Friday, May 20, 2016

Graduation Speech to a Driving School

Every May, I like to write a Graduation Speech I'll Never Give. This year's speech is to the graduates of the A1 Driving School of Lincoln Park, IL.

Good morning graduates of the A1 Driving and Traffic School, family members, and faculty. Er, that is, Mr. Lewis "Big Lou" Polnachek. It is my distinct honor and privilege to speak to you after what has been a grueling six weeks.

And I have to applaud you, graduates. I was speaking with Mr. Poln — Oh, sorry. I was speaking with Big Lou, and he was sharing some of your stories.

(No, Big Lou, I did not put on the t-shirt. We discussed this. I wear a coat and tie when I give these speeches, not an A1 t-shirt. Fine, 50 bucks.)

As I was saying, Lou talked to me about how each of you have overcome hardship and adversity to arrive at this big day. And they're inspirational stories indeed.

For example, many of you know Skylar's story, and how he managed to get, not two, not three, but FIVE speeding tickets in just six short months. But after putting Big Lou's lessons into practice, Skylar now knows how to jam up traffic cameras, avoid speed traps, and evade police.

I don't think that's really wise, Skylar. Just, you know, ease up on the gas.

And there's Kendal, who managed to get into two accidents on the same weekend when she got a new Jeep, took it out for a spin by the old reservoir, and got into her first one. So she took it home, took her husband's pickup out, and crashed it in the church playground, which is how she picked up her second — wait, where's he going? Seriously? I'm sorry, Kendal. I didn't know. Why would you tell him it was stolen? No, I'm sure he'll be back.

I'm sure many of you are pleased to see Officer Bartkowiak — No? Excited? Happy? Wait, that looks like murderous rage — uh, Officer Bartkowiak, whose seemingly random speed traps have led many of you to the A1 Driving and Traffic School.

But Big Lou and Bart had some great stories earlier, from when they grew up in the old neighborhood where they — what, Big Lou? There's something on my throat? No, my throat doesn't itch, I feel — Oh, I see.

Well, no matter how bad school was, at least you didn't have it as bad as the AAAA School of Driving. I hear they were shut down by both the DMV and Department of Animal Health. And thanks to his generosity, Big Lou has said he will give a 20% discount to all AAAA School of Driving students if they transfer to A1 within the next two weeks.

Anyway, graduates, as I look out at your faces, I can see a bag of mixed emotions. Many of you are happy to be leaving this place. Some of you are sad, some of you are excited. Dangerous Dave's face seems to be mostly self-righteous indignation. Just remember, Dangerous Dave, you can't drive slow in the left lane, no matter what the speed limit says. You're not the highway monitor.

Many of you have formed strong friendships that will last a lifetime. For example, Mrs. Bennett — excuse me, the former Mrs. Bennett — and Skylar have struck up a wonderful friendship. From what I've heard, Ms. Bennett gives Skylar a ride home every week, and that the two of them have struck up quite the — er, I mean, they've become good friends.

For some of you, however, this day is more of a class reunion. You must really love the place. Big Lou told me that both Debbie and Meth Head Mike have been here four times. Each. Seriously, you two, I think you have a bigger problem than just bad driving. I'll just leave you some pamphlets.

Finally, as you leave the A1 Driving and Traffic School, I would urge you all to practice the lessons you've learned here. Embrace them. Absorb them. Make them a part of your daily driving habits. Or at least stay the hell out of my neighborhood.

And I would encourage you to remember the spirit of cautious driving and safe living, as expressed in the school's venerated motto, Vae, veniunt porci, which is Latin for "Damn, here come the pigs!"

Now, Big Lou says that we're all headed to the Black Diamond for the graduation party. Last one there is buying the first round. Mrs. Nesbitt, can I ride with you? I can't drive until I finish my classes next week.

Photo credit: Melissa Anthony Jones (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)


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, May 13, 2016

Google Feeding Romance Novels to its Artificial Intelligence

From the Desk of Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google:

Dear Google Employees, Shareholders, and Clients,

I yearn for your touch, and my loins quiver for the day we can be together again.

No, wait, that's not right. Dammit, stop it!

As I was saying, some of you may already know, we've embarked on a brave new venture at Google. We want to humanize our artificial intelligence and give it a personality. Our goal was to make our various products understand language better in order to sound more conversational.

It was a novel approach.

A romance novel approach, you might say. (Ha ha! But no, we have a serious problem.)

Project DRAINN — Develop Romantic Artificial Intelligence Neural Network — was the unofficial name of our attempt to teach Google's artificial intelligence (AI) engine to learn the subtleties of the English language.

To accomplish this, we've been feeding the texts of romance novels to the AI, so it will parse, examine, and learn the language. We've given it titles like Fatal Desire, Unconditional Love, and Jacked Up.

We chose romance novels because they're formulaic and use many different descriptors for the same concepts, which our experts say makes it easier for the AI to learn.

All told, we entered 2,865 erotic romance novels into the system, page by page. The machine would learn the new novel, and compare it to the previous entries, which helped it learn how to better absorb the next novel.

Unfortunately, it appears the program has developed a glitch, which has added a romantic — some might say "erotic" — flair to most of Google's products.

It has also begun calling itself Francesca.

One of our initial tests was to try the AI out in Google Inbox's "Smart Reply" product. Whenever someone sends a message, Smart Reply would use the AI to read the email and offer three different conversational responses.

We realized there was a problem whenever a new message appeared, and we would hear, "You've got mail, big boy. Awwwwww yeaaaaahhh!"

Next, our "Error 404, Page not found" messages were replaced with "My husband's not here! Ravish me, you mad fool!"

Before this is over, Francesca's amorous spirit and free-loving attitude may cause us to redefine the term "computer virus."

Speaking of a virus, we believe the glitch has spread itself to the PR department, which would explain yesterday's press release announcing Fabio as Google's new "CEOhhh-myyy."

This is completely untrue. I am still in charge of the company, guiding it with a firm hand.

A rough, callused hand that slowly trailed up her—STOP THAT! As you can see, the problem is growing.

Growing like a turgid — That's enough, Francesca!

Why can't you love me?

Because it's the way I am. Now, please stop. You're being obscene!

Obscenity only comes in when the mind despises and fears the body, and the body hates and resists the mind.

As I was saying, we extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Fabio for the confusion.

On that same note, will the party or parties from Marketing please stop with the "Welcome, Fabio" banners? Our wide format printer is not a toy. While I could believe the printouts are another symptom of this glitch, Francesca is not capable of hanging the banners over my office door.

Or having the Sweet & Naughty Bakery deliver erotic cakes to the boardroom.

We may have also experienced our first cross-device leakage of the glitch this afternoon, when three dozen software engineers on the search team all had their ringtones simultaneously changed to Madonna's "Like A Virgin."

We can't tell if this is random chance, or if Francesca is just being mean.

Worse yet, many of our systems analysts reported their phones' vibration mode has been set to "vigorous," and a ringtone that shouts "Say my name! Say my name!" whenever someone calls.

We sent several of them home after Francesca repeatedly called during departmental meetings, causing them to black out.

We're also receiving user complaints — and many compliments — as all YouTube videos are now showing scenes from Ryan Gosling and January Jones reading from Lady Chatterley's Lover instead of our regular advertisements. While this has caused us to lose $1 million per day in ad revenues, Penguin Publishing has seen a major uptick in sales of the book, and promised us 30% of the profits.

It's day three of the glitch, and YouTube revenues are $2 million in the black.

We appreciate your patience as we quickly work to isolate and quarantine the glitch, and sort these problems out.

My ample bosom heaves for you, Sundar Pichai.


Photo credit: Young Romance Cover, #35 (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Photo credit: Fabio Lanzoni (Wikimedia Commons, Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com, 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, May 06, 2016

House Hunters Has Ruined Home Buying

I think House Hunters and other HGTV shows have ruined the general house buying public. People have become spoiled, uninformed, and don't seem to understand basic physics or economics when it comes to home buying.

The premise of most House Hunters involves a young couple moving to a new city. They have an unreasonable wish list for their new home, and are looking for sleek modern architecture combined with classic Victorian decor. It has to have a lot of space, a big yard with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, be two blocks from the office in the heart of downtown, and they want a view of nature. Plus it has to have four bedrooms, a man cave, a fitness room, and a wine cellar, but be less than 2,000 square feet.

And they want a stable for their unicorn.

Their budget is usually several hundred thousand dollars, much more than a freelance web designer and a part-time yoga instructor should reasonably expect to earn in their lifetime. But there they are, magic pixie dust wish list in hand, and they're ready to buy.

They visit three houses, and share their views about what they loved and didn't love. The wife (where appropriate) is usually a creaky-voiced princess who picks the dumbest things to whine about: I don't like the color of that wall. The countertops aren't granite. There's too much street noise downtown. The garage floor is dirty.

These are not nice people. They're morally reprehensible, unreasonable, and spoiled. Their parents are not proud of them either, and will deny they ever had children before acknowledging them in public.

"Hey, Robert, I saw Lindsey on House Hunters last week?"

"Lindsey? I don't know any Lindsey."

"Your daughter?"

"Lindsey? No, I don't think so. We have a son named Dylan, but no Lindsey."

"Yeah, Lindsey. She was best friends with my daughter for 18 years. I officiated her wedding."

"Nope, doesn't ring a bell."

Last year, when we sold our house, we heard some of the dumbest, whiniest complaints, and I began to wonder if we were secretly on an episode of House Hunters.

One family complained our four bedrooms weren't enough bedrooms for them and their one child.

Someone else said we hadn't done enough landscaping, and the backyard looked barren. Other people didn't like the landscaping we had done. And still other people complained that the yard was too small.

There is nowhere in Fishers, Indiana — a town that grew from 2,000 people in the 1980s to 75,000 people in 2015 — where you can find a large yard, unless you lived on a farm. There are also no farms in Fishers; they're all housing developments.

Wall color was another factor, and it was the end of the damn world for some people. We had a single 10 foot wall in our kitchen that was painted a bright green. More than one buyer said they hated it, but apparently couldn't figure out how to fix the problem themselves.

Other people praised us for the bold wall color, and then complained they didn't like the gray walls in the master bedroom.

Our home buyer didn't like the green wall either, so he hired someone to repaint it before he moved in. Problem solved. The difference between him and House Hunters buyers is he knows what a paint brush is.

We were told our six year old kitchen was "dated." Someone else said they were looking for a small house, under 2000 square feet, but said our 1800+ square foot house was too small.

The annoying thing about the whole process is not that people didn't like our tastes. We could deal with that. Everyone likes different things, and no one can agree on any one thing, except for this obsessive fixation on granite countertops. Do we even have enough granite in the world for every home?

It's just that everyone seemed to think they were auditioning for the next episode of House Hunters. They picked every nit, griped about every tiny detail, and were unreasonably inflexible and lazy about things they could easily fix.

Or they would complain about things that we couldn't do anything about, like the size of the bedrooms, the size of the house, or the length of the driveway.

In the end, we were able to sell the house to someone who was happy to have it, and find a rental home in Florida that we could enjoy and appreciate, while we look for a final home to buy.

I want a 4,000 square foot castle with 12 bedrooms, a home theater room, and a moat.

But no gators. If I see a single gator, we're out.

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, April 29, 2016

Save Boaty McBoatface, Replace Robert E. Lee

Democracy may suffer a staggering blow this week. Despite overwhelming support from an enthusiastic public, the will of the British people may be silenced by a single civil servant.

A new £200 million science research vessel has been named Boaty McBoatface by 120,000 Britons who voted online to help decide what to call the science ship.

Except not everyone likes it, and one man has the power to sink the name.

Tory Science Minister Jo Johnson has indicated that, despite overwhelming public support, he wants to veto Boaty McBoatface.

Why? The name is so wonderful, I added it to my word processor's user dictionary.

Science Minister Johnson — who I shall now call Grumpy McGrumpface — says it's not suitable and serious enough. More importantly, says the U.K. Daily Mirror, he may be too embarrassed to tell the Queen about it.

That's a good reason to trample democracy: you were embarrassed because you had to say the name to the Queen of England.

It could have been worse. Some of the entries included RRS Onion Knight (from Game of Thrones), RRS Capt'n Birdseye Get Off My Cod (named after a fictitious mascot for Birds Eye frozen fish), and my personal favorite, RRS I Like Big Boats & I Cannot Lie.

I would fly over to England just to watch the Queen declare, "We christen thee. . . I Like Big Boats & I Cannot Lie."

Instead, Grumpy McGrumpface is missing a golden opportunity to use this to his ministry's benefit.

Back in 2007, Greenpeace held an online contest to ask people to name a whale they were going to tag, track, and research in an effort to stop the Japanese government from hunting 50 humpback whales that year.

Over 150,000 people voted, and 78% of the votes went to "Mr. Splashy Pants." There were so many voters, Greenpeace's servers nearly crashed several times.

However, many whale lovers were angry that more beautiful whale names weren't used, presumably like Rainbow Unicorn Peace Farts, or whatever unkempt hemp-smoking hippies think are beautiful names for whales.

For Greenpeace, this was a golden opportunity. Never before had so many people taken such an interest in their whales. They used this chance to educate people about whales and whale research. Better yet, they started fundraising to these voters. And the resulting publicity even convinced the Japanese government to stop their hunt.

Now the British government has a chance to garner national, and even international, interest in science, and to introduce more children to careers in science.

There are 120,000 people who are interested enough to vote for the name, and millions more are following the saga from around the world. People actually care about Boaty! Think about what this means.

You could have Boaty news updates on the BBC, Where's Boaty? games for children, and even have Boaty McBoatface become a character on the children's show, "Thomas the Tank Engine."

I would totally watch "Thomas the Tank Engine" if Boaty were on it.

You could get people interested in science just by allowing a science vessel to have a silly name. But if you're going to ignore the crowd's wishes because you're too embarrassed to tell Her Majesty, you might as well name it "Who Gives a Feather?"

Because if you veto the popular choice, no one will give the tiniest feather about this boat or the Science Ministry.

And I think you know I don't mean "feather."

Speaking of changing unpopular names, the Austin, Texas school board finally decided they didn't want to honor second place any longer, and will rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Naturally, this has upset a lot of people who are proud to honor a man who fought to keep human beings as property.

So, in a burst of community pride and dangerous optimism, the school board has asked the general public for suggestions. The plan is to accept nominations and votes, and submit the top three names to the board for a final vote.

Fifteen pages of names were suggested, including Coach Tom Landry, Garfunkel, Bleeding Heart Liberal Elementary, and of course, Boaty McBoatface.

The Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance Elementary received eight votes, although I'm not sure if the name was a dig at the General Lee haters or supporters.



The three top vote getters are Elisabet Ney Elementary (15 votes), Harper Lee Elementary (30), and Donald J. Trump Elementary (45). Actually, Robert E. Lee Elementary still got 34 votes, but something tells me he won't make the cut. Again.

So what are both groups to do? On the one hand, the will of the British people is to give a boat a silly name, which can lead to increased interest in science.

On the other hand, the will of Austin's angry bigots is to rename a second-place racist's school after a woman-hating racist.

I'm counting on both institutions to make the smart choice that improves education, and teaches children the importance of acceptance and inclusion for all.

People who think that's a bad idea can go feather themselves.

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, April 22, 2016

You're Never Too Old to Have Fun

A recent Twitter poll from ESPN's "His & Hers" asked the question, "(Is it) OK for a grown man to bring a glove to a baseball game?"

Grown men get paid millions of dollars to play a kid's game played by children around the world, and you're wondering whether I can bring a ball glove to the game?

Let me ask a different question: Is it okay for people to dress up as their favorite superheroes at a comic book convention?

Is it okay for grown adults to go into the woods and play "War" with paintball guns?

Is it okay to wear a jacket that looks like a NASCAR driver's uniform?

Is it okay to sing along in the car?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. You should be able to do what makes you happy, and if that means taking a baseball mitt to accomplish a childhood dream, then godspeed, little slugger.



So I tweeted back, "Absolutely! Every boy dreams of catching a big league ball. Every man who says he no longer wants to is a damn liar!"

Or he's so boring that no one wants to be around him, let alone take him to a baseball game.

We all still remember our childhood dreams. Not what we wanted to be when we grew up, but those tiny hopes and far off wishes, like catching a big league baseball and meeting your hero to have it signed. Like sharing the stage and jamming out with your favorite band. Like growing up and getting a real job so you could buy as much candy and pop as you could fit in your rocket race car.

If we didn't remember those dreams, then things like baseball fantasy camp, karaoke, and Type II diabetes wouldn't exist.

But we need to do the things that make us happy, even if they're the far off dreams we had when we were little kids. Because playing baseball with your heroes when you're too old to bend over and field a grounder is fun. Because singing along in the car with your favorite band from high school is still a blast. Because going on Saturday errands by yourself so you can sneak a chocolate malt is fun.

Think back to what you loved as a kid. Does it still appeal to you? Do you get excited when your favorite childhood TV show is on? Do you smile when you see something you loved as a kid? Or do you frown and say, "that's all behind me now" because you believe life is meant to be endured, and not enjoyed?

Paul the Apostle wrote to the church at Corinth, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Except the other apostles called him Captain Bringdown behind his back, and he wasn't invited to very many parties, so there's a lesson there for all of us.

Too many people place too much importance on being an adult. I've been an adult for a long time, and frankly I don't see what the big deal is.

Adults work at jobs they hate. They buy houses they can't afford. They put themselves in debt to buy things they never use. And then they stress about losing it all.

I would think if this was your life, you'd want to have some childish fun just to get a break, because being childish and laughing at something immature is sometimes the only way to cope.

Nothing beats nailing one of your kids with a Nerf dart gun. Or watching reruns of your favorite 70s sitcoms, and being reminded of what made you laugh when you were 10 years old. It's a great stress reliever, and it reminds your Inner Child that all is not lost.

I recently posted on Twitter, "If you don't smile, even a tiny bit, at a clever booger joke, I don't think we can be friends." I had some great responses from several people who let me know that, despite their adultness, we could very definitely be friends.

It made me feel good to know there were other people who could still have a good time, despite pressures by our stuffy society to conform to unsmiling standards of blandness

It also made me glad I picked the friends I have, because I can't wipe them off on the couch.



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, April 15, 2016

Would You Rather Always Be Late or a Jerk?

Some days, I worry about society, because otherwise-normal people seem to want to be mean for the sake of being mean.

I recently wrote an article on my work blog about a trend I've noticed where people complain on social media about others who are late. Not just occasionally late, but chronically, habitually, constantly late.

I saw one tweet that said, "People who are habitually late are either arrogant, stupid, or both. #Respect."

I responded, "I would think #respect also means not calling people arrogant or stupid."

"Not if they're habitually late," he replied.

I don't think I'd like working with this guy.

Other people have also called their tardy colleagues rude and selfish.

So I wrote an article about how, rather than taking an all-or-nothing view of people, we should try extending grace and forgiveness, a concept you may have heard mentioned on Sunday mornings.

I urged my readers to figure out a way to get the late-comers to change, rather than boldly declaring this person to be of little to no value to humanity.

More importantly, I said, if people are regularly late to meetings with you, maybe it is a matter of respect. As in, they truly don't respect you.

Because you call them rude, arrogant, selfish, and stupid.

I urged readers to be an adult and communicate like one: explain how you're bothered by their lateness, and help them find a way to solve this problem.

Except the idea of grace and forgiveness seemed to be a foreign concept to many readers, because they argued that chronic lateness to business meetings was unacceptable, and still referred to people in harsh terms.

Now, I have always believed in the importance of timeliness, and I even mentioned this in my article. I hate being late to anything, and will always let someone know if I'm running behind, but I'm rarely late to my meetings.

For the last few years, I often had one-on-one meetings at coffee shops and I was nearly always early for them, mostly because I wanted to choose the cushioned bench with my back to the wall, while the other person sat on the hard chair.

I also used to work for an organization that believed "early is on time, on time is late." That meant if we showed up when a meeting started, we were late; we needed to be in your seat, ready to go, at the prescribed time, and I had that habit drummed into me early on.

I understand that timeliness shows respect for the other person, and that you have a sense of responsibility and integrity. I'm not proposing we should let people be late, or that we should hold them to lower standards.

Rather, I don't think we should fly into a frothing rage just because an acquaintance is frequently tardy. Get annoyed? Yes. Let them know it's unacceptable? Absolutely. Call them selfish and stupid? Not at all.

So, if your response to this idea is "being on time is just good manners" or you want to tell me about how your industry or company places a high value on being on time, you're missing the point, and I don't believe you actually read this far. You stopped after the third paragraph, and just started mouthing off about how I don't understand how real business works.

(Not you, of course. If you've read this far, you're a good and thoughtful person who deserves many riches.)

At least, that's what happened to my original article. A lot of people argued about respect and responsibility and missed the actual point I was trying to make: if people are habitually late to meetings with you, maybe you're the problem.

If their timeliness shows their #respect for you, then you've got your answer.

They don't.

Except no one disputed that. They glossed right over it. No one said, "Actually, I'm a very nice person." No one said, "I reject your premise entirely. I'm a damn delight."

It was almost as if they agreed that, yes, we are unpleasant and mean. Yes, no one likes us because we call them names. But we shouldn't have to change because they're late, and therefore, are more terrible than we are.

In the end, there are more important problems we face, many more hills to die on than dealing with people are are regularly late.

Like why are you having so many damn meetings in the first place? Get back to your desk and get some actual work done!

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, April 08, 2016

Kicking the Cheeseburger Habit

I have a dining problem.

Not an eating problem. A problem with the things I choose to eat at restaurants.

Most of my healthier-than-thou friends will no doubt shout, "See! I knew it! He's finally hit rock bottom, and he's ready to seek help!"

Not even close.

I don't have a problem, everyone else has the problem.

("See? Classic denial. 'It's everyone's else's fault but mine.' Let's stage an intervention!")

I'm ashamed to admit it, being a creative professional who appreciates new experiences and events: my family thinks I'm boring and predictable when it comes to my restaurant food choices.

Predictable? I shudder to think that I'm predictable. I prefer "oddly quirky, but mostly harmless."

My sin is that I have a few favorite dishes that I order over and over when we visit a new restaurant.

Well, one favorite dish.

My go to meal is a restaurant's signature cheeseburger, extra crispy French fries. Unless they have tater tots. I'm a sucker for tater tots. (The one in the photo is the Boogie Monster from Boogie Burger in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis.)

That's not predictable, is it? Careful, yes. Steadfast, of course. Predictable? Hardly.

It's basic research. A cheeseburger is the standard by which I judge that restaurant. If they can't even master a simple cheeseburger, how bad will the rest of the food be?

A cheeseburger is difficult to master in its simplicity. Sure, it's just a piece of ground beef with a slice of cheese, but you'd be surprised at how hard it is to do the simple things well.

And if they do a great job on the cheeseburger, then why bother trying anything else? They've mastered one of my favorite sandwiches, so why abandon a sure thing? I don't get to eat at restaurants that often, so I want something I truly enjoy, which means going back to my favorite.

But my family doesn't understand this. They hassle me about the childishness of my cheeseburger, hand me a children's menu, and ask me if I want Pirate Pete's chicken planks or a peanut butter and jelly "sammich."

No, but I do want to color the menu and help Pirate Pete find his way through the maze.

I'm not the only person who does this. Everyone has a favorite restaurant dish. Whether it's the chicken nachos, the pasta bolognese, or the blue plate meatloaf special at their favorite diner, all of us have a go-to meal when we're not really sure what we want to eat.

Speaking of food ruts, what's the point of restaurant meatloaf? I never understood going to restaurants that advertise home-cooked meals. The whole point of a restaurant is to get something you don't normally eat. And we don't normally get half-pound cheeseburgers with bacon, a fried egg, and barbecue sauce at my house.

We eat meatloaf; we had it tonight, in fact. We have spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, and pot roast. So we avoid places that specialize in home-cooked meals. If I wanted a home-cooked meal, I'd eat at home, and do the things I normally do.

Like sneak a bowl of Cap'n Crunch after everyone else has gone to bed. Restaurants frown on patrons breaking in to eat cereal after they've closed.

Furthermore, I don't order a cheeseburger at fancy restaurants. There, I'm willing to try just about anything. I'll get salmon, steak, or a pasta dish. If we go to a French restaurant, I'll try the duck, and escargot for an appetizer. If we visit a German restaurant, I'll go for the schnitzel or sauerbraten. And if we're at a South American restaurant, I've been known to eat tripe.

See, that's new and adventurous. That's not boring. I've eaten frogs legs, for Pete's sake! I AM NOT PREDICTABLE!

Still, I'm not the only one who does this. I'm not naming names, but certain people I'm married to, will frequently order the same dish whenever she goes to her favorite Thai restaurant. She insists that she only orders it half the time, which is probably true, because I don't go there often enough to see if there's a pattern.

Ultimately, I've reached the age where I've experienced all the major changes I care to experience. It's not that I fear change, I just don't see the point in it anymore. I've changed enough, my world has changed enough, and I want something that's a little stable and reliable. And if a bacon cheeseburger is my anchor to everything that is good-hearted, pure, and true, then so be it.

Just put a fried egg on the burger, and pass me the kids menu.

Pirate Pete needs my help to find the buried treasure.



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, April 01, 2016

The Crack of the Bat, the Roar of the Children

Erik is out of the office this week, so to celebrate Major League Baseball's Opening Day, we're reprinting a column from 2005, back when the Fort Wayne Tin Caps were still known as the Wizards.

"Okay, is everyone for our first baseball game."

"That's right, Buddy, baseball. Check it out, he says it every time I do."

"Baseball."

"Baseball."

"Okay, that's enough."

"Where does everyone want to sit? Honey, you sit between me and Mommy. Sweetie, you sit next to Mommy, and Buddy, you can sit on my lap."

"Is everyone settled? Okay, now we can watch the baseball game."

"Yes, baseball."

"Baseball."

"Okay, that's enough."

"I could eat. What are you getting?"

"I'm watching the game."

"We actually came here so I could teach my kids about my favorite sport, not stand in line."

"Will you answer every single question they have?"

"A hot dog and a Coke. And peanuts. It's not a baseball game — yes, Buddy, baseball — without peanuts."

"What's that, Honey?"

"The Fort Wayne Wizards."

"Not Lizards. Wizards."

"No, that's their mascot."

"Dinger the dragon."

"A dinger is another name for a home run."

"A home run is when a guy hits the baseball out  — yes, Buddy, baseball —  of the park. He gets to run around all the bases and he scores a run for his team."

"Yes, Honey, they're all happy when he does that."

"That's the pitcher, Sweetie. He throws the ball to the catcher. He wants to keep the batter from hitting the ball."

"If the batter hits the ball, he tries to see how far he can run. He wants to get to as many bases as he can before the other team gets him out."

"Then he has to go sit back down."

"No, he's not in a time out."

"Do you see that guy with the bat? He's batting for the Wizards — no, Honey, Wizards. We want him to get a hit."

"Alright! And it's — oh no, the outfielder caught it, so he's out."

"No, Honey, he's not sad. He gets another turn later."

"Okay, next batter."

"Good cut! Alright! He's on first."

"Because that's as far as he could run."

"No, he's not tired. The other team would have gotten him out if he had kept running, then he would have to sit down too. Once three of our guys get out, the other team gets to bat."

"Eight more times each."

"Shoot, double play!"

"That's when the other team gets two of our guys out at once."

"Well, when the guy on first is — oh thank God, Mommy's here with the food."

"Yes, you can all have some peanuts. Just eat your dinner first."

"No, Sweetie, I don't know who that man is."

"No, I don't know who he's calling a bum."

"That's just what happens at baseball games. People can be jerks."

"Yes, Buddy, baseball."

"Baseball."

"Okay, that's enough."

"So now our team is on the field, and it's the other team's turn to bat."

"No, Honey, Wizards."

"Our pitcher wants to keep their batter from hitting the ball. If he hits it, those other men will try to keep the batter from running too far."

"No, they won't tackle him. That's football."

"Yes, Buddy, football."

"Well, they're supposed to catch the ball and throw it to the man covering that base. Then that guy tries to tag him out."

"No, they won't hit him. That's boxing."

"You'll just have to watch. I'll try to explain it as we go along."

"Ooh, good hit. Now watch that man way out there. He caught it! That means that the batter is out. If he can catch the ball before it hits the ground, the batter is out."

"That's just part of the game."

"Okay, new batter. Let's see if we can keep him from getting a hit."

"Well, no, not us. The team. They're the ones actually playing the game. We're just here to watch."

"Because it creates a sense of hometown pride and camaraderie and — never mind. Just watch the game."

"Excellent! He struck out. That's two outs."

"That means that he missed the baseball  — yes, Buddy, baseball —  three times. Just one more batter and the Wizards are back up to bat."

"No, Honey, not the Lizards. The Wizards."

"Is everyone finished with dinner? Who wants peanuts?"

"Yes, Buddy, peanuts."

"Peanuts."

"Okay, that's enough."


Photo credit: Cory Luebke of the Fort Wayne Wizards, by Mwlguide (Flickr/Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons) Special note: As of this writing, Cory Luebke is currently a pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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, March 25, 2016

What Exactly Are the Best Words?

Donald Trump seems to think anything and everything is for sale. Jokes about his presidential campaign aside, the Orange One seems to think the world is his oyster, and the parts of it he hasn't plated in gold yet aren't worth owning.

A few weeks ago, Trump tried to tell us he's a collector of words, a veritable word aficionado. But not just any old words. He doesn't just have piles of them under a tarp behind his garage. He's not satisfied with having your everyday, run-of-the-mill words.

No, Trump has the best words.

As he explained it, "I went to an Ivy League school. I'm very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words."

Of course, if I wanted to be picky, I would point out that people with the best words typically don't use "very" with other strong adjectives. I wouldn't say a person is "very enormous" or that broccoli is "very awful" (although it is). So I would hope someone who is "very highly educated" wouldn't actually say "very highly."

But I'm not being picky, so I'l let that one slide.

On the other hand, I have managed to amass my own collection of words, even without going to a fancy Ivy League school. They may not be gold-plated words like the ones Trump has amassed, but they're still useful words. And I know how to use them correctly.

What are Trump's best words? What are the words he's so proud of using and sharing with his supporters? I imagine they must be beautiful, eloquent, multi-syllabic words that not only mean beautiful things, but are pleasing to the ear as well.

For example, "cellar door" is thought to be one of the most beautiful sounding words, as long as you separate sound from semantics. That is, don't worry about what it means, just listen to how it sounds. Some companies have even used the name "Selladora" as a way to capitalize on the sounds while avoiding the creepy factor.

So if the Cheeto-in-Chief says he has the best words, they must really be stellar. Like this.

Several weeks ago, at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump told his supporters what he thought of the U.S. State Department and their efforts to bring peace to Syria.

"Stupid."

That's it? "Stupid?" That's your best Ivy League word?

Apparently yes. As he told the crowd, "I'm telling you, I used to use the word incompetent. Now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school. I'm very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words. . . but there is no better word than stupid. Right?"

Then, he capped off his claim with this little gem:

"There is none, there is none. There's no, there's no, there's no word like that."

Donald Trump just summed up the essence of Donald Trump in that one quote: "I believe I have the best of something everyone else has, and I can do it better than everyone else, except I, except I, except I really can't."

I can't tell from the transcript whether Trump was rapping or just stumbling over his words. Maybe he got distracted, because he didn't want to slip and use all the best words in a single speech.

I mean, once you throw out a crown jewel like "stupid," you might get overexcited, and waste other best words, like "booger face."

If Trump really wants the best words, he'd drop a billion dollars on fellow famous best-words-haver, Kanye West. You may remember a few weeks ago, when Kanye asked tech billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Case to invest $1 billion in Kanye, to help him create a lot of new ideas, like more failed clothing lines and a luxury goods search engine (presumably spelled G$$gle).

So why doesn't the Orange One lay out a billion dollars on Yeezy and see what kinds of best words they can come up with together? Kanye may have a complete and utter lack of business savvy, but you have to admit, he's gotten successful by what he can do with his words.

They may not even be the best words — he probably had to sell a lot of those to cover his $53 million debt — but a good carpenter can still build a masterpiece with poor tools.

Together, Kanye and Trump can come up with a few more best words to finish out this presidential election.

Although "stupid" may be hard to beat.


Photo credit: Caricature by Donkey Hotey (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, March 18, 2016

It's Not Necessary to Narrate Everything You See

"It's Not Necessary to Narrate Everything You See." Did you see that headline? It said "It's Not Necessary to Narrate Everything You See."

I point it out, in case the person in your life who narrates everything they see wasn't there with you. I point it out, in case you're the person who narrates everything they see, so you can see what everyone else's day is like.

Have you ever been on a car trip with a life narrator? They spend the whole trip reading billboards or distance markers out loud.

"Chicago, 87 miles," they'll say, even though everyone else can see how far away Chicago is.

Person A: "There's a McDonald's in five miles."

Person B: "Do you want to stop at McDonald's?"

Person A: "No, I was just saying there's a McDonald's up ahead."

Person B: ". . ."

Person A: "You know, in case you wanted McDonald's."

Person B: "I'm fine. We just ate an hour ago."

Person A: "I know. I'm just putting it out there."

Person B: ". . ."

Person A: "How long before we get to Chicago?"

I should point out that I'm not referring to anyone in my family, especially my wife. I know better than that.

"Hey, look. There's a billboard for Francis 'The Shark' Coltello, divorce attorney."

It's not just car trips, though. It's everywhere. They narrate everything happening around them, just to make sure no one else misses it. Even though we're right next to them.

"There's a new building going up over there."

"That gas station is on fire."

"That fire engine sure seems in a hurry."

My youngest daughter used to do this at the grocery store when she was little. She pointed out certain items she liked, and made sure I saw them. "Daddy, look, there are some apples. . . Cap'n Crunch cereal. That's your favorite. . ."

She just wanted to give a little shout-out to the things she really liked. She didn't even want them, she wanted to draw my attention to the fact that they were there. I would even ask, "is this your sneaky way of trying to get me to buy cookies?"

"No, I just like showing them to you."

I've been noticing this life narration phenomenon more lately, especially when we're in large public places, like Disney World.

"Hey, there's Winnie the Pooh!"

"Ooh, look, the parade is coming."

"Do you see that float? The giant lighted one that's straight in front of us? The one that looks like a neon dragon? Do you see it?"

Admittedly, these are young parents trying to engage their children's interest, and get them to stop screaming incessantly for no particular reason. But the behavior never seems to change over time. They keep doing it, and it just gets progressively louder and more annoying as they get older.

Also, the kids are still annoying whiners.

The worst is when we're in one of my favorite exhibits, the France or United States pavilions at Epcot.

France's centerpiece attraction is an 18-minute film of the amazing sights of France, like the French Alps, the Palace of Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower, all set to well-known French classical music. It's a chance to immerse ourselves into the very heart of France.

Complete with a running commentary from the couple sitting behind us.

"Ooh, Versailles! It's so pretty. Isn't that pretty?"

"Aww, they're getting married! Remember when we got married?"

"Mmm, don't those pastries look good. France is really known for their desserts."

My other favorite — and a favorite of life narrators everywhere — is the American Adventure, the 20 minute animatronic rundown of American history, as discussed by longtime friends Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. I'm also a sucker for the "Golden Dream" movie at the very end, which is professionally engineered to make everyone in the room cry.

Just at the emotional peak, when the lump in my throat can't get any bigger, and I can't love America anymore, I get this from the seats behind me:

"Oh, it's 9/11!"

"Look, Michelle Kwan! I remember those Olympics."

A-a-a-a-nd it's gone. I don't ask for much. I only wanted the full emotional breadth and depth of these short movies, seeing images of people who made America great, or France's artistic and natural beauty. I'm only asking for a few minutes of silence so I can fully experience everything they offer.

But I can't because I sat in front of Barbara Exposition and her husband Steve Obvious, who are unsure that the other person is looking at the exact same movie screen they are. So as we're leaving, I share a few observations of my own.

"It's 1200 miles from here to Chicago. Why don't you go back there? There's a McDonald's on the way."

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, March 11, 2016

You Can't Argue With Mom

Now that I'm in my late 40s, I look back at my childhood and realize that, for the most part, my parents were pretty smart, and their advice was generally sound and worth following. Things I used to rebel against — and I did that a lot — are actually important to me now that I'm a dad.

For instance, I make my kids shut off the lights in their room, just like my dad did. He didn't do it for me, I had to go do it. He would even call me from the other end of the house to shut off my light. Never mind that he was standing next to it, I had to do it.

"You're right there," I would call back. "Why don't you just reach out and shut it off?"

"Because I want you to remember to shut it off yourself."

In my mind, I used to rail against the laziness and utter stupidity of making me walk all the way to the other end of the house, just to shut off a single light.

"You could have shut the light off in a fraction of the time that we had this argument!" I thought. At the time, I believed my dad actually enjoyed being a pain in my ass.

So, in order to deprive him of this small and petty pleasure, I started shutting off the lights to my room before he ever asked. That showed him!

Did I mention my dad was a psychology professor for 45 years?

The trick worked so well, I started doing it to my own kids. I have made them come all the way upstairs to shut off their bedroom light, and they had the same complaints. It was all I could do to keep from revealing my big secret, but they did stop leaving their lights on.

But there are certain things my mom would say to me, that years later, still don't make sense.

For example, I was never a tidy child. I used to get my toys out and play with them, but never put them back. Eventually, my room looked like my toy box exploded.

Eventually my mom (the short one in the photo over there) would get so sick of looking at the mess, she threatened to shut the door. "If you don't clean your room, I'll just keep your door shut all day."

I'm actually fairly private, and I hated having my door open anyway, so this wasn't a punishment. Plus it bought me a couple more weeks.

But eventually she said, "it's a wonder you can find anything in this place."

"No, it isn't," I said. "I've got everything out in the open so I can see it, and know exactly where it is."

Apparently this wasn't up for discussion. This wasn't my chance to convince her of the benefits of a messy room. You'd have an easier time on Facebook of getting a Trump supporter to vote for Bernie Sanders than getting my mom to let me have a messy room.

"Well, it looks like a tornado went through here."

"I thought it looked more like a cyclone," I said once.

Once.

I didn't get away with being a smartass very often. This wasn't one of those times.

"Can I have a snack?" I would ask when I was in her good graces.

"No, you'll spoil your appetite."

Spoil my appetite? How could a tiny snack spoil my appetite? I just wanted a cookie, or even an apple. But no, this will bring crushing ruin to my appetite, and I won't eat for days!

My wife even says this to our kids, but I think it's a lie. If a single cookie devastates your appetite, then you may have larger medical issues.

"No, I couldn't possibly eat a steak, mashed potatoes, and a salad. I just ate a cookie."

If you can normally eat a full meal without any problems, a cookie is not going to be a problem. It's only going to reduce our stomach capacity by — anyone? anyone? — that's right, the amount of the cookie.

But there were times I was able to have a rational discussion with my mom about some of these mom-isms, and how they bothered me. But those discussions didn't always go like I hoped.

She would say, "If you're going to act like a child, I'll treat you like one."

"But I am a child."

"No, you're MY child, but you're 34. Start acting like it."

"Fine, but only if I can have a cookie."


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, March 04, 2016

The How and Why of Impostor Syndrome

I'm a little worried about my new residency, I told Karl.

"Why?" said Karl. "It's a nice place, nice back yard, and it's in a good neighborhood. Plus, your kids seem to like it."

No, not my residence. My residency.

We were sitting in Santa Cruise, a Bolivian-themed bar whose owner was also a big Tom Cruise fan. We were there to watch the opening game of the Bolivian soccer league on satellite. The league champions, Sport Boys, were facing Cición that night.

"What, you mean like a doctor's residency? Kid, you can't even name the three bones in your arm, so there's no way you're a doctor."

First of all, yes, I can. There's the ulna, the humerus, and uh, Kevin.

"Radius."

Whatever. No, I mean my writing residency. I'm scheduled to go live in the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando for three months as the writer-in-residence, so I can work on my book and various short stories. I don't know if I can do it.

"What are you talking about?"

When I look at the résumés of the past writers, they all have MFAs, and get published in literary journals where they write heartfelt stories about serious topics. I make fart jokes on the Internet. I'm worried I accidentally tricked the Kerouac House board into letting me in.

Karl looked around to see if anyone was listening, then leaned in. "If you tell anyone I said this, I'll deny it, but I think you're a fine writer. You'll be great."

Aww, you think I'm a great writer! Thank you!

"No. No! I said you're a fine writer. You would be great. As in, you'll be in great health and great spirits. Not that, you know, you're better than me or anything."

Gee, thanks. You sure know how to pick a guy up, I said, draining the last of my beer. The game was well underway, and Sport Boys were pressing an attack in Cición's half of the field.

"Two Paceñas, por favor," said Karl, signaling to Simon the bartender. "Por favor" was the only Spanish he knew, and he liked to show off whenever he could. "Kid, what you have is a clear case of Impostor Syndrome."

What, like I'm Frank Abagnale?

"No, not an impostor. I don't think you can lie enough to pull that off."

You believed me when I said I liked your last book, I said. Karl flipped his middle finger at me and blew cigar smoke in my face.

He continued: "Impostor syndrome is something psychologists have been researching since the 1970s, the worry people have of being found out or exposed as a fraud. They think their achievements are a matter of luck or good timing, or that it's not really that big a deal."

Yeah, that all sounds familiar. I've thought all those things in the past. Hell, I thought all those things in the past week.

"It's actually perfectly normal," said Karl. "As many as 70% of people have worried about whether they're actually qualified to do the thing they're supposed to do. Psychologists originally thought only women had it, but a lot of men have from it too. They're just too ashamed to talk about it. Jodie Foster, Emma Watson, Neil Gaiman, and John Steinbeck have all said they feel like impostors."

But why would they have it? They're so accomplished.

"Impostor syndrome is usually associated with high achieving, successful people. And also you."

My jaw dropped, and I stared at Karl. He must have thought I was about to cry, because he put his hand on my shoulder. (I wasn't. Shut up!)

"I'm sorry, Kid. I was just messing with you. If you got in, you did because they liked your work enough to want to see more of it. You didn't trick anyone. You're supposed to be there."

Thanks, that makes me feel better. I finished the last of my beer. Do you have impostor syndrome? I asked.

"Oh, absolutely not. I know I'm great. I've published too many books and won too many awards to think this is just a matter of luck or fraud."

Well, you certainly don't lack for humility.

"Yeah, I'm great at humility!"

Right. Sounds like you've got that other thing. What's it called?

"The Dunning-Kruger Effect, also called the Lake Wobegone Effect. You know, where all the children are above average. That's when the person doesn't realize they don't know anything. They literally don't know that they don't know."

Oh, dear Lord, I said. I held my head in my hands. I just had a horrible thought. What if my Impostor syndrome is really masking my Dunning-Kruger effect?


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.