Friday, January 31, 2014

One Space After A Period, Not Two

"Kid, what's this I hear about putting only one space after a period?" asked my friend, Karl.

Huh? I said. His question shook me from my reverie. We were sitting in First Edition, our favorite literary bar, for the open mic reading, and I was half-listening to some guy read a short story about how he got into a car accident with former Pacers legend Reggie Miller.

What are you talking about?

"I said, what is this nonsense about putting only one space after a period?" I stared at him blankly. "In writing, you dolt. We're writers. We're sitting in a writer's bar. We're listening to some skinny kid talk about fake car accidents. What else would I be talking about?" Short Story Guy looked up at us from his pages, flustered. His girlfriend shot Karl a dirty look.

So what about it? I said.

"I just heard from my editor yesterday that I'm supposed to be putting only one space after a period at the end of a sentence instead of two."

Well, yeah. I thought everyone knew that.

"Apparently I didn't," Karl said. "And neither does anyone else in their 50s."

You're in your 60s.

"Shut up, Kid." Karl waved down Kurt the bartender. "Can I get one more beer, please, Kurt?"

Don't you mean two? I asked.

"One space, one beer." I held up two fingers to Kurt, who nodded. He's gotten used to us by now.

What are you even talking about? I've only been half listening. I have no idea what you're going on about.

"I got my latest manuscript back today from some wet-behind-the-ears punk of an editor who 'informs me' that I only need to put one space after a period, instead of two, like I've been doing for the last 48 years."

Yeah, so?

"So when did that happen?"

It's been like that ever since I've been using a computer for the last 27 years. We don't need to do that anymore. We haven't since the typewriter days.

"How do you figure?"

It has to do with the fonts of a computer versus a typewriter, I explained. Kurt stopped nearby and pretended to polish a glass. Short Story Guy's girlfriend turned our way, having heard the Reggie Miller story many times before.

On a typewriter, every letter is the same width, I explained. The "i" takes up the same space as the "m." To help separate the sentences visually, we had to put two spaces after a period. But on a computer, each letter is a different width, and the computer automatically makes a slightly larger space after a period. That means we don't need to put two spaces after a period.

"That's just stupid," said Karl. "Why should I have to change the way I do things, just because some punk editor who's younger than my grandson says I should?"

Because it's wrong, I said. It's ineffective, it wastes time, and it's completely unnecessary. It's wrong because every style manual in this country says so. It's wrong because it wastes so much space. I'd hate to think how many extra pages are printed and wasted because of those spaces. The extra pages even take up extra space on a computer's hard drive.

"No, they don't," said Karl. "They're just spaces, so they don't take up any room."

How do you even know? You just found out about this thing today, but now you're an authority on computer disk storage?

"All I know is this is what I learned back in high school in 1966. If the rules were good enough then, they're good enough now."

Seriously? You're basing your computer usage on how you learned to use a typewriter five decades ago? That's like telling someone how to use a washing machine when your only frame of reference is banging your shirts on a rock down at the river.

"Hey, what was good enough for Mrs. Carey is good enough for me."

Mrs. Carey's VCR probably flashed "12:00" well into the 1990s, I said. Short Story Guy's girlfriend moved a couple seats away from us.

"Kid, when you've got a system that works, you stick with it. You don't just make changes for change's sake."

But that doesn't mean you stay with something just because it's how you've always done it. Everyone under 35 is doing one space, why do you have to be so stubborn?

"Sometimes you just gotta stick with the classics."

That's why I keep you around, old man.

Karl raised his bony middle finger at me. "It's your round, Kid."

Fine, make it a double.




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, January 24, 2014

One-Sided Conversation With My Computer

"Turn on Speak-To-Text."

"No, not Sprinkle Tattoos, Speak-To-Text! Is Sprinkle Tattoos even a thing?"

"Cancel search."

"Stupid computer, I said turn on Speak-To-Text!"

"No, do not call Sparkle Twinks!"

"Because I don't even know who that is."

"No, I do not want to call my mother!"

"I know I called her last week."

"Speak-To-Text!"

"Speak-To— never mind. Open email."

"Open! Email!"

"Jeez, I can't believe how hard this— no, do not email Jesus."

"Email Paul."

"Not the Apostle. How'd he even get in my contacts?"

"Email Paul."

"Next one."

"Next one."

"Enter."

"Okay, write. 'Hey, Paul, wanted to see if you got those photos I sent you last—'"

"I didn't say send! Stupid computer."

"Email Paul."

"'Paul, sorry about that. I'm trying to use my voice recognition program to write this email, but the stupid thing doesn't seem to understand me. You got my last message before I was done because the program thought I wanted to send—dammit!'"

"EMAIL PAUL!"

"Paul, 'I'm going to try this one more time. I'm trying to use this #&@% Speak-To-Text program on my computer, but it seems to hate me. Every time I say, uh, the word that means to process my messages, it actually executes the command."

"'Anyway, I wanted to see if you received those photos I, uh, delivered electronically to you last week. If you want me to print any—"

"No, don't print!"

"Don't print that either!"

"Stop printing things!"

"Please, just stop."

"Crap, and now delete those last four sentences."

"Not everything, just the sentences about printing."

"Cancel print!"

"Forget it, I'm just going to call him."

"Call Paul."

"No, not Sparkle Twinks."

"We've been over this. Not her either."

"Because I talked to her last week."

"Since when did a computer start worrying about who I call? What are you, my conscience?"

"Cancel search for Jiminy Cricket."

"I don't want to wish upon a star either."

"I just want to email my friend Paul."

"What do you mean you can't do that? And my name's not Dave."

"Let me just call Paul."

"Open FaceTime."

"Open FaceTime."

"OPEN! FACE! TIME!"

"Forget it. I'll just do it myself. Where's my cell phone?"

"Oh no, it's too late for that."

"Uh-uh. You had your chance, buster. With your premature sending and your printing and stupid Sparkle Twinks. "

"Don't call her. I don't even know who that is."

"No, I do not want to see pictures of kitties."

"You know what? Shut yourself off. I'll drive over to his house. I just need the direct—dammit!"




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, January 17, 2014

Another Reason Not To Order Pea Soup

Erik is out of the office this week on a speaking trip. So we're reprinting a column from 2004, in the hopes that he's paying attention when paying his restaurant bill.

If I had to give one important piece of advice today, it would be this:

Tip your waitstaff.

These people are your waiters and waitresses, bartenders and baristas (that’s Italian for"person who pours you a fancy $4 cup of coffee and then has the stones to ask for a tip afterward”). They are the people who have devoted this stage of their career path — and in some cases, their entire careers — to serving you, providing you with nourishment, and ensuring you have a pleasant dining experience.

And yet they do it for less than $2.50 an hour, plus tips. So you would think that diners would remember this, and tip their waitstaff appropriately. Unfortunately, many diners have the keen awareness of a steamed clam, so it’s not very likely.

Here is the basic rule of restaurant tipping: 15% for regular restaurants and 20% for nice restaurants. If you got exceptional service, increase it by 5%. If you got poor service, decrease it by 5%. Do NOT, under any circumstances, ever fail to leave a tip. You wouldn’t want your boss to refuse to pay you because you turned in your weekly report a day late; don’t deprive your waitstaff of a living just because they made a mistake.

I remember my own days as a bartender, working in a small, blue-collar bar that was so smoky, I was a second-hand smoke class action lawsuit unto myself. While most of my customers understood the concept of tipping, and practiced it regularly, it was a complete mystery to one regular named Walter.

Walter was a huge, burly guy who worked as a bouncer at the local strip club. Everyone could easily picture him killing a grizzly bear with his bare hands. He also had this strange idea that tipping me would make other people think he was gay. His solution was to never tip me, although he tipped our female bartender lavishly. My response was to give him minimal service. And to spread rumors that he wore women’s undergarments.

It was during this time that I learned how important it is, not only to tip your waitstaff, but to be kind to them as well. This means no yelling, no insults, no trying to make yourself feel better at their expense. This is especially important if they have not brought your food out to you yet.

Why? Because every waiter and waitress learns very early how to spit in someone’s food and then hide it before they bring your plate to you. And if it’s one of those restaurants that manage to attract a lot of jerks — usually tourist restaurants in vacation spots — then they get a lot of practice.

Did you yell at your waitress and nearly bring her to tears when she brought your drinks? Then why was she smiling so much when she delivered your plate? A warm sense of forgiveness and love?

Not hardly. It’s more likely that she hawked a big one into the garlic mashed potatoes you were yelling about earlier.

I think waiters and waitresses should be allowed to add on a PITA charge when diners are particularly demanding, rude, or just being a pain in the, well, you know.

Ask your waiter for six separate checks for your group and then insist on paying them all yourself? 5% PITA charge.

Ask for something not on the menu? 10% PITA charge.

Order something and then insist you never ordered it? 15% .

Yell at your waiter or waitress? 25% PITA charge and you're getting to get a "talking to" by Walter.

While the PITA charge would primarily be a way for waiters and waitresses to be compensated for some of their more trying customers, it would also serve as an educational tool to those people whose parents never taught them proper restaurant manners.

You know who you are.

Some restaurants have already implemented this charge, and they tell you so right on their menu. Do you see that line that says "18% gratuity automatically added for parties of 6 or more?" That’s the manager’s polite way of saying, "We already don't like you, so we'll just add the PITA charge now."

Look, I know I said it once before, but this piece of advice is so important, it’s worth repeating: Always, always, ALWAYS tip your waitstaff.

You never know exactly what they’re spitting into your food back there.




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, January 10, 2014

Just Say No To Lightbulbs

"Welcome to 2014 everyone," said the tweet. "Remember: pot is now legal and lightbulbs aren't."

Russ, the tweet's author, was referring to Colorado's new law allowing recreational marijuana use, and the federal ban on 60 and 40 watt incandescent lightbulbs. Both laws went into effect on January 1st. The ban was part of a 2007 law that eliminated 100 watt incandescents on January 1, 2012, and 75 watt bulbs exactly one year later.

This was a lot different from the 1970s, where we had been frightened by anti-drug films, but used incandescents like they grew on trees. Now, nearly four decades later, everything had been turned on its head. You could buy marijuana for recreational use, but we were about to start a War On Bulbs that could make the War On Drugs look like a slap fight.

I called one of my more disreputable friends who knew about such matters, to see if he could help me find someone to interview for this column. Two hours later, he texted me back, directing me to a greasy diner, with a few more details.

I waited at my table, pushing around some scrambled eggs and underdone hash browns for 20 minutes, but it didn't look like my guy was going to show. I was just getting up when a man who had been sitting two tables away came over and sat down.

"You the guy looking for candy?" he said.

"No, I just ate," I said.

He shook his head. "No, candy. Lightbulbs. In-CAN-descents. Can-dee."

"Um, sure?"

He sighed. "You're the journalist, right?"

"Are you Corky's friend?" I asked. The man nodded silently.

"What's your name?" I said.

"Uh-uh. No real names."

"What should I call you then?"

"Willis Whitney," said the man.

"You mean the guy from 'Breaking Bad?'"

"No, that's Walter White. Willis Whitney invented a treatment for lightbulb filaments to improve its performance in 1903. I took his name as my street name."

"So not the 'Breaking Bad' guy?"

"No."

"What if I made jokes about 'Breaking Bulb?'"

"I'd shank you."

"Understood."

We stood up and I threw some bills on the table. Whitney was taking me to a bulb dealer's house so I could get a better understanding of how the incandescent black market worked. As we drove, Whitney told me a few basics.

"Candy costs anywhere from 10 to 20 bucks apiece, depending on the wattage. The brighter the bulb, the more it costs."

"Why do people even want incandescents?" I asked. "Aren't there plenty of alternatives."

"Some people just don't like the CFLs. They get headaches. And a lot of seniors have trouble reading by them. Some people can even get seizures from the flickering."

"And LEDs?"

"Too cold, too institutional. They don't have the warmth or romance of a glowing incandescent." Willis Whitney may have been a lightbulb dealer, but he had the soul of a poet.

"You're in luck," Whitney said. "This place we're headed is moving soon. We got word the DOE is getting ready to crack down on us, so my guy is going to lay low for a while."

"DOE? Do you mean the DEA?" I asked.

"Nope. Department of Energy." We pulled up to an innocuous-looking house. We walked in and saw a man at a kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee.

"Who's this dude?" said the man. "Whitney, you know you can't be bringing strangers to the house. The Dimmers are coming."

"Dimmers?" I asked.

"DOE," said Whitney. "They're trying to dim our light. It's cool, Swanny. This is that journalist dude Corky told us about."

Swanny — Joseph Wilson Swan, I found out later, took his name from the English physicist who first devised a long-lasting electric light — said, "So you doing some kind of Geraldo Rivera piece on the well-lit underbelly of the illegal lightbulb market?" He chuckled at his own joke.

I explained what I was looking for, and over the next two hours, Swanny and Whitney educated me on the world of black market incandescent lightbulbs. I learned about Frosties and Clears, Globes and Pears, and a whole assortment of bulbs I didn't even know existed. I learned the demand for incandescents was filled by dealers and "light houses" all over the city, but the dealers were generally hard to pin down, since the DOE hadn't yet trained bulb-sniffing dogs. I learned how the dealers all operated independently, but the Hiram Maxim lightbulb cartel out of Maine had already begun ruthlessly organizing the Northeast.

When we finally stopped, and I had filled up several pages of my notebook — and we had interrupted our conversation so Swanny could dispense several cases of 60 watt incandescents to nervous suburbanites — Whitney drove me back to my car.

"So what made you get into this life? What drove you into the candy black market?" I asked, as I got out.

"Same as everyone else. It's all about the Edisons, baby," said Whitney. "It's all about the Edisons."



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, January 03, 2014

LSSU's List of Banned Words for 2014

Some days, the English language is a malleable, ever-changing tapestry. Other days, it's an industrial strength doormat that people wipe their muddy boots on.

Every year, someone — usually someone in the media — coins a term, and it gets overused until people start threatening physical harm to anyone who uses it in their presence.

It's why I love my job.

Because as a writer, December 31st is my Christmas.

This is the 39th year Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan has released their List of Words to be Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

It's the day I sit at my computer, humming "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," seeing if any words I love to hate made the list. Not that I actually expect people to quit using them. I just feel morally justified when the offensive words are targeted for extermination.

This year, there were plenty of banned words for me to cheer, a few to feel bad for, and a couple that I thought were perfectly acceptable. In a few cases, people had a bigger problem with the behavior than the actual word.

"Selfie" is one of those words; it received the most nominations by word curmudgeons, and similar reasons for hating it.

"It's a lame word. It's all about me, me, me. Put the smartphone away. Nobody cares about you," said David of Lake Mills, Wisc.

David's less-than-charitable view of people seemed to be the prevailing one. Most people hate the word "selfie" because it's usually Millennials taking pictures of themselves making duck lips. Or disgustingly fit people taking pictures of their washboard abs in the hopes that a stranger will punch them in the head.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

"Twerking" was number two, thanks to Miley Cyrus' Video Music Awards performance last August. I hate it so much, I won't add it to my word processor's user dictionary. It even made the Oxford Dictionary last year, which just goes to show you those British snobs don't know everything.

It also shows how powerful social media is, thanks to everyone complaining about her performance: in just four short months, Miley "The Tongue" Cyrus managed to twerk her way into the number two slot, falling to a word that's actually been around for a couple years.

I'm surprised "hashtag" took so long to make the list, coming in at number three, because it's been around since 2007. But like most things technological, the curmudgeons take a while to catch up with the rest of us.

Hashtag-BURN!

I don't think it should be on the list. It's a valid word. Another word for pound sign, number sign, or tic-tac-toe sign. It's just a different word; you're only hearing it more because Twitter is growing in popularity. By growing in popularity, I mean your local insurance agent just discovered it and is sending out messages, even though no one is following him.

Hashtag-Sigh.

The other reason you're hearing it more is because some people have taken to speaking the actual word. It's actually not supposed to be used conversationally. It's usually only encountered in written form, in combination with several words mashed together — #ErikIsAwesome. But some people have started saying the actual word out loud.

People who post "selfies" on Twitter and Facebook.

And now I hate the word too.

The "Twittersphere" is the place where "hashtag" is used, but people are tired of that one too — non-Twitter users, of course. But it's a better alternative than the Tworld Twide Tweb. Admittedly, the practice of making Twitter words — taking "Tw" and sticking it on another word — is a little twiresome, but just twettle down, twammit! It's not like it's the end of the world.

It's not Twarmageddon.

Because now we're not allowed to add "–ageddon" or "–pocalypse" to the ends of words to convey a sense of catastrophe.

People may hate it, and it may be twupid, but this is where we need to not blame the word, and instead look at why it's used that way.

It began when news stations took their weather reports from the Book of Revelation, making every storm sound like the Trumpet of Doom heralding the end of the world. When news stations started naming blizzards to get people to watch their over-sensationalized weather reports, Twittersphere started to make fun of them. We came up with Snow-pocalyse, Snowmageddeon, or my personal favorite, SNOWMYGOD! to demonstrate how silly it was.

When meteorologists stop sensationalizing every flurry and drizzle, we'll stop using these cataclysmic terms. Until then, we're going to keep using them proudly.

Hashtag-SoThere.



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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