Blogging Made Easy or Your Money Back

An odd thing happened at work. Someone thought my advice and experience in blogging was useful and should be shared with others. I, of course, was mortified.

Has anybody actually read my blog? I thought not.

It felt like when you wave to someone who’s calling out to you, only to realize too late they are talking to the person behind you. Embarrassing to say the least. So when I got the Skype message on my laptop with the request, I immediately looked behind me. Yet, no one was lurking, ready to be a real blogger.

Oh no. It’s me they want.

I immediately booked a flight to Timbuktu, Mali and chucked all my electronic devices. If they want me to say something, anything, they’re going to have to find me first!

Going incognito in Mali has its fashion drawbacks. Plus the camels are surly and it scorches to 118 Fahrenheit on a good day! (At least so in 2007 when I first went).

Mali fashion (circa 2007)
Mali fashion (circa 2007)
Surly camel
‘I don’t like bloggers, you.’

Who needs that. So I stayed.

Eventually I could not resist the technology temptation, so I dusted off the iPhone and placed the laptop back in its precarious position on my desk. After checking email and Facebook and Twitter and Yammer, I was out of excuses so I perused the Skype chats. The question remained.

‘Would I chat about my experience in blogging and give any tips to potential bloggers?’

I could just imagine all the real social media and blogging gurus tweeting and posting in consternation at the preposterous nature of such an undertaking!

That’s really what inspired me. Defying expectations. Taking the path less trodden.

So I deemed the request worthy of a ‘yes’. Woe to those standing in my path.

Sarcasm aside (never), here is a summary. Not likely to be that new or exciting. Use it. Abuse it. Muse it.

Tips for blogging

…know the reason you are writing.

…know who is likely to read it.

…define what you mean by ‘success’. This can change over time.

…have a schedule. Keep it.

…be persistent.

…be interesting. Or funny. Or provocative. If you are bored…so are we.

…let it fester before publishing.

…use ‘clever’ titles.

Some ‘clever’ titles (my most viewed posts)

  1. Don’t Look Down and Other Reasons to Wet Your Pants
  2. Blue Blazes, President Hoover, and a Skinny Dipping World Record
  3. The Joy of Food Porn
  4. Colombia in Pictures (sometimes not so clever works too…)

How to stay motivated?

Keep your goal in mind. (Did you achieve it? Can it change?)

Give encouragement to others. (One ounce of feedback is motivating.)

Sense of accomplishment. (From crafting something useful or interesting or funny.)

But no one reads my blog! No one leaves comments! I quit! (You can’t build a pyramid with only five stones or a blog with only three blog posts.)

Where do you draw the line on what to share?

Remember the audience.

Not everything that happens (in your life) is interesting. (Your Mom isn’t the only one reading this. Hi Mom!)

Will it get you in trouble? Stir up some controversy? (If it is work related, does it match your corporate philosophy?)

Some pointed Q&A

Why are blogs important internal communication tools?

You can have a quicker production schedule (outside the formal communication channels currently available).

You can involve more people with minimal effort. One person can post and edit on behalf of many contributors or a team of people can post individually on topics in their area of expertise.

You can set the ‘tone’. Other formal communication pieces (like newsletters or an intranet news site) have their own editors and style.

What makes a good post?

It’s about something you care about.

It’s about something your readers care about.

It elicits a reaction and people share it. It’s provocative. It’s humorous. It’s poignant.

How can you get leaders to regularly post or contribute to a blog? Especially if they say no one reads it.

If a leader started a blog and no one reads it, has it had a chance to find interested readers? Has it been promoted or made known to those people? If yes, and still no one reads it, maybe it’s time to reconsider the purpose. Maybe they need to find a different way to communicate. Blogging is not the solution for everyone.

To get leaders to maintain or contribute to a blog, first you need someone who is already motivated to do it. If they are on the fence or regularly don’t have time, it will hard to maintain and they will give up quicker.

Second, give them a reasonable schedule. Like once a month. Maybe you could have one blog from multiple leaders, each providing a post once a month, but the net result is new posts coming weekly or more frequently.

Third, make it easier for them. For example, make their sole task to write a 300 word treatise on widgets. Then you do all the work of editing, adding photos or graphics, posting and promoting.

That’s all folks.

Your refund is in the mail.

Here is the presentation: Blogging Made Easy

I’d share the recording, but talk about boring!

The Joy of Food Porn

Whenever I eat while traveling (a daily occurrence), I feel like I should take photos of the various foods I try.

Why? Well, when I see travel and foodie shows that flaunt their delicious and mouth-watering images like its some kind of food porn, I want to join them.

Yet, despite this, I am always somewhat embarrassed to take the actual photos. I look around to make sure no one is watching (and judging me). Some people are shameless and snap those tasty shots without thought. But not me, I always try for sly and avoid eye contact with anyone in my vicinity at all cost. The flash always gives me away.

Here is a sampling of some of my poor quality, badly lit, guiltily taken food photos over the years that represent categories of sustenance that will surely cause a heart attack. I also threw in some beer and wine shots. Because I can.

I am not responsible for any salivating or queasiness that may result.

Squid ink pasta in Venice
A lunch repast in rural Mali
Mofongo in the Dominican Republic
Okonomiyaki in Japan
Sliders in Washington, D.C.
Cocoa beans in Zanzibar
El Presidente in Dominican Republic
Fish amok in Cambodia
Enjoying a ballgame
Camping with a freeze dried ice cream sandwich
In N Out burger and fries in LA - animal style!
Lots of wine in South Africa
Chicken mole in Mexico
A Jucy Lucy in Minneapolis
Red wine in Northern Virginia
Fuju in Tokyo
Frites drowning in mayonnaise in Amsterdam
Zingerman sandwich in Ann Arbor
Kobe beef in Kobe
Cheese and beer in Seattle
Nasty fruit in Cyprus
Wedding cake in Washington, D.C. (yes, it is)
Ostrich meat balls in Kenya
Bandeja paisa in Colombia
Goose Island beer in Chicago


Take My Goat! Please

(Originally posted on July 31, 2007)


The simple fact about Mali is that you need to know things to survive. You need to know who, where and how for just about everything. Don’t ask why, nobody really cares about that. It just is. If you get a flat tire and don’t have a spare, you need to know how to negotiate to get it fixed. Even if it means sidling up to the guy that just pulled up in a panel truck and just might have an extra tire. You have to be prepared for things not to work. You can’t pick up a Yellow Book and wave your credit card to get things fixed. Electricity and water are not to be taken for granted. When they’re available, great, but when they’re not, you better be prepared.

The village doesn’t have electricity? Well, glad you have that generator over there. Wait, it’s broken? Thanks, I guess I’ll stew here without lights and air conditioning. Where’s the bathroom? I’ll have to use the outhouse? There’s no running water and I can’t flush the toilet or take a shower? You’re willing to fetch me a bucket of water from the well down the street? How great. I’m fine, thanks. I’ll pretend I’m camping. What’s this? A flashlight and a mosquito net? Hmmm, okay. Good night.

Electricity is one of the essentials to combat the heat. Is it hotter than hell today? Why, yes it is! Thanks for noticing, could you turn on the air conditioning, please? Not today, you’re in Mali! Stop being a wuss, its only 118 degrees Fahrenheit today. Last week it was 130. No worries, I’ll just sit back and sweat until I pass out.

So I must say, thank God for cars. Cars need gas and batteries, but they don’t need electricity! I was fortunate to be on a road trip after all, zooming past the melting trees in my icy metal cocoon. No, don’t stop. Not here! Wait, we have a flat tire? NO! (By the way, don’t stand on pavement for more the 10 seconds during a blistering heat wave.)

Some people aren’t so fortunate though. Those are the ones that ride the buses. Crammed, hot, dirty and exactly as you would imagine. You just can’t waste the battery on air conditioning. It just isn’t done. Despite that, the people on buses are quite a bit better off then their animals. Goats. Yes, goats ride on the buses. Not just on the bus, but on TOP of the bus. Wrapped in feed bags, feet tied, just so… you know… they don’t get up and jump off. The ten or more pairs of baleful eyes gave the impression of not good times.

Speaking of goats, unlike their human counterparts, it’s what they don’t know that helps them survive.

To be continued… (Author’s note: I never wrote the third installment…sue me.)

Bozos of Bla

(Originally posted June 12, 2007)

Relieved to discover that Bamako endured a thunderstorm mere hours before my shoes hit the tarmac, I realize that this might not be so bad after all. Those 105 degree days the weather websites predicted might not be in the cards.

The airport terminal had little to offer besides chaos. People milling about the passport control booth, raised voices and the lack of order that Westerners are allergic to. Suddenly, someone holding up our sign gets our attention and introduces us to another guy who wants our passports and is eager for us to follow him. Follow him to the front of the passport line, where angry people waiting impatiently are about to start yelling at us. Not really wanting to go, I give up my passport, and trudge behind him around the edge of the crowd. He snakes around people doing the same thing and reaches around the passport booth to slip our passports under the glass. Not quite making it, we stand around for 15 minutes as he tries to sneak his way in and around the other line-cutters. Finally, he makes it and adds our passports to the stack of 20 or so already poised for effect in front of the officer. The value of cutting in line escapes me, yet everybody has their own person to take them to the front of the line. In fact, only a couple of shell-shocked Westerners agape in the back of the mob didn’t have a proper Malian airport guy to get them through the throngs of chaos.

1-1/2 hours later we are still waiting in the parking lot for our airport guy to bring our luggage. Something about Air France with faulty baggage equipment and having to borrow a replacement from the only other airline around. It probably didn’t help that our new friend only had our baggage claim numbers and not an actual description of the luggage. Somehow, probably after checking every single claim number on every piece of luggage, he comes out proudly dragging our suitcases to the Landcruiser. Welcome to Mali.

There are only three bridges crossing the Niger river into Bamako and two of these are relatively new. Before that, people just didn’t cross the river. One of these bridges is more a series of road sections snaking through a basin that completely floods during wet season. Then bring your boat or go home. The scrub trees along this so-called bridge are dressed up in fluttering and rotting plastic bags. Not a single branch for miles fails to bear its share. For the other bridges, during certain times of day, the traffic goes one way. Those unfortunate to be stuck on the wrong side have to wait for hours. Welcome to Mali.

After little sleep, we wake the next morning at the crack of dawn. The temperature is still on our side. Our tour of various projects is about to get underway. We have a true road trip over the next five days; Segou, Koro, Sanke, Mpoti, Dieli. First stop: Bla. Home of the Bozo people.

To be continued…

The Best Non-Required Christmas Letter 2007

(Originally sent via email January 2, 2008)

I trust you had a fantastic year and are just about ready to wrestle this new year, 2008, into submission. I simply ask that you keep your New Year’s resolutions child-friendly. Forget it, no one ever listens anyway.

Once again, I give you exactly what you didn’t want, another biased, self-absorbed Christmas Letter (albeit now after the fact). You can run, you can hide, but why bother? Like a scab, you just have to pick at it. Since you probably have a ridiculously short attention span and more interesting things to do, I have used bold letters and words a 5th grader can follow (no research went into this claim). So here it is, a graphic, untamed sampling of my experience that was the year 2007. No minors allowed.

Butterfly Farm (Georgetown, Malaysia)
Hot and steamy… this is not the opening of a romance novel, it is simply the environment butterflies like to pupate, grow and burst forth from their cocoons. They seem to be quite happy flitting about their flower gardens, babbling brooks and koi ponds, that is until a net flashes from below and they find themselves pinned behind a framed pane of glass in your plastic shopping bag. You just had to ruin it, didn’t you? A writhing pit of large, obsidian scorpions stabbing each other with mammoth stingers is also a good way to enjoy the wonders of nature.

Northern Virginia Wineries (USA)
On two occasions I spent the day touring wineries and quaffing the various offerings. My pretentious wine awards go to:

  • Best winery name: Naked Mountain
  • Best hot tub wine: Moonrise (from Gadino Cellars)
  • Best use of fake guns and fake beards: Civil War Re-enactment (at Gray Ghost winery)
  • Best T-shirt slogan: Drink Naked (from Naked Mountain)
  • Best wine: Mediterranean Cellars’ Sweet Lucia
  • Best documentary: My thrilling, timeless expose of an inchworm’s quest for the meaning of life (42)
  • Best view: Rolling farmlands – everywhere
  • Best Sommelier: Me

Top Songs
The best songs I heard this year…..drum roll please…….. “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillet, “Starts With One” by Shiny Toy Guns, “Time” by Chantal Kreviazuk, “LDN” by Lily Allen, “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles, “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” by Fall Out Boy, and “Champagne From a Straw” by Andrea Corr. If you haven’t heard any of these songs, hmmmmmm – why do I even bother

Cliffs of Bandiagara (Mali)
Intertwined within a dusty, heat drenched cliff face, village ruins (former home of the Dogon people) overlook a tree-scattered landscape that almost touches the Sahara Desert. Climbing up and around narrow paths, ladders, random paintings and dark rooms passing off as homes, you finally reach the town meeting place, a narrow, cave-like hollow that one cannot stand in – so one cannot jump up in anger during the tumultuous town meetings.  No women allowed. Why didn’t corporate America think of this? (well, the first part)

McMenamins Kennedy School (Portland, Oregon, USA)
McMenamins has a tendency to convert old buildings, theaters, schools, frankly whatever they can get their hands on, into brewpubs serving their various beers on tap. The Kennedy School just so happened to have been an elementary school early in its existence. Now it is a busy brewery, restaurant, theater, hotel, art gallery, pub and whatever else they managed to cram into the former classrooms and locker rooms (yes the showers still work). The only thing that’s missing right now is me.

European Champions League Match (London, England)
In an epic match between football clubs from England and Portugal, titan Chelsea (England) took on FC Porto (Portugal) at Stamford Bridge in London. The stadium was electric with blue and fans hoarsely and enthusiastically singing “Blue Flag” and “Blue is the Colour” as Chelsea handed Porto a devastating 2-1 defeat to advance to the Champions league semi-finals against Liverpool. Me, I just tried not to provoke any hooligans. Go Chelsea

Pet Photo Contest (Capital Hill, Washington, D.C.)
My wiener dog became famous for one month during Capital Hill’s Hill Rag annual Pet Photo Contest. He didn’t win anything, but he was pictured under the “Best of the Rest” section, looking so cute carrying an oversized bone. At least I didn’t dress him up in a stupid costume! Those people should get acquainted with the inside of a padded room. You know who you are. (website)
Oh man, last year I got on MySpace and this year I added Facebook to my repertoire of extreme time-wasting activities. I’ve “superpoked” so many people that I think the police are looking for me.

Fish (Key Largo, Florida)
In the Florida Keys, I saw fish from all angles, inside and out. First, we went to the Fishhouse, a busy little restaurant that served great Mahi-Mahi stuffed with blue crabmeat. Fried Conch, although it sounds interesting, is just not. Then I did four (scuba) dives off French Reef and played with the inquisitive lobsters and tried to tickle the clown fish (apparently they don’t find that very funny – false advertising!)

Planet Earth (DVD)
This 11-part epic mini-series exhibits our little planet through breathtaking cinematography and stunning, never before captured live action. Wait, do I sound like I’m writing the back of the DVD jacket? Crap, well, if you want to see lions kill an elephant, or crystal caves that are off-limits to preserve their beauty (except the film crew and only for this series), or a desperate polar bear try to kill an elephant seal bull (not a good idea really), or the lovely ecosystem that lives in a pile of bat guano the size of your house, then this is the DVD for you.

U.S. and A
Over the last few years, I’ve been traveling to quite of range of countries. This year, I actually took some time to poke around my home country a bit. So I had a look see of Boston (no tea party but plenty of Harvard talent), Atlanta (home of the Braves), the Florida Keys (where else can you get key lime pie on-a-stick?), St. Petersburg (it’s silly to expect much), New York (those damn Yankees want how much for a ticket?), Seattle (still sore from too much sports and coffee), Portland (good for drowning oneself in beer) and Miami (South Beach!).

Canadian Rocky Mountains (Alberta, Canada)
If only to stroll the picturesque Banff in minus 13 (Celsius) weather, to sip hot cocoa at Banff Springs Hotel or to ski much too fast down the Lake Louise ski slopes. Or to be overwhelmed by the imposing blue mountains as the sun begins its descent. Or to spy a bald eagle at dusk making short work of a frozen deer. Or to…but I digress.

Beaches and Tsunamis (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
Outside our hotel, south of Dar es Salaam, was a beach granting uninhibited access to the Indian Ocean. With just a 20-minute boat ride, you could land on a small island and stroll up from the cobalt blue water and small patches of coral and park yourself in the sand. Or you can wait out a tsunami warning after an 8.2 earthquake rocked Indonesia. Sadly, it petered out and didn’t wash us all away. Though harder to write about when dead, it probably makes for a more interesting story.

Top Books
The best books I read this year….”The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” by James L. Swanson, “Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning” by George Monbiot, “Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and  “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond.

Spice Farm (Zanzibar)
If you want to know where nutmeg, cinnamon, peppercorn, cocoa beans, lanolin, vanilla and other spices come from, then your next adventure should be a trek through a spice farm. Smell, taste, touch and guess what each plant grows. Then eat all manner of fruit until the juices can’t help but drip from your chin. If you also want some guy to make hats, ties, bags and jewelry out of banana leaves (you heard me), then my work here is done.

Yikes, I started a blog this year. Noooooo! Although it is the last thing the world needs, I feel compelled to infect the unsuspecting masses with my unnecessarily lazy prose. Dark, disturbing and beyond redemption, it can only get worse. Read more: (Myspace link removed – A Random Journey is now my blog which you are on…)

Top Movies
Some of the best movies I saw this year, even if they weren’t all released this year were….”Pan’s Labyrinth”, “The Lives of Others”, “Superbad”, “American Gangster”, and “No Country for Old Men”.

Wicked (Musical in Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
As you may not know, the Wicked Witch of the West was actually good, just misunderstood. This is a great bit of revisionist history about the classic tale ‘The Wizard of Oz” set to music. Green is good!

Flowering Balconies (Cartagena, Colombia)
Ahh, perchance to stroll aimlessly about the walled city of Cartagena de Indias, spying the spectacular hanging flowers exploding from balconies, plazas, and gardens only to be tempered by the pulsating colors and architecture of the myriad of edifices densely packed into narrow cobblestone streets. (Would you rather I wrote it in Spanish?) You can gaze out onto the Caribbean watching (hoping) for pirate ships to attack the impregnable Castillo de San Felipe. Wishful thinking, once they built that sucker, no one ever took the city or made off with boatloads of booty again.
Speaking of booty, this is the end of the Christmas Letter. Get back to whatever you were doing before this unwelcome intrusion. Or do something interesting.
Bonus Entry!
For anyone just not sure how to handle 2008 yet, let me give you some options. Baseball games at Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees) and Shea Stadium (New York Mets). They are tearing down the stadiums after the 2008 season and I have to go before it happens. Mark your calendars.