How do I want to make my impact???

November 19, 2015 10:36pm
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I guess you could say that I’ve kind of been having a mini crisis of faith over the last couple of weeks where I’ve found myself second-guessing what I want to do with life from the perspective of being a writer.

I wrote about it a little here last week, but in light of the attacks in Paris that literally happened a day later and the tremendous backlash that’s surged since regarding the refugees from Syria, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and last night I believe I finally came to my answer…

Politics and reporting the news are important, and I can certainly see plenty of room for improvement, however that said I don’t know if it’s the right fit for me, I don’t think that it necessarily plays to my strengths, and most importantly, I think it would drive me absolutely insane trying to keep up with it after a while!

I had an idea that I was briefly entertaining last night about a new project that would essentially serve as a Snopes or a Politifact, but exclusively stick to factually correcting details shared around social media. On the surface it seemed like a worthwhile idea and it’s no doubt something that’s sorely needed … but the more I stewed about it, I came to the conclusion that it would end up being an extraordinarily negative pool to wade through because it would basically consist of purposely seeking out the most popular misinformed posts on Facebook and then doing the research to correct them.

A noble cause, no doubt … but is that really how I want to spend the limited amount of time that I have to dedicate to my craft???

Not really.

And so that brought me back to humor and sort of shined a new light on the art form that I think I’ve somewhat taken for granted. Simply put, the intent of humor first and foremost is to make people laugh. It can certainly also serve to educate or enlighten or even ridicule its subject matter in the process, but all of those things are secondary to entertainment.

It’s an argument that I remember Jon Stewart making time and time again about The Daily Show when various news programs would compare themselves to his program and he’d have to insist, “You think that we’re the same, but we’re not. The lead-in to my show is literally puppets making crank phone calls!”

A lot of pundits gave Stewart crap about not being on the same playing field as they were – primarily because his job mostly consisted of lobbing fireballs at them for 30 minutes every single night – but that’s kind of the beauty of being a humorist. You can write hard-hitting, political humor that serves to cut through the bullshit and highlight the ridiculousness that our politicians spout on a daily basis, but you can also write about other things, too.

If I were to take on that social media fact checker project that I described earlier, sure, there would be a potential to “make an impact” by providing facts to (hopefully) displace the BS, but what would the other part involve for that job? I fear that much like trying to be a hard-hitting journalist, it would be nothing but one ugly shouting match after another where even if you change minds with your latest battle, you’ve still got another ugly shouting match ahead of you and ten more lined up after that.

At least if I stick to entertainment writing, I can follow-up a critical, but also silly post about the Syrian refugees with a comic strip about the joys of unpacking cardboard boxes! What are my alternatives if I dedicate the bulk of my time to dispelling conservative politics or trying to make a dent in the status quo through serious debate??? Those ridiculous cat stuck in the tree or how did she wear it-stories that always make me groan when I see actual news sources taking a break with them?!

People can still take serious cues from humor, but it’s a lot more fun to read … not to mention to write, now that I think about it. So maybe I need to get back to writing humor and stop worrying about finding an unnatural way for me to move the needle.

This was a good talk. Thanks, Internet! 😉

Journalism and Me

November 13, 2015 2:13am
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Occasionally I wonder why I never got into proper journalism, and even if it’d be too late for me to do so. I mean, I like the writing that I do and you certainly don’t have to sell me on the value of entertainment and humor in society, but there’s still a part of me that wonders if I could be doing more if I had chosen to pursue a role in the media, as it were…

I think a lot of this comes about because I see so many flaws around us today that are based on misinformation, even though I’m honestly not sure if I could do it any better or if I would even know how to do so. Kind of piggybacking off of my post earlier this evening about overcoming divides, it’s clear that a lot of people align themselves with either conservative media or liberal media … and I guess the tricky part is that the devil on my shoulder isn’t sure that even if people had a better choice down the middle for their information, if they’d really be interested in that in the world which we live in today.

When I used to watch the Aaron Sorkin show The Newsroom over the last couple of years, to me it was a great fictional depiction of what the news ought to be – professionals passionate about getting the story right and not just pursuing leads for sensationalism, standing up for integrity in the fourth estate and particularly pushing back when it came to politicians not giving actual answers and trying to pull the wool over on people’s eyes.

And of course, I’m sure it might be said that I enjoyed that show because I’m a liberal and the whole show was created to make conservative newscasters look stupid, though my simple rebuttal would be that conservative newscasters make themselves look stupid by the ways that they distort and sensationalize the things that they broadcast. The truth is really that both sides exhibit the same problem in different areas, yet in a society today where it’s so easy to pick the news source that makes you feel good by reinforcing the chanting already going on inside your own head, would anybody even pay attention to that alternative news option???

One that I think is actually doing a really good job at producing this type of non-partisan, honest news that I’m talking about right now is VICE. You kind of have to sift through their website to find the really good stories from the same kind of weird clickbait that you find on Salon and Buzzfeed and HuffPost, but their big stories via VICE News – and particularly the ones that go into their series on HBO – feature some pretty nice investigative reporting that exposes issues on a larger scale that are impacting real people all over the world.

For instance, last night I stayed up way too late watching a special feature they did about America’s prison system that included some interviews that President Obama did with inmates at a federal penitentiary. It particularly focused on The War on Drugs and the consequences that have resulted from putting so many people in prison for non-violent offenses – it definitely made you take a second look at a complicated problem in that thirty years ago the edict was simply “Drugs are bad – we can’t be hard enough on criminals!” to now we’re really seeing the effects of those programs decades later and people like Bill Clinton, who played a big role in cracking down on drug offenders, is now admitting that he was wrong and he helped to create an entirely new set of problems that we now have to solve instead.

That’s the kind of journalism that I like to see – not 30-45 second sound bites that grab your attention and flare up the political base, but hands on, gritty research that peels back the layers and gives people a different way of looking at a problem. I’d like to see that same kind of technique applied to other areas – I think the political sphere is ripe for fact-checking because politicians and BS go hand in hand … I just don’t know how it would be received.

Still, there’s a great quote from The Newsroom that rings a certain truth in this regard:

“People will want the news if you give it to them with integrity. Not everybody, not even a lot of people – 5%. And 5% more of anything is what makes the difference in this country…”

You know what they say – any day that you launch a new website is a good day… 😉

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This is one that I actually started kicking ideas around for earlier this year, but didn’t really have the time/content/procrastination for another project at the time to drive me there. I had a very brief mockup of what you see above running on a test site, but apparently today was the day that I actually mustered up the effort to both write the first post about the recent presidential debate as well as work out the kinks for the site design itself.

…although admittedly it wasn’t necessarily in that order! 😛

Anyways, the intent of this site – whether I managed to do it justice with the first post or not – is to give me a place to write in more depth about editorial-type topics that would normally otherwise be ranty-type posts on my regular blog. Kind of along the lines of some of the better quality posts you might find on a Medium or something of that nature, I was originally thinking about trying to host them there, but the whole huge audience/no pay thing is a problem for me and doing it myself gives me the control that I like to maintain with publishing my writing online nonetheless.

The plan isn’t really to post super-frequently – maybe one article a month, at best – but I really don’t want to force it just for the sake of keeping a writing schedule. Instead I want Scott’s Thoughts to be a place where I can elaborate on topics in a manner that feels a bit more professional so that there’s really a focus on the content itself rather than tying in my humor and other writing that might be seen on my blog as more of a distraction.

You’ll also see that I ended up pulling in a small handful of really old, but somewhat related articles that I wrote in this same vein more than a decade ago. Back when was my primary writing site, I had a bunch of different columns that I was writing – one of which was an editorial piece called Against the Grain… In truth there were upwards of 50 columns in the series before I ended it, but upon further review there simply weren’t nearly as many worth preserving from ten years later as I would’ve thought!

Hopefully the new series will fare a bit better, though I would argue that maybe that’s just another factor of getting older that one simply needs to get used to… 😉

* * * * * * * * * *

In geek news, this site is also my official foray into WordPress multisite-ing!

My testing earlier this summer was pretty unsuccessful, but before I let myself delete the install altogether, I tried one last test creating a new multisite environment with this blog and the new editorial subdomain, and it actually worked so I just decided to keep it. 😀

My multisite network currently consists of 4 sites total – the two previously mentioned and then two more test sites for more ideas that I haven’t gotten off the ground yet. For simplicity’s sake, I decided to only worry about sites that are actually subdomains of right now, so humor and mouse and Just Laugh will all stay where they are … I’ve heard horror stories about trying to un-co-mingle sites once you go multisite, so no sense in adding new stress there!

Still lots to learn – the only real big dumb thing I’ve come across so far is the difference between Network Activating Plugins vs Network Enabling Themes because apparently doing the first forces activation of plugins network-wide (which is a neat feature for the ones I use everywhere) but the second simply makes themes available to activate on a given site … terms are just a little too close for my comfort, really.

I’m curious to see how performance ranks in comparison to the individual installs, but for now at least I was able to drop my install count down to under 20!!! 😯

Behind the Scenes – HISHE

October 31, 2015 9:14pm
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I’ve been a fan of How It Should Have Ended for years, and I also enjoy tours to see other creative people’s working space, so this video was a lot of fun for me to watch even without the cool rollerboards considered!


So I stumbled across this website called the Library of Babel last night, and it’s kind of freaky.

Essentially they’ve created an algorithm that has created every combination of letters … ever. Or at least up to 3,200 characters, for starters. But it’s all indexed, so whatever you type, there’s a page in this vast library that already says whatever you were going to say…

Like – this last paragraph that I just wrote – it can be found here:

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Or even just completely made up nonsense that’s disappointingly not actually true:

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Apparently the site is based on a short story by an author from Argentina written in 1941, well before the Internet was ever a public notion, which is kind of crazy to think of the notion prior to the architecture being available to actually make it a reality … a futurist in the true sense of the word!

Now granted, despite having a computer that can literally generate any text that could ever be conceived, it still takes the creativity of humans to bring the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings to be consumable by mankind … the crux of having everything is that you’ve got the literary classics surrounded by an almost infinite amount of garbage unless you already know what you’re searching for.

Even looking at only samples of 3,200 characters, the library currently contains 104677 books of information, whereas there are estimated to be approx. 130 million books published in modern history today … to say that the meaningful texts available represent only a fraction of a fraction of the everything that this algorithm creates…

…but it’s still kind of a neat concept from a technical perspective, nonetheless.

I have some really good memories about my earlier years of working on Just Laugh, and the last couple of days I’ve been revisiting some of them as I’ve been slowly adding in some of the older content from Just Laugh magazine to the new site’s archives. It’s kind of awesome to think of how many great humorists were all contributing to that site back in the day – I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get there just yet, but I’m really looking forward to rekindling a bit of that spirit with a new team of contributors once I get to the point where it makes sense to add more content.

Anyways, this pass had me going through the works of Linda Sharp, Kim Burke, Michael Buonauro and Jeff Lofvers of Dr. Lobster, our resident advice expert Savannah Lawless, the great Deep Fried, Live! animated series from 8 Legged Entertainment, Ink, Paint & Tears… courtesy of myself and my sister, as well as the rest of my own humor columns that hadn’t been imported into the new site yet. It’s a little crazy to think that all of this stuff was produced over a decade ago, but nonetheless here are some of my own personal favorites…

And believe it or not, I’ve still got over another dozen left to go through, so I’ll be sure to share more of my favorites as I continue working through the pile every couple of weeks until everyone’s back together on right where they belong! 😉

So I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about my writing career as a whole and how do I quantify all of this suffering via keyboard over the weekend-ish, and one of the ideas that’s been kicking around inside of my head is that maybe it’s time for me to spruce this particular site up a bit to better highlight all of the writing everywhere that I’m presently doing.

Mind you, my first thought was that maybe I needed to create an all new site to give me a place to feature special content that feels like it belongs somewhere bigger than just my blog, and then I realized that I already have too many other dwindling sites that one more might not be the best idea at the time…

The whole point of this site is really supposed to be two-fold:

  1. MY BLOG, which is just me rambling on about whatever in that classic style that I came to know and love from LiveJournal, circa 2003
  2. A COOL HUB SITE, set to feature writing everywhere – as it happens – which right now pretty much consists of RSS feeds on the front page and that’s it…

The thing is, I don’t know exactly how in depth I want to make this change because I don’t want it to take up an exuberant amount of my time and there are actually certain parts of the site that I already like quite well. Still, this theme conglomerate that I’m running now was slapped together some 4 years ago, and it’s 2015 now and responsive design is all of the rage, and there’s a part of me that likes to think that for some of the prettier posts that I’m writing with photos and whatnot on the other sites, I should somehow be able to pull those in here to make this one look all swanky and awesome and more enticing to your random clicks to those other sites, too!


Anyways, I guess I need to start flipping through magazine themes and see if I can find anything that jumps out at me because that’s probably the direction that I should be looking. For what it’s worth, I really like the theme that I ended up with for Just Laugh and it didn’t cost me a fortune, so I’m definitely open to paying for themes if I can find one out of the box that fixes more problems for me than it creates.

It’s tricky because there’s a part of me that likes the simplicity of something like Medium and is intrigued by the idea of a site that’s more centric on the writing than other flashy stuff … BUT I also have books to promote and I do a lot of photo posts about Disney and whatnot, so in the end I don’t really think that a one-size fits all solution is going to work for me here. Not to mention the fact that it somehow needs to incorporate posts from all of these other sites like they were live on this one … I have a feeling that might be tricky and what I don’t want to do is start importing posts from all over the place just to have them populate on my hub site correctly.

This is by no means anywhere near my top priority, but as I try to get myself posting regularly everywhere in the second half of the year, I’d like to have something that can better showcase all of my thoughtful writings. 😀

We’ll see…

Now that I’ve started being a bit more public about Just Laugh’s return, the other big focus that I have right now besides just making good content is also in trying to rebuild an audience to enjoy said content, as well as also help to promote other humorists as well as eventually hopefully driving some ad sales so that I can pay a few other people to write funny stuff along with me.

Marketing is honestly something that I’ve never really been good at before, which explains why I still have stacks of humor books sitting on the shelves behind me! When I first started Just Laugh more than a decade ago, there really wasn’t much we could do for online marketing at the time. We submitted our site to Yahoo!, which was a surprisingly big deal when it got added (I actually got something in the mail!). We tried to build linking relationships with other sites, and when that didn’t work we manage to trick a few of them into linking to us via the Just Laugh Weenie Awards… 😉

But a lot has changed since then … a lot, and so as I’ve sat here contemplating new ways to build traffic when I don’t really have much to offer just yet in return, I stumbled across the advertising options on Facebook the other day and it turned out that they were just simple enough that I decided to give them a try!

I created a new campaign that’s just shooting for new Likes to Just Laugh’s Facebook page, though apparently you can advertise all sorts of stuff with them. In fact, for about an hour and a half I had an ad running specifically to promote this post, but soon after I killed it when I saw that it cost me $1.28 for a single click through to the article.

That said, so far I think I’m pretty happy with how the original ad campaign is going, though admittedly it’s a little weird to watch as the Likes slowly creep in as my ad budget decreases in unison. It kind of feels like I’m buying Likes, which I guess is technically true to an extent, although not really. It’s not like one of those scam sites where you pay a guy $50 for 10,000 Likes – most of which aren’t even real people. That’s one thing that I have to remind myself – that these are real people who are seeing an ad for Just Laugh, and because of that ad they’ve decided to Like the page because they’re into funny stuff!

It’s something that the stats Facebook makes available helps to reinforce, to the point where I couldn’t even imagine buying ads from something like TV or newspapers that are based on market surveys instead of the real data about its users that Facebook is unique to be able to offer to help tailor the experience for both the user and the advertiser!

For example, one of the things that I had to pick for my add was Interests, so instead of just giving typical demographic info like Males age 25-39 who live in the US, I can also tack on there who also like pages such as The Onion and CollegeHumor because those types are more likely to enjoy Just Laugh as well.

Anyways, I’m a very data-driven kind of guy, so it’s neat to be able to see statistics more or less on the fly that tell me things like…

  • My ad has been served to about 3,700 people, and of those impressions I’ve had a success rate of a little over 5%.
  • In the last two and a half days that’s translated to almost 200 new Likes for Just Laugh (I think we were only around 25 of my friends and family before that?).
  • 99% of my ad impressions were on mobile devices, and 100% of the new Likes received came from there as well.
  • Ads were split fairly evenly between men and women, however women were about 25% more likely to respond to the ad.
  • 75% of the new Likes came from people ages 25-34, with the remaining 25% being 35-44 (for true transparency’s sake, the age demo I picked was 25 – 38 … honestly just as a guess because I figured people around my age are more likely to enjoy my jokes!).

It’s definitely interesting to watch develop, to say the least, and the idea that maybe a few more eyeballs will be on my posts in the future is certainly encouraging. Of course, that’ll be the real test because at this point I have no real idea what a realistic conversion rate is for fans clicking through posts over to the actual website where I get to run ads of my own. At this point I’m not entirely sure how long I’m going to run them, or even how long I can afford to run them, though I’ve got some numbers in my head that aren’t too crazy to give myself some things to experiment with.

I really want to make Just Laugh BIG this time, and I know that most of that really rides on having a respectable volume of web traffic, so as long as I can reasonably fund it I’m ok with making some investments to try and help things along. In a way, it’s neat just that we have a system that even makes that possible here in 2015 – where I could tinker with some settings for 20 minutes, enter a credit card number, and another 10 minutes later random strangers were viewing my ads and clicking on them to boot!

Granted, the next chapter of our advertising lesson will be The True Value of a Facebook Fan where we’ll get to see if the $0.20/Like was a worthwhile investment for Just Laugh or not… 😛

P.S. Go Like Just Laugh on Facebook if you read this post and haven’t already … mainly because I don’t have to pay for those Likes if they happen organically!


So I’ve been very reluctant to announce anything and hereby completely jinx ever updating it again, but I recently sort of brought Just Laugh back from the dead again.

It’s one of those things that I’ve tried to do several times before and it’s just never stuck, to the point where this time I’ve actually been writing since around Thanksgiving but I kept a lot of the posts private on the test site I was building to make sure that I was actually serious about doing it this time before shaking things up again on the main site. I finally got the new site to the point where I pulled the trigger on 2/25.

Admittedly it’s a big change from what the site used to be before … hopefully that’ll contribute to actually making the difference this time. I ended up getting rid of the joke database (because I didn’t want to get sued) and the game downloads (because all of the developers are out of business now and none of them run on modern computers anyways), as well as a bunch of the other random stuff that never entirely fit anywhere. The new focus is entirely on original content, all of which I’m currently writing myself. It’s been tricky to stay on top of, but realistically it’s not a ton of work every day as long as I don’t let myself fall behind and occasionally do things in advance when the opportunity arises.

And for what it’s worth, I personally think that I’m writing some of the funniest stuff that I’ve written in a long time!

Eventually I’d love to bring some other people on with me again, both to explore some of the fun collaborative pieces that we used to do on Just Laugh in the past as well as to have more than one post a day, but for now I’m just trying to keep it slow and steady as I commit to writing on the schedule that I’ve already set for myself.

Of course, it doesn’t help that already I’ve found myself yearning desperately to re-start my humor column once again now that the main development is done for Just Laugh, but I’m really trying to take it slow so that I don’t do what I usually do and drop one thing for another just when things finally start going…


Reading is fundamental

March 3, 2015 6:15pm
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I’ve always felt kind of bad that I’m a writer who doesn’t really read nearly as much as he probably should.

I mean, I read articles and posts online, but I don’t think I could even tell you the last time I read an actual book from cover to cover.

At least not one that has more than 32 pages and isn’t mostly pictures! 😉

So I’m trying to change that a little bit here in 2015, first inspired by the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about hiking the Appalachian Trail because it reminded me of A Walk in the Woods by the great humorist Bill Bryson. That was a fun book and I remember really enjoying it when it was first given to me, circa 2002-ish, so for $6 I picked up a quick copy for my Kindle and the last couple of nights I’ve been trying to get a chapter or two in during times when I’d normally be vegging out in front of the TV in the evenings or before bed.

I don’t really want to set any goals for myself with this new mission, per se, because I really just want it to be fun and relaxing the way reading should be in my mind, but it’d be neat to look back on this a year from now and see what all I managed to go through. I’ve been out of the game for so long, the list of stuff I’d like to read is admittedly pretty big if I really stop and jot them all down, but just as a quick glance for the sake of this post, here’s a few that I’m considering for when I’m done with A Walk in the Woods…

Once I get done with these, maybe I’ll start to solicit some suggestions, but this ought to keep me busy for a while! 🙂

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