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 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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

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!


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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Friday, June 27, 2014

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

"Dinner's ready!"


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

"It's a superfood."

"Uh, in an article."


"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."


"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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Friday, June 20, 2014

AYFKMWTS?! FBI Creates 88 Page Twitter Slang Guide


Did you get that? It's an acronym. Web slang. It's how all the teens and young people are texting with their tweeters and Facer-books on their cellular doodads.

It stands for "The FBI has created an eighty-eight page Twitter slang dictionary."

See, you would have known that if you had the FBI's 88 page Twitter slang dictionary.

Eighty-eight pages! Of slang! AYFKMWTS?! (Are you f***ing kidding me with this s***?! That's actually how they spell it in the guide, asterisks and everything. You know, in case the gun-toting agents who catch mobsters and international terrorists get offended by salty language.)

I didn't even know there were 88 Twitter acronyms, let alone enough acronyms to fill 88 pieces of paper.

The FBI needs to be good at Twitter because they're reading everyone's tweets to see if anyone is planning any illegal activities. Because that's what terrorists do — plan their terroristic activities publicly, as if they were shouting to each other at a Denny's.

@NotReallyATerrorist: Hey, are we going to plant that bomb soon?

@NotATerroristEither: Sure, what time are you thinking we should plant the bomb?

@NotReallyATerrorist: Let's see, I could plant the bomb with you at 2:00 on Friday. Shall we meet at 2:00 on Friday to plant our bomb?

@NotATerroristEither: That's a good time for bomb planting. We'll meet at 2:00 on Friday at the park so we can plant our bomb. We'll use Steve's red minivan.

@FBI: Hey @NotReallyATerrorist, @NotATerroristEither, are you guys yanking our chain again?

@NotATerroristEither: @FBI, Does the Pope wear a funny hat? Of course we're messing with you. #AreYouNewHere

Still, that doesn't mean the FBI won't keep their eyes open, just in case the terrorists slip up and post a map to their hideout on Instagram.

According to the guide's introduction, "This list has about 2,800 entries you should find useful in your work or for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren. The DI's Intelligence Research Support Unit (IRSU) has put together an extensive — but far from exhaustive — list of shorthand acronyms used in Twitter and other social media venues such as instant messages, Facebook, and MySpace."

Seriously, MySpace? WTF? (What the, uh, heck?) Is that even a thing anymore? Are you guys checking AOL too? When you take a break from your Space Invaders tournament on your Atari, maybe you can run a check on eWorld and Prodigy.

(If you weren't online back in the '90s, believe me, that joke was hysterical.)

The FBI has scoured their 13 year old daughters' cell phones and chat programs and come up with all the acronyms you would expect: YOLO (you only live once), BRB (be right back), AFC (away from computer), and OMG (oh my God). There's also ZOMG, which the FBI calls "enhanced OMG," but the rest of the world knows as "Zoh my God!"

But there were a few odd ones that I, and every other Twitter user, have never used.

"Would you like a bowl of cream to go with that remark?" (WYLABOCTGWTR) is one that was never seen on Twitter prior to June 17, when the FBIEEPTSD (FBI's 88 Page Twitter Slang Dictionary) came out. Then, it became a popular word, because everyone was L-ing their AOs (laughing their, uh, butts off) at it.

But the FBI is taking it all in stride. "Pardon me, you must have mistaken me for someone who gives a damn" (PMYMHMMFSWGAD) they have said to their scoffers and naysayers. We know this because "PMYMHMMFSWGAD" is on page 54 of the FBIEEPTSD.

The problem is words like this are turning the guide into just another foolish tome of government drivel, and the FBI is looking more than a little overeager and unnecessarily thorough.

Having worked in state government for a time, and getting to know how the law enforcement and military minds work, I'm not surprised that 1) they created a guide for Internet slang, 2) they found/created 2,800 different slang terms., and 3) they would print a guide for electronic communication on paper. Only the law enforcement types would create an alphabetical list of every letter combination known to man, and then use it as part of a strategy that relies on the hope that the bad guys don't have cell phones.

I'm just kidding, you guys. Keep it up. ILWYD. (I love what you do.)

YRW. (Yeah right, whatever.)

I made that one up myself. Now we're up to 2,801.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Diary of a Reluctant Single Man

I've had the house to myself for a couple of days, as my oldest daughter is at camp, and my wife took the other two kids to Chicago. So I've been hanging out with the dog, and keeping a diary of what has been happening.

7:00 am: Said good-bye to the family. I did a bunch of work earlier this week so I could sleep in, so I'll just stay in bed for a while.

7:05: Poop. Now I can't get back to sleep. Maybe I should just get up and do some work on my—

9:25: That's better. Nice to see my old high school tricks still work.

9:30: Walked around the house, hollering, just to make sure no one is here. Last time I thought I was home alone, I had a less-than-appreciative audience for my Dave Matthews Band retrospective.

9:31: It's finally happened. I have the whole house to myself for two days. That means I can do anything, eat anything, and leave a grand mess, because I don't have to answer to anyone. What should I do first?


9:50: Better feed the dog. Why does she always get so excited about the same thing every day? It's pressed beef sawdust and egg, but she goes bonkers for it three times a day.

9:51: Ooooooh, coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee! I love you so much, coffee!

10:30: Well, Other Erik, do you think you should get some work done? "It's funny you mention that, Erik. I was just thinking I should actually, you know, sit down and answer emails." That sounds like a great plan, Other Erik. You're a genius! "Thank you, sir! Might I compliment you on your staggering intellect as well."

10:31: They say talking to yourself is a sure sign of insanity. "I wouldn't worry about that. You're a high functioning crazy person, I think if you can maintain, they'll never notice."

11:45: The dog seems to be taking a keen interest in everything I do. I've been talking to her, but she doesn't answer.

3:30 pm: Ich habe nicht Deutsch in einem lange Zeit gesprochen. Ich sollte mein Deutsch laut zu üben. (I haven't spoken German in a long time. I should practice my German out loud.)

4:15: Mein Hund nicht Deutsch verstehen. Ich glaube, sie denkt, Ich bin verrückt. (My dog doesn't understand German. I think she thinks I'm crazy.)

4:25: I need to finish this marketing assessment for my client. But it's hard to stay motivated when it's so quiet in here. I need some music. Something with some raw power and high energy.


4:50: Time to feed the dog again. Seriously, dog, settle down. It's just freaking dog food.

5:10: Willst du nach draußen gehen? Willst du nach draußen gehen und machen ein Töpfchen? (Do you want to go outside? Do you want to go outside and make a potty?) See? She doesn't understand a word I'm saying. Either that, or she doesn't have to go.

5:11: I think the dog is being obstinate on purpose. She has taken to watching me while I work, just. . . staring at me. It's maddening. Her big eyes are boring into my soul. She wants something, but refuses to respond to my German-language inquiries.

5:20: I guess she really did have to pee. And I get to clean it up. Yay, me.

7:30: Nearly 12 hours alone, no one but the dog to talk to, and she's still pretending she doesn't understand German. But I see the flicker of recognition in her eyes! I've figured out her little game though. Oh yes, I'm on to you, little dog! You see, she's half poodle, which means she's half French. And she's only pretending she doesn't understand English and German, but in truth, she knows them both! J'accuse, maudit chien! (I accuse you, damn dog!)

7:31: Huh. She doesn't understand French either.

8:00: I need to eat dinner. Let's see, I could make, well, eggs or. . . eggs. Or I could boil some chicken, chop up some salad, and put some nice healthy Italian dressing on it.

8:30: Ah, pizza delivery, mankind's greatest invention.

12:00: Long, long day today. Got a lot of work done, spent time with the dog, and still got to watch some TV. Time for bed. Need to remember to lock the door. The dog is becoming unstable and paranoid. More tomorrow, if I survive the night.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Friday, June 06, 2014

A Professional Communicator's Confession About Small Talk

As a professional communicator, I'm supposed to be good at all types of communication. I've been a writer since I was 20, I'm completely at ease meeting new people, and I'm one of those weirdos who loves speaking in public. You could stick me in a room full of complete strangers, and within an hour, I'll meet five of them, arrange coffee meetings with three more, and introduce two people who can help each other with a new project.

I'm good at almost any kind of communication, but to my great embarrassment, I have one glaring deficiency, one weakness that keeps me from being an all-around player.

I suck at small talk.

Not the "get to know you" chit-chat between two people who have just met, or the catching up talk between two friends who haven't seen each other for a while. I'm awesome at that. Just ask my kids. "Daddy can't go anywhere without talking to strangers." I've done that since I was three.

No, I'm terrible at the unexpected small talk that happens when someone says something more complicated than Hello.

I mean, I can handle Hello just fine. I kill at Hello, Hi, and Howdy. And I crush it on 
How the Hell Are You? I'm even a pretty dab hand at Good-bye. I know them all: See You Later. Ciao. Spater, Gator. All the classics.

But trying to make idle small talk is about as difficult as spatial geometry. At least with spatial geometry, I've got a slight chance of saying something right if I just holler "SEVEN!"

A couple weeks ago, as I was leaving for work, some of the moms on our street were gathered after seeing their kids off to school. One of their very young children hollered to me, "Hi, good morning!"

I called "Hi" back, because as I said, I'm an expert at Hello.

Then one of the moms said, "you got your own morning welcoming committee."

"Oh crap," shrieked my brain. "She said something that wasn't Hello. What do I do? Say something! What are you doing? They're all looking at you. SAY SOMETHING SO THEY DON'T THINK YOU'RE CREEPY!"

"Yeah!" I said, and waved. As I drove away, I started yelling at myself.

"'Yeah?' 'YEAH?!' What is your problem? Someone says something nice, and you respond with 'yeah'?" Great, now I can talk and it's to myself.

"I didn't see you throwing out any great responses, Captain Brainfart."

"You were stumped by a four-year-old and his mom! You could have shouted 'I like potato' for all the good it did. At least that's a complete sentence."

"Oh yeah? Well. . . you have. . . eyebrows. . . are stupid."

And now my day is complete. I can't even argue with myself without sounding like an idiot. Sheldon Cooper is better at small talk than me.

Where I get into real trouble is when someone hits me with something harder than Hello.

Working Hard or Hardly Working? puts me in a panic. How do I answer that? "Yes?" "The first one?" I struggle to find the funny answer versus what I should say when my boss is nearby.

"Who wants to know?" I once said back. My brain screamed, "I thought you were clever!"

The problem is, I try to avoid clichés when I write or talk, so I never know how to deal with them or what to say. Based on my observations of other people, I believe the correct response to this one is to guffaw as if I've never heard it before, and say, "Boy, they'll let anyone in here these days. How you doin', you old so-and-so?"

At least that's how the old men who gather at McDonald's every morning do it. I'll never be in their league.

Hot Enough For You? is another puzzler. When I'm outside in July, my hair is soaked, and my shirt looks like Mickey Mouse hugged me with a wet head, and I'm asked, "hot enough for you," I stare blankly, wondering if they're really that stupid, or if I'm on a new episode of Punk'd.

All I can muster is "it's not the heat, it's the humidity." Just once, I'd like to say something clever like "it's not the heat, it's the stupidity," but my wife says that's rude, so I keep it to myself.

This has been an ongoing problem, and one that I'm not going to solve anytime soon, if ever. If you meet me, just start slowly, and be patient with me. I'm still learning. Stick with the basics. Hello and How Are You are both good.

Just don't ask me where I've been keeping myself. I haven't worked that out yet.

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

Like this post? Leave a comment.