Friday, April 18, 2014

Karl the Curmudgeon Wants Jetpacks

"We were promised jetpacks," said Karl.

The band? I asked.

"What?" said Karl.

There's a Scottish band called We Were Promised Jetpacks.

"What are you talking about, Kid?"

What are you talking about?

"Jetpacks. Why the hell would I be talking about one of your stupid thrash rap bands?"

First of all, it's called thrashcore. Second, I don't listen to that. Third—

"Kid, you remember we've got a word limit, right?" Karl whispered.

Fine, I sighed. What ever do you mean by jetpacks, Karl?

"When I was a kid, we were told we could fly around on our own personal jetpacks. Our dinners would go from the fridge to the oven to our tables. And we would go to school in flying buses."

Are you thinking of 'The Jetsons' again?

"No, I'm not thinking about the stupid Jetsons again. I saw a study from the Pew Research Center about how people feel about technology in the future. Only one percent of the people said they would actually want a jetpack, but half of them would ride in a driverless car."

I'd love to ride in a driverless car, I said. Think about it: I could read, watch a movie, take a nap, or text like a hyper monkey.

"Me too. But it gets worse. Nine percent would travel in a time machine. More people would travel in a machine that could strand them 300 years in the past than those who would hover 30 feet in the air today."

Well, it would be a little frightening for people who are afraid of heights, I said. At least with a time machine, you could manage your own survival. If a jetpack breaks down while you're in the air, your chances for survival are about three seconds.

"Yeah, but if science fiction movies have taught us anything, it's that you might accidentally interfere with history or kill your own grandfather."

Why are we even talking about this? I asked. I thought we were going to watch the ballgame.

"I just started feeling my age, Kid." Karl sighed, half-heartedly plonking his beer on the bar. "I got an iPhone after my daughter kept nagging me about, and I got freaked out when an appointment appeared on my calendar by itself."

Which one?

"This one," said Karl. He asked the bartender for a mojito. Karl always drank mojitos when he felt old. It made him feel like Hemingway.

What, you mean our meeting popped up on your calendar without you doing anything?

"Yes. I knew Siri was smart, but I never told her to put it there. She must have seen our email exchange and did it herself. It's kind of creepy."

I suppressed a smile. So why does this worry you? I asked.

"Because it means the technology world has passed me by. I don't know how to use my new smartphone, and yet we're no closer to jetpacks."

Karl, I'm the reason the appointment appeared on your calendar.

"How did you do that? I got this thing last week, and you haven't been near it."

You use Google Calendar, right? I sent you an electronic invitation, which automatically pushed it to your calendar.

"I don't like that," said Karl. "I don't want my phone making those decisions for me."

It didn't. It put it there for you to decide. Your calendar tells you about suggested meetings, and if you decline them, they go away.

"Who the hell does my phone think it is to put them on my calendar in the first place? I'm a grown man who can take care of his own calendar, thank you very much. I don't need some stupid computer to do it for me."

Aww, Karl, do you miss your old flip phone?

"Don't patronize me, Kid. I'm more technical than you'll ever be."

How do you figure? I'm not afraid of my phone.

"No, but you're afraid of your car engine. When's the last time you changed your own oil?"

I hung my head. Never, I mumbled.

"Uh-huh," Karl said, folding his arms. "And even though I've showed you how three different times, you still take it to the garage to get it done."

Maybe if you emailed me the instructions — oh wait, I forgot.

Karl shot me a dirty look. "It's your turn to buy, Kid."

Fine, but how are we getting home?

"I'll call my cranky daughter to give us a ride," Karl said, reaching for his phone.

Oh man, now I really wish we had a driverless car.



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

Do British Farts Cause Global Warming?

Put down those beans! Your next fart may contribute to global warming.

At least that's what a couple members of the British House of Lords seem to think, because apparently British nobility are so well-versed in the ways of science.

According to a story in Wednesday's (London) Daily Mirror, climate change minister Baroness Verma demonstrated she had as much a grasp of science as a climate change denier when she urged the British population to curtail their farting.

She made the statement after Labour peer Viscount David Simon asked whether British people eating so many baked beans contributed to global warming.

I really wish this were an April Fool's joke, but the story ran eight days afterward. Or I could reassure you that the English government is not actually being run by surviving contestants of the Upper Class Twit of the Year. But I can't. If you've seen our own Congress in action, you understand Britain's pain.

According to the Mirror, (official motto: "What are you looking at?") Viscount Simon said to the House of Lords, "A programme on the BBC stated this country has the largest production of baked beans and the largest consumption of baked beans in the world. Could you say whether this affects the calculation of global warming by the Government as a result of the smelly emission?"

Baroness Sandip Verma responded, "You do actually raise a very important point, which is we do need to moderate our behaviour."

Real scientists already know this is just a bunch of bullfarts. Human gas doesn't actually have a significant impact on total methane production.

According to 99.99% of all scientists on earth, carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, while methane's effects are 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. The remaining scientists work for Fox News.

Further, cows produce a sixth of all the methane on Earth, but our human-powered output is just 1/5,000th of our total greenhouse gas emissions.

So not only is it safe to eat baked beans, we should actually increase our overall consumption. That's because a study in the Canadian Medical Journal released the same week says that baked beans can actually lower your cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

According to lead researcher Dr. John Sievenpiper, eating a single three-quarter cup serving of beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas — also called pulses, I assume because of their. . . effects — can reduce our LDL (bad cholesterol) by as much as five percent, and have a five to six percent reduction of heart attack and stroke risk.

Sievenpiper also said that wind and bloating were among some of the side effects of eating pulses daily. However he said those subsided after a while, much to the disappointment of young boys everywhere.

But not everything is coming up roses for the British baked bean: according to a December article in Britain's Grocer magazine, the amount of baked beans sold in the UK dropped by nearly £21 million last year, resulting in "the biggest decline of all the canned food market." However, the article says this could be a result of the country's economy picking up.

Apparently it's also a marketing problem, as Grocer magazine blamed a "lack of fresh ways to promote baked beans."

Maybe Heinz could air a commercial showing the exchange between Viscount Simon and Baroness Verma. "With Heinz's baked beans, the House of Lords aren't the only ones full of hot gas."

Speaking of global flatulence, other scientists are researching the methane effect of animals as well. By a staggering coincidence — no, seriously; three fart stories in a single week! — Australian scientists published a study in the PLOS One journal about whether camel farts contribute to the greenhouse effect.

After extensive studying and measuring of camel flatulence with special fart-measuring equipment, they concluded "the methane contributed by Australia's feral camels corresponds only to 1 to 2% of the methane amount produced by the country's domestic ruminants."

In other words, for every 100 cow farts, there is only one feral camel fart.

Which means camel farts do not contribute to the greenhouse gas effect.

(I actually only wrote that sentence so I could see it rank number one on Google.)

Feral camel flatulence aside, it comes down to this: the British are eating fewer baked beans, but they're actually very good for you. (The beans, not the British.) The resulting flatulence will not add to the greenhouse effect, while the more enjoyable side effects will dissipate after a time.

So raise your spoon, hike your leg, and think of Viscount Simon and Baroness Verma every time you enjoy another yummy bite of Heinz's British Baked Beans. Eat them for England!

The beans, not the politicians.



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

What About Peek-A-Boo?

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005, because this topic bothered him so much.

While most new parents are eager to show off their new baby, and beam when people coo and marvel at their new addition, one hospital in Halifax, Scotland is putting a stop to all that.

According to a story in The (Edinburgh) Scotsman, the Calderale Royal Hospital has instituted a ban on looking at, asking about, or even cooing to newborn babies in the maternity wards, to prevent visitors from ". . . gawping at newborns or questioning the mother."

Debbie Lawson, a neonatal manager, said that even babies have a right to privacy. "We need to respect the child," she told the Scotsman, presumably with a straight face. "Cooing should be a thing of the past, because these are little people with the same rights as you or me."

Lawson and her fellow anti-cooing activists have even hammered the point home with a doll carrying the message, "What makes you think I want to be looked at?" (To which critics responded with their own doll and message, "Don't flatter yourself.")

This also prompted an outcry from Dolls Expect a Right to Privacy (DERP), who were upset that a doll was used to reinforce the hospital's Draconian new rules.

Needless to say, the new ban has taken everyone by surprise, including the new mothers.

"Who says the babies don't want to be looked at?" asked one critic. "When an infant can tell me he doesn't want to be stared at, I'll respect his choice. But I'm beginning to wonder if the wee bairns even care about this."

"Right!" hollered another critic. "I mean, what if the baby's an aspiring model or actress, and she's trying to get an early start on her career? A ban like this could hurt her future chances for fame."

"But what if the baby wants to be a spy or an assassin? Aren't we depriving that child of the anonymity required to pursue their chosen profession?" asked a coo ban supporter.

Linda Riordan, Halifax's Labour MP, said this was "bureaucracy gone mad. . . (I)n a case where a mother did not want to answer questions, it should be up to that individual to say so."

I suppose this is the real question: are new mothers complaining about people cooing at their infants? Do we have a ward full of Dennis Hopper-esque babies shrieking "stop looking at me!"? Or John Cusack who asks for the most visible table in a restaurant and then gets upset when people approach him? Or are the neonatal folks hopping on the Politically Correct bandwagon and putting words into their young charges' mouths?

And what sort of message is being sent to these impressionable youngsters? Will they grow up to be sullen teenagers who shout "Hey, I didn't ask to be born!" at their parents? Or is it something completely different?

A spokeswoman for Calderdale said she believed it was as much to do with reducing infection risks as it was upholding the rights of these newborns.

"Staff held an advice session to highlight the need for respect and dignity for all patients and the potential risk of infection in vulnerable infants, to new moms and their families," she said in a statement. However, she didn't clarify why a steady stream of infectious people are hanging around the maternity ward in the first place.

Potential risk of infection aside, exactly how much dignity does an infant have? They don't have a station in life or privileges thereof; they sleep constantly, waking only to eat; they poop, pee, and spit up more than is necessary. So how is that dignified?

Let's face it, if you're a child of God, you have a place in the world. And if you occupy that place, people are going to look at you. They'll coo, touch, point and laugh, and yes, even gawp at you. And while I understand the sentiments behind Calderdale's rules of privacy, they should leave it up to the parents to decide whether people can look at their babies, or the child will earn the reputation of being socially dysfunctional before his first birthday.

If a child wants to become a hermit and refuse to interact with other human beings, let them make their own choices. It's not up to hospitals and their overzealous staff to police whether people become social misfits or not.

We have Star Trek conventions for that.



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

Indianapolis Man to Attempt World Record for Fastest Fireman's Carry

(INDIANAPOLIS)—At age 23, former University of Indianapolis student Sterling White plans to break a Guinness World Record. On April 26 2014 at 10am at Carroll Stadium, White will attempt to set a new record for the World’s Fastest Fireman’s Carry For A Mile.

The current record is 11 minutes and 30 seconds. White believes he can break that record, and has been training since February 2013 to prepare for the attempt. The record calls for White carrying another person of an equivalent weight for one mile.

"I wanted to show the kids in my community that if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want to do," said White. "When I was growing up, my mom worked a lot of jobs to take care of us, and she always told us we could do whatever we wanted if we worked at it."

White currently trains at Crossfit Naptown, which helps him with running, weight lifting, strength training, and technique. White’s attempt involves more than most athletic endeavors. Not only does he have to have the cardiovascular stamina to make the run, but he needs the leg strength and back strength to be able to last for a mile.

"Training takes a toll on my body, so there are days I really have to work to get out of bed in the morning," said White. "But every day, I remind myself this is for a world record, and I’m back at the gym or on the road."

White will make his attempt in April 2014, while the FDIC Firefighter’s Conference is in Indianapolis. He said he will also use his world record attempt to raise donations for Little Red Door, a nonprofit that works to help reduce the physical, emotional, and financial burdens of cancer for the medically underserved people of central Indiana.

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Proud disclosure: Sterling White is a friend of mine, and I've had several chances to sit down with him, talk to him about blogging, his dreams, and his goal of becoming a world record holder. This is a press release announcing his attempt later this month.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Yawning Equals Love in Relationships

Look over at your spouse or significant other. Give a big yawn. Did they yawn back? Did they take a while to yawn, or did they do it right away?

If they didn't yawn back or took several seconds, they may not love you anymore.

I may be overstating things, but according to a 2011 study by the University of Pisa, yawns are especially contagious when you're with close family members, such as your parents, siblings, or children. When they yawn, you yawn. When you yawn, they yawn.

(And did you yawn because I keep saying "yawn?" I've already yawned four times since I started this column. Also, if you did, it means you really like me.)

According to a story on the Mother News Network website, the researchers also found that yawning is less contagious when you're only with friends, and even less so among strangers. The closer your relationship is, the faster the yawn jumps from sender to receiver.

In other words, the longer it takes your significant other to yawn, the less likely he or she may still be in love with you. If they do it quickly, however, you're still golden, and he or she might even get you some ice cream if you ask nicely.

But, can you use yawning as sort of a love gauge, to tell whether someone was actually into you or not?

Why not? People are insecure and worry about this sort of thing all the time, which means they'll fall prey to unproven scientific theories found only in newspaper humor columns. But I've got real science backing me up.

In his new book, "The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons," science writer Sam Keen asked the question, what if you could tell whether someone was falling in love or out of love with you by measuring their yawn delay?

If the other person really likes you, says Keen, the delay will be shorter; if they like you less, the delay will be longer. And if you could graph out the results over a long period of time, you'd be able to tell whether your life partner still loved you, or was sick of your face.

It's a less sophisticated version of the old Love Tester game found at amusement parks.

It all has to do with empathy and the other person's feelings toward us. People tend to feel empathy toward the people they love, which could be the feelings the yawn tap into. We can even look to the canine world for another example of contagious yawning.

According to a 2012 study at the University of Porto in Portugal, dogs "catch" our yawns because they empathize with us. The researchers chose 29 dogs that had lived with their humans for at least six months, and they played audio recordings of yawns of their owners, a female stranger, and a computer simulation. They found that nearly half the dogs yawned when they heard a recording of a human yawn, but they yawned nearly five times more when it was their own human doing the yawning.

If your dog yawns when you do, it means he loves you. If your wife doesn't, it means you'd better buy her some flowers and take her out to dinner. Either that, or your dog just doesn't realize you're a selfish jerk who'd rather go out drinking with the guys instead of spending time with him.

Other studies have shown that people will yawn when they think about yawning — I'm up to seven so far — when they see attractive strangers do it, or in some cases, when they see pictures or sculptures of people yawning, or when they're about to have sex.

Of course, yawning before you're about to have sex may be why your spouse is no longer in love with you. (However scientists say yawning before sex is actually a good thing, because it's a sign of arousal, not boredom.)

But back to dogs and our significant others: if dogs yawn because they empathize and love us as owners, then this may also explain why our spouses don't yawn when we do — well, your spouse anyway; my wife still loves me. She even yawned when I asked her to read this.

The Mother Nature Network suggested — tongue-in-cheekily — that if you really wanted to see if someone was into you, take a stopwatch and start keeping track of the contagious yawns between you and your sweetie. If the delay grows after time, there's a problem. If it gets shorter, that's a good thing.

Of course, if you're the type of person who needs to measure another person's yawns just to see if they love you or not, you may have a whole other set of problems.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, March 21, 2014

No More Red Pens at English School

Red ink on student papers is mean and bullying and hurts precious snowflakes' feelings. At least that's what administrators at one school in Cornwall, England are worried about. They're no longer allowing teachers to use red pens to mark their students' work because it might make them feel bad. Instead, teachers will use green pens to give feedback, and students will use purple pen to write responses.

According to a story in The Cornishman newspaper, the Mounts Bay Academy is worried that students will feel discouraged when they see all the red markings on their papers. So rather than help students do better, teachers are instead working to make green the new "I suck at math" trigger color, which will then be the subject of stories like this in about 20 or 30 years.

Either that, or every kid will just be patted on the head and given a participation trophy.

Head teacher (which is British for "principal") Sara Davey told the Cornishman, "Students make more progress if (grading) is a dialogue and the new system is designed to help that. A lot of primary schools are already using a similar system amazingly well and I think it was felt that red ink was a very negative colour."

Davey was then distracted by a unicorn farting rainbows and chased after it.

Vice principal (British for "assistant head teacher") Jennie Hick clarified Davey's statement. "Switching to the new marking system is certainly not about us going all soft and fuzzy," she told The Cornishman, which was the signal that they are totally going all soft and fuzzy.

"Students make more progress if it is a dialogue and the new system is designed to help that. A teacher will make two or three positive comments about a student’s homework and point out perhaps one thing that will take them to the next stage. By asking students to respond with purple pen forces them to read the teacher’s comments and helps them to create a real conversation."

You hit full soft and fuzzy when you said "dialogue."

When I was a kid, we didn't have these kinds of conversations with teachers. Back then, the conversation was "you got this many wrong. Now get out your math book." When a kid — usually me — didn't understand something, we didn't have a chance to go back and do it again. Everyone else was moving on and you just had to "work harder."

Later, the conversation was usually about applying myself and having a lot of potential and blah blah blah. (I never really listened, but it was probably something really important.)

We just lived with the red pen. We didn't see it as something negative or something to be feared. The red ink didn't represent mistakes, it showed them. We were the ones who had made the mistakes, and it wouldn't have mattered if the pen was red, green, purple, or a soft pinkish russet. The mistakes were ours, and those were the things to be stressed over, not the ink.

The Campaign for Real Education (CRE) agrees with me. (Well, not so much agrees with me as said the same thing I said a couple days earlier. But they are taking a stand against the issue and have put a frowny face sticker on it.)

"The problem with using a colour like green or blue is that it's not clear," said CRE chair Chris McGovern. "A lot of schools seem to have a culture where they don't like criticizing children but actually (the old red pen system) helps them."

He also called BS on the school's claim that red ink is too hard for kids to read. I have never, ever had any difficulty reading red ink on my school papers. Of course, I had plenty of practice, so I may have an advantage over the Mounts Bay Academy snowflakes.

Changing the color of pens assigns too much power to the symbols and trappings of a grading system, and not enough to the performance. The school shouldn't be worried about the color of the marks on students' paper, they should worry about why there are so many of them.

Making mistakes is a part of learning. We learn from our errors and how to avoid them in the future. By softening up the colors of pens, Mounts Bay have turned the conversation from "this is how you can get better" to "your mistakes aren't as important as your feelings." Let the teachers grade in whatever colors they want to use and focus more on providing the best education.

And if I could get a couple gold stars, that would be awesome.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Your Home Is Trying To Kill You

In 2008, 57,612 people were injured by their televisions.

I'm not sure exactly how, or in what manner, but according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, nearly 58,000 people were injured enough by their televisions to require emergency medical attention.

This doesn't include the number of people who were injured, but didn't go to the ER, which means the number could be higher. Much higher.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States is a government report that looks at how the 319 million people in the United States have lived, worked, played, and injured themselves in the last several years. It includes data from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and "many other Federal agencies and private organizations."

In this case, this injury data — Table 197, "Injuries Associated With Selected Consumer Products: 2008" — was compiled by the National Safety Council of Itasca, Illinois.

What's worse, according to the report, "product involvement does not necessarily mean the product caused the accident."

In other words, 58,000 people may have been injured in a TV-related accident, but not by the actual TV itself. I don't know if this includes people who suffered epileptic seizures watching My Little Pony, or had a heart attack yelling at the stupid ref who missed the stupid pass interference call during the stupid game.

In comparison, only 24,721 people were injured by computers or electronic games. But when the 2014 table comes out, I will be proud to know one of the people who was actually injured by her own computer. A couple weeks ago, my friend, Kelly, dropped her MacBook Air on her foot and may have broken it.

Her foot, not the computer.

When Kelly showed me a picture of the bruise (her foot was in one of those puffy medical boots), I said I thought the Airs just floated down like a piece of paper.

Not true. Apparently, Macbook Airs are so streamlined that they can reach terminal velocity in just 18 inches, and will race screaming to the ground, corner first, unless you try to put your foot out to break its fall. The computer was fine, it was the foot that got broken.

Irony, thou art a cruel witch.

We're also more likely to injure ourselves in our kitchens or dining rooms — there were 317,856 table-related injuries — than we are with our own construction equipment. In 2008, 91,701 people injured themselves with a saw (hand or power), but 98,456 people injured themselves with tableware and flatware.

Not knives, mind you. Tableware and flatware. Plates, saucers, spoons, and forks.

And gravy boats.

Given the weird and random nature of things that happen to people in this country, I wanted to know if someone was injured with a gravy boat, because that would be cool. After all, we all know someone who will one day put down his beer and holler "Hey y'all, watch what I can do with this gravy boat."

I checked Google to see if there were any reports of a gravy boat injury, but I had no luck. Of course, anyone actually injured this way would be too embarrassed to blog about it or mention it on Twitter.

"Holiday tip: Gravy boats suck as real boats. #IHateThanksgiving"

Of course, the risk of injuries due to flatware and tableware are all too real, especially since Table 1239 — "Adult Participation in Selected Leisure Activities by Frequency: 2009" — says that 19.5 million people entertained people in their homes at least once a month.

How many of those 19.5 million people were injured by tableware and flatware during a dinner party? How many of our country's dinner guests were rushed to the hospital because they had been stabbed with an oyster fork, or tried surfing a gravy boat down a snow-covered hill?

Surprisingly, as dangerous as knives can be (415,539 injuries), our beds are much more dangerous. In 2008, 563,922 people sought emergency medical attention because of a bed-related injury. In fact, other than stairs and steps (1,213,555) and floors (1,209,603), our beds are the third most dangerous item in our homes. I don't know how one can injure themselves with a bed — minds out of the gutter! — but it's surprising that more people have hurt themselves with a bed than with a knife.

In the end, computers are the safest things we can have in our home, which is good because I need mine to check something on WebMD.

I just hurled a gravy boat into my television and tore my rotator cuff.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, March 07, 2014

EU Wants U.S. to Cut Cheese Names

You just can't please the French when it comes to words and language.

The Académie française was established in 1635 to prevent English words and other barbarisms from entering the French language. They often dictate what words are allowed or not allowed, and will even replace words like "email" and "skyscraper" with "courriel" and "gratte-ciel."

While the Académie does not have any official powers, they're like your snooty, pretentious cousin who's always correcting everyone else's grammar and makes you want to punch him in his smug little face. When it comes to their snootiness about language, they can be a royal "emmerde" (pain in the ass) about it.

Now the Académie snootiness has spread to the "rond-de-cuirs" (pen pushers, bureaucrats) in the European Union (EU). They're complaining about the way American food makers sometimes use European regional names for their food products.

According to a story on National Public Radio, as the EU and the United States negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU has said they want the U.S. "to prohibit food makers here from using names with historical ties to Europe."

Kyle Cherek, host of the "Wisconsin Foodie" TV show, and possible Canadian spy, says the EU may have a point.

"Roquefort has to come from that region (of France)," he told NPR, because of the local fungus that gives cheese its sharp flavor. He also believes Lambic beer (beer made from cherries or raspberries) should only refer to beer that comes from the Pajottenland region of Belgium.

By Cherek way of thinking, all other fruit beers should just be called, well, fruit beer, which makes it sound stupid.

We already have issues like this with the whole sparkling white wine versus Champagne debate. Only sparkling white wine made in the Champagne region of northeast France can carry that designation. Anything made outside that region may not be called Champagne.

Now the EU is using the same Académie française logic — if it ain't made here, it ain't named here — and is going after our cheese under the"Appellation d'Origine Controlée" (Protected Designation of Origin). This is the EU regulation that lets French, Swiss, Dutch, and Italian regions protect their Brie, Gruyere, Gouda, and Parmesan names.

The cheese names we know may end up being renamed, despite 1) the fact that American cheese makers have spent a lot of money marketing those names, and 2) the First Amendment. The government can't tell American businesses what to call, or not call, their products.

(I honestly don't know if the First Amendment applies here, but I mention it because it makes me want to shout, "You can take my Brie when you pry it from my cold, gooey fingers.")

Telling American food makers they can no longer trade on the names they've spent decades and millions of dollars promoting seems rather unfair.

But if we don't comply? The EU have been making other trade agreements with other countries to block the sale of our own foods into their countries. They're basically "mean girling" us to our other trading partners.

"Like, OMG, you guys. I just heard that Austria told Germany who told Italy who told The Netherlands who told Spain that Portugal was taking Iceland to the dance, even though Iceland totally broke up with Belgium last month! Don't speak to Portugal for the rest of the week!"

A couple of years ago, according to the NPR story, a trade agreement between the EU and South Korea "banned the sale of U.S. feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola, and fontina to Korea." Similarly, Costa Rica will no longer allow the sale of American "provolone" or "Parmesan."

But what's good for the goose is not good for the gander ("Sauce bonne pour l'oie, n'est bonne pour le jars"). We can't ask for cheddar cheese to be protected under the same Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) rules, because Cheddar is not a region in Wisconsin.

In fact, it's a small village in Somerset, England, but because cheddar cheese is made all over the world, the EU is going to have a tougher time trying to slap it with a PDO designation.

But given the way we've already had to bend on the whole Champagne/sparkling white wine issue, I think we'll eventually have to start calling our favorite cheeses by other names.

But I'm not doing anything of the sort unless they take back Brussels sprouts.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, February 28, 2014

Diary of a Flu

Erik is out sick this week, so to commemorate his illness and rub it in a little, we're reprinting this particular column from 2005.

6:00 am - Stupid alarm clock. I really — oh jeez, I feel awful! Body aches and I think I'm going to faint. Where's the snooze button?

6:09 - Stupid alarm clock. Need to — oh no. Have the flu. Gaah, legs ache horribly. Can't even — Gaah! Room won't quit spinning.

6:10 - So freakin' cold in here. Must have fever

6:15 - Realize can't think in complete sentences. Personal pronouns and denominators dropped indiscriminately.

6:20 - Is this sign that fever is burning brain? Will I be silent witness to own mental deterioration as brain slowly parboils inside skull?

6:25 - No! That's stupid. I always hallucinate when I get the flu.

6:26 - There, see? I said "I." Not going stupid after all.

6:30 - Need to call the office and tell them not coming in.

6:45 - Did I actually call office, or just think that?

6:50 - There. Left a voice mail that I'm not coming in.

6:55 - Did I actually call office, or just think that?

7:00 - That should do it. Voice mail is so great. Inventor of voice mail should be given parade and a medal. Will organize that as soon as am well again.

7:05 - Did I actually call — oh wait, yes I did.

7:06 - This is awful. Need drugs or herbs or healer from Dark Ages with jar of leeches.

7:07 - Honey, wake up. I'm sick. Can you get me some Motrin?

7:10 - I'm so cold. It's freezing in here. And I'm out of blankets. Where's my stupid Motrin?

7:15 - Honey, I'm sick. Where's Motrin?

7:16 - What do you mean I didn't ask for Motrin?

7:17 - Never mind, I'll get it myself.

8:30 - How did I end up on floor? So cold.

1974 - Mommy, can I go play with Doug? He got a new bike and he said I could ride it.

9:30 - Still on floor. And it's freezing. And dark. Where's Motrin?

9:32 - Slowly our hero and his intrepid band made their way toward the land of Motrin. Their quest was to return the Ring to the Crack of Doom. Only way to stop horrible aching in joints.

9:35 - Think I'm in bathroom. If I could open my eyes a little further, I could tell. But that hurts my head. Ah, think I found the Motrin.

9:40 - Uh-oh. What happens if a guy takes Midol? It doesn't say anything on the stupid bottle about side effects. Should call poison control center.

9:45 - Never mind. Can't be that bad. I already feel like I'm going to die, so what's the worst that can happen?

9:50 - Have sudden urge to walk on beach with my mother and talk about personal freshness.

10:30 - How did I end up on bathroom floor? Was in bed just a few minutes ago. Feel awful. Better call office and let them — never mind. Did that already.

10:45 - Better go downstairs. Check on children.

10:50 - Wheee! Sliding down stairs face first is fun. I'll have to do that again later when I'm not so cold.

11:00 - Must be dead. Hear Mister Rogers voice calling me to other side. Wants me to be his neighbor.

11:05 - Wait. Am on living room couch. Kids watching Mister Rogers.

11:10 - If I'm so sick, how do I have the presence of mind to write all this down?

11:15 - Because I'm a writer. It's such a terrible burden to be such a creative genius. We're on all the time. Even when sick, I can still be funny.

11:20 - Two dogs walk into a bar. First one says "Ow my nose!"

11:21 - I crack myself up. Have to remember that for column.

11:30 - Oh no. Mister Rogers is over. Barely have strength to snap with him at end of show. Feel like crying whenever he says — oh goody, Teletubbies is on.

11:45 - Gaah, Teletubbies are on me! Get 'em off! Get 'em off!

11:46 - Oh wait, it's just the children.

11:47 - Kids, Daddy is sick. Can't crawl on me like that. Must stay on couch.

11:50 - Yes, I know I'm not using personal pronouns. You don't need to correct me about that, you're only four. And since when did you grow wings?

12:30 pm - Am still on living room couch. Don't know where wife is.

12:31 - Kids, where's Mommy?

12:38 - What do you mean, she's sick? She can't be sick. I need help. Tell Mommy I'm sicker.

1:00 - Ewww, you're right. She's sicker. Tell her she can clean it up when she's better.

1:30 - Do you know how to call Grandma? Good. Call Grandma and have her pick you guys up because Mommy and I are sick.

1:35 - What do you mean, Grandma got you 30 minutes ago? Then who have I been talking to?

1:40 - Gaah! Teletubbies! Teletubbies are on me!!

4:00 - I'd better call the office and tell them I'm not coming in.




The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Winter Swish-Whack, Take That, Week Two

It's week two of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia — also known as Vladimir Putin's Happy-Fun-Time-Papers-Please-Come-With-Us Sports Extravaganza — and it's time for another round of the Swish-Whack, Take That awards.

I give these awards every Olympics, summer or winter, in honor of US fencer Mariel Zagunis who, in 2004, won the country's first fencing gold medal in 100 years, but was only given 90 seconds of coverage on NBC. The awards are given to athletes who win gold under amazing circumstances, despite the odds, the critics, and even the fates working against them.

I'm giving the first Swish-Whack, Take That to that dottering old German speedskater, Claudia Pechstein, who, at the rickety old age of 41 years, 362 days, skated in her sixth Winter Olympics and finished fifth in the 5,000 meters race with a time of six minutes, 58.39 seconds. It would have been her seventh Games, but she missed the 2010 Olympics after a hinky blood result (she never actually failed a drug test, but was found guilty on circumstantial evidence).

Pechstein — who is four years younger than me — was actually in medal contention midway through the race, but she grew tired over the last few laps, and stopped to take a nap. Even so, she still beat her opponent, Yvonne Nauta, a 22-year-old Dutch skater, by three seconds. She was also less than three seconds away from taking the bronze.

There is no truth to the rumors that bronze medalist Carien Kleibeuker of The Netherlands wakes up at night, screaming, "Nay, Pechstein! Nay!"

At forty-two, still a medal contender, and skating on the world stage when most other skaters would have retired, the German Federal Police sergeant hasn't ruled out skating in Pyeongchang, China in 2018.

"Why would this be the end? I'm not going away," she told reporters. "I am still the best in my country and I am the oldest which isn't good for the young ones."

Maybe I should call Pechstein's award Swish-Whack, Oh Snap!

The next Swish-Whack, Take That goes to another geezer, 40 year old biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway. The man who has 52 Olympic and world championship medals picked up his 13th medal and eighth gold in the biathlon mixed relay this past Wednesday.

Just like Pechstein, this was his sixth Winter Games, although his first Olympics was in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway; Pechstein's was 1992 in Albertville, France. But the Grand Old Man of the ski-and-rifle set is still showing the youngsters how it's done.

The third Swish-Whack, Take That goes to French snowboarder Pierre Valutier who won Olympic gold in the snowboard cross event on Tuesday.

With a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

That's right, Vaultier won gold with the the very same knee injury that knocks NFL quarterbacks out for an entire season.

"Right now I feel alright," Vaultier told reporters. "If I can continue (with the injury), then I think I will. There is nothing sure yet, I will meet my surgeon afterwards and we will talk about that. Right now I feel okay and even better with a gold medal."

Vaultier currently plans on going through rehab for four weeks and then playing quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

Finally, since this year's awards have already taken a bit of a political turn, I'm going to follow it up with another. I'm giving one more SWTT to the protestors, activists, and athletes who have told the world about their disagreement with Putin's anti-gay propaganda laws.

Last week, I awarded it to all the athletes who wore rainbow-themed items at the Opening Ceremonies. And the athletes and activists have successfully defended their title for another week.

That's because the International Olympic Committee is now considering adding an anti-discrimination clause to all future bid rules based on Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.

According to a Reuters story, Principle 6 says "sport does not discriminate on any grounds, including race, religion, politics, or gender." Critics of the IOC said the organization has turned a blind eye to Putin's blatant discrimination, and now the Committee is considering the anti-discrimination rule as part of their Agenda 2020 initiative.

"It (Principle 6) is not something that is specifically looked at but if there is a groundswell of opinion it could be," IOC President Thomas Bach told Reuters.

A groundswell of opinion like that coming from various protestors and advocates who were arrested during the games. From politicians who spoke out against Russia's Draconian laws. From athletes who risked being carted off just for wearing a rainbow button or pin.

Last week, they received the award for standing against bigotry and hatred. And they're getting it again because the IOC, the lumbering dinosaur of unchanging tradition, has heard them and will do something as a result.

Because if anyone can get the IOC to change their mind about something, that definitely deserves an award.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Swish-Whack, Take That Awards for 2014 Winter Olympics

You can't go anywhere without hearing about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, so why should this column be any different? Regular readers know that during every Olympic Games, Winter or Summer, I give out the Swish-Whack, Take That awards to athletes who defy the odds, give the performance of their lives, and in general thumb their noses at critics and complainers.

The award is named for US fencer Mariel Zagunis, who won the U.S.' first fencing gold in 100 years in 2004, but was only given a 90 second highlight on NBC's coverage. I've given the awards out every Olympic Games ever since.

But she still won't follow me on Twitter.

The first Swish-Whack, Take That goes to all the athletes, Olympic committees, and even uniform designers who are thumbing their noses at Vladimir Putin's anti-gay propaganda laws.

In the Opening Ceremonies alone, the Greek athletes, the very first to enter the Olympic Stadium, wore rainbow-fingered gloves, presumably so they could better show off the middle one to Putin. The German team's uniforms were one big flashy rainbow, while athletes from all over the world wore various ribbons, buttons, and stickers to tell Russia and the rest of the world that Putin's law was ridiculous.

Swish-Whack, Take That number two is an unprecedented one, because it goes to a multi-national corporation, Coca-Cola. Their "America the Beautiful" commercial, which originally appeared during the Super Bowl, has been flying in the face of racism ever since it first showed.

The first time it aired, racists and bigots flooded Facebook and Twitter, decrying the use of "foreigners" and "those people" singing the song of freedom in "their language."

So I give this award gladly to Coca-Cola for refusing to bow to the pressure of a narrow-minded right wing who thinks our song should only be sung in English.

You know, English? The language that's a veritable melting pot of words from German, Spanish, French, Korean, Arabic, and Hindi.

Just like our country.

Swish-Whack, Take That number three goes to British snowboarder Jenny Jones, who secured her country's first-ever Olympic medal on snow by winning bronze in the slopestyle event. Past UK medals have come from figure skating, bobsled, and skeleton, making this their first ever snow medal.

Jones started snowboarding when she was 16 at a dry slope in Churchill, England. A dry slope is a ski slope that uses artificial ingredients, rather than real snow. She enjoyed it so much, she worked as a chalet maid so she could do it more often, but on real snow.

Because snowboarding wasn't very popular in Britain, Jones was one of only a few snowboarders for her country, so she traveled with women from other European countries to different competitions. And here she is 14 years later, giving Britain its first snow medal.

I'm calling the next award the Sniff-Hack, Wipe That award, because it goes to Polish ski jumper Kamil Stoch, who climbed out of a sickbed to take the gold, winning Poland's first individual medal since 1972.

Stoch told reporters he had woken up Sunday morning with a headache and a fever. He said the doctors "did everything they could to bring me to life, and I made it. They did a good job."

He flew 105.5 meters in the first round, 103.5 in the second, and amassed 278 total points, which was enough to put him on the center podium. When you've spent years of your life training and competing, all leading up to this moment, you don't let a little thing like a headache and fever keep you from it. But more impressive still is doing it better than everyone else who's well.

The final Swish-Whack, Take That award goes to all the women ski jumpers who competed in this year's Games, flying through the air at 55 miles per hour, to land over 100 meters away from their initial point of takeoff.

Just like in military combat, women ski jumpers have never been allowed to compete in the Olympics, because they told the sport was too risky, and that even the jarring landings could damage their fertility. (I'm guessing that was a while ago.)

That all changed when U.S. ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson became the very first Olympic women's ski jumper to fly through the air. While they didn't fly as far as the men, the silver medalist, Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, had a second jump of 104.5 meters, which was only one meter shorter than men's gold medalist, Kamil Stoch.

So congratulations to women ski jumpers everywhere for finally overcoming the silliness that has kept them from risking an "agony of defeat" crash just like the men have risked for over 90 years. Now they're free to crash just like the men.

Next week, more from Swish-Whack, Take That awards from the 2014 Winter Olympics.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, February 07, 2014

1 In 5 Women Disappointed With Proposal

A recent study says that one in five women are hard to please and will go through the rest of their lives being sorely disappointed because they didn't marry a rich husband who catered to their every whim.

Actually, I'm paraphrasing a bit.

The study by Vashi, an online British diamond store, says that one in five women were disappointed by their marriage proposal. The other four are perfectly happy and well-adjusted women with reasonable expectations of life and their spouses.

According to the London Daily Mail (official motto: Classier than the National Enquirer because we have a British accent), 21 percent of engaged, married, or divorced women were disappointed when their man popped the question, but didn't say anything, and now wish they had.

The top five disappointments were: 1) a too small ring, 2) no ring at all, 3) not proposing on bended knee, 4) a proposal that wasn't very "special," and 5) not asking her parents' permission for their daughter's hand in marriage.

Thirteen percent of those surveyed said they were so disappointed by their proposals that they wanted to cry afterward.

Similarly, 29% of the men wanted to cry after their girlfriends said yes, because they realized what materialistic shrews they were marrying.

The statistic that really jumped out at me and made me despair for future generations are that more than a third of the women said that "an engagement ring matters because it is a symbol of how much their partner loves them."

Because nothing says "I'll love you forever" like spending thousands of dollars on a precious stone harvested by child laborers in third world countries.

But why should men have to do all the buying and giving? Why are women the only ones who receive a gift? Don't the men deserve the same kind of consideration?

When my wife and I got married, she gave me a beautiful watch because we (mostly me) thought it wasn't fair that only the women received something. As a modern couple fast approaching the 21st century, we didn't want to be bound by 19th century thinking.

Plus I really liked that watch.

Now, I'm not saying the practice of proposing marriage is outdated or unnecessary. It's completely necessary. This is a story you're going to tell to your friends and family, children and grandchildren over the years. You don't want that story to be "we were watching the game at O'Malley's Sports Bar, and had just finished a couple of burgers. He leans over to me at halftime, stifles a oniony belch, and says 'so, you wanna?'"

Just remember, the proposal is only the first step in the rest of your lives together, and it doesn't matter whether it's a major event, a quiet question asked in private, or someone saying "uh oh" as you both stare at a pregnancy test pee stick.

If you're disappointed, say something. You've got years and years to coach your future husband on how to understand you and sweep you off your feet. He's also got years and years to coach you on the same thing.

If you think the ring was too small, there are no rules that the woman can't chip in. You're going to be combining incomes anyway, so you might as well start now.

And if you're complaining because the proposal wasn't as expensive and extravagant as you've dreamed of since you were a little girl, then you just need to dump him, because something tells me you're going to be too spoiled and demanding for him to make you happy in the first place. Break up with him now because your divorce five years later will be expensive.


Similarly, while I think three of the "five disappointments" are made by shallow princesses who will spend their entire lives bitter and angry, I'm completely with them on number two.

I say that as someone who actually made his marriage proposal without a ring. I didn't have any money, because I was a poor graduate student at the time, and I couldn't afford it.

So I asked her in private, we then drove up to meet her family so I could ask their blessing, and we ended up taking a detour and buying the ring on the way.

Now that I think about it, I managed to nail four of those five disappointments right off the bat (I didn't do number one, the too small ring, since she helped me pick out "the right one"), which means I may have made the worst proposal in the entire history of marriage.

If you'll excuse me, I have to go buy some more jewelry. Which says "I'm sorry for 20 years ago" more, a diamond tiara or crown and scepter?



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