Caregiver for A Bright and Engaging Girl

We’re looking for a caregiver for our daughter. Emeline is 20 and is a recent graduate of Newton North High School. She’s quite smart and has a great sense of humor, but due to cerebral palsy, she is unable to move without assistance.

The caregiver’s primary responsibilities will be to manage Emeline’s personal care and transportation needs. She requires help with bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting, and personal grooming. She currently attends a post-graduate program in Newton as well as day classes at MassBay Community College. You will drive Emeline to her program in Newton and pick her up in the afternoon. From time to time you will also manage doctor visits and trips to friends’ houses or a movie. A wheelchair-accessible minivan is available for transportation.

The caregiver serves as an important connection between the school and the family. You must be PC-literate because Emeline is, and you must be fluent in English. While no certified “special needs” experience is required, a kind, patient nature and prior experience working with someone who needs a lot of physical assistance are critical.

This position is a live-out situation and covers about 30 hours/week (Sunday: 2:00-9:00 pm, Monday and Tuesday: 6:00-9:00 am and 2:00-9:00 pm, Wednesday: 6:00-9:00 am).
If Sunday is a problem, let’s still talk; the Sunday hours can be optional.

Tasks include preparing breakfast for Emeline and dinner for the family (along with basic kitchen clean-up), keeping Emeline’s bedroom and clothes organized, changing her sheets, doing her laundry, and keeping her wheelchair clean. You must be a non-smoker, licensed to drive, and have the strength to easily transfer Emeline to and from her wheelchair as needed. She weighs about 90 pounds.

The right caregiver will make such a big difference in her life, and judging from experience, she will make a big difference in yours, too!

Contact me at The position is compensated at the MassHealth PCA rate. Ideally, you’d start in mid-October.

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Rejoining the Path

I recently had a reunion with my dearest college friend, Jo Lee, now a professor at the University of Minnesota. Jo has started an insightful blog about “skating and the practice of every day life.” In a conversation with Jo, you get more insights in an hour than you have yourself in a month, and her blog posts are just as thoughtful. She asked me to write a guest post on her blog, which I did happily. It is reposted here, too.

An adage I learned as a kid always struck me as sad: “You can never go home.” It comes to mind because, just this week, I struck out on a journey home, the metaphorical kind. I went skating after a ten year hiatus. Yeah, I did manage to skate socially a couple of times in the last ten years, but those were public sessions. On Friday, I did the real thing — an open figure skating session. And that’s what brought the adage to mind.

In the made-for-TV movies I watched as a kid, “You can never go home” was spoken to sad adults who had made bad choices or had squandered their good years. (Don’t know which years those are, exactly, but screenwriters seem clear on it.) And those words were always spoken wistfully. The speaker wished it weren’t true. We all do. I wondered why going to a skating session brought this to mind. So I overanalyzed it, of course. And here’s what I came up with.

Returning to the ice — and I use “return” in the Norma Desmond sense: “it’s a return, not a comeback” — is 10% about craving something familiar and comfortable and 90% about trying to have a do-over. In my case, it was 100% do-over; I knew there would be no comfort in shivering like a chihuahua at 7am. It was going to be sad and a bit hurtful, both in the soles and the soul. The emotional hurt would come from regret. I was about to get reacquainted with an activity I used to love above any other, an old friend I should have kept in touch with. No modern day Homer would memorialize my journey, but it felt to me more like a quest than an outing.

To my surprise, my soles didn’t hurt. How I could squeeze my size 10 feet into size 8-1/2 Narrow boots and not hurt, I don’t know, but I have a theory. Jo Lee wrote a lovely blog post about our recent reunion. During our conversation, I remarked how, in college, my injuries never hurt when I skated. I used to chalk this up to endorphins, which might actually be the case, speaking clinically. Speaking in psychic or emotional terms, though, nothing hurt when I skated because of how happy I was to be out there. Here I was almost thirty years later, and the same thing happened. Despite the too-small foot gear and the recent months with insufficient exercise, I felt great on the ice.

The other reason I don’t hurt when I skate is because rink time is dream time. I think about what could be, not what is. Maybe I’ll get a double Axel some day, Maybe I’ll get my gold dances some day. Maybe I’ll figure out something to do career-wise that makes me happy. When you’re pumped with hope, you can’t be bothered to feel pain.

And so it was when I hit the ice at 7:15am on Friday. Different dream this time, though. No Axels or choctaws in mind. Survival was the immediate goal. I did have a dream, though. I dreamt of the do-over, not by turning back time, but by picking up the thread I had left dangling. I had kept my skates. Recently, I remounted my blades on older, broken-in boots. Somehow, I was making ready for this. I knew I wanted to get back on the path. You can’t rejoin a path from your past right where you left it, but you can rejoin it where you are now. Axels of any kind? Unwise. Gold dances? How about overcoming that wobbly RFO edge first. Heroic multi-hour skating sessions? Better check with the cardiologist first. Still, I did pick up that thread I had left for myself.

I wobbled, I paused for breath more than I stroked. And I watched the clock — thirty minutes or bust. That meant I was shooting for 7:45. At 7:22, I realized I had already been on the ice for seven minutes. Lost in the skating already — sweet. At 7:35 I began drumming up justifications to call it a morning. The last minute was the hardest; I was close, so was an exact thirty minutes all that critical?

Yeah, the “thirty” mattered. Doing a thing once in a row counts for nothing. One skating session wouldn’t prove much, but if even that gesture were a failure, what would be the point. I had to follow through on at least my short term promise to skate for half an hour. When 7:45 came, I was still moving. I left the ice right then — no more heroics. But I had a renewed sense of hope that I had rejoined the path and would stay on it. Next session: Monday morning.

Posted in Skating

When art comes from people who aren’t “artists”

John Quarello, the brother of a good friend, has a blog on which he displays and discusses sketches, paintings, and sculptures he has created. I love his work, and I’m always amazed when people who are not professional artists and who don’t have formal art training can manage to create … art! I’m mystified by even the simplest drawing exercise, and forget about handing me “media” to work with.

John’s blog is at

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Thoughts on an Active Community of Practice Engine

In my last post on how organizations should look at employee knowledge, I suggested that we need new kinds of tools — other than word processors — for helping people contribute to the organizational knowledge base. I didn’t say how I thought such tools could work, so in this post, I’m making some suggestions. The lens through which I look at the corporate knowledge base is that of a community of practice. To me, the knowledge base isn’t the goal; it’s a side effect of helping would-be collaborators find each other and interact. Let people query each other, help each other, teach each other, lecture each other, cite each other, rewrite each other — collaborations take many forms — and give them an online home in which to do it, and you’ll have laid the foundation for the organization’s knowledge repository.

When I say “community of practice,” I’m thinking of any set of people who wish to collaborate, seek advice, “compare notes,” and stay abreast of relevant events or knowledge in their field because they do the same job or have the same expertise. Members of a community of practice (COP):

  • May be colleagues, but are not necessarily
  • May be geographically close, but need not be
  • May know most other members, but often don’t
  • May know others who should be members, but often haven’t discovered those people yet
  • Want to interact and collaborate, but don’t necessarily know how best to do this
  • May have an online “home” in which to operate, but often don’t

I take it as a given that organizations benefit by allowing COPs to form, operate, record their knowledge, and thrive. Without meaning to make any political commentary, I can certainly imagine organizational structures and philosophies that would find all this fraternization dangerous. I probably can’t convince those folks of my point of view. My target is people who see that communities of practice develop new knowledge and facilitate knowledge transfer within the organization; that COP knowledge can foster innovation and can identify specialties the organization didn’t know it had; and that COP members derive a sense of belonging to the smaller group which transfers to a sense of loyalty to the larger organization.

So why am I convinced we need new tools for COP practitioners? It’s because the usual suspects let us down. We give people a mailing list, a shared drive for posting files, and maybe a way to conduct online discussions, and then we wait for the magic to happen. >>Crickets chirping….<< Well, why doesn’t the magic happen? Why don’t online communities just “work?” At first, sometimes they do work if a few motivated and communicative members keep the community alive with questions and content. But the mavens don’t necessarily know valuable ways to encourage participation and attract new blood. Tired of the lukewarm community response to their efforts, the mavens move on or fade into a passive role.

Online communities are still new to us. At least we act as if they are. We don’t inherently know how to operate them. Lacking a model for success, online COPs usually fizzle. Technology can help solve this problem, but not the static kind of technology that just sits there and waits for people to use it. What we need is an active engine that drives and guides participation.

What if a community of practice operated on a software platform that “knew” what to do? What if the platform:

  • Coached members on how to play the necessary roles to keep the COP vibrant?
  • Solicited participation from members?
  • Suggested actions for keeping the community going and the content fresh?
  • Provided tools and instructions for carrying out its suggestions?

To make this just a little less abstract, here are some things I think an active COP engine could do:

  • Maintain a list of key activities that someone in the community should perform, e.g.:
    • Ask a question
    • Contribute a document or a link to content
    • Run a survey
    • Organize an event
    • Launch a discussion topic
    • Run a conference call or meeting
    • Comment on existing content
    • Propose a new content area
  • Remind practitioners periodically to perform a key activity that has not been done in a while
  • Seek participation from members, e.g., postings to discussions, answers to questions, comments on content, etc.
  • Seek missing metadata, e.g., questions need answers, meetings need agendas and minutes, discussion topics need resolutions, etc.
  • Seek fresh content in weak or stale areas

The active COP engine itself would probably be executable code running on the same server as whatever collaboration platform was in use. There’s no reason to write a new collaboration platform; many exist that provide decent functions and can be extended. The COP engine could use the same underlying database as the collaboration platform for its metadata and any other data it needed to store. It could also use the local messaging capability, e.g., email server, for communicating its guidance and reminders out to the user community. The following figure, in addition to illustrating why I got poor grades in art class, also diagrams a (very) high level hypothetical architecture.

Ideally, the engine’s behavior would be largely data-driven, or said less geekily, a configuration file would tell the engine what to do. For example, you could configure the engine to know that a given activity (“Run a survey”) should be carried out by a particular role (perhaps any user could run one, or maybe you’d decide that only administrators should be able to run surveys) with a given frequency (monthly). You could also specify a set of tools to give the user as aids in carrying out the activity; the tools could be native platform capabilities (e.g., many collaboration platforms have a native capability to launch a discussion) or specially written wizards to supply capabilities and guidance that the platform lacks.

I admit I leave a lot to the imagination, but this is a blog post, not a functional spec or technical design. I’m not proposing anything technically difficult or groundbreaking here — agents that “do stuff” are not even close to a new idea. And of course you’d have to devise ways to keep the engine from being an obtrusive pain in the neck or a disrespected amusement (remember the smiling paper clip in Word?) The potential flies in the ointment are addressable without needing any breakthroughs in the field of computer science, though. Worth some consideration, IMHO, are three ideas. First, the idea that communities of practice need guidance and an operating model in order to succeed. Second, the idea that software agents can supply this guidance as an overlay to an existing collaboration platform. And third, the idea that you needn’t work so hard at building the corporate knowledge base; thriving communities of practice will leave one behind as an artifact of their activities.

I’m champing at the bit to build this. Anyone have funding?

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Posted in knowledge management

Don’t Mine Knowledge, Cultivate It

Departure today from the technical how-to topics I have been blogging on. This time I’m waxing poetic on why I think organizations that depend on “knowledge work” have the wrong attitude and approach toward knowledge. I’m moved to write about this by a recent professional experience that struck a chord from my consulting past during which “knowledge management” was something you could say without apologizing (well, in certain crowds, anyway). Regardless of the heading you put this under and how buzzword compliant that heading is, the basic situation is the same for most of us knowledge workers:

  • Our success depends upon what we know and what we can learn that others know
  • Our employers/clients expect us to have a lot of this knowledge stuff already, but they also expect us to have clever (and inexpensive) ways of getting more of it
  • Nobody has the faintest clue what knowledge really is and how to get more of it.

OK, the gauntlet is down. I make this claim because in the 25 years that I have been working in and around software products and systems that help people do their jobs better, I haven’t seen anyone — except knowledge management consultants — pay attention to this valuable asset called knowledge. Pretty much everyone is all over the idea of information, which they think is a synonym for knowledge. But I don’t think people really get the knowledge thing.

What separates knowledge from information is so basic it feels silly to write it down — knowledge is what people — breathing humans — know. I realize that was a tautology; let me try to get out of that doghouse. What makes something knowledge is your experiences and the way you have connected these to the facts and figures you understand. The facts and figures are not knowledge — they’re just information. Data. You combine that data with your experiences to produce a bit of knowledge. Here’s an example that Bostonians will appreciate given that June in Boston this year was so wet, cool, and murky it was how you imagine the forests to be when you read a Tolkien novel. Anyhow, if I have the info that it’s the middle of June in Boston and this morning it’s cold enough for me to wear a fleece pullover, I have a good hunch it’ll rain today. I don’t have the information on the future of my local weather, I have the knowledge that if you get nasty cold in Boston in June, that’s not customary — something is happening, and from my experience, that something is likely to be rain. I know to carry an umbrella or wear a hat.

So who cares whether knowledge and information are the same or different? Did you ever fly in a plane? If so, you should care about the difference. What every dial and lever in that cockpit means and what it controls is nothing more than a large body of information. If I were armed with that information (the manuals are carried on every airplane), would you feel comfortable letting me fly that plane? Didn’t think so. Even if I had a week to read all the manuals first? Um…nope. And why not? Because flying a plane depends on so much more than the assembled facts and figures of how a plane operates. OK, so why should an insurance business or a telecommunications carrier or a retail chain care about knowledge? They send a lot of their people to training — doesn’t this give the employees what they need to know to do their jobs?

Only a little — and only temporarily. Training classes have a notoriously low rate of retention (ask any instructional design maven), AND, a lot of class content is information, not knowledge. People get more training on how to work the customer service computer program (“hit F5 after you enter the phone number”) than they do on how to provide good customer service (“let an angry caller tell his story before interrupting to ask the phone number”). To do most “knowledge worker” jobs well takes more than classroom learning. You need enough experience to have seen some of the exceptional cases; you need to develop some intuition about what will happen based on your decisions and actions. This is what makes the hot shots hot; what they know goes beyond the mechanics of the ordinary. Experts can operate in the realm of what will happen or what should be the case or what mustn’t be done. And doesn’t every knowledge intensive business want as many employees as possible to perform like experts?

This knowledge stuff is valuable — in more extreme cases, it can keep people alive, and in ordinary cases, it can help you acquire customers and retain them; lack of it can certainly help you lose them. So why don’t businesses approach knowledge the right way? Some confuse knowledge with information, and those businesses think they are doing the right thing. They run training and they cram binders with factoids (and you can even take the course materials away on a USB memory stick!). Other businesses see that, despite the need to impart information to their workers, this alone won’t result in expert or near-expert performance. These businesses do see the need to harness their workers’ knowledge, but sadly, they usually look for it in the wrong place. If knowledge is what people know, then the right place to find it is in people’s HEADS. You are pretty unlikely to find it in their documents, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. But that’s exactly where most organizations think knowledge resides — the “K: drive,” that shared place where we store all our files. This isn’t impossible — a person can put his wisdom down in writing — it’s just improbable. Documents are most often about info, not knowledge. Did you ever turn to the Encyclopedia Brittanica to solve a thorny problem or make a tough decision?

This notion that all these documents we business folk keep cranking out constitute the institutional knowledge base is not only wrong, it breeds two assumptions that throw us further off the scent from being able to capture the real knowledge:

  • Mistaken Assumption #1: A continuous supply of knowledge is a given
  • Mistaken Assumption #2: Knowledge is something to be mined

A bounteous knowledge supply is not a given because knowledge has to come from people, and people don’t usually commit their knowledge to writing because they are over-worked and under-motivated. And even if they were moved to do it, there’s no home for their knowledge in what corporations traditionally (and mistakenly) think of as the knowledge base. Valuable knowledge walks out the door at 6:00 every day because people have nowhere to put it and the contribution method — cranking out a document — is too difficult.

Because businesses think the document dumping ground is a knowledge base, they are led to their second faulty point of view, which is that knowledge is something to be mined. Hey, there’s a lot of dreck on the K: drive, so if there are any nuggets of wisdom in there, you’re gonna need to do some mining, right? The whole enterprise search industry depends on this attitude. But mining is the wrong point of view. It implies a scarce supply of something valuable trapped inside a nearly endless supply of something worthless. Sound like your company’s shared drive?

What we need to do is cultivate knowledge, not mine it. But how do you get at what people are carrying around in their heads? We know from the explosion of the web that there are a lot of would-be content contributors out there. It’s no longer a hope or wish that if you give people a way to contribute what they know, many of them will do it freely. We need to make it easy, though. And we need to stop being afraid of it — some organizations legislate this sort of behavior out of existence. Here’s what I think are the essentials:

  • Provide new kinds of tools so people can easily capture and contribute their insights without having to slog through the process of writing a document
  • Give people tools that connect them either to the knowledge they are looking for or to like-minded collaborators
  • Take active steps to stimulate the flow of ideas between collaborators so that insights and innovations can occur

I see this as a self-reinforcing loop: capture what people know (both their long-standing know-how and their newly-formed “Eureka!” moments), connect people to knowledge and to each other, stimulate the creation and flow of ideas, and repeat from the top. With this loop in place, you really can have a knowledge repository rather than a file archive. And with more know-how and less dreck in the repository, employees stand a much better chance of latching onto an insight that will improve their performance and make an actual difference for their organization.

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Running a SharePoint App From Your Own Copy of the Layouts Folder

Did you ever want to tinker with some of the ASPX pages in the layouts folder of the SharePoint hive? You might want to customize the appearance of application.master, for example. Or, you might want to diverge from the released _layouts pages so that some web apps use your customized versions. When Microsoft releases patches, they’ll be installed in the hive, thereby giving you the chance to run a diff to see what you need to migrate into your copied folder. With sufficient permissions, you can edit the layouts pages directly of course, but it’d be safer to work with your own private copy until you know your changes are safe to be unleashed on an unsuspecting populous. Here’s how to point a web app at your local copy of the layouts folder.

  1. Make your own copy of the layouts folder

    SharePoint’s _layouts pages are at this oh-so-easy-to-remember location: C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extension\12\template\layouts. Copy this folder and paste it wherever you want if you’re just hacking around. If you plan to run a production web app from your copy of layouts, a good place to put the copy might be C:\Inetpub\wwwroot\webapps\your_web_app\layouts. You might have to adjust the file system permissions on the folder containing your layouts copy — whichever user your web app runs as (typically ASPNET) will need Read access.

  2. Point your web app at your copy

    Open IIS Manager, navigate to your web app, and expand the tree so that you can see the _layouts folder; it will look like the figure below.


    Right-click the _layouts folder, and select Properties from the context menu. On the Virtual Directory tab, select the radio button indicating that the content should come from “A directory on this computer” and in the Local path field, enter the full path to the location of your copy of the layouts folder. Make sure the box for Read access is checked, and check any others that pertain. Then click OK.


  3. Run the iisreset command.

Your app will now use the files in your copy of layouts for all of SharePoint’s _layouts pages.

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Can’t Deactivate Trackpad in Leopard — A (Lame) Workaround

Almost a year ago, I became a “switcher” — someone who abandons the PC and Windows for the Macintosh and Mac OS. I joined the party as of the “Leopard” release of Mac OS X. I have dutifully installed the Leopard point releases as they have come along. The release notes haven’t told me much, and after the first leap of faith worked out fine, I just kept on installing the updates. Two weeks ago, I installed the 10.5.7 update, and for the first time, I was sorry I had updated.

I have to believe this is a bug — someone at Apple has to have goofed, because what they did with the trackpad is just plain dumb. You used to be able to deactivate the trackpad while an external (in my case, USB) mouse was connected. As someone whom Mavis Beacon would flunk for poor typing technique, I tend to lean on the trackpad when I don’t mean to, which causes unintentional clicks and selections. At times whole new windows appear and disappear mid-sentence, and I have no clue what I leaned on to cause this. My best solution was simply to disable the trackpad when I had another mouse to work with.

The ability to deactivate the trackpad used to be a setting; at some point (I think 10.5.6, but I’m happy to stand corrected on that), the option disappeared because the capability was just built into the OS – connect a device, the trackpad deactivates. For me, perfection. With the 10.5.7 release, however, you CANNOT deactivate the trackpad. Connecting an external mouse doesn’t do it, nor can you find a setting for it. One clever forum poster suggested you could enable the accessibility feature “Mouse Keys” and thereby disable the trackpad — nopers. Other forum posters familiar with Leopard’s default system tried tinkering with the setting "" = 1, but this setting is now ignored. I resolved to start looking for a PC to replace my Macbook Pro.

And then the obvious hit me. It was a Homer Simpson-esque “D’oh!!” moment. The trackpad has features. You may not be able to kill it, but certainly you can stop it from doing things, right? Right. When I looked at the trackpad settings, I saw this:

All I had to do was uncheck the boxes for Tap to click and Dragging. I ended up with this:

For me, this solves the problem. When I sloppily lean on the trackpad, the cursor still moves, but the trackpad cannot cause a click or a drag to occur. So, where my next typed character gets inserted cannot be altered. (I guess if you were running X11 and had enabled the setting to give focus to a window once the mouse enters it, my workaround would not solve your problems. I personally abandoned that X11 setting in 1989, but I digress….)

When I disconnect my external mouse and really want to use the trackpad, it still works for moving the mouse cursor. I can’t tap the trackpad to click, though — I have that feature disabled. I can either re-enable that feature through settings, or I can just hit the (too large to ever miss) button. I use the button — tapping is less comfy for me anyway.

Disgruntled users have discussed this “feature” in 10.5.7 in this Apple discussions thread. I’ll be following the thread to see if anyone learns whether Apple intended this feature change or just goofed.

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