Archive | February, 2013

There’s NO people like SNOW people …

28 Feb

Ever since writing my two editions of “Railroaded”, people keep asking me “Do other people you see, what about people on airplanes, what about people on vacation, what about …”, etc. Glad to hear that a) my writing makes you laugh; and b) that you think I’m a good observer of people. Today’s attempt at humorous observation looks at people’s reactions to snow – drivers, walkers, commuters, etc. Let’s see if this works.

What first inspired this post was driving around this past Tuesday, as Chicago got its heaviest/fastest-accumulating snowstorm of the season. This slow-moving, wind-driven, fast-accumulating snowstorm left about 8-10″ of heavy, wet, “heart attack” snow in the northern suburbs, where I live, and made a mess out of driving for a solid day. It also was a great opportunity to observe folks and their reactions to the snow. Here goes – this will be part 1 of several:

Part 1: Drivers:

Oh, drivers, oh drivers, in snow, how your true colors come out.

The Panicker: In my observation, The Panicker is not someone that likes to drive in the first place. In snow, they freak the hell out. They start driving so scared and so carefully as to create safety hazards for themselves and those around them as they artificially try to control the world around them to their state of panic. They tend to drive larger, conservative cars in colors like beige, white and silver (and either mainstream US brands like Ford, Chevy, Buick or Chrysler or mainstream foreign brands like Toyota or Honda). They clearly are not relaxed at the wheel. Add a few snowflakes in and, “OH SHIT!” – they completely wig out. And, they often do a terrible job clearing the snow off their car, making them also “Mailslotters”.

For example, as I was driving home from my suburban meeting Tuesday AM in the heavy snow (which was great as I didn’t have to commute at rush hour), I got behind a panicker. She pulled out of a parking lot in front of me (cutting me off of course), and then proceeded to drive down the middle of a four lane road! with her left wheels in the right wheel track of the right lane and her right wheels in the left wheel track of the left lane – on a snowy/slushy road where the normal speed limit is 45. She was going about 12 mph with no intention to go faster. Mind you, at this point in the snow storm, it had snowed about an inch. That was it. The road was very lightly snow covered with two bare tracks in each lane. I tooted my horn once and she spun around in her seat to see me behind her and to the right, and in that act, her car started to drift to the right lane. She then realized she was doing that and overcorrected BACK to middle, fishtailing in the process. How you just managed to fishtail a front-wheel drive car on a road that isn’t all that slick in the first place is forever a mystery to me, oh Panicker. I would have had to do a Scandinavian Flick to get my car to do that (see below). After she did that, then she realized that really should get out of my way, so at this point, she puts on her 4-way flashers and stabs her brakes, of course not thinking that perhaps by doing so she might come close to invoking a collision with me. She slides over to the right and slows down to, I kid you not, 5 mph (in a 45 zone of course). I make an evasive maneuver around her and motor on, shaking my head. She probably still isn’t home. Stay home, Panicker!

SuperSUVman: In a way, SuperSUVman is the opposite of the Panicker. Where the Panicker is paralyzed by a lack of confidence in the snow, the SuperSUVman has a case of over-confidence that is ridiculous, and it is borne out of the fact that they believe that by spending $40-$50,000 on a loaded up, 4WD SUV or pickup, that they have somehow also bought the “repeal the laws of physics” package. Ironically, on dry pavement, they drive pretty conservatively. That’s because they know that with their oversize off-road tires (that never see a speck of dirt) and their very heavy, very high center of gravity, that grocery carts generally handle better than SUVs. But put them in the snow, and by God, now they are on the Yukon trail and nothing, but nothing will get in their way. You are most likely to see these folks in ditches, in front yards, at close range with their bumper buried into your side doors, etc. as they discover (but do not learn from it) that even though they can attain prodigious amounts of forward momentum with their 4WD and V8 engines, turning and stopping (and generally staying in control) are entirely different things. Whenever I see one of these guys buried axle deep in the snow next to a rural highway, scratching their heads and dumbfounded that they are off the road, I just smile to myself and think “Karma, you are one cruel bitch.”

SportsCarSchmortsCar: The SCSC combines some of SuperSUVman’s seasonal disregard for physics with The Panicker’s ability to block traffic. The SCSC is someone who drives a small, lightweight, over-powered, performance-tire-clad, rear-wheel-drive sports car. Their attitude with snow is “I’m doing the best I can! Yeah it’s a sports car, but it’s how I roll.” Think Camaros, Mustangs, Z-cars, Mazda RX or Miatas, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. They can most often be found stuck in their own driveways, stuck on a level street or parking lot, spun out on a residential corner, turning 360s on expressways, taking an entire cycle of a stoplight to wheelspin themselves across an intersection and more. As they delay the rest of us, they give us that shrug and hands up in the air look of “well, whatcha gonna do?” Here’s what you should do: Buy a $500 beater for winter and park that stupid thing when it snows! That said, I fully and openly admit to being one of these people having had over the last 8 years a Mazda RX-8 followed by a BMW 330Ci convertible. Both of which were utter nightmares in snow. That said, add front or all wheel drive and proper winter tires to a sports car – like Audis, BMW X-drive cars and suddenly these cars and their drivers become …

WRCWannabe: First an explanation: WRC is World Rally Championship – this is the racing series where guys in overpowered little two-seat racing cars go racing over dirt roads through the woods in foreign countries. Here’s a link to some video of this in action: So … in the winter, WRCW’s are generally people that own performance cars that are very capable in snow, and therefore, turn into capable boy-racers when the roads get slick. And I admit to being this guy now. You can see them launching hard out of stoplights, doing the “Scandinavian Flick” to rocket their cars around corners, using handbrake turns, and generally having a ball in the snow. This is how driving in the snow ought to be! After getting rid of our BMW, we bought a front-wheel-drive VW GTI and put Pirelli Sottozero 210 winter tires on it for snow season – and OMG – now a drive to a friend’s house in the snow becomes an exercise in “how much fun can I have” versus a white-knuckled “holy crap I’m gonna die” experience.I’ve see guys in everything from Subaru Imprezas and Outbacks, to Audi A3 and A4 Quattros, BMW X-drive 3 Series cars, and of course, my own beloved VW GTI, out blasting around in the snow and having so much fun. Cars equipped in this way truly do repeal the laws of physics in the way that the SuperSUVman can only dream about. But, when other cars are around, we just motor on, knowing that when you all are safe at home nursing a scotch after that harrowing ride, we have the snow-covered streets all to ourselves to go have fun on!

The Mailslotter: We all know who this is, right? These are the people who can’t be bothered to brush the snow off their car – so they clean a little slot on the windshield to see through, leaving a foot or more of snow on the hood, on the roof, the side windows covered, etc. Doesn’t need much explanation other than “stay the hell away from me please” – so when you see one of these guys, just know that they cannot see you.

So that wraps up this edition of “Snow People” – look for the “on foot” edition, coming soon!

As you were,


Social Networking 101

20 Feb

So, it’s been several weeks since I’ve written anything. Part of it is the pressure to be funny and witty and interesting, part of it is that I’ve been busy as hell at work and haven’t had much time to think of anything to write about, and part of it is the “winter doldrums”. Whatever. I’m writing today!

I thought I’d take up the subject of social networking from the perspective of someone who works in the business. Because of my chosen profession, and because I’m a very active participant in it, I gete a lot of questions about things like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. What are they, why should I use them, what’s the point of them, how do they make money, etc. etc. So, without much more conversation, here’s sort of a “social networking for dummies” that you can use when someone says to you “I just don’t understand Twitter” or “Why does Facebook mess with the experience all the time?” I’m also going to do this in the form of Q&A – trying to cover the questions I get from people. So, onwards:

  1. “Why does Facebook keep messing with the experience? I hate timeline, hate that my news feed isn’t what I want it to be, etc. Why do they do that to their customers?”
    Well … you see, dear Facebook user, you ARE NOT THE CUSTOMER. Repeat it, you are not the customer. Here’s how you can tell? How much money do you send to Facebook each month for the privilege of using it? None? Hmm. So here’s the deal, Facebook’s PRODUCT is you – very simple. And their customers are both advertisers and people who buy their data. The data is made up of information that you and your friends generate as you interact online. YOU are the product because it is you using Facebook. When you meet with a Facebook advertising rep, the first thing they tell you is that Facebook has nearly a billion subscribers worldwide, and something like 200 million in just the US alone. You are the product that Facebook monetizes. And they get you to stay and interact not because of their experiences but despite them. You stay because that’s where your friends are.Here’s my prediction: I do think Facebook’s influence and growth has pretty much peaked – I think everyone that is inclined to use it is using it. I do think that they are not going away anytime soon, and their revenue will continue to grow as they get better with their ad products, but in terms of user growth, the curve has flattened a lot in the last year, and I think is about at it’s peak.
  2. “What’s Twitter? Why twitter? How do I use Twitter? Etc.”
    I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a Twitter fan nor much of a Twitter user. I do “tweet” (the act of posting a 144 character post on Twitter), but I don’t use it that much. Basically Twitter is Facebook but in a shorter form. You are limited to 144 characters for each post – whether a tweet (original post), a reply, a retweet (when you share something someone else tweeted), etc. Where Twitter loses me is wading through all the tweets to find things that are interesting (see the next topic, Hashtags). There’s just too much traffic. The typical power-user of Twitter has the whole thing linked to their cell phone through texting. Outgoing Tweets, incoming tweets, etc., all deliver to your text messaging. If you choose to receive, you better have unlimited texting, I’m just saying. I can’t imagine getting that all in my phone. I visit Twitter once a day, scroll through Tweets from people I care about, search hashtags that interest me and that’s about it. I Tweet primarily to share articles, promote my blog, etc. I’m not one of those “eating dinner” “on the bus” Tweeters.
  3. “What’s a hashtag? I think that’s a Twitter thing but I see them on Facebook now. What are they and what’s the point?”
    A hashtag is a word, preceded with the # symbol that is designed to improve the searchability of your Tweet and to organize Tweets by topic. It has been adopted by Facebook users as well, although the searchability of those posts is still really early stage. That said, it’s generally used as a way to follow a trending topic. During a big event, like the Russian meteor event from last week, people will start hashtagging their posts with something like “#meteorshower” or “#russianmeteor” or “#armageddon” or whatever, and the more people that use that hash tag, the more content that Twitter has to categorize into a common thread. If you go into Twitter’s site or mobile app and type in a keyword preceded by a hashtag, you’ll see posts by that topic. It’s that simple.
  4. “What is a ‘trending topic’ on Twitter and Facebook?”
    Pretty much anything that is a hot topic on Facebook or Twitter – and on Twitter, it is generally denoted by a hashtag. So for example, when Marco Rubio got cotton mouth last week (humorously so for anyone other than a Republican), immediately, there was a whole bunch of humorous tweets with the hashtag of “#rubiothirsty”. During the Superbowl, when the blackout occurred, there were tons of posts (many funny) with the hashtag “#superbowlblackout” (among others). Hashtags are how Twitter has become useful/meaningful for me – it allows me to categorize all the noise that’s on Twitter.
  5. “What’s Pinterest and why should I use it?”
    Like Twitter, I’m not a Pinterest expert, but it’s basically a version of Facebook or Twitter where sharing things you like or are interested in happens, but in this case, it’s all about images. You can be online, see an image in a story, a catalog, etc., and “pin” that image on your Pinterest “pinboards” (and you can have different ones for different topics), and those are shared with friends who are following your activity.  You pin them through a utility that you install on your browser.  I have a Pinterest account but have to admit to not using it much, if ever. It is actively used by companies and brands though to promote their products, and I know a lot of foodie friends who use it for recipe sharing and such.
  6. “What’s Instagram and why should I use it?”
    Instagram is basically a social network based on photos you take or upload to the site. It differs from Pinterest in that Pinterest is more about sharing images you see elsewhere online, whereas Instagram is more about what you create yourself. I think Instagram is one of the most creative spaces on the web. It allows you a huge leeway in how you process and modify images, and there’s some amazing creativity going on within it. I dabble with it – I love taking pictures, and do so a lot with my iPhone 4S (which has a great camera in it) and enjoy sharing them on Instagram. Now then, Instagram was bought by Facebook and Facebook has integrated a lot of Instagram’s functionality into it, but … Instagram on it’s own is a pretty cool thing, If you’re interested in photography and art, I definitely recommend it.
  7. “What’s LinkedIn and why should I use it?”
    LinkedIn is the social network for professionals – you put LinkedIn and Facebook together and it’s the social networking equivalent of a mullet – business in the front, party in the rear!  Seriously though, it’s an unbelievably powerful networking tool.  I literally got my job through networking on LinkedIn and probably get five job opportunity solicitations per week.  If you’re in business, it is absolutely essential.  And if you’re not, it’s not.  Your LinkedIn profile is basically your resume, people can endorse you with skills and capabilities and write recommendations for you, you can post articles, comments, status updates etc. just like Facebook, and you can link your profile to friends and network contacts.  The critical thing about LinkedIn IS your profile – having a powerfully-written profile is what puts the wings under you – and by powerfully-written, I mean “search friendly”.  I literally have an entire paragraph, that while written in plain english, is jammed full of keywords for searching to find me.  I manage and curate my LinkedIn profile constantly.  It is an absolute essential for my career. You can look at my profile here, and of course if you’re a LinkedIn user, well, let’s connect!

There are plenty more social network products and experiences out there of course – Tumblr, Reddit, etc. etc. and there will be more to come. But above are the most common questions I get from folks about social networking.

Hope you find this interesting and useful!

As you were,


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