Friday, July 27, 2012

Stay Out of the Attic!

Erik's oldest daughter turned 16 today, so we are republishing a column from 2001, when she was just 4 years old.

Ever since I was a small boy, and watched them on TV or in the theatre, I've always had strong feelings when it comes to horror and scary movies.

They scare the bejeezus out of me.

Whenever I make the stupid mistake of seeing a scary movie, I have nightmares, I jump at strange xsounds, and I'm convinced that all the monsters in every scary movie I've ever seen, including Jaws, are under my bed, on my side. They stay away from my wife's side, because they know she owns a shotgun and I do not.

It's weird, because I'm not afraid of psychological thrillers like Silence of the Lambs, Basic Instinct, or Copycat. In fact, I enjoy them, and have seen them several times, and not because Sharon Stone gets naked.

It doesn't matter whether I'm at home (the monsters are in my closet), at a friend's house (the monsters are in his closet), or at the movie theater (the monsters are hiding in the popcorn), I'll be scared witless.

But no one takes my fears seriously. Just a few weeks ago, my wife, my sister-in-law, and her husband absolutely demanded that I go see The Others, the Nicole Kidman-Tom Cruise pre-divorce production, and they promised me "it wasn't so bad."

The Others is a "supernatural suspense thriller" about a young mother (Nicole Kidman) and her children (two pasty-faced English kids) who live in a house on the Channel Islands. The kids believe there are ghosts in the house, and Kidman gradually realizes her kids may just be right.

One reviewer called it "the scariest thriller of the year."

"The scariest thriller of the year!" I informed my wife a week later. "You made me see the scariest thriller of the year."

The last time I watched a scary movie was August 1989, 24 hours before I was supposed to start graduate school. I hadn't seen a horror movie for several years, and thought I could watch The Shining with no problem. I told myself, "I'm 21 years old and a college graduate, so I should be able to handle The Shining."

When it was over, I went to my dad's house, where I was staying that summer, sleeping in my sister's old room. As you would expect, I had nightmares, and woke up in a sweat. I slowly pulled the covers back with my feet, since the movement would be hidden by the covers (monsters can only see you if you move), and did the unthinkable: I opened my eyes.

That's when I saw something hovering several feet above me — a small white blob. Of course, my eyesight is so bad without my glasses, it could have been the Queen. However, since it was 4:00 a.m., I knew there shouldn't be anything hovering several feet above me, including the Queen.

I didn't know what I was seeing, but I couldn't look away. I wanted to stare death in the face when it came. I lay there, listening to my thudding heart, sweating profusely. And if I didn't get to the bathroom fast, I was going to have a bigger problem than just having my life force sucked out by the Queen.

As time passed, I began to remember the setting of the room, the various items my sister had left there from years past, and it suddenly hit me: I wasn't looking at a ghostly white blob or the Queen at all! It was just a stupid Winnie the Pooh mobile she'd had when she was a baby. I guess she had been nostalgic for her days as an infant and hung the stupid thing over her bed. I had been lying there for 30 minutes, trying not to wet myself, waiting to be pounced on by Winnie the Pooh and his friends!

I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but was so disgusted at my own wussiness, I stormed out of the bed, stomping on several monster hands, and went to the bathroom. Afterward, I was still too scared to go back to sleep, so I watched infomercials until I had to get up anyway.

Until I was dragged kicking and screaming to The Others, it was the last time I ever watched a horror movie.

And I'm not going to see anymore until I get a shotgun of my own.

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.

My latest book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.


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Friday, July 20, 2012

My Short-Lived Career as a TV Futurist

It turns out I'm very bad at making predictions. For the longest time, when I was a young man filled with hubris and self-importance (as opposed to now, when I'm a middle-aged man filled with hubris and self-importance), I thought I could predict the future.

Not in a psychic, you-will-meet-a-tall-dark-stranger kind of way. But rather, I would look at a certain set of facts, spot a pattern that no one else had, and then predict with 100% certainty that a specific thing would happen, or not happen.

I thought I wanted to have a career as a futurist, which is a fancy way of saying I would get paid a lot of money to give speeches about what technology trends we could expect to see in the future.

In high school, I did play with the whole psychic prediction thing, and even took a little test. I scored 30%, which meant I was slightly better at guessing than the average guesser, but I did not have what the Gypsies call "the Second Sight." And I needed glasses for my First Sight.

The only prediction I did get right was that I was never going to be a futurist.

I began to realize how bad I was in 1998, after the Indianapolis Colts released quarterback Jim Harbaugh in favor of some new kid. Harbaugh had just taken the Colts to the AFC championship game, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Colts rewarded him by cutting him loose.

"What the hell are they doing, getting rid of the Comeback Kid?" I said with all the authority of a sports reporter. "Why are they turning the offense over to some hick out of Tennessee? Just because his dad played football doesn't mean he's any good."

I was right, because the Colts went 3 – 13 that next year. But after the 1999 season, when the Colts went 13 – 3, I decided that, okay, maybe Peyton Manning was a good pick.

But I was livid again when the Colts traded Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams at the end of 1998, and picked up another rookie for their running back.

"Edgerrin James?" I exploded. "What the hell kind of name is Edgerrin?"

Apparently it's a winning kind of name, because in 1999, he was part of that 13 – 3 team of Peyton Manning's.

So when the Colts got rid of tight end Marcus Pollard in 2004 and put Dallas Clark in as the primary tight end, I didn't say a word, other than to mumble, "good choice, good choice."

I'm not that good at picking favorite TV shows either. When "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" from Aaron Sorkin premiered at the same time as Tina Fey's "30 Rock," I went with Sorkin. His show was canceled before the season ended. "30 Rock" has won enough Emmy awards to beat Aaron Sorkin senseless. (In my defense, I have since become a huge "30 Rock" fan and have almost all the seasons on DVD.)

However, I'm not a complete prediction failure either. Remember, I scored 30% on my psychic predictability test, and that's about how well I've done picking TV shows too. I would like to go on the record as having picked "Highlander" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" to have long, successful runs.

While this does redeem my reputation somewhat, it doesn't speak very highly of my tastes in television.

Of course, I'm not the only one to make bad predictions. Many stories abound of publishers who thought they knew what the public liked and didn't like, only to find they had passed on some blockbuster properties.

Jack Canfield, author of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series was rejected over 140 times before he found his first publisher. Poet e.e. cummings' first book of poetry, "The Enormous Room," is considered a masterpiece of modern poetry, but cummings had to publish it himself, because 15 publishers rejected it.

And J.K. Rowling is now richer than the Queen of England, thanks to Harry Potter. But she nearly wasn't, because the first book was rejected by 12 publishers before it was bought by Bloomsbury in England, and only after the chairman's 8-year-old daughter read the first chapter and insisted on more.

I can only hope the 12 publishers are kicking themselves at passing up an empire-building series, because they thought they were good at predicting what "the public" wanted.

If they had only listened to me, maybe things would have turned out differently.

But I can safely predict they probably never will.

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.

My latest book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.


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Friday, July 13, 2012

Trust Means You Don't Spy On Your Spouse

Trust Means You Don't Spy On Your Spouse

Samantha Brick of London spies on her husband because she doesn't trust other women.

In a recent story she wrote in the London Daily Mail, Brick said her husband's business is not just his business, it's hers too. Every day, she snoops into his personal correspondence — checking his email, voicemail, snail mail, and text messages every single day — all under the guise of not trusting other women.

"It's not that I don't trust my husband, Pascal — I do. I just don't trust other women."

No, you don't trust your husband. If you really trusted your husband, you would trust him to be able to say no, and not get tricked into accidentally having sex with another woman.

"Oopsie, how did that get there? Oh, because my wife forgot to check my email today."

Brick's rationale for her lack of trust is Jools Oliver, wife of Jamie Oliver, host of the Naked Chef and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Jools apparently also pries into her husband's personal correspondence for the same reason.

Jools' first problem was marrying a guy called the "Naked Chef."

Brick said she doesn't see it as snooping, she sees it as protecting her marriage.

There are many ways to protect a marriage. Open communication is one of them, trust is another. And if you feel the need to monitor everything and everyone your husband talks to, you don't have either.

For further justification, Jools and Brick cite Vernon Kay, an English TV presenter, who admitted to his wife, Tess Daly, another TV celeb, that he had exchanged "racy" texts with five women. Understandably, Daly no longer trusts her husband.

I won't excuse what Vernon Kay did as "not as bad as cheating," or any other "boys will be boys" cliché. Vernon Kay violated his wife's trust. But for Jools and Brick to snoop on their husbands because another TV celebrity was sexting is like me refusing to go to my bank because another bank across town got robbed.

Brick said her experience has shown her "there are scores of women who are morally bankrupt when it comes to using every form of modern communication available to snare an already taken man."

In other words, this is all Alexander Graham Bell's fault. Apparently women were not morally bankrupted until that Scottish bastard hollered to his assistant, "Watson, come here. I need you!"

Okay, I'll give you that one.

We can also blame Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and even King Charles I, who created the Royal Mail Service in 1635 for women's chicanery and men's gullibility.

But it's obvious Brick doesn't actually trust her husband, and she doesn't hold men in high regard either. She said, "(m)en seem to have no idea about how pitifully easily they can be trapped by unscrupulous women hell bent on hooking any chap they fancy."

In other words, it worked on her husband once, so it might happen again.

Brick's statement is rather sexist. Men are not dim-witted sex addicts who are one racy text message away from having an affair with some woman they just met. A strong, dedicated man can recognize when he's getting into a situation he shouldn't, and get himself out of it. It shouldn't take a nagging shrew snooping into every inch of his life to make sure he keeps his promise.

I saw an ad for a wedding ring that had the word "MARRIED" deeply engraved on the inside. The idea was that if a philandering husband ever tried to remove the ring to pick up a strange woman, his marital status was branded on his finger.

This is a way for women to keep their husbands honest when they weren't around. (Although according to Brick, this may be an open invitation to the rampaging hordes of sluts who are all clamoring to have sex with your husband.)

But honestly, wives, if your husband is the type of man where you have to brand him to keep him from cheating, is he really the man you want to be married to? If that's all that stands between him and violating his marriage vows, then he's not the right man for you.

And men, if your wife is the kind of woman who has to brand you, sift daily through your personal life, and keep tabs on you every second of the day, then she's not the woman you should really be with either.

For the men who don't mind it, and the women who think it's alright, hopefully you'll find each other soon and can start a beautiful non-trusting relationship together.

Just don't let your spouses find out.

My first book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is now in its 2nd edition. It's available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.


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Friday, July 06, 2012

Lifeguard Fired for Saving a Man, Internet Saves Him

Lifeguard Fired for Saving a Man

Thomas Lopez was a lifeguard. He guarded lives. If someone's life was in danger, it was his job to save that person.

Except now he's been fired for saving a life.

Because he broke the rules to do it.

Lopez was working at Hallandale Beach, a city north of Miami, for Jeff Ellis Management, an aquatics company that hires lifeguards and stations them at beaches they have contracts with. Lopez was working at his station when he was summoned to save a man who was in danger of drowning in an "unprotected" area of the beach, where city officials have said visitors swim at their own risk.

Lopez ran 500 yards to the area, only to find that several other people had pulled the man from the water. So he and an off-duty nurse tended to the man until paramedics arrived.

On Monday, Lopez was fired for leaving his station to cover an area they were not contracted to cover.

Everyone who heard the story thought the company acted reasonably. After all, rules are rules.

No, I'm kidding. There was a media crapstorm and social media lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree over the idiocy of the decision.

"People are more important than your bureaucratic rules," said the Internet. (I'm paraphrasing a bit.)

After the incident, two other lifeguards said they would have done the same thing, and were fired. So three more quit in protest.

The city of Hallandale Beach also thought lives were more important than rules. Peter Dobens, a spokesman for the city, said, while the swimmer was in an area marked, "Swim at Your Own Risk," it shouldn't matter when someone is in danger.

"It’s always been city policy whether it’s in a protected or unprotected area to respond to an emergency," said Dobens.

Dobens said Jeff Ellis Management has been employed by Hallandale Beach since 2003, for $339,000 per year, but that their contract runs out on September 30, 2012.

"I'm told the city was planning on going out for bids on [a new contractor] to see if we can get a better deal," Dobens said.

Something tells me they're going to get it.

After the outcry, Jeff Ellis, owner of Jeff Ellis Management, said they would review Lopez's firing and try to fix the problem. "If we find our actions on the part of the leadership team were inappropriate, we will rectify it based upon the information that comes forward," he said in an interview just as the crapstorm was starting.

By "review, I assume that means management will pull their heads out of where they are currently housed, blink furiously at the bright lights, and then do the common sense thing.

Which they did, sort of.

Today, Lopez was offered his job back, which he politely declined.

"Now that [the firing] is public, they want to fix it. That's shady to me," Lopez told ABC News a few days ago. "If I never said anything, they never would have acted."

I can't blame Lopez for taking a stand. Jeff Ellis Management didn't do the right thing because it's the right thing. They did the right thing because they were shamed out of doing the wrong thing.

It was less of a "oh, should we not have done that?" and more of a "oh crap, they saw us!"

Ellis' feeble explanation was that they have limited zones for a reason: their responsibility is to provide lifeguard services for their specific zones, so they don't disrupt the service, which could potentially endanger swimmers.

"We limit what we do to the protected swimming zones that we've agreed to protect," Ellis told WPTV, an area TV station, on Monday.

In other words, Lopez was essentially fired for not following the rules about staying inside the zone.

In other words, the Jeff Ellis Management company values strict adherence to the rules more than they value a human life.

In other words, Lopez would still have his $8.25 an hour job if he had let the man die.

I can see why the Internet got upset.

It was Edmund Burke who said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Thomas Lopez chose not to do nothing.

Jeff Ellis Management wanted him to do nothing. By firing him for not following orders, they took that unintended first step toward evil. But thanks to the outraged roar of the general public, Jeff Ellis Management blinked first and backed down, for one simple reason:

All that is necessary for the defeat of evil is to piss off the Internet.

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.

My latest book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.


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Monday, July 02, 2012

IndyCar Team Fresh Engine Status Update (Subtitle: Yeah, That's a Thing)

From the IndyCar Media Center:

INDYCAR provided an update today regarding the status of fresh engines remaining for each team for the remainder of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.

Car — Entrant — Driver — Fresh Engine Status
No. 2 — Team Penske — Ryan Briscoe — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 3 — Team Penske — Helio Castroneves — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 4  — Panther Racing — JR Hildebrand — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 5 — KV Racing Technology — E.J. Viso — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 6/7 — Dragon Racing — Katherine Legge/Sebastien Bourdais — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 8  — KV Racing Technology — Rubens Barrichello — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 9 — Target Chip Ganassi Racing — Scott Dixon — On Engine 5
No. 10 — Target Chip Ganassi Racing — Dario Franchitti — 1 Engine Remaining 
No. 11 — KV Racing Technology w/SH  — Tony Kanaan — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 12 — Team Penske — Will Power — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 14 — A.J. Foyt Enterprises — Mike Conway — On Engine 5
No. 15 — Rahal Letterman Lanigan   — Takuma Sato — On Engine 5
No. 18 — Dale Coyne Racing — Justin Wilson — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 19  — Dale Coyne Racing — James Jakes — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 20 — Ed Carpenter Racing — Ed Carpenter — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 22 — Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing — Oriol Servia — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 26 — Andretti Autosport — Marco Andretti — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 27 — Andretti Autosport — James Hinchcliffe — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 28 — Andretti Autosport  — Ryan Hunter-Reay — 2 Engines Remaining
No. 38 — Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing — Graham Rahal — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 67 — Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing — Josef Newgarden — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 77 — Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports — Simon Pagenaud — On Engine 5
No. 78 — Lotus-HVM Racing — Simona de Silvestro — On Engine 5
No. 83 — Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing    — Charlie Kimball — 1 Engine Remaining
No. 98 — Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian — Alex Tagliani — 2 Engines Remaining

Pursuant to Rule 15.1.4, Each Full-Season Entrant will be provided with no more than five fresh built Engines throughout each year covered by an engine service agreement. Using more than five fresh Engines in a season will result in a penalty. Engines beyond the fifth fresh Engine may be fresh or part-used.

Pursuant to Rule 15.6.2, Using more than five fresh Engines in a season will be considered Unapproved Engine Change-Outs.

So what does this mean?

In basketball parlance, anyone who is on engine 5 just committed their 5th foul. One more foul, and they're out. One more blown engine, and their season is done. (Sort of.)

For Scott Dixon, Mike Conway, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, and Simona de Silvestro, it means no more crashes. It means they had better have some clever engineers who can cannibalize the other four engines and come up with a new one. (Knowing what little I know about these IndyCar teams, they all do, and this doesn't mean anything more than their driver had better come across with some late-night pizza for keeping them in on the track.)

Now, the teams can come up with as many used engines as they want, and as many cannibalized engines as they want, and I would imagine that's what happens anyway. Still, it's interesting to see that IndyCar is paying such close attention to this, or that this is even a thing they monitor.

While there's a lot of on-track strategy on race day, this takes that strategy element off-track too. This is where racing is a lot like a chess match.