A Pink Flamingo was Dancing

A few weeks ago, I awoke around 7am and found my daughter Amelia (2 1/2 years old) sleeping on my legs. My wife and I were tired enough not to hear her as she crept into our room. When we asked Amelia why she came to sleep with Mom and Dad, she responded, “A Pink Flamingo”. She then proceeded to tell us all about the Pink Flamingo and the story was quite creative.

The story as told by Amelia begins as she wakes in the middle of the night. My best guess is the time is around 2am. So, little Amelia wakes up and hears a noise. The noise as she describes it can be best written out as “MMMHMMHM”. It’s a bit of a hum. The noise is coming from her closet. Then from out of her closet, appears the Pink Flamingo. The Pink Flamingo walks to her bed and jumps to the end of it and according to Amelia it’s very nice. She looks on as the Pink Flamingo begins to dance.

Amelia demonstrates the dance that the Pink Flamingo performs. It’s sort of a Beyonce-esque, “Put a Ring on it” number. As the flamingo is dancing, it attempts to hold Amelia’s hand. She of course doesn’t like this and describes the situation as “strange” and “weird”. The flamingo continues it’s dance, then jumps off her bed and retreats to another bedroom. This is when Amelia decides to come to my room and sleep on my legs. She describes everything that took place as, “it was really weird dada”.

I love Amelia’s creativity. Like most children, she approaches art without fear. Her music is always atonal and her stories are elaborate worlds of fantasy. As adults we build up all these barriers of things, most of which come from what we would like other people to think about us. Our images of ourselves are always through other eyes. Amelia sees things through her own eyes. My sweet little girl, completely creative enough to come up with such a wonderful story, keen enough to know it’s incredibly weird and fearless enough to always be herself.

Manufacturers Put Unneeded Parts Into Electronics

I was born and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am a middle-child. I refuse to believe I have any sort of complex about it. I have a younger sister named Shadie and an older brother named Joseph. My brother Joe and I are 15 months apart. Which means my parents were incredibly busy doing damage control. Growing up, my brother and I did some ridiculous things. We painted the neighbor’s pig blue. We motor-oiled a stray cat. Don’t worry both were thoroughly cleaned by the adults. Once we even spray-painted the back of our own house. Our mom couldn’t be too upset because we graffitied the words “I Love Mom” in giant letters. We almost burned down the house on many different occasions. We were typical crazy boys, we had broken bones, got into loads of fights, caused insurmountable damage and somewhere in all of it we were shaping our lives and becoming the men we are today.

I always followed Joe’s lead. My parents famously tell people the differences between mine and my brother’s personalities as we grew up. We often went on fishing and camping trips and they would say, “We always had one eye on Joe for fear he would run out and jump into the lake (again). James on the other hand, well… we just sat him down and placed a circle of rocks around him and he would simply play with rocks and never leave the circle.” So, I was clearly the town buffoon until I started following my brother’s influence.

Joe on the left with a devious smirk sits with me and my half-baked look

I’m not saying Joe was a bad kid, he was just extremely curious about things and electronics interested him the most. I must have been 5 years old as I watched him take apart a VCR to…umm… fix it. Which of course always begged the question, “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” But to my older brother, everything needed to be fixed. He took apart that VCR, cleaned the heads, put it back together and ended up with a handful of extra parts from the original dismemberment. It never worked the same again. That’s just the way things were back then, Joe would fix something that was previously unbroken and end up with extra parts. Nothing was out of reach of Joe’s repair shop. He dismantled televisions, radios, bicycles, computers, Nintendos, fans, telephones, toasters and the thing that hit home for me was the repair of my toys. He’d tear them all apart and put them back together and we’d cry and mourn the loss of them. The fact that he did all this at 6-10 years old was pretty darn impressive. Here I was playing with two rocks, sitting within a circle of rocks and my brother is rewiring televisions.

I don’t remember the first time Joe truly and finally fixed something but I do know he hasn’t slowed down since. Now within our family and friends, he is the guy you call when something is broken and really needs to be repaired. He can fix most things from computers to electrical wiring to smart-phones. I’d like to think all the practice growing up really gave him the edge. The creative allowance by our parents certainly contributed. I do know that he always had an aptitude for it. Joe enjoys fixing electrical and mechanical things and he’s damn good at it.

We all have our strong points, our talents, our influences and our passions. Surround  yourself with people that allow your talents to grow. If you’re a parent, don’t be too upset if you walk in the room to find your TV in shambles and your son or daughter with a screw-driver and a clever grin. I learned from my parents to be patient. I learned from my brother that every failure, every broken item is one step closer to success. I also learned that bones don’t bend that way, that paint and oil don’t wash off easily and that manufacturers put unneeded parts into electronics.

 

The Good, The Bad, The Jeffs and The Rest

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude and reaction towards it. My friend Jeff Allen is great at controlling his reactions and always has a wonderful attitude. He can be described as a person that always looks on the bright side. A few of us (mutual friends) were sitting around swapping stories about Jeff and agreed that he seemingly has complete control of his reaction to any situation and it’s often positive. If you do not know Jeff, then perhaps you know someone like him. He’s the kind of guy that could be sitting in a restaurant, a bomb could go off bringing the walls crumbling around him and he wouldn’t run, scream or panic. There may be complete chaos. Jeff would simply stand up and say, “woah, this restaurant just blew up… wow that was nuts, glad i’m okay… I guess I should help cleanup!”. There’s not many people out there that have this level of control over their reactions but I am betting you know at least one.

On the other end of the spectrum is where I tend to live. I sweat the small stuff, the medium sized stuff and the big stuff. I live in a constant state of perspiration. If you don’t know me, then perhaps you know someone like me. I’m the kind of guy that catches a cold and starts googling symptoms that inevitably leads me to believe I’m dying of Churg-Strauss syndrome (yes, I research the rare disease database). My bad days always get worse.

An example of this happened about 8 years ago. It was just one of those days that started poorly. One of those mornings where you wake up and your entire body is achy like you spent the night battling dragons. Once my day starts poorly like that, I have a hard time snapping out of it. I woke up sore and grumpy and I began to rush. I couldn’t find my “go to” shoes. Instead of calmly taking the time to find them, I grabbed a pair from the back of the closet that cut into your Achilles tendon as you walk. I arrived at work late with a slight limp.

Sitting at my desk at work, I just kept thinking that this day is really bad, it will only get worse and eventually I would die or get kicked by a mule or something. Frustrated, I decided I needed an early, unhealthy lunch. I barely arrived at work and all I can think about was running out barefoot and stuffing my face with a Wendy’s Baconator. So, I left for lunch and as I drove I kept thinking about what was going happen next in this bad day. I almost expected something bad to happen, and well… it did.

My tire on my truck blew out as I was driving around 65mph on the freeway. I wobbled a bit and pulled over. I wasn’t thankful that I was able to steer to safety. I was frustrated and added “having to change a tire on the side of the freeway” to my list of bad day woes. I got out of the truck, pulled out my tools and spare and I began changing the tire while talking to myself about how miserable I was. Other vehicles on the freeway zoomed by and I could feel the wind of each pass. I kept thinking, “great, I’m going to be hit by a passing Pontiac Aztek and this will be the end of me”. I thought about something bad happening over and over again and then again… it did.

I felt the hit straight across the entire right side of my body. I fell towards my truck where i’d been kneeling to change the tire. It wasn’t incredibly painful but being hit at incredible speed causes more of an intense rush and you don’t think about the pain. I thought it was the end. My eyes were watering as realizing I was still alive, I turned and expected to see an intense car crash. I looked up and thought, “did someone happen to get the license plate of that…ummm…. 50 gallon plastic trashcan that just hit me”. Yes, that’s right. I watched as a big 50 gallon trashcan bounced away from me and along the oncoming traffic, off of car hoods, denting and causing pandemonium.

What in the world just happened you ask? Well, an old pick-up truck was speeding along and his giant plastic trash can flew off the back of his truck at the exact moment he passed me. The trashcan then bounced off of my face and back into the freeway causing chaos. I couldn’t make up what just happened, I’m not that creative. My entire side of my face was red and swollen like someone… well, like someone took a giant piece of plastic and slapped me with it. A city worker pulled over and said he saw the whole thing and asked if I needed help. I felt okay so I declined and finished changing my tire in an angry daze. I got in my truck and peeked in the mirror to see a giant welt along my face. I drove off with a half-red face, forgetting my tools on the side of the road.

That day really didn’t get better for me, although I can say it didn’t get much worse. Looking back at it now though, I must think about my friend Jeff. If I were more like Jeff that day may not have been so bad. Jeff would’ve woken up with the beginnings of a bad day and he would’ve made light of it. He may not have rushed out to lunch, full of rage and who knows, he may not have been hit by a trash can in the face. However, that’s not the point of this post. The point is that bad things happen to everyone. They happen to me and they happen to guys like Jeff. It’s how we handle our emotion and our reaction that is the most important. If what happened to me were to have happened to Jeff… well, I believe he would consider himself to be incredible lucky. What are the odds of that happening? I’d like to think I was the first person to be hit in the face by a trash can that flew off a truck on the freeway. Jeff would certainly believe so and to him, that particular day wouldn’t be so bad.

No matter what happens in life, I urge you all to be more like Jeff. I’m trying. Take in the bad events that unfold and try to muster a smile and move on, no matter how difficult. This will leave you more time to focus on the things that are good.

 

 

Scientific Advertising

If you’re in advertising or interested in getting into advertising, you must read the book “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins. The book itself was written in 1923, but much of it’s contents resonate in advertising today.

“Nobody, at any level, should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times” – David Ogilvy

With regard to David Ogilvy’s quote, I’ve only read the book once and I hope to read it again but I doubt that I will be reaching the lucky 7. That said, advertising was always been relevant in my career (having a background in Graphic Design) and with one read of Hopkins’ book, I’ve grasped advertising more than ever. Even now as a developer, I use what I know about advertising to create a much better, more marketable product. Some times that product is a web application. Some times the product is me and my skills.

Some of what the book “Scientific Advertising” will teach you:

  1. That every ad is the equivalent of a sales person standing before you.
  2. How grammar and fine writing has little to do with writing ad copy that sells.
  3. How to use scientific testing to create more effective advertising.
  4. How to make a brand, a business stand out from the crowd
  5. The laws of Advertising

A few snippets I’ve picked up from the book:

1. Do Your Research — “An ad-writer, to have a chance at success, must gain full information on his subject. The library of an ad agency should have books on every line that calls for research. A painstaking advertising man will often read for weeks on some problem, which comes up. “. To be effective these guys researched everything. They had medical journals on the effects of coffee if they were making a coffee ad. They had dental books when they were making a toothpaste ad. They engulfed themselves with research and data that rivaled the top experts in the fields of the ad’s topic.

A good example of the effectiveness of Hopkins’ ad research was the Pepsodent ads he created. Pepsodent was a new brand of toothpaste. Before Hopkins, people weren’t brushing their teeth ritually. They would simply gargle with salt water or tonics. It was in the early 1900’s and people were peddling tonics that clean teeth left and right. Hopkins, in order to come up with the Pepsodent ad campaign, read through countless dental articles, books and scientific studies. In the middle of one book he found a reference that plaque builds up on teeth and later he would call this “the film”. He conceived the idea that Pepsodent was a creator of beauty and that it removes this film.

In one ad he wrote: “Just run your tongue across your teeth, You’ll feel a film—that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.” and another read: “Note how many pretty teeth are seen everywhere, Millions are using a new method of teeth cleansing. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth? Pepsodent removes the film!”

 

This ad copy served as genius at the time. It also contributed to a large tooth brushing habit. Pepsodent began adding chemicals to their toothpaste to make your mouth “tingle”. This and the ad campaign prompted the routine of brushing everyday, to look beautiful and to feel tingly clean. (Charles Duhigg, New York Times reporter and author of the bestselling book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business )

2. Understand Psychology — The competent advertising man must understand psychology. The more he knows about it the better. He must learn that certain effects lead to certain reactions, and use that knowledge to increase results and avoid mistakes.

Hopkins writes of the enduring human need to be curious. Humans want to learn more and it’s an incentive that advertisers may use to gain the sale. A headline may serve as a hook, to grab a person’s curiosity and take them through the ad’s contents and finally the call to action.

Another, is that people are generally honest. This is why the ads that boast “Try it for a week, if you don’t like it return it for the full price”. Or the ads that offer a free product, “Try it for a week, if you like it then buy it, if not return it”. It also plays a bit into reciprocation. There have been many other studies in advertising that show when you give someone something for free, that they will return the favor or reciprocate. An example of this is a Night Club where all drinks are free and the only form of payment is a tip jar. People are more likely to tip higher than the drink was worth.

With all that’s out there now on advertising, I urge you to read the book “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins. It lays the foundation to what you’ll need to know about advertising. I did find the entire book online here in one neat blog post. Get it while it lasts… http://scientificadvertising.blogspot.com/

Other related books worth reading…

 

Bootstrapping my life.

Every year since I met my wife Chelsea, has been better than the last. As I type, it’s been just about 5 days since my wife, my daughter and I welcomed a new baby into our lives. A beautiful baby boy we named Abram. This completes a very big goal for me and I am ecstatic.

I’m not writing this post to brag or show off. I’m not writing this post to document something incredible, although incredible it is. I write because I want to share my experiences with my friends, family and anyone that is interested. I write in the hopes that it would bring some optimism to anyone going through a difficult time. That no matter how difficult, that things may change for the positive quickly. All it takes is the realization that you are in control of your present and your future.

I won’t go into much detail but in 2006 I went through what one would call a stormy period in my life. It was a challenging time for me and certainly a very low point. Compared to other tragedies, mine was seemingly a speed bump, a blip on the radar. However at the time, it did affect me greatly and much like others I turned to bad habits to overcome emotional turmoil. I went through a period of drinking heavily, not leaving the house or the opposite of not coming home for days. I remember being simply confused.

There was a night that I spent a few hours sitting in my truck in the parking lot of a local grocery store. The rain was pouring around me. I was sitting and watching the rain as I didn’t want to go home and for some reason I couldn’t muster the ability to go inside the store and find something for dinner. Strange as it might seem, I drove to the store just to sit in a parking lot in the rain. I watched as people and families went on with their shopping. In and out of the store they went, despite the rain. I thought how strange it was that each person may be experiencing joy, pain or otherwise and we are all completely isolated in our abilities to fully comprehend what others may truly be experiencing.

Some people need interventions, but people will tell you they only work when someone actually wants to change. I decided that night that I really wanted something better for myself. It wasn’t something profound that I witnessed to make me realize this, but it was the things I could not comprehend about others. In reality we are alone in our thoughts and emotion. In programming there is a term called “bootstrapping”, this is derived from the story of Baron Munchausen. The story goes that the Baron, trapped in a swamp, pulls himself out by his bootstraps. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek help from others but simply that you have all the power and ability to change things for yourself.

I went home that night and thought about the things that I wanted. What I wanted the most was to be with a wonderful partner, get married and have a family. This was my decision and to achieve it, I had to make changes. The first change was obvious. I had to snap out of the slump I was in. Easier said than done, right? I quickly made a list of things I knew were good habits. Things that would better my ability to find someone I wanted to be with. I worked on controlling my reaction to my emotional state. Everytime I felt sad, I would try to find a positive habit to focus on like reading, writing, playing music or simply watching online tutorials. Before I knew it I had taught myself several different programming languages. Rather than drinking, I began exercising. Rather than hiding away in my house, I got out and socialized more. I also wholeheartedly dropped the walls I’d built up and approached people I would normally shy from.

Because of this, I met my wife Chelsea in 2006 by putting myself “out there”. In normal circumstances, I would have never approached her but I did. I also felt like I was a better person, more willing to commit to things and because of my positive habits, I was more confident. Certainly knowing my goal was to meet a person I wanted to share a life with, I believe I saw her with new eyes. From the moment I spoke with her, I began to appreciate her honesty, kindness, intelligence, humor and pure potential to be an amazing partner and mother. With some discussion and playful teasing from friends, I had asked her out on a date. She accepted and eventually I charmed her enough for second date.

A year later, I asked Chelsea to marry me. Another year later she gave me a beautiful girl we named Amelia and finally our boy Abram. Each year has been better than the last. The beauty of completing a goal is the rewards you can reap. I get to wake up everyday with two beautiful children and an incredible wife. Now all that seems easy right? It wasn’t and it won’t be for you. The most difficult part was accepting my piece in my happiness and deciding I wanted to change things. It was the acceptance that changing things was possible. The great thing about habits is they are just that, habits. Once you begin doing them, they become second nature. Once you begin it all falls into place.

I am telling each and every one of you that if you feel stuck, if you feel like you can’t get away from heartache, that you possess the ability to overcome and make your life better. It all starts with a decision and a little bootstrapping.