Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Grammar Does Matter

I'm constantly amazed by the sloppy way people use email in the business world. I'm not sure why such little effort goes into basic emails. Could be because it is just too easy, and has become so routine, that no extra thought goes into it. While I admit I may be a bit too tough when it comes to expectations as far as grammar and phrasing are concerned, I still think there should be some minimum standards for anyone sending business email.

Everyone that uses email on a regular basis in their career should realize that sending out an email with blatant grammar errors truly does reflect on their professionalism. Email has become a crucial part of building a business relationship, and it helps you form your opinions about people. Not too long ago I received an email from someone who used "hear" when they should have used "here". It was one of my first contacts with the person, and it leapt off the screen at me. I have to admit, it did factor into my overall opinion of the person's business savvy, attention to detail, and their intelligence.

I do admire people who can write effectively, yet also casually enough that it seems as though they were just speaking the words. I struggle with this a bit; maybe I'm focused too much on getting the wording exactly right. However, I do see some people take this "style" to the extreme. Run-on sentences...half-finished thoughts trailing into each other...excessive use of aposiopesis ...casual to the point of being unreadable...

I'm not sure that correct grammar is always a black and white issue, since in many instances there can be more than one way to correctly write the same thing. Although I'm not sure I agree with everything on these pages, here are a few interesting places to brush up on your grammar:

10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid

Dodge the grammar traps

Most Annoying Grammar Mistakes in English

Five Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We Love Wii

There's a reason Wii is the hot gift for the second Christmas in a row. It is awesome.

We're Nintendo fans from way back. I have no interest in any of those blood & gore, super-realistic games about war or stealing cars. Give me Mario busting blocks with his head, going down pipes, and hurling things at Bowser any day. Or MarioKart--one of the most fun games ever.

We moved up from our Game Cube to the Wii last year as soon as it came out. After a couple of weeks of obsessing with the sports game that comes with the system, we moved on to other titles. I said I don't like war/shooting games, but I have to admit I really enjoyed Rayman and shooting plungers at deranged rabbits. Probably the first game I ever totally completed, I'm proud to say.

My current obsession is the long-awaited Mario game: Super Mario Galaxy. I have read that real "gamers" find it a bit too easy, and that unlike past Mario games it doesn't necessarily get harder and harder as you go on. There are difficult levels to be sure, but mixed in are some really easy galaxies. Which is exactly why I am enjoying it so much: I can actually do it! And I'm progressing at a pretty good clip. I did actually sit down to play a couple of weeks ago on a Friday night and the next time I looked at the clock it was 3 hours later. And my left thumb was numb.

It's snowing here, the roads are icing up, and all I can think is that it would be a perfect day to be in front of the TV going after more stars. Hopefully by the time I get home tonight the Wii won't be taken over by someone trying (as he has been for the past YEAR) to finish Zelda...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Puppy + Christmas Tree = Bad

Don't let this innocent face fool you.

As soon as she was alone with the Christmas tree, Luna went nuts. We just picked it up yesterday, and all we got to do to it was put it in the stand and string a few lights. I decided we didn't have enough lights, so we stopped there, planning on picking up more today and finishing the rest of the decorating tonight. When I went home for lunch this is what I found:

The photo doesn't really capture the true damage. She chewed apart all of the lights, ripped the cords off, yanked the bulbs out the sockets, and tracked stuff through the house. I found a plug and some wire upstairs, another cord and plug on a chair, and pieces of green plastic in other random spots. And since it's only our second day of having a tree, we actually remembered to water it, so the water was completely full when it fell too.

Luna was scheduled to be spayed tomorrow, but now we've had to push that until January. The vet didn't want to take a chance; she tends to be very delicate (hard to believe after looking at this picture, I know) and if she were to get sick after the operation we wouldn't be sure if the surgery caused it, or some random tree light did.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Information Overload

Lately I've been innundated with information. Articles, newsletters, message boards, magazines, webinars, conference's overwhelming. It's not just doctors that need to keep their knowledge current; to be successful in any career you need to keep up with latest trends, and keep learning, and keep trying to improve your skills. Reading industry publications is pretty much essential. And with email and the internet, it's really easy to access tons of information. But when is it too much?

I get at least 2 magazines a week, sometimes more. I subscribe to roughly 10 electronic newsletters. Some come daily, some are weekly. I also have several websites that I try to find time to check out at least once a week. That's a lot of information to sort through. It's hard to find the balance between reading enough to learn what you need to and reading so much that you are wasting productive time.

With things that I get via email, I used to try to at least glance at everything the same day it came. If there was something in a newsletter or email that I wanted to read in it's entirety, or just check out further, I'd leave it in my inbox. If not, I'd delete it right away. The problem with this approach is that after a week, I never seemed to get back around to reading the things I wanted to. Sometimes by the time I got to them, the information was no longer timely.

So I created a filter for my email, to funnel all articles into their own folder. Makes my inbox in general easier to manage, but now I'm finding that things pile up so quickly in the designated "articles" folder, that going through it has become a dreaded task. And I can't seem to keep up with it. If I clean it up and get it down to only things I've read and want to save, within a couple of days it's filled again with unread mail, and I avoid it.

Magazines are even worse, and I get less of those. I tend to just let them pile up, and eventually go through the pile when it gets so high that it will easily topple over and cause damage.

How do you manage all of the information? I want to make sure I read everything that will help me, I want to read it in a timely manner, but I don't want it to take up too much of my time. I also want to make sure it doesn't get to the point where I just shut down and stop reading everything. If I can figure out a good system, I may need to make it a New Year's resolution to implement it and stick with it. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pet Names

Naming a pet is tough. I think a pet's name needs to somehow reflect their personality, and if you've named them before you really know exactly what that personality will be, you can end up with a horrible mismatch. I think I've done pretty well with the 4 pets I've had in my adult life, so here they are:

--Chubby Chubs (1990--2007, RIP) This was my first cat, adopted when she was 6 weeks old. Her name was originally Sprocket, so named because the day we brought her home we drove to West Virginia University to see a concert--Toad the Wet Sprocket. 6 months later she was spayed, and quickly grew into the nickname that eventually became her only name, Chubby Chubs. Just Chubs for short. Sometime affectionately referred to as Chubby One.

--LuLu (1992--2002, RIP) My second cat, found as a stray in a parking lot when she was about 8 weeks old. Started out with the name Daisy, which was OK. But somehow that turned into Daisy Lu, and each time you said it to her with Lu attached, she arched her back and cried. So she pretty quickly became known as LuLu. Also known as The Lu and Ragamuffin.

--Gypsy (Born 6/96) Our first dog. Part German Shephard, part Elkhound. We bought her at a kennel of sorts, and named her within a few days of bringing her home. The dog I grew up with, a Collie mix that was born 1 week after I was, was named Gypsy. Best dog ever, so I figured there'd be good karma attached to the name. 11 1/2 years later I'm happy to report that there certainly was. She also responds to Melonhead, Melly, Melon and Miss Melon.

--Luna (Born 2/07) Our newest family member, adopted from a local rescue group that saved her from a shelter in Ohio. Part lab, part beagle, maybe? No idea really. I like to call her a beaglador. She basically looks like a black beagle, large for a beagle but tiny for a lab. Named Luna after weeks of discussion and list making, and then once we had her trying out the name live. Seems to fit her pretty well. So far she also responds to Loonie and Beagle. In her case, though, we are trying to stick with the original name. We'll see how that goes, our track record isn't so good.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Another New Pizza?

I'm officially convinced that the big chain pizza purveyors will never run out of ideas for new kinds of pizzas. Every time I think they can't possibly come up with some new way to mangle the perfection of the basic dough-sauce-cheese pie, they prove me wrong. The latest is Pizza Hut's "Double Deep". Apparently, they've re-engineered the crust to accomodate twice as much stuff, with extra high edges to keep all of the greasy, gooey junk from spilling out. It looks to be about 4 inches high.

I wish I had been keeping track of all of the mutations Pizza Hut, Dominoes, and any other chains have put the poor pizza through over the years. Just off the top of my head, here are a few of the worst that stand out for me:

--the stuffed crust (how much cheese do you really need in a pizza?)
--the square pizza with each quandrant prepared with different toppings
--strips of pizza served with multiple dipping sauces
--"cheesy bites" pizza, where you break off the cheese filled crust and dip them into more goo
--Dominoes' current thing, appears to be 2 pizzas stacked on top of each other

I know there are tons more that have mortified me over the years, but these are all I can think of. I'll stick to any of my local pizza places any day. Even the lousy ones are better than any of the large chains.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I Love My Car

I love my car. I love the way it feels when I put my foot on the gas pedal, I love that it’s sleek, that it’s fast, and that it has excellent brakes.  I even love the little things—the silver trim along the door that you only see when you open the door and are getting in or out.  The way the dashboard displays glow in a cool blue light, even when the headlights aren’t on.  The rubber floor mats that are great for winter.  (They are also good for spring and summer, in case you happen to be too lazy to change them out for the standard carpet mats.) 

One of the reasons I probably love my car so much is that it is a pretty significant step up from my last car. Don’t get me wrong, I liked my last car.  I had it for 10 years, and it was pretty reliable, not completely uncomfortable, and it did what I needed it to do.  But I didn’t love it.  It was great for me at the time that I bought it.  It was reasonably priced, and it essentially met all of my expectations.  But when it was time to get rid of it I was glad to do so.  I had changed a lot in 10 years, and it no longer fit me.  I could have easily gone out and purchased the latest version of the same make and model car.  I’m sure it had lots of changes and improvements since the version I bought 10 years earlier, and it probably would have been adequate for my needs.  The problem is, adequate wasn’t good enough for me.  I had changed—I’m older, wiser, I can afford something more—so I needed something different.  The car I bought cost more, but it was clearly a big upgrade in terms of quality, style, and performance, and 3 ½ years later, it’s still well worth the investment.

My car situation is exactly what many businesses face when it comes to choosing service providers.  Maybe the service they currently work with does an OK job.  Maybe they started using them when they first opened up, and they couldn’t really afford to pay much.  Rate very likely was the determining factor they used to select a service, and little else mattered.  But as their business changed and grew, they find that their incumbent providers aren’t really a great fit for them any longer.  They want to upgrade, and they want the same things you want in a better car:  quality, style, and performance.  So it stands to reason that when you want something better, you should expect to pay more for it, right?  It doesn’t seem so obvious to many of the buyers I encounter.  But, I guess if it did my job would be too easy.

I’m not saying that everything that is better should cost more.  But there has to be a minimum level of value received, and value and price aren’t necessarily same thing.  If you walk into a BMW dealer and tell them all of the problems you have with your VW, you wouldn’t then ask them if they could match VW’s price, would you?  Just because they are both German cars, and both have the same purpose, they are clearly not the same product.  A short test-drive of each will show you that pretty quickly.  So it makes no sense that a buyer would do the same thing when it comes to business services. 

The last thing anyone in business-to-business sales wants is to be compared to a car salesperson.  (I don’t want to offend anyone in car sales—I know there are lots out there that don’t fit the negative stereotype.  I bought my car from a good one.  But let’s be honest—that is one of the stereotypes that exist for a reason.  There are too many who purely rely on the standard high-pressure, high-cliché approach that make just about everyone dread shopping for a car.) When it comes to selling your services, you need to be able to differentiate yourself and demonstrate value.  The key, of course, is figuring out how to do that.  As soon as I got behind the wheel of my car I was sold.  It was instantly clear that there was no comparison between it and my old car. Maybe offering a test drive of your services is all it will take to convince your buyer that it’s time for them to upgrade.