factors into effective digital transformations along with the technology. Remaining mindful of all of them allows business leaders to stay ahead of the digital curve.

“You can’t just match change,” Powell said. “(Competitors) will be somewhere else by the time you match them, and you will still get left behind.”

11 programming languages that will improve your life

11 programming languages you should learn nowNot long ago, I wrote a piece for Perficient describing how learning to write computer code can improve one’s life, no matter who you are or what you do. I explained code writing’s value beyond being a marketable skill – that it promotes technical literacy and instills a sense of community, and that it heightens critical thinking and teaches us how to deal with failure. The piece was well-received, and the feedback suggests readers return to it periodically for review.

Soon after it published though, people asked the inevitable follow-up question: “If I have to invest the time and money into learning a programming language, which one should it be?”

I thought about issuing a quick response, then hesitated – for weeks. What seemed like an easy question lost that quality as I realized no single answer exists; programming benefits each person differently, and at peak effectiveness no one language stands alone. In my early programming days, the languages one learned were created to communicate simple instructions to a computer. Now, programming languages are created to make our lives and the world around us better. How you work or play, or how you mix the two, determines which languages are optimal.

Currently, a dozen programming languages sit atop most should-learn lists. Some are broadly practical; some apply to specific needs. All of them interact with other languages, so learning two or more is wiser – and potentially more profitable – than sticking with one. In alphabetical order, they are:

C – A general-purpose language developed in the early 1970s, C retains market popularity and usefulness due to its small size and robust nature. Numerous other languages borrow from C, which makes it a bedrock language and the first for anyone who plans to develop operating systems or create embedded applications.

C++ – Designed in the 1980s to enhance C, this language now qualifies as a general-purpose language used to build application software, systems software, server and client applications, and video games, and is central to Adobe programs and Firefox, among other software.

C# – This newer language, pronounced “C sharp,” utilizes principles from C and C++ and was developed by Microsoft to build enterprise applications for the company’s .NET initiative, making it essential to Microsoft platforms and services such as Azure.

Java – Developed by Sun Microsystems in the 1990s, this language has gained a huge following because it was designed to work across multiple platforms. Java is considered a standard for games, mobile apps, and web-based content, and it is the main reason programs written for Mac platforms can run on Windows.

JavaScript – Despite the name similarity with Java, this language has C at its core and runs only on browsers, whereas Java can run at the machine level. Every modern website with interactive or animated features uses JavaScript, and it appears in game development and desktop applications.

Objective-C – This popularity of this general-purpose language was waning until it became a key building block for development of Apple systems. It powers not just OS X and iOS, but also is important for creating iPhone apps.

PHP – A server-side scripting language like JavaScript but with general-purpose programming capabilities, PHP (known also as Hypertext Processor) is essential to dynamic websites and content management systems such as WordPress because it can be embedded into website markup language instead of sitting in an external file. PHP appears on most of today’s data-driven websites.

Python – The true beauty of this server-side scripting language is its simplicity; programmers can do more things with fewer lines of code than other programs, making Python a good language for beginners to learn. Google and Yahoo use Python a lot, and it is useful for sifting through giant data sets.

R – This language is important in the statistical computing and graphics environments, and can be found anywhere the need for statistical analysis arises. If you enjoy math and deal with heaps of data, this language ranks high on your should-learn list.

Ruby – No, this does not refer to the gemstone or anyone in Donald Fagen’s playlist. Ruby is a dynamic though simple object-oriented language that lies beneath the Ruby on Rails framework. It has the power necessary for developing websites as well as web apps, and is gaining popularity among tech startups for its versatility and ease of use.

SQL – Called “Structured Query Language,” this special-purpose lingua franca is good for relational database management systems and quite effective at extracting small details from large data sets through its “query” function.