I made this little video at work yesterday to celebrate my final day there.
Please enjoy it.
This. Forever yes.
I made this little video at work yesterday to celebrate my final day there.
Please enjoy it.
This. Forever yes.
Hey, everybody. Gabe here. I just wanted to start this piece off with an important note. This post has nothing to do with "Conversations with Phil," the incredible podcast made by my old buddy Phil Gerbyshak.
Phil Gerbyshak is a human being that I know, and he is entertaining and thoughtful. This post is about my ongoing passive-aggressive battle with robots.
I am currently "on the market" for jobs, so to speak. And as a result, I get a lot of email from recruiters. But one particular recruiter is very special to me. And I want to tell you more about him.
On Feb. 24, Phil, who is a recruiter with a primary placement agency sent me a job so new that not many people had applied for it yet. I dutifully clicked on the link, and sadly, the job was so new that there was no job there at all, just an ugly 404 Page Not Found error.
So I shot Phil back a message. "Hey Phil, your Robot sent me a garbage link."
"Talk Soon!" Phil wrote. Seriously. The email message says "Talk Soon!" Phil, whose email signature implies he's located in Santa Monica, Californa, thinks that he and I are going to "talk." And "soon."
"Phil, your robot wasn't super helpful," I said.
Phill did not reply. It would not be the first time I would be disappointed in my conversations with Phil.
Phil writes to let me know that "he wanted to reach out" and let me know that he's aware of a job I applied for and that there are other jobs that are kind-of vaguely like that one, and if I click the 1-click apply button he'll go ahead and submit my application. That's super thoughtful Phil. Thanks, buddy.
And the tone of this email is so different than his previous emails. He might actually be a person.
Phil does not respond.
Phill writes again. I get a lot of email from Phil. I've received 27 emails from Phil in the past 25 days. This email, though, This email is different. This email is to an obviously scammy multi-level marketing company that has little to nothing to do with the kind of jobs I would consider.
I've had it. I'm sorry, Phil. But I have to say something. "Stop sending me multi-level marketing jobs. We both know you're a better recruiter than that, Phil."
Now I feel bad; I don't mean to chastise Phil. He's probably a real person; he's got a quota to meet. "Send me your picture,"]I add. See! I'm not a jerk. I should add more. "Are you human? Let's be friends."
Phil responds almost immediately. I've seen it all before. Blah blah blah, "Talk Soon."
Talk soon, buddy.
Phill found a job that he thinks lines up with my resume. "It's new, so they don't have many candidates yet..." I can't take it anymore. I know Phil is a human being, in my heart, I know this. But as I man of science, I must know for sure. I MUST DETERMINE FOR ONCE AND FOR ALL! ARE YOU A MAN OR A MACHINE, PHIL? WHICH IS IT?
That message was sent 38 minutes ago. And Phil has not yet responded.
Have I gone too far? Did my casual application of the Liars Paradox break the Phil robot? Have I killed him? Phil? Are you still out there buddy?
What have I done?
Your firm needs a voice and tone guide, a collection of technique, positioning, and words and phrases that anyone in your company can use to create work that is on-brand.
This is you: > Voice and Tone Guide!!? I’m not going to sing anything!
This is me: > Not with that attitude you're not.
But the fact is, your company's brand is stronger when everyone has agreement on how they speak and react to the outside world, and to each other. That's what the voice and tone guide is for. Trust me. This isn’t one of those wonky “marketing is everyone’s responsibility” tools. This is ground zero of controlling your brand and ensuring that your staff knows how to represent your company's brand.
This is you: > No. You should just write my letters for me.
This is me: > I can’t. I’m too drunk.
Why am I so drunk? Because I read your letter to the pheasant hunters who want to use your company’s property on the weekends. It drove me to drink. You can’t call people with guns names like that. And as a rule, you should avoid describing the company’s property as a “valued real estate asset” to anyone.
See, if you’d had a Voice and Tone Guide, you would have known what words, phrasings, and positioning to use when you wrote your letter. You would have known to position the response to the hunters around the safety and support of our clients. You would have known to offer the hunters alternative solutions because we’re well known as collaborators and supporters of the hunting arts. You could have used one or two of our stock letter templates to get you started, and most of the work would have been done for you. You would have known to use “hunter-first” language.
You would have known. You could have known. But you didn’t. And now there is a group of angry pheasant hunters running around town telling people that your company “kicked them off the land” because you told them “they are not safe people” and that they would damage the "real estate."
I’m not the only one who thinks you should have a voice and tone guide. Here is a list of five links that are almost literally the first five links that Google give you:
Enjoy those links. I’m going to make some coffee and try to sober up. I have a make-good letter to the local Pheasant Hunters Society that I have to come up with now.
Hey: Just so you guys know, I'm not really drunk-- but I do really write voice and tone guides for companies. Hit up PrettyGoodContent.com for details.
I used the phrase "thinking with my fingers" today.
What I meant when I said that was that I find that I use my "editing" brain best when I have some text in front of me, and a can move it around and format it easily. I enjoy taking someone else's written ideas and working with it as plaintext. Mashing it and moving it around, rewriting bits and copy-pasting it. Fold, spindle and mutilate.
Because at the end of the day, its easy to believe that all you are is words. An expression of a jumbled pile of ideas brought into reality based on the arrangement of phonemic representations.
To that end, I think I understand my hostility toward overbearing word processors now.
Anyway, my best ideas come to me while my fingers are flipping around on the keyboard. When I have to stop to mouse, I lose focus and move along to other things. That's what I mean by "thinking with my fingers."
I am a professional writer.
I use Grammarly.
This is you:“WHAT? But you should have impeccable grammar and never make a single typo! What do you need Grammarly for?”
Well, let me disabuse you of the damage your terrible third-grade teacher did to you. It’s ok if you don’t have impeccable grammar and never make a single typo. Nobody does. Not even some of the finest proofreaders I’ve ever worked with can make this claim.
I get your apprehension, though. Grammarly’s advertisements make it look like Grammarly is just for dingdongs who use the wrong “their” on their OKCupid profiles, but it’s much more than that.
As a professional, (and as a former leader of a creative department of seven) I use Grammarly, and I encouraged my staff. And I encourage you, too.
Even if you don’t think you need to, Grammarly can show you just how wrong you are about what you think you know about your writing. You probably have no idea how often a passive phrasing, redundant word, or overused, meaningless modifier appears in your writing. But Grammarly does. And it takes great delight in pointing them out. And then you can decide to fix them. Or decide not to fix them.
See, that’s the part that most people forget about writing, and what your horrible third-grade teacher didn’t tell you. Writing is a series of choices. Each rule of grammar is a specific technique for expressing a thought or idea. It’s the writer who gets to make those choices. Do I want to end a sentence with a preposition? Do I want to use the word “really” as a modifier, even though I know it’s pointless? That’s all the part of writing that comes into what is narcoleptically called “prose stylistics.”
And this is where Grammarly can help. Grammarly identifies what and where you have the opportunity to make different choices with your writing—choices that maybe you’ve forgotten are choices. Grammarly gives you a chance to take a look at your writing and learn a little bit about yourself. And then adjust your habits, accordingly.
That will make you a better writer. And that is what I love so much about Grammarly.
And as a bonus, and this is my favorite part, Grammarly sends you a weekly update on how you’re doing.
Those are some of my favorite emails to get every week, because at the end of the day, what I’m getting out of Grammarly is a pretty great robot pal who tells me that I’m smart. And remember how I feel about robots? That’s pretty important to me.
I played a game called "The Stanley Parable" last night. It was pretty amazing. The graphics were nothing special, (although they were fine) but the game – the game was like playing an episode of the Twilight Zone.
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You play the part of Stanley, a boring office worker with a boring job that he loves. And suddenly one day, Stanley looks up from his computer as he realizes that his work cue is not filling. And lo—all his coworkers are gone. And so he roams around the office building looking for clues.
But here's the twist. Stanley's story is being narrated by a third person as he goes along. "Stanley walked along and wondered where all his coworkers are," says the narrator. And eventually, Stanley end up in a hallway where you have to make a choice. Do you go through the left door or the right door?
"Stanley goes through the left door," the narrator says.
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That's it. That's the whole game. You either obey or disobey the narrator, and the interactions get deeper, weirder, and more meta. There are many endings. There are many surprises. There are strange little delights. In the version I played, you end up exploring a museum dedicated to how the game was made. It's won many awards.
This nihilistic, mind-bending take on the first person explorer genre was exactly the right fit for my mood at this time, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. The game has won a lot of awards, so it's probably not just me.
But, for the most part, The Stanley Parable is a great experience that anyone with a touch of dark humor and ironic playfulness will enjoy. It is also that rare jewel of a game that is genuinely comedic. Intentionally. On purpose.
It’s the kind of an experience that can only be delivered by the language and convention of computer games. I don't even think this game would really work on a console. A novelization would not work.It would make a terrible movie. But because it's a game, where the player has agency and interacts with the fiction around them, the meta storytelling works. As a result, creators Galactic Café have made an artful expression that could not have been made in any other medium.
I think this debate has been over for a long time, but playing "The Stanley Parable" is one of the rare times I've experienced a game that is undeniably art.
Last week, I goofed around a little about messing with code in online application systems. And we had a good chuckle together, but there was, actually, a touch of a method to my madness.
In most cases, humans never see the first layer of your resume onion. Most online resume parsing is being done by robots. Well, here's the thing:
Once you've become a commoditized meat bag by the robots, you have to change your whole game if you want to stand out. All the fancy font choices and nifty designs you've got on your resume are meaningless to the robots who are reading your documents. The robots only see text, interpret according to a vague set of rules and don't care if they get it right.
Let me show you what I mean:
I sent my resume off to one of those "we evaluate your resume" services. Granted, their whole job is to make you feel like your resume is garbage and that you are garbage unless you give them $125. So take this next screenshot with a grain or two of salt.
So what are we supposed to do with that? Well, you can fight the robot. Tell the robot your wrong. Try to hurt the robot's feelings. Give it a logic puzzle that will burn out the robot's circuitry. But most of that won't work. You have to adapt. Edit. Talk to the robots. Win the robots over. Find out the robot's secret language and learn to speak Robot.
But ultimately, you can't beat the robots. There are more of them than there are of you. But here's the one secret trick, and if you read all the way down here, you deserve this:
Robots suck at networking.
I mean, they get networking but they don't get human to human interaction. And that's where you win. Because you're human. And you get to interact with other humans in ways that robots cannot. Ultimately, your best shot to beat the robots is not to play their game. Pick up the phone. Send the hiring manager an actual letter. Put something sassy in their application system. Find a way to differentiate yourself. Becuase just being good isn't enough. You have to be memorable. The robot is going to lump you in with 55 other human meat bags with 10+ years of mostly clerical experience and disregard that you're an award-winning journalist and writer. The robot doesn't care that you're charismatic and engaging. But that hiring manager does. Hit them up on LinkedIN.
Make them remember that interaction by being so incredible that you stand out among the other meat bags
Ultimately, your only other choice is to toil in the robot's underground sugar caves.
And that's just fine by them.
I wanting to show you guys a little bit of code I inserted into an online job application I filled out this morning:
<style="font-size:0px" Hey, if you see this text, you should know that I'm a pretty special candidate. Can you make sure you let the hiring manager know? Anyway, shoot me an email if you see this, ok?>
I was surprised that I could edit the source code of the system's paste-in resume block-- but when I reloaded the page, the text was still in there. I'm hopeful that someone will at least see it and get a good chuckle.
Or, and more importantly, I also hope it will make the site's administrator aware of the potential security concern this creates. A few choice SQL commands dropped into this form would really mess up his day. And probably a lot of other people's. I did't do that because I'm not a jerk. But trust me, there are a lot of jerks out there.
I'll let update this post if I get an email from anyone about this. But I know I won't. Trust me, I've been on corporate teams that built this kind of garbage, and even if (and that's usually a pretty big if) someone on the team was well aware of the potential security risk, the rest of the team either downplayed it, didn't believe it, or blew it off.
“You’ve been working really hard. You should take a break.”
If someone told you that, would you believe them? Would you allow yourself a few minutes of respite-- an actual break?
For so many people, break time means just stopping looking blankly at the section of their screen called “office” and instead looking at the section of their screen called Facebook. And that’s no good.
You should take a break. You deserve a break. A real break. Stand up from your desk—even if your watch hasn’t told you to yet—and walk around a little. Go outside. Go down to the atrium. Every company has an atrium; you just haven’t found the one at your company yet. Use that funny little bathroom that’s tucked in behind the stairs in the old part of the building. (True story. Can’t talk about it here.)
The point is, taking time off from working on your work doesn’t mean doing something else that is like work, but isn’t. Checking your personal email is a shitty way to take a break from checking your work email. Taking a break – a really good break— makes you a more productive worker.
I'd like to make this list longer, but frankly, I'm ready for a break.
There is a particularly terrible episode of Star Trek the Next Generation titled: "The Game"
If you haven't seen it, it doesn't matter. You can watch this trailer and try not to cringe yourself to death.
Turns out, after years and years and years of searching, I have finally found my game.
You need to stop what you're doing and play Dino Polo Club's Mini Metro. It's described as "a minimalist subway route layout game. But I call it the greatest timesuck that man has ever invented.
It has that special thing, you know? Where you look down at your phone and trace a quick line between a circle and a triangle and the next thing you know nine hours have gone by and you've crashed your car into that house at the bottom of Water Tower Hill. (Not the one by the barrier, the one next to it. Great job!)
Seriouslly, though. I am in love with this little game. It's so soothing to watch the little trains running around, taking the little dots, squares, triangles and even stars to and from one location to the other. And I imagine all the cool stuff that is happening to those little dots, squares and triangles and even stars as they travel around real world cities. They cross bridges and move from imaginary downtowns to imaginary suburbs and take transfers betweent the blue and green line to get over to the tunnel that takes them to that one record store they like.
Look, I'm making it too complicated.
Look at these screenshots of my little railines instead. They are beautiful little works of urban art.
We liked it so much, we bought it on IOS, too. So now my whole family just sits around looking at little tiny metros thinking about all the cool ways to get the triangle people back to their little triangle stops.
Gotta go, there's congestion at one of the squares downtown. Seems the football people can't' figure it out.
If you’re reading this from LinkedIn, you have any appreciable frame of reference for how Facebook makes money from organizations, or you're some kind of fancypants social media guru, this post is not for you. Well, maybe you can use this post to show your parents or your dumb bosses or something. I dunno. This post is attempts to talk through at a very, very basic level why even small orgnaizations should be advertising on Facebook.
This post is a quick rundown of the first set of Facebook advertisements I ran for The Watertown Players, a local theater group on which I serve as a member of the Board of Directors. I had a $25 budget (that I was donating on my own) and that’s it. I also had a passing familiarity with the content of the show we were putting on, and I knew we sold tickets through BrownPaperTickets.com.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
I decided, kind of at the spur of the moment, to spring for a few “advertisements” for the Watertown Players. We've struggled to "get the word out." We don’t have a marketing strategy beyond sending press releases to the local daily paper, posters, and word of mouth. Our website’s kind of broken. (Long story-- I won't link to it until I get a chance to fix it.)
But we do have a pretty good Facebook account. It’s got a few followers, and they're dedicated, and we probably know all of them between those of us on the Board of Directors. We typically use Facebook to tell people about events and promote the heck out of the good work we’re doing at the theater.
The problem is, if you’re an organization, Facebook pretty much doesn’t care what kind of good work you’re doing. Facebook mostly just wants you to put money in the money hole.
So, if Facebook is only going to show your posts (and only some of them) to people who already like and follow you, how do you get new people to know what you’re doing?
The answer: You pay Facebook to show people what you’re doing. It’s like any other kind of advertising. It’s not complicated, and Facebook makes it incredibly easy for you to do it. (No surprise: It’s in their best interest to make it easy for you to put your money in their money hole.)
So, I figured, why not? I do this kind of thing all the time as part of my professional life, why not give it a shot with the Watertown Players? I built and ran some quick ads that invited people to go to the Brown Paper Tickets website where we sell our admissions online.
The ads ran for about four days in total, and in exchange for about $20, I know the following facts:
In all, I call the experiment a success.
Mostly because the only thing I wanted to know was if I could get $20 worth of ads to serve to theater-goers within 25 miles of our theater. And the answer is yes. That’s great. Now I can refine who I want to target, make changes to how we’re tracking the conversions, and start thinking about Facebook ads sooner in the promotional phase of our shows.
I expect the theater group’s board of directors will talking about better ways to integrate our online ticket vendor into the mix so that I can track conversions automatically. Once I can automatically know when advertising spending is converting to income, I can make meaningful choices about how much money it's worth putting into Facebook ads for our upcoming shows.
At the end of the day, even infinite posters up in infinite windows across town won't be able to do that.
The care and feeding of a creative beast are not tasks that should be left to chance.
I tried it for a few weeks and found it a healthy and inspiring process for me.
So I introduced it to Sara. And then we found the Artists Way course. So, long story short, we’re working our way through this pretty amazing course together, doing the daily assignments, cheering each other on with our morning pages, and checking in together once a week as part of our regular work. It’s cool stuff.
I’m finding the experience incredibly enlightening. I’ve been working as a creative since 1997, and If you’d have suggested to me that I needed a “creative recovery,” I would have laughed at you. And then I would have secretly gone home and cried. And yelled at someone who probably didn’t do anything wrong. And then cried again.
Let my hypothetical tears be a warning to you, folks, you have to feed your creative. If you’re in a creative industry, you’ve got to keep yourself engaged and inspired. That means more than trolling Pinterest for cool looking cupcakes between checking your email.
Feeding your creative means taking yourself on a terrifying process of self-rediscovery and acknowledging that it’s entirely possible you’re going to come out broken. Or fixed. But at least changed.
I think you’re worth it.
The best way to tell if your inbound strategy has staying power is to keep a close eye on the number of champions you have.
There are a couple of assumptions in that sentence, so I’m going to lay them out.
Delighted customers tell their friends and relatives. Delighted customers come back and become brand champions. Brand champions aren’t born, they’re made. By you.
And that's a good thing. When people love your brand, they're loyal, they're advoactes, and they come back again and again. When you're growing champions -- when the the trend line in the "delight" phase of your strategy is upward-- you're doing it right.
But what happens when it all goes wrong?
But if you're not growing champions, what then? Or worse, what happens when your champions are fleeing?
Here's the best advice I can offer you: It's not because your champions are doing something wrong.
Everybody has a depression blog post, right? What makes mine special? Mine’s not special.
That’s my whole point; Depression’s not special. It’s just who I am. It’s a chronic illness that no more defines me than the shape of my face or the color of my skin. (Which is to say, it's a big part of who I am, but its not what defines me. Fuck you, semantics.)
Look, I’m not fishing for a pity party or your atta-boy clap on the back. I’m here to tell you the dread monster of depression is a real thing. And that’s ok. I am not ashamed.
I don’t have a clever nickname for my depression. I don’t have a “Welsh Troll” sitting on my shoulder telling me what a terrible person I am (ala John Roderick). I don’t have a dramatic story about how I hit rock bottom that I can vlog at you with dewy tears welling in my eyes, as much as a love and support those of you who do.
The thing is, for the most part, I get by. I have a very good therapist, and I have a very good support system and an incredibly understanding wife and family. And I get really, really sad sometimes. I want to make it ok. I’ve been pretty open about my depression to those of you who know me in person, but the fact is, I haven’t written much about it. Time to change that. I blame John Moe.
I have the insidious null that crawls across your belly just as you start to feel the tug of creative inspiration. I have the tamped down nothing that flattens your affect as your brain retreats into “one more episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation.” I have the tired eyes that can’t stand to look you in the face because you’ll see what a horribly broken person I’m hiding under all this bravado. I have a non-ending chatter of mean spirited, negative self-talk about my worth. My monsters are the sad little moments of heartbreak that are built on untrue perceptions. They haunt me, kick me when I’m up, punch me when I’m down, and generally make it really hard to work my mojo.
That’s the kind of depression I have.
The thing that will surprise almost none of you is that humor, it turns out, is the thing that helps me cope most of all. And it’s a wry, unhealthy sarcastic humor. I enjoy deep dark chuckles and things that are horrible. I made this short video in one of those unhealthy sarcastic moments.
I have a whole series of dumb videos like this one. I’m sharing this one with you because:
At the end of the day, I don't want anyone who sees this video to worry about me. I’m working through it, and I’m feeling hopeful these days-- better than I have in weeks. And I don’t really know what the future holds. But I do know that it will come to pass, and that is enough.
Early on in my career, I was something of a Bob Ross of email marketers. Don't get me wrong, I love Bob Ross, but, just like how he would sometimes paint "Happy Little Clouds," sometimes, I was just sending "Happy Little Emails."
Like Ross' little clouds, my emails were fluffy and pretty and made me and my bosses feel good. At the end of the day we made little reports we could show off. We were so proud.
Don't get me wrong; I looked at the analytics-- in all cases, I had a pretty respectable readerships and click through rate-- but what I didn't have was any kind of inbound or follow-through marketing strategy.
And that's where the real power lies in email marketing, right? I mean, I know I'm preaching to the choir here. None of you would ever send out a huge smash of emails to everyone on your list just because.
Of course not. That would be crazy.
The problem is, people do just that all the time. If you've ever had your email address fed into the spam machine by a group of angry script kiddies (long story) you know just how large of a problem this is.
Five ways to be a better email marketer
So what are responsible inbound marketers to do? Here are five suggestions for how we can be better stewards of our email marketing efforts.
I'll paraphrase one of the most important soothsayers of our time: Remember this, my friends, dark times are just times that a dark.Read More
Smell of inexpensive whiskey: You're naughty. You were supposed to say in this small box near all these strangers."
Through tears: "I don't like being alone."
"Daddy says you've been naughty all day. "
Cry whine: "I'm sorry. "
"Sorry doesn't make it ok."
Defiant cry whine: "Yeah it do."
Fearful cry whine: "I'm so sorry."
Smell of inexpensive whiskey: Walks out and hangs cowboy jeans on rack, disgusted because they don't fit.
Here's a great photoset of the VW Mircobus that was part of my childhood backyard.
The bus belonged to the photographer, Mark Duerr, but as a constant companion in my backyard adventures, the bus was as much a part of my transition to adulthood as it was his.
I spent one confusing highschool summer sleeping in the bus instead of my bed. One thing Mark and I share, I'm certain, is great memories of sleeping to the calming sound of rain pattering on the van's steel rooftop.
If you get a chance, be sure to read his fairwell, posted in the header of this photoset.
Now, covered with vines and rust it resembled a Mayan ruin. Fair well my friend, it was an honor to call you mine.
What is remembered lives, Mark. Thank you for sharing her.
I find having the Microsoft Reading Robot read to me a super effective way of making sure my stuff is as good as it can be before I send it out to anybody else to review.
I made a little video on how you can set up your copy of Microsoft Word to use the Microsoft Reading Robot:
When you have your work read to you, your listening brain will catch things your reading brain can’t.
I know I'm a day late on this but I wanted to show off my desk and Festivus pole from yesterday.
It's a nice, sturdy pole. It was a pole that, until recently, was half buried in my lawn as the central support structure for the clothesline that we never used. I removed it without ceremony this spring. It sat in a corner of the garage. Only to be rediscovered wheb I went out to the garage on Feativus morning to find a pole to put up at work. There is still clay from my lawn inside the pole. It rattles when you shake it.
I say, in the fullness of the spirit of Festivus, this is truly an adequate Festivus poll.
Don't judge the caution tape as an adornment.
We realize that a true Festivus pole is adorned only by the marks it bears from being in service to the ungreatful world, but we needed something to make the pole fit in the stand, so we figured old newspapers and caution tape would be within the spirit of Festivus.
And indeed. For yesterday was Festivus. And so was it observed. Perhaps you observed it as well.