Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Thing About Personalities

"If it weren't for caffeine I'd have no personality whatsoever!" ~ Anonymous

Brands have personality. Rooms have personality. Dogs have personality. And so do we (assuming you're a human being). No matter who we are, how rich or poor, quiet or loud, introverted or extroverted, funny or serious, or fat or thin: we all have one. Those who associate with us will attest to whether we have an agreeable personality or one that makes them wonder why euthanasia is outlawed. According to Briggs Myers, there are 16 general types of personalities, but the truth is everyone's personality is unique. No matter how much we may act alike, our personality is ours alone. This is a good thing because, after all, if we had the same personality as someone else then we wouldn't be us. We'd just be another them and that wouldn't do. The distinctive characteristics of our personality give us the individuality most seek and can determine how enjoyable our lives pan out to be.

Experts say there are 5 major personality traits including extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and (my personal fav) neuroticism, but some say that list stops short and should include goofiness, assholeness, dumbness, believability and the capacity to dominate entire conversations (blogs not included).

The word personality is said to be derived from the ancient Greek word, persona; used to describe the masks worn in the theater in those days to portray different characters and has evolved to mean the mask we choose to show the world. The behaviors we display elicits behaviors in others we interact with. If you exhibit bad behavior the problem is that one thing can lead to another and they can feed on each other which can cause a chain reaction and before you know it you have a whole bunch of behaviors blowing up and going all nuclear on you. So, most of us chose a set of behaviors that cause the fewest craters. Unless you're weird, of course. Then, all bets are off. We call this condition alternatively being all f*cked up, up tight, wacked out, or if you're a boring trained professional; the proud owner of a personality disorder. Slight adjustments are then called for or one can be sent into proverbial interpersonal banishment. Which is fine for those of us who just want a calm life unburdened with the messiness of social interaction. On the other hand those fortunate enough to have great personalities can cruise through a life rich with the rewards of good manners and likeability.

We can't buy a good personality. We can just try to fix problems with ours when and if they arise. Sometimes it takes people that care about us getting in our faces. And that's okay. Because when we're jerks sometimes we don't realize it because we're all wrapped up in ourselves. The process, while stressful and at times distasteful, must work because after thousands of years some of us are still talking and getting along...
 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

People Who Do Bad Things To Themselves

You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it. ~ Robin Williams (RIP)

There are a lot of things that are bad for us. And part of the thing about growing up for most of us is learning how to avoid the "bad things" so you can lead a productive life and pay taxes and have children that can torture you the same way you tortured your parents.

There are some who think others spoil things for the rest of us by seeking out and performing actions that might end up hurting them... and they say their motivations come from something called "self destructive behavior."  They postulate these behaviors emanate from early childhood traumas (e.g. seeing your parents naked, discovering there is no Santa, pulling your uncle's finger when he tells you to, etc.) and manifest in early deviant behaviors such as sticking chewing gum under school desks, dressing in holey jeans, and turning in homework late. They will tell you these acts may seem innocuous at first but in truth they whet the appetite for more dangerous acts as people grow older. One day they're trying to do a wheelie on their bikes and the next they're mainlining heroin. A kid expresses an interest in beginning a coin collection and before you know it he's that man who buys gold jewelery from people and yells at people on television commercials. Embarrassing lessons on toilet flushing as a child can lead to problem gambling behavior as an adult. It would be sad if it was true. But it's not.

I know all this because I'm a trained professional in advertising. And we're trained to recognize behavior patterns. Risky behavior doesn't come from nowhere. Acts that are full of riskiness all emanate from fairy tales, Dr. Suez stories, comic books and heroic tales where the good guys win the day by putting their lives on the line for the betterment of mankind. Selfless acts.

The people who engage in risky behaviors in life are certainly courageous but they're not heroes. If they crash and burn it's because maybe they cared too much and maybe society let them down. And maybe it was meant to be. We can't judge. They were just trying to lead their lives to the fullest; and how they did so depended on how it was dealt out to them.

They deserve our admiration.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Real 'Bad Boys'

Not trying to get all serious on you here but it seems our young are more absorbed than ever in the bad boy thing. Bad boys these days seem to be those who see themselves as partiers, risk takers, thrill seekers and evidently irresistible to the opposite sex. They're bullies, self-indulgent, self-entitled personalities and just plain folks trying to make their street reps. They are the hedonistic, tatooed pleasure seekers who think they can make themselves popular through actions that are risky, often violent, and surely inconsiderate of others. But those I speak of aren't really bad boys. They're posers. Problem is, they prey on the impressionable amongst us. Maybe we could launch a public service campaign that would speak to the issue.

In reality, the true bad boys in our collective conscience are the ones who think differently, have set examples of goodness and brought positive contributions to our cultures around the world.

They are the mavericks; the not-so-easy-to-get-along-withs. Folks well known for being relentless in their pursuits. They are the driven.

They are the ones who dared to ask the tough questions, push the limits of their professions, break the boundaries of understanding and find new paths for growth.

Their words speak of justice, advancement and positive change and their deeds pave roads to make things better for others. These are the true bad boys.

And they are those who shine a bit of light in a dim world and bring a bit of sensibility into our lives – in a world that often seems to be full of lost souls, shallow intentions and moral chaos.

These are the real bad boys. 

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Take these thoughts for what they're worth. Sometimes I just put stuff out there. Keeps the ol' brain cells percolating... These are mock ups so please disregard their obviously crude execution. Note: the logo uses a sourced free font called "Streetwear". Fun to play... :)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bubbling Over

Words are weird. English words in particular. Some are frowned upon – outlawed by polite society – and some are liked so much people make songs up about them. One, about bubbles, was first published in 1919 and goes, "I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air" and is still well known almost 100 years later. You've probably heard it a million times, gargled it in the shower, had it run through your mind incessantly...

Bubbles have been around since ancient times. It is said the ancient Babylonians invented soap from goat fat and ashes and once that was done the inevitability of bubble making for fun and pleasure was only a matter of time. We don't hear Greek and Roman philosophers speak of bubbles at all because Greeks and Romans generally didn't use soap. They thought nothing of going through their entire lives not being squeaky clean; considering it only for those namby-pamby barbarians. Regardless, the tradition of parents getting pesky kids out of their hair for a while by giving them soapy water to play with had begun. There are a number of recipes online

The thing about bubbles is that inevitably they burst. Soap bubbles are neat to pop because doing so appeals to the maniac inside us all; bringing out the evil laugh in our arsenal of pleasurable vocal expressions. All this adds up to the fact that the bubble is a wonderful metaphor for a number of human conditions and circumstances; from the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the 90's to other economic situations (a commodity worth expanding in cost followed by a sudden contraction) to a description of our personal space. Urban Dictionary has a myriad of cultural slang uses of the word,  some weird. Okay, mostly weird. Due to their instability  it's understandable that soap bubbles were often used in paintings since at least the 17th-century Renaissance as a symbol for the transitory nature of life. Folks use the term to describe their own personal space. Mathematicians have used bubbles in many complex computations that I won't go into because I don't understand a single word that they've written. 

I'll just stick with blowing them; here in my own little bubble.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Charley Chacha: The New Reality

Meet Charley Chacha. He lives in his parent's basement. He's a tad tubby, eats cheesies (which accounts for the yellow fingers on his right hand), anything containing unruly carbohydrates and never goes outside. He is in his mid-twenties, as never had a date let alone an intimate experience – although he did talk to a girl once in high school and knows all the basics from pictures stored on his computer. He plays video games all day, laughs at inappropriate, weird things and if he had to leave the basement his dream would be to live in FarmVille, where he owns acreage, a number of chickens and 3 cows.

His father, Charley Sr., is an underachieving middle manager with male pattern baldness, a skin condition which he believes will go away on its own if he ignores it, grunts when he gets up from chairs, says "Geez" a lot under his breath and hasn't spoken to Charley Jr.'s mother, Gladys, in ten years and a bit. Gladys spends her days crocheting bed pants for the infirmed while humming obscure Beach Boy songs, reading Harlequin Romances (because they take her to lands far away), dusting and doing laundry. Once a week she goes out to play bingo where she once won a fondue set which Charley Sr. won't allow used because it takes too long and he refuses to cook his own meat. When Gladys is out of the house Charley Jr. raids the fridge for cola which he pours over a heaping bowl of sugar-puffed cereal, after which he leaves the empty can and bowl under his bed. There are presently 37 bowls and 52 empty cans in his collection. Gladys, unaware of this collection, is forever buying new bowls from Walmart, where she engages in scintillating 30-second conversations with the cashiers.

This is the stuff that reality television is made of. It's got everything. Quirkiness, an interesting interpersonal dynamic and something to make viewers feel better about their ordinary lives. I'm pitching it to the networks and so far they love it. It has all the factors that add up to successful reality shows, in which unique individuals unselfishly share their special lives with us all.

Budget: the cost of 3 video cameras positioned around the house, a subscription to Better Living Through Crocheting magazine, some skin cream and a year's supply of sugar-puffed cereal.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Getting Better All The Time

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Been seeing a lot of editorial lately about the big promise, or lie (or whatever you want to call it) that if you're not one of the lucky few on this earth who has a perfect life that it's okay, because things can always get better. Like the proverbial carrot on the stick, we hold out hope in front of our eyes and that helps get us through tough times; times of empty cupboards, of disappointing events, of shitty days. And sometimes things do get better. It depends on how you define better, I suppose. And it depends on us realizing that in order for things to get better, we have to better ourselves. We have to be better. And we work hard to be better.

The world, being the smart world it is, recognizes that we want to be better and offers us a myriad of ways it can help. The government sells us hope comes in the form of a ten buck lottery ticket because someone has to win, after all. Manufacturers tell us their products can help us be better; with fuller hair or shinier teeth or a new do-hickey that does things you really need to have done. We're told we can easily be a bit more like those icons that the fashion and entertainment industry sets up before us as examples of beauty, talent and success even though every day we're a little older, a little uglier and most likely, with inflation, taxes and service fees, a little poorer. With a gusto that would rival a nagging mother, we're urged to use services and buy products that we must continue buying and using (with a nod to planned obsolescence) because being better is something that we need to continuously work on. Otherwise what good are we? What chance do we have at being better if we don't? Enter the self-styled gurus seemingly popping out of every crevice and orifice to give us advice and guidance on everything from what to eat to what to think – all for the price of a book, a seminar, an inspirational tape. Ah, it's a wonderful world we live in.

Marketers spend whole careers pointing out to people how their product is better than the competition's. Politicians take great glee in telling us how they're making our world a better one to live in. Political parties make hay by proclaiming themselves vastly better for us than other parties. Religions preach that their brand of devotion is better than all the others. Those around us daily spend time and money to demonstrate how their lives, their skills, their cars or their weedless, manicured yards are better. And all that is okay. Because it's written somewhere that we are guaranteed the right to be better than someone else.

At the end of the day we all know that our being better is not dependent on what we buy or who we wear or whether we win a lottery, travel south every winter or stock our garage with vintage autos. We know it's an inward glow we give to ourselves that allows for positive thought. Being better is different for each one of us and often happens in baby steps. Like a hyperactive child being able to sit still for four minutes today instead of three yesterday. Or having a puppy realize that they should go outside to do their business after weeks of house training. Or simply being able to pay off another fifty bucks on the old credit card. Or getting back in touch with someone and hearing their smile.

And if we can't see anything getting better today that's okay too, because there's always tomorrow and until then we can rely on that old refrain, "Things could always be worse!"




Sunday, July 6, 2014

Refueling The Ol' Grey Matter On The Interweb

It seems there are as many ways of getting ourselves mentally fueled up these days as there are people. On the surface the process of revving up our brain appears to be simply accessing whatever turns our crank. But I've found there are people that get energized on the web from the same sort of stimuli. And being both borderline obsessive-compulsive and curious I've conducted a highly scientific study. Here, from my preliminary research and in no particular order, are some of the initial classification groups:

The Rabble. If it's possible we can self charge our brains with BS, these folks would all be Energizer Bunnies. They get off on making rude and archaic comments, enraging other people in a conversation and getting people's blood pressure to spike. They all have interweb names made up from bad spelling and rude comments and quote Larry The Cable Guy. They all come from a special conspiracy group led by very rich people who hang out near schoolyard fences and train these individuals from an early age. They have fury faces, wear polyester no-iron clothing with white shoes and sport heavy gold in the shape of various zodiac signs. This group is great for those that like to argue without reserve, put others down regularly and dismiss intelligence as unimportant.

The Goodies. This rare breed of individuals are motivated by lofty goals and membership in this group is reserved for a special few. Their brain fuel comes from the pursuit of answers to ideological matters, injustices, the plight of others less fortunate than themselves, the drive to fix things that may or may not need fixing and the academic need to publish a few highly regarded research papers. They are apt to have bad haircuts, initials as their first name or hyphenated last names, wear cumberbuns with bow ties or poorly fitted clothing that may or may not have been living room drapes at some time and suffer from either hemorrhoids or bad digestion. Other than those few clues they are difficult to spot because they tend to be quiet and reserved because they really don't like associating with stupid people and are apt to divert any praise that comes their way onto others in order to look philanthropic. If you'd like to have someone around intelligent enough to know not to say anything stupid, these are the people to search out.

The Sloggers. Then there are the common Joes, the ones who are more motivated by the necessity to (shudder) make a living and pay bills. Nice, down to earth folks. Salt of the earth. They drink discount domestic beer from the bottle, sneer at fine crystal, shop at big box stores using those neat electric 3-wheeler go-carts while towing three toddlers on leashes, long to have grand adventures and enjoy the pleasures wrongly denied them, but often find they have to shift energies to fix something broken in their 1996 pick-up. Their goal is not to inflame grand passions in others but simply to keep their foot on the gas and make their way steadily through life until their children are old enough to support them. Radical subsections of this group include the Whiny Criers, the Tempest Teapots and the Bragging Bozos.

The LOLers. These are the folks that would rather be fueled by finding and reacting to the lighthearted stuff in life: memes, lame cartoons by unintelligent 12-year-olds, awkward comments about your mother's sex life and painful pictures of people falling while attempting death-defying acts. They love slapstick and you can often find them laughing while imagining other people's pratfalls. You'll never hear a serious word come from them and they often rely on run-on sentences to make their wacky points because, after all, there is no point at all but maybe they'll stumble across one if they go on and on and on and on long enough and they believe their group is the best because there's just too much serious sh*t going on and too many asshats out there. Laughing with people is a great way of recharging, of course, and this is a nice group to visit with. One can take LOLing too far, though. More than three LOLs in one sentence may give people the impression you're low on independent thought.

Whatever unique motivations fuel you; there is no right and wrong. How you fuel up is part of the special quality of your character. At the end of the day, may your tanks be topped up and your wheels be pointing to a positive place.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Burden Of Cleaning Up Falls Upon Us All

"Don't call the world dirty because you forgot to clean your glasses." 
~ Aaron Hill

I really should vacuum. I should also do the dishes, dust the bunnies, take the garbage out and if the bathroom hasn't been taken away by health authorities, I should probably take a soapy brush to that as well. We have a tendency to let things like this slide, especially when we're busy doing more enjoyable stuff (e.g. practically anything else). Inevitably, the detritus we ignore adds up and the time comes that leaving mops, brooms and other implements of cleaning strategically placed around the house is no longer fooling anyone. We look up from our other pursuits, see the world around us as the messy place we've allowed it to become, get totally grossed out, have an epiphany and find ourselves reacquainting ourselves with cleaning equipment. The tough part is figuring out what we should hold onto and what we should toss. (Hint: dust and dirt, bad; spare change hidden in the couch and the dog found in the laundry basket, good.) And when we're done that arduous task, we can get to go back to the more enjoyable stuff again.

And in a way, design is like that. After a period of time with our heads down working on a project, we look back over what we've done and clean up. We do that because a lot of ideas come pouring out and, like some people, not all of them belong together. Untrained designers, like hoarders, tend to skip that bit. What they produce may be all loaded up with all sorts of neat stuff but there may be just too much of it and people who look at it may not know where to look first or how to wade through it all. Or even want to. Hence, the message that is trying to break through becomes lost in the clutter. Eyes glaze over. And good campaigns die a miserable death.

Seasoned designers keep things clean. In fact, as they become used to producing material with simplicity and clarity they see possibilities in their heads, learn to recognize what they're going to eventually throw out and tidy up as they go along.

Just like I should learn to do with my housework...


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Putting It In A Cone Doesn't Make It Ice Cream

Officials are warning there are people out there that are putting things in cones and trying to convince the general public that they are new flavors of ice cream. Beware. They are not ice cream at all. It's a scheme. The nefarious Fake Ice Cream Scheme.

These fraudsters use friendly rhyming names to try to lure customers in. They may look like the real thing, but don't let appearances fool you. Authorities warn these products may include improper ingredients that no reputable ice cream manufacturer would consider using.

People who have been taken in by this scheme report the fake ice cream does not even taste particularly good and, depending on the flavor, are not easily digested. Even sprinkles or chocolate syrup will not help. You can easily identify the imposters because they do not melt once taken out the freezer (and by their general lack of stickiness).

These impersonators are nothing but cheap knock offs manufactured using preteens in Third World sweat shops. The shops use a glut of new child laborers created following a huge power blackout ten years ago that produced a large number of births nine months later.

One of the flavors even has a chip imbedded in the wrapper that will sing the Cheers theme song to you when opened. This is merely a clever attempt to try to divert your attention away from its lack of ice cream-ness.

Should you come across one of these, you are advised to report them to the nearest Cone Impersonation Agency (CIA) office.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Comfort Zones, Or "Take A Big Step Back. Now."

Remember when we used to actually get together with other people? When how we related to each other didn't involve sitting in front of a computer screen? I think it was back in the seventies. And we all used to walk around saying things like "I need my space, man" and "Get out of my space". And I suppose there are still people out there in Third World countries that still carry on talking in person to each other the old fashioned way. People without texting and emails, forums or blogs... Or rebels, back to nature hippies or hipsters with earrings in strange places who are into the whole retro thing.

In this day and age it is so weird to actually have to be in close physical proximity in order to communicate. The horror.

Now I don't want to get all scientific on you, but if you know someone like that you might snail mail them the above chart about something called Proxemics. The cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall first coined the term in 1963, while studying the matter of our personal space requirements. It's like where our protected territory starts and stops and how that affects our comfort. And how different circumstances or different people determine how we use our personal space and react to distance changes. Measurements vary between different cultures. For instance, folks from Latin countries tend to feel more comfortable standing closer to one another as they interact, while we in North America want people out of our faces (for the most part). It's interesting in a purely academic way.

Then there are the things that short circuit our zones; things like lust and psychological deviations. And then there are those people who feel like they have to touch you in order to talk to you: who don't seem to know whether you're real unless they're confirming your existence by clinging onto your sleeve. You know the type... glazed eyes, manic laughter at inappropriate times and a little bit of drool coming out of the corner of their mouths.

Luckily, we have computers and tablets now. We can maintain our comfort zones and keep all that messy interpersonal stuff to a bare minimum. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Effective Creative Strategies

A recent scientific study by the Cognitive Effect Center (CEC) discovered 
evidence of the effect of highly creative ads on the human brain.*

I do a lot of playing around here. Sometimes it's to parody Webland and sometimes it's for fun, or simply to keep the wheels turning. Occasionally, though, I'll get real boring and write a bit about the industry. Forgive me, but this is one of those.

These days there is a lot of attention given to technical skills in marketing communications. Web site and app coding. Content development. Computer design programs. Social media maximization. SEO – all crucial elements in making things work. Leaders who market their goods and services to a target audience (TA) often concentrate on the technical at the expense of the creative product by using the folks that perform technical tasks (or PR personnel or themselves) to devise creative direction and strategy. In all fairness, sometimes you do meet someone who builds and also has creative chops but mostly it's like allowing a dentist to remove your appendix. If you're new to the execution of creative, here are a few things to consider that can make the difference between an effort that doesn't get noticed and a mind blowing one:

1) Recognize the intelligence of your TA. Giving your audience the benefit of having intelligence will begin your relationship in a positive manner. Well thought out solutions with custom photography or thematic illustrations is far better than standard phrases and the use of generic stock photos with smiling, happy people. Interpreting your unique selling proposition in a memorable, intelligent manner draws attention and lends credibility to your message. With the ever increasing torrent of blasé messages hitting the public on a moment-to-moment basis these days, intelligence is a good way to distinguish yourself

2) Dare to be unique. Thinking differently will elevate a modest marketing communications budget to the value of a large scale one. Concept-based creative, delivered consistently across all media, adds immediate retention value. The use of humor, unique logic and memorable messages will help people remember your product or service over your competition and increase top-of-mind awareness, and

3) Be clean, clear and concise. You don't need to jazz up a layout in order to bedazzle. In fact, with all the clutter out there, the opposite is true. A simple layout with one clear message, topped off with a call to action (i.e. web site address) will plant the seeds of interest and increase your chances for buy in.

Boost the probability of capturing attention and blowing a few minds. Invest in unique, compelling creative. It will work hard for you and help maximize your marketing budget.

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(The above samples are from my portfolio. There are many better examples of outstanding ad creative from the industry on this link and on other pages on the web. I urge you to explore and learn.)

*Note: The Cognitive Effect Center and the illustrated discovery is entirely fictional and not to be confused with actual science.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Floating A Quick Post...

Not to disturb your week, but thought I'd share this little guy floating along like a cloud. Don't know his name but he popped into my mind when I was halfway between being awake and asleep.

I suppose he was demonstrating that experience for me.

Maybe I'll call him Mr. Inbetween...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jack, The Fire Putter-Outer

My friend Jack popped by a few nights ago. He's a pretty intense guy, sweats a lot, speaks in a rushed, urgent, raspy voice and, to tell the truth; could use a shower and a change of clothes. It's always nice to see him, even if it means cleaning up the odd blown up thing and Polyfilla-ing the bullet holes after he leaves. All that is to be expected when dealing with a fictional action hero.

He is, after all, single-handedly fighting a battle that no one realizes has to be fought and saving people who don't know they have to be saved; all at the expense of personal safety, a healthy bank balance, pleasant conversations about nothing in particular and the loss of those stress-relieving lazy afternoons at the day spa with wine and cucumber slices on his eyes. No time for that. That's what happens when there are fires to be put out before they become catastrophic.

It seems not everyone is appreciative of Jack's role. Some people of opinion say his story reflects the unhappiness that people have, that it is a strong reflection of their collective persona; rife with torture, violations of human rights, and very representative of the times we live in. They also say most of the drama comes directly from current policies. And they proclaim that reports of his actions exploits people's worst fears to the hilt for entertainment value and profit. (Seems there are haters everywhere these days.)

Maybe one day Jack will finally be able to stop spending all his time putting out fires and lead a little more of a well organized, healthier, less reactive and more proactive life. Until then, it's conventional wisdom that recognizes the fact we all have fires to put out every now and then.

And, like in Jack's case, it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Tao Of E-Mail

They cause hand cramps, eye strain, spam-based indigestion and hold the tainted smell of false inheritances from strangers in foreign countries. They arrive in hordes like marauding Mongols demanding your time, attention and surrender. And just when you think you're all caught up; more arrive. Practically everyone in business e-mails multiple times a day (it's in the contract) – sometimes to the point of e-mail fatigue. To lessen the chances of becoming victims, there are a few things we can do to protect our sanity and maximize the positive benefits (yes, there are some) of this form of communication:

1) Be brief. On and on they go.... Most people prefer not to read long messages on their screen. If you have a lot of words to send (say over two paragraphs), put them in a file attachment so people can print them out and recycle bin them at their leisure. If others keep on doing this to you I have found sending them a reply containing a copy of War and Peace in the body of the message to work very well

2) Be clear. Making sure you are stating your message as clearly as possible will lessen chances of the reader misunderstanding your intentions. Check your punctuation, spell check, proofread your message, send it to the Legal Department for approval and, if possible, translate it into English before sending. Also double check your recipient list prior to hitting send and delete those who can fire you

3) Don't bullhorn. Some hit reply to all every time they respond to a group email but, really, ask yourself if everyone really needs to hear your opinion or if it's sufficient for only the original sender to receive and ignore your opinion. There's nothing people hate more than receiving reply after reply to something they've dealt with and moved on. (Unless you're the boss, in which case, whatever you do is okay with everyone)

4) Get real. Marking all of your outgoing messages "Important" (or equivalent) may be cute at first but quickly turns ugly. Stop the attention-seeking histrionics and begin by not marking any of your emails. Put the emphasis on coming up with a subject heading that is informative enough to allow the reader to prioritize the importance of the message themselves. Assume they have intelligence (even if it's not really true and never could be in this lifetime). And finally

5) Don't e-mail. Unless you're abnormally ugly, haven't showered in a while or are infested with some kind of transferable parasite, make a point to get together every once in a while for a communication that you would normally e-mail. Bring coffee and go over things together. Let them put a face to an e-mail address and name. Electronic communications, while convenient and time effective, are, after all, about furthering a cause and achieving results. They are not the be-all and end-all. The old fashioned methods can help as you travel further on down the electronic highway.

Your comments, additions and wise reflections are welcome, of course. Either here, or you can shoot me an e-mail... (haha)

Friday, May 16, 2014

And So It Begins Again...

"Don't let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out!" ~ Robert Tew

Last year, with the announcement of the new Batman, the world of super hero worshipers and comic-com affectionados became very worried. Angry even. They said it wouldn't work. That he couldn't possibly pull it off. The naysayers were stumbling over themselves to pipe in with their condemnations and two cents worth. In this age of instant experts and internet sniping nerdships, trolls banded together to condemn the casting even before the production began.

It was deemed the worst casting choice since Mickey Rooney played a Chinese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Or maybe Madonna as a missionary nurse in Shanghai Surprise, or okay Keanu Reeves starring in Buddha in 1993's Little Buddha.

This week, Director Zack Snyder has given fans their first glimpse of Ben Affleck as Batman and it seems to have passed muster. The film, unofficially titled Batman vs. Superman, won't be released until May of 2016 but it seems the defense has begun in earnest.

It's not a new thing. People have been prejudging the plans of others since time began. It has happened to all of us. Or those of us that try to accomplish new things. Our reputation precedes us and determines whether we're therefore suitable. But estimations like these could simply be underestimations.

JK Rowling was a single mother and unemployed. She moved to Scotland to be near her sister and saw herself as "the biggest failure I knew" but she had a daughter who she adored, an old typewriter, and a big idea. "And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

In the early '70s, Dr. Judah Folkman proposed an idea in cancer research that did not fit what scientists thought at the time. “You’re studying dirt,” they said. For two decades, he met with disinterest or hostility as he pursued his work in the study of the growth of new blood vessels that might help stop the growth of tumors. Folkman discovered the first angiogenesis inhibitors in the 1980s. Today more than 100,000 cancer patients are benefiting from the research he pioneered.

Amy Tan was partners in a technical-writing business but wanted to do something more creative with words. So she made her pitch to her partner but her partner insisted that writing was her weakest skill and added, “You’ll never make a dime writing.” She quit and set out to prove him wrong. Being on her own was tough but she set out to try her hand at fiction. The Joy Luck Club was born. And the manager who couldn’t write became one of America’s bestselling, best-loved authors.

So go, Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder. Go. Prove the naysayers wrong. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

6 Ways To Lighten Up In A Professional World

Workplaces today are pressure tanks, especially for those in private industry, and that goes double for those who produce creative products under tight deadlines. Work weeks can easily become 120 hours long because of deadlines, juggling multiple jobs and the fact that billable hours pay the rent (and your salary). Stress builds up over time to take a toll on us. So it's important to do things to counterbalance the stress – and to do these things on a daily basis. Here are a few ideas for you, drudged from personal experience (and cleaned up for the censors).

1) Share a laugh. With a client. With a colleague. With the guy who goes around emptying garbage cans. It's good for your relationship and lets them know you've got a sense of humor (which can come in handy when things get sticky or you happen to generate an inordinate amount of garbage one day). Give yourself a break. Know when to not take yourself too seriously and be something of a clown at times. Make yourself smile and risk doing silly stuff to make others smile. Trust they won't think you're a complete goof.

2) Stop torturing yourself with high fashion. It's easier to lighten up if you wear clothing that is comfortable, especially shoes. Cumfy shoes are important because they make point 3) below easier. (Personally, I had to stop wearing my 6" stilettos a few years ago for this very reason.) Tight underwear that binds and jeans so skinny they cut off circulation to your feet so they go numb are also no-no's.

3) Here's something you've probably already heard from others but is worth repeating. Leave the work behind every now and then. Regularly. Take a break. Get up and go for a walk. Outside is good, as long as you work in a safe neighborhood and it's not night when there are muggers lurking in the shadows or if it's raining cats and dogs. Think about nothing. If it is unsafe or inclement outside, do something you enjoy, as long as it involves getting up, moving around and decompressing. Note: DO NOT watch the news or read a newspaper or listen to the office gossip as these acts are counterproductive to levity.

4) If you're personally into it, work up a rapport with a coworker to share gross and inappropriate comments with. Keep this down to a trusted few because not everyone can understand sardonicism because they like being uptight and therefore don't qualify for the benefits of offbeat. Also it's important to only share these moments verbally and in low tones and NOT emailed or in any written form or voice mails as these can be used against you by that no-talent little twerp of a jerk who thinks they can do your job (not that I'm bitter).

5) I know I'm going to seem a bit puritan for saying this, but stay away from doing the liquid lunch thing (unless it's with a client and you don't have to return to work and have a ride home). Add mind altering "designer" drugs to that. Because what you produce after may seem to be genius at the time but when you sober up chances are you'll realize you have to do all that stuff over again. Because it's stupid.

6) Finally, if you are in the position to set deadlines, make sure that you pad the final days of the project timeline. For instance, if you need to deliver the product on a certain date, make up a critical path for the project that allows you to deliver a few days early (and for deliverables from others to come to you early during the process as well) so that when things go wrong or are delayed (and they will) you have that built-in padding of time there to take the pressure off. And if things go smoothly and you deliver a few days early – hey, take a bow.

If you're young and with lots of energy, please realize you're not indestructible. Take steps to protect your health down the road and tailor those steps to your personality, likes and situational limitations. Above all, realize that stress may be a good motivator for you now, but if excessive over a long period of time it can hurt you.

Have fun. Be good to yourself. Hope this helps.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Perfectly Imperfect Spotlight

Since graduating from diapers we're taught not to brag, to mind our manners, and try to be good boys and girls. We're told a lot of stuff by a lot of people through our sorry lives but not too many tell us to feel good about ourselves just the way we are. After all, nobody's perfect. Only clowns, fools, the Kardashians and the mentally challenged are happy with themselves. Normal people have to strive to do better, make more money, buy more stuff, get smarter and prettier. And so, we find ourselves concentrating on our shortcomings rather than our strengths. In doing so, we learn to keep our heads down because we live in a Whack-A-Mole world and we, friends, are the whackees.

Some of us go through our entire lives yearning to be a better person because we've been conditioned to believe that we're lacking. A work in progress. Unfinished. Inachevé. Simpleminded idiots with halitosis in need of some serious plastic surgery. And there appears to be an ample supply of people around to reinforce that fact. It's a shame, but (as they say) life's a bitch, then you die and someone wears your clothes.

Sure there are layabouts and welfare freeloaders... but for those of us that aren't, I recently came across some top secret research. Don't ask me how I got it. And don't tell anyone. It's: Imperfect is perfectly okay. If we somehow beat the odds and find a way to feel good about who we are now, at this moment, the repercussions are surprising. Instantly, we gain the stature of small "g" gods, that nasty rash becomes just another opportunity to scratch, we are our perfect weight and our outlook is much more conducive to becoming the sex symbol we all know we are. Plus, if we're not constantly looking down on ourselves it's much easier to help others feel better about not being perfect too. Laughter, wasting time and enjoying life is no longer frivolous but an extremely integral part of our day. Mistakes are not the end of the world but a necessary part of becoming our own superhero. Life becomes a better place to be.

So we all might try allowing ourselves into the perfectly imperfect spotlight. By doing so we'll be demonstrating to others that they can do it too.

Here's Peggy (who, by the way, was practically imperfect)... let's keep dancing...

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Curse Of Betraying Body Syndrome

Unless you are one of those perfect (and therefore eminently hateable) people on the planet (and there are a few) chances are you've found yourself in some type of situation that should theoretically easily turn out well but doesn't. You know exactly what you're supposed to do but dark forces take over your bodily functions. In short, your body betrays you. Results turn stinky. You become stinky. No one wants to hang out with you. It's called Betraying Body Syndrome.

In this world of scientific miracles, there must be a cure.

An article in Forbes Magazine from some time ago recommends we all recognize, support and revise our own "self talk". I guess that means that we have to talk to ourselves. And not only that, but we have to listen to what we're saying. From my point of view doing both is fine as long as we don't talk back to ourselves and it doesn't become a disagreement because it's not nice to be internally conflicted. After all, that's what we're trying to get away from in the first place. (And it takes up valuable time when you could be doing neat things, like eating cheeseburgers and watching cartoons.)

Yet another posting suggests we learn to manage our expectation of constant contentment, let go of over-thinking our failures and limit our self-limiting beliefs. All of which is probably true but the focus is a tad negative (which is never good unless you're into things like self-flagellation) and somewhat too new-agey, touchy-feely for those weary of life coaches and superior beings in general.

Some prefer a simpler tactic. Laughter. They think trick to dealing with Betraying Body Syndrome is to maintain a sense of humor. Because when you're able to laugh off your bodily foibles, you're denying them power over you, giving them the old trap door treatment and refusing to let them pile up in a big stink pile. You're showing those nasty acts your body does without your permission that they're just plain comical. Because they are. Learning to laugh at yourself is a technique that has saved many thousands in therapist fees. Well, one anyway. :)


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(Note: Laughing at oneself is sometimes best done internally because you can't walk around laughing all the time – because, you know... weird looks. And also, Betraying Body Syndrome is a fictional condition. The intention of this post is not to make light of serious physical or psychological issues. Consult your physician should you find your situation troubling. Peace out. Rand:)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Canned Popularity

It's a common practice and one that has been handed down through the annals of time – adding canned laughs and applause to sitcoms and game shows. Somehow we're conditioned to think it's easier to laugh at jokes when you hear others laughing, to learn the proper times to laugh (and not make a fool of yourself by laughing at the wrong times). Most of us grew up with these types of prompts.

It seems only natural, I suppose, to see the practice of self-generating prompts evolving today into business causes. Yes, I'm talking about people paying for "likes" in today's social media platforms, so others can see how popular their thread is (theoretically) so others will feel better about liking it themselves. And then (theoretically) the post will get more interaction and your group or company will attain more social media success. But over the past while folks have found their pages not as popular as they once were... for a number of reasons but basically because social media has calmed over the past while.

Up pops opportunistic companies offering illegal likes for a price, most coming from companies that garner likes from third world countries. (The so-called legal way to up your like count is to pay FB to advertise your page.) And they do deliver, evidently. Except a lot of these likes, both legal and otherwise, appear to be fake likes. Just like canned applause and shallow laughter but without the expected uptake.

When social media first hit the scene businesses and interest groups were sold the bill of goods that posts, and pages weren't just a complement to their marketing communications budgets but a cheap replacement. And a lot of them bought in.

Engagement is a natural thing in business and businesses involved in social media; based on keeping in touch, developing rapport, updating and maintaining contact with their present and potential client base. Social media is not supposed to be focused on revenue generation. And those that try to convince otherwise are playing you.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Flatulence By Broccoli

Polite society has always frowned on open discussion of bodily functions but even the best of us sometimes, given the right company and circumstances, cannot suppress a tiny giggle inside when someone toots and blames it on the dog. Truth is, if we're healthy, we all pass gas. Up to 10 farts a day is not unusual. And it seems like a common consensus that broccoli farts are among the "most remarkable". The Mayo Clinic notes that a high-fiber vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and sprouts produce the most aromatic of emissions. The fact that these vegetables contain significant amounts of (very healthy) sulfur within their nutrients also contributes to the fact that farts tend to smell extra special for a few hours after consumption. Broccoli and other fibrous vegetables can be difficult to digest by the body, so the intestine creates excess gas. Science has determined that foods which contain galactans (fructose with a molecule of galactose attached) are found in legumes (beans, lentils, etc), Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

The safety zone of broccoli induced emissions in open air is said to be 10 yards. In enclosed spaces, it is at its most effective and often likened to chemical warfare (mustard gas comes to mind). Entire offices have said to be cleared by a single, even silent, toot. Cabs with closed windows are reported to be the most eye watering. And elevators often prove most effective in terms of social impact.

If you have the gift of extreme and constant flatulence, you might consider pursuing a career as a flatulist. Saint Augustine himself had nothing but high praise for the men who possessed such “command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.” Whatever your spiritual inclination (or non-inclination), we can all appreciate a religious man who admires artistic achievement.

Here's George...

 
 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Sad Demise Of White Bread

Back in the fifties and sixties there were two types of bread: white and brown. White was the king: superior because it went with peanut butter and banana without adding an unnecessary third taste to the mix. Brown bread was okay (sometimes made brown with the addition of molasses) but not meant to be consumed daily. Then, things began to change. As things do.

Health freak revolutionaries began inventing things like organic foods and back to nature practices and things like our loved white bread were declared as bad for you. Fiber and bowel movement regularity was pronounced as necessary for a fully lived life. Almost overnight whole grain wheat moved in and took over. Or if white flour could afford it, they became enriched white bread (which we all know is just disguised whole wheat). Life, as we knew it, was over for traditional white bread.

So villanized did white bread become that it became synonymous with a bland and meaningless lifestyle. It denoted clean-cut, middle-of-the-road suburbanite breeders, somewhat reminiscent of the Cleavers from Leave It To Beaver. It became a dreaded white bread culture.

The term became representative of cultural naïvete, blind consumerism, and an unquestioning "follower" mindset. It seems white bread lifestyle traits include board games, Kenny G, SUVs and an irrational fixation on lawn fertilization, two car garages, church on Sunday, GAP clothing, moderate political affiliations, white wine served from boxes, instant coffee, cookie-cutter solutions, trendy advertized scented body washes, and recommended therapies to keep people from freaking out. In fact, people to this day find themselves shunned in social circles for being too white bread.

Having been brought up in an era when white bread was the better of two choices, it would have been nice if this one change hadn't taken place. It was a simpler time, when people didn't have to worry about locking their doors, there were like three channels on the television, the daily newspaper brought all the news you needed to read about, folks actually did math in their heads and didn't carry their phone/camera/computer in their pockets.

Seems like people talked a lot more back then. And got along better with their neighbors.

Life has become a lot more complicated since white bread was deemed a bad thing.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

That Sweet Stuff

Sugar Bush, Spring 1958

Ah, the sweet taste of maple sugar made right there in the woods from sap taken from the tree. A taste of spring and incidentally where I learned not to eat anything bigger than my head. (Yes, that little guy with the maple lollipop is Rand, Version 1.3.)

Ask practically any kid whether they'd like a candy or a nice slice of raw onion and you know what the answer is going to be. We are slaves born to sweetness, delivered via one of four different taste receptors located in our tongue: 1) sweet, (sugar); 2) sour, (vinegar); 3) salty, (salt); and 4) bitter, (caffeine). It's all highly scientific.

What kids don't know is the real boss of the experience is the brain, which decides whether the taste is a good one, an interesting one, or one that demands immediate, prolonged spitting. And as the brain matures its preferences for taste, influenced over the years by a) experience, b) the amount of toxins that passed over and killed or maimed certain taste buds, c) psychological factors like guilt, peer pressure, allowability and rarity, and d) physical factors such as whether you have had your tongue cut out by pirates or whether your brain continues to function efficiently, all affect how much we like certain tastes. 

As we age, candy tends to lose some of its allure (except for chocolate, of course) and other things become sweet in our minds. Potentially sweet things include music, dance, art, poetry, people who we like to look at and talk to (anything that activates the pleasure center in our brain), even simple things – naps, a nice quiet sunset without mosquitoes, making someone laugh so hard milk comes out their nose, a child's wide-eyed look at hearing someone fart, a quiet moment away from obnoxious people, when the bad guy in a James Bond movie gets what's coming to him. A dog at your feet.

And if we're lucky, it's pretty sweet when you still get to put one foot in front of the other every damned day... as far as the car anyway.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Seems To Be A Procreation Thing

So here we are, in the middle of the effects of the spring equinox. Whoop de do. The wind chill here has not improved significantly, the forecast still calls for snow, I'm still wearing several layers of clothing (the original prophylactic) and the damned dog refuses to stay outside and is currently barking at the back door. My cabin fever and lack of vitamin D has reached the critical level and I have yet to feel the urge to plant things in receptacles in the hopes of seeing new things grow. That said, it appears to be something that people still get their hopes up about.

Evidently, spring is all centered on this thing called fertility, epitomized in history by Eostre, the Norse Anglo Saxon goddess of new beginnings, who is symbolized by eggs and rabbits (which is also the root of the term given to the female hormone oestrogen). The whole egg thing is said to have started long ago with the story of the mythological Phoenix rising. The Phoenix earned its legendary immortality by refusing to eat from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Every 500 years, the bird is said to create a nest of herbs and spices, rest on it, and set itself on fire (which is something I've attempted symbolically a number of times). After the fire dies down, an egg laid by the Phoenix is found among the ashes. The egg hatches, and the Phoenix emerges, resurrected.

People all over the world celebrate the arrival of spring. Druids and pagans congregate at Stonehenge in the UK to perform fertility rites. Evidently the practice is quite messy and involves trances, chanting, mixing the blood of sacrificed bulls with mistletoe, passing it over twelve types of grain, sprinkling it over "goddesses" in several intimate places, followed by lovemaking that extends into the early morning hours. (I smell a new reality tv show here.)

In Romanian tradition it is the time for Mărţişor (an event traced back to more than 8000 years ago) in which a red and white string (talisman) with a small decoration attached is offered from men to women to indicate appreciation. Which I guess is the modern day equivalent of roses and a bottle of wine.

Interestingly, it is also the time of the year in New England that ancient sailors burned the socks they were forced to wear all winter: an act probably attributed to wives anxious to be close to their husbands again without retching. "The dreaded socks must be reduced to ash in a community bonfire." A tradition which the descendants of these people thank for their existence and are forever thankful.

So welcome to spring. May your eggs all hatch, your bull blood not stain, your string tie you to someone you love and your stinky socks be successfully reduced to ashes.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

If You Are An Alien Wondering About Cherries

I've had a number of inquiries about cherries lately. Cherries are edible and begin life as a flower called a cherry blossom. They are from the fruit family, with a skin on the outside and are kind of soft and juicy under that (when they are ripe) and a hard pit at their core (which you want to avoid biting on), and are grown on a tree, which is conveniently called a cherry tree. It is the sole responsibility of the cherry tree to grow cherries. Any other tree that tries to do that is faking it. Recently cherries that came from lemon trees were revealed not to be cherries at all. (They're pretty bitter about that.)

Cherries are the only fruit I know of, aside from oranges, (okay, and tangerines, peaches, and limes...) that have a color named after them (cherry red) and come with one of two personalities: sweet or tart. This orientation comes from their genes and is not a learned behavior. Both are very good when used to make a cherry pie; a dessert baked with a cherry-based filling instead of other things, like apples. Cherry pie is nice when enjoyed at a roadside diner with Agent Cooper sitting in booths with vinyl seats and accompanied with a damned fine cup of coffee (black).

Some things, such as cherry bombs, aren't related to the cherry family at all. These spherical shaped exploding fireworks, ranging in size from three-quarters-inch to one-and-one-half-inch (1.9 cm to 3.8 cm) in diameter. You light their fuse which causes the gun powder inside to go boom. Real cherries do not explode when you light them. Like cherry bombs, cherries are bad for cleaning out blockages in college dormitory toilets and clearing blocked sinuses. If you see a cherry with a fuse instead of a stem, do not eat it.

Cherries are seen as good things by humans and their names are included in special requests (pretty please with a cherry on top), describing something as pristine (that car is in cherry condition), and having a good life (a bowl of cherries). And then there is the incredible Neneh Cherry...



Saturday, March 8, 2014

National Horace Day

Meet Horace, occupation housefly (Musca domestica) and host of National Horace Day. Every year he appears after the first thaw. It's his one and only job. His appearance is met with great glee because it marks the beginning of the end of a long, cold winter. There are celebrations, music, dancing and much merriment amongst the common people who have nothing better to celebrate.

He showed up this morning (photo proof above). So I guess it's National Horace Day. Horace comes from a long line of Horaces and is of royal fly blood. His mere presence fills the room with promise and hope for the coming days.

Unlike the dubious and often unreliable predictions of National Groundhog Day, National Horace Day assures us in the northern climes that:
1) We'll soon be able to leave our butter dishes on the counter without having to microwave it to make it soft enough to spread on bread without ripping it to death
2) The days of getting up in the morning and putting on three layers of clothing (which conveniently hides all your body's imperfections) are soon to be replaced with looking for the least smelly, sweat stained t-shirt and shorts
3) You stop praying to your furnace for uninterrupted service and begin to think of opening windows to let the sweet smell of Bounce dryer sheets from the neighbor's dryer vent sift through your house
4) You remember what birds are, and how they can wake you up with the soothing sounds of their incessant, damned chirping every morning you want to sleep in
5) The backyard and balconies stop being just a second frozen food and yellow snow storage area and become somewhere to hang out half naked, burn your skin off, contract skin cancer and emit toxic charcoal barbeque smoke while burning your weenies, and
6) Shoveling of snow will soon be a thing of the past. For the next six months you'll be able to fill an afternoon out of every weekend sweating behind the handles of a lawn mower.

Happy Horace Day! Enjoy the promise of the change of seasons!