Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Open Letter about Maria Bailey and BlogHer

BlogHer '13First off, here's a bit of background on the pre-BlogHer controversy: just days before last week's conference, BlogHer decided to revoke the passes of some people who were organizing branded events for companies that were not official BlogHer sponsors. Elisa Camahort, one of the BlogHer founders, explains the decision here. Cecily provides a summary and background in her Babble column.

Maria Bailey, a woman  known for connecting bloggers and brands (hello, Disney Cruise!), also has a reputation for pushing boundaries to suit her needs. Does this make her unethical? Or a strategic thinker, exploiting situations to build her business? Feel free to make your own decision and make it carefully because she sets bloggers up with some pretty sweet deals.

Personally, I'm (mostly) beyond swag and I've swapped promoting stuff for promoting ideas and knowledge. In fact, the swag sitting around my office right now consists of a kick-ass soldering kit from Make, a bunch of decorating goodies from Wilton (an official BlogHer sponsor) and a bunch of science-themed picture books.

I went to BlogHer 2013, my fifth such conference, largely because it was local and I'd get to visit with friends I only see once every year or two. On a business level, the brands there weren't a fit for me, though some were personally. I picked up a few goodies at the expo and I may have snagged an extra Kozy Shack coupon (yum!), but my approach to the expo was fairly subdued.

However it pains me to say it, the fact is that for some attendees BlogHer is all about the swag.

I've been there. Indeed, I still remember the thrill of being offered my first book for review. A book. For free! (Honestly, I still have a hard time turning down book offers even though my time is more valuable now than it was then and it takes time to write reviews, even a quick ones for picture books.) A book turned into a loaner car, turned into exotic brand trips and more.

I remember the delight of walking into a swag suite at my first or second BlogHer, amazed at all the great stuff that was there for the taking (and ahem, ideally, blog reviewing). Maybe it takes time and maturity for some bloggers (including me) to realize that BlogHer is not about the stuff.

It also takes education for attendees to realize these "bonus" swag suites are not related to the official conference and, indeed, undermine it in many ways.

It's been years since I worked with a brand that sponsored BlogHer and even back then it came at a premium price. Those with little regard for the BlogHer conference or who think they can cleverly bend the rules can easily save their clients a little cash thousands of dollars by hosting an indie event rather than sponsoring the actual conference. BlogHer needs to look at their current model and figure out how to close this gap.

Far as I can tell, at least some of these outboarded parties are less about exclusivity, great food or an appealing venue than they are about receiving loads. of. swag.

Maria Bailey, whose pass was revoked for hosting outboard events, has graciously offered to brainstorm solutions. She writes:

 I feel so strongly about preserving and growing our community that I’m willing to fly to New York at my own expense and sit down with the BlogHer team to brainstorm.
That's a start, however, this offer comes at the end of a longish post that reads as a big F*ck You to BlogHer. She writes for several paragraphs about what an unexpected and truly wonderful blessing it was to have her BlogHer pass revoked- how it opened up doors, led to invitations, conversations and new relationships.

She ends her post talking about the importance of buildinga  community that connects and empowers women financially after making a case for how great it is to enjoy the spoils of the BlogHer conference without actually needing to buy a pass. I find that attitude from a leader in the social media mom community a bit...disappointing.

Also, I can't help but wonder if she'd feel the same way about her own conference, which is admittedly much smaller than BlogHer.

I have  much admiration for Lisa, Jory and Elisa. I appreciate what they built from the ground up and I sympathize with the struggles to grow and evolve the community while staying relevant to old and new members alike. It's a difficult balancing act. The community is now so large, it might be an impossible one. But Maria is clearly clever and has a lot of insights. I hope they take Maria up on her offer or send reps from their team to do so.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Look Back at an Old Book, Made by Hand

Made by Hand book by Mark FrauenfelderWhen I announced that much of my posting in 2013 would involve looking back to posts published over the last 8 years, I didn't realize it would be so easy. Case in point: earlier this month while at the American Library Association conference where I had a display in their Maker Showcase with my newer blog, The Maker Mom, I was pulled aside and asked if I wanted to introduce Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief of Make Magazine! He's also the author of a book I reviewed in 2010, one that first planted the notion of keeping backyard chickens and bees in my head.

It was a thrill to chat with him before his talk and let him know that I still think about his book, especially now that there's chatter in my town about doing away with the backyard chicken ban.

Mark is coming out with a new book either later in 2013 or early next year about dad + daughter maker projects. When I mentioned this in the intro, I had to pause given the loud communal "awwww" that came from the audience. Sadly, I didn't get to hear his talk. I'd left the Young Maker Teen in charge of my booth and felt a need to return as quickly as I could.

Here's a book review I wrote nearly three years ago in September 2010:

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder, Founder of Boing Boing and Editor in Chief of Make.

I received a review copy of this book, which is part of a trendy DIY, getting back to basics wave. It seems to me that the kind of thrifty, bootstrappers who adore this genre are more likely to check books out of a library than purchase them outright, but that's a story for another day.

We haven't thrown away most of our possessions, but in the last couple of years, we have stored, donated or sold much of it, and it really does make a person think. Think about our stuff. Realize how much of it we have and how unnecessary and meaningless much of it is. It's actually been a rather freeing and enlightening process (she says until she realizes she has a very empty new house).

So this book came to me at a good time. I was intrigued Frauenfelder's efforts to slow down and unplug. I enjoyed reading about his exploits keeping chickens and bees, making kombucha, carving wooden spoons, and whatnot, though admittedly I was curious what his wife and kids were doing while he spent an afternoon carving spoons.

His efforts were not always successful, but Frauenfelder always walked away from a project with a new appreciation and a few lessons learned. I liked that.

I don't think I'll be carving spoons for teacher gifts this year ("Thank goodness," sigh the ones who read this blog), but I just might turn our (theoretical) new lawn into a vegetable garden and if I could figure out a way to keep keep chickens, I'd do it.

This book is an interesting read, especially for an aspiring DIY-er.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Assault Weapons Ban (or Not): My Brief Foray into Local Politics

On Monday night there was a town hall meeting to discuss a local gun control measure. The backstory is that Illinois was required by the SCOTUS to create a concealed carry weapons policy. We were the last state to do so. I wasn't following along closely about the way it played out in Springfield, but it was kind of a mess. Governor Quinn vetoed the policy and legislators overrode the veto. Ultimately municipalities had 10 days to create their own gun laws.

10 days to develop an concealed carry/assault weapons policy.

Also, each town that developed a policy was required to create its own definition of assault weapons.

So like I said, there was this town hall meeting on Monday, but I didn't hear about it until Tuesday. That evening I wrote a note to the mayor and village trustees with my thoughts on the topic. Wednesday evening, there was a meeting to discuss the town's proposed ordinance.

I was too late. Hoping they'd pass an all-out assault weapons ban like several nearby communities, the ordinance that was put forth banned magazines with rounds of more than 31 bullets.

Enough to shoot down a full classroom of children plus a few school admins here in the suburbs where class sizes are small.

But here's the thing. If we don't get an ordinance on the books by 7/19/13, we lose the opportunity to create a local law. If we do get an ordinance on the books in time, our community can revise it later. So there's that.

I don't have time for a flowing narrative, so here are a few thoughts and observations from the Wednesday night meeting. 

White men like guns. The diversity of folks at the meeting was not anywhere close representing the diversity of the community. (The village was in a crunch, but they should have worked harder to alert ALL residents about the meetings.)

There were women at the meeting- maybe 1/3 to almost 1/2 of the audience, but men did most of the speaking. Though I didn't read my prepared statement (or even my revised statement), I did step up to the microphone to mumble a few thoughts. (And despite my jumbled thoughts, a few people thanked me for sharing them.)

After residents spoke up, outside groups were give the chance to speak. I think there were 4 or so pro-gun (all men) and one for for a full assault weapons ban (a woman).

For the most part, men cheered the pro-gun speakers and women applauded the pro-ban speakers. This means that women did not represent at the podium

Ladies, you need to speak up. You need to be heard. Even if it's just to step up to the mic to say your agree with what someone else already stated. Village trustees need letters, emails, phone calls, and comments that weigh in on issues, they don't use an applause meter to get assess sentiment.

I have a new appreciation for the work of my friends like Joanne and Veronica

Also, I learned a bit about guns. And that there is a Jewish gunowners group (who knew?) and according to their rep, they consider gun bans anti-semitic. I happened to take to the mic a second time after he spoke so was able to add in my own little WTF on that. Though I do know a few Jewish gun owners, most Jewish people I know are all for gun control. 

But that's the thing. Some of the guys got up spewing misinformation, but did so with a confidence (the confidence that comes with having an AK-47 in your car? I don't know).

I'll share a few more thoughts, including how the local assault weapons ban ( of 31+ round magazines) is also an assault on science according the the law's definition of a firearm. More on that on The Maker Mom someday soon.

It would be interesting to have an actual dialog on the matter, something that the setting did not allow for. Nor should it have. One of the gun guys offered to take the trustees out shooting. Nobody asked me, but I'd totally do it. I welcome the chance to learn more and even fire off a few rounds. I'm sure it's a powerful feeling and I understand the sport involved (but not for military grade weapons designed to kill many, quickly). Assault weapons and family-friendly communities don't mix.

Highland Park, Chicago, Evanston, Skokie and Northbrook have passed assault weapons bans. (The pro-gun folks insisted that those towns passed "placeholder" legislation much like my village did/will.

Looking to learn more about sensible gun control?
Moms Demand Action Illinois/Chicago
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
People for a Safer Society

Did I Mention I'm Going to BlogHer?

Yes, I'm headed to BlogHer 2013 next Thursday and Friday. Given that it's in Chicago, I couldn't miss out. That said, many of my old skool blog peeps are sitting it out this year, and that bums me out. I received a large response when I posted this on Facebook:

You know that scene at the end of the movie St. Elmo's Fire where the group of friends is walking by the bar they hung out at as undergrads feeling older and wizened and watched a new crop of co-eds get silly and drunk? I feel that's like what BlogHer13‬ will be like.

I'll be perusing the Expo and may be going to a few brand events, but mostly I'm really looking forward to seeing the old friends that are coming into town. And, of course, making a few new ones.

One of my friends said she was glad a blogging veteran like me would be there to keep things classy to which I responded that I plan to be All. Over. the Petsmart booth since we just adopted the world's cutest puppy last week and have already spent at least $100 on toys, treats, food and poop baggies. Also, I've given up on my kids, but I'd love a cute Halloween costume for him.

Yes, I just wrote that.

{Sidenote: my pup and I were invited to an unofficial conference event related to dogs with a Petco tie-in, but my T hasn't had all his shots yet, so we're out. I'm conveniently equidistant from both stores, FYI.}

One brand event I'm super excited for is a trip to the Wilton HQ. We'll tour the Wilton Test Kitchen, Decorating Room and The Wilton School. I love behind-the-scenes tours and have a full set of Wilton decorating tips (circa 1992). I used to decorate cakes and clown cones when I worked at an ice cream shop during high school and. I loved it.

Our day will also include hands-on demonstrations with Wilton experts:
       o   3D Modeling
       o   Buttercream Techniques
       o   New product introduction and decorating contest

Seriously? I'm giddy. But the thing that intrigues me most has a Maker Mom connection--the 3D modeling. When I started a VEX robotics team last fall, I received a student copy of Autodesk Inventor, 3D modeling software. I watched my son play around with it, but never really dabbled myself. I'm wondering if the software might be useful to create a design for a cake or cake topper.

By the same token, I'm wondering if something like creating a cake topper decoration, as opposed to a metal robot, might give some girls more of a reason to play around with Inventor. I've witnessed how girls tend to approach tech differently than boys. For example, dabbling in computer programming to create stories or a way to feature their artwork as opposed to making games, especially shooting games, as my boys are prone to do. I know one needs imagination, not software to create a 3D model, but maybe this could be a hook. I might be on to something.

Ping me if you'll be at BlogHer so we can meet up!