This is how you celebrate the end of Lent

graceEveryone had a play date yesterday except for Grace. So when Char came home, they decided the two of them would ride their bikes to Huddles for some frozen yogurt. When they rang up the totals, there was a significant disparity in the cost between their cups.

Char said, “Grace, my gosh, my yogurt was only $2 and yours was $6.50.”

Grace looked at her cup of two flavors of frozen yogurt, topped with gummy bears, mini white chocolate chips, and Nerd candy and said, “Mom, I haven’t had candy for 40 days. Don’t judge me.”

Why You Should Teach Your Kids to Write Code

Well, it’s Friday… another week gone by, another month in the history books, and another conversation about how hard it is to find people who can write programming code.

So it was in this spirit that Tom brought this video to my attention. It’s simply brilliant, and raises a question that has the potential to haunt us all in the future: If we don’t encourage our kids to learn to code, how will we find qualified people to fill the shortage of computer programmers?

Fortunately, there are some great resources available. Take a look at for advice on helping your kids start the process of learning to create things with their hands, intelligence and problem solving skills . You can also find resources to help you teach, even if you’re learning yourself.

The MIT Medialab has created a really cool tool called Scratch, which teaches kids to learn programming basics in a web-based drag and drop environment. While being simple to use, it also helps them understand advanced concepts like variables and object-oriented code.

One more thing…
If you know of anyone who is writing code and wants to be a part of a great team, send them our way.

When #everything has a #hashtag, #nothing does.

Hashtags might be the most nuanced thing about using social media. As a result, it can be tough (especially for someone new to the concept) to understand how to use them correctly. To help you get the most out of this small but mighty tool (and help you avoid looking… well, #stupid) here’s a quick primer on what the hashtag is and how you should use it.

Hashtags are any word that has the hash mark (#) attached. For example, in the headline of this article, #everything, #hashtag and #nothing are all hashtags. Ideally, people use these tags to identify items they feel are related to an overall concept or conversation. Here are a few examples from Twitter:

Be careful using hashtags to ensure your intent is understood

Two million tragic stories of loss… and one pair of Hello Kitty slippers. Be careful using hashtags to ensure your intent is understood.

When you see a hashtag, it’s intended to give you a clue to what the item is about while also linking to other items with the same tag. When you click on a tag, it’s like doing an instant search on the social network for all of the other items with that same tag.

This behavior can be powerful and useful. When the Superbowl was in Indianapolis, many of the messages on social networks from local users contained a variation of a Superbowl-related tag. It was common to see #Superbowl, #Superbowl46, or #sb46. One of the problems, of course, is that there is no official tag list, so there are often variations of similar tags. Additionally, on social networks with a limited number of characters (Twitter limits you to 140), it can be a challenge to add a relevant hashtag, let alone more than one.

Twitter will also use hashtags to show you topics that are “trending”, or rising in popularity. Looking at this list will show you what people are currently talking about and enable you to add your voice to the conversation. It will also help to highlight some of the problems with hashtags: Since there is no ‘hashtag authority,’ people can use a trending tag to have their post show up even if it’s totally unrelated. You can think of this as “hashjacking.” It’s annoying and makes you look like an obnoxious ass. Don’t do it. Here’s an example:

Rule of thumb: If you want to make your content easier to find, adding a hashtag can help. To be most effective, do a little research first and try to figure out which tag seems to make the most sense and use that. Try to limit your use of tags to just a few.

Some social networks, like Instagram, have no limits on the size of the comments you can add. As a result, you might see an image with several tags. Ultimately, this is completely up to you, but you might want to pause just long enough to consider a couple of things.

First, since there are no rules about hashtags, you’re free to add anything you want. But before adding a tag, you should consider if it has a ‘default’ use. Recently, I saw someone lamenting about a pair of shoes that had been eaten by their dog. They used the tag #rip in the post. I’m not sure if they meant this to mean that the shoes were ‘ripped’ or that they wanted the shoes to ‘rest in peace’, but the common usage of the tag is for the latter. So if you look at all of the photos using this tag, there are some truly heartbreaking stories about tragedy and loss…and one pair of destroyed shoes. Be cautious.

Second, consider how many tags you want to add and your motivation for doing so. If you want to tag that photo of the sky you took with #clouds and #beautiful or even #sky, feel free. This is especially true if you’re adding something new to an existing conversation. But if you feel compelled to keep going, adding things like #blue #monday #instagram #ig #awesome #cool #photooftheday #selfie etc., you might pause long enough to wonder why. Often, adding multiple tags allows people (and/or computer bots) to find and “like” your contribution. In many cases, the bots do this hoping that you’ll follow them back so they can use their inflated number of followers to peddle their influence.

If you’re just hoping total strangers find your photo and ‘like’ it…well, why? Sure, we all recognize that the point of social media is to find out how much people ‘like’ us, but do we really care if they’re total strangers? (There was a great deal of sarcasm in that last sentence.) On the other hand, you might use hashtags to categorize your own photos, so you can come back later and click a tag to see all of your other pictures of #mykids (and every other photo tagged the same) and if people don’t like, screw ’em! That’s also completely up to you (remember, there is no hashtag clearing house or police to tell you what you can and can’t do.) But: It might make you look a little odd, or desperate, or whatever, so keep that in mind. These are just people tapping a little button, they aren’t likely to follow you into battle or help you hide a body.

Look, all sarcasm aside, social media is supposed to be fun. So, by all means, join us and add your voice to the conversation. And if you feel that your contribution should be part of the greater collection, then add all (please, just a few) of the (related) hashtags you want. I’ll be looking forward to your contributions.

The Blizzard of 2012, a House Full of Kids, and No Coffee

2012-blizzardI woke up this morning to the Blizzard of 2012 and a post-Christmas-merriment hangover and realized I couldn’t make coffee. I had whole coffee beans, but our coffee grinder has disappeared. I stood for several minutes looking out the door at the truck that was already covered with several inches of snow and watched as more continued to come down. Near white-out conditions pushed waves of snow left, and then moments later, right. I watched and wondered just how bad the roads could be. I did the math, calculating the odds of returning home alive and weighing them against spending an entire day at home, in a blizzard, with a full house, without coffee.

I decided I’d better try.

In the basement, looking for my snow boots… I knew they were just right here a few days ago, but for the life of me (and the clutter from present-stashing), I couldn’t find them. I slipped on something that passes for a boot without being waterproof or even very warm. Then I went looking for gloves and had a similar experience. I found one brown and one black. Close enough.

I knew my car wouldn’t make the trip, but I also knew where my snow scraper was in there, so I brushed the snow off one side, slipped in, grabbed the tool and turned to the truck. Twenty minutes later, covered in snow (I forgot a hat!), I had it clear enough to see out the windows. I quickly learned it didn’t matter much, because I couldn’t see more than five feet beyond. Again, I stopped to consider the importance of this trip and wondered if I could get there and back before Char realized what I was doing and scolded me for being… well, stupid. And again, coffee won out.

On the road, I was surprised by both the conditions (much worse than my driveway) and the number of like-minded idiots that were also out doing silly things (many more than I anticipated.) I began to wonder if I’d be able to find any place that was open…strike that:  Everything was open. There were people at Walgreen’s and CVS and in line at the Steak-n-Shake drive-through. Each of them, no doubt, doing similar calculations as me and arriving at similar conclusions: Yes, this medicine is more important. I couldn’t imagine what the Steak-n-Shake folks were thinking.

I arrived at Starbucks in the nick of time: they were only minutes from chucking in the towel and going home. They graciously ground my coffee, I bid them farewell, and went back into the muck.

The wind was generally blowing north to south, so the trip home was better. I only lost traction a hair under fourteen times in half a mile, so I was feeling increasingly confident with my decision.

I walked in the door and Lily asked, “How did it go?” I raised my hands above my head, snow sloughing off as I moved, and said: “All hail the conquering hero! I have returned with the spoils of war!” (or something like that.) In the kitchen, I set the bag of coffee down and reached for a coffee filter…

No coffee filters.

A simple life lesson: Learn to say “I’m sorry.”

Photo of the Russian Navy being displayed as a tribute to American Veterans at the Democratic National Convention

Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images

One of our kids has a seriously difficult time saying she’s sorry. I haven’t been able to figure out why, and we’ve all come to understand this small quirk. Understanding it, however, doesn’t mean we’re accepting it. We’re still looking for ways to encourage her to find the… courage? humility? to offer a sincere apology when she’s wrong. The latest idea: Having “sorry time” at the dinner table where we go around the table with each person offering an apology to someone else. I’ll let you know how it goes.

But this quirk doesn’t seem to be limited to my house. I see countless examples of business people, politicians, friends – you name it – who seem to be afflicted by the same thing. An example:

I read an article in Navy Times about a snafu and the Democratic National Convention. Here’s what happened:

On the last night of the Democratic National Convention, a retired Navy four-star took the stage to pay tribute to veterans. Behind him, on a giant screen, the image of four hulking warships reinforced his patriotic message.

But there was a big mistake in the stirring backdrop: those are Russian warships.

While retired Adm. John Nathman, a former commander of Fleet Forces Command, honored vets as America’s best, the ships from the Russian Federation Navy were arrayed like sentinels on the big screen above.

These were the very Soviet-era combatants that Nathman and Cold Warriors like him had once squared off against.

Is this a big deal? Well… sort of. It would depend greatly on whom you ask. But let’s assume for now that a significant number of people would find this blunder on the range of mildly annoying to extremely offensive. At this point, the DNC Committee really has only one recourse: apologize. Early and often. Simply offer a statement like, “We really screwed up here and we’re very sorry.”

Instead, the spokesman for the Committee said he was unable to comment and that he had to track down personnel to find out what happened. Notice how those aren’t the same things: One is simply accepting responsibility, the other is dodging it.

This is one of the big problems in government, businesses, and organizations of all sizes. What people want from leaders is the courage and humility to admit when they’re wrong, accept responsibility, and offer recompense when necessary. If they do that, then it’s up to us to accept it and move on.

To do today: accept when you’re wrong, take responsibility, and offer an apology. We’ll all be better off for it.