Hilary Parker

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Moosejaw + Zingerman’s = FUN

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2011 at 5:10 pm

When I was measuring out the last of my eldest daughter’s antibiotic medication this morning (we’re going through Infant in Day Care-itis, meaning at least one member of our family has been sick with something for the past six weeks), it occurred to me how little “fun” there can be had with prescription labels.

Take One Tablespoon By Mouth Twice A Day.

First of all, what’s with the caps? Second of all, when did we need to dumb-down “orally” or “daily?” That’s just sad. But what’s worse is this: This bottle is representative of all the space in the world in which flashy turns of phrase and plays on words are verboten. It’s an example of yet another “no fun zone” in our lives. Granted, we don’t really need more confusion in the medical arena; that’s what insurance companies are for.

But we do need to put our collective foot down and have fun where possible with language.

That’s why I love to see fun, flirty, even flippant language from corporations. Moosejaw is a fave; this Madison Heights, Mich.-based sportswear company will never be accused of taking itself too seriously with copy like this recent promotion of its softshell jackets (“YDKWYGATAGT”? You bet I clicked.) or this link that promises to throw in a diagram for the best way to butter toast under the “Current Promotions” CTA. The company is currently offering $10 off your next order if you complete a survey, but really, I should pay them for making it fun with selections like “I’ve never bought anything from Moosejaw, but I do like your hair” and this strange question:

3. When shopping for new shoes, what type of smells do you prefer?

Autumnal morning mist
Strange feet smells
Bacon and eggs
Why smell when you can taste?

I can occasionally get my crack my favorite North Face jacket cheaper elsewhere, but I remain loyal to Moosejaw because really, we need more fun in the world. In fact, I recently ordered another of these jackets but it turned out they were out of my size. Moosejaw alerted me via e-mail AND called my house to make sure I knew the trouble with my order and help me resolve it. When I told the nice woman on the phone that I’d already ordered a different color, she said, “That one will look better with your eyes, anyway,” and hung up, but not before issuing me a command to “Rock on!” I had to smile.

Another company way ahead of its time is Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Mich. The people who brought you the brilliance that is the Reuben Sandwich Kit and the Food Coma Gift Box have a long history of breaking the rules. Who else in their right mind would start a mail-order gourmet food business and not use photos of the food? These cartoon-loving maniacs are laughing all the way to the bank, with artisan cheese in one hand and freshly-baked, crusty-as-the-day-is-long bread in the other.

But it’s not just the cartoons that set them apart; their sincere love for — OK, borderline stalker-like worship of — great food comes through in the copy. And it’s not because they have some overpaid ad agency (or lucky freelancer, unfortunately) spending hours getting the tone just right, but because the guys who run the company source the products and write about them personally. With all the jittery devotion of a peeping Tom (and I say that with love, because who doesn’t like attention?).

It all boils down to one word: Passion. Moosejaw has a passion for gearing people up for their adventures with memorable, personable customer service. Zingerman’s has a passion for great food and, unlike so many of us (OK, me), is willing to share their finds with the world.

Passion can’t solve the current global economic crisis, and it won’t broker peace in the Middle East. But it sure makes life more fun. Here’s to more fun!

Have a safe, happy, fun weekend. But make sure to save some fun for the work week, too.

xo,

H.

Yes, I write about technology

In Uncategorized on September 16, 2011 at 9:48 am

I love writing about technology. I love writing about cows. Somehow, the stars aligned and I got this awesome client through Solvate.com: E.I. Medical Imaging. Now I blog for the company a few times a month, and it’s awesome. I’m going to branch out into ultrasound use on horses next. Totally psyched!

Cows just don’t make cows like they used to

By Hilary Parker

bovine ultrasound

How have dairy producers come to rely on ultrasound technology to increase bovine conception rates? Simple: Since cow fertility rates have dropped dramatically in the past few decades, they need a practical, affordable tool that can bring them out of the breeding basement. And with many herds in the west experiencing conception rates with timed breeding programs in the 20 percent range, something’s gotta give.

It’s a good thing that ultrasound is a breeder’s best friend.

Kevin McSweeney, DVM, Bovine Reproductive Specialists, Loveland, Colo., says that ultrasound technology, when used as part of a timed breeding program, can greatly increase pregnancy rates.

“Cows just aren’t showing heat like they did even twenty years ago,” says Kevin McSweeney, DVM, Bovine Reproductive Specialists, Loveland, Colo. “Even those that do give you less activity for a shorter period of time.”

And reproductive ultrasound has a larger role to play in the dairy industry than only as a means of early pregnancy diagnosis, he points out. Being able to identify open cows as soon as possible and then initiate a timed breeding program can improve pregnancy rates by increasing the heat detection rate, but ultrasound also allows the user to ensure synchronicity.

bovine ultrasound

After all, according to research conducted in Colorado on commercial dairies, a large percentage of cows at first service or diagnosed not pregnant are not within the optimal 5- to 12-day window to start synchronization programs. When these cows are allowed to continue through their programs, they conceive at a much lower rate: Not only are these non-synched cows outside the optimal window, but a large percentage end up being poor candidates for synchronization in the first place. Allowing these non-synchronized cows to continue breeding will lower your pregnancy rates. Deferring one week or applying different strategies can greatly increase conception rates to timed AI and, ultimately, your pregnancy rates.

Ultrasound allows scanners/breeders to assess the entire ovarian structure, meaning they canbetter predict when cows are in the optimum period to initiate or continue in synchronization programs. By using ultrasound, cows can be assessed and synchronization programs can be modified when cows fail to respond to the first GnRH injection. Combining ultrasound with a synchronization program can be a powerful management tool to maximize not only heat detection rates but also conception rates, resulting in improved overall pregnancy rates, McSweeney says.

“Ultrasound technology used to be cumbersome and costly,” McSweeney says. “But lately there have been significant improvements in less expensive, portable ultrasound units which has turned this kind of technology into a cost savings tool.”

But, he warns, producers need to be willing to change how they run their breeding program.

“Acknowledging that cows are not the same and then implementing intensive management protocols to overcome these obstacles is critical to improving reproduction,” McSweeney says. “Everything we thought we knew about the reproduction of lactating dairy cows has to be reconsidered. Thinking outside the box and applying new strategies to reproductive management can pay big returns. Incorporating ultrasound intensively into timed artificial insemination and estrus detection programs can improve rates dramatically, but requires a different mindset for managing cows.”

Do you use ultrasounds to help boost reproduction rates on your farm? Tell us all about it!

Even Hitler wants Wake to win

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

C’mon Tim, let’s get these Red Sox back on track! And win No. 200 while you’re at it!

Even Hitler wants you to win! (Watch through 1:51 – the line about Carl Crawford)

‘Are jobs obsolete?’ — Great message, terribly delivered

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Here’s a classic example of an idea that’s timely, relevant, even necessary being sunk by a poor delivery.

The idea: Maybe we all don’t need jobs, after all. Maybe we’re in the early stages of an historic reorganization of our society; we’re moving away from the Industrial Revolution’s conceptualization of work to a post-Technological Revolution one that focuses on “something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful.”

Rushkoff encourages us to take a longer-term view of work: “Jobs, as such, are a relatively new concept. People may have always worked, but until the advent of the corporation in the early Renaissance, most people just worked for themselves. They made shoes, plucked chickens, or created value in some way for other people, who then traded or paid for those goods and services. By the late Middle Ages, most of Europe was thriving under this arrangement.”

I totally dig that. As a freelancer who makes a living in this manner and who adores the simplicity of bartering, he’s preaching and I’m the choir. I remain convinced of the good self-employment brings to a person, a household, a family and a society as a whole: Self-employment is more flexible, it’s more rooted in actual work and it’s more sustainable than putting up a ton of office buildings in the middle of a major city and forcing everyone to commute there.

And his Star Trek notions of the future of our society are right in line with my own: “We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do — the value we create — is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.”

Rushkoff even does the unthinkable — he suggests to a consumerist society that we stop focusing on making stuff.

“This sort of work isn’t so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations. We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another — all through bits instead of stuff. ”

Aided by the digital revolution, such a structure is now possible, he argues. Preach on, brother.

But the piece’s delivery leaves much to be desired. The writing’s banal, as writing often is. The title’s all wrong (but that’s likely not the author’s fault). But my true beef is with several aspects of this otherwise insightful piece:

1. Rushkoff clearly has no working knowledge of agriculture. For instance, he’s talking out of his ass when he says “America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high.” Dude, who’s your farmer? Might want to have a chat.

2. Just as he lacks ag chops, his conclusions on hunger are laughable. “According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day.” Sure, no problem. Doesn’t matter that most of the food is grown where the population is least dense. Doesn’t matter that access to those kilocalories often is blocked by political or geographic difficulties. And as for his idea that we can feed people without corporations? Sure! We don’t need food processors to turn the raw product into something edible. Or the packaging companies to protect the food from spoiling while it’s being transported… since under his plan there won’t be any transportation. OK. So I live in Montana. Guess that means I’ll be eating root vegetables all winter and raw grain all summer. Let me quote from that same (ahem, 1999) FAO report: “If our efforts to eliminate hunger focus on filling stomachs without regard to the nutritional quality of the food consumed, we will not have accomplished much in the way of reducing the effects of hunger and of improving human welfare.”

3. For someone who’s a borderline apologist for Communism (and that’s said with love, people), he’s got some strange nation/state ideas. He talks about America this, America that, and misses the bigger picture of the opportunities inherent in global cooperation on the subject. One of two things happened here. Either he got really focused on using Obama’s jobs talk as a springboard and allowed it to narrow his focus on American concerns alone, or he’s the victim of bad CNN.com editing. You decide.

4. There’s one major instance of causation = correlation that makes his argument look like the Best Supporting Actress winner tripping on her way to the podium: “That’s because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.” If he’s worked out how to do THAT, then HE’S the one who should be on national television tonight tomorrow night.

Finally, unless you’re in the mood for a history lecture on modernity, skip the first five paragraphs.

Are jobs obsolete?

By Douglas Rushkoff, Special to CNN
September 7, 2011 9:33 a.m. EDT
tzleft.rushkoff.douglas.courtesy.jpg

Editor’s note: Douglas Rushkoff is a media theorist and the author of “Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age” and “Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How We Can Take it Back.”

(CNN) — The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology’s slow but steady replacement of working humans. Unless an external source of funding comes in, the post office will have to scale back its operations drastically, or simply shut down altogether. That’s 600,000 people who would be out of work, and another 480,000 pensioners facing an adjustment in terms.

We can blame a right wing attempting to undermine labor, or a left wing trying to preserve unions in the face of government and corporate cutbacks. But the real culprit — at least in this case — is e-mail. People are sending 22% fewer pieces of mail than they did four years ago, opting for electronic bill payment and other net-enabled means of communication over envelopes and stamps.

New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures — from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.

We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.

And so the president goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs — as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there’s something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned.

I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?

We’re living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That’s because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day. And that’s even after America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high. Meanwhile, American banks overloaded with foreclosed properties are demolishing vacant dwellings Video to get the empty houses off their books.

Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.

Jobs, as such, are a relatively new concept. People may have always worked, but until the advent of the corporation in the early Renaissance, most people just worked for themselves. They made shoes, plucked chickens, or created value in some way for other people, who then traded or paid for those goods and services. By the late Middle Ages, most of Europe was thriving under this arrangement.

The only ones losing wealth were the aristocracy, who depended on their titles to extract money from those who worked. And so they invented the chartered monopoly. By law, small businesses in most major industries were shut down and people had to work for officially sanctioned corporations instead. From then on, for most of us, working came to mean getting a “job.”

The Industrial Age was largely about making those jobs as menial and unskilled as possible. Technologies such as the assembly line were less important for making production faster than for making it cheaper, and laborers more replaceable. Now that we’re in the digital age, we’re using technology the same way: to increase efficiency, lay off more people, and increase corporate profits.

While this is certainly bad for workers and unions, I have to wonder just how truly bad is it for people. Isn’t this what all this technology was for in the first place? The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?

Instead, we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance. What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.

The communist answer to this question was just to distribute everything evenly. But that sapped motivation and never quite worked as advertised. The opposite, libertarian answer (and the way we seem to be going right now) would be to let those who can’t capitalize on the bounty simply suffer. Cut social services along with their jobs, and hope they fade into the distance.

But there might still be another possibility — something we couldn’t really imagine for ourselves until the digital era. As a pioneer of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, recently pointed out, we no longer need to make stuff in order to make money. We can instead exchange information-based products.

We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do — the value we create — is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.

This sort of work isn’t so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations. We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another — all through bits instead of stuff. And we can pay one another using the same money we use to buy real stuff.

For the time being, as we contend with what appears to be a global economic slowdown by destroying food and demolishing homes, we might want to stop thinking about jobs as the main aspect of our lives that we want to save. They may be a means, but they are not the ends.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Douglas Rushkoff.

Blog writing — therapy they pay you for

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm
Time permitting, I write for a blog called The Vigilant Mom. The blog covers everything from super-scary recalls to pesticides to birth defects as a result of medication we moms take while pregnant. It is very informative (i.e. chock full of terror). Most moms I know don’t need another reason to miss sleep. So occasionally we contributors try to mix it up by writing something a bit more lighthearted. Here’s an example of a recent post I wrote, full of lessons learned and catharsis. See? Sometimes people pay you for therapy. Love that.
———————————————————————
Confessions of a Reformed Worryholic

I don’t know about you, but I was a wreck after having Baby No. 1.

Sure, I’d stacked the deck against myself by buying into all of the ideas about a natural labor process (hello, emergency C-section!) and about how our baby would have nothing but breast milk for the first year (hi there, severe lactation issues!) And when I nodded off into a painkiller-induced narcoleptic session while sitting in the rocking chair the first night home from the hospital only to be awakened to find she’d rolled off my lap onto the floor, I was pretty sure I’d never be a decent — not to mention good — mother. (She landed safely on a super-carpeted floor, but I still can’t believe that happened. I was convinced I’d scrambled her little brain.)

I worried when she ate. (Did she eat enough? Too much?) I worried when she didn’t eat. (Is she sick? Are some of her intestines missing?) I worried when she walked at eight-and-a-half months old. (Does this mean she’s a genius? I don’t know how to raise a genius!) I worried when she started daycare. (She’s crying for me! Will this separation produce a lifelong anxiety disorder in her? Followed by: She’s not crying for me! Does she like her daycare providers better?) The list goes on and on…

Now, eight months into Baby No. 2, I’ve relaxed. When the vomiting started last night, there were no panicked calls to the doctor. I simply waited until all of my second-born’s stomach contents were safely settled down the front of my pajamas and then undressed us both in the laundry room before taking her into the shower with me. What once brought me to tears (Does she have Asian Bird Flu?) gets a big bowl of “meh” now.

It helps that I’ve been blessed to have such a lovely, bright, now nearly six-year-old serve as my teacher. The very same baby I dropped on her head that first night has gone on to teach me so much about what is and isn’t important. I’m often overheard saying, “If nobody’s bleeding, everything’s OK.” (And usually, even if someone is bleeding, things are still OK.) And I’ll be honest: I’m having a lot more fun the second time around.

I know this is not a unique experience: Most parents confess to having an easier time with their second (and subsequent) children. We’ve been around the block, and while we may have skinned our knee a few times, we’ve come away wiser and more good-humored about it all. But I offer this in the hope that it might help any of you Vigilant Moms who find themselves going through the first-round worries. It’s normal, it sucks — and it’s all worth it.

Two-career family (aka “madness”)

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm

This is what my 9-month-0ld has been like all week:

This is what my husband and I have been reduced to while trying to care for her and our other daughter AND tending to our respective deadlines:

Only two things have made it better: Working nights and…

So now I’ve done it. I’ve hit bottom with this blog — posted a long-past-viral video and a picture of a cat, plus admitted to eating my way through deadlines.

Anyone else running the marathon known as two-career familydom?