Friday, September 12, 2014

Stop Fearing Your Food

Yet another of my friends is feeling the crushing weight of his age and belly on his knees and lower back. Yet another of my friends has realized his lifetime of cheeseburgers and carb-rich beer may not have been the healthiest of lifestyles.

I, like so many of my friends, have realized too late that we're not as young as we used to be, and the 20-year-old's metabolism, gained from a 20-year-old's lifestyle of riding a bike to class and playing soccer every day, is no longer functional 25 years later.

And all of us were especially surprised to learn that others have noticed we've been carrying a small ottoman down the front of our shirts for the last 10 years.

To be fair, we didn't notice it until eight years ago, and we've been trying to hide it by leaving our shirts untucked. Apparently, this has not fooled anyone.

"You know, all you need to do is eat less and exercise more," our annoying skinny friends say whenever anyone posts a Facebook update about the extra weight they're carrying.

Really? Eat less and exercise more? I'm so glad you said that. Apparently, I've been mistakenly eating more and exercising less. If you hadn't given the same advice everyone else has said for the last 300 years, I might have lived a full life without ever knowing that those five simple words were the key to my success. Thank you for fixing a lifetime of habits with a bumper sticker.

We're not stupid. Every man or woman who's lugging around extra pounds knows what the problem is. And some spinach-and-carrot-birthday-cake-eating fitness guru telling us to eat less and exercise more isn't the solution.

The problem is nearly all of us in this country have an unhealthy attitude toward food. All of us, even the food fanatics.

We treat food like medicine. We think if we eat the right foods, we'll prevent this, and we'll cure that. Eat more of this green thing to reduce your blood pressure, eat a bunch of orange stuff to reduce your cancer risk. Drink red wine to lower your cholesterol. Don't drink too much red wine though, or you'll damage your liver. If we keep treating food this way, the pharmaceutical companies start selling it for $500 a pop.

We also fear our food. I know people who won't touch food if it's not organic, like it was rolled in dog poop before it ever reached their table. They spend way more money on organic food than is necessary, convinced it will wipe away all their health problems, as if they went skinny dipping in Ponce de León's Fountain of Kale Smoothies.

I know people who will only ever buy brown eggs, because they believe brown eggs are "healthier." Know the difference between a brown egg and a white egg?

About $1.20 per dozen.

Having spent several years in the poultry industry, I can tell you that brown eggs are laid by brown chickens, and white eggs are laid by white chickens. Brown chickens are not healthier, their eggs aren't lower in cholesterol, and they won't make you look 10 years younger if you boil them in a quart of bottled spring water.

The French have a good attitude toward food. They treat it like a pleasure, not fuel. They savor it, not fear it. They experience their meals, they don't post Facebook pictures of them. They eat what they enjoy, not what will fix them. Dinner is a time to sit down with family and friends, taking an hour or two. We get celebrity PSAs that tell us families should eat together once a week.

Even our language reflects our attitude toward toward food. There's the "sinful" chocolate cake that we "indulge" in. It's so "decadent," it's "better than sex." Of course, you could make the "sacrifice" and stick with the "guilt free" diet alternatives, so you don't "pay the price" later on.

If the food is good, we use negative words to make us feel guilty. And even the most healthier-than-thou eaters recognize that the awesomeness of "bad" food, because they drone on and on about the "sacrifices" they're making.

This is not a healthy attitude. Our food may not be healthy in itself, but if we could just stop treating it like a reward and/or a dangerous beast, we could be healthier as people. Or at the very least, we could be happier with who we are.

And who we're with. Because if your food is better than sex, you're doing it wrong.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, September 05, 2014

Five People You Meet At Dinner

It was the strangest dream. I had been thinking about that "what five historic people would you invite to dinner?" question as I drifted to sleep. Next thing I knew, this happened:

Ernest Hemingway: Can I get a martini? Very dry.

Me: What?

Hemingway: A martini, dry.

Joan of Arc: And I'll have a red wine.

Me: Why are you telling me this?

Vincent Van Gogh: Because we're here for dinner. You invited us.

Me: Oh, of course.

Abraham Lincoln: I'd like a nice cold beer. I don't get many of those where I am now.

Me: Really? I figured you of all people would be up. . . you know.

Lincoln: Oh, I am, I am. But Mrs. Lincoln doesn't approve. Says it's a sin. Even Jesus has tried to get her to lighten up, but she's having none of that, and tells me so several times a day. I sometimes visit Jefferson Davis just to get some peace and quiet.

Van Gogh: You mean he lives. . .?

Lincoln: Just down the street from me.

Hemingway: I have to say, I'm a bit surprised to hear that.

Lincoln: You and me both, brother!

Me: So this is a unique opportunity. I wanted to meet you all and to hear your stories, so I thought—

Joan: Not now, waiter. I am hungry. Some beef bourguignon, s'il vous plait.

Hemingway: Beef bourguignon? That's a little fancy for a soldier, isn't it?

Me: I'm not actually the waiter, I'm—

Joan: Don't be a chauvinist, you bearded old fool.

Hemingway: Ha ha! I like this one. I think I found the fifth ex-Mrs. Hemingway.

Joan: Don't flatter yourself. I could never be with such an ungodly man.

Van Gogh: Maybe she goes for the sensitive artist types, Heer Hemingway.

Joan: Maybe she doesn't appreciate being spoken about in the third person.

Van Gogh: Maybe she should learn that the last 600 years haven't done her any favors!

Joan: Go choke on a sunflower, you one-eared ginger!

Van Gogh: I know what I want for dinner. Steak, burned and crispy.

Joan: Ass!

Lincoln: I thought you were a vegetarian.

Van Gogh: What?

Lincoln: I SAID, I THOUGHT YOU WERE A VEGETARIAN.

Me: If we could return to the topic at hand. I'd like to discuss a few things before we—

Lincoln: Barbecued ribs! That's what I want. Man, nothing says summertime cookout like ribs and a few cold ones with friends.

Hemingway: The wife not let you have those either?

Lincoln: No. She keeps yammering about my cholesterol. I keep telling her, 'Mary, we're already dead,' but she doesn't listen.

Van Gogh: What?

Lincoln: What do you want for dinner? Were you serious about the steak?

Van Gogh: No, I was just—argh, now I don't know. Maybe pizza? Come back to me.

Hemingway: Steak sounds like a grand idea. And can we get another round of drinks here, barkeep?

Me: I'm not actually the barkeep either. I'm the—

Joan: Yeah, yeah, we didn't ask for your life story.

Lincoln: Hey, Hem, you got any cigars?

Hemingway: Sure thing, Abe. Vinnie, Joanie, you want one?

Van Gogh: Sure, why not?

Joan: Well, I usually try to stay away from fire, but I think I can make an exception.

Me: You're going to have cigars before dinner? I thought they came after.

Lincoln: Doesn't look like we're in any danger of that happening anytime soon.

Me: Actually, the dinner has already been planned and prepared, and should be here shortly.

Hemingway: Then why don't you make like a tree, and go get it.

Me: I keep telling you. I. Am not. The waiter. I'm your host, and the entire purpose tonight was to gather five notable people and have some engaging conversations about the world today.

Van Gogh: Five? I only see four of us. You aren't the fifth, are you?

Me: Oh, no. I am merely a humble—

Hemingway: Thought so. I mean, I'd never heard of you.

Me: Our final guest has yet to arrive.

Amelia Earhart: Sorry I'm late everyone. I seem to have gotten lost. Waiter, could I have a gin and tonic, please? I'm parched. There's a good lad.

Me: I give up. You people can just feed yourselves. And I hope you all choke on it!

Van Gogh: Alright, pizza time! Somebody get Alexander Graham Bell in here, and let's order some pies! Waiter, where's our drinks?

There's a lot of laughter and talking as I leave, and I wake up in my own bed.

With a voicemail from my credit card company asking whether I meant to order 12 large pizzas, two cases of beer, and a side of barbecued ribs.




The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, August 29, 2014

Are You Ready to Celebrate September?

By the time you read this, it will be September, and fall will be just around the corner. September, like every month, is filled with commemorative days, special weeks, and month-long celebrations. And when you've got a deadline to meet just a few days before the month begins, what better way to celebrate and meet your contractual obligations than looking at all these special days?

It's unusual for me to write this before September even begins, because I'm usually a few days late for this kind of thing, which is why Be Late for Something Day (September 5th) is my day. The planners probably meant to have it on the 1st, but didn't get their act together in time.

It's Fight Procrastination Day on the 7th, and I should probably make some joke about celebrating later, but that's too predictable, so I'll skip it. You can thank me on the 21st, when it's World Gratitude Day.

September is both International Square Dancing Month and Self-Improvement Month, which, I think if you celebrate one, you're not allowed to celebrate the other.

And now that I've managed to offend both square dancers and the self-help crowd, let me tell you about Pardon Day on the 8th. It's the day where we seek forgiveness where it's needed. It's the day we say "pardon me" or "excuse me" or "I'm sorry, I was just going for a cheap joke. Please don't do an angry clog dance in front of my house."

For those of you who don't want to celebrate Self-Improvement Month, but instead see September as I Have An Empty Hole In My Life Self-Loathing Month, there are plenty of comfort food days for you. There's Cream-Filled Donut Day on the 14th, Chocolate Milkshake Day and National Cheeseburger Day on the 12th and 18th respectively.

September is also Better Breakfast Month, and with a donut, a chocolate milkshake, and a cheeseburger, breakfast can't get any better. Well, almost. International Bacon Day is always the Saturday before Labor Day (September 1), which means it's August 30 this year, and we missed it by thismuch for September.

In the spirit of Be Late For Something Day, we could just celebrate International Bacon Day whenever we felt like it this month.

For dessert, it's National Apple Dumpling Day on the 17th, National Butterscotch Pudding Day on the 19th, and Cherries Jubilee Day on the 24th followed by Tell Me What Cherries Jubilee Are Day on the 25th. The 26th is No Seriously, I Don't Know What Cherries Jubilee Are Day.

And don't let me forget Cheese Pizza Day on the 5th, which is followed by Why Even Bother? Day and Seriously, Who Doesn't Like Pepperoni? Day.

Speaking of apples and apple dumplings, it's Johnny Appleseed Day on the 26th. As every good Hoosier knows, Jonathan Chapman may have spent a lot of time in Ohio, but his remaining years were in and around the Fort Wayne area. According to local legend, he's even buried in Fort Wayne in Johnny Appleseed Park, although the organizers of the Johnny Appleseed Festival (the third weekend of September) say that no one is entirely sure where he's buried. But I won't argue the point too loudly, since September is also National Courtesy Month.

For all you working families, it's Working Parents Day on the 16th. And just like every year, we would have celebrated, but we were too tired when we got home. So we heated up some Spaghetti-O's for everyone and fell asleep on the couch watching TV.

For those of you who want to be historically accurate when getting hammered while celebrating other cultures' holidays, you should know that September 16th is the actual day of Mexican Independence, and not May 5th, or Cinco de Mayo, a day where many Americans celebrate their misunderstanding of history by wearing giant sombreros and drink Corona "beer." May 5th actually celebrates Mexico's victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

In what may be one of the only French military victories, the French army re-defeated the Mexicans and installed Emperor Maximilian on April 10, 1864, yet, no one puts on black berets or drinks cheap red wine on that day. Maybe we should celebrate Surprising French Military Victory Day next April.

If you have any other great ideas for celebratory days in September, let me hear from you. But you'd better hurry, because the deadline is September 10th, which is Swap Ideas Day.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Too Lazy; Couldn't Be Bothered

"Kids these days," said Karl, rolling his eyes at me.

What'd I do? I asked.

"I said 'kids,' not middle-aged men," he cackled.

Whatever, King Old Fart, I said. Karl is my 60+ year old curmudgeon friend who calls me Kid, since I'm nearly 20 years younger than him. We were at First Editions, our favorite literary bar, where Karl was supposed to do a reading of one of his short stories. He liked to have a couple drinks before he read, because he always got stage fright at his own readings. The biggest bag of wind I knew could talk at length about any topic, whether he knew anything about it, yet he still got stage fright reading his own stuff.

So what put this burr in your saddle? They running amok on your lawn again?

"No, nothing like that. I was talking to my grandson last week, and I asked him if he had read my last short story." Karl often tried to make his 15-year-old grandson read his works in the hopes that it would spark an interest in literature in him. Or reading. Or breathing through his nose.

What'd he say?

"He said—" Karl closed his eyes and shook his head at the memory. "He said, 'No, what's the tl;dr on it?'"

Seriously, tl;dr?

"Yeah, do you know what that is?"

It's hipster Internet slang for ' too long; didn't read.'

"More like 'too lazy; couldn't be bothered.'"

Yeah, it doesn't speak too highly of the people who use it, I said. They usually use it when an article is over 500 words.

"Or 'too long; didn't understand it.'"

Yeah, that's—

"Or 'too long; too stupid to—'"

Karl, I get it, I said. I waved down Kurt the bartender and asked for two more beers. So what did you say to him? I asked.

"I asked him what it meant, and he told me the whole background, complete with the semi-colon. I said, 'it would have taken you less time to just read the damn story.'

"He said, 'You have to understand young people these days, G-pa—'"

G-pa? I said.

"Who knows. Anyway, he says I have to understand that Generation Y, whoever they are—"

People between the ages of 17 and 27, I said.

"I know who they are! I'm old, not an idiot." Karl took a big drink from his beer. "Anyway, he says, 'Gen Y gets most of its info on mobile phones. Anything longer than 300 words, and we can't be bothered. If we have to swipe our phones more than twice, then we give it the ol' tl;dr so everyone else knows they shouldn't bother.'"

Wait, so they encourage laziness?

"That's what I said. 'So you tell your mouth-breathing friends to avoid anything that might tax their tiny brains?' That's when I noticed one of his slacker friends sitting in the corner. Little punk said, 'Well, I've never actually read any of your stuff either.'"

What did you say? I asked.

"'That's not surprising. I use a lot of big words. Your lips would get tired.'"

I laughed at that.

"Poor kid didn't know what to say. 'Too dumb; couldn't respond,' I guess."

Karl finished his beer, wiped his mouth, and plonked the empty mug on the bar.

"The problem is, we're not encouraging intelligence and learning in our kids. Smart people are looked down on and ridiculed. You're considered a nerd if you read more than one book a year, and even that's pushing it!

"We had a president who took great pride in not only not reading, he had his secretary of state read briefing reports to him because he couldn't be bothered. We spend more time teaching kids math skills, to the point that literature takes a backseat, while art education is nonexistent. And this Generation Whine—"

Y, I said.

"Whatever. Generation Y seems to think that being illiterate and dumb is a badge of honor, as if possessing limited intelligence and knowledge is something to be lauded. We should encourage reading of longer works, sending people to Longreads.com to see some real writing."

So what does this have to do with tl;dr? I asked.

"It's a symptom of a bigger problem. The people who say tl;dr are proudly broadcasting their laziness to the world. The L shouldn't stand for long, it should mean 'I'm a lazy slug who can't read anything longer than 500 words without needing a nap.'"

What are you reading tonight? I asked Karl.

"The first chapter of my latest book."

Just the first chapter? That's like, what, four pages?

"Yeah, I don't want to be up there that long."



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Who Neds Copy Editors! Not Us?

This piece was written with misspellings, typos, and factual errors on purpose. And, with any luck, my newspaper editors didn't edit them out or spontaneously combust, when I sent this in.

It turns out we dont need copy editors in news-papers anymore. At least the Indianapolis Star doesn't. They have layed off their entire copy editor staff, as they prepare to move into their new offices in the Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indianapolis. (New marketing slogan: Free Cinnabon with every subscription!)

Star editor, Jeff Something — Tailor? Taylor? — calls these cutbacks a evolution — Taylor! It's Jeff Taylor! — and that their "strengthening our bridge to the future." A future where everyone is smarter and can spell and write good, thanks to the increased focus on math testing and decreased reading time in schools, as part of George Wallace Bush's No Child Remaining Behind.

Copy editors do more than just catch typoes and grammer errors. They check facts, they make sure a story flows well, like a bottle of watered down ketchup, and that the language sounds pleasing to the eye. Also, they make sure your stories make sense.

That reminds me of a joke my grandmother used to tell. It was "You can always—" No wait, "You can never—" I don't know. See a copy editor would have helped me figure it out. Or at least deleted this whole paragraph since it's like a broken pencil at the bottom of a kid's backpack when he comes home from school and drops the bag on the floor: it's pointless.

Jeff Taylor — is it Taylor? Now I'm not sure. Sort of like when you unplug the iron, but then your husband or wife asks if you unplugged the iron, and then you can't remember if you unplugged the iron, so you have to drive back to see if you unplugged the iron — said that these layoffs are there way of "recast(ing) our newsroom."

They're expanding the reporting staff, so they can "(be) responsive to the interests of our readers in real time," which from what I've seen is mostly stories about people being shot, apartment fires, and the Kardashians.

The Star plans to expand their investigative reporting, business reporting, digital media and social media, and "expanded reporting on our quality of life and things to do." So more news about fancy restaurants, microbreweries, and art galleries. But not just any old schlocky coverage. They'll have "experts" who are really smart about eating food, drinking beer, and looking at art. Expect a lot more articles on holiday food recipes too, starting each June.

According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, "some jobs" include 5 of their 11 photographers — which is, like, 75% of their total photo staff — and the entire copy editing staff, "which reviews and polishes news stories before publication."

Instead, copy editing will be outsourced to the Philippines, where young children who learned English by watching old Miami Vice videos, will proofread the articles. Or it will be done by the remaining people on staff.

And all the reporters theyre adding? The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, which has swanky offices with burgundy carpet and a lot of leather-bound books, says this is the sixth round of layoffs at the Star in six years, and will only result in six more reporters on staff.

Which makes me wonder if Satan is possible controlling the executive leadership at Gannett, the company that owns America Today newspapers, plus a million other newspapers around the U.S.

With these latest layoffs, a lot of media professionals aren't just losing jobs, but ending careers. These are people who spent years honing their craft, and are being cast aside for more cell phone photos and restaurant reviews.

Yet newspaper executives are continually — or is it continuously? If only someone knew! — flabbergasted that their readership keeps plummeting like a fish out of water, and so they lay off the people who actually make the paper interesting and readable.

In the past, the Star has fired popular columnists and writers, and then are shocked when people quit buying the paper. So they hire a few 24-year-old replacements to write more restaurant stories, and don't understand why the numbers keep dropping, which leads to another round of cuts, and we're again back to first square.

If they truly wanted to stop the bleeding, they would instead fire the managers who keep making boneheaded decisions to cut the news staff on a newspaper.

If you made it this far, you've seen why copy editors are so important. (At least I hope so. Otherwise, I despair for our schools).

We need editors. They take bad copy like this and make it readable. They take decent copy and make it art. They're the reason your newspapers sound like they were written by literate adults, and not a bunch of mouth breathers.

The Star is showing extreme short-sightedness by removing that final layer of quality assurance, the people who make sure words are spelled correctly, grammar is correct, and that all facts have been checked and verified before publication. It's not worth it for the sake of more reporters writing more articles when the writers everyone wanted are already gone.

Because the most important thing to — Taylor! It's Taylor. I finally found it on their website.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, August 08, 2014

Inventing the Caller ID of the Future

"Caller ID should be more detailed," said my Facebook friend, Susan A. "'Wants help moving,' 'Going to whine,' 'Will ask to borrow money.'"

I told her I was stealing the idea, and started thinking what this could mean for people who need to know why someone is calling them. My wife and I got rid of our home landline about 10 years ago, since the only people who ever called us on it were telemarketers. We saw no reason to spend 40 bucks a month so telemarketers could call us at dinnertime only to be hung up on five seconds later.

The only thing I miss about a real telephone is being able to slam it down on tele-pests, hoping the percussive blast would rupture an eardrum, or rattle their brains enough so that they rethought their entire life plan. There's no satisfying way to stab a smartphone button with your finger and have it make the same explosive smash as a solid handset made with high-impact plastic.

So what if we could create this new caller ID that would measure your caller's true intention for calling, or better yet, tell you the hidden reason for their call? We could call it "caller QT," as in "keep it on the Q.T." The term Q.T. possibly comes from 19th century England, and means "keep it quiet." Since many people already want to block caller ID so no one know who's calling, our new caller QT system can bypass that and tell us why they want to bother us.

Let's say you're a parent of a teenage daughter, and the phone rings 20 minutes before curfew. In the old days you would have to argue with her about why she needed to be there on time, even though she and Rachel were having a great time together, before you finally reluctantly agreed that one more hour would be fine.

The new caller QT would tell you why she's calling. "Not really at Rachel's. I'm with my boyfriend, Tommy."

Then you can just answer the phone without having to listen to her lie about her whereabouts: "Tell Tommy to bring you home right now" hang up, and shout "Boom, busted!" Think of the arguments it would prevent if you could just shut that down immediately.

Or imagine you're leaving work a couple hours early on a Friday, and you get a call from your boss. In the old days, you had to answer it to see what she needed. Turns out, she needed your help with a project, and you couldn't leave.

Now with the caller QT, the message will tell you not to answer: "Going to ask you to come in early tomorrow to finish these TPS reports, because I have tickets to Robin Thicke." This tells you that you shouldn't answer the phone, and accidentally drop it. In front of a semi. From a bridge.

Similarly, when a co-worker calls, the caller QT can tell you, "Wants to remind you of your report for the committee meeting. You know, the one you've skipped for the last three weeks." You know you can safely ignore that one, since your co-worker is an overachieving bossy pants who really just needs to climb off your back.

With the new caller QT, you can know what kind of mood your mom is in. (Hint, she's not happy because you haven't called her in two weeks.) You know why your pretentious sister-in-law is calling. ("Can you watch the kids? Stephen and I want to get away for a three-day weekend because baby Molly has colic and Atticus may be coming down with chicken pox.)

And it's great for knowing why sales people are calling. The caller QT would tell you whether "you need this," "you don't need this," or "this guy won't stop talking just because you say no, and you'll end up shouting at him and slamming the phone down, which is bad for your blood pressure, and your wife is going to ask you tonight if you remembered to take your pill this morning and won't give it a moment's rest because you forgot, which will raise your blood pressure again and she'll end up screaming at you 'YOU NEED TO STAY CALM! THE DOCTOR SAID STRESS IS BAD FOR YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE!' like a hyperactive Edith Bunker."

Of course, this has to be a secret device. We can't let everyone have a caller QT, otherwise, my friends might know why I'm calling them: "Feeling bored today at the office by himself and is hoping you'll go to lunch with him so he's not sad and depressed by the end of the day."


Photo credit: Dan Dickinson (Flickr, Creative Commons

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Ars Repulsis by Bob Rempfer

Most people don't know, but my middle name is Rempfer, so named after the family who took care of my dad while he was growing up in Forest Grove, OR. Bob and Gert Rempfer were college professors at Portland State University, Bob in Math and Gert in Physics.

Bob was also a prolific letter writer and budding humorist, something my namesake and I have in common.

Recently, when I was helping my mom go through some of her old letters, I came across a couple of essays Bob had written and sent to my parents back in May 1973. I thought his essay Ars Repulsis, was funny and is the kind of thing my dad always enjoys. All his missives were written on a typewriter, and had the kinds of tabs and spacing I would expect from a frequent and frenetic typer — something else we share in common.

I took the letter and retyped it here, unedited, so I could share it with my readers.



Ars Repulsis by Bob Rempfer


In Medical Schools (one of its professors told me the other day), people study the course of DISEASE and how to prolong it by prolonging the life of its victims. They do not, alas, study HEALTH and how to prolong it.

I was reminded of that recently when taking inventory of my friends who still correspond with me. As, in days of approaching senility, my own correspondence GROWS I have found to my surprise that my incoming correspondence is DIMINISHING.

I conveyed this dilemma to an acquaintance, Horst Wottaflab, who always SEEKS ME out, and he came up with what must be the answer:

"You have rediscovered one of the secrets only known to the Ancients -- the Ars Repulsis. It was practiced by a sect of those who Wanted to Be Alone. They are known to have succeeded brilliantly. Of course, they died out in the process."

Having said this, Horst went on

"Since mankind today appears to be groping toward a rediscovery of that Art, and since you appear to be a Foremost Exponent of the Art, you appear to be destined for UNDYING FAME. You have only to write your Memoirs in the Ars Repulsis and your name will go down to a Glory that will Last as long as the Human Race, which is to say on present estimates about FIVE or SIX years, i.e. until about the middle of the Agnew Administration (in other words about the time everybody would rather be dead anyway)!"

So, in quest of this FEEBLE GLORY, I hereby write my Memoirs in the Ars Repulsis.

The easiest is to develop this in a series of case histories.

1. A half dozen friends of mine had investment interests. You all know of the "friend" who looks at the pictures on your walls (some of which you drew yourself) and says "some people have execrable taste in the pictures they put on their walls." That's sure-fire for the Ars Repulsis! I achieve this by writing a PARABLE that lampoons the "investment interests" of my correspondents and indicates what anyone in his right mind "would do." I can tell you that one is a real winner.

I now have six fewer people with whom I correspond.

2. When we first moved to our farm, we had -- let me think back -- perhaps ten friends in this area. They gave us chickens, ducks, horses -- a whole animal population for this farm. Being at the time an unconscious practitioner of the Ars Repulsis, and a would-be humorist, I wrote a FAMOUS X-mas CARD that went on at length about the broken-down saw-bones and spavine freaks that populated this farm!

I got several polite titters. "Heh! Heh! How utterly witty!"

And we had ten less friends in this area!

3. I dimly recall that I had a friend who was taking care of her aged mother, at home, in circumstances of considerable difficulty. Ostensbily to show how sympathetic I was (but secretly in my growing mastery of the A. R.) I indicated how anybody in his right mind puts old folks in homes where they will be happy with "their own kind."

I was just thinking, the other day, I don't seem to be in touch nowadays with people who are caring for antiquated relatives.

4. One of my friends is an overworked teacher who does handicrafts (beadwork, etc.) for her pupils.

As a master of the A.R. I went on one day about how a teacher should never overwork (you need to maintain the smoothness and "charm" of your own personality and you can't do that if you are overworked -- you see how "vivacious" I am and the secret is avoid overwork). I went on to say (and this was the crowning glory) that above all one does not do handicraft work -- you make the District buy those materials!

Come to think on it, this friend has owed me a letter for the last three years!

5. One of my friends, an Irishman by heritage, listened to me carry on about St. Paddy who rid the snakes from Ireland, and his amiable foibles and superstitions. I was positively witty as I indicated how many traces of this charming naivete are still to seen in the descendants of St. Patricks contemporaries of the "Owd Sod!"

A strange look came of the face of my Irishman friend and I knew that he must be moved at my sensitivity and considerateness of "his sort."

Come to think on't, I haven't seen him since -- and since last I knew, we live in the same town, that is a bit strange.

6. One of the two Young Things who used to ride with me to Portland (to save gas) got a strange look about her face as I was going on "I don't know what so and so can be thinking of, wearing those contact lenses! They cost a hundred and fifty dollars, are easily lost, and scarify the cornea!"

"I wonder if you have seen a contact -- I must have dropped it!" said the one Young Thing quietly to the other.

For some strange reason, I now Ride the Bus to Portland, or I Drive Alone.

7. "I always deliver my lectures in class without notes, extemporaneously!" said I while visiting with another professor. "I think prepared lectures and use of notes is deadly!"

"You'll forgive me -- I must now go and write out my Extempore Lecture for my tomorrow's class!" said the professor.

Come to think on't, I haven't seen this colleague lately. I wonder if he's been ill.

Let's see -- I had a point when I began this, but I've forgotten what it was. Oh, there's Joe! I must sign off. I want to advise him about that piece of property he's in the market for. I'm sure he'll appreciate my views!


Bob



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 25, 2014

My Sense of Smell Is Broken

I smell weird. Ly. I smell weirdly.

I need to correct that immediately, because I just know some wag is going to post "I knew that already. ;-)" on my Facebook page.

What I mean is that my sense of smell is malfunctioning or hyper-functioning. It isn't working the way it should. It's been happening for the last few years. I don't know if something is wrong with my schnoz, or if it's something else entirely. More on that in a minute.

I don't have a great sense of smell to begin with. I don't detect faint, subtle odors, whispers of a scent on the wind. My wife, on the other hand, has such a sensitive sense of smell, whenever one of our kids farts in the car, she knows who did it without asking.

And because smell is linked to taste, my poor smell affects my ability to taste, which means I seek out spicier, more flavorful foods so I can taste them more fully. I'm not a serial salter, but I do prefer spicier foods to the Midwestern staples, like baked potatoes, boiled chicken, or tofu.

Which makes this new problem a bit of a puzzler.

I can detect sour smells, when no one else can. If something smells like mildew on a shower curtain, or a shirt that didn't make it out of the washer right away, I'm the only one who smells it.

This has even caused a couple arguments with my wife, especially the first time I told her the jeans hanging in our closet smelled.

"I think your jeans smell a little funny," I said last summer.

"Funny how?"

"Like they were stuck in the washing machine a day too long."

She gave them a big sniff. "No, they smell fine."

"I'm telling you, they smell."

"No, they don't!"

"Then what am I smelling?!"

"I don't know, but it's sure as hell not my pants!"

I noticed the sour smell a few days later at a local McDonalds' drink station. "Do you smell that?" I whispered to my wife.

"I don't smell anything."

"It's like it wasn't thoroughly cleaned out, or they missed something somewhere. It's a sour smell, like your jeans smelled."

She put her face close to mine and hissed, "My pants. Do not. Smell!"

"Fine, then I must have a tumor, because everywhere I go, I smell sour things, but no one else seems to!"

By no one, I mean my kids and those few friends who don't seem to think I'm weird when I ask "does this smell funny?"

Er. Weirder. My friends already think I'm weird, but they're not familiar with most of my quirks and foibles. Like grabbing my collar and asking one of my kids, "does this smell funny?"

It's happening even now. Every summer for the past three years, I have smelled phantom odors. This morning, I wore a freshly laundered t-shirt that I was sure reeked of that sour smell, but everyone in my family assured me that it smelled completely clean and fresh.

Either that, or they're all lying to me.

What's worse was finding an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that said people's sense of smell and taste start to fail and change as they get older. I sat there, reading the article, inhaling that smell with every breath.

According to the article, our ability to smell peaks at age 40, and goes downhill from there.

Richard Doty, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Smell and Taste Center (Official Motto: "Is it. . . is it chicken?"), said that men tend to suffer more smell loss than women, smokers more than nonsmokers. But there wasn't anything in the article about phantom sour smells, or hypersensitivity to certain odors.

I did a quick search for "phantom smell" on the Internet, and learned that rather than suffering an age-related smell loss, I may instead have diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, a possible psychiatric disorder, and am going through menopause.

Never, ever try to diagnose yourself on the Internet with only one symptom.

Most likely, it could be something called "phatosmia," which is a smell disorder that does not have an underlying cause, like a brain tumor or menopause.

I'm kind of leaning toward this last one, because it's common, because my affliction is seasonal, and best of all, it's not something I could die from.

Ultimately, I don't think this is something to worry about. It's happened every summer for the last few years, and I haven't died, my liver is fine, and I sit in front of a fan to reduce my hot flashes. Which means it's all in my head, or my nose is more sensitive than I previously thought.

Not as sensitive as my wife is about her jeans though.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Simplifying Isn't As Easy As It Looks

We're hearing about more and more people who are getting rid of a large portion of their worldly goods (what organizational experts call "crap") and living a less materialistic and more meaningful life.

At least a life that doesn't land you as the July centerfold in the 2015 Hot Hoarders calendar, which we all know you're going to put with the 12 other calendars you're keeping, "just in case."

Admittedly, simplifying is easier said than done, unless you're a soulless robot with the memory of a senile goldfish.

For the last several years, my wife and I (with reluctant participation from our children) have been extensively "decrapifying" our lives, eliminating the clutter and unnecessary detritus that has bogged us down. Our goal is to live more simply, spending less on stuff and more on experiences. We want to build memories, remembering the things we did, rather than spending 30 minutes rummaging through closets in a futile search for that thing that goes with the other thing. You know, the piece that makes this light up. Or play music. I don't remember. Whatever, I've been looking for it for 45 minutes, and I still have to put everything back. I should be finished tomorrow morning.

We embarked on this new lifestyle when we went to sell our first house and realized there weren't enough trucks in the county to move everything to our new house. So we decided to downsize, because we were moving from a McMansion with two floors and a basement to a house two-thirds that size and no basement.

We filled up three dumpster loads with broken and completely useless items. We got rid of items we had planned to repair one day, after we learned the necessary skills, like particle physics.

We donated several garbage bags of clothes that we no longer wore — mostly my stuff that kept shrinking year after year.

I gave over 500 books to our small-town library, dropping off armfuls of books week after week. The library staff was so pleased with my gift, they even named a wing of the library after me. So, the next time you find yourself in Syracuse, Indiana, be sure to visit the Aw Crap, It's That Damn Guy Again! wing of the local library.

It was an ongoing process, because over the next four years, we moved from our first house to a smaller house, to an even smaller house, and finally to a 1,200 square foot apartment with a single car garage that served as our storage unit. In that time, we went from 3,400 square feet to something nearly a third that size, discarding flotsam and jetsam along the way. We finally moved to our current house a year later, and we fit perfectly.

That first time, most of the stuff we got rid of was mine, as my wife seemed to think her stuff was more valuable. As if her grandmother's china set was somehow more important than my collection of Rolling Stone magazines from the 1990s.

But we learned how to choose carefully, separating practicality from sentiment, and not saving every scrap and speck from our childhoods.

We learned that it was okay to get rid of past gifts, especially when we couldn't remember who had given them in the first place.

I also learned that if I wanted to save anything, I had to relabel it something important and clever. At least more clever than labeling a comic book collection "NOT a comic book collection." Because a comic book collection is somehow less important than someone's mother's maternity clothes that you might need "just in case."

Like just in case you get pregnant in 1967.

But the best lesson we learned is that keeping things you never use is less important than keeping and using one thing that brings back memories. Like not hanging on to Grandma's entire china collection you never use, instead keeping a single serving dish you use several times a year, remembering her fondly each time.

Like keeping a photo of you wearing your favorite shirt, rather than keeping the shirt itself, even after it shrank by 20 pounds.

Like how you should always forgive someone after he brings his comic book collection back to the house, four years after telling you he "took care of it" when you asked what he did with it.

Because a good comic book collection is important to have around.

You know, just in case.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 11, 2014

Language Demonstrates Strength, Weakness

The language you use when communicating with others may show how much power you have, or don't have, in a relationship. That is, there are certain phrases you may use that show, even sub-consciously, where you think you stand.

In 2012, National Public Radio examined this phenomenon, and spoke with James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies communication.

According to Pennebaker, it's the small "function words" — the words between important words, like nouns and verbs — that give you away.

Words like this, the, though, I, an, and, that, there.

We don't pay attention to these filler words. They're like the little floaties in your eye. You see them if you look for them, staring into space long enough, but otherwise you never notice them. Also, people will think you're high if you stare like that too long.

Pennebaker says function words are the most interesting ones, not the topic words we talk about, like our families or our job. They convey the substance of what we want to say; our self-esteem and attitudes can be found in these words.

In the early 1990s, Pennebaker and his graduate students created a computer program to analyze massive amounts of data and find the patterns it would take dozens of human beings dozens of years to come up with.

They wanted to know if it was possible to tell if people were lying by their use of function words, whether someone was male or female, or rich or poor. Or if you could tell who had the "superior" role in a relationship and who had the "subordinate" role.

According to Pennebaker, if you perceive yourself to be in a subordinate role — that is, the person you're talking to has more power than you — you're more likely to say "I" a lot.

Let's say you send an email to your neighbor:

Dear Dale, I wanted to see if you could do something about your dog. I am not able to sleep because he barks late at night, which keeps me awake, and I have to get up at 6:00 in the morning. I was wondering if you could put your dog inside after 9:00 at night. That would help me so much. Thank you. Steve.

Your neighbor responds:

Dear Steve: Sorry about the barking. He stays outside at night because he gets antsy after a while in the house. He seems to have a thing going with the Sanderson's poodle, and likes to be outside with her. When they take her inside, he barks. We'll get this taken care of. Thanks. Dale.

Did you see it? Steve put himself in the weaker position. He said "I" four times and "me" twice, while Steve didn't say that at all; he said "we" once. If you read this email, you might guess that Steve doesn't give a crap about Dale, and will instead train his dog and an insomniac rooster to drive past Dale's house in a '76 Chevy Nova with glass pack mufflers.

At a speed dating event, Pennebaker said he could predict who would go on a date more accurately than the people themselves could predict. That's because when two people match, personality-wise, they tend to use pronouns, prepositions, and articles the same way, more frequently.

It's not because similar people are attracted to each other. It's because people who are truly interested in each other will shift their language patterns to more closely align. Sort of a linguist's baby talk. . . if my sweety-weety wittle winguist wiked that sort of thing.

Changing your language won't change who you are, however, he says. "The words reflect who we are more than drive who we are."

But if you want your language to reflect the "you" you'd like to be, there's some truth in the old saying "fake it 'til you make it." It's not just a matter of putting up a brave front until the "successful you" catches up. If you act confident, you'll eventually feel confident. Keep doing it, and one day you find that you have actually become a confident person.

So it goes with your language. Try to avoid using Pennebaker's function words, especially in your emails and texts, to see if you can project a position of strength and power. You might come across as more confident, and you'll be more likely to get what you want, because others will see you as an equal, and not someone in the subordinate role.

On the other hand, you might come across as a big arrogant jerk, and no one will like you, and you'll die unhappy and alone with seven cats.

If that happens, this author is very sorry. Next time, don't do that to the CEO.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 04, 2014

Social Media Makes Us Passive-Aggressive

"Is it really necessary to set off fireworks two days before July 4th?" asked the Facebook commenter. It's never a good sign when someone starts a question with "is it really necessary?" Because the answer is "no," and they're only asking because they don't want to be "that guy." Except they became "that guy" as soon as they said, "is it really necessary?"

It was the second query in as many days, and both status updates started the same way.

"Is it really necessary to shoot off fireworks?" I could hear the nasal whinge coming through, like a whiny Lumbergh from "Office Space."

"Yeaaaahh, I'm going to need you to go ahead and stop setting off your fireworks and having fun. So if you could do that, that'd be terrific, mmm'kay?"

In both cases, the person in question had a valid concern. The fireworks kept their kids awake. Or they scared the dog, and the dog kept the kids awake. Whatever. My complaint isn't with a parent whose kids have stress-induced insomnia.

It's the tone of the question — is it reeeeelly necessareeee? — that set my teeth on edge. Just say what you want, and don't ask the question you know the answer to. Or they could just do what I do: turn out the lights, call the police, and then watch out the window to see if anyone gets arrested.

I don't know if it's social media that makes us passive-aggressive, or if it's just because we're from Indiana and we're too polite for direct confrontation. (Indiana: We're America's Canada.) Whatever it is, there's something about that snotty rhetorical question that make me want to throw my window open and shout, "Yes, it is!"

Thanks to social media, people are sharing more communication with everyone except for the person they should actually talk to. If you don't actually want to go to their house and ask them in person, how about something written to the person in question?

"While I appreciate your enthusiasm for our country's independence, could whoever is setting off fireworks in the neighborhood please stop by 9:30? It's keeping my kid up."

It's simple, direct, and doesn't make it seem like they're the kind of person who speaks loudly to a friend in the hopes that someone nearby will overhear.

"Man, someone in here sure has a lot of perfume on today! I mean, my eyes are watering from all this perfume. I know it's not me, and it's certainly not you, because we rode in the car together. But I can barely eat because the stench is so overpowering. I wonder if my olfactory assailant knows they're ruining my meal and causing irreparable brain damage. I hope they realize they're an awful human being who should slink away and live as a hermit in a cave."

I see this passive-aggressive communication between friends ("I can't believe I got stood up for lunch today!"), in a message from a parent to an older child ("We could sure use strength and prayers while our family deals with a stressful issue that threatens to drive us apart." "Mom, I said I was sorry at dinner. Jeez, I only went out with her once!"), and even spouses. ("You would think that after 15 years of marriage, I wouldn't have to remind certain people to quit leaving their socks by the bed. But what do you expect from someone who's from Ohio?" "Sheila, I raised that boy for 18 years. If I couldn't fix him then, ain't no way you can fix him now." "I sure wish some people remembered I was Facebook friends with them. And that we're all watching TV in the same room.")

The only time I see someone addressed directly is when they're dead.

"It's been six years since you left us, Aunt Sally. We sure miss seeing you every Sunday, Aunt Sally. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you, Aunt Sally. I miss you like crazy, Aunt Sally."

Problem is, Aunt Sally won't see that message because she's in Heaven, and one of the great things about Heaven is that they don't have Facebook. They use Twitter.

I'm not saying we shouldn't air our grievances on social media. If you have a complaint, air away, but none of this behind-the-other-person's-back BS. Just don't talk around the issue, or refuse to address the person directly. Be an adult and communicate in a mature responsible manner.

My only hope is this message reaches the people who need to hear it most.

So if one of you could tell her for me, that's be terrific, mmm'kay?


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 27, 2014

Don't Tell Mom: A One-Sided Conversation About Dinner

"Dinner's ready!"

"Bacon."

"What do you mean, what else? We don't need anything else tonight."

"It's a superfood."

"Uh, in an article."

"Online."

"I did."

"Just because it was something I wrote in a humor article does not negate the fact that I found an article that said bacon was a superfood."

"Vegetables?! Why would you want vegetables?"

"But Mom's not here, is she?"

"Get some fruit then."

"Does she let you complain about what she makes?"

"Then quit griping about the bacon."

"No making faces either."

"Do you want me to eat yours?"

"Nothing. You'll eat in the morning."

"Fine, I'll make some vegetables. How about this?"

"French fries are too a vegetable."

"They're made from potatoes. Potatoes grow in the ground, just like carrots and Brussels sprouts. Therefore, French fries are vegetables."

"That's my boy. Just don't tell Mom."

"Now what about you two? Are you on Team French Fry?"

"Don't call her!"

"Because she's, uh, busy. On her trip."

"Otherwise she'll remind me about it every time she leaves town again. Or she'll never leave town."

"That's right, Buddy, no more bacon dinners."

"Fine, I'll make one."

"Egg or potato?"

"Those are too salads!"

"And chicken salad. Thanks, dude."

"Alright, with lettuce."

"Tomatoes too."

"You guys want pancakes for breakfast the day after tomorrow?"

"Because it's Saturday. We always have pancakes on Saturday."

"We usually do, but I didn't want to wait until Saturday. I was in the mood for it tonight."

"If you'd like, I can cook a pound tonight and the other pound on Saturday. Might as well, since SOME PEOPLE want to fill up on salad."

"So, how about instead of regular pancakes, I make chocolate pancakes."

"I know, right? Thanks, dude."

"And how about, instead of regular pancakes, I make thick pancakes."

"Really thick."

"About this big."

"In the oven, on 350, for 45 minutes."

"I could even put a special chocolate syrup on it. It's so thick you have to put it on with a knife."

"Well, I suppose some people call it that, but only those who don't know any better."

"Fine, we won't have it for breakfast! Jeez, you girls aren't any fun. Who taught you all this stuff anyway?"

"But she's not even here."

"What do you mean, 'meal plan?' Let me see that."

"Why would anyone list out an entire week's menu?"

"Yeah, after 20 years, you do start to learn each other's habits."

"Well, I already called an audible on the bacon, so that takes care of tonight."

"No, I won't forget the verkakte salad!"

"That's, uh, Yiddish."

"For, uhh, things I. . . probably shouldn't say in front of your guys. Don't tell Mom."

"Nothing."

"Because I don't negotiate with blackmailers."

"Go ahead and tell her then. Who's she going to believe, three little kids, or her beloved husband of 20 years?"

"Yeah okay, but only until 12. Then you have to go to bed."

"Because it's a school night."

"Home schoolers need their sleep too."

"What do you want to do tomorrow?"

"No, it's not windy enough."

"I don't even know where it is."

"Ooh, how about we get a falcon instead?! They're just as good as a kite."

"Raw chicken, raw beef. They're also partial to chocolate cake, but apparently we won't have any available."

"No, I'm sure they hate bacon."

"Great. I'll make some calls in the morning. Just don't tell Mom."



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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