Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Which Headline Is Best?

BuzzFeed tested them both for this listicle.

1. The Faces Diplomats Made While Watching Trump’s First UN Speech Were Pretty Great

2. 17 Pictures Of Diplomats Listening To Trump’s First UN Speech

Is “Dear Recruiter” an Appropriate Way to Begin a Cover Letter?

Cover letters inspire strong opinions. Yet here’s something most people in this field agree upon: If you don’t know a recruiter’s name — and can’t ascertain it with a little research — then you should use a generic greeting such as “Good Morning.”

Here’s where HR folk diverge: What if you prefer to use something more personal, like “Dear Recruiter”?

From my vantage point, “Dear Recruiter” feels robotic — as if you’re a factory cranking out boilerplate. It harks back to the quintessence of antiquation: “To Whom It May Concern.” By contrast, “Good Morning” is friendly and puts your reader in a pleasant mood.

And yet, as much as it pains me to say this, the preceding paragraph isn’t a fact. It’s my opinion. There’s simply no consensus as to whether “Dear Recruiter” (or “Dear Hiring Manager”) is appropriate. Indeed, a quick Google search reveals that “Dear Recruiter” is encouraged in some scenarios.

To be sure, it’s still bad form to begin with something overly general, like “Dear HR” or “Dear Facebook Recruiting Department.” But “Dear Recruiter” is ok.

3 Reasons You Should Include Your Cover Letter in the Body of an Email, Rather Than As an Attachment

1. Convenience

It’s quicker to read an email than it is to open an attachment. Those who specialize in what’s known as “user experience” (or UX) call this “friction”: Every step someone needs to take to do what she wants to do (in case this, read the letter) bogs things down.

This especially true when it comes donation webpages: as a process gets longer, the number of people who complete it decreases. And it’s doubly so with smartphones, which is where people increasingly read the first draft of everything.

The bottom line: Don’t create hurdles for your recruiter. Make it as easy as possible for her to skim your materials.

2. Technology

Too many email clients (e.g., older versions of Outlook) and too many email providers (e.g., the default version of Gmail) don’t automatically preview attachments. To be sure, some do — for example, the latest version of Outlook — but we’re not yet at a point where this handy feature has reached a tipping point.

3. Viruses

It’s a terrible security practice to open attachments from people you don’t know. This is one of the easiest ways to get a virus.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tech Shortcomings That Drive Me Nuts

1. Why can’t you embed a YouTube video in a Google Doc?

2. Why can’t you export a backup of your Squarespace site?

3. Why can’t you sort messages in Gmail by subject or sender?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

5 Things Every Publisher Needs to Know About Sponsored Content

Is Online Dating for Losers?

Here are notes for an article I started but never finished:

Since I first heard about it, I’ve looked down on online dating. Picking up a girl on the net, I sniffed, was for those who couldn’t seal the deal in real life. Losers.

Except that, this isn’t true. In fact, with so many preferences to specify, online dating is for the choosy, whereas your options are relatively limited at a bar or party.

Hate the Way Meetings Are Used, Not Meetings Themselves

Here are notes for an article I started but never finished:

There’s no substitute for the in-person meeting. Seeing another person’s palms sweat or eyes roll is impossible over email or the phone. In short, meetings are invaluable.

At the same time, most meetings also are useless.

Some people just need to be reassured. Others are bureaucrats who insist on process.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Do Universal Background Checks Violate the Second Amendment?

An enlightening debate from the movie Miss Sloane:

If background checks are to be of any use, they should apply to all gun sales, not just some. Isn’t that what Heaton-Harris is proposing?

Precisely. The bill expands the scope of gun regulation. And it’s yet another affront to Americans’ constitutional rights.

No. The bill closes an absurd loophole, which allows people on terrorist watch lists to buy guns without any check whatsoever.

It’s an incursion into individual liberty by an all-powerful government.

What, like drivers’ licenses?

Drivers’ licenses?

It’s illegal to operate a car without going through rigorous theoretical and practical assessments. That’s a clear constraint on the freedom of individuals to drive cars or pilots to fly planes.

You know, in Japan, chefs train for seven years before they’re allowed to serve a poisonous blow-fish called “fugu.”

What does any of this have to do with background checks?

That is a fair question!

Does anyone in this room think that the government should abolish drivers’ licenses?

That’s absurd.

Why? They are a government incursion into individual liberty. We accept them because they make sense. The more dangerous the machinery, the more rigorous the test should be. I think we can extend our definition of dangerous machinery to semi-automatic firearms.

Except the Second Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to drive cars. Or operate machinery. Or serve blowfish for that matter. It guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. Perhaps you haven’t read it lately.

The Second Amendment was signed in a time when the average life expectancy was 38. And it was common practice for our Founding Fathers to resolve their differences at dawn, in a gunfight. What may have been perfectly sensible in those alien times is wholly inadequate to solve the problems of the present.

The United States Constitution has stood the test of time. It’s authored to confer unimpeachable rights which don’t change depending on which way the wind’s blowing. It’s so authored with the specific intent of keeping at bay the Elizabeth Sloanes of this world who want to wipe their asses with the Constitution and replace it with their own judgment because she knows better than the Founding Fathers of this great nation.

Nothing is unimpeachable, not even the Constitution. It’s ironic that the very statement of rights you’re so quick to invoke is, in fact, an amendment!

I may not like it either, Elizabeth, but it is the Second Amendment. It comes right after freedom of speech, religion, and press and somewhere before freedom from search and from having to testify against yourself — they’re all sort of bunched together. It’s called the Bill of Rights! How do you get around that?

We don’t need to. The Supreme Court already made it clear that the right to own a gun is subject to lawful restrictions. One of those is background checks.

Universal background checks are an infringement. What part of “shall not be infringed” don’t you get?

I get that that’s the weakest, most mind-numbing retort in your impoverished arsenal. Sort of a last refuge for those with no real argument at all.

You’re talking about the United States Constitution.

If they could produce a rational winning argument, I’d gladly migrate to their side, but “Because it says so in the Constitution, the Bible, or my horoscope” is not a winning argument. It’s a ripcord — an intellectual equivalent of a yellow, pant-pissing wimp cowering behind mommy’s skirt.

Aaron Sorkin Explains Why the Death Penalty Is Just Plain Wrong

The Torah doesn’t prohibit capital punishment.


It says, “An eye for an eye.”

You know what it also says? It says a rebellious child can be brought to the city gates and stoned to death. It says homosexuality is an abomination and punishable by death. It says men can be polygamous and slavery is acceptable.

For all I know, that thinking reflected the best wisdom of its time. But it’s just plain wrong by any modern standard.

Society has a right to protect itself, but it doesn’t have a right to be vengeful. It has a right to punish, but it doesn’t have a right to kill.

Take This Sabbath Day

Monday, September 4, 2017

Why Every Lobbyist Needs a PR Partner

“Over the decades, lobbying has evolved from a niche trade of fixers and gatekeepers to a sleek, vertically integrated, $3-billion-a-year industry. A good lobbyist doesn’t go into a meeting asking for legislation; she or he already has the bill drafted, a coalition of businesses and trade groups poised to support it, a policy brief to hand out to reporters and to the officials positioned at dozens of decision points throughout the bureaucracy and relationships with advertising and polling firms to manage the public rollout.”

How to Get Rich in Trump’s Washington

Friday, September 1, 2017

There Are 4 Kinds of Subheadings in Writing. Smart Writers Use ‘Em All

The Sorry Semantics of Saying Sorry

Have you ever told someone, by way of apology, “I’m sorry if you feel that way”?

If so, please know that this is not an apology. In fact, this all-too-common phrase is one of the most specious in the English language. It’s a head nod toward contrition, but it’s utterly devoid of sincerity.

There are at least three major problems with these seven little words.

1. Consider the word “if.” If I feel I was wronged? Whatever incident gave rise to your alleged apology isn’t hypothetical. Don’t swaddle yourself in noncommittal language; either you did something wrong or you didn’t. If you did, drop the “if.”

2. Even if you drop the “if” (“I’m sorry you feel that way”), you’re still apologizing for the way someone else feels, rather than for the way you made them feel. This is as devious as language gets. Adults take responsibility for their actions; they don’t concoct decoys. If you’re an adult, change “if you feel that way” to “I made you feel.”

3. Instead of simply saying “I’m sorry,” consider elaborating. A mere adjective will suffice (“I’m so sorry”; “I’m sincerely sorry”), as will a semicolon (“I’m sorry; I was out of line”).

Similarly, consider identifying what it is you’re apologizing for. You can still be vague (“I’m sorry I was a jerk”), but the more specific you are, the more genuine you’ll appear.

Of course, if your goal is to float a nonapology apology, then by all means, ignore all of the above and keep up the good work!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Which Headline Is Best?

1. 4 Simple Ways to Make Your Memos More Enjoyable

2. 4 Easy Ways to Make More People Read What You Write

3. The 4 Kinds of Subheadings in Writing

4. There Are 4 Kinds of Subheadings in Writing. You Should Use Every One.

5. There Are 4 Kinds of Subheadings in Writing. Smart Writers Use ‘Em All

6. Use This Simple Trick to Make People Actually Read What You Write

7. How to Make Want to Read What You Write

8. Make People Enjoy Reading Your Writing With This Simple Technique

9. Want to Make Your Reading Dramatically More Readable?

10. Make Your Writing More Reader-Friendly With This Easy-to-Learn Technique

Addendum (8/28/2017): And the winner is...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Are You Financially Literate? Answer These 3 Questions to Find Out

1. Interest

Suppose you have $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After 5 years, how much you would have in the account if you left the money to grow?

Possible Answers
A) More than $102.
B) Exactly $102.
C) Less than $102.

Correct Answer
The correct answer is: A), more than $102. Because 2% interest on $100 in a year is $2, so after year 1 you have $102 — and then over the remaining 4 years, the interest grows on that $102, and so on. And that’s why compound interest has been called “the 8th wonder of the world.”

2. Inflation

Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1% per year and inflation was 2% per year. After one year, how much would you be able to buy with the money in this account?

Possible Answers
A) More than today.
B) Exactly the same as today.
C) Less than today.

Correct Answer
The correct answer is C), less than today, because if inflation is 2% , prices go up 2%. But if you only earned 1% in your saving account, you basically can buy less.

3. Diversification

Is the following statement is true or false: buying a single company stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.

Possible Answers
A) True
B) False

Correct Answer
The correct answer is true. A single company is a lot riskier than a basket of stocks. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Money (but Were Afraid to Ask)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Anthony Scaramucci Just Demonstrated the Laziest Mistake People Make on Twitter. (It’s Not What You Think.)

New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci recently dispatched a tweet that was heard all around Washington. (He later deleted it, so all I have is a screenshot.)

Leave aside the content and the author’s inability to punctuate. What I want to focus on is the last word — “@Reince45” — which is the handle of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

The problem here is that Scaramucci lazily dumps Priebus’s handle in at the end of the tweet. As a result, it’s totally unclear why he’s mentioning his colleague. Is he blaming Priebus? Is he asking hm to investigate? Or is he merely CCing him?

We can only guess — which is indeed what every news outlet that covered the tweet was left to do.

By contrast, had Scaramucci integrated “@Priebus45” into his sentence, there’d be no ambiguity. For example, if he wanted to intimidate Priebus, he could have written this:

“In light of the leak of my financial-disclosure info—a felony—I’ll be contacting @FBI and @TheJusticeDept. Got that, @Reince45? #swamp”

Or, if he wanted Priebus to join the investigation, he could have written this:

“In light of the felonious leak of my financial-disclosure info, I’ll be contacting @FBI & @TheJusticeDept. Let’s drain the #swamp, @Reince45!”

See how @FBI, @TheJusticeDept, and @Reince45 are all part and parcel of the sentence? They’re not outliers; they’re participants.

Think about this the next time you tweet. Don’t just drop in handles as an afterthought; integrate them into the flow of your message.

Related: Are Hashtags Useless?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

2 Examples of Kick-Ass Design

1. This week’s cover of Time magazine:


* How the primary colors (gray, red, and yellow) blend well together.

* How the headshot is grayscaled.

* How various words from the emails are highlighted in white, yet don't distract from the image.

2. An image created for CNN’s scoop about Breitbart’s Slack channel:


* How the borders of each screenshot looks ripped from the page.

* How the screenshots are strategically placed around the headshot.

Addendum (9/28/2017): Here’s another example (a recent cover of Bloomberg Businessweek):

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why Even Small Businesses Don’t Want to Be Small Businesses

I’m still on hold. It’s like they don’t even care about small businesses.

Jared, they don’t care about small businesses. That’s why small businesses have to lie. Like Google named their first building Building 40, so that people would think they were already huge.

Silicon Valley

Why Your Smart Fridge Shouldn’t Speak Like a Human Being

“We are dumbing down machines that are inherently superior.”

Bertram Gilfoyle, on a smart refrigerator that uses verbal tics like “ah” to sound more human

Friday, May 26, 2017

What to Tell a Prospective Client Who Wants You to Lower Your Price

1. You won’t get steak if you’re only willing to pay for a hamburger.

2. Don’t expect filet mignon for the price of a Big Mac.

3. Don’t expect strip sirloin for the price of a Whopper.

4. Want steak? It’ll cost you more than a burger.

5. If you’re on a Mazda budget, don’t shop for a Mercedes.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Should Government Tweeps Separate the Personal from the Professional?

This is something I wrote years ago, and meant to finish, but never did:

The explosion of Twitter presents an underappreciated dilemma for federal government employees who work in new media: Should you include your workplace in your Twitter bio?

In one corner is the work-is-life crowd. As Scott Horvath, of the U.S. Geological Survey, explains (via Twitter, naturally), new media "attracts limelighters,” and “everywhere access encourages personal-professional integration.” Army spokeswoman Lindy Kyzer concurs: “A lot of my online identity is merged professional/personal.” As such, it's folly to try to  separate the two.

In another corner is the work-is-work crowd. For instance, to learn more about @cbdawson, you'd need to Google "Cian Dawson," locate his LinkedIn profile, and realize that the San Francisco hydrogeologist on Twitter is the same one who works for the U.S. Geological Survey on LinkedIn. Dawson explains that he uses Twitter "solely as a private citizen, not a federal employee. I don't post [my workplace] to avoid confusion about that.”

By the same token, Andrew Wilson, of HHS, and Jeffrey Levy, of the EPA, both use Twitter exclusively for work (and thus explicitly cite their day jobs in their bios). Wilson explains that he “wants to be transparent about who I am”; Levy says he Tweets “to discuss social media in government (especially the EPA).” Suzanne Ackerman, also of the EPA, concurs: "My Twitter account is for professional use at EPA only."

At the moment, it appears that no rules or regulations govern the use of Twitter by federal employees. While some feds go out of their way to disclose their workplace, others maintain a church-state separation between their personal and professional lives.

This chaos is a problem waiting to happen. For instance, what happens when the FDA's Facebook guy starts proseclutizing for Jews for Jesus? Or the editor of the FBI's blog betrays his feelings about black people? Or the Webmaster at the Agriculture Department insists that Obama was never born in the United States and therefore is constitutionally barred from the presidency?

Any solution must recognize that a paycheck does not bar an employee from expressing his opinions when he's off the clock about issues unrelated to work. Yet whereas five years ago, you could vent in your local watering hole, today Twitter places a global microphone beside your whiskey glass.

At what is a fed allowed to take off the badge hanging literally around his neck?

TK draws a line between Twitter and blogging (both of which he uses for work) and Facebook (which is personal).

This is risky.

Others may prefer to follow the Tweets blazed by Brian Brandt, of the GSA, who employs the "mom" test: "It's ok to mix personal/work in social media, if it's socially responsible (ask can "mom" read my post)."

Erick Erickson, the editor of the RedState blog, makes this point: "I am more and more mindful—and I used to be oblivious to the fact—that when I endorse a candidate or support a position, the implication is that RedState does too. In fact, it is why I expressly refuse to endorse a lot of things I’m asked to endorse. I know people don’t want my endorsement so much as they want the implication of RedState’s endorsement. . . . David Keene and Grover Norquist are, whether they like it or not, intrinsically linked to their respective organizations [the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform]. If they come out in support of a particular position, people believe that their organizations support that position too."

* In this view, as Todd Zeigler, of the Bivings Group, has argued, "If you work for a presidential campaign in this day and age, you are essentially a public figure. Everything you write/say/do is going to be combed over by bloggers/Wonkette/whoever, whether you are the campaign manager or a low level staffer. This should be the expectation of people going in at this point. Every tweet could be on the front page of the New York Times."

* In one camp are those who agree with the actions of the presidential campaign of John McCain, which suspended a staffer for Tweeting a video, from a personal account, which attacked Obama. Perhaps in reaction to this, Todd Herman, the new media director of the Republican National Committee, declares in his Twitter bio: “These are my personal rants, musings and asides—they are not statements on behalf of my employer. Cool?”

Companies today are wrestling with how their employees should separate their personal from their professional identities online. The question is so tough because the Internet has so blurred the lines—especially if your job involves digital communications.

While we can all agree that what you do on your own behalf doesn’t represent company policy, it nonetheless reflects on your employer. At the extreme, do you want someone working for you who, when the clock strikes six, begins blogging in advocacy of converting Muslims to Christianity? At the less extreme, do you want someone working for you who tweets about how horrible a client’s hometown city is?

Increasingly, a standard disclosure isn’t enough (even this one, from the RNC’s Todd Herman: “These are my personal rants, musings and asides—they are not statements on behalf of my employer. Cool?”). The new reality—brought on by Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—is that when you hire someone, you’re not just hiring her for a day job. You’re hiring her reputation.

Embracing this reality with gusto, the PR agency, New Media Strategies, is taking transparency to new heights. Its Twitter Directory publishes not only the professional but also the personal tweets—and pics—of all its employees. We “also have great sorting features based on name, username, followers and lists,” adds CEO, Pete Synder.

To wit, NMS is unflinchingly declaring, This is who we are. Not from 9-5, but 24/7.

What’s more, transparency fosters accountability. As Mary Katherine Ham has observed, “I make a conscious decision to broadcast my life every day, and I accept the consequences. In a way it’s a quintessentially conservative formula: The extent to which you take personal responsibility for your actions dictates the risks and benefits of your online existence.”

Name Twitter Handle Workplace Twitter Bio Updates Protected?
Andrew Wilson AndrewPWilson HHS Member of HHS Social Media Team No
Bev Godwin BevUSA White House Public Servant. New Media @ The White House Yes
Casey Coleman CaseyColeman GSA Chief Information Officer, General Services Administration No
Jeffrey Levy LevyJ413 EPA EPA Web Manager, Gov't 2.0er, Federal Web Managers Council, Social Media Subcouncil Co-Chair No
Leslie Benito LesBenito DoD Web Guy for DoD No
Jack Holt Jack_Holt DoD Senior Strategist for Emerging Media DoD/DMA No
Suzanne Ackerman Suzack777 EPA EPA Web team, social media No
Gwynne Kostin gwynnek DHS Curious, irreverent geekette, working at intersection of tech and people, loves her maddenboyz, now in dot-gov No
Amanda Eamich amandare USDA Bio USDA Director of New Media. (@USDAFoodSafety) i live, learn, work, eat, check blackberry, repeat. No
AScott Horvath ScottHorvath USGS Web developer and podcaster. Interests in Government and social media, the power of many, converting tech-challenged to tech-hopefuls No