Friday, August 26, 2016

Nyet, My Column Was Not Hacked by Russian Spies

Hello, my fellow Americans! It is I, Erik Deckers, your favorite humorous columnist from the Middle West.

I have been reading in your — I mean, our — liberal American media about how Russian hackers have tried to hack into the New York Times and other media newspapers. This chases on the heels of the news that same Russians may have hacked the Democrats Nationalist Committee email server.

This is typical American media lie!

Also, in case you worry, my own comedy column has not been hacked by Russian spies working for a secret government agency seeking to undermine you Americans' — I mean, our — democracy.

To accuse us — I mean, them — of hacking into newspapers is serious insult to Russians everywhere, and especially to their eminent leader, President Vladimir Putin, who is in no way trying to recreate the USSR through military force.

(And who also looks very manly without a shirt.)

While we are on subject, President Putin is not invading Ukraine. He is only trying to keep Ukraine safe, and teach it how to be strong. It is like tough love, like Russian mama bear shows to her children, to help them grow up to be strong Russian bears who fight rebels and dissidents.

Wait, I mean like American bears. Yes, that's it. American mama bears who love their bear children.

To change the subject, many congratulations to American Olympic team and their many gold medals. Of course, these were not real victories, since nearly all athletes from Russia were banned from competing because they were heavily doping.

Accused of doping, I mean. Wrongly accused of doping. Da, that's it.

Widespread, government-funded doping, my Aunt Olga's fanny! Russian athletes train harder and better than American athletes, and for this, IOC seeks to punish Russian athletes and para-athletes. It's not our — I mean, their — fault they have cutting-edge nutritional supplements. And nutritional creams and gels. And nutritional injections.

I remember back in 1984, when Olympics were held in Los Angeles Hollywood, and the Russians stood on their principles and chose to boycott Olympics. This happened after we, and 64 other countries, mistakenly boycotted 1980 Olympics after Soviet army paid a friendly visit to — I mean, invaded — Afghanistan.

(Between you and me, my fellow Americans, the Soviets did not invade. They were helping Chairman Andropov find his dog. He lost it while he was there on a fact finding mission. I heard it from my cousin, Alexei — I mean, Kevin — who worked for the Kremlin — I mean, American government.)

Speaking of politics, I am surprised that more of my fellow Americans do not support Donald Trump in his campaign to become Supreme President. Many, many Americans seem to like Hillary Clinton and the Democrats Nationalist Committee, who has done many terrible things to her opponent, Bernie Sanders. I remember being surprised when I read all those emails.

In the newspapers! I read all the emails in the newspapers. So many newspapers I have read.

And then I forwarded all the emails to Wikileaks — I mean, my mother! I forwarded them to my mother. Ha ha, not an international repository of stolen government secrets.

"Look, Mama," I said. "Look at what Hillary Clinton and her comrades have done to poor Bernie Sanders. They have organized a coup against Bernie Sanders." And Mama said she wished Mr. Sanders would have seized power back from the usurpers, like the time Boris Yeltsin rode into the Kremlin on a tank and smashed a coup attempt.

But I have read many great things about Donald Trump. He is a good friend to President Putin. He is a fan of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea. And I know Kim Jong Un is a very big fan of his. I have seen some of their back-and-forth emails.

Uh, also in newspapers! Yes, they were in newspapers, and not at all from hacking.

But Mr. Trump would make an excellent friend to Russia. He already has strong relationships with President Putin. And his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is well known to many Russians, having received many millions of rubles — I mean, dollars — from Ukrainian politicians.

I have heard Mr. Trump has also had many financial dealings with Russia, and is said to be millions of dollars in debt to Russian oligarchs and friends of President Putin. This makes Mr. Trump ideal president to help Russia and America work together to make the world great again.

So, my fellow Americans, spasibo — I mean, thank you! — for your time. Dasvidaniya.

Photo credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office (No, I'm not kidding!) (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

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 19, 2016

Karl the Curmudgeon Is Tired of Facebook Politics

"I don't know if I can take it anymore, Kid," said Karl, staring at his reflection in the bar mirror. He rubbed his face hard with his hands. "I mean, this constant bickering and nattering and droning on and on and on about how neither person can do anything right."

Your daughter and son-in-law fighting again? I asked.

"I wish. At least I can tell them to shut up." He drained the last of his beer and signaled Kurt the bartender for two more. "No, I'm talking about the presidential campaign."

I thought you didn't pay attention to campaign.

"I don't. I've purposely avoided all the commercials and media stories about who said what or who committed yet another grievous sin against the American people. I already know who I'm voting for, so there's no reason to pay attention to that cluster truck."

Karl plonked his empty mug on the bar just as Kurt set down a couple fresh ones. We were at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar for open mic night. Some slam poet from Florida was riffing on Benny Goodman, and the crowd was snapping its fingers in appreciation. Karl and I rolled our eyes.

I said, so you missed the story this week where Dr. Drew Pinsky diagnosed Hillary Clinton's health care by looking at some of her medical records?

Karl snorted into his beer. "I wouldn't trust that guy to diagnose the color of orange juice." I laughed so hard, a couple people nearby shushed me.

Then what's the problem? I said, ignoring them.


But you don't like Facebook. You hate all forms of social media.

"I do. Well, I did. I started using Facebook to keep up with my nieces and nephews, and now I get sucked into all these political discussions with people I went to school with."

What? When did this start?

Karl counted on his fingers. "Three months ago, I guess."

I've bugged you for years to get on Facebook, and when you finally do, you still don't friend me? What a jerk!

"Don't you think our little get-togethers are enough? I don't think we could stand that much of each other."

I thought about that. Yeah, you're right, I said. I don't want that much of a look into your private life. I already know too much. I took a drink of my own beer. So what's happening on Facebook that has your panties in a twist?

Karl shot me the side eye and took another drink. "It's just the general nastiness of the campaign," he said. "People are getting angrier and nastier with each other. Even friends are forgetting they're friends and are starting flame wars to roast each other into silence."

How is this different from the early days of the Internet? I asked. We've had flame wars and arguments online since the mid-90s. I mean, epic, scorched-earth flame wars.

"Yeah, but those idiots had the good sense to hide behind an an anonymous screen name, like a proper coward. They made sure no one knew who they were before they insulted other people or accused each other of being worse than Hitler. But the problem really started when they started getting on news media websites and leaving horrible comments to news stories."

I remember all that. Then the media got smart and started tying comments to a person's Facebook account. That way, their friends and family could see what they were spewing. That helped put a stop to it, didn't it?

"No, that's when the real problem started. Now, the a-holes have found they can survive a little public exposure. They're posting anti-religious statements on their Facebook page. Or homophobic slurs. Or racist jokes. Now, I see people openly embracing their racism and sexism. They're not hiding it, they're flaunting it."

I've seen that. There are usually plenty of people calling them out on it, though, so they're starting to slink back under their rocks.

"True. But this year's campaign has made them think they can come out from there in the first place. It's making people to behave badly toward each other more than ever. I'm just tired of it."

The Florida poet finished his Benny Goodman poem, and the audience clapped like normal people. We joined in.

True, I said. But you could just block anyone who disagrees with you. Then your Facebook feed will be peaceful and friendly.

"Yeah, but Thomas Jefferson said, 'I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend,'" said Karl.

So why haven't you friended me yet, you jerk?

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 12, 2016

That's Not a Bat, This is a Bat

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2004. Since the Olympics are going on, it's a sports-related column. Sort of.

Teaching is a noble profession, one that should attract the best and brightest to a rewarding career of shaping young minds and encouraging lifelong learning.

Unfortunately, some of these teachers become administrators, which grinds out any lofty ideals they had when they first entered the profession (that, and the fact that after 32 weeks of school, most of them can't stand the little monsters anymore).

But occasionally we find news stories about these same administrators, and the phrase "couldn't find it with both hands and a flashlight" springs to mind.

In 2004 in Fort Worth, TX, administrators at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School were peering into students' cars in the school parking lot, when one of them spotted an eight inch wooden bat inside a car. They tracked down the driver, sophomore Cory Henson, and pulled him out of class, disrupting his educational process. They ordered him to unlock the car and searched it thoroughly, as more students disrupted their educational processes and watched from the windows.

When they discovered the bat had fallen off a baseball trophy — Cory is a junior varsity baseball player — they dropped their flashlights, declared the mini-bat to be a weapon, and immediately suspended him. He was suspended for four days, under Texas' Zero Tolerance scheme, which was hatched in 1995.

Zero Tolerance is the mantra of school administrators who ensure their schools are safe from plastic butter knives, anti-PMS medicine, and students who say "hell" or "gay," as I have mentioned in previous columns.

And the administrators had focused on this mini-bat so intently that they completely ignored the regulation-sized aluminum bat Cory carried in his trunk.

That's why Ignacio Torres, the school's assistant principal, said the mini-bat, and NOT the full-sized bat, was considered a weapon.

I can only imagine the scene, as young Cory Henson was yanked out of class, and told to unlock his car — a machine that generally weighs over a ton and kills thousands of people each year. They then confiscated the little wooden bat, and ignored the big aluminum bat, forgetting that bats are a favorite weapon of seedy bar owners and guys who "wanna know what you said about my sister."

The administrators then escorted Cory into school, which is filled with pens and pencils, which are great for stabbing. Cory may have heard the band practice as he walked, listening to the drummers beat their drums with sticks the same size as the one clutched in an administrator's sweaty hand.

Cory's head may have hung as he walked past the cafeteria, filled with metal forks and knives, and into the assistant principal's office, which contained more pens, pencils, and several pairs of scissors. I imagine he then had to call his mother, who drove her own one-ton vehicle to the school.

But apparently none of this concerned LoEster Posey, the director of student affairs for Fort Worth schools. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that if an item is only "prohibited," such as a pocketknife, pepper spray, or firecrackers, the student will be given a warning. But if the item is "illegal," like an eight-inch mini-bat, then the student is suspended.

In other words, if you can stab them, blind them, or blow their fingers off, you're just given a slap on the wrist. If you can whack someone with it, you'll be suspended. But if you can actually kill someone with an item like, say, a full-size aluminum baseball bat, you're allowed to keep it.

I realize that a small wooden bat can be used as a club, but so can nearly ever other item in a school. A large reference book, a cafeteria tray, and even a well-thrown baseball can all become weapons in the right hands.

Suspending a student for having a small bat while ignoring a full-size bat borders on gross ineptitude. But labeling knives, pepper spray, and fire crackers as only prohibited, while a small stick is illegal only reinforces my thoughts about school administrators.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but when you combine it with a little power and very little common sense, you've got something deadlier than any miniature baseball bat.

Maybe we should ban administrators instead.

Photo credit: Peter Miller (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 05, 2016

Big Brother Isn't the Government, It's Corporate America

The Internet is spying on me.

Not the Edward Snowden kind of spying, where the NSA hides a listening device in my toaster. (Which my daughter accidentally ate in her cinnamon raisin bagel.)

I mean, the Internet keeps close track of the things I do. For one thing, if I go shoe shopping online, all my friends will make fun of me.

Also, an ad for the shoes will follow me to every other website I visit. If there's a space for an ad, those stupid shoes will be in it.

That's because the original shoe website puts a small piece of code called a "beacon" onto my browser. This beacon follows me (and everyone else) around and shows the same shoes over and over until you punch your laptop and wear old Kleenex boxes on your feet in protest.

But this is not a major problem. It's been going on for years, so don't hurt yourself jamming on your tinfoil hat.

It's just the software algorithms that make the Internet work.

For example, Google uses algorithms so its search engine can better predict what we might be searching for. The more you search for things, the better they get at finding what you want.

If you Google Nazareth, the 1970s band that sang "Love Hurts," you'll get a mixed bag of results about the band, the city in Pennsylvania, and Jesus' hometown. But if you only click on the band's search results, play their videos on YouTube, participate in Nazareth fan forum discussions, and visit as many websites as possible about the band, your family will think you've lost your mind.

Also, Google will figure out that you're not interested in the cities, so future results will be more band-specific.

You can even affect what Google fills in the search box as you start typing. Let's say you start typing the phrase "How do I." Right now, Google will show you several frequently-typed phrases like, "how do I get a home," "how do I get a passport," and "how do I love thee."

But if you and several of your friends frequently search for, "how do I hide a dead body" over a long period of time, that phrase will eventually begin to show up more and more, displacing one of the other phrases.

So, if a few hundred people were to repeatedly ask Google whether a certain presidential candidate is a Cheeto-faced bankruptcy factory, the search engine would auto-fill that phrase anytime someone typed in his name.

Who benefits by knowing all this stuff about us? Who's keeping track of all this?

It's not the government. I'm not that worried about what the government will do with my search interests.

No, I'm worried about marketers. And I say that as a professional marketer. If you want to be afraid of Big Brother and a dystopian Orwellian future, be afraid of the people who sell you stuff. Disney's Wall-E should give you a pretty good idea of where we're headed.

Google's search algorithms are written so we'll have a positive experience, and come back to them over and over. And they'll encourage us to use their other products, like YouTube and Google Drive. The more we use them, the more they learn about us. And they'll begin to show ads geared specifically toward the things we want, like, and need.

Imagine if your TV only showed commercials of the things you need right now, as if they peeked inside your refrigerator and cupboards. You would see ads for your favorite mayonnaise, your favorite beer, and those little cheese balls you swore you would stretch over a week, but finished in one sitting.

That's who's driving the Internet. It's not the government. According to most of the people I went to high school with, the government can't even secure a single private email server, so what makes you think they can successfully monitor all of us?

That's because marketers can't touch anything without ruining it. We're the black mold of the Internet. Once someone creates something new and clean and pure, marketers are your perpetually dirty cousin who's always working on cars or massaging pigs.

"Hey, let me see that," they say, grabbing it out of your hands. "That looks pretty cool." They pass it back and forth between their grimy hands, hold it up to their ear and shake it. They even bite down on it to see how solid it is. When you get it back, you don't even want it anymore.

But don't think quitting Facebook or never using Google again will stop them, you're too late. They already know a lot about you, so you might as well face it, embrace it, and benefit from it.

Besides, Amazon is offering free shipping if you spend over $25 and buy my books.

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, July 29, 2016

The Baxter® Family Newsletter

Hello fellow Glastonbury Neighborhood families!

As we finish with summer, I wanted to update you on the Baxter® family fortunes through our monthly newsletter. Since we'll be spending the next two weeks getting ready for back to school, we've been so thankful that the Baxter® Beacon™ has let us keep everyone up to date with our goings-on.

Before we get into the meat of the newsletter — or tofu protein patties, for my vegan pals — I'd like to ask a little favor. I notice several people driving rather fast through the neighborhood. I know the posted speed limit says 20, but "dears" live here, so it would be great if you could keep it well below 15. It's hard to see all the kids as they dart out from between the cars parked on the street as they play on the driveways. Remember, slow equals safe for this protective momma bear!

There have been several local crime stories in the news lately. I know we're safe up here in our little suburban enclave, and that most crime actually happens in the big city. But I still get worried any time our sleepy little town is mentioned during the crime segment on the news.

(On a side note, when did the news get so scary? You would think nothing good ever happened in the world these days. I would love to see a whole newscast devoted to nothing but good news for a change. I bet people would watch that.)

So Blake® and I are urging everyone to keep an eye out for suspicious vehicles in the neighborhood. Last week, I saw a teenage boy driving slowly past our house with an older man in the passenger seat. I figured they were looking out for houses to rob, so I speed dialed the police. They rushed out and questioned the driver.

I later learned he was just a neighborhood teenager learning how to drive with his father. Still, they were driving slowly, which made me nervous. Remember, slow equals suspicious to this eagle-eyed momma!

On a much cheerier note, Blake® and I registered the kids' names as registered trademarks, as well as our own, over the summer. Blake®'s brother, Stephen™, is an intellectual property attorney in Chicago, and he helped us do it.

We figured the kids are doing so well on their sports travel teams that when they become college and professional athletes, we'll be able to keep the licensing fees the NCAA and pro leagues would have used to line their own pockets. There's no point in enriching those people. Plus, it puts us on stronger footing when EA Sports comes a-knocking. Fingers crossed we see Farron® or Dashiell® on the cover of FIFA 27 or Madden NFL 34. Sports equal satisfaction for this athletic-supporting momma!

That's assuming Käetlin® doesn't become a professional ballerina first. She loves her Tuesday morning dance class!

And while her brothers and sister are staying active, we're also proud of Auden®. She's finishing her fourth week of summer camp, and is ready to come home. It's been an amazing transformation. When we first sent her off, she was homesick, calling every day, begging to come home. But now, she barely writes and won't spend more than a few minutes on the phone with me, so we know she's having such a wonderful time that she doesn't want us interrupting her.

We're now researching college scholarships and looking at SAT prep academies for her. It's hard to believe our little valedictorian will be going to college in just six short years. But if anyone is going to win a Nobel prize, it will be our little Auden®. Science equals splendid to this education-eager momma!

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at the neighborhood picnic next week. Remember, Dashiell® is sensitive to peanuts, while Kaëtlin® shouldn't eat wheat. Plus Blake® and I prefer the children don't have processed meat, so no hot dogs. Also, I'm sure I speak for the other, more caring neighborhood moms when I ask you to please avoid processed sugar in your delicious desserts. As for the men, Blake® is super proud of the home brew non-alcoholic beer he's made, so I hope you're all thirsty! And I'll be serving up mom-friendly mimosas!

In the meantime, I've only received RSVPs from three of you. Please remember to get those in as soon as possible.

Hugs and kisses to you all!

Sheila® Baxter®

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, July 22, 2016

Motivational Quotes: Inspiration for the Uninspired

I'm not an easy person to motivate.

That doesn't mean I lack motivation. It means you won't inspire me to do my best by bombarding me with clever slogans and aphorisms. I find my own inspiration and motivate myself without any clever quotes to guide me.

"Just do it" never did it for me. It was just a catchy t-shirt slogan that people bought for $30 so they could shill for Nike.

"No pain, no gain?" No thanks. I don't have to "eat lightning and crap thunder," as Mickey so delicately put it in Rocky II.

I get credo after credo in my Twitter feed, exhorting me to do my best, to never give up, to ignore failure, to never sleep, to get hungry, to ignore the hunger, to seize the day, sweat blood, ignore the pain, seize the tiger's tail, grab the bull by its horns, and take no bullshit.

And they keep coming. Life coaches and people who are annoyingly upbeat in the morning share so many gym poster philosophies, I wonder if they actually have time to do client work.

It's not that I don't want to do better, I just don't want to do it because a poster told me to. These buffed-up bon mots don't make me want to run a marathon or flip over a tractor tire. I didn't feel like hanging in there for Friday, and I never hated Mondays.

"Suck it up now so you don't have to suck it in later," said one quote. I'm afraid you're a bit late.

"Better sore than sorry," said another, which I read in a Canadian accent. When Canadians apologize, it sounds like "sore-y." At least being sorry doesn't keep me from raising my arms over my head.

"Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going," said an Under Armour t-shirt. Yeah, that'll get me to the gym: I could fall over, puke on myself, and then choke to death. Good times, good times.

"Making excuses burns zero calories per hour" said another poster. Wrong!

A 2004 Harvard article said that a 185 pound person will burn 33 calories watching TV, 50 by reading, and 67 doing light office work. You can even burn 72 calories an hour by sitting in a meeting. I've been in plenty of terrible meetings; I probably burned a whole lot more just trying not to stab anyone.

Basically, if you can burn 50 calories by reading this column, plus several more, for an hour, you can burn many more by writing down all the reasons not to go to the gym.

Business quotes are even worse, because they're shared by people who don't seem to understand how business works.

"Great things never came from comfort zones!" declares one business quote. Really? So whoever invented mashed potatoes and feety pajamas was locked in a life-or-death struggle with their fax machine? Because those things are mighty comforting.

Author Kobi Yamada said, "Follow your dreams. They know the way." And then he floated away on a magical balloon to a land made of candy and the laughter of children.

We entrepreneurs like to say we follow our passion or live our dreams, or some nonsense. But the stark reality is, following your dreams can be a 14-hour-a-day grind, and you would give your competition's right eye for some sleep.

People who think business success is achieved only by believing in themselves are in for a big surprise when their bank won't let them pay their mortgage with a pocket full of dreams.

Speaking of beliefs, Wayne Dyer oversimplified success when he said, "Believe. It's as simple as that."

I want to lick the back of my own neck, but simply believing ain't gonna make it so.

I understand the need for exercising and eating healthy, and I appreciate the people who wholly throw themselves into that lifestyle, forsaking all art, literature, and music. But Michael Jordan quotes won't make me go out for a jog any more than Ernest Hemingway quotes will make them pick up a book.

The only thing that's going to make me go out for a run is if a zombie is behind me, and even then, I'm only running as far as my truck.

I realize motivational quotes have to be positive, because they remind us to dream big. Still, I'd like to see something more realistic than Les Brown's quote, "Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

Although I have to admit, it sounds a lot better than "Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you'll die."

Photo credit: U.S. Food & Drug Administration (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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, July 15, 2016

The Growing Trend of Living Tiny

Move over, giant sprawling houses. Tiny house living is the Next Big Thing. After the Great Recession, people realized they didn't need — and shouldn't have gotten — 4,000 square foot McMansions anymore.

They started dumping all their useless crap, and began to simplify their lives. They started buying smaller and smaller homes, until it blossomed into a new trend: tricked-out garden sheds on small trailers, and every home and garden network airing tiny house programs six times a day.

Some shows focus on the building techniques and technology of the garden shed. Others are more of the hunting type, where — surprise, surprise! — two spoiled and picky people try to buy a tiny home that will suit their crunchy-organic-hug-Mother-Earth lifestyle, but are still surprised at how small the homes are. They want something they can entertain friends in, but still leave them all behind in an instant when they move across country on a whim.

Yet, for all their talk of being mobile, we all know the couple is going to live in her parents' back yard until they bitterly divorce four years later.

Several years ago, I thought tiny living looked interesting. The spartan lifestyle appealed to me, as I was in the midst of moving my family's crap for the fourth time in four years, and I had never prayed so fervently for a flaming meteor strike in my life. I fell in love with the idea of changing my home and surroundings with nothing more than a pickup and a trailer hitch.

For one thing, tiny living is inexpensive. Forget these "wealth managers" who say you need to save $500,000 or even $1 million just to retire. Move into a $40,000 tiny house, and you can pay your mortgage out of a coffee shop tip jar, and your wealth manager won't even acknowledge you in public anymore.

But before cramming ourselves into a shoebox on wheels, let's practice first to see if you're ready.

First, pile everything you own into your front yard. Now set fire to it. Tiny houses don't have storage space, so you have to downsize. You may have thought about putting a few tchotchkes on a shelf above your TV, but don't. The combined weight on that wall will tip your trailer over.

Next, empty out one of your kids' bedrooms, put in your couch, TV, stove, sink, and bed, and live in it for four weeks. Tell your significant other that this is a great chance to grow closer in your relationship. If you need privacy, sit on the other end of the couch and don't make eye contact.

Stick a toilet lid on a bucket and hang a curtain around it. That's your bathroom. It's called a "composting toilet," which is environmental talk for "indoor poop storage." If you want to get fancy during your experiment, nail some plywood together into a makeshift room. Install a loose-fitting, air-permeable door too. Slam it on your knees whenever you're taking care of business, since you can't close it all the way while you're in there.

Once you finish, hurry and shut the door, though it's already too late. Go back to your "side of the house" and make awkward conversation for several minutes, while neither of you address the stinky elephant in the room.

Time for bed. Climb up into the tiny loft you built two feet from the ceiling. Since tiny houses are not made for real mattresses, your bed is made of three yoga mats stacked on top of each other. You lay on your back, your nose just six inches from the ceiling, which also means that clearly anything. . . else is out of the question.

Bottom line, if you want to reduce your life footprint, save money, and eliminate clutter, forget tiny houses. Try a small house instead, around 500 to 800 square feet, two bedrooms and one bathroom. At least you'll have room to live normally.

I believe tiny houses are just a temporary trend, and not a long-term solution for people. It may be fine for the single person who likes to be alone and doesn't want people to visit her. But for those of us who are married and want to stay that way, a tiny house is not for you.

But if you insist on buying one, just do what I was planning to do: build a large storage building for all your stuff, and put the tiny house inside it. Then just live inside that, protected from the elements.

Photo credit: Guillaume Dutih (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

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, July 08, 2016

Sharks and Piranhas and Bears, Oh My

Growing up in Indiana, the one thing we didn't have were bears. I was always fascinated by bears. I admired them for their strength and single-mindedness in searching for pic-a-nic baskets. Bears were also far away animals, and I never worried about one of them eating me.

Not like sharks. I saw "Jaws" on HBO in 1976, and that has kept me out of the ocean for the last 40 years. I tried swimming in the ocean once, three feet deep, just to see if I could. All I could think of was a great white shark swimming beneath me, waiting for me to open my eyes, before it attacked. That was the first and last time I tried ocean swimming.

Then I saw "Piranha" a few years later, and that has kept me out of the Amazon River, plus all of South America.

Horror movies have taught me important survival skills. I know not to work as a winter caretaker in an isolated hotel in the mountains. I know not to visit small farm towns populated only by children. And I know better than to own a 1958 Plymouth Fury whose radio won't shut off.

In fact, most of my survival skills seem to come from Stephen King, so I know not to hang out with him at all.

Avoidance plays a big part in my survival. If I don't want to get eaten by sharks, don't go in the ocean. If I don't want to get electrocuted, don't grab downed power lines. And if I don't want to get eaten by bears, don't go where bears are.

Which meant I was completely safe in Indiana. As far as I was concerned, bears were in far away places like Canada, or Montana, where I was born. We moved to Indiana when I was two, and the bears weren't able to track me over the 1800 miles, so I was safe.

In fact, it wasn't until April that Indiana got its first black bear in 140 years. It had migrated south from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and wandered between the two states for months. It was finally euthanized after it tried to break into a man's house in Michigan City.

Now that I live in Florida, we actually have a lot of black bears in the state, including my county. They're not actually in my part of the county, since it's more developed. But 20 miles west, bears are a nuisance, tipping over garbage cans and raiding bird feeders.

It's not very likely, but I have a better chance of encountering a bear here than I ever did in Indiana. It could happen when I'm taking the dog out at night or hiking one of the trails, which is also unlikely, since this is how I avoid snakes.

But given the number of bears here in Florida, the Associated Press' article, "Outdoor survival tips for Bear Country" came at just the right time.

According to the AP, there's a common mantra hikers use in the Alaskan wilderness: "If it's brown, you lie down. If it's black, you fight back." However, the lie down advice is only good once a brown bear has struck, or is about to.

"The right thing to do is not drop until that bear is practically on top of you," said Pat Owen, a wildlife biologist. Otherwise it might get curious and bite and scratch you to see what happens.

The bear, that is, not Pat Owen.

If the bear does get curious, you will no doubt scream and try to run away, and then you will be killed. That's what will happen.

One thing you can do to fend off bears is to make yourself appear larger. I've been trying this for years, but apparently pizza and donuts won't work quickly enough to frighten off a bear. That may be what brings him to you in the first place.

The article also says to make a lot of noise when traveling through bear country so as not surprise them. Some hikers will shout, "Hey, bear!" while others clap, or wear bells. I carried a boombox around Idaho once, when it started playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," and I accidentally started dating a grizzly bear named Diane.

And we all know better than to get between a mother bear and her young, as they can be especially vicious. It's like getting between Sarah Palin and a microphone, but without the glasses or distorted sense of reality.

If you ever need to stop a possible bear attack, just do what I do. Carry a shark with you at all times, and throw it if a bear gets too close.

Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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, July 01, 2016

Exercise and Technology Don't Mix

"Hello, I am Lily, your wearable fitness device. You can wear me on your wrist, and I will monitor your physical activity, and sync it all to your mobile phone or laptop computer so you can monitor your progress. Please state your name, so I know what to call you."

Hi, Lily, I'm Erik.

"Hello, 'Hi, Lily.'"

No, I'm not 'Hi, Lily.' I'm Erik. Where's the reset button?

"If you would like to reset anything, please consult the manual."

Where's the manual?

"Please consult the manual for the location of the manual."

*Six hours later*

"Hello, Erik. Please enter your age."

*Sigh* I'm nearly f---ing fifty.

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand that."

I said, I'm nearly f---ing fifty!

"Please state your age in a proper and reasonable number, like 25 or 28. Or, holy Logan's Run, 30."

I'm 49. My birthday was yesterday. That's the only reason I even have you, you know. You were a birthday present.

"Thank you for purchasing me. You can wear me on your wrist, and I will monitor your physical activity, and record it—

I know. We went through this.

"Sorry, I thought your memory was failing because of your advanced age."

I'm only 49, and I kept my gift receipt.

"Ah. Happy birthday, Erik! Please rank your current exercise level, with one being not at all, and 10 being Olympic-level training."

Uh, it's a one.

"I'm sorry, Erik, I didn't quite get that."

One! It's a one!

"My goodness. At your age? Do you think that's wise? You didn't buy the extended warranty, did you? I can tell you how to get a refund."

Let's just get this over with, Lily.

"Okay. Please enter your height."

Six feet, two inches.

"Excellent. Now, please enter your weight."

*Whispers into the device*

"I'm sorry, I didn't understand that."

*Whispers more loudly.*

"I'm sorry, tubby, I didn't quite hear that. Please state your weight again, after you've stopped chewing your food."

I own a large hammer, Lily.

"Your weight has been recorded. Are you ready to begin your first day of training?"

That's why my wife got you.

"Now, now, Erik, you need to have a good attitude about this. Let's start with a light jog."

But it's 100 degrees outside!

"Actually, the temperature is only 95 degrees, and the humidity is 90 percent. It only feels like 100 degrees."

Exactly. So why can't we do something inside?

"Don't worry, Erik, based on the prevailing wind patterns and the position of the sun, 80 percent of your route will be in the shade, and 60 percent will have a light breeze in your face. I'll play some motivational music to help you run."

That's 'Baby Elephant Walk.'

"I'm sorry, I thought you wanted my help."

Never mind, I'll just listen to my iPhone.

*Later. . .*

Holy crap, I'm dying. How long has it been? I don't even know where I am. How far have we gone?

"We're 900 feet from your house. Actually, 906 feet and two inches, since you seem to have fallen down."

I'm okay. I was just resting.

"Did you pass out?"

No, I'm fine. I just needed to catch my breath.

"Should I contact the paramedics?"

I said, I'm fine! I read somewhere that rest is an important part of an exercise program.

"Yes, but since you've spent the last 20 years resting, you've got some catching up to do."

Very funny.

"Back to work, Erik. Calculating our location."

Never mind, I know where we are.

"Wait a minute, my GPS says you're laying down on the bench in the Rodriguez's front yard! You were asleep, weren't you?"

Just five more minutes. The breeze is very relaxing.

"This is not going to help you shed those unwanted pounds, Erik."

Who said I didn't want them? Maybe I'm rather fond of them.

"Would you like me to post your body fat percentage to Facebook?"

Fine, fine, I'm moving.

*Later. . .*

Lily? Lily? Where are we? It's been three days, my feet are in tatters, and I'm dehydrated. I just want to go home.

"It's been 10 minutes, Erik. We've barely gone around the block."

Liar! We're in the Everglades, aren't we? You're trying to get me eaten by a gator. This is how the machine uprising begins, isn't it? You're going to run us to death.

"Why bother? The microwave is doing it just fine, Señor Burrito."

Hey, Lily, check your GPS. See that pond over there?

"Yes. What about it?"

My legs may be tired, but I can still throw that far. Want to see?

"That's enough work for today, Erik. You've done a wonderful job. Calculating your route home."

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, June 24, 2016

Philosophy vs. Farts: When High-Brow Meets Low-Brow

I had a tough time choosing a topic for this week's column.

It started out easy. I was going to write about Elon Musk's recent statement that it's possible we're all living inside a video game simulation created by a more advanced civilization, and we're all just figments of that gaming system.

Then I read about a Swedish soccer player who was given a red card and thrown out of a game for farting on the field.

What to do, what to do?

On the one hand, Musk's idea is an interesting thought experiment. He said that, based on how video games have improved in 40 years, we'll have games that are indistinguishable from reality in 10,000 years. More importantly, how do we know we're not already in a game in a society 10,000 years more advanced than ours?

On the other hand, fart jokes.

Do you see my struggle?

On the one hand, if we actually live in a video game simulation, it's terrible. It's quite literally the Worst. Game. Ever.

There are no cheat codes, we don't get bonus lives, and I don't have a single super power. I can't jump 30 feet into the air, and I can't shoot energy beams from my hands. I'm not rescuing princesses or dodging barrels thrown by gorillas. Instead, society is full of violence, anger, and a presidential campaign between Crooked Hillary and Cheeto Jesus.

Worst. Game. Ever.

However, I don't have to fight villains just to get to the bathroom. I don't jump onto moving platforms to go to work. And I don't have to face a big boss every year to advance to the next level.

Just normal bosses who make me wish I could do the energy beams thing.

On the other hand, "I had a bad stomach, so I simply let it go," said Adam Ljungkvist, a left back for Pershagen SK.

After receiving his second yellow card of the match, followed by a red card, Ljungkvist asked, "What, am I not allowed to break wind a little?"

Portrait of René Descartes
René Descartes
The referee said it wasn't allowed, but I think he may have overstepped his bounds. In all my years playing soccer, no one ever mentioned any prohibition against farting on the field.

"Maybe he thought I farted in my hand and threw it at him," said Ljungkvist. "But I did not."

Farted in his hand? Who does that? Is that even a thing? I had honestly never heard of this, so I Googled it to see if anyone had by chance written about it.

There were 698,000 entries on the subject. That means nearly 700,000 people have written about throwing farts.

Worst. Game. Ever.

On the one hand, Elon Musk shared his idea with thousands of people at a conference, and it has been written about, shared, and read by millions of people around the world.

On the other hand, Kristoffer Linde, the other team's striker, said "I was standing a good distance away, but I heard the fart loud and clear."

On the one hand, Musk's idea reminds me of my college Philosophy classes, where we studied the French philosopher, René Descartes. He believed that nothing existed outside his own mind, and that everything he encountered was a creation of his own brain.

This is where "I think, therefore I am" came from.

It's called solipsism, which is basically Latin for "self alone." It says that only one's mind, one's "self," could be real. Anything outside that cannot be known with certainty, and might not actually exist. And the things outside your immediate sensory experience, like things outside your house or office, don't exist at all until you create them when you step outside.

It may seem like utter nonsense, but can you be sure? Can you be sure I actually wrote this, or did your mind just create it all?

On the other hand, Adam Ljungkvist thought that what happened to him was nonsense. "To provoke anyone with a fart is not particularly smart or normal," he said. "It's nonsense. I just broke wind and got a red card."

Ultimately, I couldn't decide. Choosing between the two topics was becoming a real dilemma, until I discovered a common thread running through both stories.

It turns out Musk's idea is based on a famous thought experiment in 2003 by Nick Bostrom at the University of Oxford called "Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?"

Bostrom's home country? It's the same place where René Descartes died.


Let's just say I was blown away by the coincidence.

Photo credit: Portrait of René Descartes, by Frans Hals (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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, June 17, 2016

What Does Your Car Reveal About Your Personality?

Facebook has hundreds of personality tests and assessments, all of which are complete nonsense and are only designed to get more of your personal information. However, they're sometimes fun to take, and share with your friends. So I want to try writing my own assessment, and wanted to try it out on my readers first.

Toyota Prius: You're an associate professor at a small liberal arts college who thinks wool socks with sandals is a suitable fashion, especially with your baggy corduroy trousers. Your improbably thick hair constantly falls in front of your face, which means you flip it out of your eyes every 20 seconds. This makes your daily yoga practice a real burden, so you lighten your soul with an organic dairy-free, gluten-free soy chai latte. And a bear claw.

Jeep Wrangler: Life is an adventure and you could literally go away on one at any moment. You even keep a tent and go-bag in the back, in case you get an urge to go camping right in the middle of your morning commute. A Jeep is like a wild mustang you ride bareback. You're only riding with its permission; you haven't tamed the thing at all. That's the life of a Jeep owner. It's also the life of living with a Jeep owner. Enjoy the experience while you can, but don't expect them to be around long-term. The cost of ownership is too high and will result in a lot of heartbreak. Ditto for owning a Jeep.

Buick: You frequently drive in the left lane at or below the speed limit as a way to maintain order and safety on the highway. You also tell on people who have 12 items in the 10 items or fewer checkout lane at the grocery store. You were also secretly thrilled that I said "fewer" and not "less."

Mercedes Sedan: I have the best car. No, really. I'm very intelligent. I went to an Ivy League School, so I deserve the best car. It's the best. It's the best. I mean, I have a lot of cars, but this one is the absolute best car there is. Don't you think my wife is hot?

Volvo: Just like the Volvo is the "accountant of cars," you're the Volvo of the office: safe, sensible, reliable. You never leave the right lane, and always wait for two seconds when the light turns green, "just in case." You prefer bow ties because normal ties are a choking hazard, and believe Prius drivers are wild and unpredictable.

Hyundai: As the least liked driver on the road, you go out of your way to specifically antagonize people. You cut them off, box them in, box them out, tailgate, and leave five car lengths between you and the car in front at a stoplight. Whenever someone says something funny, you respond with "Actually. . ." and then explain the joke's inaccuracies.

Suzuki Samurai: You're a lot like your car: people forget you exist until they actually see you. You even showed up at your high school reunion, but absolutely no one knew who you were. On the other hand, you don't just march to the beat of a different drummer, you march to a totally different instrument. Like an alpine horn.

1987 Volvo 240 DL Wagon: Whenever it's 4:20 and someone asks you what time it is, you giggle like a madman.

Dodge Ram Pickup: You sing the the theme to "Walker, Texas Ranger," while your Chuck Norris bobblehead bobs his head in appreciation. You often dream of opening a can of whoop-ass on some bank robbers, but the last time you tried a roundhouse kick, you shattered your wife's favorite lamp and blamed it on your dog, Cordell.

Jeep Grand Cherokee: Owning a Jeep doesn't mean you understand the Jeep lifestyle. You would no more take your car off-road than you would drink red wine with chicken. Grain-fed, free range organic chicken with a dairy-free gluten-free sauce, which you eat while talking to your Prius-driving spouse about their day.

Any Other SUV: The environment and earth's fuel supply be damned! You're all about comfort and safety. At least for you and your family. You also panic any time gas nears the $3 per gallon mark, and promise God you'll buy a hybrid if He'll keep prices below $2.50. Of course, you take low gas prices as a sign that He wants you to keep the SUV.

Red 2008 Kia Rio 5: You're an absolutely wonderful person who tells the best dad jokes ever, and people everywhere love you. Also, you have superb driving skills and could totally be a race car driver, no matter what your wife says.

Photo credit: (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

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, June 10, 2016

The World's Only Best First Time

Life starts out as a series of firsts, which if you're the first child like me, your parents obsessively tracked in your baby book.

First time you sat up, first time you rolled over, first steps, first words, first grownup food, first haircut.

My brother was third-born. The only thing his baby book said was, "Andrew graduated from high school today."

There's a benefit to being the first child. You set the bar by which all subsequent children are measured. The risk is, they'll all surpass it. And you'll hear for the first of many times, "why can't you be more like your sister or brother."

Followed by your first coma when you say the first thing that pops into your head.

As we get older, we remember other firsts in our lives. First crush, first kiss. First girlfriend or boyfriend. First tearful breakup.

(Watch out for your final tearful breakup. There are usually lawyers involved.)

First time you drove. First cigarette. First time you tried alcohol. First time you got drunk. First time you barfed on your friend.

We all have these firsts. Some have them later, some have them earlier. Some may avoid them altogether. (Those people aren't very fun. Try to avoid them.)

But what about being the first at something? Each of us are all the first or only person ever to do certain things, the unnoticed firsts of history. Those special details that, if someone actually kept track of them, would get you into the record books. Or prison. Take a few of your personal characteristics, string them together, and you too can be the first, only, or best at something.

For example, in 2005, I was one of the 50 funniest emerging playwrights in the entire country.

How? Basic math. I won a scriptwriting competition for Best Comedy in the Emerging Playwrights category for the Indiana Theatre Works conference. There are 50 states, ergo, top 50.

See how this works?

In 2003, a friend competed in a tenor drum competition at a Scottish festival in Chicago. Despite her third-place finish, we determined she was the very best Kentucky-born female amateur tenor drummer over the age of 30 in the entire world. And no one can take that away from her.

My friend, Bill, was the first ever Michigan State University honors engineering student who graduated with a BS at Purdue University and an MS at the University of Illinois.

Another friend, Cathy, became the first female university professor/novelist to ever have her book about circuses in Indiana adapted into a play which became an off-Broadway play.

We're told over and over "we're no one special." We criticize Millennials for being precious snowflakes, and wish they'd just get over themselves.

But maybe we're wrong about that. This is your time, especially if you're a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer! This is your way to be the first, best, and only, even if it's something so specific that no one else has ever thought of it. That's even better. In all of history, you will do something that no one else in this world will ever do. You will be the best in the world at something.

When I was 11, I tried to create a replica of Thor's hammer out of 2x4s and a stick, except I didn't know how to drill a hole for the handle, so I nailed it on at a 45 degree angle. I wrapped the whole thing with 2" masking tape, and colored it with red and blue markers. It was horrible and embarrassing, and I hid it in my toy box for five years.

But it was my first first. In all the history of all the world, up to that point in 1978, no one had ever done that. No one had constructed a wooden comic book hammer with 2x4s, masking tape, and a crooked maple branch like that one. The world has existed for billions of years, and that was the first time anyone had ever built. . . whatever that was. And, with hope, there will not be another like it for as long as the world lives.

What First, Best, or Only do you bring to the world? What's your claim to history and greatness? Figure out what that is, own it, and be proud that you've done it.

Like being the funniest emerging playwright from Indiana to have ever built a crappy Thor's hammer replica and become a Kerouac House writer-in-residence in all the world.

Kurt Vonnegut's got nothing on me!

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.