Monday, August 29, 2011

Thanks to E-9-1-1, Police, Fire, EMS, EM

I have to send out my thanks to all those who work in emergency services, Police, Fire, EMS, E-9-1-1, Emergeny Management who worked so diligently this past week.  I know the kind of dedication and hard work each of you did this past week and it always amazes me.  When the order to evacuate comes in, we go to work.  When others are in danger, we say sure.  In fact, the bigger the emergency, the higher the adrenaline dump that we experience and the most energy we have to protect and serve! 

When the earth stopped shaking, the winds and rains stopped blowing, and as the flood waters rise and then receed - I hope that each of you took a few minutes for yourself.  There I said it.  The thing that emergency services personnel are really not good at - taking care of themselves.  This includes texts or phone calls home to check on your family who you left to work.  This includes some hard earned sleep.  This also includes talking to your peers about the experiences that you shared.  What is "nothing" to the seasoned veteran is definately stressful to the newbie, talking about it, maybe even admitting that it was a bit freaky at the time, a close call, or actually admitting to being scared!

Yes, I know, in this business people never want to admit to fear.  However, sometimes those around you need to know that they weren't the only ones scared.  They need you to not "keep a stiff upper lip" they need you to show that everyone has emotions.  The tragedies seen, the obstacles overcome, the events you witnessed or heard - not everyone is subjected to that and not everyone deals with this the same way. 

It is important to watch over one another in the coming days and weeks to ensure that no one member of your team is experiencing residual results from stress.  If they are, please be sure to reach out to them. 

It is also vitally important to take care of yourselves.  In the weeks to come, take some time to relax - whether it's fishing or hunting, video games or facebooking, gardening or cleaning, reading or working out at the gym - make some time to do those things which you personally enjoy.  Recharge your batteries so that there is enough of you left  for the next emergency.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Are your files saved in another geographic region? Prepare for disaster before it hits

Are all your important work and personal data files saved somewhere else? No not a flash drive.  In another geographic region of the country?

Several years ago I developed a strong, recurring interest in pursuing the concept of disaster continuity.  Continuity is defined by as "the state or quality of being continuous."  Not stopping, no interruption of service, no loss of data. 

Apartment building in S. Miami,
FL after Hurricane Andrew

In public safety there are many redundant loops to ensure continuity of services, primary locations and back up locations.  Although, few have thought to ensure that they have a redundant back up out of state or in another geographic region.   However, how many of us have taken this concept on to our personal lives?

I’ve been watching the news as many parts of the U.S. are preparing for Hurricane Irene and while there are a great many of excellent preparedness plans (and I hope everyone who needs to are making plans and preparing now for a strong storm!)  Yet, I wonder if there are aspects that we don’t think about carrying over into our personal lives. 
There are companies dedicated to performing as remote back up servers in case a disaster strikes the headquarters where the primary servers are located.  Data cannot be lost and there are efforts in public safety and in the business world to ensure that information is backed up.  However, how many of us take the time to ensure that there are redundant copies of our critical information saved in another geographic region?

Inside of an apartment from above building in
S. Miami, FL following  Hurricane Andrew

At first many of you are going to think, well I back up everything onto a flash drive so I’m ok.  This is not intended to be doom and gloom but in reality, in a disaster if your home is destroyed, your computer and your flash drives are likely to also be destroyed. 
I started thinking of disaster continuity of service in terms of my employment, yet one hurricane season I realized, my mostly completed training manual that I had been developing was on my home computer.  There was no back up other than flash drives. Immediately, I zapped a copy of my work via email to a very trusted family member, my father in that case, who lived in a different state.  Redundancy to guarantee that the work that I had slaved over for hours, weeks and months was in a secure location off site. 
Building destroyed following Hurricane Andrew
How many of you have training manuals or manuscripts saved on your computer and flash drive and no where else?  Do you have a trusted family member in another state that could “hold” your work for you?  If you are an established author perhaps your agent would be a “holding” site for you, if they are in a different geographic region.

Photographs or scanned copies of important documents can also be emailed to trusted individual so that you can access them in the future.  Certainly, preparing in advance you could have all the documents, photographs, work product sent out in the mail on a CD.  Copies of birth certificates, social security cards, passports, insurance policies are all important to be saved and could be sent to someone in advance.

Being forced to start long term work projects all over again would be tragic.  I know that I would be devastated to lose that much work. This is a small step, but one that is often overlooked until it is too late your information is lost.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When what you're doing doesn't work - Change

What do you do when what you’re working on doesn’t work?

Recently, I was working on a huge project, actually a team of us worked on it for months. Unsuccessfully I may add.  Finally I pulled down deep in my soul and asked myself why?  What I came up with was a surprising simple answer.  Throw it out and start over.  Luckily, my team mates agreed and we did it.  Now the project is 80% complete in 4 days and moving forward.  Successfully, I may add.

The act of starting fresh seemed radical at the time.  Why start over when there is a draft in existence?  Yet, following someone else’s thought process just wasn’t working for us.  The team was like minded, and the previous author was not of the same mindset. 

I think this happens a lot more in our lives than we think or realize.  The profession I have worked in for 26 years is very traditional, bound in the mindset of “we’ve always done it this way,” along with “If it isn’t broke why fix it?”  I’m sure that there are better ways of getting the job done, yet we got stuck in the muck of history and stayed there. 

As a matter of fact, as I think back, there were many wonderful job opportunities that presented themselves to me during the 24 years of my career that I stayed at one place.  Yet, I never took advantage of them.  I stayed stuck in same place, the false sense of security surrounding me like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.  Yet the reality of the situation is that change is positive.  Sometimes we need change to keep out minds moving forward, new challenges, new opportunities to continue to grow and flourish. 

There are times and situations where it is absolutely in your best interest to stay and work on things.  Relationships and marriage come to mind.  I am not in any way advocating rapid changes in those areas, however in the professional world, change is everywhere. 

Technological changes are abundant, and not likely to stop evolving any time soon.  Cellular telephones were a rare item for the rich and famous and now it seems everyone has a smart phone on their hip not only providing voice communications, but SMS, MMS, full internet capabilities, calendars, documents, and apps galore.  There was a time when I actively resisted the computerization of my job, yet now I cannot imagine working without the systems that allow for information exchange.  In fact, due to the time sensitivity of the profession, a wait of 30 seconds seems radically slow and uncalled for.  Seconds are vital and time is of essence. 

When looking for answers I always try to utilize various resources first and foremost to see how others whom have faced similar problems solved them.  Why re-invent the wheel.  Yet, there are also times when a good old fashioned brainstorming session with a variety of people may be able to come up with amazing new ideas that will be radical and highly successful.

Recently I have become enamored by twitter.  At first I admit to being intimated by twitter.  Few people I personally know tweet very often so off I went, out there on my own, unlike my safe world of face book.  So many people are blogging and sharing information.  It’s a veritable playground full of intelligent people all willingly sharing their knowledge and resources for free.  I love it.  I find myself eagerly looking forward to the chunks of knowledge that I am able to glean for free.  From articles to books to resource documents and industry related news briefs, everything I come across is simply fascinating.  Yet, if I had stuck in the traditional, I never would have followed the instinct to twitter and blogging. 

So sometimes, I have to say, tradition isn’t the way, it’s making changes that improve.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ready? Prepared? Did today matter?

Today the east coast of the U.S. experienced a very rare earthquake.  Hurricane Irene is staring down the same east coast with a Category 4 or 5 force.  FEMA has Ready: Prepare, Plan and Stay Informed.  With the on-going natual disasters FEMA's preparedness campaign definately should be visited by all to ensure preparation for the unpredictable and predicatable disasters.

However, what about a more personal type of planning?  If there were a life changing natural disaster today, are you ready?  Do you often live in the moment, or is existing day to day sucking all the life energy out of you?  When you close your eyes tonight, can you honestly say that today was a day where you "Lived?"  Sadly, many of us are on the existence path and are not making each day meaningful.

Do those in your life know that you love them, value them, appreciate them?  Or are those words left unsaid.  Can't you just hear all the excuses floating through the air:  "She knows I love her because I come home every night."  "The kids know I love them because I work hard to provide for them, put a roof over their head, food in their stomach, clothes on their back."  "It's too clingy to say that all the time."   "She knows I appreciate her cooking, I eat it every night."  I can hear them and many more excuses and honestly - do you want to go to bed tonight knowing that your day was full of reasons NOT to tell others what you think and feel?

Much like a previous blog, where I asked about if we are merely follow along on lifes' path like cows being herded in the pasture or if we are truly living, I wonder how many of us made sure that today we made a positive impact on someone elses's day?  Part of a motivational plan I studied a few years ago was the goal of making someone else's day.  For no reason.  Just to be a happy and positive influence on their life.  I know that I try to do that.  When is the last time that your goal was to perform random acts of kindness?  What about the concept of "pass it forward" where if you do something nice for a stranger, perhaps they will "pass it forward" and eventually (I think through positive thinking and a bit of Karma) someone will perform a random act of kindness for you.  Have you done that lately?  It doesn't have to be anything huge; perhaps someone looks particularly nice today, have you complimented them?  

Did you make your today matter?  Did you do something that you enjoyed?  Did you remember to laugh and smile?  Was your heart full?  I hope so.  I know that I want to ensure that my today mattered and that I mattered to someone else today.  Talk to you all soon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Can we really start fresh? What of our cyber footprint?

Today was the first day of school for most of the children I know.  Whether it was voluntary Pre-Kindergarten or 5th grade or high school the start of a new school year always brings excitement and hesitation. Moving forward into new environment, people and concepts generally evokes feelings of nervousness.  The fresh start every year during out  school years prepares us for later life with the changing of places of employment and/or careers.   Starting fresh is not such a bad thing though. It is a chance to reinvent yourself into a better version of you, a chance to rectify any previous misconceptions and start over.

Each year, I always started school with new folders and paper, pens and pencils, and when starting a new project later in life I find that I always start with a fresh folder to stay organized.  Amazing how that little ritual has carried through life.  Many people just jump in both feet, no hesitation, and I have to admit that for most of my life I would jump first, however as I age I have become more careful with what I do. 

Even when posting things on line I try and stop and think about how the information will reflect back on me.  Everything seems to be saved on a server somewhere, so it is virtually impossible to erase a cyber footprint.  I would like to think that a fresh start is still possible, however as new employers do background checks and reference checks, there are also cyber footprint checks. 

I grow concerned knowing that the current middle and high school children that post on facebook or myspace are unaware that they are starting their cyber footprint so much earlier than I did.  The inevitable teenage dramas all played out on line and permanent. How will the teen years full of angst affect their future employability?  Well, I say I worry about the "children" but really, how many of us, myself included, don't pay enough attention to what we post?  What we put out into cyber space?

I'm thankful that after I made one tragic "send" mistake with  a memo that was full of sarcasm that I  re-learned the very valuable lesson of saving items to the draft box and walking away.  If, after some cooling off time, I feel a document, or posting, is worthy only then do I hit send or publish.  Hindsight is 20/20 but postings are permanent and don't always allow for hitting the delete or unsend buttons that we have grown accustomed to. 

In fact, one area where we really don't think about our cyber footprint is in the posting of photos.  I admit to being very non-photogenic.  There are few pictures of myself that I truly enjoy.  Unfortunately, some of them are not "professional" yet there they are out there in cyber space - part of my cyber  footprint.  What types of pictures are out there of any of us? Do we even know all the pictures that are out there?  Conferences, meetings, social gatherings, professional gatherings all seem to have cameras present, and who knows what pictures could be out there. 

I recall once, early in my career, when I first attended an industry conference representing my employer that a photograph was taken across the room.  Those seated at the table with me had been drinking beer in bottles throughout the evening.  When the picture was published in a statewide newsletter, there I sat, and from the angle of the picture it appeared there were approximately 12 beer bottles in front of me!  My supervisor called me in her office on that one.  Luckily, I am not a beer drinker, have never taken to the taste of beer and I was able to argue my innocence based on the fact that I do not drink beer. Yet that one picture taken from an unfortunate angle created a poor image of me through no wrong doing of my own.

So I sit and wonder, with the permanence of our cyber footprint, will any of us be able to truly start fresh?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Are you living a pro-active life?

So after posting yesterday about deprivational stress, I started thinking about other forms of stress.  I have been reading a lot of blogs lately and several this week have addressed similar topics such as creating your right priorities, ensuring to live the life you want - not simply existing day to day, setting goals for life (not only professional goals), and then the Bucket List came on and I took it all as a sign. 

Do we float along day to day merely existing like cows in the pasture?  Are we really taking charge of our own lives and living each day fully?  Are we taking pro-active steps to making our hopes and dreams come true? 

I look around me and I would have to say the resounding answer is NO!

Why do we allow this to happen?  At 17 I was so positive I would write for and eventually run the Wall Street Journal as a world known journalist.  At 30 I was positive I would be moving forward in instruction and instructional design.  By 35 all I could foresee in my future was management and leading others into the future.  At 41 I sit here, honestly, a bit clueless.

I look around and see many others surrounding me who, similarly to me, have allowed life circumstances to change their goals, hopes and dreams.  So many simply have a goal of having enough money to pay for gas until payday! 

How did this happen?  At what point in life did we all stop taking the bull by the horns and rather start following the plodded path to the feed barrel like so many others?  All the creativity sucked out of our souls, content to exist - well in some cases hoping and praying to continue to exist rather than living the lives that dreams are made of. 

I then read about a person who worked with terminal cancer patients and asked them what they regretted and each of them had answered their greatest regret was stressing over the small stuff.  WOW!  I think about recently being asked about my perspective on disagreements and how I answered, "Before getting upset about anything, I ask myself, in 5 years is it going to matter?"  If the answer is no, then I now simply choose to walk away and take another path.

Which leads me to perhaps the most important question - how do we get back to pursuing our hopes and dreams?   Am I going to be content following the easy road?  Do I even have a choice at this point? 

How am I going to make sure that don't look back and see only a life that I regret rather than a life that was lived to it's fullest?  How are you going to make sure you don't have regrets?

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but the number of moments that take our breath away."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thinking about Procrastination

The other day I was talking to a friend and stated that if I did not leave my house for three straight weeks, and all I did was work, perhaps I could finish most of the projects I am working on.  Not positive that she believed me, however that lead me to start thinking.  Honestly, with other projects pending I could stay and work for about 2 straight months and not finish everything.  More honesty, there is no way I can stay home all day every day for 2 straight months and not leave the house so these projects will be with me longer.  

Of course that led me to wondering if I was overwhelmed or had I been procrastinating.  I looked Procrastination up in Wikipedia it is defined there as "... the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time."

Given the many projects I have going; I started thinking, am I procrastinating? Am I doing too much?  Are my priorities aligned with what other see as priorities?   Then I started contemplating about other people, and work situations where someone is maligned as being a "procrastinator."  

The first thing that is bothering me is that the term seems to be used in a derogatory manner.  Yet when researching ISD I repeatedly find that the process itself takes more time than the actual writing.  Revising what you have written, as I did the other day when I trashed 2 months of work and changed it all, takes even longer.  I do not want to "complete" a project for the sake of completing it, I want it done right the first time.  

All this thought took me down the path of why we look at procrastination as a negative.  Sure, intentionally not completing a project is bad, yet if it is part of the creative process, and we simply don't understand what the person is doing, how they are working, are we misjudging people?  Without communicating with others, can we really judge their conduct? I don't think we can.  Situations arise, life happens, and repeatedly we are all drawn away from working for short (or longer) time periods.  If the project is not life/death immediate, I find it easier to be distracted.   

Then I thought about being overwhelmed.  I think that having a lot to do actually invigorates a person, if that person is me.  The more I have pending, the faster and better I work.  So is procrastination and/or being overwhelmed more a case of being under challenged - a sort of deprivational stress? There is an old saying, if you want something done, ask a busy person.  That saying certainly fits this thought process.

Okay, now to get back to my projects and get some stuff done!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Performance Based Learning and Death by Powerpoint

I haven't blogged in a few days, I would have to say that is because I have been busily writing, which is good. 

Actually I should say I have been re-writing.  Something was bothering me about my current project and I decided to revamp a lot.  It was a traditional style course and I have completely revamped it to be performance based learning.  Creating performance based learning is, in my opinion, a lot easier to create than traditional learning. 

When the student is encouraged, aka required, to perform in the classroom they will retain the learning better because they were part of it.  Also, in creating performance based learning, I find the key is in creating meaningful activities for the student to perform that will allow for constructive feedback and will enable them to better perform outside of the classroom. 

For example; anyone can give you a sample form.  However if you create a form, receive meaningful feedback on what you have created, and then use that form as a building block to create performance grading criteria, and then use the criteria and the form in evaluation of performance, you will better know if you created the right form, the right criteria to be successful.

Or, at least that is my current approach for this instructional design process.

In addition to writing, I have been researching death by power point. 

So often it seems that instructors who have very comprehensive power point presentations only talk about what is on each slide, and some simply read the slide to the students as a robot could.  Students will tune out the instructor and/or ignore the slides because they are becoming trained on this lazy method of instructing.  Creating a meaningful, relevant power point presentation requires a lot more than simply the ability to translate text to slide.  It requires a learning goal for the slide.  If there is no learning goal, then why bother to take up time with the slide. 

Presentations are not "time fillers" to cover the amount of instructional hours available.  They must be meaningful.  It is also helpful to remember the 6x6 rule No more than 6 characters per line no more than 6 lines per slide.  To violate this rule is to create a presentation that you will read.  Also, to violate this rule will create a presentation that cannot possibly be clearly seen in the back of the room due to decreased font size.  Furthermore, the learner is not there to read a slide, the slides should reinforce key points of your presentation.

Ok so this rant on PowerPoint was created by one I am working on.  Thankfully, my partner agreed to stop cutting limbs off the tree (aka the over sized PowerPoint) and together we are going to start a nice slim seedling that is more meaningful than monstrous.

I recently read an article on the business steps towards creating sizzling power point presentations    The article suggests starting by unleashing your creativity.  Then brainstorming ideas the old fashioned way.  Then decide what supporting elements will drive home the points you want to make,  Granted this article was focused on business, however is highly relevant to all areas of presentations. 

Stop with the boring and start invigorating your students with your presentations.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Instructional Design

For those who may be interested in the Instructional Design aspects of my writing, I have currently published two training manuals - one on Surviving Stress, Recognition, Reduction and Management for Public Safety (E-9-1-1) Telecommunicators, Crisis Negotiations in Public Safety Telecommunications, I have been on the committee which wrote three other training manuals, and I have had several articles published in industry magazines for Public Safety (E-9-1-1) Telecommunications.   Further, I have written numerous articles for a statewide industry related newsletter.

My background includes years of working in the E-9-1-1 Communications Center environment, as well as working as a law enforcement crime analyst, intelligence analyst, and assisting those assigned to Investigations Division.  I was raised in a Fire Fighting family, and did volunteer for several years.

I came across Instructional System Design and the ADDIE model at a very young age, young enough that the Dean of the College asked me how I even knew that was what I wanted due to my age, not realizing that at that point I had 10 years in the business. 

I think that designing appropriate training materials, recognizing the target audience and appealing to their specific needs is a challenging vocation.  The learning must be very relevant, and the target audience is accustomed to working at a fast pace and they are very multifunctional so they will disappear in a second if their attention is not drawn continually into the class, and if they are not allowed to continually be "doing."   Another challenge of this particular target audience is that they are very used to processing at the synthesis level, so learning that occurs below that level is slightly, shall we say, insulting to the learner. 

Once the training manuals are created, then I work to create the live and on line versions of the course, testing, etc. for a comprehensive training program for the client.  It's an amazing challenge.


Just the title of this blog indicates that this is going to be an odd post; however I thought I should specify my writing interests just a bit more.  I am interested, and have outlined projects, in several different genres. 

Romance, of course, given the title of the blog.  I have an amazing chick lit type book outlined.  I have many romance stories created in my head for sharing, generally they involve strong alpha males as the hero's and the females fall into a variety of employment such as analysts, writers, 9-1-1 dispatchers.

Then there are crime drama's similar to real life criminal cases that I have heard about over the years and have made notes on, and I have two of them partially outlined.  I have been surprised over the years that no one has written about some of these cases, and I would greatly enjoy the opportunity to fictionalize the stories and share them.

I have a fiction novel outlined following the downsizing of one lady who finally finds love, experiences great and devastating losses and still walks tall.

Yet while I have all of these outlines and concepts floating around in my head, and I finally committed them to paper (ok, keyboard) to try and get them out of my head they still exist, I am working on Instructional training manuals and a Memoir.

Is it possible for a writer to find success across so many genres?  I'm not sure.  Perhaps if I committed to just one genre my life would be easier and I could focus on the craft of that particular genre, but I have never, ever chosen the easy way to do anything.  So maybe I will be the lucky one who can be successful in several different areas. 

The Beginning

The interesting part about the beginning is that it was actually many years ago when I decided I wanted to design training materials for a living.  I took classes on-line and earned a degree in education, but I stayed in a full time job that took so much time and energy that really I couldn't dedicate myself to writing.

I finally worked up the courage to leave that job and now I am working (on a contract basis) as an Instructional Designer, developing training programs.  Yet, still there is that creative part of me that wants to write fiction.  I currently have two writing projects underway  first off a memoir with a friend about some extraordinary circumstances that changed his life, and secondly I am working on a training manual.

Along the way, I instruct some on line courses, am searching for full time employment because my dreams aren't quite paying the bills.  I thought that perhaps I'm not the only one in these circumstances and I wanted to share the trial and tribulations of an aspiring fiction author, caught in a myriad of other writings on her way to be able to craft that one perfect manuscript, or at least one perfect manuscript, hopefully more! 

I hope you enjoy the journey with me as I continue to seek that perfect writing experience.