Using paper forms for family genealogy

Last month, my company launched Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes: The quick guide to creating a family tree, building connections with relatives, and discovering the stories of your ancestors. Professional genealogist Shannon Combs-Bennett wrote the book, which explains basic concepts of interest to anyone researching family origins. As you might expect, the book has sections about family trees, interviewing tips, genetic genealogy, and different type of source records. As an amateur genealogist myself, I expected Shannon to delve into these issues when I read the manuscript. However, I did not expect the topic of using genealogy forms to track research to come up, except perhaps in passing. Instead, it took up the better part of Chapter 4, “Tracking and sharing your research.” Here is how she introduced the topic:

“Tracking includes everything from creating good source citations to outputting data to a chart or tree. Along with preserving research (which we will cover in Chapter 5), it’s one of my least favorite tasks. After the initial excitement of making easy discoveries, it’s so frustrating to deal with tracking and filing and storing all of the information and papers you have found.

On the other hand, charts and other summary documents are a great way to share findings to family members. When you bring a complete pedigree chart to a family reunion, it will attract attention and prompt lots of questions. Be sure to bring copies to give away!”

Part of the reason I was not expecting to see such a deep examination of tracking research using genealogy forms relates to the fact that I use genealogy software to track my own research. The software lets me generate family group sheets, pedigree charts, and other pre-filled forms from my computer.

Not everyone uses family tree software for research, though. They prefer paper, and use blank genealogy forms to enter names, dates, and other information. In addition, as Shannon noted in the book, computers have drawbacks, including the risk of a crash or some other disaster that wipes out the data. Paper genealogy forms provide some reassurance on this front. They also do not require a power outlet!

Shannon and I discussed providing some free resources on the companion website to Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes. Besides blog posts and tips, I have created a free genealogy forms starter kit that contains two forms:

  1. A free five-generation pedigree chart
  2. A free genealogy research log

genealogy forms starter kit - pedigree and research logThe pedigree chart contains fields for recording birth, death, and marriage information, and goes back to great-great-grandparents (all 16 of them!). Names are numbered for easy cross-referencing. The research log can help genealogists track websites, books, and other sources used to research specific ancestors.

But it’s also good for something else, which Shannon mentions in the book: Redundant searches for information, which typically result from unorganized late-night searches on If you don’t track what you are doing, you very may well end up revisiting sites or searching for the same information over and over again. The genealogy research log helps avoid redundant searches.

Besides the free genealogy forms, I am also making available a bundle of blank forms that goes far beyond the pedigree chart and research log. The Genealogy Forms Library includes eight forms in all, ranging from a cemetery record to a photo inventory tracker. The digital edition includes 13 .pdf and .xlsx spreadsheets, but I am also preparing a printed bundle which will include multiple copies of the forms printed on archival quality paper.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren’s dangerous Planning Department report

The following ~725-word essay about a Planning Department report sponsored by the office of Newton Mayor Setti Warren was originally submitted to the Newton Tab as an op-ed column. The Tab asked that it be shortened to a 400-word letter, which appeared in the printed paper earlier this week. Here is the original column. You are welcome to leave comments below.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren Planning Department ReportLast month, the city released the “Management and Organizational Analysis” of Newton’s Planning Department. The report was commissioned by the Mayor’s Office and co-authored by Sasaki Associates, the same consultancy that helped organize a housing strategy workshop last November that had residents and developers placing LEGO blocks on a map to indicate where they preferred high-density housing to be built. The LEGO exercise was rightly called out as a fait accompli and dismissed by many councilors and residents. Similarly, I would like to call out the new Planning Department report as a flawed document whose recommendations threaten to undermine our elected representatives while giving Mayor Warren’s administration—and its successors—unfettered control over special permits and related processes.

The Planning Department report purports to provide a “clear and honest” accounting of the problems facing the department. While it presents a list of legitimate concerns (e.g., a lack of documented processes, project management inefficiencies, high turnover, no long-term IT plan, etc.) it proceeds to assign much of the blame to a group of stakeholders who happen to represent Newton’s citizens—the City Council. The report basically throws Councilors under the bus, blaming them for being too numerous, taking up too much staff time, and generally getting in the way of the special permitting process.

The report states, “The City should strongly consider removing the special permit granting authority from the City Council and placing it with an independent, less political body comprised of knowledgeable professionals, citizens, and business owners.” Practically speaking, this would mean that if a special permit were required for a large condo development or a new commercial project that exceeds the zoning limits of the parcel, our elected representatives would have no say in the matter. Instead, the approval would be up to city staff as well as unelected appointees who represent the interests of commercial developers, not citizens.

This and other oversight recommendations in the report are dangerous and unwarranted. I think many others will agree. The recommendations, if implemented, remove an important channel for residents and their elected representatives to influence specific proposals. As citizens and taxpayers, we have a right to be heard, which includes appealing to our councilors to ask hard questions and request changes that the Mayor, developers, and other parties would rather ignore. You may like the mayor’s development plans, or you may object to them, but regardless more citizen input is needed to guide development going forward, not less. Elected representatives play a critical role in bringing neighborhood concerns in front of the staff responsible for implementing housing policies.

The Planning Department report also points to a problem with a “lack of leadership.”  However, the report confines the leadership problems to the department. It goes no higher than that. It fails to mention the Mayor even once, despite the fact he has led the city government since January 2010 and could have addressed legitimate concerns with the Planning Department’s organization, turnover, technology, and processes years ago.

So, why is this report coming out now, instead of during Mayor Warren’s first term? In my opinion, it’s because the Mayor needs to overcome local opposition to his new development vision, and he needs to do it soon. As reported in the Tab, the Mayor and developers hope to build thousands of new housing units across the city and transform the villages into small urban centers. We have seen the responses in the pages of this paper, in letters from residents who say they won’t be able to afford “market rate” apartments and condos in the new developments, as well as those who object to the scale of the giant buildings and the impact of large-scale development upon Newtonville, Newton Center, West Newton, Oak Hill, Auburndale, and other neighborhoods. This strong grassroots opposition suggests that developers won’t be able to build thousands of units of new housing and commercial space unless Mayor Warren and his administration are given free rein over zoning, permitting, and other development approvals. Removing elected councilors from the picture is crucial to achieving the Mayor’s goals.

In summary, I believe the new Planning Department report was created to justify changes that would reduce the power of councilors and make it easier for the current Mayor—and future mayors—to force their strategic visions for development upon the citizens of Newton with limited oversight. It’s unfair, unwarranted, and undemocratic.

Question: Is the Harvard ALM a good fit for me?

I received an email from a prospective Harvard ALM student who had stumbled upon my Harvard Extension School blog posts describing the program. She lives overseas, and wanted some honest opinions about the ALM in History program, from which I graduated in 2008. Here is what I said:

The most important question to ask yourself: Why are you starting this program? It will take years and there are some drawbacks (described below). The reasons many students cite include low cost, interest in a particular field, interest in being challenged, interest in using an ALM as a stepping stone to a PhD program, etc. All are valid reasons … but note there are alternative programs that may be more convenient or superior (depending on the field of study).

I also think there are a lot of prospective students who focus on getting a Harvard degree and don’t really care so much about the academics. This is unfortunate, because I think that’s what makes the program so good!

Here are some other issues you should be aware of (note that this is based on my own experience and what I have heard/read in over the years, but it may have changed):

  • The ALM History program is good for certain fields (e.g. American history, some Asian-focused studies) but less so for others — there are not many courses available, and few potential thesis advisors. I would take a close look at the course offerings to make sure there are topics that really interest you.
  • HES has rapidly increased its online offerings, but not all have Harvard faculty members, and even for those online courses that do have Harvard faculty instructors, many are based on pre-recorded lectures which means there are few opportunities to interact with them or even ask questions (that is the responsibility of TAs).
  • I advise distance students to make an effort to take as many on-campus classes as possible, not only because I believe the quality is better but also it is chance to get to know other students and take advantage of other activities on campus.
  • I urge all students, whether they are on-campus or distance, to take as many classes with Harvard faculty as possible. The non-Harvard faculty are good, but if most of your credits are with non-Harvard faculty, what’s the point of coming to HES? For the same reason, I think the new professional ALM programs such as digital media are a step in the wrong direction — there are no Harvard faculty who teach digital media, which means that most instructors will have no Harvard academic affiliation.
  • Regardless of whether you are a distance or an on-campus student, HES does not make much of an effort to have a true cohort experience. For instance, at [redacted] you had an opportunity to bond with the students starting at the same time, and everyone had to take certain core classes at the same time. This is not the way HES works. I had one close friend who happened to take some of the same classes that I did, but HES did not make any effort to have students feel like they are part of a group going through the program together. There was also no “departmental” feeling. What this means is students (especially distance students) tend to feel isolated, and you are really on your own when it comes to pushing yourself forward. It’s lonely!

I finished off my response with the message that I did not want to scare this prospective Harvard ALM student away from the Extension School program — I would do it again in a heartbeat. But there are some real drawbacks that prospective students should be aware of, particularly those taking distance courses.

Spotlight: More abuse at Fessenden and other schools. But why no official investigation?

Boston Globe Spotlight report Fessenden School Newton Massachusetts

The Boston Globe Spotlight team — the same group of investigative journalists who opened up the decades of abuse and coverups involving the Catholic Church — published a story in this morning’s Boston Sunday Globe that details the horrors and sickness that pervaded the Fessenden School in West Newton as well as many other prep schools across New England.

The response from the prep schools was not surprising: Only 10% responded to a Globe survey about their experiences handling reports of sexual abuse. The schools clearly want this story to go away. They don’t want to deal with the negative publicity, the lawsuits, or the questions about policies relating to screening teachers, reporting abuse to authorities, or helping former students who have been victimized.

Readers of this blog know that 5 years ago the Fessenden school admitted a pattern of “inappropriate sexual behavior” involving faculty and staff that started in the 1960s and extended right through to the 2000s. The 2011 letter named one faculty member, Arthur Clarridge, who along with another named James Dallmann, were arrested in 1977 for crimes against children that took place outside of campus, and suggested that Clarridge may have abused a student. No other names of abusers were revealed in the 2011 letter by current headmaster David Stettler. The comments at the end of my 2011 blog post detailed not only names, but claims that inappropriate sexual behavior took place over a much longer period of time (one former student indicated it started as early as the 1940s) and involved many more staff and faculty members.

Several victims of the abuse at Fessy were brave enough to step forward and tell the painful and explicit details of the sexual assaults. The Spotlight article added two more faculty names to the roster:

Of the 17 total alleged [Fessenden] victims, four settled claims, nine continue to pursue them, and four filed no claims, according to a school spokesman. The accused former employees include assistant headmaster Arthur Clarridge, teachers James Dallmann and Claude Hasbrouck, and school psychologist Mickey Clampit.

Clarridge made no secret of his preferences. This is the update he sent his Harvard classmates sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, when he was at Fessenden:

Fessenden assistant headmaster arthur clarridge harvard class report

The Globe Spotlight report included one former student’s descriptions of Hasbrouck’s Nazi paraphernalia and sexual abuse. Hasbrouck died in 1997.

As for Clampit:

Two other former Fessenden students told the Globe that Clampit abused them, too. One, who said Clampit fondled him at school and on a trip to Arkansas and Mexico, sent the school a letter demanding compensation for the abuse through attorney Mitchell Garabedian in 2015. The other man, who settled a claim against Fessenden in the 1990s, said Clampit was among four people there who abused him.

Clampit, who left Fessenden in 1976 and whose license to practice psychology in Massachusetts expired in 1996, could not be reached for comment at any of his known addresses or through his family. But his niece, Michelle Clampit of Los Angeles, said she never heard such accusations about him and was puzzled why they were surfacing now.

Note that Clampit was responsible for screening incoming students in private and counseling existing students if they reported abuse or other problems. Think about that for a moment. Fessenden’s gatekeeper and guidance counselor — the trusted adult a confused or abused student might turn to after encountering Clarridge, Dallmann, or Hasbrouck — was himself a child predator, according to several former students.

I would like to add a correction here to the Spotlight Team: Clampit did not leave in 1976. He was still at the school in the early 1980s. I know this because he screened me in 1979 or 1980 at his office in one of the upper-story dormers in the administration building and one of the commenters on the other blog post who worked at Fessenden from 1979 to 1986 said she and her colleagues knew of Clampit his behavior:

Does anyone out there remember Mr. Mickey Clampitt? He was the school psychologist/test administrator, and lived in an apartment on campus next to the “learning center.” He would hand out “creepie crawlies” (!) , little plastic bugs, to boys and would proceed to “tickle” the boys with them. The boys would squirm and giggle as Mickey, obviously enjoying the whole affair, held the boys close to his body. Well, you get the picture. Not exactly rape, but clearly NOT OK., and possibly the tip of the proverbial iceberg…as is obvious from reading this blog.

The 2016 Fessenden Letter

Just before the Spotlight article came out, Stettler sent another letter to alumni, dated May 5, 2016 (see below). Like the 2011 letter, it was timed to blunt the shock of the negative news coming from the media (although the headmaster claims in his latest letter that the 2011 information was “proactively shared”). The 2016 letter says “the School has received reports of sexual abuse involving at least 16 former students and one non-student by at least 5 individuals who were members of our community.”

Note that the 2016 Fessenden letter acknowledges “at least” 5 individuals, but the Spotlight report only names 4. Who is that fifth person?

The letter goes on to say that instances of abuse were reported to the school’s administration in the 1960s and 1970s but the school “according to these alumni, failed to take appropriate action.”

The school’s latest response? A symbolic one. “The school has removed the name of Robert F. Coffin, headmaster from 1967 to 1980, from the Fessenden ice rink,” Stettler wrote.

If you’re shaking your head in disbelief, I don’t blame you. Fessenden’s headmaster has tacitly admitted there was a nest of pedophiles at the school, and the school’s response is to remove a long-dead headmaster’s name from the hockey rink.

It’s absolutely pathetic and infuriating.

Why hasn’t Fessenden been investigated?

As you digest this information, there are several important facts to keep in mind:

  • Not one Fessenden faculty member or staffer has ever been charged with abuse of a Fessenden student.
  • Not one Fessenden administrator or trustee — from the 1960s to the current timeframe — has been fined or charged for failing to notify local or state authorities of abuse, as required by law.
  • Because the people who reportedly committed abuse against Fessenden students were never charged with a crime, they were potentially able to move on to other schools or professions or neighborhoods and commit more vile acts against other innocent children.

I raised this question in my original blog post in 2011, and I will raise it again here:

Why hasn’t Fessenden reported incidents involving sexual abuse or assault of children to the police and DAs office, not just to satisfy the minimum “required documentation” rules, but to help authorities prosecute anyone who has broken the law?

I welcome your comments below.

A note about comments: Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the author of this blog and the hosting service are not liable for comments left by readers. Per the Digital Media Law Project, “Immunity covers defamation and privacy claims, as well as negligence and other tort claims associated with publication.”

About: My name is Ian Lamont. To contact me, please email ianlamont -at- yahoo dot com

Fessenden’s 2016 letter:
Fessenden letter from headmaster David Stettler, p1

Fessenden letter from headmaster David Stettler, p2

Petition to change Harvard Extension School diplomas faces an uphill battle

A group of current Harvard Extension School students has created a petition to remove the “In Extension Studies” designation from Harvard Extension School diplomas, and replace it with the actual concentration of the student receiving the degree. It’s a great idea, and has received lots of support (the petition currently has hundreds of digital signatures, including my own). Unfortunately, I don’t think it will result in change, based on some historical context that I will share below.

First, some background. A matriculated HES student needs to meet the requirements for his or her respective program in order to receive an ALB degree (undergraduate) or ALM degree (graduate). The Extension School has concentrations (equivalent to “majors”), ranging from computer science to visual arts. My concentration was history. But, instead of receiving a diploma that identified my degree (ALM) and concentration (history) it instead lists “ALM in Extension Studies.”

This ridiculous and confusing designation has bedeviled Harvard Extension School graduates for decades. It does not correspond to any real concentration or course of study. As I recall, there may have been a class or two in the past 100 years that related to extension schools or continuing education, but there were never enough credits available to form a distinct concentration. Aside from the wording of the diploma, the Harvard Extension School does not use the term “Extension Studies” in its marketing, course descriptions, or communications with students and alumni. It’s basically a historical anachronism, or an attempt by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences to differentiate (or denigrate) the accomplishments of Harvard Extension School students.

The petition, hosted on Google Docs, sums up the issue as follows:

HES Degree Title Change Initiative

Hello Extension students!This committee has been created to research, reach out and to take action to have the “in Extension Studies” part of our diploma replaced by our actual concentration. We need your support whether you are only taking classes or a degree seeker. If you have no intentions of investing your time and money to end up with a degree in “Extension Studies” which does not reflect your Harvard experience, please sign the following petition and share it with your friends.Check out for updates.

harvard extension school petition to change in extension studies

The petition asks for names and graduation year, and then asks:

  • When you signed up for classes at HES, did you know you were getting a degree in “Extension Studies”?
  • Are you a distance student?
  • Extension School Program?
  • Your personal feedback

Until I read the petition and the associated Facebook page, I regarded the “In Extension Studies” designation as an irritant. After all, the Harvard Extension School allows students to list their concentration on their resume. But then I began to read some of the stories about Extension School alumni who had serious problems, such as this student who told his story on an online Extension School forum:

Want to add my 5 cents to the problem. I graduate with ALB in 2014; currently enrolled in ALM, Software Engineering.

For the last 6 months I’ve been looking for jobs in the US (I’m a remote foreign student). HES doesn’t provide student visas for foreign students, so it was already a challenge to find companies that would even consider interviewing someone with a US degree, but without a temporary permit to work after graduation (so called OPT). I was aware of that from the very beginning, but didn’t expect to that so few companies actually work with foreigners without experience. In case you’re interested, I didn’t get a single offer in Boston even though I tried really hard to move there. Luckily NYC and San Francisco were much more visa-friendly cities.

After I found a couple of companies who were ready to interview despite the required visa sponsorship and almost lack of experience, I had to explain “liberal” part of the degree name (nobody actually paid attention to “Extension School” words). It wasn’t too bad since most HRs and engineers I talked to were more interested in my actual knowledge and whether I can confirm that I know the things I listed in my resume. Liberal/extension “flaw” wasn’t much of a concern for them (including big companies, e.x. Google, Microsoft). And I personally felt fine about that since my program of study really wasn’t that rigorous compared to the college one (I skipped a couple of math classes that I wasn’t interested in).

However, after I got a job offer and started to work with the lawyers the real troubles came into play. The degree officially says “in extension studies” rather than “in Computer Science” whereas the transcripts specify concentration (sciences), field of study (computer science) and a minor (thesis/research). The lawyers immediately saw an inconsistency between transcripts and the diploma. For a couple of days I was explaining to them how HES works, provided links to the web site and even contacts of HES admission office for further inquiries. In the end, my attorney said that they’ll have to send my degree for special evaluation to confirm Computer Science concentration because the transcripts specify one thing and the diploma a different one.

I’m sure it will all work out and I’ll get an additional paper from some evaluation service that will confirm that my degree is a real computer science degree, but Harvard should feel embarrasses that lawyers have to send a degree from Harvard with transcripts to verify the field of study mentioned in the transcripts.

In short, I don’t complain about “liberal” arts or requirement to specify Extension School in my resume and about frankly explaining to employers what school I attended and why. I slightly object the lack of F1 support because that wasn’t the case before 2009. However, I strongly feel that the degree conferred in Harvard Yard in Tercentenary Theatre with all other Harvard diplomats should not be a subject for any additional verification or legal doubts.

This young man is absolutely right. There should not be any doubt or questioning about the degree he received, yet he was subjected to something that graduates from other Harvard schools would never experience. Three stupid words — “In Extension Studies” — threatened his ability to work at a job that he was otherwise qualified to do.

The three students leading the charge to replace “In Extension Studies” with the name of the concentration are doing all of the right things. Besides the petition, they have met with the Harvard Extension Students Association (HESA) and the Extension School administration. They organize events. They have a solid social media presence.

Unfortunately, they are fighting a stacked deck. They are not the first to protest “In Extension Studies.” As I recall, the HESA administration in the mid-2000s also lobbied the administration. The head of the Harvard Extension School – Dean Shinagel – even told hundreds of new graduates at the 2008 dinner for new graduates that he wanted to get rid of “In Extension Studies.” I was there, and when Shinagel made this announcement, everyone cheered. A proposal was eventually put in front of the FAS faculty committee, and … nothing happened.

So I have to ask: If a very powerful and esteemed dean (Shinagel had led the school since the 70s, and served as a house master for Harvard College, and FAS faculty member) was unable to get anything done 6 or 7 years ago, what has changed in the interim that would encourage the powers that be (the University administration and FAS faculty) to change the diplomas now?

Keep in mind that Harvard Extension School students have been treated as second-class citizens at Harvard for more than 100 years. We put in years of effort to complete our degree requirements, conduct serious research under Harvard faculty, and earn our degrees. Yet Extension School students can’t cross-register. Students can’t live in University housing. Students can’t get proper visas. FAS and the rest of the University have no interest in changing the status quo, and I am afraid that the petition will suffer the same fate as similar efforts have experienced in years past — it will be ignored or rejected.

What are your thoughts about the latest petition? Are things different now? What hope do we have as students and alumni to get a diploma that reflects our accomplishments and concentrations?

Video: Dean Shinagel addressing 2008 Harvard Extension School graduation ceremony

I just rediscovered this video: the former dean of the Harvard Extension School, Dean Michael Shinagel, addressing the 481 graduating ALM, ALB, and certificate recipients in 2008. He talks about everything from his work in progress (The Gates Unbarred), the profiles of the graduating students, and other topics. There are many statistics and anecdotes that HES alums and current students may find interesting. Enjoy!

Strategies for frequent posting to business & tech blogs

Readers of the Ipso Facto blog may not be aware that my writing appears in many other blog locations. In addition to two active personal blogs (one of which has been running since 2004), my old Harvard Extension blog (2005-2008), various employer and school-related blogs from 2005-2012 (Computerworld, The Industry Standard, MIT, and my first startup), and a 2007 guest-blogging gig on a site dedicated to virtual worlds, I have been very active on my current company’s blog. But there is a lot more blogging activity on the individual product sites for books like Twitter In 30 Minutes and the recently released book about the iPhone 6 and 6S. It’s hard, but I have developed a strategy for frequent posting on the blogs. It helps give the books a higher online profile, and in the case of several of the books, the posts prompt feedback from readers which I can use for follow-up editions of the books.

Here is a sample of recent posts:

How is it possible for me to write so many blog posts? There are several answers. First, I am an extremely prolific writer. In 10 years I have written well over 1,000 blog posts across all blogs. More than 450 posts appear on my old Harvard blog alone, and a few others are above 200 posts. I am just one of those people who likes to write, and when I get the urge I have to sit down in front of my keyboard and get it out there, as I did yesterday morning on Ipso Facto with my blog post about the Fessenden School and St. George’s.

Second, for the book blogs, I have started to excerpt sections from the manuscripts. It’s a great way to showcase the quality of the books while getting some additional online attention. I am also using draft chapters from my forthcoming Lean Media book to get feedback which I can use to improve the manuscript.

Simpsons blog post example from Lean Media In 30 Minutes

I have also begun to leverage other types of content — chiefly videos — upon which to base blog posts. This is especially true of the books about browser-based software, which are easy to screencast. I have created scores of short YouTube videos on topics such as how to do something in Twitter or Excel or LinkedIn. It’s not hard to take the embed code from one of the videos, put it on the blog, write up a summary or additional instructions, and then post it.

Fessenden School and St. George’s: A tale of two investigations

Alumni of a prestigious New England prep school come forward, relating their experiences decades ago of being molested by faculty. The school conducts an internal investigation, admits that students were abused, issues an apology to the victims and makes counseling available to them.

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same playbook used by the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts after a sexual abuse scandal came to light. However, this isn’t the Fessenden School. It’s St. George’s in Rhode Island. And unlike Fessenden, St. George’s is being forced to go much further. Not only are Rhode Island state police investigating St. George’s, the school is working with victims on a separate independent investigation. The New York Times reports:

St. George’s School, an elite Rhode Island prep school embroiled in a widening sexual abuse scandal spanning decades, said Thursday that it would commission a new, independent investigation into allegations of misconduct against former staff and former students.

The investigation is to be undertaken by a third party to be chosen with the approval of a group of victims who have been critical of the school’s handling of the matter.

The school and the victims group, which calls itself “S.G.S. for Healing,” said in a joint statement that the investigation would be independent, comprehensive and not limited “in scope or time period and will be conducted in a manner sensitive to victims who may have already provided information.”

The Rhode Island State Police are conducting a separate investigation. And the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has restricted a retired priest from his duties after the priest was named Tuesday by lawyers for former students as having molested three boys at St. George’s in the 1970s. … (more)

The contrast is striking. The police are investigating St. George’s, and the school has agreed to an independent investigation that will look into allegations going back to the 70s and possibly much earlier. Meanwhile, the Fessenden School, Fessenden Headmaster David Stettler, the current and past Fessenden board of directors, and Fessenden’s legal counsel have done everything they can to make the ugly stories and lawsuits about pedophile faculty go away. It’s been this way for years. Only recently has a crack begun to open, but the school continues to fight, delay, and deny.

I have confidence the truth about Fessenden will come out in civil lawsuits. But what really needs to happen as soon as possible is a criminal investigation by the Newton police, the Massachusetts state police, or the Middlesex County D.A., as well as a totally independent investigation, funded by the school but not run by its lawyers, administrators, or directors. The truth must come out, and people guilty of abusing students–as well as administrators, directors, or other parties who either attempted to cover it up or failed to notify authorities–need to be tried in court. If they are found guilty of crimes, they need to be sentenced to jail. The school needs to come clean, acknowledge exactly what happened, and examine the factors that led to young boys being abused and the promotion of a sick, broken culture. Only then can the real healing begin, and safeguards put in place so something like this never happens again at Fessenden or any other school.

Lives were ruined. Yet Fessenden and the people who committed pedophilia or allowed these acts to take place continue to evade scrutiny and accountability. This must change, and the situation at St. George’s shows a way to move forward.

Crowdsourcing book design vs. using experienced professional book designers

Earlier this year, I started a project to redesign the In 30 Minutes book series. There were several reasons for this, including:

  1. Dropbox GuideThe existing design, while eye-catching and effective, was beginning to look a little dated.
  2. There were some issues around placement of template elements, such as the large clock taking up too much space to fit in a long subtitle (see the inset sample).
  3. A desire to have a new, more modern look in preparation for expanding distribution of the series to retail and other outlets.

Every publisher knows that relaunching or redesigning a publication is a big deal. That’s true for books as well as websites, magazines, pamphlets, and other types of media that have a visual identity. Oftentimes there are restrictions or requirements associated with the redesign that require special attention, such as wanting to preserve a color scheme or design element. Think of the Apple logo, which has undergone several iterations over the past 40 years. For much of the time, the apple symbol has remained constant even while the colors and depth have changed.

For my books, the existing designer declined to take on the job — it would take a lot of effort, and as a full-time graphic designer with a well-known magazine publisher he did not have the bandwidth to devote to the project on nights and weekends.

So I tried using a design crowdsourcing service called 99designs. The idea is the customer pays a flat fee for a design template, and then designers all over the world compete by submitting bids. Here are some of my observations about choosing 99designs from last May:

The concept is not without controversy, and many experienced designers don’t participate — it goes against their beliefs about the client/designer relationship, the prize doesn’t come close to their standard rates, and there’s a real chance they may not win. But it opens some doors for younger designers, as well as designers from other countries who otherwise would have a tough time recruiting clients outside of their regions.

I liked it because it gives me the chance to see ideas from lots of different designers, and moves fast — the contest can wrap up in about a week. So I decided to give it a shot.

There were a lot of submissions and ideas from the designers participating in the contest. I eventually chose a winner … but decided not to use the design. It was good, but it was missing depth. It also did not seem so flexible for books with longer titles or subtitles.

Friends in the publishing industry were helpful in giving feedback and also recommending some professional designers. I eventually chose TLC Graphics and have been very happy with the results. You can see the new look in the design for one of the first books that will carry it, iPhone 6 & iPhone 6S In 30 Minutes:

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S BookThere are other color combinations in the works as well:

Four new book cover designsThe old covers are gradually being switched out. For some books, the interiors are being completely revised, including LinkedIn In 30 Minutes. I hope to have the entire process done by spring 2016.

In summary, while I am glad I tried a crowdsourced service and the price was reasonable, for the series designs a dedicated professional book designer has worked for me each time I have updated the look and feel of the books (first in 2012, and now in 2015). Besides looking better, I feel that the designs also had the necessary flexibility required for this type of series.

I am happy to discuss my experience with 99designs and working with professional designers in the comments section below.






Whatever happened to the Lean Media framework?

(Updated) I received a message from a European media executive about my Lean Media framework proposal from a few years back. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

A few years ago, before the mobile startup, I heard Eric Ries give his Lean Startup stump speech at MIT. It immediately clicked with me. His focus was software development, but I realized that the things he was saying about product development, feedback cycles, and speed applied not only to software, but to media content as well. I had seen it with my own eyes. Print content, websites, video, music and other products/projects that were developed with these qualities in mind had many positive qualities. They were cheaper to produce, they made it to market more quickly, user feedback loops started sooner, and if they were new brands, they got a huge head start. They were also more fun to work on.

Conversely, products that took the big media approach — bloated teams, top-down directives, planned by committee, limited feedback cycles, etc. — encountered problems. They required huge staff and budget commitments, took years to complete, and seemed to have a higher rate of failure.

Almost immediately I realized there were some issues I had to think through (see Lean Media: The Importance Of Intangibles And Brands and The Lean Media mindset: Can it work for large companies?) even while I found more examples of lean media such as Led Zeppelin (who started lean) and The Deftones (who returned to lean).

Earlier this year, I started writing a book about lean media, but quickly realized that the idea still needed to be refined. This is what I told the European executive:

Thanks for reaching out. I started to write a book about lean media but stopped because A) I have too many other things going on with my business and B) it was hard to think through some aspects of the framework.

For instance: talent/creative can make such a huge difference in the success of a lean media project but “dream teams” with lots of resources can fail. “Creative” is also hard to measure, which in turn makes it hard to translate into actionable advice

Another intangible aspect: “Brand.” It is so easy to create in the lean media world but how it fits in with existing brands (if it is part of a corporate effort) gets very tricky.

There is also the issue of scaling a lean media project into a true business, if that is the goal. Perhaps it is beyond the scope of lean media, though, because more resources and coordination is required.

As you can see I still have some thinking to do about this. Ideally, at the end of the day I want to have a simple framework that managers/companies/entrepreneurs in all kinds of media industries can apply. But I am not sure if such simplicity is possible.

What I probably should do is talk with more people in the trenches. I know there is something here, but expressing it cleanly will talk more contemplation … and perhaps collaboration.

November 2015 Update: I am expanding Lean Media into a book. Read sample chapters here, or sign up for the lean media newsletter.