Thank YOU for 2009, and happy 2010

Two songs to end 2009.

1. Auld Lang Syne. Robert Burns wrote this in 1788. I'm not really sure how it became a New Year's tune, but the lyrics speak to friendships across time and space. It's traditionally sung slowly, almost mournfully, as Dougie MacLean sings it here. The final verse is about raising a toast.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere
and gie's a hand o’ thine
and we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught
for auld lang syne.

If your Scots is wanting, here's a rough translation:

And here's a hand, my trusty friend
and give us a hand of thine
we'll take a right good-will drink
for old times gone by.

I've always thought that was too somber a note to go out on; it makes me believe the friends drinking their toast are parting for too long a time. Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You" is how I prefer to think about those around me. So, here's to you. I hope you dance into 2010.

Thanks for you. I hope you dance into the new year.

[ growth ]

Here it is, another December 29. Our 2009 calendars are running out of usefulness. The aughts are nearly gone, and we'll soon be writing 2010. It was last year at this time that I was writing:

I will, in no uncertain terms, not miss 2008. It began with a major snowstorm, a storm which has not abated for 363 days and counting.

I went on to say

My hope for you, dear reader: a happy and a healthy 2009.

My mom took time out to agree.

2009 was a really good year. There were some health problems in the family, but everyone's alive and working and progressing and moving forward. I got to take personal days at the end of the year to relax, rather than spending them on funerals. I'm calling it a win from a healthy perspective.

Mitch's year-end post is about growth, and for me, 2009 was about growth, and 2010 likely will be as well.

I set these goals for 2009:

• Take more photos for the greater good, not necessarily for sale. I’m hoping to put at least three new photos on flickr each week.

• Publish something in Corpse. It’s a publication I both enjoy and respect, and I’d be honored to be on their contributors list.

• Make this space here a lot prettier, more professional, and more useful. That includes better (more frequent, more informative) posting, and more creative use of space.

I took more pictures, but put them on Twitpic and Tumblr instead of Flickr. And it was more than 3 a week.

I did not publish anything in Corpse. To be honest, in mid-June they still had a note up that they would begin accepting submissions in May, and I haven't checked back since.

I overhauled this space twice, more recently moving it to WordPress. While I still really like Blogger, I've learned that WordPress is a more professional platform, and I'm likely going to be taken more seriously by the more serious social media folks.

I moved in January to a smaller apartment that fits me better. I'm a short walk from almost everything I need; I'm closer to work. I've stepped up my social media efforts and really reached out to meet some new people in 2009. See this nearly ridiculous post about Twitter for a look at that. I've grown my LinkedIn network. I've launched an effort to help raise money to fund childhood cancer research.

In December, I launched two group-written blogs, one (just getting started) about collaboration and one about a lifelong passion, music.

I've begun coworking in the spaces of a local non-profit that supports urban sustainability.

I've designed new websites, I've talked people into blogging, I've helped organizations with social media tools. I've spoken to a couple of media groups.

I haven't outlined specific goals for myself for 2010. They are more general than perhaps I'd like them to be, but I've been doing, more than planning the past six weeks or so. Here are three things I want to do in 2010.

Collaborate. I'd like to start and maintain projects I'm passionate about. I've taken a running start at this, but I think more is going to come as I learn the intricacies of collaboration and relationship-building.

Write. It seems like every year I wind up saying I want to write more, and what really ends up happening is that I take on the technical side of more things and write less. Not in 2010. I will be spending more time writing about what's going on.

Drop 12 pounds. That might sound like a weak weight-loss goal, but it's realistic and achievable. When I graduated high school in 1994 I weighed 115 pounds. When I moved to Syracuse in 2003 I weighed 215 pounds. I now weigh 170 pounds – that's a 45-pound drop from my high. And while I haven't lost weight this year, I've lost two inches off my waist, which means I'm gaining muscle, which is heavier than fat. Twelve pounds allows me to keep gaining muscle, but forces me to make healthier food choices.

My wish for you is the same as it was last year. Have a happy and a healthy year.

Saturday Night Fever

I finally saw Saturday Night Fever, and was surprised to find that while the music and dancing certainly played a central role in the film, the movie was so much more about class, race, religion and sex in the 1970s than it was about the music.

For a movie to take on rape, abortion, quitting the priesthood, suicide, gang wars and racism the way this film did would still be a bold move. Frank, with whom I saw it as part of a double feature (the first film was Pulp Fiction), said he thought a movie couldn't do something like that today.

After having a couple of days to think about it, I don't entirely agree. I think a movie wouldn't do something like that today, unless it was going to tackle them in the past, the way A Bronx Tale did. Frankly, I think the major studios are chickenshit.

If you haven't seen Saturday Night Fever, or if you haven't seen it with an eye toward the political context, do so.

What makes a walkable city?


View Larger Map

Scroll around that map up there a bit. You see the "A" in a balloon? That sits outside a Barnes & Noble store in Syracuse (if you know the area, it's on Erie Boulevard East).

Across the street from that book behemoth you'll find Honeybaked Ham (a sort-of deli), a Subway, a Panera, a Best Buy, an Office Max, a K-Mart, and Fleet Feet (a runner's shop), among other things. If you spent some time scrolling around the map – which is zoomed in enough for you to tell – you won't see a crosswalk anywhere close to that Barnes & Noble.

I know firsthand, because if I leave my office and cut across the parking lots behind buildings and sneak by the cell phone store, I can walk directly across Erie to the bookstore. It winds up being about an 8 minute walk.

And to get across the high-traffic Erie Boulevard, you pretty much say a prayer and run (even if you're not religious – it's amazing how a 4,000-pound steel box at 45 miles an hour will help you find G-d). I've only made the walk a couple of times, and usually in early spring, the first time it gets warm enough to take a nice walk on lunch.

Joel Kidder apparently preferred walking to and from the Barnes & Noble as well, and on December 4 he was almost across Erie, having left the store, when he was hit by a car and died.

He was a lifelong learner, a professor emeritus in philosophy, and, it seems, an all-around nice guy.

This isn't just a problem for those of us who prefer to walk. If you take the bus around town, you have to cross Erie one way or the other to complete your round trip.

Kidder's unfortunate accident appears to be spawning a discussion about the days when there was a bookstore in downtown Syracuse.

If you put a bookstore there, it's on a bus route, it's safe and walkable, and people would go. There are also two nice book shops on James Street, in another wonderfully walkable neighborhood.

But I would love for the Erie East area to be walkable, as well. I live nearby, I work nearby. If you make only part of the city walkable, you still lose.

Book review: The Protest Singer

Too many books have been written about me, at too great length. What's needed is a book that can be read in one sitting.

Alec Wilkinson writes that he was worried Pete Seeger would not agree to another biography, so when the folk icon told him to write something brief and readable, Wilkinson must have been thrilled. He succeeds in the task with The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Seeger turned 90 this year, and while longevity runs in his family, his voice is starting to falter and, well, he's 90. He's active, but by necessity less so than in his younger years. He's still an active voice for workers' rights and for the First Amendment, and if you don't know much about him or of his music, you really should catch up.

His stepmother told him once that he had "a talent for song leading," and that he should develop it, and develop it he did. Watch that video above. He sings one line, waves his hand, and if he didn't do anything the rest of the song, no one would have noticed. That was recorded in 1993; compare it to a video taken 30 years earlier. One line, and everybody's singing.

Seeger's life story is a great narrative. He used to hop boxcars with his banjo and ride with Woody Guthrie. He was drafted during the second World War, and later wound up blacklisted by HUAC. He took a "world tour" with his family as a cover while the last of the blacklisting faded out. He built the first home he and his wife Toshi lived in, a log cabin in Beacon, N.Y. (they still live on the property, though in a house that was built later).

He has stood up for workers' rights, civil rights and all sorts of other things. Even into his 80s, he'd stand outside in the rain on the side of a highway with a sign that said, "Peace."

To me, his legacy is song and song leading. There's nothing better you can do with a guitar than get everyone around you singing, in key or out, the right words or not. Seeger truly is an American treasure, and Wilkinson's book will take you little enough time to read that you'll have plenty of energy to do more research, listen to some music, and maybe pick up your guitar and play some songs.

No, Twitter won’t cut down on your face time with people

I mentioned last week that I use Twitter more than other social media platforms. There's a reason.

Throughout this year, I've met a whole bunch of locals I never would have met. At our first Twitter social, I met this guy and this guy, and this woman, who does this, this woman, who does this, and this guy, who does this.

I then met this guy, this guy, this woman and this guy, and I met this woman, who does this, really well. She led me to this woman, who is awesome at this – and I finally managed to meet her yesterday.

And then I left dinner and met this woman and this woman.

I've also met this guy, who asked me to speak to a bunch of journalists (alongside this woman and this woman), and I met this guy and this guy while doing that.

Twitter has also introduced me to this guy, who had me speak to these folks, where I met this guy, this woman, this woman and this guy.

On Thursday, the local Twitter community will meet again, this time here (at 5:30 p.m., if you'd like to join us) – I'm hoping to, at the very least meet this woman and this guy, and possibly this woman. I'm also expecting I'll meet this guy at some point in the not-too-distant future. Oh, and this guy, too.

For those of you who are worried that spending too much time on a network like Twitter is going to cut down on your face-to-face time with people, you need to re-think that. Would I have met these folks if not for Twitter? Possibly. But it's a pretty simple tool that costs exactly nothing to expand both your social and professional networks. Seriously.

Catch me on Twitter or LinkedIn and let's chat if you want help getting started.