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Archive for February, 2008

Speaking in tongues: Making more-professional-looking CraigsList HTML ads — even if you don’t know how to code in HTML

[I've amended this post somewhat based on our recent experiences with CraigsList, which are discussed in the comments. The point of this post is not CraigsList, but, rather, learning how to extract HTML from existing code, this as a means of learning to write HTML on your own. In the comments, a number of vendor solutions are discussed, and these my be worth exploring, if only as a prophylactic against censorious behavior by CraigsList users. But your need to produce professional-looking HTML can extend far beyond the major on-line services. As an example, Cathleen Collins pulled buyers out of an ad we were able to post on a church's bulletin-board-like system. --GSS]

 
A couple-few weeks ago, I was on a conference call with Jerry Matthews. He’s a one-time grand poohbah in Realtor Association politics, but now he works as a consultant to the NAR and certain state-level Associations. I was the waxed-fruit-flavor-of-the-day in a series of calls with Association executives, so that they might take the pulse of market innovators. I think I might have been the Designated Radical. If so, I promise you I did not disappoint.

As one stage, I was talking about how new licensees might market themselves cheaply in what is, for now, a hard world to get a break in. I mentioned a lot of different ideas, including CraigsList.com, which may be the single most effective advertising medium available to Realtors or lenders right now.

I said, “Of course, most CraigsList ads stink, so, with just a little bit of HTML you can really make yourself stand out?”

“But how is a new agent supposed to know anything about HTML?” someone asked.

I didn’t say, “Young people know a lot more than you give them credit for.” Instead, I pointed out that weblogging software like WordPress creates HTML for you, even if you don’t know what it’s doing.

So you could do something like this:

  1. Create a weblog post about a house you’ve listed — or, with explicit permission, that another agent has listed
  2. Write a good, compelling headline about why buyers should want to see that house
  3. Write good, clean — error free — copy about the home
  4. Illustrate your copy with a few interesting, well-lit photos of the home and its features and amenities
  5. Close with a call to action to contact you to see the home

Publish that post. That’s good weblogging, y’all. Not just a regurgitation of the listing, but an information-rich blog entry about a home that is currently for sale.

(There’s a fine line between helping people find their dream homes and ramming your own financial dreams down their throats. How can you find that line? Think about how you would react to your tactics, if the tables were turned. When you’re shopping, very often you do want help. What you don’t want is to be pushed around. Let your own better angels guide your weblogging.)

But: How the heck are we going to get a professional-looking CraigsList ad out of a weblog post?

Like this:

  1. Open your post in its own window (which is usually done by clicking on the headline)
  2. From the View menu in your web browser, select Source (or View Source or Page Source)
  3. A new window will open, rife with all the HTML that makes up your post
  4. Search for your headline; not the version you might find in the “title” tag; it will be well down the page, in an “h1″, “h2″ or “h3″ tag
  5. Starting with that “h1″, “h2″ or “h3″ tag, copy your post all the way down to the last words you wrote; skip anything beneath the last of your text, but keep that last “/p” tag
  6. Paste the code you have copied into a new file in a text editor — like TextPad or WordPad — not into a word processor like MS-Word; word-processing software will clobber the HTML
  7. Save your file with the extension “htm” — so you will give it a name like “MyCraigsListAd.htm”
  8. Open that file with your web browser; you should see a vague replica of your weblog post; it won’t look as good, but it should look much better than the normal CraigsList ad
  9. You can edit your “htm” file if you want to, but, if you’re happy with it, you can copy and paste that code directly into your CraigsList ad
  10. Your ad should look very similar to what you saw in your web browser — not as slick as the weblogged version, but not bad for CraigsList

(Note that your photos will have to be referenced buy their absolute path — “http://www.MyServer.com/MyPhotos/ThisPhoto.jpg”, not just “ThisPhoto.jpg”. You may need to edit your HTML to include the absolute paths to photos, links or other resources.)

Here’s an example: Cathy wrote a post a couple of weeks ago on DistinctivePhoenix.com about a Usonian house we admire. Here’s that same HTML as it would appear on CraigsList — not great, not awful.

But still, it’s a way for Realtors or lenders who don’t know HTML to get a better looking ad onto CraigsList — or any other site that permits HTML coding.

But with not too much work, we can do better than this. The image at the right is an ad I built for Cathleen to be used on CraigsList. What you’re seeing is half-scale. Click here to see the full ad.

It’s not elaborate at all, about what you might get if you phoned in a pub-set display ad to the local newspaper. It’s possible to make a much prettier ad on CraigsList, but it’s also possible to be so flashy that the readers complain — and then your ad gets pulled. It makes sense to me, on CraigsList and other free classifieds sites, to build ads that are nice but not too nice. When in Rome…

And, in fact, this ad did get flagged for removal the first time Cathy posted it. At this point, we’re trying to figure out how much HTML we can get away with. This ad is pretty plain, but, even so, it is meeting with resistance.

But here’s the thing: If you understand HTML well enough to write an ad like this — steal this book. View the Source and copy it. Don’t swipe my copy — and don’t even think about stealing my photos — but the basic structure is easy to adapt to your needs.

Leave the “div” tags at the top and bottom alone. That’s what’s making the box. When you’ve got the copy the way you want it, change the value for “height” in the first line until the box looks right to you in your web browser.

Then copy and paste the HTML into your ad — whether that’s on CraigsList, BackPages.com or some other system that permits HTML coding. You will still look pretty plain-brown-wrapper, but compared to all the other ads, you’ll be slicker than Jimmy Olson’s hair gel.

Really, practically speaking, you should learn to hold your own hand in HTML. But just a little bit of knowledge, properly applied, can take you a long, long way.

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  • 41 comments

    It is a mistake to think that the language of the bureaucrats is merely an ignorant, garbled jargon. They may not always know what they are doing, but what they are doing is not haphazard. It works, too.

    More, for Diane Cipa and others who have commented. You can’t buy Mitchell’s books, except used. The man is an incredible gift America mostly never bothered to unwrap. The fun part is that you can have everything he wrote as The Underground Grammarian at no cost. That’s not the same as “for free,” of course. If you’re going to get anything out of Richard Mitchell, you have to have the means to pay attention.

     
    The Voice of Sisera

    by Richard Mitchell

    The invention of discursive prose liberated the mind of man from the limitations of the individual’s memory. We can now "know" not just what we can store in our heads, and, as often as not misplace among the memorabilia and used slogans. Nevertheless, that invention made concrete and permanent one of the less attractive facts of language. It called forth a new "mode" of language and provided yet another way in which to distinguish social classes from one another.

    Fleeing the lost battle on the plain of Megiddo, General Sisera is said to have stopped off at the tent of Heber the Kenite. Heber himself was out, but his wife, Jael, was home and happy to offer the sweaty warrior a refreshing drink–"a bottle of milk" in fact, the Bible says. (That seems to find something in translation.) It was a kindly and generous gesture, especially since Sisera asked nothing more than a drink of water.

    Having drunk his fill, the tired Sisera stretched out for a little nap and told Jael to keep careful watch, for he had good reason to expect that the Jews who had cut up his army that day were probably looking around for him. Jael said, Sure, sure, don’t worry, and when Sisera fell asleep, that crafty lady took a hammer and a tent spike and nailed him through the temples fast to the earth.

    I suppose that we are meant to conclude that the Kenites, not themselves Jews, were nevertheless right-thinking folk and that Jael’s act had a meaning that was both political and religious. I’m not so sure. I’d like to know, before deciding, just what language it was that Sisera used when he asked for that drink of water.

    Scholars think that Sisera was probably the leader of an invading Hittite army, but the details are not important. What is important is that he was obviously a would-be conqueror in a land not his own. He had, until quite recently, been successful; he had come a long way with his iron chariots, powerful weapons that the Jews lacked and that would have won yet another battle if it hadn’t been for a spell of bad weather. He was a successful foreign invader from a technologically superior culture. Can you suppose that he felt any obligation or even curious desire to learn the language of the Jews? Wouldn’t they have seemed to him just another bunch of local primitives, in no important way to be distinguished from other such bunches he had already overcome? As for the tent-dwelling Kenites, a meager clan of impoverished nomads, who would ever bother to learn their ignorant babble? I’m willing to bet a brand-new Fowler against a D minus freshman theme that Sisera spoke to Jael in his language, not hers, and loudly. With gestures. What Jael did, a little later, was actually an early example of linguistic consciousness-raising. Hers, not his.

    Now, your typical American tourist in Naples doesn’t usually get a wooden spike through his head for shouting pidgin English at the natives–a little diarrhea, maybe, but that’s about it. Roman legionnaires in Gaul, however, and British soldiers in India did get some of each, once in a while. Conquered peoples hate, along with everything else about them, the language of the conquerors, and with good reason, for the language is itself a weapon. It keeps the vanquished in the dark about meanings and intentions, and it makes it extremely difficult to obey commands that had damn well better be obeyed, and schnell, too. Whatever it was that Sisera said to Jael that afternoon, it must have had something like the emotional effect of "Juden heraus!" shouted in the streets of a small village in eastern Poland.

    History is rich in examples of Siseranism. The language of the Cro-Magnons must have had upon the Neanderthals the same effect as Norman French had upon the English after 1066. Furthermore, it isn’t only the victors and the vanquished who dwell together speaking different tongues. The war doesn’t really go on forever. When the fighting is over–for a while–the victors and the vanquished often settle down to become the rulers and the ruled. They continue to speak different languages. Their languages may in time merge and become one, but they will still find a way to speak different languages. That is the case with us.

    The arrangement offers some advantages on both sides. The powerful can write the laws and the rules in their own language so that the weak come before the courts and the commissions at a double disadvantage. (You’ll see what that means when they audit your tax return.) The ruling class also becomes the "better" class, and its language must be the language of literature and philosophy and science and all the gentle arts. The subjects, whose language is deemed insufficiently elegant or complex to express such matters, are thus excluded from the business of the intellect in all its forms and relegated to tradecraft and handiwork, for which their rudimentary babble is just about good enough. On the other hand, the rudimentary babble of the riffraff is, after all, a language that the rulers don’t, and generally don’t care to, understand. The language of the subjects serves them as a form of "secret" talking, so that servants can mutter, not quite inaudibly, appropriate comments on the lord and his lady. It’s the same kind of revenge that schoolboys used to take by learning fluent, rapid pig latin to use in the presence of pompous and pedantic masters.

    The linguistic distinction between the rulers and the ruled seems so right, especially to the rulers, that where it doesn’t occur naturally it gets invented. Thus the upper classes in Russia in the times of the czars were put to the trouble of learning French, a more "civilized" tongue, and reserved their Russian for speaking to servants, very small children, and domestic animals. Thus the French upper classes from time to time have gone through paroxysms of tortured elegance in language in order to distinguish themselves yet further from their inferiors. It would have seemed reasonable, and handsomely symmetrical, too, for the French aristocrats to have learned Russian, saving their French for servants, very small children, and domestic animals, but your standard everyday French aristocrat would rather drink out of his fingerbowl than learn a barbarous babble like Russian. It’s interesting to notice that in both those cultures certain linguistic distinctions were ultimately obliterated, at least for a while, by bloody revolutions. True, there may have been some other causes as well, but these little lessons of history should cause at least an occasional sleepless night for those of our rulers who like to speak in a language not understood by the people. We don’t have two languages, of course, so those who rule us have the same problem that once troubled the French aristocracy. They have to devise an elaborate language-within-a-language that we can understand only sometimes and even then uncertainly. It is a mistake to think that the language of the bureaucrats is merely an ignorant, garbled jargon. They may not always know what they are doing, but what they are doing is not haphazard. It works, too.

    We like to make jokes, for instance, about the language of the tax forms. Heh heh, we chuckle, ain’t them bureaucrats a caution? Just listen to this here, Madge. Them bureaucrats, however, don’t chuckle at all, and if you’d like to see just what the term "stony silence" really means, try chuckling at their jargon when they haul you down to the tax office to ask how you managed to afford that cabin cruiser. Even your own lawyer will start looking around for some lint to pick off his trousers.

    And as long as we have a lawyer in view, ain’t they something? We read with pitying shakes of the head the disclaimers and demurrers at the bottom of the contract. We like to imagine that we, just plain folks, are somehow, deep down where it really counts, superior to those pointy-headed word-mongers with all their hereinafters. Nevertheless, we do what they tell us to do. We always remember that if we can’t figure out from their language what we’re required to do, and if we therefore fail to do it, it isn’t the writers of the jargon who will be called to account. Our sense of superiority is an illusion, a convenient illusion from somebody’s point of view; in fact, when we read the contract, we are afraid. It is the intent of that language to make us afraid. It works. Now that is effective writing.

    Imagine that the postman brings you a letter from the Water and Sewer Department or the Bureau of Mines or some such place. Any right-thinking American will eye even the envelope in the same way he would eye some sticky substance dripping from the underparts of his automobile. Things get worse. You open the letter and see at once these words: "You are hereby notified…" How do you feel? Are you keen to read on? But you will, won’t you? Oh, yes. You will.

    Here comes another letter. This one doesn’t even have a stamp. It carries instead the hint that something very bad will happen to any mere citizen caught using this envelope for his own subversive purposes. You open it and read: "It has been brought to the attention of this office…" Do you throw it out at that point because you find it too preposterous to think that an office can have an attention? Do you immediately write a reply: "Dear So-and-so, I am surprised and distressed by the rudeness of your first ten words, especially since they are addressed to one of those who pay your salary. Perhaps you’re having a bad day. Why don’t you write again and say something else?" You do not. In fact, you turn pale and wonder frantically which of your misdeeds has been revealed. Your anxiety is increased by that passive verb–that’s what it’s for–which suggests that this damaging exposure has been made not by an envious neighbor or a vengeful merchant or an ex-girlfriend or any other perfectly understandable, if detestable, human agent, but by the very nature of the universe. "It has been brought." This is serious.

    Among the better class of Grammarians, that construction is known as the Divine Passive. It intends to suggest that neither the writer nor anyone else through whose head you might like to hammer a blunt wooden spike can be held accountable for anything in any way. Like an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, this latest calamity must be accepted as an act of God. God may well be keeping count of the appearances of the Divine Passive.

    Another classic intimidation with which to begin a letter is: "According to our records…" It reminds you at once, with that plural pronoun, that the enemy outnumbers you, and the reference to "records" makes it clear that they’ve got the goods. There is even a lofty pretense to fairness, as though you were being invited to bring forth your records to clear up this misunderstanding. You know, however, that they don’t suspect for an instant that there’s anything wrong in their records. Besides, you don’t have any records, as they damn well know.

    Such frightening phrases share an important attribute. They are not things that ordinary people are likely to say, or even write, to one another except, of course, in certain unpleasant circumstances. We can see their intentions when we put them into more human contexts: "My dear Belinda, You are hereby notified…" conveys a message that ought to infuriate even the dullest of Belindas. Why is it then that we are not infuriated when we bear or read such words addressed to us by bureaucrats? We don’t even stop to think that those words make up a silly verbal paradox; the only context in which they can possibly appear is the one in which they are not needed at all. No meaning is added to "Your rent is overdue" when the landlord writes, "You are hereby notified that your rent is overdue." What is added is the tone of official legality, and the presumption that one of the rulers is addressing one of the ruled. The voice of Sisera puts you in your place, and, strangely enough, you go there.

    We Americans make much of our egalitarian society, and we like to think we are not intimidated by wealth and power. Still, we are. There are surely many reasons for that, and about most of them we can do nothing, it seems. But one of the reasons is the very language in which the wealthy and powerful speak to us. When we hear it, something ancient stirs in us, and we take off our caps and hold them to our chests as we listen. About that we could do something–all it takes is some education. That must have been in Jefferson’s mind when he thought about the importance of universal education in a society of free people. People who are automatically and unconsciously intimidated by the sound of a language that they cannot themselves use easily will never be free. Jefferson must have imagined an America in which all citizens would be able, when they felt like it, to address one another as members of the same class. That we cannot do so is a sore impediment to equality, but, of course, a great advantage to those who can use the English of power and wealth.

    It would be easier to see bureaucratic language for what it is if only the governors and bureaucrats did in fact speak a foreign tongue. When the Normans ruled England anyone could tell the French was French and English, English. It was the government that might, rarely, pardon you for your crimes, but it needed a friend to forgive you for your sins. Words like "pardon" and "forgive" were clearly in different languages, and, while either might have been translated by the other, they still meant subtly different acts. They still do, even though they are both thought of as English words now. Modern English has swallowed up many such distinctions, but not all. We still know that hearts are broken, not fractured. This is the kind of distinction Winston Churchill had in mind when he advised writers to choose the native English word whenever possible rather than a foreign import. This is good advice, but few can heed it in these days. The standard American education does not provide the knowledge out of which to make such choices.

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  • 6 comments

    A Season To Be Objective

    Modernism, or post-modernism, has little use for philosophy . Pragmatism is most people’s mind bent. Tough-minded pragmatism has a lot going for it, but when it denigrates philosophy it might be acting a little too tough. Isn’t philosopy that old-timey pursuit back when intellectuals talked endlessly and abstrusely about whether we really exist or just a bundle of impressions. What good did any of that talk do? It doesn’t pay the rent, by God, and it doesn’t bring the bacon (tofu?) home.

    Others are more mystical about life, therefore philosophy is an illusory construct created by dead white European males to rule by reason and logic, or to confuse the issues with consistency — there is nothing consistently true for mystics, and all the intellectualizing in the world won’t reveal the mystical flow of The Great Unknown to the puny mind of reason — it’s intuitive, soft and open in spirit — felt by those connected to the universal spirit.

    One looks at “what works” as the only marker for value, and the other goes by “what feels right”, what can be intuited as the marker of value. There are many variations of these two types of believers. And there are many who are mostly social, who don’t think much at all about the larger issues of life; they want to belong and be accepted, and merely being a part of a group is fine with them. They might take a stand if it’s to protect a friend or if they feel like their group is being threatened, but mostly they just want social comfort.

    The second definition of philosophy from The Free Dictionary is — 2. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.

    The first definition is — 1. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.

    Very few people live by, or hold ideas to the test of, a set of principles that they’ve forged through a consistent philosophy. They usually go by antecdotal evidence, snapshots of reality taken out of context, as their measure to make decisions. “I have a cousin who did this and got this result, and it seems to be working, therefore I need not worry further about placing this to the test of principles because it’s working and that’s enough.” Or, some might say “This feels right, it’s got the right amount of compassion, it’s harmonic with my feelings, therefore it has to be good because I feel good about it.” Still another might say, ” Everyone in my group is choosing this, therefore it must be good; besides, who am I to go against the group — if they all think it’s good, it must be good.”

    Those who judge by objectivity and reason based on a set of principles are many times seen as naysayers who are trying to spoil the “new thing” — they are called short-sighted, old-fashioned, un-enlightened, contrarians, mean (if the new thing is sufficiently PC), and all kinds of ugly names if the new thing is something that deeply connects emotionally with people.

    Many people misunderstand the above second definition of philosophy. They tend to think principled people are arrogant, that those who judge objectively think they “have all the answers”, that they aren’t “open”. Nothing could be further from the truth — these things may be true of any one individual, but they don’t apply necessarily to people who judge by strict criteria founded upon time-proven principles. The voice of reason may be a “party-pooper”, but it’s not a pooping for the sake of pooping, it’s a love for finding the wisdom/truth in any given subject. It’s not a declaration of absolute truth being found once and for all, it’s a declaration of the SEARCH for truth, a popular or un-popular truth.

    Then, you hear the cries “Truth is relative!” — “Perception is Reality!”. This is the problem. For all those who abhor philosophy, THIS “philosophy” is most prevalent. And, it’s the most dangerous philosophy. The modern tendency to make truth dependent on group consensus has isloated objective thinkers even more than they’ve been islolated in the past. There is no place for them in the political process, there is little demand for them in the media because they are not taking an extreme position to meet the agenda of the particular media format, and most groups shun them because they are often disagreeable. Simply searching for the truth is annoying and boring to a lot of people.

    Yet, the world will be lost without objective, reasonable thinkers, and I think in the middle of the extremes a “silent majority” still exists years after Spiro Agnew (I think he coined that phrase) who hunger for leaders who will avoid the partisan pulls to extremes in order to pursue the truth. It’s in the fearless search for truth that all progress and real change lies. What we see this political season is the culmination of partisan politics and truth by consensus with the largest number of adherents to a brand of “truth” the winner.

    Failure to develop and live by principles has infected every walk of life, and it’s infected the real estate profession, with the pragmatic toughies yelling “Whatever works” as they look no further than next month, and with the ”It feels right, so it must be good” crowd embracing every fluffy notion in their “unbearable lightness of being“. Then the social butterflies who flit from popular group to popular group oblivious to purpose or meaning.

    Where do I fall (let’s keep this fair)? I have fallen in all of them from time to time, but I struggle daily to be objective. It’s a goal I’ve set for myself — to search for the truth, unpopular or not. I have to.

    A lot of bloated writing here to get to a simple point: I believe it’s vitally important to be objective and look at every issue, every new site offering, every controversy, every new marketing idea, every ethical challenge, every group direction, every business model, through long term vision, guided by a set of ideas that spring from freedom and excellence. Freedom to excercise your mind and control your destiny, and excellence in the performance of that freedom.

    The last five years, since I got my broker’s license and went independent I’ve relished every moment of freedom -not to say that everyone must be a broker and start their own company, just find the route to independence (at least I’ve found it rewarding). I’ve also worked hard to understand all I can understand about the art of providing service. I may not be the most technologically savvy, but I’ll match what I’ve learned about service and my service performance with anyone. 

    I think it’s two keys to happiness in this profession. The thrill of being independent, free to innovate, to change on a dime if called for, is exhilerating – and to strive for excellence. I’ve recently decided to use my space my space on my blog to quietly write about what I see as the principles and disciplines necessary to succeed in this new way of doing things that includes some old ways. I probably won’t be breaking any news stories or announcing new gadgets – there are other blogs that are better at that. I want to carve a niche of philosophizing. A real estate philosopher, if you will. LOL — it suits my nature much better — to sit quietly in my corner and write about “stuff”.

    I credit Greg for inspiring me to return to my philosopher roots. My philosophy is a cross between Ayn Rand and Goofy.

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  • 13 comments

    If You Want To Be On HGTV, Read This

    I received the email posted below the graphic yesterday. Rather than forward it to a list of handpicked people, I am posting it here so anyone who is interested can respond.

    HGTV - Meet Russell

    From: Conrad, Melissa mailto:MConrad@HighnoonEntertainment.com]

    Subject: Hello!

    Hello,

    I am with HGTV’s show called “My First Place”. We chose Arizona to film our next 10 episodes and we are having a hard time finding people and realtors to be on the show. I am a casting producer and I would love your help to find some great AZ realtors with first time home buyers that would like to get an expensive gift from HGTV. These episodes will get national attention and since we are one of the top rated shows on HGTV, we hope it will bring positive attention to your beautiful city. Hopefully it will bring more home buyers in your direction! Also the realtors who are on the show get on screen credit so they can be contacted nation wide. Everyone who has been on the show has had a great time and our producers are very fun to work with.

    If you are interested in being a part of the show along with your first time home buyer, I will send you over an application that we need them to fill out. It will start off our casting process so we can set up a casting interview with all of you. Thank you so much for your help and I hope to hear from you soon!

    Melissa Conrad
    Associate Producer
    High Noon Entertainment
    303-349-6800
    303-712-3209

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  • 4 comments

    Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues of thought.

    From Less Than Words Can Say

    by Richard Mitchell, The Underground Grammarian

    A colleague sent me a questionnaire. It was about my goals in teaching, and it asked me to assign values to a number of beautiful and inspiring goals. I was told that the goals were pretty widely shared by professors all around the country.

    Many years earlier I had returned a similar questionnaire, because the man who sent it had promised, in writing, to “analize” my “input.” That seemed appropriate, so I put it in. But he didn’t do as he had promised, and I had lost all interest in questionnaires.

    This one intrigued me, however, because it was lofty. It spoke of a basic appreciation of the liberal arts, a critical evaluation of society, emotional development, creative capacities, students’ self-understanding, moral character, interpersonal relations and group participation, and general insight into the knowledge of a discipline. Unexceptionable goals, every one. Yet it seemed to me, on reflection, that they were none of my damned business. It seemed possible, even likely, that some of those things might flow from the study of language and literature, which is my damned business, but they also might not. Some very well-read people lack moral character and show no creative capacities at all, to say nothing of self-understanding or a basic appreciation of the liberal arts. So, instead of answering the questionnaire, I paid attention to its language; and I began by asking myself how “interpersonal relations” were different from “relations.” Surely, I thought, our relations with domestic animals and edible plants were not at issue here; why specify them as “interpersonal”? And how else can we “participate” but in groups? I couldn’t answer.

    I asked further how a “basic” appreciation was to be distinguished from some other kind of appreciation. I recalled that some of my colleagues were in the business of teaching appreciation. It seemed all too possible that they would have specialized their labors, some of them teaching elementary appreciation and others intermediate appreciation, leaving to the most exalted members of the department the senior seminars in advanced appreciation, but even that didn’t help with basic appreciation. It made about as much sense as blue appreciation.

    As I mulled this over, my eye fell on the same word in the covering letter, which said, “We would appreciate having you respond to these items.” Would they, could they, “basically appreciate” having me respond to these items? Yes, I think they could. And what is the appropriate response to an item? Would it be a basic response?

    Suddenly I couldn’t understand anything. I noticed, as though for the first time, that the covering letter promised “to complete the goals and objectives aspect of the report.” What is a goals aspect? An objectives aspect? How do you complete an aspect? How seriously could I take a mere aspect, when my mind was beguiled by the possibility of a basic aspect? Even of a basic goals and basic objectives basic aspect?

    After years of fussing about the pathetic, baffled language of students, I realized that it was not in their labored writings that bad language dwelt. This, this inane gabble, this was bad language. Evil language. Here was a man taking the public money for the work of his mind and darkening counsel by words without understanding.

    Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues of thought.

    This man had offered me inanity. I had almost seized it. If I told you that this little book would provide you with general insight into the knowledge of a discipline, would you read on? If so, then you had better read on, for you are in danger. People all around you are offering inanity, and you are ready to seize it, like any well-behaved American consumer dutifully swallowing the best advertised pill. You are, in a certain sense, unconscious.

    Language is the medium in which we are conscious. The speechless beasts are aware, but they are not conscious. To be conscious is to “know with” something, and a language of some sort is the device with which we know. More precisely, it is the device with which we can know. We don’t have to. We can, if we please, speak of general insight into the knowledge of a discipline and forgo knowing.

    Consciousness has degrees. We can be wide awake or sound asleep. We can be anesthetized. He is not fully conscious who can speak lightly of such things as basic appreciations and general insights into the knowledge of a discipline. He wanders in the twilight sleep of knowing where insubstantial words, hazy and disembodied, have fled utterly from things and ideas. His is an attractive world, dreamy and undemanding, a Lotus-land of dozing addicts. They blow a little smoke our way. It smells good. Suddenly and happily we realize that our creative capacities and self-understanding yearn after basic appreciations and general insights. We nod, we drowse, we fall asleep.

    I am trying to stay awake.

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    Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words, but what are your pictures actually saying?

    Pictures are worth a thousand words. Wouldn’t it be nice if all thousand of those words were actually in praise for the subject of the picture? Time and time again I see photos of homes in the MLS that make me NOT want to look at the house, it’s either too dark or washed out or it just doesn’t make the house look appealing. Or it’s pictures of inconsequential things, like the seller’s dog, or a squirrel in the lawn, or 5 photos of the staircase and no other interior pictures. I swear I’ve seen pictures that were made by a camera phone.

    What is the point of pictures in our line of work? It is to showcase the house. In this day and age when the vast majority of folks are going online to see everything they can about a house, the photos we have are your first impression. It can make a buyer drool and want to jump in the car to go see it right away, or it can make someone simply pass over it without a second thought. What kind of photos are you taking?

    The options are pretty simple. Take good pictures or pay someone that can take good pictures. I was very close to start paying a professional photographer until I learned how to make astonishing photos myself. This isn’t for everyone, but it might work for some! So let me show you some examples.

    Everett House

    This one is your ordinary every-day split-level house. The picture on the left was pulled from when the house was for sale 4 years ago. It has nothing wrong with it. It’s actually fairly well exposed in that you can see the house clearly. However it’s kinda plain and split-level homes here have a certain negative stigma. The photo on the right is of the same house that I am listing now. This house has a gorgeous front yard and the goal was to emphasize the overall property’s beauty and de-emphasize the split-levelness. The house is small in the overall photo, but the goal was to catch the viewer’s attention so they will click on more photos and then be turned on to the inner beauty of the house. Instead, someone could easily see a plain old split-level home (seen one…seen them all) and pass right over it…not knowing what they might have missed.

    Chung

    These townhomes are pretty new so that I couldn’t find a photo of it from when it was originally sold. The next best thing I did find was a photo of the unit next door to the one I have listed. Again, nothing really wrong with the picture on the left except the sky is overexposed (all white) and it just looks like any ordinary ho-hum townhouse. I tried to get a little bit of mother nature to help spruce up my version of the picture…some trees in the background and blue skies.

    Lee

    Here is an example of when a good wide angle lens comes in handy. The photo on the left taken in a previous listing doesn’t even have the whole house in the picture. The effect I was going for here was to have all the lights glowing…again to be an eye catcher.

    stairs

    The photo on the left is of the same staircase as the one I took on the right. The staircase is actually pretty neat and the photo on the left fails to communicate any of that…there’s even barrel distortion at the left and right edges of the picture (see how the walls aren’t straight?).

    So how are these photos done? True, these are not “natural” photos. Depending on the sunlight, you don’t typically get a scene where both foreground, house and sky are all well exposed. If the sun is behind the house, you’ll usually get a sky that’s well exposed and the house is dark. Or the opposite, where the house is properly exposed and the sky is washed out. Here’s my secret. It requires a few tools. 1) a camera that allows you to manually set its exposure, 2) some software and 3) a tripod.

    The technique used here is called HDR. High Dynamic Range photography. It basically involves taking several shots of the same image at different exposures. The idea is that at different exposures, different parts of the image will be properly exposed. Once you have your set of pictures, you feed them into the software and it merges them all together. You then have to go and tweak the picture to get different things to show up better. Easy as pie. There’s various versions of the software. You can get a photoshop plugin or a stand-alone. I use
    HDRsoft’s standalone package. The software is the easy part. Getting a cheap digital camera to take differntly exposed photos is tricky and would involve lots of menu button presses (which is where the tripod comes in). You need all your shots to be the same. Too much movement and the software won’t be able to properly mash them together.

    The camera I use is a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (400D for those non-US readers). The easiest way to take multiple-exposure shots is using the camera’s built in auto-bracketing feature. On the Canon XTi it will automatically fire off 3 shots at the 3 different exposures I set it to.

    Here’s some examples of the three shots used to make the pictures I have above. Each one captures a different set of detail in the photo (the set on the right is more clear) and software creates a picture with all the details highlighted. The trial and error part is figuring out how to tweak and what to tweak to get the best looking results.

    6grid

    So there you go. I’m nowhere near an expert at this technique …I’m still learning!! Go to flickr and search for ‘HDR’ if you want to see the stuff the pros can do with this technique.

    So why not just hire it out? You can. Like I said, this isn’t for everyone. I personally do it to increase my value to my clients and also so I have an excuse to buy the camera gear I’ve always wanted. Happy picture taking!

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    How can you laugh when you know I’m down?

    We suffered a four-plus hour server crash this morning. Second time this month, and with my Mac failures on top of that, I am quite ready to be rid of February. My apologies if you tried to visit and were unable to get in.

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    Bebop and the brain — Thelonious Monk’s career advice to working Realtors and lenders: “We wanted a music that they couldn’t play”

    We listen to Bebop Jazz in the office. If I talk about music, I tend to talk about Rock ‘n’ Roll or Country, just because they’re more inclusive. Bebop is demanding music even for Jazz, definitely an acquired taste.

    Instrumental music is good at work, of course, since you can play it fairly quietly, and since there are no words (except “Salt Peanuts!”) to interfere with your thinking.

    I would argue that complex compositions — like Classical or Modern, Progressive or Cool Jazz — will tend to improve the quality of your thoughts, through time, since your mind has to work so much harder to process the music. Constant exercise for the muscle of the mind should make you a stronger thinker. It seems reasonable to me that a familiarity with musical cadences will make you a better writer, as well.

    Lately we’ve been tuned into the Bebop station at Yahoo’s LaunchCast on-line radio portal. Like all LaunchCast stations, the playlist could be a lot longer, but it’s a pretty nice representation of the Bebop idea in Jazz: Bird, Monk, Dizzy, Dex, Mingus, Trane, Miles. A little bit of Art Tatum, which I love, and a little Hard Bop, which I loathe. Bud Powell and Cannonball Adderley to show the world how a sound this demanding can still be fun. If you really want to listen, you have to go to your own record collection. But for the office, it’s the best solution we’ve found so far.


    Creative Commons License photo credit: MikeLove

    That’s all beside the point, though. You either like Jazz or you don’t, and many people don’t. But the quote from Monk in the headline

    “We wanted a music that they couldn’t play.”

    is practically a mission statement for Web 2.0-empowered Realtors and lenders.

    Bebop was born during a musician’s union strike in 1942-43. Players who had been working as sidemen in Big Band and Swing orchestras would spend their idle days together in two Harlem nightclubs, jamming for each other. Over a very short span of time they created a brand new form of music, with a brand new music theory all its own.

    The “they” in Monk’s quotation refers to the white band leaders who had co-opted Jazz and made it palatable to white audiences. The Bebop pioneers created a style of music that only virtuoso players could master, leaving their former bosses in an ever-more-obvious state of irrelevance and obsolescence. Bebop was four-, five- and six-player Jazz for very cool cats, and the Big Band leaders were instantly dinosaurs.

    Sound familiar?

    If you gotta pay for leads to keep the kids fed, do it. But every spare minute of your day should be devoted to Bebop real estate, working toward the day when you don’t have to pay some broker or boss or lead vendor for the thrill of making money for them. Not everybody who wants a bite out of your pay-check is a bad guy, but if you’re taking shit from morons — if there is someone telling you how you must work and then taking 20% or 35% or 50% of your earnings — I think you’re going about this wrong.

    You’re going to listen to your own music at work, that’s understood. But make your own music at work. And master your craft so well that you can craft a music they can’t play…

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    William F. Buckley — Requiescat in pacem

    Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

    –Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses

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    Don’t Cut The Granite

    Marketeers and salespeople often use the phrase “think outside the box”.  And when the phrase is used in that way, I usually think of clever, creative marketing and promotional stuff.

    People involved in the day to day operation of rental properties, tend to think in more practical and pragmatic terms.  Heaters need to be fixed, sewer drains need to be unclogged.  Drain augers exist in a world that is somehow outside of any box/unbox metaphor.

    However, one of the finest real world examples of thinking outside the box I have ever experienced, came from a low budget contractor during a kitchen renovation.

    The tenants had left the property, a single family home, in sorrowful condition.  The kitchen had to be gutted.

    Our low budget contractor had managed to salvage a rather nice granite countertop from somewhere else.  No, I didn’t ask where.  I’m not sure I wanted to know the details.

    One little problem though, the countertop was just about three inches too long to fit in our subject property’s kitchen.  And the contractor did not have any tool that could be trusted to safely and cleanly make a straight cut in the granite to lob off those excess inches.

    The solution?  The kitchen wall at the side, abutting the short side of the countertop — He cut a slot slotinwallhere1.jpgin the drywall, to allow those extra three inches of countertop to just simply slide into the wall.  Then he patched up the slot, sealed the wall and caulked it.  Done!

    My marketing friends will probably find a slogan here “Don’t Cut The Granite, When You Can Cut The Wall!”  And that’s great, take from it what you will. 

    I personally learned a subtle little lesson about making things work.  A true moment of epiphany, if you will.  And if I could create a new topic category here on BHB, I would create one titled:  “Epiphany”.

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    Wanna see how to win the BloodhoundBlog Black Pearl Diver’s contest? You’re not selling us, you’re selling you . . .

    Mike Farmer wrote a sweet note this morning about using single-property weblogs in his marketing, but his post was not an entry in the BloodhoundBlog Black Pearl Diver’s contest.

    What’s the trick to writing a winning entry?

    Think your benefit, not ours.

    How can you write a post about an idea you first heard about here that better establishes your competence and expertise with your readers?

    How about something like this?

    When we list your Encanto-Palmcroft home for sale, why do we give it is own custom weblog? To make sure it sells, that’s why

    We’re Encanto-Palmcroft real estate specialists. A jack of all trades is master of none. But, when we list a home for sale in Encanto-Palmcroft, we always give it its own fully-detailed custom weblog.

    Actually, we build a full-blown web site, with rich color photos of everything. A floorplan. A custom Google Map of all the nearby amenities — schools, parks, shopping. We include a downloadable version of the listing sheet itself — along with the full-color flyer, the plat map, historical photos — everything we can lay our hands on.

    Why do go we to all that trouble?

    Because, along with all the other things we do to earn your business, custom weblogs sell houses.

    We first heard about this idea on BloodhoundBlog, a nuts-and-bolts weblog for real estate professionals, but we’ve added our own unique twists…

    And like that. You go on to detail those unique twists, you sprinkle in some screenshots and links from single-property weblogs you have built for past clients. And you make your call to action.

    There’s more: This is a good example of how to use your most valuable keywords without being irritating. Relevance to search engines equals Title plus Headline plus Body Copy. I have written a highly relevant post about Encanto-Palmcroft — not about BloodhoundBlog — and about our real estate practice there.

    You can’t win if you don’t play, but your victory is guaranteed if you play the game this way. You might win the scholarship to Unchained. You might win a spot on our sidebar. But — let the dog biscuits fall where they may — you will certainly produce a post that will advance your own marketing objectives.

    I said this last night in a comment: “Capitalism is the quest for wealth that makes everyone richer.” I think this contest is a good example of that philosophy.

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    This is not for the contest — just tipping my hat

    The most powerful marketing Idea I’ve heard lately is to create a separate blog for listings. I’m in the process of giving area information, one area at a time on my home buyer’s website/blog with plenty of links to pertinent information.

    But the idea of creating a blog for each listing is something that didn’t dawn on me. To tell the story of the listing. The 455 50th Street Blog! My provider allows categories, so I can create as many blogs as I want to create and delete them when it sells.

    The possibilities are many – you could even have the owners write a guest post, you could fully explain the area surrounding the listing, you can place powerful photos highlighting the strong points; you can have one post that gives demographics, one post that gives comparables, and if it’s an older home like many in Savannah, one post that gives the history. You can highlight in one post all the improvements, in one post talk about its energy efficiency, on and on.

    It’s a lot of work but it would be powerful and sellers would love it. Talk about rich content and Google love! It would distinguish the home and it would place it in a great position to compete in a tough market.

    I have two new listings coming up and I’m going to try this. There may be objections I haven’t thought of, but I believe it would be worth the effort.

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    I’m Sick Inside Because Lani’s Sick

    Lani Anglin drives me nuts. She texts, twitters, lauds shiny objects on the internet, and mostly, reminds me that I’m middle-aged and she’s not. Every time she posts about how Gen Y demands business to be done, I wake up in the middle of the night with the anxious feeling that I may be turning into a dinosaur.

    Her husband, Benn Rosales used to be a public relations professional. Amidst my PR challenges, I turned to Benn for some practical advice. After all, I’m trying to find my way in uncharted territory. I hammered Benn’s cell phone yesterday. I was driving up the 805, last night, and tried him one last time, before it got too late in Austin; I wasn’t prepared for what I heard.

    We’re in the hospital. Lani’s got vertigo.”

    Vertigo? What the hell is that?

    I called Benn this morning to check on Lani’s condition and he communicated her condition completely. She’s at home, hopefully recovering from what be a fleeting incident. She might be dealing with something more permanent.

    Benn, the consummate professional, asked “What’s up?”

    “Um, uh…nothing. Just checking on Lani’s condition”

    BS, man. You got a big announcement today, right? Give me the advance notice so I can post some good news; Lani’ll be pumped

    That’s exactly what Benn did.

    This is what I hate about Web 2.0; you get to really know people without meeting them. Bad things happen to good people and it sucks when those good people are one of your own.

    Today was a great day but I feel like crap. Get well, Lani.

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    Why is Zillow.com sponsoring BloodhoundBlog Unchained? Discover the answer to that question for yourself by diving for Black Pearls — and win a link on our sidebar or even an Unchained scholarship

    Why is Zillow.com the premier sponsor of BloodhoundBlog Unchained? They can speak for themselves (as they have), but my thinking all along was that they expected that we could put them in front of the kind of Realtors and lenders most likely to make the best use of the incredible software Zillow is producing.

    I said this yesterday in email to Drew Meyers of Zillow.com:

    You are at or near the kind of software “universe” that is so rich that all kinds of unexpected ideas can take root. A commendable state only nerds can appreciate, but one which can yield huge harvests of new tools.

    I think you might have to have the geekiest turn of mind to appreciate the difference between a mere API (Application Programmer’s Interface) and a true software universe, but Zillow is the real deal — and I’ll be teaching on this point at Unchained. (I’ll make it easy, fast and fun, I promise.)

    The simple fact is, whatever differences BloodhoundBlog and Zillow.com might have, we are on exactly the same page for much of the hymnal: How can we leverage the incredible power of the internet for home buyers, borrowers and sellers?

    There are 2,338 posts on BloodhoundBlog as I write this, and many of them, perhaps the majority, are about tools, tips, tricks, tactics and techniques for Realtors and lenders. We’ve written about single-property web sites, maximum-power leveraged SEO, how loan originators can thread their way through the landmines, social marketing sites from MySpace to LinkedIn to FaceBook to Twitter. I’ve taken you step-by-step through our custom yard-sign strategy. Brian and I, with help from Tom Johnson and others, pioneered the idea Tom calls “Zestifarming.” I could go on forever — and our archives do.

    And that’s the point: When you hunt with a Bloodhound, you don’t have to go everywhere the dog goes. But it’s the dog who runs down the game. Why does Zillow want to sponsor us? I think it’s because we are constantly coming up with new Web 2.0 marketing ideas.

    And, as I realized yesterday, that could be a good weblogging contest. Brian announced on the radio today that the $149 Guerrilla-only special price we are offering will go away in ten days — Friday, March 7th. If you want to get Unchained for that price, you’ll have to act fast.

    But I want to do a Black Pearls contest, with the Grand Prize being a full scholarship to Unchained. So let’s do it this way: The deadline for the contest will be in seven days — March 4th. If you win, you’re in. If not, you still have time to get a ticket while they’re still such a bargain.

    So here’s the contest:

    The BloodhoundBlog Black Pearl Diver’s contest…

    You know you’ve seen a lot of great marketing ideas here for the first time. We’re not always the last word on a new idea, but we’re often the first word — and at our best, we’re the best word.

    Here’s a blogging contest: Write a post on your own site discussing the best marketing Black Pearl you’ve found on BloodhoundBlog. Search the archives, if you need to, to refresh your memory.

    Post a link to your blog post in the comments to this post.

    Extra credit: Show us how you use the idea in your own marketing.

    Extra-extra credit: Show us how you have improved on the idea.

    Can BloodhoundBlog contributors enter? Everyone but me and Brian Brady, from your home weblogs.

    Can you enter more than once? You bet. There’s only one Grand Prize, but if you can earn two or more spots on our sidebar, you deserve everyone’s thanks.

    Will this affect The Odysseus Medal competition? Only to the extent that the same post can be entered here and nominated there. We like good ideas and we’re not doing anything to stand in their way.

    Brian Brady and I will be the sole judges of the winners — and the only judging criteria is the marketing strength of the ideas.

    Winning essays — no limit — get a link back to their site on our side-bar — some of the most powerful Google-juice in the RE.net.

    And the Grand Prize Winner gets a full scholarship to BlooodhoundBlog Unchained:

    • Tickets to the main two-day conference, May 19th and 20th, a $200 value
    • A ticket to the May 18th pre-conference of tutorial break-outs and sponsored intensives, a $50 value
    • A full set of DVDs of the main conference, a $100 value

    The fact is, you can buy all that — a $350 value — for $149 right now, and my take is that you should go ahead and do it if you haven’t already. We only have a limited number of seats available, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. If you win the Grand Prize, you can either bring a colleague or we’ll refund your money.

    But, either way, get writing. That deadline is March 4th at 12 midnight, MST. And: Winning a spot on our sidebar will do wonders for your search engine results, even if you don’t win the scholarship.

    Why is Zillow.com sponsoring BloodhoundBlog Unchained? Could it be because we think up ideas like this one?

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    Brian Brady on RealEstateRadioUSA.com: Mortgages unchained

    Brian Brady did a half-hour interview this afternoon on RealEstateRadioUSA.com, the internet radio station for real estate. He was talking about BloodhoundBlog Unchained, but hosts Barry Cunningham and Barry Johnson also probed him about the mortgage market. To top things off, there’s an extensive discussion of the “What would David Gibbons do?” philosophy.

    I made a recording of Brian’s interview. Click on the link below for the MP3 podcast.

    Or: If you click on this link, you’ll find MP3s of the full broadcast, of Brian’s segment and of another show segment with Mary McKnight of RSSPieces. The baton-passing is not quite perfect, but Brain and Mary manage to announce that she will be one of our guest speakers at Unchained. Thanks to the folks at RealEstateRadioUSA.com for the link to the MP3s.

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