by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XXXIII

This Week's Clue: The Secret of Happiness

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This Week's Clue: The Secret of Happiness
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
Secrets of Blog Success
Spectrum: The New Frontier
Editors Seek PR
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of August 16, 2004

The secret of happiness is it's a choice.

That's it. You can choose to be happy, or choose to be miserable. Mary Chase put it well in her play "Harvey." "In this life you can be oh, so clever or oh, so pleasant. I've tried clever. I prefer pleasant."

My neighbor Reverend Johnson is happy. He's diabetic, nearly 65, and has to support himself mowing lawns and doing odd jobs. A son had a stroke and moved in with him some years ago. He's not getting better. A daughter had a divorce and brought her three sons with her. They're not getting any smaller. He has nearly lost his sight a few times, and can't eat his wife's cooking anymore. I've tried her cooking. That must be the hardest blow of all.

Yet he always waves and calls "Hi-I-I-I-I-I-I, Neighbor!" when he sees me. The other day he brought over a bucket, a rake, and an empty plastic margarine tub. He turned over the bucket, and sat down on the bucket next to my magnolia tree. He raked the soil and when he spied earthworms he put them in the tub. He hummed as he worked. He was going fishing, he said, and needed bait. I thought little of his happiness and went in to work. I'm sorry now that I did. But I had to tell this story.

My father made a different choice. I remember sharing a drink with him, nearly 20 years ago, and hearing him complain about his life, about my mother, about his business failures, about his health, about how everyone was ripping him off. He told me, "happiness is just the absence of pain." He never noticed that he'd raised four children, all with college degrees, happy marriages and healthy children of their own.

I tried to get the message through a few years before he died. I flew him to Atlanta first class. I let him know my children, his grandchildren. I took him to see his sister in South Carolina, where my family slept on the floor of her porch because it was a small house. I even indulged him in hamburgers and chocolate shakes, despite his heart condition. When I saw him off at the Airport I knew it was goodbye, and tried to hug him, but he flinched as from a blow.

Now here's a secret worth slogging through the rest of this tale for. You can change your mind about happiness.

My mom shared my dad's worldview all the time I was growing up. If the glass was 99% full she'd make you see the 1% empty. But after she lost most of her sight she changed her mind. She got new friends. She learned to treasure all she had left. She became known at Braille as "the sighted one." When my dad died he became "St. Fred" - they had been married nearly 49 years. But her youngest son brought his family to live at her house, and when she tires of his kids my sisters each keep a room for her. I'll fly her out any time she asks. After all, grandparents are the secret to civilization.

My mom was determined to make the family cruise this summer. She had thrown out her hip dragging my 16-year old daughter all over Disneyland, and was on powerful pain medication. But she got a wheelchair at the dock and came aboard. She overdosed on the pills the first night out, and my older sister, who was trained as a nurse, became very worried. So while sis sunned herself on the cruise line's "private island" she sent a cousin, a man with my dad's worldview, over to see my mom, back on the ship.

He bought her a martini, then another. I relieved him and she asked for a martini. There was wine with dinner, and the party was just getting started. My sister was mortified. But the next night, the big night of the cruise, my mom threw over her wheelchair and walked, in the most elegant gown any 80-year old lady has ever worn this side of Lena Horne. She was a star. I called it "The Miracle of the Martinis."

But it wasn't a miracle. It was a choice. My mom determined she would be happy. She demanded it of herself. She was happy, and it spread as a powerful force throughout that ship, through cousins and second cousins and even remote in-laws, until all of us who could be touched were touched, and we became a happy family.

My point is the choice of happiness isn't always easy. But it's a choice that can be made, anytime. And if I can make it, so can you. If Reverend Johnson can be happy, you can, too.

It's up to you.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.

My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .

You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


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Takes on the News

Secrets of Blog Success

The secret to turning a blog into a financial success lies in the word community. Community is what lets a blog scale from one person spouting off into a true online service, with enough traffic to pay the bills with advertising.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga revealed this recently on his Daily Kos, but successful conservative sites, from FreeRepublic to Lucianne.Com to Andrew Sullivan, all do the exact same things.

What do they do?

  1. First they set a direction. I'm about this, we're going to be about this.
  2. Second, they enable crosstalk. Not feedback -- feedback doesn't scale. But crosstalk, notes from User A to User B, that scales.
  3. This seems to contradict the first point, but the next thing these sites do is let go. As the community develops around them they let it have its head. Kos went out on vacation a few months ago and the site kept running.
  4. They pay attention to the technology, with users' needs in mind. The key to Kos' success post-Dean was his switch to Scoop, which not only supported deeper message threads but the creation of individual user "diaries".
  5. Finally, they listen to the market. Kos didn't think about the diaries when he bought Scoop. He was thinking about messaging. But when the diaries became his growth story, he let it happen.

For a variety of reasons politics has been a hot blogging market. But it's far from the only one. Technology is a hot market, and with sites like Slashdot and TheFeature it's being well-served. I think there's going to be a huge market for these lessons in music and entertainment -- got any examples out there for me? Business sites like RagingBull and Fool.Com understood some of these lessons (albeit not all of them).

There is still a huge market opportunity in blogging, and I think it's very possible that today's leading political sites can have their leads overthrown. But what I have outlined here is the sure path to success. There are too many examples to point to, too many Clues, for it to be otherwise.


Spectrum: The New Frontier

A very important political story was buried by the Democratic Conventon. That is the new push by Intel for 802.16 WiMax spectrum.

While there are lots of high frequency bands in which WiMax could live, the fact is that the lower your frequency the farther your waves can travel. That's why AM stations can be heard across the country (when conditions are right) while FM stations have trouble being heard across town.

Thus Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney is lobbying China, the UK and the U.S. to open up space in the 700 MHz band, frequencies UHF TV stations will be abandoning as they move to digital broadcasting, for unlicensed use as WiMax transmission bands.

It's brilliant in terms of science, it's brilliant in terms of spectrum policy, and, because it's an international effort, it's also brilliant politics. Maloney's simultaneous push on three fronts means that if China clears the frequency, in order to connect cities without wires (something it needs to do badly) it also puts its manufacturers in a position to create and define a worldwide market. That should stimulate U.S. and European regulators to get off their assets, now, and to ignore the special pleading of the broadcasters. We either get behind the new market or we're going to get rolled by the Chinese in it.

Editors Seek PR

It used to be, just a few years ago, that PR people hit on newspapers, begging for articles, for scraps, a mention. Now, if the PR person has a blog, it's going the other way.

Mark Glaser reports that some newspapers are tossing a few stories over their firewalls toward "the blogosphere," seeking coverage . Dave Winer won a deal with The New York Times for a special firewall-crossing code a year ago, and I've used it. Glaser notes that the Wall Street Journal "features" one of its stories each day, and tosses that bone over as well. He doesn't mention that the Times' still pulls full text of all stories behind a paid firewall after a week (leaving a short excerpt as a bone) and the Journal has been pushing stories through its Online Journal, as advertising, for two years.

Glaser also notes that some PR types are now pitching bloggers directly, and blogging themselves. Some newspapers are worrying about RSS feeds, playing with search engine optimization, or complaining about how Google News spiders. But Glaser talked to just a few outlets, apparently those that are trying to take action - the vast majority of newspapers are going the other way. Also, the issue isn't whether a few bloggers are talking about news stories. The issue is whether local news is accessible to the outside world and, thanks to forced registration and firewalls, the answer is increasingly no.

The "news business," on balance, is becoming increasingly irrelevant.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in (far more so than, say, Ted Koppel) is Jon Stewart of The Daily Show , who doesn't pretend to take himself seriously (so you can if you want). His schtick of "I'm an idiot," backed by intimate knowledge of facts (so subjects can't treat him like an idiot) is the best thing since "Columbo."

Clueless is placing links to ads inside its news stories. The first time you click a link at Forbes that turns out to be an ad is the last time you'll click any link on Forbes.


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