Archive for May, 2010

Mon 31 May 2010 5:08 pm   //   Posted in: New York is different, No right to be good

Weird stuff from Pearl River

Below are some products my bro Gerritt, my sister-in-law Melanie and I found today while perusing the awesome Pearl River Mart in Soho. (Slogan: “We bring interesting things to New York”). If you’ve been, you know this is just the tip of an iceberg.

Ranch flavored toothpicks


Mon 24 May 2010 10:40 pm   //   Posted in: Review, TV

“Lost” and the dawn of the criticism-proof TV show

“Lost” was the only TV series I’ve ever watched start-to-finish as it aired. The finale yesterday was superb television—keeping the mystery alive, adding a few life lessons to chew on, and remaining a textbook study in how to craft a powerful narrative from pictures, words, sound effects and (especially) music.

Sun 23 May 2010 8:12 pm   //   Posted in: Bicycles, Photos

Photos from my Bike MS ride

I’ve just returned from the Bike MS Chesapeake Challenge in Chestertown, Maryland. My family’s team rode for Joanne, my stepmom, who has MS. As a team of five, we collected 101 gifts for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, for a grand total of $5,360!

As the most obsessive cyclist on my family’s team, I rode a century the first day and 50 miles the second day. The rest of the team rode 30 miles the first day and 30 the second, though Gerritt joined me on the 50-mile route Sunday. Together we rode a total of 410 miles.

The challenge ride/walk was staffed by dozens of spirited volunteers, who made the event a great experience. The routes took us across the undulating farmland of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The flat, straight, low-traffic roads gave us a chance to really open up and fly. I had a great time riding and feel glad to have raised a significant chunk of change to support MS research and support programs.

Some photos follow. Gerritt has more on his Flickr page.

The starting line on Sunday.


Tue 18 May 2010 11:10 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data, Technology

Online writing and the power of “should”

Today’s blog post is about using math to make writing more effective. You should read it!

A couple of months ago, I noticed a curious phrase showing up on lots of blogs.

“You should follow me on Twitter here.”

This phrase stands out for being terse, awkward, even rude. Most people would write “Please…” instead of “You should…” Yet this specific line of clunky self-promo copy spread like the flu. A Google search for that exact phrase returns 154,000 results! (For comparison, a search for “Please follow me on Twitter here” returns 1,690 results.)

We can trace this phenomenon to blogger Dustin Curtis, who used testing to find the optimal way to convince people to follow him on Twitter. “You should follow me on Twitter here” was proven to be the most persuasive sentence. You should read about his experiment here.

I have conflicted feelings about this. On one hand, I don’t want to endorse shoddy writing edited by machines. On the other hand, shouldn’t you use every weapon in your arsenal to make your writing more effective? You should!

I decided to try a test of my own. For the last six weeks, visitors to this blog have been part of an experiment.


Sun 16 May 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Hard times, Transit

You’ll be waiting a long time for that bus

There are a few constant beats in the rhythm of the streetscape of my neighborhood. Food delivery guys ride their Huffys in any weather. Trash pickup is twice a week. Recycling and street sweeping are once a week. In the summer, Mister Softee comes around every evening. And the B67 runs all night.

So much for the B67. This sign says it all:

Sign: Attention! The following changes to bus service will take effect due to budget reductions.

Among the lines being cut are my B67, which will still run, just on a reduced schedule. The MTA is also merging several subway lines (goodbye to the W and V designations) and increasing overnight spacing of trains.

Honestly, I will be fine. I can bike, walk, plan, improvise, flag down a gypsy cab, or do whatever I must do to get around. But not everyone can. Transit cuts disproportionally hurt the poor, as well as the elderly and other people who might have trouble walking long distances. In Brooklyn, bus routes form a fine mesh that fills in the gaps between subway stations. (If you don’t live here and you’ve never seen it before, you might enjoy viewing the shocklingly complex Brooklyn bus map.) Buses enable the people who can’t afford cars, who work in outer-borough neighborhoods, to get to and from their jobs and appointments. It’s not their fault tax revenue is down and the state is cutting the MTA’s funding. Budget cuts hurt the wrong people.

Sat 15 May 2010 5:40 pm   //   Posted in: New York is different


One World Trade, set to be the tallest building in America, seen May 15, 2010.

Earlier post: 9/11/09.

Tue 11 May 2010 11:28 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology, TV commericals

Notes on impatience

We can find anything we want on the Internet. The other day, I had an old advertising jingle stuck in my head that I remembered from childhood. (“You’ve got a lot to do before lunch!”) It took me about 10 minutes to find a YouTube video of the 1992 Cheerios commercial it came from.


Tue 11 May 2010 8:37 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Four mysteries of social media

“I didn’t know what Facebook was. And now that I do know what it is, I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time.” — Betty White on SNL

This is a time of fear, promise, and fidgety energy. Everyone who does what I do (marketing copywriting) is swimming in all of that as we adapt to social media.

The biggest challenge? Getting good information. Pragmatically, I need to connect with real people, not shout to a room of empty chairs or dumb robots. How do I figure out what to do?

For starters, by listening to social media experts. But here we have a big problem. Everyone with expertise in social media is also invested in it. If you’re in the business of promoting Google Buzz consultancy services, of course you’re going to rave about the tremendous potential of Google Buzz. When you’re talking about Twitter on Twitter, volume and repetition are as good as authority. And in this climate (here’s where the fear factor comes into play), any experts who betray a hint of skepticism are swiftly marginalized by their fellow social media leaders.

Those of us surveying this scene from a distance—ie., who embrace social media but don’t list it as a skill on our LinkedIn profiles—sometimes want to throw our hands up in frustration. Since I can’t count on self-styled social media experts for independent advice, I have to do research on my own. My counterparts in marketing departments everywhere are doing the same.


Fri 7 May 2010 7:22 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, In the news, New York is different

Every American should spend a day in Prospect Park

“The citizens of New York are tolerant not only from disposition but from necessity. The city has to be tolerant, otherwise it would explode in a radioactive cloud of hate and rancor and bigotry.” — E.B. White, “Here is New York.”

“If we want to have a future, we need to have more immigrants here.”—Mayor Michael Bloomberg, April 2010

I live a couple of blocks from Prospect Park, one of the best-utilized urban green spaces in the world. Constructed in the 1860s, it was designed by landscape architects Olmsted and Vaux as their encore to Central Park. To call it a success is a gross understatement. On any nice day, it’s packed with people enjoying the rolling, tree-studded lawns and ballfields, cookout areas, concert spaces and other free, public facilities.

The park is made truly rich by the Brooklyn neighborhoods that surround it. To stroll around the park is to stroll around the world. Everyone can dress how they feel most comfortable, speak their own language, and enjoy the games, foods and music from their culture. Nobody ever gets called out for looking different.

Sat 1 May 2010 3:05 pm   //   Posted in: Art, New York is different

Recommended: Big Bambú at The Met

Big Bambú is part sculpture, part engineering, part adventure sports, and all about the living organism of the city.

At its most literal, it’s a building-sized bird’s nest of bamboo lashed together with nylon cord on the roof of The Met, rising over the canopy of Central Park. It opened this week. Artists Doug and Mike Starn and their team of rock-climber assistants are planning to keep building it higher until the installation closes in October. The city considers it a construction site; it gets inspected and weight-tested.

There are two ways to see it. One is to go up to roof of The Met any time, where you can view it from the solid footing of the concrete deck. The other way is to take a tour, in which the Met staff lead you and 14 other people up a bamboo walkway that winds through this nest and up into the sky. Trust me: Go do the tour. I went this morning, getting to the Met at 9:15 and securing a ticket for the first tour at 10 a.m. It’s an enveloping art experience not dissimilar from The Gates in 2005. I’m a total sucker for stuff like this. What a view!