Monthly Archives: November 2009

Your Compelling Conversation Isn’t

Nothing turns me off faster than inviting me to a “Compelling Conversation” or “Gripping Conversation”. The latest in a long line of “internet marketing” fads, this verbiage is currently making the rounds.

It is just a little too much like the bad internet marketing books I read years ago (when I was too dumb to know better), that spend the first three chapters telling me how great the rest of the book was, which were invariably followed by more chapters that absolutely failed to deliver on the promise.

Compelling and Gripping events happen spontaneously – a combination of individual response and great presentation. They happen DURING an event. They are described as such AFTER the event. To call it that BEFORE the event has even taken place is a misuse of the words, and smacks of an attempt to manipulate. Most intelligent people won’t be manipulated – which means that the people who respond may not be the intellectual upper crust. Not my idea of a great target market!

If it truly IS compelling, you don’t have to TELL me that it is. You make your title and your description compelling instead.

Telling someone how to feel, or describing emotions, is far less effective than inspiring them to FEEL the emotion. Don’t TELL me it is interesting… MAKE it interesting.

If you do, I might attend. If you call it Compelling, I won’t be there because I’ll be off doing things that really WERE compelling.

The Popular Ruts Don’t Tell the Whole Tale

We spent part of yesterday in Guernsey Wyoming, at the Oregon Trail Wagon Rut site. We’ve been there before – twice in fact. I have photos of my now 22 year old daughter, when she was about 10, trekking up through the deepest of the ruts.

Previously, we took the trail with the stairs, and went right to those deep ruts. This time, we took the paved trail from the other end. We passed a long stretch of shallower ruts before we even got to the deep ones. Coming at things from a different angle was very enlightening – we saw some new things we had not seen on our previous visits. We also noticed something we had not noticed before – there were more than one set of ruts in some places.

Inspired by that insight, we began looking for places where more than one route had been taken across the rocks. We found them all over! Wheel marks went in all directions in some areas. We hiked down to where the ruts began on one end, and looked for evidence where the wind had blown dirt into the tracks. It was apparent that there were many routes across, some more deeply marked than others. And the deeply marked ones were not always the “best” way, or even the easiest. They were just the most visible.

Those secondary ruts crisscrossed the deeper ones – merging with them, then diverging again. They didn’t completely leave the trail, they just found a different way over some of the roughest parts. And it was a REALLY rough trail. Steep, rocky, uneven, and probably scary to drive an ox team and wagon over. You can tell that those who traveled it first had to carve it out – hacking down parts of the rock, and filling other parts with dirt or wood. So to diverge from the trail to find an alternate course meant a lot of work for those who did it first.

How often life is like this. We see the obvious, because it is pointed out to us. We think that the obvious is the story, or that it must be the best way.  It is only by looking outside the normal expectations and by looking beyond the common that we discover that there are often many ways to do things, and that the best way for us may not be the way everyone else assumes is best.

This analogy extends far beyond that simple correlation. It takes in other factors – the design of the individual wagon, the animals that it was pulled by, the load it carried, the number of people with it, the number of people on the trail and how much congestion there was within a single pathway, the goals and objectives of the travelers, etc. But I don’t really need to expand on that, use your imagination and you’ll find some concepts to ponder.

We had a fun time – but for me, the great thing I took from the day was the discovery of all those other ruts. All of them traveled enough to make marks, but since the marks were not quite as deep and impressive now, largely ignored and unremembered. But for thousands, those secondary ruts where the path of success, the way they made their own piece of history, and the defining element in their life, if only for a day. It made me think about the beaten path, and how much I have achieved by leaving it and carving my own ruts on a little different route.

And I wonder if the marks I leave will still be visible in 100 years, or if they’ll be worn and covered by the effects of time and natural forces.

Creating Jobs

I want a maid. Or housekeeper. Or whatever term they prefer now. That has been my goal for a long time. I’m a terrible housekeeper, so I’d like to just outsource (or insource) that particular job!

It isn’t really selfishness. I’d be creating employment! Jobs are in short supply, so I’d be a producer, not a consumer here, it is a GOOD thing!

At least, this is what I tell myself when I am in that mood of trying to justify it. We can’t quite do so at the moment, and probably won’t be able to for a year or two. But I’ve got it on my list!

Approaching the job creation issue from a little more serious perspective, we are actually engaging in several endeavors to create jobs. We are subcontracting as much as we can, providing necessary employment for our son (21 and currently jobless since he just returned from a mission), and we are hiring others as much as we can afford.

We are also providing training for Webmasters, and offering a 40% discount off that training for people who have been laid off. Our students are earning from what we teach them, and all have done so within a few months of starting training. That provides employment as well, as people create their own jobs.

One of the difficult things about unemployment is that the government does not WANT you to start a business and create your own job. So if you do so, you have to be very careful if you are on unemployment insurance.

It isn’t just about buying things. Creating jobs is also about creatively approaching needs in the marketplace, and meeting them better than the existing solutions, in one way or another.

One of the reasons I want to earn right now, is to help others to earn, either by teaching, or by passing on work to them. I want prosperity so I can pass it on.

Lessons from The Tale of Despereaux

It was an absolutely DELIGHTFUL story. Charming, evocative, mysterious, fun, and cheerful for the most part. One of those stories that is just made for reading aloud, and which keeps the audience enthralled to the last word, and which provides a simultaneous sense of satisfaction mixed with disappointment when it ends. We read it together as a family, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, it is high on my list of Must Read books for children – oh, not very YOUNG children, because the story is too long for them, and requires connecting the dots between several story lines woven skillfully together. But 10 to 18 year olds – yes, even teens love this story. A lovely way to create bonds of shared memories for families with teens that they aren’t sure how to connect with again.

But the story itself is not what provided the lesson. It was the movie. We bought it, in hopes that it would capture some of the essence of the story. To our great disappointment, it failed in every respect. Other than the name, and a few shared names of characters, and the mention of soup, the movie bore no relation to the story in the book.

The creators of the movie, from some misguided notion that they had to rewrite the story to capture the movie audience, managed to strip it of every defining characteristic, and to create a story that was not only devoid of any of the charm or enjoyment that the book possessed, but completely, and utterly uninspired and pathetic. It was a waste of money to even make such a travesty. Other reviewers have agreed that the movie was on the low end of the scale. In fact, it is something that could only be appreciated by someone who had a very short attention span, no taste, and who had no previous exposure to the original story (the very young kids who appreciated the endless string of Land Before Time movies comes to mind).

It truly was not even the same story! They changed the settings, left out essential elements, threw in completely meaningless and worthless replacements, created environments in the story that had no reason for being there, and in short, utterly ruined it. I am not too harsh, in fact, there are not words available to truly describe the vandalism perpetrated by the unskilled crew who created the appalling monstrosity.

The sailing ship in the opening scene was the first clue that something catastrophic had occurred – the book does not go near the sea at all. The absence of essential character discovery, and the remake of the dungeon into something like the dark side of the rat city from Flushed Away were obvious and unpleasant changes which displayed the ignorance and amateurity of the vandals who posed themselves as screen writers. The cook – a female character with personality and some humorous appeal – was replaced by a male chef who was merely a caricature, and a bad one at that. The movie was replete with illogical changes such as this, bad whims, carried out with no purpose, and with a sense of pathetic uselessness. The crowning atrocity though, was the vegetable man (an incredibly stupid creation of dancing vegetables which completely destroyed the story line without any kind of benefit whatsoever) – which had all the feel of an addition by a recent graduate artist, who had created something like it for a school project, and just HAD to use it SOMEWHERE, whether it fit or not.

This book could have been recrafted as a movie that was worthy of the excellence of the original story. But because this company purchased the rights, and made such a travesty, they not only polluted the world with so much animated refuse, they also blocked those who would do it right from doing so for some time to come. I think that is the saddest thing about it. In the afterlife for film creators, there must be a special torture chamber reserved for the perpetrators of such heinous actions – where they are first blessed with the good taste they lacked in mortality, and then forced to view bad films through eternity!

The lesson is applicable to many business concepts. Great business ideas contain an element of genius – a bit of something different, skillfully woven into the fabric of the business, which define it as something unique and attractive. It succeeds BECAUSE it is different.

Often, a thriving business will be bought out, or will go public and have other voices dictating decisions, or it may just reach a point of growth where the business owner starts to automate or delegate the wrong things to the wrong sources. In the changes, the wrong things are changed – the very things that define the uniqueness are lost, and it becomes like every other mediocre look-alike.

In the case of bringing in other decision makers, they often wish to recreate it in the image of that which is familiar, little realizing that as they do so, the very thing that made it successful is diluted or lost completely. After all, if it were like all the rest, based on familiarity, it would not have grown in the first place! It is the DIFFERENCES which define a good business. And it is those differences which uninspired or uncreative people simply cannot wrap their heads around. Genius works – but is often not appreciated by those who would like to capitalize on someone ELSE’S genius, when they do not possess it themselves.

The moral is, that in making changes to something that works, don’t lose the ESSENCE of what works. The movie of The Tale of Despereaux is but one example of the destruction of something precious, and the lowering of something effervescent to the worst of the common.

The unexpected, the twists, the uncommon brilliance is in fact, what makes it work.

Basic Online Security for the Technically Challenged

Most security problems online don’t happen because a really brilliant hacker slaved to break into your bank account, website, or eBay account. Most of them happen because you left the house with the doors unlocked and the windows open, and the burglar walked right in.

See, most of them happen because someone programmed a bot to go looking for obvious easy targets. Just like the burglar who goes looking for unlocked doors or open windows. They aren’t looking for a hard job to show off their brilliance, they are looking for a quick and easy mark.

Unless we understand how online security compromises take place, we won’t understand how to reduce the risks. The good news is, that the vast majority of problems occur from things that are VERY easy to stop. They happened because someone made it easy to take advantage of them, and the bad guys are mostly opportunists. Stopping most just means not giving them easy opportunity. In other words, just lock your doors and close your windows. Cyber criminals aren’t much different as a whole than the average burglar – for the most part, they spend a few seconds on easy possibilities, and then move on to find a sucker if they can’t get in.

Some simple rules:

1. Don’t EVER click a link in an email to go to a secure site. Go there by entering the address into your browser yourself. No matter how convincing the email sounds, DON’T TRUST IT. Any email that tells you that a sensitive account (including email accounts, bank accounts, etc) requires validation or it will be shut down is a LIE, and sent for the purpose of stealing YOUR data.

2. If it sounds too good to be true, it absolutely is. If it is on a one page website with tons of hype and dozens of invitations to click here to buy, there is a 99% chance it is not legit. If they pressure you to buy now, don’t. Listen to that voice of caution in the back of your head, it knows what it is talking about.

3. Change default usernames. If you do an install of some popular software into your website, it has a default admin password – Change it! (Joomla users, that means YOU.) NEVER leave a website username as “admin”, or anything else that was there when you got it. Every scammer in the world knows what the default was on that kind of site, and they’ll go looking for sites that didn’t have it changed. Username and password combinations are easier to break when they only have one of them to guess.

4. Use a more secure password. Don’t use just a single word, or two words. Add a number or two. Use a capital letter or two. Make it easy for you to remember, but hard to guess. Adding numbers and changing a letter or two to a capital does that. Symbols make it even harder to guess, but not all systems allow them. Some sources tell you to use different passwords for every site, but really, you can’t. There are too many! The reality is that most people do use the same password for everything. But it is wise to use a separate higher security password for bank accounts, and do NOT use a password reminder or key program to keep the high security ones.

5. If you have a website that uses software, make sure it is up to date. Periodically, someone will find a way to break into a site structure – like Joomla, WordPress, OSCommerce, or whatever. And when they find that way, they publish it to all the other unsavory sorts. If you keep running an outdated version that has a known security hole, it is only a matter of time before one of those persistent little bots finds it, and walks right in through that open door.

No need to be paranoid – just be sensible. Just like closing all your windows, locking the door and throwing the deadbolt. Unless you are in a high risk online neighborhood that makes you a particular target, there really isn’t any need to put up bars or hire a bodyguard. Just like you do the simple and sensible stuff for home security first, do the same with online security.

Don’t make it easy for someone to rip you off.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.