Coffeeneuring #5: Peregrine and the Perils of Grad School

Cappuccino at Peregrine on Capitol Hill
Cappuccino at Peregrine on Capitol Hill #perfection

After last week’s episode of bad coffee in Bethesda, for this week’s coffeeneuring adventure, I was determined to get a good cappuccino.

I knew exactly where to bike to: Peregrine Espresso on Capitol Hill.

And not only was it delicious, it was artistically perfect, as you can see from the photo above. The work of a good barista is indistinguishable from magic.

Peregrine gets a bad rap for being a hipster haven, of being home to skinny jeans, ironic facial hair and hipper-than-thou attitudes. But it’s not the staff that’s the problem, I realized as I looked for a place to sit. It’s the patrons.

I had to perch on a stool in a corner because the tables were occupied by grad students with laptops. While I’ve  done my share of work in coffee shops, I would never choose a busy store like Peregrine. And I certainly wouldn’t occupy multiple chairs with my textbooks, knitware and electronic devices.

Nobody cares about your grad school dissertation – that is what I felt like shouting. Ten years from now, you will not even remember what that paper was about. And your thesis advisor, the only other person to have ever read it, won’t remember either.

Grad school won’t get you a better job. I’d be more impressed by someone who managed a Wendy’s than someone with an MA. The Wendy’s manager had to get people to show up and work every single day – that’s really hard, and much more impressive accomplishment than going to classes.

Besides, all those old rules and gatekeepers are coming down. Our most successful companies, like Facebook and Apple, were founded by college dropouts. There is no reason to genuflect before some academy before you can do what you want. You can do so now.

Avoid the trap of grad school. Instead, take advantage of the opportunities that cheap tech and the internet have brought us. Want to be a director? Go shoot a movie with your iPhone. Aspire to run a company? Use Kickstarter to raise the money. Want to change the world? Use Meetup to start organizing people.

If for no other reason, avoid grad school so you can enjoy Sunday afternoons outside. Ten years from now, you’ll remember sunny fall days like today – not the time you wasted hunched in front of a computer.

Coffeeneuring #3: Union Market

The great thing about coffeneuring is that it gets you biking to new places. Coffeeneuring #1 sent me to Buzz Bakery and their delicious red velvet cupcakes. Coffeeneuring #2 was a trip to hipsterville aka Big Bear in Bloomingdale.

For my third coffeeneuring adventure,  I decided to visit Union Market. This wholesale market in Northeast DC (formerly known as the Florida Avenue Market) has been reinvented as an artisanal shopping experience.

To get there, Google Maps sent me across the city via M Street. I thought the route was crazy, but I played along.

the Google Maps route to Union Market
Logan Circle to Union Market, the crazy Google way.

The Google sent me down M Street through Shaw, across Mad Max-style New York Avenue and through NoMa streets torn up from construction. After going under the railroad tracks, I just followed the hipsters up to the market.

Union Market is home to more than a dozen different restaurants and retail shops, including Peregrine Coffee, Dolcezza Gelato, Co Co. Sala and TaKorean. It’s sort of “city in a box” where you can shop for all your luxury treats in one location. Continue reading “Coffeeneuring #3: Union Market”

Friday Photo: Two Phones Edition

Two phones
I have two phones on my desk.

I had too much fun during the government shutdown, taking advantage of the unpaid break to drink in beer gardens, eat delicious jamon and go on coffeeneuring adventures.

But now it’s back to work. While my bank account is thankful for this, the reintroduction to the absurdities of government can be a painful one.

I have two phones. We’re switching from our 90s era phones to new ones. Rather than just replace one with the other, they left both, so I have two phones on my desk with two different numbers. It’s like I’m a 1950s businessman. I haven’t had the chance to talk on both phones at the same time, barking out orders, but I’m hopeful I will have a chance to do so soon.

Friday Photo: Barcelona Edition

Barcelona on 14th St NW in Washington, DC.
Barcelona on 14th St NW in Washington, DC.

Always bring your camera with you all the time.

Walking home down 14th St, I stopped to take pictures of Barcelona, a new restaurant with a great outdoor patio. I thought it was fascinating – the space used to house a gym. Where the patio exists used to be a fenced-lot containing free-weights. From weights to wine, in just a few years.

The marketing director saw me outside with my “fancy camera” (and Canon Digital Rebel) and insisted that I take a tour of the restaurant. She walked me around the place, showing me the outdoor fireplace, private dining room and their wonderful selection of wine and cheese. Then she parked me at the bar and fed me jamon iberico and gin and tonics. Yes, I can be bought, and the price is ham and booze.

Check out the complete set on Flickr see what Barcelona looks like on the inside. Definitely worth visiting.

You Do Not Need an Expensive SEO Consultant

SEO Consultant. $2k a month minimum.

This advertisement popped up on top of my Gmail. I saw this and thought: I am in the wrong line of work. Apparently, search engine optimization is so much in demand that you don’t need to state your qualifications or the benefits of your service – you just tell customers what they’re going to pay.

As someone who has worked on web sites for more than 15 years, I’m going to tell you a secret:

You do not need an expensive SEO consultant.

The practice of search engine optimization is based upon the belief that you can optimize web site content so that it shows up higher in Google’s search engine rankings. This is correct. There are simple things that you can do to improve your rankings, such as clear writing, good page titles and being consistent in how you describe your content. Most of the SEO practices that work revolve around words – the content of your site. Why is that?

You cannot outsmart Google.

Over the years, a variety of discredited practices have been employed by unscrupulous SEO consultants and shady web site operators to improve their site rankings. In the beginning (the 90s), this meant hidden text, where you hid a bunch of text in your site, visible only to search engines. Later on, it was the manipulation of meta-information, the descriptors of your site. Then, most maddeningly of all, it was keyword stuffing – where you repeated the same keyword over and over again in attempt to convince Google that your site was the authority on that keyword. For example, “The Acme Hotel is the best hotel in South Beach among all South Beach hotels, all South Beach hotel experts agree.”

A whole industry grew up around this practice called content farms – they produced low-quality, repetitive content that succeeded (for a time) in garnering top search engine spots on almost every topic.

But then Google changed their algorithm, killing off this industry.  Their mission is provide searchers with the best content. They don’t want to send people to crap. They employ some of the smartest techies on the planet, much smarter than a content farm owner or a slick SEO consultant. There is only one way to beat them:

Write content that people want to read.

This is a simple idea that’s rarely practiced. Instead of investing in good writing, organizations post dry reports, self-serving press releases and jargon-choked product descriptions. They end up with a web site no human would want to read and then wonder: how come we’re not #1 in Google? It’s an outrage! We need an SEO consultant!

You don’t need a consultant. You need a writer. You need someone who knows your customer, someone who can look at your organization from the outside and determine what it is that people want. This information can be found in your site’s analytics – what are web site visitors searching for? It’s probably not your annual report but is instead something simple, like a price list or store locator or if a widget comes in blue.

Start there, with this unsatisfied need that visitors have expressed. Write pages that answer these questions. Skip the SEO consultant and, instead, write content that people want to read.

 

Communicating Science: Make It Relevant

How do you communicate science to a general audience? That was the subject of a recent presentation I gave to the Federal Communicators Network. Based upon my experience as a science communicator for NOAA and The Nature Conservancy, I suggest that writers:

  • Use common terms
  • Avoid acronyms
  • Get out of your organizational bubble
  • Make it relevant to the reader
  • Stress benefits, not features

In the talk, I used case studies from my current job as a Communications Manager for The National Weather Service (NWS).  For example, NWS has a great new technology under development  – Wireless Emergency Alerts.  When talking about this new service, do you communicate the features (cell towers, polygons, alerting authorities) or the benefit (getting a text alert before a tornado hits your house)?

You stress the benefit, obviously. The benefit establishes relevancy in the mind of the reader. Grab the reader’s attention by leading with benefits and then you can explain the complicated details.

Friday Photo: White House Bikeshare Edition

White House bikeshare

I love walking in DC. On Monday after work, I stopped off at Macy’s and then walked home, taking a little detour to go by the White House. It was darker than this photo appears and the absence of light caused the iPhone to do a bit of a long exposure, allowing me to capture this cyclist in motion. She’s on a Capital Bikeshare bike – these bright red bikes are a common sight in DC, and are used by everyone, from tourists to businessmen.

Friday Photo: Dedicated Photographer Edition

dedicated photogA photographer friend of mine told me once that if you’re not dirty at the end of the day, then you’re doing it wrong. The secret with portraits is to get low, as this stylish young photog illustrates. It’s such an interesting photo, demonstrating how she interacts with her subject and the level of commitment required to get the shot. Lying on the floor of a parking garage in heels – that’s dedication.

I took this photo in an upright position at the Diamond Derby, a celebration of biking culture in Crystal City.