A girl was betrothed by her father to a man whom she had never met. Her mind shone with an uncommon light and she was ever seeking out tales of love: chaste and reckless, rich and unrequited.

Into her house she called the most upstanding matrons and the lowest whores, regal queens and barren slaves. To each she said, simply: “Tell me of the men you have loved.”

This intense interest worried her father. Though he had found a most suitable bridegroom for his dearly loved daughter, he feared such tales would influence her against any future husband.

She reassured him: “Father, please do not worry. I trust in you that I will live happily with whomever you have chosen for me. I seek these stories so that I may separate the qualities in him that are exceptional from those that are mundane. Knowing this, I can love him.”

Happy Birthday Rebecca

My friend and coworker Rebecca made an extensive list of things she’d like for her birthday. I really like her rationale:

my list is all about ‘you’ because I’m curious who will answer, what you will come up with, and because it will mean that on my birthday I’ll be thinking about people thinking about me, which is a cozy thing to think about.

So here I am and all the best on your twenty-third…

a picture of your shadow

My shadow

a recording of you reading a poem, singing a song, or saying a sentence

Pint Pot and Billy From Eureka: The songs that made Austrailia compiled by Warrent Fahey. Version as sung by Cyril Duncan of Hawthorne Queensland. Recorded in one-track with Garageband and my MacBook’s built-in mic.

a sentence with a word you like

Seven knights drove up to Flushing.

a description of a tree you know

I know a family of trees on a block along my jogging route in my neighborhood. Jamaica Plain is known to be full of trees, but usually the varieties are pretty well mixed. On this block though, a whole grove of Ginkgo trees grows, or as close to a grove as you can get in urban Boston.

The trees are all about 20 feet tall with rough gray bark. In the spring and summer they are deep green. In the Fall they all turn a self-conscious bright yellow, in contrast to the other trees’ reds and oranges.

One tree in the grove is set back off the street. It has a wound on its sunset side. The tree is also female, the only one, and is neighbor to the grove’s lone outsider: a juvenile Callery Pear that is always losing branches.

an mp3 of a song you like

Greatest Gatsbees(mp3) by (famous band) Houseguest. Goes great with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wolf Parade.

a drawing of your mittens/gloves

My mittens

the html hex or rgb of a color you like

20 212 74 or #14D44A

MeetAmeriCorps is “social networking”!

My pet project, has finally passed that development milestone that marks a “social network”: Buddylists. To be a little more haute, we’ve decided to call them “contact lists”, but the concept is the same: you can demarcate people who you like/know/want-to-be-on-your-contact-list.

[ ![BenSheldon Meet AmeriCorps (20061211).png]( ]( “Photo Sharing”)

Since I haven’t really been advertising it too heavily, Meet AmeriCorps was a directory–now it’s a “social network”–of AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers who are either currently serving or alumni. It’s pretty neat stuff, doesn’t look to shabby and, disclosing I am the lead developer on the project, actually kind’ve useful.

[ ![Home Meet AmeriCorps (20061211).png]( ]( “Photo Sharing”)

We put together to fill what I see as a sorely lacking need. AmeriCorps and VISTA are essentially-governmental, national-service programs that mostly places full-time, stipended volunteers with community organizations. AmeriCorps speaks of itself as a “network” that is creating a “national service movement”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the capacity to truly achieve this because, in my opinion and experience, AmeriCorps and VISTA members generally do not:

  1. communicate with other members serving with other organizations (even organizations inside a single community)

  2. self-identify as AmeriCorps volunteers

  3. collaborate on developing resources and capacity

AmeriCorps and VISTA currently provide some tools and resources to achieve #3, but I believe that #3 cannot be achieved with volunteers being able to effectively communicate and identify themselves as AmeriCorps both to each other and the outside world.

[ ![Favorite games Meet AmeriCorps (20061211).png]( ]( “Photo Sharing”)

Meet AmeriCorps seeks to provide an easy-to-use tool for AmeriCorps members to meaningfully interact with one another both within service, and outside of it. I hope this will improve the experience of being an AmeriCorps or VISTA volunteer and contribute towards creating a true network and movement.

[ ![Alaska Meet AmeriCorps (20061211).png]( ]( “Photo Sharing”)

These screenshots were made with the OSX app Paparazzi!

Nonprofit Technology Sandwich

Nonprofit Technology Sandwich I don’t know if it’s my empathy for the myriad of people I know stymied in technology quagmires for good causes or a desire to combine my love of good food with my job, but this is the result. Download a printable PDF perfect for tacking to your wall or the wall of whomever makes technology decisions at your organization. Update: The sandwich is on Update: The sandwich is on

Denim flashback

Jeans: New and Old (front) Jeans: New and Old (back)

Click on the photos to see explanations of the wear marks

I purchased a new pair of jeans last weekend. In fact, I got the exact same brand (Carhart), style (relaxed-fit) and size (34-34) from the same store (Jones Department Store, “Jonesy’s” in Southie vernacular) at the same time of year (Novembrish) as I did last year. I also bought a new cap too. I don’t want it to seem like I don’t make progress in my life but the cap is identical too, to one I got last year (it matches my mittens) on the same expedition. Its progenitor was lost to the Boston Public Library one cold March morning.

Buying pants is always exciting for me; I never even owned a pair until I was 13–in San Diego one can get away with that. My mom likes to tell the story of my middle school principal saying to her after eighth grade promotion (for which I was en-panted), “I never thought I’d see the day with Ben in pants.”

In side note, it was pouring rain last Saturday when I went out to Southie to buy the jeans. Jonesies is far up on East Broadway; and while I caught the #9 bus there, I walked/swam back.

Pouring rain in southie Don't open that window

Office faceoff

Home office The work office

The Home Office

Laptop, calendar, cellphone, sunlight, cat.

Molly is cute, furry and warm. She doesn’t take dictation though.

The Work Office

A hardened concrete box deep in the windowless bowels of UMass Boston. Not my desk, but respective.

Danielle is hardworking, hilarious and awesome. She doesn’t take dictation either.

Boston Obscura: A halloween story

One evening, not far earlier than today, I was sitting upon Boston Common enjoying the last sloping rays of the day. As was my habit, I blissfully blocked out the city around me to better enjoy the feeble warmth of a setting sun.

Sometime in this I was taken unawares by a man I did not know. His face told of a race not estranged from these shores and his eyes shone with long familiarity to the world. He sat beside me and from his mouth came a string of words I willed myself to make sense of. He told me of something most wonderful, most horrible, and from which I am forever changed.

Boston is a city of gross extremes: poverty and wealth, light and dark, high and low: the crumbling triple-deckers of Roxbury and the affluent brownstones of the South End, the Irish enclaves and the Haitian Mass, the deep tunnels of the T and the airy heights of the JHB.

Boston has not always been this way.

Long before the first explorers, the vikings, conquistadors, traders, pilgrims stepped foot on these coasts, Native Americans, the Indians, roamed what were once three hills, the Tremont, of Boston. But to one tribe, the Massachusett, to whom this stranger called his ancestors, travel was not as it seemed to us. It was something different: faster, if time had reference; shorter, if distance had meaning; darker, but only to an unenlightened mind.

The Massachusett people were aware of certain trails that could connect a physical place with any another, directly and absolute. No, not trails: one trail that subsumed all forks; a true path: a Way. On this Way their people traveled and obtained a unity never equaled. But to speak of this in physical terms is a misdirection, a lie. The Way was the manifestation of an entire culture connected: an ethos, born and endured for eons; willed into the physical by a shared understanding: a Truth sustained.

Such a Way gave evidence upon the earth, in footprints and matted brush; to hide them would have been schizophrenic, a denial of reality. Until the foreigners and their foreign minds arrived.

There was once a Fork, a Path, an infinite fraction of the Way, that led between the Massachusett’s wintering grounds where now is Mattapan, and their summer rest at what we call Columbia Point. To traverse these locations was an instant to them, but a half-day’s journey to these new, strange colonists. A misunderstanding between such fundamentally different peoples led to a mistake, a tragedy that could never be repeated:

The Fork was crossed, pinned down, substantiated by the traversal of a different form: a Meeting House Road to which the laws, our laws, of space and time and distance obeyed. A market, Codman Square, was thrown up around an impossible unity, an unimaginable contract. Those that understood watched and learned and forevermore hid the Way.

But to hide such a thing as the Way was not simple. It was a culture, and to modify that was to modify a people, their world view, their psyche. To hold Truth in darkness became a mad and impossible task. The Way still appeared sometimes in form; in meandering cowpaths and stream beds; in trickery, jest, and passion to the foreigners who traveled them, improved them, paved and finished them. Concrete and asphalt roads and highways that never run straight, that never take travelers to their destination, that wind and meander in blessed lunacy. This was what was left of the Way. Almost.

Boston is a city of tunnels: the mundane of Copley Place and the scandalous of Old City Hall. The T cuts deep through Boston’s heart, but one Tunnel digs still deeper. As understanding of the Way receded from their people’s culture, deeper and farther out of sight did its Paths move physically; below prying eyes and beyond divergent minds.

Waiting and weakening below Boston’s blossoming new streets and conduits, the Way sat unused. Its owners and sustainers diminished and integrated, losing what they had once known in fullness.

For so long, this stranger said, he had been the last to hold this Secret, this Truth, dim and alive for this world. But, he said, that is no longer. It is yours now.

Somehow this, among all else, shocked me. I startled to my feet. Stumbling, running, falling, I struck the ground. Turning back I looked but he was gone. The grass, the light, gone. Only dirt, dark, moist and broken remained.

Even now I do not know what happened. Was it guilt for granting me his people’s last covenant? Mad awareness? What new direction has It taken?

I fear It waits for me. Storm drains groan as I pass and asphalt cracks spider and deepen in the streets. In the subway I see doors that never open and trains that never stop. The harbor churns; bubbles, enormous, burst from the deep.

I do not know if It stalks me out of malice or loneliness. I feel and try to empathize: I am aware of It but do not yet understand Its Paths, Its Corridors, Its Entrances.

I cannot travel the Way alone. So I share It with you.

Nonprofit Competition & Concept Map

At this summer’s CTCnet Conference the thing I most took away–or rather, repeated to the most number of people–was something said by the keynote speaker, Ami Dar, the creator of

He was asked by someone in the crowd something along the lines of “In what areas do you want to see nonprofits develop into the future?”

Ami Dar responded that an area that he saw as important was acknowledgement of nonprofit competition. His brilliant reasoning was this:

In for-profit companies, everyone accepts that competition takes place; it’s a given. Businesses identify the areas in which they compete, and from this, also gain an understanding of the areas in which they don’t compete. In the areas in which they don’t compete, businesses can cooperate. Nonprofits, in general, are not aware of, or acknowledge that they compete (and they do), and because of this, they cannot collabrate as efficiently or as effectively as possible.

My own example of this is the Detroit automakers. Ford and GM are incredibly competitive in car production, features, pricing, dealerships, etc. But at the same time, they have an incredibly strong combined lobby for setting safety and emission standards, things that affect the entire industry. They know where they compete and therefore know where they can work together.

So this has been rattling around in my head until I read two things:

This first was “Learning How to Learn” by Joseph D. Novak, D. Bob Gowin, and Jane Butler Kahle, which lays out some very interesting models and heuristics for visualizing information.

The second was A Typology of Nonprofit Competition: Insights for Social Marketers by Robin J. Ritchie and Charles B. Weinberg.

Putting them together, I made this using OmniGraffle:

Download the PDF

Concept Map: Typology of Nonprofit Competition