Saturday, February 09, 2013

Be ready to be shaken!

It's been a week of big earthquakes on the so-called "Ring of Fire," starting with a massive 8.0 shaker in the Solomon Islands chain (which sent a small tsunami crashing through and destroying hundreds of homes, killing at least 9 people), hundreds of aftershocks (many 7.0 or larger), followed by a major quake in South America's Colombia and Ecuador this morning.

My colleagues have been discussing this and I've been thinking about a couple of blogs I wrote last year, speculating about how we here in the Northwest are overdue for a major quake on the Cascadia Subduction Faultline (50 miles out to sea, west of the state). The last time this fault let loose was in January of 1700; the estimated 9.0 quake released enormous tidal waves that inundated fishing villages in Japan, and the entirety of Vancouver Island was shifted an estimated 15 feet south of its previous position.

Scientists estimate this fault has slipped catastrophically, an average of about every 300 years or so over the last 10 millennia. So we are currently due for another big hit.

As someone who works for an organization specializing in disaster relief and recovery, I've put a lot of thought into being prepared. Therefore I thought today I would share with you my recommendations for being prepared. Many if not all of these you have probably heard before, but it can't hurt to state the obvious.

Think About Where You Are, and Have a Disaster Communications Plan

My wife and I have a fairly variable work schedule. We each work outside of the home at least three days each week (different days). She works at three different schools. If a large quake struck while one of us was at work, making communication difficult or impossible, I would really want to know where she was. So recently we have been beginning each day, touching base on our whereabouts. "What are your plans for the day? Where will you be, when?" And I've been making more of an effort to pay attention. I would like to do the same thing, as well, with both of my kids and their spouses. If the big one strikes, it might minimize my efforts to find them or my worrying about where they might be.

Experts also tell us we should plan on a strategy for meeting or touching base (communicating our status and whereabouts). And be sure and communicate your strategy to those you love. I am trying to carry my cellphone at all times now, and make sure it's well charged. It might be impossible to get a call out, but my primary plan is to tweet out my status and whereabouts. Such technologies are more likely to remain "up" longer in a major emergency, and are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. I am letting people I love know they can check to get updates in an emergency. I am also suggesting to all my friends and loved ones that after any disaster, if possible they send a quick text message with their status/location, and the sooner the better.

Keep Critical Supplies on Hand

Experts suggest a minimum three-day supply of food and water, kept with you wherever you are. This is less easy to do in the office than it is at home, but I do try and keep power bars and bottled water in a desk drawer there, as well as in my briefcase. I also keep a flashlight in my briefcase.

My brother has built a cool device and I am hoping he will get me one for Christmas. It's a USB charger that uses AAA batteries, in a small mint tin, which you can use to connect to your cellphone with a USB cable and trickle charge it. This would also be a very handy thing to keep in case of an emergency.

At home, we've decided a generator is a worthwhile investment. Our power goes out so frequently that a generator keeps us in business, on the internet and in communication, not to mention warmed and fed. If you use a generator, be sure to modify your home's electrical system, hiring a qualified electrician to wire you a generator switching panel, so you don't accidentally feed power back into the lines and electrocute some poor utility worker who is trying to repair the damage in your neighborhood.

We also use our Costco membership to buy larger-than-necessary quantities of foodstuffs that will keep (canned beans, fruit, etc.), and store these in our pantry and on sturdy shelves in the garage. Along with a 30-gallon plastic water container, and an extra case of bottled water, we are well supplied at home for any emergency lasting at least three days or potentially much longer.

For non-drinking water needs, we have a spa with 300 gallons, and a water catchment system that works off our rain gutters and stores another 50 gallons. But in the event of a large earthquake we would probably also quickly fill up both bathtubs.

Other things recommended for your emergency kits: plenty of first aid supplies, lots of duct tape and plastic sheeting in case you need to seal doors, windows and outlets against any potential radioactive, chemical or biological nuisance. Also a battery-op radio, flashlights and plenty of batteries.

I am also a proponent of personal security measures that will help keep your household safe in case of a civil emergency. We employ a series of motion-activated driveway lights and cameras, backed up by firearms and the training to use them, for this purpose. One of the responsibilities I take seriously as a husband, father, and neighbor is to keep my family and my neighbors safe, if the power lies within me to do so.

Most of us also spend a fair amount of time in our car, so I've also through through various disaster scenarios and how my vehicle (and what I carry in it) might help me. In addition to a storebought vehicle emergency kit which provides first aid, tools, lighting, flares, etc., I also carry additional food and water, a strong tow strap, more extensive first aid supplies, etc.

Be Financially Prepared

Finally, there is the matter of being financially prepared for a disaster. First of all, please realize that you really cannot do the things I recommend unless you are able to maintain resources in reserve, a buffer. If you are in debt up to your eyeballs, you really cannot maintain such resources on hand. You have to live in such a way as to create rainy day reserves for you and your loved ones. (The biblical story of Joseph and the famines in the Middle East comes to mind.)

I do recommend that people keep some sort of commodity or cash on hand that would be "liquid" in the event of an emergency. Realize that in an emergency, whatever you have on hands is what your total resources for survival might be. The banks will be closed, store shelves will be empty, etc. You may not have any utilities, You may have to exist on what you have.

I don't keep a lot of cash on hand, but I do keep in a secure place some items that would be "better than cash" in case of a true large-scale emergency. One never knows -- you might be able to barter or trade these items for other things I might need, or for passage to a safe place. I've read that when South Vietnam fell to the north, those who survived were those who had gold coins on hand they could use to secure passage to freedom.


Finally there is the matter of disaster recovery. You need to plan to be covered against the key risks you face. If you own a home or rent an apartment, make sure you maintain homeowners or renters insurance that will protect you against loss caused by fire, theft, etc. If you are in a flood zone, you need flood insurance. I am also convinced that if you can afford it (and it costs about $500 a year), earthquake insurance in this area is particularly wise. Your normal insurance will not cover earthquake damage.

Be Prepared!

You might think this is all a little over-the-top and that I must spend a lot of time worrying about the unthinkable. But I really don't. Right now I am reading a book about human resilience and how people react to disasters, called "The Unthinkable." The author makes the very good point that people who think about and prepare for potential disaster scenarios are much more likely to be able to survive them and help others, not only by being prepared, but by keeping a cool head in the midst of the crisis. If you have prepared for something, you are more confident if and when it happens, and you don't need to waste any energy worrying about the unthinkable.

And one final admonition: We do not often reflect on how truly vulnerable we are to those unknown disasters waiting to happen. And in truth, you can only prepare so much. Therefore I am learning to train myself to turn to God first during times of crisis. Too often in the past I have had an accident and have waited too long to turn to God for help. I could tell you several miraculous stories about how the situation changed so quickly for me when I did, finally, cry out to God during a crisis. He wants us, ultimately, to rely not on our own resources or even preparedness, but on His grace and mercy in a time of crisis. I can face disasters with confidence because I know I serve a God who is much bigger than any potential disaster could ever be!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Cruising the Twitterverse

Twitter profile for LarryShort (click to enlarge)
My Twitter profile:
I've been wanting for awhile to write a blog to explain my love affair with Twitter. I'm not sure it will help anyone else, but at least it may explain some peculiar aspects of my own personality.

I was at a Stanford Publishing on the Web conference in the fall of 2006 (I think?) when I heard Silicon Valley venture capitalist and visionary Guy Kawasaki speak. I was leading a delegation of folks from World Vision and knew that Guy was a fan and friend. So I was delighted when happenstance threw us together, just he and I, out in the lobby between sessions.

I asked Guy what he thought the next big game-changing social media platform for communicators might be. Now, this was a dangerous question because my manager (at the time) had told me not to "waste my time" with social media. He thought it was a passing fad and said we had plenty to keep our hands full just working the bugs out of Web one-dot-zero!

Without hesitation, Guy answered my question: "Twitter!" I had heard a little bit about Twitter and had kind of dismissed it as a joke, but Guy (who got his start as a "chief evangelist" at a little company called Apple) is one of those few folks who really deserves the title of Web pioneer and social media guru, and so I paid attention as he explained why he thought Twitter had such potential. Then, later that same day I created my first Twitter account, on behalf of World Vision: @WorldVision.

A year or so later, after working to give this new bird some wings, I handed @WorldVision over to our international office. (I suppose I felt guilty because I had registered for our U.S. office, and by the time our international folks realized it should be theirs instead, that horse had already left the barn. Plus, I wasn't supposed to be working on social media, right?) But our international folks were certainly grateful to receive @WorldVision from my hand and they continued to shepherd its growth. (The stream now has well over a quarter of a million followers.) (UPDATED 2/19/2015 ... now exceeding 454,000 followers.)

A short time later I also started @WorldVisionUSA (the U.S. office' official corporate Twitter stream), as well as @WorldVisionNews (our journalist-facing stream), and then my own personal stream, @LarryShort. I've since handed @WorldVisionUSA off to our corporate social media team, and still manage the latter two myself.) These three streams now have more than 48,000 (314,000 as of 2/19/15), nearly 14,000 (17,300), and over 4,500 (nearly 10,000 now) followers, respectively. (To put this into perspective, the average Twitter user has approx. 120 followers.) I am grateful for my "early start" in Twitter ... even if I did have to do it on my personal time! (My former boss, by the way, is now vice president for social media with a growing tech company. I guess he must have changed his mind about social media being a fad.)

Why Twitter?

Having used it for eight years or so, what is it that I appreciate about Twitter? Part of it is my love of writing. As you can tell by reading my blogs, I am a pretty long-winded writer. Twitter's 140-character limit really forces you to be concise, which I find very helpful.

And the platform lends itself to the style of content I enjoy reading and providing. I read numerous publications on a daily basis, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Post, MuckRack, PR Daily, and others, both for personal enrichment and as a part of my job. Twitter is perfect for sharing fascinating things I find, as well as commenting on them when appropriate.

I have discovered there are three ways to gain a Twitter following. 1) You can be famous. Justin Bieber currently holds the record for the most followers, with nearly 35 million. (More people follow Bieber than populate many of the world's countries!) (Now 60.6 million as of 2/19/2015. By the way, he's now been exceeded by Katy Perry, who has more than 65 million followers.) To Bieber's credit, he's also fairly engaged with his followers on Twitter. (I wonder what proportion of his followers are teenage girls?)

The problem with this method, of course, is that I'm not famous, and don't have very good prospects for becoming famous anytime soon.

2) You can be rich. Yes, you can actually buy Twitter followers. There are automated systems that promise to increase your follower account by various dubious methods. My understanding of these techniques, however, is that the quality of followers that you get for your money is not very good. That plus, I'm certainly NOT rich.

3) You can work hard at it ... both by providing great content, and by engaging with your followers, and by connecting with potential new followers. This is the method I have chosen, and I am going to share my secrets with you here and now. (For free!)

I'll warn you that work (by definition) takes time, energy and creativity. I probably spend at least an hour a day at building my Twitter presence. I sometimes question whether it's worth it ... I know that this too, shall pass ... but for now I feel like it's a good investment that has served my purposes well and connected me with a great new network of friends.

I've already talked about great content. I make it a practice to publish about 10 tweets a day; that's an average of about every hour and a half if you leave time for sleep. I think strategically about what I will tweet, gathering my thoughts, opinions, observations, etc. throughout the day and planning out my tweets. I try to learn from which tweets seem to engage my followers (via retweets, favorites, etc.) the most. In addition to tweeting out my own content (links to my blog posts, for example), I frequently tweet links to interesting articles I've read, or retweet others who post fascinating tweets. The topics I tweet on vary widely, but I only tweet what personally interests ME. I then seek followers I think will be likely to share my interests.

One down side about this is that I tend to be very newsy, and often tweet about disasters. (Yes, these interest me greatly. Remember, I work for a disaster relief organization.) As a result, some people have unfollowed me, claiming that I tend to be too serious or frightening. Oh well. I do interject some humor or whimsy occasionally!

I'd estimate that about half my new followers are generated purely by the content I tweet, or else they reach out to me for whatever reason, unsolicited. (I follow most but not all of these back.) And the other half come as a result of me following people I think might be interested in my stream. I probably follow about 50 new people per day, and maybe 5 or 10 of those follow me back within a few days. There are some people or organizations I follow, even though I know they'll probably never follow me back, just because I really want to keep up with them. But most others, if they don't follow me back within a week, I will dump them in an effort to keep my follower ratios stable. (I don't want to be following way more people than are following me; and I also don't like it when people are widely followed but don't follow back. So I really try to keep my followers number in balance with the number I am following.)

Here's My Secret for Growing My Stream ...

Twitter has sort of "gotten to know me" and frequently suggests people I should follow. (These suggestions come both in the form of daily emails, and also a dynamically generated list on my Twitter profile page.) Typically all I have to do is scan a person's profile summary to know quickly whether or not they would be a likely Twitter fit with me. For me personally, I am looking primarily for people who are committed to faith and realizing the impact of a vital relationship with God on their lives; but I will also follow people with similar interests in key areas like social media, acoustic music, or cycling. I've discovered there are certain key words or tags in their profiles which typically indicate people likely to be a good fit. I typically don't even have to read their tweets to figure this out.

Also, when you follow a person like this, Twitter will usually suggest two more people to follow, with very similar profiles. If both look excellent, I will take one and follow them in a separate browser window, cutting-and-pasting the URL. Then, follow the other in the same window. So now I have two browser windows open, and four new suggested people to follow. In a very short time, using this method, you can follow 70 or 80 new people.

Before I follow someone, I also look at their follower/followee ratio. A person with a lot of followers but who follows very few people is not a good candidate, in my book, as they are not likely to follow me back. So I don't waste my time following them. I also don't waste time following people whose content or profile photo looks questionable. (For instance, if I see a person use a profanity in their stream, or if their stream is spammy, or their profile photo is a bit racy, I bid adieu. I'm not judging them; it just means I don't think we are going to be a very good fit for one another, is all.)

By the way, I use two key tools to help me manage my Twitter presence. One is Hootsuite, which gives me a nice interface for seeing what's happening with my Twitter stream, at a glance. It does URL shortening, allows you to schedule tweets into the future, and also offers good analytics. The second tool I use is JustUnfollow, which (on the fly) will calculate key stats about who is and is not following you back. Once each day the "free" version allows me to find and remove up to 50 people I have followed recently, who have not followed me back. Point and click.

When people follow me or follow me back, I also acknowledge them by @including them in a tweet and thanking them. Some people use automated systems to do this. I put some energy into customizing each tweet. I get too many followers to send individual tweets, so I will batch them in groups, maybe two or three tweets a day ... but I do try to make these tweets very obviously human-written and not exactly the same. And I also try to spend some time each day cruising tweets written by my followers and interacting with whatever they are talking about. I know they appreciate it and I gain a lot of loyal followers this way, not to mention retweets and favorites.

Retweets are obviously a key measure of Twitter success. If a follower who him or herself has a lot of followers retweets something that I've tweeted, that means my content is getting an exponentially larger number of potential eyeballs. And the more people you follow, the more retweets and favorites you get.


One automated measure of Twitter success is a service called "Klout," which bills itself as a 0-100 metric score analyzing social media influence. Justin Bieber is at the top of the Klout food chain with a perfect Klout score of 100. (Update as of 2/19/2015: He's since slipped to a 92, and Katy Perry has a 94.) People just starting out typically have Klout scores of 10 or 20. When you register with Klout you connect your Twitter stream, Facebook page, LinkedIn page, Google+, and any other social media platforms you are active on. Those four big ones primarily contribute to your score, though. (Unfortunately, at this time, Klout does not really track blogs, even though they are a key social media influence factor, but they do track traffic on Twitter or Facebook related to your blogging, and I am hopeful they will expand into the blogosphere soon. Now that Google has an "authorship" metatagging protocol, I think it will soon be a simple matter for Klout to track anything that you write on the Web.)

I have watched my Klout score rise slowly over the past couple of years. I can remember when it was in the 30s, but right now am sitting at a score of 65. (Update as of 2/19/2015: Mine has slipped to a 61.) Klout is quite heavily weighted toward Facebook activity; the Facebook component of my Klout score used to be something like 90%. (I have about 850 Facebook friends.) But as my Twitter follower base has expanded, my Klout score has increased, and Twitter has increased as a share component of my Klout score. Today Twitter comprises 39% of my Klout score; Facebook 58%; Linked In 2%; and Google Plus 1%. And this roughly corresponds to the amount of energy I put into each platform, although I'd say Facebook and Twitter are fairly equal for me.

Many of my colleagues (who have suffered through a yearlong competition to see who could maintain the highest Klout score) have expressed skepticism that Klout's technology means anything in real world of social media influence. But to a certain extent, it's the only game in town, and I am fairly certain that it's slowly improving in its ability to measure social media engagement. So I think it's a useful metric for success.

Well, I hope you find these insights into the twisted Twitterverse helpful! Let me know your own thoughts and insights on the topic, puhleeeeze! (I need the interaction if I'm ever going to threaten Justin Bieber's Klout status!)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Treasure and Heart

In a previous blog, on the topic of "home," I mentioned a shift in my thinking ... that "home" should not be viewed as a point of origination, but rather, a destination. I also said that "home" is the convergence of treasure and heart.

And I think this last statement, in particular, needs a little more unpacking. As I have grown in my Christian walk, in recent years, a Jesus teaching that has become very meaningful to me is Matthew 6:21 (repeated in Luke 12:34):
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
At first I think this verse appeared (to me) deceptively simple. I think I read it almost in reverse: "where your heart is, there will your treasure be." It took awhile for the context, the meaning, and the implications of this teaching to sink in.

The context is investment ... where we invest the resources God has entrusted to us. In verse 19, Jesus says: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth ..." and in verse 20, "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." We are all given different measures of resources, according to the grace and will of God. (This is one teaching of the parable of the talents.) Those resources will come in the form of time, energy, creativity, talent, skills, money and possessions, people we influence, etc. In the parable of the talents Christ laid out the how ... the expectation of God that we will invest those resources boldy ... not simply "hide them in the sand" out of fear.

And now, Christ lays out the where we should invest them. Here there are two choices only: earth ... or heaven. And the clear implication is that any investment in the things of earth is transitory; it will be consumed, corrupted, rust, or even be stolen away. Conversely, any investment in heaven and the things of heaven is eternal; none of this decay will eat away at the value of our investment.

Then verse 21 is the clincher, and establishes such an important spiritual principle: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

What does Scripture mean by its use of the word "heart?" I think we understand this best when we tell a lover, "You have captured my heart!" Our heart is our soul ... our mind, will, and emotions. It is that place where the deepest motivations of the human experience are felt and acted upon.

Any serious reading of Scripture reveals God's expectation that we be in Him with our whole hearts, that we be passionate for His Kingdom; panting after Him as the deer pants for the water; "delighting ourselves" in the Lord! Such a state cannot be without a fully devoted heart.

If our heart is not fully enraptured with ("invested in") Heaven, therefore, the answer is that our treasure must be somewhere else. For, if we invest our treasure in the things of Heaven, our hearts will follow.

Many Christians complain about (or possibly struggle silently with) a perfunctory, dutiful spiritual life. They may read Scripture, but it feels dull and meaningless. They may pray, but they fall asleep in boredom. Where is the passion?

This state of affairs leaves them a far cry from the man depicted in Christ's parable in Matthew 13:44 ...
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
"In his joy" he went and "sold all he had and bought that field." He went all in ... consolidated his resources and invested them all in the treasure ... not a penny withheld! And he did so with an abundance of joy and excitement, knowing that his investment would surely pay huge dividends. For he had found the secret pearl of great price, and his reward would be as far beyond the value of his previous holdings as the heavens are higher than the earth!

Shortly before Jesus departed this earth, He said, "My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." Our ultimate home is that place where we are to lay up treasure, that place where our heart will also be found as a result: Heaven! Home is the convergence of treasure and heart.

Do you find today that your heart is weary, tired of the decay? Earth is governed by the law of entropy. The second law of thermodynamics says that all things wind down, that energy leaks out of the system and dissipates. All we invest in here will ultimately decay, rust, or be stolen from us. None of it will last.

Ask the Lord, "What have You given me that I can invest in heaven, offering it back to You?" Identify the treasure God has entrusted to you, and understand how you can invest that treasure in heaven rather than in earth. Your heart will follow along behind your investment as surely as a faithful dog follows its master.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Warning: It Can Be Habit-Forming

Well, contrary to what I said last night, now I feel like I'm in the habit so I need to blog ... SOMETHING.

So, first I thought I'd thank my friend Lindsey Talerico, New Zealand's blogging guru, for challenging me to participate in her "Blog a Day in Anti-Boring January" competition. It was fun and a good exercise, and made me think about all the things I'd like to write. Someday.

I didn't succeed at posting every day. I wrote 25 posts in January. But I hit every topic. (Combining some when I needed to catch up.) I only recycled once (from an older blog). And I know that it takes doing something at least seven times in a row to turn it into a habit, probably more for me, but now I feel at least as if I think about blogging every day.

Side note: I see that Lindsey is now challenging everyone in another blogging exercise called "ThankGodIt'sFebruary." (I will follow along with interest, but otherwise am probably going to sit this one out!)

I'm not sure I'm a good enough writer (or a consistent enough person) that I could write something every day and hold everyone's attention. I need some sort of niche probably to do that. My problem is I have too many niches. (By the way, do you pronounce that "nitch," like my wife does, or "neesh" like I do? I may be using the French version.)

Since I'm a social media strategist (by profession) perhaps I will start posting some more social media tips and tricks. Like, legitimate ways to boost your Twitter following. (I'm now at more than 4,300 followers and haven't used any of those pay services to get there.) I employ a series of techniques that seem fairly surefire, but do take some work. Save that for another post.

But, I also think I should blog about what I enjoy talking about. And the main thing I enjoy talking about is truths I'm learning from Bible study and my walk with Christ. So, maybe I'll alternate.

Then, of course, there are various passions: cycling and outdoor sports in the Northwest, winemaking, cooking, travel ... it's hard to know where to stop.

Anyway, I guess you'll just have to keep checking in. For now let me bid you a happy February, hope you are washing your hands and staying warm and flu-free. And I'll close with an index to my January Blog-a-Day entries ...

January 1 - Good Morning! The New is Here
January 2 -  Two Kinds of People
January 3 - Bucket List
January 4 - Pet Peeves
January 5 - Greatest Fear
January 6 - My Most Embarrassing Moments
January 7 - Shoes ... and Other Male/Female Conundra
January 8 - Honesty
January 9 - Made With Love
January 10 - Memory Baloney
January 11 - Confession and Compassion
January 12 - Recovery
January 13 - Top 10 (Things That Bring Me Joy)
January 14 - Food (and How I'm Trying Not To Love It So)
January 15 - Most and Least Dangerous Forms of Transportation
January 16 - Anything for Love
January 17 - Things That Rhyme
January 18 - Advice: Creating Secure Passwords
January 19 - Would I Really Want This Superpower?
January 20 - What Is Beauty?
January 21-24 - Wonky Kids, Chocolate Teachers
January 25-28 - A Surprise: Love in the Winter of Our Regret
January 29 - Home: A Destination, Not an Origin
January 30 - My Biggest Flaw
January 31 - Why I Love Writing