Classic 1 Star Reviews of Classic Movies — 2001: A Space Odyssey

Before I even read the one star reviews on Amazon, I knew Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey was going to be a gold mine. This classic movie gets people upset. Interestingly, among the one-star crowd, it makes people feel stupid. I could have given you pages of accusations of intellectual elitism. On the AFI list of 100 best American movies, it’s listed at number 15, which is a little high, I think, but nevertheless a great film.

Let’s get on what we’re here for; enjoy the one star reviews of a classic movie:

Maybe the movie is a little too deep for me. I enjoy deep movies that make you think afterwards, but this is taking it too far. By eliminating anything resembling a coherent plot with interesting dialogue, it makes watching this movie a chore.

I know that as a film student, it’s my duty to like this movie, but I’m sorry. I just can’t. I saw it in a theatrical setting (ie. hard chairs, full-blast surround sound, large screen, but only one bathroom break) and it was easily the most miserable 3+ hours of my life to date. Sorry, but I resent any movie that leaves me with a headache and sick stomach.

Oh my Good! [sic] this movie is bad! It is the most boring movie i have ever seen! Don’t even think about watching it!

Sure, some of the “art” shots of this film were great eye-candy. Wonderful. Now what? Let’s pretend that this self-indulgent piece of “art” is a masterpiece. Why? Because no one could make sense of it. INCLUDING THE ARTIST HIMSELF!

(So much for the sycophant/”psycho”phant who claimed “You’re stupid if you don’t understand this movie.”) That’s right, Chester, there WAS nothing to understand.

Kubrick himself said that the meaning of this film was for each individual to determine. “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film.
S. Kubrick” Well, Stan, if you had nothing to say, why did it take over two hours to say it?

Art is not good because people don’t understand it. Art is good because people DO understand it.

Classic 1 Star Reviews — 2001
Courtesy of the Website If we don't, remember me.

Is this the film that made current film critics think they had a talent at picking good films because they liked this one. Maybe I’m off my rocker (actually I slept through most of this one in my rocker) but this film can’t be the seminal moment in science fiction movies. This one makes almost as much sense as that other “great” science fiction epic, Rocky Horror Picture Show.

First, a note for reviewer J. Pauley, who has been nothing but rude to those who do not care for this film-

J. Pauley,

Though you insist upon licking the boots of the director you have yet to offer anything in the way of helpful commentary. All you do is ridicule those of us who dare to stain the honor of your dearly beloved Kubrick. If you have some great answer to the objections put forth by the “have-nots” who don’t care for 2001 then by all means let us in on the secret. And please be specific. You seem to love being derisive now let us see if you really have a clue.

To all of the other reviewers who liked this film and are upset in any way by our dislike of the same, or simply feel like being helpful, I would also extend a heartfelt invitation to tell us where we have gone wrong. I am earnest in this invitation and would like an honest discussion with you and will carefully consider your thoughts. Please, bear in mind that many of us fully understand the “deeper meaning” behind the film and still found it (other than the stunning visuals and HAL) to be a bore. Please steer clear of the “higher ideals and language” as some of my fellow reviewers are not philosophy majors and do not care to be beaten to death with over long explanations of a film they already do not like. Be direct. Be specific. Be respectful.

Thank You,
Ross

I couldn’t wait to get this fine example of self-indulgence off my hands. This is precisely why directors shouldn’t be given too much control over a movie. The movie can be summarised thus: Apes, Docking Sequences, Light Shows.

Most of the scenes are long, dull, and pointless. Even Kubrick himself said he wanted the film to be “enigmatic” (I think it’s in the DVD liner notes). Which to me means he wasn’t trying to say anything with the movie, and was hoping some people would regard it as a work of art, and hopefully, elevate it to “great movie” status.

I’ll admit to being influenced by by Roger Ebert’s review when I decided to buy the DVD; he thinks it is one of the “great movies”. Curse you Roger Ebert! May you spend the rest of your days watching docking sequences and stupid light shows!

On The Appalachian Trail — You Won’t Believe The Evolution In 21 Years

I‘m grateful to Bree Carlson, a friend currently working on her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, for taking the photos above (they’re stitched together). They’re full of surprises, but to understand what’s happening you’ll need some context.

When thru-hikers get to the ceremonial halfway point — the Appalachian Trail Conference in Harper’s Ferry, WV — they take a photo. In the old days, like 1990 when I rolled through, Jean Cashin of the ATC used a Polaroid instant camera. Today it looks like they’re using a digital camera. A hiker’s pedigree is written on the photo: real name, trail name, residence, date of the photo, and the hiker number that season. The ATC counts of all the thru hikers that come to the office, every year. Unlike 1990, it looks like they’re also including the start date and email address of the thru-hiker.

Two Suprises

First, if you didn’t notice, Bree had her photo taken 21 years to the day after mine, on June 14. Sitting here in Massachusetts, I think that’s a little trail magic. It’s a positive omen. Watching Bree from afar, it tells me Bree’s going to finish her thru-hike. It’s not just about coincidence. I had different kind of good omen the first week I was on the Trail, and I rode it all the way to Maine.

Surprise number two: look at how many people are thru-hiking! Bree is hiker 424. In 1990 I was 99. That’s a 328% increase in the number of hikers at the ATC by June 14. Walking in 1990 I met another thru-hiker every 4 or 5 days, but today it’s a crowd. It’s hard for me to believe the increased popularity in thru-hiking, because walking more than 2,000 miles, from Georgia to Maine, isn’t a stroll through the woods. It’s hard work. Why are so many people hiding out on the Trail?

And I bet the little businesses that grow-up along the Trail are probably doing well.

Update: The ATC recently went live with a new hiker photo archive — they’ve scanned all the photos from 1979 to the present, tagged them in a searchable database, and it works. Here’s my photo page with info about the other hikers in the photo. And below, the uncropped photo:

1990 @ ATC office - photo probably by Jean Cashin

Top photos used with permission of Bree Carlson.

Grabbing The Right People — Targeting Your Ads With Thesis And WordPress

One of the most annoying experiences on the Web today is being delivered the wrong ad at the wrong time. It doesn’t ruin my experience, but I’m always shaking my head, wondering why the programmers didn’t do a better job.

I was thinking about that during some redesign around here, then decided to solve a problem: deliver my Thesis affiliate image ads only to people that were reading posts related to the Thesis framework. Personally, I don’t like my site cluttered with ads, but at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, I want the flexibility of including an advertisement.

There are probably many other ways to do this, so if you have something interesting to share, please write a comment below. Now I’m going to show you how I did it.

First, you’ll need to have all your Thesis posts slapped with the same tag. You could do the same thing with categories, but I didn’t. I use the tag “thesis”. That’s how I target the right audience.

We’re going to drop some code into either the custom_functions.php file, or using the time saving plugin Thesis OpenHook, at thesis_hook_after_post. I’ll show you how to do this with OpenHook, but using the custom_functions.php file can be done too, with a little more effort.

Using Thesis OpenHook, look for thesis_hook_after_post and drop the following code in there:


<?php if (has_tag('thesis')) { ?>
<p style="text-align: center;">
<a href="http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=202503&amp;u=520806&amp;m=24570&amp;urllink=&amp;afftrack=">
<img src="http://www.shareasale.com/image/24570/468x60.png" alt="Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support Community" border="0" />
</a></p>
<?php } ?>

thesis-openhook
screenshot of Thesis OpenHook interface
See that first WordPress conditional tag there, has_tag('thesis') — well, some people might have tried using the more common, is_tag(), but they would have been wrong. The difference between the two conditions is that one looks for a binary condition — yes or no — while the other, has_tag is looking for a positive result among many possibilities. Trust me, this is the way you want to do it.

After the beginning — <?php if (has_tag('thesis')) { ?> — you can drop in your affiliate code, what ever it may be. Of course, this method doesn’t only work with Thesis affiliate links. You could use Amazon code in their for book reviews, for example. I’m sure you can think of many other applications.

And you don’t have to put the affiliate code at the end of a post. Using Thesis hooks you can drop it many other places, at the right time, for the right person.

Do you have any other suggestions on how to target ads using Thesis? Drop a comment below.

Photograph by Hans Splinter and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Classic 1 Star Reviews of Classic Movies — Taxi Driver

After last week’s look at Raging Bull, I couldn’t resist another batch of reviews from the one star minds glowering at Taxi Driver (1976), another Martin Scorsese film.

Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster the two most overrated actors, and Cybil Shepard was sleeping with a big Hollywood producer at the time. The actor that should have gotten allocades was Harvey Keitel who consistantly brings fine performances and never gets any credit. Well that’s show biz for ya. This was one of the most overrated movies of the time, I saw it in the theatre and fell asleep 1/2 way through. All the ingredients were there to make a interesting movie, wacked out vietnam vet, teenage hooker, sleazey politician, vapid blonde bimbo, what the heck happened?

Overrated piece of !@#$. Absolutely NOTHING happens in this movie other than being forced to listen to the same incredibly cheesy music over and over and over again. After an hour and a half of wondering if anything is ever going to happen, DeNiro shoots a couple people. The end. Wow. What was all the hype about? Genius? Artsy? I don’t see it. Don’t waste your time. Is this movie highly rated for any other reason than being one of DeNiro’s earlier films?

“Taxi Driver” changes gears so many times you really don’t know where this film is heading. It makes so little sense and De Niro’s performance is so uneven, you don’t know if he’s doing it on purpose or he’s just a bad actor.

A good date film? No, it will kill the mood. A comedy? You may laugh once but probably unintentionally. An adventure? Only if you consider watching the trials and tribulations of a wacked out taxi driver adventurous. This film is all over the place and it never lets you get a grip on what the director is trying to tell you. Oh sure, now, they tell you that it’s a genius of a film but while you’re watching it you’ll swear that the writer and director were using illicit substances while making this nonsense.

Anyone that can’t write a screenplay at least as good as this in one day, simply isn’t trying very hard. This movie is a tragic waste of time and your wife or girlfriend will leave the room while you sit there hoping it’s going to get better. Well, guess what. It won’t get better and you shouldn’t even spend one second giving any thought to renting or buying this over-hyped, over-acted lobotomy of a film.

This movie could have gone down in history as one of the all-time greats. Up until the last 30 seconds, I was eagerly awaiting the end of this great film when BAM! It ended! Just like that! What Happened! He adjusted his mirror? What does this mean? I am rather good at deciphering the meanings of films (check out my review of Brazil) but this one has me stumped. The reason I give it one star is because I feel that a lackluster ending is inexcusable. If someone e-mails me the meaning, I’ll be glad to change my review. But until then the rating stands!

I’ve wanted to see this movie for years, so I finally bought it. It was awful. The acting is great, but the plot line meanders all over the place. Jodie Foster is saved from a life of prostitution by a whack cab driver in an all too bloody shootout. I have nothing against sex and violence when it serves the storyline, but everything here was gratuitous, and the storyline seemed to wander all over the place. There were endless of DeNiro driving his cab, as if we needed to be reminded he was a cab driver. In the end, Jody goes back to her conservative family, and the wacko is hailed as a hero. Better she should have stayed on the street. The world doesn’t need more yuppies. I was really disappointed with this story. If you thought Pulp Fiction was art, you might like it. I prefer a plot line that wasn’t thrown together on the run.

travis-taxi-driver-ifwdrm
Courtesy of the Website If we don't, remember me.

How Bruce Springsteen learned what’s most important to the economy

While working on a writing project, I had to create a transcript of a 1998 interview that Charlie Rose had with Bruce Springsteen. This is an answer he gives in the 60 minute interview, about the central idea in his writing: work.

My music, because of what I wrote about, always had political implications. I suppose that came up originally out of my home life, my experience growing up, and my relationship with my father. And trying to understand the concept of work, and how work plays a central role in your life. I had two real, very different examples. My mother’s relation to work was very joyous. Very happy. It provided the entire family with stability. What she gained from it was an entire mode of behavior. You get up in the morning, at a certain time. You prepare yourself. You get yourself ready to go to a job. You walk down the street and you’re there at a particular time of the day. And you interact with your co-workers. And that’s a big part of your social life, your work life, and your place in the world. You’re doing something that has a purpose. There’s a reason you’re there besides just feeding your family. You’re a part of the social fabric. You’re what’s holding the world together. You’re what’s holding the town together, that’s holding your family together. I always remember that she walked with tremendous pride and strength, enormous strength, and it gave such great comfort, such great great comfort to a child. That makes sense. I understand that.

My dad had a different experience. Work was involved with pain. He lost his hearing when he worked in a plastics factory. Lost a lot of his hearing. He struggled to find work and go to work. The regulation of behavior that work provides wasn’t a big part of his life, and that was painful for everybody involved.

That’s essential. That’s central to the way that we live and think about ourselves, and who we are, and the place we live in. And so I saw both sides of it. I saw what happens when that’s not present there is pain, and there is anger. And deep, deep … it’s a destructive force. You wither away. You waste away. You don’t know where you’re going or who you are, and you take that out on the people that you care about. And that’s something you don’t want to do. But it happens.

So that’s what I wrote about. That was really really important. It’s the single thing that I’ve written about, my entire life, that fundamental idea. The importance of that idea in society. The cost of not providing that for … whether it’s for people to be able to take care of their families, to have productive jobs. The debasement of ourselves, in not having a society where that’s provided to all our citizens.

It all grew from there. It grew from my experience, and my trying to sort out my experience. I didn’t grow up in a political household. I didn’t have some particular ideology, or be a political person from where I came from, but I needed and wanted to write about those things because they were essential. A lot of my music has grown out of that place over the years.

Photo by Barack Obama and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Classic 1 Star Reviews of Classic Movies — Raging Bull

I’m just learning how to edit some compelling posts with this new feature. At first I thought all the classics would have great (read: head knocker) one star reviews, but that wasn’t the case with Casablanca. There were no reviews composed on planet I’m-On-My-Meds-I-Really-Am.

Here’s a more controversial film, Raging Bull. Now that has to have interesting scribblers dropping opinions:

Martin Scorsese isn’t a bad fellow, and he has a lot of talent, no doubt, but his influence on young American moviemakers has been entirely negative. The galloping illiteracy of this film, the first of Scorsese’s f-word festivals, has infected dozens of other directors and screenwriters, and has even spread to television, where we see a sewage backup like “The Sopranos” being acclaimed by many who should know better. The screenplay of “Raging Bull” is shot through with inaccuracies, and nobody who remembers Jake LaMotta performing on “Car 54 Where Are You” is going to accept him as a tragic figure. The real tragedy is the debasement of the English language and its inexhaustible variety by a film like this.

Just a few ways to describe this incredibly over-hyped movie. I sat down with some friends expecting to see a good film, hoping I’d get the Scorcese who directed Goodfellas and not the Scorcese who directed The Colour of Money. Well after sitting through hours of this sleep-inducing cypher of a film, I realised [sic] I had got something much worse. I still don’t understand what all the fuss is about. The plot is pretty simple – supposedly about a great but flawed boxer, it’s really about a selfish bum who cheats on his wife, knocks his girlfriend around, beats up his brother, then fades from whatever “glory” he once had into a life of pot-bellied obscurity. Whopee, just what the world needs – another film about a selfish, greedy, stupid *loser*.

Why do I hate this film so much? I hate the characters, none of whom have any redeeming features whatsoever. I hate the artificial and pretentious black & white. I hate the ludicrous boxing scenes. I hate the moronic and self-indulgent religious imagery. So Scorcese is a devout catholic? Well the Pope is too but does that make this a good film? I think not.

I really can’t believe everyone has given this film 5 stars. Looks like another case of “oh, all the critics like it, so it must be a great movie”. “I coulda been a contender,” laments the lead character at the end of the film. Sure buddy, and Porky Pig coulda learned to fly. Exploiting this line from a *genuine* classic is just the last straw.

The final verdict? Watching this film the cinematic equivalent of wading through a cesspit. That said, if you’re suffering from insomnia, I think I might just have found a cure…

Yet another exampled of a ‘great’ movie that is highly overrated.

La Motta was a jerk. Plain and simple.

The movie is well recorded, but that is it.

If you know why this is a ‘great’ movie, please email me and let me know.

I’m a boxing fan and train often but I have no idea why people like this movie. It’s a story about a cocky, arrogant jerk who likes to abuse the people around him both mentally and physically. Most of the movie is of him degrading women, screaming profanities to them and hitting them. In one scene he beats his own brother badly in a jealous rage, stomping him and then slugs his own 20 year old wife. The only thing I learned from this movie is that Jake Lamotta was one horrible person. This movie does nothing for boxing.

Lousy movie. Almost as bad as Lost in Space. I found it very amateurish – particularly the unsubtle operatic opening – and sunk with the weight of its own pretensions. I was a big De Niro fan after Godfather 2 and he’s probably the only interesting thing about this movie. But I couldn’t stand the little guy who swears a lot. Watching this movie was like being hit in the head repeatedly with a sock full of vomit. If it’s a good boxing movie you’re after try Fat City. Guaranteed no pretensions. And no overeating.

Join a CSA and you’re going to know A LOT about the food source

I received Riverland Currents this morning, the weekly newsletter from the CSA (community supported agriculture) I joined this year. It was interesting, though not exactly what I was expecting. Actually, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe news about how a tractor broke down, the weather was too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry, or maybe even photos showing off the sun tans the farmers have already developed?

Instead, the newsletter had a lot of talk about maggots of all varieties: seed corn maggots and cabbage root maggots, among others (the photo above is of maggots eating broccoli roots). The details about maggots and their prevention!

This has been a threat for us every year so over the last 2 years we developed a system to deal with cabbage root maggots which involves getting row cover on the crop the very same day we put it in the ground. The row cover acts as a physical barrier preventing adult maggot flies from laying eggs on the plants that in turn hatch into maggot larvae and feed on the roots of the young seedlings. After two years of great success using this row cover method this year we inexplicably were still hit hard with root maggots underneath the row cover.

Impressive stuff. I guess that’s part of what you pay for with a CSA share: information about the food source. Though I never thought about maggot news. When you’re shopping in a big grocery store with little signs proclaiming “local produce!”, they never mention maggots next to the photo of some hardscrabble Farmer Brown.

Photo by mcav0y and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Local television news will show a lot, but tell you little about a tornado

Do ever feel like you know less about what’s happening in your community after watching television for a few minutes. That happened to me when I was watching the local news stations, WWLP, WGGB, and CBS3, about the tornado that ripped through Western Massachusetts.

It’s often true, we do know less, or at least no more, after watching much of television news. The exceptions are rare, when television news reporters give relevant, useful information to the local community in the aftermath of natural disaster. After the tornado in Springfield and surrounding towns, 90% of the television news was pure bullshit.

This happens because images — photos or video — often can’t tell us what we need to know (I didn’t say what we want to know), like: how my neighbors and neighborhood is, who’s hurt, where are people gathering in the aftermath, or who do I contact if I’m hurt. An image can’t give you any of that information. A person does. Of course a person can talk over images (called a “voice-over”), and the Springfield news stations did a lot of that, to useless effect. Mostly. There’s a problem with voice-overs: if you don’t have information to tell your viewers, the segment turns into “oh, look at that roof! Look at that tree! Oh, that car was flipped over!” It’s kind of like watching auto racing for the car crashes.

The difference maker

There was one exception to the typical television news coverage in Springfield, a report done by Bill Shields on WSBK TV-38 during their 9pm news. It was an exceptional report for a number of reasons. He was on the phone without video speaking to the news anchor back in the Boston studio. Shields was reporting, using only his voice, on things he experienced. The segment lasted about 5 minutes, which is long. Most local news segments don’t stretch longer than 90 seconds. His reporting was gripping: he described both details and the big picture, he was personal, and he put his witness into a context of 30 years of news reporting in New England. Thirty years?! How come Bill Shields hasn’t been laid off yet?

What’s to be done about our crappy news?

Not to be a pessimist, but not much can be done. There are too many obstacles to making change, most of them economic. For local television stations the number one profit center is their news broadcast. They’ll never take a chance on improving the news product if it means possibly disturbing the bottom line. In fact, despite the well meaning and sometimes dedicated news folks, the television news has turned into entertainment. Mostly, it’s the amusement hour.

If you’re interested in a aftermath video, here’s a good 3 minutes a guy shot on the way to work.

Photo by Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Classic 1 Star Reviews of Classic Movies — The Godfather

I have a new feature for you: once or twice a week you’ll find Classic 1 Star Reviews of Classic Movies.

People think strange sometimes. They don’t always agree with the movie critics, directors, and the historians that the American Film Institute pulls together to create their top 100 lists [Wikipedia]. Sometimes people are just haters, I guess. Who are we to judge? Let’s not judge, but enjoy how their minds work.

Here are some one star reviews of The Godfather, released in 1972 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

When’s an editor when you need one? This movie is so long that I played it on my TV, drove across the state, and when I came back, it was still playing. Since when is a movie this long? Movies are supposed to be 1:30-2:00 hours long. Plus this movie is as boring as a trip to the doctor’s. No good violence, no hot sex scenes, and furthermore, it stereotypes Italians.

“The Godfather” has an ugly consciousness and a mean spirit. I see no justification for it, thoroughly disliked it, and have tried to forget it.

I did indeed sit through all 57 hours of the Godfather and not only is it one of the most boring movies ever made it’s completely pointless garbage. I have no clue why it’s considered the greatest film ever made but then again most people are dumb so yea no suprise [sic]. The only good thing about this film is the music, if you haven’t seen it don’t buy into the hype that’s all it is hype… BUT if you have insomnia put this movie in you should be asleep within the first 30 minutes.

I finally saw this movie with my family and after an half hour I was thinking of running out in the middle of rush hour traffic, that would have been more exciting than watching this all the way through…but I watched it anyway.

This movie was so violent I couldn’t believe it! On a scale of 1 to 10 on the violence in this movie I would give it a 9!

Courtesy of the Website If we don't, remember me.

Revealed 20 Years Ago On The Appalachian Trail, Discovered Again This Week

I’m writing a book about being a successful adventurer (more about that in the coming weeks), based on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike 20 years ago. Part of the research has been to look back at journal entries and letters that I wrote at the time. Sometimes it’s inspiring reading, and other times sad. Here’s a few paragraphs that’s a little bit of both.

11 May 1990 — Got to get to Damascus, VA to see a doctor about a possible foot infection. I do know one thing, the foot hurts like hell and I can’t walk with a shoe on my left foot. I’ve walked a few miles (about 8-9 miles) with a flip-flop on my left foot and a boot on my right …

When I was walking yesterday and decided the pain was too much to walk with my boot on, I was seriously depressed. I knew it was more than a blister, but didn’t know what it was — except that it hurt like nothing I’ve felt on the trail.

But after putting on the flip-flop and getting over the fact that I would finish the Trail despite the problem, I felt really pumped. For a while I thought, “oh, no, this is it,” but remembered the vow I made to myself, which was that I would finish the trail no matter what — only a serious broken leg would stop me. So, remembering my personal vow got me pumped again; “I’m going to finish, even if it is with a flip-flop and a boot.”

I can’t describe how good I feel about my attitude and fortitude in the face of this situation. I will finish, not despite of the foot problem, but because of it; the problem and my adapting to the situation has given me greater powers. That’s one thing about getting depressed out here is good for — becoming stronger. No one is by your side to comfort you — unless you talk to fellow hikers — you’ve got to find a way out of the depression yourself, or else just quit. Probably three or four times I’ve been really down, then found my way out, only to become stronger. When I’m back in the real world I’ll be an animal — nothing can stop me after finishing the Trail.

After all, what’s harder than testing both mind and body seven days a week, for four and a half months? I got a ride from an older gentleman in Erwin, TN and he asked, “How’s the work going?” Nobody has ever expressed walking the Trail that way who has never walked the Trail themselves. I thought, “how’s the work going” was great, because it is work, for me at least. I like the fact that I’m working out here. Certainly I’ve never been tested as hard.

One thing I liked about wearing the flip-flop (that is, if there is anything to like about it) is that I changed to confront the challenge in front of me; the Trail wasn’t going to become any easier just because I was hurt. I had to adapt to the situation and do the best I could with limited resources. I didn’t beat the Trail, but I worked with what it gave me.

Photo by marklarson and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

3 Methods to a 47 Percent Email List Open Rate

Last week my friend and client Steve, from Amherst Wines & Spirits, told me that his previous monthly email newsletter open rate was 47%. If you need some context, for a retail brick and mortar business, an open rate like that just doesn’t happen (MailChimp open rates by industry). But I knew he didn’t misread the analytic report because when I started working with Steve, right out of the gate, his open rate was also a leader in his business sector, fluctuating between 20 and 30 percent. I knew most businesses would kill for even that email open rate.

Steve was complementary to me for bringing his open rate even higher, but he was clearly doing an effective job before I showed up (though he didn’t know it because he managed his email list by hand, in his regular email program).

Here’s what Steve does to get astronomical email open rates, along with some lessons this may teach us all.

Steve pre-qualifies his email list subscribers. Nearly every person that subscribes to his monthly newsletter has been into his store and bought something. And most of those email newsletter subscribers are also subscribers to his printed newsletter, mailed at the beginning of each month (the email newsletter is sent in the middle of the month). This means the number of subscribers to both of the lists climbs slowly, but the new subscribers have proven they want his messages.

Steve has a small business. He’s the only full time employee, so it’s likely that he’s personally spoken with every person that’s signed up for his print and email newsletters. Also, he’s tasted every single wine and spirit in the store, so when you ask for a recommendation, he has one specifically matched to your needs. Recently I asked Steve for a two bottles of wine, less than $11 each, that tasted more like vegetables than a jar of jam, and if they had screw tops I wouldn’t mind. A couple of minutes later he had two recommendations (both of which have been wonderful).

Given that context, it’s clear that Steve’s email list subscribers want the information he sends each month. Here are lessons Steve’s experience can teach us:

  1. Don’t worry about the number of subscribers to your list, because if none of them open your emails, what’s the point of a big number? Being more concerned with who’s on the email list should be the priority; those are the people that want to read your messages.
  2. Pre-approve your email list subscribers. It doesn’t have to be like Steve in his brick and mortar store. You can make a strong pitch to people who’ve already proven to be customers, and ask them to sign-up for a monthly newsletter. Just because they bought something from you, don’t assume they also want to receive other communication from you. As hot-top marketeer Seth Godin says, ask for permission.
  3. Have a deep knowledge of what you’re trying to sell, then communicate using language that’s familiar to your customers. No, I didn’t make a leap in logic. If you communicate using language that’s familiar to your customers, then like Steve, you need to get to know them. If both you and your customers get to know each other, and treat each other with respect, then it’s a good likelihood they’ll open your emails.

Do you have any interesting email open rate stories? Please leave them in the comments below.

Single Quickest Way To Improve Your Writing, If You Can Find It

I won’t cover-up the lede with prologue: the quickest way to improve your writing is by finding your own voice.

Ah. Notice how I didn’t tell you it was the easiest thing to do? And I didn’t mention exactly what that meant — even though most of us have heard the advice, we probably haven’t understood it. With the help of my favorite book on writing, below I’ll give you three ways to find your own writing voice.

In a clever piece about losing his once forceful voice to a battle with esophageal cancer, Christopher Hitchens describes the advice an editor gave him about a well argued, but boring piece: write “more like the way that you talk.” Hitchens can talk. He’s a throwback to a time when intellectuals had public debates about the issues of the times. Not only were there smart people having a public dialog, but they could talk, like, in coherent, logically structured sentences. Hitchens:

To my writing classes I used later to open by saying that anybody who could talk could also write. Having cheered them up with this easy-to-grasp ladder, I then replaced it with a huge and loathsome snake: “How many people in this class, would you say, can talk? I mean really talk?” That had its duly woeful effect. I told them to read every composition aloud, preferably to a trusted friend. The rules are much the same: Avoid stock expressions (like the plague, as William Safire used to say) and repetitions.

Since most of us don’t speak very well, it’s a tough leap to grasp onto what finding our own writing voice means, but I’ll make an attempt, with the help of John R. Trimble. He’s the author of one of the most useful, slim, books about writing: Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. Trimble doesn’t make this argument, but based on his words, here are 3 ways to find your own writing voice:

  1. Write to server people, not impress them. We don’t often speak in a style to impress people, so don’t do it when you write.
  2. Be lucid. When we’re talking the object isn’t to obscure our true meaning (unless you’re Donald Rumsfeld), it’s to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Work to be lucid.
  3. “Have something to say that’s worth their attention.” If part of finding our own writing voice is being more like we (ideally) speak, then we should write something that’s worth people’s attention.

What makes your writing sound more like you?

Photo by chuckthewriter and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

If You Don’t Fix This WordPress Problem Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later

In 2006, Darren Rowse at the ProBlogger site wrote that more than 200,000 people were still using the default page text that appears when a WordPress blog is first installed. Do you know the words I’m talking about?

“This is an example of a WordPress page, you could edit this to put information about yourself or your site so readers know where you are coming from. You can create as many pages like this one or sub-pages as you like and manage all of your content inside of WordPress.”

That was in 2006. Today a Google search will pull more than 13 million results for those words. Sad. On my search, on the first page of results, I found a friend’s site listed. I’m embarrassed enough for them, it’s hard to mention what I found.

Part of the problem is that when people start their blogs, write new pages, then never delete the default page that’s created at installation. One other issue seems to be that some people don’t understand the difference between a page and a post, then write posts that should be pages, and never look at the Pages administration tab to delete the default page.

If you’ve installed a WordPress blog lately, double check your default page situation. Please.

Without Breaking The Bank, Local Businesses Can Drive Customers Using Discounts via Twitter Lists

This is a proposal for an experiment in Western Massachusetts to start our own “Twitter-pon” list. Most small businesses using Groupon don’t fair well, at the end of the day. But there’s a way around it: start a Twitter list of local businesses that offer discounts directly to customers. Here’s the logic and details:

I don’t get Groupon. Or LivingSocial, or whatever the next location-based couponing site is going to be. And there will be others. Because that business has such a low barrier to entry and the profit margins are so high, if you’ve got $50-100k anyone can do it. It’s not brain surgery.

Try Googling “groupon scam” or “groupon ripoff” and read the stories. They’re not hard to find. For consumers it’s mostly a good deal, but they’re not the ones footing the bill for the discount. It’s the local businesses, often small operations themselves, that have to pay for the discount, pay a fee to Groupon, and pay a tax on the whole thing. Restaurants in particular, because the margins are so tight, seem to suffer when they try Groupon. Ponder this: if the economy was humming along, do you think Groupon ever gets off the ground?

Phone Books, Craigslist, and Twitter

I think about those things a lot, phone books, Craigslist, and Twitter. They’re all different communication tools, but they do have one critical thing in common: they’re communication from individual people that’s aggregated into a whole new thing. What gives the phone book value is not that my friend’s phone number is inside, it’s that nearly everyone has a number inside.

The same can be said for both Craigslist and Twitter: when all the individual communication points are combined, it gives more value to each, in addition to the bunch of posts or tweets (easier to live in a city than an island by yourself).

But there’s a problem, especially with Twitter: while communication can be aggregated by following someone, sometimes that’s both too much and not enough. It’s too much because I don’t want all the communication from someone that has an interesting tweet once a month. BUT I do want that one tweet because it’s a local business and they’ve got a great discount on dry cleaning. See the problem?

The Power of @WMApons, Twitter Lists and #wmapon

There are sites that aggregate discount offer tweets from big businesses (two, here and here), but there’s not a site or tool that slices the number of businesses down even further, creating a group of businesses based on geography that offer discounts or coupons via tweets. Maybe it’s out there, but I haven’t found such a targeted group.

This might blow up in my face, but here’s the idea. I’ve created a new Twitter account called Western Mass Discounts (@WMApons) and along with that a list of the same name. Why do both? People don’t want to muck up their main Twitter feed by following a 100 different local businesses, BUT I think they would follow list of pure local business discounts.

Think of the @WMApons list as a mall full of businesses offering deals. People go to the mall because they’re in the buying mood, and that’s why people would look at the @WMApons list: because they know local business are offering deals there. Remember, living on an island is hard. Better to be in the city or mall where the commerce is happening.

How To Join @WMApons

Making this idea hum like a finely tuned engine is going to possibly require local businesses that want to join @WMApons to create another Twitter account dedicated to ONLY your discount or coupon offers. Why? Because, remember, people want deals. That’s what you want to give them. If you foul-up the list with general tweets about how great business was today, then the perceived value of the list is diminished. The more valuable the list, the greater the number of followers, and the number of potential customers increases. Pretty cool, yeah?

That’s the idea, anyhow. If you have questions or suggestions for tweaks on this experiment, let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, if you’re a local business go follow @WMApons and if you’re a person looking for deals, follow the @WMApons/wmapons list.

Of course, like the phone book, Craigslist, and Twitter, the more people who use @WMApons, the more valuable it becomes.

Photo by eschipul and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

How are you holding back that flood?

How much information can you consume in a day? When your belly is full, can you leave a full plate sitting there, or do you go cold turkey and never look at another post?

In an effort to save the failing mental barricades, today I unsubscribed from the Boing Boing RSS feed. Had to. They left me no choice. Sometimes the information comes down the pipe in such a rush that the spigot has to be turned off.

Over the past 5 days, the wonderful writers at Boing Boing put more than 102 posts in my feed reader. I was surprised at how the content piled up because over 600 posts had just been marked as read, in an effort to get a handle on just how fast they were producing new content.

Boing Boing isn’t the only site I’ve shut out of my daily information smorgasbord. More than 50 other feeds have been pruned because they weren’t either producing enough, or producing too much for me to track. A lot of it’s interesting content, though it doesn’t fit into my life. The priority now is becoming a wonderful writer too, so it’s time to be picky about when I turn on the spigot.

Photo by echobase_2000 and republished here under a Creative Commons license.