Friday, August 28, 2015

Now That I Have Your Attention

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2004. Hopefully you'll think about this and not, well, you know. . .

What are you thinking of right at this moment?

If you're a good reader, you said, "Gee Erik, I'm thinking about all the laughs I'm going to have with this column."

But if you're a German motorist, there's a 33% chance you're thinking about sex. Of course, the odds that you're a German motorist are pretty slim, considering I've only got one German reader and she knows enough not to read while driving.

What she thinks about while she's driving, I'll never know. But the Auto Club Europa in Stuttgart, Germany wants to find out.

According to a 2004 Reuters story, the ACE took a survey of 1833 German motorists. They found that one-third fantasize about sex while stuck in traffic jams, while only 10 percent think about finding a faster route.

So much for German efficiency and planning.

Eight percent think about how much gas they have, seven percent think about finding a bathroom, and 10 percent of them think about their families. In other words, they're thinking about the consequences of the last time they thought about sex in that traffic jam a few years ago.

In another Reuters story from last Friday, more German researchers wanted to figure out what people think of during sex. But since a door-to-door survey was out of the question, the scientists hooked up volunteers to a brain scanning device and made them look at pornography.

While researchers found that both men and women had activity in the temporal lobes — the part of the brain that controls memory and perception — they found that women also used their frontal lobes, the part of the brain that deals with planning and emotion.

However, researchers were not able to determine whether this meant that women were busy planning their schedule while men "lost themselves in the moment."

German woman: I have to pick up my dry cleaning, go to the bank, and meet Ingrid for lunch.

German man: BOOBIES!

But if we're to draw any conclusions from these two studies, it's that German researchers are more obsessed with sex than other researchers.

We could also conclude from another Reuters story, that insurance company executives are also obsessed with sex.

Mitchell Blaser, the Chief Financial Officer of the Americas division of Swiss Re, is suing the strip club Scores for $28,000, saying this was not the amount he actually spent in one evening. According to the lawsuit, Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, says that he "only" spent about $15,385 on strippers and alcohol in a single evening.

The Chief Financial Officer is the person responsible ensuring his employer's money is not wasted or spent foolishly.

Keep in mind, Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, is not denying that he spent thousands of dollars on strippers and booze, but that he just didn't spend $28,000. He says the Scores staff extorted $8,615 from him, and signed an unauthorized $4,000 tip in his name.

I think if I were Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, I would be embarrassed that I had just made national news for spending more money on strippers and booze in one night than the 2003 US Poverty Level for a family of seven ($27,820).

I certainly would not want to draw attention to my name — Mitchell Blaser — or embarrass my employer — Swiss Re insurance company. And I certainly wouldn't admit that I had ACTUALLY only spent a little more than the poverty level for a family of three ($15, 260).

But according to Scores spokesman Lonnie Hanover, Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, ordered five magnums of champagne, each costing $3,200. He also spent $7,000 for lap dances and to be accompanied by 12 strippers for hours.

Hanover said they have three signed receipts from Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, over the course of the night. He also said that American Express has investigated Mitchell Blaser's claims and believe that Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, did spend as much money on strippers and booze as the price of a brand new Toyota 4Runner SUV.

Hanover went on to say that while they have entertained heads of state, professional athletes, and other Wall Street executives, no one has ever ordered more than one bottle of their most expensive champagne.

So Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, should be proud for spending more money on champagne than a family of three who falls below the poverty level. He should be proud that he has helped boost the local strip club economy, rather than giving it to someone who would have wasted it on food and rent. Mitchell Blaser, CFO of Swiss Re, should hold his head high, and boast that he spent as much money on strippers and booze in a single night as a school teacher earns in a year.

It will give him something to think about the next time he's stuck in a German traffic jam.

Photo credit: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Things Men Shouldn't Own After They're 30

"There's an old saying that you're not a man until you have everything out of your parents' house," my dad said to me once.

"Who said that?" I asked.

"Me, mostly." He was trying to get me to remove my childhood belongings that were still in his attic.

Of course, my wife disagreed. She had spent the last 10 years trying to get me to quit holding on to things I no longer needed. She thought he wanted to give me more junk, which I would hold onto for another 10 years.

"No, do not bring any of that crap over!" she told him.

"Just do it when she's not around," I whispered when she turned her back.

It was mostly old books, including my old high school yearbooks. I gave a few of the books to my son, and dumped my first three high school yearbooks. I hid my senior yearbook from my kids, and everything else went into recycling or the trash.

Finally, at age 47, I was a man.

Cassandra Byrnes of New Zealand's Stuff website (official motto: "No, dammit, it's a whole other country!") created a list of things people shouldn't have in their homes after they turn 30. Based on her list, as well as a few items of my own, here is a list of things a grown man should not have past the age of 30.

Unframed posters: One of Byrnes' items. If you want a framed poster, fine. They look a little arty and nostalgic, and you look semi-grown up. But if you're still rocking the celebrity-in-a-bikini poster, no frame will make that look classy. Ditch it.

Trophies: Why do you have your intramural soccer trophy sitting next to your TV? Better yet, why do you have it at all? If your trophies are more than five years old, get rid of them. On the other hand, grown-up awards one might receive for, say, a comedy script writing competition are totally acceptable.

Photos on your refrigerator of you and your friends getting hammered: While I've always insisted on not being photographed with a drink in my hand — in some circles, this is what's known as "irrefutable evidence" — I've always appreciated the fun pictures people like to put on their fridge. Of course, if you're 30, you've stopped getting hammered with your friends and show a little more restraint. If those photos are less than six months old, look at your life. Look at your choices. I'm guessing you're not where you thought you'd be by this time.

The jeans you wore when you were 20: They're too small. They're never going to fit you anymore. You need to relax and settle down. Your stomach already has, which is why those jeans aren't going to fit anymore.

CDs or DVDs on display: Byrnes says these should just go in the garbage, but I disagree. At the same time, if this is the main visual element of your living room, you need to trim down your collection, burn it onto your computer, and put the rest in a closet.

Dust: Another of Byrnes', but it shouldn't be on the list. This isn't a choice people make. We don't shout "You can have my dust bunnies and Heather Locklear poster when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers!" I recognize that it's important to keep your house clean, and to dust fairly frequently, but dust happens. It's not a possession, it's a circumstance.

I mean, if we're going to be picky about it, piles of dishes in the sink and a toweringly-full garbage can should be on the list. But it should go without saying that you don't purposely keep these things. It should be the same with "dust."

(But while we're on the subject, would it kill you to just swish around a dust cloth once in a while?)

Crocs: They're fine for kids and people who still think cargo shorts are cool. But once you graduate from high school, you shouldn't wear these outside the house. Or inside.

When you think about it, there's a lot of things we're told we shoudn't do or have once we're an adult. Don't read comic books. Don't eat kid's cereal. Don't wear t-shirts with TV characters or funny sayings.

Except I like doing some of those things. I enjoy reading comic books once in a while. I still eat Cap'n Crunch whenever I can. And my favorite t-shirt says "witty phrase here."

So while Cassandra Byrnes may be on the money with a few of her items — inflatable furniture and beanbags — if you truly like the things you own, keep them.

Don't let me or anyone else tell you what you should have in your own house. If it makes you happy, own it, wear it, display it with pride. Do what you love, and quit worrying about other people's opinions.

I'm serious about the Crocs though.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Are You Laughing Wrong?

Online communication's biggest problem is the lack of nonverbal communication. We can't tell what people are thinking or feeling just based on reading their words.

Take that last paragraph. Was I happy? Sad? Shouting at the top of my lungs? So relaxed that I was nearly comatose? Or maybe I did it in a Bobcat Goldthwait voice (which would be awesome, except I'm no longer allowed to do it in the house).

According to communication scholars — yes, that's a real thing; I used to be one — as much as 93 percent of our regular face-to-face communication is nonverbal. That includes the facial expressions, gestures, the way we stand, movement of our eyes, and even the tone, pitch, and volume of our voice.

Even with the word "hi," we can guess how the other person feels based on how they sounded — mad, sad, glad, or afraid. That's the 93 percent nonverbals in action. Without them, we miss a lot.

If your least favorite person says "yeah, right" in that sneering, smarmy way you hate, you know they're being sarcastic and should be pushed into traffic. Even though those two words are positive, the other person said them in such a way that — you're not paying attention, are you? You've just spent the last few seconds imagining them getting nailed by a Cadillac Escalade.

Since we rely so much on nonverbals in our face-to-face communication, imagine all the problems with online communication. Now we only have that seven percent. That's where a lot of communication breaks down.

In the olden days, back in the '90s, we used emoticons to convey our feelings, the little :-) and :-( symbols that looked like happy faces and frowny faces if you tilted your head 90 degrees.

(On a quick side note, this is the first time I've ever actually used an emoticon in a newspaper column. It's also the first and last time as an adult that I'll ever say "frowny face.")

But as online communication has grown, matured, and simplified, we're now finding different ways to express our emotions. One of the most important ways is through e-laughter, the way we show people online that we thought something is funny.

Recently Facebook studied the online laughter of their users, breaking down the styles we use, based on age, gender, and even geographic location. They looked at instances of haha, hehe, lol, and the use of emojis (the little cartoon symbols favored by 12-year-old girls). Here's a few of their key findings:

We don't laugh too much or too little. 15 percent of our posts contain some kind of laughter. Also, 46 percent of the people post at least one e-laugh per week. Everyone else is a Donald Trump fan.

Haha is the most common e-laugh, at 51.4 percent. Emojis are second at 33.7 percent, followed by hehe (13.1), and lol (1.9)

I have to dispute this last stat, because clearly Facebook's data researchers were not looking at my Facebook feed. I have plenty of people who overuse and abuse lol so much that I have grown to hate it.

Originally an abbreviation for "laugh out loud," it has become a word in its own right. People will even use it conversationally.

"Kevin said something so funny today, I lol-ed. Hashtag-awesome. Hashtag-I nearly peed. Hashtag-I really — hey, quit shoving! AAAH, ESCALADE!"

However, I'm not sure if the word rhymes with "roll" or "fall." I need to know so I can shout "STOP SAYING LOL!!" without embarrassing myself in public.

But I know what it's not. Lol is not punctuation. It shouldn't end a sentence like a period.

"And I said, 'that's no duck, that's my wife lol'"

(It's killing me that there's not a real period in that last sentence.)

Putting lol at the end of a joke is also verboten. Either a joke is funny, or it's not. It's like saying, "get it? The bartender thought the duck was his wife!"

Furthermore, "lolololol" doesn't not mean something is extra funny. You're saying "I laughed out loud, out loud, out loud, out loud."

Also, Lolo Jones will not marry Hope Solo and become Lolo Solo. Dammit.

Men use "haha" and "hehe" more than women. Conversely, a lot more women use emojis. Grown men shouldn't use emojis. I'm also not comfortable with hehe, although you could argue it has "he" in it. Also, no one should say "tee hee."

Ha and he are building blocks for longer versions of that word. If something is a little more funny, you might see hahahaha or hehehehe. In fact, Facebook's study found that "haha/hehe" and "hahaha/hehehe" were the most commonly used versions.

I'm sticking with the old school when it comes to my e-laughs. I won't use emojis, say "lol," or giggle like a teenager with "hehe." I'm sticking with the original emoticons. I'll use :-) for happy, ;-) for being sarcastic, and :-D for laughing out loud.

Because if you take my :-), I'll become >:-{

Photo credit: Sham Hardy (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Joys of School Supplies

When I was a kid, there was always something fun about September, when it was time to go back to school.

(Hear that, kids? We went back to school after Labor Day. None of this beginning-of-August-wasted-summer stuff for us! Neener neener!)

Going back to school wasn't the exciting part. I hated that. Hated it with a white hot passion which, had I paid better attention, I could have told you how hot that was in Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin.

Now that I'm not in school, I don't care, and I don't need to know. However, I can look it up, which I just did (2200 Fahrenheit, if you're curious). And just like when I learned it in the sixth grade, I promptly forgot it again.

Here's a list of other things I no longer remember, but probably should, from sixth grade.

  • What a present participle is.
  • How to diagram a sentence.
  • The chemical element symbol for gold.
  • How to combine and reduce improper fractions.
  • How to calculate the area of a circle.

I was never very good at math in grade school. Or middle school. Or high school. Or college. That's why I became a writer. We don't have to do math, except for our money. And there's not very much, so it's not very hard.

When it came to the sixth grade, the only thing I really paid attention to was reading, which is the biggest reason I became a writer. I certainly wasn't going to become a mathematician, scientist, historian, or PE teacher. Or accountant, chemist, physicist, or professional athlete. Pretty much the only things left open to me were writer and marketer, and I nailed both of those.

When I was a kid, the new year started in September and ended in June. January 1 happened in the middle of the year. I made new year's resolutions in the fall — "this year, I'm going to keep my desk organized!" — which I promptly broke by the end of the first day. But I never worried about January resolutions.

In fact, after spending 20 years in education (I went to grad school and worked at a university. Shut up!), I always thought of September as the start of the new year. In fact, it was 10 years after I left that my brain finally accepted that the new year started in January.

But as much as I didn't like school, I loved getting new school supplies. That was the best part. Not the new clothes, not seeing my friends after the summer, not meeting my new teachers. It was the school supplies.

Just like some people go nuts over office supplies, I always felt like success could be reached with a protractor and a school box full of pencils and pink erasers.

Here's a partial list of what my old elementary school in Muncie, North View, wants their 6th graders to bring.

  • Twelve #2 pencils
  • One pink eraser
  • One pencil sharpener
  • One pair of scissors

We were also required to bring a compass, with that needle-sharp point. Although no one ever put their eye out, they were more entertaining than they were educational.

I remember one of my classmates, Marc, had an artificial leg. He used to jab his compass into his leg and leave it there. It was especially fun when we had a substitute teacher.

Of course, once zero tolerance weapons policies went into effect, compasses were removed from schools, although sharp, stabby pencils are still allowed. So are the sharpeners needed to make them sharper and stabbier. And if you don't have a pencil sharpener, each classroom has one bolted to the wall for your convenience.

North View also wants their 6th graders to bring:

  • One bottle of white glue
  • Two blue pens and two red pens
  • One pocket dictionary
  • One scientific calculator

When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to use calculators. Hell, I wasn't even allowed to type my 12th grade term paper on a computer because, "you won't have access to computers in college, you'll use a typewriter."

That was in 1985, and Ball State had several computer labs throughout campus, which I used constantly over the next four years. I also owned a Royal manual typewriter, and never used it once.

It's been 23 years since I left school, and other than teaching an occasional class at my local university, I haven't been back. But that doesn't mean I've stopped learning. As the Greek philosopher, Sophocles, once said, "Old age and the passage of time teach all things."

But it still hasn't done a damn thing to teach me improper fractions.

Photo credit: JimmieHomeschoolMom (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Vevay’s Swiss Wine Festival celebrates 44th year

From my friend, Kendal Miller, executive director of Switzerland County Tourism about the upcoming Swiss Wine Festival:

Organizers of Indiana's 44th Swiss Wine Festival invite the public to the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park in Vevay – "Where the Good Times Flow" on Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 27-30, when the community pays homage to Switzerland County's Swiss wine-making roots. The festival is a non-stop celebration that includes food, fun, and festivities along the scenic Ohio River.
Indiana's largest 4-day Wine Festival was named a "Top Ten Festival" by Top Events USA and the Fourth Best Food Festival in Indiana by Best of Indiana.

Switzerland County Tourism is the festival's largest sponsor along with nearly 100 additional sponsors that make the top-notch festival possible each year.

Located in Switzerland County between Cincinnati and Louisville – and about two hours from Indianapolis – four days of non-stop activities, food and entertainment attract wine lovers and visitors from across the country. With a population of around 1,700, the people in and around the town of Vevay, are experts at throwing a grand festival. The famous Wine Tasting Pavilion includes 12 Indiana wineries that offer tastings of their award-winning wines or purchases by the glass or bottle.

Visitors won't be disappointed as organizers and volunteers have been working since the close of last year's event to insure that Switzerland County maintains a high-quality family celebration that honors their winemaking origins and their notoriety as the "Birthplace of the First Successful Commercial Winery in the United States."

"The festival fosters both Switzerland County's past and future. Not only does it provide a positive financial impact for local non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses, but also helps drive economic development through tourism in Switzerland County," said Kirk Works, Swiss Wine Festival President.

The event is put on by volunteers, including the unpaid Swiss Wine Festival president and board of directors. A part-time paid festival coordinator also volunteers additional time and talents. While facets of the festival require professional labor, as many tasks as possible are completed through the volunteerism of the locals. In 2013, over $40,000 collected by the festival went to 43 local clubs and organizations that provided helpers to work the festival. More than $7,000 was given through scholarships and prize money for festival events with more than $180,000 going to Switzerland County for-profit businesses and/or individuals. These amounts do not include figures for money spent by tourists through gas, food purchases outside the festival or lodging.

In 2015, visitors will find the traditional aspects of the festival firmly in place – the famous Wine Tasting Pavilion, the Midwest Championship Grape Stomp, arts and crafts, Grand Festival Parade, riverboat cruises, beer garden, 5K river run/walk, poker run, cornhole tournament, cheerleading competition, live entertainment and more. Burton Bros Amusements will return again this year with new and bigger amusement rides.

Twelve Indiana wineries in the wine pavilion offer samplings of their award-winning wines with staff on hand to answer questions about their yield. Novice or connoisseur wine lovers can enjoy samples or purchase wine by the glass or bottle. Participating wineries include Buck Creek, Carousel, Cedar Creek, Ertel Cellars, French Lick, Harmony, Indiana Creek, Lanthier, The Ridge Winery, Traders Point, Windy Knoll and Winzerwald. Entrance into the wine pavilion is $18 per person and includes a souvenir wine glass and wine sampling opportunities. A large beer garden with nightly entertainment is also available. The festrival includes many varieties of cuisine to suit anyone's taste so Works recommends that guests arrive hungry and try a variety of items.

This year's Swiss Wine Festival entertainment headliner is Parmalee, performing at 8:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28. The event is free with a $5 gate admission. Guests are advised to bring lawn chairs. An autograph session with be held afterward.

Additional musical performances throughout the four-day event include: Midnight Special, Rick K and the Allnighters, Skallywags, No Where Bound, Remember Me Monday, Diamond Back, Megan Ruger, Cloggers, Saving Stimpy, Six Miles South and Saffire Express.

Don't miss the Cincinnati Circus Big Show, Phoenix Fire & Flight Show, Chicago Boyz Acrobatics, the Tiger Talks live tiger show, Travel'N Riverboat Show, Rik Roberts Comedy Show and Barney Fife (impersonator). For the kids, meet and greet with Elsa & Friends, Superheros (impersonator) and Tina Riddle as Twynkle T. Clown balloon artist.

The Midwest Championship Grape Stomp will be held all weekend long and Burton Bros. Amusements will offer wristband specials each day of the festival. The Grand Festival Fireworks show over the Ohio River will be on Saturday night starting at 10:20pm.

Upholding a Swiss Wine Festival tradition, gates will open at 5p.m. Thursday with the Little Swiss Polka Dancers performing at 5:30 p.m. Hours of practice by local youths had been undertaken to uphold this traditional aspect of the Swiss Wine Festival entertainment.

Festivities begin on Saturday morning at 8am with the 5K River Walk/Run followed at 10 a.m. with the Grand Festival Parade in downtown Vevay.

Cliff Robinson Rolling Thunder Air Show with aerobatics and superb pilot skills will be on Sunday afternoon over the Ohio River beginning at 3:45pm.

A brochure with a complete list of activities and events is downloadable from the Swiss Wine Festival website located at Entry into the festival and parking is free on Thursday, and $5 per day on Friday-Saturday with children 5-12 years for $3. Youths under age five are free. Sunday admission is $4 for adults and $2 for youths 5-12. Youths under age five are free.

The Wine Pavilion is closed on Thursday but is open 3-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday; and noon – 5 p.m. Sunday. The $18 per person admission fee includes wine sampling opportunities and a souvenir wine glass. The Beer Garden opens Thursday for Happy Hour from 5-10 p.m. and will re-open 3 p.m. – 2 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday.

For more information on Switzerland County, contact the tourism office at (812) 427-3237 or log on to their website at The Swiss Wine Festival and Switzerland County Tourism-Vevay, IN are on Facebook and Twitter.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.