Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Exercise Of Exercise

Time to get into the starting blocks and wait for the gun to sound. Yep, it's time to throw down the gauntlet to yourself and kick off your exercise resolutions for the new year. Come on! Who's with me? I didn't do so hot last year. But 2012 is a brand new year.

So, be it resolved. Tomorrow will soon be upon us. Let's see just how long we will last. Here's a short rhyme to get your started. It's also posted on my webpage at under the "Rhyme Of The Month". For another take on the running life, check out "Life is (Ultra) Good" on the Blackwood Press website. Enjoy.

Then pull on those exercise duds and strap on your shoes. The day awaits.

The Exercise Of Exercise
By Bill Kirk

Exercise is easy
To write down on a chart.
The hard part is the doing;
The first step is to start.

Writing lists is helpful,
If that's not all you do.
You've got to take that first step
And after that, take two.

Three steps, then another--
Each one becomes a snap.
Soon ten leads to a hundred--
Four hundred make a lap.

Each four laps together
Will make an even mile.
You're done in twenty minutes.
Do I detect a smile?

Now you get the picture.
That's what it's all about!
You've overcome the challenge.
So, give yourself a shout!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If You're On A Fixed Income,
Stay Out Of The Post Office

I went to the Post Office (aka P.O.) on Friday--second time last week. It's the holidays and visits to the P.O. are pretty much expected. Mailing Christmas packages has become a way of life for our family with our nearest direct relatives in the north-central and southern states and grandchildren on both coasts. In fact, by the look of the lines outside and inside the P.O., dispersed families must be pretty common these days.

The demographics of Postal Customers (forthwith referred to as P.C.s) are multi-ethnic and multi-generational. Indeed, the P.O. market is the American melting pot. Even local P.O.s with relatively homogeneous neighborhoods are filled with P.C.s of every stripe, both rank and rainbow, all snaking their way to the head of the line. Needless to say, the wisest P.C. comes prepared with equal doses of patience, good humor, plenty of legal tender and maybe a snack.

With all the queuing and waiting, the P.O. turns into a real social center this time of year. The guy behind me said he didn't have anything to mail at all. Yet, he felt compelled to pack a lunch and put in a couple hours down at the P.O. with the other P.C.s in the queue. I guess you could call it mail bonding.

To get the most out of the social experience, especially if you're not mailing anything, it's not a bad idea to carry in one or two empty boxes that are wrapped, taped and addressed so you won't feel out of place. Besides, any P.C. standing in line without packages this time of year is immediately suspect. I believe it falls under Homeland Security Yule Rule 12-25(c) which covers anyone acting out of line with normal P.C. behavior. Just ask a Postal Associate (P.A.) about the details if you have any questions before security arrives.

As for the mailing process, just remember when you come to the P.O. you are in it for the long haul. And you can be assured that all P.C.s receive personalized customer service to help them get over the sticker shock. I know I shouldn't have, but I actually found myself eavesdropping as a P.C. timidly presented his package to the P.A at the nearest window. I sensed trouble from the outset.

P.C.: Finally, I made it! I was about to barter one of my grandson's gifts for the sandwich someone was eating behind me in line.

P.A.: How may we help you today?

P.C.: I'd like to mail something to Tierra del Fuego for Christmas.

P.A.: Sure. No problem, although I should mention we received a high priority postal alert memo this morning advising us postage and delivery times are going up soon in the Southern Hemisphere.

P.C.: That doesn't sound good. But hey, it's Christmas. How bad can it be?

P.A.: Are you mailing anything larger than a breadbox, fragile, liquid, explosive or that would arouse suspicion among our highly trained Postal Inspectors (P.I.s)?

P.C.: No. Well, there is an heirloom neti pot that's been passed around the family for years.

P.A.: Would you like us to guarantee the contents will be usable when they reach their destination?

P.C.: You mean you can do that?

P.A.: Why, yes. Of course, it will be a little extra. But we have a special rate this month.

P.C.: Can you tell me how much the postage will be first?

P.A.: Yes. Would you like it to arrive before the end of the Year of the Dragon? That's our cheapest flat rate at $96.00 if the gross weight of your package is less than 2.378 kilos.

P.C.: That's a little pricey. But I guess it's not too bad if it will get there by Christmas.

P.A.: Christmas? Get real. Maybe by Christmas 2012 if you're lucky. At the lower flat rate, we're prohibited from actually mailing the package until we're actually in the Year of the Dragon.

P.C.: Do you have anything faster?

P.A.: Of course we do. We can get it there in two business weeks for just under $200 (not counting Sundays, Saturdays after 2:00 p.m. and any other day the package remains in the P.O. awaiting inspection by our part-time P.I.s). Oh, and we may have to add a little something for time and materials in case re-wrapping is needed.

P.C.: I suppose getting it there by this Christmas is out of the question, then?

P.A.: No. Not at all. In fact, going with the two-day priority delivery option will save us both some time. Just leave your credit card with me and we'll handle everything.

P.C.: Two days. That sounds great. But you didn't mention the cost.

P.A.: Well, you know what they say, "if you have to ask...". By the way, you have pre-paid your mortgage through next June, haven't you? Oh, and if you don't need the card back right away, we'll mail it back to you postage free, which saves you the $96.00 flat rate charge.

P.C.: I was hoping to take the card with me today. And now that I've thought about it, I can only afford to go with the cheapest rate and shoot for next Christmas.

P.A.: OK. Just step to the back of the line. This could take a while. The Year of the Dragon doesn't start until January 23.

Merry Christmas one and all. Hope all your packages arrive on time.

"Got URL?"
The Worry and Wonder Of Websites

If you have a website, you probably struggled through its birthing process from concept to reality. You can take comfort that you aren't alone. Your pain is felt by many, myself included, agonizing over such questions as: What design should I use? Should I use a template or should I go with code (.html, that is) and carve out my own layout? After all, there's something to be said about being the master of my own destiny even if it is with baling wire and bubble gum. Then again, maybe I should just hire it all out. How much could it cost anyway for the basics about who I am and what I'm peddling? And what's all this fuss I hear about content anyway?

These are just a few of the questions facing those pursuing an identity on the worldwide web. Consider for a moment what drove your website decisions about both the design and content? Did you hire a website designer to help chart your course in cyber space? Whether "designed" or home grown, to what extent was the cost a factor in your website decisions? Either way, are you satisfied with the outcome? And if you had it to do over again, would you follow the same path? What would you do differently? I'll start out. Feel free to chime in about your own experience.

Relatively soon after I got into the writing game (meaning at the point when my mom told everyone from her beautician to the pharmacist that I was writing poetry), I began to feel the push toward having a website. Actually, it was more like standing on the edge of Niagra Falls with a cheering crowd behind me yelling, "you don't need no stinking barrel!" Way back in those days (meaning about four years ago), I knew nothing about websites or how to design them; or, truthfully, what to put on them.

I began with a very basic (we're talking two tin cans and a string here) "website" offered by AOL using their "AOL hometown" template. My content was minimal--mostly a little background information about me (the poet, remember?) plus what I was working on currently and a list of two poems I had published so far. The AOL template offered four or five colors, a few "header" themes and about three text boxes to key free-form text into.

Needless to say, it was a modest website. But when I finished, I thought I had indeed arrived in the cyber world. The only problem, no one knew I was there which, in retrospect, was probably a good thing. But at least if someone asked me, I could beam with pride (OK and maybe a little smugness) and give them my URL. Hey, I was nothing if not pure coolness. I mean, I could totally imagine myself in a TV ad: "Got URL?" "Well, duh! Yeah, I got URL!"

Oh, and did I mention my URL was 43 characters long and included most of the letters in the English alphabet, three carefully placed Chinese characters, half the symbols across the top of the keyboard and six forward (not backward) slashes. Come to think of it, the URL actually looked a lot like the inside of those cartoon bubbles when the speaker is really, really mad.

And I'm sure it was for security reasons that whatever was keyed into the URL line could not be copied and pasted in the event of a keying error. That is, it had to be totally rekeyed from the beginning. Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of visitors to my website.

Yet, imagine my panic when about two years later, AOL announced via message that they would be eliminating their "website" feature in 30 days. Assuming ALL CAPS meant they were serious, I immediately followed their suggestion to save off my content, which I dutifully did in a Word file (with a hardcopy backup of course). Then, I sat site-less for nearly a month until I mentioned my dilemma to a cyber-savvy friend.

With great patience and forebearing (both biblical concepts), he showed me the basics of website design using .html code. I must say, after mastering my AOL URL, I actually found .html fairly easy. He also talked me through the drafting, editing, saving and uploading steps required to take my "design" from an idea sketched out on my local computer to an actual website on the worldwide web. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My website is still pretty basic but it is evolving, much as roads and highways evolved from horse trails and wagon paths. I figure I'm basically at the two-lane, gravel road stage, including the occasional one-lane bridge. I've heard there is something called "css" (cascading style sheets) out there. But I'm still a long way from taking my site from two-lanes to Interstate.

Feel free to check it out if you wish at ---which is, by the way, a URL I can actually remember. Any and all critical comments and suggestions are appreciated.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Smell Of Success In Dollars And Scents

It has been said any successful author must be deeply committed to the three "Ps": Promotion, Promotion, Promotion. Well, today I had an epiphany about the latest sure thing in the promotional game. Forget the press releases, book signings, school visits, social networking, virtual book tours and lawn signs. To clearly establish your identity and boost your bottom line, the path has suddenly become clear---get a fragrance.

Apparently, the word is out. After all, pretty much anyone who's anyone has one, from celebrity veterans to those barely more than kids. If you are a celebrity (or if there are those who think you are), a fragrance is almost de rigeur. And it matters not if you are a singer, actor, reality star, model, clothing manufacturer or even a sports figure.

It all started years ago when White Diamonds was announced by Liz as she stepped through a doorway, backlit in brilliant white. Since then Cher, Mariah, Hillary Duff, Britney Spears, Heidi Klume and even Tailor Swift have added at least one signature fragrance to their endorsements. The speed of the fragrance juggernaut boggles the mind.

As a case in point, a couple months ago, soon after the latest celebrity wedding, I was passed at high speed on the Interstate by two purple clad semi-tractor trailers apparently filled with fragrance bottles branded with the recent bride's name. I could hardly believe my eyes; well, except there was little room for my eyes to notice anything else on the road, what with the rapidly moving image of a 40-foot female form plastered on the side of the trucks.

Instinctively, my foot mashed down on the accelerator in a vain attempt to keep up---for safety's sake, of course. Quickly thinking ahead, in the event I got stopped for speeding, I had already worked out my defense. "Officer, it was defensive driving pure and simple, to keep from suffering image-induced whiplash as those eye-popping images sped past me." Sure, it's lame. But in a crisis, you gotta go with the hand that's dealt you.

Female celebrities aren't the only ones hawking perfume. Imagine my surprise when I recently learned that even Derek Jeter has a fragrance. But, come to think of it, most of his teammates have long been aware of the post-game locker room fragrance after pretty much any baseball game, especially games that go into extra innings. And believe it or not, this evening as I watched the latest celebrity news (although it pains me to do so), an ad for Justin Bieber's fragrance line broke into the programing with an urgency that rivaled a test of the National Emergency Warning System.

The take home message? To up your promotional game, add a fragrance to your branding tool kit. And no worries about accusations of vanity. A fragrance with your name on it is even better, especially if it's the French version of your name.

So, what does this all mean for us average folk? And by that I mean those of us without dollars and scents. You know, those who have been working in the trenches, including we authors who have made almost enough from our book sales to afford a starving writer's seven course meal: a "take and bake" pizza and a six pack.

Well, for one thing, we would help the economy by putting more fragrance makers to work. No doubt the manufacturers of blown glass collector bottles would be hiring thousands, not to mention the assemblers of all those little plastic screw tops with push-down misters. And just think of all the new fragrance domain names that the hundreds of newly hired domain name protectors would have to protect.

The smell of economic recovery is clearly in the air. Why, I can see the makings of my new promotional campaign coming sharply into focus: glitzy designer fragrance scratch-and-sniff cards tucked inside each one of my children's picture books, followed by late night guest appearances on The Fragrance Chanel. Then, to top it all off, a splashy ad on one of those multi-story digital-image screens in Time Square will announce GUILLAUME Pour Homme.

Yeah. That sounds a lot better than Eau de Bill....