Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: 16,643 emails

In the tradition of doing a year end tally, I thought I'd open the hood of my email In Box and give you some insight on how I cope with our modern world's increasing information overload.

In 2007, I received 16,643 emails, an average of 1,357 email per month, or about 44 per day. My annual average is 16,294 emails. Here is the month by month breakdown:

(Last year I had no email in January through March—I must have accidentally reset my stats program.)

Of those 16,643 messages, 6,799 were junk email, which is 40% of all my received email. Here is the month by month breakdown of that:

Last year, my junk email ratio was 46%, so things are improving. I cracked down on junk email in late July and you can actually see the drop on the chart—my received emails and junk emails were cut in half.

How do I manage to process over 16 thousand emails? If there are 8,760 hours in a year, I've spent only 201 hours processing emails, at least on Eudora (I'm sure I've spent much more since I got my laptop in July of last year). 201 hours is 2.29% of my entire year. If you include time on my laptop remote checking email, and tack on Myspace and Facebook emails, let's assume 5% of the year was spent checking emails. Even so, that's not too bad. If it were in the double digits, I might be worried.

Now let's have some more fun with numbers:

201 hours / 9,846 legitimate emails = 1.22 minutes/email

Still, not too bad.

But how do I sift through so many emails? I have a few tricks...

  1. Eudrora, not Mail, Yahoo Mail, or Gmail.

    1. I've always debated whether I should switch to an internet email service like Gmail, but so far the local email programs like Eudora are still superior, as you'll soon see with my custom filters for spam and other mail. Plus, I still use my Yahoo! mail account to collect email from my home account. And when I send email from my Yahoo account, I set my "Reply to:" to my home email account so all mail still gets funneled through my home account.

  2. I am vigilent about spam.

    1. I don't post my email address on any web site. If I do, it's a web site I trust and my email is written out, e.g., myfirstnameATrossprudenDOTcom. This keeps naughty spam spiders from finding my email.
    2. I ask my friends not to tack my email on their mass emails. Emails can be forwarded endlessly and it's only a matter of time before some spammer grabs my email. If they must add me to their mass email, I ask that they put me in the BCC: field.
    3. I use email aliases. I own my own domain ( and can create and delete new users on the fly. In my case, rather than have 10 different email accounts, I have aliases which all point to my main email. If an alias gets siphoned off by a spammer, I can delete that alias and create a new one in minutes. It's like a condom for emails.
    4. I installed an awesome local spam filter. I'm a Mac user, so I use Spamsieve with Eudora. Spamsieve lets you teach it how to filter your spam so it gets better over time. Last year, it caught 96% of all spam. This year, it caught 98%.

  3. I use filters to self-sort all incoming mail.

    1. I eliminate all emails I CC: myself on. I set those emails to go directly to the trash (which I never empty, but I know those emails are there if I need to search for them). I also belong to a number of mailing lists, and all emails sent by me to those lists are sometimes sent right back to me. Don't need to see those emails. They go directly to the trash.
    2. I filter certain emails directly into folders. For instance, all my blog posts are emailed to me for archive purposes. But I don't need to waste time looking at those. They go right to where they will live forever. I never see them.
    3. I divide my email into direct and general emails. Many of my incoming emails are not sent specifically to me: my email may in the CC: field, or the email might be from a mailing list. While I do need to read those emails, they usually aren't high priority so I filter them into a folder called "Once/day" which I check only—wait for it—once per day. I also turn off any sound or visual alerts so I don't even know when I get those emails. That helps me not get distracted with low-priority stuff.
    4. What's left are emails sent directly to me, and that's a considerably smaller percentage than 9,846 emails. On those emails, I have a sound alert set so I know—if I'm at my computer—when I've got incoming mail.

  4. Brevity.

    1. (These groups of tips are more subtle—I had to think hard about them because they aren't things I consciously decided to do, but things which I've evolved into doing.) With every email, I try to be as succinct as I can in one or two sentences. Bereft of facial expressions and vocal inflections, email is often a medium where misunderstandings happen without effort or intent. Knowing when to be brief saves time. But knowing when brevity does not reflect the correct nuance, and which will lead to trouble later on, is equally important.
    2. I don't use signatures anymore. At the end of every email message, I used to tack on my email address and all my contact info, but that 10 line block of text just ends up being "junk text" I need to sift through whenever I review a thread of discussions. Distill as needed.

I hope these tips make your 2008 more productive! If you have any tips you use which I haven't listed here, please share them with me.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What if Microsoft sold an iPhone?

I came across this brilliant video and had to share. The strange thing is, I could actually see it happening... which is why it's so funny.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

24: The Unaired 1994 Pilot

One of the funniest parodies I've seen in a looooong time. Oh, how the world has changed in 13 years...

Social Networks

This month and last, I've been researching social networks to lay the groundwork for a massive social networking idea. (In fact, this idea is so massive that it has the potential to eclipse Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, and LinkedIn combined. And yeah, I'm freaking out, too.)

Anyway, I thought I'd experiment with Twitter a little... problem is, I don't have too many people on Twitter to follow. But Twitter looks very fun, so if any of you out there Twitter, you can find me by clicking on the link at right, "Watch me blather constantly".

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Not giving, but living

Today was my best Christmas Day ever. I have to say it aloud, for perfect moments do not last long, and are thus so easily forgotten.

Had I the option to go back in time a day and tell past self how great this day will go, my past self would have thought the main reason was about presents. Yet in hindsight, I can't immediately remember what gifts I received, or even what gifts I gave. Today a harmonious confluence hung in the air like errant beads brought together to create a once-thought-lost necklace:

  • The brined (22.73 pound) turkey I made this year was exquisite. In fact, it was so moist and succulent that it actually fell apart as I carved it.
  • The mashed potatoes (the first I had ever made from scratch) were superb. We'll be making more of those!
  • The microwaved sweet potatoes (sprinkled with Equal and cinnamon—how much easier can you make it?) were remarkably delicious.
  • My 9 month old daughter's sleep schedule was ideal... she crashed at exactly the right time and stayed asleep for longer than expected. Critically, she did not cry once, or even got cranky at all.
  • My wife took care of our daughter for most of the day, letting me do the bulk of the cooking. And she even did the dishes when I passed out after dinner.
  • Our new holiday-appropriate plateware, a gift from the in-laws, was simply gorgeous to look at, a definite step up from our casual plateware, or even our formal china.
  • Our tablecloth, a crimson fleur-du-lit pattern, was positively regal.
  • I was surrounded only by people I care about, of whom I shared a close bond with three—my daughter, my mother, and my wife. And I got to see them all interact with each other... and get along.
  • Our house did not seem cramped with too many guests.
  • My mother finally got to play the Pirates of the Caribbean Monopoly game she gave us this year, which she'd been hounding me about all week—so I knew she'd be shutting up about it. Also, during gameplay, I realized it was the first time I'd played Monopoly with a largish group since I did my stint in real estate and its high-stakes negotiating, meaning the possibility to do creative deals was much more possible; the end result was leveraging my initially disparate properties into 4 monopolies, a personal best.
  • While playing Monopoly, typically an impossible game to play in my family without some sort of fight breaking out, everyone was laughing consistently for at least an hour. In fact, I'm still giddy from it.
  • I finally crawled into bed to watch the endlessly charming movie Stardust with my wife. I feel like a kid again.
  • I drank 2 Newcastles while watching a movie. I feel like a teenager again.

At the end of this wonderful day, I'm left with a feeling that Christmas is not really about giving gifts to each other at all. Not physical gifts, anyways. It's really more about sharing your time with friends and family. It's about laughing as deeply as you can with those who really matter to you, and holding that memory as close as you can to your heart for as long as possible. It's not about giving, it's about living.

Do that well enough and everything that you think matters drops away. Spend time with your friends and family. Find the way to interact that you all enjoy the best. Spin it out as long as you can. People come and go, but those memories will live as long as you do.

Merry Mithrasmas!

This post is for Richard, whose epiphany has stayed with me: day I read an essay by Isaac Asimov in which he made reference to the "Christian myths." It was like someone turned on a light in my brain. Why, I wondered, did we study Greek and Roman mythology in school, but treat Christianity like it was the truth? I didn't cast aside my beliefs overnight, but I did start to wonder why we accept some things without question and not others.

This video, then, is for Richard.

And, appropriately, here's the new trailer for Hellboy II: The Golden Army, starring Luke Goss as the baddie! I worked with Luke two years ago on Something In The Clearing and Luke is a class act. I'd love to work with him again!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

CLOVERFIELD: Marketing the American Godzilla

Last week, I spent 2 hours of my life learning about Slusho drinks and Tagruato's deep sea drilling. If you don't know what I'm talking about, first go watch the trailers for Cloverfield (first the teaser, then the full trailer).

Now, in one sense, Cloverfield isn't unique at all—it looks like a retelling of a tired genre, the Japanese monster movie. In another sense, however, it's innovative because it tells that story from the point of view of a small group of people. Unlike Godzilla, a monster which also attacks New York (why New York? Why not Charleston, West Virginia [thanks for the correction, Joe!] or Flagstaff, Arizona?), the viewer will probably have more invested in what happens to the main characters. It's like Blair Witch meets 9/11 and Godzilla. It's not surprising J. J. Abrams is behind this project—Cloverfield is a close cousin of Lost: put people you care about in an insane situation and see how they react.

Lost's popularity lays in the "peeling of the onion"—the more layers you peel back, the more layers you find. Each answer only gives you more questions. Of course, foreplay only lasts so long and some viewers have become frustrated with Lost's serpentine plotlines, while others are drawn to the story's emotional core: its characters. As in real life, Lost's story comes to you in scattered pieces of information. Like Ian Fassburg used to say, "A woman who's almost naked is far sexier than a woman who's totally naked." Viewers like to be given a challenge, a puzzle to figure out.

This is why Cloverfield looks to be such a great film. By framing the story from the point of view of strangers, without the benefit of any omniscient "meanwhile..." cutaways, the viewer is immediately handicapped and must struggle along with the characters to make sense of the impossible. A monster attack? What monster? How big is it? Where did it come from? What damage is it doing? What does it look like? Can it even be beaten? What will happen to us? What will happen to the city? What will happen to the world? These questions are visceral, emotional, atavistic. The trailer exploits that by piggybacking on the fears of another cataclysmic attack like 9/11... it's not by coincidence the characters witness a huge explosion from a Manhattan rooftop.

Some other simple tricks to hook the viewer into the story—the release date synchs up to the story's time, so photos taken in the film (and posted on the official web site, pictured at left) are datestamped to when the film is set for release... so the viewer will be able to easily imagine they're watching a live telecast. The first trailers didn't even list a movie title, just 1-18-08, the release date of the film. Even after the title was released, Abrams said the only official web site for the movie is, but as of today there's nothing much on that site except for a few photographs. Flipping the photographs on (it's a Flash site) gives you more information about the characters, which leads—with some detective work—to their Myspace profiles:

Look at each profile carefully—each person has each other person's profile in their top 8 friends list. Clever!

Rumors were also circulated that the film's title was to be called Slusho. Slusho? What the hell is that? A Google search for "Slusho" yields as the top result, which appears to have nothing to do with Cloverfield... at first glance.

But look closer: the site has a commercial contest where the public can submit their own commercial for Slusho. The address for contest submission is Bold Futura, LLC, 1223 Wilshire Boulevard, No. 1422, Santa Monica, CA 90403. Huh? What's a Japanese company doing with a Santa Monica address?

Researching Bold Futura, LLC took me to, which was live when I saw it, but is now defunct. From that site, I first heard about their affiliate company, Tagruato, a deep sea drilling company. A glance at Tagruato's web site,, shows an interactive map of deep sea drilling; their most recent, and biggest, drilling rig is in the Atlantic Ocean, not far from New York City... Googling Tagruato led me to an intriguing blog at, which appears to be run by a Greenpeace-like group blaming Tagruato for destroying our oceans. On that blog, they claim to have received notes from whistle-blowers inside the deep sea drilling company that "bad things are happening."

ALL these sites have been created to promote Cloverfield and, without realizing it, you can easily get pulled into this alternate reality and start to care about the characters listed on Myspace. This kind of marketing isn't new—it's called "immersive entertainment" and it's been used for films before. The goal is to create a world where easter eggs are sprinkled across multiple web sites for those curious enough to seek them out. When someone finds a new piece of the puzzle, they discuss its meaning and import with others and the end result is a phenomenal word of mouth about the movie. I mean, look at me... I'm practically a walking advertisement for a movie I haven't even seen yet.

I had so much fun learning about this marketing campaign that I just had to buy my own Slusho T-shirt and baseball hat... I'm told the box it arrives in includes newspaper stuffing offering even more clues about the movie!

If you want to know the complete lowdown about the ad campagin, here's a real site which lays out everything currently known about each of the sites listed above:

And don't forget to see Cloverfield on January 18th!

Monday, December 10, 2007

54 points on his first letters????

I'm playing a Scrabble game on Its Your Turn. My opponent just played INSISTS, which I'm sure he gets a bonus for because he used all his letters and he played it on the opening bonus tile (that's right, isn't it?). For this feat of supreme wordsmithing, he racked in a whopping 54 points. I laid down WRITER and got only 14 points.

I feel like crying.

There's something to be said for demoralizing one's opponent in the very first move. You certainly can't do that in Chess, Backgammon, Go, or any other sensible game.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Residuals aren't just for writers

More insight as to why the Producers are leaning on writers so hard. Courtesy of Stephen Susco:

Is the AMPTP colluding?

This piece poses an excellent question: why are producers legally allowed as a single body (the AMPTP) to negotiate with each labor segment separately... when producers are actually competitors? As Elisberg puts it so plainly: "The AMPTP is like if General Motors, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan all got together, decided the terms they would offer employees, and then negotiated as a single body against one isolated division of U.S. auto workers at a time. Divide and conquer. Take it or leave it."

Hmmmm, divide and conquer. Sound familiar? It should.

I wonder how long it will take for Big Government to realize that the AMPTP is acting like a monopoly...

Writers Guild Strike Primer: Part 8, The Big Question
Posted December 6, 2007 | 11:00 AM (EST)

Negotiations between the Writers Guild and AMPTP have started again, and there is a fascinating situation at play, yet it has gotten little attention.

Look at that sentence again. Actually, I'll make it easy for you, just re-read the first seven words.

"Negotiations between the Writers Guild and AMPTP..."

It certainly looks normal. No one gives it a second thought. But the entire entertainment industry should. In fact, everyone should.

There is a hugely-important question here.

The AMPTP, you see, is a group of about 350 member film companies. Nine companies at the top, however, drive the whole train.

"Nine companies" is a polite term. Megathorpian multinational corporations is the accurate term. You know, General Electric, Time-Warner, Sony Electronics, News Corp. -- otherworldly behemoths, like that. The kind of gargantuan institutional leviathans who, when you refer to "they" (as in "You know what they say" or "How could they do this to us?") are the "they."

Here's the question.

Why is it the AMPTP who is negotiating with the Writers Guild of America???

In fact, why is the AMPTP negotiating with anyone? The Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild, any of the 80 industry-wide collective bargaining agreements it handles.

The issue is not that these AMPTP companies are part of multinational's that they are competitors with one another.

Let's repeat that: the AMPTP is comprised of competitors. And they are negotiating together against labor?? In heaven's name -- why?

Before anyone tries to answer the question, hold off a moment as this is put into a larger perspective.

Imagine the auto industry for a moment.

The AMPTP is like if General Motors, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan all got together, decided the terms they would offer employees, and then negotiated as a single body against one isolated division of U.S. auto workers at a time. Divide and conquer. Take it or leave it.

It's not that it would be massively illegal. It's that it would be unconscionable. No one in the aghast free world would stand for it. Even Luddites who wished it wasn't illegal understand why it's unacceptable.

Or imagine if all the tobacco companies got together. What if they hid research about nicotine, and then...oh, wait, they did. And they all got hauled before Congress.

Competitors are not allowed to negotiate together, to even confer together. It's called collusion. When baseball owners merely created an "information bank" for offers being made to free agent players, they were fined $280 million. Two competitors cannot talk with one another if there's just a hint of agreement. Imagine ALL competitors in an industry getting together to set ALL wages and ALL labor conditions.

It doesn't happen. Anywhere. Not "anywhere in the U.S." Anywhere in the free world.

Except Hollywood.

Paramount, Fox, Warner Bros., NBC, Disney, CBS, Universal, Sony, MGM...and 341 of their signatory pals all unite to set the pay scale and working conditions for writers. And then for actors. And then directors. And then for all employees in the entertainment industry.

Say what?

Why is it the AMPTP who is negotiating with the Writers Guild of America???

Everyone grasps that it's wrong for competitors to gang up. Little children understand it's wrong. ("Mom! Billy and Janey are teaming up against me!" "Now, you kids leave your brother alone. You know it's not nice.") Everyone knows it. Embryos know it. Paramecium. Rocks.

And even the AMPTP knows it

On November 14, WGA president Patric Verrone and SAG president Alan Rosenberg went to Washington, D.C. and met with congressional leaders and the FCC to inform them about the difficulties of negotiating with "seven multi-national conglomerates, all supposedly competitors but they all come together to negotiate."

Two days later, the AMPTP announced it was finally willing to go back to the negotiating table.

This was not a coincidence. There were many reasons the AMPTP went back to the table -- but this was not a coincidence.

Two days. There were terrified.

It's not just the terror of Congress looking into monopoly collusion, but Congressional hearing and lawsuits over the media monopoly stranglehold. Americans have a long-held abhorrence for illegal monopolies.

Why is it the AMPTP who is negotiating with the Writers Guild of America???

In any other world, in any other industry, the writers -- and then actors, directors and others -- would each negotiate separately with their employer, one at a time: You get a fair contract with one studio, and everyone else either agrees to the same basic deal or falls behind their competitors. It's the way business works. It's the way the law works.

Up to now, the entertainment industry has accepted this arrangement. Up to now, they've long-become used to heavy-handedness, but they expect fairness, as well. However, when rampant, monopolistic corporate greed passes all decency, at some point they might have to give the arrangement another look.

"They" - this time - is the United States government.

And so it's up to the AMPTP to decide what's truly in their best interest. Greed or fairness. What's at stake for them is arguably their worst nightmare. Because someone in a position to do something may eventually ask a very big question.

Why is the AMPTP negotiating with the Writers Guild of America???


One semi-caveat here, just to be fair. Because Fair R Us. I've subsequently been told that there might be some law that allows for certain collective bargaining by companies. But regardless if that's the case, the larger perspective and question that's posed remains -- even if there is some law, it's obviously not something that's used much, if at all, in other industries. Why Hollywood stands for competitor companies uniting to negotiate is something that should be addressed -- not only by the creative community, but the companies themselves, since it's becoming apparent daily that they have such divergent interests among one another.

And to be clear, it's not just that competing companies unite to negotiate, but that they do so against each individual segment of labor one by one. If the companies really do want to unite to negotiate, make it a fair fight and negotiate against all the unions of their industry together, as well. Then, you might see quite a different result. (It would be a mess, but hey...)

The bottom line is that there certainly appears to be some major unfair balance here, whether there's a law or not, that should be addressed. Laws are supposed to correct wrongs, not bring them about. If a law does exist, then it appears its being abused as not intended, and should be redressed. In the end, law or not, the question remains -- why is it the AMPTP who each union negotiates with, not individual companies?Link.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Divide & Conquer

Finally, some insight! The email below was just emailed to WGA writers and provides exactly the insight I've been looking for to explain why the producers seem to be shooting themselves in the foot. Basically, they're trying to wear down the writers in the hopes they break rank:

The Playbook of the AMPTP
Fellow Members,
A few years ago, I was on the WGA Negotiating Committee. As negotiations with the AMPTP were drawing to a close, I went to a dinner party where I happened to be seated next to a gentleman who until recently had been for decades the chief negotiator for the Companies in another segment of the entertainment industry. He was a wiry guy, and he had a sense of humor. When I asked him if he was the Nick Counter of that particular part of the industry, he smiled and said wryly that he thought he was better than Nick but, yes, that was a fair comparison. He said he knew Nick and admired him. For an hour and a half, sprinkled in with the small talk, he told me about his negotiating strategy. After the party, I went to my car and jotted down as much of it as I could remember. I thought it might be useful to share it with you now:
Strategy for Hardball Negotiations:
Piss off the leaders and spokespersons for the other side. A leader who loses his temper loses something in negotiations. Why?
1) Anger clouds judgment.
2) It’s human nature to want to be liked, even in a tough-as-nails negotiator. A person who loses his temper is embarrassed, usually comes and apologizes, and always gives something away to get back into the good graces of the other side.
The end game is the money, but hardball negotiations aren't about money, until the end. The real game is dividing and conquering.
* Lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.
* Raise and lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.
* Do everything possible to destroy the credibility of the other side’s leadership, divide and conquer.
* Use confidants and back channels to go over the heads of the stronger leaders to the softer targets. Divide and conquer.
* When you figure out the other side’s bottom line, offer a fraction. It’s surprising how many times that stands.
Sound familiar? If you examine the recent "leaks," comments, and press releases from the other side, you'll realize this is exactly the strategy the Companies are employing against us today. And why not? It's worked for them for the last 20 years! They are putting us on an emotional roller coaster by raising and lowering our expectations, attacking our leaders, trying to pit the town against us, refusing to move on the issues that matter to us, bragging about their generosity when the opposite is true, fear mongering and claiming we're going to ruin this industry – hoping we'll splinter, lose faith in and attack each other, negotiate against ourselves, and cave.
As events unfold in the next several days and weeks, we should have no doubt about what the Companies are really up to and what to expect from them. But this time, in every way possible, we must let them know we're on to them and their strategy won't work. We understand their game, our solidarity and resolve are greater than ever, and we're going to stay strong – and reasonable – until we get a fair deal.
Let's return to the picket lines every day with a powerful show of force. As Patric says, we're all in this together.
Tom Schulman
WGAW Board of Directors

Auto salesmen use a similar tactic. They hook you by various means—e.g., to prolong your wait time so you think, "Well, I've spent a lot of time here... I might as well buy something."—until they can find something which really sticks (the right car, the right price, the right dealer) and then reel you in. This tactic, however, is a two way street. I knew a customer who went to a car lot early in the day and purposefully hemmed and hawed until 10 hours later he hadn't made a final decision. His tactic was simple: "they think they're getting me to waste my time, but I'm also getting them to waste their time." Imagine you're an auto salesman spending 10 hours with a customer only to see him walk off the lot undecided. Finally, after 11 hours, he was ready to sign a check and looked up a the salesman and said, "Knock of $1,000 or I walk." They were shocked at first, but so impressed with his by-the-book 11th hour negotiating, that they offered him a job.