Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Facebook Says to a Naked Lady

According to a report on Gawker, a French user of Facebook is suing the company because his profile was deleted after he changed his profile picture. The new picture was actually a painting of a naked woman's nether regions. Gustave Courbet created the work, titled The Origin of the World, in 1886, and it hangs in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

This Frenchman's account was deleted right before his birthday, according to the Gawker report, so he wasn't able to get birthday wishes from his 800-or-so friends. Awww.

A couple of other Europeans became so outraged that they switched up their profile pics to the Courbet painting. Then they got madder because Facebook deleted their profiles, too.

WHAT ABOUT... ???

I haven't researched this story; I have read only the Gawker report, and I have some questions:
  • Is anyone else on Facebook allowed to have a close-up of genitalia (photo or artistic depiction) as his/her profile picture? I would imagine that it's against the terms of service, but does Facebook have someone looking at all images posted or did image analysis software pick it out or did someone report it as offensive?
  • What are the privacy settings for these three men? Are their profiles only visible to their own friends or are their profile pictures likely to appear on anyone's wall - including people who didn't expect to see exposed genitalia (fine art or not) appearing on their feeds.
  • Why is no one pointing to the biggest pussy on Facebook - the "unnamed Frenchman." He is so outraged that he cannot place any image he chooses on a public forum, and yet he is unwilling to reveal his name. What's up with that? Dork.

A COMMENTARY

A Facebook profile is not a basic human right or a God-given privilege. It's a fancy bulletin board where anything and everything you post could potentially be seen by any of the service's nearly 600 million users. About a quarter of the users are between the ages of 13 and 19. That means probably 10-15% are minors. About 300 million Facebook users are outside the United States. Some of those people come from countries or cultures with different sensibilities. We're not talking about a handful of conservative Midwesterners; we're talking about potentially hundreds of thousands of people who, because of their cultural mores or religious beliefs or personal hang-ups, don't want to log onto Facebook and find themselves face-to-face with exposed genitalia. Fine art or not.

I don't know art, but I know what I like, and in my opinion, Mr. Courbet's painting may be exquisitely rendered, perfectly detailed - in short, brilliant - but I don't want it to appear on my Facebook wall. 

THE WORLD WON'T END

If you disagree with Facebook's Terms of Service, don't issue tirades against them, sue them, or send nasty emails to Mark Zuckerberg. Just cancel your account. The world won't end if you're not on Facebook.

I do have a Facebook profile. Almost everything in my profile is visible to friends only, and my photos are visible to friends of friends. Why?  I created the profile to enter sweepstakes. I had a few friends, but didn't use it a whole lot. Then I won a big prize in a contest, and some sore losers found out that I'd won, and they started trolling around the internet looking for information about me. They went back to their sore loser club forum and made really nasty and in some cases, threatening comments, in which they referenced the photos on my Facebook and MySpace pages. That's when I set about making everything really private. I only kept the account because I wanted to keep entering sweepstakes.

SOCIAL MEDIA

That was in 2007. Since then, I began using Social Media at work, for public relations and marketing. I added a lot of friends. I have visited the Facebook and Twitter accounts of businesses and posted comments (praise, questions, and complaints) on those corporate pages. I have interacted with some of my favorite authors via social media. I reconnected with one of my best friends, who I'd lost track of. Social Media has its benefits.

More recently, every company in the world seems to be jumping on the Facebook bandwagon, and I'm getting really irritated about sweepstakes and contests that require you to like someone's Facebook page, and even worse - the ones that want unrestricted access to my account before I can enter. 

Sorry, I'm not comfortable with that.

So please, if you're furious with Facebook because you can't do whatever you want to with your account, or because some closet art lover got his feelings hurt, close your account. Shut it down. Delete it. Find another social media outlet or just use email. Or pick up the phone. Whatever. Take some of the steam out of Mark Zuckerberg's "evil empire." That'll carry a lot more weight than a petty and frivolous lawsuit.

Monday, April 11, 2011

THE LADY OF THE STORM



Coming August 2011

A darkly delicious new fantasy world
of sizzling romance amid the pageantry
of Georgian England.


http://www.kathrynekennedy.com

Sunday, April 10, 2011

John Lennon magazine winner



The winner of the Billboard magazine with the special section devoted to John Lennon is Ginger, with comment #9. Ginger has been notified by email and has already responded with her mailing address. Thank you to everyone who entered. I'm glad to know this very special issue is going to a good home with a big Beatles fan.

Monday, April 04, 2011

TV: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast was a fairly popular urban fantasy back in the late 1980s. I didn't watch the series in the beginning, and I don't recall what prompted me to tune in late in the second season, right before Linda Hamilton (Catherine) left the series and everything changed.

I never did see how the series began, so when I found Season 1 on DVD for $10 at Big Lots, I picked it up.

Wow. It's really sappy and weepy. I don't know how different it was when I started watching it from how it was in the beginning. I've been reading a bit online, and I gather that the producing staff (perhaps to meet network demands) made a bunch of changes in the second and third season to try to draw in more male viewers. Or maybe I was just dumber 20 years ago.

Right now, I'm watching episode 9 "Dark Spirit." In the first scene, a mature man is at a dinner party when he starts to appear ashen, he's complaining of being hot, and he's hallucinating that bugs are crawling on him. So, he's acting really strange and he looks ill. The people around the table keep trying to make toasts, and then when he jumps up from the table and stumbles across the room, they're just standing there. How about asking if he's okay and calling for an ambulance? Later, Catherine is in her office, and now she's been drugged, and her boss is just saying, "Take the afternoon off," when he should be insisting that she go to the hospital for a tox screen.

Every episode, it seems, someone does something incredibly stupid like that.

Plus, Catherine and Vincent (Ron Perlman) are clearly in love with each other. Vincent is not grotesque or anything. What's keeping them apart? Their own prejudices? 

It's not like the stories don't make good points sometimes, but they're mostly just cheesy, and that's not a word I use lightly.


If it gets any better, I'll write an update.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Libya and the United States

I haven't really been following the situation in Libya and the other Arab states where citizens have been rising up against oppressive governments. I've read a little bit about it online, but we don't have television, and since I left the news business four years ago, I haven't kept up with a lot of stories.

Today, I read an email newsletter from my congressman, Jeff Miller. I once had great respect for Rep. Miller, but lately, all of his newsletters seem designed to cast doubt and suspicion on the actions of President Obama. All it does is make me doubt Rep. Miller's motives.

You can read Congressman Miller's newsletter in full online. Here, I'll quote excerpts, in italics, beginning with the following:

The situation in Libya has been evolving constantly since unrest emerged there in February, following similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab states. Muammar Gaddafi—the man President Ronald Reagan called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East” for his sponsorship of terrorist activity against the United States and her allies—responded violently to opposition protests and threatened to treat protesters like “dogs” and to “show no mercy.”

He goes on to criticize President Obama for not speaking out against or taking action during the uprising and Gaddafi's violent reaction to it.

He does not criticize Republican President Richard Nixon, who was in office in 1969 when Gaddafi overthrew the sitting monarch and seized control of the Libyan government. Why didn't the U.S. take action then to protect the Libyan people from falling under a military dictatorship?

In February 2006, in the Libyan city of Benghazi, some 30 Libyans and foreigners were killed during civil unrest. Also in 2006, Middle East Quarterly quoted Gaddafi as saying that "execution is the fate of anyone who forms a political party." Rep. Miller does not criticize then-President George W. Bush for failing to take action against Gaddafi for restricting political freedoms in his country or for the murder of both Libyan citizens and foreigners.



Gaddafi has been in power for 42 years - through eight presidential administrations, including 28 years of Republican leadership - but Rep. Miller mentions none of that. Instead, he writes:

For three weeks the President remained silent while the world waited for some sign of American leadership, some indication of America’s intentions.

Now, let's approach things from a different direction.

On September 11, 2001, Muslim terrorists launched an attack on the United States. When the U.S. initiated military action against Al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, the world was behind us. A few weeks later, the Bush administration concocted  a story about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and declared war against that country and its leader, Saddam Hussein. As the truth came out, the world slowly began turning against us. Even in Iraq, the U.S. is criticized for its interference. I've spoken to a young man who was deployed to Iraq several times, about his experience with the people there, so my opinion is not just based on media reports.

Rep. Miller, in his newsletter, says that President Obama initiated his war in Libya without seeking the approval of the Congress.

But wait! Rep. Miller admits that President Obama consulted with The Arab League and the United Nations on the best course of action for the U.S. to take in this situation. As I began reading a few news reports this evening, I saw that U.S. troops are being deployed to Libya as part of a U.N. mission to Libya, a mission that includes troops from a number of other European nations.

So, in essence, President Obama is keeping the United States out of war, while still allowing the U.S. to take part in helping protect Libyan citizens.

I think this is the right approach, for these reasons:
  • The United States can't afford the wars that it's in, much less a third front. Our limited involvement is costing the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Rep. Miller. A full-out war would cost much more and would likely prolong our involvement in Libya.
  • The United States needs to be part of a larger response, in order to reduce criticism of the U.S. for once again meddling in another country's affairs.
  • The United States must take some action, because we have always tried to assist other nations, other peoples in their quest for freedom. It's a part of who we are and what we are.

President Obama did not declare war against Gaddafi or Libya. The limited action he authorized in support of the United Nations mission is, in my opinion, the best way to help a nation of people speaking out against oppression without earning more anti-American sentiment among the world's nations.

Rep. Miller concludes his newsletter by saying that our Nation [should commit] to war only when we must.

Really? Was that a "must" when the Bush administration lied about and faked evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Because instead of building a false case against Iraq, we should have focused all our efforts on finding Osama bin Laden and disbanding the terrorist group Al-Qaida, the ones who actually attacked the United States, both here at home and abroad.

Finally, I must acknowledge the one thing Rep. Miller wrote that I can agree with:



...our men and women in uniform deserve our highest thanks for their loyalty, patriotism, and professionalism.

 Amen to that. Thank you to all our men and women in uniform, and to your families, for service and sacrifice on behalf of freedom.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Mary Ann peels a potato.

I love Gilligan's Island, and if you've ever watched the show, you know Mary Ann was the best cook on the island. The actress, Dawn Wells, is a pretty good cook herself. A few years ago, she even wrote Mary Ann's Gilligans Island Cookbook.

More recently, Dawn got herself a gig with the Idaho Potato people, and in this short promotional video, she demonstrates a quick and easy way to peel a potato.



The contest she references will be long over; the video was first posted in 2008.
Cute idea, though, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Billboard Special Tribute to Lennon

A few months ago, Billboard celebrated what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday with a special section.


Along with eight pages of editorial content - including an interview with Yoko Ono and a preview of several album re-releases - the issue contains a number of full page tribute advertisements.

I don't know why I'm receiving Billboard; I figure I must have won it in a sweepstakes. I don't usually hold onto them, but I felt this issue was special.

I like the Beatles, but I wouldn't really call myself a fan; a true fan would be able to name all their albums, know all their music and their history, and I just like hearing it on the radio. So, rather than keeping this issue any longer, I decided to give it away to someone who will appreciate it more.

MANDATORY FIRST ENTRY:

Comment on this post with the title of your favorite song by the Beatles or John Lennon.

No, your favorite song by Wings or the Traveling Wilburys doesn't count.

If your email is not visible on your GFC profile, please leave it in your comment.


EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your comments and tweets.

  • leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on Rhymes Schemes and Daydreams (1)
  • follow Rhyme Schemes and Daydreams on Google Friend Connect
  • visit my Crazy Kitty Chick blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
  • *visit my Hurricane Safety blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
  • *follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
  • *follow CrazyKittyChick on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)

You can earn a maximum of seven entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on April 8, 2011. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing no later than April 10 and notified by email. Winner must respond to the email with mailing address within 72 hours or another winner will be selected. The magazine will be packaged and sent media mail.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Health Care in America

Today, I read a newsletter from my congressman, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida. It got me fired up. You can read the newsletter online. Here is my response:

As a constituent and a United States citizen, I respectfuly request that you and other Republicans cease to refer to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as "ObamaCare." The use of this moniker is just a fragment of the partisan propaganda that aims to disrail the national health care plan.

President Obama's health care plan may not be perfect, but neither is our current system of health care, which is controlled by big business instead of by medical professionals. Instead of spewing generalities and party rhetoric, politicians who oppose certain aspects of the plan should offer concrete and positive suggestions that will lead to the creation of a workable health care program that's good for everyone.

In your newsletter, you wrote: "[Democrats] continued to use voodoo mathematics to support their bizarre claim that government run health care would save the taxpayers money."

In what way?

You wrote: "Under ObamaCare, taxes will be imposed on individuals who try to use their Health Savings Accounts to purchase over-the-counter medicines."

What taxes? Do they apply to everyone or only those in certain income brackets? Do all Health Savings Accounts now allow use of the funds to purchase over-the-counter medications?

Republican politicians have had a year to read and study this law, but still, you never give specific reasons why the program is bad. You never offer viable alternatives. Why don't Republicans create a document that gives the wording of each section of the Act followed by a plain-English explanation? Don't forget to include the contents of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, and please, take full responsibility for any changes and amendments added by the Republican Party.

I sent the above to Rep. Miller via the contact form on his website. I do not expect to get a response.

What do I think would work to improve health care in the USA? Sweeping overhaul of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, which are at the root of the health care problem in the United States.

**Eliminate insurance companies completely.
Right now, insurance companies are for-profit corporations who answer to their stockholders first. They allow profits to dictate what medications they cover, what treatments are allowed, and which doctors you're allowed to see.

**Require pharmaceutical companies to sell the same medications for the same price everywhere.
If a drug company can sell a tablet in Africa for $1.00, they should sell it to people in the United States for the same price. These unequal values contribute to rising insurance costs and to insurance companies refusing to cover certain prescribed drugs.

**Require insurance companies to cover any drug prescribed by a physician.
Right now, it doesn't matter what the doctor thinks will work best to treat the patient. Insurance companies, working directly with pharmacies, can decide to send a generic, a completely different medication or simply deny coverage.

If these three changes could be wrought, I believe we would see an improvement in medical care in the United States. These suggestions of mine certainly wouldn't solve all the problems, but they would help.

What do you think?

Please, don't just repeat something that you've heard somewhere else. Read the summary on Wikipedia. Find a truly unbiased article from a legitimate news source (FOX News doesn't count). Spend some time learning about the Act, then share what specifically you don't like and why. What alternatives would you suggest? Make this a positive discussion, not a rant or a slam against whichever party you don't like.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What do you think is the biggest social issue facing America today?

I was recently asked to complete a survey with two primary questions. The first is in the headline, and I found it very difficult to choose one social ill in the United States as the top issue facing the country.

Finally, I decided on this response:
The social issue with the most repercussions is that children are being raised by cell phone with videogames as their constant companions, and they seem to be growing up self-absorbed, wild, and sociopathic. They are a danger to themselves and to others.

The second question was: What do you think could be done to resolve this issue?

I'm not of the "marriage should only be between a man and a woman" ilk, but I do believe that children should have complete families with two parents. Some people will say it's cruel or harsh, but I don't think people should have children who cannot afford for one parent to be home with them instead of being focused on their careers, dating (in single parent households), and "me time." Sure, parents need some "me time" too, but the child should be the parents' first concern.

That's all I said in the survey, but I will say a bit more here.

BABIES DON'T SOLVE PROBLEMS

I've known several women who got pregnant because their relationship was in trouble. They thought having a child would force the man to "start acting responsibly." I suppose, in a few rare cases, some people who unexpectedly find themselves "with child" have done a complete 360 and changed their whole outlook on life, but I wouldn't count on it.

The problems in the relationship are typically going to be amplified by having a baby. Any money troubles are going to get worse, because kids are expensive. If you think you don't have time for a proper date night when you're childless, what's going to happen when you have a baby who needs constant care?

THE ONLY THING YOU HAVE IN COMMON

My husband and I both like science fiction, and we've both known people who were forced to (or at least expected to) give up their collections or their hobbies or their friends because the spouse (typically the women) didn't like it. In another case, a women who went to all her boyfriend's sporting events while they were dating thought that, once they were married, he'd stop playing on those teams.

Here's a tip: You should date people, and definitely marry someone, with whom you have something in common. It gives you something to talk about and enjoy together because sex and having a date on national holidays does not a strong marriage make.

Talk about the issues and events of the day. If you're shocked and heartbroken by the events in Japan and he's cracking jokes about it, maybe he's not the right man for you. If she likes to go to the gun range on Saturdays and you think that individuals shouldn't be allowed to own firearms, guess what? It's probably not going to work out. You won't know that if you watch a football game together, have sex and go home, because she's probably only watching the game because she knows you want to, and she'll be offended if you want to spend your Saturday on the couch once you're married.

STUDY YOUR FINANCES BEFORE PAINTING THE NURSERY

Let's say you have really good insurance that will cover the pregnancy, birth, and pediatric child care. You still have to buy special food, and clothes, and toys, and baby gear, and dishes, latches for the cabinets, and a locking gun cabinet for her firearms. Some of the expenses will go away as baby becomes toddler becomes student, but they'll quickly be replaced with new costs.

Look at ways that you can adjust your spending. Can you live in a less expensive home or apartment to reduce monthly rent/mortgage payment? Can you make do with one vehicle instead of two, to save on insurance and maintenance costs? Which one of you is going to clip coupons (or print them from the internet)? Do you really need cable TV? What other monthly expenses can you reduce or eliminate to pay for what the kid needs?

Because what the kid really needs is a parent to guide him or her. A child learns from the parent. You can put them in school, but the teachers aren't supposed to teach morality any more. You need to be the one who explains what bullying is and why it's wrong, who tells your child to take a few steps to a trash can instead of throwing a drink cup or bottle on the ground. Plus, teachers can't give your child the personal attention that a stay-at-home-parent can: one on one reading help, going over math problems one by one until s/he gets it.

In a single parent household, the parent usually has to work. I applaud that. I certainly don't want my tax dollars going to pay for someone else's mistake. The solution is to abstain or use protection in order to avoid an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy, to use common sense in selecting a suitable lifemate, and to provide a two-parent family for the child. In cases where the mother or father is widowed, I am truly sorry for your loss. Those are the situations where extended family and good friends are important to providing adult guidance for your child.

In many two-parent households, the money earned by one of the parents is "gravy." It pays for the extra vehicle s/he needs to get to the job, for the child care while both parents are at work, for unnecessary luxuries like store-bought cakes, iPods, cell phones with unlimited texting for every members of the family, and so on. In the great scheme of the universe, are those things, those inanimate objects, worth more than personal pride, integrity, honesty, cleanliness, a good work ethic, appreciation for diversity - those intangible things that come from fathers and mothers spending time face-to-face with their offspring?

Of course not.

If you've wondered why you're hearing more stories of children killing each other or their parents or their grandparents or the neighbor's dog, I believe it's a direct result of parents not being actively involved in their children's lives every day. And with each successive generation getting less attention and education from their parents, it's only going to get worse.

And that's why I answered the survey questions the way that I did.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

If I could eat the spam in my inbox, I'd never go hungry!

Somehow, I have ended up on at least one spammer's email address. I can't quite figure out their gimmick, unless it's phishing. I've been offered free Southwest Airline tickets, gift cards for completing surveys, and a free home security system. I'm receiving offers for free grant money for school, learn-at-home opportunities, electronic cigarettes, and great deals on 2010 automobiles. Each offer comes two or three times a day, at least, from different email addresses. They all kind of look alike.

I guess maybe they think I'll eventually fall for their trap and fill out a form that gives them all the information they need to steal my identity.

I just forwarded 107 spam emails to the government's address - spam@uce.gov - in hopes that they'll investigate and stop these jerkwads. I had sent a few more, with full headers copied and pasted into the forwarded mail, however at least two of those bounced for containing a blacklisted URL (ya' think?).

I've tried using the blacklisting/whitelisting/graylisting feature provided by our ISP, but it ends up stopping legitimate mail, too. I'm already mad enough at Powweb (they promise unlimited email, but what they mean is that you can have as many email addresses as you want, but they won't allow you to keep much email on the server), without them stopping the emails that I want to receive.

Let me just verify - I'm not forwarding to the spam address any newsletters or sales documents sent from a legitimate company or retailer from whom I have requested information. They usually have an unsubscribe button, and if it doesn't work, I contact the company and tell them. The ones I'm reporting are obviously scams or phishing schemes or rip-offs in one respect or another.

I'm not sure how I got on this list. Did I enter the wrong giveaway? Are they finding it online through my blog? Did a "legitimate" giveaway sell my information to a list service? Or did Facebook or Google sell my address?

Here's what I'm considering doing. Tell me what you think of the idea.

I'll get my own domain and email service with "unlimited emails." Instead of creating one email box, I'll create one for every sweep I enter. I'm not saying it won't take time to set it all up. Or maybe I let all those "random" addresses feed into a catch-all mailbox that I'll check. So, when I sign up at the official Hershey chocolate site, I'll use hershey@mydomain. When I sign up at a freebie site, I'll use thisfreebiesite@mydomain. With that naming pattern, I will easily be able to track who sold my information, and take good solid action against them. I can try to contact their ISP and forward very specific information to the government's spam address, so that hopefully, they'll be blackballed. I can confidently report the issue to the sweepstakes website I use, and maybe their "giveaways" won't be listed anymore.

Do you think this could work?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Day 9: Why I Want the OED

Today's topic in It's Gravy Baby's 31-day photo and post challenge is to write about your most treasured item. Since I'm not sure I can pick just one item from my treasured Star Wars collection, I turn to my bookshelf to find one of my most beloved books. 

I'm reading a book right now called The Glamour of Grammer, in which the author, Roy Peter Clark, says that his two favorite dictionaries are The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and The Oxford English Dictionary.

The AHD 4th edition,
was published in 2006.


I have an AHD, 3rd Edition, which I dearly love, because it doesn't just define words, it gives some word history and peculiarities of usage. Here's an example that I remember because of a personal story.

My parents grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and it's colloquial for people to use the word "carry" in connection with giving someone a ride. My mom used to talk about how, when she was in Spain, one of her good friends poked fun at her about it. The friend needed to go to the commissary or exchange, and my mom said, "I'll carry you up there." Of course, she meant that she'd give her a ride in the car, not that she'd physically pick her up and carry here there. That usage of "carry" is regional, and the AHD explains that. It makes the dictionary cool.

Yes, I am one of those people who can pick up a dictionary to look up one word, spend three hours on digressive journeys into word meaning, usage and history, and maybe, by the end of it, I'll actually get around to looking up the word I started out to look up.

I don't recall what I was trying to look up the day I learned the words "putti" and "étagère." I think putti was one of the guide words at the top of the pages. It's the plural of putto, which is an Italian word for a little cherub. I found étagère because of the lovely illustration of an ornate piece of furniture with shelves, and I see it all the time now on multi-lingual boxes containing plastic shelf units. A far cry from the gorgeous antique piece pictured in my AHD.

StatuaryPlace.com has a whole lot of
putti on its étagère.
I discovered these two words on the same day, while working in our family-owned craft store. We had little ceramic cherubs and we had shelf units, and so, I used my new words in a sentenced and with a related action. I put the putti on the étagère. Go ahead. Say it.

It's fun isn't it?

It's been at least 15 years since our store closed, and my husband and I will still point to an angel figurine on a shelf and comment about the putti on the étagère.

I can't remember exactly how I got the AHD. I won a box of books from American Family Publishers, and I remember a red Webster's Dictionary in there, and the AHD might have been part of it, too. I know when I worked at B. Dalton Booksellers later, we had the same edition on the shelf and I used to recommend it when someone was looking for a good dictionary, especially if it was a graduation gift or something special, because it was $75.

While I was working at B. Dalton, we also had a two-volume set of the OED that came with a little magnifying glass because the text was so small. I want to say it was $150 or $200. I always kind of wanted that one, too.... Until I discovered the real OED. The one with 20 volumes.

All those words!

The OED covers word history, and usage, and includes quotes to show the words in usage. Oh how I would love to own a set. The closest I ever got was when an online store offered a set on sale for $500. It's going for about twice that right now on Amazon, and I think the price has come down; perhaps because a third edition is in the works or maybe because print is going by the wayside. It might as well have been five million dollars, as Scarlett O'Hara sort of said about the taxes on Tara, because we didn't have an extra $500 to spend on an overblown dictionary.

Sometimes, like this evening, I plug the title into my favorite search engine to see if any sales come up. I will own an OED someday. And I'll read it, too.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a good dictionary, I recommend one of these.

Why I Oppose the "Road Rage Act

Today in Tallahassee, state lawmakers heard the first reading of Florida House Bill 177, the Motor Vehicles/Highway Safety Act.

While some portions of this bill sound like a good idea, I am opposed to its passage in its current form. Here’s why:

We have a lot of roads in this area that have two or three lanes of traffic flowing in the same direction. This proposed legislation would make it illegal to drive in the left lane if anyone else wants to drive faster.

Here’s a scenario. I own some property on the Nine Mile Road in Beulah. It’s a rural two-lane road where people routinely drive 10, 15, 20 miles over the speed limit. There’s been talk for years of widening the road due to increased traffic from housing developments and the Navy Federal Credit Union call center. It’s very unlikely that a turn lane will be installed in front of my driveway. That turn-in leads to three pieces of property and two are currently uninhabited. Other nearby driveways are the same. When you get to the neighborhoods and the call center, which are congregated east of my place, it’s a different story.

So, I get off the interstate and turn west. My property is a few miles down the road, on the south side. I have to turn left, and to do so, I take my life in my hands, because the, um, numbskulls that want to drive 70mph in a 55 zone certainly don’t want to slow down. They blow their horns, they pass on the shoulder.

If the road is widened to four lanes, my inclination would be to get in the left lane when I get off the interstate. It’s not that far to my turn, and if I get in the right lane, there’s a real possibility that I will not be able to get into the left lane when it’s time to make my turn. If they won’t slow down for me now, when there’s only one lane going west, what makes you think they’ll be willing to slow down or move right when I change lanes in front of them? The other possibility is that a steady stream of speeders in the left lane will effectively block me from getting over anyway.

Let’s look more closely at what the bill says:

1. On roads, streets, or highways having two or more lanes that allow movement in the same direction, a driver may not continue to operate a motor vehicle in the furthermost left-hand lane if the driver knows, or reasonably should know, that he or she is being overtaken in that lane from the rear by a motor vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed. Paragraph (a) does not apply to a driver operating a motor vehicle in the furthermost left-hand lane if: The driver is driving the legal speed limit and is not impeding the flow of traffic in the furthermost left-hand lane;

In other words, if I’m driving the speed limit, I’m allowed to be in the left lane, unless someone else wants to race past me. Then I’m required to make it easier for the speeder to break the law.

2. The driver is in the process of overtaking a slower motor vehicle in the adjacent right-hand lane for the purpose of passing the slower moving vehicle so that the driver may move to the adjacent right-hand lane;

Now wait. If there’s a bus or an older person driving less than the speed limit in the right lane, I’m allowed to pass on the left. But am I required to wait until all the Speedy Gonzalezes are past before I can move into the left lane? Can I impede someone else in order to avoid being impeded?

3. Conditions make the flow of traffic substantially the same in all lanes or preclude the driver from moving to the adjacent right-hand lane;

I guess if both lanes of traffic are moving at about the same speed, it doesn’t matter which lane I’m in. But, if only speeders are supposed to use the left lane, then how did the traffic get backed up in that lane?

4. The driver's movement to the adjacent right-hand lane could endanger the driver or other drivers;

Okay, I’m not required to hit another vehicle in order to get out of Speedy’s way.

5. The driver is directed by a law enforcement officer, road sign, or road crew to remain in the furthermost left-hand lane; or

I hope this includes Florida’s mandatory rule that you move into the left lane when passing a law enforcement or emergency vehicle parked on the right shoulder.

6. The driver is preparing to make a left turn.

Ah, here we go. I’m allowed to be in the left lane to make a left turn. From I-10 to my turn on Nine Mile Road, it’s probably two or three miles. Is that too soon? Is five miles away too soon to get in the left lane, if I know that traffic usually gets heavier near where I need to make my turn?

Moving on, the next section is pretty convoluted with statute numbers, so I’ve removed most of those to make it easier reading.

Section 5. Section 316.1923, Florida Statutes, is amended to read:
Aggressive careless driving.
(1) "Aggressive careless driving" means committing three, two or more of the following acts simultaneously or in succession:
(a)(1) Exceeding the posted speed;
(b)(2) Unsafely or improperly changing lanes;
(c)(3) Following another vehicle too closely;
(d)(4) Failing to yield the right-of-way;
(e)(5) Improperly passing or failing to yield to overtaking vehicles;
(f)(6) Violating traffic control and signal devices.

A few years ago, a truck full of people who I don’t think had been driving in this country for long, was weaving in and out of its lane and, I felt, putting me at risk. I sped up a little to get past them. It was a 45 zone dropping to a 30 zone and there’s a traffic light in the middle that was yellow when I passed under it.

The truck full of immigrants turned left.

The policeman hiding on a side street pulled me over and ticketed me for speeding and for speeding up to run a red light.

He was old, his hands were shaking so much I’m surprised he was able to write the ticket, and he gave me no opportunity to speak. I wanted to fight the red light portion of the ticket in court, but my husband was certain the judge would take the cop’s side over mine in a he said/she said, and we’d have to pay court costs on top of the tickets.

So, under the proposed legislation, I would have received an additional ticket for Aggressive Careless Driving. The immigrants would have qualified for the same and were certainly driving more dangerously than I was, but I was the easy catch.

And that’s what’s going to happen with this law. A law enforcement officer looking to boost his ticket count at the end of the month is going to be looking for an easy mark so he can tack on that extra “road rage” ticket.

The rest of the month, law enforcement personnel will do what they do now. They’ll talk on their cell phones while vehicles race through red lights in front of them. They’ll ignore the tailgaters and the speeders, and they won’t even bother to use their own turn signals.

If there’s any chance the driver really is exhibiting signs of road rage, they’ll quickly turn off, because they won’t want to deal with someone who’s already steaming mad even before they see the blue lights in their rear view mirrors.

If lawmakers really want to cut down on dangerous driving, here’s what they’ll do:
  • Make it easier for drivers to report the reckless behavior of other drivers. I don’t think law enforcement does anything to investigate that kind of complaint right now. They can’t write a ticket based on a civilian’s report and the typical attitude around here is that the perp will be gone before they can respond, so why bother. The rule could be something like if they get six or ten complaints about a certain license plate number, they need to check out that driver, watch for him, and see if they can catch him at it. Road rage is probably regular behavior for that type of person.
  • Pass a law against using a cell phone while behind the wheel of a car. Period. No talking. Hands-free or not. No texting. No reading the message. No listening to voice mail. No surfing the internet. If you need directions, pull over, then make the call. If the phone rings, wait until you can pull over and then call them back. Unless you’re a transplant surgeon waiting for a donor organ, it’s probably not anything that can’t wait five minutes.
  • Encourage law enforcement officers to do their duty every day and not just the last few days of the month. If they put down their phones and pulled over the people who are twenty feet from the intersection when the light turns red and they still go through it, a lot of people would learn to slow down and stop in time, and that would help reduce the frustration that builds into road rage.
  • Conduct more license and registration checks - I haven’t seen one of those in years – and don't advertise the locations in advance or allow people to turn around and get out of the line. The point is to nab people who are driving illegally before they cause a wreck.

This legislation is unnecessary. It's somewhat ambiguous. And I believe it holds more opportunity to hurt the average person than to stop any truly dangerous and aggressive drivers.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Six Songs for Sweepers

Here's my lucky playlist: the songs that make me feel lucky, the songs I hum when I'm feeling happy about a win or just dreaming about one.
1. "Something's Coming" from West Side Story [full lyrics]

This song is on my list because it's all about anticipating something good coming to you. What sweeper who's checking the mailbox, reading email, spotting the message light flashing on the answering machine, can't identify with this sentiment:

I got a feeling there's a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!

Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something's coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something's coming, I don't know what it is,
But it is
Gonna be great! 


2. "Luck Be a Lady" from Guys and Dolls [full lyrics]

We all want luck to be good to us, don't we? Here's how the chorus to this song goes:

Luck be a lady tonight
Luck be a lady tonight
Luck if you've ever been a lady to begin with
Luck be a lady tonight.



3. "The Gold Diggers' Song (We're in the Money)" from Gold Diggers of 1933 [full lyrics]

I know this song mostly from the stage musical 42nd Street but Ginger Rogers sang it first in the 1933 film.

 It's the tune I hum or sing when I get a really good cash win, and not nearly as often as I'd like. All together now....
 
We're in the money,
We're in the money;
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!
We're in the money,
The sky is sunny;
Old Man Depression, you are through,
You done us wrong! 


4. "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover" [listen here]

This cute little ditty was written in 1927, and it's very short, so I'm going to print all the lyrics here.

I sing it to myself when I'm looking for four-leaf clovers and especially when I find one. 

I'm looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before.
One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain,
Third is the roses that grow in the lane.
No need explaining, the one remaining
Is somebody I adore.
I'm looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before.


5. "Money (That's What I Want)" [full lyrics]

Apparently this song was most famously recorded by a group called the Flying Lizards. I know it because it's on the Josie and the Pussycats movie soundtrack.

Don't the song's opening lyrics say it all for the sweeper on a quest for cash prizes?

The best things in life are free,
But you can give them to the birds and bees.
I want money!


6. "I Wanna Be Rich" [full lyrics]

This is the refrain that comes to mind when I'm buying a ticket to Lotto or Powerball.

I want money, lots and lots of money
I want the pie in the sky
I want money, lots and lots of money
So don't be asking me why 


And those are my favorite songs about luck and money. Sorry, I couldn't come up with four more to make it a top 10 list. Do you have any songs to add to the Sweeper's Playlist?

Day Seven - My Day

I woke up this morning at 7:08am. Actually, I woke up 15 minutes earlier than that, but I have the bedroom clock set ahead, so those are the numbers I saw. I got up a few minutes later, and just a few minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

Remy made a diarrhea, which is good, because it was his first bowel movement in several days. He appears to have an enlarged colon, to go along with his abnormally small liver, and the x-rays last week showed that he's kind of impacted right now. Now, in addition to taking a syringe full of Clavamox, he also gets a syringe full of a laxative. He starts drooling when he sees the syringe.

I woke up with my shoulder aching, and my back knotted up even more the closer I got to work. With a major fundraiser coming up plus subscription renewals beginning soon, plus all the usual stuff, it's just an extra stressful time. One person was taking a vacation day and another was out sick, so it was pretty quiet. I did get a little bit accomplished, but not as much as I'd like.

We were hoping we'd see signs that Remy went to the bathroom more, but nothing in the boxes was soft, so he probably didn't go any more. Tim and I will both feel better, I'm sure, when he's cleaned out and hopefully back to normal.

After doing the evening medicating, feeding, my shower, calling mom, I finally had a chance to sit down. Then I found problems with our email service online. I've got to find a new service. My husband says use Gmail because it's got unlimited online storage, which is what I need, but I figure if I'm paying someone to host my domain and provide me with "unlimited" email, which should that mean unlimited email addresses but a cap on how many messages I can have in my box. So I ended up spending time trying to make sure that the mail I already had downloaded won't disappear like the last time I tried to download anything. I hope I have it set up now. I lost a lot of irreplaceable messages from friends and my late father when Thunderbird "synched" with webmail and deleted everything that I had downloaded. Stupid me, I didn't think I had to keep it online AND offline. I thought the point was to be able to download the mail to keep it.

Dealing with all that (and the memory of what I lost and my anger that I had set everything up to download the mail so that we could change ISPs, and it turned out to be for nothing because my husband renewed the hosting package anyway) has only made me more tense.

Then I started trying to check my current mail and enter my sweeps for today. And now, look at the time, it's already tomorrow. Like sands and all that.  My day.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Day Four - An Experience That Made Me Who I Am

In the late '80s, I attended some major science fiction conventions and a bunch of smaller ones. Here are the highlights:
  • 1986 - World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), Atlanta, Georgia
  • 1987 - Official Star Wars 10th Anniversary Convention, Los Angeles, California
  • 1988 - WorldCon, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • 1989 - WorldCon, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 1991 - WorldCon, Chicago, Illinois
Most of the big cons were attended by publicity reps from the major Hollywood studios. (The only name I can remember is Jeff Walker from Warner Bros). Remember, back then, you couldn't go to YouTube or Apple to see upcoming movie trailers. You had to wait for publicity stills to be published in a magazine (probably three months after the studio released them). When the studio reps did their slide shows about upcoming science fiction, fantasy or comic book-related films, the rooms were packed.

I thought that would be the coolest job in the world. Of course, I'd already graduated from college, and I don't even know if UWF had a public relations degree back then. (They have a great program now.)  I have no idea what these guys did when they weren't traveling to science fiction conventions to talk to geeks about movies.

A few years after my first convention (that Atlanta WorldCon), I was offered an unbelievable opportunity to live that dream.  A friend of mine (we met at the Star Wars con in '87 and later worked together at Walt Disney World) brought me a flyer for the Sci-Fi Channel. Imagine! A television channel that would show SF movies and TV shows all day, every day. (Too bad we don't have one now.) This was something that I'd dreamed of, but I certainly didn't have the money or connections to start a TV network. I wrote a passionate letter saying that I'd love to work for them, and they offered me a job!

This was before the Sci-Fi Channel ever got on the air. First, the cable companies had to be convinced to carry the channel. You have to have an audience (or at least a potential audience) before you start broadcasting. SFC reps would travel around talking to all the different cable systems, large and small, rural and urban, and try to get them to sign an agreement to put the Sci-Fi Channel on their line-up, if and when the Channel launched.

It was my job to encourage fans to write to their cable companies, demonstrating their interest in watching an all-sci-fi network. I spent all day, every day responding to letters from interested people, taking phone calls, making calls and writing letters, mailing packets of flyers to conventions and fan clubs, and speaking at conventions, mostly the ones in Central and South Florida within easy driving distance of Sci-Fi HQ. It really was a dream job.

It also led me to my husband. One of the conventions I was able to attend as a Sci-Fi Channel representative was the big one, ChiCon, the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago in 1991. Several fan club leaders I'd been working with were going to be there, so it was chance to meet them face to face; distribute flyers, posters and buttons; and to answer questions at my very own panel. (I didn't have a slide show.) The president of a big Doctor Who fan club in the midwest was an SFC supporter, so I had arranged to meet him, and when I went up to his room, his wife and a couple of friends were also there. One of those friends and I hit it off, and two weeks later, we were engaged.

Over the next few months, USA Networks decided to buy the Sci-Fi Channel (which consisted primarily of all those signed agreements from the cable systems), and I didn't know if I'd have a job or not. I wasn't sure I wanted to live in New York anyway (I'd spent a couple of days there on my home from the Boston WorldCon, September 1989, and it smelled). So, I resigned, got married, and moved to Missouri, where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits.

Fast forward and I'm now working in the public relations field again. The whole ball game has changed, and I don't know if the studios still have people who travel to conventions to present slide shows (if so, now they're Powerpoint presentations), show video clips, and tell the fans all the wonderful things happening in Hollywood. I'd still love to have that job.

I can safely say that I am who I am, a happily married wife and a public relations professional, because of my experiences at those conventions a long time ago in states far, far away.

Day Three - The People Who Make My World Go Around

My mom (in Mansfield, Indiana; left), because she's always been so supportive of me. She's also a little crazy, and I think it runs in the family.

My husband, for making me laugh, for encouraging me, and for always making me feel special.

My friend Liz, because we're so different and yet so alike, and because she is such a strong, smart, vibrant personality.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Day Two - My Favorite Show

I am participating in It's Gravy Baby's 31 Day Photo & Prompt Challenge. For Day 2, the prompt is to tell you about my favorite show.

This one takes me back a bit.

My favorite TV show of all time is Gilligan's Island. I loved the show when I was a kid, and when it came out on DVD in 2004, I bought all three seasons, 99 episodes plus the original pilot with a few different actors.

I love the show because it's funny on several levels. I pick up on things as an adult that as a child, I either didn't understand or took it to mean something else. I also love it because you really can learn something from the series.

Here's an example from real life. Co-worker A was getting married. I asked co-worker B if she was going to the wedding. She said no, she had other stuff to do, and she wasn't invited anyway. That made no sense to me. So I went to co-worker A and said, "Co-worker B told me that she didn't receive an invitation to your wedding. Did you not send her one for some reason? Or did it get lost in the mail?" He assured me that she had been sent an invite and he'd send her another one to make sure she got it. She didn't come anyway, at least not that I saw (it was a huge wedding), but at least maybe her feelings weren't hurt.

How is this related to Gilligan's Island? In one episode, the Howells are throwing their annual ball (The Howell Cotillion) and everyone's excited about it, except that on the way to deliver the invitations, Mr. Howell tripped, and he lost the one for the Skipper. So, the Skipper didn't get his invitation, and he's all bummed and one by one the other Castaways decide that the Howells are just being snobby and they're going to have their own party instead of going to the Cotillion. Then the Howells feel bad, because no one came to their party. It all gets worked out in the end, of course, but the viewer comes away with a valuable lesson. If someone who should have received an invitation to the party doesn't get invited, just go ask the host if it was deliberate or a mistake. Of course, the episode would have been over in a minute-and-a-half if Gilligan or Ginger or Mary Ann or the Professor had gone to Mr. or Mrs. Howell and said, "Hey, what gives? Why wasn't the Skipper invited?"

Gilligan's Island also taught me the scientific name for aspirin, explained the gold standard, illustrated gold fever, and taught me the definition of a reverse tsunami. Okay, that last is a stretch. I've heard the media use the term "reverse tsunami" a few times in recent years, and I wonder how many of those reporters have the phrase in their minds because they saw Gilligan's Island when they were kids.

See, in the show, Duke the surfer (Denny Miller) rides a tsunami from Hawaii to the Island. He spends a few days there building up his strength and impressing the girls. The Professor predicts that a reverse tsunami will be coming along and that Duke could surf it back to Hawaii and send a rescue party. By that time, Duke wants to stay in the island paradise with Ginger and Mary Ann, and hilarity ensues as they enlist the Professor and Gilligan to play their boyfriends in order to drive Duke away. He takes off on the reverse tsunami, but as he glides into the harbor, he bangs his head, and he can't remember where he was for the past two weeks. Awww.

As a kid, I took their word for it that a tsunami or tidal wave was an actual hang 10-style wave, and I accepted that if conditions were right, a reverse tsunami could bring the wave back the way that it came. After the events of December 2005, I think we all know now that a tsunami is a tidal surge, a wall of water that brings the ocean onto the coast.

A quick search of news events turned up a "reverse tsunami" story from Southern California; in that case, instead of flooding the coastline, the ocean receded very quickly, basically like a really fast and really low, low tide. You can view ABC 7 News coverage here.  In 2006, a dam broke in Hawaii, and the water flooded across land to the ocean, destroying homes and killing seven people. In an AP wire story, witnesses described the effect as being like a reverse tsunami. I don't think anyone could have surfed it to another island.  Of course, Duke wasn't just anyone. He was one of Hawaii's greatest surfers.

So anyway, that's why I love Gilligan's Island.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Day One - 31 Day Challenge

I read about It's Gravy Baby's 31 Day Photo and Prompt Challenge over at Robyn's Online World, and I decided to participate. The first challenge is to post  a photo of yourself with 10 facts. 

   1. I love Star Wars, and I collect the toys and memorabilia.
   2. Nine cats call me Meowmmy.
   3. I don't get enough sleep.
   4. In high school & college, I studied Spanish (3 years), German (2 years), French (2 years), and Italian (2 years). Today, I can fluently speak English.
   5. I worked for the Sci-Fi Channel when it was just a concept.
   6. I used to be in Mensa, until I couldn't afford the membership dues.
   7. I started first grade when I was four years old.
   8. I adore actor/director/writer Kenneth Branagh and traveled to England twice to see him perform on stage.
   9. I've been to Tatooine. (Really! Okay, it was Death Valley where they filmed some of the Jawa scenes for the very first Star Wars film.)
  10. My favorite play by William Shakespeare is Hamlet.

If you have a blog, you can join the 31 Day Photo and Prompt Challenge by clicking the button on my sidebar. There are NO rules.  You can participate one day or every day.  You can simply put up a photo or you can write up a long post.  Just have fun with it.

The Credit Monitoring Nightmare Continues

The day after I posted An Open Letter to My Credit Card Company, my husband answered the phone. The conversation went like this:

Husband: Hello?
Caller: May I speak to [my name as it is on my card]?
Husband: She's unavailable at the moment.
Caller: I'll call back another time.
Husband: Wait! Is this Bank of America? [You may as well know.]
Caller: Yeeessss.
Husband: Is this a 'courtesy call'?
Caller: Yeeessss.
Husband: Is this in regard to a credit monitoring program?
Caller: Oh, no, [mumbles something about a free credit report]
Husband: Uh-huh. Over the past week she's told two people by phone to make sure she's on the no-call list and she filled out the form on the website. We're now investigating what legal action we can take if this harassment continues.
Caller: Oh. I'll make sure that your account is updated to show that you've opted out [or something like that].


Since then, I haven't received any calls. Or maybe they just called when we weren't home and didn't leave a message. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Living at the Speed of Light

The pace of life gets faster every year. Don't you think so?

My mother, and her mother before her, used to warn about "burning the candle at both ends." In other words, don't stay up late and get up early and not get enough sleep in the middle. So what do I do? I stay up until 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning and get up at 7:15, on weekdays at least. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything.

Are you old enough to remember when we thought computers would make things easier and we'd have so much more freetime? They certainly made communication faster, but are the quick emails, Facebook updates, tweets and text messagesthe kind of quality communiques that our parents and grandparents exchanged? Heck, I still have letters from my teenage years, when I had penpals, that are more substantive than any communication I've had in the past ten years.

Do you recall the days, not so long ago, when only doctors and a handful of real estate agents had a mobile phone? Have theymade us more productive? No, they just make driving or crossing the street more dangerous, because at least a third of thepeople behind the wheel at any given time will be holding a phone to their heads or reading a text or typing a message andpaying no attention at all to what's going on around them.

A prophet named Mother Shipton wrote to following couplets during the first half of the sixteenth century:

Around the world men's thoughts will fly,
quick as the twinkling of an eye.
And water shall great wonders do,
How strange, and yet it shall come true. 

All those years ago, she saw it coming. Did you?

It used to be forever between Easter and Christmas, and now the days, months, years just whiz by as though the Earth is speeding up in its journey around the sun.



Or is it just me?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Open Letter to My Credit Card Company

I’m actually returning your call. Someone tried to call me twice today, so it must be urgent.

Oh, that’s really odd, because I received a “courtesy call” last night, and I told the representative that I was not interested in your credit protection service and that I did not want to be signed up for anything. Then I called and spoke to another representative and asked her to add my name to your no-call list.

While I understand that no-call list may not transfer instantaneously to your call center – although there’s no reason why it couldn’t – the fact that I rejected your credit monitoring service yesterday should clearly have prevented me from getting another call the very next day touting the same service.

And you know what? I had basically the same conversation with two of your representatives maybe a month ago. A young man called, and I listened to his spiel and then said I didn’t want to be signed up for anything, not to sign me up to get the so-called “free” credit report because I didn’t want to bear the burden of having to call and cancel after “first month free.” And then he said he’d send out the information in the next couple of days. And I said no. And he said he’d send it out, and I said he’d better not. And then I hung up and called back immediately to verify that I hadn’t been enrolled in anything.


The other thing that’s really ticking me off tonight is that my husband answered the phone both times this evening; I was not at home. He’s on the account. His name is on a credit card that has the same account number embossed on it; his name is on the checks that come to you whenever a payment is made. Yet, the callers ask for me and when my husband politely asks the nature of the call, the representative chatters, “Courtesy call from [financial institution].” Click.

It’s one thing to call every year or maybe even every six months, but come on. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not interested in your credit protection scheme? You dangle the carrot of a free credit report, when in fact it’s not really free. It comes with the onus of having to call and cancel the service in order to prevent having to pay a monthly fee that I don’t want to pay.

And really, your automated credit monitoring service doesn’t cost much to operate. You pay a human for a few minutes to enter my account information in the system (or maybe to check a box and turn the service on), and then your computers watch for inconsistencies.

How about providing a free (really free – no strings attached) copy of my credit report. You could send it with information about how your credit monitoring service works and a rate card, so I could see how just a few cents a day could buy me peace of mind. Come to think of it, you could easily offer credit monitoring as a free service, and you’d probably save money. You’d no longer have to pay a call center full of people to dial and redial and redial, asking the same people if they want the same service today that they said no to yesterday and last week and last month.

Finally, when I traveled out of the country, my other credit card company, the one connected to my checking accounts, called me a few days later to make sure the charges were legitimate. I didn’t have to pay them to do that. They did it in appreciation of my business. You could do the same and maybe counteract some of the negative publicity your company has been garnering during the recession.

Sincerely Yours.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Plagiarism in the News

2011 - British newspaper The Daily Mail is accused of copying large sections of a story from The New York Times without attribution. The Mail responded by removing the suspect passages and by exchanging the Mail reporter's byline with the generic "Daily Mail Reporter." [Source: MediaPost]

2005 - Nearly a dozen publications respond to allegations that stories contained factual errors or had been plagiarized, at least in part. [Source: Regret the Error]

2003 - Reporter Jayson Blair resigns from the New York Times amid allegations that he plagiarized certain details of several stories and fabricated other details. Accusations of inaccurate reporting were made by staffers at the college newspaper where he had served as an editor and reporter. [Source: Wikipedia]

1998 - Associated Editor Stephen Glass is fired from The New Republic after Lead Editor Charles Lane investigated complaints about a story's veracity. The senior staff subsequently learned that more than half of Glass' articles for the publication contained inaccuracies or, in some cases, were complete fiction. [Source: Wikipedia]

I'm sure I could go back and back and back through the history of journalism to find examples of plagiarism, inaccuracies and outright lies. Over 100 years ago, publisher William Randolph Hearst allegedly sent this message to artist Frederic Remington on assignment in Cuba: "You supply the pictures. I'll supply the war."

I blame two factors for the seeming increase in faulty and unethical reporting.

SENSATIONALISM

News changed on September 11, 2001. Everyone was after the latest facts, first about the terrorist attacks of the day and later about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Where for years, viewers could choose between three major broadcast networks and a couple of cable news channels, suddenly half a dozen news options on cable were vying with the networks for a rapidly dwindling pool of viewers. The internet gives people instant access to information from eyewitnesses, the man on the street, bloggers, and YouTube videos.

I remember on 9/11 hearing reports coming in about a possible truck bomb near the White House, I believe it was. At least one jet airliner was missing and a plane crash had been reported in Pennsylvania - but no one knew yet that the downed plane was the missing plane. Reporters were talking to witnesses in New York who reported hearing a missile or seeing a small plane crash into the first World Trade Tower.

As that day and that story and the related stories went on, it seems to me that the 24-hour-news stations decided it was more important to report every little tidbit and then verify it later than to verify it before putting it out there. They wanted to be able to say, "You heard it here first." Mistakes never seemed to be acknowledged; they just stopped reporting them.

I was working in local news at the time; we were still in the business of getting our facts straight before going on the air.

In the ensuing years, too, we've seen more and more opinion presented as news. Many outlets have an obvious bias. The parent company of the news organization I worked for from 1999 to 2007 owned quite a few TV stations. I worked for an ABC affiliate, and we often used network-produced packages on major stories. After awhile, the parent company required us to run certain pieces produced by their Washington bureau in lieu of reports produced by the "liberal media" at ABC.

The sensationalism and rumor-mongering were fueled by ratings. The proliferation of cable news channels along with ever-increasing web-based sources for news and information have led to furious grasping for audience. Newspapers struggling to stay afloat, TV stations and networks scrabbling for ratings, and new media fighting for revenue will do or say anything to get people talking about them and tuning in.

STAFF REDUCTIONS

At the same time as all these media outlets are trying to one-up each other in order to lure bigger audiences, they are trying to cut costs. I don't know how much any organization is losing. I know some newspapers have folded, at least in the traditional print sense; they may still be present online. That could be because they're operating in the red or maybe they're breaking even, but that's not what any business is about, even the business of information. Business is about profits.

In order to minimize cost, thus maximizing income, staff is being cut. I doubt that most newspapers have proofreaders or copy editors anymore. When I worked in TV news, I was lucky to have anchors who read over the scripts before the show and questioned anything that was obviously incorrect or even looked a little fishy. I read the stories that reporters turned in for my show. I wrote a lot of stories from Associated Press wire copy, press releases, and/or interviews collected in the field by videographers working alone. In those cases, I counted on my anchors catching me in any mistakes.

Honest, legitimate mistakes can and do happen. That's why it's important to have a team all watching out for each other. When I worked on the production side, doing graphics and supers, I'd read over the script, not just the notes on what words I was supposed to put on the screen. I'd question anything that didn't seem to match up. I'd look up spellings of streets or names or I'd just ask the producer to check it. Did I make mistakes? Of course. I know how to spell cemetery now, after I typed it cemetary on an over-the-shoulder graphic that went out on the air.

Unfortunately, a lot of people nowadays are so focused on their own jobs or texting their friends or checking their email that they go through their day with blinders on, never understanding that the whole organization would function better with a little teamwork.

But, I digress.

Every time I turn around, I hear of someone else laid off from the daily paper. I'll talk with a local reporter or editor and find out they've had yet another duty piled on their already overfull plates. In addition to writing the stories and prepping them for publication or broadcast, now they have to post on Facebook and tweet the headline with links to the website, where they were the ones required to reformat and post the story.

Staff cutbacks lead to sloppy reporting, typos, and mistakes. Did they lead to every case of plagiarism and fictionalizing listed at the start of this post? No, of course not, but they certainly aren't helping. Not having enough staff to cross check and verify facts makes it easier for the falsehoods to slip through.

I worry about the future of news. People need someplace they can trust for accurate, unbiased facts so they can make up their own minds about the important issues of the day. I fear we are losing that.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Discover Your Life's Purpose

Have you ever paused on the journey through life and wondered if you're doing what you're meant to be doing, living the life you're supposed to live? I most certainly have. I've often looked back at the meandering path my life's taken, wondered at the unexpected joys I've experienced around one turn, speculated on what might have been if I'd traveled a different route.

Looking back is one thing. Look ahead, especially as the years pile up, and you may begin to question your choices and direction.
  • Have I left my mark in the world? 
  • What should I or could I have done differently? 
  • If I had made different choices at certain points in my life, would I have missed some of the really wonderful things that have happened? 

If you are dissatisfied, it's not too late to accomplish some of your goals or achieve a few of your youthful dreams. You just have to take action NOW, before it is too late.

A few weeks ago, I read a book called Chazown by Craig Groeschel. The title is pronounced khaw-ZONE; it's the Hebrew word for vision. Groeschel is a Christian minister, Waterbrook Multnomah is a Christian book division of Random House, and the book's focus is on finding God's purpose for your life.

I'm not a very religious person; I have beliefs, but I don't go to church, and I'm not much for God talk. However, the kind folks at Waterbrook Multnomah invited me to join their "Blogging for Books" program, and who am I to turn down the opportunity for a free book to read? That said, if you're a deeply spiritual person, you will find this book to be a detailed guide on figuring out what you should do next in your life. If you're not deeply spiritual, or if you are a deeply spiritual follower of a non-Christian religion, if you are able to get past the God talk, you will find good advice on finding purpose to drive you through the rest of your life.

The cover of Chazown, in addition to the title and author, features three short sentences:
  • Define Your Vision.
  • Pursue Your Passion.
  • Live Your Life on Purpose. 
The book begins by asking you to write your obituary. If you died today, what would people say about you? What have you accomplished? Have you changed the world around you? Have you been a positive influence on the lives of your friends, family or total strangers?

See, that's one of the things I've been thinking about the past few years. As I mentioned, I'm 45, and the day when my obituary will be published is rushing towards me. Yikes! If I want it to be a good one, I'd better get cracking.

But where to begin?

Craig Groeschel says you should start at the end. Write the obituary you want. Do you want your loved ones to remember you for the time you spent working late at the office, the hours you spent posting photos on Facebook, the mundane cell phone conversations ("What are you doing?"). Or do you want to be the person who taught children self respect and responsibility by coaching a ball team or volunteering at your local school? Do you want to be remembered for raising money for your favorite charity? Collecting coats for the homeless? Giving your time and talents to renovate a community center?

See, you can't just say, "I want to be remembered for helping people." That's too vague. You need a specific goal, and then you know what you have to do to achieve that goal.

In his book, Groeschel helps you create a specific plan so that instead of living life each day as it comes, you live it with a purpose. Each short, easy-to-read chapter helps you narrow down the choices and focus your vision.
  • First, you'll define your core values (examples: loyalty to family, passion for justice), identify your spiritual gifts (giving, teaching, service), and realize how your past experiences (a menial job, an oops moment) have prepared you for the road ahead. 
  • The next step is to identify where those three areas overlap, identify your Chazown, and set down a focused description in a few words. 
  • Next, the book helps you analyze five key areas in your life now: your relationship with God, relationships with people, financial situation, your health, and your work; and helps you relate them to the accomplishment of your Chazown.
Along the way, Groeschel shares stories from his own life, examples from his parishioners and friends, that show you how these esoteric ideas apply in real life. Key thoughts are set apart from the rest of the text so they're easy to identify. Each section is summarized with review questions, kind of like in a textbook, to help you think through and retain what you've just read. The book also contains an appendix of worksheets, and throughout the book, you're referred to extra support materials on The Chazown Experience website.

This book will help you look at your life with a critical eye and guide you towards living with meaning and purpose. Maybe you're just starting out in life, or you're coming through a bad period and need to make positive changes, or perhaps you're frustrated and unsatisfied with your accomplishments. If you read this book with thoughtfulness and intent, you will learn about yourself and find ways to lead a more fulfilling life.

I received a review copy of Chazown through Waterbrook Multnomah's "Blogging for Books" program. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Friday, February 11, 2011

One-Page History of Doctor Who

Doctor Who fan and artist Bob Canada created this infographic and posted it on his flickr page. Nerdist featured it, then other sites picked it up and so on and so forth. Bob commented that this version is updated with corrections and suggestions made by some of the thousands of people who've seen the artwork. This is the final version, "for now," and he plans to make it available as a poster.

While we're waiting on confirmation of when the spring series will begin, here's a tidbit for North American fans. Panini (the sticker book people) are publishing a magazine called Doctor Who Insider. The first issue should hit newsstands April 7.

Also, check out the BBC's Back in the USA page. It features photos of the Doctor's recent visit to the American West, as well as a recap of past adventures involving American locations and characters.

Friday, February 04, 2011

My two cents on social media marketing

Lee over at My Sentiments ExactLee wrote a great post about public relations, marketing and blogs. Here is my response:

Thank you for this, Lee. I've been blogging for quite a while and no one ever visited. Of course, I wasn't out promoting my blog. It was more of a daily diary for me, and I hoped someone would notice it. For the last three years or so, I've been visiting a lot of blogs to enter giveaways, and I started reading some of the blogs, like yours, more regularly, because they speak to me, I feel like I have something on common with the person or people behind them.

It didn't take long for me to start becoming a little envious of the opportunities that some of the bloggers are getting. I haven't kept up my "post to my blogs every day" resolution, but I have posted at least once a week on each, which is an improvement. I started hosting a few giveaways as well, to build my traffic count.  I mean, a niche audience is one thing, but no audience isn't going to do anything for someone trying to sell a product.

I can see where the PR people are coming from. I mean, I work in public relations myself, at a local non-profit theatre. I belong to an organization of PR professionals, and I read some marketing trade publications, and one of the things we all think about and talk about is how to qualify what we're doing. ROI (return on investment) is all important. Social media may be "free" but it costs time. Someone has to recruit the bloggers, create the electronic press kits delivered to them, pack and ship the review samples, pack and ship the prizes for the giveaways, deal with the missing package or item that got broken on the way.  The sponsor has a budget for each promotion, which may involve using staff or outsourcing to an agency that specializes in using social media. So let's say they're giving away a $100 prize and it costs $10 in postage, boxes, labels; it takes 10 minutes to pack the box, toss in the "congrats" letter, print an invoice, and slap on the label. At $12 an hour, that's $2 in cost.  Assuming the $100 retail is double what it cost the company to produce, you're already up to $62 for each prize winner. And that's not counting the cost of making arrangements with the two-dozen bloggers who are going to post the reviews, following up on their posts to get copies of everything for the file.  The CEO or the CFO for that sponsor wants to know that the $2500 they spent on that promotion is going to bring them actually cash money customers.  A sudden spike in orders may be an indicator, but what if I don't buy it for three months until I have some extra money? What if I use a coupon - how does the marketing person prove that the blogging promotion worked and it wasn't just the coupon that did it?

They produce numbers. 25 blogs hosted giveaways. The total readership of these blogs during the period of the promotion is x-thousand people, therefore those x-thousand people were exposed to the production. Y-hundred people commented, therefore they have decided that they want the product, and if they didn't win, they might buy it.

If you tell the CEO that the social media promotion reached a potential 250 new customers, he's not going to be as impressed as if he reached 25,000, even if his niche product is perfect for the 250, and the 25,000 figure if they win, they can sell it on eBay.

Remember, a lot of these people are used to running ads on television or in newspapers, where millions of people might see it. We know that newspapers are folding, readership is down, people are watching TV by Tivo or Netflex or Hulu, so they're not seeing as many commercials. They used to mass messaging not personal messaging.

I think we're going to see this turn around, but it's going to take a major shift in mindset, because it is time intensive, and time is money.  So the front line PR people have to do as much as they can with the small amounts they're allotted, then they have to give the big guys the kind of results they can appreciate, so they can get more money to do the job right.

That's my two-cents, for what it's worth.