Friday, October 02, 2015

Measuring the Dollar Value of Friendships

We don't admit it. Not in our polite, the-best-ship-is-friendship society.

We judge the value of our friendships based on money.

Not "how much can this person give me?" value. Rather, it's a "how much am I willing to spend on behalf of this person" basis.

A friend recently wrestled with a wedding gift idea to give another friend she wasn't close to.

"Oh, you mean a low-dollar-value friend," I said.

She gave me the side-eye.

Her friend had mailed a postcard wedding invitation, probably from, announcing the wedding. It even included a web address for their gift registry, a Williams-Sonoma meets type of website.

"What are your options?" I asked.

"The wedding is next weekend, so most of the good stuff is gone already. All that's left are a few house gifts they'll never use, like a pastry server. Who the hell needs a pastry server?"

"What is a pastry server?"

"A fancy pie spatula."

"Bleah. What else can you get?"

"I can fund some of their honeymoon to Italy."

This is not an uncommon practice for weddings these days. A lot of couples, especially if they live in small apartments or houses, don't want a lot of stuff. So they request cash in lieu of gifts, especially for their honeymoon.

Some people look down on the practice. They prefer to give an electric pie slicer or his-and-hers matching ashtrays, which will be regifted to another wedding. But it's an excellent way for newlyweds to get a jump start on life.

"I could contribute to their airfare," said my friend. "How much do you think I should give them?"

"How good of a friend is she?" I asked.

"What? What does that have to do with anything?"

"It's everything," I said, ignoring her indignation. "Have you been to her house?"

"No. Why is that important?"

"It just is. Has she ever attended any of your events or special happenings?"


"Did she ever buy your lunch?"


"Then 25 bucks."

"You mean, since she never bought me lunch, I should cheap out on her gift?"

"No, it tells you what kind of friend she is. She's never invited you to her house, which means you're not a dinner party friend. She doesn't come to anything you organize, which means she's not a supportive friend. And she's never said, 'let me buy your lunch today,' which means she's not very generous. At best, that makes her a $25 friend. Hell, I don't even know if I'd buy her a gift in the first place."

"I was thinking $50."

"She doesn't sound like a $50 friend. That's a lot for someone you don't even meet for coffee."

"So what am I?"

"To me, you're a $100 friend. I'd give $100 to your airfare when you got married." That made her smile.

But she still gave 50 bucks.

I'm not suggesting we should assign our friends a monetary value. But one day, we will all face a dollar value decision about a friend, and it will say a lot about how the value of the relationship when you decide how much to spend.

Your college roommate, who you haven't seen or talked to for eight years is having a destination wedding in Hawaii. It will cost you $3,000 to attend. Do you go?

No, of course not. You haven't seen your friend in so long, you're not even morally obligated to attend if you lived next to the church. Send her a $25 Starbucks gift card and wish her well on Facebook, where she friended you two months ago so she could get your address and mail her "invitation."

Compare that to your best friend. She wants to go on an all-girls weekend to Chicago. Total cost is $750. Do you go?

Absolutely! This is your best friend, you enjoy hanging out with her, and it will be something you remember forever. And because you skipped your college roommate's wedding, you have an extra $2,250 to spend in Chicago, which means you can park your car for two days.

When you have to spend money on behalf of a friend, ask what kind of friend they've been. If they've been with you through thick and thin, spend more. If you don't even know where they live, and they've never even bought you a single coffee, spend less.
    Of course, if they've provided months and years of humorous newspaper entertainment, they're worth at least the cover price of their first novel. As soon as they write it.

Hardback prices, too, please. Don't cheap out and buy the Kindle version just because it costs less.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Can Even Use a Power Saw

Erik is traveling this week, and is out of the office. We are reprinting an old column about his old house.

Ever since we moved into our house 11 years ago, I've enjoyed working on it. Building and insulating the walls, putting up drywall, and watching my wife paint.

We finished off the upstairs and the basement with her parents' help, and I learned the manly art of bashing my own thumb with a hammer. In fact, I got so good at it that I find I enjoy working with my hands, beyond just typing on the computer with eight useful fingers.

Some days, I even fancy myself capable of doing this on a daily basis. I can imagine trying to earn a living, doing what I do on the weekends: drinking beer, puttering around in the garage, drinking more beer, and watching football on TV.

Sadly, there is more to being a contractor than that. It's not as much football watching, which is bad, but a lot more beer drinking, which is good, unless you're using a power nailer.

The problem with doing this kind of work is that it really can damage a Guy's hands. Whenever I think, "wouldn't this be fun to do everyday?" I remember what my hands looked like when I was finishing the upstairs of my house six years ago.

Every week brought a new scratch, scrape, scar, or bandage. I began to look like a walking triage unit, and personal injury attorneys followed me in the grocery store.

A hand's scars are a historical road map. They show us where we've been, what we've done, and how poorly we handled sharp objects. There's the scar where I cut myself with my dad's hunting knife, the scar where I cut myself with a kitchen knife, and the scar where I cut myself with a utility knife while cutting some drywall. I have serious problems with knives.

For the past few weeks, my wife and I have been tackling major projects around the house, and my hands look like I've been wrestling a sack of nettles. I have cuts on my fingers from an errant hacksaw, a few poison ivy blisters, and a couple of scratches from God only knows what. And this was a good week.

But Guys wear their scars like badges of honor. Stupid, I-wasn't-paying-attention-and-sliced-my-hand-with-my-utility-knife scars. Big hey-want-to-see-what-a-hot-drill-bit-can-do-to-human-flesh scars. And we parade them around for others to see.

When most non-Guys injure themselves, they will carefully clean the wound with Bactine, put some antibiotic ointment on it, and put a clean bandage on it every day. They also get their wives to "kiss it and make it all better."

Guys, on the other hand, will only put a small Band-Aid on the wound to make sure they don't get blood in their nachos. Afterward, they take it off so people will ask them about it at work the next day.

Concerned co-worker: Eww, gross! What did you do to your hand?

Guy: Oh that? That's just a scratch. I was building a new storage shed out of some pine logs and plywood. I guess one of the pieces got away from me, because it slipped and gashed my hand up pretty good. I just wrapped a little duct tape around it and kept working.

Other Guy: What are you talking about? I was over at your house, and you were cutting little rosettes into some baby redskin potatoes, and you sliced your hand on that little bitty paring knife. You cried like a baby and insisted I take you to the emergency room.

Guy: Yeah? Well, now you can forget about me making that lobster bisque and pasta bolognese for your birthday!

Guys take pride in their scars, because they earned them. They performed the labor, put themselves at risk, and made the gross error that nearly lopped off a finger or severed an artery. These aren't self-inflicted little scratches that we made to look cool. That would be like buying pre-torn jeans.

We'd never intentionally drop lumber on our foot. We'd never try to injure ourselves with a sharp chisel. And we'd never overdramatize a groin injury and then purposely get suspended from training camp as a way to try to leverage a better contract than the 7-year-$49-million contract we signed the year before. (Looking at you, Terrell Owens!)

Not that I'm pointing a finger or anything. It's still too painful to move after I whacked it with a hammer.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A One-Sided Conversation About Moving

"Remember, Buddy, lift with your legs, not with your back."

"That's still not funny."

"Because it wasn't funny the first fifty times it."

"Because you're already lifting with your hands. Saying it 49 more times doesn't make it funnier, it just means I'm making you carry more stuff."

"Because you could injure your back and end up with chronic back pain."

"I wouldn't have to repeat myself if you would just do it right the first time."

"I do not! I lift with my legs just like — blurg! I can't squat down that low."


"I don't care how old he is, Michael Jordan isn't here to help us move, is he?"

"I'll bet he can't squat that low either. The guy's so tall, he probably gets the bends if he stands up too quick."

"What's he going to do, dunk it onto the truck?"

"Just lift it up."

"Turn left. No, left. I want you to go backward."

"Your other left."

"That's your right."

"That's still your right."

"Stop, stop, stop. Set it down."

"Because my back hurts."

"Because I can't squat as low as you can. My knees are worse than my back."

"What? I didn't shout at him. I said stop."

"Because when I wanted him to turn left, he went right."

"Fine. Dude, when we pick up the couch, head toward the front door."

"Just watch your feet and stay on the sidewalk."

"Because the younger lifter always goes backward."

"It's in the rules."

"My rules."

"I, uh, packed them in the truck already."

"Dude, you're just going to go backward. Deal with it."

"Because I always went backward when I was younger. Now that I'm the senior mover, I don't have to go backward."

"Fine. She'll agree with me though."

"Wait, wait. Let's finish moving the couch out before you go tatt— I mean, tell her."

"Yes, backward."

"See, it's not so bad. You get to guide the speed and direction."

"I'm guiding from the back. It's part of your apprenticeship."

"Until you have your own house to move."

"You get to boss your own kids around, that's what."

"No, I'm not helping you then."

"I'll be busy that day."

"A friend's house for dinner. It's on the calendar."

"I'll find some new friends. Bottom line, I'm not helping you move then."

"Because I'll be 60 and I won't feel like it. Besides, if you're thinking about moving in here after college, you've got another think coming."

"Set it down right here, and scoot it in place. Mom will fit it in place just right."

"I can lift heavier things than she can, but she has better spatial skills than I do. It comes from her playing all that Tetris."

"No, 'spatial,' as in being able to perceive things in space."

"We may live in Indiana, but we don't talk like that."

"Short 'e' sound, like bet or feather. As in, 'I bet these boxes would feel as light as a feather if you would lift with your legs and not your back.'"

"Let's just get some boxes. Mom can stack them next to the couch."

"With your legs, Buddy! Your legs."

"Like this. Watch. You just crouch down and — $#&!"

"No, I didn't actually do it, I just said it."

"Dude, quit laughing, it wasn't that funny. Just go get your mother, please."

"What did he tell you?"

"No, I did not do that in my pants."

"I said it because I injured myself."

"Because he's got the humor of a 12 year old. Look at him, he's still laughing."

"What's in there, your anvil collection?"

"Well, it made me hurt my back."

"No, I just need a few minutes. Give me some Motrin and let me sit on the couch, and I'll be fine."

"You go on ahead. I'll be right there. I just need to. . . . *snnnnkkkkk*

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Life Lessons for My Children

As my children get older and enter young adulthood, or as I like to think of it, "*sob* I don't want you to go away to college!! *sniff*," I've tried to impart important life lessons to each of them.

However, since I never pay attention to anything I say — no one else does either — I'm not sure what I've said to which child. So I've compiled it all into one easy-to-lose guide that none of them will actually read.

1) Don't put your money and energy into possessions. You'll spend your money on things you never really needed or wanted, and you'll end up throwing half of them away in three years.

Instead, spend your money on things that make memories, like an HD TV and satellite subscription, with a Major League Baseball game package. Oh, and a nice recliner. I remember the recliner my parents had when I was a kid. It was so comfortable, I could take deep, satisfying naps in it during baseball games.

See, nice memories.

2) The best things in life are free, but only when the other person isn't looking.

3) Author Sherwood Anderson once wrote to his son, "Above all, avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about." He was referring to small businessmen who had achieved a modicum of success, but as an entrepreneur, I disagree. Instead, avoid the advice from people who work for the government, for large corporations, or start sentences with "I saw on Fox News last night. . ."

4) Do not depend on another person to make you happy or complete. We have repeatedly told my daughters, you do not need to depend on a man, wait for a man, or take directions from a man. Learn to live independently for a while, because if you bring a young man around the house, I plan on frightening the hell out of him.

For my son, find a woman who is strong, independent, and won't wait on you hand and foot. If you're not sure of what that looks like, ask your mother to make you a sandwich.

5) Most importantly, if we do let any of you get married, find someone who makes you laugh. Not a polite little titter, but a great braying ugly laugh that only your family has heard. Your mother has always said she knew I was The One because I made her laugh. And also, because I didn't make her feel like throwing up.

Which, now that I think about it, "I married you because you didn't make me throw up" is not the lovely sentiment I had previously imagined.

6) Find a hobby you love. Something that you can throw yourself into and enjoy. Television is not a suitable hobby. Neither is playing games on your phone. Consider things like cooking for the elderly, dispensing medication to the aged, or maintaining a guest room for long-term guests who come to live with you when they're in their 70s. You have 30 years to get good at these things.

7) Don't openly revel in the misery of others. Do it quietly where they can't see you.

8) Don't worry about being the most popular kid in school. Enjoy being different and not following the crowd. Recent studies have shown that the popular kids often don't live up to their self-expectations later in life. Instead, it's the geeks and weirdos who go on to do amazing things. Celebrity astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson was not a popular kid in high school, Miley Cyrus was.

The big difference? Nowadays, Neil deGrasse Tyson is respected for his intellect and talent, Miley Cyrus is, well, not.

9) Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable."

This is a terrible idea. Go into a sensible profession. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. As a professional writer, I speak from experience. When I'm old, I'll be counting on you and your family to make my life more bearable.

10) On the other hand, make sure you have a job you love. As my father used to say, it's better to have a job you love that doesn't make much money than to make a lot of money at a job you hate.

I'm happy to pass all this advice to you, because I love my job so much, it's pretty much your entire inheritance.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Peter and the Disembodied Voice

"Do you ever wonder about The Voice?" asked Peter.

"The TV Show?" asked Peter's grandfather.

"No, Grandfather, The Voice," said Peter

"What voice? Is someone talking to you?"

"No, The Voice that tells us what's happening. I can hear him sometimes, when I'm out playing."

"Are you sure it's not one of the neighbors?"

"No, no. It sounds like God. He talks about what I'm doing, as if he's explaining it to someone else."

Peter's grandfather studied him. The boy had never been quite right, not after his parents had died, and Peter had been sent to live with him. Grandfather petted Cat sleeping in his lap. Cat had worn himself out, chasing Duck and Bird again, but hadn't had any luck. He reached across the table for Peter's hand.

"Peter, do these voices tell you to do things?"

Peter pulled his hand away. "Grandfather, I'm not crazy," he huffed. "There aren't any voices telling me to burn down the wood shed. There's just one voice, and he describes what's happening, like a, uh, like a nora-tor."

"Do you mean a narrator?"

"Yes, that. 'Narrator.' It was his voice that told me when Wolf came out of the woods and tried to eat Bird and Duck last summer. That's how I knew what was going on. I heard Narrator talking about how Wolf chased Bird and Duck, and I heard the French horn and flute and oboe. That's when I snuck out the window to save them."

"What does Narrator sound like?" asked Grandfather, leaning forward slightly. Cat raised his head to make sure everything was okay. He didn't hear his clarinet, so he went back to sleep.

"Well, he sounds funny. Like he's British or something. He sounds like someone Very Important."

"Do you still hear him?"

"Sometimes," said Peter. "Not all the time. Usually when I'm outside playing. I started listening to him more, in case he tells me when Wolf is coming out of the woods."

"Not The Wolf, Peter. You marched him right to the zoo in a big parade and rescued Duck from the tree."

"I know that, Grandfather."

"Kitschiest damn ending I'd ever heard," said Grandfather. "God forbid we inject a little real life into a children's story." Grandfather reached for his bottle. "When I was a boy, it was cold. We were always so cold. Some days, we never had enough to eat, and my mother would—"

"Grandfather, you're getting maudlin again. We have fun times here. This isn't an MFA story."

"A what? Emmiff ay?"

"No, M. F. A. It means Masters of Fine Arts. People get them for writing sad stories about their childhoods or wars."

Grandfather set his bottle down. "You're right, Peter." Grandfather rubbed his face with his hands. "So why do you think you hear him?"

"I think he's just lonely. He doesn't have anything to do anymore. Apparently we only had the one wolf in the woods. It's been six months, and we haven't had any more sightings."

"Well, that was pretty exciting, you have to admit. The Hunters with their great guns and drums, carting off The Wolf. You all certainly gave me such a fright when I thought he was going to eat you. I certainly wasn't happy with you, until I saw you leading The Hunters and The Wolf in a parade to the zoo."

"I remember, Grandfather," Peter said, his eyes staring at nothing far away. "When I think of how we almost lost Duck that day, I still get the shivers."

"Now who's getting maudlin? So what else does Narrator talk about?" said Grandfather, changing the subject.

"Well, he talks about Cat, Bird, and Duck a lot. He saw the Hunters off in the distance once, and I heard the kettle drums. Another time, we had a tense moment in the garden when I thought I heard The Wolf, but it was just a trombone."

"Maybe he is lonely, Peter. Now that the villain has been taken to the zoo, there's nothing for him to do."

"Can we invite Narrator to dinner, Grandfather? Maybe he wouldn't be so lonely if he had some friends."

"Oh, I don't know Peter."

"I know you didn't like being portrayed by a bassoon, but maybe he'll even let you pick a new instrument."

"That's not it, Peter. You know what a man like that can become once he gets the drink in him. A darkness comes over him, a cold darkness, and he begins to—"

"Grandfather, you're MFAing again."

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Now That I Have Your Attention

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2004. Hopefully you'll think about this and not, well, you know. . .

What are you thinking of right at this moment?

If you're a good reader, you said, "Gee Erik, I'm thinking about all the laughs I'm going to have with this column."

But if you're a German motorist, there's a 33% chance you're thinking about sex. Of course, the odds that you're a German motorist are pretty slim, considering I've only got one German reader and she knows enough not to read while driving.

What she thinks about while she's driving, I'll never know. But the Auto Club Europa in Stuttgart, Germany wants to find out.

According to a 2004 Reuters story, the ACE took a survey of 1833 German motorists. They found that one-third fantasize about sex while stuck in traffic jams, while only 10 percent think about finding a faster route.

So much for German efficiency and planning.

Eight percent think about how much gas they have, seven percent think about finding a bathroom, and 10 percent of them think about their families. In other words, they're thinking about the consequences of the last time they thought about sex in that traffic jam a few years ago.

In another Reuters story from last Friday, more German researchers wanted to figure out what people think of during sex. But since a door-to-door survey was out of the question, the scientists hooked up volunteers to a brain scanning device and made them look at pornography.

While researchers found that both men and women had activity in the temporal lobes — the part of the brain that controls memory and perception — they found that women also used their frontal lobes, the part of the brain that deals with planning and emotion.

However, researchers were not able to determine whether this meant that women were busy planning their schedule while men "lost themselves in the moment."

German woman: I have to pick up my dry cleaning, go to the bank, and meet Ingrid for lunch.

German man: BOOBIES!

But if we're to draw any conclusions from these two studies, it's that German researchers are more obsessed with sex than other researchers.

We could also conclude from another Reuters story, that insurance company executives are also obsessed with sex.

Mitchell Blaser, the Chief Financial Officer of the Americas division of Swiss Re, is suing the strip club Scores for $28,000, saying this was not the amount he actually spent in one evening. According to the lawsuit, Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, says that he "only" spent about $15,385 on strippers and alcohol in a single evening.

The Chief Financial Officer is the person responsible ensuring his employer's money is not wasted or spent foolishly.

Keep in mind, Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, is not denying that he spent thousands of dollars on strippers and booze, but that he just didn't spend $28,000. He says the Scores staff extorted $8,615 from him, and signed an unauthorized $4,000 tip in his name.

I think if I were Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, I would be embarrassed that I had just made national news for spending more money on strippers and booze in one night than the 2003 US Poverty Level for a family of seven ($27,820).

I certainly would not want to draw attention to my name — Mitchell Blaser — or embarrass my employer — Swiss Re insurance company. And I certainly wouldn't admit that I had ACTUALLY only spent a little more than the poverty level for a family of three ($15, 260).

But according to Scores spokesman Lonnie Hanover, Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, ordered five magnums of champagne, each costing $3,200. He also spent $7,000 for lap dances and to be accompanied by 12 strippers for hours.

Hanover said they have three signed receipts from Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, over the course of the night. He also said that American Express has investigated Mitchell Blaser's claims and believe that Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, did spend as much money on strippers and booze as the price of a brand new Toyota 4Runner SUV.

Hanover went on to say that while they have entertained heads of state, professional athletes, and other Wall Street executives, no one has ever ordered more than one bottle of their most expensive champagne.

So Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, should be proud for spending more money on champagne than a family of three who falls below the poverty level. He should be proud that he has helped boost the local strip club economy, rather than giving it to someone who would have wasted it on food and rent. Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, should hold his head high, and boast that he spent as much money on strippers and booze in a single night as a school teacher earns in a year.

It will give him something to think about the next time he's stuck in a German traffic jam.

Photo credit: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Things Men Shouldn't Own After They're 30

"There's an old saying that you're not a man until you have everything out of your parents' house," my dad said to me once.

"Who said that?" I asked.

"Me, mostly." He was trying to get me to remove my childhood belongings that were still in his attic.

Of course, my wife disagreed. She had spent the last 10 years trying to get me to quit holding on to things I no longer needed. She thought he wanted to give me more junk, which I would hold onto for another 10 years.

"No, do not bring any of that crap over!" she told him.

"Just do it when she's not around," I whispered when she turned her back.

It was mostly old books, including my old high school yearbooks. I gave a few of the books to my son, and dumped my first three high school yearbooks. I hid my senior yearbook from my kids, and everything else went into recycling or the trash.

Finally, at age 47, I was a man.

Cassandra Byrnes of New Zealand's Stuff website (official motto: "No, dammit, it's a whole other country!") created a list of things people shouldn't have in their homes after they turn 30. Based on her list, as well as a few items of my own, here is a list of things a grown man should not have past the age of 30.

Unframed posters: One of Byrnes' items. If you want a framed poster, fine. They look a little arty and nostalgic, and you look semi-grown up. But if you're still rocking the celebrity-in-a-bikini poster, no frame will make that look classy. Ditch it.

Trophies: Why do you have your intramural soccer trophy sitting next to your TV? Better yet, why do you have it at all? If your trophies are more than five years old, get rid of them. On the other hand, grown-up awards one might receive for, say, a comedy script writing competition are totally acceptable.

Photos on your refrigerator of you and your friends getting hammered: While I've always insisted on not being photographed with a drink in my hand — in some circles, this is what's known as "irrefutable evidence" — I've always appreciated the fun pictures people like to put on their fridge. Of course, if you're 30, you've stopped getting hammered with your friends and show a little more restraint. If those photos are less than six months old, look at your life. Look at your choices. I'm guessing you're not where you thought you'd be by this time.

The jeans you wore when you were 20: They're too small. They're never going to fit you anymore. You need to relax and settle down. Your stomach already has, which is why those jeans aren't going to fit anymore.

CDs or DVDs on display: Byrnes says these should just go in the garbage, but I disagree. At the same time, if this is the main visual element of your living room, you need to trim down your collection, burn it onto your computer, and put the rest in a closet.

Dust: Another of Byrnes', but it shouldn't be on the list. This isn't a choice people make. We don't shout "You can have my dust bunnies and Heather Locklear poster when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers!" I recognize that it's important to keep your house clean, and to dust fairly frequently, but dust happens. It's not a possession, it's a circumstance.

I mean, if we're going to be picky about it, piles of dishes in the sink and a toweringly-full garbage can should be on the list. But it should go without saying that you don't purposely keep these things. It should be the same with "dust."

(But while we're on the subject, would it kill you to just swish around a dust cloth once in a while?)

Crocs: They're fine for kids and people who still think cargo shorts are cool. But once you graduate from high school, you shouldn't wear these outside the house. Or inside.

When you think about it, there's a lot of things we're told we shoudn't do or have once we're an adult. Don't read comic books. Don't eat kid's cereal. Don't wear t-shirts with TV characters or funny sayings.

Except I like doing some of those things. I enjoy reading comic books once in a while. I still eat Cap'n Crunch whenever I can. And my favorite t-shirt says "witty phrase here."

So while Cassandra Byrnes may be on the money with a few of her items — inflatable furniture and beanbags — if you truly like the things you own, keep them.

Don't let me or anyone else tell you what you should have in your own house. If it makes you happy, own it, wear it, display it with pride. Do what you love, and quit worrying about other people's opinions.

I'm serious about the Crocs though.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Are You Laughing Wrong?

Online communication's biggest problem is the lack of nonverbal communication. We can't tell what people are thinking or feeling just based on reading their words.

Take that last paragraph. Was I happy? Sad? Shouting at the top of my lungs? So relaxed that I was nearly comatose? Or maybe I did it in a Bobcat Goldthwait voice (which would be awesome, except I'm no longer allowed to do it in the house).

According to communication scholars — yes, that's a real thing; I used to be one — as much as 93 percent of our regular face-to-face communication is nonverbal. That includes the facial expressions, gestures, the way we stand, movement of our eyes, and even the tone, pitch, and volume of our voice.

Even with the word "hi," we can guess how the other person feels based on how they sounded — mad, sad, glad, or afraid. That's the 93 percent nonverbals in action. Without them, we miss a lot.

If your least favorite person says "yeah, right" in that sneering, smarmy way you hate, you know they're being sarcastic and should be pushed into traffic. Even though those two words are positive, the other person said them in such a way that — you're not paying attention, are you? You've just spent the last few seconds imagining them getting nailed by a Cadillac Escalade.

Since we rely so much on nonverbals in our face-to-face communication, imagine all the problems with online communication. Now we only have that seven percent. That's where a lot of communication breaks down.

In the olden days, back in the '90s, we used emoticons to convey our feelings, the little :-) and :-( symbols that looked like happy faces and frowny faces if you tilted your head 90 degrees.

(On a quick side note, this is the first time I've ever actually used an emoticon in a newspaper column. It's also the first and last time as an adult that I'll ever say "frowny face.")

But as online communication has grown, matured, and simplified, we're now finding different ways to express our emotions. One of the most important ways is through e-laughter, the way we show people online that we thought something is funny.

Recently Facebook studied the online laughter of their users, breaking down the styles we use, based on age, gender, and even geographic location. They looked at instances of haha, hehe, lol, and the use of emojis (the little cartoon symbols favored by 12-year-old girls). Here's a few of their key findings:

We don't laugh too much or too little. 15 percent of our posts contain some kind of laughter. Also, 46 percent of the people post at least one e-laugh per week. Everyone else is a Donald Trump fan.

Haha is the most common e-laugh, at 51.4 percent. Emojis are second at 33.7 percent, followed by hehe (13.1), and lol (1.9)

I have to dispute this last stat, because clearly Facebook's data researchers were not looking at my Facebook feed. I have plenty of people who overuse and abuse lol so much that I have grown to hate it.

Originally an abbreviation for "laugh out loud," it has become a word in its own right. People will even use it conversationally.

"Kevin said something so funny today, I lol-ed. Hashtag-awesome. Hashtag-I nearly peed. Hashtag-I really — hey, quit shoving! AAAH, ESCALADE!"

However, I'm not sure if the word rhymes with "roll" or "fall." I need to know so I can shout "STOP SAYING LOL!!" without embarrassing myself in public.

But I know what it's not. Lol is not punctuation. It shouldn't end a sentence like a period.

"And I said, 'that's no duck, that's my wife lol'"

(It's killing me that there's not a real period in that last sentence.)

Putting lol at the end of a joke is also verboten. Either a joke is funny, or it's not. It's like saying, "get it? The bartender thought the duck was his wife!"

Furthermore, "lolololol" doesn't not mean something is extra funny. You're saying "I laughed out loud, out loud, out loud, out loud."

Also, Lolo Jones will not marry Hope Solo and become Lolo Solo. Dammit.

Men use "haha" and "hehe" more than women. Conversely, a lot more women use emojis. Grown men shouldn't use emojis. I'm also not comfortable with hehe, although you could argue it has "he" in it. Also, no one should say "tee hee."

Ha and he are building blocks for longer versions of that word. If something is a little more funny, you might see hahahaha or hehehehe. In fact, Facebook's study found that "haha/hehe" and "hahaha/hehehe" were the most commonly used versions.

I'm sticking with the old school when it comes to my e-laughs. I won't use emojis, say "lol," or giggle like a teenager with "hehe." I'm sticking with the original emoticons. I'll use :-) for happy, ;-) for being sarcastic, and :-D for laughing out loud.

Because if you take my :-), I'll become >:-{

Photo credit: Sham Hardy (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Joys of School Supplies

When I was a kid, there was always something fun about September, when it was time to go back to school.

(Hear that, kids? We went back to school after Labor Day. None of this beginning-of-August-wasted-summer stuff for us! Neener neener!)

Going back to school wasn't the exciting part. I hated that. Hated it with a white hot passion which, had I paid better attention, I could have told you how hot that was in Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin.

Now that I'm not in school, I don't care, and I don't need to know. However, I can look it up, which I just did (2200 Fahrenheit, if you're curious). And just like when I learned it in the sixth grade, I promptly forgot it again.

Here's a list of other things I no longer remember, but probably should, from sixth grade.

  • What a present participle is.
  • How to diagram a sentence.
  • The chemical element symbol for gold.
  • How to combine and reduce improper fractions.
  • How to calculate the area of a circle.

I was never very good at math in grade school. Or middle school. Or high school. Or college. That's why I became a writer. We don't have to do math, except for our money. And there's not very much, so it's not very hard.

When it came to the sixth grade, the only thing I really paid attention to was reading, which is the biggest reason I became a writer. I certainly wasn't going to become a mathematician, scientist, historian, or PE teacher. Or accountant, chemist, physicist, or professional athlete. Pretty much the only things left open to me were writer and marketer, and I nailed both of those.

When I was a kid, the new year started in September and ended in June. January 1 happened in the middle of the year. I made new year's resolutions in the fall — "this year, I'm going to keep my desk organized!" — which I promptly broke by the end of the first day. But I never worried about January resolutions.

In fact, after spending 20 years in education (I went to grad school and worked at a university. Shut up!), I always thought of September as the start of the new year. In fact, it was 10 years after I left that my brain finally accepted that the new year started in January.

But as much as I didn't like school, I loved getting new school supplies. That was the best part. Not the new clothes, not seeing my friends after the summer, not meeting my new teachers. It was the school supplies.

Just like some people go nuts over office supplies, I always felt like success could be reached with a protractor and a school box full of pencils and pink erasers.

Here's a partial list of what my old elementary school in Muncie, North View, wants their 6th graders to bring.

  • Twelve #2 pencils
  • One pink eraser
  • One pencil sharpener
  • One pair of scissors

We were also required to bring a compass, with that needle-sharp point. Although no one ever put their eye out, they were more entertaining than they were educational.

I remember one of my classmates, Marc, had an artificial leg. He used to jab his compass into his leg and leave it there. It was especially fun when we had a substitute teacher.

Of course, once zero tolerance weapons policies went into effect, compasses were removed from schools, although sharp, stabby pencils are still allowed. So are the sharpeners needed to make them sharper and stabbier. And if you don't have a pencil sharpener, each classroom has one bolted to the wall for your convenience.

North View also wants their 6th graders to bring:

  • One bottle of white glue
  • Two blue pens and two red pens
  • One pocket dictionary
  • One scientific calculator

When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to use calculators. Hell, I wasn't even allowed to type my 12th grade term paper on a computer because, "you won't have access to computers in college, you'll use a typewriter."

That was in 1985, and Ball State had several computer labs throughout campus, which I used constantly over the next four years. I also owned a Royal manual typewriter, and never used it once.

It's been 23 years since I left school, and other than teaching an occasional class at my local university, I haven't been back. But that doesn't mean I've stopped learning. As the Greek philosopher, Sophocles, once said, "Old age and the passage of time teach all things."

But it still hasn't done a damn thing to teach me improper fractions.

Photo credit: JimmieHomeschoolMom (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Vevay’s Swiss Wine Festival celebrates 44th year

From my friend, Kendal Miller, executive director of Switzerland County Tourism about the upcoming Swiss Wine Festival:

Organizers of Indiana's 44th Swiss Wine Festival invite the public to the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park in Vevay – "Where the Good Times Flow" on Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 27-30, when the community pays homage to Switzerland County's Swiss wine-making roots. The festival is a non-stop celebration that includes food, fun, and festivities along the scenic Ohio River.
Indiana's largest 4-day Wine Festival was named a "Top Ten Festival" by Top Events USA and the Fourth Best Food Festival in Indiana by Best of Indiana.

Switzerland County Tourism is the festival's largest sponsor along with nearly 100 additional sponsors that make the top-notch festival possible each year.

Located in Switzerland County between Cincinnati and Louisville – and about two hours from Indianapolis – four days of non-stop activities, food and entertainment attract wine lovers and visitors from across the country. With a population of around 1,700, the people in and around the town of Vevay, are experts at throwing a grand festival. The famous Wine Tasting Pavilion includes 12 Indiana wineries that offer tastings of their award-winning wines or purchases by the glass or bottle.

Visitors won't be disappointed as organizers and volunteers have been working since the close of last year's event to insure that Switzerland County maintains a high-quality family celebration that honors their winemaking origins and their notoriety as the "Birthplace of the First Successful Commercial Winery in the United States."

"The festival fosters both Switzerland County's past and future. Not only does it provide a positive financial impact for local non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses, but also helps drive economic development through tourism in Switzerland County," said Kirk Works, Swiss Wine Festival President.

The event is put on by volunteers, including the unpaid Swiss Wine Festival president and board of directors. A part-time paid festival coordinator also volunteers additional time and talents. While facets of the festival require professional labor, as many tasks as possible are completed through the volunteerism of the locals. In 2013, over $40,000 collected by the festival went to 43 local clubs and organizations that provided helpers to work the festival. More than $7,000 was given through scholarships and prize money for festival events with more than $180,000 going to Switzerland County for-profit businesses and/or individuals. These amounts do not include figures for money spent by tourists through gas, food purchases outside the festival or lodging.

In 2015, visitors will find the traditional aspects of the festival firmly in place – the famous Wine Tasting Pavilion, the Midwest Championship Grape Stomp, arts and crafts, Grand Festival Parade, riverboat cruises, beer garden, 5K river run/walk, poker run, cornhole tournament, cheerleading competition, live entertainment and more. Burton Bros Amusements will return again this year with new and bigger amusement rides.

Twelve Indiana wineries in the wine pavilion offer samplings of their award-winning wines with staff on hand to answer questions about their yield. Novice or connoisseur wine lovers can enjoy samples or purchase wine by the glass or bottle. Participating wineries include Buck Creek, Carousel, Cedar Creek, Ertel Cellars, French Lick, Harmony, Indiana Creek, Lanthier, The Ridge Winery, Traders Point, Windy Knoll and Winzerwald. Entrance into the wine pavilion is $18 per person and includes a souvenir wine glass and wine sampling opportunities. A large beer garden with nightly entertainment is also available. The festrival includes many varieties of cuisine to suit anyone's taste so Works recommends that guests arrive hungry and try a variety of items.

This year's Swiss Wine Festival entertainment headliner is Parmalee, performing at 8:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28. The event is free with a $5 gate admission. Guests are advised to bring lawn chairs. An autograph session with be held afterward.

Additional musical performances throughout the four-day event include: Midnight Special, Rick K and the Allnighters, Skallywags, No Where Bound, Remember Me Monday, Diamond Back, Megan Ruger, Cloggers, Saving Stimpy, Six Miles South and Saffire Express.

Don't miss the Cincinnati Circus Big Show, Phoenix Fire & Flight Show, Chicago Boyz Acrobatics, the Tiger Talks live tiger show, Travel'N Riverboat Show, Rik Roberts Comedy Show and Barney Fife (impersonator). For the kids, meet and greet with Elsa & Friends, Superheros (impersonator) and Tina Riddle as Twynkle T. Clown balloon artist.

The Midwest Championship Grape Stomp will be held all weekend long and Burton Bros. Amusements will offer wristband specials each day of the festival. The Grand Festival Fireworks show over the Ohio River will be on Saturday night starting at 10:20pm.

Upholding a Swiss Wine Festival tradition, gates will open at 5p.m. Thursday with the Little Swiss Polka Dancers performing at 5:30 p.m. Hours of practice by local youths had been undertaken to uphold this traditional aspect of the Swiss Wine Festival entertainment.

Festivities begin on Saturday morning at 8am with the 5K River Walk/Run followed at 10 a.m. with the Grand Festival Parade in downtown Vevay.

Cliff Robinson Rolling Thunder Air Show with aerobatics and superb pilot skills will be on Sunday afternoon over the Ohio River beginning at 3:45pm.

A brochure with a complete list of activities and events is downloadable from the Swiss Wine Festival website located at Entry into the festival and parking is free on Thursday, and $5 per day on Friday-Saturday with children 5-12 years for $3. Youths under age five are free. Sunday admission is $4 for adults and $2 for youths 5-12. Youths under age five are free.

The Wine Pavilion is closed on Thursday but is open 3-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday; and noon – 5 p.m. Sunday. The $18 per person admission fee includes wine sampling opportunities and a souvenir wine glass. The Beer Garden opens Thursday for Happy Hour from 5-10 p.m. and will re-open 3 p.m. – 2 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday.

For more information on Switzerland County, contact the tourism office at (812) 427-3237 or log on to their website at The Swiss Wine Festival and Switzerland County Tourism-Vevay, IN are on Facebook and Twitter.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 31, 2015

An Open Letter to Open Letter Writers

Dear Open Letter Writers,

I applaud you and your public bravery. That special way you share your public-but-should-be-private finger wagging with celebrities, athletes, politicians, or that guy who cut in front of you at Starbucks serves as a reminder of your work as a positive role model to society.

After all, it takes a lot of chutzpah to share your opinions in public. Other people might call it passive-aggressive. Sort of like the way someone speaks loudly to friends in a restaurant about how noisy children are a sign of bad parenting, in the hopes that the people at the next table will tell their bratty kids to shut up.

I can only imagine how irate and annoyed you must be with someone in particular that you want to publicly shame them for what they've done. I'm guessing you have a special insight into the actual circumstances in that person's life, so why shouldn't you air your opinion?

After all, rulers and religious figures have done it for centuries, so why not you?

When kings and presidents write an open letter, it's called a letters patent, and it's usually in the form of a legal document. Think of it as a legal proclamation, such as appointing someone to a political office. Meanwhile, a letters patent written by the Pope is called a papal bull.

The New Testament's Letters of Paul are also open letters. In them, he writes to a particular church, such as Ephesus, or a single person, like Timothy. But in all his letters, the lessons and ideas are intended for everyone. Which some people think are also bull.

That's what I admire about you, dear open letter writer. You're no religious or political leader, and yet you write your own open letter, sharing your ideas from on high. Just like a king or queen, you place yourself in a position of moral authority, allowing everyone else to purse their lips and clutch their pearls in agreement.

Some people might be encouraged to take a less visible route, and find a way to send a private message to the object of your scorn. They might — incorrectly, I'm sure — believe that the other person would appreciate some privacy and quiet dignity to ponder the error of their ways.

But not you. You share your gripe with everyone, because you're well aware of how much the rest of the world cares what you think about your chosen celebrity, athlete, politician, or Starbucks line cutter.

Of course, we appreciate the way you put yourself out there. Not only do you bravely point the finger of shame at a complete stranger, you also serve as the beacon of goodness and righteousness for the rest of us to follow.

That's a heavy burden indeed.

Don't get me wrong, dear open letter writer, what you do is valuable. You demonstrate what self-righteous indignation should actually look like.

In turn, we can embody your outrage and channel it into other issues, writing our own open letters — in the form of Facebook status updates — about topics that affect us greatly. Like whether two people we have never met can get married. Or how at least half the politicians in this country are idiots. Or whether athletes in a sport we don't actually care about cheated at their sport.

Your example of how right-thinking people should behave serves as an inspiration, and makes us feel free to lecture strangers on what we think is appropriate behavior.

For example, I feel more justified in writing open letters to the parents who let their young children scream and run around at restaurants, and then slipping the letters into the bill holders when they're not looking.

It's definitely safer than standing up and shouting over at them to "shut those blasted kids up!" Plus, my wife doesn't kick me under the table so much. And I don't receive open letters from the manager about how I'm not allowed in the restaurant.

Well, not so much open letters as restraining orders, which I suppose could make them letters patent. Especially since the judge got mad when I kept saying "if it pleases her royal highness."

So thank you, dear open letter writers, for all you do. For guiding us and showing us the proper way to act. For singling out people you've never met and holding them up for shame and ridicule. With chutzpah and audacity like yours, I predict even greater things for you.

Like becoming a newspaper columnist, for example.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon Says Pluto's a Planet

"Kid, let me ask you a question," my friend, Karl, said one day. "Your answer could have a major impact on our relationship."

This sounds serious, I said. What is it?

Karl searched my eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and said, "What do you think about Pluto?"

I thought for a minute. The planet or the dog?

"I don't know why I even try!" he said, throwing his hands up and turning back toward the television. We were sitting in First Editions, our favorite literary bar, watching the footage of Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft had been sending back as it flew by. Karl had been there three beers longer than me, and was in one of his moods.

What? What's wrong? I said.

"Well, you did say 'the planet,' so I guess that's okay."

What are you talking about? I said.

"The planet Pluto," Karl said. "The thing named after the Roman god of the underworld."

I thought it wasn't a planet anymore. Karl glared at me. Why are you even upset by this?

"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas."


"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. The thing! The thing we learned in school to remember all the planets."

I always thought it was 'my very excellent mother.'

"It doesn't matter!"

Well, she's serving pizzas, so that's pretty excellent.

He banged his fist on the bar. "It doesn't matter! What matters is that we're even debating this idiotic issue."

You're the one who brought it up!

"Not us," Karl hissed, waving his hand between us. "Them!" He waved his arm toward the door to encapsulate the rest of the planet.

Who is 'them,' Karl? I asked carefully. If he started talking about government mind control, we were going to have a problem.

"The IAU. I can't believe their hubris and sheer arrogance at downgrading Pluto to no longer be a planet. As if they're the arbiters of what's a planet and what's not."

Who's the IAU?

"The International Astronomical Union. They're some kind of astronomy club."

They're more than that, I said, finally getting it. They're the professional astronomers association. They've got members all over the world, and they all have Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy.

"Well, you can't spell hubris and arrogance without Ph.D." he plonked his beer down for effect.

Actually, you'd have the P and the D left over.

"It doesn't matter! My point is, who appointed these bozos as the official deciders of what the rest of us have to follow?"

Well, for it to be a point, it should be a statement, not a—Karl was glaring again. Why is it so important for Pluto to be a planet?

"Because it just is. The planet was discovered in 1930, and remained a planet for almost 73 years, until these astronomy bozos took a vote — they voted, can you believe it?! — and decided that Pluto would no longer be a planet. Look, I know Ph.D.s like to puff themselves up with self-importance, but to decide that you were the final say in how the world should view the galaxy? That takes some asteroids."

But what about the dwarf planets? Thanks to the IAU's reclassifications, we have some new planetary bodies we can add to the mix.

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

I looked it up on my phone. Well, there's Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake.

"Make-make? Like it rhymes with bake-bake?"

No, mah-kay-mah-kay. I think it's named after a god on Easter Island. And they're looking at almost a dozen more candidates, which means we could add some more planets to our list.

"So are they all cast out with Pluto to the farthest reaches of our solar system?"

Actually, no. Ceres is between Mars and Jupiter. But, yes, the rest are out with Pluto. So, the complete list of planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. So now, I guess your teacher's saying is 'My very excellent mother—'

"Educated mother."

Fine. '—educated mother, Clarice, just served us nice pizzas (with) ham, mozzarella, and eggs.'

"Bleah! Who puts egg on pizza?"

I have. It's really good. I was at an Italian restaurant in Holland, and I had a pizza with everything including a fried egg.

"What do you expect from the Dutch?"

It was an Italian restaurant. I figured if anyone knew how to make proper pizza, it was the Italians.

"Oh yeah, and who appointed them arbiters of what goes on a pizza and what doesn't?!"

The Italian Gastronomical Union. They even voted on it.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.