November 2011

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2011.

Ray SimoneRay Simone, my good friend and long-time business partner, died this morning. He was 63 years old. He is survived by his wife Gillian, his daughter Christina, and many good friends for whom he remains an inspiration and a delight.

Ray was one of the most creative people I have ever known. Though we originally shared the Creative Director title at our agency, Hodskins Simone & Searls, Ray was the Main Man. While I was a good copywriter, Ray could do it all: come up with killer campaigns, clever headlines, great design and art, tight scripts, whatever. His knowledge of art, of typography, of technologies and sciences — actually, pretty much everything — was encyclopedic. He worked his ass off, and he was great to work with as well.

We met in the mid-’70s in Durham, North Carolina, when I was still “Doctor Dave,” an occasional comic radio character for WDBS and columnist for the station’s magazine, and Ray was an artist whose equally comic work appeared in the same publication. We both circulated in the same low-rent Hippie creative-art-music-dance-weekend-party crowd surrounding Duke University. Ray was working with Hodskins Simone and Searls 1978David Hodskins and some other folks at small “multiple media” shop (decades ahead of its time) that had somehow spun out of the Duke Media Center. One day, when I called up Ray to talk about collaborating on an ad for an audio shop I was working for part-time, Ray put me on hold and told David that Doctor Dave was on the line. David told Ray to arrange a lunch. A team was born over that lunch, and in 1978 it became an advertising agency: Hodskins Simone & Searls. The photo on the right dates from that time.

By 1980 we were specializing in high tech clients up and down the East Coast, and after several years decided to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley. After winning some major West Coast

Hillbilly Jazzaccounts we moved the whole agency to Palo Alto, and by the early 90s HS&S was one of the top shops there. (Huge props to David Hodskins for his leadership through all that. David was the agency President and another truly brilliant dude.)

Twenty years after its founding,  HS&S was acquired. By then I had moved on to other work, and after awhile so had David and Ray. While I went back to journalism, Ray went back to art, teaching at Ocean Shore School in Pacifica, as well as at Brighton Preschool, which he and Gillian, his wife and soulmate, ran in the same town. He was Sting Ray to the kids there. Says Gillian, “He made story time come alive.”

He also went back to painting. But his full portfolio of accomplishments includes much, much more. For example, Ray designed covers for dozens of major country and bluegrass albums, mostly for Sugar Hill Records. Two samples, one for Vassar Clements and the other for the Red Clay Ramblers, are on the left and right. Here is a partial discography (drawn from here and other places), in alphabetical order:

Ray was himself a musician. When he was a student at what is now Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, he played keyboards in a band that traveled to gigs in a used hearse. Some of the stories he told about those days were beyond wild and very funny.

Ray designed countless t-shirts and posters, most of which were worthy of collection. Panel from Ray Simone Hassle House poster(Wish I still had some, but alas.) Old friends from Durham will fondly remember the Forklift Festival at the late Plantation (an run-down mansion on North Roxboro that should have been preserved), which sprang up as a wacky alternative to the annual Folklife Festival (now Festival for the Eno). Same goes for the Good Time Boogie, an annual gathering in Eastern North Carolina for which there was huge attendance, pass-the-hat funding and no publicity.

Ray did brilliant t-shirt designs for both. His cartoon poster for a place called Hassle House, done in the style of MAD’s Will Elder by way of Vaughn Bodé, was the first thing that turned me on to Ray. It was funny as hell, and I can still remember every panel of it. (Rob Gringle provides more background in a comment below, and also reminds us that Ray did many covers for The Guide, the monthly published by WDBS. I still have a stack of Guides somewhere.)

[Later...] Big thanks to Jay Cunningham for providing scans to the poster. That’s one panel, there on the right.

Ray was a born athlete, though he never exploited his talents beyond casually (but never maliciously) humiliating anybody who took him on at ping-pong, darts, softball or whatever. I remember one softball game where he grabbed a hard grounder bare-handed at third base, and — while falling down — threw out the runner at first base. All in one move. Like it was no big deal. It was awesome.

He took up fencing when we were still in North Carolina, and quickly won trophies.

A student of fun history, he was active for years in the Society for Creative Anachronism. In that capacity he once served “stargazy pie” at Monkeytop, the rambling Victorian urban commune where he, David Hodskins and many others lived at various times on Swift Street. (It’s now the restored E.K. Powe House.)

When Ray and Gillian (also an artist) were married at a California ranch in 1991, everybody was costumed as cowboys and cowgirls.

A devoted reader of science fiction and watcher of movies, Ray could expound with insight and authority on either subject, plus too many others to list.

Yet what matters most is that Ray was a loving guy and a first-rate friend. Back at the turn of the ’90s, when I had sworn off dating after a series of failed relationships, Ray pulled me out of my shell. As a direct result I’ve now been happily married for more than twenty years, with a wonderful teenage son. I know Ray had similar influences on others as well.

I could add much more, but I want to post this today. I’m sure other old friends will weigh in as well. Additions and corrections of course are welcome. Here are a few I failed to string among the pearls above:

      • His full name: Raymond George Simone. Most of his album credits are for Raymond Simone.
      • Simone is pronounced with three syllables and a long e: Simonē. That is, the correct Italian way.
      • He was born in Potsdam, New York, and grew up in High Point, North Carolina.
      • He had one brother, Jim, who died of throat cancer many years ago. Ray’s malady was lung cancer, no doubt an effect, as with Jim, of smoking. Ray quit many years ago, but it still caught up with him.
      • His mother, born and raised in Oklahoma, was part Cherokee. Both his parents passed in recent years.
      • He sometimes called himself The Weasel (others shortened that to “The Weez”), and drew himself in cartoons as a weasel with a mustache. For most of the early years we worked together, Ray’s signature look was long hair and a mustache, sometimes waxed at the tips.
      • Here is Ray’s Facebook page, with a self-portrait from when he was more full-bodied, a couple years back.

The photo at the top of this post is cropped from this one, shot by Gillian last Friday when David and I came to visit Ray at their home. Ray knew he didn’t have much time left, but was still in good humor. That was the day after Thanksgiving. So I’m thankful that I was in town and that these three old partners could get together one last time.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tossed TVsI’m sitting in a medical office (routine stuff) where a number of people, myself included, are doing our best to ignore the flat TV screen on the wall. Most of us are reading magazines, using our phones or tablets, or (in one case — mine) working on a laptop.

When I arrived around 8am, I found the flat screen interesting, because it was showing a radio show I like: Dennis & Callahan, of WEEI. While most sports talk shows sound like human beer cans yelling at each other, D&C is always thoughtful and informative, even (or especially) when it veers off the sports groove, as it often does. I’d never seen John Dennis or Gerry Callahan before, so it was interesting to see them at work. I also like their long 8am conversation with Boomer Esiason every Monday during the NFL season. So digging all that was cool. Then, at 9am, when the show ended, the first of a series of half-hour-long ads began to run. Says here on the NESN schedule page that “paid programming” will continue until noon. Nobody in the room is watching. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most of them find the non-stop pitches annoying.

NESN is the New England Sports Network. I’d never seen it before, except maybe in a bar or another place like this one. Nothing I’ve seen so far this morning would make me want to see it again. (I’m still in the Waiting Room, waiting.) While it was nice seeing D&C, I don’t need a TV for that. And, while “paid programming” fills the time between D&C and sports news later in the day, it’s otherwise one big value-subtract for everybody but the station and the advertiser (and, I suppose the people who buy the crap being advertised — currently some kind of electronic “Amish fireplace.”). But then, so might be pretty much everything else on TV that isn’t news or sports you can’t get anywhere else.

That’s being unfair, of course. There is plenty of worthwhile stuff on TV. Talent shows. Sit-coms. Dramas and comedies. Even some reality shows. (I know people who love “Dancing With the Stars.”) My point is that none of it needs to be on TV, because today TV = Cable, and only Cable needs Cable. What we call “channels” and “networks” are just sources of programs, most of which are just files or streams that can be stored as files. We have the Net for that now.

Programs should be made available to pay for and watch on an a la carte basis, or as part of subscription packages that make sense to viewers. Apple does some of that, but most of the programs are too expensive at this point.

Sure, NBC, ABC, TNT, AMC and the rest of them have “brands” as sources of programs. But why should they be stuffed inside so much packing material, like D&C gets stuffed between “paid programming” nobody watches? Why not buy what’s worth more than $zero at prices that also exceed $zero, without also buying all the pure crap that serves as filler?

Mostly because the flywheels of Business As Usual in TV are enormous, and are sustained by FCC regulations for over-the-air, Cable and Satellite (a variety of Cable) that remain anchored in the nearly-vanished Antenna Age. (Speaking of which, there is an excellent exhibition called TV in the Antenna Age, in Terminal 3 at SFO. Check it out if you’re flying United in or out of there.)

Conveniently, all Cable companies offer Internet service as well. TV on the Net they call “over the top.” But in the long run, “over the top” will be the whole thing. The writing is already on the wall. Progress toward the inevitable is slow, but we can see how it ends. What used to be TV will just be files and streams, some of which we’ll pay for, and some of which will be free. Meanwhile, more of the usual crap will just be ignored.

[Later...] Brett (below) makes a good point about the high efficiency of broadcast (cable) for streaming. I should add that cable broadcast as a way of delivering video will make sense for a long time. But the business and technical model as it stands is obsolete and out of alignment with the marketplace. “TV” will become as obsolete as telegraphy. Video will never be.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Among friends and relatives there is an unusual concentration of birthdays in November. For example, the 12th, 13th and 14th are birthdays of my wife, my daughter (plus Chris Locke and JP Rangaswami) and my grandmother, respectively.

That’s Grandma Searls, on the left. Born in 1882, she would have been 129 years old today. She died in 1990, just short of 108. Her daughter Grace Apgar, my aunt, will be 100 next June.

I like this picture of Grandma, because that’s how I remember her best. The shot was taken in Ju;y, 1953. Grandma was 70 at the time.

It’s a close-up from this group shot, at her little summer place back in the woods of South Jersey. Our little summer place was at the other end of a winding path through the blueberries. The third point of our summer home triangle was Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack Dwyer‘s place. Paths led from both of the other houses to that one. Aunt Florence was Grandma’s younger sister. Uncle Jack took the picture with one of those large-format bellows cameras. I’m the curly-headed kid in the front row with the beer. I turned six at the end of July, the month this was shot.

Grandma was the third of the four Englert Sisters, all of whom were also in fine health then (and lived many more years as well). Here they are as kids, with their dad, Henry Roman Englert, then head of the Steel & Copperplate Engravers Union in New York. Here they are again, that same summer of ’53, at the beach.

Grandma grew up at 732 E. 142nd Street in The Bronx, which looked like this in 1885 and is today a parking lot. The house where Grandma raised three kids in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at 2063 Hoyt Avenue, is also gone. In fact, the whole street is wiped out. Too close to the George Washington Bridge, which my father helped build, as a cable rigger. All three of our summer places are gone too, replaced by a bank and a shopping center.

But what lives is the love. Grandma was one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. Pop told me she was a tough mom when he was growing up, but for us grandkids she was a saint. She loved kids totally, always welcomed and fed us, loved to read us stories (in her warm Bronx accent) and tuck us into bed when we spent the night (which was always a treat). She never had a critical word to say, and was always full of encouragement and support.

This is all strong in my mind right now as my own two grandkids sleep upstairs in their house here in Baltimore, where I’ve been visiting.

Grandparenting is different than parenting. Even these many years later, Grandma is still teaching me that.

When we say “social” these days, we mostly mean the sites and services of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and other commercial entities. Not talking on the phone or in person. Not meeting at a café. Not blogging, or emailing or even texting. Those things are all retro and passé. Worse, they’re not what marketers get high off of these days. Meaning they’re outside the Big Data ecosystem, most of which is devoted to improving the vast business of guesswork we call advertising, flowing outward increasingly through digital media.

The marketplace where all the Big Bux are being spent these day is not the public one where culture is made and goods are bought and sold. It’s the marketing marketplace.

Go to SelectOut.org. See who and what is tracking you right now. Chances are it’s more than a few of the hundreds of companies listed here. The market they’re in is putting better crosshairs on your back and your wallet. Not the one where you live and you shop.

Their market is in selling your ass to advertisers. So is Twitter’s, for that matter. It’s not serving you as a customer. You are a consumer. Your job is to consume “content,” and hopefully every once in awhile also click on stuff you might buy. That’s it. Yes, it’s a trade-off, but it’s not a very conscious one, and it’s not very “social,” either. Not when you don’t really know the company, or have a relationship with human beings there. Ever tried to call customer service at Facebook? Or hell, at Google? They don’t do that. They don’t want to get personal with you, even if they give you free personal services. Again, you’re not the customer. You’re inventory.

What’s missing here is real innovation in the real marketplace. (Besides what’s going on in VRM, of course.)

This became clear to me yesterday when John Wilbanks mentioned an amazing idea he had posted recently, titled Consumption Offsets and Sustainable Loyalty Cards. Here are the key paragraphs:

I had two ideas today. One is that if we can trade emissions at a corporate level, we should be able to trade consumption. So if we can track consumption of goods, and the sustainability of those goods, we have the rudiments of a market for consumption. So why not offer (wealthy, western, northern) people the chance to pay extra for an offset for their iPad like they do with their plane ticket?

My other idea was based on the ever present loyalty cards for grocery stores, pharmacies, and even cupcake shops in the US. You give away your personal data in return for lower prices (although I often use the algorithm of [local area code of store] + 867-5309). Why not something similar for sustainable goods? Either you pay the full price, or you pony up your data to save the world. Also you get a sticker to put on your computer to show how much better you are than other people – and that’s big, because being proud of being a sustainable consumer is currently, and unfortunately, densely tied to being one.

Both here and in conversation, John posed an interesting question: If personal data really is an “asset class,” as the World Economic Forum says it is, shouldn’t we be able to sell it? Or to make it fungible in some other way?

John’s second idea raises two interesting questions:

  • Who would buy your personal data?
  • What would they use it for?

Especially when, right now, lots of companies you don’t know (and a few you do) are getting that data for free. Would they pay more than nothing for it? If not, is it possible that it really is worth nothing?

When I ask questions like the two above, the answer I usually get is marketers and marketing. Some of the data you shed in the course of surfing and shopping helps sellers remember and serve you. Amazon always comes up as a canonical example. But even there Amazon is often suggesting books I’ve already bought or would hardly be interested in. Grocery stores, meanwhile, mostly use my shopping data to push coupons for stuff I bought once and might never buy again. The whole loyalty card game is one reason we do most of our grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, which doesn’t bother with any gimmicks, and gives great service as well.

Here’s where I’m going with this: The marketplace that matters is the primary one where we live and work and shop. Not the secondary one where people we don’t know are sniffing our digital butts to see what we’ve consumed and might want to consume instead (or again).

I’m about to lead a session at the Social Business Jam, on Seamless Integration of Social. In the spirit of Dave Winer’s bailing from Facebook today, I’d like to suggest that we look at how social works in real markets, and why we keep mistaking closed private markets on the Web for real ones.

For evidence of how far off base we are, here’s Zemanta‘s list of articles related to what I’ve been writing about here:

Related articles

And, as a small counterweight to that dollarfall of investment and buzz, A Sense of Bewronging.

See ya at the jam.

Harvard Yard thinks it’s October. The Red, Sugar and Norway maples, the Scarlet and Pin oaks, the dogwoods and hawthorns, have all been at peak Fall color around Boston the last few days. The weather has been glorious too, hovering around 70° in the afternoons. Lots of people walking around in shorts, the sidewalk cafés packed with customers eating sandwiches and drinking coffee. If it weren’t for the freak snowstorm and a mild frost a couple weeks back, the predominant foliage might still be green. It’s been a warm Fall.

After attending a great talk by John Wilbanks at lunch yesterday (and my latest $25 ticket for going several minutes over the 2 hour limit on my parking meter), I moved the car, poured another $2 into another meter, and walked around Cambridge, just enjoying the warmth and the scenery. I took a bunch of pictures with my phone as well, which joined this batch here, which includes shots taken with a real camera, plus some with a scanner.

My interests in Science as a kid were organized as a series of obsessions. Their order went something like this:

  1. Trees
  2. Oceans and sea life
  3. Weather
  4. Astronomy
  5. Paleontology
  6. Radio

The first four were primarily informed by Golden Guide books my parents bought for my sister and me. The titles were Trees, Fishes, Weather and Stars. Amazingly, I still have Trees, “@1956, 1952, by Western Publishing Company, Inc.” (That last link goes to the current version, on Amazon.) I turned nine years old in the Summer of 1956. I remember being so obsessed with trees that I would spend hours at the end of our street, identifying the sycamores, elms, beeches, hickories, oaks and maples of Borg’s Woods, then still decades away from becoming Hackensack‘s pride of a nature preserve. Thanks to fellow obsessives and the Web, anyone in the world can see those trees too.

My old Trees book was helpful in identifying some of the leaves in those shots I’ve taken the last few days. So has Ryan Lynch’s Crimson Canopy, with it’s excellent Harvard Yard Trees. I only discovered the site late yesterday after I got home. If I had the time, I’d walk around again with the iPad and Ryan’s maps to check again on which trees were which.

Perhaps readers inclinded to horticulture, plant taxonomy and dendrology can help puzzle out and correct identification of leaves such as this one here, which on Map 6 of Crimson Canopy is identified as a Red maple, but looks to me more like a Silver maple. (There’s a lot of variation among the Reds, though, I’ve noticed.) I should point out that it’s a big leaf.

So today it’s supposed to rain, and I’m busy, so that’ll be it for this year’s walks among Fall colors. Tomorrow starts several weeks of travel.

Bonus links:

Today is the first day in months when my first question wasn’t, “What can I do to finish (or improve) the book today?” That’s because I turned in the (hopefully) final draft yesterday morning.

Details: The book is The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge and the publisher is Harvard Business Review Press. You can pre-order it on Amazon.

There are still hurdles to cross (copy editing, a few quote approvals), but all balls are in courts other than mine at the moment. So I can get back to all the stuff I’ve neglected in the meantime, including this: blogging.

I think it was twelve years ago today that I put up the first post on this blog. Here it is. Funny, it mentions that this new Cluetrain book is going to come out, and is available for pre-order on Amazon. I didn’t remember that until just now.

Note that the image of me in the title bar at the top of this page is taken from the photo in that first post. The other three guys still look like they did back then, but I’ve moved on. Meanwhile that old picture has become my “brand” now, I guess. Kind of like Colonel Sanders, Uncle Ben, Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemimah. With the goatee I’ve grown since then, it’s now Colonel Sanders I most resemble. Except I’m still alive and stopped wearing glasses full-time not long after that shot was taken. (Nothing medical was involved. I just quit wearing them and my eyes got better.)

From 1999 until I found Tweeting easier, I generally posted several times a day, almost every day. Posting was easier on that old platform: Dave Winer‘s Manila. And I mostly wrote in one of Dave’s outliners — or sometimes in HTML with a simple text editor. Writing in WordPress is more complicated, but my favorite blogging tool is still OPML.

Once tweeting came along, a lot of the stuff I once blogged about I began tweeting about instead. I still tweet, but blogging is more substantive, and the results are more like real publishing and less like snow on pavement. (I was going to say “snow on the water,” but that’s what radio is.) For example, you can still find everything I’ve ever blogged. Can’t say the same about everything I’ve ever tweeted. At least not easily. (If there is an easy way to search back through your own tweets, even to ones you wrote several years ago, let me know.)

After I started bearing down on the book, in the Summer of last year, I found that blogging no longer worked as a steam valve on the side of whatever else I was doing. At least not in respect to the book. Writing a book, at least for me, required a level of focus and concentration I had never put into anything, ever. Self-discipline has never been my strong suit, and still isn’t; but I had to become much more self-disciplined to write this thing. Alas, one diversion that became essential to deny was blogging. Even though I could blurt out a blog post in a few minutes, returning to the Task At Hand wasn’t easy.

It was also hard to write what I knew wouldn’t appear in print for many months. Blogging was live and engaging. Writing a book required being engaged with The Work Itself, which was new to me. It wasn’t until the book started to look and feel like a book — and not a series of long blog posts — that I could get down and groove with it. Once that started to happen, early this year, the book became something I enjoyed doing and got energy from as I did it. By the end of the project I found myself wanting to go straight on to the next book. Turns out I liked running marathons and not just sprinting. As a writer, that is.

But I also became much more of a desk potato than I already was. Not good.

So now here I am, ready both to sprint again in print and to go back outside, ride a bike, play basketball, take walks… anything to get my butt back into something close to “shape.” Got a ways to go with that.

Anyway, bear with me as I work my way back into my old grooves, and try to find a balance between all the too many things I’ve always done, to which I’ve now added book writing. Gonna be an interesting challenge.