Friday, July 25, 2014

My Sense of Smell Is Broken

I smell weird. Ly. I smell weirdly.

I need to correct that immediately, because I just know some wag is going to post "I knew that already. ;-)" on my Facebook page.

What I mean is that my sense of smell is malfunctioning or hyper-functioning. It isn't working the way it should. It's been happening for the last few years. I don't know if something is wrong with my schnoz, or if it's something else entirely. More on that in a minute.

I don't have a great sense of smell to begin with. I don't detect faint, subtle odors, whispers of a scent on the wind. My wife, on the other hand, has such a sensitive sense of smell, whenever one of our kids farts in the car, she knows who did it without asking.

And because smell is linked to taste, my poor smell affects my ability to taste, which means I seek out spicier, more flavorful foods so I can taste them more fully. I'm not a serial salter, but I do prefer spicier foods to the Midwestern staples, like baked potatoes, boiled chicken, or tofu.

Which makes this new problem a bit of a puzzler.

I can detect sour smells, when no one else can. If something smells like mildew on a shower curtain, or a shirt that didn't make it out of the washer right away, I'm the only one who smells it.

This has even caused a couple arguments with my wife, especially the first time I told her the jeans hanging in our closet smelled.

"I think your jeans smell a little funny," I said last summer.

"Funny how?"

"Like they were stuck in the washing machine a day too long."

She gave them a big sniff. "No, they smell fine."

"I'm telling you, they smell."

"No, they don't!"

"Then what am I smelling?!"

"I don't know, but it's sure as hell not my pants!"

I noticed the sour smell a few days later at a local McDonalds' drink station. "Do you smell that?" I whispered to my wife.

"I don't smell anything."

"It's like it wasn't thoroughly cleaned out, or they missed something somewhere. It's a sour smell, like your jeans smelled."

She put her face close to mine and hissed, "My pants. Do not. Smell!"

"Fine, then I must have a tumor, because everywhere I go, I smell sour things, but no one else seems to!"

By no one, I mean my kids and those few friends who don't seem to think I'm weird when I ask "does this smell funny?"

Er. Weirder. My friends already think I'm weird, but they're not familiar with most of my quirks and foibles. Like grabbing my collar and asking one of my kids, "does this smell funny?"

It's happening even now. Every summer for the past three years, I have smelled phantom odors. This morning, I wore a freshly laundered t-shirt that I was sure reeked of that sour smell, but everyone in my family assured me that it smelled completely clean and fresh.

Either that, or they're all lying to me.

What's worse was finding an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that said people's sense of smell and taste start to fail and change as they get older. I sat there, reading the article, inhaling that smell with every breath.

According to the article, our ability to smell peaks at age 40, and goes downhill from there.

Richard Doty, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Smell and Taste Center (Official Motto: "Is it. . . is it chicken?"), said that men tend to suffer more smell loss than women, smokers more than nonsmokers. But there wasn't anything in the article about phantom sour smells, or hypersensitivity to certain odors.

I did a quick search for "phantom smell" on the Internet, and learned that rather than suffering an age-related smell loss, I may instead have diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, a possible psychiatric disorder, and am going through menopause.

Never, ever try to diagnose yourself on the Internet with only one symptom.

Most likely, it could be something called "phatosmia," which is a smell disorder that does not have an underlying cause, like a brain tumor or menopause.

I'm kind of leaning toward this last one, because it's common, because my affliction is seasonal, and best of all, it's not something I could die from.

Ultimately, I don't think this is something to worry about. It's happened every summer for the last few years, and I haven't died, my liver is fine, and I sit in front of a fan to reduce my hot flashes. Which means it's all in my head, or my nose is more sensitive than I previously thought.

Not as sensitive as my wife is about her jeans though.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Simplifying Isn't As Easy As It Looks

We're hearing about more and more people who are getting rid of a large portion of their worldly goods (what organizational experts call "crap") and living a less materialistic and more meaningful life.

At least a life that doesn't land you as the July centerfold in the 2015 Hot Hoarders calendar, which we all know you're going to put with the 12 other calendars you're keeping, "just in case."

Admittedly, simplifying is easier said than done, unless you're a soulless robot with the memory of a senile goldfish.

For the last several years, my wife and I (with reluctant participation from our children) have been extensively "decrapifying" our lives, eliminating the clutter and unnecessary detritus that has bogged us down. Our goal is to live more simply, spending less on stuff and more on experiences. We want to build memories, remembering the things we did, rather than spending 30 minutes rummaging through closets in a futile search for that thing that goes with the other thing. You know, the piece that makes this light up. Or play music. I don't remember. Whatever, I've been looking for it for 45 minutes, and I still have to put everything back. I should be finished tomorrow morning.

We embarked on this new lifestyle when we went to sell our first house and realized there weren't enough trucks in the county to move everything to our new house. So we decided to downsize, because we were moving from a McMansion with two floors and a basement to a house two-thirds that size and no basement.

We filled up three dumpster loads with broken and completely useless items. We got rid of items we had planned to repair one day, after we learned the necessary skills, like particle physics.

We donated several garbage bags of clothes that we no longer wore — mostly my stuff that kept shrinking year after year.

I gave over 500 books to our small-town library, dropping off armfuls of books week after week. The library staff was so pleased with my gift, they even named a wing of the library after me. So, the next time you find yourself in Syracuse, Indiana, be sure to visit the Aw Crap, It's That Damn Guy Again! wing of the local library.

It was an ongoing process, because over the next four years, we moved from our first house to a smaller house, to an even smaller house, and finally to a 1,200 square foot apartment with a single car garage that served as our storage unit. In that time, we went from 3,400 square feet to something nearly a third that size, discarding flotsam and jetsam along the way. We finally moved to our current house a year later, and we fit perfectly.

That first time, most of the stuff we got rid of was mine, as my wife seemed to think her stuff was more valuable. As if her grandmother's china set was somehow more important than my collection of Rolling Stone magazines from the 1990s.

But we learned how to choose carefully, separating practicality from sentiment, and not saving every scrap and speck from our childhoods.

We learned that it was okay to get rid of past gifts, especially when we couldn't remember who had given them in the first place.

I also learned that if I wanted to save anything, I had to relabel it something important and clever. At least more clever than labeling a comic book collection "NOT a comic book collection." Because a comic book collection is somehow less important than someone's mother's maternity clothes that you might need "just in case."

Like just in case you get pregnant in 1967.

But the best lesson we learned is that keeping things you never use is less important than keeping and using one thing that brings back memories. Like not hanging on to Grandma's entire china collection you never use, instead keeping a single serving dish you use several times a year, remembering her fondly each time.

Like keeping a photo of you wearing your favorite shirt, rather than keeping the shirt itself, even after it shrank by 20 pounds.

Like how you should always forgive someone after he brings his comic book collection back to the house, four years after telling you he "took care of it" when you asked what he did with it.

Because a good comic book collection is important to have around.

You know, just in case.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 11, 2014

Language Demonstrates Strength, Weakness

The language you use when communicating with others may show how much power you have, or don't have, in a relationship. That is, there are certain phrases you may use that show, even sub-consciously, where you think you stand.

In 2012, National Public Radio examined this phenomenon, and spoke with James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies communication.

According to Pennebaker, it's the small "function words" — the words between important words, like nouns and verbs — that give you away.

Words like this, the, though, I, an, and, that, there.

We don't pay attention to these filler words. They're like the little floaties in your eye. You see them if you look for them, staring into space long enough, but otherwise you never notice them. Also, people will think you're high if you stare like that too long.

Pennebaker says function words are the most interesting ones, not the topic words we talk about, like our families or our job. They convey the substance of what we want to say; our self-esteem and attitudes can be found in these words.

In the early 1990s, Pennebaker and his graduate students created a computer program to analyze massive amounts of data and find the patterns it would take dozens of human beings dozens of years to come up with.

They wanted to know if it was possible to tell if people were lying by their use of function words, whether someone was male or female, or rich or poor. Or if you could tell who had the "superior" role in a relationship and who had the "subordinate" role.

According to Pennebaker, if you perceive yourself to be in a subordinate role — that is, the person you're talking to has more power than you — you're more likely to say "I" a lot.

Let's say you send an email to your neighbor:

Dear Dale, I wanted to see if you could do something about your dog. I am not able to sleep because he barks late at night, which keeps me awake, and I have to get up at 6:00 in the morning. I was wondering if you could put your dog inside after 9:00 at night. That would help me so much. Thank you. Steve.

Your neighbor responds:

Dear Steve: Sorry about the barking. He stays outside at night because he gets antsy after a while in the house. He seems to have a thing going with the Sanderson's poodle, and likes to be outside with her. When they take her inside, he barks. We'll get this taken care of. Thanks. Dale.

Did you see it? Steve put himself in the weaker position. He said "I" four times and "me" twice, while Steve didn't say that at all; he said "we" once. If you read this email, you might guess that Steve doesn't give a crap about Dale, and will instead train his dog and an insomniac rooster to drive past Dale's house in a '76 Chevy Nova with glass pack mufflers.

At a speed dating event, Pennebaker said he could predict who would go on a date more accurately than the people themselves could predict. That's because when two people match, personality-wise, they tend to use pronouns, prepositions, and articles the same way, more frequently.

It's not because similar people are attracted to each other. It's because people who are truly interested in each other will shift their language patterns to more closely align. Sort of a linguist's baby talk. . . if my sweety-weety wittle winguist wiked that sort of thing.

Changing your language won't change who you are, however, he says. "The words reflect who we are more than drive who we are."

But if you want your language to reflect the "you" you'd like to be, there's some truth in the old saying "fake it 'til you make it." It's not just a matter of putting up a brave front until the "successful you" catches up. If you act confident, you'll eventually feel confident. Keep doing it, and one day you find that you have actually become a confident person.

So it goes with your language. Try to avoid using Pennebaker's function words, especially in your emails and texts, to see if you can project a position of strength and power. You might come across as more confident, and you'll be more likely to get what you want, because others will see you as an equal, and not someone in the subordinate role.

On the other hand, you might come across as a big arrogant jerk, and no one will like you, and you'll die unhappy and alone with seven cats.

If that happens, this author is very sorry. Next time, don't do that to the CEO.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 04, 2014

Social Media Makes Us Passive-Aggressive

"Is it really necessary to set off fireworks two days before July 4th?" asked the Facebook commenter. It's never a good sign when someone starts a question with "is it really necessary?" Because the answer is "no," and they're only asking because they don't want to be "that guy." Except they became "that guy" as soon as they said, "is it really necessary?"

It was the second query in as many days, and both status updates started the same way.

"Is it really necessary to shoot off fireworks?" I could hear the nasal whinge coming through, like a whiny Lumbergh from "Office Space."

"Yeaaaahh, I'm going to need you to go ahead and stop setting off your fireworks and having fun. So if you could do that, that'd be terrific, mmm'kay?"

In both cases, the person in question had a valid concern. The fireworks kept their kids awake. Or they scared the dog, and the dog kept the kids awake. Whatever. My complaint isn't with a parent whose kids have stress-induced insomnia.

It's the tone of the question — is it reeeeelly necessareeee? — that set my teeth on edge. Just say what you want, and don't ask the question you know the answer to. Or they could just do what I do: turn out the lights, call the police, and then watch out the window to see if anyone gets arrested.

I don't know if it's social media that makes us passive-aggressive, or if it's just because we're from Indiana and we're too polite for direct confrontation. (Indiana: We're America's Canada.) Whatever it is, there's something about that snotty rhetorical question that make me want to throw my window open and shout, "Yes, it is!"

Thanks to social media, people are sharing more communication with everyone except for the person they should actually talk to. If you don't actually want to go to their house and ask them in person, how about something written to the person in question?

"While I appreciate your enthusiasm for our country's independence, could whoever is setting off fireworks in the neighborhood please stop by 9:30? It's keeping my kid up."

It's simple, direct, and doesn't make it seem like they're the kind of person who speaks loudly to a friend in the hopes that someone nearby will overhear.

"Man, someone in here sure has a lot of perfume on today! I mean, my eyes are watering from all this perfume. I know it's not me, and it's certainly not you, because we rode in the car together. But I can barely eat because the stench is so overpowering. I wonder if my olfactory assailant knows they're ruining my meal and causing irreparable brain damage. I hope they realize they're an awful human being who should slink away and live as a hermit in a cave."

I see this passive-aggressive communication between friends ("I can't believe I got stood up for lunch today!"), in a message from a parent to an older child ("We could sure use strength and prayers while our family deals with a stressful issue that threatens to drive us apart." "Mom, I said I was sorry at dinner. Jeez, I only went out with her once!"), and even spouses. ("You would think that after 15 years of marriage, I wouldn't have to remind certain people to quit leaving their socks by the bed. But what do you expect from someone who's from Ohio?" "Sheila, I raised that boy for 18 years. If I couldn't fix him then, ain't no way you can fix him now." "I sure wish some people remembered I was Facebook friends with them. And that we're all watching TV in the same room.")

The only time I see someone addressed directly is when they're dead.

"It's been six years since you left us, Aunt Sally. We sure miss seeing you every Sunday, Aunt Sally. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you, Aunt Sally. I miss you like crazy, Aunt Sally."

Problem is, Aunt Sally won't see that message because she's in Heaven, and one of the great things about Heaven is that they don't have Facebook. They use Twitter.

I'm not saying we shouldn't air our grievances on social media. If you have a complaint, air away, but none of this behind-the-other-person's-back BS. Just don't talk around the issue, or refuse to address the person directly. Be an adult and communicate in a mature responsible manner.

My only hope is this message reaches the people who need to hear it most.

So if one of you could tell her for me, that's be terrific, mmm'kay?


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 27, 2014

Don't Tell Mom: A One-Sided Conversation About Dinner

"Dinner's ready!"

"Bacon."

"What do you mean, what else? We don't need anything else tonight."

"It's a superfood."

"Uh, in an article."

"Online."

"I did."

"Just because it was something I wrote in a humor article does not negate the fact that I found an article that said bacon was a superfood."

"Vegetables?! Why would you want vegetables?"

"But Mom's not here, is she?"

"Get some fruit then."

"Does she let you complain about what she makes?"

"Then quit griping about the bacon."

"No making faces either."

"Do you want me to eat yours?"

"Nothing. You'll eat in the morning."

"Fine, I'll make some vegetables. How about this?"

"French fries are too a vegetable."

"They're made from potatoes. Potatoes grow in the ground, just like carrots and Brussels sprouts. Therefore, French fries are vegetables."

"That's my boy. Just don't tell Mom."

"Now what about you two? Are you on Team French Fry?"

"Don't call her!"

"Because she's, uh, busy. On her trip."

"Otherwise she'll remind me about it every time she leaves town again. Or she'll never leave town."

"That's right, Buddy, no more bacon dinners."

"Fine, I'll make one."

"Egg or potato?"

"Those are too salads!"

"And chicken salad. Thanks, dude."

"Alright, with lettuce."

"Tomatoes too."

"You guys want pancakes for breakfast the day after tomorrow?"

"Because it's Saturday. We always have pancakes on Saturday."

"We usually do, but I didn't want to wait until Saturday. I was in the mood for it tonight."

"If you'd like, I can cook a pound tonight and the other pound on Saturday. Might as well, since SOME PEOPLE want to fill up on salad."

"So, how about instead of regular pancakes, I make chocolate pancakes."

"I know, right? Thanks, dude."

"And how about, instead of regular pancakes, I make thick pancakes."

"Really thick."

"About this big."

"In the oven, on 350, for 45 minutes."

"I could even put a special chocolate syrup on it. It's so thick you have to put it on with a knife."

"Well, I suppose some people call it that, but only those who don't know any better."

"Fine, we won't have it for breakfast! Jeez, you girls aren't any fun. Who taught you all this stuff anyway?"

"But she's not even here."

"What do you mean, 'meal plan?' Let me see that."

"Why would anyone list out an entire week's menu?"

"Yeah, after 20 years, you do start to learn each other's habits."

"Well, I already called an audible on the bacon, so that takes care of tonight."

"No, I won't forget the verkakte salad!"

"That's, uh, Yiddish."

"For, uhh, things I. . . probably shouldn't say in front of your guys. Don't tell Mom."

"Nothing."

"Because I don't negotiate with blackmailers."

"Go ahead and tell her then. Who's she going to believe, three little kids, or her beloved husband of 20 years?"

"Yeah okay, but only until 12. Then you have to go to bed."

"Because it's a school night."

"Home schoolers need their sleep too."

"What do you want to do tomorrow?"

"No, it's not windy enough."

"I don't even know where it is."

"Ooh, how about we get a falcon instead?! They're just as good as a kite."

"Raw chicken, raw beef. They're also partial to chocolate cake, but apparently we won't have any available."

"No, I'm sure they hate bacon."

"Great. I'll make some calls in the morning. Just don't tell Mom."



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 20, 2014

AYFKMWTS?! FBI Creates 88 Page Twitter Slang Guide

TFBIHCAEEPTSD.

Did you get that? It's an acronym. Web slang. It's how all the teens and young people are texting with their tweeters and Facer-books on their cellular doodads.

It stands for "The FBI has created an eighty-eight page Twitter slang dictionary."

See, you would have known that if you had the FBI's 88 page Twitter slang dictionary.

Eighty-eight pages! Of slang! AYFKMWTS?! (Are you f***ing kidding me with this s***?! That's actually how they spell it in the guide, asterisks and everything. You know, in case the gun-toting agents who catch mobsters and international terrorists get offended by salty language.)

I didn't even know there were 88 Twitter acronyms, let alone enough acronyms to fill 88 pieces of paper.

The FBI needs to be good at Twitter because they're reading everyone's tweets to see if anyone is planning any illegal activities. Because that's what terrorists do — plan their terroristic activities publicly, as if they were shouting to each other at a Denny's.

@NotReallyATerrorist: Hey, are we going to plant that bomb soon?

@NotATerroristEither: Sure, what time are you thinking we should plant the bomb?

@NotReallyATerrorist: Let's see, I could plant the bomb with you at 2:00 on Friday. Shall we meet at 2:00 on Friday to plant our bomb?

@NotATerroristEither: That's a good time for bomb planting. We'll meet at 2:00 on Friday at the park so we can plant our bomb. We'll use Steve's red minivan.

@FBI: Hey @NotReallyATerrorist, @NotATerroristEither, are you guys yanking our chain again?

@NotATerroristEither: @FBI, Does the Pope wear a funny hat? Of course we're messing with you. #AreYouNewHere

Still, that doesn't mean the FBI won't keep their eyes open, just in case the terrorists slip up and post a map to their hideout on Instagram.

According to the guide's introduction, "This list has about 2,800 entries you should find useful in your work or for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren. The DI's Intelligence Research Support Unit (IRSU) has put together an extensive — but far from exhaustive — list of shorthand acronyms used in Twitter and other social media venues such as instant messages, Facebook, and MySpace."

Seriously, MySpace? WTF? (What the, uh, heck?) Is that even a thing anymore? Are you guys checking AOL too? When you take a break from your Space Invaders tournament on your Atari, maybe you can run a check on eWorld and Prodigy.

(If you weren't online back in the '90s, believe me, that joke was hysterical.)

The FBI has scoured their 13 year old daughters' cell phones and chat programs and come up with all the acronyms you would expect: YOLO (you only live once), BRB (be right back), AFC (away from computer), and OMG (oh my God). There's also ZOMG, which the FBI calls "enhanced OMG," but the rest of the world knows as "Zoh my God!"

But there were a few odd ones that I, and every other Twitter user, have never used.

"Would you like a bowl of cream to go with that remark?" (WYLABOCTGWTR) is one that was never seen on Twitter prior to June 17, when the FBIEEPTSD (FBI's 88 Page Twitter Slang Dictionary) came out. Then, it became a popular word, because everyone was L-ing their AOs (laughing their, uh, butts off) at it.

But the FBI is taking it all in stride. "Pardon me, you must have mistaken me for someone who gives a damn" (PMYMHMMFSWGAD) they have said to their scoffers and naysayers. We know this because "PMYMHMMFSWGAD" is on page 54 of the FBIEEPTSD.

The problem is words like this are turning the guide into just another foolish tome of government drivel, and the FBI is looking more than a little overeager and unnecessarily thorough.

Having worked in state government for a time, and getting to know how the law enforcement and military minds work, I'm not surprised that 1) they created a guide for Internet slang, 2) they found/created 2,800 different slang terms., and 3) they would print a guide for electronic communication on paper. Only the law enforcement types would create an alphabetical list of every letter combination known to man, and then use it as part of a strategy that relies on the hope that the bad guys don't have cell phones.

I'm just kidding, you guys. Keep it up. ILWYD. (I love what you do.)

YRW. (Yeah right, whatever.)

I made that one up myself. Now we're up to 2,801.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 13, 2014

Diary of a Reluctant Single Man

I've had the house to myself for a couple of days, as my oldest daughter is at camp, and my wife took the other two kids to Chicago. So I've been hanging out with the dog, and keeping a diary of what has been happening.

7:00 am: Said good-bye to the family. I did a bunch of work earlier this week so I could sleep in, so I'll just stay in bed for a while.

7:05: Poop. Now I can't get back to sleep. Maybe I should just get up and do some work on my—

9:25: That's better. Nice to see my old high school tricks still work.

9:30: Walked around the house, hollering, just to make sure no one is here. Last time I thought I was home alone, I had a less-than-appreciative audience for my Dave Matthews Band retrospective.

9:31: It's finally happened. I have the whole house to myself for two days. That means I can do anything, eat anything, and leave a grand mess, because I don't have to answer to anyone. What should I do first?

9:36: JUST TAKE THOSE OLD RECORDS OFF THE SHELF! I'LL SIT AND LISTEN TO 'EM BY MYSELF!

9:50: Better feed the dog. Why does she always get so excited about the same thing every day? It's pressed beef sawdust and egg, but she goes bonkers for it three times a day.

9:51: Ooooooh, coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee! I love you so much, coffee!

10:30: Well, Other Erik, do you think you should get some work done? "It's funny you mention that, Erik. I was just thinking I should actually, you know, sit down and answer emails." That sounds like a great plan, Other Erik. You're a genius! "Thank you, sir! Might I compliment you on your staggering intellect as well."

10:31: They say talking to yourself is a sure sign of insanity. "I wouldn't worry about that. You're a high functioning crazy person, I think if you can maintain, they'll never notice."

11:45: The dog seems to be taking a keen interest in everything I do. I've been talking to her, but she doesn't answer.

3:30 pm: Ich habe nicht Deutsch in einem lange Zeit gesprochen. Ich sollte mein Deutsch laut zu üben. (I haven't spoken German in a long time. I should practice my German out loud.)

4:15: Mein Hund nicht Deutsch verstehen. Ich glaube, sie denkt, Ich bin verrückt. (My dog doesn't understand German. I think she thinks I'm crazy.)

4:25: I need to finish this marketing assessment for my client. But it's hard to stay motivated when it's so quiet in here. I need some music. Something with some raw power and high energy.

4:26: I FEEL PRETTY! OH SO PRETTY! I FEEL PRETTY, WITY, AND BRI-I-I-I-IGHT! AND I PITY! ANY GIRL WHO ISN'T ME TONI-I--I-I-IGHT!

4:50: Time to feed the dog again. Seriously, dog, settle down. It's just freaking dog food.

5:10: Willst du nach draußen gehen? Willst du nach draußen gehen und machen ein Töpfchen? (Do you want to go outside? Do you want to go outside and make a potty?) See? She doesn't understand a word I'm saying. Either that, or she doesn't have to go.

5:11: I think the dog is being obstinate on purpose. She has taken to watching me while I work, just. . . staring at me. It's maddening. Her big eyes are boring into my soul. She wants something, but refuses to respond to my German-language inquiries.

5:20: I guess she really did have to pee. And I get to clean it up. Yay, me.

7:30: Nearly 12 hours alone, no one but the dog to talk to, and she's still pretending she doesn't understand German. But I see the flicker of recognition in her eyes! I've figured out her little game though. Oh yes, I'm on to you, little dog! You see, she's half poodle, which means she's half French. And she's only pretending she doesn't understand English and German, but in truth, she knows them both! J'accuse, maudit chien! (I accuse you, damn dog!)

7:31: Huh. She doesn't understand French either.

8:00: I need to eat dinner. Let's see, I could make, well, eggs or. . . eggs. Or I could boil some chicken, chop up some salad, and put some nice healthy Italian dressing on it.

8:30: Ah, pizza delivery, mankind's greatest invention.

12:00: Long, long day today. Got a lot of work done, spent time with the dog, and still got to watch some TV. Time for bed. Need to remember to lock the door. The dog is becoming unstable and paranoid. More tomorrow, if I survive the night.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 06, 2014

A Professional Communicator's Confession About Small Talk

As a professional communicator, I'm supposed to be good at all types of communication. I've been a writer since I was 20, I'm completely at ease meeting new people, and I'm one of those weirdos who loves speaking in public. You could stick me in a room full of complete strangers, and within an hour, I'll meet five of them, arrange coffee meetings with three more, and introduce two people who can help each other with a new project.

I'm good at almost any kind of communication, but to my great embarrassment, I have one glaring deficiency, one weakness that keeps me from being an all-around player.

I suck at small talk.

Not the "get to know you" chit-chat between two people who have just met, or the catching up talk between two friends who haven't seen each other for a while. I'm awesome at that. Just ask my kids. "Daddy can't go anywhere without talking to strangers." I've done that since I was three.

No, I'm terrible at the unexpected small talk that happens when someone says something more complicated than Hello.

I mean, I can handle Hello just fine. I kill at Hello, Hi, and Howdy. And I crush it on 
How the Hell Are You? I'm even a pretty dab hand at Good-bye. I know them all: See You Later. Ciao. Spater, Gator. All the classics.

But trying to make idle small talk is about as difficult as spatial geometry. At least with spatial geometry, I've got a slight chance of saying something right if I just holler "SEVEN!"

A couple weeks ago, as I was leaving for work, some of the moms on our street were gathered after seeing their kids off to school. One of their very young children hollered to me, "Hi, good morning!"

I called "Hi" back, because as I said, I'm an expert at Hello.

Then one of the moms said, "you got your own morning welcoming committee."

"Oh crap," shrieked my brain. "She said something that wasn't Hello. What do I do? Say something! What are you doing? They're all looking at you. SAY SOMETHING SO THEY DON'T THINK YOU'RE CREEPY!"

"Yeah!" I said, and waved. As I drove away, I started yelling at myself.

"'Yeah?' 'YEAH?!' What is your problem? Someone says something nice, and you respond with 'yeah'?" Great, now I can talk and it's to myself.

"I didn't see you throwing out any great responses, Captain Brainfart."

"You were stumped by a four-year-old and his mom! You could have shouted 'I like potato' for all the good it did. At least that's a complete sentence."

"Oh yeah? Well. . . you have. . . eyebrows. . . are stupid."

And now my day is complete. I can't even argue with myself without sounding like an idiot. Sheldon Cooper is better at small talk than me.

Where I get into real trouble is when someone hits me with something harder than Hello.

Working Hard or Hardly Working? puts me in a panic. How do I answer that? "Yes?" "The first one?" I struggle to find the funny answer versus what I should say when my boss is nearby.

"Who wants to know?" I once said back. My brain screamed, "I thought you were clever!"

The problem is, I try to avoid clichés when I write or talk, so I never know how to deal with them or what to say. Based on my observations of other people, I believe the correct response to this one is to guffaw as if I've never heard it before, and say, "Boy, they'll let anyone in here these days. How you doin', you old so-and-so?"

At least that's how the old men who gather at McDonald's every morning do it. I'll never be in their league.

Hot Enough For You? is another puzzler. When I'm outside in July, my hair is soaked, and my shirt looks like Mickey Mouse hugged me with a wet head, and I'm asked, "hot enough for you," I stare blankly, wondering if they're really that stupid, or if I'm on a new episode of Punk'd.

All I can muster is "it's not the heat, it's the humidity." Just once, I'd like to say something clever like "it's not the heat, it's the stupidity," but my wife says that's rude, so I keep it to myself.

This has been an ongoing problem, and one that I'm not going to solve anytime soon, if ever. If you meet me, just start slowly, and be patient with me. I'm still learning. Stick with the basics. Hello and How Are You are both good.

Just don't ask me where I've been keeping myself. I haven't worked that out yet.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, May 30, 2014

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Writer's Block

I'm stuck, Karl, I said.

"What?" said Karl. "Are your pants caught on the stool again?"

No, I'm writer stuck. I'm blocked. I can't think of anything to write about.

"You've got writer's block? How in the hell do you get writer's block?"

It's — I don't know. I've been trying to think of a topic for this week's column, but nothing is popping into my brain. I'm dry.

"What are you talking about? You're the Kid, Kid. You don't get writer's block. You talk half as much as you write, and most days, I can't even get you to shut the hell up!" Karl plonked his glass on the bar.

"Tommy, give me two mojitos, please." We were at Hudson's Bar, a Bimini-themed island bar. Bimini is one of the islands in the Bahamas, and we were there for a friend's book launch. It was late and most of the party guests had left. The literary fiction crowd is not known for staying up late, and most of them had bailed by 9:30.

"Listen, Kid, I've been writing since I was 17, and I can count the number of times I've had writer's block on one hand." He slapped the bar. "No, on one finger!

"Writer's block is just some lame excuse created by poseurs and dabblers who wait for 'The Muse' to wave her magic sparkle wand whenever they feel like scribbling in their fake leather hipster notebooks. What was it Terry Pratchett said about writer's block? That it was invented by people in California who couldn't write?"

Something like that, I said, drinking my mojito. Tommy made mojitos the right way, with rum, club soda, lime, and mint leaves.

That's great and all, I said, but that doesn't solve my problem. I think I'm running out of juice. I'm trying to come up with a few ideas for articles, another book, and an editorial calendar for my newspaper column."

"Editorial calendar? You never even think of your topic until about four hours before your deadline."

Shh! I hissed. My editor is over there, and I don't want him getting his panties in a twist in case he's listening. A quick glance that direction assured me my secret was safe. He was too busy trying to put some drunken moves on a creative writing professor from Butler who hadn't dated men since her junior year of high school. I didn't have the heart to tell him he was probably also going to be the subject of her next short story.

So what do you suggest? I asked.

"First, you need to get our of your head. You've been working too hard anyway. Take a break, and go somewhere for a while. Don't do any work, don't take your computer, and don't do anything that has to do with putting words on paper."

But—

"If you have to, take a notebook and a pen. When you get an idea, write it down, then go back to not doing anything."

But—

"In the future, if you find yourself getting stuck, go for a walk, ride your bike, or putter around in your garage. Do something that engages a different part of your brain, so your subconscious can work on the problem.

"But most of all, remember this." Karl leaned in close, grabbed my collar and stuck his gnarled finger in my face. I could smell the mint leaves and rum on his breath. "You're a f---ing professional. Pros never get blocked. They've got too much work to do to get blocked. Plumber's don't get plumber's block. Accountants don't get accountant's block. And professional writers don't get writer's block. They just work on the next damn project."

As he released my collar, I could feel the dam burst and a flood of new ideas raging through my brain. You did it, Karl, you did it! I know what I need to do! I jumped off my bar stool, thumped him on the back, and headed for the door.

You're a real life saver, Old Man. See you later.

"Hey, who's going to cover this bar bill," he hollered after me.

No time to talk, I called back. The gates have burst open. Time's a-wastin'!

I walked back to my car and patted my empty back pocket. I was going to have to remember not to use the writer's block scam the next time I forgot my wallet.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, May 23, 2014

Gabby Chaves Wins 2014 Indy Lights Freedom 100

Gabby Chaves pipped Matthew Brabham at the post of the 2014 Indy Lights Freedom 100. It's being called the 3rd closest Indy Lights victory, following a razor close Chicagoland race and last year's finish when Peter Dempsey beat Gabby Chaves by .0026 seconds



Brabham, driving for Andretti Autosport, is the grandson of Sir Jack Brabham, Formula 1 champion in 1959, 1960, and 1966. When Sir Jack died a few days ago, there were many tributes and signs of respect and mourning around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so it's nice to see his grandson carrying on the family tradition.

One thing I've noticed about these Indy Lights drivers is that they have the same nerves of steel as the IndyCar drivers. At one point, Chaves was drafting off Brabham, sitting this|close to his rear that all Brabham had to do was let off the throttle and Chaves would have driven under him.



This is yet another exciting Indy Lights finish I've been able to witness. This is my sixth year at the Speedway, and only my second Lights race. But it's enough to make me a fan, and to pay attention throughout the year now.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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My Lens Is Bigger Than Yours

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are rerunning a column from 2003. He's been using a camera a lot lately, but he hasn't improved very much beyond when he wrote this column.

I've always enjoyed photography, although I haven't always had the necessary equipment. When I took a photojournalism class in college, I fancied myself a younger, less depressing Ansel Adams, and thought I was just two-hundredths of a second away from shooting dramatic news photos for the Associated Press in foreign locales.

I had one serious problem though: my eyesight.

My eyesight, even with the latest and greatest optical correction technology, cannot be restored to perfect 20/20 vision. As a result, whenever I would take a picture, I focused to what looked good to me, rather than what was actually clear and sharp. As a result, my pictures were always slightly out of focus. Looks like the only photojournalism I would be doing is taking blurry pictures of aliens for the Weekly World News.

"What's this amorphous blob?" my instructor would ask.

"That's some of my teammates at soccer practice," I said.

"And what's this amorphous blob?"

"A firetruck racing to a fire."

"Then what are all these scattered and mangled blobs?"

"The firetruck took a wrong turn and ended up on the soccer field."

Of course, there was no pleasing this guy. No matter what photo anyone took, there was always something wrong with it. Always.

My friend, Joel, took the class a year later and managed to catch a picture of a huge house fire, which was published in the school paper. He also received a B for that photo because he didn't take any photos from a higher point of view, like from a firefighter's ladder. Never mind that he had to put himself in harm's way to get the photo. If he had lost some skin, he might have eked out an A-.

When the semester ended, my dreams of being a photojournalist died, killed by my poor eyesight and my instructor's advice to stick with writing. Also, I had to return my dad's camera.

But finally after 16 years of wondering "what if," my patience was rewarded with a brand-new 35 millimeter single-lens reflex camera for my birthday.

It's a macho, manly camera with interchangeable zoom lenses and detachable flash (each sold separately), unlike sissy cameras that have a fixed lens and built-in flash my wife uses for family photos.

But best of all, my camera is an auto-focus, so I don't take pictures of blobs anymore.

Me: Honey, look at all the great pictures I took at the beach from our vacation. See, no amorphous blobs!

My wife: Wonderful. The photos of all these bikini-clad women are in sharp focus.

I was recently at a family gathering where I had a chance to use my new camera. Unfortunately, there are certain members of my family who hate having their picture taken, regardless of the occasion.

"I hate having my picture taken!" they exclaim. "I look awful."

Of course, that's because the only way you can take their picture is to sneak up behind them, say their name, and snap it as soon as they turn around. And as you would expect, they look surprised, angry, and their mouth is hanging open like they've got brain damage. Every photo we take looks like this. I'll bet their driver's license photo looks this way too.

Police officer: "This photo looks nothing like you."

Family members: "Hold up a camera and startle me."

Police officer: "Okay, I see it now!"

I've never understood what all the fuss is about. We all know pictures can't steal a person's soul (not like video cameras). And the photos will never be seen except by other family members or visitors who make the mistake of asking if we have any photo albums.

I just don't worry about having my photo taken. They're a way of preserving memories. They bring our personal histories back to life. We can recall the smells and sounds from those all-too-brief moments, and remember what made them special enough to take the pictures in the first place.

And makes everyone think my family is just a bunch of angry, startled mouth breathers.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Field Is Set for the 2014 Indianapolis 500

After quite the nail biter, and the new qualifying format at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the field has been set for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. Ed Carpenter sits on the pole for the second year in a row. (If racing encyclopedia Donald Davis were sitting behind me in the Media Center, I could ask him whether this has been done before. But he went home a while ago.)

Here are your starting 33 for the race next Sunday.

1. Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing
2. James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport
3. Will Power, Team Penske

4. Helio Castroneves, Team Penske
5. Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports
6. Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport

7. Carlos Muñoz, Andretti - HVM
8. Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
9. JR Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing

10. Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske Motorsports
11. Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
12. Kurt Busch, Andretti Autosport

13. Jack Hawksworth, BHA/BBM with Curb Agajanian
14. Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing
15. Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

16. Tony Kanaan, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
17. Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH Racing
18. Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

19. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport
20. Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
21. Carlos Huertas, Dale Coyne Racing

22. Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing
23. Takuma Sato, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
24. Alex Tagliani, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

25. Townsend Bell, KV Racing Technology
26. Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams
27. Jacques Villeneuve, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

28. James Davison, KV Racing Technology
29. Martin Plowman, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
30. Ryan Briscoe, NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing

31. Sage Karam, Dreyer and Reinbold - Kingdom Racing
32. Sebastian Saavedra, KVAFS Racing
33. Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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