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Discussing the Digital Media Landscape at Texas State

26 Apr

Last week, I visited Texas to do a talk at Texas State University, my alma mater, and to attend a conference in Austin, which I’ll go over in my next post. It had been a few years since I visited Texas State and it was nice to be back at my old college campus.

Lyndon Baines Johnson statue

A statue of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States and a Texas State alumnus. He was editor of The College Star (now The University Star) during his time there.

A lot has changed since I went to school there, like the massive football stadium and the new buildings that have sprouted up around the campus, but a few things have stayed the same.

Before the talk, I stopped by The University Star, the university’s newspaper, to meet the staff and to reminisce with the adviser, Bob Bajackson. Bob was the adviser throughout my time at the paper, where I made my way up the ranks to become editor in chief my last year of undergrad. He recounted some of the struggles they have faced with ad revenue, just like any other newspaper. (I should mention, The University Star is unique in that it is a self-sustaining entity at the university, which permits it some freedoms it wouldn’t otherwise have.) The broadsheet is smaller, but despite these struggles, the student journalists there have been at the helm of its digital evolution. It was good to see that they shared a strong passion for journalism, no matter its form.

The talk that evening was part of the Digital Media Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, which has featured some stellar speakers. Dr. Cindy Royal, my former professor, mentor and friend, invited me to speak when she last visited New York in January, and I was flattered to be a part of such a roster.

I was interviewed by Jordon Brown, a current Texas State graduate student. We discussed my path from Texas State to The New York Times, and I took some questions from students, whose queries ranged from what digital skills were important for a job like mine at The Times to what it was like to live in New York. You can watch the video below for the full discussion.


Two cultures come together. Let’s not make the music clash.

26 Mar

Mitch and I have always been passionate fans of music. In fact, I would say that was one of the things that helped us connect at the start of our relationship.

For our wedding, we’re hoping to provide a good mix of music that embodies what we like, but also songs that our friends and family will enjoy dancing to. It’s been a little tough, though, trying to balance the cumbias, country songs, Justin Timberlake (he’s his own category) and hipster-y dance/folk/whatever we like.

So here’s a peek at our playlist, which is in no particular order at the moment. I’m looking for more songs in Spanish. Suggestions are welcome.

Giving My Mom Dignity as Her Fight Against Cancer Continues

13 Feb

My mom was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer in late 2009. She’s beaten the odds for a long time, really. She has never been one to give in, and she continues to fight.

She was admitted to the hospital over the weekend after experiencing severe abdominal pain. Eventually we learned that some of the tumors that had formed in her abdomen had created an obstruction to the point that she can no longer properly digest food. She underwent a procedure last night that would help to alleviate the pain and symptoms she had been experiencing. Prior to that, she had a nasogastric tube in that rendered her unable to speak.

My mom was able to speak today, finally. It was such a relief to hear her voice. She told me about her string of visitors and how she missed her dogs. She asked me if it was cold or snowy outside here in New York. She told me not to worry about her because she was being taken care of and a lot of family and friends had come to visit.

She always says that — not to worry about her. She’s always thinking about someone other than herself.

I fly out Friday morning. I try to keep distracted until then. My sister has been a constant presence at her side, as has one of our brothers, and our oldest brother is coming to visit this weekend. I’m so thankful for that.

I hope we can take her home this weekend. I hope we can give her the dignity and support she deserves. I hope we can convey how much she means to us and how blessed we are to have a mother who fought for herself and for us.

So I’m getting married

13 Feb

Who wants to know about the most bizarre proposal ever? Here’s what happened…

Mitch called me Friday night to say goodnight, as he had to leave town to attend to a family matter. As we were talking, he mentioned that his grandmother asked when we were getting married. He told her that we would be getting married next year. She was pretty excited.

I said, “Really?” I thought, hmm, that’s news to me. So then I asked, are we really getting married next year? He said I guess. I said so does that mean we’re engaged again? He suggested I get my engagement ring out of the drawer by the bed.

So I was like, I guess we’re engaged. I called him Saturday morning to confirm if we were in fact, engaged. He said no, and then I said whatever, we’re engaged.

Later, I went to go buy him a ring. When he came home, I gave him said ring. I asked him if I had to get down on one knee. He said yes. I said, no I’m not going to do that because the floor is dirty. So I put a ring on it (by “it,” I mean his ring finger). Yeah, like the Beyonce song.

Here’s a video of the song. I know it’s totally in your head now.

Anyway, I guess it’s legit now. I’m going to make him an honest man.

I know this story is pretty silly and it isn’t meant to make the engagement seem frivolous. Here’s the truth. Mitch and I were previously engaged, we broke it off, got back together and now the time is right. Life isn’t perfect.

I really couldn’t imagine my life without him because when he isn’t around, it’s pretty boring and sad. He’s pretty much the funniest person I know, my best friend and partner in crime. He also drives me bananas. The boy can get on my nerves. But that’s relationships. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Relationships aren’t perfect.

Next year, it will be our 10-year anniversary. I still remember that cute boy who sat in pre-calculus (Did I make better grades than him? I should ask his mom for his report card. Did I mention we’re super competitive?). I totally gave him my number on a piece of notebook paper. I’m glad he called me. Anyway, it’s the perfect time to celebrate it by making our union official under the law, God, taxes, my insurance at work, the dogs’ veterinarian.

We’re very happy about all of this. I couldn’t imagine all of this happening any other way.

On funks and getting rid of them in the kitchen

21 Nov

I can get in a funky mood when I don’t listen to my body.

Seriously, I’m like a 3-year-old. If I don’t eat enough, my blood sugar drops below sea level, I get mega-cranky and jittery. Not enough sleep — I can barely focus. I get anxious or tense — my back starts to scream.

That was today.

After coming home and eating half a container of hummus and pita chips in order to function like a normal human again, I started making dinner. Cooking is what soothes me. It’s like gentle rocking or listening to the ocean. It’s a comforting process because it involves rituals like chopping and measuring, and I get to create something tasty.

So, what was for dinner, you ask?

Albondigas. That’s Spanish for meatballs. Yes, meatballs.

Albondigas are the ultimate comfort food. Mexican meatballs aren’t too different from your Italian or Swedish variety. They’re little balls of meat when it comes down to it. However, it’s the seasoning and other ingredients you combine to make the meal that make them different. My mom would cook albondigas in the colder months of the year, since it’s soup-like with the veggies and rice. That’s what makes them so comforting.

I try to make a slightly healthier version with lean turkey and plenty of veggies.

I start off by cutting all my veggies, including the following:

2 diced zucchini

2 green onions

1/2 red bell pepper

2 cloves of garlic, minced

About 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro

Edit: 1 small chopped jalapeño

Unlike my photo to the right, I would suggest keeping your zucchini in a separate prep bowl. We’ll add that last to the pot. I just got ahead of myself.

Next is the meatballs. In a mixing bowl, combine about a pound of ground turkey with a salt, pepper, garlic powder and cilantro. To be completely honest, I don’t really use measuring spoons. It’s one of those arts you master after spending a lot of time in the kitchen. A LOT. So if I had to guess, I would say I used about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, pepper and garlic powder, each. I was more generous with the cilantro, using about two tablespoons. Finally, I added a little less than 1/2 cup of raw white rice.

Now it’s time to get your hands dirty. Literally. Get your hands in there and mix everything together with your hands. Once everything is combined, start grabbing little chunks of your meat mixture and rolling them in your hands to make meatballs. I didn’t snap photos of this since, well, my hands were covered in raw turkey. My bad.

A side note: Some recipes for albondigas call for adding an egg or even breadcrumbs. Traditionally, that is how meatballs are made, but I choose to skip that part to reduce the calorie count and because you don’t really need either to hold them together. I’ll get into specifics about that in a sec.

Next, we start our soup base. You can use either 4 cups of chicken broth or 4 cups of water and some chicken bouillon. I used bouillon today since that’s what I had on hand. Either will be OK.  Add the chopped garlic, green onion, cilantro and bell pepper to this. Bring it to a rolling boil in large saucepan or small stock pot.

At this point, we can add our meatballs. Drop them in one-by-one into the boiling stock. The outside of the meatball cooks right away and helps keep it intact. So it’s really important to have things boiling in order for this to work. Got it? Good.

Once all your little meatballs are boiling in the stock, add 1/2 cup of tomato sauce or half an 8-ounce can. You can do a little more or little less, depending on your tomato love (I have lots of tomato love).

Now add a cup of raw white rice. Toss in your zucchini and jalapeño as well. It’s a becoming a flavorful pot of deliciousness!

Turn down the heat and let your abondigas simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. When the rice is soft, your albondigas are done.

Serve the albondigas in a bowl and warm up some corn tortillas to eat with your meal. We don’t really eat flour tortillas at Casa Garcia-Ahrens. That’s not how we roll. Besides, corn tortillas are way healthier. I recommend white corn tortillas.

You can do some variations on this by adding more veggies like carrots, celery or even corn. I only had a few veggies on hand, so if you have one or the other, don’t fret. Use what you have.

And that, my friends, is how I get rid of funks and crankiness.

World Usability Day presentation

10 Nov

Tonight, I was given the chance to speak to the Austin Usability Professionals Association for World Usability Day.

My presentation was on how the Austin American-Statesman used social media to provide coverage and breaking news updates on the Central Texas wildfires that began over the Labor Day holiday.

Check out my presentation and let me know what you think.

Notes on social media for the Austin Women’s Conference

1 Nov

I was asked to be a part of a panel on social media titled, “@you: Making Social Media Work for You and Your Business,” for the Austin Women’s Conference, which my employer the Statesman is hosting.

So a few days ago, I started to do some research to solidify some points I wanted to make and compiled my notes into a Google doc. It quickly became a dissertation. OK, not really, but it was a lot more information than I expected to write about.

I decided it would be helpful to just go ahead and post my notes on some of the topics we plan to discuss, particularly since we may not hit all of them in the time we’re allotted. I’m actually really glad I did this since I feel like I’ve had writer’s block for awhile. This takes care of that.

Hope you find it helpful. Feedback is always appreciated.

Women’s issues regarding social media. Stats/studies showing women’s use of social media.

“Among Internet users, social networking sites are most popular with women and young adults under age 30. Young adult women ages 18-29 are the power users of social networking; fully 89% of those who are online use the sites overall and 69% do so on an average day.

As of May 2011, nearly seven in ten online women are users of social networking sites (69%), compared with six in ten online men (60%). Women are also more active in their use of these sites, with almost half of female internet users using social networking sites on a typical day (48%), compared with 38% of male internet users.”

–  Pew Internet & American Life Project, August 2011

The line between personal and professional.

Most of the time, this seems to be a pretty black and white area. Or you would think. Ultimately, it’s dependent on your reason for creating a profile on a social media site. If you include in your bio that you work for or own a particular business, remember that this is also a reflection of not just you, but the place you represent.

  • When it comes to posting, ask yourself if you would say or share those same thoughts aloud at work or to your boss.
  • Think before you post photos and avatars online. It should be relevant, but it can also be fun. However, maybe we don’t need to see how many drinks you’ve had at happy hour.
  • Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Sometimes, putting yourself out there is good and you can get a lot of support.

What should you avoid or not do on social media.

There are no hard and fast rules on what you should and shouldn’t do on social media, well, aside from those that violate a site’s terms of service. But here are some basic guidelines that help:

  • Don’t be a link feed.
  • Don’t be negative.
  • Don’t avoid responding to questions and comments.
  • Don’t overshare on personal information.
  • Don’t burn bridges online. Information spreads quickly on the web, and your reputation stays online forever in some shape or form. This in turn could make real-world meetings awkward or difficult.

How do you have time to do all of this social media stuff? Specific tools, including those for measuring effectiveness/reach.

Just make time for it. It takes time to build a community and it won’t happen overnight. Find people you enjoy learning from online and work at it. If you are passionate about a particular topic, it won’t feel like work.

  • You should have a smartphone with a good data plan.
  • Create a blog. Easy-to-use platforms like WordPress, Blogger, Posterous and even Tumblr allow you to quickly publish editorial content with rich multimedia.
  • Push your content to social while you are waiting in line for coffee, a break between projects, or set a schedule for yourself, if that helps.
  • I go between Tweetdeck on my desktop and the Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram apps on my iPhone.
  • Use to track how many clicks stories/posts receive. Lots of social media tracking applications and software out there. Hootsuite, Wildfire, Spredfast, Hubspot are just some examples.

Social media beyond marketing or business. Spirituality, activism, education, personal relationships.

  • I use social media not just as a way to connect with other professionals, but to stay connected with friends and family all over the world/country.
  • As an avid runner, I stay connected with other athletes and share information on training and races. We provide support for one another and have had real-life meetings.

Social media/personal branding to find a job.

The first step to utilizing social media as a personal branding tool is to identify who you are and how you want to present yourself to the world. Once you’ve done that, get a cohesive identity started online. This may mean the following:

  • Getting a website domain of your ‘brand.’ Your brand may be your name or some unique quality that exemplifies what it is you do.
  • Use this ‘brand’ across all the platforms you choose to utilize.
  • Decide how you want to ‘speak’ to the world. Are you a good writer? Consider a blog. Are you better on camera? Use YouTube.
  • Share what you post through Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any other site you choose to use. Base your decision on which site(s) to use by asking yourself where your audience is. Where are people networking about journalism, running, knitting or whatever it is you want to focus on?
  • Connect with people and companies in the industry you want to be in. If your dream is to work at Company X, connect with the people who work there online. Create an online relationship and look for ways to make an offline meeting.

Social media success stories.

There are plenty of examples of people who have been successful with social media.

Gary Vaynerchuk, who began working at his family’s wine store, began Wine Library TV, where he posted video wine reviews. He attracted a huge following and continues his success with several wine sites and has written two books detailing his success with social media.

Here’s a great article from Mashable on five businesses that were successful in connecting with consumers through social media.
Idea Paint – “At the end of the day, social media is a powerful sales tool.”

  • They can answer customers questions.
  • Lead customers to landing pages on their site that answer questions, lead to potential sales.
  • Gives the company a chance to “just be social.”

Role of social media in independent/local/women-owned businesses.

Austin is extremely connected and tech-savvy city. We have a sizeable tech sector and lots of young people who know how to use social media and use it actively. Local businesses are no exception. Many are highly engaged with their customers and community.

Austin Dirty Dog
Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop
Austin Java
Toy Joy

Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Yelp…they are well aware of all these platforms and how they can help or hurt a business. They answer questions, post specials, post fun information, and are interested in what’s happening in the community. Links to social accounts are on their websites as well.

Building community and how to be a more informed consumer.

Building a community online takes time and work.

  • Connect with others who interested in the same topic, hobby or business.
  • Ask questions and communicate back and forth.

SXSW Interactive panel recap – Promiscuity or Private Groups: Mobile Photo Sharing

11 Mar

The big question in the SXSW Interactive panel “Promiscuity or Private Groups: Mobile Photo Sharing” was where is it all going?

The panel was moderated by Mayank Mehta, co-founder and director of products for Cooliris, and featured Louis Gray of my6sense and Danny Trinh of the photo sharing site Path.


Now that most mobile phones have better cameras, couple with more powerful 3G cellular networks, have made for better and easier mobile photo sharing. Mobile apps like Instagram have seen a rapid increase of users in a short amount of time, but Mehta pointed out that email remains the top photo sharing method.

Will apps take it over?

Gray said a lot of people have talked about email going away for a long time but it hasn’t happened.

The key for apps to capitalize in order to overtake sharing through email is emphasizing relationships, according to Trinh. Tringh’s application, Path, allows you to share photos with people you know versus broadcasting to the public. 

“Mobile photo sharing will make relationships stronger,” Trinh said.

Part of the success for mobile photo sharing are the filters and exclusivity. Instagram, which according to Mehta is pushing 1 million users. It makes people feel like they are better photographers than they are. You take a photo, modify and upload.

“The filter makes your photo look pretty good and makes you feel like a better photographer,” Trinh said. 

However, Trinh said he understands why pro photographers may not find the photos as appealing in terms of their artistic value and quality. 

“It’s really a means to an end with the filters and tilt shift — to get the someone interested in using the app.”

Furthermore, Gray said the success of photo sharing apps is also dependent on whether a person receives feedback they want (and expect), in other words, social validation.

“You post crazy photos and get tons of validation while others don’t and they drop off,” he said.

Nonetheless, Trinh said it depends on what’s more important to you: public social validation or private social validation.

“I feel more engaged sharing with people I know.” 

An ADHD procrastinator’s guide to SXSW Interactive

10 Mar

SXSW is upon us and I’m already twitching in excitement. 

OK, it might be all the coffee I’ve had lately. Or my anxiety. Or my ADD.

I’ve spent the past few weeks planning for my Core Conversation with Anna Tauzin, so scheduling and planning for anything else fell down to this week. 


I’ll probably continue to harass you all about the Core Conversaton until it’s over, so sorry in advance (kinda). We have a blog for it, which you should check out, and see us in action Tuesday, March 15 at 11 a.m.

Tools to get you organized

The good thing about being a frazzled procrastinator nowadays are all the helpful apps and websites around to get you organized. 

I’ve been using SCHED to create my calendar for each day. I think it’s safe to say my schedule is set.

I also made sure to download a few apps onto my iPhone for the fest. ReadWriteWeb has a great article on five apps you should download.

Beluga and Hashable look like they will be really helpful. Hurricane Party looks like a party. Let’s just hope the wireless networks hold up. AT&T says they will boost the network in anticipation of the SXSW crowds.

Don’t forget

So if you are heading out tomorrow to the first day of SXSW, don’t forget to pack a few things. This is what I won’t leave home without:




Flip video camera

power strip

business cards

Noms such as a granola bar and peanut butter sandwich

water bottle (reusable – respect the environment, yo)

chanclas (that’s flip flops for your non-Spanish speakers)

a light jacket or sweater

Film and Music

Tiny baby Jesus. There’s still film and music to stress about! I’ll post about that soon. There will be plenty to watch and see.


Info on my SXSWi core conversation

9 Feb

Between getting organized for the SXSWi core conversation I’m working on with Anna, redesigning my site and pulling my hair out from doing my taxes, I realized I had not looked up when our panel, Landing Your Next Job Through Unconventional Personal Branding, was actually going to be held. 

Hooray for SXSW – it’s been up for a bit now, but here are the deets:

Join us for our convo Tuesday, March 15 at 11 a.m. Our hastag for the event is #hireme.