16 December 2013

MBQ reprints my "Makers" article

MBQ Inside Memphis Business reprinted my article about the MidSouth Makers in its December 
2013 issue. The story originally appeared in its sister publication,  Memphis Flyer, in October.

It's titled "Makers in Memphis," and it should be archived here.  
I've also posted a one-page PDF of the print version here on my site. 

As this tech-influenced DIY community gained momentum, makers began to evolve from hobbyists into entrepreneurs, spawning their own markets and creating new products and services. Despite the movement’s grass-roots, anarchic vibe, these bands of inventive makers equipped with open-source technologies have begun to inspire new innovations in manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, hardware technology, and education.

09 November 2013

"Past-Perfect Storm" on the Mississippi River

"I crawled back down to the water's edge because I was afraid to stand with the wind roaring so hard. Then I immersed myself in the river like a scared possum."
Prepping for a Cub Scouts campout, I was looking up John Ruskey's recipe for "Raft Potatoes" that I included in a 2000 Memphis Flyer article about his Mississippi River canoe guide service, Quapaw Canoe Co. When I turned in the article to Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden, he asked for two additions: The recipe (since I mentioned it in the story) and an account of danger on the river. I emailed John, and he promptly sent me a thousand-word paragraph describing a storm he kayaked through four years earlier. I added line breaks and moved the paragraph order around where it made sense. The raft-potatoes recipe is at the bottom of this post.

07 November 2013

Don't let Stanley Kubrick design your web content!

"So, I went to that company's site," the business reporter told me. "What do they do?"
I was embarrassed by that question about my PR client and frustrated that I had little or no input on their site's content. All key pages on the niche BPO provider's site were dominated by slogans, vision statements, mission statements, graphics of world maps, etc., but no clear description of what specialized services they provided.

To put it in terms of science fiction movies, the reporter needed to see a web site that read like Star Wars, but her  experience was more akin to watching 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I'm a fan of Stanley Kubrick's movies and Arthur C. Clarke's novels, but I thought the famous 1968 collaboration between the two suffered from serious gaps in story-telling. Kubrick meant to take a non-verbal approach to the movie, reaching the viewer at a visual or visceral level rather than through conventional narrative.

17 October 2013

"Making It in Memphis" my 3rd Flyer cover story: Local emergence of the DIY/tech/inventors Maker Movement

Making It in Memphis
Claudio and his quadcopter, built from parts
he made on a 3D printer, which was made from
parts printed on yet another 3D printer.
The would-be burglar counts himself lucky that he saw an interior light switch on and immediately spotted your shadow moving across the window curtain, giving him time to flee.

... not that anyone was home.
The burglar is frightened away by a cheap motion-detector you plugged into a hobby microcontroller that turned on the electric motor that slowly waved a plastic fin in front of a lamp.

01 October 2013

The real value of writing, for corporations

My favorite, most heavily copied (via photocopiers and Cntrl-C) and shared HBR article. Lucky for both of us, it's very brief.

from the Harvard Business Review
by Jack Shulman

Companies spend whatever it takes to develop intellectual assets. At the same time, they routinely seek to minimize their investment in the technical and procedural documents that tell people how to use those assets.  Such metainformation as instruction manuals, process descriptions, and procedure guides script the experience of customers and the performance of suppliers and employees. Yet companies view the creation of this information as, at best, a cost of doing business and, at worst, something they can safely ignore.

Good writers can change all that. What's more, good writers who are consulted early enough can improve the product development process and, potentially, products themselves. Unfortunately,

20 September 2013

Introducing my free "Twitterglyphics" table


Copy and paste space-saving symbols into your Twitter posts and other tight spots

Social media sites encourage brevity, especially Twitter, with its strict limit of 140 characters and spaces per-post. Many people have simply adopted abbreviations and emoticons from text messaging, but those were developed for speedy replies, not necessarily to fit a word limit.

While Twitter conversations are often fast-paced and held on mobile devices, many posts are thoughtfully crafted. Unicode symbols can shorten the character-count, allowing you to fit more meaning into each message, and when used creatively, they can draw a lot more more attention.

I created this symbol chart because other sites that list such symbols are either too hard to navigate or they list 8 different ☛s, 5 different ✐s but not enough technical characters or other symbols that I sometimes need. I don't post equations or technical data on Twitter, it's just that Ø can mean "nothing" and ≠ can mean "not the same as" and ¶ can denote a paragraph within an article.

My own № 1 symbol is this: … It's an ellipsis that only takes up one character space. I use it to separate sentences or items in a series using only one character-space. (Periods and commas require an additional space after them.)

05 September 2013

Pete Savage's 6 copywriting tips everyone should know

Here are six essential copywriting tips you should know, from Pete Savage, co-founder of The Wealthy Freelancer.
The beauty of these six tips in particular is that it's rather easy to identify when they are missing from a sample of copy.

  1. "You" can make a difference. The word "you" is perhaps the most important word in copywriting because it involves the reader with your message. So instead of writing about what your company offers, write about what the customer gets. Whenever you're tempted to write something like, "We offer the most advanced...", stop. Instead, begin the sentence with "You" as in, "You get the most advanced...".

23 August 2013

Have WWII saboteurs infiltrated your company?

In 1944 the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA) created the formerly secret Simple Sabotage Field Manual [PDF] for OSS operations officers
and resistance organizers living in Axis-occupied countries.

There are tips on physical sabotage common to insurgents, but the list of methods (and desired outcomes) for volunteers to interfere from within organizations reads startlingly like the dark sides of today's American corporate and government workplaces. The common weaknesses of executive and middle management as well as front-line workers (specialists, coordinators, analysts, etc) are clearly evident in this list of
 "universal opportunities to make faulty decisions, to adopt a noncooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit...may involve nothing more than creating an unpleasant situation among one's fellow workers, engaging in bickerings, or displaying surliness and stupidity."
In short, it's the Dilbert Principle, as practiced against Nazi occupiers:

(11) General Interference with Organisations and Production 

  • Insist on doing everything through "channels." Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

15 July 2013

13 years later: Web Site Vistor's Bill of Rights

In 2000, the folks at Giga Information Group (now part of Forrester Research) published this document, mostly as a PR stunt, but also to foster better information design on Web sites. Thirteen years later, this list still has the power to shame Web site owners who still make it hard to figure out who they are and what they do or even how to have a conversation with them. 

In fact, before posting this list, I checked over my own site and made a couple of tweaks to be in compliance.

The Web Site Visitor's Bill of Rights

While all Web sites are not created equal, every Web site visitor deserves an acceptable measure of usability, functionality and privacy. In order to form a better user experience, we, the Web users, analysts and advisors of Giga Information Group, do ordain and establish the following unalienable set of rights for Web site visitors:

The Right to Accessible, Basic Company Information
Visitors have a right to:

02 July 2013

My software skills map

Simple, graphic approach to explaining what applications I know and how well I know them. 

If you want to be strictly empirical about this, the only thing this chart "proves" is that I know how to render a really crowded slide in Apple's Keynote program and then turn it into a jpeg. 

The real knowledge lies in how to use these tools to turn a buck or edge out a competitor... or do something really extroverted on FourSquare. Note that I always exercise a lot of restraint when doing anything "on the clock" on Wikipedia. It's generally best to let nature take its course there—else the volunteer Hounds of Hell will edit you all the way back to AOL.

UPDATE: The latest edition of Thunder Kitty, or whatever Apple is calling its current operating system (10.8, 2013) does not support Microsoft Office. I now use Apple's Pages word processor and convert the documents into PDF or RTF text files for others to use. I can export something as an Office file, but there are usually formatting irregularities that I can't see on my Mac. 

15 June 2013

Tech sector ironies of the 2010s

from Phil Nash, London.
Welcome to the new decade: Java is a restricted platform, Google is evil, Apple is a monopoly and Microsoft are the underdogs.

03 June 2013

My 2nd Memphis Flyer cover story (and unexpected cover photo)

Two years ago, I was only dimly aware that my article might be the cover story for the Earth Day issue of the Memphis Flyer, but when I looked for my article and found myself staring back, it was a bit of a shock. Not that I'm complaining!

EXCERPT (Read the rest of the article here)
The oldest evidence of human activity in Memphis — a spearhead designed to slice through a mastodon’s thick hide — was discarded at Nonconnah Creek 13,000 years ago, behind what is now the Sam’s Club on Winchester. The rain of litter on the creek hasn’t slowed much since then.

The newest evidence of human activity in Memphis is a plastic Sprite bottle. And right now, it’s blowing out of the back of a pickup truck on Bill Morris Parkway. During next week’s thunderstorm, it will be flushed down our storm-water system to join thousands upon thousands of other plastic bottles that migrate down Nonconnah Creek and into McKellar Lake.

I followed another bottle flotilla earlier this month, steering my Coca-Cola-red polyethylene canoe down Nonconnah Creek with local environmental activist Scott Banbury.

(Read the rest of the article here)

16 May 2013

My 1999 coverage of minor-league pro wrasslin' in Oxford

I was a contributing writer to Oxford Town from 1997 to 1999. That's the Oxford Eagle's free, weekly entertainment supplement, sort of a cross between the Memphis Flyer and the Commercial Appeal's GoMemphis. 
My editors included Rob Robertson, Jamie & Kelly Kornegay, Jimmy Thomas and others.
While they would publish just about anything I felt like writing, my most rewarding experiences were typical arts/entertainment/leisure assignments that somebody was going to have to write.

Pro Tip: The end of this post includes a glossary of pro wrestling terms.

Are You Ready to Rummbulllll?
Loudmouthed Wrestling Manager Issues Challenge to Ole Miss Sororities

Professional wrestling makes its defiant return to Oxford Friday night as the Dallas-based International Wrestling Federation stages several championship matches at the National Guard Armory on University Avenue.

“We want to see all the wrestling fans in the area come out,” said Mr. Sensational, manager of the controversial Sensational Stable, “including all our fans on your Sorority Row!”

02 April 2013

Content marketing: It works, but remember to include the content


Deloitte's John Hagel: "Moving from Story to Narrative" 

I should be plugging my freelance writing practice right now, but I'm still digesting the slide-free presentation by Deloitte's John Hagel at South by Southwest Interactive last month, entitled "Moving from Story to Narrative."*

Most of my freelance writing practice involves reinforcing companies' marketing strategies with actionable content. So Hagel really got my attention describing how the "old" way of marketing with content—telling stories—has always been less effective than the practice of creating "narratives."
  • STORIES are finite and they are about the storyteller or others, not about you. 

16 March 2013

Bridgman Pottery is in Southern Living

To honor my wife's birthday, I'm reposting this bit about her spotlight in the January 2011 print edition of Southern Living. Melissa is a potter dba Bridgman Pottery.

Southern Living runs a recurring feature called "Best of the South: Made by Southern Hands," focusing on regional artisans (craft, food, furnishings etc).
This issue's feature is subtitled "Breakfast Time," highlighting food and serving ware made in the South.
An editor at SL was searching on Etsy for breakfast-related crafts last summer and found Melissa's old-school egg cups on her online store there.
I am still very, very grateful that Melissa ignored my advice to make a ceramic rack for microwaving bacon.

01 February 2013

Applebee's and a Catch-22 of social media marketing

What happened to Applebee's on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit last week has been described with many metaphors: "implosion," "meltdown," "disaster" and others.

I liken it to the Battle of Little Bighorn that cost General Custer his life in 1876. However, Applebee's isn't going to "die," and the company is not a victim of its own hubris like Custer. But the "action" on the Facebook page may resemble the final hour of Custer's life: Thousands of current and former waiters "circling" the normally bland/cheerful corporate page, furiously pumping arrows and spears into every new post the company made in an attempt to explain its actions during the last week of January.

Slate coverage:
When Applebee’s tried to impose an automatic 18 percent tip last week on the bill of Atlanta pastor Alois Bell, she crossed it out, reduced the tip to zero, and added the note, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” A waitress posted the receipt online, earning Bell nationwide derision and the server a pink slip for violating Bell’s “right to privacy,” according to Applebee’s. Over the weekend, the restaurant chain suffered an avalanche of criticism. [Note: I neglected to include "avalanche" in my list of metaphors!]