Imagine a work day where your smart phone keeps standard work hours — turns on when you begin working and off it goes as you head home for the evening. Volkswagen did more than just imagine this when its German operation recently adopted a policy that turns on its email servers a half hour before the work day begins and turns it off a half-hour after the day ends (policy applies to all non-managerial blackberry users).

According to an article in Wired magazine online, Volkswagen’s intention is improve worker well-being by promoting a work culture where people should not be expected to work or be reached at all hours of the day. AMEN!

Blackberries, iPhones and their smart phone competitors keep us constantly wired, so the difference between work and play is increasingly blurred.

It has become widely accepted that for a telemarketer to call during dinner-time or at night is intrusive, if not illegal in some places, so why not a similar sentiment toward a client or co-worker that can’t wait until the morning to send a message? The task at hand probably won’t get done any sooner because we are aware of it at 11 P.M. instead of 8 A.M. the next day. The world will also likely not come to an end because we are not available to answer messages at all hours of the night.

I would venture to call the Volkswagen decision revolutionary by US standards, yet in uber efficient Germany, it is possible? The policy indicates a sensitivity to worker quality of life in a digital world that should really be present in some form in every company.

I’m sure much of the counter argument revolves around how this stunts productivity, but does it really? There are endless studies that show how workers waste at least 25-30% of their time at work messing around on the Internet for personal reasons anyway. Why not make the work day more efficient and our off-hours genuinely preserved for leisure?

So at the end of the work day, what’s more important? Reading emails during dinner or spending time with your kids? Answering questions on a Blackberry that can wait until the morning or taking a jog, cooking a proper meal, watching a movie with a friend? It seems like the answer should be pretty obvious for the non-workaholics out there, but then again, not everyone loves to log off!

Logging out now…

For those out there with exploding inboxes taking up way too much of your time, check out TED’s Chris Anderson’s Email Charter. I don’t agree with everything written there or the overall concept of such curt email etiquette, but I certainly agree with #10:

10. Disconnect!
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.

For the jet-setting types running organizations and toting a smart phone into the toilet just to clean out their inbox, the Email Charter probably has worthy application.

The prevailing idea is that shorter, direct, more thoughtful emails are more efficient and easier to respond to. Anderson makes a great reference to Mark Twain in this Fast Company article about the charter: Twain once apologized in a letter, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Then again, maybe the charter is simply a way to excuse big bosses like Mr. Anderson for being jerks in their emails by writing next to nothing in response or nothing at all.

A few other pointers that weren’t included in the Charter are unsubscribing from useless newsletters, using tools like Google’s Priority Inbox to sort mail more efficiently, turning email off on vacation, or how about throwing that smart phone in the garbage disposal!

In any case, less time using e-mail can only be a good thing, so take a look at the Charter and apply what works for you — and add my #11 to the list, “be kind and courteous even if it takes an extra four seconds.”

Logging out now…


Some friends recently recruited me to help make beer from absolute scratch. It’s no easy task, requires a major investment of time and equipment and certainly qualifies as a serious hobby. But if you love beer enough to put in the effort, or love the people enough who asked you to make it with them, then it’s a whole lotta fun to do as a group – maybe even start a club?

I guess that’s kind of what we did by accident, hanging out on Saturdays cooking hops, bringing out the rich golds and reds of an IPA and brown ale. I hardly like beer, barely drink it even, but wow! it smells fantastic when it’s cooking on the stove top. Beer soup anyone?

First step to get started spending your weekends brewing the next best beer is to look out for local courses in beer making. Local enthusiasts can teach you the basics and either sell you directly or lead you to the right spots to buy equipment. Keep motivated by teaming up with fellow graduates from the course and start brewing on your own.

Alternatively, join people that already know what they are doing and learn from them.

As a last resort, Google will do the trick as well with tons of resources out there to get you started. Find a few buddies and work it out together.

brewersbooks.com
homebrewers.com
tastybrew.com

Having tasted the final product of many of these gatherings, it’s worth the trouble. The beers have a very natural flavoring that commercial beers could never achieve. They come out surprisingly very good, no matter how amateur the brewers may be. The love and labor that went into that bottle of your homemade beer probably doesn’t hurt either.

So bottle those beers and start your own local brew. Have a bottling party, supply your own beer to small parties or to a friend’s wedding. What better way to pass a weekend internet-free!

Best part is naming the beer.

Good luck!

Logging out now.

A recent interview in Fast Company with MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, author of the book “Alone Together” touches on some excellent points in regards to the role technology plays in our lives. Her book – with a telling title – talks about human relationships with technology in their private, social and professional lives.

Turkle’s interview inspired me to think once again about the whole philosophy of LogMeOut. There is no reason to shun technology for those that may question it’s negative influences on our lives, but rather a serious need to use it in the right places and balance its use with our non-technological selves.

Turkle says “I hate the metaphor of addiction: it implies we have to get it away, give it away, wean off. This is great stuff. It’s not heroin. It’s just something we need to learn to use when most appropriate, powerful, and in our best interest.”

Darn straight Ms. Turkle! It ain’t heroin that is for sure, though they don’t call it a “crackberry” for no reason. I think Turkle has it exactly right: where we falter is in failing to distinguish between good use and bad use of technology.

She says if you need to make a deal somewhere halfway across the globe like Abu Dhabi, there’s no reason that technology should not be used. But Turkle is against what she calls “a kind of technological promiscuity, where that technology, so perfect in [one] circumstance, is the technology you think is perfect for people to bring into a board meeting, when they need to be working on a problem together. In that case it’s not the technology of choice. They’re not physically present with the people they need to bond with and deeply connect with, and need to make very consequential decisions with.”

I sometimes find myself guilty of this very activity. Being so used to e-mailing across the globe, I often choose to e-mail people 40 or even 15 minutes away from me in an instance where the issue at hand would be more quickly resolved by speaking by telephone or meeting in person. E-mail trumps all, eh? Why is it? Because it’s easy? Fast? Free? The effort of face to face engagement is too tiring?

Turkle goes on to say she thinks “there are ways in which we’re constantly communicating and yet not making enough good connections, in a way that’s to our detriment, to the detriment of our families and to our business organizations.” Amen.

People can argue that Facebook and Twitter and all these things bring us closer together, but maybe all it does is connect us together. Being connected and being close are not the same thing.

Ah, the teeny tiny plastic pie pieces, the impossible entertainment trivia questions… can’t top playing a round of the classic board game, Trivial Pursuit. Thank you Canada for this fantastic timeless export.

By now of course they’ve got digital versions of this old-school trivia challenge. The game has its own iPhone ap and there is even a Wii version – how exactly Trivial Pursuit becomes some kind of remotely controlled video game, who knows.

Apparently the Wii game is (not surprisingly) a bust; “The lack of online multiplayer and the overabundance of geographic questions means there is little reason to play this version over any of the cardboard originals…” (Gamespot review). Amen. Or in other words, Trivial Pursuit for one person pretty much deceives the point of it all, no? Proving to everyone how smart you are.

Wii Trivial Pursuit game. No thanks.

So think about pulling out that dusty navy blue and gold box from the bottom of the cupboard. It won’t hurt either that you’ve probably got about 10 more years of knowledge stacked up since the last time you played.

And now for some quick Trivial Pursuit questions to entice you even more… and think 1984 on this… the questions are fantastically dated in the older editions.

Q1. In what city was Bobby Kennedy assassinated?
Q2. What’s the capital of West-Germany? (Love this one!)
Q3. What is the biggest satellite orbiting the earth?
Q4. Where is Yogi Bear from?

Bringing Trivial Pursuit back into my life in recent months has not only improved my knowledge of what were once current facts in 1984, but brought a little geekiness and fun into Saturday’s at the in-laws where cross-generational teams has made it a successful after lunch tradition.

So dig up the ol’ Trivial Pursuit from out of the woodwork (and some people over 30) or just get a new one and bring the tradition alive again!

For those stuck with the answers to the above questions just at the tip of their tongues:
A1. Los Angeles
A2. Bonn
A3. The Moon
A4. Jellystone National Park

Logging off now.

For those of you south of the equator or for anyone lucky enough to get a warm, sunny winter day in January, there’s never a bad time for a picnic. Rainy? Stormy? Living in subzero temperatures? Just have it indoors on your living room floor. Snowing? Sunny, but chilly? Make some hot chocolate and fill up the thermoses – the cold is surprisingly bearable and the snow even prettier with a hot drink in one hand and a fresh cookie in the other. Go crazy. Dunk the cookie in the hot chocolate. ;-)

This past weekend I baked some cookies, pulled on a sweater and headed out with a couple roast beef sandwiches, drinks and some friends to the park (forgive me, I do live in a climate warm enough to comfortably take the picnic outside every once in awhile in winter). The pleasure of enjoying a meal or snack in the outdoors or simply in a creative way – like on that blanket spread across your living room floor – jazzes up the daily practice we call eating and makes a regular weekend lunch a little more special. No television, blackberry, iPhone or laptop required.

To sweeten up your picnic, below is my recipe Oatmeal Nut Chocolate cookies.

3/4 c. margarine
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar (or a little less if too sweet)
1 c. brown sugar (or a little less if too sweet)
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
1tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. ground cloves
2 c. quick cooking oats
1 c. white chocolate chips (or regular chocolate, or raisins)
Handful of sliced almonds and/or pecans

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.  Mix margarine with about half the flour, brown sugar, sugar, egg, baking powder, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. Mix until fully combined, then add the rest of the flour and stir in the oat and chocolate chips. Make dough balls and take a pecan  and press into the balls as you flatten them slightly before placing on greased tray. For the sliced almonds place them like a pinwheel and flatten like before (see pic below). Bake 10-12 min. or until edges are turning golden brown. Place on wire rack to cool about 10 minutes. Then immediately place in airtight containers to keep ‘emsoft!

Even the doctors agree. Turning off electronics might make you have a better day. Or so they say over at WebMD in the short advice article 10 Ways to Improve your Day in Just 5 Minutes.

#9 on the list states >>  Turn off your electronics. Just because we live in a wired world doesn’t mean you need to stay connected every minute of every single day. Staring at computer screens and electronics all day long can zap your energy and encourage inactivity. So log off your email, phones, and Internet (yes, social networking web sites count, too). This is especially important to allow you to unwind and relax before bed.

Couldn’t agree more. Interesting the part about logging off before going to bed. Not a bad tip to promise yourself at least a quiet hour just before hitting the hay. Made me realize I naturally adhere to an “after 8″ rule where the computer is almost always off by 8 p.m. or earlier. That’s some sacred time there for reading, watching a movie, the late news, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog or just playing a game before hitting the hay.

The rest of the list was pretty good too, besides the making the bed bit. I’m not convinced fixing up the pillows will really improve my day all that much. But who would think to sniff a lemon when the going gets tough. The wise ol’ Japanese found that they have anti-inflammatory properties and may fight stress. Check out this post for a few thoughts about that.

Logging out now.

Ah, the miraculous printed family photograph, a lost art in the digital age. Or maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration and maybe we’re not quite near the point of extinction, but when was the last time you printed photos and really put the time into building a photo album? A scrap book? Documented your kid’s year at school?

With friends and family visiting, something about crowding around the computer to view a photo album lacks its charm (and comfort). And sure, slide shows on the television screen are nice, but something about printed photos – though it may be old school – creates actual keepsakes you can hold… physical evidence of travels, life cycle events, etc. I guess at some point we’ll be inheriting a disc on key of a person’s life rather than a stack of photo albums.

So instead of spending endless hours in front of the computer building the best photo slide show the world has ever seen or simply clicking through a Flickr account to show your friends, try heading back to the basics. Grab a friend, a kid, or maybe a sibling and take those thousands of digital photos and not only print the best of the best among them, but incorporate the pictures into scrapbooks, special photo albums, make a photo collage, etc. I’ll never forget the framed poster-sized photo collage I got for my 13th birthday packed with hundreds of cut out photos.

Better yet, think ahead and save ticket stubs, post cards, brochures and keepsakes from your travels or family events that can then be pasted into a scrap book along with your photos.

An album, a little creativity, a pair of scissors and a rainy Sunday is all you need.

Plenty of resources available here to get you started:
scrapjazz.com
scrapbook.com
the-scrapbook-store.com

Logging off now.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first to talk about cell phone etiquette issues, but there is a point where people cruise right past bad etiquette to complete ridiculousness and I can’t help but take notice. It’s probably defined right around that moment when you’re in the public bathroom listening to the person in the stall next to you talk to her best friend about last night’s debaucheries.

It’s one thing to utilize the necessary toilet time in the privacy of your own home in order to check email, browse the Web or play a round of electronic Yahtzee! – in fact not a bad idea at all – but a public restroom? Seriously?

If there is ever a right time to log out, it has got to be while relieving oneself  in public. And who really wants to be identified with the smell next door anyway?

I do understand the value of these little gadgets that keep us wired all the time and logged into the latest news, posts, emails, and whatever else determines us to be as up-to-date as possible, but there has got to be an instant where some people stop themselves from saying “Gee, I have to go to the bathroom, maybe NOW I’ll call up my mother while in the public restroom and talk about her cancer.”

The point: take a moment to rethink when, where and how that gadget of a cellphone demands time in your life and the time of strangers around you.

Do I need to even mention the risk of OOPS! that toilet just had your phone for lunch?!?

The people at cellphones.org seem to have nailed down the basics with their Cell Phone Etiquette chart.

Logging out now.

In a recent issue of the International Herald Tribune Magazine, a selection of some very smart people were recruited to have their say about “Too Much Information?”

A few spoke directly to what this blog is all about – embrace technology with some caution, use it with your brains and don’t overdo it. Good to know we’re in admirable company when we decide to question the overuse of computers and gadgets in our lives.

At the same time, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy called technology his “ally” and the founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson called it “liberating.”  The editor of Le Monde, Sylvie Kauffmann described it as more of a menace.

The English-Indian-American novelist, Pico Iyer asked why is it that all our tools of connection leave us feeling so frazzled, disconnected and alone?

The image comes to mind of millions of lonely people spending more time hooked up with a computer and cell phone than anything else.

Iyer writes further: “It’s only by stepping away from our machines, after all, that we can begin to see how best to make use of them. Technology has given use the world; it’s up to us to now see what we can and will bring to technology.”

By stepping away and detaching from our pods of technology we are just human again and free to think and wonder on our own.

So the smart people had their say and though not uniform in their feelings of course, the message to me was clear… thinking about technology and our role with it is an exercise that keeps us the independent thinking reasoning human beings that we are. Questioning how we use it and when we use it is far better than mindless texting, surfing and typing without ever a second thought.

In other words… step back to think about you and your relationship with your gadgets every once in awhile and of course, take the time to log off.

Logging off now.

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