“Lincoln, Right?”

At dinner last night, my 19-year-old son and I talked about whether some of his upcoming  training could earn him  college credit.

I didn’t have an answer to his question, but of course I recalled a public service ad from my early childhood.

In the spot, Abraham Lincoln enters a modern-day employment office and describes his education which consists primarily of self-study. He is told by the employment counselor that his knowledge and experience didn’t matter without a diploma:

Of course, thinking about the PSA video caused my mind to leap to another period in my life.

Nearly 30 years after I’d last seen, or thought about, the “Lincoln” ad, I worked in a Chicago ad agency.

One afternoon, a creative director (who was roughly the same age as me) peeked in my office when I was on the phone. I motioned for him to come in and sit down.

He sat at a guest chair, holding box that spanned about 1/2 his lap. The box rose to a height just below his rib cage. He fiddled with the sides of the box while he waited for me to finish my call.

I wrapped up my call and first thing he said was “I’ve done a lot of reading and studying. Sort of on my own.”

I could not stop laughing. 

After a few rounds, things went “meta” and I began laughing ABOUT my laughing. There was a moment I wasn’t sure if  I would catch my breath.

When I did eventually regain  control of my respiratory function, I thought about my brush with asphyxiation and  envisioned a  coroner’s report:  “Cause of Death: Mirth.”

It would have been a helluva way to go.

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The Digital Liability

During my time in the creative services and web technology industries, a point of frustration has been that a lot of potentially productive energy is squandered as practitioners argue about whether a solution is one or more of the following:

  • Web Content Management (WCM) or
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) or
  • Enterprise Content Management (ECM) or
  • Learning Content Management (LCM) or
  • Some Other Acronym (SOA)

So that we may bypass such distractions, let me say the following:

    • All digital assets are content; however…
    • Not all content can be considered an asset.
    • Content must provide organizational value to be considered digital asset.

That being said, my question is what makes a digital liability?

There are many attributes about a content item that can diminish its value. These are a few that come to mind:

  • Digital master is of insufficient resolution, improper color space, or inadequate frame rate (for video).
  • Content is improperly described by metadata.
  • Multiple replicas (or approximations) of a content item are stored many different locations. This can include copies nested in files system directories or stored in offline media.
  • Organizational technologies or processes don’t provide adequate reuse/repurposing opportunities.
  • Inconsistent modifications among language derivatives of content items.
  • Files where renditions, or proxies become detached from their source files
  • Inadequate archival policy.
  • Compound content (from Quark, HTML, InDesign, etc.) that is ‘unaware’ of the locations of its supporting files such as photos and illustrations.

In short, if your content can’t be found, used, transformed, or shared then it is a digital liability.

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Recently, I was walking my dog when I heard the squeal of tires from a car that I couldn’t see. I assumed it was at the stoplight at the bottom of hill that was out of my view.

Moments later, I saw a 70s-era  muscle car,  barreling in the opposite direction, climbing the hill. He seemed to be going  at least 60 mph, and still accelerating, on a residential street where speed limit is 25. 

Expecting to see a teen behind the wheel, I was surprised that it was a  man who  was likely well into his 30s, or older.

I held my arms out, with palms up, and glared at him while shouting  “WHAT THE FUCK?!?” He returned the glare and shook his head and did not attempt to slow down.

About two minutes later, I approached an  intersection and  looked over my shoulder to see if there were any cars trying to turn right.  I noticed  a car traveling at the same speed I was walking.  I stopped and motioned for the driver to go ahead and turn.

My pulse quickened when I realized it was the car that had been racing  up the hill. The car stopped bedside where I stood. My immediate conclusion was that he’d returned with retaliation in mind.

I wondered what he was bringing to the confrontation. A baseball bat? Other people in the car? A pistol?  

All I’d brought was a dog and bag full of poo. Still, I liked my chances.

I  turned and looked at the driver, and the passenger seats. He was the only one in the car, so I fixed my gaze on him and braced for an escalation. 

He began to speak. I wasn’t prepared for the volume level. He said in a quiet voice, “Hey, I’m sorry.”


He continued “I was driving like a total ass, you were right to be mad. I was testing some repairs that I’d made, but that’s no excuse for speeding like that on this street. I promise to be more careful.”

 I was keyed-up for a  fracas and was dealt a quiet apology. I was totally unprepared for that. And the “I promise to be more careful,” made me feel like a TV sitcom dad listening to an admission of guilt from one of  the Brady Bunch kids. 

For one of the few times in my life I was stunned nearly  to the point of silence. The only words I could muster were, “Thanks for the apology.  Have a good evening. And be careful.”


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My Favorite Things

It was a wickedly cold morning just like this when I walked a few blocks from my Ravenswood apartment, and was fortunate that there was a 145 bus, idling in the lot, awaiting its departure time. I don’t remember what was ahead for me at work that day, but my job at the time rather tedious–making truck parts fliers for an ad agency–so it wasn’t that different than the day before.

The driver saw me shivering outside and was kind enough to let me in before his run though it was technically against CTA policy.

As I sat down he pointed his index figure toward my face and  offered this sinister warning: “You can stay on this bus as long as you don’t tell anybody what you’re about to see or hear.” Then “You got that?”

I nodded then put proceeded to unfold my copy of The Chicago Tribune.

With that he pulled a hard plastic case from the floor to his lap. When he opened the case and started to assemble its components, I saw the glistening of the metallic shaft he had in his hand.

I screamed with every fiber of my being, “My God! He has…. a FLUTE!!!!”

Then he glanced over his should placed his piece near his lips and played “Take Five” and then “My Favorite Things.”

My winter morning commutes are rarely that appealing nowadays. Now they begin with scraping ice from the windows and many days digging out after being plowed in.

There’s never a walk through the brisk cold, with some chance encounters with neighbors, or strangers, or a bit of window-shopping. Those things all put a spring in my step, at least until I began the bone-dissolving work of staring at line-art renderings of spark plugs, oil filters, and mud flaps.

Though on that particular morning, the unexpected jazz performance set the tone for my entire day. It wasn’t just the music, it was the serendipity. I wish there were a way that I could plan serendipitous events. They would certainly  involve more flutes and fewer cars.

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