Sunday, December 18, 2005

Muckraker Jack Anderson bridged present with past

Investigative journalist Jack Andersonwas in his heyday in the days of my youth, the decade of the seventies thatwas peppered with Watergate and the rise of the journalist as celebrity,a la Bob Woodward.

Anderson, who inherited the Washington Merry-Go-Round column in 1969 from its founder and an original muckraker, Drew Pearson,died yesterday at age 83. He'd worked on the Washington Merry-Go-Round columnsince 1945 or 1947 -- depending on which source you believe. (Wikipedia reports 1945; most news stories report 1947.)

Backin 1977 or '78 I came to feel an affinity for the likes of Jack Andersonwhen I changed my college major to Journalism. Watergate, and Woodward andBernstein were still fresh in our youthful memories. I'd pick up a San FranciscoChronicle on my way to classes to check out Herb Caen and hand off the Sportssection to a journalism classmate while I turned to the news and featuressections.

It would seem that I and many of my classmates chose journalism,as I'm sure many of my generation did back then, because of the likes ofWoodward and Bernsteinand Anderson, with a taste of altruism, to "make a difference" in the world.I'm sure many did. I chose journalism because it seemed to be a career thatwould fit my love of reading, research, and a curiousity and interest ina wide variety of subjects.

I made no claim then or now to be a BobWoodward or Jack Anderson. But I won't deny that maybe I had some dreamsabout being that bold. While my career as a reporter was short-lived, I'vefound I've still clung to the principles of accuracy in my work of what'sbeen a checkered and varied working life some might call a career.

Althoughhe may be lumped together with other investigative journalists, Andersonwas one of them, and one of a kind, the last of an old breed.

Washington Post staff writer Howard Kurtz writes of his experience as an intern with Anderson in the Post: Jack Anderson, Gentleman With a Rake

The AP in the San Francisco Chronicle: Pulitzer-Winning Columnist Anderson Dies

Reuters: Crusading journalist Jack Anderson dies at age 83

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Blogging is a tough gig to keep up

OK, so it's been a while since I posted. I've not faithfully kept up on this as I know a good blog ought to be maintained.

And that's the tough part -- keeping up on a blog on a regular basis.

You have to stay alert to things to write about, to keep things interesting, to keep people coming back...

It'stheregularity of it that's tough for me right now...how to do it? It seemslifegets in the way. How do some people do it and have a life?

Maybe that's it...blogging is their life?

And then that brings up the question -- isn't there more to life than blogging?

I sure hope so.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

This Chicagoan reluctantly roots for the Sox in the Series

Ah, baseball. That summertime game that leads to fall playoffs, and the pathos and drama of the Fall Classic, the World Series.

Over the decades the World Series has always been that bright spot when the days are dark. This year is no different. In the aftermath two horrific hurricanes to hit the U.S. in short order, two Cinderella-like teams face off in the waning days of fall -- the Houston Astros who have never been to a World Series, and the Chicago White Sox who haven't been in the Series since ... forever. Well, 1917, anyway.

Chicago is a rare two-team, with the hapless Cubs calling North Chicago home. The Sox call home on the Southside. You'd think that all in Chicago would be happy to root for a "hometown" team in the big dance.

But that's not so, according Aaron Freeman, a Cubs fan. In a hilarious commentary I heard on National Public Radio's All Things Considered today, Freeman admits he's a reluctant fan.

You can hear Freeman's commentary online here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Extreme path to product publicity

This is just too much. Some people have all the fun. It's rather bizarre. And it's a way to get exposure for your product.

It's Extreme Ironing.

Say what? From the website:

"...the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt."

But apparently it's not all just for the ironing -- or the danger. The sponsor behind it all? Rowenta, a German top-of-the-line steam iron and small home appliances manufacturer.

I stumbled across it at work. A guy there has a calendar posted on his cubicle wall showing people with their irons and ironing boards in all kinds of unusual -- extreme -- places -- mountain tops, sides and ledges, underwater...

Check the Galleries link at ExtremeIroning.com and you'll get the idea real quick. The Times Square photos show the publicity they got from Good Morning America and Fox News, among others.

There's even an entry in Wikipedia.

Makes me wish I'd thought of such an outrageous way to get product publicity.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Better email messages Part 3: How to write useful email subject lines

Edited 9.8.07 - updated these links
Part 1: Rule of One
Part 2: One-word subject not enough

A while back usability guru Jakob Nielsen published an article titled: "Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines."
It's an excellent article, useful and a quick read.

Here are some key points in brief:


  • Clearly explain what the article (or email) is about in terms that relate to the user... an ultra-short abstract of its associated macrocontent...

  • No puns, no "cute" or "clever" headlines...

  • No teasers that try to entice people to click to find out what the story is about. [Works in print, but not online.]

  • Skip leading articles like "the" and "a" in email subjects and page titles...

  • Make the first word an important, information-carrying on



Read the entire article online here.

Better email messages Part 2: One-word subject lines don't tell enough

Edited 9.8.07 - updated these links
Part 1: Rule of One
Part 3: Write useful subject line

The infusion of computers and the integration of email into our work and personal lives has done much to expose poor writing -- and thus poor communication.

I'm sure we all use email for informal as well as some more "formal" business-type communication. I've told people that I live and die by email. I rely on it heavily.

One of my pet peeves about email is the one-word subject line. For instance:

Subject: website

Ooookaaaayyy. What about "website"? Which website? Mine? Yours? Someone else's?

You've got a whole subject line. Why not use it? You can use more that a dozen characters. Is it really so difficult to string together a phrase of a few words to give more of a hint about the subject? How about this:

Subject: Broken links on blog website

Now that gives me a little more information. And because I don't like broken links on my website, to me this subject line carries more urgency and importance. This is something I have to pay attention to as soon as possible. Otherwise, it's ho-hum, OK, a message about "website," I'll get to it when I get to it.

Frequently in my reply I'll expand the subject line with the one word leading the subject, and then add a phrase that's adds more light, such as:

Subject: website -- broken links you told me about

I think the exercise here when writing a subject line is to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and imagining receiving your message among the many -- maybe dozens -- of messages.

Ask yourself: What is it about my message that's important to the recipient?

Then write a subject line that will catch his attention.

Better email messages Part 1: Rule of One

Edited 9.8.07 - updated these links
Part 2: One-word subject not enough
Part 3: Write useful subject lines

I read something recently that got me on a roll. Here's Part One of three that all center around writing better, clearer, more useful email messages. And for the most part, the principles apply to blogging, too.

An article in a recent issue of Excess Voice email newsletter from web copywriting guru Nick Usborne hit close to one of my email writing pet peeves. The article is titled 'The "Rule of One" for Copywriters.'

While his article deals with web copywriting, the principles apply to communicating effectively in business (and other) email messages, too.

Nick's "Rule of One" has two parts:

1. Confine each communication to a single topic
2. Write to one person at a time

Number 1 above is the one that gets me -- I hate it when I get email messages that cover several unrelated topics. I usually end up breaking them out into separate messages. Don't get me wrong. A chatty message from a friend is one thing, but business correspondence is quite another.

Usborne makes the case that your message will be clearer and stronger when you confine a single topic to a single web page.

I believe the same holds true for writing effective business email messages. One topic per message. It will make it easier for you and your intended recipient to manage the topic at hand. Trying to cover too much ground confuses the reader, I think, and distracts from each of your other messages. If you have to communicate on several topics, I find that it's generally better to break them into separate messages.

Number 2 above is a good one to keep in mind, too. If in your mind you're addressing your message to a large audience, it's easy to start watering down your message and sounding too impersonal.

Usborne's point: Imagine one person sitting in front of you, and write your message to that one individual.

As he says in the article:


This is not a "copywriting trick". This is writing pages in a way that corresponds to how they will be read. It may sound obvious, but so many people lose touch with the fact that every page you write WILL be read by individuals with unique lives and needs.




No "group" will ever read your page. No "industry" will ever read your page. The web pages you write will always be read by individuals, one at a time.


Oh, yeah. That's also something I've had to remember as I blog. In general, one topic per entry...makes it easier to follow.


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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Wow! Where'd it go?

Well, I've obviously missed a few weeks of being here.

A lot sure has happened since I posted here last...Hurricanes Katrina and Rita...confirmation and appointment of a new Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court...

I won't bore you with the details of my life that have kept me away. But, I'm back! I'll be adding more here soon!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hilarious iPod spoof

I'll unabashedly admit that I'm a Macintosh man...have been since my first PC, a Mac Plus, back in 1987. I've liked Macs for home and personal business use, and depended on my employer to keep me up with the Windoze world. In my own low-key way I've been a Mac and Apple proponent. Maybe I just like being different. ;-)

I've not yet been able to justify -- until I recently began listening to podcasts -- springing for the big bucks for an iPod, but I sure do want one. Just can't afford one...yet.

Here's a hilarious spoof of the iPod I first found out about on AdRants.

Warning: It's loud. Use headphones if you're at work...

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Wherefore customer service?

[ BEGIN RANT ]

I'm calling for companies providing technical services to train their customer support people in good customer service and customer relations, how to make the customer feel that they're important.

Unfortunately, that's not what I just experienced. I have to wonder what these people are thinking when they reply -- or don't -- to an inquiry, and when they do, it's as if the customer has no name.

Since I've started blogging a few weeks ago, I've been in search of the right blogging solution. I'll admit that I still don't have as good a handle as I'd like on things like RSS and trackback. But I've dived in to learn by doing.

Blogger/Blogspot doesn't have everything built in. That brings me to WordPress. It not only offers a blogging solution, it looks like it's flexible enough to offer a content management system for web sites...all at no cost! Ah, the beauty of open source solutions.

On the flipside, I have to install it on and run it from my web hosting service's servers. Which brings me to server requirements -- does my current provider support WordPress' minimum server requirements?

About 2-3 weeks ago I submitted a request for information via the support email form provided on my provider's website. And I waited for a reply. And I waited. And I waited.

Generally I think I'm a pretty patient person. Either that or I just don't know when to say I'm fed up and move on.

That was customer service mistake number 1.

Let me say that I like my web hosting provider. I have fairly simple sites that I've hosted there. They have many features that I like to have without costing me an arm and a leg. I haven't had any technical problems. I may not be a big spender -- I have their lowest-cost plan -- but the dollars I spend with them are the same color as those who have more costly plans.

Then I sent the my second inquiry:

Hi,

A couple of weeks ago or so I sent an inquiry through this form, the message below, and have yet to receive a reply.

I've been with you folks for a few years now, and I'm wondering whether you care to continue to have my business or that I continue to recommend Omnis for hosting services to people I know and consult for on web site development.

My query:

I'm considering running the open-source WordPress blogging software and I was wondering if my account supported the following:

* PHP 4.1 or greater
* MySQL 3.23.23 or greater
* The mod_rewrite Apache module

Thanks!

I see that PHP 4.4.0 My SQL 4.0.22 are supported

I can't see whether the mod_rewrite Apache module is supported.

Please reply.

Thank you.


I don't think it takes much to see that I'm not very happy that I had to ask the second time.

I'd have been happy with a "sorry we didn't get back to you sooner" or something like that, just some sort of acknowledgement of my displeasure.

Then, being the Marketing/PR guy I am, I went a step further, offering what I think would be an opportunity to tap into more business:

P.S. I hope you folks see what's going on in the blog world, that blogs are taking off, and likely here to stay.

I encourage you to look at WordPress.org and become one of their referenced hosting companies. WordPress is free, and has many features that other free blog hosting services, such as Blogger/Blogspot do not, e.g., trackback.

Go to http://wordpress.org/hosting/ to see what other hosting services are offering.

Your hosting plans are VERY competitive, and by adding something like easy WordPress start-up could give you an added competitive edge.


Then I signed off with my name, user account ID, and two email addresses.

And what did I get for a reply?

Here it is:

Dear Customer:
Php: 4.4
MySQL: 4.0.22
Mod_rewrite: Should be supported
Thanks,
Eddie


My response: That's ALL??????

Mistake number 2: It's a short answer. No acknowledgement that they might have messed up and missed my first query, or even that I mentioned this is my second time asking for this info.

Mistake number 3: "Dear Customer:"

What? Dear CUSTOMER????

I signed my name. Did you read to the end of the message? Do you even know I have a name? Dear CUSTOMER????

Mistake number 4: "Mod_rewrite: Should be supported"

SHOULD BE????? And if it isn't? So now I have to follow up my inquiry to find out FOR SURE whether it is. I don't want to go through all the trouble of installing and configuring WordPress, and then finding mod_rewrite isn't supported.

Am I expected to make a decision off of SHOULD BE??? What world are you living in?

Well, Eddie, and all you folks at Omnis. I hope you're listening.

Look, I'm not looking for or expecting an intimate relationship. We hardly know each other. But when I put my name in a message, and I have to believe that when Eddie looks at my message he at least sees my customer ID since I sent the message from my logged in account, he could at least address me by my username.

And please give me enough information so that I can make an intelligent decision.

This is the kind of thing that causes customers to leave...and not make referrals.

I haven't yet left Omnis for one of WordPress' referenced hosting companies -- those that WordPress endorses. But after this experience, I'm thinking about it, even if it costs me a few dollars more a year. It just might be worth it for being treated as if I have a name and mean something to the provider.

[ END RANT ]

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Bleeding edge technology: A step closer to cyborg?

I just watched (and listened as I do stuff on my computer) to a fascinating Book TV broadcast of author Michael Chorost telling of his experiences as a deaf man learning to live with his state-of-the-art, software-driven cochlear implants.

That's right. Software driven. It's the bleeding edge of hearing technology solutions for the totally deaf, should they choose it.

In what looks like a hearing aid sitting behind his left ear is the computer processor that translates sound from a microphone that is magnetically held in place on his head by the cochlear implant inside his head.

From his website:


Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human (Houghton Mifflin, June 2005) is my story of becoming a cyborg. It's a scientific memoir of going deaf and getting my hearing back with a cochlear implant, that is, a computer embedded in my skull. Science fiction writers and filmmakers have speculated about cyborgs (human-computer fusions) for decades, but in this book I reveal what it's really like to have part of one's body controlled by a computer...


Read more at michaelchorost.com.

Also from his website:


About Rebuilt

Michael Chorost became a cyborg on October 1, 2001, the day his new ear was booted up. Born hard of hearing in 1964, he went completely deaf in his thirties. Rather than live in silence, he chose to have a computer surgically embedded in his skull to artificially restore his hearing.

This is the story of Chorost's journey –- from deafness to hearing, from human to cyborg –- and how it transformed him. The melding of silicon and flesh has long been the stuff of science fiction. But as Chorost reveals in this witty, poignant, and illuminating memoir, fantasy is now giving way to reality.


Read more here.


As he relates to the audience, his book is about learning how to live in a different body.

For example, as a deaf and hard of hearing person, he explains his center of hearing had been in his chest and other parts of his body. With his new cochlear implant, he learns that now the center of his hearing is at his ears.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Passing of a notable newsman

I was shocked on Monday, as I'm sure many were, to hear that Peter Jennings had died. I'd known that he was suffering from cancer, but had no idea that he was as sick as he was.

The world is a better place, I think, because of him. He had a soothing, reassuring delivery of the world news. His was one of the few authoritative, yet compassionate voices that was part of the fabric of our culture and life for so many years.

Ted Koppel, who joined ABC at the same time as Jennings in 1964, spoke of his long-time friend and colleague on the radio program Day to Day.

Fresh Air with Terry Gross aired "A Final Farewell to Newsman Peter Jennings", a rebroadcast of a 1998 interview with Jennings.

The Peter Jennings I Knew

Google News Search

Why "e-Scribble"?

About a month ago I started a blog to mainly focus on my professional interests -- the stuff listed in this blog's About section.

But, I wasn't really happy with calling it "Sam Vigil Jr.s' Blog." So I didn't promote, just added a post now and then, trying my hand at blogging, "practicing," if you will (why do we say that doctors and lawyers "practice" their respective professions?).

So after brainstorming off and on for the last few weeks, not really hitting on a name that appealed to me, I came across "e-Scribble." And I found the domain "e-scribble.com" was available!

Hey! Now something finally felt like the right fit.

While the meaning of "to scribble" is more along the lines of meaningless drawings, doodling, and the like, I hope that my blog is actually the opposite and will have some meaning.

I think "to scribble" fits my blog in that blogging is an informal medium. And while I expect to write informally, I hope the information I offer and my writing is of at least good quality.

Eventually I'll migrate the posts from samvjr.blogspot.com to here. And I'll eventually be pointing the domain e-scribble.com to this blog as well.

[UPDATE 8/11/05] I've now migrated posts from samvjr.blogspot.com.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Which Mountains in Colorado?

I'm confused. And it appears the Colorado Planned Giving Roundtable website folks are confused, too.

When I visited their site, I was greeted by a beautiful picture of majestic mountain peaks -- just what you'd expect from a Colorado-based organization, right?

But wait a minute! Hold the phone! Are these folks actually meeting in and from California?

That's a picture of Yosemite Valley -- in the Sierra Nevada mountains -- on their site!

Suddenly I feel all a-jumble inside. The name and picture don't match. In my mind I'm reading and picturing Colorado, but my eyes are seeing Yosemite Valley.

I'd feel much more at peace -- and the branding message certainly would be less confusing -- if they used a picture of Colorado's Rocky Mountains instead.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Quit Monkeying with Daylight Saving Time

The debate over Daylight Savings Time is back. But this time legislators want to extend it to one month, a compromise on the originally-proposed two-month extension.

One of the biggest arguments put forth in favor of the extension by energy-saving proponents is that it will save energy. On other hand, some businesses advocate for daylight saving because people will spend more time out of their homes and spending more on auto fuel and barbecues.

In the past I'd heard -- I wish I could quote chapter and verse -- that the increase in accidents and lower productivity surrounding the time changes cost the nation billions.

In any case, in my view, it comes down to consumers are spending money somewhere -- we consumers still pay.

I wish we'd just quit monkeying with the time changes and leave it all year 'round.

I don't particularly care to have to adjust to the time change. I especially don't like it when we "spring forward" and lose an hour. I have to adjust to getting up an hour earlier, and it's usually not just a matter of "going to bed earlier" the night or two before. It just ain't that easy, I've found, as I've grown older. And, sure, I like gaining the "extra hour" when we "fall back." But you know what? I seriously doubt I'd miss that hour if I didn't have it.

Yes, I do like daylight extending a little longer into the evening hours. But I can remember as a kid living in California going to bed while it was still light out. I pity those kids today whose parents are sensible enough to put them to bed at a decent hour in the summer even though it's still light out and they'd rather be outside playing. I'm sure I'd do better in the summer months if it was dark at 8:30 pm instead of 9:30 -- I'd probably go to bed earlier.

Living in the Northwest today, I really don't like getting up in the winter months while it's still dark. But I adjust. However, it is still rather jarring in the fall when one morning you get up with the sun and the next you're getting up in the pitch black before the sun.

Admittedly I haven't studied this debate forwards and backwards to take a position on whether we should be on "saving" or "standard" time all year.

I think I'd be happy if we'd just pick one, leave it alone and quit monkeying with it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Lunchtime surprise causes pause

It's so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life. We really need to take regular time to just stop and be quiet. Once in a while something happens to make me pause for a few minutes. Like this that happened a few days ago for me...full post here...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Washington court ruling in radio case could reach bloggers

Your opinion expressed on your blog on behalf of a political campaign may someday be considered an in-kind contribution and be subject to campaign finance legislation, if a recent court ruling is extended to its logical conclusion.

A recent court decision in Olympia, Wash., ruled that air time during which talk radio show hosts advocated for a political campaign -- in this case opposing a gas tax -- could be considered an in-kind contribution.

This could reach the blogosphere, according to Seattle-based media lawyer Bruce Johnson. That came out in his interview on last week's public radio program On the Media. (Listen online or download the MP3.)

This could have a very chilling effect, I think, on blogs and the free exchange of ideas and discussion that form the basis of our free American society. Our nation was built on the free exchange of ideas and opinions. That has been the life of our nation since before our nation came into its own. That's the spirit of the First Amendment.

Restrictions and conditions placed on opinions expressed on talk radio, and potentially reaching the blogosphere where opinion is one of the underpinnings thereof, is a threat to free speech clothed in campaign finance reform.

Now, I'm not totally opposed to such reform. I believe the law's basic intent was good. But this latest decision is a stretch and to me is just plain wrong because of its chilling effect.

The time to speak up about this kind of thinking is now. What happens to talk radio in this area could very well foreshadow what happens in the blogosphere.

Here's a July 15, 2005 editorial in The Olympian questioning the ruling.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

It's About Time...I'll Just Jump In

Well, it's time I just jump in.

It's been nearly four years since I first heard about blogs and dabbled with creating them here on blogspot.

Now, after reading a few blogs, reading Hugh Hewitt's book Blog, listening to Shel Holtz's and Neville Hobson's podcast For Immediate Release, and thinking about blogging and how to use this medium, I've decided to just jump in and start, even though I haven't figured out yet how to set up an RSS feed, Trackback, etc., yet

So, here's the start. I'm giving some thought about a description for this blog...I'll post that at some time as I gain more focus on this.

And I have to give some thought for a couple more blogs that I have in mind.