Website is Back; Hosting Issues Fixed (For Now)

18 April, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Just a quick note – I had some major site trouble over the past 24 hours, but it appears things have been restored to normalcy.

Waaaaay back in 2010 (can you even remember that far into the past?) my site got hacked by some Saudi Arabian cyberpunk. No, really. I’m not kidding.

Hack

Well, I wasn’t exactly employing heavy password security back in those days, and I was stupid enough to use the same password for every website. (I also remember the days when I didn’t have to lock the door at night, and could leave my car open…nevermind.)

Once I got the hack resolved and the website restored, I thought things were fine. I upgraded my password security. I was ready to move on.

Then a month or two ago my hosting account got suspended for spamming. I was puzzled by this, but sure enough, when I logged into my webmail for my steveskojec.com domain, I had THOUSANDS of bouncebacks for emails that had been sent from my account.

So I got my account re-instated, changed the email password to something even stronger, and went on my merry way. All done, right?

Nope. Not a chance.

Yesterday afternoon, after spending the morning in meetings, I checked my email only to find that it’s happened again. Hack. Email. Spam. Account Suspended. None of words are words I want to see together in a sentence.

I responded to the rep at Site5. Usually they’re very quick. Nothing. I ping them on Twitter. They apologize. Still nothing. I beat the drum on my ticket. I can’t even log in to my admin panel to fix things because I’m locked out. Guilty until proven innocent, I guess, when spam is coming from your site. I hit them up on Twitter again. Despite the fact that I’m the one who got hacked, I had to wait, oh, 18 hours or so before they responded to my repeated requests to deal with the problem. And this only after I emailed them four times and mentioned them on Twitter another three times.

Finally able to log in, I change my FTP password and upgrade a non-public-facing copy of WordPress I have sitting in a root directory. Which proceeds to overwrite my custom index.html page in that directory, so I spend even more time chasing down a copy of that to restore. Only I can’t find it. So I go to the Wayback Machine, download their copy, and strip the HTML down and fix the links. Finally, more than 24 hours after the initial incident, I’m back in business.

This is obviously hugely inconvenient, but that happens. What could make life better, though, would be some real responsiveness from the support team at the hosting company. I have been with Site5 since 2008, and I haven’t had a single complaint (other than no privacy registration for domains) in four years with them. But having been met with the great wall of silence for such a long period of time while my site was MIA did not make me happy. Luckily, I’m not using the site for my livelihood. Yet.

On the flip side, I’ve been dealing with slow server times for WEEKS with FatCow, which provides hosting for my wife’s website. And when I say slow, I mean REALLY slow. Regardless of domain forwarding. And their customer service is abysmal. It takes DAYS to get back to us sometimes.

I get that hosting on the cheap relies on aggregate business to provide residual income streams that add up to real profits. Paying 5 to 8 bucks a month for hosting isn’t exactly going to get me Nordstrom-esque service. But at the same time, that’s the business model in play. Just because you’ve priced a service to move doesn’t mean a customer shouldn’t expect to get issues taken care of promptly. Too many of us have income on the line to have to worry about reliable hosting or support. I’m not a chronic complainer about bad service. I get it – things go wrong, stuff falls through the cracks, the power goes out. I am not the guy who sends back a steak because it’s medium rare and I ordered rare. But suspended accounts and slow websites kill traffic, and traffic is the stuff of life on the web.

I’m seriously considering finding a new host for me. I know I’ll be moving Jamie’s site soon. I’ve heard that for sites that primarily run on WordPress, Bluehost is good. Any other recommendations?

Instagram or Photoblog?

16 April, 2012 at 11:21 am

I’m just one of millions of new Instagram users, now that it’s available for Android. I’ve been playing with it a bit and I’ve uploaded a few things. There’s a lot to like, and a bunch I’m still figuring out.

As you may already know, I’m a fairly avid photographer. This is a hobby for me, so it waxes and wanes with available time to pursue it, but I find it therapeutic when I can just get camera in my hand and start shooting. I’ve thought often about starting a photoblog so I have somewhere to display the various things I shoot on a semi-regular basis, but now I’m not sure.

On the one hand, Instagram has that beautiful built-in community and social network integration that makes sharing a snap. Every picture I take can be in one place, and I can use tags to separate themes. It’s easy enough to throw an Instagram gallery into a post or page (as I’ve done here) or to put a recap of my most recent Instagrams in the sidebar, as I’ve done on the right.

But does this replace the utility, control, and look/feel of the good-old photoblog? Should a photographer spend the extra time and effort to get their DSLR photos on their phone for the upload to Instagram, as I’ve seen some do, and not worry about the loss in size/resolution? Is it worth it to put pictures in both places? With a service like ifttt, you can easily set up a rule that will post your Instagram photos to the tumblr of your choice.

(This ties into a larger discussion that I am still contemplating: we’re all content producers now, and many of us produce in multiple forms of media. How do we best showcase our work online without appearing unfocused? I don’t know about you, but I use all of my various creative talents in my work, so they do play a role and are relevant to our personal brands.)

What do you think: are photoblogs out now that Instagram is ubiquitous? Or do we need to cross-pollinate content between platforms and not just restrain things to one place? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

A Funny Thing Happened at Work Today: 6 Interesting Job Experiences I’ve Had

13 April, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Every job is unique, and has experiences that help us to learn and grow. Some experiences are just bizarre. I’ve been working since I was 15, and I’ve probably had 20 different jobs over the years, ranging from cemetery groundskeeper to pizza maker to floor manager for a TV show to association management. I’ve dug ditches in a dusty trailer park and I’ve rubbed elbows with some of the most powerful people in corporate America. And I realize, looking back on it, that it’s all part of a pretty amazing story.

 

Here are a few of the more interesting things I’ve seen while I was on the job:

1. The Man with No Face

I looked for an image as terrifying as the real thing, but I couldn't do that to you. You can Google that yourself.

When I was 16, I worked at a hardware store in Northern Pennsylvania. It was my first real job where I could work a decent number of hours and make some extra money, which I chose instead of continuing to play high school football. It was a pretty hum-drum place, and excitement was hardly the norm. I unloaded bags of cement from the delivery truck, mixed paint, made keys, threaded pipes, sharpened chain saw blades, and ran the register. I also earned my merit badge in floor sales, and my co-workers called me “Bob Villa” because of how little I actually knew but how smoothly I could talk a customer through their purchasing decisions.

One day, an elderly man came in to the store. My co-workers, and even the store owner, all scattered. When I got a good look at the man, I knew why. He had no face. I don’t know how else to describe it. He had a forehead, and eyes, but below the bridge of his nose there was a gaping hole. No teeth, no jaw, just a hole into the back of his head. From the bridge of his nose itself hung a damp handkerchief, held in place with athletic tape. It did little to cover the wet, mutilated abyss behind it. To say that the site was gruesome would be a serious understatement.

Since everyone else had ditched, I hiked up my big-boy pants and did my best to help him. Creepy or not, the guy was a human being, and he deserved customer service just like anyone else. He couldn’t speak, so he made a lot of wheezy grunting noises and pointed to things in our sale ad as I walked him around the store. When he was finished, I rang him up quickly, noticing that my hands were literally shaking.

I never saw him again. I never figured out how someone could sustain so much damage to their face and continue living that way without falling prey to massive infection. I never thought I would eat lunch again either, but the fact that I was a teenage boy and had a hot Philly cheesesteak sandwich and a root beer waiting for me eventually won out, tremors be damned.

 

2. The Exorcism

It's always good at an exorcism to have extra muscle.

During summer breaks from college, I worked a couple of jobs. I started at an independent family-owned Pizza shop called Brozzetti’s – famous among the residents of Binghamton, New York for its 50+ years of unique pizzas. Then I upgraded, getting a job working for my parish as a groundskeeper, maintenance guy, and overall office assistant. I had become friends with the priest who was our pastor, and working together with him was usually a very pleasant task that involved difficult missions like going out to lunch after I’d finished mowing, weeding, painting, etc.

One day, after a long afternoon in the sun, I headed inside to get a drink of water. I knew Father was in his office counseling someone, so I walked by quietly. Instead of ignoring me, though, he called out to me.

“Stephen,” he said in a tone that was both measured and tense, “I need you to go into the living room and get me the crucifix and the holy water.”

I wanted to question him. But I looked at the woman sitting in the chair facing him, her back to me, unmoving, silent, head down, hair obscuring every angle of her face, and I knew. This woman was possessed. I moved quickly, getting him what he needed, and maneuvering around her, fearing that she would lash out. She didn’t, and I quickly retreated into the hall. Once he had the items in hand, though, and she was confronted with them, all kinds of fun things started to happen. The details are hazy, but I do recall that I managed not to pee myself. Not even a little bit. I did a lot of praying, Father did a lot of telling the demons where they could go, and the demons made her say cute things in a bizarre voice and it was just a great big tea party for everyone involved.

I was also there on a second occasion when this same person came to visit, and watched in horror as she ripped a rosary to shreds and threw it all over the church, blasphemed, spoke in strange languages, and used a voice that was about 27 octaves deeper than her normal speaking voice. Among other things.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep that summer. I also didn’t put it on my resume.

 

3. Iron Mike

Once, while living in Arizona, I got a job as a desert tour guide for Stellar Adventures. My job involved picking guests up at their respective hotels, driving them in my Hummer H1 through the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, teaching my guests about cacti, desert flora and fauna, and generally driving over under and through impossible obstacles.

The drive from the hotels out to the trail was a long one, and a good chunk of the trip was spent on the highway on our way out to the trail. One afternoon, as I was bringing a tour out on the 101 loop through Scottsdale, a sleek, black BMW pulled up along side me and matched my speed. I was driving a Hummer modified with an open safari kit that could fit 14 people. Whatever aerodynamic should look like, we were the opposite. Matching my speed wasn’t difficult.

The passenger window rolled down, and a man stuck his head out and yelled something at me. My heart sunk. Was something hanging off my truck? Had a passenger fallen off and bounced down the road? Was I leaking transmission fluid? I turned to face him to see if I could make out what he was saying over the roar of the wind.

And that’s when my facial recognition software kicked in. The face was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I saw the face tattoo and it clicked…

Tyson

I managed to take this picture with my cell phone. Before they were 8 megapixels and had satellite uplinks. While driving. As Mike Tyson would say, "That's ludicrous!"

Mike Freaking Tyson. He had my full attention now, which was probably not a good thing, because keeping a huge Humvee between the lines at 60MPH on a curve isn’t exactly the easiest task even with full concentration.

“What?!” I yelled. “I turned to the people in my vehicle. “It’s Mike Tyson.” I informed them. Like this was an every day occurrence.

“I said,” he squealed, the road noise obscuring his notorious lisp, but not making him much more understandable, “If I call the number on the side of your truck, can you guys make mine look like that?”

“Sure!” I said, having no idea what he was talking about. “Give it a call!” Then it clicked – Tyson must have a Hummer of his own, and he wanted a safari kit. I had no confidence that we could provide this, but at least we could point him in the right direction. And my boss could get a call from Kid Dynamite.

Alas, Mike Tyson never called. So I never got to have a heart to heart with him about his Phil Collins obsession.

 

4. The Scorpion

I got more than one good story out of the Hummer job. Like the drunk Canadians who gave me a $400 tip. Or the group of CSIs who couldn’t stop bashing their TV counterparts, also got drunk, complained about having to analyze womens’ underwear, and wanted to go scorpion hunting in the dark using black lights. (To be fair, this is a fun activity.)

But I ran into a different kind of scorpion one day on the trail. Well, it actually started at the hotel.

It’s rare to have a tour with only two people, but I rolled up on the Ritz Carlton in downtown Phoenix, and out strolled a dude with long, black hair, sunglasses, a light t-shirt, and designer jeans. He was accompanied by a woman in her 40s, blonde, also dressed in designer jeans, and looking like she was probably rather attractive at some point in the not too distant past. I had the distinct impression that I had picked up a couple of minor celebrities. Time would tell.

As it turned out, the man was from Poland, and he was extremely enthusiastic about the open views of the desert afforded from the back of the Hummer with its roll-up windows and canvas top. A little more digging, and I found out that his name was Paweł Mąciwoda. I cut and pasted that, just so you know, because I have no idea how to make the letters look that way. Just like I had no idea who Paweł Mąciwoda was. 

As it turned out, he was the new-ish bassist for a little band you may have heard of called The Scorpions.

Pawel Maciwoda

This happened.

Well, the news didn’t exactly rock me like a hurricane, but I remembered the 1990s with a certain nostalgic fondness, so I was cool with this revelation. I used to whistle and sing along to Wind of Change while I was doing the dishes for my mom back in high school, so I felt like we had a connection.

Pawel Loves You

Alas, he didn't bring a guitar. Just the hand signal for love.

We got out to the trailhead and he jumped out, shouting out exaggerated exclamations in only the way that someone from Europe can. And then he decided it was time to toke up. Naturally. Because it’s not like we have Park Rangers or anything. I warned him to keep the medicinal herbs on the DL during the tour, and he agreed, which meant that instead of lighting up while we were driving, he only hit the pipe when we stopped. Which was every five minutes.

We had a good time, though. He took lots of pictures and video. And when I got back to the shop and was cleaning out my truck, I noticed that he had left something.

What Kind of Pipe Is That?

Whoopsie!

I figured he might want that back, so I gave him a ring. We made an arrangement, and I swung by the hotel with it after work. In exchange, he gave me a DVD with all the raw video he shot on the tour, which I edited into this:

I didn’t use any Scorpions music for the soundtrack, though, so we don’t hang out anymore.

 

5. The CEO

GM is serious business.

When I got an actual grownup job in communications and PR, the client I was assigned to work exclusively for was General Motors. I did media analysis, worked with the Rapid Response Team on emerging reputation crisis issues, and I got my feet wet in the world of corporate social media at a time when it was still bleeding edge. I wrote a lot of blog posts for GM, not just in my own name (PDF Alert!), but as a ghostwriter for some of their top executives. I was there when GM execs decided to use their blog to combat the defamatory column printed by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times – an early demonstration of the rising power of social media vs. mainstream media. I even got to go the design center and see the new Camaro when it was still in clay – along with a new Impala and smaller Hummer, neither of which, alas, ever saw the light of day.

All of this was fascinating. But then something unexpected happened. When then-CEO Rick Wagoner came to DC to make the round of Sunday talk shows and address the health of his company back in 2007, he decided to come to our office and meet personally with our core team to talk about what would come next in the communications plan. When I stood by our conference table and shook the hand of the man running the 3rd-largest company (by revenue) in the entire world, introducing myself and recognizing that he took a personal interest in all of us and what we were doing for his business, I realized I had found my way into some very interesting work.

 

6. The Electric Car

Lutz & The Volt

The man and his Volt.

Another interesting experience I had while working as a consultant to GM was meeting Bob Lutz. If you haven’t ever heard of him, I guarantee you’ve heard of some of his product development ideas, including the Dodge Viper, the Ford Explorer, and the BMW 3-Series. The cigar-chomping, MiG-flying, fast-car driving, vegetarian, ex-Marine pilot is like a character in a Michael Bay movie. When he would be interviewed on CNBC, making brash predictions about his company’s future, you could watch the stock price go up in real time.

Bob Lutz is, first and foremost, an idea man. And one day he came to our offices to talk about the next big thing: the electric car. At the time, the product he was calling “the iCar” was not even a concept. But advances in lithium-ion battery chemistry had finally made an electric car a reality, and Lutz, a champion of muscle cars and the Hummer brand, sat at the head of our conference table and told us that it was going to be the next big thing, and GM was going to lead the way.

I watched with great interest as they fast tracked the development of the vehicle which would later be known as the Chevy Volt, bringing immense innovation to the table and reminding the world of the technological prowess possessed by the company that is notorious for crapping out the Chevy Nova and the Pontiac Aztec, but should also be recognized for creating the first artificial heart, the moon rover, electronic fuel injection, airbags, and the first industry standard crash test dummies. (Did you know automotive crash testing used to be done with cadavers? Yeah. Gross.)

I worked with early efforts to spread awareness of the Volt, and we not only brought it to events, but even parked it on Capitol Hill so that we could better inform members of Congress. (I even got to design part of the invitation to Congressional staff.)

I also worked on social media for the DARPA Urban Challenge winner known as Boss – a robot Chevy Tahoe that could navigate a 30-mile obstacle course without human intervention. Between the tech that’s already hit the market in the Volt and the tech that’s still in development for autonomous vehicles, I’m certain I’ll be able to look back some day and tell my kids about how I had the chance to work on the early stages of concepts that people weren’t sure could ever make it -  technologies that will no doubt be ubiquitous by the time they’re old enough to roll their eyes at my story.

 

These are among the most notable experiences I’ve had on the job, but there are dozens of other interesting examples. There are so many things to draw from when you spend such a big portion of your waking life at work, and they all become a part of your story.

 

What are some strange/entertaining/cool experiences you’ve had at work? Leave your story in the comments!


Gary Vaynerchuck Shows The Thank You Economy In Action

12 April, 2012 at 11:28 pm

In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I’m a huge fan of Gary Vaynerchuck. His story hits so many of the right notes. Immigrant kid who starts with nothing and builds huge success, first in his own childhood entrepreneurial pursuits, then his family’s business, then his own big-time start-ups. Young guy knocking it out of the park and making bank in a way I never would have thought possible by someone only 2 years older than I am. Brash, bold, ambitious, with the absolutely massive (and in his case, believable) dream of buying the New York Jets. Social media savant who instinctively sees what’s next and makes the most of every opportunity, playing to his strengths to maximize every opportunity. Genuinely decent human being who loves his family and friends, cares about his customers, and in general (in his words) just gives a crap.

I am not now, and have never been, the sort of person who is extremely impressed by celebrity of any stripe. I have no pantheon of heroes. I’m just not wired to adore and emulate others, when I can make my own way and blaze my own trails. But something about Vaynerchuck just impresses the hell out of me. He makes me want to dig deeper, work harder, and accomplish more.

Gary has written two books: Crush It! and The Thank You Economy. I own both, and I’ve read the first; the second is still on my to-read list. But I know that The Thank You Economy is about how social media is changing business; how the interaction between brands and customers must be humanized, made personal. Connections made. Relationships built. Hard selling is not an option. There’s a way to do business in this environment, and a way not to. And this is how you don’t:

This isn’t just grandstanding, though. This is how Gary rolls. Despite having nearly a million Twitter followers, he’s responded to my tweets several times. He does this constantly. He interacts with customers, followers, fans, you name it. Sometimes I look at his Twitter stream and just scratch my head, trying to figure out how he finds the time. (I’m pretty sure he sleeps about 3 hours a night.)

One afternoon last week, I clicked over to Tweetdeck just in time to see this pop up:

Cheese Tweet

Being a big-time cheese fan (possibly even a snob) I couldn’t pass this up. Within about 3 seconds, I had responded:

Before 5 minutes was out, Gary had responded to roughly half a dozen people telling them to email him their address so he could send it out. I was not on that list, despite my trigger finger on the tweet button.

Curious, I pushed my luck. I emailed him:

Gary,

You didn’t respond to me on Twitter about the cheese, despite my dreams of delicious aged dairy, but just in case you realize that you meant to ; ) :

[My Address Here]

Either way, love what you’re doing. I’m a huge fan. You’re an enormous inspiration, and I don’t say that lightly.

Best,
Steve

And as far as I knew, that was the end of it. There was no way he could send something to all the likely respondents, so I let it go. Forgot about it entirely, in fact.

And then today, I got a package delivered to my house, It was from some place called Gourmet Library in New Jersey:

Package
I opened it up, and inside was a simple note:

 

NoteWhen I unwrapped the contents, I found this:

CravanzinaIt’s a Cravanzina. A good one. In fact I’ve been craving more of it since I started writing this post.

But the cheese isn’t the most significant thing. It’s the interaction. It’s the time spent. It’s the relationship building. Gary Vaynerchuck is a unique businessman with a personal approach. An approach that builds good will. Because of his approach, an the fact that it made me feel good about dealing with him, I’m voluntarily acting as a brand ambassador. And I’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

He probably spent all of ten minutes requesting interest, forwarding addresses to one of his employees for fulfillment, and typing up the contents of his little note. Ten minutes. What did he get out of it?

Well, I’ve spent roughly an hour writing up this post, not to mention taking pictures to tell the story. I’ll post it, tweet it, share it. I’ve liked Gourmet Library on Facebook and followed them on Twitter. I’ll reach out to my network of friends, family, and followers and let them know that Gary V. is a guy they should pay attention to, buy products from, and interact with.

What appears on first glance to have been just a flat-out giveaway to gain interest in a new brand has actually become an exchange between two people who each have something to offer the other. What’s the ROI on that? Who knows? How do you measure good will, the trickle down effect of a sphere of influence, or the impact of making an impression on a fan/customer?

I suspect that those of us navigating the social web for business will continue to try to figure that out.

In the mean time, I’m going to eat some delicious cheese. Thanks Gary!

Is Wheat Bad for More Than Just Your Health?

11 April, 2012 at 11:09 am
Wheat Baby is Angry

This kid is mad. And looks like Patton Oswalt.

 

Since I wrote it less than a month ago, my post entitled “Is Wheat Bad For You?” has been far and away the biggest driver of traffic to my site. This is fascinating to me, because while I write about following the Primal Blueprint on occasion, this is not the main topic area of my blog. But in less than a month, it’s coming up on 1,000 views.

People aren’t coming from direct links, either. They’re searching Google. They’re trying to figure it out. They want to know what the deal is with wheat. This tells me that this is an issue that is rising to the level of public consciousness. I’m willing to bet (prediction alert!) that within the next five to ten years, the problems wheat is causing in the Standard American Diet will be major health news. It will be the kind of thing you’re hearing about in major news outlets. It will become a focus of healthcare providers, in much the same way that a low-carb diet has become an increasingly standardized part of weight loss. Hopefully, we’ll even see additional science on this, which will shed further light on wheat-related health issues.

But until then, if you’ve chosen (choice being the key word here) to cut out wheat from your diet and you haven’t been diagnosed with a gluten issue or celiac disease (which would mean you have no choice), be aware that what you’re doing will appear to be nothing short of crazy to almost everyone around you. And you’re going to upset people. Your dietary restrictions will cause conflict. You will be a pariah at parties. I’m going to start busting into alliteration if I don’t stop now.

You can’t eat sandwiches. You can’t have fresh bread. No toast, bagels, or muffins. Crackers are a no-go. You can’t eat pasta. You’ve broken up with cakes, cookies, and doughnuts. You can’t even eat many cereals. If you’re like me and you’ve also given up (except for the occasional indulgence) all other grains, legumes, and most sugars, you also knock out anything made with beans, or rice, or potatoes, or oats, or barley, or rye, or…you get the picture. It’s not that there aren’t lots of things you can eat, it’s just that most of us have grown up eating most of the things that are on the forbidden list. Those are hard habits to break, especially if you don’t believe that it’s important.

Wheat is a staple in the lives of most people in Western Civilization. Taking out the daily bread is a big deal. Asking people not to bring wheat products over when they visit (this is especially important if you’ve taken your little kids off of it; I’d be less strict if it was just myself) or trying to politely tell people that you’ll have to avoid many of the foods they make can offend people. It can hurt feelings. It can break family traditions. It can cause fights.

When I chose to give up wheat, this was never what I intended to have happen. But I am strict about it – have to be strict about it – because my health and the health of my family is extremely important to me. My kids don’t know why they had to give up pancakes and spaghetti and rolls and cookies and cake and so many of the things that they loved. They don’t understand that with their family history of early heart disease, diabetes, and ADD (among other things) that it just isn’t worth it and the habits will be easier to break now rather than later. They can’t fathom why something so common in most people’s kitchens can be so bad. And they’ve been good sports about the alternatives we provide to them. My wife does a great job with the substitutions, and she’s a fantastic cook no matter what ingredients she’s working with. But if I put an almond flour cookie or a pumpkin pancake on their plate next to a plate with the real thing, I think they’ll still choose the real thing. If I have the option of giving them real spaghetti with meatballs or spaghetti squash with meatballs, I’m pretty sure they’ll pick the real spaghetti. So I try to keep those things off the table entirely until they’ve really adapted to this way of eating for the longer term. And when you have get-togethers with people who don’t get it, or don’t care, you’d be surprised how upset people will get.

When I commit to something, I go all-in. I’ve lost almost 30 lbs. in three months, and I’m not stopping. I feel better, I have more energy, I get more done. I have the desire to exercise on a regular basis, which is also new. I feel confident that I have vastly improved my health, and have improved my quality of life and life expectancy as well.

But I’ve started some arguments and hurt some feelings as well, which I regret. I’m passionate about this, and that’s sometimes good and sometimes bad. If you’re making this change in your life, expect some resistance, and plan to deal with it as diplomatically as possible. Wheat is something that millions of people are used to eating (and probably addicted to) and while choosing to eat it can be bad for your health, choosing not to can cause problems with your family and friends.

My advice? Try to tread lightly. And let the proof be in the results.

Could I Be The Next Big Mommy Blogger? (Hint: Maybe.)

10 April, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Robots & Recipes

So waaaay back when, when I was a stay-at-home dad (which lasted about a month) I started a blog about – wait for it – being a stay-at-home dad.

Today, having had a conversation with some of the editorial staff at a certain family-oriented magazine that shall remain nameless until things are finalized, I received interest in reviving said blog so that it could be featured among their list of mommy bloggers. And obviously I’m not a mommy, but hey! I’m all about breaking the glass ceiling.

When I went back and started reading it, I found many things to laugh at, and I realized it was something I should have kept up all along.

So I’ll be reviving it, and doing my best to keep it at least somewhat current. With five kids (yes, five) this shouldn’t take much effort. If anything, it will encourage me to spend more time with them so I can mine them for good material. Which is strangely utilitarian but also awesome, because they’re great kids and I should be doing that anyway.

I’ll keep you posted on the writing opportunity if and when it materializes. Even if it doesn’t, I’m glad to get back at this. It’s a great way to commemorate the childhood of my munchkins before it slips away into the angsty twilight of adolescence.

“Dump Starbucks” Campaign Proves it Again: Don’t Politicize Your Brand!

6 April, 2012 at 7:59 am

For the life of me, I can’t understand why some companies make the choice to politicize their brand.

The most notorious example to come to mind in the past 12 months is Susan G. Komen, with their ill-advised move to de-fund, then re-fund Planned Parenthood in a way that made it appear to be a political decision thinly veiled as a policy change. It’s been talked about ad nauseam in every PR and communications forum on the Internet, so I won’t re-hash it.  At the time, though, I was one of the few people in my circle of (mostly Catholic and pro-life) family and friends to squarely criticize the decision and the way it was handled. It doesn’t matter what you think about abortion – the situation was handled terribly by the organization, and it alienated both sides of the most polarizing issue in the nation. It was quite possibly brand suicide. If Komen survives, it will be because people have short memories.

Slightly less damaging, but still dangerous, is the recent move by Starbucks to officially support gay marriage. While the move has certainly garnered support – to the tune of 650,000 thank yous – Starbucks has tens of millions of customers worldwide, and not everyone is on the same page. The Dump Starbucks campaign has been ramping up in an attempt to foment an effective boycott against the coffee titan.

Once again, what you or I think of gay marriage isn’t at the heart of this issue – good business practice is. You can and should have informed opinions about the most hotly debated issues of the day, but no matter how you slice it, politicizing your brand spells danger. When I donate money to a cancer research foundation, I want to know that my money is stopping cancer. I don’t want to worry about abortion, one way or the other. I don’t even want to think about it, because it stigmatizes my unrelated behavior of trying to fund cancer research. When I want to buy a cup of coffee, I want to buy the best damn cup of coffee I can lay hands on, not worry about what side of a hot button political issue I’m supporting. I’m not looking to join a movement, I just want some caffeine.

As your customer, I want to buy your products or services, NOT your ideology.

I can’t make this clear enough. Brands that take this approach may feel like they’re doing the right thing, but all they’re really doing is hurting their business. I can’t think of a friend or family member who doesn’t go to Starbucks at least some of the time. And because I know the religious and political affiliation of most of my friends and family, I know that this move will significantly impact their willingness to give money to Starbucks again. If I were a business owner, I couldn’t imagine making a decision that I knew would alienate a large portion of my customer base. It would be a purely selfish move, and it would mean that my personal political preferences are more important to me than the satisfaction of my customers. People get rightfully upset when companies get greedy, raising prices and keeping profits and offering poor customer service. How is this different? It’s a sort of intellectual greed, a means of saying to the consumer, “It’s not about you and your experience of our brand – it’s about us and what we want.” 

It doesn’t matter if you’re so successful that you have money to burn. If you no longer need to keep your customers happy, your business is on its way out. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not five years from now, but eventually, someone else who cares more about their customers than you do is going to take your place.

I can’t emphasize this enough. I started as a writer who covered the taboo issues of religion and politics. My writings are on the Internet for anyone to find. If anyone chooses not to do business with me because of something that I’ve written in the past, that’s certainly within their rights to do. But as I continue to build my credibility as a professional, I’m leaving my most polemical writings behind. They do nothing to help me be the best communications strategist I can be. If you want to do business with me, it doesn’t matter what I believe, it matters how well I perform. End of story.

That’s smart business. Something that both Susan G. Komen and Starbucks appear to have lost sight of.

Excuses are Deadly

3 April, 2012 at 6:56 am

It's never a good idea to build your house on sand.

Excuses are deadly. Don’t make them.

When you make an excuse, you’re giving yourself permission to fail.

People who want to succeed never say “I can’t” or “I couldn’t” or “It wasn’t my fault.” Those statements are made by people who find opportunity too hard to handle.

Many people believe that if they have an air-tight excuse, nobody can blame them for not doing better. If they honestly don’t know something, can’t understand something, or are unable to figure out how to take the next step, then it must be okay. It’s fate. Circumstances beyond their control have kept them from doing better or becoming more. Everyone else will understand.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Excuses are things we hide behind so that we can die a slow death. They don’t give us cover, they expose us as cowards. They show off our laziness and our sense of entitlement.

If we want to accomplish more, we need to turn off the TV and work harder. If we want to lose weight, we need to cut the crap out of our diet and put in the work. If we want happiness, we need to realize that now is the best time of our lives for achieving that, and go out and do it.

Tell yourself that today – just today – you won’t make excuses. That you’ll make a commitment not to let your forward progress get stopped by a problem, but that you’ll find away over it, under it, or through it. Count how many times you start to say you can’t, and tell yourself (even if you don’t believe it) that you can.

Don’t let excuses kill your chance to be happy and successful. They have no power over you except the power you give them.

Night Person or Morning Person? Does it Matter?

29 March, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Espresso

I’ve always been a night person. My natural rhythm is to stay up moderately late and sleep in. I was never an out all night kind of guy, but I’d crash at about 2 or 3AM and get up around 10 or 11AM. If left to my own devices, I’d get about 9 hours of sleep before waking.

Then I got married. My wife is much more of a morning person. With rare exceptions, she’s never asleep past 7AM. Not even on weekends. Our kids are pretty early risers too. In the beginning, I resisted this trend. I’d stay up late (my wife having fallen asleep on the couch, usually rather early) doing my thing. She’d be up in the morning and I’d sleep in. This was silly, the unnecessary overlap in our schedules, but I was immature and irresponsible, so I did it anyway. The day was going on without me, and it gradually began to irritate me more and more. I felt like I was missing something. I reluctantly began to cave in.

So my schedule shifted earlier. But I still resisted. After all, I’d say, I was still a night person trying to live a morning person’s life. And unwillingly. With great heaping gobs of coffee to assist me.

But finally I began to realize something. If I wanted to be productive, if I wanted to actually do something with my day, I had to get rolling before the sun was up. There wasn’t time to lay around sleeping. People depended on me. If I didn’t get up, I was reacting to my day, always playing catch-up. I was putting an undue burden on my wife, who was up long before I was and wound up having to take care of the kids alone. In addition to that, I needed a jump start on everything I wanted to accomplish. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being up before everyone else is. You feel like you have the advantage. Except that’s not just a feeling – there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that you really do.

Steve Murphy, CEO of publishing company Rodale, says, “A line in a William Blake poem inspired me to think differently about my day: ‘Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.’ This has made a huge difference in my life. Now, I take out a yellow pad every morning and write my thoughts for the day, which allows me to be much more strategic and proactive than reactive.”

I used to think my most creative time was late at night. And while I do get ideas then, I very rarely execute on them at that time. I’m usually too burned out. I’ve learned through experience, though, that my absolute best time to create things and get work done is first thing in the morning – something I would never have known if I hadn’t started rolling out of bed.

I rarely get a chance to use that time to the best of my ability right now, because family obligations and my work schedule put a crimp on the early hours. So I’ve decided I need to start getting up earlier. I usually get up around 6:30AM, so today I got up at 5:30AM. After a 5AM alarm. With mixed results. But I got out the door closer to on time, felt less rushed, and didn’t make my daughter late for school (a common occurrence, since I drive her in.) I plan to keep shooting for earlier, until (hopefully) I can do a 4:30AM wake-up. That may be a bit aggressive, since I don’t get to the office very early, and consequently get home rather late. And many evenings, I work until midnight or 1AM on projects or business ideas, which doesn’t leave much time for sleep – which is usually interrupted by a kid with a bad dream or a crying baby anyway. But it’s a goal, and if going to bed earlier helps me to make better use of that early time, I’ll do it. As the days get warmer, my daily walks are going to need to get pushed into the darker, cooler hours, and early morning is just the time to go for a brisk stroll and brainstorm the day. I suspect it will become an important part of my process for fueling creativity.

I used to make excuses. Used to say I couldn’t get up, that it wasn’t my fault, that I was just wired a certain way. And maybe I am. But overcoming our nature is one of the things that every human being with an intellect and free will has the capacity to do. In fact, it’s what we should do, when it comes to things that hold us back. What I’ve realized about myself is that I made excuses because I was lazy and didn’t see the point. I’d rather have stayed up late watching TV or playing a video game than get up early and have to do something I didn’t want to do. Namely: work.

But once you find work you enjoy, you look forward to it. Productivity is no longer a dirty word. It’s an exciting one. Even if you don’t love your day job, make the most of the time you have throughout the day to do the work you do love. Even if you don’t get paid for it. In addition, find the things about your job that you can take satisfaction in, and do them well. Look for the fun challenges in the work, rather than expecting the work you do to simply satisfy you on every level. Get an edge on the competition and position yourself for future career growth. And make time to do creative projects that have nothing to do with the bottom line (though don’t be afraid to monetize them if you can!) just for the sake of doing them. Just because they’re fun!

I’ve come a long way since the days I would sleep half the day way. I now realize that getting up early is worth it, even thought it’s not always easy.

How about you? Are you a night person, or a morning person?

A Word About Comment Moderation and Spam

27 March, 2012 at 10:22 am

Just a quick note – my Akismet spam filter for the blog is set to “kill” despite the fact that I have deployed fairly light comment moderation requirements in the site settings. I just pulled two real comments out of over 140 spam comments left in the last 24 hours.

If your comment doesn’t appear right away, let me know. I go fishing for them every day, but I don’t want to miss any. You can email me at steve (at) steveskojec (dot) com. I’ll throw a comment form on the site later today to make this easier.

Thanks,
The Management

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