Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's all here.

(But mostly not at this blog. Go to Shiny Bits of Life.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Where Paul Is

If you are looking for Paul Merrill, go over to Shiny Bits of Life, which is his main blog - or Greener Grass Media, which is his business site and blog. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Thin Air Summit: Notes

Report on the Thin Air Summit Social Media Conference
Denver, Colorado, November 8-9, 2008

The Thin Air Summit was a weekend conference focusing on social media. It was excellent!

  • The use of "you" and "me" refer to both individual and corporate uses of the words.
  • The use of ">" indicates an internal takeaway for The Seed Company, the organization I work for.
  • The material here may not be exact reflections of what each session contained, as I am writing this up 16 days after the conference. (My original notes were short-hand-ish.)
  • There were five sessions that had three tracks each. I obviously could only go to one each - so this document does not contain everything the conference had to offer!
  • If you would like a Word doc of this writeup, send me an email at phmerrill at gmail dotcom.

Day One

Dave Taylor, Keynote Address 1
  • The best way to communicate is using stories.
  • All voices are biased (so it's good to be transparent about your bias).
  • People need to have a voice, and social media provides that voice. (Graffiti is a strong avenue of communication, and people are willing to risk violating the law to communicate.)
  • "Anne Frank's diary was the first blog" - personal publishing.
  • A beauty of blogging is that conversation is started and then comments often take it further than the writer could.
  • In the easy avenues of communication that social media provides, it's good to think first before hitting "send". With the power to publish comes responsibility!
Lori Osterberg, "Blogging - Make it More than a Hobby"
  • When commenting on others' blogs, add value. "...and had you thought of this aspect?"
  • > If we do a TSC blog, we must create content that will attract. We can start for writing for a real person who is in our core audience.
Jeremy Tanner, "New Media Landmines"
  • Be careful what you say!
  • Don't generate fake content ("astroturfing").
  • Don't do too much self-promo.
  • Don't be negative!
  • Don't be a "tool"... a "super expert" when you aren't. (You need to have real testimonials.)
  • Think before you post.
  • The best way to lift yourself up is to lift others up! (Matthew 7:12)
Lucretia Pruitt, "Social Media Nuts & Bolts"
  • Don't worry about knowing all the social media tools. Only some will be right for you.
  • If you build a community, it will not necessarily follow you.
  • Spokeo: a tool that lets you search for people via their having sent you an email.
Search Engine Optimization Panel:
Micah Baldwin, Brett Borders, Elizabeth Yarnell, John Fischer
  • It is important that the title tag be actionable text.
  • > Create videos that encourage comments.
  • Social media is the new SEO. Writing positively about clients encourages them to write about you.
  • A high profile presence in social media creates higher organic search ranks than traditional SEO.
  • You should be able to condense your message to three words for your title tag.
  • Traded links can lower search rankings.
  • If you are passionate about your message, that makes a huge difference. "Passion creates relevance."
  • > Embedded videos are better than self-hosted videos. (External links are higher value to search engines.)
  • Social media is about sharing information of value with others.
Day Two

Jeremiah Owyang, Keynote Address 2
  • Information is changing: content is moving from one form to many forms.
  • Information is more pervasive than ever before.
  • Information spreads like never before, whether you want it to or not. (If you don't consent to information sharing, you will lose out.)
  • Content is moving from big to small. People are more used to getting small bites than a big chunk. The analogy used was steak vs. shishkabob.
  • > Takeaway: We should shorten our on-line videos, or at least offer two versions.
  • Info is easier to broadcast than ever before. Example: Utterli is an application that lets you podcast directly from your cell phone.
  • Search engine optimization methods track popularity and not relevance.
  • Youth get their news from social networks (eg. Facebook) more than any other source.
  • Information distribution power is now distributed - and lessened, since anyone can refute information on-line.
  • Corporate blogs work best with no filters. (If something negative is said, there is the opportunity to clarify misunderstanding. In the case of blatant lies on the part of commenters, those comments can be deleted.)
  • "Generally, corporate blogs have no success in conversation." (Most corporate blogs average just three comments per post. Corporate social media that work have a heart and a face. (Example given was Zappos' Twitter presence.)
  • There is lots of data available about return on investment (ROI), but it mostly relates to activity rather than true ROI. (However, that is generally true of all PR.)
  • > Takeaway: Figure out the "breathing pattern" of our market.
  • > Takeaway: Show more testimonials in our videos.
Here is an excellent summary of this keynote, from Carol Ross. Here is Jeremiah's slideshow.

Amy Gahran, "Blogging - Make Every Word Count"
  • Use Twitter to learn how to write headlines. (Twitter messages function as headlines, so if you follow a good writer, you can find some good headlines.)
  • 15 seconds is the average amount of time we have to catch someone's attention.
  • See what words our competitor uses and use those words. (This means speaking the language our audience understands.)
  • Don't cram more than one idea into a paragraph.
  • Simplify wherever possible.
  • Skip wordy verbs like "facilitate".
  • Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good - timely can be better than perfectly crafted message.
  • Always keep in mind, "So what?" (What's the take-away message?)
Travis Henry, "Disciplined Writing for Page Views"
  • "Think Google" - what are people searching for? Is my content fulfilling that need?
  • The best writing drives the most page views: high quality.
  • Create editorial calendar, and stick with it.
  • Headlines: "How to..." "10 ways to..." "The best..."
  • Avoid obscure references - be clear.
  • Include keywords in headlines.
  • Create the same types of content on same day each week.
  • "Writing too long is writing lazy."
  • Explain internal jargon.
  • Use links to explain what you are talking about.
  • Be useful to your reader.
  • Avoid using the passive voice.
  • Have a point (no rambling, no tirades).
  • Read a lot, write a lot.
  • Read it out loud.
  • Ask a question with the headline and answer with the article.
  • Don't start articles with "I".
  • Draw readers in with a good first sentence.
  • Be genuinely useful to your readers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mercedes Benz Prices

These are about May 2008. You can click on the image to see details.

(The chart relates to this post.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Anne Rice Article

My Trust in My Lord

Look: I believe in Him. It’s that simple and that complex. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God Man who came to earth, born as a tiny baby and then lived over thirty years in our midst. I believe in what we celebrate this week: the scandal of the cross and the miracle of the Resurrection. My belief is total. And I know that I cannot convince anyone of it by reason, anymore than an atheist can convince me, by reason, that there is no God.

A long life of historical study and biblical research led me to my belief, and when faith returned to me, the return was total. It transformed my existence completely; it changed the direction of the journey I was traveling through the world. Within a few years of my return to Christ, I dedicated my work to Him, vowing to write for Him and Him alone. My study of Scripture deepened; my study of New Testament scholarship became a daily commitment. My prayers and my meditation were centered on Christ.

And my writing for Him became a vocation that eclipsed my profession as a writer that had existed before.

Why did faith come back to me? I don’t claim to know the answer. But what I want to talk about right now is trust. Faith for me was intimately involved with love for God and trust in Him, and that trust in Him was as transformative as the love.

Right now as I write this, our nation seems to be in some sort of religious delirium. Anti-God books dominate the bestseller lists; people claim to deconstruct the Son of Man with facile historical treatments of what we know and don’t know about Jesus Christ who lived in First Century Judea. Candidates for public office have to declare their faith on television. Christians quarrel with one another publicly about the message of Christ.

Before my consecration to Christ, I became familiar with a whole range of arguments against the Savior to whom I committed my life. In the end I didn’t find the skeptics particularly convincing, while at the same time the power of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John swept me off my feet.

And above all, when I began to talk to Jesus Christ again it was with trust.

On the afternoon in 1998 when faith returned, I experienced a sense of the limitless power and majesty of God that left me convinced that He knew all the answers to the theological and sociological questions that had tormented me for years. I saw, in one enduring moment, that the God who could make the Double Helix and the snow flake, the God who could make the Black holes in space, and the lilies of the field, could do absolutely anything and must know everything --- even why good people suffer, why genocide and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost, in America and in other lands, so much credibility as people who know how to love. I felt a trust in this all-knowing God; I felt a sudden release of all my doubts. Indeed, my questions became petty in the face of the greatness I beheld. I felt a deep and irreversible assurance that God knew and understood every single moment of every life that had ever been lived, or would be lived on Earth. I saw the universe as an immense and intricate tapestry, and I perceived that the Maker of the tapestry saw interwoven in that tapestry all our experiences in a way that we could not hope, on this Earth, to understand.

This was not a joyful moment for me. It wasn’t an easy moment. It was an admission that I loved and believed in God, and that my old atheism was a fa├žade. I knew it was going to be difficult to return to the Maker, to give over my life to Him, and become a member of a huge quarreling religion that had broken into many denominations and factions and cults worldwide. But I knew that the Lord was going to help me with this return to Him. I trusted that He would help me. And that trust is what under girds my faith to this day.

Within days of my return to Christ, I also became aware of something very important: that the first temptation we face as returning Christians is to criticize another Christian and his or her way of approaching Jesus Christ. I perceived that I had to resist that temptation, that I had to seek in my faith and in my love for God a complete certainty that He knew all about these factions and disputes, and that He knew who was right or who was wrong, and He would handle how and when He approached every single soul.

Why do I talk so much about this trust now? Because I think perhaps that with many Christians it is lacking, and in saying this I’m yielding to the temptation I just described. But let me speak my peace not critically so much as with an exhortation. Trust in Him. If you believe in Him, then trust Him. Trust what He says in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and trust what He says about having conquered evil; trust that He has won.

Don’t ever succumb to the fear that evil is winning in this world, no matter how bad things may appear. Don’t ever succumb to the fear that He does not witness our struggles, that He is not with every single soul.

The Sermon on the Mount is the portion of the New Testament to which I return again and again. I return to the simple command: “Love your enemies.” And each day brings me closer to understanding that in this message lies the blueprint for bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth. The Sermon on the Mount is the full blueprint. And it is not impossible to love our enemies and our neighbors, but it may be the hardest thing we have ever been asked to do.

But we can’t doubt the possibility of it. We must return to Jesus Christ again and again, after our failures, and seek in Him --- in His awesome majesty and power -- the creative solutions to the problems we face. We must retain our commitment to Him, and our belief in a world in which, conceivably, human beings could lay down their arms, and stretch out their arms to one another, clasping hands, and bring about a total worldwide peace.

If this is not inconceivable, then it is possible. And perhaps we are, in our own broken and often blind fashion, moving towards such a moment. If we can conceive of it and dedicate ourselves to it, then this peace on earth, this peace in Christ, can come.

As we experience Easter week, we celebrate the crucifixion that changed the world. We celebrate the Resurrection that sent Christ’s apostles throughout the Roman Empire to declare the Good News. We celebrate one of the greatest love stories the world has ever known: that of a God who would come down here to live and breathe with us in a human body, who would experience human death for us, and then rise to remind us that He was, and is, both Human and Divine. We celebrate the greatest inversion the world has ever recorded: that of the Maker dying on a Roman cross.

Let us celebrate as well that throughout this troubled world in which we live, billions believe in this 2,000-year-old love story and in this great inversion -- and billions seek to trust the Maker to bring us to one another in love as He brings us to Himself.

Anne Rice is the best-selling author of 27 books, including "The Vampire Chronicles" and "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt." Read an excerpt of her latest book, "Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Two great environmental articles

Both of these stories appeared in the February 3rd Denver Post editorial section.

Buh-bye, nasty plastic bags
(Chicago Tribune)

When San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi helped make his city the first in the U.S. to ban plastic shopping bags early last year, he said that he hoped other cities and states would follow suit.

Turns out he was dreaming far too small.

The Chinese government recently banned one type of particularly flimsy plastic bag and stipulated that other sorts may no longer be given away for free. The Chinese government is encouraging people to revert to an old habit — using reusable cloth bags when they shop.

Bangladesh, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Taiwan and the city of Mumbai have banned or taken steps to discourage the use of disposable plastic bags. Australia is considering a full-scale ban by the end of the year. So is the city of London.

The grocery chain Whole Foods just announced that its 270 stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom will stop handing out plastic bags by Earth Day, April 22. The aim in all these efforts: reduce oil consumption and litter. Americans use tens of billions of plastic bags each year. Many wind up in our waterways, where they are a danger to marine animals. According to the Ocean Conservancy, its International Coastal Cleanup program yields hundreds of thousands of plastic bags each year. Plastic bags are strong, lightweight and about the only thing you’d want to use to tote your groceries in a rainstorm. And, yes, they work as a handy pooper scooper. But we can use plastic bags more judiciously. Chinese officials say their ban will reduce use by more than 60 percent and save more than 37 million barrels of oil used in the production of the bags each year. Reducing the reliance on plastics is not going to solve the world’s environmental problems. But it will make the place a little cleaner and greener.

A bad idea hits Colo. gas pumps, by Dustin Heron Urban

A quiet invasion is underway. Inconspicuous black stickers are appearing on gas pumps announcing the arrival of a new molecule looking to occupy gas tanks. It goes by the name of C2H5OH: ethanol.

Economic and environmental studies consistently criticize corn-based ethanol because increased demand for the fuel can push up prices for food with corn ingredients and because its production is so energy-intensive. According to Scientific American, the energy balance for corn ethanol is at most 1.3-to-1, meaning that its output of energy is only 30 percent greater than the energy it took to produce and ship it. Since ethanol can bond with condensed water in pipelines, it must be shipped by diesel trucks or trains.

Meanwhile, gasoline’s energy balance is 5-to-1.

Ethanol production is so energy-intensive that the United States would have to increase its imports of natural gas to meet mandates for this “domestic” fuel. What’s more, thanks to ethanol’s lower energy density, your vehicle is 33 percent less efficient when it burns ethanol, so you’ll be paying more to fill up more often. Energy experts such as Jan Krieder of the University of Colorado find that burning ethanol produces more carbon dioxide, a major component of global warming, than just burning gasoline.

It appears that politics drives the production of the new fuel more than any benefits to the environment. Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest corn processing firms and the country’s leading ethanol producer, has contributed $3.7 million to elected officials since 2000. Those politicians, in turn, handed out corn subsidies totaling $51 billion between 1995 and 2005. Congress has also subsidized ethanol itself at $1.38 per gallon, and mandated huge increases in ethanol production. All told, the ethanol hoopla seems more like a cynical and misleading marketing campaign than an ecological fix to what’s ailing our atmosphere.

And that is why, when forced to, I will buy ethanol-supplemented gasoline only when there is no other kind available. At a time when it is crucial that we do everything in our power to curb global warming, the ethanol boom seems a distracting waste of precious time and tax dollars.

I invite you to join my boycott of the black stickers, and gas up with non-ethanol-supplemented gasoline. Spread the word and help prevent the hijacking of the environmental movement by fat cats who could care less about saving the planet so long as they get paid.

[By the way, I (Paul) am not participating in this boycott. But I had to share this article with you, since it is mind-boggling to me that our state and federal governments have so easily bought into the lie of ethanol - because it is so politically correct.]

Monday, February 4, 2008

Heather's heartbreak

Our friends Brian & Heather Jamison have had to leave their home in western Kenya, due to the instability there.

Here's an excerpt from what Heather wrote recently:

I am at a loss of what to think, feel. In more ways than one. But apparently not so much at a loss for words as I thought. I have managed to fill up this letter. I guess I’m starting to process everything. Through it all, my heart for Kenya has been burdened all the more and I hope and pray that God will give me a full lifetime to rally for the children of Kenya and for the unreached people groups there in His name.

But, even so, guilt strikes me when I consider my own temporary loss of stability, structure, location and dreams in Kenya and feel that pain but then place it against the backdrop of the 300,000+ people who are in refugee camps - who lost everything, some the lives of their loved ones. I feel so guilty for bemoaning my own inconveniences internally when I think of them. My loss and transition is nothing in comparison. I guess that’s why I haven’t said much until now. It’s been too much to process. I’ve been in daily contact with our national team who are bringing more children into the Legacy program who have been affected by the violence, who are sending all 50+ students off to school, who are still going on with the business of looking for the newest cow to buy for a lovely, elderly widow named Mary who used to bring 5 or 6 eggs when she could - just to say hi - and who lost her husband, shot to death in a burglary, many years ago - leaving her with twelve children to raise and no education, no job, no income. Oh Mary, I pray this cow will help you. And that we can get another one soon. And then one more. Three milk cows are usually enough to sustain a family. But then I think of the unrest. Will someone steal it? Kill it? Chase them away - eventually. And my heart breaks. Wonders. And leaves me looking to God all over again. Praising Him for His divine protection and leading. And asking Him to continue it. Not just for me and my family - but for the hearts who beat in Kenya and who bow to the same God I know, who loves them so much more perfectly than I ever could. I have to trust Him. Ultimately, we all do. It’s just in times like these . . . . you see it, feel it, taste it --- so much more clearly.

So I guess, for now at least, I shouldn’t say much more at all.

Other than that I still have hope. I still believe. I still have a dream.

For Kenya.