Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Laziest Nigerian email scam ever -- and another even lazier

Here is the email I received today, in its entirety:
Good day,
I have a Business for you to handle with me. Should you be interested please contact me.
R G Barber.

I am online waiting for your reply

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 7:57 PM

Message contains attachments

[attachment link was here]

The attach has the message, please read the attach

Yeah, right. And I am online waiting for the ultimate in lazy email scams. No message, just a link labeled "Sucker Clicking Here."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Popchips: New Product, New Media Campaign

Hey, snack lovers --

Look for this new "junkless junk food" product on the shelves: Popchips. They're a fat-cutter's dream: potato chips that are "popped" rather than deep-fried. I'm fascinated. How the heck do they pop potato chips? But even more fascinating is Popchips' creative, multi-faceted media campaign. It employs social media alongside traditional and outside-the-box media to make a big bang -- or in this case, a big, healthy pop.
The campaign includes extensive outdoor advertising; a Web site along with presences on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; an e-mail newsletter; ads on the video screens in taxi cabs; a sampling program with its own “mobile snack tour,” with a goal of giving away 500,000 bags of Popchips; public relations by Formula PR in New York; and an outreach to trend-setters that seeks to generate positive buzz.
Hey, I want to know when that "mobile snack tour" will be roaming the KC area. And I'm on pins and needles waiting for them to call me, a well-known trend-setter, to promote Popchips to my extensive circle of ultra-trendy friends.

[Read the article here.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Casebook of Quality Control Officer 896

Case 555: “Busting the News”

The streetlight had just flickered on outside my office window, and I was sorting through some paperwork. I heard the doorknob rattle and looked up to see Bug-Eye slipping in, finger to his lips. After examining the ceiling panels and flowerpots for bugs, he fell into my comfy chair, let out a sigh and shook his head.

“What is it, Bugs,” I asked. “You look all in.”

“I’ll tell ya. So many grammatical and syntactical infractions out there, I can barely catch a Z. I ran out of tickets.”

He skipped the empty ticket pad across my desk blotter.

“Okay, so go home and take a rest.”

“I will, but first, I’ve gotta tell ya…

“Tell me what?”

“Well, ya know that newscaster, Cynthia N.?”

“Well-dressed, well-groomed, well-spoken, on Channel 5?”

“That’s the one. I couldn’t believe it. Two infractions in one newscast!

“Bugs, TELL me, already!”

He peered up through beetled brows. “Said something about windows being ‘busted out.’”

“Cynthia N. said windows were ‘busted out?’ Ugly. Are you sure she didn’t say ‘shattered,’ ‘broken,’ or ‘smashed?’”

“Naaw. And there’s more. A minute later, she said some guy ‘snuck’ around a corner.”

“’SNUCK?’ Good grief! ‘Snuck’ is a non-standard corruption of the word ‘sneaked.’ It’s used only by the uneducated. Certainly not a class act like Cynthia N.!”

“Yeah, I know. I looked it up at AskOxford.com. But she did use it. With thousands of viewers as witnesses. So whatcha gonna do?”

I frowned. “She’ll be looking at two counts of aggravated verbslaughter.”

“Hey, that’s a little rough, isn’t it?”

“Bugs, the English language is going to hell in a handbasket, whatever that means. We’ve got to uphold the standards. It’s our sworn duty.”

I opened my top desk drawer and touched my QCO badge thoughtfully, then turned to gaze out the window at a few stars glimmering in the darkening sky.

“Sure, it’s a harsh sentence, but getting tough is the only way to stop these perps from infecting the rest of the population with horrible word usage. Just think of the little children, Bugs, trusting and open in front of the tube, soaking up lousy language along with pitches for Lucky Charms and Picnic Barbies. It’s enough to make you cry.”

Turning from the window, I noticed that Bug-Eye was snoring softly and drooling down his clip-on tie. Let him sleep, I thought. He’s done plenty for one day. I sneaked around the desk, stepped out, eased the door shut, then ambled over to Kelly’s to ponder the sad, broken state of our language.

After ordering a beer, I began ruminating. QCO 896 does a lot of ruminating. And a lot of beer. I wasn’t looking forward to slapping the cuffs on Cynthia. She’d have to serve 60 days of hard labor: reading the Oxford English Dictionary cover-to-cover and memorizing ”The Wordwatcher's Guide to Good Grammar & Word Usage.” But as Baretta said, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Guess he learned the truth of that statement himself later on. So I’m sorry, Cynthia, but you’re going over.

Folks, word crimes are on the rise – on TV, radio, in newspapers and magazines -- and they’re dangerous. So if you see or hear of verbslaughter, nounicide, adverbial assault or any other attack on proper usage, leave me a comment for me, Quality Control Officer 896, here. Together, we just might be able to save the English language from wrack and ruin, whatever that means.

# # #

©2009 Liz Craig
All rights reserved.

Something stinks in the state of... Ghana?

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a "Jim Lee" which read:
Hello C/S I am Jim Lee and i will like to know if you can print flyers or brochures with the size of 1. measures 8.5' x 11' (2. )80# Gloss Text or (3.) 0.25 - White boarder (4.) One sided (5.) Full color and what i need on the flyers is ( Glory Be To God ) and the background should be in yellow and the writing black and so let me know the total cost of 120,000 copies and 100,000 copies and also the form of payment you accept so that i will know what to do next hope this will help . pls advise . May God Our Lord Be With you Jim Lee...
This is the second e-mail I've gotten from someone I never heard of asking me about printing. I wrote back to the first one informing him I'm a writer, not a printer, and heard no more. But today, here's another guy thinking I'm a printer.

I have no idea what the "C/S" in the e-mail means. And the requested flyer is incredibly simple. I mean, if "Jim Lee" has a computer with Word, he can probably do this himself and find a FedEx Kinko's or other printer nearby. Weird.
But being the capitalist I am, and being curious as well, I went ahead and got a legitimate printing bid, tacked $200 onto each figure for my efforts, and sent the bid to "Jim Lee."

He wrote back today saying everything looked hunky-dory:

Hello Liz,
Thank you for your email and am obliged for your quotation ,i find the price satisfactory and i give you my order of the 120,000 flyers at the price you stated and i will like to put the request of the 100,000 flyers on hold for now and proceed with the 120,000.I was suppose to arrange for and come and pickup the flyers at your location but unfortunately I got off the phone in aboutr two hours ago with a doctor in Italy that my wife who is there for vacdation has been admitted at the hospital and i have to take the next flight out to Italy to see her and will be very grateful if you could assist in shipping the flyers to the desired location.I am sending this flyers to one of our Church ministry that is located in Accra-Ghana and I have a Shipping Company that has been handling my shipment for me so I want you to contact them with the total weight of the banners to be shipped and get me Freight charges and contact me back with it so that I can email you back with the full payment information details for the payment charges on the Order and Shipping.
This is the contact details for the Shipping Company as follows:
And there was the name and address of a Rev. George Morris in Accra-Ghana(!), plus the contact info for the shipping company. Wow. It was really going to be expensive to send these flyers to Ghana, of all places. Continuing, Jim wrote:
I want you to email them with the pick up location address and the total weight of the ( flyers he Sizes and the Quantity of the ( flyers ) instead of the weight and also the Ship to address and get me the Freight charges and contact me back for the payment and also please do try to leave me with a contact number so i can call you.

NB: the Shipping Company will also handle the packaging and crating and pick up and shipment from your location.

Mr.Jim Lee
Okay. The religious message on the flyers (or banners?), the ship-to address of a minister in Ghana, the idiotic simplicity of the flyers, the information that Mr. Lee had planned to pick up the flyers himself, only he had to fly to the side of his wife, who was sick on "vacdation" in Italy, and the fact that he wanted me to tell him the charges, AND my phone number... it started smelling like another African e-mail scam. I wrote Jim Lee back and told him so. I don't expect I'll hear back. But I hope Mrs. Lee's illness doesn't ruin the rest of her "vacdation."

I guess that "C/S" might be code for "Christian Scam." What I can't figure out is how "Jim Lee" gets any money out of this. Say I front the money to the printer. Then the printer gets my money, and I'm stuck with 120,000 stupid flyers. The shipping charges may be even more than the printing, so if he expected me to front that, he or his colleagues in Ghana could score a few grand. But I've never seen this type of scam before. I guess my mind isn't devious enough to figure it out. Anybody know this particular scam, if it is one?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

When Networking Becomes Not-Working

Networking is huge. I'm doing it, you're probably doing it, lots of talented people are doing it -- to make contact with people who might have jobs or projects for them.

Networking, if done properly, can provide you with some great contacts. But it also can backfire if done thoughtlessly. I hope you won't be guilty of any of the following networking boo-boos I've encountered.

• Case #1: You know me, Joe. Don't you?

A guy I'll call "Joe" greeted me and welcomed me to a recent networking event. We chatted for a minute and exchanged cards. I remember Joe because he was the first person I saw there. But apparently, he didn't remember me. A couple of days later, I received an e-mail from him containing some text about his company which was evidently cut and pasted from a printed piece (It referred to some coupon "below" which didn't exist in the e-mail). Talk about careless.

Also, Joe didn't bother to add a personal salutation. In fact, there was no salutation at all. No "Hi, Liz. Good to meet you the other night. Thought you might be interested in this. Take care, Joe." Joe probably sends out the same e-mail to everyone he meets, and he can't be bothered with niceties like addressing recipients by their names. Oh, yes, and there was a PDF of a printed brochure attached. Think I'm going to take time to download and read it, after being treated like a nobody? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Moral: When following up with people you meet at a networking event, at least be polite enough to personalize your e-mail. You now know the person a little, so don't treat them like strangers and expect them to become customers or clients.

Case #2: Spam-a-Lot

A Meetup group I signed up for a couple of weeks ago hasn't met yet. But last week, I received an e-mail from a member of the group asking if I wouldn't like to host a sex toys party in my home. Mind you, this person has never met me, yet she feels fine about urging me to let her come into my home and demonstrate God knows what kinds of sexual devices. Hey! I don't THINK so!

I e-mailed her back, informing her how rude it was to send a total stranger a marketing message and asked if she had spammed all the members of the Meetup. I have received no reply, no surprise. My conclusion: She joined the Meetup only to get to more prospects. Rude! Bad Netiquette!

Moral: Don't use people. Don't spam people. Be nice, get to know them, and If you're joining a primarily social group, just be yourself and enjoy the companionship. Eventually, your business will come up, and once people know you, they'll be more receptive to hearing about it.

Case #3 - The Handshake of Death

One way to kill a relationship before it gets started is to give someone a bad handshake. One that's limp and clammy. Or one that makes you wonder if you'll come out of it with finger bones intact.

I met a woman last night at a networking event. I will never forget "Lou Ann," because if I see her again, I'm going to avoid her like a rattlesnake. Lou Ann's handshake is hazardous. A handshake is meant as a gesture of friendship, but Lou Ann's is an instrument of torture. When she gave me her Handshake of Death, I nearly cried, "Help!" After I started breathing again, I commented on the pain-producing power of her handshake. She explained that she'd been practicing a firmer handshake because someone had told her she needed to. Well, firm is one thing. A vise-grip is another.

Moral: If you're not sure how your handshake is, practice it on a few friends. See if they recoil in disgust from a "dead-handed" shake or howl in pain from your Hulk-like grip. If they do neither, you're probably okay.

If you've encountered any networking boo-boos, please let me know. And if you're a friend of someone who commits them, please let them know. You'll be doing them a big favor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Post Shredded Wheat "Progress": 30

Best TV spot I've seen in a looooong time. I love "We put the 'no' in 'innovation.'" And every detail of the commercial is perfectly concepted and executed. Next time you see it, listen to the music track and really listen to the copy. It's brilliant. Study the set, "Frank's" tufted leather chair, the lighting and wardrobe. All just... well, perfect. Not to mention the casting of "Frank" himself.

There's a :60 version on YouTube, too. I didn't want to watch it, though, for fear it wouldn't be as perfect. Sometimes time limitations force you to be a better creative.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Watch Out for Net Scam: Contact Scraping

Left: Hey, don't you recognize me? I'm your friend!

I thought I'd heard of all the phishing and other scurrilous scams on the Internet, in some cases by receiving their messages. The Nigerian prince, the bank I never heard of asking me to verify my information, the PayPal request to do the same, when I didn't even have a PayPal account. I thought I knew them all. But "contact scraping" was a new one on me.

The author of this article in the NYT was victimized, as were all the people in his address book, by contact scraping. Lured by two e-mail invitations from a couple of people he hardly knew to see some photos each had posted, he entered his user name and password to see the photos, only to find there were none. The invitation was just a ruse to get hold of his contact list and send everyone on it an invitation to join a certain website. In this case, it was "Tagged." But users have had similar problems with a couple of other, similar websites.

“They’re using your good name to establish a connection,” said Peter Cassidy, secretary general of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a nonprofit organization with representatives from law enforcement, industry and government. . . .

"How do the companies benefit? They are expanding their user population, Mr. Argast said, which they can use to attract potential investors or advertisers. Whether those users are willing participants, or people like me, is another question."
So if you don't want some company to spam all your contacts with phony invitations from "you," be wary of giving up your password and username to anybody you don't know, or to websites whose integrity is questionable.

The Internet: it's a jungle in there.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Global low-balling plays hell with creative fees

Seems like every ad agency or company dealing with communication these days wants to hire one person who can write AND design -- and manage a department, keep track of a budget, split atoms, and juggle knives, bowling balls and flaming torches while making Belgian waffles.

These creative jobs would normally take three people to fill: a writer, a designer, and at least a Creative Group Head. But that was before The Great Recession, aka The Never-Ending Deep-Doo-Doo Economy. I kid you not, I saw an ad for a Creative Director job in Kansas City with all the above requirements (I think gene splicing experience was also "preferred."), and the salary was... wait for it... $35,000 per year. Yes. And they'll probably get some recent college grad to do it. Or outsource the job to one of the highly educated unemployed in India, who will do the job for 12¢ per day.

This global low-balling is playing hell with the creative fee structure. I post my samples at Elance.com, but I gave up trying to get jobs on that site long ago. Because most of them pay "under $500." And most of the clients are not exactly professional. And you see jobs like the one I came across the other day, offered by a client who sought a "top-quality" copywriter to produce 60 (that's sixty) 500-word articles, every one original, with no cut-and-paste, all proofread and perfect. And the fee he would pay for all this quality and perfection? $125. One hundred twenty-five dollars. Which is equivalent to approximately $7 million in India.

I'd have to move to India to afford to take any of those jobs. Hmm. A Plan B? Well, I've always liked the food...


Nothing says cutesy like -- Jack Russell Terrier Pups -- Live!
EXCERPT from the website:
This show is taking place just north of Syracuse, NY. The mother's name is Lizzie and there are five puppies. They all have coats that are the same color/pattern style as their father, Ollie. He waltzes in and out of the scene on occasion. The long-haired dachsund's name is Meri and she's a grandma at over 10 years old. Ollie and Lizzie are from Jack Russell farms in the Baumholder, Germany area. My wife and I lived there for a few years and brought them back with us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Adventures in Adland

Every day brings new technoid stuff to learn about and new ways for people and companies to connect to... well, everything in the whole danged world. For example, the social media phenomenon. It's exciting, overwhelming, fun and mystifying. I want to advise potential clients how I can help them get more business with it, but I'm still not sure how. In reading lots of articles about it online, I'm not sure anybody has really figured it out. Seems perfect for reaching teens or college students (BK recently had a successful "Drop 10 Facebook friends for a Whopper" promotion), but more mature people, or small to mid-sized companies?

To keep learning more, I'm doing a bunch of online networking -- Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook -- but since face-to-face networking is more touchy-feely, it seems more likely to lead to friendships and clientships (Is that a word? Guess it is now.) More fun, too. But if I don't bump into you at a live networking event, you can sort of meet me online here. I have a portfolio of my award-winning, results-getting work up there, so take a peek. (Gawd, I hate to promote myself so blatantly, but sometimes ya gotta.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Medieval helpdesk with English subtitles

Thanks to Phil Watkins for the link to this great video. Switching from sheepskin rolls to books with pages proves to be a vexing experience for a medieval reader.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

E-mail to an AdSense advertiser

Wisely or not, I signed up for AdSense on this blog. Occasionally, ads for direct competitors appear beside my timeless copy. But judging from my lack of revenue from AdSense, I doubt if they're getting many clicks.

Today, an ad for a design firm caught my eye because it was so blatantly wrong and stupid. It bugged me so much that I went to the advertiser's website and e-mailed the company president:
Today your AdSense ad appeared on my blog. Here is what it says:

"Your In Good Hands With Our Exquisite Designs & Attention to De"

First, the correct word is "You're," not "Your."

Secondly, your "attention to de" leaves something to be desired. Didn't you bother to count the number of characters allowed in the ad?

Just thought you ought to know what you're showing the world about your company:

A, we're illiterate, and
B, we don't really care about de

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To the manor born? WRONG.

Left: "Hamlet and Horatio" painting by Delacroix

Here is the most comprehensive list of common errors in English I ever have seen. Some of them are less common than others, though. For instance, "to the manor born." That's incorrect. It's supposed to be "to the manner born" (Not that anyone could tell if you were speaking it, but you should know the correct form if you intend to write it.) From the Web page:

Hamlet complains of the drunken carousing at Elsinore to his friend Horatio, who asks “Is it a custom?” Hamlet replies that it is and adds, “but to my mind,—though I am native here and to the manner born,—it is a custom more honour’d in the breach than the observance.”

“As if to the manner born” is used to praise someone’s skill: “Reginald drives the Maserati as if to the manner born” (as if he were born with that skill).

PBS viewers might be cut a bit of slack in this case, I think, since one of the popular Brit series several years back was titled, "To the Manor Born," a pun on the original phrase. Jolly good series, that was.

Peruse the list and see if you have been torturing the King's English unwittingly. You might be surprised.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Web Design: Data beats guesses 2 out of 3 times

Jakob Nielsen*, Web usability guru, offers priceless advice to Web designers and others interested in having their websites be visible and maximally accessible to users. His advice isn't based on style preferences or mere guesses, but on empirical evidence: data compiled by observing actual users attempting to navigate Web pages and sites. He reports eye-tracking studies to identify the hot spots on Web pages, talks about placement of photos, colors, and so on, for maximum usability.

This week's edition of his e-mail, Alertbox, is about font size. A Web page is one area where size does matter, because if your user can't see your brilliant text, they can't read it. But what the hey -- Most people know how to adjust font sizes on their monitors anyway, right? Well, no. Read what people guess about this issue, and what is really true, here.

Jakob Nielsen*Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., is a User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group which he co-founded with Dr. Donald A. Norman (former VP of research at Apple Computer). Until 1998 he was a Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer.

Dr. Nielsen founded the "discount usability engineering" movement for fast and cheap improvements of user interfaces and has invented several usability methods, including heuristic evaluation. He holds 79 United States patents, mainly on ways of making the Internet easier to use.

Mad Ave Blues: Tech Has Taken Us for a Ride

This parody of "The Day the Music Died" is very well done, and unfortunately true. Question: How's an ad person supposed to make money when magazines and newspapers disappear, TIVO lets people skip over the ads, and there's no mass audience for any TV program anyway? Take a look at this YouTube video and sing along.

Maybe the chorus should be, "Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo..."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to Make Sure Your Blog Isn't Completely Rubbish

Blogging: How To Make Sure Your Blog Isn't Completely Rubbish

Could You Become a Savant?

Left: Autistic musician Derek Paravicini performs his first professional concert at St Georges Hall, Bristol, UK (Image: South West News Service / Rex Features)

How to Unleash Your Brain's Inner Genius

An article in the latest online New Scientist suggests we all may have the stuff to become savants. You may know about savants, like the character Dustin Hoffman planed in "Rainman," who was able to memorize phone books and count at lightning speed. Or Derek Paravicini, who can play complex piano compositions after hearing them only once. Here's a fascinating mini-doc (9:58) about him:

The brains of savants and non-savants look different. However, the differences sometimes are not present at birth, but rather seem to emerge over time. Interestingly, the same thing is true of London taxi drivers, whose hippocampus regions grow in size as they memorize more than 25,000 streets and spots of interest.

[BTW, I understand a prospective London cabbie must study what is called "the Knowledge" for three years before being licensed to drive one of those iconic black cabs. Since London streets change names every time they jog one way or the other, I can certainly believe that. The cabbies' hippocampus regions then begin to shrink after they retire and no longer must store all that information in their memories.]

If you're wondering if you could develop some special skill, the answer is "yes." And you don't have to be autistic to do it. But autistic people have one key advantage over you: they focus fiercely on developing their one talent, and they practice it incessantly. But you probably have many different interests and duties, which keep you too busy to practice 12 hours a day, say, memorizing a phone book. Well, at least I hope you do.

If you're interested in brain function, motivation, and becoming a savant, read the article here.

P.S. To see if you have a "prodigious talent," go here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Elance: A Great Place to Post Your Freelance Work

I've found Elance.com to be an excellent place to post my print and Web work. Wish they could handle video and audio files, too, so I could have all my samples in one place. But nonetheless, being able to present a broad range of writing in one place, plus your picture, info and resume, is a real help for a freelancer like me.

You just can't cram all the print work a prospect might possibly want to see into a leather portfolio. You'd need a forklift to carry it around. But online, there's practically no limit to what you can post. And your potential client can pick and choose what to view.

I should mention that Elance is a bad place to try to get freelance jobs (which is its whole raison d'etre). There are thousands of jobs posted, many of which I could do. But there also are thousands and thousands of freelancers bidding on the same jobs. And most of the jobs are pretty low-paying. Some clients want you to write an article ten different ways for a grand total of $20.00. Most projects are budgeted at $500 or under, and the clients are not what I'd call professional clients. That said, I still recommend it to freelancers as a way of showing your work to prospective clients in the easiest, most efficient way for them and for you.

See my portfolio here . I have ads, articles, short stories, blog posts, and other stuff there for your reading enjoyment. I just added a couple of new items today.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Can the Depression Raise Our Spirits? Advertisers Think So.

Right: A Depression-era insurance office was depicted in a campaign for Farmers. One of the company’s executives said the point was that “there have been hard times we have weathered together.”

The Depression began with the stock market's unstoppable crash in October, 1929, and economic hard times continued until the U.S. entered WWII. Families struggled to put food on the table, and mothers made dresses out of flowered feed sacks. With so many men out of work with no social safety net to catch them, the only help to be found was in a soup line. People sold apples on the street for a nickel each. They did anything they could just to get by from one day to the next. If you have a parent or grandparent who lived through it, you know the Depression had deep and long-lasting effects on a generation of Americans. My mother, for one, became a saver of everything from rubber bands to newspapers to file drawers filled with obsolete information. In her refrigerator, I once saw a plastic margarine container with a paper note on top reading, "Peas." It contained exactly three left-over peas. She once nearly dove down my garbage disposal to save a tomato slice.

Folks those days had it hard, for sure. But now, the Depression is providing inspiration to recession-stressed Americans, via new TV commercials by Farmers and other insurance companies. The message: We've survived terrible economic times before, and we can do it again.

The message is a welcome upper for all of us who have been beaten over the head endlessly with talk of economic gloom and doom, wars, crime, and everything other negative story the networks and newspapers count as "news."

It does seem odd to be using the Depression as a marketing tool. But the ads are upbeat, nostalgic, and historical. They put that bad old past into the black-and-white realm of experience once removed. These ads encourage us. And these days, I'll take encouragement anywhere I can get it.

By the way, if you want to hear from Depression survivors exactly what it was like, read Studs Terkel's great book, "Hard Times."