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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in BTRIPP's LiveJournal:

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    Saturday, January 24th, 2015
    7:01 pm
    More Wizardry ...
    OK, so this is the third of three reviews covering the three books of the “Wizard of Ads” trilogy by Roy H. Williams, and you probably should consider reading the two previous ones before launching into this. Like its predecessors, Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and Techniques for Profitable Persuasion is designed to look like a leather-bound “ancient tome”, with similar interior styling, although this time featuring yellow (gold?) accents on the interior pages. As were the previous two volumes, this is comprised of 100 short chapters, this time collected into four sections: “Architecture of the Mind”, “Tools for Profitable Persuasion”, “Charting Your Destiny & Dreams”, and “Wizards at Large”.

    Once again, Williams has a lot of material for what these days would likely be called “brain hacking” … elements of perception and mental processing that can be channeled to particular persuasive ends. One early point he makes in this is “Lyrics are absorbed and processed almost exclusively in the 'nonverbal' right hemisphere.”, implying that putting messages into songs can “sneak them past the Inner Critic” (of the left hemisphere). A lot of this first section looks at right/left brain issues, and how different types of impressions are experienced and integrated in perception. It also is less targeted to actual marketing messaging, and much more “theoretical” than the material in the previous books (for instance particle/wave duality … hard to turn that into a product pitch!). There is a wealth of interesting stuff, however, such a the 4 kinds of thought, 3 kinds of people (verbal, analytical, abstract, and symbolic, and artists, businesspeople, and scientists) … which is immediately followed by a chapter analyzing some James Taylor lyrics.

    Williams again revisits the “sleep” model of his previous books, only now noting that sleep tends to clear electrical short-term “working” memory, which is contrasted with “procedural” memory – the sort of thing like having learned how to ride a bike or type, which he suggests is primarily stored chemically. He also comes back to “Broca's area”, which he here describes as a “tollbooth” … if what is coming in to the brain is “predictable”, it will be shunted off as being of “low importance”, leading to it not getting much attention. So, playing with language, and surprising those parts of the brain, are key to getting messages in.

    One thing presented here I found fascinating is the author's debunking of the visual/auditory/kinesthetic model so popular with network marketers and other salesmen whose approach requires building rapport with their targets … he quotes “This is a groundless theory based on zero medical research.” … so much for “cold reading” prospects for see/hear/feel verbs. Another very similar “myth” is also addressed here: the saw that “93 percent of all human communication is nonverbal”, which turns out to have been a generalization from a very specific study (of “the resolution of inconsistent messages”) which got picked up and spread by the self-help seminar crowd. On a less contentious footing, he closes out the “mind” section with a look at the Myers-Briggs type of personality sorting, which he seems to approve of, but (oddly) doesn't even make a stab at relating to marketing.

    Of course, “Tools for Profitable Persuasion” flips over to nearly all business. He talks of “business morphine” - approaches that work, but are addictive and progressively less effective over time … these are great in the short-term, but damage the business long-term. He counters this will a look at a study in customer loyalty, there being 3 types of customers: nonswitchable – those that will not be convinced to change, switchable – those who, with the right messaging, can change brands, and price-switchable – those who will constantly switch, looking for a cheaper option. The latter are the prime audience of “business morphine”.

    This section gets a bit complicated with theories … like his “gravity well” (much like a “sales funnel”) of increasing interaction with a brand, “share of voice”, “impact quotient”, “share of mind”, “personal experience factor”, “share of market”, “market potential”, and the “advertising performance equation” … all of which are inter-related: (SoV x IQ) = SoMi, (SoMi x PEF) = SoMa, (SoMa x MPo) = Sales Volume, or SoV x IQ x PEF x MPo = Sales Volume (yeah, I “glazed over” early on in this too). He spins out of this into a piece about statistics and how TV bundles up bad slots and tries to sell you less effective packages … which I guess would be useful to some.

    Fortunately, the rest of the “tools” section gets back to more generally applicable stuff, from how to facilitate brainstorming sessions that will involve both introverts and extroverts, the New Coke fiasco as a study in what we say vs. what we do, etc. He then moves into a series of chapters where he turns various figures into verbs – Robert Frost into “frosting”, Dr. Seuss into “seussing”, and “being Monet” - all in the interest of “sneaking past the security guard” by getting into the right brain with messages that will then slip into the left using tools like “humor”, “mental participation”, and “subliminal associations” where a slight change in otherwise synonymous words can create big changes in people's perception and behaviors. He discusses how “numbered lists” (“7 habits”, etc. ad nauseum) appeal to the brain, and eventually works his way around to “chaotic systems”.

    The third section, “Charting Your Destiny & Dreams”, involves quite a lot of “navel gazing”, about one's purpose, one's goals, one's dreams, and how you go about trying to define and/or reach these. He notes that the universe is “built on mutually exclusive truths”, such as the admirability of “reaching for the stars” and “being content the way you are”</i>, which Williams links thusly:
    Being content and reaching for the stars both require an absence of fear. The fear of being average robs you of contentment. The fear of failure robs you of the joy of your dreams.
    He also asks whether you'd prefer to spend a week with noted investor Warren Buffet, or Margaritaville's Jimmy Buffet.

    There is a lot of reminiscing into the author's past here, some random notes, and bits and pieces that one might find useful, aside from amusing. One of these is pointing out how both pessimists and optimists tend to make the reflections on events, positive or negative, Persona, Permanent, and Pervasive … as in “it's abut me”, “it's not going to change”, and “it's universal” … an interesting way to break down those sorts of thought patterns. Another piece here has a heading which is wise all by itself: “Experience must first be a verb.” … which he backs up with a quote from Oscar Wilde.

    The final section, “Wizards at Large”, primarily looks at historical figures that Wiliams holds up as examples of his “Wizardry”. Many of these are of the “punch line” variety I've mentioned previously (he doesn't tell you who he's talking about until the very end), but others are more general descriptions. These range from Geoffrey of Monmouth, to Baron Rothschild, Coco Chanel, Mark Twain, Andrew Jackson, Lewis Carrol, etc., plus Ben Franklin advising Thomas Jefferson on editing, and the origin of the Tuxedo. Not a whole lot of “actionable” stuff in here, but interesting tales in the category that Arsenio Hall calls “things that make you go hmmmmmm”.

    Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads is still available, at least through the on-line big boys, and you can land a used copy of the paperback edition for under a buck (plus shipping). This (like its predecessors) was and interesting read, but seemed to be a lot more oriented toward “folk wisdom” (or what its author had picked up over his career).

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    Sunday, January 18th, 2015
    10:35 am
    Much more under the hood ...
    OK, so I'm going to work on the assumption that you are reading this review in sequence, or at least in context of my previous and following reviews of the three books in Roy H. Williams' “Wizard of Ads” trilogy. If you've not read the review yet of the first book, you might want to go there first, as I'm leaving a good deal of my typical “how I got to this book” stuff un-repeated here. This volume, Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads: Turning Paupers into Princes and Lead into Gold, from 1999, is both very similar to, and significantly different than its predecessor. Like that volume, this strives to give the impression of being an ancient tome (now with metallic accents on the cover), now with more “margin notes” “penciled in”, but it seems to me that Williams has rolled up his sleeves and opted to dig more into the work here than the story telling of the earlier book.

    This also comes in 100 short chapters, but this time broken out over six sections: “Philosophy of Advertising”, “Room with a View”, “Side Door into the Mind”, “Turning Lead into Gold” (with “pencil” and “advertising” written in where you'd expect them), “Doing the Hard Thing”, and “How, Then, Should We Live?”.

    When I was first contemplating what I'd do for these reviews, I thought I had a killer hook, as these three books from Mr. Williams reminded me quite a bit of the various books coming out from Seth Godin, and I figured, with these coming out in 1998, 1998, and 2001, that they would have certainly predated Godin. However, when I checked, I was surprised to see that Godin had two of his books out prior to these, and this particular volume shared a release year with Godin's landmark Permission Marketing. So, I lost that story angle, but suffice it to say that there are certain similarities between the two writers' approaches to “marketing wisdom”, just Williams said his piece in three books, while Godin's releases have gone on and on.

    As I mentioned … this book seems more “in the trenches” … an early stop discusses “branding”, but puts it in the context of Ivan Pavlov's work with dogs:
          There are three keys to implanting an associative memory into the mind of your customer. The first key is consistency. Pavlov never offered food without ringing the bell, and he never rang the bell without offering food. The second key is frequency, meaning that Pavlov did it day after day after day.
          The third key anchoring, is the tricky one. When an associative memory is being implanted, the new and unknown element (the bell) has to be associated with a memory that's already anchored to the dog's love for the taste of meat. If the dog did not love meat, the frequent and consistent ringing of the bell would have produced no response other than to irritate the dog.
    Obviously, one needs to know what moves your customers if you're wanting your business/product/service to get associated with that pre-existing positive attitude.

    The second section of the book, “Room with a View” is specifically looking at the brain … ranging from one-liners like “In your advertising, don't speak to the world outside your customers, speak to the world inside their minds.” to relatively detailed looks at specific brain functions. In one chapter Williams goes on a tour of the various areas of brain activity, with special focus on “Wernicke's area” and “Broca's area” … the former being “king of nouns”, bringing up what things are called, and the latter being “the center of action words”. The author states:
    The objective of advertising is to influence the prefrontal cortex – the seat of emotion, planning and judgement, located just across the motor association cortex, right behind your forehead. And the shortest leap to it is from Broca's area.
    He goes on to assert:
    Describe what you want the listener to see, and she will see it. Cause her to imagine taking the action you'd like her to take, and you've brought her much closer to taking the action. The secretof persuasion lies in our skillful use of action words. The magic of advertising is in the verbs.
    Another fascinating bit here, that I probably had encountered in some previous material, but really didn't “know” it, is the concept of “the magic square”, where in a 3x3 grid, a box drawn around the intersection of the upper and right lines within the whole image will be the place of greatest attention … this is constantly used from classic art to modern graphics … so it's a handy thing to have at least mentally filed!

    In the third section, “Side Door into the Mind”, Williams gets into some “Jedi mind tricks” that could be useful … for instance: “People tend to follow through with what they have heard themselves say they would do.”, so getting people to voice your intents for you (in a chant or rhyme, for instance), they're a lot more likely to move forward with the action. Also, if you can speak to a “deeply felt need”, you can pretty much claim anything, as the emotion attached to the need will over-ride any intellectual disbelief of the claim. In this section, he also gets into “The Six Tugs-of-War” (which are very similar to the “7 Laws” in the previous book, but not identical), with a chapter each on:

    • Intellect vs. Emotion

    • Time vs. Money

    • Opportunity vs. Security

    • Style vs. Substance

    • Pain vs. Gain

    • Sight vs. Sound

    These have some interesting research associated with them, as well as some applied tactics for making the best of each of those dualities. He also discusses different media and how effective they are on other levels, and then returns to the “sleep as eraser” idea requiring extensive repetitive exposure: “The goal of a long-term (branding) campaign is to expose the listener to the identical ad approximately three times within each seven night's sleep, fifty-two weeks a year. … You must have sufficient repetition (and patience) to overcome the cleansing effects of sleep.” Frankly, Williams' books are the only place I've encountered this sleep model, so I don't know if it's a research-based “common knowledge” that I've missed (having been on the PR side of things) or if this is just something spun out of his own experience.

    There is so much good stuff in here that I could go on and on … but I'm going to try to wrap this up. A few more choice bits: “The key attribute of print media is accuracy. The power of the spoken word is persuasion. … writing in the present tense helps to put readers “into the scene” … “While the journalist seeks to inform us and the creative writer entertains, it is the poet who changes how we see the world.” (in the context of “using unpredictable words in unusual combinations”).

    He does go on a bit with, perhaps, too much nitty-gritty when he delves deeply into calculating ad budgets, and especially the arcana of radio (and to some extent, TV) buys. Interesting, perhaps … TMI, possibly … although there is this question: Which is better – a schedule that reaches 100% of the city and persuades them 10% of the way, or a schedule that reaches 10% of the city and persuades them 100% of the way? (it's the same money, just one plan works and the other doesn't).

    The last two sections of the book sort of lost me … the “Hard Things” section is about specific “running a business” kinds of things that didn't much resonate with me, and the final section, while engaging was a bit unfocused (I'm still not sure why that piece on him wanting to do a movie about Oscar Wilde is in there), and there was a regrettable sense that he'd used up the “good stuff” in the previous ¾ of the book, and was looking for stuff to “fill” to get to 100 pieces. However, that could just be me.

    Other than this mild caveat, I found Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads a really remarkable book, and is one of those extremely rare books that I anticipate re-reading in anticipation of getting more quality info from it in a second go-around. This is also still available (even in hardcover), so should be obtainable through whatever sales channel you're inclined to use. Like its predecessor, it is also available from the online new/used guys for a mere penny … so, again, you have no excuse for not grabbing a copy!

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    Saturday, January 17th, 2015
    2:54 pm
    Advertising philosophy, amusingly packaged ...
    A couple of months back, I was attending an entrepreneurial conference down in Chicago's Loop, and on one of the panels, one of the speakers was effusive in recommending the “Wizard of Ads” books by Roy H. Williams. I'd never heard of the guy, but figured I'd check him out. Turns out that he'd dropped out of college following his second day there, and has been making his way through the world by asking “What makes people do the things they do?”, and building up what sounds like quite a substantial marketing practice based on the fruits of that analysis.

    It turns out that there's a trilogy of “Wizard of Ads” books, and I ended up getting all three and reading them in sequence. I was toying with “batching” them and doing one review covering all three, but I figured that wouldn't be fair to either the books or you readers, so a lot of the “over-all” stuff is going to be dispensed with here, and the following two reviews will simply assume you've read this one. The first thing you'll notice about these three books is that they're not your standard business books, being designed to “look and feel” like well-worn leather bound volumes, sporting deckled edges, cream paper, and design elements both drawn from medieval “hand-illuminated” texts and, well, frankly, scrapbooks.

    The first of these, 1998's The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words into Magic and Dreamers into Millionaires starts with a somewhat edgy assertion – the “9 Secret Words”: The risk of insult is the price of clarity.” which is pretty gutsy for most marketers … and he follows that with:
    If in your advertising you are willing to speak the simple, essential truth as plainly as you are able, and if you are willing to support what you say with illustration and example, meet me in the backyard … we'll take over the world.
    While the book is sub-divided into fairly “business book”-like sections: “Turning Words into Magic”, “Turning Strangers into Customers”, and “Turning Dreams into Realities”, things proceed in a rather unique manner. There are 100 “chapters” here, running just 1-3 pages, and most embellished by some graphic – from a charred twenty dollar bill, to vintage ads, to framed quotes … needless to say, this is not a “dense” reading experience, but a series of “business parables” which illustrate particular points. These aren't all just “stories”, as a number of them veer off into brain science, like:
    Planting a reticular activator in the mind of a customer is the Mount Everest of ad writers. The reticular activator is a mental trigger in your unconscious that directs your attention and causes you to notice and remember things you never intentionally committed to memory.
    An example he gives is an exercise where you do a series of math problems, all of which end up as 14, and then you're asked to name a vegetable … odds are you'll say “carrot” because the repeated impressions of the term “14-karat” for gold have anchored that combination in your brain (Williams also notes here that audio input is stronger than visual).

    One thing he does (across all three books) is start off stories like he's talking about some guy down the block who's doing this or that, like “his friend” Al who said “we do things, but we do not know why we do them” which Williams projects to people not being able to be “fully trusted” when they tell you what they want … the person looking for car wax doesn't really want the wax, they want a shiny car, the business owner who asks for advertising, really is looking for more customers, etc. Eventually he gets around to noting that his buddy “Al” is more famous for saying E=MC² … and you find out that he's talking about an observation by Albert Einstein (who he doesn't know). There are many bits like this where the story plays out and has the “punchline” of having the tale being about a familiarly famous person.

    There are lots and lots of little bits of what is no doubt hard-earned wisdom in here, like how certain locations can boost business far more than others (one that was 33% more expensive than a client's old space ended up bringing in as much business in 3 months as the old one saw in 12), and almost nagging on some points. One phrase that he highly recommends is “which means ...”, because all marketers are way too close to their products and tend to assume that there are “self evident” aspects that anybody would know about them … and typically they don't … so when you say something even vaguely technical about your product or industry, it's wise to follow up with a plain-talk re-framing about what that means. There are also “old saws” thrown in, like “ The man who sells to the classes / will live with the masses. / Sell to the masses / and you'll live with the classes.”, with the further note that “people who make a living by serving the rich are called butlers”!

    Aside from the “punch line” stories, there are some other straight-forward historical pieces here, like the one about how Sears got started with a mis-directed shipment of pocket watches … the addressee hadn't ordered them, but rather than send the case back, railway agent Sears bought them himself and started what was to become a huge retail empire. In the words of Johnny Carson: “I did not know that!” despite having lived in Sears' hometown for most of my life.

    I'm skipping over a lot of the specific “philosophy” here, not so much as to leave you itching to get to the details, as that a lot of this is presented in ways that don't conveniently translate to bullet lists … things like “The Seven Laws of the Advertising Universe”, which is brilliant, but not easily distilled to something scaled to this review. However, The Wizard of Ads is a very enjoyable and informative read, and I'd guess that nearly anybody would find something of interest in here, although it is, obviously, targeted to the marketer.

    Perhaps a testament to its on-going utility is that it's still in print (even in this fancy design), and at a very reasonable cost via the on-line big boys (I don't know if, after 17 years, this has a lot of penetration into the brick-and-mortar stores). Of course, I ended up getting my copy via the new/used vendors, and you can presently get a “very good” used copy of this for a penny (plus the $3.99 shipping), so you don't have much of an excuse of passing it by.

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    Sunday, January 11th, 2015
    11:14 pm
    Book editing ...
    It's been over a decade since Eschaton Books went out of business (the first time), and, frankly the projects that I'd taken on book-wise since then hadn't been particularly "edit heavy", as they were either largely graphic (the books for Simuality/Avatrait), or were poetry. The new book I've been working on, however, The Common Book is a compilation of bits and pieces from various sources, in various formats, with assorted typographic quirks requiring me to flog it into a reasonably consistent-looking whole. I had done one version of this, for the free .PDF ebook several weeks ago, but had just moved into re-formatting that for a 6x9" paperback edition that I'll be producing through Amazon's "CreateSpace" (same as the poetry volumes).

    One might think that this would be easy as tweaking a few settings, but no ... while the lay-out for the .PDF version was full-on centered on the page, to accommodate the paper mass of a 400+ page book, I had to shift everything to new margins. Since my header and footer material were set to the outer page margins on both the recto and verso, I fortunately didn't have to change the "master pages" in MSPublisher ... however, I ended up having to manually adjust the text box on each page, pulling the inner edge out of "the gutter" by more than a third of an inch. This, of course, then changed the lay-out on every page and the text was now flowing through a somewhat narrower space.

    Of course, when setting up the ebook edition, I'd poked and prodded and nudged line spacing to make stuff fit as well as possible (avoiding "widows & orphans", etc.), and all that coding was also in the new version, meaning that I had to pay particularly close attention on how paragraphs were lining up in relation to each other. To my credit, I got MOST of that OK on the first go-through, but it was amazing how much stuff turned up every time I did another read-through.

    First I did the edit and saved the .pub file off as a .PDF that I could upload to CreateSpace ... in my review of that I found five errors, some as simple as having ascii quotes in one piece (instead of "styled" quotes), and graphics that hadn't been centered in the new margins, etc. I figured I was good-to-go and uploaded that to the CreateSpace service. When they got back to me with the "review" function, I did another walk-through and was shocked to find another 13 things that needed fixing ... from the horrific - a glaring typo in the title of one of the pieces, to a missing quotation mark in a TOC entry, to a few places that needed a return or had one too many, to a couple of pages right at the end where the recto and verso master pages had gotten screwed up.

    It amazes me that I was able to miss (most of those, the spacing ones were new) these not once but twice (especially that chapter heading). When doing "check-through" edit reads I usually look for just one type of thing each time through the text, and go through it repeated times to make sure everything right without having to look "for everything" each time on a page. I'm usually quite sensitive to text errors (which is how those ascii quotemarks stood out enough to catch), and so I'm mortified that the error of that title got through (and I need to get back into the free ebook file and fix that, since over 30k copies have been downloaded with the error!) ... but what I'm really amazed at is that I didn't see the pages with the wrong lay-out until the file had been up on the CS system and I was looking at them side-by-side (and, in the online version, with shadowing in the gutter, which made it really stand out). I guess that's why they have those features.

    I'm sure that even now there are still errors lurking in there (aside from a couple of widows/orphans that I just couldn't mess with line spacing enough to get rid of, without making the surrounding text look funny), but it certainly makes me a bit more understanding when I run across "glaring errors" in other people's books (especially when I'm reading ARCs - advance review copies).

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    Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
    11:35 pm
    A funny thing happened on the way to the book fair ...
    Last month, when I was getting ready to go vend my poetry collections as part of the Independent Writers of Chicago table at the Chicago Book Expo, I did a "Google my name" thing to see what sort of spread I was getting, especially for the new books (not too much). However, one thing that I found amazing was running across an eBay item of a picture of me at 6 months old! They show both the picture, and notes on the back (click for bigger images):


    I'm surprised that I didn't mention this in here before now. This is SO rife with family history ... first of all, my dad was still alive then (he died when I was 2), and being identified as a "Chicago clergyman's son" is so weird to me. Also, my Mom must have still had some connection to Swift, as this is (I'm guessing) from the Swift test kitchens, and I'm being held up in front of a shelf full of "Swifti" cans, with a note on the back that I appeared to favor the Chicken a la King. Now, if my recall of "family history" is right, my Mom at that point was with the J.Walter Thompson ad agency, and no longer at Swift ... but maybe she was on that account.

    As a child I was used to being "a prop" in a lot of ads and stuff ... as well as "opinion panels" for kid-oriented products (I helped name a couple of brands before I was 9). When people ask how long I've been in Marketing Communications, I usually say "forever", as I grew up in a marketing household (attached to a major agency in New York in the 60's ... basically living in "Mad Men"), and this pic is proof that I learned to point at the product before I learned to walk!

    The back of the print was another trip down memory lane, as the pic was signed off by Gaynor Maddox, who was a close family friend when we lived in New York. He and his wife Dorothy were food writers for the Newspaper Enterprise Association wire service, and he was their main food editor (and a noted cookbook author at the time ... heck they even did records!). I guess the group selling the print on eBay had bought out the NEA photo archives and were now selling them off piecemeal.

    This made me wonder how many other bits of Ad/PR ephemera of me there might be out there, as I remember having done a lot of "play with product" activities when I was small ... too bad I don't have a clip book from back then.

    Anyway ... ran across the pics in my download folder and figured I'd pass them along in here ...

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    Sunday, January 4th, 2015
    10:12 am
    Being Authentic ...
    I've known Kim Garst through various social media channels for a while, starting, if my recall is correct, with my early days over on Empire Avenue. She's since been a familiar presence over on Facebook, and I'm signed up to get her frequent newsletter updates. She recently reached out to her audience to create a pre-sell surge on her new book … which is coming out from something of a “hybrid” publisher, Morgan James, who touts their model as being the “Entrepreneurial Publisher™” which appears to manifest as a mix of traditional gate-keeper, print-on-demand (they work with Ingram's “Lightning Source”) service, and vanity (or, in their terms “collaborative”) press. I point this out because a) I'm something of a publishing industry geek, and I'm fascinated by the evolution of these models, and b) I'm seeing Garst implementing things like “Thunderclap” (a crowd-sourced promo platform) to push the book … which is not something I've encountered with folks working with “traditional” publishers. Frankly, when I reached out to Morgan James to request a review copy, I wasn't particularly expecting a response … but I was very pleased to have heard right back asking for my mailing address … so there's enough of a “traditional publisher” backbone to their model to support classic promotional practices.

    Anyway, Kim Garst's Will the Real You Please Stand Up: Show Up, Be Authentic, and Prosper in Social Media comes out in a couple of weeks, is focused on that issue of “being authentic” in social media marketing, and is primarily addressed at the business community … although the messages here are applicable to anybody looking for exposure in social media. The book kicks off with a cautionary tale … of how Quaker Oats lost $1.4 billion between its purchase of, and eventual divesting of, the Snapple brand. In this case, it was a mega-corp taking over a small, quirky, company with a dedicated fan base, and turning it into just another shelf slotting data entry. Needless to say, in that process the brand lost its authenticity, ceased to appeal to its fans, and got no traction with the new MBA-fueled marketing campaign. She follows this by setting out some basic points about the issue:
          Consumers are tired of being overpromised and underdelivered, and in a marketplace rich with alternatives, they are increasingly able to find companies whose authenticity is refreshing and real.

          One of the key hallmarks of sincerity in a company is a commitment to integrity in all actions associated with the brand's story, marketing, and promotion, as well as every other decision made in the operations and support services performed in the name of the brand.

          Customers who have had the pleasant experience of receiving sincerity from a brand are more likely to be repeat customers as a result. Given the cost of developing new leads versus that of retaining existing customers, this can be a huge for a brand's profitability.
    Garst uses the image of the trust involved in the small town/neighborhood business of previous generations, where the people were known, and there was a relationship established that stood as the keystone for commerce … and while it's obviously a different time with different elements, she suggests using social media as a tool to reach out to one's audience in a way that can emulate that sort of interaction. One interesting approach she touches on is “history and heritage”, and cites the Oreo vs. Hydrox cookie brand battle where the perception never synched with the reality (Hydrox was the original, Oreo the later knock-off, both were products of large baking companies, etc.) and despite taste-test superiority, Hydrox was seen as the “off brand”, and eventually went out of production … in “failing to leverage that brand history and tell the authentic story of the brand” it missed its best opportunity. This is echoed in the New Coke fiasco … where to appeal to the biases of upper management, Coke nearly destroyed over a century of consumer good will.

    The idea of “passion” is the driving element in “authenticity”, but it can be a difficult thing to implement in a big company. The founder might have genuine passion for the organization, as key others may, but spreading that across the entire enterprise can be a challenge. Garst presents these steps to bring passion to bear:
    1. Express your passion.

    2. Participate in the passion of others.

    3. Leverage the passion of your social advocates.

    4. Inspire your employees with your passion.

    5. Tie your passion to business-related outcomes.

    In each chapter, there are a lot of “do this” sorts of lists like the above, plus a “conclusion” section which wraps up the concepts covered in it. Again, this is primarily addressed to marketing people who might not have a solid grasp on social media, so a significant amount of the message here is “old news” to those who have been involved in social for a while, but the pacing is set to bring along those who need to be tutored in the social approach. Here's a list of points, for example, Garst gives for “starting the conversation”:
    • Don't be a know-it-all.

    • Provide true value.

    • Ask questions.

    • Reach out to others.

    • Express your passion.

    She follows this with a concise, but reasonably comprehensive, look at what to do if things “go wrong”, and how to structure responsibility levels, so when things go bad you can react as quickly as possible (and “quickly” in the social media sphere tend to run to less than an hour rather than after 3 meetings of the Board with the Legal team).

    There are chapters on building and interacting with communities (with examples from Ford, Comic-Com, Harley-Davidson, and the Komen Foundation), and on the concept of “virality” … I was disappointed with one piece of this, however, especially for a book slated for a 2015 release (rather than a few years back), where she suggests that Facebook is likely to provide “viral” spread with people averaging 400 connections … her figures assume total reach to all one's connections (and to those connections' connections, etc.), when the reality (for nearly a year now) is that if you don't pay Facebook, you're unlikely to reach even 10% of those following you (and in many cases, as low as 3%), so rather than there being “64 million possible connections” (FREE!) three levels down, you really can only rely on (if not shoveling lucre to Zuckerberg & Co.) a couple of thousand impressions! Aside from this inexplicable reality gap, Garst outlines the upside, downside, benefits and risks of working towards “viral content”, and how difficult is it to hit just the right tone to “catch the wave” (to mix my metaphors) of public attention … she notes: “In fact, in some cases, the very act of trying to make something go viral can have just the opposite effect … there is always the potential for it to generate a significant amount of negative buzz for your brand.”

    Returning to the theme of “authenticity” she notes that there are cases when attempts to be authentic backfire: “... by openly expressing an opinion on something, you could face criticism from those who don't share your opinion. Also, since words can mean different things to different people, or can be misconstrued, it is possible to offend entire {groups} without intending to do so.” She counters this with a chapter on brands that are “dominating” social media, with Starbucks, American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Disney providing in-depth examples of (admittedly large) companies that have found the right voice for their markets.

    Garst closes out the book with a look at “how to get yourself heard”, even if you don't have the resources of the big corporations. She suggests that “being authentic is an alignment of what you do with why and how you do it” (which is certainly a template applicable to any size organization), and spends the rest of the chapter summarizing the main points of the text.

    As I mentioned, Will the Real You Please Stand Up is due for release in a couple of weeks, and is presently available for pre-order from the on-line big boys at about a 25% discount. While there is little “new” in the book, it is certainly a useful look at social media marketing through the specific filter of authenticity, and it provides quite a lot of actionable material for those who have either not ventured into the social sphere as yet, or have not been successful in their previous attempts.

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    Saturday, January 3rd, 2015
    2:20 pm
    Wish I'd gotten more out of this ...
    A couple of months back I attended the UnCubed event here … this was my third or fourth UnCubed, and each has been different. They're typically 1/3 job fair, 1/3 conference, and 1/3 networking … with an optional (paid) track of workshops. Frankly, generally speaking, the target audience for these is much younger than me and a whole lot more technical … even though that brief writer gig I had out in the suburbs in 2013 came from a discussion with an exhibitor at a previous one – so my finding something at these is possible. This past one, not so much (although they did have a strange revolving – different categories getting in at different times - lounge for those with more than 5 years experience).

    However, one of the exhibitors was Brad's Deals, and they were handing out copies of founder Brad Wilson's Do More, Spend Less: The New Secrets of Living the Good Life for Less to those who seemed interested. I let on as how I did these reviews, and told them I'd throw it into my to-be-read pile.

    Now, I'd not been familiar with the Brad's Deals site (I actually hadn't even looked at it until starting this review), so I didn't have any particular expectation of what the book would be when starting into it … other than being 5½ years out of work and hoping that it was going to provide me with some actionable suggestions for “living the good life for less”. I am also “allergic” to all things financial (down to managing check books and credit cards – thank goodness The Wife is into all that sort of stuff!), and a LOT of this book is targeted to people who like nothing more than to set up spreadsheets comparing fractions of percents of difference between various sources of home loans, car loans, credit cards, etc., so what might have excited the right sort of reader in many cases simply horrified me. In fact, there were chunks of this, where Wilson is going through detailed minutia of international airline frequent flier programs, or comparing credit card offers, that I was literally mentally saying “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH” while flipping the pages until he got to stuff that I could connect with. I am a fairly diligent reader, and it stood out to me that I really couldn't recall another book that I so “disconnected” with in various parts!

    Again, this is likely do to my being phobic around several areas covered here, and not a particular fault of the book … although there was a sense that sections of this were coming from an “enthusiastic hobbyist” standpoint, and held the same “fascination” (or lack thereof) that somebody going on about the details of various Pokemon cards sets, or different gauge model railroad systems, or wine collectors' tasting notes, would have for somebody with scant interest in that niche.

    The book is also very close to being an autobiography … Wilson gets into a lot of detail on how these various “secrets” work, but it's generally in the context of how he worked a particular deal … frequently featuring vehicles that are no longer available. Additionally, from my perspective, it works a very fine line between “these are great ways to save money” and “these are effective ways to game the system” … and I kept wondering when he was “going to get caught” doing a lot of these.

    He starts off talking about how he was able to do these fantastic, 5-figure vacations with his new wife … some of the approaches are basic, but most require jumping through a lot of hoops, some requiring the short-term expenditure of fairly significant funds. One approach he used to build up free nights at a major international hotel chain was to book nights at their lowest-level motel brand (which still counted to “nights stayed” in the chain's program), swing by the hotel, use the automated kiosk to check in, and then simply drive back home. Because he was going to be using those nights (in a stay 2, get 1 deal) in a $1,000+/night hotel, his expenditure of under $50 for each night in the cheap hotel was an investment he was happy to make (although, coming to this in a “flat broke” state, that sounds like a LOT of money to put in play). He claims that his eventual “$54,000” trip (with these hotel credits and a bunch of airline miles) cost him $20 (for a dessert), at no point does he account for the expenditures made to get those hotel nights.

    Speaking of airline miles, he also details a “system” (I think it's closer to a “scam”) where he took advantage of one airline's counting all miles accrued as equivalent to flight miles – and giving miles for every dollar spent on their affiliated credit card – and a promotion that the U.S. Mint was running when it was trying to get people to use the Presidential Dollar coins (where you could order a 250-count box of the coins, for face value, with free shipping). The goal here was to get both him and his wife up to the top “lifetime” status in this airline's frequent flier program – which required 1 million miles racked up in a calendar year. To achieve this, he ordered more than three million $1 coins over the course of several months, running the charges through his (no doubt multiple) credit cards that generated the mileage credits, and turning around and depositing the coins as they came in at his bank to pay off those accounts. I don't know about you, but the idea of trying to charge that much through a credit card is a terrifying concept, even if at each point the money was just “out there” until the next coin delivery (he even got a UPS store box half a block from his bank to make schlepping the 60lb loads of coins easier to deposit).

    His “travel” schemes take up the first half of the book, with the rest being dedicated to “shopping” (where he describes getting kicked off of eBay for listing CDs and DVDs from Amazon Canada – at a time when the exchange rate was very skewed – and simply ordering the items with Canadian dollars for delivery to the customer, and making a chunk of money in the process), and “personal finance” (including how to game the car-buying and mortgage processes). In that section Wilson writes about signing up for numerous credit cards (he did as many as 17 in one day) for sign-up bonuses (no mention about paying the annual fees), and how to manipulate your credit score.

    Again, I'd rather have dental surgery than a friendly sit-down with an accountant, so most of the “tricky” stuff the author outlines here made me extremely nervous reading it … but if you're the type who switched accounts or services all the time to gain a percentage here or a percentage there, you might find all this a lot of fun. You probably need to have a fairly substantial bankroll, however, because a lot of what he talks you through here takes cash (or credit) outlays of various degrees of significance, and all I could think of is how screwed you could be if everything didn't work just perfectly (and having a sense that Wilson was lucky in a lot of his machinations).

    If you're looking for a way to save some money here and there, Do More, Spend Less is probably not the book for you (I guess would be a suggestion), but if you're looking to totally turn you life over to spreadsheets and reading the fine print in every mailing you get to eventually be able to take fifty-thousand dollar vacations “for nothing”, this is the book for you. As noted, there is massive detail as to “how to do it” in the various sections here … but it made my head swim and wonder at what point the gendarmes arrive to stick you in a cell until the Forensic Accountants have picked their way through your finances!

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    Friday, December 26th, 2014
    12:18 pm
    The rules of LiveJournal ...
    Yeah, like Fight Club, LiveJournal has rules too ... and I realize that one of them is "everybody gets to do with their journal whatever they want to do with their journal", so bitching about stuff in other people's journals is generally discouraged. So I'm being BAD here ...

    It drives me nuts when people post HUGE pictures ... because my main interface with LJ is the Friends Feed, and one 3,000+ width picture showing up in a post there makes EVERYTHING on that page scroll off the side. I'm guessing that this is due to people posting from their phones and just including a full-size multi-megapixel image with the post, as I can't imagine that anybody posting from the web would intentionally put in a pic that big.

    I wish there was a "mute image" or somesuch button for those cases because it means that I pretty much have to read everything else on the page in "comment" mode, which is a pain in the ass.

    Of course, the Millennials and "Gen Z" folks often JUST have phones and no real PCs, so they don't even consider the non-mobile viewing (I don't have a clue what a 3000px wide image in LJ looks like on a phone) rendering of what they're posting ... so it's no doubt going to get worse.

    Grrrr ... GET OFF MY LAWN!

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    Wednesday, December 24th, 2014
    1:19 pm
    Mixed feelings ...
    WSI-CBWW-cover-200x300OK, so ... another "secret project" secret no more ...

    Really, really, really, I did not re-start Eschaton to "get back in the publishing biz" ... I just wanted to "save" my old poems from disappearing into to a void of magnetic dust shedding off of 5.25" floppies. However, once I got back into the "hey, editing and lay-out is FUN" mode, stuff stated showing up ... including a project from the folks over at WitchSchool (who have been "old friends" of Eschaton, dating back to our very first non-poetry release from the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions, and our first "multimedia" release of a set of disk-based clipart).

    As I've no doubt kvetched about before ... the reason that I've not been too keen to get back into the publishing biz is that it's a brutal game, with only 2% of published books ever selling as many as 5,000 copies ... and if you're going to try to make a living at this stuff you're going to need to sell LOTS more than that. At least with the poetry, my expectations are pretty much that I'm going to sell nothing (expectations that have, sadly, so far been met with all 10 volumes that are available), so there's no psychic pressure to make those go out the door. However, if I had "commercial" projects in the works, I'd be back to hoping that we'd sell 10k ... which is delusional.

    However, in the case of the initial release of "The Common Book", we're giving away a 400-page .PDF version, which has been, as the saying goes, "flying off the shelves" ... we did a "soft launch" on Sunday morning, and followed it up in the past couple of days with a push in social media and various WitchSchool lists. Just in the past 24 hours, thirteen thousand copies were downloaded ... plus, several WS-connected sites re-posted the file, and there's been much "passing along" of the (fairly large, at 5.62mb) .PDF document, so the numbers are no doubt bigger than that.

    This means that this book has "moved more copies" that ALL the books ever put out by Eschaton ... in just a couple of days.

    Of course, what I'm finding depressing about this is that I'm making nothing on those copies. I'd probably find that irritating even if I was doing this as a side-project to a nice six-figure MarCom job (how I wish!) ... but given the desperately strapped situation that we're in financially, it's really depressing (and The Wife is very, very angry with me about not getting one red cent so far for this).

    I'm still not done with this project, as we still need to produce both a hardcover and paperback edition (it was set up through an IndieGoGo crowd-funding deal, and folks are due books from that), but it's so hard for me to see this huge quantity going out for free, when the logical expectation is that the eventual PAID copies will be only generating a percent or two of that in actual sales.

    Anyway, click on the cover up there and you can have your own .PDF copy of it!

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    Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
    7:41 am
    There's nothing new under the sun ...
    NaziWrap2I was interested to see that kerfuffle which erupted over the past week or so regarding some Hanukkah gift wrap being distributed through Walgreens stores which, quite arguably, was covered in swastikas (see upper part of image). Quelle horreur, n'est ce pas?!

    Of course, accusations of vile conspiracies started flying all over the internet, with the general tone being that there was no way that these swastikas could have possibly gotten onto wrapping paper for the Jewish holiday without somebody intentionally being anti-Semitic or worse.

    However, I went through something VERY similar a quarter century ago back in my PR agency days.

    Now, in high school we learned of Greek "key patterns", which are similar to other geometric ornamentations from the Middle East and China, where they'll frequently appear in screens, etc. If you are working with short lines and right angles, it is, frankly, difficult to not end up making elements that we would today recognize as "swastikas" ... however, you really DO need to be looking for those swastikas (or at least "sensitized to" the pattern) to see them. Plug in "key pattern" into a browser and you don't have to look very far to start seeing swastikas, such as in the labyrinth fret shown as an example over on The Free Dictionary page.

    Anyway, back in the day, one of our clients was a division of one of those global megacorp food companies (whose brands you no doubt know and in many cases probably love) that we'd had a long and happy relationship with. They were launching a new line of Oriental-themed side dishes, and we were doing the PR for the U.S. introduction. Now, consumer-product PR, especially in the food niche, is "low man on the totem pole" for most decisions for stuff like product packaging, etc., so one day a bunch of cases of the new line show up in our office, all featuring an Oriental "key pattern" which was very close to what was on that Hanukkah wrapping paper. In high school I had been a "military history" buff and read dozens of books on the Second World War, so when we pulled out the new product, the first thing that *I* saw was the "row of swastikas" running across front of the box. Of course, once I pointed this out, everybody else on the team saw it too.

    However, for that particular pattern to make it to these printed boxes, that design had gone through layer after layer of approval on the client side, with dozens of sets of eyes involved in determining how that product was going to look, and, evidently, nobody had "seen the swastikas" before me. Needless to say, the client was mortified when we ever-so-gently suggested that having swastikas on the box might not be the best visual approach to marketing the product line ... and pulled the existing boxes, and had the pattern re-designed to that which you can see on that green promotional to-go container we did for a series of press events (and yes, you should be impressed that I was able to find that piece three decades later ... my office is a mess but I know where most of the stuff is within that mess!).

    In the pic, I've blurred out the product name, as it appears to have gotten traction in the European market after a so-so run over here, and I'd hate to be seen dragging the product line, division, or parent corporation "into the fray" about the wrapping paper.

    But, obviously, my point here is that it is QUITE possible that the Hanukkah paper was just seen as a "Middle Eastern design" by everybody who looked at it through the course of its development and approval. Needless to say, both sides of the hubbub over this have valid points (on one hand, everybody is so over-sensitive about possibly upsetting people, on the other hand, having six million or so murdered under a flag with that symbol "leaves a scar") ... and it's unfortunate that nobody "saw" that before the paper was produced and on the store shelves.

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    Sunday, December 7th, 2014
    11:13 am
    This actually helped ...
    As regular readers of this space (especially if you're reading it in my main blog) will recognize, depression is something that I've been dealing with for a long time, made more pointed as the years pile up with my not being able to find a full-time job (I'm up to five and a half years at this point). It's hard to get “up” when you're in free-fall down.

    I'm not sure how Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Happiness got on my radar, but I only ordered it a few weeks back (after it having been parked on my Amazon wish list for quite a while). Needless to say, getting books about “being happy” is a huge pivot for me (as anybody who's been exposed to my poetry can no doubt attest), but things have been so bleak, I'll try nearly anything (although I haven't been able to bring myself to listening to “happy” music instead of my usual goth/metal mix). Needless to say, it was very encouraging to find that Dr. Weil has struggled with depression most of his life:
    Over the years I tried various forms of psychotherapy and counseling but got little benefit from them. Once, in my early forties, I filled a persciption for an antidepressant but gave it up after a few days because I could not tolerate its side effects. It numbed my body and dulled my mind. … Eventually I came to accept my depressive episodes as existential in nature – part of my being – to be endured and not inflicted on others. This way of thinking increased my tendency to be antisocial and isolated, traits not uncommon in writers.
    Like Weil, I tried a number of psychiatric drugs (in the wake of my publishing company failing in 2004), but could not tolerate any … and eventually figured being an anguished authentic me was better than being a dulled, zombified, shadow of myself … who just happened to not be feeling the pain of existence.

    Weil points to a lot of data about how depression, and “being unhappy” more generally, may simply be a side effect of the modern lifestyle. Cases of depression have multiplied ten times since the end of WW2, and are highest in first-world urban settings (oh, like the downtown Chicago highrise I've lived in for the past 33 years). He notes:
    Human beings evolved to thrive in natural environments and in bonded social groups. Few of us today can enjoy such a life and the emotional equilibrium it engenders, but out genetic predisposition for it has not changed.
    While there is quite a bit of his personal story in here, it's really not an autobiographical look at the author's struggles, but an attempt at a regimen for improving one's psychological state. The book features four chapters on “theory”, three chapters on “practice”, and a final chapter presenting “An 8-Week Program for Emotional Well-Being”.

    Of course, “Brendan doesn't play well with the other children.” (funny how notes home from kindergarten never seem to fade), so the odds of my throwing myself into a lifestyle-disrupting 8-week program are slim to none from the get-go … and much of the material in the book focuses forward to how it integrates into the “plan”, which had me mentally fighting a lot as I read it.

    There are parts here, however, that I was on board with predictably … such as “Integrating Eastern and Western Psychology”. It's no surprise that this is part of Weil's approach, as he's a major figure in the field of “Integrative Medicine” … and he pulls in Native American elements, as well as Buddhist thought, from Gautama’s teachings two and a half millennia ago, to projects pioneered by the Dalai Lama with psychological groups in our own era.

    In the “Practice” section, the three chapters deal with “Caring for the Body”, “Retraining and Caring for the Mind” and “Secular Spirituality and Emotional Well-Being”. Weil goes into a lot of “CBT” (cognitive-behavioral therapy) work in the middle one of these, while contrasting it with classical psychotherapy and related approaches. In the latter, he defines his approach with:
    I find it awkward for two reasons to discuss spirituality. First, many people confuse spirituality with religion. Although the two may overlap, religion usually demands dogmatic adherence to beliefs that are ultimately not provable, and differences in those beliefs are common causes of suspicion and conflict in our world. Second, spiritual reality concerns the nonphysical aspect of our being. Western science and medicine adhere to the philosophy of materialism, which dictates that only what can be directly perceived, touched, and measured is real; to materialists, the term nonphysical reality is an oxymoron.
    And, in this section, discusses “spiritual” approaches as divergent as interacting with pets, appreciating art, and practicing forgiveness.

    However, the most significant element in the book (for me) is in the “Caring for the Body” section, where he discusses many ways to improve mood by way of exercise, limiting caffeine, and avoidance of various convenience foods (you see where this was heading in my lifestyle?) but in amid all those “ain't gonna happen” things there was the dietary supplement part … and especially his suggestion of adding fish oil to one's diet:
    Many studies link specific nutrient deficiencies to suboptimal brain function and mental/emotional health. The most important by far is lack of omega-3 fatty acids. These special fats are critically important for both physical and and mental health. The body needs regular daily intake of adequate amounts of both EPA and DHA, two long-chain omega-3 fats that are abundant in oily fish from cold northern waters but otherwise are hard to come by. … A great deal of scientific data links low tissue levels of EPA and DHA to a host of mental/emotional disorders, … I recommend that everyone take 2 to 4 grams of a good fish oil product every day. … Not only does it offer real protection against depression, but I believe it can help move your emotional set point away from sadness and towards contentment. {emphasis mine}
    I finished reading this book less than two weeks ago, but started taking a fish oil supplement right away … and I have been amazed. It's no psychological panacea, but the effect was quite notable. My “depression elevator” used to go down to the 25th, 50th, etc., sub-basement deep into “life is miserable, what is the point?” territory, but since adding fish oil to my daily handful of pills, that has a new “floor” never getting much lower than maybe the 5th to 10th sub-basement. Still no “happy camper”, but far, far less dire and desperate! I would recommend Dr. Weils recommendations on this to anybody struggling with depression.

    As noted, the book culminates with “An 8-Week Program for Emotional Well-Being”, which pulls together all the bits and pieces laid out in the preceding sections into an action plan … that is way too involved for me, personally. Like the fish oil, I'm up for cherry-picking items that I can integrate into my day-to-day existence, but I'd probably need to check in to a retreat center (wouldn't it be nice if there were “happiness" rehab programs?) to be able to shift as many gears in my life to be able to attempt a regimen like he suggests here. I do realize, though, that there are folks out there who are happy to jump into this sort of thing, so that might be something that would appeal to you.

    The book has several useful things at the end, with an appendix outlining Weil's “Anti-Inflammatory Diet”, another with a listing of suggested books, web sites, and sources of supplies, and an oddly-formatted section of notes (which are related back to page numbers, but not the other way, so I guess one is supposed to keep an eye on that while reading through the text) which has some interesting contextual info.

    Anyway, I certainly found Spontaneous Happiness a very useful book, although not being the sort of thing that I could simply “jump into” … but I'm guessing that others (who are more attuned to the “self-help” genre) might find this quite engaging. I would certainly recommend it to anybody who is struggling with depression. I'm surprised, frankly, that this has only been out for a few years, but has already worked its way down to being available for a penny for “very good” copies of the hardcover (and at the moment one of the Amazon's new/used vendors has a “like new” copy for a whopping 4¢), so you don't have much of a barrier to picking this up!

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    Saturday, December 6th, 2014
    9:45 am
    Bleh ...
    So … the downside of getting books from the “Early Reviewers” program is that sometimes the book that the Almighty Algorithm matches to one's library is a clunker, and this has happened to me every now and again. Of course, being the OCD beastie that I am, I'm pretty much incapable of saying “man, this sucks and I'm not going to read another word”, since I've agreed (as part of the LTER program) to read the book and write a review thereof. So I read the book … and here I am to report on same.

    The good news is that Aingeal Rose O'Grady's The Nature of Reality: Akashic Guidance for Understanding Life and Its Purpose wasn't as uniformly horrid as it started out. This appears (from the cover, etc.) to be “Book 2” of the “Honest-to-God Series” that the author and her publishers are putting out. There is only passing mention of the previous book here, but I'm suspecting that a lot of the set-up for her “method” and world-view were covered there and that they're just assuming that readers of this are on-board with all that. Heck, they spend two pages in the front material “explaining” a chalk illustration on the back cover … you'd think they'd explain what's going on in the book before dropping the reader neck deep in the sewage.

    The format of the book is a series of questions that the author answers, based on “information” that she's getting from “The Source” (oh, what a more fun book this would be if that was “The Source” from the old Charmed TV show!). One wonders if the author had “been dropped on her head when she was very small” or the like, as she “communicates” with The Source via patterns of light … which she then translates into words … which certainly sounds like “auguries via synesthesia” - communicating the intents of the universe by interpreting the stuff she's seeing! Another irritating thing is that they never really explain who is asking the questions … at one point it sounds like they're being passed along to her via her life partner (who, exasperatingly, is referred to as a six-letter acronym), but it also seems like they're coming from an audience (of total doofuses) who are desperately clutching each to their own “newage” delusions, and are looking for O'Grady to bolster their beliefs (to her credit, she occasionally does shoot down particularly loony drivel).

    Here's the crux of what made the book nearly unreadable to me … so much “newage sewage” and so little supportable theory (I'm not even asking for defensible statements, just something that at least appears to hold together as a coherent model!). I would have much preferred it if the author would tell her SFB questioners to shut the hell up, and start laying out a system of “color pattern interpretation” that would say “when you get these, it means that this sort of thing is coming through, and if they're this shade it indicates X, Y, or Z” . I came close to giving up on the book in Chapter 2, because it is all about DNA … and, evidently various woo-woo newage scams that latch onto the concept of the molecule and offer DNA-based (I've never hit a clearer case for dragging out the classic line from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.") “services” such as “22-strand activation through the use of crystals” and similar snake oil … to “The Source's” credit it says that's not possible – but one gets the vibe that O'Grady is in on that twaddle, or she would have simply bitch-slapped the loonies who asked: “How similar is the DNA of humans to Sasquatch and Mermaids?” (where does she find this level of delusional moron?) rather than spinning out an actual answer!

    The one saving grace here is that, on some subjects, she actually ventures into presenting something of a system. One was Angels … which had structure and a reasonable level of consistency (despite including asinine queries about the gender of audience members' favorites angels) … and the other was her discussion of Time. In both of these cases she was at least coherent in taking “visions of light” and interpreting them as communications from “god” (the whole “god” question here is pretty blurry, of course, but not as wide-open as one might assume for something this deep down the newage rabbit hole).

    Again, the whole book is Q&A … organized in general topic areas … but this means it swings in and out of what could be seen as “quality” and what is clearly idiotic blithering. For example, immediately preceding a question “Do dream catchers really keep negative spirits out?”, there is this very interesting bit:
    People who dream of disasters seem to like it when their dreams come true, which they view as proof that they are psychic, or that they can somehow predict events through their dreams. They don't realize that they may be helping to manifest those scenarios by giving them validity and energy. If you talk to people who continually dream of things that come true, you will find that most often they are dreaming of someone dying, or some disaster. These people may think that they are really psychic and able to tune into the future, but what is most likely really happening is that they are being used by dark forces to help manifest those probabilities. We need to remember how powerful our minds are. If we remember that every thought takes form on some level, we will be more conscious of what kinds of thoughts and visuals we are giving our energies and emotions to.
    These are not the words of a fluff-bunny unicorn-rainbow-farts type … so I'm really, really, hoping that there may be some core of reality in O'Grady's material – and that she's not simply Gurdjieffianly “shearing the sheep” with her descriptions of her internal light show!

    Although this was a recent offering in the “Early Reviewer” program, The Nature of Reality has been out over a year. I don't know what that means for its being available in the brick-and-mortar vendors of this sort of stuff, but it's oddly not dropped much in price over on the on-line sources, so if you (for some inexplicable reason) want to obtain a copy, you're going to have to shell out pretty close to the cover price. This is not a book that I would have “free range” picked up, or even finished reading … but I would be interested if Ms. O'Grady came out with a “serious” book analyzing her interface and communications with “The Source”, as there do seem to be a few kernels of usable information deeply buried in the muck of this.

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    Friday, December 5th, 2014
    11:15 pm
    Oh ... gonna be out in public tomorrow ...
    ChiBookExpo14Yeah, gonna be shilling the books tomorrow at the Chicago Book Expo down at Columbia College. It's a free event, and runs from 11am-5pm at 600 S. Michigan (at Harrison). I recently joined IWOC (Independent Writers of Chicago), and they had a FAB deal for being part of their table there.

    I'm going to be bringing down one actual volume of poetry and promo bookmarks pointing to the Eschaton Books site.

    I was really sort of hoping that this other book project that I've been immersed with (doing the lay-out and general editing) was going to be good-to-go by then, but it's not. Oh well. Needless to say, you'll be seeing more propaganda on that when it starts to get ready.

    Went out to Starbucks tonight to crank some book reviews, so you'll have those to look forward to over the weekend, even if you don't swing by the Book Expo to say "hi!". I'm hoping I won't be too wiped out from flogging the books, because Lon Milo DuQuette is in town for a show tomorrow night ... which is always a treat.

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    Friday, November 28th, 2014
    11:47 pm
    Annual Circus Trip ...
    No ... not what the Hawks and Bulls do ... what makes them hit the road ... Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus takes over the United Center for a week or so ...

    For a long time (the past 10 years?) we've taken The Girls down there for the 11:30am show the morning after Thanksgiving ... sort of a family tradition at this point, and even though they're 14 and 18 (or 19 next week) they still like going to the circus!

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    Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
    1:05 am
    Ho, Ho, Ho ...
    Michigan Avenue Lights Festival Parade 2014

    (largely added here to see how the LJ button on the YouTube "share" menu worked)

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    Saturday, November 22nd, 2014
    3:32 pm
    And ... DUH!
    Well, I can't expect everybody to go rushing off to buy books if I don't MENTION them, can I? I just had the latest volume of "Brendan Tripp - the Collected POEMS" (or whatever I'm unofficially calling this "series") appear on Amazon and I went poking around here to see how I'd handled the last volume, and discovered that I hadn't ... oh, woe! oh, guilt! oh, trauma! So here I am shilling for two new volumes.

    Both POEMS:1995 and POEMS:1996 have 250 pieces each, and as these are the 9th and 10th volumes so far of that chunk of time when I was writing 250 poems per year, that brings the big "poems in (potential) print" total to 2,500 spews of my angst. WHICH YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO READ ... DAMMIT!

    Over the past few nights I've been having "process" nightmares about this project, being that I'm running out of material that was organized over the past couple of years. I dug into this today and found that I actually have poems on-hand (from a chunk of files I'd found on an old HD), going through 2003 (with some from 2004). I wrote 250 poems in 1997, but the "wheels fell off" after that ... although I was OCD enough to make sure that the total I wrote from 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 came to 250 - so there will be a volume covering those four years. Things, however, get "messy" on either side of those 12 volumes (3,000 poems worth), and I'm going to have to do some serious archaeology - both in the "digital" and "boxes of stuff" varieties - to get as near a "complete" collection as I'm likely to have.

    Needless to say, time is not my amigo when dealing with the 70's-80's stuff ... although I did hand-copied collections "back in the day" for 1976-1980, 1981-1982, 1983, 1984, and 1985-1986 (only 1984 being a 250-poem year of those). Obviously, I'd LOVE to find the original files (on 5.25" floppies in the PFS:Write format) for those, but, lacking that, it would be GREAT to find my copies of the old books (I kept 2 and sent out 10 for each, if I recall correctly), which could be scanned, OCR'd, and be good-to-go. This is also the period of my first six "chapbooks", so it's stuff that's pretty much "important to me", and I'd be crushed to have that all evaporate into the gaping maw of the pre-web memory hole.

    On the later years (pretty much anything past 2001) ... I'm just hoping I can find the floppies - which should be 3.5" discs possibly in WordPerfect format. My "keeping track of stuff religiously" phase seemed to have gone pfft around 2004, so I don't really know what's out there. I see that for a while I was writing in small - 2x3" - purple notebooks ... and was eventually typing those up and posting them HERE back in mid-2006. But it appears that the poems themselves were from 2002-2003 and that I was only getting around to typing them up several years later. Then it looks like I started posting whatever I wrote, as I wrote it, in LJ, so there's a smattering of poems from 2006 and a handful from 2007 ... but, again, nothing organized. I recall having a particular disk file with those disks in it, and I'm hoping that all with be in there when I find it (I had a bookshelf collapse behind my desk - which is where I had that stuff - and it all was more-or-less unceremoniously dumped into a box to get later re-filed ... that "later" not having come as yet). ARRRRGH - this is why I'm having nightmares!

    Anyway ... I am at least making an effort to plug this stuff. Sure, you're used to hearing whatever from me about whatever I'm involved in, but I also set up a Facebook page to flog this stuff there, and I just signed up to share a table space with the IWOC (Independent Writers of Chicago) group at the Columbia College's upcoming Book Expo ... an unexpected bonus to re-upping my membership with them. Here's a promo bookmark I've done up for the occasion (that's front-and-back, and not one long card, ya goof!):


    I figured that bringing one "sample book" and a bunch of propaganda was the best approach, since those books are BIG suckers (8.5x11" and more than a half inch thick), and having all TEN of them on hand would end up "Bogarting the table" no doubt. Of course, it's pretty delusional to think that anybody is going to pick up the bookmark and go rushing home to order some of the books ... unless they've been hopelessly suffering from being in too good a mood and want to borrow some of MY anguish to help them even things out.

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    Friday, November 21st, 2014
    5:44 am
    Memory ...
    Wow. I just got an email from the school I attended in New York (Collegiate - "Founded 1628") for First, Second, and Third grades. It was, of course, a fund-raising effort pumping the "alumni" for cash, and it's sort of amazing that they were able to track me down nearly 50 years later.

    What was more amazing to me was that it triggered certain memories. My clearest memory from those years involved lunch time ... where the folding table/benches would be set out in the gym and "family style" service brought out. I especially remember the cooked carrots ... which I guess stood out to me because it was something we never had at home.

    From that memory a couple of others came out, one of my 2nd Grade classroom, and then of my 3rd Grade classroom, and then of some assorted related memories of things in and around the school. And some recall of the place I attended kindergarten prior to that (we moved to New York when I was just turning 3).

    Not to get too maudlin about it, but those were "my best years" in that I was living up to my potential both scholastically and socially (as much as one can at that age), well integrated into all spheres of my life. Our move back to Chicago in the mid-60's messed me up quite a bit on that level, and from 4th grade on, I was always "the outsider", never again feeling "part of" anything I was involved with. Of course, I was dealing with stuff even then, as the main reason we moved to New York was the death of my father (when I was 2 and my brother a mere 2 months old). My mom had been an exec with the PR arm of the J.Walter Thompson ad agency (yes, I did grow up in "Mad Men") working out of the New York HQ before getting married, and was valued enough by JWT that they had her working on New York accounts when living in Chicago. When my dad (an Episcopalian minister at that time) died (he collapsed in the pulpit in the middle of a sermon - dramatic much? - from internal bleeding they'd not caught after an ulcer operation), they pulled her back to New York.

    While I don't recall my father much, I understand we were very close (I always knew when he was coming home, and would rush to the front windows at the Rectory to greet him), and I'm sure I have a lot of "loss issues" from his demise.

    It's hard to imagine today, but the reason we moved BACK to Chicago in 1966 (I'm pretty sure that was the year), was that JWT "couldn't possibly" make a woman a Vice President at the New York headquarters, but they could if she was off "in the hinterland" of the Chicago office. So, we up and left New York, and I was pulled out of my organic interface with Collegiate and NYC, and thrown into a whole new situation at Chicago's Latin School (established in merely 1888).

    Frankly, my scars from that move have made me very hesitant to consider moving to find work. As regular readers know, I have been in my current job search for FIVE AND A HALF YEARS, which has taken a nearly-lethal toll on our finances (and we're still looking at maybe losing our home), but I have concentrated my job search only in the Chicago area, because I didn't want to rip The Girls out of their contexts and make them go through what I had. Of course, now with Daughter #1 in college, and Daughter #2 in highschool, it's less of a concern (although I'm sure #2 would prefer to not have to up and move), but it's scars I don't want to leave them with.

    Anyway, the point being here that it was amazing that I was able to tap into seldom-accessed memories from half a century ago. There has been some recent research showing that the brain tissue (unlike the body in general, which is pretty much "all new" on a cellular level every 7 years or so) doesn't recycle the way other parts do ... so these things could be "recorded" somehow ... but it just seems a mystery how I can remember field trips over to the Hudson, or cooked carrots in the gym (or having done my entire math workbook for the year by the end of the first quarter - and explaining sections when the teacher got stuck) ... a half a century down the road. Weird.

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    Sunday, November 16th, 2014
    11:09 am
    The ABCs of early Godin ...
    As regular readers of this space will recognize, I've read (and reviewed) a lot of books by Seth Godin … I think I'm up to 10 at this point. Some of these have been new-ish, and some of these have been embarrassingly dated, some I've raved about and some have been just OK. This one is in the middle somewhere, I think. First of all, I wonder if there was intentional irony involved with giving Small Is the New Big: and 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas its title … as at over 300 pages, it's certainly one of Godin's bigger books. This does suffer from one aspect of its vintage – the link for looking up the dates of the initial publication of the component pieces has gone bad in the absorption of Squidoo into HubPages … and I couldn't find the info on the latter site. The reason I went digging for that is that I was wanting to toss around dates here, but couldn't, but the publication date was 2006.

    This is a factor in discussing the book, as it is a collection of “eight years of {Godin's} very best blog posts, magazine columns, and e-books” … 184 pieces, judging from the subtitle. Obviously, things written 8 years prior to 2006 pushes the envelope for being pertinent to current realities (going back as much as 16 years ago) … and that info is not included here – just referred to on a site which seems to no longer have the info. Now, if this was chronologically arranged, one could get a sense of the age of the materials, but it's not … nor is it “curated” into thematic blocks … no, the book is organized alphabetically by title, creating quite a heterogeneous arrangement of topics!

    Of course, this leads me to the observation that this is a VERY difficult book to generate a coherent review of … it is, after all, the print equivalent of reading his blog from 1998-2006, in an order which allows for no “theme”, other than those which are endemic to Godin's subject matter, and no way to specifically filter for what's a “vintage” statement or what might be being used “ironically” (for example, in 2014 stories of movie rental chains tend towards reading like the latter, even if they were penned sufficiently long ago that they are actually the former).

    My first thought in reflecting back on Small Is The New Big was that it could make a very nice introduction to Seth Godin for folks who were unfamiliar with his writings. However, I'm hesitant to promote it in that frame, as the unpredictable age of individual pieces would, for somebody not familiar with Godin, possibly lead to a rejection of his perceptions due to the “old news” aspect which does creep in here every now and again (as one would expect simply from it being a book released 8 years ago, let alone being a collection of materials from 8 years prior to that). Fortunately, much of what's in here is “evergreen”, and reflects key elements of Godin's on-going marketing message, but it's certainly not “new” or “fresh” like his The Icarus Deception or other recent releases.

    Of course, Godin being Godin, there are lots of choice bits in here … and I marked a few to share with you. In the “Fifty States, Flamethrowers, and Sticky Traditions” piece, he throws a light on something I'd not considered previously (illustrating how the “status quo” often gets established somewhat randomly):
    More than a hundred years ago, Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to get rid of his enemies in the German government. He noticed that they were all over sixty-five years old. So he decreed that this was the official retirement age, and it still is.
    Pretty amazing, yes? In the same section he talks about how other “bad ideas stick around forever”. Speaking of bad ideas, he delves deeper into this in the “Pigeons, Superstitious” piece, which starts with how pigeons will connect what they were doing when food first arrived in a particular situation, and keep doing that thing (head bobbing, etc.), and ends up looking at religious (and other) fundamentalists:
    These people are characterized, I believe, by two traits. First, they live according to a large body of superstitions. Second, they believe that they are right and everybody else is wrong. They believe that they have found the one and only turth, and they can't abide changing old rules in light of new data. Fundamentalists decide whether they can accept a new piece of information based on how it will affect their prior belief system, not based on whether it is actually true.

    When I meet someone who's willing to disregard an obvious truth just because it conflicts with his worldview, I wonder about his judgment. I wonder what other truths he's willing to ignore in order to preserve his superstitions. When such a person is in charge, I do more than worry. I think that we're obligated to start pointing out superstitions at work, in politics – anywhere we find them. Superstitions are the final vestiges of prescientific humankind, and they make the workplace (and the world) a scary one.
    Now, some of these are less “heavy” … like the “Polka button” that he reports being next to an escalator in a Milwaukee conference facility … push the button and hear polka music during your ride! He points out various bits and pieces, like: “1. Humans tend to work on a problem until they get a good-enough solutions, not a solution that's right. 2. The marketplace often rewards solutions that are cheaper and good enough, instead of investing in the solution that promises to lead to the right answer.” … I wonder how old this one is, as it sort of goes counter to the “ship now” philosophy where the “minimal viable product” is pushed out before finding the “right” final version.

    In the section “Trust and Respect, Courage and Leadership”, Godin complains about how respect for the consumer has suffered of late:
    Somewhere along the way, marketers stopped acting like real people. We substituted a new set of ethics, one built around “buyer beware” and the letter of the law. Marketers, in order to succeed in a competitive marketplace, decided to see what they could get away with instead of what they could deliver.

    The magic kicks in when marketers are smart enough and brave enough to combine trust with respect. When a marketer doesn't frisk you on the way out of a retail establishment, or trusts you to make intelligent decisions, you remember it. The number of companies that keep their promises and respect their customers' intelligence, alas, is quite tiny.
    Interestingly, Godin appears to have come out with a “new” version of this – a book which collects a similar batch of writings from 2006-2012 (where he must have been a lot more prolific – it runs twice the length of this volume!), Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck? (which I've not picked up as yet).

    Small Is the New Big is still in print, with the on-line big boys still having it at a standard discount, so it might well still be out in your neighborhood brick-and-mortar book vendor. Of course, having been out as long as it has, copies have worked their way down through the used channels, and you can get a “very good” copy for as little as 1¢ (plus $3.99 shipping, of course), which is how I came by my copy. If you like Seth Godin, you'll like this book, but it's not likely to be providing any massive “aha!” moments … it will be a pleasant read, however, with fascinating bits all through.

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    Saturday, November 15th, 2014
    12:17 pm
    Lives in "interesting times" ...
    It's been a very long time since I've read much of any fiction … and especially “popular” fiction (as opposed to “classics” which are nominally fiction, but are filling holes in my over-all English Major reading list), but that “fluff” element in my to-be-read piles has migrated to the memoir. I was at the dollar store last month and found a nice hard-cover “deckle edge” edition of Susan Conley's The Foremost Good Fortune on the shelf, and was amazed to find the copy that I picked up was even signed by the author (not to shabby for a buck!). This was a record of the author's time in China, having moved there with her husband and two small sons, right in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. They were relocating for her husband's job, a 2.5 year posting, and she was being uprooted from the writing workshop, literary magazine, and college seminars she'd been running back in Maine.

    This would have been “interesting enough” in a fish-out-of-water sort of way, documenting all the strange new things she'd be encountering in China, but in the middle of their time in Beijing, she gets breast cancer … lending a certain pathos to the tale, and bringing in factors that would have been unlikely to have featured otherwise.

    As noted above, memoirs are much like fiction, as they're stories, and unfold as the book moves on … which ends up with my not getting a lot of my little bookmarks in there (unless there are particularly gripping and/or informative things that I feel like I'll need to revisit), and I have to admit that in this case I had none … which puts me at a disadvantage for the review.

    The main take-away that I had from the book was that it was a particular window into the world of modern China that isn't something that I'd typically run across. There is a substantial, and varied, international community in Beijing, with representatives from every sort of company over there to set up businesses with the Chinese. Interestingly, this seems to be largely diverse, at least in Conley's experience, as she's not hanging out with Americans, but with Europeans, and assorted Asians for the most part.

    One of the key elements that is a concern there is finding a nanny to work with the kids. The author has only the most rudimentary grasp of Chinese (although she hires a tutor), and having a local helps a lot for the shopping, and communications, etc. It seems that there is enough demand for these roles that it's slim pickings, and her tales of trying to find a good match (which never ends up as “ideal”) are somewhat painful.

    Her descriptions of the vast high-rise “luxury apartment” complexes which have been built all over the capital (and other major commercial centers) is fascinating … with it being almost familiar yet very alien still. These are cheek-to-jowl with old market areas, and she could look out her windows and see a whole different world, almost a different age.

    When she first discovers the cancer, she's largely at the mercy of a less-than-state-of-the-art medical establishment. A lot of the medical infrastructure is still based on Chinese traditional medicine, and this was not what she was wanting at that juncture. As things evolved, she made a number of trips back to the U.S. to have tests, and eventually surgery, done.

    One of the sub-themes here is the author dealing with the psychological impact of having cancer, and the effect it was having on her two young sons. It's interesting to observe the interactions within the family, and wonder how that would have been different had that unfolded back in Maine, without the over-lay of life as a foreigner in China.

    Of course, with a memoir (as opposed to a novel), one is looking at a slice of time in somebody's life … and in this case it leads to a lot of stuff simply not getting “tidied up” within the narrative. I would have liked to have more “backstory” on both her and her husband's work (frankly, I can't recall what exactly his business was that had brought them to Beijing … and his “character” was far less developed in the book than many others), to put a bit more context on how they're reacting to the various things they encounter. And, when they move back home, the story's pretty much over … naturally enough, she's writing from the midst of living her life, so can't bring things to any particular conclusion.

    In the course of the story, they go on a number of road trips (they have a driver, who becomes somewhat part of the family), which allow Conley to describe many fascinating countryside vignettes, some quite striking in their differences from the “modern” lifestyle in the city. Of course, life in the city isn't always that modern … there is one bit where a homing pigeon had stunned itself hitting their windows, and their nanny/cook was very interested in getting a hold of the “plump” bird … no doubt with recipes in mind!

    Again, The Foremost Good Fortune was an interesting read, primarily due to its look into a world that I'd have no other exposure to … personally, I probably would have liked the book more if it was focused on the expat experience in Beijing and China in general, but the cancer story, and the whole dynamic of dealing with small children in that environment, are probably more its raison d'être.

    As I've often noted, it surprises me to find books that are in the dollar stores still in the major channels, but this is still being offered at nearly full price by the on-line big boys, and, having only come out in 2011, it might still be available in the brick-and-mortar stores. However, being in the dollar store channel, it's available for a penny (plus shipping) via the new/used vendors. This is certainly not something that I would have even considered “at retail”, but it's an agreeable read for a buck.

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    Friday, November 14th, 2014
    1:18 pm
    Oh, yeah ... these ...
    OK ... so I should have probably sharing these here as I uploaded them, eh?

    This is going to be a LONG process, but I'm working towards setting up one "sample" page per month for every month in my new book collections. Each page will have the text of a poem and a video of my reading it. Now, rather than having my mug on camera, obviously reading from the screen (not wonderful video), I've done these as audio recordings that have then been played back via Windows Media Player with a "visualization", and that's then recorded for the video.

    Anyway, so far I have a whopping three of these done ... all from the POEMS : 1994 collection:

    01/30/1994 - STRUCTURED BREAKAGE FOUND ...

    02/19/94 - BEYOND THE EDGE WE SEE ...

    03/17/94 - DRAWN TO THESE POINTS ...

    Fun, fun, fun, what?

    I suppose you could "look forward" to more to come as I triage the hours necessary to make those pages happen.

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