INSITEVIEW- - tom shugart's weblog

Monday, December 29, 2003

Thirty Great Years!

Tomorrow we head out to the mountains where a fresh pack of deep snow has just fallen. Then on to Nevada to ring in the New Year with our very special friend, Barbara.

Tomorrow marks our thirtieth year of marital togetherness. Thirty great years—thanks in large part to my wife’s infinite patience, her outsize spirit and sense of humor, and her strong bond of partnership and camaraderie. And, of course, her smarts. What a lucky guy I am!

We’ll spend the night in the Sierra foothills in the picturesque Gold Rush-era town of Nevada City. There are a number of beautiful old Victorian mansions there that have been converted into B & B’s. We’re splurging on a big room in one of them—four-poster, the whole bit. A perfect place to snuggle up on a wintry mountain night and sip a toast to our fortuitous bond.

For those of you who missed my post last year about our wedding day in 1973, here’s a link. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

See you after New Year’s. Here’s wishing you all a great year—one that will include the end of the current terrorist regime in Washington!

Viva Peter Jackson!

Went to Return of the King yesterday. We were going to go on Christmas Day, but due to the enormous length of the movie, it was logistically impossible to do it then. We got to the theater 45 minutes ahead of time, and the line was already half way around the block.

Well, good! This movie deserves a record-smashing box-office. If it doesn’t receive best picture and best director Oscars this year, then Hollywood should be burned to the ground.

Peter Jackson did an amazing job of putting this monumental movie together. He kept the many pieces moving seamlessly from one scene to the next. The staging, of course, was spectacular. The three and a half hour length seemed like a mere hour.

It’s not often you can call a movie breathtaking, but this one makes the grade.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Tweener Trippin’, or Avoiding The Void

Elaine’s back after a too-long absence. I’ve been missing her pithy, incisive, and challenging voice. If you want lessons in how to write effectively about your own experience, read Elaine.

She’s coping with the demands of caring for an elderly parent. It’s the kind of situation where you wish that you could pitch in and do something to help. But, we in the virtual community, separated by physical miles, can only express our admiration and emotional solidarity—and continue to attempt to express ourselves half as well in our blogging as Elaine does in hers.

In describing her situation, Elaine opens with words that are completely dead-on with respect to my own situation—words that I could have written about myself had I her talent:

I've often felt out of place, out of time -- born too late or too early. I was a little too young to really be a "beatnik" and too old to be a "hippie." I'm too old to be a Boomer and too young to be a Solid Senior. I'm neither theist nor atheist, neither New Ager nor Old Fart. I've always have to keep struggling to keep from falling between life's cracks, to find a place of my own.”

As for a “place of my own,” thank God for my wife and children. Without them, I’d very likely be deep in one of those crevices of life somewhere.

As for the generational chronology, I’m in what could be called the Invisible Category—The Tweeners—sandwiched into obscurity by the giant shadows of the “Greatest Generation” (World War II) and the Boisterous Boomers. Being invisible, we were skipped over in political leadership, for example. In ’92, the reins went directly from the WWII guys--straight to the Boomers.

And there’s no looking back. We are in the dustbin, forgotten and unnoticed. And for good reason. There’s precious little contribution to our popular or political culture from my tiny cohort of Depression Babies. We’re a blip on the screen.

If you found yourself in an in-between sub-group like mine, you didn’t go out and create a new world. You either embraced the old, or latched on to the Boomer comet—if you were loose enough to be allowed in, and agile enough to hang on.

Those of us who chose the latter route were derided as “not acting our age.” So be it. I shake my head in dismay at most of my age peers. The great majority blindly went along with the elders, They think rock ‘n roll is noise; they thought burning down Vietnam was our moral duty—in the name of “stopping Communism"; and they surely wouldn’t countenance any cohabitation before marriage. Gay rights? You’ve got to be kidding.

People think I’m a Boomer because I look younger than I am, I have a Boomer wife, kids still in their twenties, and I’m a rock ‘n roll fan. But my dirty little secret is that I’m a Tweener—and in my heart of hearts, like Elaine, I never feel like I belong anywhere.

My wonderful family keeps me from the abyss. And the blogosphere certainly helps. How magically it blurs the gaps of age as well as the physical miles. Praise be to the virtual community out there!

Noontime Noodling

Frank Paynter seemed no worse for the wear after his mighty gastronomic adventures here. Looking surprisingly spry, we met at the lobby of his high-rise hotel on Union Square. A great area to spend the holidays.

I suggested a pan-Asian/microbrew joint nearby (there’s a California configuration if I ever heard of one), and Frank seemed pleased. We had a most enjoyable couple of hours as we dawdled and conversed over a shared platter of assorted satays, crispy noodles, and dipping sauces. I, of course, indulged myself with a microbrew. Frank hasn’t touched the stuff for many years.

Having covered everything from blogging, marketing, the tech-world, marriage, kids, Vietnam War-era stories, politics, and what-have-you, we strolled back up the street, brisk and sunny after five miserable days of rain, and bid our goodbyes.

Getting together with fellow bloggers—especially sharp and friendly guys like Frank—is one of my favorite, and all too infrequent pleasures.

Happy New Year, Frank, and have a good trip back home! Oh, and lest we forget--Happy Birthday!--and good luck in decompressing from all that SF cuisine.

Christmas Past

A most enjoyable Christmas—as it was meant to be. Sitting around the fire with treasured members of immediate family—sipping French Champagne and exchanging gifts.

Although it’s embarrassing to admit this, our kids finally dragged their parents into the twenty-first century with a DVD player. (I’m a notoriously slow adapter). We broke in the machine most fittingly by viewing “Concert For George”—the wonderfully moving tribute to George Harrison performed at the Royal Albert Hall last November on the first anniversary of George’s untimely death.

A multitude of great musicians, including Ringo and Paul, performing a couple of hours of all-George Harrison compositions—preceded by an Indian segment with music written for the occasion by Ravi Shankar. What could be better?

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Paynting The Town Round

Frankie Claus has come to town, and judging from his accounts of his gastronomical adventures here, he’s attempting to reach the levels of rotundity of Old St. Nick himself.

Serendipitously, the one day that I have available for a lunch date is the same day that’s open for him. So, come the day after Christmas, Frank and I will be breaking bread again, one year after doing so in Madison last year.

This could become a habit--not that I would mind. I’m concerned, though, that by the time I meet up with Frank for eats, we won’t be able to find anything left to munch on here in the home burg after a week of his grazing through the place like a herd of goats.

Tables I Would Have Liked To Have Been A Fly On

Jeanene and Halley supping together in Atlanta. That had to be ear-steaming!

Friday, December 19, 2003

All I Want For Christmas Is “Lord Of The Rings”

Wish I could have been back in Madison with the Salos for the opening of Return of the King. Our family is going to put the finishing touches to our Christmas Day by treating ourselves to the movie after eats and gifts.

We did the same thing last year with Two Towers. I’d love every Christmas to be like that. Wish Peter Jackson could just keep churnin’em out. But that would no doubt be beyond human endurance or fiscal possibility.

It was so great to be able to visit with Dorothea and David last year just before seeing the film, and to thumb through the amazing book of photographs from the movie sets which David had been given in recognition of his excellent work of translation for the trilogy.

Happy Holidays, D & D!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A Welcome Return

On-again-off-again Lindsay Vaughan has returned to the blogosphere with a new blog. Let's hope she sticks around this time. I love her brash, fearlessly introspective young voice. I think I first found out about her through RageBoy. It figures.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Groping In The Dark

Shelley asks, “is there anyway we can get you an RSS feed?”

Well, gosh, Shelley, I wish I knew. Dummy that I am, I don’t know how to set one up.

I recently registered myself at Bloglines and am now enjoying the fruits of faster blog check-ins. I now understand why there’s all this noise about RSS. You damn betcha I would like people to be able to check in on my blog this way. It’s some pretty amazing shit.

But there’s this little problem of getting the RSS feed. Is there a program that generates the code for you? I sure as hell hope so.

As wonderful as RSS seems to be, I do have one concern. How are people going to know that I’ve been visiting them? How am I going to know who visited me? Not having this knowledge would really subtract, I think, from my pleasure in blogging. Is losing this worth what you gain?

Well, I guess the answer doesn’t matter. The train has clearly left the station on this issue, so it behooves me to get on board—if only I could figure out how to do it.

Postscript: I may have lost a step or two lately, but there’s still a little bit of life left back there in the dim recesses of the gray matter. I was able to conceive the absolutely brilliant idea that RSS feeds might be available if I upgraded to Blogger Pro.

Pretty amazing, huh? Turns out that I was right. Just one little hitch, though. Blogger is no longer accepting upgrades!

WTF? You’d think with the Google takeover they would be extra eager to take your money. Now what? I really don’t feel up to moving off of Blogger. I’ve grown so comfortable with it, and never had a problem.

Maybe moving off isn’t such a big deal. But the thought of it makes me quite nervous. Advice, anyone?


I’m going to be doing some marketing-related posts from time to time in conjunction with my new work involvement. I’ve decided to keep a separate blog for these posts.

I’ve always appreciated it when other bloggers provide adjunct blogs—separate from their personal blogs--that deal with their area of professional involvement. A good example of this is Shelley Powers’ Practical RDF.

I feel it’s a courtesy on her part because, not knowing jack about the subject, I don’t have to skip over this material in her regular blog. Her readers who are hip to RDF have only to make the click.

Being short on imagination and originality, the best I could come up with for a title was Insiteview 2.0. Anyway, if you’re so inclined, do drop by.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Northern Passion

Best wishes go out to the normally indefatigable blogger, Jordon Cooper, who has been felled by a concussion. Seems that his dog tripped him up on the ice rink—a place where the Rev. Coop appears to spend a large chunk of time during the Saskatchewan winters.

A day prior to the fall, Jordon had posted an interesting piece on the passion of Canadians for their national sport of hockey. As he states:

Hockey is more than a sport for Canadians; it is part of the country's soul.
Canada is hockey and hockey is Canada.”

Having grown up in Indiana, where the passion for basketball approaches that of Canadians for hockey, I have some appreciation for what Jordon is describing. Last time I was back in the Hoosier state, two guys in a bar were on the verge of fisticuffs over a heated discussion about the High School State Finals of 1958! No doubt many a scene like that has transpired in Canadian watering holes.

For about three years during the mid-eighties, I was the Northern California representative for a company headquarterd in Edmonton. This was during the Oilers’ glory years. Whenever the bosses came down to check up on things at the local office and would start to get too close to some issues that might not reflect so well on us, all we had to do was divert the conversation to the Oilers.

It always seemed to work. This is not to suggest, by the way, that these guys were simpletons. Absolutely not. But every time we interjected hockey, it just seemed to overtake their souls and their otherwise astute judgment.

The real test of this strategy would be if the Bushies could use it to deflect the bruised feelings engendered by their outrageous insult to our dear neighbors to the North. I’m referring to the instantly infamous Wolfowitz doctrine of barring Canada and others from bidding on contracts in Iraq.

Hopefully, Canadian hockey mania does not extend to that extreme. Here’s hoping new Prime Minister-to-be Paul Martin keeps on bitching like Gretzky pursuing the puck.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

On A Roll!

December's been some kinda month for this blogger! Fresh on the heels of getting an award from Burningbird comes a new one from another great blogger, Bruce of The River--this time with the impressive accolade of "2003 Exemplary Blog", tied with Euan Semple for godsake! I'm speechless.

Bruce's list is awesome, clever, and a fantastic reference list. How does he read all these blogs? You could keep yourself pleasantly occupied for a hell of a long time with this list.

Thanks, mightily, Bruce! Somebody needs to come up with an award for you.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Then What?

Well, the promised next installment on events and personal passages during my recent disappearance from blogging is long overdue.

As reported, I had made the decision to return to the work sphere. I described how I was unable to simply dust off the rolodex and go back to my former activities. Which left the question: if not that, then what?

Which led me to begin to address seriously a development that was becoming increasingly obvious to me—the recent emergence of Google AdWords and Overture, plus ever-cheaper and more effective tracking software, and other advances. A marketing revolution? Maybe. Maybe not. What’s clear is that a new space of possibility has opened up—especially for the little guy.

Yes, I engaged in some internet marketing in my past work life. It was such a new field, however, we didn’t really know that much about what we were doing. And we certainly weren’t alone. Unwittingly, we--and many others--sold our clients a bill of goods. Even though we were acting in good faith on the basis of the knowledge we had at the time, I feel pretty sheepish when I look back on it.

I could recite the pitch in my sleep:
“Yes, Mr./Ms. Client, if you let us handle your Web channels, not only will you get a good-looking, optimally functioning site, you’ll be tapping into our full range of marketing savvy. Not only will we do a full-out PR effort, we will submit your site to over a hundred of the top search engines, and we’ll continue to re-submit on an ongoing basis.”

Well golly gee whiz!

The fact of the matter is that the so-called search engine marketing that was sold in those days—and much of what continues to be—is a joke and a money drain. But, as I said, we didn’t know that then. Our clients got great-looking, well-functioning sites, but more sales leads? More new business? Strictly a crapshoot.

These attractive sites that we proudly showed off are nothing more than a now-required cost of doing business—a necessary evidence of credibility, like letterhead or fax numbers, with about the same degree of marketing significance.

Well, Jack, throw that old model out the window and get ready for the new world of small-is-beautiful—and I do mean Ad Words. Google gets it, and the mom-and-pop entrepreneur is the beneficiary.

So—your humble writer decided to cough up some (gulp) serious bucks to attend the finest training he could find, so that he could get current on the latest advances and prepare himself to serve a new, small scale class of clients, maybe create some Web-assisted passive income vehicles, maybe assist others in doing the same (e.g., folks cast off by the system but still having their mojo if not their moolah), and maybe help entrepreneurs struggling to figure out what to do with their Web presence.

So, fellow bloggers, as you were slaving over your blogs, I was rubbing shoulders with some of the best minds in the internet marketing universe, trying to soak up as much as I could. Three of my favorites in this group were Perry Marshall, Don Crowther, and Jim Maddox. Anyone who can afford to retain these guys as their ongoing consultants is indeed fortunate.

Where will this new direction lead me? Who can say? All I can do is move forward one day at a time—as clichéd as that is—and do my utmost to maintain an attitude of positive expectation. If it doesn’t work, c’est la vie. I’ve had a long and full life.

Meanwhile, it’s very energizing to put myself to this test. Lord knows, at this stage of the game, I can use whatever energy source I can latch onto. (Ha! Ended my post with a preposition. Always wanted to do that).

Friday, December 05, 2003

Damned If I Do; Damned If I Don’t

“And you give yourself away
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you”
U2--from “The Joshua Tree,” 1987

Even after announcing my return to blogging, it’s painfully obvious that the posts are punctuated by wide gaps of time. A daily blogger I no longer am. I’m trying to find some sort of balance, but it’s not easy.

I enjoyed freeing up my consciousness when I took a vacation from blogging, but I missed being in the scene. Now that I’ve returned, I’m enjoying it, but I miss the liberation of my consciousness. Where do I find the balance? Damned if I know.

I’m a couple of days late on this, but Jonathon Delacour has weighed in on this complex issue. His powers of expression and insight are most welcome here. In describing a friend who has a more demanding job but enjoys more discretionary time, Jonathon observes:

Karl has one huge advantage over me: he doesn’t blog.

Self-employment, a constant Internet connection, a weblog, and a mildly addictive personality turn out to be a killer combination—even for someone who no longer feels compelled to post regularly, let alone every day. Liz Lawley went cold turkey by taking a vacation with her family:

'The best part of the trip was that by midweek I’d stopped blogging things in my head. I hadn’t realized how much I’d begun to detach from real life, always running meta-commentary in my head to save for later blogging. Letting go of that was very refreshing. It’s not that I don’t want to blog, it’s that I don’t want to do it all the time.'

Although Liz didn’t say this explicitly, I think she realized that having a weblog turns information overload into a two-way process: first you suck all this stuff into your head for processing; and then you regurgitate it as weblog posts. And, while this process isn’t all that different from the ways in which we manipulate information in our jobs, it’s something that we’ve chosen to do in addition to our jobs, something that detaches us even further from “real life”. I suspect that the problem is compounded by the fact that weblog entries are—overwhelmingly—expressions of opinion and, to make it worse, many of the opinions are opinions about opinions on issues concerning which the opinionators have little, if any, firsthand knowledge or experience. Me included.”

I especially agree with that last part on “opinions about opinions.” Blogging about what one knows directly—one’s experience—is what matters. I remember one of my sons’ teachers telling her lit class, “Writers write to make sense of their experience. It’s the common thread—the driving force.”

So, yes, trying to achieve a balance between blogging and the rest of my life is a constant, sometimes overwhelming struggle for someone like me—someone who shares the unholy quartet cited by Jonathon: “self-employment, a constant Internet connection, a weblog, and a mildly addictive personality.”

Nonetheless, I’m compelled to make the attempt to make sense of my experience, so I’ll keep up the struggle--provided I can keep my head above water.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Stroke My Anima

A miserable wintry day has just been made bright by my belated discovery of having been included in Shelley’s great post, “Best Blog With a Female Spirit.”

Shelley accords me the honor for being one of the male bloggers who exemplifies the “figurative grandmother, the wise woman who sits in the corner spinning yarn and tales equally, and in the process helping to continue traditions without which our lives would be so much duller. “

I never would have thought of that description in a million years, but Shelley’s descriptive powers are among the best to be found, so I’ll accept it, gladly and proudly. Thank you, Bird, I’m humbled!

Monday, December 01, 2003

One-Handed Blogging

Huzzahs for Denise Howell, who delivered her baby, Tyler, on Thanksgiving Day! Having been present at the birth of my two children without knowing their sex in advance (I don't think it was even possible back then), I had previously congratulated Denise on her decision to buck the popular trend (now that you can find out the sex ahead of time) and wait to be surprised. When you don't know, it's more exciting than the top 100 suspense movies of all time rolled into one as you witness the delivery unfold.

(Aside: thanks to all the activists of the 60's and 70's who lobbied tirelessly for winning permission for fathers to be present in the delivery rooms. It was still a rather new thing when my kids were born. It's the quintessential bonding experience--not to mention being able to be there for your wife).

(Second Aside: I have an extra reason to be excited about this birth--Jill and I were enjoying an evening with Denise in Mendocino when she was newly pregnant, but none of us yet knew it. Being unaware, D downed a few more glasses of the local wine than she probably would have otherwise. We later joked that Tyler--formerly known as BH--Baby Howell--may grow up with a predilection for Mendocino County Chardonnay).

There are no more dauntless or dedicated bloggers than Denise. And this time she's outdone herself. She managed to post while in the early stages of labor, and again just two days after the birth. As one of her commenters noted, she'll have one-armed blogging down in no time flat.

Meantime, I'm repairing to Tyler's gift registry that's been set up on Amazon. What a great idea! The Web never ceases to amaze.