And The Beat Goes On

And The Beat Goes On

I wrote extensively about putting together a stereo system and the ups and downs I went through to finally settle on something worthwhile, for a large room. But I had an itch to have some good sound in my den, which is where I do most of my work these days at home, and spend quite a bit of time with Cecelia. It’s where the fireplace is and books are as well as her “office” which is a desk with a lamp and actually a pretty nice setup. She seriously considers it her work office, and that wouldn’t be a misnomer. She gets some good work done there. She drafted the manuscript for her first autobiography there as well as some peace accords.

cecelias office

I cut TV out of my life years ago, and haven’t missed it one bit. I’ll watch videos on YouTube, movies, and shows periodically on Netflix, or a DVD, but cable and a subscription is history. After having satellite with hundreds of channels to choose from, and still having trouble finding anything worth my time, I realized it was a futile and wasteful endeavor. The hardest part is finding places to watch college football games each Fall, but other than that, it’s bliss.

What I find myself doing instead is reading, working or tinkering around on a laptop while listening to music. I have music playing around me almost all day. I have a stereo in my office I listen to Spotify and random Dead shows on during the day, and then always have music on at home. There are a lot of speakers around here.

What I like as much as listening to music is finding gear to listen to it with. Matching items up sonically isn’t too difficult if you know what you’re doing. Make sure 8 Ohm speakers are driven by an amplifier that works best with 8 Ohm speakers, and reading the specs tells you the story of the speakers, or amp, preamp, or whatever. I love researching, and searching for, the perfect sound setups. I don’t have an insane budget, but I have some nice stuff, and not all of it costs an arm and a leg. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the performance and design of some lesser-known manufacturers who are cheaper than more recognizable names. A lot of times the reason the names are so recognizable is that they have and spend a ton on marketing, which they pay for by charging premium prices for sub-premium products. Think Bose and Beats.

What I got for the den is a set of Wharfedale Denton speakers, which are simply incredible. Red mahogany cabinets. They look amazing and sound even better. Shipped from Britain with a pair of white gloves, of course, to keep them tidy. (British components seem to be winning the day; I have a Cambridge Audio CAX-60 amp as well, made in Britain.) I’m breaking them in now, and their sound is unrivaled in their competitive arena. They could charge 3 times what they do for these speakers and justify it. They are incredible. My Klipsch Heresy’s sound good too of course but they’re LOUD and BIG and I use them in the large living area when Cecelia or I need to rock out. These are warm, rich and full sounding. The speakers are special edition 80th anniversary Dentons so they have a Tungsten grille cover. The speaker cabinets are beautiful mahogany, and go with the sub I’m going to match them with, which is a Polk HTS 10, a retro-looking downward-firing 10-inch sub that should do the trick nicely. The Wharfedales have plenty of bass themselves, but can’t pull off what a good subwoofer can do. I’m eager to hook that sub up. For a sub-$1000 system, it doesn’t get any better. No way.

red mahogany denton

The integrated amp is a Sabaj A4. A What you ask? A very versatile, affordable, sturdy, appropriately powerful amp no one’s heard of. And it’s not going to win any design awards. But it works beautifully. And has an output for a sub, 5 inputs, including optical and headphones. It has a Bluetooth receiver and you can control the bass, treble, brightness of the display, and more. Usually, it’s just going to be a little black metal box that has a blue glowing line below a very understated display. It’s as unobtrusive as they come. It also comes with a remote and some poor instructions in small print, unfortunately for my aging eyes.

sabaj a4

As usual Mediabridge 14 gauge cables. The speakers allow for bi-wiring, so I might rig it up so that a short piece of cable is going through the open posts. I’ll be interested to see whether it makes a noticeable difference. As the speakers wear in there should be a little more warmth to them.

What I’ve done, instead of bi-wiring them which I see as unnecessary for my use case, is to replace/supplement the metal jumpers on the posts with heavy gauge speaker wire. That reduces any perceived graininess, for sure. I also am using my BO6 with the Sabaj amp, because the Bluetooth pairing with the Sabaj was giving me fits. I could sometimes get it to pair, but the BO6 signal is so strong it overrides everything else in the house. And with a lot running on Bluetooth around here, it gets annoying. But if you get some Wharfedale Dentons, I’d recommend jumping the high/low pass posts with good speaker wire instead of what’s supplied.

jumpers

Working for The Man

Working for The Man

I work for a great company. And the best part is that there’s a lot of ways that I can make the company even greater, which is my job, and which is to say I have a great job. I’m happy to be able to say that I have a great job at a great company, even if that company is actually 6+ companies and the industry is one I have no prior experience in. Fortunately, I learn fast, especially when I’m learning about something I’m interested in. The world my company operates in is one I’m interested in, and I think most men would be: industrial manufacturing. But it doesn’t end there by a long shot. Precision engineering is intimately involved and at an impressive scale.

a large dryer

There are so many positive aspects of where I work and what I do, it would fill a novel. But I’m going to try and break it all down and sort out the most relevant parts. And some of the info can’t be divulged due to competitive secrets and proprietary factors. I’m going to explain it as if I was talking to my daughter Cecelia because, in fact, a lot of the reason I bother writing stuff like this down is so she can read it one day and may it will help her understand what I do, where, and how I think.

The primary company I work for basically builds asphalt plants. I’ve already come to regard asphalt as black gold. Asphalt is good, cement is bad. It’s a private company that was started by a guy from Missouri around 4 decades ago, and he has managed to build a very impressive portfolio of companies and assemble a wonderful group of people. It’s a testament to the type of person he is, and the type of person that does well in the business world. He’s still the president, and my boss, and he’s forgotten more about asphalt than most people in the business know. Of course he’s smart and shrewd, but he’s also funny, humble and an all-around great guy. And politically, he and I see eye to eye as well, which is not only refreshing, but rare in Louisville, KY which is a dark shade of blue. His leadership style is awesome. He’s very open to trying new ideas and things, and up to date technologically, which is an impressive trait. He’s very concise. He’s on the ball.

When I was evaluating the company and trying to decide where I was going to work, something that struck me was the number of people that have been working there for a long time. The company has around 300 employees and collectively, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number years’ experience, all of them earned at our company, amounted to well over a thousand. 20, 25, 30, 35+ years there isn’t uncommon, believe it or not, but it’s VERY uncommon  these days in business overall. Quite a few people there are easily retireable, but they keep on working because it’s such a great place to work. People don’t leave. As a result, there is a definite family feeling within the company. A lot of those people have spent more time at work with each other over the years than with their spouses. But of course, families are celebrated there, and there are all sorts of opportunities to interact in a non-work way, like the giant company picnic at Beckley Creek Park coming up or the birthday lunch bashes that are held each month for all the people that have a birthday that month. This past Wednesday was my birthday and it fell on the same day as the company party for me and about 5 others.

Something else that stood out to me when I was thinking about joining them is the way they interviewed and “recruited” me. I was lucky enough to have a few other companies interested in me simultaneously, and was able to compare experiences. The company I work for now contacted me via email after I missed their calls because my little daughter set up call forwarding somehow when she was playing with my phone. Thank God. However, I wanted to work for a company with people that are diligent enough to follow up via email if they can’t reach someone over the phone, so I could view it as a test instead. I interviewed with the owner, and the key employees among the companies who I’d be working with, and was even taken out to lunch before I ever even met an employee of another company that was interviewing me via a paid recruiter. They acted fast, and were personal, and direct, and decisive. It was clear who the winner was among the group of candidate companies. And after I was hired, the owner went out of his way to make me feel welcome, and he still does. That’s partly why he’s successful.

There are a lot of things I love about my job but I won’t list them out. Everyone has their preferences, so what I enjoy and find fulfilling is probably different than most. But it always comes back to the company. I’m given the latitude and freedom to make meaningful changes to the company, which is rewarding. What I do directly impacts the bottom line, so it’s a thrill to find ways I can increase revenue, and I’m identifying a lot of opportunities. I wish there were more hours in the day so I could implement the things I’m building and planning more quickly. But I know for a fact that what I’m doing and will be doing will have a dramatic effect on our revenue (and costs) which enriches all the people that work there. So I’m helping to make a lot of people’s lives better. That’s a nice thing to be able to say about your job. My job entails creativity as well as being able to use my MBA, which is perfect.

We have several manufacturing facilities around Louisville, and visiting them is always fun. One of the cool things I now get to do is see how our products are made. Our products are like gigantic Tonka toys. They’re huge. We also make industrial dryers and kilns for people all around the world, so the business isn’t limited to the world of asphalt at all. People use our dryers to help manufacture all sorts of things. Bourbon, food, chemicals, and on and on. And not only do we make the best in the business, we make a lot of innovative products no one else even has. We have engineers all over the place, and they design some clever heavy duty items for the industry. We have a lot of brains in our company, which is also appealing. Lots of thinkers. And builders. Which is part of what makes it such a great fit for me–I love building things and being around high-energy people who are achievers.

I get to learn all the time, too which is awesome. Obviously with no asphalt or engineering background, I’ve got a lot to learn right now. Drinking from a firehose, as they say. Which I’m doing but the owner is making sure I have all the tools I need and providing opportunities for me to get plant tours and taught from some of the most experienced people in the business. Formal learning as well; I’m getting my OSHA and MSHA certifications next week. And staying abreast of innovation and new technology is encouraged. The owner gave me a copy of Disrupt by Luke Williams which I’ll be reading this weekend. How great is this place?

 

Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

Annie Musgrove, R.I.P.

This past Wednesday I lost who I have to consider my best friend these days, after being together over eleven years. I adopted Annie from the Asheville, NC Animal Shelter shortly after moving to Asheville from my home state of South Carolina. I even sold my Porsche and got an Explorer so I could haul her around in comfort vs. style, and Annie ended up outlasting not only that Ford Explorer, but the marriage that would come several years later. She’s been with me through thick and thin and was always loyal, which is more than I can say about certain other females that rambled through my life and made similar promises.

annie dog

I almost didn’t adopt her. I was walking out of the pound when the girl that worked there urged me to play with the German Shepherd/retriever mix that had been dropped off a week earlier. I was looking for an older, larger dog, and a female. And she was a little smaller at 65 pounds than I was looking for. Older dogs are the last to go at shelters, which is a shame because they’re housebroken, appreciative, mellow, and you already know what their personality is like. When you adopt a puppy, you don’t really know how they’ll end up. But Annie was 5 years old when we met. She was very smart, which is a nice trait to have in a dog. Having a dumb dog isn’t fun, and there are some out there. I’ve had one before, and they can be frustrating. But Annie was as smart as a dog comes.

annie

I decided that she would be a good companion and left the shelter with her on December 7, 2006. And she was by my side from that point on, through a lot of craziness. She got to see the beaches of South Carolina, the Blue Ridge mountains, swim in the Gulf of Mexico, travel through the Smoky Mountains, and live in three states. She helped me earn my MBA in Tuscaloosa, hiding out in our tiny little graduate student apartment. She accompanied me on hundreds of miles worth of walks all across the South, and we saw some beautiful sunsets and sights during many, many colorful seasons. Fall walks around the Grove Park Inn in Asheville were beautiful, and she loved to play and swim in Lake Martin with my cousins’ dogs in Eclectic, Alabama. She had a squirrel-chasing problem which she managed to give up, thankfully.  I was always worried a car would be the reason that we’d have to say goodbye to her. In fact, it was old age, as she lived a long and happy life, which was as comfortable as I could make it for her. She deserved it.  The period during which we were together was not missing hard times, for sure. And she was there for me each and every time I needed her. I’m not saying she knew how much support she provided, which of course has its limits when it’s being rationed by a 4 legged mute with a relatively low IQ and who is only able to see things in shades of grey.

But she did know she provided a service to our small pack of two. Other than clean-up duty, I mean. She lost her hearing around age 12, which I blame myself for. Long trips with my music turned up to 11 definitely wasn’t good for a dog’s sensitive hearing, which I always felt bad about. But the deafness did provide relief and peace from the horror or fireworks, thunder, and other unexplained far away demonic sounds that terrified her to the point of trembling in fear. I could usually get her to relax eventually, however. Often that kind of stress would release some of her coat and undercoat, which she shed twice a year, but for very extended periods. I have to think that over the years I brushed, vacuumed and swept away hundreds of pounds of blonde and black fur dropped by her. It never bothered me, but she was a prodigious shedder. And a beggar. She got the brains of a German Shepherd and the manipulative skills of a retriever and knew how to work a kitchen.

She was well into her 16th year of life when she finally had to say goodbye. I had tried to prepare myself for the event for years preceding it, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. It was impossibly hard to say goodbye to such a good friend who gave so much and asked for so little. She was everything anyone could ask for in a companion and offered whatever she could to me unconditionally and with a big bushy wag of her tail. She was an exceptional dog.

 

 

Who Are You?

Who Are You?

As part of an interview process, I recently took a predictive index behavioral assessment evaluation. I appreciated the people looking at me taking the time to evaluate me in more depth than just my resume and a phone call. Most people are familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, which precipitated from Carl Jung’s work and slots you into four categories, eg: ENTJ. I love these types of assessments and have always been fascinated by human psychology. I considered majoring in psychology for a while in college and took enough classes in it to nearly do it. And I read a lot of books that dissect the mind and tinker around to see what make us tick and causes us to behave the way we do and make the decisions we do. As a marketer, I’m passionate about consumer behavior, aka human behavior, which bumps up against sociology as well. It’s fascinating to study people as individuals and how we act collectively in certain situations, in certain cultures. It usually leaves more unanswered questions than answered ones, but it’s fun and fulfilling to know how we’re wired and engineered. I also find it helps interact with others more easily, which is also why I suppose I was asked to take the test. They wanted to know who they were dealing with.

Most of these types of tests ask you the same questions over and over in different ways. And you sort of know what they’re getting at. In other words, you can easily manipulate them. But that’s not advised. Unless you truly just don’t care about your results and the purpose for which you’re taking it. Answering them honestly and thoughtfully will yield some interesting insight as to who you are and how you work, and people being people, everyone loves to know about themselves.

This Predictive Index test is different, however. I did a bit of research on the company and history of the test and how it’s built, because it’s only a 2-page test, with a list of adjectives. All you have to do is indicate how you think others view you and how you view yourself, or how accurate the words are to that end. Many of the words are synonyms, and being an English major, I also found this test to be even more interesting for the choice of adjectives used and their subtleties. The test has been in use since 1955, which is a LONG time ago, for the psychological field, so one would expect accurate results, right? Here’s how they developed the form:

Adjectives for our form were field tested with results from more than 136,000 people and went through content review, psychometric review, and fairness review. The assessment was then given to a global norm group of more than 10,000 people. Norm tables and scoring models were updated and verified before finalizing the form and sending it through a multilevel translation process and regional review.

I found my results to be surprisingly accurate, inasmuch as I know myself and consider how others describe me.

MichaelMusgrove-PIReport

I later took a DISC assessment, which is a 24 question “test” in which you arrange a series of adjectives in order of how you feel they define you, from most to least. The adjective sets that you must arrange sometimes have nothing to do with one another, which makes you choose a hierarchy of traits. As with the Predictive Index, you can tell the words were carefully chosen, and what the exercise is aiming at. But I take them seriously, since trying to game the thing is pretty poor form and will end up only hurting me and the company.

Not surprisingly, it reflects the results the Predictive Index found. I’m results-oriented, care a lot about quality and details, have high standards, can communicate well, am careful and deliberate, and don’t have much patience, which I’ve always struggled with. The funny thing is, I consider myself patient. Our perception of ourselves and how others view us being different isn’t news to me, though. That’s the case with nearly everyone, I’d imagine. It’s like hearing your voice for the first time compared to what you think you sound like.

Musgrove_Michael_manR4_10293236usBWLE-554
Some Thoughts on Compensation

Some Thoughts on Compensation

Money Makes the World Go Around

People think about money a lot, and I’m no different. Especially recently, since I’m looking to make more as well as facing paying a lot out to people for various goods and services. Rent, legal bills, utilities, loans, maintenance, and much of the same things everyone has. Probably not in the same ratios, however.

I have mounting legal bills because of a divorce that has been in proceedings for around 7 months. We’re no closer today to closing our case than we were 7 months ago, but I’ve managed to amass thousands in legal bills for my lawyer’s services. That got me to thinking: what other jobs and fields are there where people get paid not based on results or outcome, but on product, and in some cases, just showing up day after day? My lawyer is very skilled in the courtroom and drafting/filing paperwork. He is very unskilled when it comes to managing an office (aside from reliably sending out invoices) and closing cases. But for divorce lawyers, there’s a conflict of interest in how they are compensated. It behooves them to keep the cases open because an open case represents a money tree. If he/she needs money, file a motion. Send an email or make a phone call. They bill down to 6 minutes at a time in some cases, and it’s not unheard of a divorce lawyer to charge $375 an hour. The retired judge who was handling our second round of mediation, which failed as expected, was surprised to learn my lawyer “only” charged $275 an hour. And for the mediator to show up and accomplish nothing, he himself was paid hundreds of dollars, as was my attorney. They basically passed notes back and forth between my wife and me on our behalf until I was forced to walk away.

In much of business, business owners hire employees based on their output capabilities. Labor is like a machine and is judged and paid based on that premise. It’s not depreciable, however. When looking for a job, the candidate must show that he/she can produce quality work consistently, under stress or whatever the position entails. That’s why it’s good to have a job where you can quantify your work accurately.  If you have one where it’s tricky to measure your output, so that you can justify your wages and justify increases, you might find yourself on the low end of the pay scale. Secondary school teachers face this. College professors don’t because their value to schools is in the ability to publish articles. The teaching aspect isn’t what is compensated, which is proven by the difference in what adjunct teachers are paid and tenure-track professors are. The difference between the two is only that the latter is expected to publish, and do service. The number of articles and level of journals that they appear in is easy to see, and the ones that do so at a high-level research school are paid more than those a lower level teaching school.

Government administrative jobs usually are viewed and compensated more on input than output. But that varies of course. In some cases, compensation is simply a reflection of what the other guy is making somewhere else. Although the public county school system I live in is one of the most poorly run in the country, the new superintendent just received over a $100,000 raise because that’s what some other people make elsewhere. It had nothing to do with the fact that the school system is on probation for all sorts of violations, the state is threatening to take over, and the superintendent was already doing the very same job for $100,000 less. Meanwhile today, teachers are picketing at the state capital and threatening a walkout over their pay packages.

Doctors are paid similarly as well, and “earn” comparably high salaries. They are paid whether you get well or die, however, not on the quality jobs they do. Just on whether they attend to you as a patient or not is why they’re paid. It’s why I’ve had to bring my little daughter to see a doctor, even though what was to take place could have been done over the phone. In order for the doctor to be paid by the insurance company, he needed to have the patient physically standing there.

Engineers are paid well, but they are paid on quality and scope of work. Makes sense. Executives are similarly paid. There are goals and metrics in place they must achieve. A lot of people speak poorly of the amount of money a CEO makes, but at least he/she can justify why or why they didn’t earn the money. The same can’t be said for many other professions though. It makes you wonder what types of people gravitate to each type of job? Some people are fine being judged by their work and have their pay depend on their productivity, like most salespeople. Others rely on protections to warrant a paycheck, whether they do a good job or not, or at all. Union jobs, tenured jobs, political jobs, etc…

 

The 2 Worlds of Marketing

The 2 Worlds of Marketing

Most people don’t give marketing much thought. Which is how marketers like it. But with so many people online these days, it’s impossible to avoid online marketers trying every trick in the book to lure you into buying their products and services. That’s why a lot of people confuse marketing with sales. Sales are part of marketing, but marketing isn’t really a part of sales.

And with so many companies and people trying to sell stuff online, there has emerged a very large cottage industry of “digital” marketers. I even label myself as such depending on who I’m marketing myself to. My background is that of traditional marketing, however, which is a completely different field. During the years by running an online business, I’ve learned all there is about digital marketing as well, and even have certifications in it, for whatever they’re worth.

You’ll see a lot of familiar names, especially if you hang out on LinkedIn, such as Neil Patel, Larry Kim, Gary Vaynerchuk and Neal Schaffer. What you’ll also notice in these people’s bios is that they’re speakers and authors as well(and quite well-paid consultants). Their names always appear on the “must-follow” and “most influential” lists of marketers.

But that’s misleading. And that’s because you have to know what marketing really is, which most people don’t. They think it has to do with sales and advertising. Which it does, but that isn’t what it is.

A good example is this article that landed in my inbox which is “21 Questions to Ask before Implementing Marketing Automation.” It begins with a SHOCKING! statistic that less than 10% of companies have implemented automated marketing. That’s most likely because they aren’t talking about marketing. It’s “Sales Lead Software.” The sales department would be handling this, not marketing. Marketing for the product/service was primarily done long ago when the marketing plan was being executed. This whole article is geared more toward sales, not marketing, but it has “marketing” littered throughout it.

Marketing is about satisfying people’s wants and needs in, hopefully, an innovative way. Doesn’t have to be innovative, but in a competitive setting like business it should be to be successful. And there are lots of innovative ways to go about that task using the internet. And within that space, these folks are pretty good at marketing. Themselves. To people that are also looking to reach a large target market, like they do with themselves. This is where it begins to get blurry.

Traditional marketing consists of market research using any number of tools such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and so on to determine the size of the target market, the interest in the product or service and associated features, and whether there’s even a market at all. A detailed inspection is done with regards to the environmental aspects that surround the product/service, such as governmental/regulatory issues, geographical issues, technological, political, and competitive factors that need to be considered. Usually, a great amount of data are collected to analyze using multivariate testing and regression analysis and the whole affair is heavily quantified and then manipulated and many, many complex Excel spreadsheets are created with lots of graphs and charts to illustrate the findings. This is what CMOs and highly-paid consultants do for companies, and what you learn to do when you get an MBA like I did. And you can dive even deeper, like I did, and concentrate in marketing strategy.

Contrast that with digital marketing, which consists mostly of getting followers, “likes,” getting people to engage with your blog posts, and sign up for newsletters and email lists. It’s really more “sales” than marketing. Hubspot, which has become a multibillion-dollar company by helping small businesses market themselves, specializes in “inbound marketing,” as it’s commonly known, but in fact is a series of sales tactics. It also involves SEO, which is simply staying on top of best practices to rank in Google’s ever-changing algorithms.

The people mentioned earlier are adept at leading people down the sales funnel via trial and error of growing their own personal fan base over the years, but likely have never spent much time actually studying marketing, per se. They are charismatic, and have good sales chops, have found their niche, but would have a hard time telling you what a p-value is used for. What makes these “marketing influencers” money is speaking gigs and book sales, and not so much bare-metal marketing.

For me personally, I’ve found it’s best to be versed in both traditional and digital marketing. Digital marketing is a supplement to traditional and is a valuable, and I’d even argue necessary, set of tools in ths day and age. It’s sort of rare to find that set of skills as I look around, however. Thus the 2 separate worlds of marketing that are developing. Universities don’t teach digital marketing. It’s something that changes too quickly and involves trends, dynamic coding, writing skills, design and schools simply aren’t agile enough to properly equip anyone to be effective. And the digital marketers don’t typically mess with the academic world of traditional marketing. You might find a few people that happen to have an MBA or a Masters in Marketing, but it’s usually just coincidental.

Writing Content for the Web

Writing Content for the Web

Writing content for the web needs to be as short and sweet and packed full of information as possible.

You have to understand that your “readers” are more likely to be scanners. The Pareto principle is at play here of course: 80% of your readers are looking for information, and gleaning it from 20% of their visit.

“on the average webpage, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely” –Jakob Nielsen

While that sounds great to someone who likes to write to provide large amounts of information, it’s a lot different than what most people were taught in school and requires a different way of thinking from traditional prose.

Writing content for the web requires writing from a new perspective. It abandons a lot of academic and journalistic rules and has become its own style. Your mission is to provide valuable, thoughtful, insightful information to your reader quickly and in small, bite-sized pieces.

  • Use short sentences.
  • Don’t use unnecessary words (that especially means jargon).
  • Don’t repeat yourself.
  • Write in the second person, meaning use the word “you.”
  • Use active voice.
  • Use lists and organize the information.
  • Use clear headlines and subheadings.
  • Use images, diagrams, video or multimedia.
  • Use LOTS of white space. Let your text breathe.

For an English major like myself, this is akin to turning chateaubriand into chicken McNuggets to hand out at the drive-thru. But it’s certainly useful and has its purpose, of course. The style of writing has been formulated not by academics or scholars, but by web designers and developers and SEO experts whose goals are far less poetic.

One topic per page.

 

Orwell and Hemingway

George Orwell with Ernest Hemingway in the background

There’s a very visual aspect to writing content for the web, which would delight ee cummings fans and designers alike, but it’s aimed to keep things as simple as possible, and easy to read.

When you write content for the web, a goal you typically have is to have your content seen. Therefore you’re partially writing for Google at the same time you’re writing for consumers.

In essence, writing for the web is a lot like the way that you have to talk to a four-year-old. Keep your message simple. Use small, easy-to-read words and sentences.

Also, realize there is no linearity to the internet. There is no telling where your readers will come from, so write as if the reader has no context.

Use alerts ‘read more’ tags and format your copy to be scannable

If your content is for a landing page, be sure to tell the reader what to do next. Have a call to action telling people where to go next. For example, read another blog post, sign up for your email newsletter, check out your app, get a quote, or just add a product to their shopping cart.

When you format your text, use all the tools at your disposal to make the copy interesting. Highlight it, bold it and throw in a blockquote or two to support it.

And, as illustrated by this article and endorsed by the US government, don’t forget to “chunk” it!

j.d. salinger

J.D. Salinger working on The Catcher in the Rye while in service in France

 

Look Out 2018, Here I Come

Look Out 2018, Here I Come

2017 has been the worst year of my life without question, and there have been some depressingly strong competitors for that title. And I hope I’m never able to revise that.

Despite my bellyaching, I have a lot to be grateful for and am grateful for all that I have. “Have” not just meaning material possessions, which ebb and flow through life for many people, but health, companionship, support, love, and many items that aren’t physical. Although some may embody a physical form, like my dog Annie, who has now made it to age 16, unbelievably.

As much as I have to be grateful for, I’d like to be grateful for more. And I don’t think one’s circumstances and self-improvement happen by chance. To the contrary; I’m always trying to be better, and our circumstances are a result of our decisions, for good OR bad. And optimization’s my thing. In fact, when times are bad like they’ve been at times I feel like my life becomes a series of platitudes and inspirational “Hang in There, Baby” posters.

But it works, because for the most part, those Tony Robbinsesque strategies really do change your perception. And to change your circumstances, changes obviously must be made. Sometimes drastic and often uncomfortable.

To prove it, here are ten things I’m going to work on in 2018 that are hard to do, but I believe pay dividends:

  1. Time Management

  2. Empathy

  3. Mastering my sleep

  4. Positive self-talk

  5. Consistency

  6. Asking for help

  7. Knowing when to shut up

  8. Listening

  9. Minding my own business

  10. Mastering my thoughts

Some of these will come easier than others but if I focus on all of them, 2018 should be brighter. I’m posting them here to remind myself, lest I forget and for accountability’s sake.

Anyone want to join me?

WordPress is a Cult

WordPress is a Cult

Yes, WordPress is a Cult

I recently got into a discussion on Twitter with Joost DeValk, the creator of one the most downloaded WordPress plugins ever, WordPress SEO by Yoast. It’s an awesome plugin and he’s been very successful in marketing it over the years. Like many people that are household names in WordPress, and not unlike WP itself, he was working on the right thing at the right time. I like Joost, and am not bashing him personally whatsoever, and I’m not even stating a cult is a bad thing, necessarily. To each their own. But he, and others, don’t seem ready to face facts and accept reality. Possibly due to pride, or some other reason such as relinquishing individuality and uniqueness. I’m no psychiatrist and don’t claim to be. But they are in serious denial if they claim WP isn’t a cult.

He spent the weekend at WordCamp USA, 2017 which was in nearby Nashville, TN this year. He hauled himself all the way over from Norway or Sweden or which ever nordic country he hails from. On his own dime, of course. WordCamps are weekend meetings of WordPress “fans” who gather to talk WP, attend a string of lectures, and hand out swag and drink a lot of beer together. It’s also primarily used to recruit and retain WordPress cult members. WordPress meetups are basically the same thing, and are held monthly all over the world. WordCamps are held annually, and are bigger deals, with “stars” of the WordPress world. My first WordCamp included Pippin Williamson who also is well-known in the “WordPress world.” I’ve attended quite a few WordCamps. Some valuable, some quite a waste of time for my level of experience. But I do enjoy helping others learn the ins and outs of the program and scene. It’s easy for someone who’s worked on it for years, like me, but can be intimidating for newcomers.

The definition of a cult, before I go any further, according to Merriam-Webster is:

A situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much.

There’s usually a religious aspect connected to it, perhaps like Scientology, but there doesn’t have to be. And it’s usually held together by some dominant, often charismatic individual. Such as the recently passed Charles Manson, for his little cult back in 1960’s California. Or the Branch Davidians, whose members and their children met an ugly ending thanks to Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. The association of such men gives the term “cult” negative overtones. But it’s not necessarily a group of evil, crazy people. It’s a group of people/community that is simply obsessed with something to a rather unhealthy point, basically. That point is the source of the debate, I suppose.

WordPress, which I’ve been involved in for around 8 years now, completely fits the definition. When I mentioned that it was a cult, Joost’s reaction was that he resented the comment. My tweet was a response to a Tweet of his exclaiming “Ask not what WordPress can do for you, but what you can do for WordPress.” For no particular reason except a knee-jerk disagreement. In fact, his very next comment, which was his defense, was that he gives 20% of his earnings, no small sum to be sure, every year to WordPress because he believes in the product and community, proving my point exactly.

I’m not in the business of convincing self-deniers to change their views, but I dare anyone to provide a reason WordPress isn’t a cult. I’m ready to debate that stance quite easily. And I have an open mind; I can be convinced otherwise if given compelling enough reasons to the contrary. But I can’t think of any. If you know of any, by all means leave them in the comments section.

It relies heavily, almost exclusively, on the efforts, time and resources of people to sustain it, for free to the foundation. Donations always accepted, of course. It’s a billion-dollar plus business to be sure, so it’s not like the non-profit is in any more need than the NFL for funds. Matt Mullenweg, one of the developers who began WordPress 14 years ago along with another man, Mike Little, who never ever is mentioned or really credited for some reason, is the relatively reclusive and softspoken CEO who appears at WordCamps and is treated like a celebrity. The “leader” if you will, who hapily sits on many Silicon Valley boards for his extensive business acumen. I don’t support his managerial tactics much, which I’ve expressed many times. That’s not sour grapes, and has no influence on this essay, however, I assure you. I believe I’m entitled to that opinion, and as an MBA and experienced businessman, have somewhat of a credible background in that area. I’ve conversed with Matt when once applying for a job at Automattic, the self-named offshoot business of WordPress along with several others such as Audrey Capital, all quite profitable due to the association with WordPress.  Whether they would be so successful without that association is anyone’s easy guess. Incidentally, Matt explained the reason he wasn’t interested in having me join his company was due to not being involved enough with open-source. I hadn’t donated enough of my time and resources and paid my dues, in other words, even though I was highly qualified if not over-qualified for the position. No big deal.

But the people/developers that get wrapped up in WordPress get REALLY wrapped up in it. Tattoos of the logo on themselves, expensive treks across the US and even abroad to attend weekend WordCamps, etc… It becomes their lives. The unhealthy obsession earlier described.

WordPress, being open-source, is the real key to it’s success. Open source is the invitation to pour a lot of your life into sustaining it, along with thousands of others toiling away at keyboards around the world. At no charge to anyone but the donors themselves.

WordPress’ popularity is being in the right place at the right time, in my opinion. Same with a lot of internet businesses and businesspeople. I’m also willing to debate that statement at any time, and have a long list of resons to back the sentiment.

wordcamp

Come to a WordCamp, leave a believer

I recognized the fact it’s a cult several years in and noticed the very cultish characteristics that WordPress and its community has, and largely removed myself. I personally don’t like being that attached to something in that manner, as it almost represents an addiction. I still use the product and keep up with the development of it closely though for business reasons.

But contributing to core and hanging out in the forums to answer people’s questions a la WP customer service, is something I personally don’t have the time or desire to do. Mention that fact to hardcore WordPressers, and you’ll get a quick tsk-tsk.

Automattic, the company I mentioned that “runs” WordPress used to brag that it only employed around 100 people for a billion dollar-plus business. That is literally unheard of in the legitimate business world. That was also before Matt went on a hiring and M&A binge, scooping up some of the best individual devs and 3rd party companies around before competition hired them, which is what rich companies with no real organic growth strategies do, such as WordPress/Automattic. The lines between all the entities is legally definied, but quite blurred otherwise. The ability to acquire the best and most valuable because of all the charity it receives and, in fact, expects. If there was a WP commune in San Francisco, I assure you there would be a line of people around the block to move in. Many WP developers do, in fact, live a nomadic lifestyle. They’re young and unattached, except to WordPress.

In any case, facts are facts, and whether peole want to admit it or not, WordPress most definitely is a cult. That makes, and has donated to it, a lot of money by it’s generous contributors. If you’re interested in joining, attend a WordCamp and you’ll be happily recruited. You’ll be responsible for paying admission, lodging, travel, etc… however for the privledge of using the open-source code, however. Or you can sponsor a WordCamp, because sponsors are also required. There are many ways you can repay.

wordpress logo

My Musical Journey Through the 1980s

My Musical Journey Through the 1980s

The 1980’s were interesting from a musical standpoint. The 80’s just left the glittery, blurry-eyed and afroed polyester cocaine-addled disco era behind, along with an impressive flareup of actual punk, as opposed to the punk poseurs of today that would no sooner hit someone over the head with a beer bottle than stick a needle in a vein. Not saying either of those things are worthwhile, but they were characteristic of the movement, which is now thoroughly sterilized for the mall and pop culture of later rebellious and angst-ridden youth. The folk and novelty music movement was appropriately put in its place as well and mostly sold on K-Tel records and 8-track tapes on the American-made television, which had yet to embrace MTV and cable box’s offerings, which began a noticeable decline in American culture in nearly every way. But that’s another post.

god save the queen

Which is largely what we get from musical history. If you hear music from the 1980s these days, it’s usually in a Wal-Mart or as a backdrop to some “retro” commercial and is one of a lot of crappy artifacts that somehow have persisted into the 2010’s and beyond. “Girls just want to have fun,” and that bubblegum crap sucked back then, and it still sucks. I don’t know who makes the decisions to keep those songs alive, but they must be a deaf associate of the devil himself. If you blindfoldedly threw a dart at a list of songs from the 80’s you’d likely hit better efforts. The world at large was celebrating Madonna, Bon Jovi, and hairspray, while I was sitting in a dark room in rural Virginia quietly listening to The Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain.

the smiths

I present here a Spotify playlist I’ve put together from the 1980’s that I feel represents a pretty unappealing but bubbly and poppy era much better. Better than the brown and rusty, dirty yellow 1970’s for sure, however. What persists in my mind from 1980’s pop culture, which I did my best to remove myself from in every way and did an excellent job of, was neon dayglo colors, jelly shoes, Wayfarers, raggedy girls fashions along with ultra-tight designer jeans, mesh shirts, acid washed denim and really gay and stupid men’s hairstyles. This of course was a time that calling your friends “gay” and “a retard” was a funny, largely innocent slight to them and not a reason for snowflakes to incite riots in the streets as it’s become today. Cultural shifts at work. The Meatmen wouldn’t even be able to record in a studio today, most likely.

What most people think of when they describe the 1980’s music scene is synth, electric drums, glam, and quick little pop hooks, with a visual that quickly sold. The 1980’s were the end of “ugly” bands, with the advent of MTV. If you weren’t TV-friendly and didn’t have ultra-strong musical chops, or really strong connections in the business, you could forget it. Every song had a video to accompany it, and the video sold the song. Marketing took a stranglehold on music in the 1980’s and hasn’t let go since. It’s how people today like Russell Simmons can make so much money selling awful “music.” He’s a great marketer. In my opinion, MTV ruined the interesting, if not exciting, direction music was heading in, despite the company abandoning the video music format that made it so popular. Many, many great artists were left in the dust. Luckily the internet has leveled the playing field once again.

A lot of these songs weren’t part of my library back then although I thought they were commercially catchy and appreciated them on some level. Mostly their B-sides and more obscure songs from the artists, maybe. What I preferred never made it onto the radio, and I didn’t have the resources to compile a comprehensive library of the better music available. Few did, and that doesn’t just mean money. Accessibility was a real problem in the 1980’s before the internet. We quickly forget what it was like to procure Grateful Dead tickets on the morning they went on sale over the phone, or a cassette tape that wasn’t in the Billboard top 10 if you lived in a small town. CD’s weren’t even mainstream at the time, until the late 80’s. A good CD player in the early 80’s would set you back $1000, which is like a billion dollars in today’s money. And no respectable artist would sell out to a point they had the option to release their songs on a compact disc back then anyway. That was for the Debbie Gibsons of the world. That, of course, changed quickly.

Frankie Says Relax

I didn’t listen to many of these songs back in the 1980’s as I did with say, The Smiths or Let’s Active, but they are at least some of the better songs from the 80’s, which should be curated and kept on life support by someone. The way I procured music is unlike any way children will ever have to again in history, which was to order vinyl albums from NYC or LA out of hand-typed underground magazines I got from basically head shops and subculture establishments in college towns and big cities and record them to tapes in my dorm room. I still have my JVC tape player, incredibly.

I didn’t receive any radio stations worth mentioning in boarding school which was in the middle of a huge farm, and at home, in SC we didn’t have any good radio, and we only had two places to buy tapes and albums in my hometown anyway. And they sold whatever was playing on the radio, which was typically pop garbage and heavy metal for stoned teenagers that drove custom vans. I ordered tapes via mail order from Britain and bootlegged tapes. I also managed to have roommates and friends in boarding school with awesome musical taste who I could record from and did often. I still have those tapes floating around somewhere, with the Dead Milkmen and T.S.O.L. well-represented.

The metal scene, which should be mentioned, had some standouts, depending on your definition of “heavy metal.” Back then I didn’t care for any of it, except maybe early Van Halen(Diver Down), AC/DC(Back in Black) and bands with guitar gods at the lead, which was a prelude to my guitar obsession which has since permeated my life. This was around the time I began learning to play the guitar seriously. (I’m still working on it.) But I recognized the virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen and appreciated the simple riffs of Angus Young. Johnny Marr’s guitar work wasn’t lost on me, either.

Embed from Getty Images

Led Zeppelin, Rush, the Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and a handful of other legendary bands were indeed awesome in their own right, and still are, but just didn’t appeal to my state of mind and demographic at the time, which is why I’m not talking about them much. But there was some good stuff here and there during the decade, and I did attend quite a few of their concerts during that time. The Rolling Stones, the Who and even Paul McCartney before becoming a knight put out some good work. And don’t forget Michael Jackson and the Quincy Jones and Motown empires. I’m coming mostly from an “alternative” background, however. And although I did own their albums, they weren’t played nearly like the bands mentioned here.

The journey of good, alternative music in the 1980’s went something like this:

College radio stations would play local bands that were on their way to becoming regionally and even nationally known and played at fraternity parties and campus parties that were regional. Even some well-to-do boarding schools landed some big names. My own high school had REM booked until the school feared it would draw undesirables from nearby Charlottesville/Univerity of Virginia and got another band at the last minute. Think The Replacements, Husker Du, Violent Femmes, B-52s, the White Animals, etc… College prep students would pick up on these groups and music from hanging out on colleges, as we were able to do with a great deal of relative independence, and have older siblings in college that were among the musically privvy. The prep school kids took that music home with them, and it filtered into local private schools, and from there into the “alternative” kids of public school several years later. I had almost graduated from high school in 1988 before the Violent Femmes or Psychedelic Furs hit my hometown’s alternative scene, for example, and that was mostly because of their songs appearing in John Hughes pop films, like Pretty in Pink.

We’ve finally reached a point in time that I fantasized about as an adolescent: when I can pull up any song I want at any time. That’s a luxury that only people from my generation and prior know exists. I recall well lying in bed as a teenager and imagining the future when something called YouTube and Spotify existed.

bee gees

These guys were a big deal.