virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Buggy Microsoft Mail Merge

Microsoft Office 2008 (for Mac) is driving me craaazzzyyy!

Microsoft Office 2008 (for Mac) is driving me craaazzzyyy!

There is a bug in MailMerge for Office 2008 where all the names of the categories don’t show up by name; so you may see no text next to some of the checkboxes. It’s highly aggravating if your mailing list happens to be one of the categories that doesn’t show up. If that’s the case, the only solution I have found is to try each of the checkboxes, one at a time, and see which one has the number of records that matches your mailing list. So yes, trial and error. (How To Use Mail Merge in Office 2008 for Mac to Print a Holiday Mailing List on Labels)

Mail merging on my old DOS box in the 1980′s was pretty easy. Mail merging on all of my PCs in the 1990′s was easy. Even a handful of Mac mail merge experiences during my college years working on the student lit mag and summer jobs as a dock boy on Lake Champlain were pretty effortless. Old technology. Straightforward. Painless.

But I’ve been trying to print labels for our holiday cards using Microsoft Word (as part of the Office 2008 suite for Mac), and I’m seriously ready to start mashing things… What the heck?!?!

How can one of the simplest processes personal computers solved decades ago be sooo clunky? I couldn’t even find decent instruction within Word or Entourage (aka Outlook, where my addresses are stored) and had to hit up Google for step-by-step guidance. And I quickly realized that my question and frustration is not unique.

What is going on here? Is this a sign of the times? Have we allowed mail merge for print to slide by the wayside because nobody’s interested in paper anymore? Is Microsoft behind the national trend away from a self sustaining postal service? Is this another hint of the global digital-only future?

Mail merge should be easy. If for no other reason than businesses need it. Real people who send out mass mailings, invitations and holiday cards need it. Come on, it’s mail merge, folks. I know it’s “old school” and inevitably obsolescent. But not that “old school”! Not that obsolescent! I mean, I’m not asking for bug-free Morse Code or windless smoke signals…

Here’s the thing. I want my word processor to be able to talk to my address management software, and I want to be able to spit out labels. Or envelopes. Or — gawd-for-flippin’-bid — actual, mail merged letters without bugs. Without pulling my hair out. Without wanting to chuck my Mac out the window and cardiopulmonary resuscitate my creaky old Dell just to send out holiday cards. It should be easy. Intuitive. Quick. Bug free!

Thanks to the Ivanexpert.com, I’m stumbling forward, though not 100% successful yet. Thanks to my bride getting our holiday cards off the to-do list and into production, I’m fumbling and grumbling. Thanks to you, tolerant reader, I’m feeling vented and decidedly better. Have a nice day, and happy holidays!

Persistence and Determination

I’ve been performing the Catch-Up Hustle this morning. Away from my desk for a week (eBook Summit 2010 and early Christmas with in-laws) but finding my groove again. Actually missed the rhythm!

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~Calvin Coolidge (via Fred Wilson)

Every day is Monday. Believe it. Live it. Love it!

Are You Getting Used?

“Back when I first got on the Internet, I saw networking as the next great leap in human evolution, that we were moving towards a new networked organism. And I’m amazed at how few of us have actually decided to participate in this project. In a digital age, or in any age for that matter, whoever holds the keys to programming ends up building the reality in which the rest of us live… If we don’t seize the opportunity to remake our world, I promise you someone or something else will do it for us.”(from video trailer, above)

Boo! This book trailer for Program or Be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff(@rushkoff) might startle you – should startle you! And if it doesn’t, you may already be programmed. Passive. Absorbing, consuming, yielding, surrendering…

“If you don’t know what the software you’re using is for, then you’re not using it but being used by it.” (from video trailer, above)

This promises to be a provocative read. And Rushkoff is presenting at Mediabistro’s eBook Summit on December 15th, explaining “why he left his traditional publisher for a new house – exploring the struggles of an author and journalist in the new publishing environment.” I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

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Top 10 Ways to Tick People off

First of all, it’s actually a top 32 list, but that wouldn’t have made for such a catchy title. Forgive me. And a grateful hat tip to Joe Crawford of ArtLung who lifted me high above the icy roads and gloomy gray last January when I stumbled onto his list, “How to Tick People Off“.

It made me laugh. Not the “Harrumph!” kind of laugh that most email forwards prompt before deciding not to pass them along. More like an I-hope-I-don’t-wake-up-my-wife-and-have-to-explain-why kind of laugh. That wouldn’t stop. And maybe, if you’re a little irreverent and you don’t take yourself too seriously you’ll understand why. In a few seconds. When you read the list.

But first, it’s worth noting that I’m posting this list over nine months after first reading it. Why? Because I didn’t really intend to share it. I try to avoid amplifying the noise. To many, these 32 opportunities to laughcertainly would be considered noise. And why waste time formatting the list, posting it, etc. If it doesn’t challenge my readers, inspire them, etc. it wasn’t worth doing. That was then. Since then I’ve revisited the list from time to time. Not often, but on those $#!% storm days when a lifeline (or a laugh line) is welcome. I had one of those days this week. The good news is that it was a short-lived doomsday. The better news is that it motivated me to pass along this goofy gray day antidote. If you don’t like it, stop reading it. If you’re offended, sorry. But if it adds a little levity when you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, perfect. That’s the idea. To make you chuckle. To remind you that life’s not quite so serious as it sometimes seems. Laughter is good medicine… Okay, some of these are better than others. And a few are lame. Or just plain rude. But most are funny. Silly, yes, but funny. Enjoy!

    1. Leave the copy machine set to reduce 200%, extra dark, 17 inch paper, 99 copies.
    2. In the memo field of all your checks, write “for sexual favors.”
    3. Specify that your drive-through order is “TO-GO.”
    4. If you have a glass eye, tap on it occasionally with your pen while talking to others.
    5. Stomp on little plastic ketchup packets.
    6. Insist on keeping your car windshield wipers running in all weather conditions “to keep them tuned up.”
    7. Reply to everything someone says with “that’s what you think.”
    8. Practice making fax and modem noises.
    9. Highlight irrelevant information in scientific papers and “cc” them to your boss.
    10. Make beeping noises when a large person backs up.
    11. Finish all your sentences with the words “in accordance with prophesy.”
    12. Signal that a conversation is over by clamping your hands over your ears and grimacing.
    13. Disassemble your pen and “accidentally” flip the ink cartridge across the room.
    14. Holler random numbers while someone is counting.
    15. Adjust the tint on your TV so that all the people are green, and insist to others that you “like it that way.”
    16. Staple pages in the middle of the page.
    17. Publicly investigate just how slowly you can make a croaking noise.
    18. Honk and wave to strangers.
    19. Decline to be seated at a restaurant, and simply eat their complimentary mints at the cash register.
    20. TYPE IN UPPERCASE.
    21. type only in lowercase.
    22. dont use any punctuation either
    23. Buy a large quantity of orange traffic cones and reroute whole streets.
    24. Repeat the following conversation a dozen times. “DO YOU HEAR THAT?” “What?” “Never mind, it’s gone now.”
    25. As much as possible, skip rather than walk.
    26. Try playing the William Tell Overture by tapping on the bottom of your chin. When nearly done, announce “No, wait, I messed it up,” and repeat.
    27. Ask people what gender they are.
    28. While making presentations, occasionally bob your head like a parakeet.
    29. Sit in your front yard pointing a hair dryer at passing cars to see if they slow down.
    30. Sing along at the opera.
    31. Go to a poetry recital and ask why each poem doesn’t rhyme.
    32. Ask your co-workers mysterious questions and then scribble their answers in a notebook. Mutter something about “psychological profiles.”

(courtesy of Joe Crawford, “How to Tick People Off“)

Did you laugh? I hope so. Number 29 resonates for me because cars, tractor trailers, dump trucks, etc. routinely exceed the 30mph speed limit in front of my house. 75mph isn’t unheard of! So if you see me sitting in a lawn chair pointing my wife’s hairdryer at you, you better slow down!

And by the way, I’d recommend you not actually do any of these things. But, if you’re clever, maybe you can come up with a few more… If you do, please send them along.

Update:

I’ve received a couple of worthy additions:

33. Ask women if they’re pregnant, and when they say, “No, why?” glance at their midsection and look away quickly. (Patricia Greathouse)
34. Park across someone’s driveway and then go to work for the day. (Kathryn Cramer)

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A Muse to Amuse Your Ego

I’ve just polluted a perfectly wonderful blog post over at Multi-Hyphenate, and I’m feeling a little ashamed.

No, not the blog troll sort of graffiti that I find reprehensible. But the kind of run-on comment that should have been a blog post instead of clogging up someone else’s blog post (which I alsofind reprehensible.) So… aside from a mumbled apology at the end of my comment, I’m reposting my thoughts so their wise editor is free to abbreviate or remove the comment I posted to Annie Q. Syed’s “There is No Muse“.

A “muse to amuse your ego” is an amusing and clever tongue twister that I can’t resist borrowing for a quick blog post… But I’m not sure I’m 100% convinced.

I’m with you here: “At the end of the day… you are simply a storyteller and you have a job to do: tell the damn story. ” Just spent this morning listening to Tom Ashbrook interviewing Eric Bogosian about his novel, “Perforated Heart”. (You can hear the On Point rebroadcast, but note it was originally broadcast May 26, 2009.) He tells the story. In more modes, manners and muddles than most storytellers,

Eric Bogosian

Eric Bogosian (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

Bogosian tells the damn story. An acquired taste, especially if you’re not male and/or not connected in some way with NYC, but Bogosian is a storyteller without precious, pretentious muse mongering.

Or is he? Perhaps we just don’t meet his muse. Perhaps Bogosian’s muse is personal, intimate, private. Perhaps it is a changing muse, evolving along with his own writing style, ambition, skill. I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t much care because his storytelling stands on its own, muse or no muse.

What’s the point? I think that storytelling need not be divorced from muse. A muse. Many muses. But the story, the finished product, need not reflect the role of the muse in the creative process. A storyteller’s craft is complex, and the journey is often long (as you’ve readily acknowledged) between story seed and finished story. For me, the muse is one part of that journey. She’s part inspiration, as you’ve mentioned above, but she’s also my collaborator. I don’t mean to get too fanciful hear, but recall that storytelling is not a hermetic art. It requires an audience. Else it is mere babbling! The burps and farts of a crazy man. You’ve said, “Sometimes when I write words feel like picking precious beads in sand.” Right! And why? Because you’re not writing for yourself alone. You’re telling a story for an audience and precise, accurate language is the currency of a storyteller if s/he is to find a receptive audience. I’ve slipping into pedantic drivel, sorry…

So inspiration, yes, but my muse is also more of a collaborator. Like music to a dancer. And perhaps also like a dance partner. I’m a crumby (but enthusiastic) dancer, so take this comparison for what little it is worth. I can dream up a clever dance, practice and refine my steps, my rhythm, my gesture, my poise, etc. But it’s only when I attempt this creative process in conjunction with music — real or imagined — that my dance evolves away from the dizzying courtship of a park pigeon into something more compelling, more complete. And better still when I extend my hand to a dance partner — real or imagined — to enter into the dance with me, to mirror, to oppose, to resist and beguile and charm and challenge that something beautiful can be born.

Yes, I’ve overextended the metaphor. Apologies! But there’s an idea in there, an idea that a creator can extend the limits of his or her creativity significantly when amused by a muse. ;-)

That indulgent difference aside, there’s much we agree on. The work of a storyteller is also to know the difference between this creative dance and the hard work of distilling the finished product from the draft. After narcotic creativity transports the storyteller beyond initial inspiration and indeed often beyond the anticipated scope of the story, it’s time to begin the hardest work. The editing, the weeding, the focusing, the revising. The muse does not belong in this process, at least in my own writing. She’s a temptress, a dazzling temptress who’s creative genius forever outstrips my own. And so the time comes when I must bid her farewell, for a while, remove my dance shoes, sit down at my desk and work. Dancing is divine, but I have a job to do!

Fears Grow over Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill


“Fears grow over oil spill disaster” (Video via youtube.com)

Is this the understatement of the year: “These guys [BP] don’t have a great record in taking care of people’s health and safety.” This comment, made by Greenpeace’s Mark Floegel about BP’s insistence that shrimpers, fishermen, etc. who wish to assist in the clean up effort must first sign a BP indemnification waiver. (Note, this quotation comes at about 2:20 in the video.)

Google is leveraging its multimodal muscle via the Crisis Response pageto help cover the oil spill, aggregating timely content and publishing updated Google Earth layers to help visualize the scope, evolution and impact of the spill.

“Google is taking a major (though low-profile) step into the realm of crowd sourcing news. Users can upload their videos of the spill or news related to the Gulf oil spill, and the videos are published to a YouTube playlist, making a video record of the disaster and what is being done on the ground to stop it.” (Mother Nature Network)

Perhaps this is the silver lining? Citizens around the world are quickly learning to contribute to the story, create history as it’s made, participate in the global dialogue that until recently was interpreted and disseminated by a few. Citizen journalism is open journalism! This shift is exciting and inspiring. The democratization of information, of news, of history. Can open government be far behind?!?!

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Protect Consumers by Ensuring Internet Freedom

“The Internet, arguably the fastest world-changing invention since the Gutenberg printing press, has become the core of our social and business lives. However, the openness and freedom that lie at the heart of the Internet’s success is under threat.”

“A recent federal court ruling determined that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to regulate Internet service providers to prevent them from restricting access to the Internet. Put simply, service providers would have the power to control the pipes that deliver content to consumers and with it the ability to play favorites or discriminate against bits of data.” (Seattle Times)

Read the full article at Seattle Times

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Memes, Microblogs and Vooks

Photograph via foxnews.com

Welcome to the digital age. Do you speak 21st century social networking lingo? Language is shifting before our eyes, absorbing new terminology and references so quickly it can get a little confusing. If you’re feeling a little foggy on digital vernacular, John Brando’s “25 New Tech Words You Need to Know” is a must read. And a must print, carry in your wallet, demystify the water cooler cheat sheet. A few highlights: co-creation, ideation, mehsayer and lifestream. Oh, and if you haven’t discovered vooks yet, you haven’t been reading my posts!

What tech-talk terminology are you sick of hearing?

Why I Won’t Buy an IPad

So what does Marvel do to “enhance” its comics? They take away the right to give, sell or loan your comics. What an improvement. Way to take the joyous, marvellous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites. Nice one, Misney.

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of “content” isn’t just that they can get it for free, though: it’s that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targeted more narrowly than the old media ever managed.

If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you.

If you want to live in the fair world where you get to keep (or give away) the stuff you buy, the iPad isn’t for you.

via boingboing.net

Cory Doctorow’s post “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)” over at Boing Boing is timely, feisty and smart. The four paragraphs above capture the essence of his argument. Apple, take note! The future is open. To gain a place of enduring relevance, iPad must learn to play well with others.

For my part, I will buy an iPad. And I will challenge its creative limits while exploring my own!

Will you buy an iPad?

Audiences Don’t Pay for Content

Where to Look for Opportunities

When we start with the premise that consumers haven’t paid for content in the past, we gain visibility into new ideas that make sense for the digital era.

It’s not micro-payments alone that will save the future for professional quality media content. On the other hand, the idea that the consumer will always pay for distribution that massively over-serves their needs is not a foregone conclusion either. Paying $2500+ per year for cable/broadband/telephony/mobile in order to gain access to a million times more content than you could ever possibly need is not going to work out so well for the media industry either.

We need solutions that improve the relevance of content for individual consumers without expecting individual consumers to be able to predict exactly what they want. The Internet has exploded the supply of content but digital technologies have only just begun to filter and sample that content for the consumer in an effective manner.

Content providers who used to enjoy control over the method of distribution are feeling a lot of pain but their content remains vital and appealing to consumers. Rather than stomping our foot like Mr. Isaacson, it is better to focus on new solutions that tie content and distribution together in ways that create great consumer experiences.

We don’t know what the other side of this transformation will look like but we have guidance;

  • Look at what the iPod did for music. Think about the critical role of sampling in the success of the micropayment model for songs.
  • Look at the potential of what Kindle can do for print publications.
  • Study the legacy of syndication that makes business partners of the content distributor and the content provider.
  • Look at the popularity of expensive sets of DVDs for old TV episodes.
  • Anticipate what the near-future DVR will be capable of doing.
  • Think of what GPS will mean for the distribution of local and timely content.
  • Think about what Twitter and search are doing to reveal the consumer’s need for specific content at precise moments in time.

It is time to think about distribution and content holistically. Digital technologies are not the enemy, they are an enormous opportunity to improve the relevance of content to the individual consumer. Don’t think so small as micropayments for one article at a time and don’t take for granted the current ability to charge a big fee for massively over-delivering irrelevant content. Look in the middle.

Somewhere in between asking the consumer to buy content “al a carte” and asking the consumer to pay for the whole menu, new “prix fixe” solutions are going to mature.

A Final Word from Our Sponsor

While we are at it, let’s not lose sight of the value of the advertising supported model. We are in the middle of a complex media transformation and a brutal recession. At times like this, pundits like Bob Garfield want to convince us that advertising is dead.

Advertising works. In the digital era, the consumer finds it very easy to ignore irrelevant advertising but they are quicker to engage with relevant advertising than ever before because the Internet makes engagement easy.

Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water in pursuit of the goal of getting the consumer to pay for the content. The advertiser remains happy to assume that role so long as we can offer a reasonably scaled and engaged audience. We just need to apply our new resources to help the advertiser better align their message with the right consumer at the right time.

Media companies can create new and better advertising values and it will still command a premium relative to the costs of distribution. Now that digital efficiencies have greatly reduced the cost of distribution, media companies need to look hard at the overhead that is a hangover from the analog era.

Some legacy media executives complain that they are trading analog dollars for digital pennies as advertising moves online. That is a valid concern so we can’t drag our feet when it comes to rethinking overhead costs from analog dollars to digital pennies as well.

We can reduce overhead, improve advertising value and find new consumer revenue models built on interesting combinations of content and distribution all at the same time. We need to be more disciplined about who the consumer is and what they really want as we build our new solutions, but the solutions are just waiting for the imaginations of new media moguls to find them.

via huffingtonpost.com

I excerpted this from an informative piece with sound thinking that I’d recommend to anyone creating content (word, video, music, etc.) for an audience. A few highlights:

#1. “We need solutions that improve the relevance of content for individual consumers without expecting individual consumers to be able to predict exactly what they want.”

#2. “Study the legacy of syndication that makes business partners of the content distributor and the content provider.”

#3. “Think about what Twitter and search are doing to reveal the consumer’s need for specific content at precise moments in time.”

4. “We need to be more disciplined about who the consumer is and what they really want as we build our new solutions, but the solutions are just waiting for the imaginations of new media moguls to find them.”

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