My Experience with an IRS Audit (Video Edition)

After my complaints that I performed poorly during my interview with Yahoo Finance last week, it’s interesting to see how everything turned out. Here’s the article and video about my experience being audited by the IRS:

It’s instructive to see how professionals take thirty minutes of footage and edit everything down to two minutes, fifteen seconds.

I’m well aware the importance of editing, of course. I preach editing fundamentals when I speak at blogging conferences, and I’ve learned to edit photos (both individual photos and collections).

But as Kim and I move toward future video projects — such as the Awesome People Project, which I’m eager to pursue — I’ll need to learn to sharpen those editing skills. Right now when I create video, I typically compress by about half. If I take twenty minutes of video, my final product is usually about ten minutes long. I know each circumstance is different, but I feel as if I have a lot of room for improvement.

Practice will be key. I know that. Right now, however, I’m not practicing. I’ve been too busy with RV stuff and focusing on fitness so that I’m not working with video like I should. Time to fix that, I think.

Any suggestions for short subjects you’d like to see me make? I’m willing to do anything about Portland or finance or comic books or whisky…

How to Become a Better Communicator

As I continue to do more public speaking — whether on stage, on air, or via recorded interview — I’m becoming interested in what does and does not make an effective communicator. But I’m not just interested in how to communicate with a passive audience; I also want to be a better conversationalist with my friends and family.

Recently I spent ten minutes watching this TED Talk from Julian Treasure about how to speak so that people will listen:

To begin, Treasure covers the things you ought not do when you talk. He says that these are the seven deadly sins of speaking:

  1. Gossip. When you speak ill of somebody who’s not present, the action reflects as poorly on you as it does on them (and perhaps more so). I gossip way more than I should. It’s a problem.
  2. Judging. Gossip is, of course, a form of judging. But judging includes sweeping generalizations about a group of people or things. Whenever you judge, you run the risk of offending somebody in your audience. (This isn’t always a bad thing, perhaps, but it’s something you should be aware of.)
  3. Negativity. It seems that some people only see (or speak of) the bad things in life. But people prefer to pass time with folks who are positive. We want to feel good about ourselves and the world around us.
  4. Complaining. One form of negativity is complaining — or “viral misery” as Treasure calls it. It goes beyond just talking about what’s wrong with the world at large to griping about perceived trials and tribulations in your own life. Everyone has shit to deal with; try to keep your complaints to yourself. Don’t vent.
  5. Excuses. People don’t like to listen to the reasons you haven’t accomplished the things you’ve promised to do (whether for yourself or others). They want you to do these things. If you don’t do them, don’t talk about them. And, especially, do not blame others for not getting things done. (Again, I have trouble with the first piece of this. I try not to blame other people, but I tend to make excuses for not doing my work.)
  6. Exaggeration. At its most basic, exaggeration (or hyperbole) demeans our language, says Treasure. If we use big words all the time — like “awesome” and “unbelievable” and so on — they lose their meanings. At its worst, exaggeration becomes outright lying. I have a couple of friends who are prone to exaggeration; it can be tough to know when to believe what they’re saying!
  7. Dogmatism. Too often, people confuse fact and opinion. They believe that just because they think something is so, it must be so. They don’t recognize that each person has her unique personality, circumstances, and experiences. What’s true for one person may not be true for another.

These seven “sins” can sabotage effective communication. But there are things to become a more effective speaker. According to Treasure, the four cornerstones of powerful speech are:

  • Honesty, the ability to be plain and true in what you say. “Be clear and straight,” Treasure says.
  • Authenticity, the ability to say what you think and feel instead of trying to say what you feel is expected of you. “Be your self,” Treasure says.
  • Integrity, or the ability to do what you say. “Be your word,” Treasure says.
  • Love, or the ability to make others feel better about themselves. “Wish them well,” Treasure says.

By aligning what you say with these qualities, people will want to listen to you. Treasure says that how you speak is important too. He covers tools of speech, such as rhythm and pitch and pace and timbre.

Treasure’s talk is short. If you’d like to become a better communicator, it’s well worth ten minutes of your time.

Outside Peet’s at 37th and Hawthorne

I often meet Aly for Spanish lessons at the Peet’s Coffee at 37th and Hawthorne. There are a lot of interesting things to see there. Sometimes there’s a group of young men skateboarding on 37th, blocking traffic and the sidewalk and getting cranky when people ask them to stop. There are often petitioners. For some reason, there are plenty of tourists here. Once there were young women giving free hugs.

And yesterday there was a bare-footed man in dirty clothes, smoking cigarettes and sitting on the newspaper dispenser. He was rather surly and a little…strange. At one point, he took a handful of coins from his pocket and tossed them to ground just outside the window from which I was watching. (Well, I was studying Spanish, but I was also keeping an eye on him.) The young man smoked and stared as people bent to pick up his quarters and dimes and nickels. I’m not sure what was going on there.

But the best thing I’ve ever seen at this corner was a dog. He’d lost the use of his back legs apparently, so he moved around on a makeshift cart. I snapped this photo with my iPhone:

Legless dog
“Whatcha starin’ at, boy? Ain’t never seen a dog with wheels before?”

Our Zoo: The Animals of Rosings Park

For living just a few miles from the center of the city, we sure have a lot of animals around this place! In fact, tonight as I was putting together a video about our bunny, I realized I’ve made all sorts of short movies about the animals of Rosings Park. Let’s look at some of them, shall we? (And, at the end, you’ll get to see footage of Blackberry, which is what Kris has named the rabbit.)

Let’s start at the box factory, though. As you’ll recall, one day a feral chicken showed up in the yard. He lived with us for several months, coexisting alongside the shop cat, sharing its food. Here’s footage of my chicken.

Returning to Rosings Park, the first thing to document is the birds. Our yard is filled with birds, especially in the autumn and winter. Kris feeds them well, and they’re grateful for it. Sometimes there are too many birds. When that happens, there can only be one result: a peanut battle!

One summer, Kris decided to train the scrub jays that are so prevalent here. Using their favorite food — peanuts — she slowly conditioned them to come closer and closer to her. Eventually she could sit at the picnic table and feed them. The collective memory of the jays has no recollection of this now, which is too bad. Maybe we’ll start again from scratch sometime. Here’s a short video of me working to condition the friendly jays.

There are other, wilder animals that roam the neighborhood at times. For instance, there are often raccoons (or bands of them) that sweep the neighborhood, tearing up gardens and chowing down on other foodstuffs they can find. Last autumn, after we kicked Toto out of the house, they discovered her food dish and helped themselves. A younger Toto might have tried to fight them off; the old (and near death) Toto simply watched grouchily.

We have almost as many spiders around here as we do birds. Here are some baby spiders in February; by July, they were full-grown and all over the yard.

The most prominent animals in our lives are the cats, obviously. They run this place. We shouldn’t call it Rosings Park; we should call it the Whisker Den (or something less dorky but just as feline). Here’s a typical morning in which the cats are running the show. (For the record, this is my second-most watched video on YouTube.)

And that leads us to our latest addition: our volunteer rabbit. The bunny showed up last week. I love having it around. It’s hilarious. I like how it chases the cats, but not out of spite — out of playfulness. I came home yesterday to find it lolling in the road with Max. We’ve decided it can stick around, but it can’t come in the house, and we’re not going to actively foster it.

Here’s how cute the damn thing is:

Who knows what animal we’ll keep next? Ducks? A dog? Goats? A cow?

p.s. I forgot about the squirrels! I don’t actually have any good squirrel footage, but they’re a big part of our lives too. Sometimes they eat from Kris’ hand. They taunt the cats. They fight with the birds over food. Last week, we saw one industrious fellow trying to drag a whole corn cob up the walnut tree. I’ll make it a priority to get some squirrel video to add to my collection.

Get Better

Many people have noted that Crossfit is like a cult. It sucks you in until you live and breathe the stuff, and you have to exercise restraint from converting everyone you know. For a long time, I resisted this cult. No more.

Crossfit is awesome. It’s changed me physically, but it’s changed me emotionally and mentally as well.

  • I love that Crossfit workouts scale to meet me at my skill level. If I can’t lift 165# over my head for five minutes, fine. I lift 95# over my head for five minutes instead.
  • I love that Crossfit teaches patience. I may not be able to lift that 165# overhead today — but I’ll bet I can in a year. A year ago, I couldn’t lift 200# from the ground. Today I can lift 300#. That improvement took me a year. It was gradual, and I had to be patient.
  • I love Crossfit gives me confidence. I’m able to do things I never though possible. I mean, really: me a weight-lifter? Get real. Me? Doing fifteen pull-ups. You’re dreaming! But I can do these things. And by doing them, I know that I can go out and accomplish other things in my life, too.
  • I love that my Crossfit colleagues are my family. We sweat together every day. We have rivalries and in-jokes. Sure, we complain about each other now and then, but fundamentally, we’re in this together. We all want to see the other members of the gym improve.

Basically, I love that Crossfit has made me a better person.

Which leads me to this promotional video for Crossfit Liverpoool, which Mackenzie shared on Facebook. Mac and Pam have caught the Crossfit bug, too, you see. I’m not sure they’re actually in the cult yet (though Mac might be!), but they’ve incorporated Crossfit workouts into their lives and seem to like it.

Mac says this is the best Crossfit video he’s ever seen. I agree.

Note: Part of joining the Crossfit cult means watching Crossfit videos. Again, I resisted this for a long time. Now, though, I’m hooked. Crossfit videos rock!

Crossfit isn’t for everyone, and I know that. It takes time. It’s expensive. It’s hard work. But if you have the time, money, and energy, Crossfit is an awesome way to build physical and mental toughness.

Toto – Africa

I’ve had a rough 48 hours. Toto’s death has affected me more than you can probably guess. I knew it would. That cat was like a piece of me, and I feel her absence acutely. It hurts.

“It always amazes me how emotional you are,” Kris told me last night at dinner. “You’re so much more sentimental than I am about this stuff.”

“I know,” I said. “I can’t help it.”

I’ve always had a lot of empathy for those around me, whether human or animal, but especially for those who are close to me. In many ways, Toto was the creature I’ve been closest to in my entire life. Her death hurts me more than Paul’s did, and even more than my father’s.

On Friday, Jen (a trainer at my gym) wished me bon voyage by sending me a link to a music video: Africa by the group Toto.

“I felt so bad,” Jen said at the gym yesterday morning, after she learned I’d just had Toto put down. “I didn’t know your cat’s name was Toto, and there I sent you the video to that song.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I liked it.”

And I did. It’s a strange, strange coincidence, but now that song will forever remind me of this weekend. It forms a bridge between the bad — saying good-bye to Toto — and the good — my first trip to Africa. With its melancholy melody, it fits my mood perfectly.

I’ll do what I can to update this blog from the road, but no guarantees.

Dog Days Are Over

In early December, at the end of the Glee episode where the kids go to Sectionals, I was literally moved to tears by this song:

Glee – Dog Days Are Over

Some of my (very manly) tears came from all of the Glee soap opera that led up to this, but a lot of it was just the song. So frickin’ amazing!

I meant to check out the original song (from a group called Florence + The Machine, which I’d never heard of), but I forgot to do so. Today, Trent linked to the original version of the song above, and I suddenly remembered my mission to learn more about this band.

Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over

What can I say? It’s bean a long, long time since I’ve loved a band this much. I love Florence + The Machine more than The Decemberists. Maybe more than U2. These songs are glorious. If Sinead O’Connor — whom I used to believe had a musical window into my soul — is going to produce psuedo-mystical folk crap, I need somebody that can fill her boots. Florence + The Machine can do that. They’re like early Sinead: raw power and emotion.

Sinead O’Connor – Jackie

Sinead O’Connor – Troy

I mean, listen to these songs:

Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over

Florence + The Machine – Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)

Florence + The Machine – Kiss With a Fist

Florence + The Machine – Drumming Song

Florence + The Machine – Cosmic Love

Florence + The Machine – You’ve Got the Love

This music gets me deep inside. I can’t wait to hear more.

I’ve been watching Florence + The Machine videos all afternoon. It’s only fair that I order the CD from Amazon. Oh, and while I’m at it, the vinyl LP.

Bonus Videos! Some of you know that I love a capella covers of modern pop. A decade ago, I made a whole series of CDs filled with a capella covers. Anyhow, here are a couple of versions of “Dog Days Are Over”.

First up, The Virginia Belles:

Virginia Belles – Dog Days Are Over

Next, the Kenyon College Owl Creeks:

Kenyon College Owl Creeks – Dog Days Are Over

But wait! There’s more! Here’s Tulane’s Green Envy:

Green Envy – Dog Days Are Over

And, finally, the BC Dynamics with an amazing soloist:

BC Dynamics – Dog Days Are Over

Wow, I love the soloist in that last one. Hell, I just love that song.


Today marks the start of Blog Week in my life. I’m spending the next seven days focused on preparing Get Rich Slowly for my upcoming absence while Kris and I spend three weeks in Africa.

While editing guest posts this morning, I’m listening to my “angsty eighties” mix. By sheer chance, the song “Southern” by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark came up on random play. The song features excerpts from Martin Luther King’s speeches.

An OMD fan has created a video for the track and posted it to YouTube. I like it:

Powerful stuff.

The Smartest Dog in the World

Nicole — who knows I love stories about animal intelligence — wrote in to share the tale of Chaser, the smartest dog in the world. Or at least the dog with the largest vocabulary.

Here’s the story, as reported by Animal Planet:

As part of a three year training course at Wofford College taught by psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley, Chaser was introduced to the names of 1,022 toys. Over the three years, Reid and Pilley taught the collie the names of 1,022 toys by introducing them to her one by one, getting her to fetch the toy and then repeating the name to reinforce the association. They say there’s no limit to what the dog can learn!

They’ve even posted video of Chaser in action:

Pretty amazing stuff, but I’d still like to see them do this with a cat… (Plus, I think it’s hilarious that this man refers to himself as Pop Pop.)