Mar. 27, 2008

A few years ago, I had stated that bloggers shouldn’t expect anyone to contribute to their online tip jars. Since then, a handful of well-read blogs such as Dooce have found a surprising amount of financial success through online advertising, but at least 99.9% of all personal Web sites still do not generate revenue. Nor should they.

But leave it to Merlin Mann of 43 Folders fame to effectively summarize one’s fantasy of financial freedom through blogging. In his recent rave about “creative constraints” and the benefits of brevity, Merlin cites one of his own Twitter entries as follows:

Starting a blog solely to make money is like learning ventriloquism to meet girls.

Whew, now there’s a visual for you. And, in a strange way, that line makes me feel a little better about my own dating history.

[ No. 425 ]

Mar. 23, 2008

As if Joe Paterno hasn’t already made a huge impact on Penn State, the university now plans to offer a course about the Lions’ head coach. The new class, titled “Joe Paterno, Communications and the Media,” starts this fall, and will discuss Paterno’s changing relationship with sports journalists over the years, as well as his overall communication style.

In a time when far too many students graduate from college with good grades but few practical skills for the workforce, I have reservations about a class that focuses on a single coach who is employed by the same university. Granted, Paterno is a very interesting subject, and the lecturer for the course insists that his class will not be an easy “A.” But wouldn’t Paterno 101 look pretty frivolous on one’s transcript? To me, this type of analysis would make for a great book or documentary film, and would reach far more people.

Penn State is a fine academic institution — personally, I had plenty of fun during my four years in State College, but I also had to work very hard to meet the rigorous expectations of my major and the honors program there. I assume that my alma mater’s administration wants to promote Penn State as something more than a “football school,” but a course about a football coach — even a respected figure like Joe Paterno — will not improve PSU’s academic reputation.

[ No. 424 ]

Mar. 15, 2008

After hosting a big St. Patrick’s Day party at my house last year, I decided to make the event a tradition and organized my second annual bash.

St. Patrick's Day party / 3.15.08

Compared to last year’s weather-related nightmare, I was able to take full advantage of my day off on Friday to finish most of my shopping, and had everything ready just as the first guests started to arrive.

A few process improvements really went a long way — I stored most of the beer in large plastic tubs filled with ice on the back deck, which kept the kitchen less cluttered. Labeling containers for regular trash and recycling turned out to be a good idea as well — the subsequent clean-up process was much easier. I also splurged a bit and purchased a new 80 GB iPod Classic for the occasion, and the eclectic playlist sounded fantastic.

Looking through my guest list, I hosted a total of 39 people (roughly the same number as last year), and everyone seemed to have a great time. A few notes to myself for next time: I should definitely buy more than one case of Guinness, as well as more pigs in blankets, too — a package of 80 of them from Costco still wasn’t enough!

Given how well things went (and how much more fun I had this year), there’s no doubt that I’ll organize a third annual event next March.

[ No. 423 ]

Mar. 13, 2008

An old friend from my days working at Medical Broadcasting Company (now known as Digitas Health) recently left me a voicemail at work that included the dumbfounding words, “Mike Cimeo passed away last week.”

Mike Cimeo

Mike was a senior-level software engineer at MBC, and he was easily one of my favorite coworkers there. He was very good at his job, and his even-tempered attitude made even urgent deadlines a little less stressful. But like most of those who knew him, I’ll always remember Mike for his wide smile and boisterous laugh, both of which were abundant during our frequent happy hours after work.

His family opted for a private service, so some of his former coworkers organized an informal memorial gathering at the Black Sheep Pub, one of Mike’s favorite haunts, on 17th Street in Center City. When I arrived, I could barely make my way through the crowd in the cramped second-floor room — dozens and dozens of people had come from near and far to pay their respects.

I’m pretty sure Mike was of Italian descent, but the event turned out to be the best Irish wake imaginable. I really enjoyed sharing stories about Mike with my old colleagues, most of whom I hadn’t seen in over five years. In particular, it was great to catch up with my old friend and fellow Penn State alumnus Scott, who remembered that, on this very Web site, I had described PSU’s football team circa 2001 as “small, slow, and confused.” (Indeed, they were.)

Mike’s friends have also created a Facebook group to remember him. As I’ve read through the online comments, I’m convinced that every person who met Mike immediately liked and respected him. I can only hope that I will be remembered as fondly.

[ No. 422 ]

Mar. 10, 2008

Here we go again with my old friend, schadenfreude.

Earlier today, Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, was implicated in an international prostitution ring. This is the same guy who relentlessly investigated corruption on Wall Street, pledged to “change the ethics of Albany,” and even prosecuted others for their involvement with prostitution.

So, a strict authority figure who judges everyone else and holds them accountable for their wrongdoing turns out to be the very person who breaks the rules in a very big way. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve seen this level of hypocrisy since the abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

Spitzer had a wife of 20 years, three teenage daughters, and an extremely promising career in politics. And he risked all of that for a tryst with an expensive call girl. To quote the headline from an AP story about the scandal: What was Spitzer thinking?

I should also mention that Spitzer, during his previous tenure as New York state attorney general, sued my employer for fraud in 2004, saying that the company deliberately withheld information about the antidepressant Paxil. Oh, how the high and mighty have fallen.

[ No. 421 ]

Mar. 9, 2008

After the controversy following the 2000 presidential election, you’d think that everyone involved in the voting process in this country would be falling over themselves to make sure that all future elections are managed fairly and legally. Our citizens have a precious right to vote, and at a minimum, they deserve an accurate outcome.

Well, the states of Florida (the very location of the 2000 recount mess) and Michigan didn’t get that memo. Both states didn’t want to be overshadowed by the first four Democratic primaries, which were scheduled on Feb. 5 in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. So, they selfishly jumped the gun and held their primaries in January — a move that directly violated Democratic party rules that both states had previously voted on.

Hillary Clinton won the majority of delegates from both states, but the Democratic National Committee voided all of the delegates that were awarded in those rogue primaries. And because the Democratic race is so close, it’s likely that neither Clinton nor Barack Obama can reach the magic number of 2,025 delegates without valid returns from Florida and Michigan.

So, a revote is currently in the works. A new primary could cost $10 million in Michigan and $20 million in Florida, and naturally, neither state knows where the money for this stupid, preventable do-over is going to come from. The DNC refuses to pay for Florida’s and Michigan’s transgressions (which is certainly understandable), but taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for this nonsense, either.

Strangely, the news stories about this fiasco haven’t named any specific people who ultimately approved the decision to hold their primaries prematurely. But regardless, here’s my proposal: the Democratic party leaders in Florida and Michigan, whoever they are, should pass around a hat and take up a collection for the $30 million out of their own pockets. They deliberately subverted the voting process during the early stages of a very close and important election, and they should be the ones to pay for another round of primaries.

[ No. 420 ]

Mar. 8, 2008

I’ve always admired the various advertising campaigns for Guinness — from their timeless, eye-catching posters (with slogans such as “My Goodness My Guinness” and “Lovely Day for a Guinness,” among many others) to their recent successful TV campaign featuring a pair of animated brewmasters who were fond of exclaiming, “Brilliant!”:

Guinness: Brilliant!

But the makers of Guinness have really outdone themselves with their latest promotion, Proposition 3-17, which aims to establish St. Patrick’s Day as an official U.S. holiday. The goal of the campaign is to collect one million online signatures by midnight on Mar. 16. (Naturally, I signed the petition right away.)

As of this writing, they still need over 872,000 signatures with just over a week to go, so their work is certainly cut out for them. But if Proposition 3-17 turns into an annual promotion, Guinness might eventually gather enough support to reach the 1,000,000 mark.

Of course, it’s very doubtful that Congress would ever take a petition like this seriously. But I think it’s a fantastic idea, not to mention a very clever, interactive ad campaign. I mean, who wouldn’t want a paid holiday for the sole purpose of drinking beer?

[ No. 419 ]

Image credit: USA Today

Mar. 1, 2008

A few years ago, my 30th birthday didn’t bother me that much. Well, at least not until I received an invitation in the mail to join AARP (which originally stood for the American Association of Retired Persons).

Staring at the unsolicited mail, I thought: I’ve just turned 30, not 60! Have I really reached the age where I can buy movie tickets at the senior-citizen rate? I assumed that AARP had mistaken me for my dad, who shares the same name as me, and threw out the envelope.

But the invitations never stopped — a new application form arrived about once each quarter. For a while, I stuck a few of them on my refrigerator for a good laugh. But when the latest one appeared in my mailbox last week, I decided to finally call AARP and put an end to this nonsense.

The customer-service rep apologized for the relentless mailings, and then, incredibly, invited me to join anyway! Apparently, people under 50 can sign up for an associate membership to receive various discounts. I politely declined and asked her to remove me from their mailing list (a process that takes up to 14 weeks, for some insane reason).

After the phone call ended, I must admit that I felt just a little bit younger.

[ No. 418 ]