Saturday, March 26, 2005

Writing and Technology: A Student Interview with Steven Streight

"Three KLCC airport (Malaysia) robots" - photo manipulation by S. Streight, original photo of single robot, by Messy Christian. Posted by Hello

A senior student at Arizona State University, majoring in Technical Communications, contacted me today via email.

He said that his assignment in a course was to contact a marketing professional.

He had read my article "Slogan Slogging" in the TC EServer data base, went to this blog, read my bio, and decided to contact me.

Here is the email survey and my responses...

Writing and Technology:
A Student Interview
with Steven Streight

In your direct marketing career, what kind of tasks did you/do you perform on a daily basis?

STEVEN STREIGHT: I began as an Account Representative at a pioneering direct marketing company, Ruppman Marketing Services, Peoria, Illinois, which was started by guys from IBM and Donnelly Yellow Pages.

The company was low profile, but all the big corporations (General Motors, Sony, State Farm Insurance, Caterpillar, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sears, Lennox, Department of Defense, etc.) used their services in yellow pages advertising, inbound telemarketing technical helpdesk customer service, data warehousing, direct mail campaigns, product literature distribution.

I had approached the company with a portfolio of short stories, reports, dummy ads, a ridiculous hodge podge of "writing samples" and was merely interested in learning what they did. The "exploratory interview" (as opposed to "employment interview").

They liked my zeal, my thinking, my personality, my shoes, whatever, and they offered me a job. I wasn't even finished with college. I never did finish. My career took off during my junior year at college.

Since then, too busy to complete university work, and no regrets. I create my own credentials through my work and prestigious clients.

Well, I found that I was okay with "schmoozing" clients at fancy restaurants, but not liking sports, and having bizarre interests (surreal French fiction, underground electronic music, avant garde films, science fiction), I was limited in potential as a "good old boy" account rep.

But--voila! (er, Eureka!)--I was best at writing and marketing strategy.

So I moved onto other firms in the field of advertising copywriter.

Today I'm a web usability analyst and blogologist, but the core of everything I do, and the cause of success, is super strong writing skills, coupled with intense fascination with psychology and marketing concepts.

As a direct marketing copywriter, I've promoted Crafts, Shooting Times, Rotor & Wing, Profitable Craft Merchandising magazine subscriptions, Troy-Bilt tillers, Doubleday (including their mystery and science fiction bookclubs), General Motors, Pepsi, American Express, Chemical Bank, Wall Street Transcript, dental supplies, Governor Cuomo's loaned executive program, Scholastic magazines, wood burning stoves, chamber music ensembles, greenhouses, and Pantone color selection products.

My responsibilities included:

* meeting with clients to understand what they want to achieve with the marketing, meeting again to show them alternative ideas (never present just one or two options, show several, but emphasize what you most believe in).

* talk to the engineers to discover facts about the products.

* research competitor products and their marketing campaigns, ads, commercials, direct mail, etc.

* focus group sessions with prospects or with customers.

* home visits to customers to gather testimonials and listen to complaints, suggestions, and questions.

* interacting with the art department, making "writer's rough" sketches of brochure or ad design, then workting with artists on the real design: they often considered the copy to be just another "graphic element", didn't even pay much attention to the words, even of headlines, just slapped it on the layout. This had to be remedied. But I loved working with artists and designers, as I also create digital art at my Art Test Explosion art gallery blog.

* sometimes even visiting the production shop to see how material is printed and packaged for distribution.

* studying books on direct marketing, advertising, technical writing, and whatever field my clients were in (gardening, magazine publishing, whatever).

* knowing enough about office politics to not fall into traps or play the game poorly (worst part of job, I was not too good at it, I didn't see how stupid or mediocre people could defeat me in gossip or other political ways).

* read great classic or modern literature, great--not trendy trash, to keep my overall writing level high (this was a requirement I imposed on myself).

* study great classic and modern art to stay sharp about design concepts (another self-imposed duty), plus works on the creative process, innovators, new ideas in various realms.

Although I was a direct marketing writer, a lot of it was highly technical, especially the Troy-Bilt tillers and other gardening machinery products of Garden Way Manufacturing Company.

Also, I wrote brochures for Caterpillar's usability testing lab and multimedia training programs.

So in these cases, I had to understand and use technical terminology, yet in a way that customers would understand and be able to see the clear benefits of the products or services being promoted.

Daily tasks were largely: talking to clients, doing research, writing, and interacting with art department.

Mostly writing, writing, writing. I loved it.

Daily tasks now are more: studying the top ranked blogs of all types, studying marketing blogs, learning web design and development, researching various topics to then write about them in my own blogs and in books I'm preparing for publishing, occasional writing of online articles for other online magazines or newsletters, meeting with clients, reading books on sales, marketing (Seth Godin and Al Ries especially), psychology, classic literature, art. Mostly the same as when I was a direct marketing writer, just new tech fields now, such as blogging and webs.

What kind of skills are involved? Software skills?
Writing skills?

STEVEN STREIGHT: As a copywriter and tech writer, I had to have typing skills and word processing expertise.

(Actually I began by writing copy with pen and handing it to a secretary to type up on an IBM Selectric, then a "memory typewriter", then I advanced to skipping the secretary and composing on my own Macintosh).

I had to have good interpersonal ("people") skills, good personality, get along with all types of moody, arrogant, lazy, workaholic, mediocre, genius, etc. people.

I had to have tremendous self-motivation and self-confidence, especially when presenting marketing strategy and copy to the creative staff and the clients.

I had to have some skill in understanding scientific, technical thinking, and in sales psychology.

I think a tech or marcom writer should excel in everything, or at least try, including poetry, novels, magazine articles, press releases, owner's guides, screenplays, radio and television commercials, technical manuals, catalogs, newsletters, personal journals, email, blogging, all forms of writing.

Some you'll do better at, and enjoy more, than others. But at least be familiar with the basics of all.

You make yourself more valuable. You don't want to say "I've never done that" when a boss asks if you can help out or if you can tackle some new aspect of the job, like for a new client.

Force yourself to master, as much as possible, all forms of writing.

I started as a poet and song lyricist as a teenager.

It was poetry (Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Longfellow, Wordsworth, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Auden, Bill Knott, Arthur Rimbaud, John Asbery, Kenneth Patchen, Kerouac, Sappho, Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Horace, all the modern poets and some ancient poets) that prepared me for technical and advertising writing.

Another big influence is Marcel Proust, though his writing style is almost the very opposite of effective advertising, email, web site, blog writing. I guess I enjoy reading Proust as a change of pace. Long-winded sentences that may fill an entire page, obsessively minute details of flowers and personalities, frequent use of analogy to amplify descriptions of characters.

Learn as many computer skills as you can. Know about web services, wireless networks, VOIP, online virtual musical instruments, podcasting, email marketing techniques, online community software, image file formats, JPEG optimizations, all the stuff coming down the pipeline into the working world and the art circles.

Did you work in a team environment? What are your
thoughts on teaming?

STEVEN STREIGHT: I'm an average team player, I admit. I'm not a star
team player. I have trouble keeping my thoughts to myself, though I try to be diplomatic and sensitive to others.

I have a strong "do it myself, to do it right" streak in me. I hate to hand over projects to others. Not that I'm vain or possessive, I just know a lot about art and design and marketing and sales, so I try to have some control or input in all aspects, even the paper and the ink that is used.

I'm a good teamplayer in the sense that I truly believe in helping the employer or client succeed.

I'm not a sandbagger who just wants to do the bare minimum and get a paycheck. And I enjoy working with other people, as long as they are high caliber professionals or at least willing to learn. Mediocre, immature, mind-gamers I can't stand and can't work with very well.

Get the book "How To Work for a Jerk" by Robert M. Hochheiser (Vintage, 1987). I think there is a recent title that's similar and it may be good also. But this book is filled with anecdotes and practical tips on dealing with difficult bosses and employees. One of the best business books I've ever read. Sheer genius.

Like: if your boss keeps complaining, unjustly, about your writing ability.

The author, Hochheiser, began teaching a course on technical writing at a local prestigious university.

Next time boss complained, "This ad is poorly written, and you better improve it. Your writing skills are not all that good.", he just said, "That's not what Columbia University thinks. They hired me to teach a class on technical writing for graduate students."

He pulled out a sheet of paper displaying the course description, with his name as the instructor. "Now, what specificially do you not like about that ad?"

The boss mumbled a few dumb, incoherent things and walked away, never to trouble him again on that matter.

What kind of computer software did you work with back in the early days of your career in direct marketing?

(This is not part of my assignment, just a personal
question. I have always had an almost perverse
interest in the early days of computers and graphic

STEVEN STREIGHT: From pen to IBM selectric to IBM "memory typewriter" to Apple Macintosh to IBM desktop computer.

I loved the Mac, hated the IBM. This was around 1983. The Mac had the mouse and clicking, whereas the IBM was all keyboard commands you had to memorize. I still avoid keyboard commands, though I could probably use them in composing email, for bold or other stuff.

I remember how in 1978, Ruppman Marketing Services in Peoria, IL used microfiche a little bit, and also had a "mainframe" that used big reels of tape and punchcards. That's when "floppy discs" were really floppy, flexible plastic discs.

They refered to their mainframe as "FRED" the frigging ridiculous electronic device.

An older VP used to complain that PCs will never be a revolution, because nobody can figure out what the heck to do with a home computer.

The story back in 1978 was you could use a home computer to organize your shopping lists, to inventory your groceries, to send out invitations to parties. Huh?

It turned out to be Communication (email, online shopping, financial transactions, and blogging) that was the killer app for home computers, plus file sharing (photos, music, films).

First: computer. Second: home/office work station computer. Third: internet. Fourth: web. Fifth: blogs.

Next (my best guess today): wearable computers, "glogs", bio/info/nano applications, the internet as a unified assembly of seamless web services, wireless wonders, embedded computers, computerized lifestyle and environment, influencing the external world via home and wearable computers (negative example: virtual hunting, where you kill a real deer in Colorado while operating a home PC in Taiwan).

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Stop Putting Personal Details in Your Blog

keep personal details out of your blog Posted by Hello

Extreme distress was caused by my post "You Are Not A Blog", in my Vaspers the Grate blog.

In this post, I cautioned bloggers against putting personal details into a blog, especially a business blog.

I have now written a sequel. Since this topic is so important and urgent, I have reproduced the "Dangers of Personal Blogging" post at my Vaspers the Grate blog. Here is what I need to tell you...

Vaspers the Grate on
"Dangers of Personal Blogging"

Hype machines are spewing forth how every individual and every organization must start a blog.

I agree. In fact, I have called blogs the mandatory interactive business cards of the 21st Century.

Blogs can, theoretically, provide a competitive edge to a company, when the blog is done right. (However, if done wrong, a blog can cause massive damage to a company.)

I've sung the praises of blogs ever since I gave Blogger a try and fell in love with it. I have aggressively promoted blogs to clients, friends, pastors, entrepreneurs, military organizations, you name it.

I wrote a post called "Blogging is Good For You." Writing daily or weekly blog entries can improve your writing and thinking skills. I like blogging as an activity.

I've described how blogs are helping to kill the evil monsters of Main Stream Media: "For Whom the Blog Tolls: Death of the MSM".

But now it's time for a word of caution, a warning.

Now it's time to explain the Dark Side of Blogging.

My preliminary research has provided me with three primary dangers of personal blogging. There are bound to be more hazards out there, but the big three are as follows...

3 Big Dangers of Personal Blogging

(1.) Alienating Employers

Seth Godin has recently published a post entitled "Blogging doesn't matter":

In Seth's post, he provides a link to the article "Ten Reasons Why Blogging Doesn't Matter" by Rui Carmo at Tao of Mac blog. Rui's post is a point by point commentary on "Ten Reasons Why Blogging Is Good For Your Career" by Tim Bray.

Rui discusses how a blog can hurt your chances for employment or promotion.

Here are some nice quotes to ponder:

"...organizations...will always promote the quiet, reliable guy over the noisy troublemaker, even if (s)he is merely outspoken."

"Getting noticed by having strong opinions is more likely to label you as a prima donna even before you step into a meeting room, be it for interviews or for decision-making."

"Valuable people are noticeable because they get things done, not because they make noises about what they're doing..."

"...most of the time what you've written about is not what they are looking for when they're evaluating you either as a prospective hire or for a promotion."

"...this hysteria about corporate blogs and blogging in business settings seems to be almost completely US-centric..."

Seth Godin and others are warning bloggers about reckless blabbering, grammar and punctuation errors, ill-conceived topics, vulgar language, poorly researched articles, lack of substantiating links, and other aspects that cause your blog to make you look bad.

Remember--the personal details you dump into your blog, whether personal blog or business blog, could come back to haunt you. Don't be paranoid or excessively self-censoring, but exercise some restraint and wisdom in what you reveal about yourself.

Ask yourself: Could this glimpse into my private life be misinterpreted? Could this personal detail be distasteful to certain types of people?

Could some people take this the wrong way, read into it more than I mean to convey?

If I rave about a movie in which drugs are glamorized, would a professional person consider me a possible drug user?

I just posted a seemingly justified rant against something that annoys me. But--could this rant cause others to see me as a potentially violent, unstable, immature person who cannot control his temper?

(2.) Attracting Stalkers

"...any personal information on the internet is going to be abused. When it comes to posting on the internet, it's like using heavy machinery. Make sure you have your wits about you."
Parry Aftab, NYC lawyer and Executive Director of
(Quoted in

"My advice to new bloggers is to be careful what you share. It can be dangerous."
Robyn Pollman
(Quoted in

There are stories of stalkers seeking blogs of local people, perverts and child molesters seeking photos of children to kidnap, harm and kill, and many other tragic consequences of posting personal information in blogs.

Are you a mom? Do you have a blog? Do you talk about your children in your blog? Most moms probably do. Do you post photos of your children? Do you tell their ages? Do you describe the toys and movies and restaurants they like? Have you revealed what school or daycare center or church they attend?

Are you crazy? You're giving child molesters and older males who prey on teenage girls exactly what they're looking for. You're practically handing your children over to them.

You need to read this eye-opening article about the dangers of personal blogging:

"Risks abound in online journals, some turn to password protection"
by Ron Word, Associated Press Writer
(Not sure if it's oh zero, oh oh, or zero zero, dot html)

One woman mentioned she had a miscarriage, and then shuddered in horror as weird freaks made fun of her, and even saw this intimate revelation discussed on other web sites and blogs.

A woman who used her blog to express political opinions also disclosed what restaurant she was going to check out one night. When she arrived at the restaurant, she was confronted by angry blog readers who disagreed with her politics and wanted to hurt or harass her.

You have no idea who is reading all your personal details, nor what they intend to do with that private information. The consequences could be far different from what you expect.

You're nice and normal. You may think the blogosphere is populated with decent, ordinary people. You can't begin to fathom how evil, mentally sick, and horrible some blog readers can be.

Some personal diary bloggers have shut down their blogs and created password protected digital journals that only friends and family can access.

For example...

Ain't Too Proud to Blog


(3.) Enabling Identity Theft

Any personal details you provide on your blog can help an identity thief to assume your identity and ruin you financially, or worse.

Identity theft criminals go through garbage cans and dumpsters. What makes you think they won't comb through your blog, looking for what city you live in, what company you work for, what bank you happen to mention in passing (perhaps a complaint or a compliment), what church you attend, what companies you do business with...anything that can lead to eventually gaining sensitive private and financial information.

What details are you providing on your blog that could be used by identity thieves?

of Personal Details
in Blogs:

(1.) Personal details are often interesting only to you. To others, these facts are usually boring, trivial, trite. They can make readers think less of you as a person.

(2.) Personal details are usually irrelevant to the main purpose of your blog, especially a business, marketing, academic, or other serious topic blog.

(3.) Personal details can alienate an employer, who just doesn't like or agree with specific opinions, attitudes, or habits that you reveal.

(4.) Personal details can be easily misinterpreted and used against you. People may "read between the lines" or otherwise inflate what you reveal and blow things out of proportion.

(5.) Personal details about your family can lead to endangering family members.

(6.) Personal details, from a teenage girl for example, can entice male perverts and kidnappers to try to seduce the young female blogger into meeting them in some dark part of town.

(7.) Personal details about your lifestyle, habits, and haunts can be used by stalkers who don't like the opinions expressed on your blog, and wish to harm you physically.

(8.) Personal details can make you an easy target for identity theft.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Spammy Subject Lines in Email

Posted by Hello


If you send email to those who may not know who you are, you need to avoid putting certain words and phrases in your Subject: lines.

Spam filters block email messages that have certain words in the Subject: line, and human recipients may consider any Subject: line with these words in it to be spam, virus, or phishing emails.

Here are some words to avoid using:

* Please reply to my email

* Please respond

* Final warning

* Update your account information

* RE: your account

* Pre-approved application

* Hi

* Hello

* We need your update information

* Free

* Act now

* RE: your code # [number]

* Tired of paying high costs for your medications?

* Did you receive my email of last week?

* Thank you for your attention

* Rate approval

* Lowest rates [prices, cost, etc.]

* Security update

* Security warning

* Full length adult DVDs

* Downloads

* Your application has been approved

* cheap meds

* pharmaceutical

* enhance

* enlarge

* software

Even if your message is non-commercial, sincere, requested by a customer, still--avoid these words at all costs.

Think of some other words and phrases to use in your Subject: lines and in the first sentence of your message. Some email clients display the Subject: line and the first several words of the first sentence, prior to the recipient opening the email.

Another ignorant tactic of spammers is to put my email address in the To: line, instead of my name. This is a dead giveaway that the email is spam, or worse.

Remember: when you open a spam email message, simply out of stupidity or curiosity, you have sent a signal to the spammer that your email address is valid and active. Then the spammer will send you more spam and will also sell a list with your email address on it to other spammers.

You may greatly increase the amount of spam that is sent to you, just by opening a spam email message.

Fight back.

Delete all email that looks strange, unprofessional, amateur, or like it's trying to trick you into revealing sensitive personal or financial information.

Never give your email address to your bank, insurance company, hospital, etc. That way, if you receive an email from such a sender, you'll know it has to be fake (phishing).

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Serial Killer Detection via Mentally Correct Perception

Behold and See. Posted by Hello

Here we go again.

Another suspected serial killer is taken into custody, and the familiar chorus rings in our ears.

About half of those who knew the BTK killer suspect say he was a nice, normal, stable, job-holding guy...

...a family man and church leader...

...with all the trappings of the achievement of the "American Dream".

The other half claim he was creepy, a bully, and did suspicious things, like videotaping the back of a person's house while her husband was on a business trip.

Or "acting weird" in the Cub Scout pack, so that a mother removed her boy from it.

I side with this second group. I side with the skeptics.

I have always maintained that, from a Mentally Correct Marketing viewpoint, there is no such thing as the "Separation of Surface and State."

What I mean is, the truth about a company, a nation, or an individual always leaks out, somewhere, somehow.

I believe that a rotten company (morally corrupt leadership or inferior products) will have advertising that contains subtle, if not obvious, lies, exaggerations, or stupid claims about its products.

Likewise, the evil in a person's heart cannot possibly be rigidly contained at all times. If it explodes in a rage of murder, rape, or other hideous act, it will also tend to leak out in other situations where such behaviour is not safe for the perpetrator.

A murderer will tend to be a bully, a grouch, a manipulator, in both gruff and brutal behavior and in sly, charming characteristics, which are the two ways in which victims are caught and trapped.

My point is this: many people are so lulled into comfort zones, especially in America, they have great trouble believing any neighbor or family member could be a child molester, serial killer, terrorist, or other illegal and immoral type.

People are often just mentally lazy, dreamy, living in a delusional world where everything seems just fine and everybody's "nice".

They are not sufficiently skeptical, cynical, or suspicious.

They brush aside disturbing comments or aspects of other people. They don't want to think about potentially or seemingly evil people, because then they might have to leave their comfort zone and do something about them.

I have alerted people to highly suspect potential child molesters and serial killers. Nothing is done. I am made to seem like a bad person for even stating my concerns.

The defense of the suspect is always, every single time: "But he's such a nice guy."

In the case of the almost certain child molester, I hear: "So what if his only friend is a 5 year old boy? So what if he lavishes money and attention on him, avoiding all other people? So what if he demands that the child and everyone else call him grandpa, when the child already has two real grandpas?"

Why is it that the pastors, who are supposed to have some grandiose connection to Almighty All-Knowing God, and the church people, are the dumbest of all?

Is it because it's so easy to be a church fake, to go through the rituals and pot luck suppers with a smile on your face and a hymn on your lips?

Take a look at this newspaper clip:

Detroit Free Press
"THE VICTIMS: BTK killings suspect was Jekyll and Hyde, cops say.
Churchgoing family man charged in 10 killings over 17 years."
March 2, 2005
by Sharon Cohen, Associated Press

Some described him as a friendly man who helped neighbors and recently brought spaghetti sauce and a salad to a supper at Christ Lutheran Church, where he was an usher, president of the council and a member for 30 years. "Dennis was in church as often as I was," said Pastor Michael Clark.

Others said he could be a nitpicker and a bully, always looking to cite his neighbors for petty violations, once using a tape measure to determine whether a neighbor's grass was too long.

If Rader turns out to be the BTK killer, he won't be the first serial killer to lead two lives.

"They lead a benign, if not friendly and helpful life with family and friends. Then they kill strangers," said Jack Levin, author of several books on serial killers and director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston. "It's almost like the death camp doctor who goes home and plays with his children."

These two lives are "the way they survive. That's the way they're not detected," said Steve Egger, a serial killer expert and associate professor of criminology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. "Their actions with people who love them, with people they associate with, are very natural. But they're able to split off and compartmentalize these fantasies they have. ... Then they go out and have to act on them."

Rustigan, the California criminologist, said he wonders how Rader, if he is the BTK killer, could hide a sinister life from his wife.

"You can fake 'nice guy' at work," he said. "But how do you fake 'nice guy' when you're married? That's a very powerful question in this case."

I hate all this "mystery" supposedly surrounding serial killers and their ability to assume supposedly split personalities. I don't buy it.

It's not that the serial killers are so good at hiding their evil personality.

The reason the serial killers can be two separate people, is that many dumb people don't see the serial killer lurking in the creepy bully, who is also a family man and church leader.

Consider the creepy, evil church leaders, like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Oral Roberts, and Jim Baker.

Baptist physical abusers and Catholic homosexual predators. Hare Krishna temple sexual misconduct allegations. Every type of religion and secualarism has its creeps and bullies.

Some local ministers in my home town are examples of deeply unspiritual, profoundly sinister church leaders, who are in effect, nothing but cultish dictators.

We have to ask more questions and pay more attention to those around us. Your Cub Scout leaders, your pastors, your priests, your school bus driver, your doctor, your husband, your wife, your children, everyone.

If serial killers, child molesters, and sleeper cell terrorists escape detection, in my opinion it's not their genius or brilliance.

It's our laziness, exaggerated optimism, and plain stupidity.

It's our fault, not their cleverness.

People want to believe that this is the best of all possible worlds. They don't want to really face the horrors and suffering and insanity that lurk everywhere.

Some person tonight is doing their usual routine, and will be kidnapped, tortured, and killed.

Some child is playing happily, but will soon be violated sexually and ruined for life.

Largely due to our laziness, dreaminess, and stupidity. Not entirely our fault, but we are more to blame than we like to admit.

Let's wake up.

Let's ask more questions. Let's take steps to investigate, or ask the proprer authorities to look into, some of these things that have bothered us.

I'm pursuing something today, writing letters to the directors of a certain local religious mission organization. And it involves a suspicious, possible serial killer or sexual predator.

Evil leaks out of its phony "nice guy" shell.

Watch. Behold and see.