One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for July 2017

App Camp for Girls: Follow Up

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(Special thanks to App Camp for Girls for the invitation)

When I wrote my initial post about App Camp for Girls, I was hoping to not just draw attention…but also drive attendance. When they invited me to attend their pitch event on July 28th at 8th Light, I was even more curious. After all, what did the end results for teaching girls how to code look like? Impressive, as the gallery at the end of this post shows.

But now, the fine details: three different teams of girls were selected to “pitch” to a panel of local judges which included:

All of the apps were quiz apps…but with a nice, fun approach. Teams were asked to provide background on the apps, as well as their marketing plan, how they would finance their apps, and identifying their target market for the app. (In short, App Camp for Girls helped these teams learn and practice skills for “real world” applications. Teams and their apps included

  • Ducks That Code, who created an app called Dino Survival, which helps people who find themselves trapped in Jurassic Park;
  • Blue Lemurs From France, who created a quiz that lets you determine your Spirit Animal (and which indicates that my personal spirit animal is a hippo); and
  • Lettuce4Pie who created an emergency preparedness app called Raining Duck-Tastrophe, which assesses a person’s ability to cope should there be a torrent of ducks raining from the sky.

Although it sounds like I’m making light of this, I would like to emphasize that App Camp for Girls’ mission is to engage middle school students in learning how to code. Having tested these apps myself (mobile devices were provided to the audience), I found them very well done, with a great attention to detail….and fun. Many industries are working towards gender diversity in the workplace and the Chicago tech scene is welcoming App Camp for Girls as a critical partner.

In short, I was glad to take part – even in a small way – in helping App Camp for Girls establish a presence in Chicago. They’re a great resource for the Chicago area, and hopefully, we’ll see them again next year.

Have any other suggestions for great tech resources? Know organizations that could use exposure? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below, reach out to me privately via e-mail, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading!



Written by gordondym

July 31, 2017 at 11:42 am

Why I Would Hang With the LEVERAGE Crew

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After writing about detoxing from Facebook, a fun excursion into one of my favorite shows is in order. This week’s Blogapalooz-hour topic is….

“What fictional character (or characters) would you most like to spend time with and what would you do together?”

Of course, my mind instantly went to Leverage, the socially conscious program about a group of thieves and con artists who take on the rich, powerful, and corrupt. (I’ve written about this show for both Chicago Now and my personal blog). As someone dedicated to social justice, I really enjoy the show (having binged upon it via Ion Television), and also feel that right now…it’s due for a revival.

(I’m also working on a novel that’s very Leverage-esque…but more on that when it’s released).

Part of the reason to hang with the Leverage crew…is that they do wrong to do right. Yes, they’re criminals, but they’re also taking on the powers that be. As a man who wishes for the energy of his youth to catch up with his idealism….it’s a very appealing notion. Plus, the Leverage crew was a family by choice rather than family by chance: there was a shared idealism that stretched from the first episode The Nigerian Job to the finale The Last Goodbye Job Having friends who share ideals is….empowering.


One cool thing would be the ability to work with Nathan Ford (played by Timothy Hutton)….or possibly not. He and I share very similar mindsets – obsessive, manipulative, and determined. (The only thing we don’t share is a drinking problem). Of course, I would probably want to pick his brain about handling tough situations like negotiating social services….or wooing a crush.

(Yes, Leverage was rather goofy like that. Part of the fun would be having those warm-and-offbeat moments in between aspects of the job. And yes, I would be risking arrest and jail…but it would be in a fictional realm. Not the real world with real consequences).

leverage05On the other hand, a better tutor for handling people would be Sophie Devereaux, the team’s resident grifter (played by Gina Bellman). She also hasn’t let that define her…in fact, for awhile, she took time off to “find herself”, as the old cliche goes. But she has a kind of nurturing quality, as well as a strong sense of self. Yes, she has an on-again off-again thing with Nathan, but there’s something about her being so down-to-earth yet acknowledging her ability to influence people that would make her a potentially great ally. Of course, I probably would not necessarily trust her….but that’s just part of the territory.

Of course, part of the fun would be watching the bickering between Alec Hardison, the hacker (played by Aldis Hodge) and Elliot Spenser, the hitter/retrieval specialist (played by eliot-and-hardisonChristian Kane). Much of their banter reminds me of my youth: reading Monk and Ham bicker in old Doc Savage pulps or listening to my mother’s old Smothers Brothers albums. It’s an almost classic push-and-pull: Hardison’s laid back technological savvy against Eliot’s culinary skills and physical dexterity. Ironically, this is the pair that I would probably hang out with most…in fact, several of my friends and I engage in Leverage-style banter that ends up with one of them yelling “Dammit Hardison!”

(Plus, I think it would be cool to see how Hardison reacts to my nickname for Eliot: Punchy McKickface)

c760e6cc1c2cc01c3966dc7007f91001Finally, there’s Parker, the thief (played by Beth Riesgraf), and to be honest….I’m not sure how I would relate to her. After all, she’s a bit socially awkward (like me), she sees the world in a different way…

Ok, I’ve found the reason. I need people who are different than I am. Not just in the demographic sense, but in their experiences. One of Leverage‘s main strengths wasn’t in the elaborate nature of their plots (although let’s be honest….they were smartly written).

Leverage‘s key strength is its emphasis on people and personalities over tropes and gimmicks.

As I write this, our President called for a ban on transgendered individuals in the military. Friends on Twitter were sharing information, organizations to support, and other information. In short, we were becoming a Leverage-style crew focused on helping people through this crisis.

I think the other main strength of Leverage has been its focus on “normal” people. In a media climate where the paranormal (superheroes and other larger-than-life characters) serve as escapist fare, Leverage provides a nice punitive quality: not only does the antagonist lose – they experience severe consequences.

Is it possible to hang with a fictional crew of criminals? Not really…but the ultimate strength of Leverage is the idea that communities aren’t just large collections of people….just a small group with a common goal.

And I can live that daily.

Questions? Comments? Please feel free to leave them below, or join us on our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading!




Written by gordondym

July 26, 2017 at 10:00 pm

My Facebook Detox, Part Two: What I Learned

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Last week, I blogged that I would be taking a one-week break from Facebook. With the help of browser extensions, I would avoid signing into Facebook. (And for good measure, I threw in HootSuite and YouTube and focused primarily on Twitter.)  My rationale was whether I was becoming a little too dependent on the service, focusing more on the quick fix of being liked rather than on being authentic. So this post marks one full week without Facebook (somewhat), and so….what did I learn?

Apps Like StayFocusD Really Help – After installing the StayFocusD extension on my Chrome Browser and a domain blocking extension on another, I found both have features that make avoiding certain sites long-term easier. In fact, I used the “Go Nuclear” feature on StayFocusD to block me from Facebook for an entire week….meaning that if I accidentally chose to sign in, I received this screen:

There's also animation in this page, but a screencap can't capture it.

There’s also animation on this page, but a screencap can’t capture it.

So yes, I met both my main and stretch goals from last week, managing to stay offline for seven full days until today.

It’s Very Easy to Cheat With Mobile – OK, I admit I was tempted and signed onto Facebook on Thursday using mobile. Scrolled through, found nothing of interest, then left…because quite honestly, I wanted to go hard core.

And I didn’t have a site blocker on my browser, but then again…I really only checked to see notices. Otherwise, it felt hard to let go of checking it (out of force of habit). Speaking of which….

I didn’t suffer from FOMO as much– everyone who leaves Facebook for awhile has a moment where they fear they’re missing out on what’s happening….and that fear (aka FOMO) can often lead to relapses back onto the network…C Now Social Media 01

But as an experiment, I decided to check out my rarely-used Twitter account. On the day when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the 13th actor to play Doctor Who. In having actual short conversations with people, it felt more…honest. Accepting. More engaging.

(And no, I’m not turning this into a Facebook vs. Twitter fight….merely pointing out that I felt more involved in something than in checking random items on my Facebook feed.).

Was it tempting to sign on during this period? Yes, but I also realized that there’s no reason that I have to sign into Facebook. Even when I was bored and using my smartphone, I never felt like signing into Facebook. Sure, I looked at that login page….but ended up deciding “n0” and moving on…..

It’s easy to bury your feelings on Facebook – One of the consequences of leaving a social network for a short period of time is, well…I got depressed. Seriously depressed. Rather quickly.

All of the stress and drama of the past few weeks around my mother’s health hit me hard. (And it happens to many adult caregivers as well…and it started as I was thinking of withdrawing from Facebook). After getting some time, space, and breathing room, I found myself in a downward spiral of despair and depression. Even when I would post something on Facebook about being down, it would often go….unacknowledged. No likes, sadness, and too few comments of support.

I’m not blaming my friends….I’m blaming Facebook’s algorithm. But more on that later…

BTP Adventures in Freelancing 1106So without hesitation, and in need to get my feelings out, I grabbed a legal pad and began writing. Yes, I could have used a keyboard, but something about this felt more purifying….and I would have been breaking my Facebook silence. My writing came out in droves: paragraphs about feeling isolated and alone. Prose poems about feelings acknowledged and unrequited. Many letters that would never be sent because they were more about owning and expressing my feelings than telling others….

and those feelings scared me enough to get outside help. And I have written about mental health and creative depression enough to know the necessary next steps to take. And that my friends would worry if I hadn’t. 

But this process allowed me to process my emotions, to write out my anguish if only to be able to articulate it more clearly. Writing about my emotions validated how I was feeling more than a casual Facebook hug or like. If Facebook is a torrent of expressions (usually out of anger or frustration).  this was more like a slow release, allowing me to unload several burdens and feel more confident in reaching out for help. (And yes, I am reaching out. Just not solely on Facebook).

But this leads to my final point…

I now see Facebook as a Pavlovian response generator – For many of us, Facebook is a social connector. Facebook sees itself as an advertising platform….but the way in which Facebook is organized, from its algorithm to the type of “optimization”, lends itself more easily to random “liking”, substituting engagement for affirmation. People can be “interested” in events without ever attending, and can “like” articles without ever reading them. Call me clueless until now, but I understand why some people use the “echo chamber” metaphor for Facebook: other voices can be heard, but they’re mostly variations on your own. 

My Twitter experience helped me feel much more connected to a greater community, and I managed to reconnect in some way with several colleagues. If you’re looking for a Twitter vs. Facebook argument…this isn’t that. It’s no wonder that there have been many examples of people using Facebook to document their issues; there’s the promise of immediate hope or response. Facebook allows people to broadcast without really communicating, and my absence from the platform has made me realize that I have felt unable to communicate. C Now - Networking 02

I’m not blaming Facebook, but spending so much time on it didn’t help.

With so many nonprofits and social enterprises relying on Facebook as a marketing tool, it feels like Facebook is rigging the game. No matter how much organizations try to optimize in order to “game the system”, there’s always a consistent feeling that Facebook is lacking the vital connection that’s needed for a social network.

For my own insights…I probably will be back on Facebook, but not as much as in the past. I won’t be relying on it for my own sense of self-affirmation, and I can even spend that time writing all sorts of things….

Like blog posts.

And prose poems about feelings acknowledged and unrequited.

Your thoughts? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or join the conversation via our Facebook page. And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

July 19, 2017 at 5:40 am

My Facebook Detox, Part One

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You would think that as a social media consultant, I would live and breathe on Facebook…especially since my past nonprofit and social enterprise clients rely on it heavily. However, my personal engagement on Facebook is becominbut quite frankly, it’s becoming a problem for me.

Much of it is personal – the emotional consequences of the past few months have hit really hard. My efforts to balance freelance work and caregiving have been successful, but I’m also finding myself a bit depressed and needing some personal time.

Unfortunately, like many others, I’m turning to Facebook to avoid dealing with my emotions. (And often using it when I can’t sleep…which is never healthy). As someone who works in social media, I’m finding that I’m relying too much on Facebook as a substitute for social interaction than as an opportunity for real social interaction. I’m becoming more focused on finding ways to escape via Facebook than actually conversing….and sadly, I’m finding myself reacting more selfishly, wondering why nobody is liking my posts.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

But right now, my mother is transitioning back into care. I have various freelance writing projects to compete. I also need to build my portfolio of nonprofit/social enterprise freelance consulting work as well). I’m posting my goals publicly for both transparency and accountability:

  • I am publicly pledging to spend at least 72 hours off of Facebook starting at 10:00 am CST on July 12th, 2017
  • My stretch goal is that I will spend 7 days off of Facebook, signing back on around 10:30 am CST 

Here are the steps I’m taking to avoid using Facebook:

  • I’m logging out of Facebook on my laptop, which is where I tend to use Facebook the most.
  • I’ve also logged out of the mobile version on my smartphone (I never installed the Facebook app, since it consumes too much data and power)
  • I’m installing a Chrome browser extension to block Facebook, and will sign out of Messenger on my Opera browser;
  • I will avoid Hootsuite (since many of my Facebook pages are connected with that platform) and if I choose to engage on Twitter, will do so directly; and
  • Next week (either Wednesday or Thursday) I will post a follow-up describing my experiences regardless of whether I succeed or not.

Why am I doing this in a very public manner? Let’s be honest – part of my reasoning is very selfish: I don’t think many of my friends will notice that I’m missing, and that’s part of the point.

Social media has allowed us to turn our lives and beliefs into commodity. Our social capital is the coin of the realm, and everything from politics to lifestyle is fair game. However, sometimes we have to replenish that capital…and that takes actually moving outside of our comfort zones.30378605441_efbe153edd_m

Since February 27th, I’ve chosen to safe in my isolated bubble rather than fully engage with the outside community. Dealing with personal issues hasn’t meant that I haven’t been social – I’ve been active with the Doctor Who meetup, and even took in a recent Raks Geek performance (with several of my friends from January’s Artists Against Hate ACLU fundraiser)…but I’ve felt increasingly alone and disconnected, and that can be potentially damaging when working with nonprofits and social enterprise.

Facebook engagement means making our lives public. It also means time away from doing other things. I need to reclaim that time, to get some other tasks done, and to (hopefully) start moving forward in my own life. If it means that friends can only reach me via e-mail for a week, that’s fine. If it means that I’m out of the conversation on our Facebook page for a few days, that’s fine, too.

But there’s a whole community outside of Facebook that I’ve been ignoring for awhile. And I need to change that.

Talk to you next week, and thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

July 12, 2017 at 8:54 am

Another Open Letter to Governor Bruce Rauner

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Illiinois Governor Bruce RaunerDear Governor Bruce Rauner,

You may not remember me, but I had written about several of my concerns in an open letter from January 2016. Since then, I had hoped that you might reconsider your approach – you know, the “my way or the highway” approach to reform.  Given the tasks you sought, I really hoped that you would embrace the principle that “Strong political leadership is similar to strong business leadership in that great leaders act from a set of principles and get buy-in”.

In fact, in light of recent events ranging from the Illinois Senate overriding your veto of a tax hike (which is now before the state House) to your recent veto on a tax for 911 emergency services, it looks like you’ve actually gone in the other direction. Standing firm because that “evil” Mike Madigan won’t let you get your way. (Or, to use the language of your supporters, “Chicago Democrats”).

But all of this could have been avoided had you taken Sean Connery’s advice from The Untouchables: (about 40 seconds into the clip):

Seriously, many of your issues as governor have been your own making, since you seem to be reluctant to do the job you were elected to do. With social services, state universities, and other critical services affected,  many people throughout the state are being hurt and enduring additional challenges.

Many of those people voted for you as governor. And you failed them.

Rather than work with the legislature (and yes, it is possible to work around legislative roadblocks), you’ve taken to auditioning for the role of Al Borland in the potential Netflix revival of Home Improvement:

I will avoid making the obvious “I don’t think so, Bruce” reference.

Right now, very few people are thinking “That Governor Bruce Rauner is sticking to his ethical guns.” It’s more like “Geez, why doesn’t Governor Rauner simply compromise and pass a budget?” When members of your own party cross over to keep Illinois’ credit to be downgraded to “junk”, you’re not just being oblivious…you’re being toxic to the state.  And presuming to run for reelection while not doing your current job…doesn’t bode well.

You remind me of an old consulting client I had years ago…the company was a startup in downstate Illinois. The focus was on a high-end service, and my job was simply social media. The CEO considered himself a marketing “guru” because he knew all the buzzwords. He ended my contract without paying for my final month of work. After six months of hounding this individual, he complained that he had problems with his new iPhone (which was the same amount that he owed me) and that he wasn’t going to pay me because, well, “he didn’t think I contributed anything.” (Well, that and he didn’t get a salary himself…so why should I complain?)

I should hook the two of you up….because as it stands, you’re not contributing anything either as Governor of Illinois.

But I’ll make this offer…closer to the election, I’ll write a final Open Letter. I would like to be able to cite one positive accomplishment, like “Governor Bruce Rauner cuts taxes for everyone” and “Governor Bruce Rauner gets term limit legislation passed” (because that’s something you and I both agree on).

Because that downstate startup I worked for had big plans to go national….and six months ago, I saw that one of their competitors was aggressively advertising on national television. That downstate startup, to the best of my knowledge, is still downstate.

Several wealthy candidates are running for governor. I would rather you be given a fair shake, Governor Rauner…but you’re going to have to earn it.

Thanks for reading, and you’re always welcome to leave comments below or via our Facebook page.

Written by gordondym

July 5, 2017 at 6:55 am