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Why I no longer hate typos

BY LesOverhead / communication, humor, robots, typos, writing / 0 COMMENTS

Hey! Your your should be you're. But no sweat. You're human!

Hey! Your your should be you're. But no sweat. You're human!

Somewhere, a robot is laughing at me.

Typos used to bug the holy bejezus outta me. They drove me berserk. Whenever I saw one on a sign I wanted to tear it down. If I saw one in a news story or magazine ad I wanted to set fire to it.

Once when a Portland brewery used the words MISSION STATMENT in a huge headline in a full-page ad, I wrote to the brewer in cheeky, smart-ass style: “E” now on sale at Les Overhead! Les Overhead is my one-man business, boss, and alter ego. I didn’t get a reply.

As a freelance copywriter/CD for nearly three decades, typos have long been the bane of my existence. Years ago, I was saved from my own terrible typo incident when my client called at the last minute to say she thought I had misspelled a word in their new ad which I was about to send to the publication.

The all-important call to action I’d written had only four words: Think positive. Hire smart. The designer had retyped the copy in her layout in a small serif font and spelled positive as “positve.” I totally missed the missing “i” when I proofed it.

When my client brought it to my attention (embarrassing enough) and I saw the error with my own eyes, it dropped me to my knees. I almost blew chow thinking of how stupid I’d have looked if the ad had run. It was a full-page ad for a law firm, in a book of ads for other law firms. I’d have had to leave town. Positively.

But I have a different view of typos now. I actually like them. Because, for better or worse, typos are caused by humans. They show that an actual living, breathing person created the message and he or she made a mistake, which is human. We all make mistakes. Some are damn funny.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be the death of us all if we’re not careful. Forget the Russians, it’s the robots we should be worried about. Someone should remake the movie: The robots are coming, the robots are coming! They’re already here, of course.

Automated content-generating writing is already being used in journalism and elsewhere.
Companies like Narrative Science and Automated Insights provide news bots that generate content for many different companies and publications. It started mainly with reporting on sports and stocks.

Now they’re moving more into general news. The Washington Post uses Heliograf, a news bot featuring arguably the most sophisticated use of artificial intelligence in journalism, thus far.

Narrative Science trains computers to write news stories. Its CTO and cofounder, Kristian Hammond, says these basic news stories are just the first step toward a world dominated by automated writing.

When asked what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years, Hammond said, “More than 90%.” He went on to say that in 20 years “there will be no area in which Narrative Science doesn’t write stories.”

When told that pontificators had predicted that a computer would win a Pulitzer Prize within 20 years, Hammond disagreed. It will happen in five, he said. I hope he’s wrong. I hope it doesn’t happen for a thousand years. Go ahead robots, laugh.

A P.R. pro once gave me a “tip” on how you can get an editor to read the press release or article you send in. It’s a risky move but kinda genius.

The idea is to deliberately insert a typo or other error in your opening sentence. Something subtle. When editors see it they will scoff, guffaw, and think how awful to have a typo in the opening line! And then they will read on, to the end, looking for more typos. They can’t help it. It’s an addiction. Of course, the rest of your press release must be smoothly and flawlessly written, sans typos.

That’s how you get an editor to read your submission. Just add a typo or spell a word wrong up front — like I did with bejezus (correctly spelled bejesus or bejeezus). Yes, it’s risky and you may look like a fool. But I like taking risks and I don’t fear looking like a fool. It won’t be the first time.

In short, I’m proud to be human. And that’s a sentence no robot anywhere, no matter how advanced, can write. Assuming it’s honest.

Long live typos! Write on, humans!

Hope somebody reads this all the way through.

Happy real outstanding New Year - not fake!

BY LesOverhead / crazy, Creative, future, humor, Performance art / 0 COMMENTS

Dear Les Overhead clients, associates, and friends -

I am indeed fortunate to work with so many cool people - you among them. Thank you for that! Stay cool (and calm if possible) this year and if you need any copy or creative help, be sure to sing out!

Tom Vandel
Les Overhead (with the Rat Pack)

The Importance of Knees

BY LesOverhead / communication, future, kneeling, writing / 0 COMMENTS


As a competitive basketball player for untold years (48), I know well how important knees are. I would never have blocked as many shots (11) or swished so many countless jumpers (1,393), or dunked in so many opponents’ faces (0), without my knees rising to the occasion time after time. Go ahead and laugh.

But today, knees are no laughing matter. Never have knees been so powerful, so impactful, so important as they are now.

The action of kneeling and the phrase “taking a knee” has taken on a nebulous new significance and meaning. Meaning that's often unclear and misunderstood. Opinions of what it means are all over the map. Arguments erupt, tempers flare, tension boils, and friendships get destroyed.

To me, taking a knee shows support and empathy for people of color who, for generations, have been disrespected, harassed, and more times murdered than we might imagine by law enforcement in this arguably great country.

Kneeling is a humble, non-aggressive, patriotic act designed to call attention to what’s going on in cities large and small, black and white.

But news is fractured with so many sources. People get their information from similar-thinking friends and media outlets (left or right) that mirror their personal views.

As disputes rise, words and sentences get more angry and mean. Extremists get microphones and seats in Congress. The media ratchets it all up for ratings and pundits pontificate as if they are the voice of God. Facts be damned.

Meanwhile, we the people get more and more steamed each day as we approach the boiling point. Frogs? Trolls?

But I have hope. Recently, a relative in the Midwest reached out to me (not me to her) and asked in a courteous manner why, as I had claimed, taking a knee was good for our country. I’m thinking she felt the opposite, and probably still does. But she was sincere and civil. She lowered my temperature. Words can do that (it's some kind of physiological thing). I paused before firing off a reply to her, long enough to tone down my rhetoric.

I’m honored she reached out to understand her wacko relative in Portland a little better. Seems we need more of that – getting out of our silos and walking and talking down paths that lead to friendship and understanding. Kneeling if need be to start the conversation.

That’s the importance of knees, to me. I’m proud to take one. I hope it holds out.



20 Odd Years In Business

The true, sober story of Les Overhead.

Alt Text

I was leaving to buy a keg for a party in the mountains outside Missoula when the phone rang. I picked it up in a hurry. A woman asked if I had recently applied for a job with a radio station in Whitefish.

“Uh, yeah, did I get the job?” I replied, anxious to move the conversation along.

“Not yet. Are you available for an interview?” I wondered if she was in town and wanted to meet right then.

“Not for the next 24 hours,” I said. "To be honest, I'm on my way to buy beer for a party in the mountains."

“I meant next week," she said. She no doubt heard me hit myself in the head with the phone. Well, I blew that I thought.

But I was wrong. I somehow landed the job and showed up for work two weeks later, shaven and sober. After a couple years punching out radio copy on a Smith Corona and doing odd jobs like radio play-by-play for donkey basketball games I headed west.

Eventually, I ended up in Portland where I caught on with a series of ad agencies. I got into everything: print ads, brochures, radio and TV spots, creative disputes… Many words were exchanged. Nobody got hurt.

One day in the shower a hair circled the drain and it dawned on me. I should use my head and get off this manic ad agency merry-go-round. Go to work for myself and provide creative help to anyone with a good company or cause.

That day Les Overhead was born. Freelance Creative Director/Copywriter. A man of his word.

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The best way to reach Les Overhead and Tom Vandel is by email (tom@...), by phone (503-505-4723), or by sending carrier pigeon or mail to 1750 NE 57th Portland, OR 97213. Thank you.