Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Freedom of speech


In the wake of the events of the past few weeks, many people throughout the world are realizing just how precious the right to freedom of speech is. As Americans, we sometimes take this right for granted. Between the terror events in France and the Sony movie The Interview, we are now seeing how some other people view our freedom.

In my business, I have the opportunity to write about a wide range of topics. The most controversial I have gotten in my work has been organizing your clothes closet or picking a team that might win tomorrow’s game. But I know I have the right to write about whatever topic I chose. This is not true for some people.

As a college intern, I worked at a Baltimore television station during the American hostage crisis in 1979 that took place in Iran. It was an exciting yet scary time to be in the news business. The Associated Press and United Press International alarms were ringing in what we called “the wire room” all evening, every evening with news updates and bulletins. Every time the alarm went off, my heart jumped.

Back then, we didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle, social media or cell phones. Okay, maybe there were cell phones, but they were about the size of a shoe box and few people owned them. At the TV station where I worked, they didn’t even have computers. We typed on typewriters with large keys so the stories could be put directly into the teleprompter for the anchorman.

As a young adult, it was the first time I was exposed to terrorism. I also learned a lot about patriotism and freedom during my internship. It has been a long road from that job to creating Social Squids, but freedom of speech has been there all along.

With the technology of today, people use freedom of speech and social media to instantly send images and words to the world. With this freedom people have gotten themselves into all kinds of trouble from “sexting” to sending out things by accident. Of course, many also use it for sending funny, informational, inspirational or newsworthy messages.

As citizens of the world and especially as writers, we should remember how precious this freedom is. Some people have paid the ultimate price. We should take advantage of our freedom of speech and use it wisely.

Je suis Charlie.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How do you telecommute when the “tele” is not working?


I found myself in a bit of a dilemma yesterday when my &#%$ cable/internet/phone went out right in the middle of a phone call with a client. With a large deadline looming, I was in a panic. It seems that every time I do have a problem with my internet, it happens during a big deadline.

What to do…

I refer to my neighborhood Starbucks my “branch office.” The branch office comes in handy when doing writing or website jobs. Unfortunately, for this job I need all of my old files in order to do the work. Starting with old ads, changing expiration dates or making other alterations, is part of what I do. In this case, I need to have all of my files handy.

This is where the cloud comes in handy. Too bad I haven’t quite made the commitment for a cloud company. I wrote some web content about the various cloud companies and it did more to cloud the issue for me. Pricing, storage space and ease of use are all considerations and I have not yet made a commitment. Lucky for me, things have been so busy lately, there has not been a lot of time to think about it.

But, the time is now. Putting off the decision will result in more stress. Who needs that? A decision will be made, and soon.

Like most graphic artists, I am not a fan of doing graphics on a laptop. The screen on mine is so small that it becomes frustrating, even if I connect a mouse to do some of the finer Photoshop movements. But when push comes to shove, a laptop will have to do.

My desktop computer is a Mac Mini. Those things are amazing. One time the power went out during a bad storm and I just unplugged my computer and power cord, and took them to someone’s house. By simply unplugging their computer, I attached my Mac Mini to their monitor, keyboard and mouse. Then I was good to go. My old files were on CDs in a binder that was easy enough to carry along. Using other person’s wifi allowed me to finish my job without moving any heavy equipment. It was relatively stress free.

A digital fax service, in my opinion, is much more useful than an actual machine when switching from laptop to computer to another location, etc. Many times I avoid printing anything (saving toner/ink and paper) by just looking at the fax on my screen.

Lucky for me, the internet was fixed back before I even figured out what to do.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dealing with the computer illiterate

Yesterday I had a meeting with a prospective client about setting up a website. He is a very nice man, but really had no idea what a website does or why he should have one. He never thought about it before because he doesn’t really use a computer.

I see less and less of this type of person. Most people, even many of my relatives over the age of 80, at least use email and Facebook. Not this guy.

It was difficult explaining things to this man because I had to define the terms I was using as I went along. That often got me sidetracked. The man wants to sell something on his website that he makes by hand. He said he’d rather be working with his hands than using a computer. Obviously.

My explanations included how a search engine works and what it does, what Etsy.com is, Facebook, web hosting, domain name, etc. The poor man’s eyes glazed over when I talked about setting up a PayPal account so he can sell his products online. Of course, I had to explain what PayPal is and how it works. “How would I get the money?” he asked after a 10 minute explanation. I had to start from the beginning again.

Luckily, I am very patient. Years ago, I taught word processing in adult education. It was the same situation. The idea of switching from typing on paper to on the computer screen is confusing at first. I explained everything to this man as thoroughly as I could. I’m sure everything I said to him was a confused jumble in his mind when he left.

As a result of the conversation with this man, I have decided to write out some definitions/explanations to hand to people when I get together with them. It is my responsibility to explain what I do and all of the terms involved to a prospective client. I can either email (if they have email) or hand a prospective client the paper so when they go home and discuss it with people, they will have a better idea of what I do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Perspectives


This is way off topic, but I want to share...

Today I visited a Baltimore City civil trial involving someone suing a bar after a family member was beaten to death back in 2010. I have nothing to do with the case except knowing an attorney who is involved, but since I love reading crime novels and watching cop shows I thought it might be interesting.

The man responsible for the beating death is already in prison, but shuffled into the courtroom donning a Department of Corrections jumpsuit, leg irons and elaborate handcuffs. It was quite a show taking all of the shackles off the prisoner during his courtroom appearance. 

I avoided eye contact. However, considering there were only a handful of people in the gallery and I was only one of two people who were not witnesses, it was difficult not to lock eyes with him every now and then. Thankfully, he was not facing me during the session.

He had an opportunity, representing himself, to ask questions of any of the witnesses because he is also a part of the lawsuit. He only asked a question of one witness, the bartender, but I’ll get to her in a minute.

The testimony was so dry at times that all six jurors and two alternates were having trouble keeping their eyes open. One alternate was obviously nodding off through most of the testimony. I hope they don’t end up needing him. One juror seemed very interested in every word, but even he was having trouble staying awake.

It was not until the bartender, who didn’t call 911 when the fight broke out, gave her rather bland answers that people started to perk up. It was her outfit rather than her testimony that woke up the group. She appeared in court dressed more for clubbing than testifying. Her skin tight leggings left little to the imagination. Her constant hair flipping and fidgeting were also a distraction from her words.

Is there really a price for your pain and suffering? The family of the victim was offered a pretty large amount of cash, but turned it down hoping for a bigger payday by going to court. It seems to me that the lawyers make out better than the victims in lawsuits.

As we left the building when court was adjourned for the day, we were stopped in the hallway for our own safety as prisoners were being loaded into or out of a couple vans. Once again I avoided eye contact. I have no idea why. They were shackled and there appeared to be at least one guard per prisoner. But it was still a creepy experience.

There were two times in my life I came close to testifying in animal related court cases. Once I was an expert witness in a case about a house full of reptiles that exploded. I was hired to talk about the values of the animals involved. The case was dismissed and that was the end of it. Lucky me, I was paid handsomely for the few hours of work I did.

Another time when I was running an animal rescue, I took in a bunch of animals confiscated in a cruelty case. Again, I never made it to the witness stand. I’m glad about that because I was a nervous wreck just thinking about it.

Today as I left the courthouse, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief even though I was not involved in the case. I think it was instinctual. The bumper to bumper ride up the JFX was as welcome as the fresh air of freedom.

If you are ever considering committing a crime, I recommend visiting a courthouse, even if it is a civil case. That will definitely get you on the road to being a good citizen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

We need more brains!

 No, this is not a post about zombies. Sorry if you thought that!

Have you ever had a great idea, but after pondering it for a little while, you are not quite sure if it will fly or not? It happens to me all of the time. I get all excited about some business or plan and then once I think about it for a day or two, I lose my momentum. Instead of letting great ideas fall by the wayside, why not bounce ideas off of another person and see what they think about it?

Brainstorming sessions are valuable in business. If you have someone you can trust with your secret business ideas, ask to have lunch, dinner or even coffee with them. Let them hear your idea and come up with ways it might work, or reasons why it won’t. Either way, you should take advantage of this significant resource.

The name Social Squids, came from such a meeting. My friend and I got together for coffee and I told her that I needed to come up with a name. She’s an illustrator, very talented and creative in her own right. 

The starting point was the fact that I like animals, so we decided the name would have something animal-related in it. We brainstormed great name ideas, terrible ones, silly ones and eventually one of us – I’m not even sure which one of us it was – came up with Social Squids.

I kept doing this thing with my hands, wiggling my fingers and moving my arms outward. I was thinking about how social media reaches out into cyberspace. Not only did we come up with the name, we came up with the tag line too – We have far-reaching tentacles.

Paying someone for their opinion has its value, but brainstorming with one, two or a small group of people, will help you find problems, solutions, more in-depth ideas or sometimes cheer you on for your amazing business proposition.

So, find more brains. Bounce ideas off of your friends in the business community. Sometimes these ideas might seem impossible, but give it a try anyway. It can be an incredibly valuable tool for your business. Just be careful you share your ideas with people you trust and who are not going to take your idea and use it for their own.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is your web contest too complicated?


I received an email from a company the other day about their upcoming contest. I’m going to show the actual steps you need to take to enter the contest, but also change any identifying information.

1. From DATES OF CONTEST visit our COMPANY Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts to gather a daily clue
2. Use your clue to find the hidden ITEM on our website
3. Click the ITEM to receive the secret words
4. Collect the words of the day for all 5 days to create the winning phrase
5. Enter your submission on our website between DATES OF CONTEST for your chance to win 1 of 10 prizes!

I don’t know about you, but by the time I got to step three, my eyes glazed over and that was the end. I understand that this contest was developed to get people to engage in the company’s website and social media sites, however, most people are not going to spend that much time trying to win something. Maybe if the prize was a couple million bucks, people might do it. But this was for a basket of products that are worth a few hundred dollars at best.

Many companies use the “find the hidden item” idea on their website in order to get people to look at the entire site. That’s a great idea in itself, but adding all of the other rules of this particular contest makes it a little too complex for the average person. You would have to be totally devoted to the product in order to do this. And those people are already customers!

People may click on the first link and then lose interest. Once you complete all of the steps, you still only have a small chance of winning. Website visitors might find this scavenger hunt frustrating. That is not an emotion you want prospective customers to feel.

Sure – have a contest! That is a fantastic way to get people fascinated with your site and products. Intriguing people is the name of the game for online sales. But, when designing the contest, try to engage without annoying your page viewers.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why my dog is named George Karl


Going way off topic for this blog, but since it has been on my mind I decided to share.

I lost my retired racing greyhound, Andy Warhol, to cancer in early February. It was sudden and shocking, and I'm still trying to get over it.

I started to foster a new dog and my life got turned on its ear. He is mischievous, curious and wants to lift his leg all over the place. To add to the confusion, the poor animal has been walking around with no name for over a month now. He will respond to Dog or Doggie, because he's been called that for so long. He came with the name Coji Love. I have had four other greyhounds and I do not like to keep their racing names. It seems like he has a new life, he should have a new name. Finally inspiration intervened.

For the past month every time people visited my house, they came up with 10-20 different name ideas. I even tried an online survey where over 60 people voted and still was not satisfied. Most of the name suggestions were pretty good, but I couldn't find the one that sold me.

While watching the Washington Wizards game on TV the other night, a name popped into my head. And that name was George Karl.
George Karl is an inspiration to everyone he knows and millions he does not know. He battled cancer twice and won. He is a former NBA player and coached five NBA teams in his career. Years ago, he coached Sean Kemp when he was with the Seattle Supersonics leading them to the NBA finals. More recently he led the Denver Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony. Last year, George Karl won Coach of the Year with Denver, and yet they did not renew his contract. He now works doing commentary on ESPN. It would be great to see him coaching again some day.
While undergoing cancer treatment a few years ago, his girlfriend Carol, kept a blog, that I read faithfully to follow his progress. The blog is still there to inspire others.
Out of the four greyhounds I have owned, three have died of cancer. My hope is that with a name like George Karl, cancer will be frightened away from this guy.