Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seems like just yesterday

...that we were worried about Y2K. Was it really ten years ago?

What a decade it's been. From 9/11 to Afghanistan. iPods and smart phones are essentials. Reality TV has taken over the airwaves. The global economic meltdown, terrifying; the election of Barack Obama, amazing. Social networking replaced face-to-face contact with Facebook, Twitter, and Lifecasting. Hi-def became widespread, and TVs became flatter while DVRs replaced VCRs. Pluto is no longer a planet, and film actors are often not real actors (think CGI).

One fun way to review the decade is by watching Newsweek's The Decade in Seven Minutes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'Tis the season

...for catalogs, that is. No matter how often people sound the death knell for paper, there will always be another catolog being stuffed into your mailbox. And another. And another. And another.

Just this morning, I was at the dentist's office when the receptionist was going through the mail. She counted five holiday catelogs. In one day. All from the same company.

So here's my present to you: Catalog Choice.

This Web site allows you to opt-out of paper catalogs; and it's not an all or none kind of thing. You get to specifiy which ones you don't want to receive. It takes a little prep work on your part, becuase you have to have the offending catalog handy (so you can enter the right codes), but it's well worth the effort.

Me? I'm a catalog shopper, but I also try to keep my stack to a manageable level. Catalog Choice helps make that happen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Statistically important

If the 2009 World Series is any indication, sporting events are the main reason the field of statistics was invented.

Game 6: The two starting pitchers – Pedro Martinez for the Phillies and Andy Pettitte for the Yankees – are a combined 75 years old.

I’ve spent more-than-imaginable hours watching the Amtrak Acela series (also dubbed the Turnpike Tussle), and I’ve been astounded by the statistics announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver deem important for the TV audience to know.

When the Phillies left-handed-hitter Chase Utley hit two home runs off a left-handed pitcher, it was only the second time that’s ever happened. Babe Ruth did it first, in 1928.

I’ll give you that one. Apparently anything that compares with Babe Ruth is interesting to someone.

This is the 12th World Series that Joe Buck is calling, paired with Tim McCarver, who is analyzing a record 20th Series.

Now there are statistics on the guys announcing the statistics!?!

Sometimes I think they just make this stuff up.

This is the third time a World Series pitcher has started after only three days rest, a steady diet of Cheetos, and wearing women’s underwear.

OK. I made that up. But you get my point.

I don’t want to know every bit of data; I’m looking for insight. Tell me what’s relevant and why it matters. Otherwise, the announcers are just filling airtime until the next pitch. Oh yeah, that IS what they’re doing. Filling airtime. Trying to keep the TV audience from getting up for that next beer or bathroom visit.

As if that were even possible.

Go Phillies!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Marketing to "e"-verybody

It's a good thing I took a more generalized liberal-arts approach to studying communications than specializing in, say, marketing. Considering how social media continues to create new rules for reaching out and drawing in prospects, my book-learned marketing skills from college are now only quaint reminders of the way things used to be.

Yes, I've adapted to Web 2.0, social networks, and next-generation "e" everything. Still, the technology and its implications continue to leapfrog ahead.

Such was the premise of a recent humor article, Subject: Our Marketing Plan by Ellis Weiner, published in The New Yorker (Oct. 19, 2009). It spoofs the marketing plan of a book publisher, in the form of a letter to one of its authors.

My takeaway (besides the giggles): Not everything "e"-social is better. It's hard to imagine how technology can fully replace good old-fashioned social skills when it comes to touching hearts, engaging minds, building trust, and motivating people to take action.

At some point, it takes the personal touch of a real live person to make a difference.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The body beautiful

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has nothing on The Body Issue of ESPN The Magazine. I view SI as soft porn, whereas ESPN actually honors athletes. The Body Issue celebrates the athletic form by showcasing bodies of every size and shape, and from just about every sport. They also tackle every aspect of physicality -- from hard bodies to injuries to virtual reality.

There's more to see on the Web site, with photo galleries and videos. I could have done without watching Blake "Bilko" Williams undergo ACL surgery. But that's just me; I happen to be squeamish about surgery.

Favorite images? It's hard to say. ESPN must have had an equally hard time, because it printed six different covers.

The one that arrived in my mailbox was arresting and effective in getting me to sit down and read the whole issue. Normally, I just hand it over to my husband. What I first saw was a beautiful model. Then I realized it was an athlete. Then I saw the prosthesis. There she was, Sarah Reinertsen, the first female above-knee amputee to become an Ironman, having completed the hardest triathlon there is -- in Kona, Hawaii. Her artificial leg was all she had on. It was all she needed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Colorful characters?

I've heard that three occurrences make a trend, so here's the latest trend I've observed. A number of colorful, creative types who have started or manage top-notch design firms are losing their vibrancy. Well, not them -- it's their photos. A quick glance at my "Network Updates" homepage on LinkedIn shows more than a few are now using black & white portraits.

I know B&W can be more dramatic, with rich tones across the gray scale, but consider the medium: The Internet, with a photo smaller than a postage stamp. Just how much detail is possible?

Actually, I'm a fan of B&W photos, having grown up souping negatives from film cameras and watching images emerge in darkroom developer trays. An Ansel Adams exhibition can still bring me to tears. The use of B&W to stand out from the clutter of color can be quite effective -- until everyone starts doing it.

Maybe a postage stamp isn't such a bad model for the kind of photo to use on a social networking site. Consider the Simpsons postage stamps unveiled in May. Simple. Colorful. Memorable. Almost makes you want to pay bills the old-fashioned way: by mail.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Buddy up to run

In my spare nanoseconds, I'm the race director for the Women's Distance Festival 5K Run/Walk. I've been doing this for five years, and each time I look to introduce something new or different that will encourage more participants to "run for fun and fitness," which is the motto of my running club.

Three years ago, I introduced the concept of holding training runs on the same cross country course as the race. This year, I stumbled onto an idea that has really taken off: buddy up. The intent is for seasoned runners to pair up with newbies on the training runs, and for people who run a similar pace to find new running buddies. For the race on Oct. 10, there is a reduced buddy-up entry fee for runners who register together by mail.

The results so far have been a significant increase in women coming out to the training runs -- and about half the registrations being of the buddy-up kind.

As one of the members of the race committee remarked, "Women like to race with someone; men like to race against someone. I guess they are basic differences between the sexes."

Whether it's a gender thing or just that misery loves company, it doesn't matter. What I'm thrilled to see are more women taking the time for personal fitness...and a little bit of fun for themselves. Winning and medals are beside the point.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's right, but feels so wrong

Being sound in mind and body takes work, especially as we age. Healthcare experts now advocate exercising your brain. This can take a variety of forms, from crossword puzzles to learning a new skill to using your opposite hand for common tasks.

If these things truly rejuvenate your brain, I should be good to go for another decade or so. My husband and I just got back from two weeks in Ireland where we tackled a bunch of brain-taxing skills:
  • Driving on the opposite side of the road. On the opposite side of the car. Shifting with the opposite hand.
  • Navigating in a place where the streets have no names. Or, if they do, they're not posted anywhere.
  • Reconciling the differences in directions given by a Garmin GPS, Ordnance Survey maps, and locals.
  • Dodging cows, sheep, and buses on narrow, rock-wall lined roads, which are more like foot paths.
It was all a little scary, but we survived with nary a scratch to animal or vehicle. And now we should be reaping the benefits to our brains for years to come.

If you're inclined to give this a try, you should first read up on Irish driving. One good source is "Surviving Driving in Ireland" by Rick Steeves. Then be bold and take the wheel -- the right-hand drive wheel. It may feel wrong, but it's the right way to go.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Simpsonize me

It seems everyone I know loves the The Simpsons for one reason or other. While I find myself fidgeting whenever I watch the show, I have my own reasons for being a fan.

  • Not one, but two ways to "Simpsonize" yourself. At the Web site for the Simpsons movie, you can create an avatar (like mine here) and play a game. Or, you can upload your own photo at the SimpsonizeMe site and be automotically transformed.

  • Recently, I found one more reason to be a fan. Stormy weather and Delta airlines had joined forces to delay my trip to Ireland for a night. Instead of being airborn, I was housebound. I turned on The Simpsons in time to see, "In the Name of the Grandfather," in which the family flies to Ireland (on Derry Air) so Grampa can revisit a pub where he had the best night of his life. They also visit several places I've been to and some on the itinerary of my delayed trip. Many thanks to Homor and Marge and the rest for letting me see a wee bit of Ireland in advance.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Brand smart?

Branding helps companies create a personality for themselves, instant recognition in the general public, and customer loyalty to certain products and services. At least it does when done right.

Most companies put a lot of time and money into the numerous components of branding, which starts with the company name. So what happens when that name -- the first thing a potential customer or employee or business partner sees -- is less than appealing?

Here are some of my un-faves:
  • The Dump: TV ads for this bargain furniture store stick in my head because of the amazing number of times the announcer repeats the company name in an annoying way. As for the name, I thought the whole reason to buy new furniture was to keep your home from looking like a dump.
  • Rent-A-Wreck: This name under promises and over delivers. That's usually a recipe for success. But with cars, the word "wreck" is an accident waiting to happen. It makes me think the car I rent won't be reliable, and it doesn't matter if I trash it because it's a wreck anyway.
  • Goof Off: I actually use (and like) this self-proclaimed "miracle remover" (another misnomer because it doesn't really remove miracles). What it does remove are all the spills, drips, and splotches I leave behind. But Goof Off? If I'm working that hard to clean up after myself, I'm certainly not goofing off. But I guess it's a better name than Obsessive Compulsive Cleaner.
I thought long and hard before naming my own business. It was in the midst of trying out some options when AMY INK became shorthand for this venture I started in 2000. And the moniker stuck. Still, it can create confusion. Some people say it's a good thing I'm a writer, with a name like Amy Ink.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Simply amazing, simply Wawa

I first knew Wawa as a convenience store, on par with 7-Eleven, but with a stranger name. It was a quick stopping point for coffee or snacks on my way to somewhere else. Now it has become a destination in its own right. Many businesses, even those beyond the service sector, would do themselves a favor by studying the Wawa model.

Wawa's core purpose is "To Simplify Our Customers' Daily Lives." And that's exactly what it does.
  • Need a little caffeine pick-me-up? Wawa has dozens of fresh coffee pots to pour from, so you never have to wait for a fresh brew-- or someone else to pour.
  • Concerned about the once-and-trash nature of disposable coffee cups? You can drink "green" with a refillable Wawa coffee mug that fits snugly in the console of your car.
  • Lunch? Head to the touchscreens to place your order, and it's ready in minutes. Couldn't be easier.
What impresses me more than a specific service is the fact that Wawa gets it. It offers simple services quickly and in a smart way, with an interface -- like a touchscreen or coffee center -- that's easy and even enjoyable to use.

I know I'm not the only Wawa fan. There are 149,099 on Wawa's Facebook page. There's even a Facebook "Addicted to Wawa" group.

No, I don't work for Wawa. I just love being able to satisfy my everyday needs with one quick stop. And the gas prices are hard to beat.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Where does the money go?

Like most people, I like to keep track of my money. Now I can do so in an entirely different way. For instance, the $20 bill in my wallet has traveled 121 miles in 110 days, 11 hours, and 15 minutes--or an average of 1.1 miles per day--since its last owner reported in. The bill is now 121 miles from its previously noted location in Hughesville, Md., where the owner received it as change at a Wawa when buying coffee.

I'm not sure what the value is of knowing so much about your money, but it's a fun bit of mind trivia. To learn where your money comes from--and where it goes--visit Where's George.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Both sides now

To Twitter or not? Here are two arguments for your consideration:

1) Peter Shankman, in his "Help a Reporter Out" evening email on June 24, writes:

"Is Twitter changing the world? Just check out what's up in Iran. Or Dell - Dell computers announced that they had brought in an additional $3 million in sales from their outlet store through the use of Twitter. Pretty cool considering that it appears one person manages that Twitter account for Dell..."

But before being swayed by these exceptional examples, make sure to get some balance with the following:

2) Matt Jones, of Advertising Age, presents his insightful perspective in "Why I Hate Social Media: Because Media Itself Just Isn't That Interesting--Not Even The Social Kind."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What do you believe?

Twitter wants you to answer the question: What are you doing? LinkedIn wants to know: What are you working on now? A more thought-provoking and heartfelt query is the one posed by This I Believe, Inc., which asks people to distill the guiding principles by which they live into a brief essay.

What began in the 1950s as a radio series hosted by Edward R. Murrow has become an international project that engages people in "writing, sharing, and discussing the core values that guide their daily lives."

I've listened to these essays for years on NPR, and now that the series has concluded, I was glad to find its new home on the This I Believe Web site. You can browse and read essays by theme. You can listen to the essays. And you can contribute your own insights.

Among my favorites is Bela Fleck, "Doing Things My Own Way," originally broadcast Sept. 26, 2006. I'm a big fan of his music, and I was eager to hear him talk about how he approaches life. It was touching to hear him attribute much of his "individualist, bone-headed nature" to his grandfather, whom he calls Opa.

You can view the "Top 25 Most Viewed Essays This Week," which recently included words of wisdom from Penn Jillette, Helen Keller, Muhammad Ali, Tony Hawk, John Updike, Colin Powell, Amy Tan, and Elie Wiesel. How's that for a lineup?

You can even subscribe to This I Believe podcasts.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Putting the fantasy in football

I've been hearing about fantasy football for years, although I've never paid it much attention. Now I see why. Who wants to watch some over-padded, barely recognizable, beefy guys tackle one another time and again when the "real" fantasy of football has just been unveiled: the Lingerie Football League.

Now that there are nearly naked women playing full-contact football in only helmets and shoulder pads--with the briefest of bikinis--it makes me wonder: Why do NFL players wear all that protection? What babies.

This brings to mind the old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers discussion. Yes, Astaire was a great dancer, but Rogers did everything he did--and she did it backwards and in high heels.

With women playing the big manly game in their skivvies, don't you think the pros are feeling just a little bit silly right about now?!?!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

All the news that fits

Can The New York Times still be the national newspaper of record? And does that even matter anymore? The paper's motto is "All the News That's Fit to Print." That's much different than today's news model, which seems to be "All the News that Fits."

Take Twitter: 140 characters. That's it. Of course, many people cheat by including links to (gasp!) longer messages. But the whole point of Twitter is to answer the question: What are you doing? To which I reply: Who needs to know? Anyway, now that Twitter has been co-opted by marketeers and politicians, will the public move on to the next cool (and, I hope, lengthier) communications vehicle?

Brevity can be an art. Smith magazine is the self-billed "Creators of Six-Word Memoirs." After asking readers to summarize their own lives in a single sentence, they published the results in Not Quite What I Was Planning. Clever, but not as complete as Ernest Hemingway, who once wrote this telling story in six words, "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."

I like a quick read as much as the next guy, but sometimes less is just, well, less. Less filling. Less satisfying. Less engaging. The standard excuse people offer is, "Well, you know, nobody likes to read anymore."

C'mon. People like to eat fried foods, snack on ice cream, drink alcohol, and sit on their butts watching TV. That doesn't mean it's what we should do. Instead, we try to watch our diets, add more fruits and vegetables, cut down on portion size, walk the dog, and get to the gym.

Tweeting may be fun now and then, but give me something worthwhile to read--something I can sink my teeth into--and it will kick around in my head, generating new thoughts and ideas, for years to come.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Unique...or not

On this April Fool's Day, I realize what a big fool I've been thinking about how unique I am. It's an exercise that all businesses should do when trying to distinguish themselves from the competition. Where I fail in the uniqueness category is my name.

According to the site How Many of Me, of all the 306,125,973 people in the U.S, of those over the age of 13:
  • 690,307 have the first name Amy;
  • 12,276 have the last name Binder; and
  • 28 are named Amy Binder.
So, I'm not the "one and only" Amy Binder, except (I hope) to my husband (a Greenstine). But if I work the numbers, at least I'm one in a million--or two or ten.

Wanna see how many of you there are? Visit How Many of Me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Broad run, singular focus

I've written about Students Run Philly Style before because I'm a big fan of the cause and there's nothing more motivating than to see these kids in a race. Pair this group with Philadelphia's Broad Street 10 Miler on May 3rd and you've got a winning combination.

For this premier race, 400 kids and more than 80 volunteers from SRPS are training for that straight shot down Broad Street, right past City Hall and into South Philly. They've got the determination, they've got the miles under their belts, all they need is some $$$ to help offset the entry fees...and everything else that goes into sustaining the SRPS program.

There's a great fundraising Web site: Run for Philly's Future. Even in tough economic times, it's good to support a cause that focuses on youth, fitness, and running.

SRPS wants to turn the tide on grim statistics for Philly kids:
(From the web site)"50% of our children are obese or at risk for becoming so and almost half of our high school students will not graduate on time. Add a high rate of youth violence and the future for a Philadelphia teen grows bleaker. With your support, we can turn a grim picture into a hopeful one. Students Run provides youth with the opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle while connecting to a caring adult mentor in an environment that emphasizes goal-setting, teamwork & effort."

I'm sold. And my credit card now has a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Info overload, ideas overdrive

The evolution of the Internet to Web 2.0 and beyond has made it that much more useful...and that much more time-consuming. It's almost guaranteed that once I subscribe to an RSS feed, I rarely check it. I never plan to ignore someone I really want to follow, it's just that other things clamor for my attention. And don't even mention Twitter. I'm still wondering who can care that much about what everyone they know is doing at every minute of the day.

This is why I am so enamored of two sites that make it easy for me to get the information I want. Both have relatively simple Web sites. Nothing fancy or Flash-y here, which soothes my content-focused soul. And both leverage their Web presence with push emails to make sure they reach me. Most important, the info they deliver is culled from many places to provide a single source--and great value.
  • If you or someone you know is looking for work, especially in communications, check out Ned's Job of the Week. Be sure to sign up for the weekly emails. While I'm not in the market for a full-time gig, it always helps to know who's hiring.

  • If you're interested in being a spokesperson in your area of expertise, or you're doing PR work for clients, check out Help a Reporter Out. Peter Shankman does a fantastic job of sending out queries not once, not twice, but three times a day. If you're looking for press coverage, this is a perfect place to start, allowing you to contact reporters when they want to hear from you--and with exactly the information they're looking for.
And for those of you who are tired of being bombarded with too many tweets or posts or RSSssss, put your brain to work. Maybe you can introduce the next novel way to communicate based on the "less is more" principle. At least I hope someone can.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Curious about Benjamin Button?

OK. So the Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett pic didn't sweep the Oscars. It was still an amazing movie. I spent most of the nearly three-hour film wondering: How did they do that?

Now, I know. And you can, too. Spend 18 minutes watching Ed Ulbrich, the digital-effects guru from Digital Domain, explain the magic.

Thanks, TED, for all your "ideas worth spreading."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A smile I can do without

Yes, times are tough, but is a bargain always a bargain? I recently went to the Greater Philadelphia Home Show. It was packed. Maybe the free admission and free parking had something to do with the crowds lining up around the building. Once inside, it seemed the vendors were getting good interest in their products and services. All was about what I expected…until I turned the corner on the last aisle. There I saw several dental chairs filled with people getting their teeth whitened. At the Home Show. In public. As the masses milled around.

Once home, I did a quick Internet search and found that this is an up-and-coming “business” opportunity. You don’t need to be a dentist; instead, you’re a dealer. Taking your reclining chairs and LED light activators on-site for quickie whitenings at conventions, bridal showers, garden shows—just about anywhere.

I’m still in a state of shock and awe. My teeth hurt just thinking of the possible complications.

I’ve gotten used to seeing chair massage and spine assessments at public events, but dental procedures? What’s next—laser eye surgery in food courts? Hair transplants for balding golfers at the first tee?

Is there no modesty? Must everything be shared and on public display?

One news release I found claims “Teeth whitening has potential for unlimited income.” And you can “Be your own boss.”

That may be true, but I prefer to trust my smile—and any other healthcare matter—to the professionals. The ones with the proper initials after their name. In the privacy and comfort of their medical offices.

ADDENDUM: Shortly after posting this piece, I saw a commercial for the CBS Cares Colonoscopy Sweepstakes. Really. With the online promotional materials claiming: "When the colonoscopy is about to begin, you'll be given drugs which will make you feel like you're at Woodstock... only without the music." I kid you not. Apparently CBS cares in a very strange way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Running Philly Style

Rarely have I ever witnessed the rise of a phenomenon from the front row. With the March issue of Runner's World magazine, I now see that I have. For the past four years, I've been hearing about, watching, and running alongside kids participating in the Students Run Philly Style program.

SRPS uses running to help kids in Philadelphia improve their health , self-esteem, and choices in life. In its short tenure, more than 700 have taken part...and the success stories seem the stuff of Hollywood movies. The latest tribute in Runner's World, by Tom McGrath, is titled "Youth movement: A running program gives inner-city kids confidence, discipline, and a bit of bling."

Heather McDaniel is both program director and its major champion. Congratulations to her and to the entire gang for achieving this national recognition.

I look forward to seeing those newly famous faces and bright blue shirts at upcoming races.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All the news...

Blogs. Social Networks. Tweets. I'm still trying to sort out the value of each and how it fits in my day. Granted, I'm not one to spend more time than is necessary in front of the computer. If I'm not working at the keyboard, I prefer to stretch, get some fresh air, read the paper. A real paper. Newsprint in my hands. Pages to turn. Stories to skim.

I must be in the minority, because newspapers are in crisis...and I don't get it. To me, a newspaper is like the main meal of the day and blogs are like tasty snacks. You can't get all your nutrition from snacks, but snacks can satisfy your hunger between meals.

Try getting your cat to roll around and play on your blog. Never happen. But just try to keep the cat from batting around the newspaper whenever you're trying to read. That's quality time.

One resource that's working to save newspapers is the Newspaper Project. Click on over and give it a read. Otherwise, we could wind up singing Joni Mitchell songs for departed papers: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone...."

Saturday, January 24, 2009


People the world over were captivated by the inauguration of President Obama. The Boston Globe did a fantastic job of capturing the range of emotions of this momentous occasion. Revisit history, with 48 amazing photos and more than 3,000 posts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Simple pleasures

When it comes to conveying information--whether about a product, service, or institution--there are many stops along the spectrum of complex to really simple. Some writers aim for an intellectual approach that often turns into densely written prose that's guilty of MEGO (making "my eyes glaze over"). Others mistake "simple" for simpletons in the audience. And sometimes, communicators get it right--and funny.
  • View this "plain english" explanation of new release distribution on PRWeb.
  • Or this recruitment video for Post University.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Remember when type mattered?

If you know the difference between serif and sans-serif typefaces, you'll probably get a kick out of watching this Font Conference.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Simple English is anything but

You can't rely on spell checkers to catch every misstake--I mean, mistake. How many times have you written "to" for too (or two). It can be hard to remember all those spelling rules and lists you learned in every now and then I'll peak (I mean "peek") at sites like these:
And, just for fun: