On Hineini, Team Spirit and Recognition

I've been reading a soon-to-be-published book on Digital Dharma: A User's Guide to Expanding Consciousness in the Infosphere, by Steven Vedro, which proposes an integration of spirituality and technology based on the seven chakras. I hope to post an entry on the book after I finish it, but one of the many gems I've encountered in the book so far ties in with some other things I've encountered in other media streams over the past few days, and so I'm going to weave them together in a new stream here.

In a sidebar, Steven recounts Flash Rosenberg's recounting of the true value(s) of Hebrew School, which include a definition of hineini from Rabbi Krinsky that I find inspiring:

The most important duty you have is to be present whenever you are called upon, whenever you are needed, whenever you can help.

My son, Evan's, football coach, Joe Morgan, recently sent around a welcome message to the players and parents of his Woodinville Junior Football team (which has strong, multidimensional team and community spirit, as I've written about before). Joe's message included a signature that offers some related inspiration:

You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.

This strikes me as a fabulous philosophy to articulate and promote, whether the team is oriented toward athletics, business, politics or any field of human endeavor! [Update: this quote is attributed to Zig Ziglar]

On Friday, I heard a story on NPR's All Things Considered about the retirement of Karch Kiraly that relates to all of this. In an interview with KQED's Rob Schmitz, Kiraly, the winningest volleyball player of all time, who may be the sport's pre-eminent bumper and setter (vs. the more attention-attracting servers and spikers), shared his strategy:

If I can help my teammate - or teammates - play at a level they never played at before, then it doesn't even matter so much how I play.

While many organizations talk a good game about valuing such under-the-radar contributions, very few have any kind of mechanisms to more formally recognize and reward this kind of behind-the-scenes facilitation of others' success - systems of encouragement for being a mensch.

I'll finish off with something I used to do regularly, but from which I've refrained for the past 6 months: invoke the wisdom of Kathy Sierra. In this case, I'll simply borrow a photo she posted in a blog entry on Never Underestimate the Power of Fun, in which she shared a fun example of recognizing employees who typically operate behind-the-scenes - a calendar that includes photos of employees of the Water Services Department of the city of Bryan, TX, along with the annual Drinking Water Quality Report they help produce:

Football and Community in Woodinville

Last weekend, I wrote about the efforts of the Bainbridge Island Junior Football League to create a healthier community by offering healthier food at football games.  The next day, I received an email from one of the parents on our team, who is also building community around football, though in his own special way.

Bruce Allison is our team videographer.  Every week, he videotapes our games, and creates DVDs for the families, charging a nominal fee which goes to a scholarship fund established for a beloved coach who died last year of ALS.  I think this is a[nother] great idea for ways that football leagues can raise funds to support the community, and so wanted to include the details below of the arrangements that Bruce has made to support this (along with a photo of Bruce, who, of course, is rarely on the "business end" of a lens). 


I realize that not every team has a dedicated videographer -- and only two teams have Bruce as their videographer -- but perhaps this will provide incentive to any who might be thinking about getting involved.  As with the Bainbridge Island efort, this seems like an obvious win for everyone involved.

Last season I produced and sold over 200 DVD’s of the Rookie Season covering 11 games AND a highlight reel at the end.   We raised about $1700 from this team alone for the Mark Morgan fund.

Sadly, Coach Mark passed on last April at the age of 49 from ALS.  This year all proceeds (after cost of supplies) from DVD sales will be used to create a Mark Morgan Memorial Scholarship fund for the Woodinville Jr. Football Program.  This fund will assist local kids interested in playing Woodinville football that do not have the economic resources available to their family.

You may order all 8 regular season games for $100 ($12.50 / game) payable in advance.  You may also buy games one at a time for $15 each.   Playoff games will be available for $15 each or $12.50 if you paid for the season. 

My Google Sidebar Thinks I'm a Sports Fan

Saturday, as I was writing a blog post about Building a Community around Football and Food on Bainbridge Island after my son's first football game, I noticed that the News pane of my beloved Google Desktop Sidebar started showing me sports headlines.  In a short space of time, I learned of a number of developments in which I have absolutely no interest, e.g.,

Having a background in information extraction and personalization, I've often wondered what kind of algorithm Google uses for both creating a profile of my interests, and how and where it searches for articles to show me in the Sidebar that are likely to be relevant to those inferred interests.  In writing the blog post, I had visited the home page for Evan's football team, the Woodinville Falcons, as well as the Bainbridge Island football team.  But those are the only sports-related pages I've visited since last summer, when we were given free tickets to see the Seattle Mariners.  So I was surprised when articles about sports -- and, more specifically (from what I can gather), football -- started appearing in the News pane of the Sidebar on Sunday, with a frequency of once every two or three articles.

So, I started wondering about what might explain this high frequency of football-related pages being shown, given the relatively small sample of football-related pages I visited.  Could it be that terms relating to football were so prominent on the two pages I visited that those terms became highly rated in my profile?  Could it be that there were so many articles about football in the pool that Google draws from (especially on the first Sunday of the NFL season), that even a slight hint of interest in football results in a flood of such articles?  Or, could it be that my Google Sidebar has gained some special insight into my true character -- that beneath this facade of disinterest in all professional sports, I am, deep down, a football fan?

I'm reminded of an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, "My TiVo Thinks I'm Gay", in which a number of people discovered that their TiVo digital videorecorders seemed to be making unwelcome inferences about their interests, and tried to "correct" their profiles:

... when TiVo thinks it has you pegged, there's just one way to change its "mind": outfox it.

Mr. Iwanyk, 32 years old, first suspected that his TiVo thought he was gay, since it inexplicably kept recording programs with gay themes. A film studio executive in Los Angeles and the self-described "straightest guy on earth," he tried to tame TiVo's gay fixation by recording war movies and other "guy stuff."

"The problem was, I overcompensated," he says. "It started giving me documentaries on Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Eichmann. It stopped thinking I was gay and decided I was a crazy guy reminiscing about the Third Reich."

TiVo does provide more direct, manual intervention, offering users the capability to vote -- thumbs up or thumbs down -- on any of the television shows in its listings, but even that can lead to mistaken inferences:

Mr. Karlsson, 26, says he "pre-emptively" found all the religious shows in his TV listings and used the "thumbs down" button on his remote control to tell TiVo he has no interest in them. (Giving three thumbs down is the best way to block a program.) After that, his TiVo recorded movies about creepy homicides. "They all have titles like 'Murder on Skeleton Isle,' " says the computer system administrator in Cambridge, Mass.

Google Desktop Sidebar also offers users an opportunity to directly intervene, but only to give a thumbs down via right-clicking on a headline and selecting "Don't show me items like this".


This helps, but I still want more control.  When I give a thumbs down on the three articles I listed above, I don't want Google to adjust my profile so that articles involving chiefs, colleges or injuries no longer appear in my News pane, but simply filter out football articles.  After telling Google not to show me more articles like the three listed above, plus about a half dozen others, it did stop showing me sports related articles, but now I'm wondering what I'm missing.

One of the nice features of the Sidebar is that I can continuously partially attend to it, rather than give it my full attention, as I tend to do with television during the one or two times per month I watch a show (which, of course, is nearly always recorded on my Dish Network DVR ... although with the TiVo patent lawsuit advancing, this practice may change).  So the bar is lower, so to speak ... but perhaps not for long.  With recent developments, such as YouTube and Google Video, we are seeing a convergence that is closing the gaps between television and the web, and it will be interesting to see how personalization and profiling will adapt to accommodate the growing volume of digital content.

[thanks to SnarkAttack for posting an excerpt of the WSJ article online]

Mysidebarthinksimasportsfan [Update: I wrote another post yesterday on Football and Community in Woodinville. This time, I didn't even visit any other sports-related web sites (e.g., for the Bainbridge Island or Woodinville football leagues, as I did for the first post). And yet today, 7 of the 20 News items that Google Sidebar is showing me are sports-related (as shown in the screenshot on the left).  This suggests (to me) that it is the preponderance of sports-related articles in the news pool today, moreso than a preponderance of sports-related pages I'm visiting ... unless my Sidebar still thinks I'm a sports fan (on Sundays).]

Building a Community around Football and Food on Bainbridge Island

Evan's team, the Woodinville Falcons (Cubs division), played their first regular season game today against the Bainbridge Island team at Strawberry Hill Park.  The team played very well, and Evan was excited about getting his first "real" tackle, on the second defensive play of the game [photos below courtesy of our star team photographer, and videographer, Bruce].



It was a great game, and it was a great after-game, as the food being served at the concession stand was like nothing I've ever seen or tasted at any other ballfield (outside professional sports, and even then, better than the food I've had at most professional stadiums).  In addition to the usual fare (hotdogs, soda, candy and chips), they were offering BBQ Pork, "Island Pork" (with jalapenos, sauteed onions and cilantro), and a Chicken Salad with goat cheese, candied pecans cranberries and pears.  The Island Pork was fabulous, as was the accompanying southern-style cole slaw (with sesame seeds -- it's amazing to me sometimes how little touches can make a big difference).  I smelled and heard good things about the other items as well [if you click on the photo below, you can read the full menu board].


I spoke with Liz Le Dorze, the Vice-President of Fundraising and Community Involvement for Bainbridge Football (pictured above, in the center, flanked by Margie Wienkers, Snack Shack Manager, and Kelley Yarbrough, Treasurer and Volunteer Coordinator -- who also contributed the cole slaw).  Liz told me the specialty food is part of a larger community effort that they are experimenting with this year.  The healthier food selections are intended to appeal to a broader range of families who will be coming to the park each Saturday, and she is hoping that will provide more incentive for people to hang out longer, meet other families and cheer on other teams.  They offer free meal certificates to the sponsors of the league, some of whom then donate the certificates to the home team coaches, who then are free to use them as awards for MVPs.  They also offer free drinks to the coaches and free meals to the referees (which, at least for this game, did not seem to influence or bias their calls in any discernible way :-).

I think it's a great idea, and wanted to share the news with others who may be heading to Bainbridge Island for a junior football game this season (don't bother packing a meal!) ... and with people who are in fundraising and/or community-building roles for other leagues or clubs, in case they might be inspired to replicate this tasty experiment!