Here you'll find essays written on a variety of topics. Some of them contain practical advice and tips on public relations and marketing subjects. Others are more far ranging. 


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The Day of the Seafarer

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

by Jim Rhodes

Today, June 25, has been designated by the International Maritime Organization as the "Day of the Seafarer." As you may know, I spent some years working at sea in my younger days, and I can relate to the hundreds of thousands of mariners who labor in lonely jobs far from their families and friends. It’s likely that some of them will not survive this day. The sea is an unforgiving master, and ships are dangerous places to work. Every day, somewhere in the world, there are collisions, groundings, fires, violent storms and even attacks by armed pirates. Most of them go unreported in the mainstream news media. 

 I hope you will join me in honoring these men and women today -- and every day of the year.

If you’d like to get involved, you can download the IMO Day of the Seafarer toolkit.

Finally, I invite you to take a five-minute break. Sit back, turn up the volume, listen and reflect.  Sing along if you like.

 

 

License to Ride

Monday, June 16, 2014

by Jim Rhodes

 

Here’s a story that caught my eye this week. It came from RoboHub, a blog site produced by the ROBOTS Association, a non-profit based in Switzerland. The blog presents news and information of interest to the robotics community and general public. 

RoboHub’s editors reported the results of an online survey of readers. The headline was “Should the unlicensed be allowed to drive autonomous cars?” 

RoboHub asked three questions:

Should a child under the legal driving age be allowed to ride driverless cars alone? 

Should a senior who no longer has a legal driver’s license be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?

    Should a legally blind person be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?

 

 

 

A significant percentage answered all three questions in the affirmative – 38 percent for kids, 67 percent for seniors and 58 percent for blind. Even allowing for the likely bias in the sample due to the audience surveyed (techno-geeks and people fascinated by robotics); I was astonished by the answers.

But then I saw another blog post on Google’s new purpose-built driverless car. Unlike the other autonomous vehicles tested to date, Google’s car has no driver controls at all – no steering wheel, no pedals, no gearshift. Check out the video. The “drivers” in the demo included kids, seniors and – yes! – a blind man.

The car drives a programmed route to its destination. The driver becomes a passenger.

Look back up at the way RoboHub phrased the three questions. Notice the word “ride” is the operative verb in the sentence. Not “drive.” So in a car with no driver controls, why should children, seniors and blind people – or anyone else for that matter – need a license to ride?

Still, I wish they had asked a fourth question – Should a person who is legally intoxicated be allowed to ride driverless cars alone? What a great solution to take drunk drivers off the road. I wonder how long it will take for some entrepreneur to see the potential of a fleet of robotic cars to take drinkers home after a night on the town.

Of course, we’ll have to revise the old joke about the drunk and the bartender… 

So the drunk says to the bartender, call me a robocar.

 

The bartender looks at him and says, “You’re a robocar.”

 

 

 

 

Pentagon Prepares for Counter-Zombie Operations

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

by Jim Rhodes

You’ll no doubt be happy to hear the Pentagon has a contingency plan in place for countermeasures when and if the country is attacked by zombies.

 

No kidding. 

 

Foreign Policy magazine reported May 18 that it had obtained a copy of CONOP 8888, an unclassified document dated April 30, 2011, called Counter-Zombie Dominance. It is intended to provide “fictional contingency planning guidance tasking U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde.” 

 

CONOP 8888 is designed to “establish and maintain a vigilant defensive condition aimed at protecting humankind from zombies … and if necessary, conduct operations that will, if directed, eradicate zombie threats to human safety.”

 

The plan provides a threat assessment summary and comprehensive guidance for all phases of operations against flesh-eating walking undead invaders, starting with counterinsurgency tactics, through to seizing the initiative, dominating and stabilizing the threat, eventually restoring civil authority and preparing to redeploy the armed forces to attack surviving zombie holdouts.
 
This has got to be a joke, right?

 

Not according to the authors, who assert in the document’s disclaimer section, that “this plan was not actually designed as a joke.”

 

Except it really is.

 

I refer you to the third paragraph above.  The operative word is “fictional.”

 

When queried by the editors of Foreign Policy, a spokesperson for Strategic Command explained that the document was created as a training vehicle to teach officers how to write military plans. Rather than use an actual scenario, such as an attack on the U.S. by China, North Korea or Iran, which could have unpleasant political ramifications if revealed publicly, the planners elected to draft “a completely impossible scenario that could never be mistaken for a real plan,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze.

 

“The document is identified as a training tool used in an in-house training exercise where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario,” said Kunze. “This document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan.”

 

Still, it’s a comfort to know that our military forces have a plan of action – just in case.

Bird of a Different Color

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

by Jim Rhodes

We have a celebrity in our neighborhood, and cars have been cruising slowly around the park in front of our house poking cameras with huge lenses out of the windows hoping to capture photos of him.

He is a bird. But not just any bird. He is a robin - but not just any robin.  He is an all-white robin – beak to tail, with only a few dark spots in his plumage.

I have done some research and have learned that the condition is called leucism (from the Greek word for “white”).  Leucism, I have learned, is caused by a lack of cells that produce melanin pigment in the bird’s feathers.  Many leucistic birds have white patches, but it’s rare to see one that’s totally white. Leucism is not the same as albinism.  A true albino normally has reddish eyes, due to the lack of normal eye pigmentation, while leucistic birds only have whiteness in their feathers.  Their eyes are black, like normal birds. Our bird is leucistic.

I have taken to calling him “Luke.”

We first spotted him last season, but he disappeared during the winter. He reappeared a few weeks ago, merrily pecking for worms with the other robins.

Leucism is not all that rare in the animal kingdom, but leucistic birds are seldom spotted.  That’s primarily because they don’t live long. Without their normal protective coloring they often fall prey to hawks and other predators. That’s why we were happily surprised to see him back in the neighborhood when the first crocuses of Spring poked their heads above the ground a few weeks ago.

We know he’s a male bird because of his behavior.  It’s mating season, and he is busy showing off for the female robins while chasing off the other males. He doesn’t seem to be aware he is different from all the other robins, and the females don’t seem to find him unattractive. According to my sources, that’s because robins attract mates with their calls and not their plumage. We’ve seen him flying into a neighbor’s shrubbery with another normally colored robin, so we suspect there may be a nest. The condition is inherited, and we are hopeful we may see some white baby robins soon.

Meanwhile, I am trying to figure out how I can become appointed as Luke’s PR agent. I have a comprehensive celebrity publicity program in mind – talk show appearances, product endorsements, the whole shebang.  Not to mention a major social media splash.  Including, of course, a Twitter feed in which Luke will tweet to his followers and fans.

Bits of History

Friday, November 22, 2013

by Jim Rhodes

 

 

 

I ran across a trivia question in an online newsletter the other day.

Question:  What is the name of half a Byte (4 bits)?

Answer: A half a Byte is called a nibble.

I wrote a note to the editor (who is an old friend).  Here is what I said:

Re your trivia question … Maybe so in computerese, but colloquially four bits is 50 cents. When I was young we always called a quarter two bits.

You may be interested to know that term originated from the common practice of subdividing Spanish gold coins in the colonial era.  Apparently at a time when smaller-denomination coins were uncommon and paper bills were rare, people would take a knife and cut the large coin into eight equal pieces (bits) to make change.  Hence the phrase “pieces of eight.” As the phrase moved from Spanish into American English, one bit became one-eighth of a dollar.

You may have heard the old ditty, “Shave and a haircut, two bits.” Or Roger Miller’s hit song “King of the Road,” where he sang about an “8 by 12 four-bit room.”

 

My friend wrote me back to say she thought I have too much time on my hands.  I suppose she’s right.

 

 

Short and Sweet

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

by Jim Rhodes

My blog this month is a musical offering for the season. 

I invite you to sit in a comfortable chair near a window with the autumn sun filtering through the golden leaves, and take a listen to this: September Song. The music was written by Kurt Weill.  The singer is his wife Lotte Lenya. Maxwell Anderson wrote the lyrics. They were Jews and fled to America from Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

For once, I have nothing else to say.

Half Empty or Half Full?

Friday, September 13, 2013

by Jim Rhodes and Frank Soccoli

There are indications that the shipping industry is starting to emerge, however tenuously, from the doldrums of the last six years, but signals are mixed.

Moore Stephens reported in June that shipping confidence has risen to its highest point since 2010. On the other hand, in the same month, Moody’s Investor Service issued a negative report for shipping, predicting continued depressed freight rates for at least the next 18 months due to persistent overtonnage in most segments. Moody’s estimates that aggregate industry Earnings Before Income Tax, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) for publicly held shipping companies will decline by 5-10 percent this year.

There are disturbing signs of a new wave of speculative ordering of new tonnage, propelled by bargain-basement prices from shipyards desperate to fill slots and a reported influx of capital from private equity sources. A primary driver for the surge of orders is the improvements in fuel efficiency of new ship designs over older ships.

The fall into receivership of STX Pan Ocean, South Korea’s largest bulk ship operator, is a sign of the times. It’s not likely to be the last. Several other shipowners are said to be insolvent and teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Interestingly, there are reports that certain German banks are offering high-interest “payday loans” against the scrap value of older vessels as a last resort for distressed shipowners who have exhausted their working capital and are unable to obtain financing to continue operations.

The delivery of the first Maersk giant Triple E 18,000-teu containership, coupled with rumors that other container lines are designing even larger ships, into a market already overcrowded with too many ships chasing too few cargoes, may be a big gamble that will pay off enormously in terms of market share, but will certainly not help ease the persistent overtonnage.

So whether you see the shipping glass as half full or half empty, one thing is certain. Shipowners must reduce the cost of operating ships to survive in a business environment characterized by anemic shipping demand, persistent overtonnage, low freight rates, rising fuel costs, tight credit from marine bankers and high costs of environmental compliance to meet new regulations.

The first place to start is with fuel, which accounts for 40-50 percent of a vessel’s operating costs. As the Emission Control Areas (ECA) continue to expand, that percentage is likely to rise even higher due to the higher cost of low-sulfur fuels. As a result, there is growing interest in the potential of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative marine fuel. So far, there are fewer than 50 ships running on LNG, but the number is expected to grow, given the significant price differential between LNG and low-sulfur diesel. A recent DNV study projects 1,000 LNG-fueled ships to be in service by 2020. This of course assumes a worldwide LNG bunkering infrastructure, which at present does not exist. To be sure, there is plenty of activity in this area, especially in the Baltic and Great Lakes, where routes are fixed and relatively short, but there is a long way to go before LNG fuel will be readily available at seaports worldwide, along with adequate facilities to store the fuel and bunker ships.

In these unsettled times for shipowners, the 2013 SHIPPINGInsight Fleet Optimization Conference will convene in Stamford, Conn., Oct. 23-24. This will be the second annual conference, which is devoted to examining the challenges, solutions and best practices for reducing operating costs and improving ship efficiency. The agenda includes a solid list of moderators and speakers, including senior executives from 15 major shipowner companies. Given the intense industry focus on the potential benefits of converting to LNG, a dedicated LNG workshop is being added to the Fleet Optimization Conference this year. It will take place immediately following the main conference, and is open to all registered delegates. The workshop will take the form of a less formal round-table discussion including shipowners, classification societies, regulatory bodies, engine manufacturers, bunkering companies and other industry experts to take a deeper look into the issues, challenges, solutions and best practices for LNG propulsion. It will be led by Greg Trauthwein, editor of the Maritime Reporter and chairman of the Fleet Optimization Conference.

You can view the full agenda and register online at www.shippinginsight.com.

About the Authors

Jim Rhodes is president of Rhodes Communications, Inc., a public relations and marketing company specializing in the maritime industry. Frank Soccoli is president of Soccoli Associates LLC, a maritime industry consultancy. They are co-producers of the annual SHIPPINGInsight Fleet Optimization Conferences. Maritime Reporter and Maritime Professional are the exclusive media sponsors for the conference.

Court is in Session

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

by Andrew Knecht

For me, watching television is relaxing, entertaining and sometimes, contrary to popular belief, educational. I’m not talking about quiz shows such as, “Jeopardy!” or “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?”  I’m talking about TV shows that when you look close enough, can provide good lessons and tactics that can be used every day in my work in the PR industry.

Suits,” a prime-time drama on the USA Network, features a well-respected corporate lawyer named Harvey Specter and his aspiring associate, Mike Ross. Together, they represent one of the most prestigious law firms in New York City, Pearson Hardman. Harvey, known as, “the best closer in New York City,” doesn’t lose his cases. In the pilot episode, Harvey is tasked with hiring an associate from a pool of cocky Harvard grads.

After a dazzling display of his photographic memory, complemented by his wittiness and a pinch of charm, Mike was hired. But it isn’t until the end of the first season that the managing partner, Jessica Pearson, learns that Mike never completed college.  Harvey knows that Mike doesn’t have a law degree, but keeps the secret under wraps. The funny part? Jessica decides to keep Mike on at the firm anyway.

Aside from Mike’s fictitious degree, there are several elements that Harvey and Mike use to win their cases that can be easily applied to my work in PR.

Harvey and Mike have to analyze their client’s personal account of the charges filed against them. They examine the facts of the case, the relevant laws, and the nature of the prosecuting attorney to decide the best course of action that will win the case. In PR, we have to analyze our clients’ goals and plan the best way to achieve them and to gain positive exposure in the process. Harvey has to connect the pieces to a very large and complicated puzzle. Then he hopes those pieces don’t change. But when they do, he has to adapt. In the PR world, when a client changes their mind on what information they want disseminated or how they want a certain advertisement to look, we have to adapt to those changes. That’s just the nature of PR business.

On “Suits,” it’s important for Harvey and Mike to stay ahead of their competition. With any case, Harvey begins by researching the prosecuting company, much like we do with new clients’ competitors. For Harvey, it’s more about gamesmanship. His research reveals the prosecuting attorney’s legal decisions in previous cases that they are likely to use again, against him. In PR, our research helps us to gauge the clients’ current position among others within the industry. We also have to educate ourselves and become familiar with the clients’ products and services and the long-term goals of their CEOs so we can provide effective PR services.

But it doesn’t matter who the prosecuting attorney is or what the charges are. Every case requires Harvey’s best game. Every case requires him to think strategically because the other guy will be strategic too.

And the game doesn’t end with the clients either. It also keeps the colleagues on their toes when associates and managing partners compete on their own levels to earn higher positions of power or coveted cases. They play mind games with each other as they do simultaneously with the lawyers they’re trying to beat in the court room.

In the world of Pearson Hardman, the opposing attorneys will question people uninvolved with the case. They try to throw Harvey off his game by making unannounced visits to the Pearson Hardman office, in hopes that he will let his guard down. They also use newly discovered information about the case before Harvey even knows it exists. The prosecuting attorneys will use every trick they can to gain an advantage. So how does Harvey respond?

With more creativity. He works with Mike to find every possible loophole to keep his client out of prison. He has to, or else he loses. And Harvey doesn’t lose. With each case, he uses context clues from interrogations with clients and prosecution lawyers, documentation from previous court cases and a little outside-the-box ingenuity to engineer victories for his clients in the courtroom.  He takes black and white law and finds the rest of the rainbow in the fine print and I can’t get enough of it.

PR work calls for us to come up with creative solutions to our clients’ problems, and within their budgets. We constantly have to find creative ways to promote their services that appeal to their audience.

Now I’m not naive. I’m sure much of the plot is made to look more ostentatious than real life would reveal. Many of the tactics used on the show may not actually be utilized in our due process. Or maybe they are. I don’t know, and I also don’t want to be in a position where I find out. But my point here is that “Suits” has helped me to strengthen my critical thinking skills and has assisted me with training my brain to think more outside-the-box. These skills come in handy because in the P.R. industry, sometimes our clients need us to produce a seemingly impossible project that calls for detailed analyses, a little gamesmanship and a lot of creativity. To that I say, bring it on.

 

Speed at Sea

Thursday, August 29, 2013

by Jim Rhodes

 

 

I think the fastest I have ever traveled in a boat in the open ocean was about 40 knots, when I was captain of a U.S. Navy 65-ft patrol boat in the 1980s. Definitely a white-knuckle experience for me.

 

I was fascinated to watch the recent attempt by our friend Chris Fertig to break the speed record from New York to Bermuda. Chris took time off from his day job at Maersk Lines Ltd to set a new record for the Bermuda Challenge last year, only to see it broken by an Italian speedboat a month later. This August he got his revenge and recaptured the record.

 

Chris, with his navigator Tyson Garvin, sped out of New York harbor in a custom-built 39-ft. open-cockpit boat early in the morning of Aug. 21 at better than 70 mph (about 60 knots). They were forced to stop after the first hour to replace a broken propeller with one of their two spares, then resumed their course at a slower speed to reduce wear and tear on the props. They cruised the rest of the day at about 55 mph (47 knots) until, about 150 miles out of Bermuda, the other propeller broke. They were faced with a choice of dropping out of the challenge or undertaking a scary underwater propeller replacement in the pitch dark. No quitters, they made the repairs. Since there were no more spare props, they elected to reduce speed again to a sedate 40 mph (34 knots) the rest of the way. Still, they easily set a new record of 15 hours 48 minutes. That’s over an hour faster than the Italian team. If I’ve got the arithmetic right, that’s an average speed of better than 49 mph (42 knots) for the 780 mile run. Read about it at the Bermuda newspaper, The Royal Gazette.

 

Additionally, two of our clients played a role as sponsors of this exciting event.

 

DeLorme supplied one of its new-generation inReach SE personal satellite communication devices for GPS tracking, two-way text messaging and (if needed) automatic SOS. DeLorme relayed the boat’s position coordinates every 10 minutes to a map display on the Boating magazine Bermuda Challenge website.

 

DigiGone supplied a suite of hardware and software that enabled live video streaming from the boat while underway. DigiGone’s unique compression technology made it possible to push high-quality video through the boat’s satellite antenna using very low bandwidth of less than 200 kbps. For those readers who don’t follow this sort of thing, that’s a remarkable achievement. The live video feed was also shown on the Bermuda Challenge website.

 

This meant that families, friends, followers and (importantly) their ground support team could follow their progress across the map and watch them visually on an Internet connection throughout the voyage.

 

Chris is not resting on his laurels. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t make another run at the Bermuda Challenge record. He says the boat is capable of 84 mph (better than 72 knots) for extended periods! At that speed, they could shave another five hours or more off the record. He’s also eyeing a round-the-world speed record attempt in another boat that he has on the drawing board. You can read more about their enterprise at the Offshore Endure website.

 

Trade Publishing Blues

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

By Jim Rhodes

Barista Uno, who comments dailiy on a range of issues concerning the world maritime industry at the excellent Marine Café Blog, recently posted a question on the LinkedIn group site Maritime Writers and their Audience

“The maritime press is suffering from too much uniformity in content and style. Even the story headlines seem like templates. What's gone wrong?”

I filed the following comment:

I believe a big part of the problem is cost-cutting by publishers, who have cynically decimated their editorial departments, making redundant their most experienced editors and journalists in favor of lower paid staff. Or, in many cases, not replacing them at all but spreading the work around the remaining staff.

“This means the overworked editor relies more heavily on freelancers, many of whom are their former colleagues. These freelancers contribute to other journals, and some are also doing PR for clients at the same time to keep food on the table.

“Many of the marine journalists have moved around from publication to publication, and have worked with or for each other at one time or another. There is very little new blood coming into the business, and who can blame them?

“Since the great majority of maritime trade journals have no significant paid subscription base, they are wholly dependent on advertising. As advertising revenues dry up, expenses must be cut, and the first place to start is usually the editorial staff.

“I hope none of my friends in the marine journalism business will take offense at what I have said. There are a lot of fine writers with a great depth of knowledge of the industry. I believe they are all doing their best to keep doing what they love in an extremely difficult environment. I have heard horror stories about freelancers, who formerly occupied the editorial desk at major publishers, and are now waiting months to get paid their paltry pittance for articles they were commissioned to write.”

Let me just add that I have been privileged to know and work with some extraordinary editors and journalists, not only in the maritime trade press but in other industries as well. Most of them spent time at sea. They could be hard taskmasters, and they ferociously protected their readers from anything but first-rate journalism. They could be pretty tough on a PR guy like me, and they often made me work hard to get it right if I wanted to persuade them to cover a story. But I fear they are a dying breed and soon to become an extinct species altogether. The realities of trade publishing are stark and the marketplace is relentless.

See what others had to say in response to the question here.