Father’s Day is a great time to give dad techie gadgets he wouldn’t necessarily buy for himself. Here are some ideas.
1. Last minute gift: an Apple App Store or Android gift card. Who doesn’t need more apps for their mobile device? You can buy prepaid Apple gift cards at most any Target and many supermarkets; if they don’t have the App Store card an iTunes card would work just as well. For Android, Amazon Gift Card – E-mail – Amazon Appstore will work just as well and you can order it for immediate delivery via email. (Unfortunately, Amazon does not seem to have a gift card with a picture of the Android robot on it.)
2. Home Depot gift: a cordless lithium drill/driver set. Every dad has an old cordless drill in a drawer, but the new-generation lithium battery technology is a dramatic step forward. They’re lighter, more powerful and the battery lasts far longer. I have one by Bosch but whatever is on sale will do; take a look and see if you can find a combo set with flashlight, radio and other add-ons that run off the same batteries. This is definitely something dad would never buy for himself but, take it from me, would like to have.
3. Grilling dad gift: temperature monitor for the Weber. The point where dad gets serious about barbecue is when he starts to think about temperature control. Fortunately, there are sturdy aftermarket thermometers like this one which he add in to his existing kettle cooker in a few minutes by drilling a hole, then securing the thermometer with a nut and a washer. If you want to go high tech, my friend Steve would send you to the Thermoworks site where they have all manner of remote doneness sensors, instant read laser thermometers and such.
Sorry for geeking out here, but I just discovered the solution to a longstanding problem and I haven’t seen a complete discussion anywhere else. So here goes…
The problem has to do with WordPress permalinks. A blog post’s permalink is the URL that search engines and directories use to find it on a WordPress blog like the one you’re reading. If a permalink changes for an existing post, the post disappears and searchers get a 404 error which not only is frustrating, but will cost you big time in the search rankings.
So why in the world would you want to change your permalinks in light of this risk? Because most of us made a mistake in the way we set up our permalinks to begin with. There’s a “Permalinks” tab in “Settings” on the WordPress dashboard and radio buttons to choose your structure and the default (as I recall) is to give each post a unique number like:
But instead I thought it was useful to reference the date (at the beginning of Otisregrets, I was using it primarily as a communications tool in my copywriting class so it was important to have everything in chronological order) so I chose this option:
There are two things wrong with that structure. First, it means that every time a search result lists my post it will include the date. And I think most people give more credence to recent posts since an older one may have obsolete information. Second, you may want to republish older posts (like the ones from the early days of a blog, when you had far less readership). You can’t simply cut and paste to create a duplicate post; the search spiders hate this. But if you change the publication date in the WordPress dashboard to create a new post, then all your indexing disappears.
What I wanted to do is change the permalink structure to
which means I can change the publication date (but NOT the title) and the search engines and indexes will still find it, yet it will be on the top page of my blog. And if you look at the urls of my posts now, that’s what I did. Here’s how.
1. Download your .htaccess file, which is in the top level directory of your WordPress blog. (Mine is in www.otismaxwell.com/blog for example.) This is the file which directs spiders and other indexing operations (including your own) as to where to find things on your site. You might not see the file immediately because many ftp applications hide “dot” files by default. I used Filezilla which has a setting under “Server” for “Force showing hidden files”; you want to check this setting and then .htaccess appears.
2. Make the .htaccess file visible on your local machine. This is necessary because neither Mac OS X nor Windows shows these files by default. In Mac it’s a simple matter of opening the Terminal and adding this line:
After you do this, close terminal and restart Finder and voila, all your hidden files are now visible.
3. make a copy of the .htaccess file you downloaded and move it to a safe place on your local computer in case something terrible happens.
4. Open the .htaccess file in a text editor (I used TextEdit) and insert a line under # BEGIN WordPress to specify a 301 redirect. DO NOT MAKE A MISTAKE HERE OR YOUR POSTS WILL DISAPPEAR. Web programmer and SEO expert Joost de Valk has kindly provided a script which will create the correct code for you; read the article then click “generate redirects” and follow the prompts to create your own like of 301 code.
5. Upload the edited .htaccess file to your WordPress directory, replacing the old file, then IMMEDIATELY go to the Permalinks tab on the WordPress dashboard and change the format to:
6. Test it by searching for a couple of your posts in Google or other search engine. The result should resolve to the new title of the post. You did it!
7. It’s a good idea to re-hide hidden files on your local machine so you don’t delete or alter one of these vital files by accident. To do this on Mac, just go into Terminal and enter the same instruction as previously but this time end it with “NO” instead of “YES”:
defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles NO
A couple I know bought a fancy camera before the birth of their first baby. It’s sitting in a drawer somewhere. Turns out that their trusty iPhone does everything they need: they can shoot a pretty good photo, touch it up with Instagram, and shoot it out to their friends immediately.
Instagram is interesting. Dave Kerpen wrote an article about it over on LinkedIn called “And the Future of Social Media Is” and the answer is… not Tumblr, just acquired by Yahoo, but Instagram. His 10 year old daughter and her friends used it to exhaustion on a recent weekend trip, adding insta-apps to expand the conversation as they went. As opposed to Pinterest, which sends lots of traffic to my food blog but seems mainly a scrapbooking application, Instagram really works as a fully functional social network–and it’s a lot easier to shoot and share a picture than to write an update.
One of those apps, Instafollow, allows users to automatically follow or unfollow up to 160 users per hour, up to an ultimate count of 20,000 users, simply by following followers of a user. That’s a lot more power than Twitter and a lot easier to execute. No wonder my own kid, who’s fairly responsible on Facebook, got me in so much trouble on Instagram that I had to delete my account. Snap a picture, slap some text on it, and you’re good to go.
I just put the account back up and already I’ve got new followers and a writing opportunity thanks to Instagram. My username is otismaxwell if you care to meet me over there.
I pass this billboard frequently on a busy highway in upstate New York. It has multiple inspirational headlines stacked like cordwood: Driven/ Innovation/ Pass It On/ Values.com. To the left, a photo of Henry Ford (we know it’s him because there is a caption that says Henry Ford), driving (not being driven in) an early horseless carriage. The net effect is too much of a good thing, and I see it all the time, so I finally had to write about it.
Part of the problem is that the placement is a stone’s throw from Troy, NY, birthplace of the Arrow shirt, the cast iron stove, Uncle Sam and The Night Before Christmas among innovations. It sticks in our craw that they chose a non-local for their innovator. But the bigger issue is the multiple inspirational sayings when just one or two would do. It’s like too much candy on Halloween.
I headed over to Values.com to learn more about exactly what inspires them to inspire. It’s an interesting website. You can’t join them or give them money or get money from them; they’re doing this because “We believe that people are basically good and often benefit from a simple reminder.” Fair enough, and a good reason they deserve a little gentle nudging to make sure those reminders are effective.
There’s a section on the website called “Billboards” and on it you can create your own values billboard and look at it online, or look at billboards others have created. Each has one photo, one headline and one value and works a lot better than Values.com’s “Driven” effort. Give it a try. (But be sure your inspiration is not something naughty like “beer” or you’ll get a server error.)
By the way, what the website does not say is that Values.com is apparently funded by evangelical Christian Phillip Anschutz, who according to Wikipedia has also funded a think tank that criticizes evolution and a ballot initiative designed to overturn local and state laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. If I were Mr. Anschutz, I would identify myself and make my case on the website rather than leaving it to the curious visitor to go googling and draw their own conclusions.
Infographics seem to be the newest arrow in the art director’s quiver. Why say it with words when you can throw in a clever graphic? I’m fine with this as long as it enhances the communication, but recently I’ve seen some examples in which the visuals actually got in the way.
Here’s a simple infographic from Rovi (they’re my client, but I wasn’t involved in this) which demonstrates several best practices. The stat is about the effective life of different categories of device and it turns out the bigger the screen, the longer it tends to stay around. So the designer created a graph in which time is expressed by the size of the screen and is reinforced by the more precise timeline at the top. It’s memorable and instantly understandable. It pulls one fact out of a longer article which is particularly appropriate for visual expression.
Less good are infographics in which a legend is required to understand what the visual is communicating—in other words, there are design objects that symbolize something and then off to the side there’s a caption that says what they mean. This is a necessary feature with complex charts but an infographic is not supposed to be complex. If you need a legend to make your point, start over.
Still less good are infographics in which numbers are just translated into graphics with color and clever type treatments. This seems to be the most common type of faux infographic. Our friends at eConsultancy shared this classic from Google+ in “How Not to Make an Infographic: Four Examples to Avoid”. (Sorry it’s tiny; click through to the jpg then click on the magnifying glass to blow it up.) There’s nothing in these numbers that could not have been said just as effectively with simple words. The graphics don’t add anything; they’re arbitrary and don’t add the visual revelation we saw in the Rovi example.
Finally, at the bottom of the barrel, we find infographics that are actually incomprehensible. This is the kind of work I’ve seen from a couple of would-be infographics designers who pull out words or numbers that look important, then turn them into graphics and assume they will support the text. But it doesn’t work like that. An infographic has to work on its own as an element of the message.
None of this is news, of course. Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, first published in 1983, has great examples of infographics dating back to the time of Napoleon. I wish some of today’s would-be infographers would read it.
I had, then lost, a new client this month. The breaking point was a work for hire agreement that specified I could not work for any company “in the same business” as this client for two years after working for them. My problem was that the document did not specify what business the client was in! So I added a phrase to do this, and they rejected the edit because they wanted to reserve the right to go into other, new businesses in the future. We thus went our separate ways.
This is not the first time I’ve lost work by declining to sign a legal document I felt was unreasonable. Once a small agency (whose client base was banking, not the CIA) wanted me to sign a commitment never to show any work I had done for them or even say I had done it. Since a freelancer needs to prove experience to get work, this didn’t seem a good idea. It’s not the same thing as signing an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) which I’ve done many times and simply holds the contractor responsible for keeping confidential any trade secrets revealed during the project.
What do you do to protect your legal rights while still getting new business? Do you show everything you are asked to sign to a lawyer? Do you have a lawyer draft your own estimates and contracts? I don’t. For one thing, the cost of the lawyer would cause me to raise my rates to a level the market wouldn’t bear. For another, if there ever were a legal complaint the cost of defending it would most likely put you out of business anyway, so the best defense is to act ethically in all your dealings and hope it never happens. This is the “reasonable person” (nee “reasonable man”) concept in which you honor any commitment, in writing or not, in a way that meets the expectations of your profession and the business community.
When I’m asked to propose an agreement to a client (as I’ve done a number of times in retainer relationships) I write a letter, in plain English, and put a place for both of us to sign at the end. I describe what it is I’m delivering, how it will be judged as satisfactory and complete, what are the payment and delivery terms, and how either party can get out of the contract. I deliberately keep it simple. Again, if they want to outwit me with a legal shenanigan they can do that easily enough but I’m hoping a satisfactory working relationship is more important.
Do you have professional liability insurance that would defend you if a client claimed a business failure was your fault? I don’t… see above, if you ever get a claim it’s probably going to put you out of business insurance or not. If you do purchase this insurance be sure the business you are in is clearly defined. You probably want it to be “advertising consultant” not simply “freelance writer” and you want to get a clear commitment from the insurer as to what is covered.
One type of insurance I do have is a “studio” rider on my homeowner’s policy (I work in a separate building on the same lot where our house is located) that covers the cost of business equipment, some business interruption costs, and personal liability as it relates to people who come on the property. Once a delivery man was surprised by my German Shepherd (long since deceased, by the way) and jumped off the second floor balcony; the insurance paid for his medical bills and time lost from work.
That’s what I do to protect myself legally. I’m sure it could be better, but I feel like it handles the worst scenarios. I’m gratified that most of my contracts, even for some fairly large clients, are still made with a handshake rather than a legal document. How about you?
Ask me who I’m going to vote for in the Presidential election and you’ll get one data point, which might be a lie. Ask me who I think is going to win and you’ll get a far more reliable predictor. First, because I’m no longer on the spot for answering about my own vote. Second, because my answer will encompass my conversation with friends about how they’re voting, plus what I’ve heard and read and seen in the media and on people’s bumpers and in their yards. In essence, I’m speaking as a social network of one.
The above isn’t a hypothesis. The New York Times cites an academic paper by David Rothschild and Justin Wolfers that compares the predictive power of voters’ intentions (how they will vote) and their expectations (who they think will win). In the majority of presidential elections since 1952, expectations were the winner. According to Wolfers, a professor of economics at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, that’s because the expectations question taps into additional knowledge beyond the personal voting question, and of course “more information produces better results.”
In fact, the authors estimate that each expectation answer is equivalent to ten “how will you vote” answers, thus solving a problem that I didn’t realize existed: people today are much less responsive to polls. A few years ago, 40% of people polled would respond. Today it’s down to 10%, according to Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center. Think about the number of polling calls you’ve likely received during this election and you can guess why that is. We’re oversaturated with polls.
As a marketer, I’ve often used polls as an involvement device. You can gather valuable useful audience information and then offer the finished poll to participants as an incentive to answer. As copywriters, we would never ask personal questions that make readers uncomfortable; rather we’ll be looking for ways to make them interested and eager to respond. We’ll automatically go for the “expectation” vs “intention” question, in other words.
You can also use polls to get people thinking about the benefits of your product by asking questions that show it in the best possible light. For example, one of my favorite controls is a package I wrote for Intuit for a new tax preparation product that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. I asked people what they’d like to see in a tax prep product, with multiple-choice answers that touched on existing and planned product features. The involvement made them invested in the product’s development and they were more likely to buy it as a result; this package remained the control during the entire lifecycle of the product.
But back to presidential polling, you’re probably wondering who is picked to win next Tuesday according to the “expectation” method. Read the Times article for that answer. Then come back at midnight on November 6 to see if they were right.
Got an email the other day from Larry Hampel, ECD of Cramer-Krasselt in NYC. He says in part:
I happened to stumble across your blog while killing some time this morning, and I saw your piece on David Ogilvy. Nice Job. “Confessions…” was the first book I read when coming up in the biz and so much of it still makes sense today.
However…. I feel the need to correct you on one important thing. You are correct, Ogilvy did not say “it’s not creative unless it sells.” But he also did not come up with the phrase “if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
That phrase appears in Ogilvy on Advertising… and it’s actually Ogilvy’s Misquote of the former, more famous, “it’s not creative unless it sells.”
I know because my father coined that phrase while Executive creative director at Benton and Bowles in the ’70′s. In fact, that line became their mantra. (and, in fact, if you go back I think Ogilvy attributes it to B&B in the book).
Anyway, just wanted to clear that up.
I had picked up the quote from Ogilvy’s Magna Carta of Advertising, which is today available only in internet form, but I looked at “On Advertising” and sure enough, Ogilvy does give credit to B&B. So there. My Ogilvy Tribute Page has been updated accordingly.
I was back in San Francisco this week and paid a visit to the Musee Mechanique. This is a warehouse full of old arcade games that are restored and maintained by a private owner in return for your plunking in many quarters for a chance to experience a thrill from yesteryear that probably cost a penny back in the day.
There are early video games, tests of strength, and machines that tell your fortune along with your weight. But the really charming exhibits are boxed dioramas which come to life to show a man trying to calm a crying baby (whose jaw is repaired with what looks like silly putty), the horrors of an opium den, or the flatulence that results from eating too many beans on the prairie in the example below.
O for the good old days, in which consumers could be amused by simple thrills like this and marketers could get them to read long copy ads like John Caples’ “They laughed when I sat down to play the piano” or the Charles Atlas ads. Today they demand amped-up computer graphics, and they wouldn’t have the patience to watch to watch the full two minutes of “The Inquest”, a large exhibit in which buffalo shuffle their heads while investigating the body of an Indian warrior who has frozen to death in the snow. Today’s consumers also lack the generous acceptance of our wiles that made advertising a welcome, entertaining part of daily life.
Our job is a lot harder, which makes it more interesting I guess. Happy Labor Day.
After an 18 month dalliance with Android, I’m back to the iPhone, now on Verizon. Left the Droid X outside during a Texas thunderstorm, and the Verizon folks were kind enough to upgrade me without a penalty.
I’m happy. All my old apps were waiting for me in iTunes. The GPS problems have gone away. And I’m comfortable back in Steve’s sandbox where rogue apps don’t cause the system to crash.
Just one thing… what the f* is this Siri? Does anybody except new users and my 10 year old actually find it an enjoyable and productive feature? Or to expand the question, if there had never been a Star Trek would the idea of instructing a computer with voice commands, rather than just punching a button, have ever seemed like a good idea?
One thing I did struggle with was the lack of security for my Apple account. By default, a user (such as the above mentioned 10 year old) can enter a wrong password 4 times and then be asked if they want to reset it. The reset link is sent to my primary email account, which of course is accessible on the phone.
The solution is to go to Settings>General>Restrictions>Accounts and then check “Don’t Allow Changes”. I can now enter the wrong password as many times as I like and will never be prompted to reset it.