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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Googling in Juneau

OK, so who wouldn't be thrilled to see the Google Car driving toward you on your street with its space age camera?

The delivery guy and I were jockeying for position to take pictures of it. When we talked to the driver who was clearly used to the attention, he only asked that we not take pictures of him. He said he had been on too many Facebook pages. No problem, I said. I wasn't thinking of Facebook anyway. This is blog material!

So, this is not the first time that the Google car has been to Juneau because I remember seeing our house on Google Maps Street View back before almost any other place in Alaska had been mapped. It was a strange phenomenon then. And now? We almost expect it. We would feel affronted if all of our streets were not mapped. Yet, do you remember the privacy concerns then? I don't hear those anymore. But some people still find it an invasion of privacy and sort of creepy. For many of us, it has become just another tool. And we now expect more. They even mapped the tiniest roads in Haines, population 1,811 people. I suspect they haven't made it to the villages yet - prohibitive in terms of getting a car to a roadless place - but that is probably not far off. We live in a time of wonders that soon become commonplace.

Look at that camera. I can't even begin to imagine how it works to take photos up and down and all round to form a whole. And yet, it does. (And why couldn't someone just carry that on a small plane into a village? And attach it to a four wheeler and drive around. Just wondering.)

You get a better look at the amazing camera this way. And I only took a picture of the driver's arm, not his face. See, I kept my promise to him. And anyway, when you take a job like this one, you have to realize that you are a kind of rock star to the nerdiest among us and you have to accept that if you take pictures of us, we get to take pictures of you. Fair is fair.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stairway to Heaven?

One day recently I watched as two women with a clipboard examined the staircase across from our house. Being naturally curious (nosy), I wandered over and asked them what they were doing. Counting stairs, they said. What a great idea, I thought. We have so many stairs in Juneau. Why shouldn't someone count them?

Do you work for the city, I asked. No, they shook their heads. That silenced me. They didn't offer an explanation right then. Very friendly, they were. Well, I thought I should help them so pointed out stairs they might have missed. The one near the Youth Hostel that brings you up to another street right next to an astonishing rock garden? Yes, they found that one. The one at the top of Starr Hill that leads even FURTHER up the mountain? Yes, they got that one. After all, they had canvassed downtown three times now in their efforts to count them all. Three times??? What about the ones on South Franklin that the bears used to startle tourists? (Perhaps not on purpose.) Oh yes, they had found all of those. In fact, they said, now that they had counted all of the stairs, they had decided to start counting steps between stairs.

Wow, I love this kind of research. You get to be outside, explore, notice everything, and best of all, you can carry a clipboard! They were doing it for fun. FUN. So often we think about an extrinsic reward as a motivation. We work to get paid. We fix up a house to sell it. We make a speech so that people will praise us. The truth is that there is no motivation stronger than what is inside of us. Check out for what Daniel Pink has to say about what really motivates us. It isn't what we think.

Back to my counting friends. They looked so happy, having counted all of the stairs. It was obvious that their project had given them a great deal of pleasure and having completed that, were on to counting the steps between the stairs. Oh, and before I forget - they counted over 1,200 stairs on staircases in downtown Juneau.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We Have to Choose to be Kind

On Thursday morning this week, we left on the 6am Alaska Airlines Flight 62 from Fairbanks to Juneau, and we stopped in Anchorage. Normally, the same plane continues on to Juneau, but this time we needed to get on another plane with the same crew. We disembarked and then boarded the second plane and I reached into my backpack to discover that I had left my Bose earphones on the first plane in the seat pocket. Those earphones keep the noise of the engines at bay and I never travel without them. I panicked. They're expensive, but more than that, they make my frequent air travel more comfortable. 

People were still walking down the aisle, finding their seats and getting settled. I managed to work my way down the crowded aisle to a flight attendant and told her my story. She immediately started problem solving and said she would do what she could to get them for me. She called the attendant at the door of the plane to let her know about my problem. I sat in my seat, doing the "it could be worse" routine in my head. Five minutes later, she walked toward me, holding the earphones. She said the captain had run from our plane to the first plane, found my earphones and sprinted back in time to leave on schedule. 

Captain Marty didn't have to retrieve my earphones. I figure he had enough on his hands flying our jet. It wasn't his problem. If he had done nothing, I wouldn't have blamed him. He made a choice to be kind. So did both flight attendants.

And that is the crux of kindness, I think. We have to make a choice: to allow someone into our lane while driving, to say "thank you" with genuine feeling, to give up our seat on a crowded bus, to talk to a shy person at a party, to actually go out of our way, get out of our heads and away from the self-interest that can often drive our behavior. 

Thank you, Captain Marty! And I am saying that with genuine feeling.