Meet the head of your new HOA; The Bank

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distressed farmhouse Meet the head of your new HOA; The Bank

Common wisdom was once upon a time that the bank did not ever want to own your home. It would try so hard to not own your home it would fall over backwards to work with you if you ever fell behind on your mortgage.

Until the housing bubble burst in 2007-08.

Everything has now changed. Banks want so badly to own your home that they will literally dodge your phone calls and letters attempting to restructure your loan or even work out terms with you.

Being rather old school, this sort of behavior puzzled me at first. What would a bank do with a house? They are not in the real estate business?

But they are. Getting into the real estate business is their way of turning lemons into lemonade.

When the foreclosure rate was insanely low, the cost to the bank to manage a house that was foreclosed on was too great for the return. But look what has happened since the bubble burst. The foreclosed homes have consolidated. Where there was only one home in a subdivision, there are now 20-40 homes or more. It now makes sense to hire property management companies to flip the house, maintain it and manage the renters*.

The banks are slowly owning large tracts of private property. They are becoming the de facto Home Owners Association. Eventually, they will be the loudest voice at city council meetings and zoning boards.

Are you noticing? Is anyone in Washington?

*We have had one such company rent out an old church and set up shop just right outside of Englewood. Their signs are on almost every distress property in every subdivision for miles. Like watching McDonalds expand.

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Don Draper was a poser and so can you. The myth of graphic design

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mad men don draper Don Draper was a poser and so can you. The myth of graphic design

My editor wrote this little thing this morning. Since I’m also a Mad Men fan, I asked him if I could repost it here for you. He reluctantly agreed, but only if I give him full credit. He is such a stickler for the rules. Here is his post as it appears on his blog.

There is a current narrative going on within the creative community lamenting the demise of professional graphic artists. One such narrative appears on my favorite design blog, Before&After Magazine.

Inevitably, someone brings up Mad Men as an example of the glory days of advertising.

And I sigh deeply.

Firstly, let’s get one thing perfectly clear. Don Draper is a fictional character, partially based on Draper Daniels, the creative head of the Chicago-based Leo Burnett advertising agency in the ’50s. Matt Weiner can write him to do anything and say anything. He did not exist. He does not exist. Never. Ever, ever, ever.

Don’s story for us starts in medias res as a successful creative director banging out copy in a bar in New York City. As the story unfolds over the next four seasons, we find out he was a poor kid growing up on a farm “somewhere in the Midwest,” joined the Army to get the heck off the farm, sold used cars in California, never went to college, never wrote anything longer than 250 words, moved to New York City and sold furs and did copywriting/advertising on the side for the owner (who probably never would have hired a graphic artist if Don didn’t do the work) and eventually bamboozled his way into Sterling-Cooper.

Don’s path is hardly the one you most read about. Most professional graphic artists have a BFA or certificate from an art school. They trained to eventually become creative/art directors in agencies, living the Don Draper Dream.

But if you look closely, the credentialed people who work at Sterling-Cooper and later Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price are the first ones getting fired when an account is lost. Don prevails and gets stronger despite not having the credentials of a “real” creative director. Sure, he has his moments of panic but who doesn’t? And Don’s panic is more understandable when he admits to himself he has been faking his entire adult life. Again, folks, he is not real so Weiner can write all these traits into the Don Draper character.

The problem with not believing Don Draper isn’t real is I know people like Don Draper. I know people in the graphic arts field who have no business being there because they don’t have the “proper” credentials*. Yet, they are the folks I turn to when I need something done.

How many agencies would hire a Don Draper if he was looking for work? Probably all of them. How many would hire a used-car salesman turned furrier who did advertising for them on the side without an art degree? None of them. The irony in all this is the latter is exactly what Sterling-Cooper did, albeit unknowingly.

Don was successful not so much because of his superior copywriting and creative ability, but in his willingness to learn and his keen observation of human behavior. He learned what made people tick and more importantly, how to make them tick to a rhythm he tapped out. He played Roger into his job and continues to play him. For Don, Roger is the perfect whetstone that sharpens his skills. But this is not a character analysis post. This is just a reminder that creative ability is not about art degrees. Creative people don’t hold any special rights to the keys of knowledge. But people who are willing to use the tools they have and sharpen that craft do.

Like the graphic arts industry, Mad Men could have easily just evaporated after season four. The most ardent fans among us would have had a momentary Don Draper panic moment, but then like Don, realized life goes in only one direction — forward. Instead of slinking home in the rain to a stiff drink and a pair of bedroom slippers, we would have sighed deeply, been grateful for the spectacular opportunity we had been given, looked bravely onto the horizon and enthusiastically asked:

“What’s next?”

Everyone in advertising wants to be Don Draper but few want to go through the pain of becoming Don. Fewer still want the anxiety of staying Don.

*My editor is, in fact, one of those posers. Read his story. Nowhere in there is any formal training in graphic design. Yet he fooled a lot of people into thinking he could do the job, mostly because he could.

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Kia is starting to understand men

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I first saw this ad (I think the short version) ironically enough while waiting for the Grismer folks to change out some critical suspension parts in the event van. I was all fired up to write another blog post about how car companies are stuffing men (and women) into stereotypes.

But then I got to the end of this extended version and I think marketers are finally starting to get it. There is no gender war. It turns out men and women pretty much want the same thing, even if the detours and paths to get there are different.

I am holding my breath to see which version makes the game cut and which one will eventually run long-term. But this was made. It’s a start.

What do you think?

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Je ne parle pas français

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bastilledayflag Je ne parle pas français

I’ve only met my maternal grandmother twice in my life. The second time was when we visited them in Maine for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. She died two days later. My grandfather died less than a year after that.

This is the story of the first time I met her. Her name was Leda Boutot Pelletier.

For those of you who know me, I am half French, descended from the mighty Pelletiers and Boutots. A brief search discovers that half of them stayed drunk long enough to wake up late on the wrong side of the river bank after the Treaty of Paris. Being French, they simply did not care all that much about a river between them. Still don’t.

When I was a pup of about ten years old, my grandmother boarded an airplane for the very first time in her life in Bangor, Maine and flew to visit our litter of five halfway around the world in St. Paul, MN. My grandfather chickened out at the last minute and stayed home. It must have been terrifying for her, but she insisted on seeing her grandkids before she died.*

She had lived her entire life in the very small town of Fort Kent, Maine, just a skip across the St. John River. She spoke no English and we spoke no French. My parents were adamant about us assimilating.

To prepare us for our grandmother’s visit, my mom taught us only one phrase in French: Je ne parle pas français

When my grand-mère spoke to us kids, we were supposed to say that. As pretty as the French language was, we ended up making it ugly by saying it like a sing-song-y rhyme that Sesame Street would be proud to own the rights to. It would have embarrassed even the French soccer team.

On the first day of the visit, my dad went to pick up his mother-in-law from the airport while we all waited anxiously at home practicing our “French.” When his car came back, this very short, very round, very stern-looking women in a flowery dress steps out, clasping her beige handbag in front of her.

She spoke. And my sisters and brother froze up. And I piped up, “Je ne parle pas français.”

There was a short silence as this old woman welled up in tears, dropped her handbag and rushed toward me with her arms outstretched. She hugged me tight, her round, ample body enveloping me like a huge down pillow. When she finally let me go, she went and wet-kissed all us kids on the foreheads and cheeks, blurting out a string of non-stop French that I had only heard previously from my mom when one of us kids had done something that warranted a very large wooden spoon made of virgin-growth forest oak and a chase around the house.

I learned later that she was so happy that my mom had finally taught us some French and kept the tradition alive. Apparently the language thing was a big deal between mother and daughter. It was a bigger deal between my mom and dad, but that is another story.

For the next ten days, I heard my mother speak nothing but French.

She seemed happier.

*Never underestimate a stubborn Frenchwoman. They are all stubborn.

* * *

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 exploring the theme, My Grandmother Always Said… To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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I know how Google will die

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google ends I know how Google will die

I know how Google will die. I’m not a psychic, just an old dog who has seen this cycle before. But before I get into the specifics, let me share a story with you.

It was the summer of 1992 and I was working at my job as at the Fortune 500 I was lucky to be at. We were all sitting around with a pretty big retail client, brainstorming on ways to improve the cycle of customer satisfaction, experience, etc, etc. with the service delivery. These were the early days of “partnership” when it was in vogue to include your vendors as “partners” rather than companies you called and barked “do this!” to. In hindsight, we were all pretty new at the game.

About the middle of the meeting, it became somewhat apparent that the client was getting frustrated that he was not quite getting the result he was looking for. We were trying to build value for our services and he was trying to manipulate us into thinking we were the ones “discovering” what he needed done.

In a moment of uncontrollable frustration, he blurted out, “who is the damn customer, here anyway?”

Dead silence.

He knew what he had just done. For the rest of the meeting, nothing really got talked about. We had turned from partner vendors into robot order-takers. Yes, sir, yes sir. The client got exactly what he wanted and not a bit of effort beyond that. We all pretty much knew our place.

From that day, everyone in sales worked hard to replace the retailer with programs that valued our head skills rather than just used us as a pair of hands. We were able to separate from the client a year later. Revenue was one thing; our ability to grow along our mission was something else.

Fast forward to the early days of Google. They were all about cataloging the world’s information, building great search tools, branching out to maps and enterprise apps and useful things that helped users collaborate and make the world a better place. Do no evil, they cried but more importantly, celebrate the human spirit by letting our employees work on cool stuff even if the return was less than certain.

And the stock price soared and the profits kept rolling in. Shareholders kept seeing their returns increase hand-over-fist and their expectations kept rising. If there is one thing rich people always need more of is more money.

Then things started slowing down as they usually do with mature companies. But the expectations did not stop. Google started cutting expenses and “stupid” projects that the shareholders and analysts felt were not making money and never will. Then came a push to consolidate and “own” the user until they now have the User Agreement we were all just sent last week.

“We own your online identity” is the short version of the file. You can read the whole thing if you want, but that is the translation. The push to make us buy stuff through the Google-created channels is becoming apparent. “Who is the damn customer, here anyway?” the shareholders and advertisers are now screaming. “Deliver us buyers or else!”

And Google is buckling.

The shareholders and advertisers will continue to squeeze and squeeze as the users quietly work their way through whatever hold Google has on them now and find a way to replace what Google gives them. It might take a decade or so, but at the end, Google will be left scratching at the floorboards, wondering where it all went.

Google will die because Google got too greedy. It didn’t know when to push and when to coast. Or maybe it did, but like every other company that allows itself to be “owned,” it ran out of leverage to push back.

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People want to eat but they won’t join the hunt

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hunting dog People want to eat but they wont join the hunt

Most people wear your web site, twitter feed or facebook page like they wear a jacket or drive their car. When they want to use it, they do. When they don’t, it is out of sight and out of mind.

People who work in the online space are in a very rarefied space. They live and breathe online all day long and delude themselves into thinking this is reality. When they go outside their front door, life dilutes the online world by about 1:10,000,000,000,000 parts per billion.

The online famous need to scream to get the attention of a few thousand. An average TV personality can whisper and reach a million in a fraction of a second. You know this is happening when you go to a web site immediately mentioned on a second-rate cable show.

The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who coaches women’s soccer at a Division I college about web/social media vs TV, creating content vs distribution. He is trying to get a professor in the Communications Dept to see his web site as a valuable learning tool for students and to build an independent study around it. So far, the professor has resisted, thinking that social media is just a fad.

And he is right. But not in the way he thinks he is.

TV will win out as it absorbs social media into it the next five years or so because people want to eat but they don’t want to join the hunt. TV is eating; social media and the Internet is hunting. That is also why the YouTube vs TV issue is silly.

The content creators are the hunters. You and I are the folks who go out and shoot the game, drag it back, dress it and cook it for the rest of the pack. Without us, the rest of the pack starves. That is why content is way, way, way more important than the distribution networks. That is why creatives will always outpace tech. That is why guys like Loren Feldman are so right about a lot of things. That is why SOPA will eventually pass in some form.

People want to eat but they don’t want to join the hunt.

It is the 1% creators v 99% consumers.

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Hipster puppy

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hipster puppy Hipster puppy

Our intern Zoey is also a fashion-forward puppy. Here she is modeling a pair of hipster glasses.

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My #SOPABlackout thoughts

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sopa blackout My #SOPABlackout thoughts

The DogWalkBlog.com is not going dark for the SOPA Blackout today for a few reasons.

Firstly, I am not entirely against SOPA and PIPA (I’d link to the bills, but the ones in Congress are still in flux, the Wikipedia one is skewed and blacked out).

Secondly, the sites that are going black remind me of a small child throwing a tantrum, screaming that he will hold his breath until he turns blue. I want no part of that childishness.

Thirdly, if we just stop talking, how we will convince anyone of our point of view? Instead of going silent, we should become louder.

Many sites are going dark today and I think — as adult human beings — we should grab this as a learning opportunity in human evolution. We did not become the dominant species on Planet Earth because we cowered in the face of adversity. We did not become top of the food chain by hiding in the darkness. We became king of all beasts (except dogs, dogs still rule) because we learned how to adapt and survive in our environment.

Taking that lesson, all the librarians need to herd the students into the libraries and teach them the magic of the Dewey Decimal System. Newspaper journalists should use this as an opportunity to tout their product and process as immune to going dark. Book publishers should launch a campaign that says, “see, we’re still here! You can always read us without the Internet.” Same with music CDs and movie DVDs. Television… ok, you can play too. HAM Radio operators, you are definitely invited to the party.

A blackout should be an opportunity for this generation to teach the next how to truly navigate their world by clock and fist. Because some day, they will have to. Someday, the machines really will go dark.

Forever.

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Turning my back on time

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turn back time Turning my back on time

If I could turn back time, I would turn it back before last Monday when I suggested to my editor that he float the theme “If you could turn back time” to the Lets BlogOff editorial staff.

When I first starting writing this blog seven years or so ago, nobody cared what I had to say. As I kept writing, I picked up readers. Part of the problem with writing in an autobiographical style where I am the protagonist is some parts start straying a bit from the absolute truth to an amalgamation of the truth to something that starts becoming story. As Virginia Woolf said in A Room of One’s Own

Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.

If Virginia Woolf thought it ok to make stuff up for the sake of a story, who am I to argue? Nonetheless, I find I can’t really write to the theme as I would have to fly too close to the sun for the story to flow. It would only lead to an endless game of regret and what-if. My life moves in one direction — forward.

Hence, (yeah, I said hence) my post is this short: I wish I could turn back time to before last Monday.

For no particular reason, in no particular order, my two favorite turn back time-themed songs of my youth.

Tanya Tucker-What’s your mama’s name

George Jones and Tammy Wynette- Golden Ring (Embedding disabled, but worth the click.

* * *

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 exploring the theme, If you could turn back time? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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56 channels and nothing on

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tvstatic 56 channels and nothing on

Fred Wilson wrote a blog post about the scarcity business model in the entertainment industry, specifically film, but it applies universally.

I left a comment that accidentally turned into a blog post.

Oops.

Here it is.

I remember the days when Christmas shows like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty, The Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas were on TV at ONLY a specific night in December. Everyone cleared their calendar, sat in front of the TV and made it an event. Now, all these shows are on 24/7/365 on the Internet, run 5 million times a week on cable and nobody cares. “I’ll catch it later” and they usually don’t.

56 channels and nothing on.

Fred’s opening paragraph actually makes a case FOR scarcity. There is SO MUCH content that none of it looks appetizing any more, like an all-you-can-eat buffet in Vegas open 24/7/365 for $7.99. There is no anticipation, no sense of community that an event creates, no anything that gets the juices flowing, the heart racing and the mind thinking. I remember seeing the Death Star blow up in a movie theatre and to this day, it still overwhelms me. I doubt very much anyone under forty has had that same sensory experience.

Even if Fred were to be able to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I’d lay odds that he would have been checking Twitter, his email, etc within 20 minutes of the start. “What else is out there..”

I watched the Golden Globes last night… the television was not enough stimulation; I had to also tweet.

The problem isn’t one of access or scarcity. The problem is there is TOO MUCH access. Any time, any where, any place. We have programmed our audience to always expect the “New and Improved” model instead of building value for the experience of enjoying what is available now.

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Happy MLK Day

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mlk Happy MLK Day

SOURCE: Wikipedia


Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

If you are one of the lucky government, postal, banking or financial services employees* who got the day off today, please remember to treat the people who did not with the respect and gratitude they deserve as they wait on you at the local restaurant, the Walmart or Target Store and the gas station. They are the working poor who feed your salaries every day of the year.

Ironic that Martin Luther King, Jr’s last fight was against poverty, specifically the poverty of the working poor.

Perhaps we should start leveling the playing field by giving everyone the day off.

With pay.

*A special bark out to those companies that give their employees the day off and those who can’t, holiday pay. It’s a start.

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Anxious or excited?

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sallie charlie at vet Anxious or excited?

Yesterday, I took both Charlie and Sallie to the vet for some routine check up stuff, including getting their license, a shot each and heart worm testing. Charlie is the German Shepherd and Sallie is the lab mix. While they are two large dogs (75 and 110 pounds) they are generally easy to handle together — except when they go to the vet.

Sallie gets all excited about meeting new people and exploring new rooms she has never been in. She sees the visit to the vet as an opportunity to expand her world and maybe get a new treat, make a new friend, etc. Her ears dance and she quite literally smiles.

Charlie, on the other hand, thinks no good could possibly come from going anywhere new. He is convinced that the vet is a really bad place and all sorts of harm will befall him and Sallie. He wants out as soon as we walk into the place. For him, all the smells are ghosts of dogs who have somehow met their fate at the hands of these labcoats and he just wants none of this.

The reality is, of course, somewhere in the middle. The vet takes each back to a little room where they get a shot that probably hurts a little but they get a tasty treat at the end. In the end, not much bad stuff happened but then, not much good stuff happened either. Sallie is still happy and excited at the end and Charlie is still nervous and scared. Each will probably be that way the next time we visit the vet. Maybe it will level off a bit for each; they are only four years-old.

That brings me to my 2012.

At times, I feel like Sallie and others, Charlie. The newness of the year and the potential of some project I am working on gets me giddy with excitement. And then I might take a phone call that has me crashing down to earth, clawing me into maintenance mode for a project I had long since thought had been put to bed.

This economy and the negativity of the primaries gets into my head some days as well. I can feel it in the aurora of people I talk to throughout the day. It seems there is a belief that more profit can be made with hate and fear than with hope and change.

For the most part, I am going to try to be more like Sallie than Charlie, even though there is a slight danger I may sometimes walk around with a goofy grin on my face.

The risk is probably worth taking.

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 exploring the theme, what are you looking forward to int he new year? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Pawprints in the snow

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pawprints Pawprints in the snow

This morning, I started 2012 with a snarky tweet and a photo.

My 2012 New Years resolution; to be the first to make pawprints in the new fallen snow. Done!

It was a fun tweet and I went about my day.

But then I got to thinking about that pawprint and how the snow that was still falling will soon cover it up. And nobody will know I was there.

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Here’s what SOPA means to me

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sopa rufus dogg Heres what SOPA means to me

I just need to get this off my chest: The entertainment industry does not “overcharge.” It prices its products to what the market will pay for. Just because it is too expensive to YOU, does not mean that anyone is “overcharging” anyone. Quit flinging that around like it is fact. It is not. Just because you think it is expensive, it does not give you the moral right to pirate stuff.

Ok, that being said, here is my really short take on SOPA.

SOPA is a bad idea because of the enforcement power it gives the US government and copyright holders. The real issue goes something like this: If Ally Bank or Petco wanted to expand out their Rufus dog characters in future commercials (you have to Google them; I’m not going to lead them here) their legal team might slap me with a C&D and take down my blog, G+, Facebook and other sites as my name is Rufus and I am a dog. I would have little recourse with my domain registrar. Or the corporation that owns me might somehow offend a minor league baseball team on the East Coast and decide there is some confusion with their fans and order a takedown of my company I’ve held for twelve years before they even threw out their first pitch. (same name with one letter difference at the end)

Who would hear my redress, my government? HA! Just ask the Eat More Kale dude how his little venture is going.

Of one thing I am certain. Law enforcement has and will use laws far beyond their intended purpose. I am sure some bureaucrat at the Department of Homeland Security has been poring over my blog since the day I started writing, wondering how to apply some provision of the Patriot Act to initiate a take down order and throw my hairy behind into an unmarked prison cell for an indefinite amount of time without a warrant.

But that might just be the heart worm meds talking.

Copyright infringement (piracy) has been a severe problem for more than a decade now and has essentially hammered an entire generation of creative class into simply not producing much of value that does not include a remix or some reality show. Writers with talent are being exploited, filmmakers being ripped off and photographers have just been put out of business. Something needs to be done, but SOPA ain’t it. But I think somehow a form of it will pass because the entertainment industry is huge, well-heeled and very pissed off.

Don’t misunderstand me by citing that I am anti-SOPA. I am not. I am anti-the-enforcement-provision-of-SOPA. That is all. The rest of the bill that protects the rights of the creative class, I’m right there with them. I think Google, YouTube, Huffington Post and tons of other sites have gotten a free ride for a very long time. They have built obscenely profitable businesses without having to pay for the true cost of their inventory.

Tech without content is a store without goods. Tech without content is crap nobody wants. The entertainment industry does not really need tech to distribute anything. It wants it, but does not need it. If Amazon, Apple, Google went away tomorrow, entertainment still owns printing presses and movie theaters. And we would buy books and go to the movies again.

Yes we would.

For those who are interested in finding out more about what piracy has done to the creative class, read Free Ride by Robert Levine. Then craft your own opinions about SOPA and piracy.

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Find your little heart place

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levain cookies Find your little heart place

Yesterday, a friend of mine who lives in New York City sent me a box of cookies from Levain Bakery. If you have never had a cookie from them, go right now and get one.. or two.

I’ll wait.

Aside of being the most delicious cookies in the whole wide world, what struck me the most is the label they put on every box and post card. Along the bottom, they draw the New York City skyline in pen. Toward the very end, they color in their bakery and float a heart above it.

Subtle, but the message is clear. Even in a crowded, dense city like New York where everyone is seemingly insignificant to everyone else, you find meaning, purpose and love in a little bakery in the middle of the chaos.

Slow down and find your little heart place.

Happy holidays.

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