The Plight of Punctuation

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We’re evolving to “talk” to each other primarily through digital forms of communication such as messaging, chat, email, etc., with very little direct, personal contact. This already puts us at a disadvantage to understand what people really mean since so much is expressed non-verbally (i.e., facial expressions, body language, tone, inflection, etc.). Consequently, we’ve adapted our digital language to include things like capital letters, emojis, hashtags, and dozens of slang abbreviations and acronyms to compensate for what we’re missing from human-to-human communication.

On top of all of that, I feel challenged to try and interpret these jumbled messages without the benefit of punctuation. How am I supposed to make sense of messages without periods, commas, apostrophes, and question marks?  One little apostrophe can make a huge difference with some words (were vs. we’re, its vs. it’s). I can forgive the lack of semi-colons, since I barely understand when to use one.  But as for the more common punctuation marks, there’s no excuse.

I noticed on my phone’s keyboard that adding punctuation takes time. By default, my keyboard only offers me the option to add in a period.


If I want something different, I must press on the period for a couple of seconds until other options appear. And yet, I can easily access dozens of emoji with a simple tap on the smiley face (blue rectangle).

Over time, the extra effort adds up making it feel tedious, especially when I’m using different punctuation marks in rapid succession. The keyboard will retain whatever punctuation mark I used most recently by default, until I change it. I admit, sometimes I send a question without a “?” just because I can’t be bothered to add it in.

I appreciate having a keyboard with numbers and letters available. I’m optimistic that the next update will have a keyboard with letters, numbers, and a few of the most commonly used punctuation marks (e.g., periods, commas, question marks, exclamation marks, apostrophe). The strange thing is that when I first got my smartphone in 2013, punctuation used to be offered automatically with text messaging. After every word I would be offered an array of common punctuation options. Now I have to make an effort to add it in.

We now have so many options available to check and correct our grammar automatically. I expect better when it comes to writing on mobile devices.

Business Cards

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A few weeks ago I blogged a couple of times about my contact management project. Part of that project involved going through all the business cards. My “stash” was conveniently out of sight. The small box was to distinguish the business cards collected from a particular event. I used the fake book for the majority of cards.

I went through the stash on 2 separate occasions. The first time I eliminated about 1/3 of the cards because I knew immediately they were no longer relevant (e.g., outdated or duplicates). The second time through I came to 2 conclusions.

  1. My new system for integrating contacts immediately into my master list meant I no longer had to save the business cards, even though some of them were pretty cool.
  2. Not every card represented a contact. Some were for a restaurant or a store I wanted to remember, or signified an action item for me. These were handled separately.

Pile on the left was from a first pass through. Pile on the right was from the second time.

Going through the cards was easy. I’m pleased to say I remembered most of the people for whom I had a business card. Cards were automatically tossed when I knew that I already had the updated contact information, I couldn’t remember who it was, or it was outdated.

At the end of the clean-up session, I was left wondering why we bother to produce business cards anymore. They’re a quick and easy way to pass your contact information to someone. But I have a sneaking suspicion that many business cards end up with the same fate as mine – stored in a box and then tossed unceremoniously into the recycle bin. Now that I can scan business cards directly into my contact system, there’s even less reason for me to take the physical ones.

The cards I found the most challenging to process were ones for a place or a “to-do” item. I created a list of places to visit in a particular city, by category, as a partial resolution. The “to-dos” and other random ones were harder. For example, I retained a business card for a carpenter who makes furniture out of used barrels. He’s neither a contact, nor a place, but something I wanted to remember in case I have space for a table one day. I ended up adding him to my contacts as a “reference.” The hard part will be remembering that’s where I stored the information.


Making Donations

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This past weekend my building hosted its second clothing drive of the year. The clothing drive has been held every January and September for the last several years and it’s really popular with the residents. This was my third time helping out at the event. Similar to the other two times, I was astounded at how much stuff the building donated. The haul from this drive looked larger, perhaps because small housewares, electronics, bedding, curtains, kitchen appliances, etc. were being accepted this time.

Some of the stuff was so old, I could only wonder why it hadn’t been donated, or tossed, earlier. Since the scope of this drive was a lot broader than it had been in previous years, we got some different types of items. Residents donated bread makers, pasta makers, graters, food processors, food dehydrators, evidence of kitchen projects and ambition gone astray. Other items included two over-the-door workout bars, a calf/leg massager, sets of silverware, several VHS players, and even some cassette tapes made their way into the pile.

Throughout the drive I remember thinking with so much donated, what were people left to wear? And how do we always seem to end up collecting so much stuff, anyway?

Half-way through the drive, we ran out of space inside and had to start piling up the stuff outside. Fortunately it was a beautiful day.

I love kitchen gadgets. If I had the space, I could see myself buying a pasta maker and a bread maker, using them once, and then letting them collect dust in a closet. And the whole time I would be convincing myself that I really was going to make pasta and bread again, maybe even open up an Italian restaurant…sometime.

I’m often surprised at how much I seem to acquire every time I go through my closets. Or how long I’m willing to keep something before I can release it. I have things I’ve been clinging on to for decades, all because I’m still interested in them, or at least that’s what I tell myself. Sometimes the item is a physical representation of a project, intention, dream, yearning… this emotional attachment makes it much harder to give it away. Now, I like to be honest with myself and acknowledge that dreams can evolve, or morph, into something else. Then I make space for new things to come into my life.



Facing Fear

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Last week I volunteered with First Descents at a rock climbing camp in Lake Tahoe. Standing in front of the rock on the first day, I felt my body reacting in similar ways to a big performance. It’s not often that I voluntarily put myself in a fearful situation, but I decided to go for it.

Pounding heart – check.

Clammy hands – yup.

Jittery, queasy feeling in my stomach – definitely.

Strong, slow breathing – happened automatically. Mentally I was up for the challenge, but the physical fears were real: injury, falling, face planting into the rock (only happened once!), and getting stuck. Plus, I’m not crazy about heights.

My first attempt. I didn’t make it to the top, but it still felt like a success to me.

Performing music for over 30 years has taught me how to work with and through the nerves. The trick was learning how to consciously control and deepen my breathing until all the other parts fell into place. Solid breathing is also critical when playing a wind instrument, but I found this tactic served me well for each ascent, and especially for coming down which felt terrifying.

Rock taught me a lot about my fears and my problem solving abilities in a number of different ways.  As a “teacher,” rock is strict, hard, and unyielding. But at the same time, the rock always offered options for unsticking myself from a particular jam. With some practice and guidance, I began to see how little tiny grooves, minuscule lumps, and cracks could all be used to get me where I needed to go.

I recall getting stuck climbing up on the second day. The physical discomfort was real with one foot wedged into a crack attached to a badly trembling leg, my body’s way of displaying resistance. I knew I had to move, but I couldn’t figure out how to untangle myself. Fortunately, a guide came over on a rope to point out some options. His suggestions sounded easy, but felt almost impossible to me at that moment.

In the end, I took a giant leap of faith that my right foot could not only balance on a scrap of rock the size of a toothpick, but also leverage that hold to propel my left foot up and out of the crack. A few minutes later I made it to the top! Problem solved.

Change as You Go

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I decided to do 2 things for each contact.

  1. Update all entries and edit the information so that it displayed properly. I noticed many duplicates went undetected by the de-duplication feature (see below) because of a minute difference. Duplicate names that appear as Doe, Jane and Jane Doe, for example, won’t be noticed. This is similar with phone numbers in that both numbers must start with a “1” or not have it in front. By ensuring all the data was entered in a standardized, consistent way, it was easier to remove duplicates and outdated information.
  2. Utilize the Group feature in Google Contacts to aggregate contacts based on my relationship or association. Although I didn’t realize it when I started, one of the things that bothered me most about my contact list was seeing so many there all the time. With the group feature, I can pick and choose which ones I want on my list at any given time, which is a huge bonus.

Duplicates feature will only detect an EXACT match. Even leaving off the “1” in front of a phone number makes a difference.

Before I started assigning groups and editing entries, I made sure the master group, My Contacts (assigned by default) was in place. That way I knew how to find someone quickly during and after the transition period.

My first level of grouping is Personal and/or Professional. From there I use more specific terms.  For example, I have a Musician group, but also two bassoon groups. You can assign multiple groups to each contact providing multiple access points. One bassoon buddy is in four groups: personal (friends), professional (we’re both small business owners), musician, Bassoon – TO.

Another useful thing about groups is they can be used to filter views or send a mass email by typing in a group name.

Initially I exported my contacts to a spreadsheet so I could change everything at once, but it didn’t work out for various reasons. Instead I scrolled through my master contact list to select contacts for each group. This felt painfully slow and tedious so I did all the easy, high priority ones and stopped. Now I change as I go. Basically, anyone that was missed will get added in the next time I touch his/her contact info.

Now that I have a system in place, it’s super-fast to make changes so I do it right away.

Contact Management

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Some months ago, I decided to organize my contact list. I should confess that when I set up my new smartphone last summer, the contacts were one of the most problematic transfers. My contacts were all stored in Google contacts, attached to one account or another. Even though I had been using Google contacts for a couple of years, I had never bothered to configure the settings, or utilize any of the app’s features to keep my contacts organized. I relied on search, or auto-fill, to get what I needed.

One of the consequences from the transfer, was that hundreds of duplicate and random contacts got imported. I learned later there is an option in Gmail Settings (under the General tab) where you can choose to add contacts yourself, or have Google add them automatically. The default is the latter.

Setting in Gmail to add contacts yourself instead of having an “Other Contact” created automatically

After that experience, I resolved to improve upon my existing system. It’s been a slow process mostly because it seemed like a big project, especially for a small business owner who needs to keep distinct separations between personal, professional, and client contacts.

The first step was identifying my requirements and then selecting the most critical ones to focus on.

  • One master list of contacts accessible from any email account or messaging apps
  • One master record for each contact (i.e., contacts with whom I have a personal and professional relationship)
    • De-duplicating and merging contacts
  • Way to change contact’s default email address based on which email account I was using
  • Importing and exporting capabilities (e.g., scanning business cards)
  • Integration with calendars and task lists
  • Security
  • Organizing, searching, and filtering (e.g., tags or labels)
  • Seeing the same information across all devices

Armed with my requirements, I did some light research to see what was available.  After reading about contact management systems and what they could do, I decided to investigate Google contacts to see if I could utilize what was available more effectively. Plus, this would eliminate the pain of doing a migration later.

I started by reading about Google Contacts on the G Suite Learning Center. Once I had an idea of how it worked, I formed a strategy for how I would organize my contacts, and then implement the new system. Stay tuned for next week’s post on the strategy and implementation.