Friday, January 28, 2011

WARNING: Top Secret Column

WARNING: Top Secret Column

Erik is out of the office this week on a secret assignment, so we are reprinting a column from 2005.

I wanted to be a spy when I was a kid.

I wanted to drive around in cool cars, wear sharp suits, drink vodka martinis, and have beautiful women throw themselves at me, a la James Bond. After I watched my first Bond movie, I was convinced of the awesome power of suits and vodka martinis.

I knew I would be a good spy, because at age nine, my friend Eric Pratt and I snuck around the neighborhood on summer nights, trying to annoy our neighbors, who we imagined were actually enemy spies. We didn't know who they were spying for, only that they were enemy spies. As we saw it, it was our patriotic duty to thwart these ne'er-do-wells from their villainy. (This was also our battle cry. We were not very cool.)

We were pretty good at spying though. We snuck around from backyard to backyard, and not once were we ever captured. We'd get barked at by the occasional dog, but that's to be expected from highly trained enemy attack dogs. Scottish Terriers can be extremely vicious.

Our spying efforts were based on the ability to ring people's doorbells and run away without getting caught. We even plotted our escape routes and meeting points before each ring. We got good enough at it that we could do 15 doorbells in a single night. We had a few close calls, like the people who answered their door too quickly, or the people we hit three times in a night.

We eventually had to stop after the parents of one of our so-called "friends" ratted us out after we hit his house one night when he couldn't go out with us. But my dreams of being a spy never died.

When I was 13 years old, I got a book about spies. It was a behind-the-scenes look at what spies did and how they were recruited. There was even a test that I could take to see if I had the temperament to be a spy. I figured out that by answering 'C' to all the questions, I would achieve the ideal score for a spy. And it only took me three tries to do it. The problem was, I didn't know who to tell about my test score or that it showed that I was qualified to drive cool cars and sleep with beautiful women. So I thought about writing a letter.

"Dear CIA, I took a test in the 'Handbook for Spies' book recently. I'm sure you're familiar with the book, since it was written by someone in your line of work. I achieved a score of 82 on the test, which said that I would make an ideal spy. Do you have an opening for any agents? If so, could you please tell me where I can pick up my suits and car? Sincerely yours, [Name stricken for security purposes]."

I decided against this approach, since an enemy spy might intercept my letter at the post office. Also, I didn't have the CIA's address.

But I was undeterred. I continued reading James Bond books and watching his movies. I even bought a plastic gun that fired suction cup darts, because it looked like the kind of gun Bond carried. For hours, I practiced concealing it, pulling it out quickly, and making difficult shots in my room. The end result was that if I ever encountered an enemy spy who could be stopped by a suction cup dart to the forehead, I had nothing to worry about.

That all changed when I finally read a newspaper article about spies, and how James Bond basically over-glamorized the spy business. "It's not really like that," the article said. "It's all about sitting in windowless rooms, analyzing information. You never get to drive cool cars, and beautiful women don't throw themselves at you on a daily basis."

That article popped my dream of becoming a spy like a balloon on broken glass. I was adrift, without any motivation or long-term goals for weeks. But soon, I was embarked on a new career. One of glamour, intrigue, and even more beautiful women. Thanks to the TV show, "Magnum P.I.," I had a new goal in life.

"Dear Private Eye Agency, I would like to be a private investigator. I am very good at gathering secrets, and I already know how to shoot a plastic Walther PPK dart gun. Do you have an opening for any investigators? If so, could you please tell me where I could pick up my red Ferrari? Sincerely, [Name stricken for security purposes]."

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Facebook

A Beginner's Guide to Facebook

So are you on The Facebook yet? It's all the rage with the young people these days, them and their Tweeters, and the MeSpaces, and the YouTubers. The Facebook is one of them, whatchmacallit, social Internetworks.

If you're reading these words, chances are you're on Facebook. Almost a 1 in 10 chance. As of January 2011, there are over 600 million people on Facebook, and some experts believe they will reach 700 million users by June. The world's population is already at 6.8 billion, which means 10 percent of the world will be on Facebook by May.

But you're not on it yet?

If you're not on Facebook yet (it actually was called TheFacebook until 2005), you're missing out on the biggest social network devoted to gossip, chatting, and sharing photos of children and grandchildren in the entire history of the world, followed closely by the Methodist Church Ladies Cookie Ministry.

Facebook is a way to connect with friends from today, friends from high school and college, people in your neighborhood, or even people around the world you share a common interest with, like, say, mothers in their 40s who have an unhealthy love for Edward and Jacob from Twilight.

Facebook lets you connect with anyone you want, and share information about yourself. You can provide status updates about the fun you're having (or not having) with the people you love (or don't love). You can ask and answer questions, provide encouragement and support, and even upload photos of you and your family out having fun.

This last feature replaced the interminable slide shows many people were invited to back in the 70s and 80s, after returning from vacations, making their friends sit through a narrated 3-hour long odyssey of KOA Campgrounds We Visited This Summer, which usually included an awkward number of photos of their children staring at the ground, sulking that they had to go on this lame trip instead of hanging out at the Dairy Queen with their friends. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Facebook started out in February 2004 as a social network strictly for college students; no one was allowed to join if they didn't have an email address from a North American college or university. But after Facebook members graduated from college, they lost their Facebook access, like some old geezer from Logan's Run. However, they were soon reunited with their college friends when Facebook opened up to everyone over the age of 13 in 2006.

Things took a turn for the worse, however, when the Generation Y users of Facebook discovered that — horror of horrors! — their parents were joining the ever-popular network. These younger generations soon discovered that their moms and dads were using Facebook to check up on them, look at the photos of what they had been doing over the weekend, and publicly questioning their taste in friends and the wisdom of making upside down margaritas the day before a big meeting.

In fact, so many moms and dads have joined Facebook — even their moms and dads are joining and disapproving of their children's life choices — that the median age of Facebook users is 38 years old. The fastest growing demographic on the network is women between the ages of 50 and 60.

But you're not on it yet?

Most people who avoid Facebook do it because "I don't want other people to know what I'm doing. I just don't want people to know my business."

There are two ways you can keep people from knowing your business on Facebook. First, you can always block people from seeing your photos and status updates. And second, don't tell people your business on Facebook.

My biggest complaint about Facebook haters is the stuff they complain about, and are adamant that they will never, ever do, are things that people just don't do on Facebook.

You don't have to tell people what you had for breakfast. You don't have to tell people you're taking the dog for a walk. You don't have to tell people that you went to the store and bought some kicky new boots.

Despite what you may have heard, Facebook does not monitor your life and automatically tell all your friends about that shameful thing you did last month.

You know what it is. Don't try to deny it. Everyone knows, and they're all embarrassed for you. That's why no one can look you in the eye when they see you in the store.

Twitter told us all about it.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Phone It In Sunday: Leaked Outtakes From The Green Hornet

LA comedy troupe, The Station, has a channel on YouTube, where they include little gems like this one. BrettTheIntern nailed the Seth Rogen imitation. Look for more The Station videos here during Phone It In Sunday.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Explaining the Facts of Life

Explaining the Facts of Life

I had to explain a few things about the male human body to my son this week. Nothing he isn't already aware of. He's eight, after all. But we had to discuss some of the. . . scientific terms versus the "family terms" we use.

It was an awkward discussion made even more awkward by the fact that my 10-year-old and 14-year-old daughters were at the table.

My wife and I made a deal before we ever had kids. She would talk to any daughters about the facts of life, and I would talk to any sons.

I'm easily embarrassed, and get all red in the face whenever my daughters tell me what they just went shopping for at Victoria's Little Sister's Secret. My wife is just as uncomfortable when dealing with boy issues, so the arrangement was fair.

We even went so far as to discuss who would take over, should one of us meet an untimely end.

Me: Well, we could get your sister to talk to the girls about it.

My wife: Yeah, but she lives in Fort Wayne, and it's not like she can just race down here whenever the girls have a question.

Me: No, but maybe she could schedule a time to come down.

My wife: You just have to give her enough notice. Usually about two or three weeks.

Me: I think I can do that.

My wife: So who do you think should handle the boy talk?

Me: Hmm. My brother could do it, but he's in Chicago, and I'm still not entirely convinced he knows everything.

My wife: He's 30 and just got married.

Me: He'll always be a little kid playing with his Transformers to me.

So far, we haven't had to call in any pinch hitters, and have been able to field most discussions. But the biggest scare was a few years ago, when our younger daughter asked "where do babies come from?"

We had gotten some great advice about talking about the facts of life: only answer the question you've been asked.

"Daddy, where do babies come from?" she asked again, ignoring the sweat that had appeared on my forehead.

"Why don't you ask Mommy that one?" I said, after my heart started.

"They come from a mommy's tummy," said my wife.

"You mean they're not adopted?" Our kids are adopted, and until this very moment, she assumed all kids were adopted.

"Nope. They all come from a mommy's tummy."

"Oh, okay." Crisis averted. I heaved a sigh of relief. And we only answered the question that was asked.

"You realize one of these days she's going to ask how the babies got in there in the first place, right?" asked my wife.

I shivered slightly. "Maybe so. But that's your department."

We've been lucky in the last few years. Even though our kids are home schooled, our oldest goes to a charter school, where she's been able to learn all kinds of valuable information that we haven't had to teach her.

Luckily, she hasn't shared her knowledge with her little brother and sister.

Unluckily, they expect me to.

Here's the problem: we're a close family. We eat dinner at the table together every night, we talk about specific family issues and events, and we try not to keep secrets from each other.

Which is an awful thing to do to a father.

Because when my son starts asking at the dinner table what certain things are called, this ends up being a discussion everyone hears.

It's not so much that this isn't a discussion for girls. I think it's important they know what certain things are called. I just don't think I should have to be the one to explain it. I mean, we had a deal.

But this time, I did something no one expected, and one that will — I hope — get me out of future discussion for years to come: I gave a full and frank discussion about boy parts, giving the scientific names, the family names, and even a few of the playground names.

I explained why some words were appropriate, and others were not. I explained why they could not use certain words, even though they now knew them, and why I was not going to have this talk more than once, so everyone had just better pay attention. I finished the discussion, wiped my forehead, took a big drink of water, and said, "Now, are there any questions?"

"But Daddy, I just wanted to know why they're called 'peanuts.'"

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Lake Superior State University Releases 2011 List of Banished Words

Lake Superior State University Releases 2011 List of Banished Words

Every year, Lake State Superior University releases its List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use, and General Uselessness. And for the past several years, I've had some fun with it, heartily agreeing with the words to be banned, and making fun of their general existence.

This year, however, I took serious issue with the list. All I can think is that certain words are being attacked by people who hate technology, are stuck in the 70s, or think "FaceSpace" is for young people to tell everyone what they had for breakfast.

Some of these words were dismissed, I think, by people who still worry about "hooligans" causing a "hoopla" in their "dungarees."

Listen, if the world has passed you by, that's fine. If your great-great-grandkids are using words you don't understand, or frighten and confuse you, that's okay; you're still a good person. But just because you don't use certain words — or modern technology — doesn't mean the rest of us have to quit.

So, let me "refudiate" some of the entries on this list.

We'll just start with "refudiate." It's not even a real word. It was made up by someone who quit her job halfway before it was over so she could travel. A linguistic mashup of "refute" and "repudiate," this new "word" (and I'm being generous by calling it that) has been used by everyone else in the country with a sense of irony with one exception: the Oxford American Dictionary called "refudiate" the word of the year for 2010, I think mostly out of a sense of snobbery and spite. It's just "stupidiate."

While we're on the subject of right-wing female politicians who make up awful words, LSSU took a shot at "Mama Grizzlies" too. I can get on board with that.

I'm surprised that a lot of women have adopted the term for themselves with such eagerness. I had always understood that if I compared a woman to a fat, hairy, enraged beast that can eat an entire moose in one sitting, she'd kill me with one swipe of her big meaty paw.

I'm just sayin'.

Or at least I would, but LSSU isn't letting me "just sayin'" anything about it. I happen to like the phrase. It's a way to say, "I'm just pointing out what everyone else is thinking," or "it's the elephant in the room, and I'm the only one with the intestinal fortitude to speak up. Mostly."

I've used it on many different occasions. It's a great way to lighten up the mood or even add some punch to a joke. But I can see how it's being overused. I will reluctantly agree that it may be nearing its end, but I'll be one of the last people to let it go.

But what about the words that are being needlessly banished?

Using "Google" and "Facebook" as verbs got the axe. I agree with Facebook being booted, but Google? Come on, it's one of those words that just naturally evolved into a new word? It's certainly easier to say than "searched on a search engine." Saying things like "I Googled that story" or "I just Googled myself," not only convey an understanding of what we just did on the computer, but they give us something to giggle about because we just said something that sounded dirty.

Why can't this become one of those words that is just used because the language is naturally evolving into something new because of external forces around us? Google has been one of the biggest reasons how we use the Internet. I think using it as a verb is a natural progression of the language.

Besides, the people who hate it just need to man up about it.

Or at least they could if LSSU hadn't given "man up" a swift kick in the Google.

One male contributor said the phrase was "bullying and sexist." Another contributor, who made sure we knew he had a Ph.D., called it "a chest-thumping cultural regression fit for frat boys stacking beer glasses."

For one thing, it's not sexist. It's a way of saying "get tough, get mean, and don't let this thing get you down." Women are expected to "woman up" when appropriate, so I don't see the problem. Men who start whining that something is sexist need to man up themselves.

For another thing, we frat boys stacked beer cans, not glasses, because otherwise they shattered and cut our little tootsies.

So, both of you can just man up, or save your sniveling for your Pretty Dolly Tea Party.

I'm just sayin'.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Phone It In Sunday: LisaNova Does "Sarah Palin's CRAZY Rant!"

I love LisaNova, and watch her videos regularly. Unfortunately, I can't post them all on here since 1) I'm not a spastic fanboy, and 2) my 14-year-old daughter reads my blog.

Still, there are a few gems that I can't help but share. Sarah Palin's CRAZY Rant is one of those. I love the woman who plays Bristol Palin. Pay close attention to the way she constantly stares at the camera. Priceless.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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