Ow, my heart

pic of two columns of numbers of pi
“Yes, I’m a #freak, and not at all math competent. Still, this is what soothes my brain.”

This morning I posted the above iPhone photo and message on Twitter.

Then I got a response from @SaraBlackthorne, a woman I began following recently on Twitter. She said,
@Brainmaker I don’t know what that is, but I really like it. Unsure why. Has a soothing and constant effect.

I looked a little further and found Sara’s lovely blog, Forest of Stories, and realized for the second time that she is inspired and informed by the Torah.

That’s when I decided to share this in a blog post. The reason I am soothed by the numbers in the photo has a lot to do with some rhythm of nature. The numbers are digits of pi, which I play with, memorize sometimes, and just look at a lot. (I say I’m a freak because I can occasionally recite about 600 digits of pi. That’s just freaky.)

The reason I’m looking at my pi strings today is to try to keep a little more balance in my heart and mind, so I can keep doing my work, in the midst of the many points of desperation on planet Earth today. I’m mostly sunk in the horror of northern Japan, and not paying attention to much else. But it doesn’t matter where my focus goes, the pain is in the atmosphere and I need constants, like pi, to help me keep my footing.

I feel an affinity for Sara because (for one reason) she mentions the Torah on her blog and on Twitter. I barely know what the Torah is, but I rely almost daily on a little book called The Hebrew Alphabet, gifted to me by my brother-in-law, Sam. This wonderful book tells the stories of the characters of the Hebrew alphabet, with interpretations by beloved rabbis. It’s so full of journey, and kindness, and, well, light.

This is one of my favorite characters: Yud. If I was made of something, it would probably be Yud.
A picture of the Hebrew character Yud
From the book:

In Jewish mysticism, it represents a cosmic messenger bringing movement and change into our lives.

And most curiously,

Yud connotes our inborn tendencies for both selflessness (yetzer hatov) and egoism (yetzer hara). According to the sages, the biblical commandment to love God “with all your heart” means “with both your impulses” — for both inner aspects can serve a higher purpose. In this sense, our yetzer hatov involves altruism, compassion and kindness; and our yetzer hara, the passion or personal momentum that, as the Talmudists observed, “leads us to marry, build a house, beget children, or engage in business.”

Ow, my heart
Over the weekend my distress over the situation in Japan reached a crescendo. I realized I had to do something definitive to help, and began to work on a plan to employ my creativity, my writing, my connections with others — and Yud — to implement a publishing project to contribute to funds for Japan’s situation.

Now to find the right connections to work with me, collaborate, and share this journey.

See how Twitter works? We find ourselves relating to each other, and sometimes realizing we are relatives. Then we may begin to act like caring family.

Thank you for responding, Sara.

With love,
Suzanna Stinnett

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Watch Out for Mind Mappers

Mind Mapping
I started using mind maps in the 80s when I was reading Tony Buzan’s books on the brain and memory. The key bit of information I can impart to you from everything I’ve learned about the brain and mind mapping is to know that your brain’s pathways are unique.

Your way of thinking about things may not be reflected in any of the models or teachings you see in the world around you. That’s why it’s important to relax and be playful with the process of mind mapping. Your best outcome is when you discover something new that works for you.

Early Mapping
My mind mapping impulse goes back to elementary school. I was chronically bored in class. I started spending my time writing a series of numbers on a sheet of paper. 1, 2, 3 etc, but I was placing the numbers randomly all over the page. Then I would start connecting the “dots,” basically, taking my pencil and making a line from number to number, following the sequence without crossing over any lines. I would end up with a labyrinth-looking image full of curving parallel lines. I was giving my brain a chance to doodle while the teacher droned on about a topic I had mastered the year before.

Later I gave up the numbering. My brain moved my pen through more freeform squiggles.
black ink squiggle on white paper

People with forms of autism or Asperger’s syndrome may find great relief in allowing the organization of their brain to appear on paper. I knew from early experience that I do not process things in linear terms. Expressing my mind in these different modes helped me feel connected to something as a “different” child.

Stories emerge in elaborate doodles – even if I don’t know what they mean. Psychologists have fun with these things.
abstract shapes in blue and orange

Story Arcs
My brain follows curving story arcs and needs blasts of color and organic images to make sense of things. My journal covers are mind maps which can provide a touchstone for the process I am in at the time.
collage with rose, dog, elephant, and circus girl

The Big Book
I started doing collage as a teenager, using all sorts of resources to create stories of images for myself. In my 20s I created a huge book to keep my mind maps in. It sits on the shelf for years at a time, but I do have some mind maps of novels I’ve worked on, concepts I wanted to understand better, and memory-maps that are collages of things I want to remember and put together in a pattern of some sort.
In addition to memory-maps where I bring in bits of my life connected to past and future,
vertical group of sketched images
I mapped out the characters for a novel,
images and words mapping out a novel
wrote everything I knew about electricity on sticky notes,
blue sticky notes all over a big page
explored the relationships of numbers,
colored numbers in a circle pattern
and brainstormed sustainability parties.
a page of notes on sustainability parties

Sometimes I build a map just to talk to myself.
memory of a meeting

Mirror Image
Around that time I also began to write in mirror image. This is another way to give your brain a new route and discover something hidden. I have many pages of journals filled with mirror-image writing.
journal page

Stress Relief
Today I often make a mind map to relieve the stress of having too much on my mind. My maps show me what I am struggling with, what I need to focus on, and where the joy is.

Patterns are fun for the brain. This one is okay.
page of the word okay

Try using the concept of simple sketching as a mind map. If you like to doodle, take it a step further and create an image story. Label things and draw lines of relationship from one to another. Make up your own icons. My journals are full of little faces, smiling, frowning, or showing confusion.

Here’s the earliest icon of emotion I can find, from a 1976 journal:
cartoony sketch of girl in love

To plan my series of clay turtles during my pottery years, I took time to map them out clearly.
page of pottery journal with drawings of turtles

Focal Points Help Organize
Most often I will write a focal point in the center of the page, and then write all the different things that are on my mind about that focal point. It’s interesting how well these things tend to fit on one page. Our brains are good at working within parameters if they are clearly marked.
journal page of 2004

I use color to decorate my maps more than to show relationships or to categorize.
A current mind map for my Kindle publishing, BABS and the Directory, fiction writing and marketing.
black display board mind map

Sometimes a pattern of color is as informative as any arrangement of words and shapes. I made this collage during a turbulent time and it has given me some sort of information for over fifteen years. Mind maps don’t always point to a destination.
colorful dots

After looking at this series of possibilities for mind maps, does your brain have something new percolating in there?

What would make a mind map work for you? Are you willing to experiment and play?

Would you share your mind map with me?

Suzanna Stinnett

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Why I Focus on Amazon and Kindle

eBook cover for How to Produce a Series
Digital publishing is entering a new era of interest and activity. Lots of channels for delivery are all grown up, and more professional writers are realizing this is a valid route.

The big players are drumming up their publishing wars, too. Amazon is way ahead from what I can see. Apple has some catching up to do but they play with very big sticks. And there are others.

The reason I’m focused on Kindle right now and the other options offered through Amazon is that their world is big enough. Big enough to warrant close attention and a time investment. Eventually I will work my way through all the different pathways Amazon has created (brilliantly) for writers and publishers. I’ll have my kingdom mapped out and my products all shiny in the store windows.

This takes time. When you sell products online, you have to find a focal point. Let that focal point dictate your time and activity in all the rest of the wheel spokes. I’m choosing Amazon for this phase of my writer-turned-publisher life.

Find How to Produce a Series now on Amazon: For writers moving courageously into the new world.

Be well and keep writing,
Suzanna Stinnett
Bay Area Bloggers Society

Live in SF Bay area? Come to a BABS Meeting and learn this stuff in a room with other humans.

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Writers face the next Everest: Discoverability

X Marks the (Kindle) Spot
The big obstacle to successful self publishing was distribution. And it has been the bugger keeping self publishers or indie publishers on the wrong side of the tracks.

With our ability to publish directly into Amazon, producers of new content can now turn full attention to the final frontier: Discoverability.

And we are chock full of tools for that.

Marketing your written material remains a job you must perform with intelligent tenacity. It’s more fun that it used to be, though, so I hope you won’t let that fact get in your way. Get your writing out there. Join our Kindle party. Amazon has created viable distribution channels for you, and continues to enhance them. Publish, lay out your map, and begin to enjoy the process of connecting with your readers.

Megan Garber’s post via Gerd Leonhard on Twitter

The web isn’t bringing about the long-predicted “death of long-form”; on the contrary, it seems, the digital world is heralding a renaissance in long-form reportage.

Joel Friedlander in his post here on The Book Designer:

Ebooks, which eliminate the risks of over-production, over-distribution and returnability, stand the blockbuster model on its head. They allow, even encourage, the opposite model, what you might call the “experimental” model, where publishers are encouraged by the lack of financial investment to put out lots of products instead of loading all their efforts and hopes on one book, and which encourage experiments with pricing that are impossible with printed books.

As long as indie publishers understand the nature of the book distribution that’s available to them, and exploit the advantages they have over larger publishers, amazing sales can be the result.

Len Edgerly refers us to this fact in his post here:

The Kindle 3 passes Harry Potter 7 as the most popular Amazon product in history
Amazon.com today announced that the third-generation Kindle is now the bestselling product in Amazon’s history, eclipsing “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7).” The company also announced that on its peak day, Nov. 29, customers ordered more than 13.7 million items worldwide across all product categories, which is a record-breaking 158 items per second.

158 items per second.  Ready to publish?

See “How to Produce a Series” for lots of epub basics. On Kindle now.

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Tweethearts Sale on Kindle

I’d like to hand deliver a beautiful chocolate treat to every one of you on Valentine’s Day. Cupid has such a cool job!

Tweethearts 99 cent sale on Kindle

But here’s what I’ll do since I can’t fly around with little white wings and a crossbow (not yet anyway):

I’ve put the price of 5 of my writer’s guides on Kindle at 99 cents – just for you, my lovelies! Here’s what you’ll find over at my Amazon page:

The Modern Writer’s Combo (the best deal! 3 in 1!)
Contains the Author’s Checklist, Turn Blog Posts into Kindle Books, and Writers on the Web. This special Combo is available for two weeks only.
Modern Writer’s Combo

15 Radical Acts to Connect You to Your Imagination
A special excerpt from “Open Here,” these 15 Acts are keys to creativity.
15 Radical Acts to connect you to your imagination

The Kindle Author’s Checklist for Publishing New Content
What you will need to jump into the Kindle writer’s universe. Succinct! And great for beginners or authors who are taking control of their writing and publishing world.
Kindle Author’s Checklist for Publishing New Content

Quantum Bleep: The Art of Visualizing (You just need a carton of eggs)
No one should be left out of the powerful experience of rich visualizing. But not everyone is good at it. Unusual descriptive exercises for better use of our amazing brains.
Quantum Bleep: The art of visualizing – A playful approach to a powerful concept

Turn Your Blog Posts Into Kindle Books (and into an income stream!)
It’s time to wrap your writer’s mind around the diverse options for publishing on Kindle. Do you have some great content that is not getting enough attention? I bet you do.
Turn Your Blog Posts Into Kindle Books (SmartReaders Digest)

You can look at them all on my Tweethearts store if you like (click here).

Wishing you a strong and open heart,
Suzanna Stinnett

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The trusty blog remains core to conversation

View of sailboats and Mt Tam through porthole on now defunct ship Wapama________________________________________________________________________

We know more now than we knew then

After I read Clay Shirky’s book “Cognitive Surplus,” I understood why I am still so interested in blogs and how they drive change in the culture of communication.

I’ll talk more about Shirky’s concepts later, but for now let me say that the core of all our online conversation is easily handled by the wonderful thing called a blog. Blogs mean that darn near everyone can join in. Shirky helped me see both sides of that equation, but the up side is that we have a new world of interaction and radically changed opportunities for business. Because of blogs.

Your world through a porthole

The image of a view through a porthole is part of how I explain what we are doing. We’re offering a perspective – best case is a balanced, artful vignette – of the world through our own filters. That may sound narcissistic but it’s actually curation. We’re curators, and the world at large needs us. Show us your window and the view through it. Give us your snapshot of the world. Tell us why it looks like that. We want to understand.

I’ll be back after #blogchat to say more. (Okay. My next post will be about how I think Twitter gives us back the world.)

Hang tight. Magic is afoot.


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Word set for today’s entrepreneur: 1) Granular

hand full of sand

After speaking with Janet Tokerud today about business projects and the surrounding context of entrepreneurial business in today’s world, I kept thinking about the word “granular.” Janet pointed out how thinking in granular terms allows the flexibility to shift with the quickly changing context of our business world.

Hours later I seem to be having a kind of mental regurgitation – or maybe it’s an integration – of a bunch of concepts. Keeping with the granular theme, I posted several of these ideas on Twitter. Here are screenshots to show them to you in relation to each other.

a set of twitter posts

And here are a few more:

series of tweets

Even Twitter posts could be seen as granular. That could be a reason why Twitter works so well for people deeply engaged in the context of today’s changes.

More later


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What led to that tweet

diver with a huge school of silver bodied fish


Wandering the new Whole Foods in Novato, I saw that they stopped carrying krill oil (an extremely high grade source of omega fats). They posted an explanation saying that they were investigating the sustainability of this product.

Krill oil is amazing, and expensive, and I’d love to consume it every day. So would many of my whale friends. Is there enough to go around?

I learned about krill oil from Tim Ferriss. Tim does a lot of smart things. This morning I was wondering if Tim considers the impact on the resource, or if he has a personal criteria of some sort that guides his consumption of resources.

That’s what led to this tweet:

“The highest form of intelligence knows how its daily actions impact its resources, and calibrates accordingly.”

It just makes sense to me. I can’t tell you I’m walking around with that kind of intelligence. But I’d like to.

How do you determine if your regular actions are sustainable? Or logical in the long-term view?

Suzanna Stinnett
follow me on Twitter: @brainmaker

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Do not drown your kids: A public service message

northern california beach with huge foamy wave crashing on it


I can’t protect your children from the surf

While my shoes are pounding out a heavy heartbeat in the dryer, I’m going to take this chunk of my day to spell out the facts for you Northern California beach-goers.

There will be a quiz, so pay attention.

45 minutes ago I was standing up to my thighs in the cold, salty surf, having a conference with four tiny children. Babies, really. The oldest, a girl, might have been almost 5 years old. The youngest I’d guess was about 2. Adorable in their orange hoodies and pink stretchy pants and green snap jackets, they were really getting into the squealing-in-the-surf game. The waves, the interminable, inexorable waves, kept coming.

First I annoyed some innocent beach walkers

I saw them from a distance and started walking faster along the surf line. Three female adults were passing them when I first noticed the tiny ones. They interacted a bit, and when I reached them I asked, “Are you from around here?” “San Diego,” one of them said.

I started right in. Pointing at the frolicking kids, now getting wet in the tangle of surf bouncing off the sand. “They are too small to be at the edge like that,” I started, and the woman I was speaking to put her hand to her chest and said, “They’re not ours. We’re not the parents,” she shook her head, looking at me as she started walking with her friends again. I could feel the “Hey, not my problem,” energy coming straight at me.

A bit more of a shock. The parents were no where near these kids. I strode on to the children and asked them “WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?” They pointed up to the dry sand, a good 200 feet away, “Mom is up there, in the red and the blue!” I looked at the moms. They both waved, big arm waves, “Here we are!” As if this was sufficient. Now I didn’t actually hear them say anything, they were too far away, with the offshore breeze and the waves crashing there, where I stood with their four wet children.

I didn’t actually hear them say anything

You know what that means, don’t you? I can’t hear them. They can’t hear me. And they can’t begin to know in time when one of those waves, imperceptibly bigger than the last five or six, takes all four of them straight out to sea.

The sad truth is, it wouldn’t matter much if they were standing right in the surf with their babies. Every year, people let their small children play in the surf. Every year, kids drown, parents and other adults drown trying to save them. Adults drown even without the kids.

The Northern California surf is dangerous. I’ve been in it and on it for thirty years and I can tell you, you can’t trust it. The signs say “Drownings Occur Annually.” They do. Every damn year.

The only question is, who will it be? Your kids this time?

I’m still in the surf up to my thighs

Now these four kids were watching me closely. Their moms had done the right thing, telling them to stay within sight, warning them about strangers. (Maybe.) There just wasn’t time to tromp all the way up to the nice, dry, safe nummy blankets where the moms were placidly watching the ocean. By then, those kids could be gone. So I just told the kids.

This works remarkably well and if you, like me, find yourself on these beaches frustrated by ignorance and avoidable tragedy, I suggest you try it.

“You are TOO SMALL to be here in this water.”

They all stood listening. They’re smart. Kids know when things are deadly serious.

“Do you live here?”

The oldest one ventured, “We live in San Rafael!”

“Oh,” I said, “then you didn’t come very far to get here.”

“No, not very far,” she said, and took a step into the surf.

“People drown here EVERY YEAR.”

Now they were really paying attention.

“We’re just playing right here in the waves,” one of the smaller ones offered.

“That’s how people drown.”

They looked at each other.

“Every year.”

The smallest one, who was incredibly articulate and about the size of a big bag of potato chips, said “Every YEAR? That’s like, every DAY!!”

I pointed straight at her. “You’re RIGHT. That’s like EVERY DAY.”

A thousand times stronger than your dad

They looked droopy, and faced their moms. I ignored the moms, what they were doing was not important. I told the kids, “You can’t play in this surf. It’s not safe. Tell your moms to look it up on the internet.”  They looked back out at the ocean.

“Look,” I said, pointing to the far end of the beach. “See those guys surfing?”

They stood on tiptoe in the wet swirl, I moved into the surf to get between the waves and the kids.

“Yeah,” three of them replied.

“Well, those guys are about ONE THOUSAND TIMES stronger than your dads. And they are wearing big rubber suits so they float and to keep them warm. And they are going out on big surfboards. And they are all sticking together. They know how dangerous it really is. They do this all the time. And they’re big. Great big strong people.”

They had all edged back out of the surf now as they looked down the beach to see the guys who were so much stronger than their dads. (A little exaggeration is very helpful in making a point.)

I stood in my soaked shoes and socks and pants while one more wave ran up to my knees. All four kids ran together up to their nice, dry, safe moms.

I continued along the beach with my slopping shoes and the plastic bag I had pulled out of the surf earlier along with ten or so pieces of moop* I’d picked up. I felt grumbly but I thought, well, maybe that’s four kids that won’t drown on one of these beaches. Maybe their parents will make it, too, if they’re not trying to rescue their drowning babies.

The most disturbing thing to me is that these people are local. Local! It’s one thing if you come from Sacramento, or Kansas, or Prague. But people, come on. I know you’re concerned about EMFs and endocrine disruptors and light pollution and cello lessons and pilates. Don’t you care enough to ask “is this beach safe for my children?”

Because it’s not. There are no lifeguards, and here comes the quiz.

The Quiz

First question: Why are there no lifeguards on the beaches?

Answer: There may be several reasons, but one is enough: THERE IS NOTHING THEY CAN DO.

Second question: Why should parents stay close to their children while playing in the surf?

Okay that’s a trick question. It doesn’t matter, because for the most part, if your child gets pulled out by a wave, THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO.

If you pay attention, you’ll hear some dramatic beach rescue stories. People do get rescued. The Parks Service, rescue professionals, helicopter pilots, and strong strangers pull people out of the ocean. But mostly, they drown.

Now for those of you who think I’m just scratching the chalkboard here, I’ll point you to a few news articles. Go read ’em. Get these tragedies into your heads. And after you’ve finally learned that Northern California beaches must be approached sensibly, would you please pass this on? Send it to anyone, anywhere in the world, who might find their way to these beaches, with or without their precious kids.

Do you know what “highest water line” means?

And do note in the warning below on the Parks website, you must keep children back from the HIGHEST WATER LINE. If you don’t know how to tell where the highest water line is, then stay far up the beach in the warm, dry sand that does not feel wet when you put your hand deep into it. The highest water line is NOT the surf line.

I thank you.

Suzanna Stinnett

SF Man Drowns on Sonoma Coast http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/SF-man-drowns-on-Sonoma-Coast-98285149.html

Coast Beaches http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=451

(Here’s the crux:) Sonoma Coast State Beach
Like most north coast beaches, Sonoma Coast is NOT FOR SWIMMING. Strong rip currents, heavy surf and sudden ground swells make even surf play dangerous. A small staff of well-trained lifeguards are usually on duty during the peak season, but with so much coastline to cover they may not be available. Please be aware that most cellular phone service along the coast is spotty.

It is especially important to keep children back from the highest water-line and never turn your back to the ocean. Many rescues are made each year. Also be careful of the bluffs and rocks. The shale formations are unstable and unsafe for climbing, so stay on the trails and heed warning signs.

Can surf pull you off the beach?

Dry Sand Riptides http://articles.sfgate.com/2006-10-24/bay-area/17314950_1_wave-dry-sand-riptides

“There are heavy riptides there. There is an undercurrent. … As far as we know, the child wasn’t even in the water. It was a sneaker wave that got her wet and carried her away. She was playing with her mother on dry sand.”
Wood, a friend of the child’s mother, jumped in and grabbed the girl, but the two were quickly dragged into the ocean, Van Buskirk said. Brandy Tingey made two attempts to rescue her daughter and Wood, and was also dragged into the surf. But she was able to pull herself out.
“The mother did go back on shore to remove her cargo pants and re-enter the water,” Caldwell said. “I guess she realized she couldn’t save the child.”
A Coast Guard helicopter and rescue boats were dispatched, and Wood’s body was recovered in about an hour. Mikayla Tingey’s body was found two or three hours later, half a mile from shore.
Brandy Tingey spent Sunday evening holding the body of her deceased child in the hospital.
“She’s stunned,” said Van Buskirk, adding that the mother’s relatives drove up to Humboldt County to comfort her. “I don’t think they could have outrun the wave. The mother said at one point that she thought she was going to die in the surf because they were getting tumbled around in it. And when she dragged herself out of it, she knew that she would be the only one to survive.”
The North Coast has produced a string of grisly incidents.
In November 2005, a sleeper wave swept four people — who had been walking along the shoreline in street clothes — into the ocean at Wright’s Beach in Sonoma County. A 22-year-old Santa Rosa man and a 20-year-old San Martin woman drowned. A teenage boy was rescued by a lifeguard; a teenage girl made it to shore on her own.
“When it’s a nice, calm day, people tend to underestimate the power of the ocean,” Caldwell said. “The ocean is a treacherous place.”

Rogue Waves http://faculty.deanza.edu/donahuemary/stories/storyReader$963
Extreme rogue waves can sink ships, even supertankers, (see the links at the bottom of the page).
For the purposes of Outdoor Club trips, we are concerned that people realize that smaller and mid-size rogue waves occur regularly along the coast. People sightseeing on shore which has relatively dry sand can be hit by a wave that seems to come out of nowhere, a sleeper or sneaker wave.
People who thought they were safely up on a jetty or low cliff, far enough away from where the waves were breaking, can be splashed and thoroughly soaked, or even swept off the cliff and slammed into it. Plus, jettys and rocky areas are very slippery and even a small wave can cause you to go unexpectedly swimming.
People climbing up on big logs or downed trees which seem high and dry can find themselves in the water, possibly even under the log, when a sneaker wave washes well up on to shore and floats the log. People hanging out near a big log can find it suddenly floating and ramming into them.
Never turn your back on the ocean.
Don’t close your eyes for any length of time, whether to contemplate the beach experience or take a nap.
Don’t put yourself in a position you can’t quickly move from (such as a complicated yoga pose or standing on your head).
Stay well back from where waves are breaking.
Supervise children all the time.
Waves are caused by wind blowing across the top of the water; high winds cause big waves, light winds cause smaller ones. If there is very little wind, the ocean sometimes has hardly any waves and can be flat and placid.
Bigger waves move faster than small ones. Big waves catch up to smaller ones and carry them in to the beach, getting stronger and faster as they go.

yellow warning sign about deadly sneaker waves

*MOOP: Matter Out Of Place. While you’re there enjoying the beach, please pick up just one or two pieces of plastic and get them up to the trash cans. (That’s in addition to removing all the trash you brought, of course.) Thanks again.

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Joomla keeps the play in the playground

white puppies running down a green lawn


Consider this a warning if you will: I’ve entered the Joomla world and gotten very busy with all the toys.

For those of you who depend on me to deliver good current tech tools, be glad. It took a few friends suggesting Joomla to me before I really looked at what this community and its tools offer our modern communication world. Now that I’m here, you can expect quite a bit of conversation about it here and at our BABS gatherings.

My websites are going to start looking different too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

If you’d like to learn more about the Joomla community, I invite you to their magazine. Take a look!

See you soon,


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