Thursday, April 28, 2011

Amazing Satellite Images Give Earth Artistic Look

All Images Courtesy of the USGS

There isn't a person alive who would deny the beauty of planet earth. The mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, and wide open fields that inspire our imagination. Earth never ceases to amaze any of us. But most of us never get a chance to see some of the satellite images that are nothing short of breathtaking. Three of those images (shown in this post) are from a new exhibit of 40 images by the USGS called Earth as Art 3.

Last year they came out with the equally dazzling gallery of earthly art. But this year's images are even more visually arresting. You will want to stare at them for hours, and I know you will agree this is the type of exhibit that needs to travel the world. I would love seeing them in grand museums as much as I enjoyed writing this post. The entire collection is guaranteed to impress.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Technology and the 2012 Presidential Campaign

President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook
Headquarters. Photo Courtesy of UPI/Newscom

Like many of my friends, I'm eager to see what the social media impact on 2012 will be. Twitter, Facebook, and a multitude of niche sites (reaching out to particular demographics) powered a record voter turnout in 2008. There is no doubt that this is what helped elect President Obama.

Many have predicted that social media will have a more polished, professional look this time around because the landscape has changed dramatically. This is true. But I disagree with those who say that "email and blogs" are no longer relevant. Of course they are. Twitter was supposed to eliminate blogs. It didn't. The short-lived Google buzz was supposed to be the "email killer". It wasn't. Let's be clear: campaigns will continue emailing and blogging, even as smartphones and tablets have transformed political organizing, and become more powerful tools.

Regardless of one's views, we can all agree on this: no candidate will have the type of tech dominance Obama had 3 years ago. He launched an iPhone app, purchased a channel on Dish Network, and secured ad space on popular video games. And as impressive as this sounds, it was just the tip of the iceberg. He ran the most tech-savvy, "out of the box" presidential campaign in history. I'm certain that everyone - from his potential 2012 challengers, to the cable and network news talking heads - has taken good notes.

Look forward to an amazing election that I believe will be one of the closest in history. Technology will once again play a huge part in determining the winner.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TIME Magazine's "100 Most Influential People"

Every year, I look forward to hearing about the names, motivations, struggles, and vision of the people on TIME's annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. You don't have to agree with who they choose to appreciate the well-written profiles. I am drawn less to this list because of the "influence" TIME Magazine believes they have, but more for the depth and scope of their "impact" around the world. To put it another way, its about how they use their influence to make a long-lasting impact.

The list is always diverse and thought-provoking. Tech titan Mark Zuckerberg and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner are on the list, as are politicians Cory Booker and Gabrielle Giffords, performer Bruno Mars, educator Michelle Rhee, First Lady Michelle Obama, and al-Jazeera journalist Ayman Mohyeldin.

However, the first person profiled is perhaps one of the most inspiring of the 100. I'm referring to Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who helped power the Egyptian uprising, resulting in the removal of Hosni Mubarak. This young executive, and other social media savvy Egyptians, used sites like Facebook and Twitter to evolve ideas about democracy, and to mobilize others for mass demonstrations. Powerful stuff.

Check out his great one minute and forty-second video.

WATCH:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Match.com and the safety of online dating


I'm sure you've heard the news by now. In roughly 60 to 90 days, Match.com will start checking users against a national sex offender database. And it makes complete sense. If 1 in 5 relationships start online, as the site reminds us in its ads, then their new policy is the responsible thing to do. This move is significant because Match.com had been resistant to do this in the past, citing the millions of users it would have to screen, which will certainly require more money to strengthen its process. But that is a small price to pay considering the online sexual predators who look to exploit every loophole they can.

Match.com's new screening procedure is not only necessary for user safety, but also good for the site's image in the wake of a recent lawsuit. This change - championed by many watchdog groups - is way overdue. My prediction is that the site will generate more business because this is indeed a big move. Studies have shown that many have been wary of jumping into online dating, but this is the type of policy that would convince more than a few to reconsider. And if the response is what I believe it will be, look for other online dating sites to follow suit.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The White House Easter Egg Roll

White House Souvenirs for the Easter Egg Roll
Photo Courtesy of The White House

The annual White House Easter Egg Roll, happening on Monday April 25th this year, is a tradition that dates back to the late nineteenth century. Though I've never attended, it is something I always look forward to. The music, the storytelling, and the egg rolling have always appealed to the kid in me. This year, the event theme is "Get up and Go", an extension of First lady Michelle Obama's health and wellness initiative Let's Move.

I love the creation of the souvenir wooden eggs (pictured above) that are also autographed by President Obama and the First Lady. According to the National Park Foundation, the eggs are "made from FSC-certified, U.S. hardwood and packaged in SFI-certified paperboard", making them eco-friendly. As an advocate of sustainability, I applaud this move.

The Obamas have certainly put their unique stamp on the occasion. In 2009, LGBT families were invited to participate for the first time in history. If the last two years are any indication, we will likely see more modifications and changes to this and other yearly events. The White House Easter Egg Roll is big fun, and I can't wait.

Check out the highlights from the 2010 Easter Egg Roll.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Awesome Blog Q&A: Robin Ernst on Thrive Advertising and Social Media

I love viewing profiles of business leaders. Not the fluff, but the CNBC-style profiles of men and women starting companies, making the big decisions, and overcoming adversity. Men and women who relish the opportunity to kick-start greater innovation, and implement ideas for robust job growth. One of those succeeding in this area is Robin Ernst.

A veteran of the advertising industry, she has adapted nicely to the major shifts that have taken place in her field. A passionate MOMpreneur, she launched the immensely popular Thrive Advertising - easily one of the firms to watch in 2011. She's known in many circles as a smart, tough and savvy businesswoman. Her newly released blog only solidifies this belief. And as you'll see below, she's also an enthusiastic, action-oriented visionary who thrives on a challenge.

Entrepreneur Robin Ernst


What was the inspiration behind Thrive Advertising?

Prior to starting my advertising agency I worked for a television station in Seattle selling airtime to local businesses. There were so many aspects of the job that I loved, but my favorite part of the job was getting to know the entrepreneurs behind each business that advertised on the station. I was fascinated by each of their unique stories; finding at times I felt as if I was living vicariously through them as an entrepreneur at heart.

As I became increasingly successful at my ad sales job I began to see a need to be filled. The need business owners had to truly understand how they were investing their advertising dollars. So many smart entrepreneurs, who strategically run every other area of their businesses, were throwing dollars around without a thorough understanding of what they were buying, without knowing if they were getting a good “deal” and with very little idea of how to successfully measure their ROI (Return on Investment). Thus Thrive was born. The entrepreneur in me saw a need to be met; the negotiator in me thrived on the idea of making sure other business owners were making sound advertising investments. As for the name, Thrive, it is an adjective that describes the way I desire to live my life and run my business, intentionally thriving.


The Advertising Industry has gone through some major changes. What are the challenges - and exciting possibilities - moving forward?

The advertising industry has shifted so much since I graduated from college, which was less than 10 years ago! It’s truly unbelievable to watch the major changes occur as digital advertising has rocked the industry with a 9.0 magnitude quake. It used to be broadcast television was the end all be all way of advertising to the masses. There were really only a handful of TV channels to choose from and with the exception of radio and newspaper advertising there weren’t many other choices. Right now the landscape of the advertising industry is so complicated and tumultuous it can give business owners a headache. With search engine marketing, new in-content opportunities (i.e. working with bloggers), re-targeting, social media, mobile marketing, etc.; it is a constant challenge to stay on top of the latest and greatest opportunities for advertisers. But with great challenge comes enormous opportunity!

There is still tremendous value in traditional advertising (TV, cable, print, radio, etc.). The trick is to find the perfect mix of traditional and non-traditional advertising (mobile, social media, online, etc.). An example of great advertising could be seen when watching the Super Bowl this year. Many, if not all, of the advertisers chose their “call to action” to direct viewers to their Facebook pages as opposed to their websites. The reason they chose this strategy is to develop a deeper connection with their customers and prospective consumers. What we’re learning is that traditional advertising is like a megaphone where as social media is like a telephone. Social media allows you to build a relationship with consumers by interacting with them. Traditional advertising is a one way communication system that only allows you to share your message, feedback isn’t possible. However, without traditional advertising to drive consumers to social media sites the non-traditional avenues wouldn’t be as successful.

This is the most exciting time period my industry has ever experienced. I’m thriving on the challenge of fine tuning the perfect media mixes for my clients. What a fantastic time to be a new advertising agency! I’m able to quickly adapt to changes, educate my team and lead business owners through what I consider to be an era among the greatest opportunities we’ve seen in the ad world!


I notice one of your passions is 'Moms in Business". Explain that.

I’ve always believed that good moms have the same skillset as successful entrepreneurs. Present day mommies take on the role of CFO in their households and some are running the whole ship, as CEOs! It takes vision, direction and communication to run a business and mamas know that without these qualities their homes don’t run efficiently. So, many mothers become experts at running their homes which I consider to be mini “companies.”

Naturally, women who have had successful careers before they had babies, start to consider how they are going to effectively balance their new lives as mamas and their old lives as professionals. So some turn to entrepreneurship, others find they are able to keep the same career they had before, a few switch jobs and the rest take on the challenge of being a SAHM (stay at home mom). Each mama has a reason for her decision. I feel called specifically to support women in business whether it be Mompreneurs or career mamas because I value my role as a business owner tremendously and genuinely believe that I can have it all.

I’ve started a blog specifically for Mompreneurs, but relatable to all working moms. It was created to be a place for like-minded women to connect over the unique challenges and triumphs we share as a group of successful business oriented mothers. I share bits of wisdom, feature guest bloggers who are most often Mompreneurs or successful business gals I respect, post pics of my daughter’s latest feat, etc. It’s a work in progress and evolving as such, but my vision for it is to be a place where mom-entrepreneurs can develop a sense of community because we truly are a rare breed.

To find out more about Robin Ernst and her firm Thrive Advertising, click here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Richard Branson's 36,000 Foot Journey to the Bottom of the Sea

You can't say the name Richard Branson without saying awesome! The man takes chances, and has fun. His latest project - taking a state of the art submarine to the deepest part of each the world's five oceans - is by far his most ambitious to date. As he has stated in a number of interviews, there are unknown species and ancient ship wrecks that will be discovered. Perhaps the most exciting part of these voyages (from my standpoint) will be the underwater mountains and valleys that we will see on video. Wow.

This video below is the most detailed info about Branson's trip to date. At the 3:35 mark, CNN's Randi Kaye and Chad Myers use an interactive map to show the viewers the five places where the submarine will go.

WATCH:

The Indie Book Collective: A Great Resource for both eAuthors and eReaders

This is my new post, which is also cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Books Section.

The publishing industry is at a crossroads. It’s trying to figure out what it means to do business in the Digital Age, which has transformed the landscape of its business in ways no one could have imagined. Since late January, e-books have been outselling the purchases of hardcovers and paperbacks. And self-published e-book authors, once repeatedly shunned by traditional publishing houses, are finding ways to produce bonafide bestsellers and make a phenomenal living.

Author and humorist Rachel Thompson has found great success with e-books, and, has helped establish some great ways to assist others in the international community of authors. She co-founded the Indie Book Collective with fellow authors Amber Scott and Carolyn McCray as a way to help independent writers tap into the power of social media to promote their work. So far, the results, and buzz, have been tremendous.

Their Blog Tour de Force – a 12 stop tour with 12 authors and 12 e-books was a great success, and BestSeller for a Day was created combine their social media resources for ONE author on ONE day, driving that author's book sales into the Kindle Top 100. In between their workshops and radio shows, and a recent appearance at the annual South by South West, Thompson sat down with me for a talk about technology, her firm, and the future of publishing.

Author Rachel Thompson. Photo
Courtesy of the Indie Book Collective

e-Books now outsell hardcovers. This is an amazing development. Why do you believe much of the industry has been slow to embrace the new technology?

Like any large, well-established industry, the publishing industry is used to doing things a certain way. There is a certain amount of inertia due to decade's long practices being challenged. Many large houses are struggling to simply format their eBooks properly for the variety of eReaders. If the bosses don't know or understand the changes taking place it is very difficult for their company to truly move ahead quickly. Smaller, more adaptable publishing houses and indie authors are able to respond much more quickly and embrace new technology to its fullest.

I am sure that in five years New York will catch up, however, right now the advantage goes to the indies which is why so many of them are so high up in the Amazon charts. They are able to harness social media and use it to keep up the sales pressure up in lieu of large ad campaigns. That’s also why promotions such as the Indie Book Collective’s Bestseller For A Day - one author, one book, one day for ninety-nine cents to propel it onto the Amazon Kindle Top 100, which has 85% of the eBook market - is such a great tool for indie authors. With a minimum of study and prep, and the support and use of social media, we have had amazing success for what is truly minimal outlay compared to what a large publishing would have to spend.


That's awesome.

Thanks. During our last bestseller promotion on February 28th, Carolyn McCray’s book, 30 Pieces of Silver, reached #183 out of the millions of eBooks on the Amazon chart that day, and #1 on the Men’s Adventure list—ahead of Clive Cussler! Truly an achievement for an indie author. It’s a matter of education. Many people don’t realize they don’t need an actual e-reader in their hands to read eBooks! If you have a smartphone or computer, you can download a free eBook application-- no Kindle - or any other kind of reader - required. The apps are all FREE and downloadable to your iPhone, Blackberry, Android, or laptop. It’s s-o-o easy, much less expensive, and of course, greener, than buying a hardcover or even paperback. Many eBooks are even free.


I notice your book is priced at $2.99. Talk a little about the issue of affordability, and its impact on sales.

Price point is one of the most significant factors in online sales. As an indie author, whether traditionally published or self-published, you have no name recognition so reader trust is low. If you were to come in as an indie at $9.99, very few new readers would risk that much cash on an unknown author. At the IBC we normally recommend authors to choose $2.99 to start with since it is the lowest price available to still receive 70% royalties at Amazon (and many other retailers). However, we urge authors to monitor their sales and adjust their price based on interest, promotions, and even the day of the week when deciding on their price point.

This is again the beauty of being indie. You can be extremely sensitive to the market and be very flexible in your marketing approach. The promotions the IBC offers to indie authors like Bestseller For A Day and even our Blog Tour De Force go miles in establishing credibility for indie authors by helping authors get the reviews they desperately need, increasing interaction on their Twitter stream and blog, and most important, getting people to buy our books. Our free monthly workshops and boot camps discuss many of these tips and tricks to help authors learn that pricing your book is but one part of your platform. You are your best promotion.


What was the motivation behind your book?

I’d been writing since age ten and my blog RachelintheOC.com for a few years. After quitting my full-time job and having a second child, however, my inner snark kicked in after eighteen years of marriage and I wondered “Hmmm. Why do men want to change the world but not a toilet paper roll?” Men are confused. Is there a special girl code? Was there an Advanced Placement class in high school they should have taken in order to understand women better? Yeah, probably (Laughs). Why do women set their watches differently than men? Why do we speak in shoes?

So I wrote my first Mancode post, Men are from Seinfeld, Women are from Friends, last year in 2010 and the response was astounding. I had clearly hit a nerve. I continued writing my thoughts deconstructing the goofy stuff guys do and how we gals try to figure it out. You know, the Stupid Pants Syndrome, the Grocery Shopping is a Foreign Country Where They Only Speak Wolf (Laughs). And as my blog and Twitter audience grew, I was hit by an awful personal experience-- the suicide of an old boyfriend with whom I’d recently reconnected on Facebook. Writing became not only my outlet but also my salvation.

I poured all my emotion into the essays: Mancode, Chickspeak, and the death of someone I thought at one point I would marry. It’s ALL in my book A Walk In The Snark. I’m thrilled by the response I have received in reviews - 5/5 stars across the board - from both men and women who have read it and are recommending it to their friends, coworkers, family, even their neighbor’s cats are reading it at this point.

Additionally, as a cofounder of The Indie Book Collective, here I am teaching writers how to use social media to promote their work – whether they are bloggers, traditionally published authors OR indie published – and we’re doing all these great, exciting promotions for published authors like the previously mentioned Blog Tour de Force and Bestseller For A day – and I could not participate! So that was it. I worked closely with a professional editor to make sure my book was of good quality and with Carolyn McCray (my IBC cofounder and mentor) and we released the book in late January. I’m so happy and excited to now have it published and available! And I don’t get happy and excited so that’s saying something.


What's next for you guys?

Our next Bestseller promotion will be co-founder Amber Scott, who was a traditionally published author and switched over to the dark side (Laughs) on March 14th with her historical paranormal romance Irish Moon. I’m up next on April 4th with my book. We include incentives for our readers so be sure to check the Bestseller For A Day site and learn how to get involved in this amazing promotion. Support indie authors and learn how you yourself can jump into the pool!

To learn more about Rachel Thompson and the exciting projects and authors connected with The Indie Book Collective, connect with them through their website.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eco-Friendly "Superbus" gets 155 MPH? Nice!

The buzz on this Dutch electric vehicle is great. It might be able to cut road time in half. Regional trips. Corporate outings. You name it. And that's incredibly good for the environment because it would help minimize the carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. Seems like a win-win.

To be honest, a 6 wheel, 23 passenger SuperBus like this would probably not be able to handle the rigors of city traffic. It's clearly not something that would be able to make sharp turns either. However, the possibilities are exciting. Porche is taking orders on its hybrid car super car. But that's a two-seater. This vehicle has 21 more seats, and, with some modifications, could have a huge impact on future car innovation.

This superbus, which cost 13 million Euros to make, is set to debut at a Dubai Trade show in May. To read more, and see the promotional video, click here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Apolo Ohno on SeeYourImpact and Making a Difference

This is my new post, which was co-written by fellow Huffingtonpost blogger Ann Tran. It is also cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Impact Section.

For those dedicated to the social good, every day brings an opportunity to move humanity forward in a positive way: leaving an imprint in every corner of this beautiful planet, and laying a foundation for a culturally enriching future. This is what you want a nonprofit to be. And this is the mission and the reality of SeeYourImpact.

Their model works this way: 100 percent of a donation goes to the gift the person selects. Maybe you're purchasing a wheelchair, a mosquito net, or a medicine kit. You make small donations ranging from $10 to $85, and within two weeks, you're notified about how your money is changing lives, and transforming communities.

Apolo Ohno, the most decorated Winter Olympian in history, author and winner of Dancing With the Stars, gave us an interview about his role with SeeYourImpact, something he calls "the future of philanthropy." He strongly believes in giving back, and embodies the heart and soul of this charity, which proves that whether $20 million or $20, the strength of your impact can be enormous.

Apolo Ohno, with Scott Oki, SeeyourImpact Co-Founder and
Chairman of the Board. Photo Courtesy of SeeYourImpact

Apolo, what inspired you to get involved with SeeYourImpact.org?

I'm the first to say I got to where I am because other people, especially my father, played a crucial role in my life. With SeeYourImpact.org, each of us has an opportunity to see the crucial role we play in someone else's life. The thing with giving back is that most people donate and immediately wonder where it went. "Did my gift matter?" On SeeYourImpact.org, you know without a doubt that your gift changed someone's life.


What's unique about SeeYourImpact.org?

Let's say you give a $10 bed net to protect someone from Malaria in Sierra Leone. Two weeks later, you get a photo of that person with your bed net. You might read about their home or find out they have no plumbing or electricity. The coolest part is that I feel like I get to know the person. I get to see them in the photo and hear about how I helped and what they're doing, like this story of Manasa.

A $10 donation gave Manasa a pair of glasses her family couldn't afford.

And to make sure that every gift, no matter the size, has the biggest impact, 100 percent of your donation goes to the gift you selected. That's what I love about it. Showing people the impact of their donations makes it possible for anyone to have a huge effect on someone's life.


It looks like SeeYourImpact.org supports causes and issues all over the world. Which are your favorite and why?

One of my favorite causes is this charity in northern India that's providing sporting opportunities to youth. You can change the life of a child by sending them to school or you can empower them through sports. The thing is, SeeYourImpact.org is a network of dozens of charities doing incredible work on the ground. So whether you're passionate about helping single moms in the U.S. or getting clean water to families in Uganda, find the cause that matters most to you. Then donate.


What has the response been from the public?

The response has been mind blowing. SeeYourImpact.org is really powered by a community of grassroots supporters. They give feedback on the site. It's the donors who allow the charities to expand their work and get more kids fed and in school. Take Maria Ellen. Check out her Impact Page and you can see how one person can make a tremendous difference. And there's thousands of people just like Maria who are making dreams come true. Lots of people in the nonprofit community are impressed with your organization - myself included.



What's next for you guys?

We're constantly adding new charity partners. And we're also adding new ways you can get involved. For example, if you have a birthday, a wedding, just any event you want to dedicate to giving back, you can start a fundraiser. Then, your friends and family can see the impact of their donations. You'll see every photo and story your fundraiser made possible, and it's an awesome way to bring a community together. One mom, Winda, held a fundraiser for her son's fourth birthday, and then she showed the stories to her son. But hopefully what's next for us is you. If you're reading this, wherever you are, take a moment and check out the site. Change someone's life. I promise, it'll make their day -- and yours.

To learn more about the exciting projects at, and ways to get involved with, SeeYourImpact, fan them on their Facebook page and follow them on their Twitter feed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The "2nd Internet" and its Great Lessons for Blogging

Photo Courtesy of David Maybury

Late last week, there was a fantastic post on what's being called The Second Internet. According to the study, companies like Facebook, Zynga, Twitter and others are thriving because of the "social" nature of their businesses. It's a fascinating read.

It was so thought-provoking that it got me thinking about the evolution and growth of blogging. I have only been blogging for roughly 2 years and a half. I have read an interesting number of posts about how to blog, how to come up with topics, etc. The best advice I've seen urges bloggers to be engaging, using their social media accounts to participate, not simply post. Being social has definitely helped me come up with great ideas.

So many of my posts have come from random feedback (emails, blog comments, and phone calls). In fact, most of my Twitter Powerhouses Series in The Huffington Post comes from engaging folks online. This is why I encourage more writers to reach out to their readers, and to use social media to grow their audience. The success of "The Second Internet" companies proves it can be done, and done with great results.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The New, Captivating "Virtual Choir" from Eric Whitacre



This year the TEDTalk series is on fire! This video above with composer Eric Whitacre is a case in point. A globally-renowned and award-winning composer, he's back on the scene for another memorable performance. If you'll recall, he did a "virtual choir" via YouTube last year with hundreds of singers around the world. It still rocks!

This year, however, he's outdone himself. His new work is called "Sleep", a mesmerizing video choir of 2052, again from every corner of the globe. This video above is 14 minutes long. He lays the foundation for what moves and inspires him, and then, just past the 12 minute mark, unveils the first 2 minutes of his new work, which will premiere on YouTube on April 7. It looks awesome!