Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blogging Without An Audience

Why bother blogging unless you've got oodles of readers? Seth Godin raises this interesting point in If no one reads your post, does it exist? but he doesn't have this problem.

Write and readers will eventually come later. Maybe years later. Won't it be interesting to see your history? Won't you find your history interesting too?

Writing is a form of thinking. Editing is a form of refining your thinking. So you benefit when you write even if no one reads. I've mentioned my Spark Insight blog to several people but even my family doesn't read regularly. Maybe that's good because they think I'm working when I'm actually posting :)

The beauty of blogging is the simplicity. It's not like writing a book where the task looks so daunting that you don't start. That's why I haven't written The Great Novel yet :)

I just started blogging a few weeks ago. I felt quite vulnerable after the first posts. I was afraid to invite readers, especially business colleagues. What if they don't like me? I got over that quickly by setting up two other blogs. I've now got
  • Spark Insight for personal topics
  • Riscario to help consumers reduce their financial risks (public service)
  • Insellia to help insurance specialists sell (work-related)
I'm experimenting with techniques to boost readership (eg email updates through Zookoda). Even 10 readers would be an improvement. Then 25, 50, 100, ...

When the readers show up, there will be stuff to read. So right now, I'm honing my skills and creating content. Maybe I'll write a book like Big Is The New Small consisting solely of old blog posts :)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Unsecret

If everyone knows a secret, is it still a secret?

Have you seen or read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne? She discovered a secret in late 2004 and wants to share it with the world. And make a few dollars.
We already know the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42 from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe. However, that answer isn't very useful (especially when you learn the underlying question).

This secret which has been kept from us is The Law of Attraction, which says we get what we ask for. You may have heard it in different forms:
  • ask and you shall receive
  • be careful what you ask for; you may get it
  • your wish is my command (Aladdin)
  • whether you think you can or can't, you're right
  • positive mental attitude
  • what you conceive and believe you can achieve

I first heard of The Law of Attraction in 1993 from Brian Tracy in his course Achieving Personal Excellence. Prior to that, I knew of it subconsciously. My life has been filled with things that turned out to be good --- even if they felt bad at the time.

It takes time to accept The Law of Attraction and the related Law of Abundance (opposite to the scarcity mentality). What's the harm in believing that expecting good creates good? We focus on the outcome we want and leave the process of getting there to our subconscious mind. Even a placebo works.

Marketing The Secret

So The Secret isn't really telling us anything new. Except about the power of marketing. Here's what's available

  • extended edition DVD ($30 US), option to view online ($5 US)
  • book
  • online store with "some of the greatest teaching tools and materials on the planet today"
  • newsletter

So you get a chance to keep shelling out money. The teachers in the video each have their own businesses. They were kind enough to "handpick one or two of their best learning materials tools that will guide you in living life to the absolute fullest." So you can buy from them too.

The title is on the lame side. Try a googling "the secret" and see what you find. Visit the website http://www.thesecret.tv/ and you'll soon be nauseated. You can create your own Secret Membership to become a Secret Member with your own Top Secret Password. There's also a fee-based Abundant membership but you can't easily find the pricing.

In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill writes that his book contains a secret which we must discover for ourselves. By thinking. Not by buying.

Summary

The Secret video is worth watching, even if you're familiar with The Law of Attraction. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

AIDA And The Economist

Was AIDA AIDS deceptive? That post described the Attention - Interest - Desire - Action sequence. Look at what The Economist did in their Feb 8, 2007 issue. The heading looks like this:

Pensions for musicians
When they're 64
What do musicians do when they rock towards retirement?

There was photo of Keith Richards above the fold in his wrinkly splendour singing and playing guitar.
Watch for Richards as Johnny Depp's dad in
Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, sailing May 25th. What excellent casting.


So what's the article about? The Stones receiving government pensions? Not close. The topic is poor musicians in Texas lacking health care and pensions. Tell me something I couldn't have guessed. There are lots of Americans in that situation. Don't worry because "... there are always benefit concerts for the truly destitute". Be happy.

Listen class. This article did capture Attention but then fell flat and caused resentment because of the
  • misleading photo
  • lack of meaningful content

The burning question remains unanswered. Will The Stones have enough to retire? Or will they be forced to tour again?

Monday, February 12, 2007

AIDA AIDS

AIDA aids by making your communications stronger. It's an acronym for
  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

I learned of AIDA years ago from Brian Tracy and thought he was the originator (perhaps in 21 Ways To Become A Sales Superstar). I promptly forgot. Maybe AIDA influenced me subconsciously. I stumbled upon AIDA earlier today. The intended use seems to be writing advertising copy but AIDA is also useful for emails, blogging, selling, and conversations. Here's how it works.

Attention

Attract the reader with your headline. For example, I used AIDA AIDS to intrigue you. There's an element of deceit. Both words look similar but AIDS is the one that probably caught your attention because of the disease. Which this post isn't about. A more honest title is AIDA Aids, but that's less captivating. To keep from crying "bait & switch", I explain the title in the first sentence. Do you forgive me?

Interest

Once the headline grabs you, it's time for the content to keep your interest. Showing benefits (not features, right?) is probably the best technique. How about describing the success others have had using AIDA?

Desire

Now it's time to encourage you to want to do something. For example, using AIDA increases your success by encouraging clients/prospects/readers/teacher to rebuy/buy/read/grade.

Action

Finally, it's time to encourage you to act. Create a sense of urgency and make it easy to back out. For example, try AIDA for the next week. If it doesn't help you, then stop using it. And risk losing out to others who master the techniques.

Reality Check: Chances are that you implicitly use techniques like AIDA. Maybe you can use them better. I focus on tuning in to your favourite radio station, WII FM (What's In It For Me?)

What techniques work for you?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Free Diamonds

I accompanied my son to our branch of the Toronto Public Library so he could do research on conflict diamonds. His interest was spurred by the movie Blood Diamond. Library visits are rare because Jeevan does most of his research online, despite our attempts to get him to use actual books.

Blood Diamond (2006) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly is well worth watching. Both the story and acting are compelling. This may be DiCaprio's finest role --- and his accent is convincing

A librarian took us to the only book in the branch on the topic. So much for multiple sources of information :( We were in for a surprise, though. We learned of free diamonds waiting for the taking.

Back in my school days, research meant going to the library and thumbing through the card catalog. In invariably, the book you wanted would be out and not available until after the due date of your project. That made encyclopedias invaluable because as reference items they could not be removed from the library.

It hadn't occurred to me that the Toronto Public Library provides access to vast online resources such as

  • Encyclopedia Britannica, Grolier, the Canadian Encyclopedia
  • full text articles from the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post and numerous other newspapers nationally and internationally
  • transcripts of CBC and CTV national newscasts
  • hundreds of full text magazines

You can email the articles to yourself for future use. Much of this material is also available through http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/. Naturally, access is limited to those with library cards. Other cities may have similar online resources.

While waiting for Jeevan, I did my own searching on an area of particular interest: is life insurance is an excellent vehicle for personal and corporate tax planning? The answer is yes. More on that later.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Windshield Washer Fluid at an Unbelievable Price!

You save money at Costco by buying in bulk. Here's an example.
Costco.ca has Laurentide Windshield Washer Fluid good to -40C for $12,449.99. Correct ---- less than $12,500. Naturally, delivery is included. You don't see prices like this every day.

That's only $2.30 per 4-litre jug and you get 5,408 jugs.

Windshield Wash Fuid has so many uses
  • cleaning windows: a low cost alternative to Windex
  • gifts: 4 jugs in a box makes gift wrapping a breeze
  • exercise: a jug weighs about 4 kg
  • traction: put jugs in the trunk of your real-wheel drive car
  • de-icing: BMW recommends de-icer instead of a scraper to clean ice and snow off car windows, but have you seen their prices?
  • hiding yellow snow: add blue and see a nice colour that'll make your pet the envy of the neighbourhood

What other uses come to your mind? Add them as comments to this post. But first place your order. Here's the link.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

2007 Science Fair

What are grade 6-8 science students researching these days? I visited the annual Science Fair at my son Jeevan's school to find out. I was quite impressed. There were several themes
  • effect of soft drinks on teeth and with caffeine
  • batteries powered by lemons
  • strength of bridges
  • effect of video games
  • safety and taste of food
  • the environment

There was evidence of parental help. One honest soul thanked mom for typing, dad for graphing and grandma for the computer. As you might have guessed, there were many photos and most of the words were computer-generated. Remember when printing meant putting a pencil/pen/marker in your hand and touching the paper?

Here are some unexpected findings

  • larger parachutes work better
  • bleach cleans better than water
  • more expensive popcorn pops better

So if you manufacture popcorn, don't worry about moisture content. Instead, increase your prices to improve your product and profits :)

Presentation Quality

Most presentations were hard to read. Too many words in tiny fonts. What works well in a written report doesn't capture the imagination on bristol board. Far-too-often, adults use PowerPoint to create presentations that are complex, lengthy and unmemorable.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." --- Albert Einstein

But simplification takes more time and more thinking.

Flashback to Grade 3

I entered my first science fair in Grade 3 with a car I made out of Meccano. That's all I had. No display. Not a single written word. Just a car. Most visitors walked by me bemused. One adult asked me how the car moved. You push it, I said. I let him try. I got a certificate for attending.

The next year, I collaborated with my friend Jeff. Our topic was Mars. The highlight was a model of the planet and its moons, Phobos and Deimos: several not-to-scale balls hanging in cardboard box painted black. We got got Honourable Mentions. And a complaint from cute classmate Christine because we made her sister cry. Not intentionally, mind you. Her sister also did a project on Mars but it wasn't as good because she worked alone and was in grade 2.

My last science fair was in Grade 13. I still have the Fourier Series Synthesizer I built, but no oscilliscope to test that it still works. Computers have made it obsolete. Fourier's theory was that any wave was composed of sine waves at different frequencies and amplitudes. To learn more, visit the Wikipedia and shudder.

It's great to see young minds at work.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Shovelling in the Dark

My neighours are retired, healthy and active. That's great. They shovel their driveways. That's not so great. I got a snowblower last year but am embarassed to use it. So why did I get it? To save time. I need to get to places on time. Overnight snow can hinder those plans. Hence the machine.

Last winter, I used the snow blower three times. I only really needed it twice. Don't embarass me by asking the cost per use. I didn't heed the end-of-season warning to use up all the fuel in the tank. The fuel got stale and the machine didn't start. Naturally, I didn't bother to check if it worked at the beginning of winter. Why prepare?

It's quite embarassing to have a broken snowblower. Neighbours snicker as you use a shovel just like them. They smirk as you take your machine for repairs. They watch from their living rooms as you bring it back. At least that's how it feels. (Blogging is another form of exposing yourself to scrutiny.)

By the time I got home yesterday, several centimeters of snow covered our driveway and there was some drifting. Enough to use the snow blower without embarassment. Even so, I waited for the after-dinner dark. No neighbours were outside. Perfect.

I primed the engine, opened the choke (or closed it?), turned the ignition key and pressed the button for the electric starter. Presto. The snow blower started, spewing smelly, grey fumes. I plowed a quarter of the driveway when the engine stalled. Out of fuel? Yep. If anyone was chuckling, I couldn't hear them through my hat. I added more fuel, which I had the foresight to buy two weeks earlier. I used the manual starter for the first time and continued clearing the snow.

The wind chill made the temperature feel like -25C. When I finished, my fingers were tingling and my nose dripping. I now realized why my neighbours were inside enjoying free entertainment and stirring their steaming apple cider with a stick of cinnamon.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

What rhymes with 'Promod'?

Weird names may be easier to remember because they're unusual (Moon Unit Zappa), but they can be easily mispronounced. For example, I thought 'Shania' was "SHAN-ee-ah", not "Sha-NI-ya".

How would you pronounce 'Promod'? The usual guesses are "PRO-mod" or "pro-MOD" or "PROME-odd". The right way is "pro-MODE". You might have guessed that if there were an 'e' at the end, but there isn't.

So what can I do? I've said, "It's Promod, like promote". That gives positive connotations but I'd rather have something that rhymes. I couldn't think of anything until yesterday: commode. Unfortunately that's a synonym for toilet :(

I couldn't think of other rhymes ... so I googled and found RhymeZone.com, which gave many suggestions, including:
  • decode
  • encode
  • explode
  • implode
  • reload
  • source code
  • unload
  • zip code
These rhymes are "obvious" now, that I've seen them. The complete list includes the 8 syllable South American poison toad. No thanks!

Measure twice

Measure twice and cut once. That's sage advice when working with physical material. The same adage need not apply online.

I'm looking for a site which allows all of the following:
  • blogging (like here :)
  • file posting
  • wiki (so others can contribute)
  • option to turn off advertising for a fee (like wikispaces.com)
  • option for password access (like PBwiki.com or netcipia.net)
  • "unlimited" space (more than the measly 10 MB available at PBwiki.com)
  • ease of use (like insight.wetpaint.com)
These capabilities are certainly available. But not in one spot. I thought the solution was Netcipia and started up insight.netcipia.net, but they aren't reliable at this time. They don't even have an option to backup your site right now. That's scary. I can't build a blog on a site that may not last.

So I'm relegated to using different services until I find what I'm looking for. I'd rather not host my own site, because of the hassles on maintenance.

I'm a big fan of Google. So I figure that by blogging here, I'll at least have some assurance that this service will remain in service :)