Six months in…here’s what’s been going on.

Certificate from the Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission certifying LPG Cyber Communications LLC on February 28, 2019.
I posted the SCC document to my Facebook page and did not expect the kind of response I got.

I can hardly believe that this little company is already officially six months old. Now, technically I started things on February 28, with some work going toward it during the shutdown in December and January. In reality I didn’t get things going until April. So it’s around six months, and it’s time for a pulse check.

Back when I was in real estate, they used to say that it would take six months from zero business to your first commission check. I did a little better than that with LP&G Cyber Communications, finishing my first paid work in August and my second and third paid projects in September. I have a pipeline, and work that I am currently completing, so we are not looking at zero again. That is all good.

I made a mistake early on with some marketing decisions that I regret. They cost me a lot of money for no return on investment, and I learned my lesson to do more homework before making certain decisions.

I worked with Lisandro, a college student, during the summer, giving him an opportunity to get some interning work while giving me some much-needed help ramping up. Now I have Aziza, who has brought some great ideas to the company and who is tenacious about figuring things out when I would have given up. Janice, known around here as “Our Lady of Contracts,” has gotten me to do the paperwork, get it in writing, and send contracts to her to make sure they are written correctly before they are signed. You’d think it is obvious but when you’re small and people want to do things with a handshake, you have to learn to be firm or you might not get paid.

I joined an amazing networking group, BNI Sterling Silver. It is through this group that I have made most of my connections and gotten most of my business. Although my desire to keep this company moving toward government contracting/subcontracting is still prominent, they have made connections for me that have shown me that there is plenty of commercial business to be had.

A booklet with an orange stripe that says "office evolution," sitting on a keyboard. Above, the text from inside the booklet.
Aziza and I produced this beautiful welcome book for Office Evolution Herndon.

And truly, I am happy to have worked with some amazing people so far and proud to have done some beautiful work.

I’m looking forward to the next six months and moving forward and building more.

An old article gets me thinking about language again

Over the weekend, a few of my Pittsburgh friends posted an old article on Facebook that exclaimed that “Jagoff” is now in the Oxford English Dictionary. I didn’t even realize it was an old article, and I gleefully shared it.

I am certain that the Me of August 1990, who arrived for college in Pittsburgh aghast to find a world of new words and seemingly ridiculous grammar, would scoff at my glee for a word such as “jagoff” being officially added to such an esteemed publication as the OED. That version of Me was (1) very young and (2) ignorant as to the ways of language.

When we are in school, be it middle school or high school, or when we learn from grammar books, we are prescribed rules of grammar and usage. This is why any high school graduate can spout off a “rule” like “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” and “don’t split an infinitive.” When we come to appreciate the English language as a fluid, changing, evolving language, we also learn that those rules are (1) not rules at all and (2) really just the tip of the iceberg for learning how to parse English as it can be written.

Even through college, I was resistant to changes in grammar and usage rules as I had learned them, and for absolute certain, I know thirteen uses for a comma and do not deviate from them. But in my 20s I started to ask questions like “how did we decide as an English speaking species that a tree was a ‘tree’ and that rain was ‘rain'” and I started to be pulled into the world of linguistics. I asked the question one night to someone I thought might want to philosophically discuss it and instead he gave me a copy of The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, and from Pinker I learned how language shifts and evolves, through innate behavior and caused by shifts in population. Of course Pittsburgh would have different words and different language. Later in Roger Lathbury’s class on Editing, I would learn about studies taking place throughout the United States to compile the Dictionary of American Regional English. Having grown up in New York, I was not naive enough to think that the New York accent was the “correct” way to speak, but it took a more mature brain, perhaps, to realize that every American “accent” is a form of Regional English and a language in its own right.

As for the OED, my interest in linguistics took me to Simon Winchester’s book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (surprisingly, just sitting out as a recommendation at Kramerbooks & Afterwards one day in the late 90s). A really fun read, this was also the book that finally imparted to me that the Oxford English Dictionary reports on language and is not prescriptive. This information can be used, in my opinion, two ways. If someone reports to me that a slang term is perfectly acceptable in a formal document because the word is in the OED, my response is that the OED reports on usage and does not comment on whether the usage is acceptable for a formal document. But also, if a word is found in the OED, it has now been used enough that it should be recognizable by some portion of the population. It can be “looked up” if it is unknown, and it is part of someone’s regional English.

I want to take this just one step further and relate this to writing and editing. When you’re hiring a writer, you may find yourself with someone who is incredibly rigid or you may find yourself with someone who has an appreciation for the fluidity of the English language. Certainly for technical documentation you may want to stick with rigid, but for position papers, proposals, white papers, and web content, you might want someone who is more fluid. It is a good idea to ask your writer what their writing philosophy is and to ask your editor what rules they follow. They might say “AP” or “Chicago” or “MLA” but they may also say “I like to sit down beforehand and ensure that we’re on the same page so that this document doesn’t deviate too much from other work you’ve done.” All of these are good answers depending on what you’re doing, but having a writer or editor who has an answer to give is the key.

Now, I’m going to go find a time machine and find 1990 Me and tell her to relax a bit.

In which many of us meet in person

Since starting this business, there have been a large number of people who have given of their time, worked unrealistic hours, and just been there with a resume and a promise of “you can bid me on a contract when it comes up.” I thought it was time to say thank you and allow many of us to meet in person, so I arranged a dinner in which we ate entirely too much food, drank entirely too many drinks, and probably should have skipped dessert but what the heck, everything tasted amazing. We all got to share stories, introduce ourselves, and get to know each other better. And I took some terrible pictures. I mean, they are TERRIBLE. Sincere apologies for the terrible pictures.

So we’ll call this our first annual company dinner, and we will hope that next year, it will be even bigger, with more people able to attend, with most of the people attending being actual employees.

Until then, thank you to everyone who has been there from March and beyond, including Lisandro, Lisa, Janice, Lili, Rebecca, Aziza, Tom, Linda, Kelly, Paul, Stacy, and Kyle. I wish you could have all been here, and I hope you know how much I appreciate your being around

Here are some terrible pictures:

On communicating through social media

We have all heard it: what you say in your social media posts reflects on you. It paints a picture of who you are, and that picture is usually a close but not quite the picture of who you really are. Your kids aren’t always that cute. You probably exaggerate a bit. Or a lot. But what you share on a regular basis tends to do well at showing the world what you are like, what you believe in, and how you interact with other people.

There are currently a bunch of “memes” out there that boil my blood. For whatever reason; it doesn’t matter. They usually have a photo with a statement to go with the photo and have to do with politics or education or business, and they get shared on Facebook or LinkedIn with little to no commentary from the (re)-poster. After I see them nine or ten times, one poor soul gets the brunt of my anger, and I respond, tearing apart the argument that the meme is trying to make.

an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non genetic means, especially imitation. - a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc, that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
While we’re at it, the word “meme” has been around since the 1970s; see definition above. The term became “meme” as opposed to “gene.”

Almost invariably, that person will answer “well I only agree with one tiny part of the statement, not the whole thing.”

My answer to that is, “if it means so much to you, write your own meme, or your own post, and say what you mean, but stop sharing this piece of idiocy if you don’t actually agree with it, because by sharing it, it makes everyone think you believe it.

And that’s the gist, isn’t it? Whatever you are sharing, you had better agree with, because people will think you do. It has become more important than ever in this electronic world to say what you mean on social media, because what you share is attached to your name and your photo, possibly forever.

Image of Abe Lincoln. Below: "I believe the biggest threat to the union will be the people who make up meme quotes about me that I never said"
Abe Lincoln is disappointed right now

I know that some of my readers already know this; it’s old hat. But I’m also certain that you know others who need to read it. Communication is different now than it was twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. In the days of LiveJournal, the online version of yourself could have been something of an alter-ego. In the days of Facebook and Twitter, it cannot. People see what you post and attribute it to you.

All I ask is that you look twice, maybe three times, before you click “share,” and decide if what you are sharing is what you actually believe.

We make assumptions about our children’s tech knowledge

As part of my Cybersecurity Best Practices course, I talk about kids. For example, I suggest that you don’t log into work on the same computer that your kids use to play Fortnite. I suggest that no matter how savvy you think your kids are, they have likely introduced a large amount of malware into whatever system they work on inside your home.

But this week, I began to learn that I was making assumptions about what the kids knew. The nine year old couldn’t care less about phones or computers except that she can play music on them and occasionally chat with her friends. But the twelve year old had many, many misconceptions about how things worked:

  • While we were driving in the car, he asked if he could play some music by playing the videos on YouTube and having the music play through the car stereo. I said that I didn’t want to spend the data. He said, “but YouTube is on your phone! You don’t have to use data to use it!” He had missed the idea that once an app is on your phone it still used data to access the internet when outside the house. I assumed that he knew this but realize I never explained it to him.
  • The poor kid mislaid his phone at school and thank goodness someone turned it in to the office. I drove him back to school to look for it and waited for him to go in and get it. He eventually called me to come in and help. Apparently the phone was in a metal desk and the lone office worker told him he could have his phone if he could make it ring. So an uninformed office worker and my uninformed 12-year old were at a standoff with him trying desperately to make a cell phone ring in the bottom of a metal desk. We later discussed how that was never going to work.
  • At a dance event over the weekend, one of the other boys backstage convinced him to turn on his hot spot for a minute so that he could download something because the kid wasn’t able to do it with his own service. Then (and trust me, I am embarrassed to admit this), my kid went on stage and left his phone backstage and unlocked. The other kid got into his phone and reconnected to the hot spot, downloading FIVE GIGS worth of data. This is, naturally, something my own son will never EVER do again.

But will yours? Would you ever have thought to tell your own child not to turn on his or her hotspot for another person? Or to make sure to lock the phone, always, when leaving it alone. We make these huge assumptions about our kids, because they are growing up in a connected world. But they are still children, and they don’t know everything there is to know about keeping themselves and their devices secure.

As for the five year old, he has learned a little bit about cybersecurity, but he doesn’t know enough to bring it to a good conclusion. Give him time.

Do you have anything to add? Let me know! We know so much about locking down devices, protecting our kids from sites they should not see, and keeping them away from predators, but we need to learn from each other’s mistakes and teach our kids about how things work so that they don’t make mistakes that will cost them (and their parents) in the future.

In which I write about Game of Thrones

This is a spoiler-filled article about Game of Thrones. It has nothing to do with LP&G Cyber Communications. I cannot keep up with more than on blog, so you get it here. Enjoy for a moment something not about business. The fact is I spent much of this morning hearing people complain about the end of Game of Thrones, and then I explained to them why I liked it, and then they told me I should write about it. So here I am, blogging about Game of Thrones.

Final Spoiler Warning. Ned Stark is not a spoiler. Though I suppose Sean Bean himself was a spoiler just by being in the show. Poor Sean Bean.

There are a few things that we just have to accept considering there are books and a TV show and differences between the two and some direction from George R.R. Martin (henceforth GRRM) to the showrunners. These include: (1) the show deviated from the books significantly even before the published books ended; (2) GRRM gave the showrunners the final scenario and ending; and (3) the show HAD to end–that is, we could not spend an entire season watching Daenerys’s descent into darkness.

As for Daenerys’s decision in the penultimate episode, I believe enough has been written reminding us all of her promise that when her dragons were grown she would “lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground.” Tyrion was correct that she had our hearts when she was killing the slavers and burning the masters, and perhaps we forgot what happens when Targaryens believe their friends are turning against them. Seeing Dany go more and more insane over several more episodes would have been, perhaps, more satisfying. But I think that in the end the promise was there.

Speaking of which, with her dragon to do the work, Daenerys did to King’s Landing what Aerys Targaryen had threatened to do with wildfire. If we are talking the shorter Targaryen story–the one of losing and regaining the throne–she has come full circle, even if it was for a different reason. I’ll leave Dany’s story here. She was not going to be Queen. And as for the Targaryens coming full circle, Aegon the Conqueror forged the Iron Throne using Dragon’s Breath, and once the final Targaryen ruler died, her dragon destroyed the Iron Throne as well. It was more than just a metaphor for her reign, and the reign of the Lannisters/Baratheons; it was a literary end of the seven kingdoms.

But what of Jon? The Bastard who wasn’t, who didn’t want to be King in the North, who didn’t want the Iron Throne. No one else was around to see how Daenerys died, and Dragon flew off with her body. But he didn’t want the throne, and he felt enough guilt over having killed Dany. His winning the throne would have been–perhaps fine? Satisfying? It would have made the story of the Game of Thrones the story of Jon Snow, and, especially now and also having read the books, I do not believe that GoT is the story of Jon Snow. Rather, I think that the story all along has been the story of the Stark Family.

We were recently explaining GoT to someone who had never seen it, and what made it such a different show. My husband commented, “It starts with this family, the Starks, and you think that the whole show is going to be about them, and by the end of the first season the head of the family has been beheaded. It’s not like any other show.” In this statement, he inadvertently got the gist of the finale. The story, in the end, was about the Stark family. Yes, there were Tullys and Tarleys and Targaryens and Baratheons and Freys and all of the other families and in the end we saw them through the eyes of the Starks.

(Here’s where I agree that the showrunners messed up a lot.) They Really messed up the Bran Stark story. They did not make it clear all that Bran could do. His power looked incredibly stupid, especially during the Battle of Winterfell. But Bran’s eyes can be anywhere in the 7 (6) kingdoms and beyond. Bran is as all-powerful as they get. Bran being the Three Eyed Raven (Crow–book/show) is so much more than “going away for a while” and flying around as a raven. He can warg into any animal. Or human. He has shown that he can handle power without becoming corrupted. He doesn’t even want the power.

In that, he is a fine choice to rule the six kingdoms. The North, which never wanted to be part of the seven kingdoms, becomes its own kingdom, with Sansa as Queen in the North. Jon looks happier than he has ever been, when he would have been completely miserable on the throne. Not only has the finale shown us that the story was always about the Starks, it even brought back Ghost, the Direwolf, the symbol of the Starks, to his owner who rejected the Targaryen name in favor of his name from the North.

Some final things that I did love: as hateful as Cersi was, seeing Cersi and Jamie lying together like twins in utero was a great touch. Brienne’s comment at the end of Jamie’s story was kind, and, technically, true.

In time, Game of Thrones will be known more for being an epic fantasy that took us through twists and turns, surprise deaths aplenty, and a story that could never possibly be fully finished. For today, think of this as the end of an epic story of one powerful family that could have been destroyed but in the end won the day.

On telecommuting while collaborating

My selfie skills are not on point today, but the sofa is comfy and the light is bright

It seems everyone has their own Very Clear Opinion on telecommuting, and I am no exception. My own background contributes to it, of course–not just because I enjoy working from my comfortable sofa in front of a big window (though we have established that it is my favorite place to work)–but also because I have seen so many ways that it can make life better for everyone.

Happy employees will stick around, and employees who have to sit in traffic for 2 to 4 hours every day will find another place to be. I have a good friend from an old contract of mine who would walk into the office on days when he couldn’t telecommute and immediately say “this is not beneficial for me.” We all agreed. A two-hour commute followed by an eight-hour day followed by another two-hour commute is not beneficial for anybody. As for being the owner of an emerging business, I may be willing to put in ten or twelve hour days, but I should not expect the same from my employees.

It goes beyond traffic though. Because I want the best employees. I want people who can understand my vision and run with it. Those people may not be in Northern Virginia or even in the DC Metro Area, and why should they necessarily uproot for the sake of sitting in front of a screen in a different city? I have had writers contact me from Baltimore, from Pittsburgh, and from California to work with me, and if they are capable, why not? In 1998, I collaborated with a team that lived in South Korea, from my office in Arlington. In 1999, courses in collaborative communications were being taught in my MA program at George Mason University and, though the collaboration software was crude, it was certainly usable. Twenty years later, I have found it is more unusual for a team to sit together every day than it is for them to have a robust Skype presence and the ability to virtually meet to discuss a project.

We are, as the saying goes, living in the future. Technology allows us to form our best teams regardless of location while also allowing those team members to keep more of their family time and free time. If we can free ourselves of the stressors of traffic, of lost family time, and even as business owners of the extraordinary cost of office space, do we not owe it to ourselves to do so?

(This article was written on the sofa, in the trampoline park, and back on the sofa on a different day. Because we can.)

On company culture, what it really means, and inviting courageous input.

Note: this essay wanders. I’m leaving it as is, because I found I had a lot to say. I hope that my beloved departed essay instructor Hillary Masters would be ok with it.

Not only did I take the classes, but I even read the books, and I kept them, too.

When I was younger, I truly believed that small companies had better company culture than large ones, that no large company could match the “feel” of a small company, and that I would never want to be part of anything but a small company. Many years of experience, including graduate level-coursework in treating workplaces as subjects of ethnographic study, have changed my mind, but it took some real experience to come away with what I would even describe as a real definition of Culture at a company. Company culture is so much deeper, and so much more than a mission and vision statement, a statement of intent, or even a set of core values or values statement.

Venn Diagram of “Health & Family First” and
“70-hour work weeks”

To me, company culture is what happens when a company’s stated values meet its actual values. For example, one company had a values statement of “Health and Family First,” which certainly seemed like a great values statement for a small, family-owned company. Certainly if you met the owner, he would remind you that your health and family were most important. In reality, though, most of us in the headquarters building were expected to work 70-hour weeks and come in sick or not, leaving most employees to scoff at the “health and family” platitude. Bringing this value statement together with a culture of overwork was a mistake when it came to loyalty, and when the company was finally purchased by a larger one, very few were sorry to see it go.

But on the other end, take a company like Booz Allen, which takes its Core Values very seriously. On Day One, you’ll be not only told what the Core Values are, but you’ll have intense training in them and continued training, in person, every year. You’ll be told that everyone refers to each other by first name, up to and including the President of the company. You’ll be told that people will call each other out for lack of core values or meeting them. And, you’ll see people living their daily lives according to them, and talking about them without irony.

I bring up Booz Allen not only because I worked there recently, but because of the real meaning of one of their often-overlooked core values–that of “Unflinching Courage.” Unflinching Courage is what you need in a company to avoid the types of problems that get you on the front page of the Washington Post. You need your people to be unafraid to open their mouths and say “Something is wrong,” “this is illegal,” or “this is unethical” without fear of reprisals.

I have not determined if this is true, but it is on the internet, so I’m going to write about it.

A recent post on Tumblr mentioned the “Loud American” in Japanese business–the American on staff who plays up the loud stereotype and tells the boss what the Japanese employees won’t. Whether or not this story is apocryphal, more American businesses need to have a culture of Unflinching Courage, where you can call the bosses by their first name, where you are not afraid of reprisals for speaking your opinion, and where you can say “Stop. Something is Wrong.”

Google “clothes pulled from shelves” to see how many horrible decisions have been made in the clothing industry, costing brands money and embarrassment, and for every one, the Twitter feeds say “how can it be that no one ever noticed?” The fact is almost certain that people did notice, and that there was someone up the chain who was too intimidating to allow someone to say “Stop.”

My company is new, and small. To begin to define company culture now would be almost silly: we do our best work on the sofa in front of the big window, and we work long hours getting things started. But as we grow, and we will grow, I know that I will want a real company of health over work, of employees who will always feel they can speak up if something is wrong, and, maybe even, sofas in front of big windows every so often, too.

When smart people make cybersecurity mistakes

There is a slide that I use in my Cybersecurity Best Practices for PII training that causes people to question me. No one would ever be that irresponsible, they say. No one would ever make that many mistakes at once. Here it is.

Now, I took this photo myself, and I staged a coffee shop with my own computer, my son’s phone, a notebook, my ID card sitting in the computer, all in my dining room. It could be that no one would ever leave a computer this open and available in public. But the fact is, I staged this based on the dozens of times I saw the same thing happen at coffee shops around the Washington, DC area.

For some reason, the coffee shop work culture has led people to believe that turning to a complete stranger and saying “keep an eye on my stuff” is enough to keep bad actors at bay. People with work to do are grateful for the free wi-fi, not appreciating the risk to their data. These are not uneducated people; they are people in a hurry, who may need to pick up their order or use the rest room, or take a phone call. But when smart people are in a hurry they lose their vigilance.

A week after I took this photo, I was at a rest stop McDonald’s and saw a similar scene: a computer without a lock screen, with a note book, sitting alone at a table, with no one anywhere near it for the entire time I was eating my lunch. I walked past and saw that the notebook appeared to be a list of employees or potential ones, with additional PII next to the names. My husband got onto his phone and saw that the computer was on the open wi-fi and kindly left it alone, while I went to the counter and found the manager to tell him to come get his computer before someone with fewer scruples broke into it.

Extracting a bad actor from the mess they can make of your life from a simple mistake like this one takes time and money that no one wants to spend. Your security infrastructure only works if your people know how to keep things secure on their end. If you know of a company where employees handle private information but are not cybersecurity-savvy, contact us to talk about a Best Practices training. We’ll design one just for you and help keep mistakes like this from costing what you can’t afford.

Week 2: it’s a real thing now

Not that it wasn’t a real thing before, but the end of last week saw me doing more registrations, more paperwork, and generally more getting everything in gear to run a full-on business. We have two more writers/instructional designers excited to join in when we have our first contract, and we are looking to subcontract with some larger companies. We are registered in SAM, which is the federal government’s System for Award Management, and once we are active in SAM, we can FINALLY connect LP&G Cyber Communications to the SBA’s system to register as a Small, Woman-Owned business for purposes of contract awards.

It’s a lot of work. Kyle says that if I had not had so much experience in role playing games I probably could not have figured it all out. The SBA’s web site does give some information, but there are definitely some “side quests.” For example, when registering with SAM, you first have to register with, which has its own unexpected rules for crating a login account. That’s just a small one. Everything reaches back and checks with the database prior to it, so you have to do everything in order and wait for verification before you can move on. There is a complexity there that I think is more than just caused by confusing documentation. It comes, I think, from silo’d divisions of the government establishing their systems in a vacuum, and then needing to find a way to make them work together. To fix it, we’d have to untangle the bureaucracy and streamline the systems, but that would take more than one small business’s experience to do. (In the case of logins being used for SAM, I thing this is supposed to be part of the streamlining, but for people just getting started, it seems like an extra hurdle.)

On the agenda for Week 2: putting together a capabilities slick, making appointments with business development people from other small and large businesses, holding as many of those as I can, hitting “refresh” in SAM a few times each day, and networking everywhere. I have also reached out to another small business that prepares benefits packages for small businesses, so that once I have employees, I have a package to offer.

Meanwhile, enjoy this photo of me, in my favorite spot, drinking coffee while I decide what to blog about. That is, in fact, a 12″ Star Wars Cantina musician by Kenner in its original box on the shelf behind me, so now you know a little more about me, too.