Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Already

Greetings Friends,

Call me Captain Obvious, but I feel the need to point out that today, February 29, is Leap Day, that pesky extra day of the month that rears its ugly head (kinda like those dinosaurs in the image) in a year when the number is divisible by four. Since it is 2012, it is indeed a Leap Year. Honestly, you can have it.

February is usually a month that passes quickly. March is one that seems to drag on interminably; unless you are a college basketball fan, which I am not. This February, however, has been particularly brutal; not from a meteorological perspective - it has been an exceptionally mild winter. No, this February has been a testament to how frustratingly unpredictable life can be.

Part of the charm of what I do for a living is that I never know where it will take me. This month, I've had some scraps with clients; one fairly new, the other not-so-new. Unfortunately, both of them have been relegated to what I referred to last week as "the black hole that is 'blocked-ness.'" It's unfortunate that I will no longer be able to count on these clients for financial support, but it is not so unfortunate because, really, they were um, not my cup of tea. I'm not suggesting that my clients are like Kleenex - another one doesn't always pop up to replace the one you just pulled out of the box. But, sometimes, for the sake of your own sanity, bidding adieu to someone or something that makes you contemplate taking a flying leap is not necessarily a bad thing.

The longer I live, the more I realize that getting along with people is becoming quite the challenge. I could give you a rather long list of reasons why, but for the sake of brevity, I'll try to keep it short and sweet:

With all the technological advancement and modern conveniences many of us enjoy, life has become exceedingly complicated because of them. What I do for a living is a perfect example. Writing comes easy for me; SEO does not. The more I think about it, the more I'm starting to believe that SEO is like a high-tech version of the board game "Monopoly". If Google doesn't allow you to pass "GO", you don't get to collect $200. Therefore, you are screwed from the starting line. That holds true for life itself these days, no matter what your occupation. You could be a desk-jockey, a factory worker or a stay-at-home parent, and be hard-pressed to find anyone who will tell you that life has gotten easier over the past decade or so. The added pressures of life in 2012 cause many people to look inward, rather than outward, giving them a wide variety of excuses for being unable to look beyond themselves. I'm not begrudging them that - I'm guilty of it too.  Are there solutions to these dilemmas? None that I'm particularly jazzed about; if you have any to offer, please leave them in comments.

In the meantime, I'll be glad when the clock strikes midnight and I'm able to flip the calendar over to March. I don't think I've ever been this welcoming of the month, but with the way February turned out, even college basketball sounds enticing. It's a good thing every year isn't a Leap Year.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is Mine the Superior Intellect?

 Greetings Friends,

OK, it's been a slow month topic-wise, celebrity deaths notwithstanding. Sometimes, I have to find a nice ripe bee in my bonnet to motivate me to put metaphorical pen to paper. Today happens to be one of those days.

As an SEO writer, I spend more time Googling than your average Internet user. In the field of SEO (Search Engine Optimization for those not in the know), you have to always be one step ahead of the average Internet user, and as many steps as humanly possible ahead of the brainiacs at Google, whose mission in life is to make the lives of SEO geeks a living hell. Naturally, some SEO geeks are better at playing the game than others.

I've been pretty sore over the past couple of weeks about a job I did for a now former client of mine. The client and I had a profound disagreement over what constituted proper practice in the project I was asked to undertake. He thought he knew best, and I thought I knew better. Alas, we met at swords point and fought to the death. In a world where you can block people from your online life, I now consider him a resident of the black hole that is "blocked-ness". Thankfully, we never met in person, so there is no need to avoid certain geographic locations that might result in uncomfortable encounters.

I don't normally trash-talk my clients, but what lead me to indulge in a bit of bitching and moaning was the "Google Doodle" I was confronted with earlier. Today is the 155th anniversary of the birth of Henrich Rudolf Hertz, the German physicist whose electromagnetic wave research eventually paved the way for radio, television and radar. It seems almost trite to me that Google chose to honour an individual whose work is now literally being undone by the medium most of us now use instead of radio and television. Of course, I learned all about Herr Hertz back in my days as a Broadcast Management and Technology student, and his work is still relevant to many people. But, I can't help but think the folks at Google tend to flaunt what they probably feel is their superior intellect over all us Internet users, and SEO geeks in particular. Twenty years ago, an oscilloscope was an important piece of equipment; today, a lightning fast microprocessor and high-speed Internet connection are the tools of the trade. Or, do they have more in common with the "tools of ignorance", so coined by 1920s Washington Senators catcher, Herold "Muddy" Ruel? Sometimes, I have to wonder.

Of course, you can't write about "superior intellect" without paying homage to the Khan character from Star Trek. The original 1967 episode of the series was "Space Seed", and was later turned into the 1982 film, Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan. The story of genetically and intellectually superior human beings is one some of us tend to fixate on, myself included, since in my line of work, there is always going to be someone, or something trying to outsmart me. When you earn your living by attempting to please an electronic entity, it's easy to be blindsided by its intelligence.


R.I.P. Gary Carter: Last week, the baseball world lost Gary Carter, the iconic catcher for the New York Mets, whose never-say-die attitude lead the team to victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Carter succumbed to inoperable brain cancer on February 16, at the age of 57. Fans of the Mets and the Montreal Expos remember Carter as "Kid", the man who donned the "tools of ignorance" with a smile on his face, and the fiercest competitive nature of any man who ever played the game. The team in baseball heaven just got a whole lot better.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Humanity on the Battlefield

Greetings Friends,

It's been a busy week, and I was at a loss for a suitable topic until I realized that this Sunday is the Super Bowl. Madonna, this year's half time spectacle (notice how I didn't bother to refer to her as an "act"), made an interesting comment on Anderson Cooper's talk show when she referred to the Super Bowl as "[the] holiest of holy in America." She's right about that. Even here in Canada, the world stops for this one big game. The same cannot be said of the CFL's Grey Cup; the only other event that comes close is the Stanley Cup finals. 

As many of you know, I am a sports fan. There are times when I enjoy it, and there are times when I despise it utterly. Growing up in New York and having a plethora of teams to cheer for has made sports fandom interesting to say the least, including the unintentional - and admittedly often times intentional - act of picking and choosing your relationships based upon team allegiances. When you fall down the sports rabbit hole as a child like I did, you can't help but judge other people on the basis of which teams they root for. It's shameful, I know, but even in my 40s, I still find myself doing it. Much as I like to think I've become more accepting of the teams I loathe, the bottom line is, I will continue to loathe them as long as I am able to draw breath into my lungs. 

A former friend of mine is a staunch New England Patriots fan. When the Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago to gain entry into this year's spectacle, I decided I would cheer for them; not because I am a Giants fan, but because I'd rather think of my former friend wallowing in the misery of a Patriots loss. It sounds cruel, I know, but that's how sports fans think. We know that the agony of defeat is exponentially more painful than the thrill of victory, especially when you only have one shot at it. Many people malign the playoff structure of other sports because there are multiple game "series" that must be won in order to be declared a champion. In football, you only get one shot. Squandering it is the most prolific misstep in professional sports; for the team on the losing side, there is no tomorrow. 

I was planning to write something snarky about the spectacle the Super Bowl has become: the two week media frenzy surrounding the big game, the ridiculous commercials (which cost an obscene $3 million for 30 seconds this year), the half time extravaganza; everything over-the-top that has become synonymous with the game, except for the game itself. Then I realized, what could I possibly say that hasn't already been said? It is what it is, and much as I hate to admit it, Madonna is right: Americans revere the game as a religious ritual; it is part of what makes America the land of the free and the home of the brave. I just wish it didn't have to be so cheesy. 

Last year, the conclusion of the Super Bowl was marred by a pending labour dispute. You know how I feel about millionaire professional athletes and their unions. I was hoping, as is my cynical way, that the NFL would give itself a black eye by tossing an entire season in the trash. Alas, they did not, and here we are 48 hours away from the big game. Not that it would have mattered in the long run; football fans are the most sheep-like in my opinion: as long as they're alive, there's an endless supply of wool to be shorn. 

All cynicism aside, I did read one interesting article on the NFL's Web site. It turns out, the Patriots' and Giants' owners, Robert Kraft and John Mara, were integral to bringing about an end to the league's labour unrest. I did not follow the negotiations closely, so this was a revelation to me. The NFL, the major U.S. television networks, countless advertisers, team employees, etc., all had vested interests in making sure a deal was stuck and the season was played. What tore at my heartstrings was the following quote from Kraft about losing his wife to cancer in the process:

"The team saved me. I never understood what the word heartbroken meant. It's hard for anyone to relate to it. My wife was 19 and I was 20 when she proposed to me. We had five kids right away. Then they left and we became best pals for 25 years. She was 98 pounds, read four books a week and was healthy. I thought she would outlive me for 30 years. This horrible cancer came and it's wrecked my life. Having this team has been a savior for me."

Sometimes, you have to swallow your abject cynicism and shed a few tears for someone. I don't know Robert Kraft, and I still won't root for his team, but I found a human angle to the spectacle in his words. That more than makes up for all the cheese.

Have a great weekend, and Go Giants!