Mind Camp, 4 p.m.

Wi-fi, 200-plus geeks…this is a group supremely confident of their abilities to solve any problems. So not much energy is expended on averting problems, and there’s no worry at all when the inevitable problems occur.

Solving problems is a good way to meet people. For instance, the yoga session I proposed turned into a mashup of trailer park yoga, traditional yoga, Qui-Gong, and back stretching!

Bullshit detection

Mind Camp 3.0 is this weekend, and I’m getting to know some of the participants through the planning process. One is Scott Berkun, whose eponymous blog contains an incisive analysis of bullshit. It starts with the history (beginning with Genesis, in which, Berkun points out “nearly everyone lied”) and then goes into the nitty gritty of how to combat BS. Very much worth reading if you deal with human beings on a regular basis. Not sure I could use the suggestions to stand up to God, though, if he told me the apples were fatal.

After reading this essay, I’m very much looking forward to meeting Scott. As a writer/editor, my fight against BS is usually conducted from the inside — for instance, someone has hired me to help them foist (wittingly or unwittingly) a certain amount of BS onto an audience. My job is to lower the BS quotient to the point that their communication won’t be perceived as BS and discounted or (worse) sprayed back at them. Amazingly, bullshitters never seem to perceive this is a risk; they never say “Gee, Karen, I know this sounds like, er, bullshit…is there any way to make it sound more credible?”

Proofreading. It can change your life.

Think back on the day you got the greatest job, or contract, of your career. Chances are you sent in a resume, or wrote a proposal, that led to an interview, that led to the work. Not only did someone’s decision to hire you go on to change your life, it changed some other lives as well — those of the people who competed against you and didn’t get the gig.

Recently I had dinner with a friend who does some of the hiring for his office. He’d been interviewing candidates, all of them well qualified, and two of them had been quite out of the ordinary. After some deliberation, he’d decided on one, but was still wondering if he’d made the right choice. He described his interactions with them in some detail. One of them had come across very thoughtful and thorough, but a tad hesitant. The other had been decisive, but verging on brash. In fact, another interviewer had complained about her manners. My friend had decided on the more aggressive candidate, saying her style was a good match for their particular field of work.

But just before he had to report his decision to the company’s HR folks, my friend found himself having second thoughts. He sent the two finalists’ resumes, along with the resume of a third highly qualified applicant, to his boss to get his opinion.

His boss pointed out that the two preferred candidates both had resumes and cover letters with multiple typos and spelling errors. The third candidate’s written presentation was perfectly proofed. My friend and his boss discussed it, and agreed that because a major part of the job entails highly accurate and professional written communication with outside agencies, the candidate with the most professional writing and presentation skills would be the best one. They hired him.

A sobering story. I think I’ll be a little slower to hit the Send button for the next few days.

Queen for a day

A few days ago I received a check for my work on a project, which is not unusual. What made this check special was that it was marked “royalties.”


Royalities are fees paid to a license holder of intellectual property for its use. For instance, when you buy a book, you make a payment that goes to the publisher, who (depending on the arrangement with the writer) shares or dispenses royalties to the writer or writers. The “royal” connection is historical: Rights to sell minerals were once granted by kings or queens to individuals or companies.

Royalities have become extremely complicated; they are dispensed based on complex agreeements, contracts, and licenses. An artist can sell his or her rights to intellectual property, and can also leave such rights to someone else via a will. Author Neil Gaiman worked with an attorney to develop a boilerplate will for authors’ literary estates and has made it available to fellow writers as a free download.

My concern about a creating a special will for a literary estate would be how it would fit with an existing will covering an author’s tangible property. But, as Gaiman points out, it’s much better to have something on record than to leave people guessing.

I hope I’ll get to worry about this some day!

Plenty of rope

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) started promptly over here last night as I devoted my most productive work hours (1o p.m. to midnight) to hammering away at The Grave View (the working title of my New England mystery).

Meanwhile, a previous NaNoWriMo participant and some friends have launched GloRoMo, Global Rope Month. They will track (and reward) participants’ efforts to tie 50,000 feet of rope during the month of November. (By “tying rope,” they mean rope with people in it, as in bondage.) The organizers estimate a successful GloRoMo will involve tying and suspending eight people a day.

Perhaps there is room for a collaboration here? I’m sure by the last week of November some of the frenzied writers will be looking for rope, or perhaps for a good excuse — like “I was helping a friend and got sort of…tied up.”

People pay to get fresh

One of the ways I earn a living is by writing content that keeps my clients’ websites fresh. Sites with fresh content rank higher in searches, and consequently get more business.

This post from the Internet Marketing Blog explains how it all works from the business end. (“SEO” or “search engine optimization” is marketing-talk for making a website rank high in web keyword search results.)

Are there any journalists left?

Precious few.

Today, journalists write books, then they market them, and they become self-interested business people. They blog, and they become self-promoters on behalf of their blogs.

This is not their fault, either. The protective wall that (some) publishers (sometimes) have built to protect journalistic integrity within traditional publications turns out to have been much an illusion. And, as a former journalist, I can say that it was selectively rotted in some places all along, with calls to kill, slant, or emphasize coverage coming from the publisher’s office, usually after a call from one of his or her country club cronies.

Consider this: The traditional news media has traditionally squelched its own reporters’ attempts to cover news unpleasant to big advertisers (from the rise of the Internet, to global warming, to food contamination caused by agribusiness practices) for as long as possible.

Why am I ranting about this?

Jim Benson (J. LeRoy’s Evolving Web) is one of several pundits making a fuss about TechCrunch, a site founder Michael Arrington frankly describes as “different.” Arrington goes on to say:

TechCrunch is all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends. I genuinely like these people and want them to succeed, and they know it and therefore trust me more than they trust traditional press.”

So, what Arrington is running is essentially a self-published gossip column.

Jim asserts:

Michael Arrington is a commentator. He is not a journalist. As a commentator, he can write about what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.

Michael Arrington is my favorite kool-aide drinker. I wouldn’t trade him for a box of Steve Jobses. But he is biased, he does answer to what is foremost on his plate, and he blogs accordingly. When I say biased, I don’t mean he lies or distorts – but I do mean that he has a definite focus and that focus impacts what he writes.

Is this really an issue? What Jim is saying about Arrington could be said about just about everyone these days, with the exception of a few hundred investigative reporters, most of them working outside of the US. And Arrington is not doing anything special, except, I guess, trying turn VC gossip into a brand and convince us that he can somehow continue to deliver valuable info to us without pissing off his friends. Which he probably can, if he’s careful.

I guess the issue is that even journalists are not journalists any more. Everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid. Send it out for political/chemical analysis, and you’ll probably find out your latte is spiked.

Teachers we remember

On the occasion of Nevada Day, Geoff Duncan’s Percolating blog pays tribute to his 6th and 7th grade teacher, Mr. Gandalfo, who made state history unforgettable:

He once marched a class of us through seven feet of snow into a meadow in the Sierras; when we got to the middle, he stopped, turned, and said to the exhausted kids, “So that wasn’t easy, was it? When the Donner Party was in this field, the snow was twenty-two feet high. Think about that.” I still do, Mr. G.

This brought back fond memories of Mr. Kitchen, who taught American History at my high school in Northern Virginia. Mr. Kitchen focused so intently on the positive, and the interesting, that even the slackers got caught up in his lectures and disrupters realized they were being ignored (or glared at by the other students). One year Mr. Kitchen got stuck team-teaching with one of the most difficult and unpopular teachers in the school, and never once indicated that he was in any way unhappy about it — something that, in retrospect, I find amazing.

I came away with a fairly decent understanding of American history, and an appreciation for the amount of effort and talent that goes into great teaching. There were no hikes through seven-foot snowdrifts in Northern Virginia, but Mr. Kitchen did show us a highly effective technique for digging yourself out when things got deep. It involved a hieroglyph that looked like a small shovel. He drew it in margin of a student paper wherever he detected a pile of …bullshit.

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