Monday, July 2, 2018

Networking Events: But They All Know Each Other Already!

Pictured: A whole lot of people who do not all know
each other.

(This is an excerpt from The Guy Who Knows a Guy by Michael Whitehouse)
You finally make it out to a networking event. Maybe a Business After Hours. Maybe some other kind of mixer. You come in, you pay your admission, you put your business card in the raffle basket. Now what?

You look around the room and it’s full of people talking to each other. Everyone is engrossed in conversation. They all already know each other, and you’re the newbie trying to find your way in. It’s a high school dance all over again.

Or is it?

Not pictured: a networking event.
What would be the point of a networking event where everyone all knew each other. There have been some such events, and they tend to dwindle down and eventually fail entirely. Why? Because the entire purpose of a networking event is to meet people and make connections.

What about those knots of people having long, engrossed conversations. There are two such groups you will likely find at a networking event.

The first is people from the same company who are there because the company pays for it and it’s a great place to catch up, have some wine from the open bar and have a nice after work experience. Often, these are not necessarily people who really need to network, but the company sends them out because even at the absolute minimum level of networking effort an opportunity might stumble upon you. You can usually tell these groups because everyone’s name tag has the same company on it.

Networking events are where
people go to meet new people.
These are decent groups to approach because they are in a very social comfortable mood, and, deep down, they know that their job here is to meet new people who might be of benefit for their company, and you approaching them gives them the opportunity to do so without leaving their comfort zone.

The other sort who will be having long engrossing conversations are people who just met each other. Think about it. If you see someone you know at an event, you might chat a little. How’s the wife? How’s the dog? How about that local sports team? Then, unless you have some actual business to talk about, chances are that you’ll move on. However, if you meet someone new, you don’t know anything about them. Even the most mundane questions are interesting. “Where do you work?” “What does your company do?” “Are you new to the area?” It’s all new ground, and you’re all there to meet new people, so the delving may be deep.

These people are also great to approach. You are walking up to two or more people who are just feeling each other out. Even if you just join the conversation without saying much, you can still listen in and overhear their quick biographies.

So, those groups that all look like they know each other? Either they do know each other and are looking to meet new people but are too shy to go out and meet them, or they don’t actually know each other and just met.

The moral of the story is not to be afraid. Everyone at a networking event is there to network. It's not about exclusive cliques or sticking to your own circle. If people wanted to do that, they'd stay home or go join the Stonecutters.

Definitely NOT Pictured: a networking event.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Build Your Brand In Summer to Prepare for Winter

Recessions:
Yeah, they're kind of like that.
A recession is a bit like a forest fire. It causes great destruction, but it also serves to clear away debris and waste and make room for strong, healthy trees to thrive. In a recession, many businesses will fail, but the the strong ones will survive. The strongest will actually come out of the trial of a recession stronger than they went in, expanding market share and often having the opportunity to buy up their weaker competitors.

Proper work during the boom times on establishing a powerful and robust brand is crucial to being one of the companies that thrives in the downturn rather than being one of those that is forced to sell out.

In 1862, Clément Juglar discovered that the Juglar Cycle, in which he found that the booms and busts of the economy tended to cycle every 7 to 11 years. It is a natural part of the business cycle. There are various factors that go into this: monetary policy, government policy, the need for the economy to correct itself, and more.

Of course, we see this borne out in the last few recessions. Here are years that the last seven recessions started in the United States.
It's been 11 years since the last
recession. On average they occur
every 6 years.

2007
2001
1990
1981
1973
1969
1960

They are actually an average of 6 years apart, and the last one started 11 years ago.

We can discuss all kinds of complex economics and contentious politics when looking for reasons why the next recession will come, but it is simple math to see that the next recession is coming. Economists do not seem to believe that it is imminent, growth likely continuing into 2019, but whether it's in 2019 or 2022, now is the time for a business to prepare.

As the Bible says, "Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. (Proverbs 6:6-8)"

How do you prepare, and avoid King Solomon calling you "lazybones"? Naturally, you should make sure your business is on firm financial footing. Pay down debts. Maintain a cash reserve for unexpected downturns. But financial reserves enough are not enough to ensure that you are one of the businesses that will come out stronger rather than one of those that must sell out to a competitor.

The Most Valuable Investment
The most valuable investment that you can make today is in your brand reputation. I speak to many business owners who say, "I'm too busy. I'm turning away jobs. I don't need advertising right now."

This is an ad that runs for Amazon.com. When your
brand is as well known as Amazon, you can think
about saying you are well enough known that
you don't need to advertise anymore.
They are correct that they do not need direct response advertising like coupons and special deals. What they do need right now, however, is sponsorship and brand marketing.

What's the difference? Direct response advertising is advertising that seeks an immediate result. It's almost like day trading. You are asking for something today. Use this coupon. Get that deal. Call now. Operators are standing by. You either get a result or do not in a very short period of time. This is your Google Ad Words, many TV and radio ads that call for immediate action, that sort of thing.

Branding and sponsorship advertising is more like making an investment in the future of your business, specifically in the reputation of your business. Branding is done by sponsoring events and organizations that people care about. It is done by supporting community publications that people are connected with. It is also done with advertising, whether TV, radio, print or online, that focuses on the values and value proposition of your business rather than an immediate call to action.

Coca-Cola is the most recognized brand on Earth, yet they
continue to use ads like this one to maintain their top of
mind awareness.
It's the difference between the friend who only calls you when they need something, and the friend who's always around occasionally asking for a favor. With branding and sponsorship, your business becomes that friend who is always around, not only there when they have their hand out.

Right now, the economy is hot, and the pie is large. Everyone has a slice. In the foreseeable future, in the next 1-4 years, that pie will shrink. Those businesses that have invested their profits wisely, especially in building their awareness and reputation in the community will be those that will thrive in the next recession. Those that do not will find themselves losing their market, and possibly their business, to those that have.

How to Do It?
Many small businesses only focus on direct response advertising, so they may not be familiar with what brand marketing is. There are three key aspects to look at: Sponsorship, Brand Marketing, and Content Marketing.

Sponsors at a local Little League field.
Sponsorship
Sponsorship means putting your brand identity adjacent to things that people feel positive about. Putting your name on a Little League team, sponsoring a community magazine, or supporting a Rotary event are examples of this. It makes people think of your business as local and as a part of the community rather than simply as another business after their money.

Just because people know your business exists does not mean that their impression is positive. Placing your business adjacent to causes that they care about can move consumers from awareness of your business to appreciation for your business, a crucial improvement.

Brand Marketing
An example of brand marketing.
No call to action, details, or even
contact information. Simply a
mention of the brand to maintain top
of mind awareness.
Brand Marketing, is marketing with the intention of increasing awareness and positive perception of your business. Awareness can be increased with sponsorship activity, and it can also be done by putting your brand, logo, slogan, jingle, or face in places where people will see it consistently (many times) and persistently (over a long period).

You can engage in brand marketing on any platform, but it is more cost effective on some platforms than other. Branding on television is prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies. Branding on most online platforms like Google AdWords and Facebook is nearly impossible given their shifting algorithms. Community magazines can be very effective at branding to a targeted market. Billboards can also be effective, although it is more difficult to pinpoint the market.

High quality, high engagement community
magazines are one of the most powerful
platforms for content marketing to
reach a targeted audience.
Content Marketing
Content Marketing is a form of marketing that puts a deeper message than simply your brand and product or service offerings. It is sharing content such as expert advice and valuable resources. It can also take the form of giving people a deeper familiarity with your business, such as business history, employee biographies, and the like. Either way, the goal is to make the market see your company are more than just a logo and a quote, but to make it human, deep, and familiar to them.

Content can take a variety of forms: print articles, online writing, podcasts, video, audio, and more. It is important to realize that there are two key elements to content: the quality of the content itself and having a strategy to make sure that people actually consume the content. The greatest article in the world will bring no customers to your business if no one reads it. I have seen amazing videos on YouTube with 50 views on them.

Tools like blogs and newsletters can be a very effective method for driving content to your existing customers and those already familiar with your business.

How do you push that great content to the rest of the community? The best way to ensure that the broader public consumes your content is to place it in a platform which they are already engaging with. The ideal, although it can be difficult to achieve, is to become an expert contributor to a community publication that has high engagement or to have a show on local television or radio.

This article, for example, is an example of Content Marketing. I am using it to share important information, to build relationships with my readers, and to establish a reputation for expertise.

For More Information
Marketing is a complex and ever changing field. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me at feedback@michaelwhitehouse.org or call 203-707-1245, and I'd be happy to help or discuss consulting options. I am also available to speak to your organization. Contact me for details.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Touching Lives


One day, a boy was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by a storm. As he walked he came upon a man  who was throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the boy looked at the man and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the man simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish.”

The boy chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The man picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the boy, said, “I made a difference to that one!”


Last night I got a message from someone I meet four years ago. She was working at an ice cream shop at the time, and, getting ice cream one day, I talked with her as I often do with people I meet. Turns out that she was just finishing high school and was getting interested in anime and conventions but didn't know where to start. At the time, I was running the Connecticon Info Desk Department, and I invited her to join my team and get to see the con from the center of it all.

We became friends and speak occasionally. Last night, she sent me a message in which she realized that when we met, she was just finishing high school, and now she has just graduated college. She said this:

"It seemed like such a small encounter, but your kindness to some random kid behind the counter stayed with me. You listened to me as i spouted off whatever high school angst I had and genuinely gave me advice and your time. Now I'm 22 and thinking about how incredible that was. You are the only stranger to ever be that kind to me."

Throughout our daily travels, rushing here and there, doing this and that, we brush up against so many other lives. I didn't think twice about chatting with the person behind the counter. It comes naturally, but it made a difference to her. Everyday, we have dozens of opportunities to make someone's life better, if only in a small way, but that small thing could mean everything to the right person at the right time.

Probably without intention, her words came to me at a time when they had great impact. The past half year has been very difficult for me. I have been in a place where I had to wonder who were truly my friends and who were not. I came to doubt myself and my contributions to the world.

This message (as well as many others I have received recently) was a powerful reminder that I have left a lot of good behind me, and that I have much more good to do.

In the past few months, I have seen the best of people and I have seen the worst. I have seen people whose goodness is so strong that the world is a brighter place because they exist in it. I have seen people with such darkness that they cannot help but to destroy that which others enjoy. It made me question my faith in humanity. But I have seen far more of the former kind of person than the later.

I have seen so many people step forward both behind and in front of the scenes to be the light in the world. Some did so because they were brave. Some because they didn't know what they were getting into. But all of them because they saw what the right thing to do was, and they knew that it was their time to do it.

I started this year with about 1,675 friends on Facebook, and in the past six months, I have removed and blocked a considerable number of toxic people from that list. Today, after all of this, my list of friends stands at 1,701. I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful people I have been blessed to meet, both this year and before.

Not only can every single one of us change the world, but every single one of us does change the world every single day. The only question is whether you change it for the better.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Cons, Cogs and Steam



With last week's announcement of Steampunk Con, I have been speaking to a lot of confused and concerned steampunks. What's happening to COGS? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? What should I do? Who should I support?

If you just want to know my quick opinion, I believe that this proliferation of events is a good thing. I expect them all to be successful, fun, exciting events. COGS will have the opportunity to find a new and better venue. As for what you should do? You should attend steampunk events, have fun, bring your friends and make new friends. Who should you support? You should support the community and anyone who is working to make it better. It's not an election. You don't have to choose. You can support them all.

I'd like to discuss the addition of Steampunk Con to the calendar from a market and business perspective. I believe that most people have had enough of the drama and politics and just want to know if there will be events for them to flash their gears at, and this article is for them.

Background
For those who are not familiar, Until 2017 Steampunk Worlds Fair was the 800 pound gorilla of steampunk events. 3000 attendees, 2 hotels, and a $200,000 budget. It dominated the steampunk scene and we are unlikely to see anything like it in the near future. However, with its failure in 2018, a successor event called Community Organized Gathering of Steampunks (or COGS) took over that weekend and ran a much smaller event at the Radisson Hotel in Piscataway, NJ where Steampunk Worlds Fair would have run.

While small, the event was very successful and an excellent opportunity for the steampunk community to show that it was ready to get the gears turning on big events again.

It was clear from the moment that Steampunk Worlds Fair collapsed that a proliferation of exciting new events would come to exist. SPWF, by virtue of its size, stifled the creation of other steampunk hotel conventions in the Northeast. There are numerous steampunk festivals, but very few indoor, hotel conventions. Those events require a much greater financial investment and risk, and it was simply not a good investment while SPWF was running.

There are behind the scenes politics that would make for an excellent HBO series, but you can learn about those else where. The current situation is this: in spring of 2019, there will be three great steampunk events in a 7 week period.

May 17-19 will bring us COGS Expo, June 7-9 will bring Steampunk Con, and there is also Blackthorne Steam at Blackthorne Resport. Blackthorne Steam is traditionally also June 7-9, but it is likely that either Blackthorne Steam or Steampunk Con will adjust their date so that there is not a direct conflict. For the purposes of this analysis, we'll assume that will happen.

Crowds of steampunks at this
month's Blackthorne Steam
The first concern I had heard from people is some variation of "splitting the community" or "splitting the market". This assumes that there is a finite market of steampunks with a finite budget. The actual economics of events is much more complex than that. The steampunk market is made up of a variety of different kinds of people from the absolute diehards to the causal tourist.

This is not to say that there will not be individual people who will have a budget constraint and find themselves having to choose between events, but there is more than enough of a market to go around. This is particularly true because Steampunk is such an open, welcoming, and inviting community, which facilitates the growth of the community as we see the growth of new events.

Room For Everyone
There are many examples that we can see where "competition" grows the market to the benefit of all. In the late 1980's, Boskone was the massive scifi convention in Boston, drawing over 7000 attendees every year. When they decided to reign in the event after a few tumultuous years and being kicked out of the city, there was a split between Boskone and Arisia. Arisia runs MLK Day weekend and Boskone runs a month later on Presidents Day weekend. Today, both events draw around 5000 people, one month apart, in the same city, sometimes at the hotel, and often sharing staff between the two events.

Connecticut has three large comiccon-type events, all during the same four month period, and they are all thriving.

Outside of conventions, Starbucks is a great example. Far from smothering locally run coffee shops, Starbucks created coffee culture in many markets, creating the circumstances in which locally run coffee shops could open in the first place.

To go back to the Arisia and Boskone example, when that split occurred, the two groups were not friendly. The very name Arisia is a reference to the good guys in the Lensman series, who fought the evil forces of Boskone.

Individual Economics
Let's start by looking at what an individual spends at a convention. People get very concerned about whether or an event ticket is $35 or $45, which is interesting when you consider that the average attendee spends a total of $500 to $1000 on their convention weekend.

Here is an example of what one might spend at a convention, and this applies to any kind of fandom weekend convention from steampunk to scifi to motorcycles:
Ticket: $50
Hotel: $250
Food: $120
Drink: $50
Travel: $50
Buying Stuff: $250
Total: $770

But if someone is local, not staying in the hotel, doesn't spend a great deal with the vendors, and a bit more frugal on the eating and drinking, they can keep their visit under $100. Thus there is no reason that local steampunks, of which there are many in the greater New York area, could not attend both events.

Separate Markets
The first hit on Google
for "Goth Steampunk"
There is not simply one population of steampunks who live in Steampunk Town, New Jersey and choose which events they will attend. In fact, most steampunks have other identities beyond steampunks. Some are scifi geeks, some are goths, some are metalheads, some are mechanics, some are politicians, some train monkeys at the zoo.

Like everyone, different steampunks have different levels of dedication. Some are so steampunk that their heart is actually a clockwork machine. Others are vaguely aware of this thing with the gears but they've seen Eternal Frontier perform and they think they're pretty cool so they'd like to check it out again.

Vampire Freaks, the company that, in association with the owner of the host hotel, is running Steampunk Con, has been running events in the goth community for 15 years. They have a large following in the goth community, but are relatively unknown in the steampunk community. This has an interesting and positive connotation. They have a great reach into a community of casual steampunks for whom Steampunk Con will be their first steampunk event.

COGS Expo, on the other hand, has deep roots in the mainline steampunk community, and will draw the more devoted steampunks. However, the most devoted steampunks will attend both events. "Most devoted" means attending all the events as long as they're not on the same weekend (or shuttling back and forth if they are close enough).

Vampire Freaks
Rather than splitting the community, I expect that the existence of this new event will grow the community. COGS Expo will continue to draw the fans it drew last year. Steampunk Con will draw new people, and those people will have the chance to meet the devotees.

Blackthorne Steam, which has an event capacity of about 120 or so people, will continue to sell to capacity as it always has.

Can Goths Run Steampunk?
While they have never run a steampunk event, they have run Dark Side of the Con for a number of years, and Steampunk Con will likely be structurally similar. They had the opportunity to run Dark Side of the Con this year without the support of Jeff Mach Events and demonstrate their ability to run a good con on their own, so I have no doubt that they can run a great event.

But Wait There's More!
COGS Expo and Steampunk Con are not the two successor events to Steampunk Worlds Fair. They are the first two successor events. There is talk of an event in Connecticut and another in Massachusetts that I have heard. As event organizers realize the opportunity that now exists, I would not be surprised if we see as many steampunk conventions in the Northeast as there are scifi conventions.

We are at the start of a very exciting time in steampunk.

So, what should you do?
You should attend steampunk events. As many as your wallet and calendar allow. And you should play Concardia there.

Whom should you support?
Everyone.




Saturday, June 2, 2018

Graturday - Great Professional Support

I work with a fantastic company called Best Version Media, and it is unique in a number of ways. Much of this comes of the fact that the founders realized that true success is not born of a single minded obsessive focus on money but from a desire to do good with an eye towards a strong business in the process. This is how a company that produces local print publications in the age of Facebook has been able to go from zero to $100,000,000 in annual revenues in ten short years.

What I am truly grateful for today, however, is the quality of character and compassion of the people I work with through this company. One of the pillars of the culture of BVM is that of a "compassionate heart." In short, it means that as a company we are encouraged to think of people as people and not simply a means to an end.

It manifests in the way that we think about our prospects and clients, desiring to do what is best for them rather than simply what is most profitable for us. It also manifests in the way that every single level of management and home office works with the publishers in the field.

I have worked for many sales organizations. While it varied somewhat from company to company, there was always a sense that your value as a person was tied to your most recent sales results. Best Version Media treats every single person on the team as a person of great value, regardless of the results they can achieve. When I hit a slump or when my head is not right, I know that I can be honest with those who are there to support me. I will find support, encouragement, and advice. I will not find judgement or snark.

I am blessed to work for a company of good, honest, humble people who seek nothing more than the betterment of their community and the people they work with, and for that, this Gratitude Saturday, I am sincerely grateful.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Graturday - Thankful for Such a Large and Diverse Community

Last I attended the Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts: an impressive downtown steampunk festival which can draw as many as 10,000 people when the weather is good.

Last week, the weather was not good, with intermittent rain throughout the day, but that did not dampen the spirits of the great people at the event.

Due to my very busy schedule, there are only so many events I can get out to, but with a number of the events that previously filled my schedule no longer running, I now find myself more aware of just how many great events there are in the Steampunk community around New England.
Waltham takes its steampunk seriously.

Steampunk is a fantastically positive culture. One of the underlying principles of it is a do-it-yourself attitude. I am reminded of a quote from President Kennedy in which he says "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings."

That describes the Steampunk ethos. That which we have made, we can fix and improve. I believe that accounts for the success and growth of Steampunk in our modern culture of conflict, negativity, and post-factual thinking.

I am deeply grateful to have had the chance to meet so many good people across the world of Steampunk, and I am even more grateful that I count so many of them among my friends.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Graturday - Moms

One of the most underappreciated jobs in the world is that of mother. Teacher. Therapist. Coach. Peacemaker. Referee. Travel Agent. Logistician. These are just a few of the roles that come together in the role of mother.

My mother deserves the credit for a great deal of my moral development. She taught me the importance of considering the effect that every one of my actions would have upon others. While I have certainly not always been successful, I have always striven to live up to the standard she taught me of try to make the world a better place.

Both I and my daughter's mother (also known as my wife) love our daughter with all of our hearts, but Amy takes care of her in some ways that are unique and special to her. She connects with her on a level that only a mother can. She works with her on art and other skills which I personally lack. I am deeply grateful that I found such a good woman to be the mother of my much beloved child.

In general, on this Graturday (written one day late on the Sunday that is Mother's Day), I am thankful to all the mothers out there doing incredible, unrecognized but vital work to raise the best children that they can, and, in the process, making the world a better place.

Thank you to moms everywhere, and especially to my wife Amy, the best mom right here.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

What David Collins Doesn't Know About Downtown Groton

"I never knew Groton had a downtown." This is how David Collins started his column in yesterday's edition of The Day, prompted by the new signage that is now up on Interstate 95, discussed briefly in this article.

For those who are not familiar with Groton, Connecticut, it is a town with unusual geography. In the 19th century, it was split between Groton Bank, which was the portion of Groton on the bank of the Thames River, which was densely populated and supported by the shipping industry, and the town of Groton, which was the rest of the town's 45 square miles, was sparse farmland with occasional villages.

Annotated map of Groton from Google Maps.
Apologizes for the business pins. No way to remove the ads.
As it developed, an area around Long Hill Road near exit 87 off I-95, just outside of Groton City, which Groton Bank would ultimately come to be called, became a center of shopping and commerce. The proximity to the highway, I presume, made it an attractive location for mid-century developers, providing the five strip malls which dominate the area now known as Downtown.

A short way further down that road, one finds Town Hall, the major town field Poquonnock Plains Park, the Public Library, Groton Recreation Building, and the Groton Senior Center, which forms something of a municipal district.

Zoomed in on Downtown Groton. This map is about a mile
from one end to the other. Town Hall is at the far right.
Long Hill Road is at the far left.
As my regular readers may have notices, I love dictionary definitions.

down·town
ˌdounˈtoun/
NORTH AMERICAN
adjective
adjective: downtown
  1. 1.
    of, in, or characteristic of the central area or main business and commercial area of a town or city.

    "downtown Chicago"

    synonyms:centralmetropolitanmetrourbanMore
adverb
adverb: downtown
  1. 1.
    in or into a downtown area.

    "I drove downtown"
noun
noun: downtown; plural noun: downtowns
ˈdountoun/
  1. 1.
    the downtown area of a town or city.

    "the heart of Pittsburgh's downtown"

    synonyms:city center, (central) business district, urban core; More

While we often think of Downtown as referring to an urban center, "Downtown" is really just the core of business and commercial activity in the area, which is what Groton's "Downtown" is, thus why it is called Downtown Groton. While towns like New London, Norwich, and Westerly have more traditional 19th century style downtowns, Groton, like Waterford, has a post-war style downtown area, built along the 1950s and 1960s concepts of separating various forms of zoning to different parts of town: commercial here, residential there, industrial in the other place.

Long Hill Road is affectionately referred to as Hamburger
Hill, because there are actually at least half a dozen
places along the short stretch of road to get a hamburger.
Some of the burgers are better than others.
As it turns out, that form of zoning creates a dependency on cars, prevents neighbors from interacting, and generally causes a colder, less connected community, but that's a story for another day. The point is that Groton has what it has, and what it has is a vibrant, thriving, suburban-style downtown area.

Downtown Groton contains 5 main shopping plazas plus a number of other freestanding businesses and smaller plazas. Within and near Downtown, a shopper can find nearly anything they seek, including groceries, clothes, Post Office, auto dealerships, a hardware store, hobbies and entertainment, pet supplies, and more.

Is it a beautiful area with quaint New England charm? No. Is it a downtown hub of commercial activity, absolutely.

Citadel Game Cellar has something
going on almost every day.
While it largely lacks mixed use development (two small mixed used developments are in the downtown area), and its suburban nature would stretch the definition of the term "walkable," I often walk the area. I frequently walk from my apartment to the Citadel Game Cellar, one of the best game stores I have found in the country, with events happening almost every day.

While Downtown Groton leaves quite a bit to be desired, it's not an embarrassment either, bringing millions of dollars of economic activity to the town and tremendous revenues onto the tax rolls.


In discussing the Downtown designation, Mr. Collins says:
It turns out, I discovered after a search of the town website, the term downtown used for that section of Route 1 was sealed in a 2006 planning study for the town, which envisioned all kinds of mixed-use development around the old shopping centers — development that, of course, never happened.
The Groton Strategic Development Plan envisioned that construction of more housing and an effort to make the area more "walkable" would transform the area that the study authors conceded, because of its age and design, "can no longer compete as a traditional suburban-style shopping destination." 
So, as the authors note, it is a tired, old shopping district. And all the development they envisioned that would make it into a downtown has never happened. Still, that's the downtown interstate travelers will be directed to, about the worst of what Groton has to offer.
Let's talk about what we can find in the "worst of what Groton has to offer."

In this stretch you can find American, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Japanese, and Chinese food.

This one plaza has Indian, Japanese, and Thai food, plus an
Indian grocery store.
The newly refurbished Groton Shopping Center is 100% occupied, including a well balanced mix of businesses.
In this plaza, you can work out, buy groceries, buy clothes,
and get a new set of spark plugs.
Even the most run down of Downtown Groton's plazas, Groton Shoppers Mart, contains many of the key businesses that, while not revolutionary, are the backbone of a commercial district: Big Y, Starbucks, and Gamestop. Even though the properly is somewhat in limbo because of owners who cannot agree on what should be done with it, it still maintains a relatively high occupancy because of the demand for businesses to serve the growing economy of Groton.

Groton Shoppers Mart suffers from having too many owners
who cannot agree on how to manage, improve or sell it, so
it just kind of exists.
For those who are not familiar with redevelopment initiatives, they tend to move slowly. This is partly because they are complex and involve many players, and partly because there are many ways that they can go fantastically wrong.

There are basically two ways to cause redevelopment occur on privately held, developed land. The town can create incentives and try to get buy-in from the land owners, or they can try to use eminent domain to claim the property and force the changes. The eminent domain solution has certain problems.

Certain problems with eminent domain.
That means that the developers have to want to make the change. It takes years to research and develop a plan, then there is the process of getting buy-in from the land owners. Then it takes years more to make the plans to implement it, financing must be raised, and finally action is taken.

Did anything happen within the years shortly after 2006 that might have deterred that process?

Oh, yeah, that.
I didn't move to Groton until 2014, so I don't know the full details of what happened around that time, but, given that the Economic Development Commission and the Office of Planning and Development are working to execute today that very same concept of mixed use development and modernization in Downtown, I would surmise that what we are seeing is simply a situation in which a good idea is moving at the speed of government, interrupted by a terribly inconvenient financial crisis that rivaled the Great Depression.

Downtown Groton is the second area of the town that will become a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in order to help finance these developments. TIF is a brilliant policy in which future tax revenues can be used as guarantees against loans for infrastructure necessary for development. The financing is procured by the developers, not the town, and the developer is responsible for it, but they are able to use a portion of the increased tax revenues to pay off the loans. The town only pays if the development happens and the tax revenues increase. The developer gets the loan paid for them as long as they hold up their part. Everyone wins, most of all the people of Groton win.

It must be very difficult to write a weekly column, which would explain why Mr. Collins failed to do even the most basic research into the current situation. Research which could have included asking his colleague who wrote an article on the EDC tour which ran in the same issue as his column.

I wouldn't know what it's like to write a weekly column like that. I only have experience writing a daily one.

Graturday - Thankful for So Many Friends

In today's weekly gratitude article, I'd like to express gratitude for the great many wonderful friends and supporters I have.

I have had one particular occasion this week to be reminded just how many good people there are out there looking out for me.

The most pronounced occasion was early this week when I received an email from Watch City Steampunk Festival informing me that ConCardia would not be welcome there. Within 12 hours of our sharing that information, Watch City Steampunk Festival had received numerous emails of support for us from people who had heard what happened and were outraged.

Back in early April, I wrote an article entitled Hurt, in which I discussed how hurt I was at the fact that some people whom I thought were trusted friends had turned on me. But the fact is that I was suffering from a lack of perspective. While one or two people have unexpectedly left me, hundreds of people continue be there for me and my family. Some of them do so quietly and others do so publicly, but the important thing is that we have an incredible community friends who we now know beyond a doubt will be there for us.

And, we will always be there for them. That's what a community is: people who can count on each other, and I count myself truly blessed to have such a wonderful community, both online and in our local area.

Discovering just how much love is in our community made me realize that I do not have room for hate and anger in my life. There is too much good for me to want to focus on the evil.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Steampunk Worlds Fair: The Way It Could Have Been

Author's Note: As always, these articles are created with the best information that I have available at the time. Should you find factual inaccuracies, please email me at feedback@michaelwhitehouse.org and I will work to correct the article to be more accurate. 

As an additional note, the purpose of this article to discuss a specific alternate way that events could have gone which would have resulted in a more desirable outcome for all involved. This article is not intended to discuss whether or not people were right to attack Jeff Mach and his company, nor is it discussing the allegations at all. It is discussing what actually happened and the results thereof. Other articles may address those other issues.

I woke up quite rested this morning for the first time in a long time. I woke up at 6:00 AM, but I fell asleep at 9:00 PM. That's the key to a good sleep: not waking up late, but getting an early start. Like sleep, the outcome of many things comes out of how it began.

For those who are not familiar with the company, Jeff Mach Events was a company that ran geek events primarily in the New Jersey area. Their main events were Wicked Faire (a general geek festival), Steampunk Worlds Fair (the largest Steampunk event in North America), and Geeky Kink Event (an event which is accurately described by its name). In all, they ran 7-10 events per year of various types.

On March 13th, I had the unpleasant duty of announcing to the Steampunk community that Silver Phoenix Society would be stepping away from running Steampunk Worlds Fair and that, as a consequence, the event would likely either not happen or not happen as they expected.
But to really understand what happened on March 13th, let's rewind two months to mid January.

At the time, Amy and I were rank and file department heads. In fact, until I was invited to a department head meeting, I didn't even know that we warranted the title. We ran the Info Desk, sold merch, and ran ConCardia at the events. We didn't talk to a lot of the other staff between events. I spoke to Jeff as much as I needed to for my role. Amy was hired to be his "assistant", but that mostly just meant some simple office work like assembling rooming lists and updating the social media Buffer feeds.

It seemed like just another week, but what we did not know was that the house was full of gas just waiting for a spark to ignite it.

That spark, as it turned out, was a post from Jeff Mach seeking new staff and volunteers. Jeff's detractors seized on this, screen-shotted the Facebook post and placed a caption on it warning that no one should work for that company because it mistreated people. From these small pebbles the avalanche began.
I became aware of this on January 23rd when I first started seeing the posts. The posts were on the pages of former staffers who had previously and publicly declared their desire to see Jeff Mach and his company destroyed, so I perceived this to be nothing more than an attack by those who had promised to do so, but it was much more complex that that.

History and Alternate History
The best way to give a good understanding of what happened is to discuss what should have happened. I have spent a lot of time pondering how this could have turned out right. Nobody wanted Steampunk Worlds Fair to fail, so why did it fail? What they wanted was for Jeff Mach to be out of it, but they didn't understand that you couldn't transfer ownership of an event from a debt-loaded company to new operators 10 weeks before the event was to run. Even we didn't understand the full complexities. No one had ever attempted anything like this before.

There is a scenario in which this could have turned out well for everyone: a form of negotiated settlement. If Jeff Mach had agreed to be bought out of his company before the great angry mobs of the Internet were brought into things. Of course, this would have required there to be two parties to form an agreement. The department heads of the company were speaking regularly and could have agreed to something, but who was there who could have negotiated for the other side?

Elise Potenza
As it turns out, there was one person who was playing both sides to the middle and could have facilitated such an outcome: Elise Potenza.

We later discovered that she had been orchestrating things in a significant way on both sides, either for vindictive purposes or as part of a play to take over the company, the details of which we'll discuss tomorrow.

Elise was on the Consent Team in 2017 and was privy to all the personal allegations against Jeff Mach. She was in regular communication with the former staff who were working to see him brought low. She may have been feeding them information during the crisis in January, and she certainly leaked the confidential chat log which was the action which most directly led to the decision to step away from Steampunk Worlds Fair.

She and her boyfriend Jakal Blackwell had also been on the Executive Committee in 2017, so were privy to a great deal of operational information and would have been able to leverage that perceived authority.

How could it have worked?

On the Thursday one week prior to Wicked Faire, in January, she could have contacted all of the department heads to a meeting of vital importance. At that meeting, she would present the accusations which had been made public as well as any other information that she was able to share. She could then have presented anonymized versions of any other accusations she was privy to. Naturally, she could not include names or identifying details, but simply broad strokes to give us the picture. She might have also explained that she knew that strong forces were assembled to take down Wicked Faire if action was not taken.

At that time, this meeting would have contained the same people that the actual department head chat contained. Most of that staff was there to do a job for the attendees. We wanted the events to continue, for the people to have a safe and fun event, and to go back to our lives on Monday having had a good weekend. How that happened wasn't terribly important.

She could then have presented some kind of buyout plan. It could have taken any number of forms from a non-profit to a group forming an LLP. The purchase would have been funded by a fixed payment over time from the new company to Jeff Mach, similar to the agreement that was almost adopted in February.

People having fun at Steampunk Worlds
Fair, which will no longer be running.
The response from the department heads, after some initial pushback and sharp questions, would probably have been, "OK, whatever, that's above my paygrade. See you next weekend."

Elise could have then told her friends on the other side what was happening and gotten them to call off the attack dogs as the process wound slowly through the legal channels, allowing the events already on the schedule to continue successfully under transitioning management.

Why would that have worked when we didn't listen to Elise when she assured us that she had some kind of evidence?

In this alternate history, rather than saying more or less "I know something you don't know, so you need to trust me," she would have shared what she knew.

I Know Something You Don't Know Makes a Poor Argument
Since Elise was on the Consent Team, it might be asked why we did not take her word that there were serious allegations and action needed to be taken. We didn't trust her because she was not trustworthy due to her past actions. She had used dubious information to remove a superior so she could be promoted into his former role.

A couple years ago, Noah Smith was the highly competent and very effective Company Manager of Jeff Mach Events. There were some supplementary tasks that he was responsible for, such as human resources and other technical business duties which he didn't do a great job of, but that was Jeff's fault for giving Noah duties for which he was not qualified, rather than Noah's fault for not being able to do them.

Noah did a fantastic job at something Jeff had never been able to do, leading the company in a way that led the staff to feel appreciated and like they were part of a well organized team.

Elise wanted Noah's job. She wasn't actually qualified for it in temperament or experience, but she wanted it nonetheless. She knew two things that would help her get it:

1) She knew that Jeff Mach took consent violations very seriously and tended to give credence to the accuser over the accused regardless of evidence or lack thereof.

2) She knew that Noah Smith had seasonal depression and as the winter approached, his ability and desire to deal with stress diminished.

Using this information, in the late fall Elise found charges against Noah. (I'll explain my choice of verb in a moment.) She brought these to Jeff with the suggestion that something should be done. Jeff approached Noah and told him that there were two allegations against him and asked what he'd like to do about them.

Noah surprised Jeff (but not Elise) by saying that if he could get a small severance package, he'd resign quietly. Jeff was not trying to push Noah out and was quite surprised by his reaction. His intention was to investigate the allegations because he worked closely with Noah and the allegations didn't match his personal perceptions. Noah believed that Jeff was taking advantage of his depression to push him out of the company with the threat of a scandal that he did not want to deal with.

Noah left the company, believing that Jeff had maneuvered to push him out. Elise's name stayed out of it. Jeff lost a competent Company Manager. Numerous staffers followed Noah out of the company as he spread the story that Jeff had forced him out, and the seeds took root which would subsequently destroy the company.

But for all the damage, Elise got what she wanted. She was promoted to "Manager on Duty", a job very similar to Company Manager, and a job she took over others who remained in the company with greater qualifications.

There was some question as to whether or not
Noah's departure was due to consent
allegations. This is an excerpt from the Div
Head chat which Elise conveniently
redacted when she shared it with Brenna.
When I say "found" allegations, I do not know where they came from or if they were true, but I do know from something that happened a couple of weeks ago that Elise does not believe they were true. At Dark Side of the Con this past March, after she was fired from Security on Friday night, she decided that the four EMTs on staff were not sufficient and called in a friend to volunteer. That friend was Noah Smith, an individual that she had reported allegations of sexual misconduct against two years earlier. This means that she either knowingly brought a dangerous individual to an event in a staff role (for which she did not have the authority) or she knew that the allegations were false and she lied to Jeff two years earlier to rise in the organization.

We did not know what would happen at Dark Side of the Con in January, but we did have our strong suspicions about what had happened to Noah and Elise's "allegations," which is why we refused to act on her word which we all considered quite dubious.

Who Killed Steampunk Worlds Fair
There are many people involved in destroying this very popular event that we worked desperately to save, but there was one person who was in a position to offer a solution to save it who did not, and that person is Elise Potenza. What was her motivation in destroying the events rather than attempting to buy them? We can never know that. Maybe she lacked the sophistication to see such a solution. Maybe she wanted to let if fall apart so she could step in to create a new company to rebuild from the ruins. Maybe she just wanted to see the world burn. I leave such speculations to the reader.

A Note about Dark Side of the Con: Many conventions do not have any medical staff present. If there is a medical event, they call 911 like anyone else. Almost no club nights have EMTs on staff. Jet, the owner of Dark Side of the Con, went above and beyond to have any EMTs present, and having 4 on Saturday night (5 with Noah) was exceptional. While the EMTs were kept busy, most of the issues they deal with at an event like that are people who have had a few too many drinks. Without EMS, Security would give them some water, sit with them a bit, and walk them back to their rooms to sleep it off. With an EMT present: they check their blood pressure, take a pulse, do a couple other quick checks, then give them a glass of water, walk them back to their room and let them sleep it off.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Deceit Without Lying

Before going on, please read this article from Foxnews.com discussing allegations against Tom Brokaw.

OK, hopefully you read it.

Pop quiz. Is Tom Brokaw accused of "exposing himself to one woman while the two were in his office and asked her to touch him" or having "sex in the middle of the day in his office?"

If you answered yes to either, then you've made my point. If you had to go back and check the article, ditto.

It's no secret that Fox News would like to discredit more traditional news outlets like NBC, and a good way to do that would be to discredit news icons like Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw.

Here we have the allegations about Tom Brokaw behaving inappropriately, and given the nature of his position over the women he is accused of being inappropriate with, these are very serious allegations. However, it would appear that Fox did not feel they were serious enough. What to do?

Go back to the article, and you'll see that there is an article about Tom Brokaw. That article ends with this sentence, "Brokaw stepped down as an NBC news anchor in 2004." Other than a random paragraph that does not seem related which talked about Lauer in the first half, you could end the article at that point because no additional information about the story comes after it. What follows that is a rehashing of Matt Lauers much more serious and gross allegations, which does not appear to have any direct tie in to the Tom Brokaw story above.


So why would they do that? Because they know how people read. Mostly they read on their phones, quickly, while multitasking and not paying attention

When I first read this article on my phone because someone had sent it to me, I had to go back and read it a second time to confirm who had sex in an office.

Four paragraphs discuss specific details without using Lauer's name, meaning that scanning the article, which is the way that many people read, could lead one to conclude that Brokaw had been the one revealing himself and having sexcapades in his office.


While every part of the article follows basic principles of journalistic integrity, concatenating the two unrelated stories together without explanation causes another form of deception.

One might argue that the stories are related because they are both about sexual misconduct at NBC, but it that's the case, why not mention Cosby or other celebrity abusers? Why not mention that the two sets of allegations occurred in different decades? Why not include a paragraph linking the two stories? It's on online article, it's not like there's a word-count limit.

This is not a right-left thing because people on both sides do it. It is done using all manner of topics. It is done to all kinds of people by all kinds of people. Deceit is merely a tool, which anyone can pick up to manipulate you as a reader, and we should all be alert to its use.

Not all forms of deception require falsehoods. Sometimes it can be as simple as framing and presenting the truth in a different way.


Full article text, for reference:
Legendary NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw allegedly made unwanted sexual advances against multiple women in the 1990s, a bombshell set of reports revealed Thursday, months after a separate set of accusations led to the downfall of longtime “Today” anchor Matt Lauer.

According to The Washington Post, Brokaw, now 78, made unwanted moves on Linda Vester, a former NBC correspondent and former Fox News anchor, twice during the 1990s, including a move to forcibly kiss Vester, who was in her 20s at the time.

The report also detailed the claims of an anonymous woman who told the outlet Brokaw acted inappropriately toward her during her time as a production assistant in the 1990s. Brokaw was the anchor of “NBC Nightly News” at the time.

He has denied all the accusations against him.

“I met with Linda Vester on two occasions, both at her request, 23 years ago, because she wanted advice with respect to her career at NBC,” Brokaw said in a statement issued by NBC that was provided to The Post. “The meetings were brief, cordial and appropriate, and despite Linda’s allegations, I made no romantic overtures towards her, at that time or any other.”

Before the accusations against him went public, he actually spoke out about the #MeToo movement on MSNBC -- without mentioning his own behavior. “I do think we need to have a healthier, well-defined dialogue, if you will, and I’m not sure how we launch into it,” he said in December 2017.

A Fox News request for comment was not immediately returned by NBC.

Lauer’s former co-host, Ann Curry, who left amid turmoil inside the network, also said in The Post report that she told network management about complaints regarding Lauer's alleged sexual harassment, in 2012. However, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack previously said there were no formal complaints lodged against Lauer in his two decades with the network.

“I am speaking out now because NBC has failed to hire outside counsel to investigate a genuine, long-standing problem of sexual misconduct in the news division,” Vester told The Post.

Vester spoke of an alleged January 1994 incident in a New York hotel room with Brokaw. She had plans to leave New York ahead of an impending snowstorm but Brokaw discouraged her, she said, and suggested that the two get a drink.

“I only drink milk and cookies,” Vester claimed she said as a way of skirting Brokaw’s alleged intentions.

Former 'Today' co-host Katie Couric told BuzzFeed she hasn't 'reconciled' the Lauer she knows with the Lauer accused of sexual assault.Video
Katie Couric parsing truth from fiction regrading Matt Lauer
“It was the only thing I could think of at the time, hoping the reference to milk and cookies would make him realize I was 30 years his junior and not interested,” Vester said.

But when plans to travel to Washington D.C. got canceled, Vester said, Brokaw tried again in a 3 a.m. phone call to her hotel room.

“Once in my room . . . I received three phone calls,” she told The Post, citing diary entries she made at the time. “One from a friend, another from a source; the third was Tom Brokaw. He said to order milk and cookies and he was coming over.”

“My career at NBC would be over before it even got going,” Vester said she remembered thinking if she turned Brokaw down. The anchor soon knocked on her door.

“What do you want from me?” Vester claimed she asked Brokaw.

“An affair of more than passing affection,” Brokaw allegedly replied.

“But you’re married,” she said. “And I’m Catholic.”

Brokaw urged Vester to sit next to him on the sofa, she claimed. He proceeded to press “his index finger to my lips and said, ‘This is our compact,’” The Post said she wrote in her diary.

“My insides shook,” Vester said. “I went completely cold.”

Brokaw then allegedly placed his hand on the back of her neck and grabbed her head in order to “show” Vester “how to give a real kiss.” 

"I could smell alcohol on his breath, but he was totally sober," Vester told Variety in a detailed account of the alleged interaction. "He spoke clearly. He was in control of his faculties."

Vester said she forcefully wiggled away from Brokaw in reply.

“I said ‘Tom . . . I don’t want to do that with you,’” she wrote.

Following a brief silence, Brokaw decided to leave, Vester claimed. “I think I should go,” she said he said.

A similar incident between Brokaw and Vester took place over a year later in London, Vester claimed, but she again avoided Brokaw’s advances.

A second woman, who once served as a production assistant at NBC News, claimed Brokaw encountered her in a hallway in the mid-1990s and encouraged her to meet him on the side of the walkway. Brokaw then allegedly held her hands, spoke of how cold they were, and proceeded to place them under his jacket.

“He put my hands under his jacket and against his chest and pulled me in so close and asked me, ‘How is your job search going?’” she told The Post. After replying, Brokaw allegedly suggested the woman “come into my office after the show and let’s talk about it.”

Conflicting accounts over fired anchor
The woman said the implication in the conversation was obvious and she skipped the invite. She ultimately left the network.

Neither Vester nor the anonymous woman reported the incidents at the time, The Post reported.

Brokaw stepped down as an NBC news anchor in 2004.

Curry described in detail the claims against Lauer.

“A woman approached me and asked me tearfully if I could help her,” Curry said. “She was afraid of losing her job… I believed her.” The anonymous woman, Curry told The Post, said she was “sexually harassed physically” by Lauer.

“I told management they had a problem and they needed to keep an eye on him and how he deals with women,” she said.

Lack was not with the network during the time Curry said she went to management.

In interviews with The Post, 12 NBC employees claimed to have been sexually harassed by Lauer, who was fired in November 2017.

Lauer exposed himself to one woman while the two were in his office and asked her to touch him, an anonymous woman told The Post.

Another said they had sex in the middle of the day in his office.

Lauer, who has remained mostly mum following the allegations last year, provided a forceful response to The Post.

“I have made no public comments on the many false stories from anonymous or biased sources that have been reported about me over these past several months,” he said. “I remained silent in an attempt to protect my family from further embarrassment and to restore a small degree of the privacy they have lost. But defending my family now requires me to speak up.

“I fully acknowledge that I acted inappropriately as a husband, father and principal at NBC,” he continued. “However I want to make it perfectly clear that any allegations or reports of coercive, aggressive or abusive actions on my part, at any time, are absolutely false.”