Video of My Presentation on Sigma Pi’s ACE Project

Last month, I gave a presentation about how to plan, perform, and follow-up on an award-winning ACE Project. The ACE Project is specific to Sigma Pi Fraternity and the presentation is really only relevant to Sigma Pi undergraduates and alumni volunteers who want to know more about this topic. Or, if you’re interested in listening to me give a presentation for a little over 30 minutes, then you’ll enjoy this video. I apologize in advance for the weak sound in the video – hopefully, you can adjust it on your end so it works well for you.

My next filmed presentations for Sigma Pi Fraternity will be in February 2015. The two topics that I’m speaking on are Sigma Pi Fraternity in New Jersey and True Greek Leadership. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Thoughts on My First Small Business – Usable Web Solutions

Many years ago I prepared a schedule of blogging topics and arranged those topics by month. For example, during the month of October I noted that I would write a blog entry about any of my small business ventures or even my future business plans. During November, I noted on the schedule that my health would be a good topic to focus on and during December I listed the holidays as the primary topic. And the schedule went on for the entire year. Anyway, I pulled that schedule out the other day for inspiration on what to write about in this entry. Since we’re in the month of October and the schedule says “small business,” I thought it might be interesting to write a short entry on the first small business that I opened – Usable Web Solutions, LLC.

uws-website-image

The quick update for Usable Web Solutions, LLC is that I carried through on my plans to remove all of my third party clients and now the business operates as a shell corporation that owns several independent websites. While I enjoyed working with most of my clients most of the time, I began to run into issues where certain clients just wouldn’t pay for my services. In business, I live by a simple code – you pay a person/company what you promised to pay them, assuming that the good or service provided was of the expected quality. Simple. I never had a complaint about the very high standards that I set for my work; rather, the clients who stopped paying me ran into their own financial troubles and their financial troubles became my issue. Not good. As you might suspect, once those clients stopped paying regularly I cut them off and canceled those contracts.

Then I ran into several issues where clients began to think that since I was their website designer, then I was also their in-house technology person. They were wrong. Some folks just didn’t understand that the guy who makes your website isn’t the guy who is tasked with fixing your Microsoft Word when a document doesn’t open… particularly when the contract you signed with that website guy clearly states his responsibilities being tied solely to your website presence! Thankfully, I only had one or two of these clients over the years (each with several websites, come to think of it). Spinning them off to other web designers in the area was an easy decision when their contracts came due.

And then there was my favorite type of head-shaking client – the ones who knew almost nothing about technology, but they would boss me around demanding that complex activities (think highly sophisticated database building) take place in a matter of days. I had one client that demanded an integrated third party payment system be installed on their website by the end of the day. Granted, if they were using PayPal or Google Wallet that would have been an annoying, but rather easy task. But, as I’m sure you suspect by this point, they didn’t want to use the easy option. They wanted to use the most complex, obscure website payment system on the internet. What fun?! After I finished that job (it took a weekend to get it working correctly), I let that client know in advance of their contract expiring that I wasn’t going to renew it and they should find another company for their website services. Last I checked, their website still hadn’t been updated and I spun them off as a client some 3 or 4 years ago.

Sure, I had many great clients, but my aggravating ones easily won the day and forced me out of the third party website management business. It just wasn’t worth the aggravation.

Today, I keep Usable Web Solutions, LLC open and I use it to manage and build my own suite of websites. You’re reading my personal blog site – JerseySmarts.com. In the coming weeks, I plan to release some new websites and reintroduce some of my old websites that I’ve retired over the years. None of these websites will have input or management-level requirements from anyone on the outside of Usable Web Solutions, LLC (and as the guy who owns and operates that company, what I’m really saying here is that I’m going to manage the suite of websites myself). Having all of my websites managed under my own banner and operated by me and me alone should make the entire management process flow much easier.

That’s your quick update on Usable Web Solutions, LLC. It was my first small business and the first major success that I had as a business owner. Here’s hoping for many more similar successes in my future!

Sigma Pi and Greek Life from October 1914 to October 2014

One hundred years ago today, Sigma Pi Fraternity published Volume II, Number 1 of The Emerald magazine. You can see the simple yet elegant cover of that one hundred year-old issue below. I believe that looking back at what was printed in The Emerald one hundred years ago helps bring some of the current conversations in the Greek world into a more focused perspective.

emerald-volume-2-number-1

The first thing that strikes me when I look at the one hundred year-old magazine is that the gentlemen who operated the Fraternity in 1914 had the foresight to charge a subscription fee! At the bottom of the cover page is a note that reads: “Subscription rates $1.00 per year in advance.” Over the years I’ve sat in on many conversations regarding the cost of producing The Emerald. Whenever the idea of charging a small annual fee for the magazine is brought up, it is shot down. Some argue that we promised our members that we wouldn’t charge them a subscription fee and others say that no one would pay it. Regardless of why we select not to charge a small subscription fee today, the initial operators of this fraternity were not afraid to charge each member a dollar for the privilege of receiving the national magazine.

The next thing that strikes me about The Emerald is that they list the house address and contact information for every single chapter of Sigma Pi right in the beginning of the magazine. Of course, there were only 9 active chapters back then, but it’s still a nice touch!

The Emerald begins to show some meat when we get to the Foreward. This line strikes me as relevant in the anti-fraternity, anti-male environment that many of our chapters operate in today: “It is our earnest wish that The Emerald may be effective in espousing the cause of the College Fraternity in general and of Sigma Pi in particular…” I wish that this was still a core focus area for our national organization. Sigma Pi Fraternity – and no national fraternity, for that matter – no longer makes it a basic cause to promote the virtues of college fraternity membership. Further and more specific to Sigma Pi, we do not do a good job of promoting our undergraduates’ incredible successes in mediums that have lasting cache. In other words, while we might tweet a congratulatory note or post an update on Facebook noting a job well done, we do not use our publications as methods of publicly promoting the many good works that are intrinsic to fraternity life. From time to time we print stories about successful Sigma Pi alumni in our national magazine, but we don’t take those stories to the masses. We don’t utilize our Fraternity-owned web assets (we have six different, official Sigma Pi blogs) as methods of regularly promoting the great value of membership in our fraternity. Do we promote the value of being a Sigma Pi or a member of a Greek organization every once in a while? Sure. Do we use these assets to promote Sigma Pi and Greek Life on a consistent, regular basis? No.

The mindset of the early members of our Fraternity was that of dealing from a position of strength. They didn’t cower or bend at the first anti-fraternity accusation hurled in their direction. No! Instead, they believed that Sigma Pi “fills a distinct want and supplies the requirements of a definite need in the lives of our college boys.” This line from The Emerald comes from an editorial that was reprinted in the magazine and talked about the great success of a young Sigma Pi Fraternity as it worked to grow a strong reputation in the Greek world. I was struck by this short editorial because it speaks unabashedly about the virtue of fraternity membership. There is no silent apology or tone of regret that we even exist! One hundred years ago, fraternity men didn’t apologize for being men, for being masculine, or for recognizing the value of mentoring and one-on-one personal development that takes place within the walls of a chapter house.

Today the fraternity world throws its collective hands in the air and says, “We can’t win!” when a grossly biased editorial or disgustingly negative article is written about us. There is no innate belief that we should vocally and/or forcefully stand up against attacks on our very existence. In place of that belief, we’ve promote policies of placation to the loudest, angriest voices. It’s shameful.

Some other random points that I picked up in this issue of The Emerald:

Did you know that the Fraternity voted to implement a National Memorial Day of Sigma Pi on the first Sunday of May each year? The Emerald says that “on this day each man should wear a small piece of crêpe under his pin, and services will be held in all Chapter houses of the Fraternity, honoring the beloved dead.” Seems like a nice tradition that we’ve forgotten and should reinstitute.

Province Archon visits to their chapters used to be paid for by the “Grand Treasury” and if they couldn’t afford it, then the province would have to chip in for the cost of the visit. Of course, this was before the traveling consultant program was implemented, so Province Archons must have provided the bulk of on-site training to the undergraduates.

At the Fourth Biennial Convocation it was decided that “the proper place for the badge of the Fraternity… is directly over the heart.” Just in case any of you were wondering – that’s what was decided by the first members of Sigma Pi!

There is an article titled On Solid Ground that includes a line which I believe is a forerunner of Sigma Pi Fraternity’s current ACE Project program. That line is, “fraternities are interested in and working for the aggrandizement of their alma mater and not for the purpose of exalting the fraternity above the college as a whole.” How about that? The spirit of the ACE Project uncovered one hundred years ago in our national magazine! Of course, I’m not sure if these words were actually written by a Sigma Pi brother (if I had to guess, I would say that they were not written by a Sigma Pi, but instead included as a larger report that was reprinted in The Emerald), but it’s still pretty impressive that the spirit of the ACE Project was promoted by Sigma Pi Fraternity before any of us were even born.

A final comment from Volume II, Number 1 of The Emerald that seems relevant to what many of us face in today’s anti-masculinity, anti-fraternity student life environment. There is a line in the magazine that says: “It is our conviction that when we trim the situation down to the psychology of the matter we have before us merely the battle of the ‘outs’ against the ‘ins'; that it is, in short, simple, common, every day, human nature.” The core of this statement is the possession of an inner knowledge that we should all have as members of Sigma Pi Fraternity. And that knowledge is that we are going to be attacked by those on the outside simply because they’re on the outside looking in. Undergraduates have many hokey sayings about fraternity life – one of which is that from the outside looking in, you can never understand it, but from the inside looking out, you can never explain it.

That is the position that we find ourselves in today.

The vocal, anti-male minority that uses the biased media to publish negative outlooks on the future of fraternities are nothing more than those same “outs.” And they’re angry for many reasons, not the least of which is the life of pseudo-intellectual privilege that they’ve bastardized since the cultural revolution of the 1960s. That revolution promoted transparency above all else as it relates to large institutions. And the calls for transparency mostly took place on college campuses. But on those same campuses we – as fraternity men – sit in the face of that transparency. We are members of a private boys’ club which irritates those “outs” because they don’t know what we “ins” know. What they have are anecdotal accounts of the worst elements of fraternity life that they desperately try to explode into vast generalizations to define all of us. And what do we have as a response? One hundred years ago, the first brothers of Sigma Pi Fraternity would have brushed off the accusations of the “outs” by publicly ridiculing the use of extreme examples to define the whole. Fast forward to today and instead of calling out extremists and zealots, we’ve been reduced to taking personal offense to negative comments from the “outs” when we should be hitting them back even harder.

In one hundred years’ time, Greek leaders have gone from a group of men who took pride in openly promoting the virtues of fraternity membership to a group of men who mostly walk in lockstep with a student life industry that is more concerned with extricating itself from any risks or any possible offenses than it is concerned with introducing college students to the reality of our times.

I hope that Sigma Pi can lead the way for the Greek world and turn the tide back in the direction of being inherently proud of fraternity membership… and soon.

More Than A Dozen Years Off Of Garbage Fast Food And Soda

The other day I wrote an entry about a crazy woman at the local Chipotle. I witnessed her insanity because I was standing in line behind her to get some tacos. As I wrote that entry I began to think about when the last time was that I actually went to a fast food place. Chipotle uses all organic materials to create their food, so I don’t count that as your typical “fast food” joint.

It turns out that I haven’t been to a fast food restaurant in a little bit over 12 years.

No, I'm not "lovin' it" at all.

No, I’m not “lovin’ it” at all.

There are some caveats to that statement, though. First, I do go to Dunkin’ Donuts for bagels with cream cheese and I do go to Chipotle for tacos. In the last 12 years I have gone to places like Baja Fresh (until it almost killed me) and sub shops like Quiznos and Jersey Mike’s. More than those places, though, I frequent local delis, pizzerias, and sub shops because I like helping small business owners with the few bucks that I allocate to eating out each month. I also go to local restaurants including the chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday’s and the Brick House Tavern and Tap.

In the last 12 years, though, I haven’t had any McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, or any of that type of fast food. For some reason after my junior year of college (back in 2002), I made the decision to stop eating fast food. I distinctly remember driving by the local McDonald’s and thinking about how the burgers that they serve weren’t really burgers at all. Rather, they were mashed together meat parts formed to look like a burger. It made me sick just thinking about it – and this was before all of the stories and books came out about how eating that fake food is substantially worse for you than our society originally thought.

It was around that same time that I stopped drinking soda, too. I used to love drinking Diet Coke and eventually started drinking Diet Sprite (this was just before it became known as Diet Sprite Zero, which is the same formula as Diet Sprite). And then I just randomly stopped drinking the stuff altogether. I didn’t really miss drinking soda since I’m one of the rare people who loves drinking water regularly. Although, just like I have caveats to the comment above about not eating fast food, my one caveat here is that after my gallbladder surgery in July 2005, my doctor did suggest that I drink a little bit of a carbonated beverage each day for a few weeks so the bubbles would float around my stomach and help things move around. With that recommendation, for about a month after my gallbladder was removed I probably drank a shot glass worth of Diet Sprite Zero each day. It wasn’t much at all and most people don’t consider Diet Sprite Zero to be a real soda since it’s essentially carbonated lemon water, but that’s a different discussion.

Over the last dozen years, I have never missed fast food or soda. I have, though, from time to time (once every 3 to 4 years) wondered whether or not it would make a difference if I started consuming this not-quite-real-food again. In the 12 years that I stopped eating this garbage my weight has remained relatively the same give or take 5 pounds, I became diabetic and am on a ridiculous number of medications to control it, and my gallbladder had to be removed. When you experience these negative medical results years after you stop consuming garbage, it does make one wonder what’s the point of it all.

I understand why I should continue to stay away from fast food. There are both ethical reasons (the way that the animals are treated before they’re processed into food) and biological reasons (let’s face it – most of that “food” is really just comprised of chemicals) to stay away from that stuff. However, when it comes to Diet Sprite Zero – I have to believe that drinking that stuff won’t hurt me any more than not drinking it has hurt me (i.e. my becoming diabetic, not losing much weight, and losing my gallbladder).

That is a question that I’ll continue to ponder since I really don’t have a craving for soda and thus I have no real reason to act to find a final answer. I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether it would hurt or harm me. In fact, I might go another 12 years without drinking any soda before I find out.

Start the Weekend Right Link Series – Volume #2, Edition #2

Here’s hoping that you enjoyed last week’s return of the Start the Weekend Right Link Series. And just like last week I’ve got a bunch of great links for you to consider to begin this weekend with all of the knowledge that you need to know and, of course, to spread around to your friends. Just think, you’ll be the most impressive person at this weekend’s BBQ or football game because your mind will be packed full of the great content that I have to share with you today!

Granted, you’ll have to read these links in order to be the one with all of the knowledge. But today is Friday and you’ve worked hard all week – so kick back, relax, and fill your mind with some good reading.

Before we get to the links this week I again recommend signing up for a free Feedly account. I get absolutely no kickback for promoting Feedly, but I’m so appreciative of their product being the best RSS reader on the market that I encourage everyone to use it. If you’re using another RSS aggregator, please consider following JerseySmarts.com at http://www.jerseysmarts.com/feed/. If you’re already on Feedly, then you can follow us by clicking here. And away we go!

The Downfall of Being A Cool Kid, Be Great Daily
Back in January 2003, I was a college senior who just rolled off of two straight years of being the President of my fraternity. During those two years we did a lot of really great, transformational things to help improve the chapter and all of that experience was floating around my head needing an outlet. Our volunteer regional director decided to host a regional development workshop for the undergraduates from around New Jersey right at my home chapter and he asked me to speak. One of the major points in my presentation during that workshop was the concept that is covered in this article. My spin on it was that members of our fraternity shouldn’t try to be the “cool” kid in the chapter; they should strive to be the most active, productive member of the chapter! Give this article a read – I love the message!

The “Perfect” Salary for Happiness, by State, Lifehacker
You may remember a long while ago when I wrote about the Princeton University study suggesting that an income of $75,000 was all that was needed to be happy. The study suggested that after you earn $75,000 per year, earning more money doesn’t necessarily add more happiness. Well, that study has now been adjusted on a state-by-state level and, as the rest of my fellow New Jerseyans already know, everything is more expensive in New Jersey. In the great Garden State, our “happiness” number is $95,700 per year… so get to work, everyone!

Cash, Wall Street Playboys
In keeping with the theme of money, the guys over at Wall Street Playboys put together a great article about how you should view cash. There’s even a short guest appearance by the Oracle himself, Warren Buffet. In particular, I like their perspective on cash flow being king and time equaling money.

How Do We Fix the Ivy League?, The American Conservative
Those of you who are not involved in education may not be aware that grade school, high school, and college classes all started this week. In recognition of the college classes starting this week I’m posting this link which I found incredibly thought-provoking. The American Conservative looks at what the problem is with the Ivy League admissions process and proposes some suggestions to improve the system. If you have an interest in higher education and truly finding ways to improve the system for coming generations, then I think you want to read this article.

Journalists Misunderstanding What “Literally” Means, Patriactionary
This one is short and sweet. The writer of Patriactionary points out a journalistic mistake that makes this English major shake his head in exasperation.

A Morning in the Life of Victor Pride (Video), Bold & Determined
I read a small group of optimistic, empowering websites that focus on giving young men the type of inspiration that they need to become their best selves. One of my favorite sites in this group is Bold & Determined and I think that this short video and the accompanying commentary are a great example why I rank this site so highly on my list. I encourage everyone, especially the younger guys who might be reading this series, to check out Bold & Determined.

Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher, The Wall Street Journal
This is a great article. With school back in session this week I’ve noticed some of the New Jersey-centric online newspapers publishing their all-too-common anti-education reform bashing articles. In fact, one of them posted an op-ed from a far left professor who bashed all of the reform movements that are popular in New Jersey (popular because they work) and the guy didn’t give a single fact to back his perspective. Not one fact. Talking about good, high quality education in New Jersey can be very frustrating, but this article attempts to get to the core of the issue. What makes a good teacher great? This article gives four great indicators of a great teacher.

The Healing: Victim of Brutal Beating Meets Attacker 25 Years Later, The Saturday Evening Post
This article starts out with a guy recounting how he was tossed out of his home as a kid for coming out as gay. He then talks about being homeless before he tells a story about nearly being beaten to death. Of course, this wouldn’t be something for The Saturday Evening Post to publish unless there was a newsworthy twist. And that twist is that the guy who was nearly killed coincidentally wound up meeting – and working with – the guy who perpetrated the attack. While I wasn’t as moved by this article as I’m sure some folks were when they read it, I was interested enough in the story and the weird way that coincidences tend to work out to share the link here for your consideration.

Before you go, I want to recommend one more time that you consider opening a free Feedly account. You can follow JerseySmarts.com on Feedly or you can add us to your existing RSS aggregator. Enjoy!