Indy #ONAcamp: A few cool things

Lots of information from Friday’s ONAcamp in Indianapolis (see a Storify here). Here are a few things I found interesting:tumblr_inline_nlfe70fWXj1s49mrd_500

-NOLA Listening Post: You’ve seen those “We buy old houses” signs on the interstate off-ramps, right? Now imagine that with questions for your community. “Why did you stay in NOLA?” “What’s missing in New Orleans?” What an interesting way to engage in the community and get story ideas.
-No Slack-ers: Billy Penn is engaging Millennials in Philly by having conversations about stories (even if they didn’t write them). They’re starting to use a public Slack channel as a way to have conversation with their communities.  Plus they’re showing people how to take action after they’ve read a story:

-Why didn’t I think of that: When searching Twitter for people on the ground in breaking news situations, think what they’re broadcasting to the world: “I just saw…” “I’m OK…” “My (relation) works at …” Plus remember to SCREENSHOT EVERYTHING. In a matter of seconds, someone deletes a tweet or takes their account offline. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
-Video vision: Lots of people don’t listen to the audio on Facebook videos (because they’re at work, on the train, slyly scrolling in a meeting), so your video has to convey a point without sound. Add text, add graphics—make sure people can get the gist.
-Talking traffic: At USATODAY, 65 percent of traffic is on mobile. Mobile gets priority in their newsroom, for example when it comes to creating graphics. They have #MobileMonday where staffers are encouraged to use their phones to see how work translates there. (The same day, NYTimes announced it was blocking homepage access at its office.)


-Homepage? What homepage? NowThis News is only on social media now. They figure that’s where the audience is, so why coax them to their page when they can live on the social network? That in mind, each social network and its audience are unique—there is no one-size-fits-all approach to social. Their rule: If you wouldn’t share the story, don’t do the story.

52 books in 52 weeks: March and April

I got pretty far behind in my book reading in March and April but somehow made up ground toward the end of the month. If you missed January and February’s reading list, check it out here. (Sidenote: FINALLY I saw this week that Mindy Kaling’s next book is set to release Sept. 29 —I preordered this in the fall, so I’m especially excited.)

  • “Paper Towns” by John Green. The book club I’m a part of (but have never actually attended) was reading this. Other than that, I don’t know why I picked it up—I didn’t particularly care for “The Fault in Our Stars” and YA fiction isn’t my favorite. John Green’s writing is pretty annoying. His characters’ dialogue is so inauthentic it makes me shudder. All the characters have such unique names! The love interest is always so gosh darn quirky! Skip it. And probably skip the movie that’s coming out—wait until you’re forced to watch it on a red eye from Seattle.15792558
  • “Fresh Off the Boat” by Eddie Huang. This was delightful. I started watching the ABC show and didn’t realize it was based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name. Eddie is irreverent, foul-mouthed and funny. Like a millennial Anthony Bourdain. But amidst this, he hits on important themes of growing up different and the struggle with his identity as a Taiwanese-American. Basically if you’re a foodie and love Ghostface Killah references, this is the book for you.
  • “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On Their Decision Not to Have Kids” by Meghan Daum. As someone who doesn’t intend to have children, I’m always drawn to books and articles that examine this lifestyle choice. Some points really hit home (“Raising children is one of many life experiences I’m happy to die without having had, like giving birth, going to war, spending a night in jail, or seeing Forrest Gump.”), but I thought the fact that each essay was written by a writer became repetitive. They all talk about their need to be alone and creative and keep odd hours as part of why they don’t have kids. I think it could’ve been more interesting with some variety of thought.
  • “Dear Committee Members” by Julie Schumacher. This is an interesting book that’s told solely through letters a college English professor writes over the course of an academic year: complaints to the school administration, half-hearted letters of recommendation for C+ students, persistent letters of recommendation for favorite students, messages to his ex-wife (who also is a faculty member), messages to his ex-lover (who also is a faculty member). It’s funny at times, and academics would find it particularly entertaining. Towards the end I got pretty bored with the format, but it has a good18635077 ending.
  • “Read Bottom Up” by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham. It’s less of a book and more of a curation of carefully timestamped emails penned by a boyfriend and girlfriend and their respective best friends. The authors wrote the emails in real time as the characters (meaning the author of the boyfriend character never saw the emails the girlfriend wrote to her best friend and vice versa). It’s a quick read and very accurate depiction of relationships in the email era. We hardly ever get to see both sides of the equation in real life because we’re usually the girlfriend or the best friend. It’s a really interesting format, but the storyline is lacking.
  • “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart. This is an intriguing book, and I won’t say too much about it because there’s a big mystery that keeps you reading more. I enjoyed the book but found the mystery (that everyone on Goodreads said blew them away) not terribly shocking. It takes place mostly on a New England island during the summers, which makes it a great summer or beach read. I definitely recommend it, but I think all the hype set me up for a letdown.
  • 20663702“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty.  We don’t talk about death in this country. We’ve institutionalized the dying process and turned it into a medical procedure instead of an important part of life. That’s what Caitlin Doughty learned during her time working in the death industry. And after reading this, I have to agree with her that there’s something wrong with it. Doughty is real and raw and thoughtful about this. She knows when to laugh about working in a crematory and when to call people out on their shit. This book has stayed with me long after reading it and has made me rethink the American culture of death and dying. A must-read.
  • “Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill. I could see people either loving or hating this book. It’s lyrical and a little odd; sometimes more poetry than prose. We begin with the couple just meeting, then fast-forward through their life that features a child, a dalliance and keeping it all together. But it’s short—the CliffsNotes version of a marriage. I think at the heart of this is an examination of who we are, then who we become as we pair off and create families.

What have you read so far that you’ve loved? Always looking for recommendations.

When baby name SEO gets out of control

First, let me present this, sent to me from a friend who is a part of what is essentially a mom’s group on Facebook.

baby names


As someone who is one of many, many Stephanie Simons (and someone married to a Michael Simon, no, not that Michael Symon), I appreciate the focus on wanting a unique name. I considered not taking my husband’s name because of it.

In a world of Google, I think it could be forward-thinking to give your baby a name with good SEO. I’ve seen numerous articles about naming your baby a la a brand.

But this isn’t a car. Or an energy drink. Or a podcast company (Startup did a fascinating ‘cast on naming their company, Gimlet, which is worth a listen). This is a BABY. Who will become an adult human who will introduce himself as the name you select for the rest of his life. Reconsider.

52 books in 52 weeks: January and February

For the fifth year, I’m attempting to read a book per week in 2015. That’s 52 books in 52 weeks. Of my four previous attempts, I didn’t succeed in 2013 (sad face). I blame buying a home and moving, which got me so far behind schedule that I became overwhelmed and stopped trying.

People are always checking in to see what I’m reading and what I recommend. Here’s what the first two months of 2015 brought:

  • “Redeployment” by Phil Klay. This was on many end-of-year lists and was the National Book Award winner. It’s a collection of 18114068
    short stories focused both on soldiers in combat and when they’re at home. It reminded me a lot of Siobhan Fallon’s “You Know When the Men Are Gone” which was part of my 2012 reading challenge and one of my favorite books. I was able to relate to that book more than Redeployment because it wasn’t from a soldier’s perspective. But nonetheless, I think stories like this are important to tell, and I admire the writing. Not my favorite book, but one I would recommend.
  • “Dear Life: Stories” by Alice Munro. I picked this up when Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s another book of short stories, mostly set in rural Canada, and it took me more than a year to make my way through it. The writing is deft, but the stories are quiet. I found it hard to look forward to picking up the collection on many occasions. There’s not much action to be found, but Munro’s characters are very real. I think this book might mean more if you read it over time, finishing a story here and there. I’m glad I read it, and I think English major-types would enjoy it. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a beach read or to skim through on the train.
  • 51mSJNECGyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This one has been on my to-read list for quite a while, and I inhaled it. I read the roughly 500 pages in about three days. I couldn’t wait to get home so that I could dive into it. I remember texting Cameron, “Her writing is like eating sorbet.” It’s a love story story about a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. and makes a life for herself and her eventual move back home. I’m a little biased because strong female narratives and immigrant stories are my favorites (major love for Jhumpa Lahiri). I think the ending was abrupt, but this book easily secures a spot on my favorites list. And now there’s going to be a movie with Lupita! OMG.
  • Still-Alice-cover“Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. This book haunted me, and I’ve heard it did the same to others. A Harvard professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s may not sound like a horror story, but I had nightmares about it. If I found myself searching for a word in conversation, I immediately thought, “See, this is how it starts!” I bought a second copy and sent it to my mom (who also couldn’t stop thinking about it). I think this book is really important in de-stigmatizing Alzheimer’s. I recommend this book to everyone because we all live in a world with people suffering first- or second-hand from this disease and could all use some more understanding.
  • “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. This author-as-guinea pig memoir trend has become a popular genre. This book could easily be summed up as “privileged white lady with no real problems complains she’s just not happy enough.” In each section of the book (which corresponds to a month of the year) she looks at a specific aspect of her life and tries to find ways to improve it. At the heart of it, I think it’s well-meaning and interesting. Some of her happiness fixes are really small: I get hungry and then become annoyed, therefore I’ll have snacks on-hand so I can ward off the hangry monster. But overall, not an engaging read, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • “The Girl On the Train” by Paula Hawkins. Is this on everyone’s book club list right now? Yes. Would it be as popular if not for “Gone Girl?” Maybe not. The femme fatale suspense novel is getting big play right now. The main character is an alcoholic and gets wrapped up in a murder case involving a family she views from her train car during her morning commute. I definitely think this is worth a read. I didn’t find the characters very real or easy to relate to. They aren’t very well developed and don’t always act the way you’d expect. However, I found the story engaging and always looked forward to picking up the book.
  • 22367526“My Sunshine Away” by M.O. Walsh. I immediately downloaded this after reading a Tribune review. The story centers on a Baton Rouge neighborhood during a summer in the 1980s when teenage Lindy is raped. Her neighbor and admirer discusses at length the impact this had on him, her and the rest of the neighborhood. In many ways it reminded me of “Everything I Never Told You” (one of the best books I read last year) because it looks at how our lives are impacted so strongly by tragedies that don’t happen to us directly. This in mind, I was left with a feel-good buzz after I finished the book. The writing is warm and detailed, and I thought of it long after I snapped it shut. One of the best reads in recent memory.


Discovering disruptive marketing trends

Today I went to a luncheon on disruptive marketing trends at the Digital Professional Institute, and I heard about some pretty cool stunts and ideas. I don’t consider myself much of a marketer, so this was all new to me. I’m also hesitant to download new apps (I get app fatigue) and don’t attend many cool events or conferences. But at the end of the presentation, I took away from it how rich consumer experiences can be paired with technology for really amazing results.

  • Chevy’s World’s Largest Claw Game. Remember the claw game in the movie theater lobby? This is a virtual version where the prizes are cars and laptops. It was projected onto the side of a building in L.A. I could easily see how this event could go viral on social media as people stopped to watch, record it on their phones or post the experience to their Facebook page.

  • Coca-Cola created interactive vending machines that connected people in India and Pakistan. The idea was to create joyful interactions, because that’s what Coke wants people to associate with their brand. And this feeling even has ripples after the event as people watch the ad now.

  • Bud Light’s “Up For Whatever” campaign. Besides making pretty entertaining ad spots, by giving these people once-in-a-lifetime experiences (prancercise, anyone?), they become brand ambassadors who will likely be lifelong Budweiser evangelists.

There are huge costs associated with all of these, and I don’t think it’s feasible for most businesses. Nonetheless, it’s important to see where the best marketers in the world are taking brands and how we can take small parts of it for ourselves.

(Above brand examples were courtesy of folks at Populous Digital and Resolution Productions Group).