Monday, December 6, 2010

Word to the wise

With only 26 letters in the alphabet, it's amazing how many new words -- and new style guidelines -- keep appearing.
  • From comes polyfidelty (faithfulness within a group of sexual partners, particularly the other members of a polygamous relationship)...and municide (the economic or political death of a city)...and other interesting words, phrases, and abbreviations (like BIY, from Buy-it-Yourself, where you buy the materials that a contractor will use for a project). Also found on Twitter @wordspy.
  • From On Words and Upwards! comes airgonation (travel by hot-air balloon) and frescour (noun. coolness; adj. cool and crisp). On Twitter @onWords.
  • From AP Stylebook, "don't ask, don't tell" is as you see it -- all lower case, with comma and quotes. And with the new airport screening procedures, it's pat-down and full-body scanner. If, like me, you don't have a Stylebook Web subscription, just follow on Twitter @APStylebook.
Maybe these and similar sites appeal to me because I'm a writer. But for anyone who communicates anything to anybody at any time, it never hurts to brush up on language skills.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Steroids: Bad drugs, good metaphor?

Steroids have been used -- abused, really -- to build muscle mass and improve athletic performance. By bodybuilders and weight lifters. By football and baseball players. And by both professional and wanna-be athletes.

For decades, steroids have ruined bodies, careers, and lives. You would think steroids is a topic best avoided. Even the word itself should be left alone. But it's not.

When describing an innovation -- the next hot new thing -- people can't resist describing it as being "on steroids."
That's only a small sample of all the news stories and other media mentions of things being "on steroids." AS IF anything on steroids could be a good thing.

Being "on steroids" is just plain bad, both literally (it's a harmful drug) and figuratively (it's a cliche).

As someone who lifts a few weights and who writes for a living, I pledge to never use steroids, either as a muscle enhancer or a metaphor. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The color of silence

I must be the only person in the world without an iPod. And if I ever received one as a gift, it would quickly be re-gifted to someone who might actually use it.

When it comes to listening preferences, mine are natural. I like to open my office window and hear the birds rather than music. It helps me think -- and write.

But things can get too quiet. So quiet, in fact, that the hum of my computer sounds loud. The guy across the street with the leaf blower gets annoying. The kids playing after school become a distraction.

My solution? Noise. Simply noise. Or, should I say The site is billed as "The Best Free White Noise Generator on the Internet." I don't know if that's true; all I know is that it works. Phenomenally. At least for me.

I often switch between white noise, pink noise, and brown noise -- you know, for variety. And I can choose to have the sound oscillate at different speeds. It's like controlling the waves of your own ocean. Or rainfall. Or wind through the trees.

In a few seconds, the sound fades into the background, masking other distractions, so I can focus on the project at hand.

I'm hoping SimplyNoise does the trick for those days when I share my office with my telecommuting husband. Just in case it doesn't, I've ordered an assortment of ear plugs to test. It's a low-tech approach that could simply work.   

Monday, November 1, 2010

Living forever

Science, science fiction, and dreamers continue to explore ways of living longer. I would say that my 97-year-old mother-in-law, who passed this summer, was proof of longevity. Even now she lives on, after a fashion. Today, she was summoned to jury duty. Her bank wants her to download a mobile banking app for the iPhone. She's also gotten a few proxies and ballots in the mail, so she can vote at corporate shareholder meetings.

OK, so it takes some time for computers to catch up with the realities of mortal lives.

Same goes for social networking sites. So far, I know of two deceased colleagues whose profiles continue to appear on LinkedIn. LI addresses the issue in its FAQs, but I feel funny about being the one to erase the last footprints of their digital lives.

Facebook takes another approach, memorializing deceased members by removing certain personal information and leaving the page accessible to confirmed friends through search. I'm not a Facebook member, so I don't know the details of this policy, but it can be anything from troubling to eerie to know that even "until death do us part" doesn't apply here. 

Twitter has yet another approach for its deceased-member policy, which requires an "interested party" to send in bits of information before it takes action.

CNET compares the Twitter and Facebook policies and comes to this appropriate conclusion: "...policies about a user's death can end up being just as important as those you agree to when you first sign up."

Apparently there's an element of social networking to be considered even in death.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Filling the Gap

The Gap is creating quite a stir with its logo, and I'm still scratching my head. Not about its decision to scrap the old logo. Or the choice of its new logo. I just can't figure out why people seem to really care.

Now it's gone viral.

Fast Company has posted an exclusive interview with NewLogo, in which it whines, "...I have feelings! I have a friggin Twitter account! The only way to deal with the pain is comfort eating. Pretty soon I'll be type set in Helvetica Neue Black." (@gaplogo)

Not to be outdone, OldLogo is also tweeting, @OldGapLogo.

Yes, I realize it's all good fun. And I'm sure this will become another success story for the power of social networks.

But the real winner? The Gap, natch. It doesn't matter if people love or hate the logo, as long as they keep talking about the Gap. And the value of all this exposure? Priceless.

UPDATED Oct. 12, 2010: Gap ditched its new logo mere days after this post. (I claim no responsibility.) Responds NewLogo on Twitter: "I HAD feelings. Jerks. Now I'm just numb – I don't know who I am anymore!" And from OldGapLogo: "Well...looks like my work here is done. Peace. I'm out."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Birds of a social feather

Over the summer, I decided to become more social. I read "Socialnomics," by Erik Qualman, and while I was underwhelmed by the book, the add-on Amazon purchase turned out to be a winner: "Twitterville," by Shel Israel. From there, it was only a matter of time before I started tweeting (@4amyink).

So far, it's been fun and an education. I've even been around to see the birth of the "New Twitter," which is much like the old Twitter only more so.

One noticeable difference is a more consistent look in the branding. The new icon is simpler, cleaner, and less cartoon-ish; it's an outline of the bird in flight.

It also reminds me of a more established brand. One that's found in millions of homes across America and around the world: Dove, a personal care brand owned by Unilever.
Several years ago, Dove started a campaign to do away with the hype and stereotypes about beauty. As the brand Web site says, "Dove provides a refreshingly real alternative for women who recognise that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes."

Similarly, Twitter provides a refreshingly real alternative for everyone and anyone to have their voices heard in the realm of social media.

Monday, September 13, 2010

This class clicks along

September used to mean new pencils, rulers, and notebooks. Guess I'm just showing my age. The new thing these days is a clicker -- and it almost makes me wish I were back in the classroom.

From today's Philadelphia Inquirer comes the tale of technology in teaching, with Trish Wilson's piece, "High-tech gadget transforming college teaching - and learning."

A few excerpts to whet your appetite:
  • "I think they are the greatest educational innovation since chalk," said Neil Sheflin, an associate professor of economics at Rutgers University.

  • "If I ask a question, and half the class gets it wrong, I can work on that right away, instead of waiting for a test," said Felicia Corsaro-Barbieri, a chemistry professor at Gwynedd-Mercy College. "The misconceptions are being cleared up immediately rather than later."
  • "There is a big cadre of students who say, 'Do I like them? No, but I know they're good for me.' Sort of like broccoli," Duncan said.
The days of sleeping through class are over. And it's a good thing, too.

Click on, future of America.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And this would be...what?

One activity I'm getting much too much practice at is going through a loved one's accumulated treasures after a major life event and deciding where things should go. Sometimes, I even have to decide just what certain things are.

Here are two examples:
This was made by the Fuller Brush Company. It's only 4-1/2 inches long, with a wooden handle and a metal brush. What in the world could it have been used for? I'm clueless, so if you have any ideas, please let me know.

Likewise, the 5-inch device on the right has me scratching my head. It says "Perma-Curler" on the metal shaft -- at least that's what I think it says. It's kind of hard to tell. At one point, there was a debate among relatives whether this was a compass or a curling iron. I'm leaning toward the hair-styling tool myself, but there must be some parts missing -- like a power plug.

Want to join the fun? Post your thoughts...and what you think I should do with these things now. (No, I won't make millions on eBay.)

And one final word to the wise: go home and clean out a closet or two. Just think of all the stuff you really don't want someone else going through when you can no longer do for yourself. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Down home music

Years ago, while sitting in my living room, I played the music of my favorite artists so often I nearly wore down the grooves of their black vinyl records. One of these artists -- Iain Matthews -- will be performing this weekend at the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

You would think I'd be packing my bags, tickets in hand, ready to relive my youth.

The trouble is: I'm spoiled. I'm not willing to bear the heat, the crowds, the camping facilities anymore. I've found something better: house concerts.

Last night, I saw Iain Matthews perform in Jen & Dave's living room, accompanied by Jim Fogarty on guitar. They were amazing. And I was, maybe, eight feet away from the action in this audience of 50 fans.

I was introduced to house concerts via Andi & Neil Hunt, who have hosted a variety of artists in their own home, just four miles down the road from where I live. In their cozy living room, I've been within arm's length of Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart, Garrison Star, and a few others. This kind of intimate venue brings a whole new meaning to the term "live performance."

When you think about it, living-room concerts have been around as long as music itself. What's new to me is the ability to see established names and up-and-comers in small, informal settings.

And, as you might expect, there's a Web site where you can find out more -- whether you want to host, play, or find a concert close to you.

If you love listening to live music, nothing beats the personal experience of a house concert. Give it a try.

Friday, August 13, 2010

This is not about politics

As much as this posting might seem to be about politics, it's not. It's just my way of lauding the work of a local journalist who, like me, is worn out by all the negativity and name-calling in political circles.

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Annette John-Hall writes, "...what makes me most tired these days is having to listen to the constant bickering and anger -- from Congress, pundits, and everyday people who'd rather rage than resolve."

She calls it "An endless cycle of negativity on the hamster wheel."


And now there's Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly making himself the butt of a negative news story by taking on Hollywood, trying to stir the pot and turn everything into a political statement. This time he's incensed that Jennifer Aniston, in promoting "The Switch," made comments about single women -- like her character -- not having to wait for a man to have a baby, using a sperm donor instead. He says she's "diminishing the role of the dad," and is "destructive to our society."

What's really destructive is the constant posturing and negativity by those angling for their own 15 minutes of fame.

What we need now more than ever is clear thinking, rational reporting, and a lot less outrage. We need more journalists like John-Hall to point out the folly in political gridlock and social spin. We can solve the nation's problems, Republicans and Democrats together, if we agree to disagree, consider the greater good -- and then move on.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A breath of fresh…Old Spice

What product in the world could be more tired than Old Spice after shave? It’s been around since 1938, and the biggest impression it has ever made on me is its iconic milky white bottle. Until recently.

Now, I have the Old Spice whistle as a ring tone, alerting me to incoming calls from my husband. It’s all thanks to the New Old Spice guy, who has become an instant phenomenon. Instead of skipping past his commercials, millions of people are watching them again and again on YouTube. He’s even making custom YouTube videos for his fans. Variety calls it “…the viral ad campaign you wished your viral ad campaign would look like.”

What could have been just another paying gig has taken former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa from soap operas to the big screen. He was recently cast in "Horrible Bosses," alongside some big names in Hollywood: Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey.

What accounts for the immediate embrace of “this man your man could smell like”? My vote is serendipity. No focus group or demographic study or advertising strategy could be that clever. I much prefer the story going around that the night before the shoot, Isaiah called one of his pals and left a message on his answering machine – and, in doing so, he decided to play up the Old Spice guy to the Nth degree.

And a star was born.

As much as I love the commercials-- and the guy -- I love the spontaneous combustion of dusty old product stereotypes when ignited by pure inspiration.

The new Old Spice guy. Everyone gets him – immediately.

You never know when a fickle public will move on to the next media star. What happens to a has-been GEICO gecko, Aflac duck, or the Snapple lady?

For now, at least, the public is gaga over a cool dude wearing little else than tight abs and a little Old Spice. That's enough to make me whistle.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cut to the chase

I’ve been writing for the Web for decades, and the first lesson I learned was to get to the point. The necessity of doing so was reinforced recently after I was stung on the thumb by a bee.

My first thought: Eeeeyow, this hurts.
My second thought: What do I do now? Better check the Web for the best treatment.
My third thought, after having checked the Web: CUT TO THE CHASE!

When time is of the essence, and my thumb is swelling to the size of a big toe, I don’t want tips about how it’s best to avoid bees. It’s too stinging late for that. Now what?

Several articles began by listing the side effects of bee stings. Yes, it’s hot, red, swelling, and really, really painful. Tell me something I don’t know – like what to do now.

I sprinkled some baking soda onto the sting, based on a hazy memory of kitchen home remedies. But would an onion have been better? Steak sauce? A steak itself? I couldn’t remember.

C’mon Web, cough up an answer.

I stumbled upon a promising article titled, “How To Treat a Bee Sting,” and the first words were less than encouraging: Bee stings are either annoyingly painful or deadly… Then followed tips about avoiding bees. Argggggh.

Slate had a long article about the best remedies for a bee sting, but it was probably meant as future knowledge rather than a prescription for an immediate need. Before getting to any useful answers, I had to sort through the author’s own experience, his research, and then a laundry list of possible fixes, both good and bad.

While wading through all the words, I wrapped my thumb in ice – which, I eventually read, was a good thing. I also took Benadryl and Excedrin. Two other good things.

By the time I read that I had already done what was appropriate, the situation was well in hand (sorry, I couldn’t pass up the pun). The anxiety that was listed as a possible side effect was only a result of not finding the information fast enough.

My thumb returned to normal size and function in short order, but I learned a long-lasting lesson. When writing for the Web, especially “How to” articles, get to the point quickly. Don’t tell someone who asks the time of day how to build a watch.

Just cut to the chase.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An unseasonable season

These days, the Fourth of July can signal either the start or the end of summer’s high season.

It’s a great start if you’ve just made it to the beach, taken that first swim, begun to lose that whiter shade of winter pale.

More and more, however, the Fourth has become a harbinger of the upcoming fall season. Back-to-school sales are already underway (see below) and save-the-date announcements for holiday events are readily found.

Unseasonable and almost unreasonable temperatures have helped to push along the calendar this year. Heat waves made March seem more like May, and June more like August. So far July feels like we're living on the sun. My late summer flowers have bloomed and withered already, which leaves me wondering whether I can keep anything green until Labor Day.

The cycle of days, of seasons, of calendar dates seems to speed by with the years, but maybe that’s because I spend too much time anticipating what’s next – thinking about deadlines and scheduling new projects. Today, however, I’ll do none of that. My clients are either on holiday or their projects have slowed. This is the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the relaxed pace of summer, whatever the temperature.
* * *

Those of you looking for a jump start on end-of-season sales can start here:
  • The Apple Store has special “education pricing” on Macs, with a free iPod touch, through September 7. 
  • T-Mobile, AT&T, and other mobile carriers are (or will soon be) having back-to-school sales. Check their Web sites or an aggregator site like
  • The latest on back-to-school sales and coupons at
  • More end-of-season deals at  

    # # #

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nobody likes to read anymore

At least that's what I said in my post as featured creative firm in the June 2010 edition of Philly Creative Guide. But, as a friend quickly emailed: "Saw your article. Was going to read it, but I don't read anymore. Can you podcast it to me?"

Well for those of you who still read, here's the story:

"Nobody likes to read anymore."

That’s often one of the first things potential clients tell me. Then they hire me to write a clear, concise, effective message to their employees, their shareholders, their customers, or their potential “all of the above.”

Whether one likes to read or not is a moot point. The reality is: reading happens. The constant challenge is to present content in a way that engages the reader. So let me amend my opening statement: “Nobody likes to read boring material.”

That’s why my first objective in starting AMY INK, back in 2000, was to bring fresh thinking and effective writing to the table. I had been in the corporate world for many years, working my way through the various disciplines and levels of the communications function. Eventually, I became vice president of corporate communications for two global corporations—and then I jumped to the freelance side of the fence.

As a corporate staffer, I had never dreamed of outsourcing the writing of annual reports, executive speeches, employee publications, marketing materials, Web sites. How could someone else quickly come up to speed on my company?

Now, I know. It’s how I make my living.

I still do many of the same kinds of projects I did while in the corporate world—but now I write for clients big and small, for global concerns and local players, and on everything from complicated science to the simplicity of choosing wallpaper. The common thread running though my work is a focus on communicating key messages with clarity and purpose.

I understand the stresses and demands on the people who have the corporate jobs I once held. I can anticipate their needs, fill the information gaps, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. I see my job as making my clients look good —be they corporate communicators, design firms, or business owners—and to make their lives just a little bit easier. Maybe that’s the reason I have so much repeat business with long-time clients. They have come to rely on me, and they delegate projects with full confidence I will deliver.

I’ve had clients call me about new projects the day before Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve. Apparently, it’s never too late to call a freelancer. The bad news is I work from home and can always be reached. The good news is I work from home and can always be reached.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cleaning up

I recently attended a bridal shower where guests were requested to bring cleaning products for the Wishing Well. At first I thought that seemed quite sexist.

Then I remembered all the amazing products I've come to rely on -- ones I knew nothing about when I got married. So with the perspective of sharing some great finds, I assembled a few must-haves:
  • Magic Eraser This product truly lives up to its name. It works like magic -- and it erases dirt from all kinds of surfaces. I was hooked after using it on white kitchen chairs I was preparing to paint. With a little water and virtually no elbow grease, those chairs came out so well, I put away the paint brush. Similarly, a go-round on my outdoor furniture saved it from the landfill. 
  • Bar Keepers Friend You have to go to your friendly neighborhood hardware store for this one, but it's well worth the trip. Start in the kitchen with the powdered cleanser and you'll throw out all the other half-used and forgotten products under the sink. This stuff shines up everything from stainless steel, chrome, and copper to china, ceramic tile, and composition sinks.
  • IKEA dish brushes OK, so you have to scrub a little with these brushes, but they're just so cute, cheap, and colorful you almost don't mind. And the rubber suction cup on the end allows them to stick upright and air dry. 
BTW: The shower was a lot of fun, and the bride-to-be got tons of wonderful stuff. In fact, she cleaned up.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Things that don't age well

I'm a saver by nature. I learned at an early age to put some of each paycheck aside. I save mementos from visits to other states and countries. And I always save room for dessert.

There are a few things, however, that should be used, used up, and never saved:
  • Pharmaceuticals: Prescription drugs should not be shared with others or saved for the future. Several moves ago (my own and in helping others), I developed the habit of checking expiration dates. It's surprising how much old and questionable medicine can accumulate -- and how many people have stories about reactions and rashes from expired drugs. So...what's the best way to dispose of old drugs? Flushing is not the answer. The EPA and FDA advocate similar disposal methods, designed to keep drugs out of both the water supply and the hands of those who would abuse them.
  • Wedding gifts: When I first married, the only glasses I had were the crystal ones I received as gifts, and so I used them on a daily basis. My mother was shocked. But I've been no less shocked to find beautiful, well-kept china, crystal, and other expensive items in the homes of elderly relatives -- rarely, if ever, used. Some were in the original packaging, decades after receipt. After 30 years of my own marriage, I've come to the conclusion that the Queen is never coming to visit, so there's no reason to save the crystal for company. Use and enjoy everything.
  • Spices: Another of my wedding gifts (again, 30 years ago), was a fully stocked spice rack. I thought I was set for life. Not so. The McCormick spice company recently ran a series of educational/promotional ads about spices and their expiration dates. The pictures they used told the whole store: if you have these in your cabinets, they're wayyyyyyy old.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Got stuff?

Over the years, I've accumulated a fair amount of stuff. I've also moved several times, always taking the opportunity to sort through and donate unused stuff to good homes. Still, stuff accumulates.

I have stuff from my parents' house, as my mother cleans out closets and presses her treasures on me. I have stuff from the move my husband is making at work, as his office cleans out and discards usable items. And now I have stuff from an elderly relative I'm helping to transition into a nursing home.

At this point, I'm a little overstuffed and dealing with the uncomfortable feeling of excess. I've tried to share the wealth, inviting family members to come and take -- please. But they already have enough stuff; and the younger ones are filling their new houses with newer or better stuff. (And who can blame them?)

Luckily, there are always people who need stuff. The trick is finding them in your local area:
  • Community Action Agency of Delaware County (Pa.) operates a donations warehouse for people who are leaving shelters and rebuilding their lives in new apartments. CAA also helps victims of domestic abuse, fire, and other disasters by partnering with local social service agencies. The best news? They come pick up your stuff with their own truck.
  • The Salvation Army also transforms donated goods into good deeds by selling them to fund its adult rehabilitation centers. You can schedule a pickup, depending on locale, by calling 1-800-SA-TRUCK.
  • Freecycle uses the networking power of the Web to connect givers with takers, with only goods -- no money -- changing hands. The Freecycle Network is a grassroots, nonprofit movement to encourage the reuse of good stuff, keeping things out of landfills. It's easy to find Freecycle groups within your community, which makes pickups convenient.
One way or another, I'll lighten my load of stuff. And while having an emptier basement will please me on a daily basis, I'll feel much better knowing that the recipients will find good uses for all the usable stuff I can't wait to give away.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Phine Pheathered Phriends

Philadelphia has a fondness for notable birds. Yes, there are the Eagles, but I'm talking more creature-oriented than football players. There's the beloved Philly Phanatic. And the Benjamin Phranklin Phanatic, currently standing outside the Franklin Institute, as part of the Paint the Phanatic Public Art Project.

And now there's another set of fine furry friends (or phriends) sitting outside the Franklin Institute: Momma red-tailed hawk and her chicks, which hatched this week. The action was captured via webcam -- and continues to be streamed live from the nest perched on a window ledge.

When I tuned in, along with 1,093 other viewers at that moment, Momma was watching the world (and the cars down below) go by. Babies were tucked underneath, staying warm, and just beginning to poke their heads out. It's a mesmerizing sight (and site), which has spawned a fan base of Hawkaholics, both on Facebook and Hawkwatch.

Got a minute? Take a peek during daylight hours, as there are no lights to disturb the goings-on at night. It's the best armchair slice-of-nature I've seen in awhile. And harmlessly addictive, too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

10 years; no fooling

It's April Fools Day, and the usual pranksters are at it again.
But one thing that's perfect for April 1 -- but isn't a joke -- is the fact that today I'm celebrating 10 years as an independent, freelance, entrepreneur, small-business woman, sole proprietor. I started on this day in 2000...and I'm still at it. Gainfully self-employed, thanks to the range of clients who continue to call on me, day and night, for a few good words (or paragraphs, or pages, or projects).

Whether it's an annual report (this year, for a chicken franchise, an intimate apparel maker, a biopharmaceutical company, and a real estate investment firm) or "romance" copy for a wallpaper sample book, helping senior executives formulate a speech or writing stories for employee publications (print or online), there's been no shortage in the need for good writing. Thankfully.

I've seen estimates that give small businesses a less than 10 percent chance of surviving 10 years. I'm happy to be one of the few to pass that milestone.

AMY INK: Still open for business.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beauty, truth in Haiti

Many have documented the devastation and disaster-relief efforts in Haiti following the January earthquake and its aftershocks. Most of the photos have filled me with sadness and compassion. Today, I saw the work of one photographer who managed to convey the beauty and strength of those who were affected -- and those who went to help.

Ed Wheeler has always been an amazing talent. For years, he was my go-to photographer for corporate annual report shoots, from the boardroom photo to round-the-world and through-the-manufacturing-plant pics.

Now he has turned his camera to the bareness of survival and the abundance of caring. He shares his work in the following presentations:
The images are as beautiful as the situation is unfathomable. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wall Street exposed

It must be tough being a financial advisor. At least it is if you're trying to win my business. There's a Catch-22 logic to my thinking. Those who know enough about the stock market to make their clients rich, should already be rich enough themselves to never have to work at all, much less at trying to make me rich.

Don't even get me started on the workings of Wall Street. One of the few people I read on the matter is Robert Mankoff. Actually, you don't read his work as much as look at the cartoons and read the captions. Still, when it comes to financial matters, he's spot-on.

Here are a few of my favorites, which typically feature a report on TV news:
  • "On Wall Street today, the stock market corrected its previous correction, and is pretty sure it's got it right this time." Published in The New Yorker on March 8, 2010. 
  • "On Wall Street today, news of lower interest rates sent the stock market up, but then the expectation that these rates would be inflationary sent the market down, until the realization that lower rates might stimulate the sluggish economy pushed the market up, before it ultimately went down on fears that an overheated economy would lead to a reimposition of higher interest rates." Published in "The Naked Cartoonist," 2002.
  • "Bad news on Wall Street today, as the bottom fell out of the market, the sides collapsed, and the top blew away." Published in The New Yorker on July 22, 2002.
  • "Analysts blamed the market's volatility on computer-directed trading while computers blamed it on analyst-directed trading." Unpublished, but available at The Cartoon Bank.
I could go on and on -- but Robert already has. And he's probably laughing all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Laughing with Lucy

Lucy Kellaway makes me laugh. She's a dead-on, tongue-in-cheek, based-in-reality commentator on business life and the corporate world. Think mashup between Dilbert and a proper English lady journalist.

I often catch her on BBC radio during my morning drive, although if I've tuned to Sirius rather than terrestrial public radio, the drop-outs leave frustrating gaps in her commentary. To fill those gaps, I check the Financial Times Web site, where Kellaway is a management columnist who "pokes fun at management fads and jargon, and celebrates the ups and downs of office life."

One of her latest commentaries really hit home for this writer of corporate communications. In a piece titled Good year for management guff, Kellaway presents awards for "paradigm-shifting, best-in-class management guff."

Some winners:
  • the unnecessary euphemism "significant optionality," when talking about choices facing the company
  • a three-way mixed metaphor that manages to say nothing, "There are times when there is a need to dig deep and find another gear -- while never losing sight of the bigger picture"
  • the best job title -- "life explorer, multimedia storyteller, experience architect"
  • top cliché: the elephant in the room
And for good measure, she throws in a video treat with a link to YouTube: the best company song sung by a Russian Gazprom manager. 

Now that's good copy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snow what?

In my neck of the woods, as NBC's Al Roker would say, weather forecasters are foaming at the mouth, tracking the next BIG snowstorm on their radar. It would be the fourth major storm of the season.

I don't care. I see light at the end of the tunnel. Spring is firmly in hand. I have my volunteer assignment for the Philadelphia International Flower Show, which starts February 28.

Yeah, sure. Give me a few weeks of spring rains and weedy gardens, and I'll be ready for the next season. But for now, that first smell of grass and the sight of showy crocus, daffodils, and tulips are enough to bring tears to my eyes.

No wait, that's just the remnants of my stubborn winter cold.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The good old days?

When times are tough, it's natural to pine for the good old days. But nostalgia can be selective.

In the 1950s, the ideal American family -- and idealized family life -- was played out weekly on the TV sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." In this nuclear family, Ozzie worked and Harriet stayed home and took care of their two sons, David and Ricky. Talk about reality TV; this show featured a real-life family, with exterior shots of their own home, dealing with the minor problems of their daily living. And when the sons got married, their wives were written into the show.

But was this really such a wonderful time for women? Circulating on Internet is an excerpt from a 1950s home economics textbook, which includes the following tips on how to be a good wife:

  • Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready -- on time.
  • Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives.
  • Minimize the noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him.
  • Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.
  • Make the evening his: Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment; instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.
  • The goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax.

Even if you make this gender-neutral to refer to the stay-at-home spouse or significant other or partner or person-who-prefers-housekeeping, it still doesn't fly.

So much for the good old days.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Too logical to succeed

The wrangling over healthcare reform is enough to make anyone sick. It almost doesn't matter what's in those thousands of pages of proposed legislation, there are those who will oppose it, and the current administration, just, well, because.

But think about the premise: fixing a broken healthcare system to bring down costs, expand coverage, and improve quality. It makes sense to me, but then so did the metric system.

In 1975, Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act, declaring the metric system to be "the preferred system of weights and measures for U.S. trade and commerce."

I recently found a guide in my bookcase -- "Metrics Made Easy" -- that must have been written in an alternate universe. Some excerpts:
  • "...change is occurring so rapidly that it seems unlikely any deadline for total conversion will have to be set."
  • "Road signs showing metric distance units are now appearing, and towns that were once 50 miles away are now 80 kilometers away."
  • "But regardless of when and where you begin to notice the change, one thing is certain. Metrication is coming to America."
That was written in 1976. And I'm still driving MPH, watching the pounds on my bathroom scale, and freezing when the temps hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Metric was touted as simpler, easier, and more logical than the U.S. system. But the metric ship has sailed, and we missed the boat.

I'm just hoping the same doesn't happen with healthcare reform, because right now the debate is making me more than a little queasy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Taking the plunge

This is the time of year for performance reviews and entertainment awards. It's a time to look back on 2009 and note what you've accomplished.

For all the projects I've written, clients I've gained or retained, and writings that have hit the mark, my reward is just: paid invoices and more work. Yet there is one thing I've done that continues to astound family, friends, and colleagues.

Planning began in 2009, with close collaboration of two others. We strategized, considered alternatives, and bolstered one another's confidence. Then, at 2:00 p.m. on New Year's Day, we raced into the icy waters of Lake George, N.Y., for the annual First Day Polar Plunge.

White snow. Blue feet. Chattering teeth. It was a blast.

As the guy in the video says: "Makes no sense at all, but it looks like fun." And you get bragging rights for life!