Keep the Social in Social Networking

Stop wasting time chasing likes and accumulating followers and “friends.”

Twitter LogoToday, my friend Andy started a job at Twitter.

Andy and I met a little over seven years ago on Twitter. He, in fact, was the first person I followed there.

Back in those days, Twitter was only a year or so old and no one really “got it” yet. Actually, I don’t even think the folks who made Twitter got it. They promoted it as a “microblogging” platform, a place to share very brief comments with others. Did they ever dream that it would become what it has become? A valuable and timely source of news and information? The world’s “water cooler” for chatting, venting, and sharing?

This morning, when Andy announced that he was tweeting from Twitter’s U.K. headquarters, I realized that not only had we met on Twitter, but that Twitter had become a source of our livelihoods. Andy works at Twitter now, so he’s on their payroll. And I’ve written courses for about Twitter, so I get royalties for sharing my Twitter knowledge.

Funny how that worked out, no?

The Frustration of Facebook

Facebook LogoI really don’t like Facebook, but like so many of my friends, I find myself drawn to it. It has so much potential to be a truly valuable social networking service and enough of my friends understand that to make it worth visiting.

But at the same time, I find it immensely frustrating, mostly because of the number of people who just don’t seem to get it. I let some of that frustration out the other day after reading a post by one of my friends — coincidentally, someone else I met on Twitter — that proved how little she understood the “social” aspect of social networking.

She’d shared a humorous photo that had made the rounds at least two weeks before, presenting it as if it were something new. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much except for three things: (1) she considers herself a social networking “expert,” (2) her accompanying commentary clearly indicated she thought she was so clever for finding and sharing the image, and (3) I know she’s friends with at least one of the people who’d shared the photo when it made its original rounds so she should have seen it when the rest of us did. It’s this last point that bothered me most: she obviously wasn’t looking at anything that the rest of us shared. She was just posting whatever she found.

And posting and posting. Dozens of Facebook status updates with links and images every day, about half of which I’d already seen days or weeks before.

For some reason, Friday’s post was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I posted a status update that said:

If some people would READ their Facebook timeline as much as they POST to it, they’d discover that about 50% of what they post as new and novel was shared by their friends on Facebook 2 weeks ago. #JustSaying #FunnyThenNotNow

I know I wasn’t completely off-base because 12 people “liked” it. That’s slightly above average for a status update that doesn’t include a photo. (More on that in a moment.) But one of my friends commented to say, “Wow…that’s kind of mean.” And another one added, “New, novel, Facebook all in one thought? Oxymoron there fly lady. Think it’s vacation time. Don’t pack the cranky pants.”

And that’s when I realized I needed a break from Facebook. So I pretty much took the weekend off.

Chasing Likes, Follows, and Friends

I began to realize a few years ago that a lot of people were using social media as a way to stroke their personal or business egos. (Hell, it’s a lot easier than blogging, which actually requires you to come up with original content.) I think that realization hit me when I heard about Klout. That’s a social media monitoring service that tells you how “influential” you are. Your Klout score is a number and apparently a lot of people who should have more important things to think about think their Klout score is vitally important.

I’m not sure how you build up your Klout score. I’m not sure because I don’t care. I don’t have the faintest idea of what mine is. From the way people talk, I suspect it has to do with how many Twitter followers and Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections you have and how many Google+ users — yes, there really are some — have you in their circles. It probably also takes into consideration things like retweets, likes, and shares — at least it should.

Stop Hijacking Tweets!

One of my pet peeves with certain Twitter users is the way they retweet content by copying and pasting tweets instead of using Twitter’s built-in retweet feature. What they’re doing is hijacking content. Even if the author’s name appears in the tweet (usually after RT), the hijacker’s account is the one that appears when it’s subsequently properly retweeted by others. It’s like taking credit for someone else’s comment or link or photo.

It’s a slime bag way to use Twitter for self-promotion.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about and want to learn, read this.

As a result, to some people it becomes vitally important to accumulate followers, friends, connections, and circlers (or whatever Google+ calls the people who supposedly monitor your activity). And it’s equally important to post new content on the social networks with the ultimate goal of attracting attention to pump up that Klout score. So lots of these people post all kinds of things all day long.

I guess they figure that if you throw enough crap at a wall, some of it’s gotta stick.

Or maybe they just assume that everyone who follows them on social media does it they way they do: a quick glance a few times a week to see what others are saying. They figure that if they post a ton of stuff, something will be seen. So they go after quantity and not quality.

Of course, there are dozens of “viral” websites cropping up every day to provide content that’ll get social networkers the likes and shares they crave. Any site with the word “viral” or “share” in its name exists solely for that purpose. They have staffs who comb the web for interesting or amusing content and repackage it on their sites surrounded by dozens of ads. They write headlines designed to hook bored readers and drag them in. You’ve seen them: “This second grader’s revenge against Common Core math will make your day” and “Bella Thorne Suffers “Major Wardrobe Malfunction” at Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards: Picture.”

Quote List
How many of these do you see on Facebook every day? Too many, I’ll bet.

Then there are the lists: “16 Alarming Airline Secrets That Will Change How You Feel About Flying.” Or the simpler lists that just appear in images.

And the inspirational quotes, superimposed over (often inappropriate) photos.

Love Mom
I didn’t share this. What does that really mean? That I don’t love my mother? Or that I don’t want to clutter up my friends’ news feeds with idiotic crap?

And the short stories of friendship or love or faith — that end with a statement implying that you’re uncaring S.O.B. if you don’t share it with everyone you know on Facebook.

This is the (mostly) crap people are “sharing” in search of likes and shares and retweets. And the people who share this (mostly) crap don’t understand that they are being manipulated into promoting websites that have hijacked content solely so the hijacker sites can get hits and maximize ad revenue.

And Facebook doesn’t help matters. Instead of showing me everything that the people I follow post on their own timelines — like Twitter does quite faithfully — it uses some mystery algorithm to determine what appears, what order to put it in, and how many times to show it. So I wind up missing half the content posted by the people who tend to share interesting stuff and get stuck looking at a lot of crap because my friends happened to comment on one of their friends’ mindless drivel.

Social Is More than Sharing

It’s all about likes and retweets and favorites. Apparently, that’s what most people want. It’s a good thing, too. Because most people can’t be bothered to participate any more than with a simple click on an icon indicating their approval.

Deep discussion is rare. Very rare. I’m fortunate that I follow a few interesting and thoughtful people and they follow me. I’m fortunate to get the few exchanges of comments and ideas that I get. I know that now.

But it still frustrates me.

How can something be social when there’s no real interaction between people? I post a photo, 20 people click a like button. Is that a real “social” activity? (Tip: Updates with photos are far more likely to get “likes” than those without.)

I share a link to an article Hobby Lobby trying to use a claim of “conscientious objection” to avoid providing health care to employees that includes birth control coverage and I don’t get a single comment. Is it possible that no one has anything to say about this?

(And don’t get me started on the people who do comment based on an article’s headline but obviously haven’t read the article.)

Maybe the problem is what I expect from social media. I expect a two-way exchange. I expect civil discourse, conversation to carry an idea forward or sideways or simply expand it.

That’s why I got hooked on Twitter so quickly — I was building relationships with people there. These people were keeping me company throughout my work day, when I was stuck in a home office in front of a computer. They were there when I needed a break. They were my water cooler companions.

There were plenty of two-way exchanges. I was even meeting Twitter friends in the flesh — I remain very good friends with more than a few.

To me, that’s what social networking is all about: making and communicating with friends.

It’s social.

Real People, Real Friendships

Andy lives in the U.K. I’ve never met him in person; I’ve never even spoken to him on the phone or on Skype. Yet I know that he’s a techie, he loves Lego, and he’s been through a divorce. He’s someone I can communicate with every day, the guy I can find at the “water cooler” and exchange links, comments, and gripes with.

There’s a pretty good chance I’ll meet Andy in person in April. He’s coming to Twitter headquarters for some orientation. I’m in the Sacramento area with a wide-open schedule. I’ll work my schedule to meet his.

To me, social networking is social. It’s an exchange of information and ideas — an exchange that works two ways. I’ve built good friendships with the folks who understand that, folks like Andy who see how social networking can truly enrich our lives.

Another Social Networking FAIL

Tip: When you wait five years to reply to a tweet, you’re doing it wrong.

Yesterday, a tweet addressed to me using Twitter’s @Reply feature appeared in my timeline on the Twitter app on my Mac:

Tweet from GotPrint

Thanks for my interest? What interest? I’d been using for several years, but didn’t recall ever using Twitter to express my interest in the company.

Fortunately, the Twitter app (and, for that matter) makes it easy to see the original or “parent” tweet an @Reply is in response to. When I checked, I found the following Tweet:

Parent Tweet

Note the date on that tweet: December 10, 2007. Now note the date on this post: July 6, 2013. I tweeted about the company — not even using its Twitter name — five and a half years ago.

And they replied yesterday with a canned, spammy response.

Annoyed at being spammed, I responded:


Apparently, the folks at think I’m an idiot. Their response a short while later offered an unlikely and lame excuse:

Lame Excuse

Follow up? Five and half years later?

It’s far more likely that got its hands on a Twitter bot that ran through all the old tweets that mentioned the company by name and generated spam like the message I got. While most people would likely ignore the message — because, let’s face it, most people don’t actually read the tweets on their timeline — I didn’t.

I replied:


And then I blogged about it here.

Why is this a social networking failure? Mostly because — or the individual/organization it hired to handle its social networking — misses the point of social networking: engagement.

Social networking isn’t about gathering followers and spamming them with product info. Social networking is about making your company available for a dialog with your customers and potential customers. A timely dialog. (I complained about this in another blog post years ago, but I can’t seem to find the post to link to it. Sorry!)

The companies that use social networking effectively respond promptly and appropriately to social network mentions of their companies, especially when those mentions tag the company by its Twitter (or Facebook or other social network) name. They provide additional information when requested. They link to helpful documentation to solve specific problems. They provide customer service information when its needed.

They don’t generate automated responses using bots based on key words or phrases. They don’t come up with lame excuses when they’re caught doing something stupid (like responding to a 5-1/2 year old tweet). And they certainly don’t attack other social networking users who might have something negative to say about them (as Amy’s Baking Company so famously did earlier this year).

Twitter has been around for more than seven years now. Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks have also been around for quite some time. I find it incredible that organizations are still struggling to make social networking part of their customer service and marketing efforts. It’s pretty simple; why can’t they figure it out?

As for, well, I’ll likely continue using them for my print marketing needs — which, admittedly is limited these days. But it isn’t because of the tweet I received from them yesterday. It’s because their price and quality meets my needs. If anything, yesterday’s tweet is a black mark against them — the only black mark so far.

And no, I won’t follow them on Twitter. In fact, if I hear from them again, I’ll likely report them for spam.

In Defense of Text Messaging

It does serve a real purpose.

The other day, one of my Twitter/Facebook friends linked to an article in the New York Times titled “How Not to Be Alone.” In his words, it was “highly recommended.” So I read it.

The piece started out with a story about seeing a 15-year-old girl crying into a cell phone during a discussion with her mother. The story went on for four paragraphs, with the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, using his fifth paragraph to discuss his moral dilemma: talk to this stranger to try to comfort her or “respect the boundaries” between them. He never does say what he chose to do.

From there, the article launches into a discussion of how modern day methods of communication are dividing us, weakening our relationships, reducing our ability to articulately communicate, and making it easier to “avoid the emotional work of being present” to communicate. He argues that by diminishing our communication with others, we diminish ourselves.

He says:

We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. It’s not an either/or — being “anti-technology” is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly “pro-technology” — but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

I read through the article twice without coming away with a one-line summary of what he was trying to say. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one having trouble with it because another Twitter friend replied to me and someone else with the simple — thank you, Twitter! — summary:

Don’t write when you can call. Don’t call when you can visit.

Simple enough. And I can certainly agree.

But it got me thinking about text messaging and the way it seemed to be painted, in the Times piece, as something that’s destroying society. And that bugged me.

Because I just don’t think it’s true.

Text Messaging for Work

You see, I use text messaging extensively for work. It gives me the ability to communicate instantly with clients and colleagues about things that they might want to know about right now. The key word there is might. If they must know about it now, I call their cell phone. But why bother them with a call when they might or might not be interested with the information I have to share? Or if I need an answer to a question but I don’t need it immediately — and know I will likely forget to ask if I do make a call later?

Here’s an example. My summer work requires me to be on call to fly over cherry orchards after it rains. The other day, there was rain in the area. I watched it move through on radar on my iPad. I saw it approaching an area where one of my clients has an orchard. I know he doesn’t live near there. I wanted to make sure he knew I was monitoring the weather and had some concerns about his orchard. So I texted:

Do you have someone at Malaga?

That was at 4:30 PM. His response came at 5:34 PM, after the weather had moved through:

Yeah. We made it through another close afternoon.

Communication accomplished. I didn’t have to call him to pester him with my question. He’s been growing cherries a lot longer than I’ve been drying them with a helicopter. I’m sure he had a handle on it. But by sending that quick text message, I communicated that I was aware of the situation and would be ready if he needed me. The fact that he didn’t respond for over an hour was okay with me. For all I know, he might not have even looked at his phone for an hour. He might have been busy watching the weather.

Do I communicate by text with all of my clients? No. Only the ones who have shown that they use text messaging to communicate by texting me first. When a client texts me, he’s telling me that texting is an acceptable or maybe even preferred means of communication. I’m okay with that.

I’m Not Alone

The title of the piece suggests that modern communication is making us more alone. I disagree wholeheartedly. If anything, text messaging has brought me closer to friends.

This morning, for example, while I was still in bed at 4:15 AM, I texted a friend on the east coast — where it was 7:15 — with a question. If he saw it immediately, great. If not, that was okay, too. He’d eventually see it and respond. But he was there at his desk and we had a text “conversation” about a bunch of things.

You might argue that when I realized he was available I should have picked up the phone and called him. But my friend works from home and uses his phone extensively for work. Chances are, our conversation would have been interrupted one or more times by incoming phone calls. Was our texted conversation important enough to disrupt his work day? No.

Although texting suggests a sort of immediacy to the conversation, it also makes it possible to put down and resume a conversation over time. Indeed, I’ve had texted “conversations” with people that have gone on for hours or days or even weeks. Could I accomplish this with phone calls? No — not without becoming a nuisance.

I can’t tell you how many friendships — including very old friendships — I have been able to maintain via text messaging and email. Sometimes it’s the best option.

The Trouble with Phone Calls

The problem with using the phone is that when you call someone, you’re saying, in effect, that it’s okay for you to bother him/her when it’s convenient for you. After all, you don’t usually call someone when it isn’t convenient for you, do you?

Of course, you can always schedule a phone call. Some of my publishing contacts do that. It makes sense. Take a meeting, on the phone.

But calling out of the blue? When someone might be busy? Just to chat?

I guess it depends on the kind of relationship you have with that person. I have plenty of friends who I feel comfortable calling to chat — at certain times of the day or evening. But if I don’t know a person very well, I think it’s rude to bother him/her with a phone call just to say hello.

Is that making me more alone? Not when I can fire off a quick text that might lead to a phone call when it’s convenient for both of us. Indeed, sometimes I’ll send a text message that says,

Are you around? Okay if I call?

Even if I don’t get a response, I get an answer to those questions: No.

Of course, this is assuming the person I want to reach lives with his/her cellphone at arm’s length all day every day. But that’s the kind of people I’m most likely to text anyway.

I’m not texting my mother or sister or a friend who keeps his cell phone packed away in a little backpack he uses as a manly man purse. (You know who you are!) I’m just texting the same people who text me.

In Person Meetings

When I was a kid, I’d go to my Aunt’s house in a nearby town. It aways amazed me how we’d be sitting around in the kitchen — the focal point for any Italian-American household — and one of her neighbors would walk right in. Often without even knocking on the door!

I’d love to live somewhere with all my friends nearby and be able to keep my doors unlocked at all times so they could walk right in and visit me. But that’s not my reality these days. Is it yours?

My world is bigger — my friends can be found all over the globe. They’ve chosen to live where they live just as I’ve chosen to live where I live. That doesn’t mean I won’t have super friendly neighbors when I finally build my new home. But I don’t really expect anyone to just “drop in” like we did in the old days.

Does that make me alone? I don’t think so. It makes me more likely to get out and about to get the social interaction I need with a wider variety of people in a wider variety of places.

So rather than sit around the kitchen table and wait for the same handful of visitors my Aunt’s family got, I’m getting out and expanding my world.

In Defense of Text Messaging

I’m not a kid. I’m in my 50s.

When I was a kid, we had three options for communication: face to face, telephone (which could be expensive if calling out of your immediate area), and mail (which took 2-3 days each way).

Today, we still have all of these things. Telephone use has become cheaper, mail has become more expensive. But we also have several free (or arguably low-cost) means of communication: fax (which is now, thankfully, almost dead), email, text messaging, and video conferencing. (And don’t get me started on self-publishing options — like social networking, blogging, print on demand, and ebooks — that make communication to the masses amazingly easy and cost effective.)

I can now communicate instantly for next to nothing with my friends and colleagues all over the world. I couldn’t do that when I was a kid.

I don’t understand how someone can argue that having and using more methods of communication — especially instantaneous, real-time methods — makes us more alone. If anything, it helps us connect better.

And text messaging is just one tool for doing that.

Your thoughts? Put ’em in comments so we can discuss.

Canyon Hike with New Friends

Nature + intelligent people + good conversation = a great time.

One of the reasons I’ve been so unhappy living in Wickenburg over the past few years is the lack of friends my own age who have similar interests.

As the years went by and Wickenburg shifted from being a ranching/tourist town to being a retirement community, all of our young friends moved away. There was Barb and Barry, who moved to New Mexico. Then Janet and Steve, who moved to Colorado. Then Lance and Keri, who moved to (of all places) Michigan. Some of our young, seasonal friends — John and Lorna come to mind — prefer hanging out with the old folks at the retirement community where they park their RV for half the year, opting for an ice cream social over a Jeep ride in the desert or a coffee gathering over a hike up Vulture Peak.

Because the town doesn’t offer enough employment opportunities for young people, it’s population continues to age, with more older folks coming here to retire, at least seasonally. I — or we, I guess I could still say — have quite a few friends old enough to be my parents. Sadly, most of these folks are not nearly as active as we are. And every year, when I return from my annual migration to Washington for work, I discover that one or more of them has died: Pete, Bill, Danny — rest in peace.

It’s depressing for someone like me who wants to remain active. While it was tolerable while I still had a husband at home — at least we could do things together on weekends — with him gone, the situation is bad. I decided to get proactive to find some friends.

I turned to Meetup.


Meetup is a social networking service that makes it easy to find and meet up with — in person — people with similar interests for all kinds of activities. I’ve been a member for years and, in the past, have used it to hook up with a photography group based in the Phoenix area and a social group in the Wenatchee area. Last week, I worked it hard, looking for Meetup groups that might do activities near where I live. I didn’t expect to find any in Wickenburg — indeed, there are no Meetup groups within 25 miles of Wickenburg — but I found quite a few in the Phoenix area that do activities all over the state.

Last week, after hitting the Arrowhead Mall for a makeup consultation, I joined the 39 and Holding Club‘s “Hump Day” dinner, which was being held at Chili’s in Surprise, AZ. Although it was more than 30 miles from my Wickenburg home, it was still on the way home from the mall. It was a nice evening out with pleasant people. I met an interesting woman — I’ll call her “M” — who is also going through an ugly divorce that has been going on for two years now. (I sure hope mine doesn’t take that long.) M is the one who told me about Couch Surfing, which I linked to in one of my “Interesting Link” posts. So not only did I get to spend a nice evening out with new people, but I learned about some services I might want to take advantage of in the future.

I signed up with a bunch of groups for a bunch of activities ranging from wine tasting/pairing to hiking to archery lessons. My calendar is now quite full. And with new activities listed all the time, I don’t think I’ll have much trouble at all finding something interesting to do with others.

The Phoenix Atheists

I don’t usually blog about my religious non-beliefs because it results in a firestorm of comments by religious fundamentalists damning me to hell or worse. Of course, this means nothing to me because I don’t believe in hell. If you feel your anger rising now, take your blood pressure pills and move along. Comments blasting me (or others) for religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) won’t appear on this blog, so don’t waste your time posting them.

Yes, I’m an atheist. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly for a while and have somehow missed that point, shame on you. It’s not as if I hide it. If this is news to you and it upsets you, I’m sorry. I’d like to assure you that I have very strong moral convictions that don’t require an all-mighty being to supervise. I’m not a militant atheist — one who’s blasting believers all the time — I’m a live-and-let-live kind of person. If you want to believe in god, fine. Just don’t expect me to do it just because you and others do.

That said, I believe that atheists or “freethinkers” or “secular humanists” or “skeptics” — some of the names we apply to ourselves — are generally better educated, more intelligent, and better able to reason things out than the average person. I’m not saying all atheists are smarter than everyone else. I’m just saying that as a group, they tend, on average, to be brighter than the general population, better able to think before speaking, and better able to express their thoughts without offending others.

I’m not a dummy and I like talking to smart people. I like talking to people who are as smart as or smarter than me. People who can challenge me to think in a conversation. People who are able to discuss things deeper than what they saw on television last night, what’s in the news, or what they got in the latest Obama-bashing (or Romney-bashing) email in their in box. People who make me think about things that are interesting or important. People who can help me get a new angle on things, to possibly see things in a new way and build my own new conclusions. I like talking to people who can challenge me to think and to discuss things as an equal.

atheists.jpgI figured that a group of atheists should fit the bill. So when I found out that The Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group was going for a hike at Grapevine Canyon in Mayer, AZ, I decided to join them.

Because the trailhead required a 1-1/2 mile drive down a narrow, rough road, I took my Jeep and offered up rides to anyone who didn’t have a high-clearance vehicle. I got a call from another member — we’ll call him “D” — who was driving up from Yuma in his Toyota. We agreed to meet at the shopping area at I-17 and Carefree Highway, which was on my way north to Mayer. At 7:00 AM yesterday morning, I loaded up Penny, a fanny-pack full of frozen water bottles and snacks for both of us, my camera, and my monopod, and we headed out.

I got to the rendezvous point early. I topped off the Jeep’s gas tanks, then parked by McDonalds and started looking for others in the group. Another Jeep was supposed to meet there. What I discovered is that the McDonalds there is a popular meet up place for all kinds of groups of people. I’d stop at a small group and say, “Are you here for the hike?” (I didn’t want to mention atheists because some people get silly.) One of the people in the group would respond, “No, we’re going off-roading up by Crown King. You can come with us if you want.” Or, “No, we’re going scuba diving. Want to come with us?” Or, “No, we’re with the Miata Club.” (No invitation there.) I realized that even if I had nothing planned, I could go to the McDonalds, ask around, and go with the group that seemed to be doing the most fun thing. Whoa.

I finally found the other Jeep driver, “G,” and his companion. Then D. We chatted, loaded up, and headed north on I-17 to Mayer. I followed G’s Jeep.

I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with D during the 45-minute ride to Mayer. He’s a civil engineer who works with traffic control — light timing, traffic pattern design, etc. We talked about his work and mine and about each of our divorces. He was very supportive and offered some general advice from his own experiences. Although we didn’t talk much about that — I really didn’t want to — our chat helped clear my head and put me in a more positive mood for the hike ahead.

At the turnoff, there were more members of the group. I took on another passenger and followed a Toyota FJ Cruiser down a mildly rough road, with G’s Jeep taking up the rear. At the end of that little drive were more people and vehicles. I think our group wound up with a total of 14 hikers. A good sized group.

We parked and unloaded our gear. After a briefing from the group leader, we started off up the trail.

After driving down a rough forest road and parking, we did our hike in the area marked in red. We followed Grapevine Canyon most of the way.

We were on the eastern foothills to the Bradshaw Mountains. The Bradshaws aren’t very big — I think the tallest peaks might be around 6,000 feet — and the hills climbing up to them are mostly metamorphic rock and low bushes such as holly and manzanita. I kept Penny on her leash, mostly because there had been talk of mountain lions in the area and I didn’t want her wandering off. She walked with us like a little champ and only had to be lifted over one fallen log.

The trail started as a road, then narrowed to a wide trail. At a marked fork, we took the left fork, which was supposed to be level. It wasn’t. It climbed pretty steadily but not too steeply. Because we were hiking near a dry stream bed, there were some tall tress, including oaks and various pines. Scattered clouds and the trees helped keep the sun off us. Still, I’d dressed wrong in a pair of jeans instead of shorts. It wasn’t long before I was working up a good sweat.

Hand-carved Slingshot
We found this hand-carved slingshot hanging from the vertical poles of what may have been a hunting blind in a clearing along the trail. Magnificent workmanship! Of course, we left it where we found it; I hope other hikers do the same.

Members of the group split into smaller groups and chatted as they walked. Occasionally, the front groups would stop to let the stragglers catch up. It was very rewarding to me to be able to get into a conversation with any group I wound up walking beside. I was never excluded, other members seemed to go out of their way at times to engage me in conversation. It was exactly what I wanted from the experience: a good workout with good conversation.

Meanwhile, as the trail narrowed and climbed along the dry creek bed, it became tougher to follow. Soon, we were following cairns — piles of rock left to mark the trail. After a while, I was glad I’d worn long pants — others were getting their legs scratched walking through brush. Penny kept up very well, surprising me and others.

Eventually, we reached a dry waterfall with a seep-like spring. Thick green moss, which is rare in the desert, carpeted the rocks. Small flowers bloomed here and there. Butterflies flitted about. Facing an even narrower trail up the canyon, about half of us settled down to wait for the others to continue their explorations. Because various members had hand-held radios, we were able to keep in touch with all the groups. It wasn’t long before they’d had enough and began coming back.

Flower in the Sun
I captured this flower in a beam of bright sunlight.

The hike back was easier, probably because it was mostly downhill. Again, I found myself walking with different people along the way, talking about different things. It really helped keep my mind off my personal tragedy and the pain it was causing me. Being able to meet and talk to so many interesting people really pumped up my spirits.

Penny Resting on a Hike
We stopped for a long rest on the way back, mostly to gather the whole group together. I took this opportunity to give Penny some more water and let her rest.

Afterwards, we went to Leff-T’s Steakhouse in Dewey. The group insisted on us sitting on the outdoor patio so Penny could join us. I’m in the process of weaning myself off my diet — I’m very close to my final weight goal — so I ordered steak fajitas and ate about 1/3 of the portion, taking the rest home for the next two days. One of my companions kindly gave me a taste of his chicken fried steak — I love that stuff but will probably never be able to enjoy a full portion again. (Which really is a good thing, after all.)

We split up after that. D and I climbed back into the Jeep with Penny and headed back down toward Phoenix. Although it probably would have been closer for me to drive through Prescott, I admit that I looked forward to D’s company for part of the drive. We talked a lot more about what I was going through — he seemed genuinely interested and offered up all kinds of supportive words and advice. He also gave me some specifics about his post-divorce recovery process that I could apply to my own life and what I might face. It was extremely helpful to me.

After I dropped him off at McDonalds, Penny and I headed home. It was hot — seriously, I don’t understand how people could bear to live in Phoenix when the temperature is still hovering around 100°F on the first day of autumn. We made good time getting back and I was glad to pull the Jeep into the garage just as it was beginning to get dark outside. I gave Penny a much needed bath and took a hot shower to wash off the day’s sweat and dirt.

I was tired but I felt happy and hopeful for my future.

I’m really looking forward to my next outing with this group.

HappyThe hike leader, Al, posted a huge batch of photos that he shot before, during, and after the hike. Among them was this gem.

The ugly divorce I’m dealing with right now has been eating away at me day after day and night after night. But Al managed to capture the truth in this photo: my spirit is still alive and strong, I can still have fun, I can still be happy.

Thank you, Al. Seeing this photo really made my day.

Social Networking Fail

Come on, folks. If you mean it, get it right.

LinkedInI logged into my LinkedIn account today for the first time in a few months and found 16 invitations. Of those, I knew four of the people and accepted two of the invitations.

I don’t like LinkedIn. It seems like a feeding ground for “business people” trolling for new customers. Just too much bullshit, even for a hardcore Twitter user like me.

The odd thing about LinkedIn is that you’re supposed to know the person you’re inviting to connect. Somehow, people seem able to get around this requirement and still contact me. But do these people honestly expect me to link to them without any idea of who they are or what they do or how a link could benefit us? Most folks use the standard invitation message or simply no message at all, giving me no reason to want to connect.

But today I got a bonus invitation. One guy — a “Cloud Computing Professional” — got creative but still failed:

[redacted] has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at [redacted,] Inc. · Hi Maria: I hope this email finds u well. I work with [redacted], a company proving business productivity software in the cloud and would like to get in touch with u to discuss possible collaboration on ur technical copywriting. Plz feel free to contact me at ###-###-####. Thanks, [redacted]

He wants me to collaborate with him on some technical writing?

What kind of writer uses “u” for you, “ur” for our (or your?), and “Plz” for please? Would I be expected to write that way, too? Not possible, I’m afraid. You see, I don’t think the word you has too many letters to type, so I tend to type all three of them when writing.

And how many other people who who may have included “writer” in their profile got the same exact message?

I’ve never heard of this person or his company and I certainly have not “done business with” either one of them. Although I was tempted to accept the invitation just to see what his angle was, I really don’t want to spend any more time on LinkedIn than I already do.

So I marked the invitation as the spam it probably was.