How’s your penmanship coming along? The notecard project

Earlier this year, I found Kara Matuszewski’s (@karamat) blog because she started following me on twitter and read a post she had written about hand-written notes. I clicked into the comment box to send her a note, stopped cold and thought, “Wait a minute, I can do better!”

And I went searching for her mailing address, pieced that together and sent her a hand-written note, thanking her for following me on twitter. (I know, corny but so what)

But then I got to thinking that while I send out thank you notes more often than most people, I probably don’t do it enough. Besides, my penmanship is getting worse and worse because I don’t practice. So, I bought me some Moleskins (I know, a cliché) and started writing my to do list in them to practice.

As I was writing last night, (I had a flashback of John Boy from the Waltons sitting at his desk, writing the events and thoughts of the day in his journal but that’s not the point) I realized that not only was my penmanship going down the tubes, but so was my ability to compose a quick thought on a thank you card or a note. It seems simple, but when I get to a blank card, I struggle for the right words. I used to be able to dash off half a dozen before finishing my first cup of coffee in the morning. Way back, when people sent cards.

So, here is the project: Starting April 1st and through the end of 2011, I want to send one note card a day to someone who follows me on twitter or reads this blog. It will help me get my penmanship and note-writing skills back as well as have something physical that connects me to you.

At the end of the year, I will have sent out 274 cards and connected with as many people in a more real way than just a tweet or a comment.

I will scan each card and share at the end of the year (minus your mailing address, of course.) I am not doing this to build a mailing list or anything so you need not worry about giving me your info. Just a fun little project that will help me gain back some skills and have some fun and human connection along the way. Maybe I’ll even build a Google map to see how far and wide we are all connected.

Ready?

Want a card? Fill out the form here.

*I’m starting April 1st because I need to get some cards printed up. I went looking to buy some at the store yesterday and found out the selection of stationery has really gone downhill since the email became fashionable. The first hundred or so will probably not be as skillfully done, but you can call them ‘my early works’ if you’d like.

You wish you were Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen as he appears on the twitter

Admit it. You wish you were Charlie Sheen.

While you are shaking your head violently from side to side and stomping up and down disagreeing with me, just hear me out for a few seconds. Then you can go back to your ranting about why I am wrong, why Charlie is melting down, how he is bad for his kids, why he is anti-Semetic, a bad role model or any of the other pat sound bites the media are flinging around.

Ready? This stuff could be a bit deep. Or deep in it. I’m sure you’ll decide for yourself. **

Charlie admits his humanity. All of it. He says the “crazy” we think in our minds and acts on it.

Only this stuff isn’t so nutty. He is magic. He is a big star. He was born small and now he is huge. He has navigated the shark-infested waters of the entertainment industry and is smarter than most of the people he has come up against. He is special. He has a natural gift of poise and conversation. He got 1.2 million followers on Twitter before you even got out of bed this morning.

And he is not saying hateful things. He is just saying really, really brutally honest stuff. If we tag it as crazy then we can all feel better about ourselves. If we say he is crazy, we don’t have to deal with why we’re not living up to our potential. And if we go even further and start tearing him down, we’re morally superior.

He is getting away with all of this because he is operating within the bounds of the human condition. He knows down deep inside — way, way, way down deep inside of each of us — is a Charlie Sheen Dream that has been smashed down by years of following the rules and believing what others tell us about our inadequacies. There is always tomorrow. Next time. The next relationship.

Will you embrace your inner Charlie? Yeah, me neither. It’s too bright and scary out there.

You may now resume your lives. Or drop a comment below. Or unfollow me on twitter. Or unsubscribe from this blog. Whatever fills the ignored hole in your soul.

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** But I’m betting you won’t.

I was not going to write anything about Charlie Sheen. But then I got to thinking that Martin Sheen, his father, was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. By extension, we invented Charlie. So naturally — as is our way here — we needed to claim the good things this invention brings to the collection of humanity. Just like we do the Wright Brothers, we plant a flag in anything that gets famous and claim it for our own.

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Passing on the magic

I was dropping off a friend at the airport early yesterday morning. As I was coming back to the parking garage, I had to cross the street and go through these large glass sliding doors.

I have gotten into the habit of waving my hand in front of me like Dumbledore in a Harry Potter movie to open automatic doors. My kids have grown tired of this gesture and think it is lame. Now, I think I do it just to annoy them, but it has become a silly almost involuntary habit.

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Football’s “Big Game” ads

On Monday, every blogger will turn into a marketing expert and analyze the ads from The Big Game* fifteen different ways in hopes that you won’t realize they don’t know crap about marketing or advertising. Several of them will actually know what they are talking about, but those people will be so non-confrontational that you probably won’t read them anyway.

Over here at the DogWalkBlog, we’re going to stick with what we know; dogs and dog-related accessories. Our entire criteria on judging the effectiveness of any Big Game ad is whether or not they have a dog in them. Then, we will list them further on down this page and tell you why we think they were cool or lame.

Fair enough?

Good.

*Super Bowl is a trademark of the National Football League (NFL) and DogWalkBlog did not pay any money for the rights to use it. So, we’re saying “The Big Game” (until the NFL clamps down on that one as well)

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You knew I was a dog before I knew ya. What is love, a #letsblogoff

A letter from my dog to me. I found it on my desk when I woke up this morning.

Dear you;

You asked me what love was last night as you were nuzzling my ears on the sofa, watching the late night news because you couldn’t sleep. You may not have been aware that I heard you, but I did and thought I would pen you this letter to put your mind at ease. Or at least help. I hope it does.

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The Ladders got a ‘makeover’ but didn’t need to

Something disturbs me greatly at a visceral level about the latest commercial from The Ladders.

In his latest email newsletter, Marc Cenedella, Founder & CEO (@cenedella) explained the commercials and the creative process behind it. I still didn’t buy it. It felt like someone handed me a dog turd and told me it was fine European chocolate.

And while you are chewing on that visual, watch the commercial.


View on YouTube | The rest

Really, I get it. Average-looking people with exceptional skills look fantastically sexy to quality employers. It’s a good concept and not one I’m going to argue with. But what I do have an issue with is how they are portrayed it in the video.

The premise The Ladders capitulated to is simple; eventually, everything comes down to sex. Period. Even job skills, brains, ability, aptitude and attitude. To be seen as qualified to do the job, you must also be seen as sexy.

That saddens me greatly.

How many qualified women have been hired based on their “skills” and years later found out it was because “she has a nice rack?” Or qualified men being hired because “he had a nice a**?” For someone who values skills, experience and smarts over looks, that is insulting.

I don’t know how else you could have depicted qualified candidates as attractive, but I know this visual is more insulting than complimentary. The Ladders went and gave itself a makeover, but didn’t need to. The quality employees and employers already found them more than attractive. For all the right reasons.

I’m not entirely sure who The Ladders hired to create and shoot the commercials, but perhaps they should have reached just a little further up the ladder for the better label. Perhaps they will next time around. They need to be what they sell.

*Yeah, I’m pretty hot-looking and I have a nice a**, so this isn’t sour grapes, just in case you want to snipe at me. If I wanted to get hired based on my looks, I’d aspire to be a model. I’d rather be seen as a talented writer and thinker; worth well over $100K. And I did get the the Nastassja Kinski cultural reference. Very clever, geeks are well-endowed, ok, subtle. Yes, that is sarcasm. Or is it?

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What is creativity and 47 reasons why you ain’t a creative

Right off the bat, I’m gonna level with you and say that I don’t have forty-seven reasons why you are not creative. I don’t even have one. I just needed a funky title that the Google machinery would pick up on. Citing a list of stuff and using “creativity” in the title was a cool way of tricking that uncreative algorithm into thinking there might be something valuable (creative?) in here. There might be. I dunno.

I don’t even know you, so why do you care what I think about you? You might be creative; you may not be. All I can do is give you my narrowly-defined definition of creativity and watch you squeeze through the hole, proving you are.

Everyone wants to be a creative these days. Seth Godin says this is the Age of the Creative. The rest of us are “lizard brains.” Nobody wants to be a lizard brain. That sounds dull, slow, and backwards. Daniel Pink says that anyone who is not creative will not be able to thrive in the new world of employment. Teachers everywhere are encouraging little Johnny to explore his world around him, to be creative; right before she sends him off to detention for talking out of turn using creative language.

I promised you a very narrow definition of creativity. Here it is:

Creativity is creating something original and appropriate within the confines of your craft.

That’s pretty much it. You can’t do what someone has already done — like using all lowercase in an essay — and call it creative. E.E. Cummings already did that. You must make something out of nothing that was not there before. It must be appropriate, i.e., elephant poo on a painting is not creative. Really, it’s just kitsch. And you must be aware of and adept at applying the rules of your craft. Then bend or push the rules with purpose.

Most of what we call “creative” these days tends to be sloth and impatience; folks who are too lazy or in too much of a hurry to hone their craft. Instead, they color sloppily outside the lines and call it creative. Real creativity takes years of hard work and dull practice before it ever sees the light of day.

Have I poked at you hard enough? Do you find yourself disagreeing with me? Are you angry enough at me for not including you in the creative club? I sure hope so! Add your creative comments below. I dare you. Just be original, appropriate and stretch language to express yourself.

Proper grammar is required.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “answering the big question, “What is creativity?”” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

Jackwagons and stewballs; Some thoughts on cursing in public

I was thinking that there is entirely too much cursing in our modern life. Maybe we do it to get attention. Maybe we do it to make others think we are ‘cutting edge’ and fearless of “The Man.” Who knows and who really cares.

I just know I am kinda tired of hearing it all, especially from the emerging crop of Social Media people who are finding themselves more on stage as keynotes in more and more mainstream conferences. We get it, but some of us are older and you just don’t say things like that in polite company. You are no longer exclusively in your nerd colonies.

If you must curse, may we ask that you be more creative? I propose instead of calling someone an a**hole, you say “jackwagon.” Or instead of “sh*t” or “f**k” you say “stewballs!” (Look up Peter, Paul and Mary)

That’s all I have to say. If you must curse, be smart and creative. Instead of cringing, we’ll smile with the appreciation creativity deserves.

I’m kinda curious about any curse words you’ve replaced. Tell us about them in the comments. (Just the replacements, not the original words. We run a family-friendly doghouse.)

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The definitive guide for planning your day to maximize your potential and meet cute people

Day Planner for maximum potential

Ok, so the title was a bit misleading but if Google and I are still buds, I’m guessing you are here to meet cute people. It could happen by reading this post, but not likely. Pull up a chair anyway.

It has become fashionable among all the A-list blogger folk this time of year to tell you how to plan your day, focus this much time on that task, focus on that, blah, blah, blah. Take this from an old dog — they are all wrong.

The chart above is how I plan my day. Everything gets planned Before Walk (BW) or After Walk (AW) but the walk never, ever gets skipped. We are never too busy for the walk. The smaller bubbles attached to the walk bubble are really important too and will always get done when the opportunity presents itself. The smaller bubbles on the outside are things life makes us do.

A few years ago, the walk bubble was really small and all the other bubbles were larger. As time went by, many things that I thought were important just turned out not to be and became small bubbles. The walk bubble got larger. I also focused on making the walk bubble larger and hope one day to make my entire day the walk bubble.

Get it? Now since we’re dogs here, the walk bubble is a literal walk bubble. But in your life, it might just be a metaphor for what you want to do. If you are a potter, maybe you want to throw clay all day. If you are a writer, you may want to sling words. If you are a photographer, your walk bubble may be taking photos.

Define your central bubble and figure out how to make that the central part of your day. Then figure out how to expand it out until nothing else is more important than the central bubble. Minimize all the smaller bubbles and keep what makes the central bubble more intense and worth doing.

Pretty simple, eh? No charts, no keeping track of how much time you spend doing stuff. Just a laser-like focus on increasing the amount of time you spend doing what makes life worth living.

And you people who came in looking for cute people; if that is your central bubble, at least you are ahead of most people. You know what you want to do. We hope we expanded your bubble just a little bit more.

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Watch what you say, the kids are listening

Several months back, my daughter (who is now 19) and I had a quick text message exchange. I can’t remember what it was about, but I’m sure it is archived somewhere in the bowels of the AT&T servers if I ever run for some government office. As she is prone to do, she asks: “Do you need anything?”

Apparently feeling rather frisky, I typed back:
I don’t need anything. Well, serenity, a deep blue sky, a crisp cold morning, a loyal dog and a hot cup of coffee. 😉

On Christmas Eve, she gave me a series of presents that had me a bit confused, until she showed me the text message she had saved for months. The presents are below.

serenity, a deep blue sky, a crisp cold morning, a loyal dog and a hot cup of coffee

The book is to help me find serenity in the nuthouse I find myself in daily, the glass jar was filled with shiny bits of blue and silver tinsel, the candle scent is ‘morning mist,’ the dog wags his tail and lifts his head when you press his back and the coffee mug is always waiting to be filled.

Thank you! Not only did she give me a present, but she gave me a story which is worth more than any present she could have wrapped. I have the best puppies in the world.

Merry Christmas everyone. And remember the kids are always listening, especially when you’re babbling.

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How to shape and light a Christmas Tree properly

This guide was published two years ago and it one of the top read blog posts here. As lots of people will be decorating their homes for the holidays today and in the coming weeks, I thought we could at least save a few more of them from ugly trees.

I have “decorated” a lot of pine trees on my walks, so it is probably safe to say I’m as close to an expert as you will ever find on shaping and lighting a Christmas tree. Almost all of the Christmas trees I have seen since Halloween in the stores are dreadfully shaped and badly lit.

It doesn’t need to be like this as shaping and lighting a Christmas tree is so very, very easy.

Overall rules: Do not buy a pre-lit tree. They look great for one season, but after one wire goes bad, the whole tree is shot. Also, buy a good quality tree. Personally, I like the ones that come in three sections with permanent hinges on the branches. If the branches need plastic inserts or hinges or any other part, walk away.

Step One: Think like a tree.
No, really. You have to think like a tree. The primary job of the needles on the branches is to attract sunlight so photosynthesis can happen. Don’t worry about the science, but think about where the light is relative to the branches you are shaping. If the branches are near the trunk, how do they get sunlight? Well, they stretch out and up. Now, ask yourself this question of every branch you are shaping and it all suddenly makes sense. For the visually impaired, I drew a sketch. (I’m a dog, people, not an artist, but if someone wants to draw and send me something better, I’ll use it!)

Branch side view. Note that the closer the branches are to the truck, the more upright they will be.
Branch side view. Note that the closer the branches are to the truck, the more upright they will be.

The closer the branch is to the trunk, the more upright it will be as it strains to reach the light. This also has the side-effect of filling in the tree more. Don’t be afraid to stand thses branches straight up.

Nature makes sense, but she is imperfect. All this means is that nature has a reason for everything and it usually points to survival. Everything competes with everything else for resources; even individual tree branches on the same tree. That is one reason you will never see the branches all lined up in a row, neat levels of branches or a 90 degree bend in a branch! So, don’t do this while shaping your tree.

As you can see in the branch diagram above, the smaller branches are curved. Use your forefinger and palm to gently curve these branches.

The smaller branches also alternate left to right in the rows. Remember, there are no perfect rows of branches on a tree. Choose an alternating patterns and make sure the branch in front is alternated between the branches in the back. That way, each needle on the branch does not have to compete with the branch in front of it for sunlight. Are you still thinking like a tree?

I wish I could draw better, but the diagram below should kinda work. As you work through each row of branches, from the trunk to the end, alternate with the row behind it. When looking at the diagram, imagine you are looking at it straight on from the front.

Alternate the branches with the row behind each. Once you start left-right, left-right, DO NOT change your mind and go right-left. Do the entire tree in the same pattern.
Alternate the branches with the row behind each. Once you start left-right, left-right, DO NOT change your mind and go right-left. Do the entire tree in the same pattern.

Step Two: The top
The trick for the top is to make sure it blends into the rows below it. Most tops will have long tree branches on the lower rows. Shape the branches like the diagram and then shape the upper top branches with the gentle curve you used throughout the tree.

Shape the top branches to swoop into the layer below it. The goal is to make the top and the layer below it seamless.
Shape the top branches to "swoop" into the layer below it. The goal is to make the top and the layer below it seamless.

Step Three: Touch Up
If you have shaped each branch to reach toward the sun, with the back branches standing up and the end branches reaching out and alternated each row with the one in back of it, your tree — no matter how cheap — should look full. Tweak the branches you may have bumped into and don’t be afraid to pull the lower branches wider to fill out the bottom row.

Step Four: Lighting the tree
For a 7 1/2 foot tree, you will need a minimum of 600 lights. Really, don’t skimp on the lights. Make sure you plan your outlets accordingly as many manufacturers will recommend only 3-4 strings per. DO NOT BLAME RUFUS IF YOU BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN. If you were too stupid to follow the directions on the box, homeless is probably going to be the least of your worries anyhow.

If possible, use LED lights. They cost more, but they are brighter and they don’t burn out.

Like shaping, lighting a tree is very simple once you know the technique. Start from the back, bottom and near the trunk. Run the cord to the power source. If you will need 2 circuits, now is the time to run a green extension cord about 1/3 up the tree trunk and tape it there. Why 1/3? Because you will use more lights at the bottom of the tree (bigger branches) than you will toward the top.

Look at the diagram below. (Again, any artists out there, please)

The pattern of lights on the branches.
Working from the back to the front, lay the row of light on the top of the branches, looping them around the front branches, underneath the main branch and back to the trunk.

Working from the back to the front, lay the row of light on the top of the branches, looping them around the front branches, underneath the main branch and back to the trunk. Do this on EVERY branch, making sure the lights are laying in the middle of the row of branches. When you are done with the layer, move up, but always move up at the trunk. Never connect a new string of lights aat the front of the branch. Make sure you wrap loosely and don’t mess up your shaping job you did earlier.

If you string lights like the diagram on every layer, your tree will look amazingly full AND you will not be able to see the light cords (well just barely).

I hope this helps save at least one tree from a fate of looking ugly for the holidays. Feel free to let me know if this has helped at all by leaving a comment!

Serving red-staters only

Three things of significance have happened in the past year that has made me pause and think that perhaps we may be on a trajectory that should reverse course.

1. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have the right to free expression, which enables them to give freely to any candidate they choose.

2. I made a visit to Jim’s Donut Shop in Vandalia, Ohio. There were a bunch of old men sitting around the counter and I jokingly remarked to the counter lady that this must be the place where all the political talks take place. “Just don’t be supportin’ Obama in here,” she candidly remarked.

3. I participated on a New Media Dayton panel about content and the question of identity online was asked. I made a joke about how we will see businesses force customers into Red State and Blue State lines depending on their political views and the ones in the line the brand supported would be served first. I was immediately taken aback by how true that is becoming.

Eventually, someone at a client organization will find this blog and connect it up to my real life person. There will probably be some discussion around a board table in which a comment like, “That boy leans too far left to be able to represent our brand with integrity. All in favor of firing that liberal, socialist commie, say ‘aye'” will be made.

Will business ever get to the point where they start thinking “your money is not green enough for us to take from you?” They did once upon a time in this country when no matter how much money a black person was willing to spend, business did not care to take it or treat him well based solely on the color of their skin. Still happens, but we’re less likely to put up signs.

Business is not nameless and faceless. Business is people. People have emotions, opinions and points of view that are not necessarily in line with their long-term best interests or survival instincts. Most times, they are not.

Will we get to that place where business refuses to serve you based on the color of your politics?

I hope not. But I have not been back to Jim’s Donut Shop since.

And never will.

Photo source: http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/fsa.8a33793/ Does using a photo in the public domain, stored by the US Government in the Library of Congress make me a socialist? I dunno.

Olive Garden serving priceless service and jokes

I went to a #140conf Meet Up with Jeff Pulver in Dayton this afternoon (more stuff about that later) and afterwards, we headed out to dinner at the Olive Garden to celebrate my son’s birthday. He ordered a plate of something that was on the menu, but had no price.

“How much is that,” I asked Beth, our server.

“13.99,” she said… “Oh, wait, sorry… that is 14.99.”

Naturally, I thought we were negotiating, so I proceeded to question the price of everything everybody else ordered and threw out a counter-offer each time. It went all the way down to how much she was going to charge us for the puppy box, the mints and water.

It was fun; we connected.

Then our bill came. I opened it up and found the itemized receipt above. She got the tip she said she was worth, which was a bit more than 20% of the bill.

It wasn’t the great service or the food quality that was worth the tip, but that Beth showed she was engaged with us, she got the running joke and was willing to not only play along, but took the extra step to do a “Yes, and….”

So Beth, this blog post is your “Yes, and…” from us to you.

Thank you for the wonderful dinner. You were successful in making the sameness of a franchise a very memorable place.

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We got Jeff Pulver #140conf Road Trip – Dayton, Ohio

Come join us at Blind Bob’s in the Oregon District for the social media event of the year. Jeff Pulver will be stopping in Dayton on Sunday, August 22 from 3 – 5pm to mix it up with the most fun group of awesome Daytonians (and a few from the surrounding area, but we’ll deputize them for the day!)

For complete information, including the list of people going and directions, click here. And when you get there and find that the most exciting person you know won’t be there, it’s only because you haven’t sign up yet! Really, awesome you.

There will be lots of video and photos shot courtesy of Michael Blackwell of DryRainMedia. So, comb your hair, put on a clean shirt and get down to Blind Bob’s.

Read the press release here

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Maddow Apostrophe-gate

I was watching The Rachel Maddow Show tonight and the segment about Blago came on. I could not believe what I was seeing! The horror, the carnage of typography on my screen.

Here is what was shown:

Notice that they used a single quote when it should have been an apostrophe to indicate a contraction of Blagojevich, like so:

Apostrophes everywhere are pretty hopping mad and demand an apology from TRMS. In this era of high unemployment, the apostrophe union is demanding an explanation as to why a single quote was used when there was clearly a large pool of qualified, skilled apostrophes available for the job.

Maddow, we’re waiting. And we’re not going to accept a contracted apology.