We’re in a bit of a new world right now. We may not be able to do as much in-person interaction as we normally do, but there are still plenty of opportunities to connect and engage — virtually! Let’s explore what those are and how to maximize them.
The Best Virtual Experiences
What are your top virtual experiences? So far my top ones have been: virtual dance party, virtual ecstatic dance and virtual meditation. Oh and a concert/poetry event was pretty epic too. Or ‘riding a roller coaster’ with Canada’s Wonderland. I’ve enjoyed being in the group video call on my computer, and a simultaneous one-on-one video call on my phone with a friend or family member I am ‘attending’ with. I’ve also heard about aquariums having live streams, virtual dance classes for all different types of dance, and more. I went to a really fun virtual event where people were doing art while others were grooving to the beats.
I think what’s really exciting is the ability to ‘attend’ events with speakers or groups from all over the world. I’ve been able to take a virtual dance class with a dance instructor I used to learn from in California who now lives in the Netherlands — I’ve been waiting 7 years for that opportunity! I’ve also been able to learn from amazing speakers, groups and thought leaders that I’ve wanted to engage with for a long time but haven’t been able to because of distance. And in many cases, it’s been free. How cool is that?
I also participated in a board game night with my partner, his friend, and some his friend’s friends. We tried voice call over Discord but switched to Zoom for more stable audio and video connection, then played tabletopia.com and then jackbox.tv. We figured out how to make the Zoom gallery view into a ‘bookmark’ size window and place that next to the game so we could see both vs switching back and forth.
What else are people loving? I’m excited to try a musical theatre sing-a-long and Broadway dance classes coming up. It seems like the sky is the limit in terms of the creativity of the range of virtual experiences available. I also heard about an immersive theatre project from Outside the March — Mundane Mysteries. Their website says: “Book a personalized, weeklong subscription to this auditory adventure for yourself or a loved one. This customized improvised narrative experience unfolds over a week’s worth of short daily phone calls, as our intrepid private investigators delve into your very own micro mystery using the investigative power of good conversation.” Sounds exciting!
A highlight for me during my virtual experiences so far was a group ‘Om’ during the ecstatic dance event — we all got unmuted and then had our chance of trying to coordinate our voices. These virtual opportunities are also a great way to support local businesses that are trying to sustain themselves via paid virtual experiences. And in some cases, they allow you to connect with groups of folks you already knew from the past — which I find quite comforting and welcoming at a time where you may not be connecting with as many people. For example, if you used to attend a weekly dance class — perhaps now you can attend that online with the same group of folks. Even if you don’t know their names, it can still be comforting to see familiar faces.
I think one of the coolest things about this new abundance and proliferation of virtual experiences is that now certain experiences have become more accessible. For example, if someone has concussion-related symptoms that typically make it difficult for them to attend a dance party — now they can tune in and out of a virtual dance party, turn down the volume, take breaks, and attend for as long or as little as they’d like. Geographic boundaries are broken down, many events are more affordable or free, and really — it’s pretty epic.
If you have ideas/suggestions/links to any other fun virtual experiences, please feel free to share them in the comments.
How to Maximize Your Virtual Experiences
So you’ve got an awesome virtual experience planned. How do you get prepared and make the most of it? Here are my top tips for maximizing your virtual experiences:
1. Use Gallery View:
If the event is in Zoom, use the downloaded version. This enables you to use ‘Gallery view’ which lets you see all the other participants.
There will usually also be a window with the current presenter/speaker/dancer. You could either have that sit above the gallery (e.g. in the top right), or if you have a second screen you could move the window with the presenter over to your second screen. If you have a projector, even better! You can project the gallery and/or presenter/dancer/leader onto the wall, and have the other view set up on your computer or laptop. It’s interesting to try to figure out the best view while also figuring out how to point the webcam at yourself (if you choose to use it)!
If you are attending a Zoom meeting with friends, you can use a feature called ‘pin’ to pin the videos of your friends to your first screen. That way you can see them more.
2. Attend virtual events together with friends or loved ones.
I ‘went to’ a virtual concert and poetry reading with a family member the other day. Last night, I attended a virtual talk with my partner. Coming up, I’m going to a virtual dance party with a group of friends. Attending fun virtual events is awesome — and I also find it fun to share that experience with people I know.
There are a couple different setups you can use.
a) Attend the event together in the Zoom call. You may not be able to hear each other, but you can see each other and chat to each other privately either in the Zoom chat (if you select their name and send them a PM), or by some other medium e.g. text.
b) Attend the event together in the Zoom call, and have another video stream going.
For example, you could be on the Zoom call on your laptop, and in a Whatsapp call with your friend on your phone. If it’s a group of you attending, you could consider having a separate Zoom call going. If you have two computers, you may consider leveraging both.
An issue you may run into is competing audio streams — you may get feedback or have a hard time hearing your friend’s voice. To combat this, you could consider a setup such as headphones for the virtual event and speaker for your call with your friend. If it’s a dance party and you want to be on the move, you might wish to try headphones for the call with your friend (headphones without wires would be ideal for this), and speaker for the virtual dance party stream.
3. Manage your mute button.
Depending on the setup of the event’s Zoom call, participants may all be muted automatically. However, some of them are set up so that when you join a call you are unmuted. Make sure to mute yourself (if everyone else is also currently muted) so as not to disrupt the flow of the event.
Another funny potential snafu may occur if event organizers might choose to ‘unmute all’. This might happen if they want people to have a moment to cheer together or say something together. However, depending on if you are on another call with a friend or loved one at the time, you may end up accidentally saying something unrelated to the prompt. This happened to me the other day when I was in an ecstatic dance call and simultaneously on a video chat with a friend who was also checking out the ecstatic dance. Without me noticing, the organizers briefly unmuted all for a closing ‘Om’ chant — and suddenly the whole group could hear me yammering away to my friend. Not all groups will unmute everyone — but either way, it’s good to pay attention to your mute button and if you get unmuted, to re-mute yourself if you don’t want the group to hear whatever you have going on in the background.
4. Optional: Make your outfit and/or background fun
When I attended my first virtual dance party, I was amazed to see that many people had cool projections in their backgrounds. You can either do this with a light machine, or by setting a virtual background. This can be super fun for both you and the other viewers.
You can also spice up the party with a fun outfit! I wore a tutu to a virtual dance class I took. A bonus of virtual events is that you can do multiple costume changes.
As the host of one event I attended recently said, “Your square is your own TV channel that you are the host of.” You can choose what you share and conribute. I’ve seen people live-arting, showing off pets, and so much more.
If you don’t want to show your webcam, no problem! Most events allow you to attend with your webcam turned off.
5. Share your calendar with your friends and loved ones.
I’ve been storing up cool virtual events I’ve been finding in my Google Calendar, and then I shared the calendar with close friends and family members. This way they can easily see what I plan to do, and let me know if they want to join me. I tried to add as much detail to the events as possible, including Zoom links etc — so they knew what they were all about. If you don’t want to share your whole calendar, you could create a new Google Calendar and just share that. Or just share events as you regularly would without sharing a calendar.
What’s pretty epic is that the ability to attend virtual experiences together means that you can now ‘attend a party’ with friends who live in other countries. Tonight a friend who moved to Australia and I are ‘going dancing’ together.
If you have other tips on how to maximize virtual experiences, share them in the comments below.
At my company MakerKids, we run camps, programs and parties on Coding, Robotics and Minecraft that help kids develop confidence, resilience, social skills and a positive relationship with technology. While our programs have historically been in-person, we’re now offering virtualprograms and camps. We are also hosting a free Youtube Live on Coding & Game Design with Scratch for kids ages 6–13! Our awesome Maker-Mentor Thomas will be leading this on Thursday April 2nd at 2PM. Mark your calendars and tune in using the link below: https://youtu.be/ZBcNj5r58ho. What virtual experiences are you offering? Drop them in the comments below.
I hope you enjoy your virtual experiences, and that these tips are helpful in you doing so!
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Today someone called me and asked about how to write and publish a book. This is a good question, especially at this time. We are all thinking about our contributions to the world right now— or at least I am. I have a number of projects that I have been working on that I want to publish and get out there soon, rather than leaving them languishing in a folder on my computer.
I have experience with self-publishing, and now I am starting to gain experience with working with an agent, and getting published. Here is what I learned.
Why Write A Book?
Why write a book? It may sound esotheric, but I believe that we are all unique expressions of humanity and each have something unique to contribute to the world. A book can help you do this. When I write, I keep the goal in my mind of helping just at least one person. If I help at least one person with what I write, that will be enough. I wasn’t sure if one of the books I wrote was any good or if anyone would read it — but then someone told me that they made different life choices based on it. Wow! You can have a real impact with a book.
I also find the experience of writing very helpful and have heard quotes along the lines of “I write to know what I am thinking — and to understand my thoughts.” Writing a book can also help advance your career and land you speaking engagements. If you have a business, it can help establish authority and act as a leadgen.
Getting Published vs Self-Publishing
Both seem to be great options, and there are pros and cons to each.
The benefits of getting published are many. You usually get an advance (although in some cases, publishers are actually requiring deposits from authors). The publishing house helps you with everything from editing to getting the cover made to doing marketing. They can help get the book into bookstores. The limitations are that you may not end up having as much control over things like the process or the timing.
With self-publishing, you can get your book out there in a matter of weeks or even days. You have ultimate control. You can upload it to Amazon and then your friends and family members can order a real physical (or digital) copy of it. The limitations are that you will need to pay for things like the cover design, formatting, and if you choose to, things like editing and marketing. And you’ll have to do all your own marketing.
Here is what I have learned in terms of how to do each one.
How to Get Published
In terms of getting published with a publisher, the key steps seem to be:
Write a book proposal
Find an agent
Your agent works to find a publisher
If you want to get published, I have three main recommendations based on what I have learned:
For non-fiction, develop a platform. Followers, a newsletter subscriber base, talks, etc. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a book deal without one — but it certainly helps. Having a platform can definitely be a benefit for fiction writers too.
Try to amass rejections — as many as you can! At first, I only emailed my book proposal to three agents. When they said no, I decided to give up. A while later, my colleague told me about someone who she knew who had tried to amass rejections by sending her book proposal to as many agents as possible. I sent my book proposal to about a hundred of agents in one day, which led to three meetings. Out of those meetings, one agent was a great fit and that is who I signed with!
Upload your book jacket and interior to Amazon KDP https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/. Soon, your book will be published in the Amazon store! You can choose if you want to do just Kindle or paperback as well.
Writing The Book
Then there is writing the book. For this, I like a couple different tools:
Google Docs Voice Typing — If you don’t want to if you don’t want to or can’t type, Google Docs voice typing is a great tool. It allows me to finish writing things way faster than if I was typing.
Forming a writing group: I have found it very helpful in my writing to form a writing group. But not the type of writing group that you might think of. My writing group consists mostly/only writing and we rarely if ever share our work with each other. It is more like the co writing group where we get together and write at the same time, thereby keeping each other accountable — with breaks in between. Here is the description of my writing group. I got most of the writing done for my first book over a nine month period of attending.
What: We Write! The schedule is a mix of writing and breaks, for a mix of fun and productivity. Bring a creative writing project that you are working on.
When: See date schedule, from 7–10PM
Who: Invite-only — all new members must be passed through <>
7–7:30 soft start (people arrive), mix and mingle
9:30–10 chit chat, pack up, head out
See you there!
Rules: No talking or being distracting during writing sessions. If you do not follow the rules you will be removed from the group. This is to maintain a professional and productive group.
Write as if you are writing for one person. As I said before, if my book helps one person, for me that makes the book worth writing. But whatever your perspective is on this, it can be a good idea to write with one person in mind. Thinking of that one person can help you formulate your thoughts and develop a voice for how you would speak to them.
Launch! Launch your book, and always be launching. Especially if you self-publish, you can always continue revising and re-launching it. Get something out there. It might just change someone’s life.
Happy writing. I would love to hear what you come up with.
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I’m sure I’m not the only one where all of a sudden, I’m leading a remote team for the first time ever.
Last night I started reading the book Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of Basecamp. It had a lot of great insights for how to work remotely. Thought I’d share them.
Here are some of the key concepts I learned from it:
Forward motion:have a weekly discussion thread with the subject “what have you been working on?” Everyone chimes in with a few lines about what they’ve done over the past week and what’s intended for the next week. It’s not a precise rigorous estimation process and it doesn’t attempt to deal with coordination. It simply aims to make everyone feel like they’re in the same galley and not their own little rowboat. It also serves as a friendly reminder that we’re all in it to make progress. When the commitment becomes visual, it gets reinforced.
We all have a natural instinct to avoid letting our team down. No one wants to be the one who reports that this week was spent completing Halo or eating leftover pizza and catching up on Jersey Shore. It’s also a lot harder to BS your peers than your boss. In talking to a project manager without tech chops, programmers can make a 30-minute job sound like a week-long polar expedition but if they’re tall tale is out in the open for other programmers to see, it won’t pass the smell test. Simply put progress is a joy best shared with coworkers.
The work is what matters:Instead of asking workers “what did you do today” or “when did you do it”, you can now just ask them to show you what they did today.
When you can’t see someone all day long the only thing you have to evaluate is the work. As a remote manager you can directly evaluate the work and ignore all the other stuff that doesn’t matter.
Another idea is to start the day by sharing with your colleagues what you plan to work on. This is a good way to help plan your day and stay connected.
Check-in check-out. Expect and encourage people to work 40 hours per week on average.
When you’re working remotely, it seems like the risk is for people to work too little — but a bigger risk is that it’s easy to accidentally work too much — e.g. end up stretching the work day from 7am — 9pm. There are no hero awards for putting in more hours. Sure every now and then there’s the need for a short sprint, but most of the time the company is doing what it does as a marathon. It’s crucial for everyone to pace themselves.
Try to work ‘a good day’s work’: One way to help set a healthy boundary is to encourage employees to think of a good day’s work. Look at the progress at the end of the day and ask yourself “have I done a good day’s work”? If the answer is yes you can stop working feeling satisfied that something important got accomplished if not entirely done, and if the answer is no you can treat it as an off-day and explore the five whys (by asking why to a problem 5 times in a row to find the root cause)
It’s everyone’s job to be on the lookout for co-workers who are overworking themselves, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the managers and business owners to set the tone.
Compute different: Use different devices or spaces for work and play where possible. The grey line between work and play can be hard when you use the same device for both. Try to separate the two completely by using different devices e.g. reserve one computer for work and another computer or tablet for fun. This works doubly awesome if your fun device can’t even run the programs needed to do your real work. You can back this up by confining the home the work computer to the home office. This works even better if you hook it up to a mess of keyboard mouse and monitor wires to make it a real hassle to disconnect. Having created conditions that necessitate getting off your comfy couch to check work email, your laziness will win most nights leaving you to recharge your mental batteries until the morning. If you can’t have two computers or devices, try to create two separate spaces within your computer. Also make sure to separate work and home accounts for email and chat.
Ergonomic chair, desk, and monitor height: use them if you can.
Personalize your space with whatever you want! And feel free to wear sweatpants 🙂
Don’t forget to move, exercise and eat healthy.
Now you have more time to do so! Perhaps check out a workout video online.
Get engaged with interests beyond just your work
Take time off to do hobbies so that you benefit from the diversity of human experience. Interests, diversity, and personal development are encouraged.
The manager’s role is to lead and verify the work
Not to herd cats or check if/when people are working.
Meetups and sprints
It’s important to get the entire company together sometimes. It’s also a great idea to occasionally do a sprint with a smaller group to finish a specific project. If the company must make a mad dash to meet a deadline — with the unreasonable hours and pressure that implies — it can be nice to slave through the ordeal together. Basecamp has done this in the past when they’ve launched a new product or finished a particularly gnarly feature in their software, or when people have simply wanted to top off on some social interaction.
Have frequent check-ins with all your employees — pick up the phone and talk with every remote person on a frequency that works for your company — daily, weekly, monthly, or less frequently. The key is to make them casual and conversational. This is a “What’s up and how are things?” call more than a specific critique of a specific project or response to a piece of work. These chats typically last 20 or 30 minutes but it’s good to keep an hour open just in case. If a conversation is going well you don’t want to have to cut things short. The goal here is really just to keep a consistent open line of communication. These quick calls prevent issues and concerns from piling up without being addressed. Morale and motivation are fragile things, so you want to make sure to monitor the pulse of your remote workforce.
Getting stuff done while working remotely depends on being able to make progress at all hours and without waiting. Empowered everyone to make decisions on their own. Mistakes are the price of learning and self-sufficiency. Make sure everyone has access to everything they need.
Build a Routine
Without clear boundaries and routines, things can get murky when working from home. While some might be able to juggle a floating lifestyle where you work from your bed or your couch, some people need some sort of routine that they can stick with most of the time. Consider separating the clothes you wear depending on whether you’re in work or play mode. Consider dividing up the day into chunks like catch-up, collaboration and serious work, and have a clear delineation between work time and family time. If you can, use the layout of your house as a switch. Make sure the real work only happens when you’re you’re in your dedicated home office. No checking work email in your bedroom. Find out what works best for you.
The only reliable way to muster motivation is by encouraging people to work on the stuff they like and care about, with people they like and care about. There are no shortcuts. If a worker’s motivation is slumping, it’s probably because the work is weakly defined or appears pointless, or because others on the team are acting like tools. If you find yourself taking a week to do a day’s work, that’s a flashing red light and it should be heeded. The sooner you act on that message, the better. Don’t blame yourself. The truth, more often than not, is that you are not the problem; it’s the world you’re working in. Have the courage to speak up and turn de-motivating work and environments into the opposite.
Motivation is pivotal to healthy lives and healthy companies. Make sure you’re minding it.
Curious what we are we working remotely on? Making our award-winning programs on Coding, Robotics and Minecraft virtual. We are using an excellent and highly secure screen-sharing technology solution which will enable kids to do learning, socialization and development from home by participating in web-calls and receiving lessons from Maker-Mentors virtually. During a time where kids may not have as much interaction with other kids as usual available to them, we hope that these virtual programs will provide positive interaction and boost their moods. If you or anyone you know is interested, check out https://makerkids.com
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Not sure of the original author but a big thank you to them.
Things you could do in the time of coronavirus:
1. Call your next door neighbor and say, If you need anything, I’m here, just call.
2. Put your feet on the earth and breathe one really deep breath.
3. Tip outrageously if you’re out and about. Say this is for the tips I know you’re missing right now.
4. Ask to speak to the owner of any local shop and say, How is it going? And then listen.
5. Call your hairdresser if you’re not coming in like usual. Ask how they are doing. Send your tip or the cost of your haircut via Venmo.
6. Smile at babies. They must be wondering about all the worried faces.
7. Call your local BLM chapter. Ask where you can bring supplies or cash for mutual aid efforts.
8. Research mutual aid. Get familiar with the term. Imagine living it.
9. Go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.
10. Bathe your body like it’s a temple. Put on lotion like it’s a temple.
11. Call an old person.
12. Check on a friend with cancer. Listen as long as they’ll talk.
13. Remember this new careful about germs reality is a familiar daily nightmare for so many people.
14. Reach out to friends of Asian descent. Stigma and racism and lashing out is up for our friends from these communities. Say, I appreciate you and I’m here if you need anything.
15. Stay home. Meditate. Breathe deep deep deep. Exhale.
16. Organize the cabinets. Realize there’s more here than you realized.
17. Pick three people to check in with everyday. Say, How are you feeling? Then say how you’re feeling too.
18. Call your representative. Talk as long as you want. Tell whoever answers the phone that you think healthcare should be for everyone.
19. Read up on what it really means to be middle class. Consider a world where sharing made more sense than trying to be successful on your own.
20. Share. Whatever you have, if you have more than one of anything, tell yourself, I have this so I can share. Then give something away everyday.
21. Write a letter. We won’t always be here. Write to whoever you think of when you read that. Tell them how you feel in longhand then send it.
22. Follow disability justice activists. Start with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Learn about ableism.
23. Clean your house.
24. Say metta when you wash your hands. Look in the mirror and say it again for the whole world. “May we be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to us, may no problem come to us, may we always meet with success. May we also have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome the inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life.”
25. Send the money directly to any local service provider whose services you might skip due to a quarantine. Say, I know you’re taking a hit with this thing. Thank you for all that you do.
26. Notice the leaders who see their role as making sure the people have the resources they need to flourish. Notice who is protecting and deflecting responsibility. Throw your weight behind anyone willing to take on difficulty for the well-being of the collective. First responders, hospital workers, public health officials, we heart you.
27. Say you’re sorry. For anytime you were annoyed with someone with a chronic illness. For anytime you thought they were making up. Say I didn’t understand before, and I’m so so sorry it’s been like this for you for so long without my understanding or support.
28. Make room for joy. Life is going to slow down for a minute. There will be time for things you never have time for and a stillness that might feel new. Ask yourself what isn’t as necessary as you might have thought.
29. Go outside. Tell the earth hi. Ask if the earth has any requests of you. Introduce yourself if you’ve never done this before.
30. Burn your worries in a pyrex pan. Write them on little strips of paper. Write them and say I know I’m not the only one. I know so many feel this too.
31. Start the thing you always wanted to start. Do it like the world is on fire. Do it like your pants are on fire. Do it like it will never happen or you’ll never get another chance. Do it because you want to that bad. Do it for the babies looking at all the worried faces. Do it for the trees. Do it for the you who already knows what’s really important. For the you that knows what we have to do.
Just fell down a rabbit hole of links and articles about climate change. If we continue as is and make no changes, scientists are saying we could see human extinction in our lifetimes. Many bugs are already gone, birds are starting to die, and much of our coral reefs are gone.
We need to make immediate change, and wake up governments to do so.
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