Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

Thought I would squeeze in a movie review before dinner. Avatar is an amazing film. We were lucky enough to see it in IMAX and 3-D together. This created the most amazing visual experience I have ever had in a theatre. I strongly recommend you see this movie in 3D at least and Imax if you possibly can.

The basic story is very simple - on a distant moon, Pandora, a corporation is attempting to mine a valuable mineral (20 million dollars a kilogram). A crew has just arrived, including ex-Marine and now paralyzed Jake Sully. Jake is going to be working with the native tribe the Na'vi while inhabiting the body of an Avatar. The Avatar's are necessary because the humans cannot breathe the air on the planet. Jake adapts to his avatar incredibly well and he soon meets the leader of the Na'vi's daughter who teaches him the ways of her people. I won't tell you much more, anyone who has seen the trailer knows that things eventually do go wrong.

The story is great, and the digital effects are fantastic. You come out of the movie exhausted - the 3D effects are so real you feel that you've been running, jumping, and flying through the movie yourself. James Cameron has re-invented the way people will be experiencing movies. Sigourney Weaver is a wonderful addition to the cast - she has added yet another strong woman character to her repetoire and I loved seeing her in this movie.

So do go see Avatar. A great way to ring in the new year.

The Last Book - A tale of a digital Christmas

This year's holiday season has been a little different for me - I seemed to be inundated with new technology. Most years I get books, calendars, bath stuff. This year was a little different. Because Mike and I got lost on our way to a comedy show in Redwood City (we ended up in the Port of Redwood City and were saved by his iPhone) we gifted each other with GPS systems - yes I now have a Garmin. Gone are the days when I will have to sit with a list of addresses in front of my computer printing out directions from Mapquest. Finding my way to Holiday fairs just won't be the same.

My cousin Chris also gifted me with a very special gift. Chris works for Sprint and he added me to his Family and Friends account for my personal phone - I now have a phone that costs about 1/4 of what my old phone did every month - but even better it is a Samsung Android Phone. So while I traveled this holiday I didn't have to carry a computer with me at all - I could check both my work and home emails from my phone. I haven't started downloading apps yet but it is on my to do list. My packing for Christmas got a little lighter - no need to bring a laptop.

My final gift leads me to the title of this post - the Last Book. As many of you know I am a voracious reader. My home office is filled with a desk, two chairs and nine bookcases heaped with books. And they aren't the only bookcases in my house - most rooms have at least one or two bookcases in them. I have always loved books and I really love reading on airplanes since it is pure uninterrupted reading time. So every time I traveled in the past I would have a suitcase loaded down with books - at least one for every day of my trip. (if you think that's crazy wait till I publish my report on the number of books I read this year - yes I kept track). Plane rides would often consume 2-3 books unless I brought magazines along as well.

All that will now change. This year I received a gift of a Kindle. Yes, a whole new world has opened up for me. I received the Kindle the day before I left for the holidays and was faced with a choice - do I just load up and bring the Kindle or do I also bring with me the book I have been waiting to read for weeks - Stephen King's Under the Dome. I had bought the book to read over Thanksgiving but my food poisoning put an end to that plan. So, when I packed for the trip I packed the Kindle, a stack of magazines, and Under the Dome. I was way behind on my magazine reading and gleefully discarded Time, Newsweeks,and O magazines on my to Rochester. While in Rochester I demonstrated for Kathy all the attributes of the Kindle and displayed the impressive list of free books which I'd downloaded at SFO while waiting for my flight. I read Kathy's books and magazines while in Rochester and a Christmas Carol on the Kindle.

Yesterday it was time to fly home and I put my Kindle and Under the Dome in my carry on and headed to the airport. I settled in at the airport and cracked open Under the Dome and commenced reading. The book was 1072 pages long and I just kept reading. Throughout both flights and at the gates I read Under the Dome, only closing it for brief breaks. When I got home yesterday I had 200 pages to go and I plowed through the rest of the book - finishing it at midnight when my luggage was finally delivered by American Airlines. So that was it - the last physical book I will ever take on a flight. Of course my house is still full of books and I certainly plan to keep buying books. But before I unpacked my carry on last night I compared the difference in the bag with just the kindle and just the book. The Kindle is so light it feels like nothing. Under the Dome was a back breaker. So while I will continue happily reading on flights my reading will now be strictly digital.

And for those who are interested I thought Under the Dome was a great read - better than some of Stephen King's latest books (Duma Key was unreadable to me) but not as good as Salem's Lot or his all time classic the Stand.

I also saw 7 movies while in Rochester so movie reviews to follow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Deck the Halls

Every year the question comes down to marketing from senior management - what are we going to do for the holidays? What will we do for our customers, our partners, our employees, the world? I just wanted to share a few examples from seasons past.

When I worked in New Holland, PA, the heart of Lancaster county and Amish country, I ran the business office and did the marketing for a telephone company with 25,000 access lines (we counted lines not people in those days). Since I also ran the phone store of course I did a holiday sale, hoping to clear inventory and get ready for the next year's phones. My second year I had goals for PR events - activities that would positively impact our customers. So I did a contest - stop by the office (hence walk past all those phones) and fill out a card for a drawing. The winner won a giant (taller than I am) stocking stuffed full of toys. I can tell you the winning family was thrilled - and we all gathered around for photos for the local paper with the winner.

The next year we decided to do this same event for all our subsidiaries in the state (5 phone companies ranging from 2000 lines to our 25,000 in Lancaster). We decided to give out genuine handmade Amish sleds. These wooden sleds were things of beauty and came with a lovely plaque reading handmade in Intercourse, PA. Yes, Intercourse was in our territory and the sleds were gorgeous. Unbelievably there were people who objected to the sleds having that name on the sleds. Even more surreal to me, the sled maker said it happened all the time and changed out the small metal plaques to read Lancaster, PA.

Several years later I was back in Rochester NY and was having a tough year, my mom had passed away and I had this urge to find a way to make a difference. I was volunteering at the Volunteers of America Daycare Center which was for children who were abused and neglected. The stories would curl your hair - think the orphans in Dickens a Christmas Carol. I was able to raise money through the internal communications system, even getting a check for $1000 from our Ceo when he heard about it. I got a list from the Daycare center manager with sex and ages and off I went to Costco. We had enough $ for every child to get two gifts. Volunteers wrapped the gifts (bringing in their own wrap, tape and scissors) and I even secured a Santa and the Telephone Pioneers donated a handmade teddy bear for every child. Three gifts per child. The day of the event I dressed all in red (yes, I was a youthful Ms. Claus - perhaps Santa's) and off we went. If you want a thrill drive through a busy city with Santa in your passenger seat waving out the window. We distributed the gifts - my favorite moment was one of my volunteers bursting into tears. He told me later that the little girl he was sitting with (he's the father of 3 girls) had told him moments before Santa and I arrived that all she wanted was a doll - she'd never had one before (she was 4) and Dave said he prayed over and over - dear god let Jerri have a doll for her. Yes, she got a doll and Dave was a puddle. How does this have anything to do with Marketing/PR? We had the local tv crew there and a camera crew - we were on the 6 p.m. news and were on the front page of the VOA newsletter.

At my last company each year we'd throw a holiday pot luck - everyone brought in a dish. We would do drawings and you won tickets by bringing in a dish, for showing up, and in the last two years you also got a ticket for donating a toy to our toys for tots drive. Our best year we had over 60 presents to donate.

Through the years I've dealt with a wide range of christmas card catalogs. I've had sales people convinced they would do 500 cards - up until the moment they were handed all 500 cards. I've struggled to find a card that has no religious connotations in any way - Happy holidays, dove of peace with a globe in the background is always a winner.

That brings us to this year. Telle and I discussed doing an e-card. I called our fabulous designer Alex and he and I brainstormed. A big part of this quarter had to do with our I am a technical woman video. So he created the I am a technical woman holiday card. Here it is so check it out.
Happy holidays

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Movie Review: Up In The Air

Up in the Air is a must see movie for everyone, but especially for those of us who have lived the life of the road warrior. You know who you are - someone who has ever had a wallet full of gold and platinum frequent flyer cards, Hertz Gold Membership and knows at least one flight attendant by their first name. I have been a road warrior many times in my career - for one year at the phone company, as Corporate Manager of Learning and training, I went to all 52 of our subsidiary companies- many more than once - in 37 states (this included one crazy drive from Miami to Statesboro Georgia). I was gold on five airlines that year. And one year for 5 months I commuted weekly between Dallas and Atlanta, before I finally moved to Atlanta. Every Friday night I got on the same flight home to Dallas, where I was greeted by name by flight attendants who would, on occasion, upgrade me themselves to first class for the ride home. Yes, I was a road warrior.

George Clooney's Ryan Bingham is the ultimate road warrior - on the road some 300+ days per year he is an American Airlines/Hilton Hotels/ Hertz Gold club member. He is a corporate terminator, going from city and city to carry out layoffs. The use of real laid off people and their reactions in the film is touching and heartbreaking. Ryan's primary interactions in the movie are a fellow road warrior, a woman named Alex(Vera Farmiga) who he romances across the country in places as diverse as Miami, Vegas and Wisconsin. His other companion, a fellow terminator named Natalie played by Anna Kendrick, travels along as a woman who is seeking to automate and remove the personal touch from the layoff process.

This movie resonates in many ways. The reactions of the people who are laid off are devastating. Ryan's romance with Alex is captivating. Clooney and Farmiga have a wonderful chemistry. And the trio's experience at a conference resonated with me as someone who has been to my share of tradeshows. I've even been on the yacht ride in Miami Beach just like the one in the movie.I strongly recommend this movie, be prepared for the unexpected twists and turns and enjoy the frequent flyer miles.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why I believe in Health Care Reform

This blog post is both an explanation of why I believe in Health Care Reform and also an explanation of why I haven't posted to my blog for a long time. 9 days before Thanksgiving I got very ill - the doctors weren't sure whether it was food poisoning, a virus or something else. Ill enough that we had to call my doctor and go to the emergency room at 9 at night. Ill enough that if I hadn't gotten treatment I could potentially have died. Ill enough that we were in the Emergency Room until 3:30 in the morning when I was finally released rehydrated, no longer delirious and myself again.

So why do I write about this today? I just go the bill from the hospital last night for the roughly 6 hours I spent in the ER. The Total Charges - $19,053.12. When I opened the bill my eyes were immediately drawn to that number since it was actually more than what I paid for my brand new car 4 years ago. How is this possible? I could just not imagine it. After sitting down and catching my breath, upon reading the bill more closely I saw that the amount I actually owe the hospital is - $35. Yes, I have health insurance that rocks. I may even send them a Christmas card this year along with a big box of See's Candy. Seriously - from 19,053.12 to $35 is a miracle.

So do I need healthcare reform? No I don't. But there are people out there, people who are living paycheck to paycheck. People on minimum wage jobs that get no insurance, or who are self insured (as I once was and my coverage was not good). People who at the end of the month are living on spaghetti because they are waiting for their paycheck to come in two days. Those people who don't have health insurance would be destroyed by that bill. I can't imagine someone seeing $19,000 on a bill in the amount due column when they only bring home $7.25 per hour - which is the minimum wage.

No health insurance can destroy someone's life in an instant. Or worse, the fear of such a hospital bill can kill them. I absolutely needed treatment that night And because I had insurance it never occurred to me to say no to going to the ER when my doctor ordered it. And because I have insurance I had a primary care doctor I could call to tell me I had to go.

So I don't need healthcare reform - but for those 1 out of 3 Americans out there without insurance something does need to be done.