And another memory of my youth is defaced


The lilting harmonies. The aged war veterans, Salvation Army Band volunteers and balloon-wielding youngsters, meandering down the northern dell to the village centre. The overgelled hair.

Those are my memories of “Life in a Northern Town,” a wonderful song by Stephen “Tintin” Duffy and the Dream Academy, and a top ten hit in 1986. A real product of 1980s Britpop.

As an economic history nerd, I also saw the song as an homage to the personal experience of a region stereotyped by a several centuries of wrenching industrial development – textile workers, shipyard workers and miners.

Which is why I was confused to see this video on CMT today:

Thankfully, Sugarland, Big Town and Jake Owen don’t drift too far from the original … and didn’t make their version too “twangy.”

Still, Blake’s Jerusalem did not refer to the hills of West Virginia, and neither does Life in a Northern Town.

[tags] Dream Academy, Life in a Northern Town, Sugarland, country music [/tags]

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Memo to ad sales: BITE ME


Your ad is turned down. The advertising department has decided that it pushes the boundaries of the community’s standards. Matador Records dealt with one mag:

    “Finally, we’d like to offer a shout-out (ie. “fuck you”) to the cowards and thought-cops at the Ad Dept at Paste Magazine who have deemed our proposed advertisement for ‘Face The Truth’ to be beyond the bounds of “good taste.” God forbid that anything might challenge the sensibilities of Paste’s Yep Roc-loving, Starbucks-guzzling, Wes Anderson-worshipping readership. Seriously, if there’s anything we or SM have done that is a poor fit with Paste’s Ad Dept’s narrow worldview, that is the highest compliment we’ve been paid since the last time Spin refused to run one of our ads.”

Thanks to stereogum for the pointer.

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Orwell on Consumer Culture


” … It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come around with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ‘2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits.” … ”

” … [Being a bookseller] is a human trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman …”

– “Bookshop Memories,” 1936, George Orwell

Ah, the comfort and security that used to accompany topical expertise and local presence. And then someone had to go and invent punchcards, databases, and recommendation engines.

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The inconvenient always seems better with age


I have fond memories of frantically waving Polaroids to help speed the exposure process.  I also have fond memories of the oblong telephone table (with built in seat) and ceramic dial phone that used to sit in my grandparents’ front hallway.

I would not want either of those technologies to dominate my life today.

“… Its hazy, dream-like film and inherent singularity belong to a time before Flickr, Facebook, and the amateur camera phone artiste. The Polaroid camera is a snapshot of an era when capturing a memory was an instant memento — not an instant upload …”

This startling piece of pseud writing from a post on The Moment, a NY Times blog.

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Is Tomorrowland experiencing technical difficulties


Disney’s Tomorrowland is deeply, thoroughly, almost furiously unimaginative. This isn’t the fault of the “Disney culture”; it is the fault of our culture. We seem to have entered a deeply unimaginative era.” (PJ O’Rourke in the Atlantic)

Obviously, O’Rourke has some significant issues with the redesign of the venerable park, inflamed by an Associated Press story about the redesign that originally ran in February and confirmed during a visit to Disneyland with his family earlier this year.

This is not a new topic: Tomorrowland was originally built in 1955, rebuilt for the 1967 season, “renewed” in 1998, and new components were unveiled earlier this year.

(flickr is strewn with pictures from all three eras: pre-67, pre-08 and today)

The Re-Imagineering blog, which draws contributions from current and past Pixar and Disney imagineers, has wondered aloud about the changes that could be made – over and over.

“In updating Tomorrowland these days, where thematic concept has gone off-track – – for the original Disneyland anyway, as Walt had a specific vision for his work and park that should be maintained – – is to discard the idea of utopian modernism.

When Imagineers turn instead to recent trends in fantasy-science-fiction, Hollywood (Star Wars), eco-futurism (agri-future gardens), dark apocalyptic vision (Alien Encounter), cartoon franchise marketing (Buzz Lightyear) or nostalgic pre-modern futurism (Jules Verne, steampunk), it no longer feels like Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland …

Disneyland should always be a complementary platter of Past, Future, Fact and Fantasy, Nostalgia and Challenge in all its angles, a unified timeline with a running theme. The recipe for the future is on the dedication plaque.

Go back? Go forward?

Do both.”

It’s easy to decry a lack of imagination or reliance upon corporate sponsorship on Disney’s part, especially if a portion of your childhood memories are vested in the fantastic and seemingly unattainable technologies first imagined and sold forty years ago.

With the acceleration of personal technology, Disney executives recognized ten years ago that all of Disney’s vaunted imagineers and the displays at Tomorrowland would never be able to outrun the work of millions of nerds, techies and scientists.

“Nicholas Negroponte, [former] director of the media laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of whose sponsors is Disney, thinks that the company has realized that the future, as it unfolds today, is no longer good entertainment.

”The story line just doesn’t carry with it the same sort of punch as going off to the Moon,” he said. ”Things like highly personalized information services and computer agents that do things for you just don’t make a good story.” (NY Times, February 1997)

*”Technical Difficulties” hed lifted from a Wired article about the rationalization of the Imagineering team.

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On the French fondness for big personalities


On the occasion of Claude Levi-Strauss’ 100th birthday, a quote about the great anthropologist:

“Roger-Pol Droit, a philosopher who read from “Tristes Tropiques,” said that he “would have loved a text from Lévi-Strauss today saying, ‘I hate birthdays and commemorations,’ just as he began ‘Tristes Tropiques’ saying, ‘I hate traveling and explorers.’ “

“This is all about the effort of making him into a myth,” Mr. Droit continued, “because that is what we do in our time.” (NYTimes)

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Your idea of cool is not my idea of cool


Ben Nugent has written a memoir and/or commentary on being a nerd, and the New York Press has run an excerpt and an interview with the young author.

“… What we have right now, in Brooklyn, the Bay Area, Portland, East Los Angeles—neighborhoods where bourgeois young people work at magazines, movie studios, TV shows, Web sites and advertising, so that cultural trends work like weather at sea, offering the newcomers a chance to prove themselves, upending the complacent— is a similar choice on the part of the privileged to identify with the outsider.

The outsider in this case is the nerd, because nerds are people incapable of, or at least averse to, riding cultural trends. When your greatest fear is that you will become a loser because your intuition will fail to keep up with tastes, you embrace the nerd like a little harmless teddy bear who’s the one creature in the whole wide world who would never do anything to hurt you…” (from the excerpt)

American Nerd: the Story of My People, digs deep into the recent history of nerd-dom:

“… Sure, you may have an image of an MIT guy in your head—thick glasses, pocket protector, thin-limbed, buck teeth—but there’s not one clear definition of what makes that unattractive, awkward dweeb a nerd. Once you begin to create criteria and apply them to a range of individuals, the nerd stereotype becomes even more problematic. Nugent breaks down the nerd into two basic groups: those who are excluded socially for arbitrary reasons and those who are excluded for “intrinsic mental reasons” because they prefer rational, rule-bound activities over more intuitive or emotional ones. …” (from the interview)

Paul Winston, on the other hand, is my idea of cool. His father, for god’s sake, invented patch Madras cloth and embroidered corduroys.

No, I am not sixty. No, I don’t live in New Haven.

I am preppie. Hear me roar!
[tags] nerds, prep, sociological survey, booger [/tags]

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Social networking research uses UGC tools


Ofcom, the British media regulator, has just released hundreds of pages of qualitative and quantitative research into participation in social networks.

There’s the predictable division of social network members into cute little persona or caricatures, and then there’s a much more detailed breakdown of the impulses, activities and omissions of people participating in social networks.

I think it’s essential reading for anyone at all interested in the behaviour of youth online, as well as those interested in how regulators and ombudsmen view online activities.

Interestingly, Ofcom has also recorded a commentary on YouTube to accompany the release. Granted, it’s a one-sided commentary that evokes memories of Betacam video sent out to regional offices from corporate headquarters, but it does add a layer of interactivity and visual stimulation.

The qualitative research suggests five distinct groups of people who use social networking sites :

  • Alpha Socialisers – mostly male, under 25s, who use sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people and be entertained.
  • Attention Seekers – mostly female, who crave attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and customising their profiles.
  • Followers – males and females of all ages who join sites to keep up with what their peers are doing.
  • Faithfuls – older males and females generally aged over 20, who typically use social networking sites to rekindle old friendships, often from school or university.
  • Functionals – mostly older males who tend to be single-minded in using sites for a particular purpose.

The qualitative research also suggests three distinct groups of people who do not use social networking sites:

  • Concerned about safety – often older people and parents concerned about safety online, in particular making personal details available online.
  • Technically inexperienced – often people over 30 years old who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.
  • Intellectual rejecters – often older teens and young adults who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.

[tags] Ofcom, Facebook, MySpace, youth online [/tags]

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Sweet whisperings of food


Finally. A tenuous reason to link to Russell’s splendid blog, eggbaconchipsandbeans – where he provides reviews and photos of the tasty grub prepared by local snack shops across the UK.

And the far less splendid, but somewhat entralling Grocery Eats. Deep fried White Castle Slider. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Euan Ferguson, writing in the Guardian, takes a light hearted look at the relationship between food and the senses, building off the ideas of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in particular his loaded manifesto on “futurist cooking.”

[Marinetti, in a remarkable move for an Italian, suggested there were many more things better to eat than dried pasta]

Ferguson harkens back to his own memories – and the feeling of comfort brought on by otherwise boring and even unhealthy food:

“… A Ginsters sausage roll has to be accompanied by the sound of the M25, the feel of a crappy rental plastic gearstick, the gaze into rain, the smell of a cigarette to annoy the rubbish rental company and also because you cannot physically eat a Ginsters without smoking; the sound of the suburbs.

My favourite being-down meal, macaroni cheese with sweetcorn with an egg beaten into it, is best (trust me) accompanied by the feel of the remote, the opening bars of Armageddon, the smell of fresh-drying clothes, the sight of my kicked-off boots …” (Guardian Observer)

photo courtesy of DavidRLewis

[tags] Marinetti, futurist cooking, service centres, Ginsters [/tags]

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Market research in a simpler times – 80s video games


Forget beta testers in Russia, India and Iowa. Forget launching a 0.6.3 version with only 10,000 users. Here’s an excerpt from a 1981 market research report on the first version of the arcade classic Centipede:

“… Although test results from these locations should still be valid, the CENTIPEDE games tested at the Mountain View Time Zone, the Cloverleaf Bowl, the Albany Bowl and the Ice Cream Dock are not identical to the production version of CENTIPEDE …” (Atari documents, pg. 26)

What names! You can imagine each of those locations, down to the placement of the snack bar and the stoners hanging out in the back. Here’s some more insight from Atari Marketing Management:

“CLOVERLEAF BOWL: This location does not seem to have a large base of highly skilled players. The clientele is similar to a typical street location in terms of the level of game play. The average age of players seems to be 9 to 16, with a fairly high ratio of female players.

For the first 2-1/2 weeks CENTIPEDE was placed near the bowling lanes. The game was then moved near the front entrance of the bowling center and seemed to pick up slightly in earnings …” (pg. 29)

In case you’re wondering, the game made between $210 and $260 a week.

“… ICE CREAM DOCK: During the fourth week [of the beta test] the ASTEROIDS CT game was robbed, which resulted in an artificially high percentage of gross figures for the other three games…” (pg. 31)

Here’s some statistics on the Mountain View Time Zone:

“… There are a total of approximately 87 games … with a mix of about 75% video and arcade pieces, and 25% flipper games. Berzerk, Gorf, Pac-man and Rally-X are the newest videos in the location…”(pg. 37)

This from the “lessons always repeated, never learned file”:

“…The most frequently mentioned negative attribute of CENTIPEDE was the trak ball… [34% did not like it]” (pg. 39)

And, finally, an observation from focus group tests:

“…The older group discussed cabinet styles [between the “upright” and the “cocktail”]. A strong preference was stated for the standard upright cabinets over the shorter versions because it gives them a feeling of control and allows “body english.”

You just KNOW that their “body english” was accented by tight jeans, headbands and maybe even mullets.

h/t to Banner Blog

[tags] video games, 80s, Centipede, bowling [/tags]

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A news room dissected – the Washington Post


The Washington Post appears to have a strong online presence to complement its historic reputation as a news organization.

So why is the online news room across the river in Virginia? Washington City Paper takes a lengthy look at the conflict between the new kids and the kids with all badges.

Whose arts coverage gets precedence online? What about breaking coverage and on-the-scene photography? Can a newspaper reconcile a desire for consumer-generated recipes online with a strict “tested-in-house” policy in the paper?

What about online comments? Can racist and derogatory comments affect the reputation of a newspaper – even if they are from readers (leave alone the acknowledgment that they are WP readers)?

The WCP’s piece examines all these issues – dissecting them from both points of view – online and the newsroom.

“… Newsroom staffers frame the clash as a question of tastes and standards. As in, those people have none, and we do. The cry from the other side of the river is that the newsroom doesn’t get the Web. So long as the two organizations remain separate, those aspersions will continue crisscrossing the river, carrying more than just a nugget of truth with them.

It’s hard, after all, to expect to soak up the journalistic culture of the Washington Post. Newspapers don’t codify their standards and ethical sensibilities in a companywide memo. The process is far too sprawling and random: An editor kills a story over inadequate sourcing, a reporter makes a Jayson Blair joke on the elevator, a discussion breaks out in the cafeteria—can Woodward really reconstruct all those high-level conversations? Dot-com operatives, hunkered down in Virginia, miss out on all of it…”

[tags] Washington Post, online newsrooms, web editor [/tags]

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Macarthur Park changed my life


Oh my. In grade 4, I spent several months learning the role of second trumpet in the Richard Harris classic Macarthur Park. Paired with the theme from Rocky, it was the centrepiece of our annual music recital.

And it was painful. It scarred me for life.

And now WFMU has dredged up all those memories by featuring 12 – twelve! – different versions of the song.

I really like the SCTV version, with “Richard Harris” appearing on Mel’s Rock Pile. And here it is:

WFMU also featured a commentary on the song as one of the “top one hit wonders of the 20th century”:

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In which another layer is peeled back


As I made the transition into grown-up, collecting a full-time job, a marriage and a suburban home along the way, part of my youth remained sealed away – in a box of carefully collected and reluctantly ignored vinyl.

Limited editions, special imports, extremely overpriced rarities: they’re all there down in the basement. The cheap turntable of my teen years broke down long ago, to be abandoned for the trash pickers on Bathurst Street. The mix tapes lasted a little longer, but were eventually crushed under the weight of feet, coolers and seats on numerous road trips.

The result? Bands like the Merton Parkas, the Lambrettas, Selecter, and Makin’ Time receded in time, and in my memory.

One record prompted an unusual absence – The Truth’s Playground (on their MySpace) – despite its relative lack of sophistication. It was one of three cassettes I brought with me on an 18 hour trip between Toronto and New Delhi, and was played over and over in my Sony Walkman (the silver one, barely larger than the cassette itself. Don’t you remember? Sony was the Apple of the early 80s, with a new and cooler version of the Walkman every season!) as I sat on the tarmac at Heathrow during an interminable flight delay. I guess the album was burned into my sub-conscious.

Which is why I was surprised – and pleased – to find a glut of Truth-based material online in the past few months. YouTube videos. Mp3s. A concert recorded in 1983 (that doesn’t sound like it’s a dub of a dub)

It’s like the second-generation mods took ten years to jump onto the web revolution and start to use media sharing apps.

Which is understandable, since we’ve long been programmed to take our obsessions slowly: when I was a teenager, a new single from a British band could mean sending off a letter and a postal order to a shop across the Atlantic. From purchasing decision to delivery, it could take three to five weeks!

If I wanted to “build a conversation” with my favourite band, I either joined the fan club and wrote to the quarterly newsletter, or wrote off to the record label and hoped the snot nosed school leaver in the mail room felt inclined to pass my scrawlings along.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

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Angelo Bepp, commenter extraordinaire


I suspect that Angelo Bepp is an everyman, hiding in plain view although ostensibly disguised as a long-term resident of the state detention facility at Attica, New York.

Angelo is a regular comment contributor to the New York Times online edition. And his comments are funny. Consistently funny. I present a selection:

What have you done to make yourself more attractive on the Web?
I post a picture only showing me from the neck up. That way my prison fatigues & number can’t be seen. I thought it was my car, I really did. How many powder blue 1971 Pintos can there be in New York?

January 3rd, 2008 Link

Executive Who Moved ‘Dem Bums’ Out of Brooklyn Is Hall of Famer

Get over it Brooklyn, its been 50 years. When I lost my dog Blinky, I got over it. Man, I loved Blinky.

December 3rd, 2007 Link

What has been your most memorable culinary experience while on vacation?

Best meal I ever had was in Tibet, a yak burger. Tastes a bit like cheetah.

November 21st, 2007 Link

Where is your favorite place to stay in a national park?

Any where that doesn’t have padded cells or bars is fine by me. I didn’t do anything to that mannequin, it fell on me.

December 21st, 2007 Link

What is your favorite easy-to-make holiday starter?

When I was allowed to indulge myself, I always enjoyed a hot dog with Worcestershire sauce & cottage cheese. Then wash it down with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. Man, Angelo was living the life back then, before the legal thing.

December 19th, 2007 Link

Which band would you like to see reunited?

The Archies. Still listen to their albums every night. I’m 54 years old.

December 11th, 2007 Link

Shootings Test Limits of New Self-Defense Law: What do you think of Mr. Horn’s actions?

Over reacted. My house was broken into 2 years ago. I confronted the 2 misguided young men. I told them what they were doing was wrong. They still took everything of value that I owned, but they know they did wrong.

December 13th, Link

[tags] comment policy, commenter, New York Times [/tags]

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Russell and Dan … and the Best Urban Places


There will be pretty pictures. There will be enigmatic pictures. There will be badly composed pictures. But the idea is fantastic. Two minds quite capable of making the leap between diverse subjects, disciplines and concepts have cooked up a competition to identify the World’s Best Urban Places and Spaces.

In typical fashion, Russell Davies and Dan Hill have taken a largely critical idea (the World’s Worst Urban Places and Spaces) and shined it up.

I like the idea because it is so loosely defined. Sifting through my memories of my favourite places, I can sort memories and images according to the effect of space, weather, feelings elicited by crowds, an absence of others, or my reaction to a conscious attempt by some smarty-pants architect or artist to define the place.

Here’s Russell’s description of the project:

“We’ll leave you to interpret ‘best’ ‘urban’ ‘space’ and ‘place’ as you like. Could be anywhere or anything; bus shelters, buildings, bombsites or benches. Rather than wait until we’ve got enough for a book (which, of course, may never happen) we’re planning instead on doing a series of pamphlets. We’re going to try and persuade some top designers to do them for us. There’ll be a free one as a pdf online and lovely specially printed ones for everyone who contributes and/or who’d like to buy them.

Obviously we’ve not really worked out all the details on that yet, but will let you know when we have.

Does that sound interesting? I think it might be. Pile in, if you’d like to.”

You can find the Flickr pool they’ve set up, either to contribute or simply to gawk. Consider the submissions according to your own criteria, or to explode in Photoshop looking for naked ladies and other privacy violations.

[tags] World’s Best Urban Places, urbanism, place [/tags]

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A small blunder colours FEMA crisis communications


Remember the faux news conference put on by FEMA last month to brief about the response to the California wildfires?

The Department of Homeland Security has completed an “internal investigation,” and some people have fallen under the bus.

Apparently, some poor decisions were taken in deciding to hold a news conference at short notice, then, when reporters could not make it in time, have agency communications staff substitute for reporters by lobbing questions at the Deputy Administrator.

“Much like in an airline crash or automobile accident that was reconstructed, there were several different points leading up to the press conference where, had a single decision been made differently, the event itself could have been averted,” [DHS spokesperson Russ] Knocke said Thursday (AP, via TPM)

Wow. We get a pretty clear impression of what Knocke thinks of how the news conference rolled out. All it needs is a soundtrack. And Gil Grissom.

There have been repurcussions. The man who was FEMA’s press secretary (read his Potomac Flacks profile) will be working for a public relations agency in Utah (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s Washington to Utah in three weeks). The Director of External Relations had been scheduled to take up a new job with Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That job fell through.

There’s a couple of hints in the AP story that the FEMA staffers fell victim, in part, to a predetermined PR strategy and poor communications between the press shops at FEMA and DHS:

  • DHS had asked the agency to hold a press conference before the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator landed in California that day; and
  • FEMA’s press secretary had sent an email to his boss and the DHS official responsible for communications, asking for more time – but only 43 minutes before the scheduled start of the news conference.

In the end, the comms shop had about 75 minutes to put the news conference together. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t just allow callers on the teleconference call to ask questions.

The Director of External Relations has begun to speak up in his own defense, particularly in PRWeek. PRWatch provides some other comments from him, which unfortunately don’t sound very convincing.

And, to top it off, the FEMA Administrator seems to imply that the career civil servants could have prevented their bosses from pursuing this course of action:

“Those are career people. They should have stepped up and said something, they really should have. But their bosses said ‘Do this,’ and they did it — some reluctantly, but there’s no excuses for that,” Paulison said. He called the impact on FEMA’s credibility “devastating.” (Washington Post)

This is what happens when you try to throw a media briefing together very quickly – and execute your strategy rather strangely. Unfortunately, the execution has coloured our impression of FEMA’s attempts to get information about the California wildfires out quickly.

And that hits to the heart of effective crisis communications.
[tags] FEMA, puppet theatre, DHS [/tags]

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Office Politics 101


Taking up the challenge from UGA’s Karen Miller Russell that “PR bloggers would write about topic x,” I submit my guide to Office Politics 101

1. Read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. TWICE.

2. Never annoy the assistants in the office. They can make your life unbearable.

3. Identify the five essential office characters:

    • Knows Where the Bodies are Buried
    • Boss’ Right Hand
    • The Office Klinger (aka scrounger, thief, fixer)
    • He Who Knows Everything (aka corporate memory)
    • Everybody’s Social Butterfly

4. Acronyms are not your friend. Not when you don’t understand them, and not when you throw them around trying to look intelligent.

5. Read up on learning styles. The way a person collects, interprets and processes information affects how they behave in a conversation with you, how they interact with others in meetings, and how quickly and violently they will try to shoot down and bury your cool new idea.

6. Figure out the conversation nodes in the office. Where do people hang out and exchange information? The office kitchen? Starbucks down the street? Twenty years ago, your best bet of learning the latest corporate rumour was by hanging out with the senior executives as they had a smoke on the sidewalk.\

7. You have not explained your idea well enough. Whether you’re twenty or forty, you’re the new person in the office. You need to make reference to the past ideas, experiments, and failures of your new colleagues if you expect them to engage and understand what you’re trying to sell.

8. Always dress for the job you would like to have, not the job you have now. In some offices, that means kicks and jeans. Personally, I’ve just laid out a lot of money on suits.

9. Manage your online social networks and your offline social networks discretely. Facebook and other social networks have a place in the office, in my opinion. And I’m not upset if you take some time to organize your weekend while sitting at your desk. But I don’t need to know the details of your personal life – either by you speaking to loudly in the office, or by posting inappropriate pictures. (Hey. If the first thing you did at work was “friend” your new boss, then don’t complain when I notice the pictures.)
10. Share credit more than blame. Nothing says you’re a high performer more than being able to deliver high quality work – and convince others to help you do it. If you spend all your time complaining about how others are keeping you from doing well – then you’re the problem.

11. Speak to people. Email and IM can only get you so far.

[tags] office politics, office conflict, new job [/tags]

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The subtle details of food porn


How does an editor and a writer become a cook? That’s the premise of Bill Buford’s “Heat” – a book published in mid-2006. While I really enjoyed the book, one passage shed some light on the growing popularity of food porn:

“…The new shows put a premium on presentation rather than knowledge and tended to have intimate-seeming camera close-ups of foods, as though objects of sexual satisfaction.

The skin-flick feel was reinforced by a range of heightened effects, especially amplified sounds of frying, snapping, crunching, chewing, swallowing. There seemed always to be a tongue, making small, wet, bubbly tongue sounds.

The “talent” (also known as a “crossover” personality, usually a woman with a big smile and no apron) was directed to be easy with her tongue and use it conspicuously – to taste food on a spoon, say, or work it around a batter-coated beater, or clean the lips with it.

The aim was spelled out for me by Eileen Opatut, a former programming executive. “We’re looking for the kind of show that makes people want to crawl up to their television set and lick the screen.”…”

The popular definition of food porn fetishizes food, either by preparing intricate and ingredient-rich recipes, accompanied by carefully composed photos (the Playboy of food porn) or the rough and sloppy presentation of clearly delicious but probably quite unhealthy entrees (something other than Playboy. I leave the choice to you).

Let’s be clear: there are two components to food porn.

One, the excessive attention paid to blemish-free and colourful ingredients. This is an ingredient list that demands the chemicals and horticultural shortcuts developed during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The luscious “money shot” of a basket of fruit, a smooth and supple tomato, a tropical fruit that seems freshly picked, even if it is a cold and heartless winter outside.

Two, the emphasis on friendly and attractive cooks, chefs and hosts. Not necessarily stunners – those pinnacles of breeding, genetics and cosmetic surgery are still left for the faux newsmagazine shows – but pleasant and entertaining folk. The kind of strangely familiar person you wouldn’t mind inviting over to help make dinner, maybe pick out some new dish sets, and even redecorate the bathroom.

As this excerpt from a 2005 On the Media broadcast further explains:

“FREDERICK KAUFMAN: It’s also shot very differently. It’s actually shot single-camera as opposed to a four-camera television format. And so it’s almost shot like a 35-millimeter film. You get an amazing angle on Giada, who is beautiful, and who always is wearing a very close-cut sleeveless top. And then you get the food, and then you get Giada, and then you get her fingers on the food. And oh, it’s so moist. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]”

I am sure you didn’t need my help to notice this. The second the Food Network became a favoured channel in dorm lounges, industry executives took note.

I’ve noticed a big difference in the food programming produced in Great Britain and the United States. (Let’s not talk about food programs in Canada) My memories of British food porn only include one scantily-clad chef: Jaimie Oliver. And there is NO WAY I ever wanted to see the bare forearm of either of the Two Fat Ladies.

Meanwhile, wholesome Western New York gal Rachael Ray has appeared in FHM. The restaurant critic at the New York Times – feared by some for his/her ability to cripple and crush new restaurants – has a blog.

All the while, some traditional food writers see this fetishization and popularization as a weakening their trade, limiting the scope and depth of food-related stories prepared for readers.
What would the apex of the food fetishization trend look like? How about Giada vs. Rachael Ray on Iron Chef? (YouTube)

[tags] food porn, food fetish, Food Network, Giada, Rachael, vegetables, popular culture [/tags]

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Chalk Signs – Corporate Promotion and Staff Uprising


Chalk signs. You know – chalkboard signs decorated with menus, promotional tag lines, simple price displays, usually found at grocery stores or restaurants – that rough and personalized touch that helps build a personal bond between you and your retailer.

One Canadian company, Chalk It Up!, has created 400 boards since 2001, including 75 for the Ruby Tuesday chain of casual dining restaurants. Claire Watson, the principal artist, has posted several images from her work on flickr.

Chalk signs provide hearty opposition to the polished and focus-tested stalagmites that otherwise dot the grocery floor – the promotional pop-ups, tasting stations, shipping palettes disguised as festive boxes, and good old fashioned Super Bowl celebrity cut-outs.

Properly conceived and executed, chalk signs can convince a consumer that their chosen shop or store is so fresh, so responsive and so connected to the community that their signs HAVE to be chalk, HAVE to be changed every day.

When institutionalized, though, chalk signs can prompt memories of the big bad wolf, dressed in Grandma’s bedclothes: when Whole Foods, Starbucks, Domino’s or Movenpick Marche list ingredients, menu items or prices in a chalk script, I get a faint whiff of lupine halitosis.

The most appealing quality of chalk signs is their humour. Subtle, ironic, sophisticated, blunt, or punny. The artists and workers who put some real effort into the signs should be recognized – at the very least with a piece of flair that says “I’m the chalk artist, tip me well!”

In the wrong hands chalk signs can provide quick outlets for staff dissatisfaction – like at this New Orleans Starbucks.

Lord of the Bings, from Lizzy poo‘s portfolio of chalk signs on flickr.

[tags] chalk signs, chalk menus, restaurant menu [/tags]

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AC/DC really mellows the soul – economists prove it


Some people may say that the popularity of Freakonomics has had a negative effect on the weight and seriousness of subjects being researched and discussed in economics faculties across North America.

I’m just glad the Economist magazine isn’t the only source of humour for economists anymore.

Professor Robert Oxoby, of the University of Calgary, has published the results of what was, most likely, an argument in the faculty lounge:

On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson

We explore the effects of listening to the music of AC/DC in a simple bargaining environment.

An excerpt:

“…The question as to who was a better singer, Bon Scott or Brian Johnson, may never truly be resolved. However, our analysis suggests that in terms of affecting efficient decision making among listeners, Brian Johnson was a better singer. Our analysis has direct implications for policy and organizational design: when policymakers or employers are engaging in negotiations (or setting up environments in which other parties will negotiate) and are interested in playing the music of AC/DC, they should choose from the band’s Brian Johnson era discography.

Please, before you snort and perhaps mock, realize that this was a finely tuned scientific experiment:

“…In our Bon Scott treatment, participants listened to “It’s a Long Way to the Top” (featuring Bon Scott on vocals) from the album High Voltage. In our Brian Johnson treatment, participants listened to “Shoot to Thrill” (featuring Brian Johnson on vocals) from the album Back in Black. These songs were chosen in order to avoid pre-conceived preferences for the band’s biggest singles (e.g. “Highway to Hell,” “You Shook Me All Night Long”).”

Here’s the SSRN page.

H/T to Marginal Revolution.

[tags] economics, AC/DC, Bon Scott, Brian Johnson, University of Calgary [/tags]

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Social media, online identity and privacy


I’ve been doing some thinking about data collection and personal privacy lately, and it’s struck me that a lot of early adopters, online cognoscenti and bandwagoners are rushing headlong into a world framed by the overarching principles of transparency, honesty and personal interaction – without thinking of about how much of their personal information they are leaving exposed.

This isn’t a new development. Without understanding something of how customer relationship marketing, market segmentation and direct marketing works, the average person really doesn’t understand how their personal information swirls in currents and eddies of databases, mail lists, dodgy piles of index cards and thumb keys.

I’ll give you an example: at the right is a set of keys. Attached are the key tags for four loyalty programs: Albertson’s grocery, GNC vitamin shop, Ace Hardware and some Canadian chain. To the key’s owners, those tags are worth 5% off purchases.

To someone with access to one or all those databases, those tags represent a considerable amount of detail about the key owner’s shopping habits, product preferences, fondness for discounts or particular brand names, and even their travelling habits.

With that information, marketers and political strategists can micro-market to increasingly targeted segments of the population – and your neighbourhood. And your group of friends. And members of your family.

But we’re only discussing information consciously handed over to marketers and consumer companies in exchange for quantifiable benefits: I’ll let you track my shopping patterns in exchange for a discount on bulk purchases of panty liners; I’ll sign up for your program so I receive advance emails about Memorial Day sales.

What about the personal information you leave hanging, for all to see, in your online profiles?

  • your birthday
  • your home address
  • your kid’s names
  • your vacation schedule

Would you post a picture of your driver’s licence? Considered as individual data points, this information does not seem like much. In total, you are giving out far more information for free – and to everyone – than you would agree to let a marketer collect.

I’ve already posted about the dangers of mistaken or outright stolen identity online. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that social media is evil.

Instead, we all need to get into the habit of maintaining an inventory of our online identity. Nothing complicated, just a personal awareness of how much information you’ve revealed, and to who.

Even on social networks that are password protected and offer tools to restrict access to your profile information, you may end up “friending” people who you barely know. And that increases the risk.
After all, you need to be aware whether some hacker knows more about you than your best friend.

And you better not lose that keychain.
[tags] facebook, identity theft, online identity, personality [/tags]

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Harry Potter Spoiler – and a startling Menudo analogy


The word’s out, thanks to some clueless bookstore employees and some impulsive online booksellers. The NYTimes tells us that the latest volume of the Harry Potter series is violent:

“…at least a half-dozen characters we have come to know die in these pages, and many others are wounded or tortured. Voldemort and his followers have infiltrated Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, creating havoc and terror in the Wizard and Muggle worlds alike, and the members of various populations — including elves, goblins and centaurs — are choosing sides.”

This is only logical. Having set up the ideological framework for a world populated by wizards, muggles, wandmaking dwarves and cuddly yet gigantic henchmen, J.K. Rowling has followed the Edgardo Diaz playbook in exquisite detail:

  1. Identify a trend in popular culture that hasn’t yet accelerated
  2. Personify that trend with a diverse group of individuals
  3. Develop a family-friendly storyline and marketing message
  4. Differentiate your product by emphasizing the attributes and quirks of your characters
  5. Deploy an aggressively effective multi-channel marketing machine
  6. Continue to produce product based on the same storyline, despite a changing cast of principal characters

Most importantly, when your principal characters eventually age out of your target market – get rid of them! Replace them with more appealing, more refreshing and more malleable characters.

That was Edgardo Diaz’ script for Menudo, and it’s obviously what J.K. Rowling has in store for Harry Potter and the gang from Hogwarts.

Nothing like a nice slaughter and wholesale cast overhaul to clean the decks for the next iteration of the wizard franchise: a wide range of spin-off books.

After all, Rowling has already announced that she’ll be producing an encyclopedia of spells, characters and place names. This is an excellent first step to ensure the mythology established by the Harry Potter series remains front of mind with readers of all ages and types: pre-teens, teens, adolescents, young adult, mid-age crisis, wiccan …

Next steps? Brand diversification, much like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Boy’s Own series.

Boy’s Books:

  • Haggrid’s Guide to Outdoor Adventure
  • Your Twin Brother’s a Third Wheel at the School Prom
  • Distinguishing Family Pets from Family Enemies
  • Geocaching by Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs

Books for Young Girls

  • Dealing with Others’ Jealousy, by Hermione Granger
  • I’ve got a Crush on My Brother’s Friend, by Ginny Weasley


  • Undermining the Establishment for Profit, by Lucius Malfoy
  • The Dumbledore Way: Harnessing Your Inner Strength
  • Oligarchic and Anti-Competitive Behaviour in Diagon Alley

Family Counselling

  • Long term effects of poor parenting, by Dr. Draco Malfoy

Medical Research

  • The Golden Snitch and HyperExtended arms
  • Cranial Injuries, Short Term Memory Loss and the Bludger
  • Will Those Eyebrows Really Grow Back: a Laboratory Safety Guide
  • A Danger and A Benefit: A Dragon’s role in limb loss and reconstruction

For more on how the higher education crowd consider Harry Potter, see
[tags] Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Pottermania, Deathly Hallows, Menudo, boy bands, Hermione, Weasley, Dumbledore, Hogwarts [/tags]

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How We Are: British social history through photographs


Photography that represents real life. An action, a look, a still life that records a moment in British social history. That’s the goal of Tate Britain’s exhibition of photography, “How We Are: Photographing Britain.”

The exhibition draws from mass media pieces (postcards, propaganda) as well as personal (family photographs, medical records).

The Tate Britain is encouraging public participation as well, using a Flickr Group to feed a slideshow page on the exhibition’s website. During the closing weeks of the exhibition, 40 photographs from the Flickr group will be displayed alongside the other works.

Martin Parr, a contemporary photographer, discusses the work of the John Hinde studios, a commercial photographer whose works from the 40s, 50s and 60s are gaining critical appeal.

“…In twenty years’ time we will be shocked by how certain works are perceived, and that’s exciting. The parameters shift. One of the recent changes is the acceptance of vernacular photography. John Hinde’s photography for The Small Canteen is a great example of that vernacular, because it wasn’t done to be great art. It was done simply to illustrate a book about canteens.” (Tate Etc.)








Photograph by John Hinde published in The Small Canteen: How to Plan and Operate Modern Meal Service 1947 (RPS/NMeM/Science & Society Picture Library)

While Hinde’s work was largely commissioned for commercial use, it is finding new appreciation as a record of life in Britain in the middle of the twentieth century. For instance, consider his series of postcards about the Butlin’s holiday camps.

“….Anticipating the later success of Disney and other recreational theme parks, Butlin’s was in its heyday at the time these images were taken, its ‘hi-de-hi’ redcoat entertainment the epitome of family holiday fun (and camp, though the latter in retrospect).

The Butlin’s represented by these photographs is intricately bound up with the history of mass tourism, mass consumerism and popular culture in the British Isles: ‘cheap and cheerful’ low-brow entertainment and affordable packages attracted over a million people for a week’s holiday each year from the 1950s through the 1970s.

As cultural documents, these images portray the working classes/masses on holiday, and in all the images the markers of class and how it is inscribed on the body (clothes, hairstyles, postures) are evident…. (Sarah Browne, in Circa)

A large set of Hinde’s Butlin’s photos are available online (as are numerous other articfacts collected by Butlin’s fans)

[tags] Tate Britain, How We Are, John Hinde, Butlin’s, British [/tags]

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It’s not that I’m ignoring you …


This just in! Experiments conducted at Stanford reveal that “the brain’s ability to suppress irrelevant memories makes it easier for humans to remember what’s really important.”

There we go. Scientific evidence that my inability to remember insignificant details is simply the product of a highly functioning brain.

“…Memory allows humans to be predictive about what’s likely to be relevant to them as they go through life, Wagner explained. “What forgetting does is allow the act of prediction to occur much more automatically, because you’ve gotten rid of competing but irrelevant predictions,” he said. “That’s very beneficial for a neural information processing system.”…” (Stanford News)

So, to recap: it’s not that I undervalue what you’re telling me. It’s that I expect something much more important and personally relevant to come along any moment now.

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You Can’t Go Home Again – agency edition


In North America, agencies can disappear quickly. No matter the reason for their closure, a similar pattern is followed:

  • booze, pens and paper are liberated
  • agency name is retired, reassigned or merged within the umbrella ownership group
  • creative and uncreative employees drift with the wind and the latest multi-million dollar review
  • leased fax, photocopier and computers are returned
  • even the cubicles are shipped back to some suburban warehouse
  • after months of searching, the landlord finds a new tenant
  • interior walls, plugs and lights are moved to meet the needs of the new tenant

The only things left behind are toilets, elevators and attractive brick walls.

That’s the price of working in a world dominated by curtain-walled buildings.

In the Old World, an old agency office can live on. Noisy Decent Graphics’ Ben describes his visit to a hair stylists’ – and was once a pharma advertising shop:

“…Through that door, top left used to be the photocopier and where the nail varnish type stuff is used to sit the fax machine.

It was very odd going back. So many memories, so many visual memories smashed by CH’s architect. The place looks really nice, by the way.”

There’s a quote in Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again that applies to both commercial office properties and advertisers:

“… she had slept with everybody. . . but she has never been promiscuous …”

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Leading an examined life … is a real pain in the …


Even as the bleeding-edge johnny on the spots continue to preach transparency, responsiveness and honesty to any and all considering a corporate presence through any type of social media, it is useful to refer to similar experiences in the offline world. Like Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia, who have been reflecting customer needs and interests for fifty years.

Chouinard gave the 2006 Von Gugelberg Memorial Environmental Lecture at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in October (the podcast just came out, but the video is available on Stanford’s site). Chouinard made the point, repeatedly, that a publicly held company would have a hard time repeating Patagonia’s example, simply because of the pressures for quarterly performance – to the detriment of the long term planning needed to implement sustainable practices.

Even with a company full of dedicated staff and clearly set goals for sustainability, transparency and responsiveness, Chouinard emphasized that criticism will continue:

“…leading an examined life like that, where you have to questions everything you do, is a real pain in the ass, let me tell you!” (Social Innovation Conversations podcast)

That’s an important observation for all of us, as we argue for companies to experiment with social media.

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Darwinian pick-up lines and a coke addict wants to dress you


Darwinian Pick-Up Lines, now available on tshirts and buttons! Also, Top Ten Darwinian Pick-Up Lines. (Memoirs of a Skepchik)

Lily Allen, Madonna and Kate Moss all try their hand at designing clothing for High Street retail. “The PR worth of the sort of coverage they get … is astronomical. Retailers all err on the side of making too few of the collections so that they remain in demand. But one consequence of it being so limited is that the real worth is really only in the publicity.” (Guardian)

The Office meets Glengarry Glen Ross: A Spec Script by David Mamet, in McSweeney’s. “Second prize? A set of steak knives!”

Best – or worst – of the Atlanta Police Blotter at Creative Loafing.

Urban Nightmares Collective: plastering downtown Toronto with posters of Charlie Brown, Wesley Snipes and Heather Locklear. “They’re funny; they’re retro. It’s about surface coverage, and thinking like an advertiser.” (Globe and Mail)

A brief history of Bathurst Street, where I lived for one year during university. Photo montage as well, courtesy of Eye Magazine.

[tags] urban design, darwin, bathurst, retro, Glengarry Glen Ross, celebrity designers [/tags]

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Cobra Cai! Bad Music from the 80s!


The moments of our lives. If you’re of a “Certain Age,” you remember the tournament scene from Karate Kid. Take a swing by Jason Hare’s blog – he’s teamed up with Jefito to bring us all a treat: “lost soundtrack classics.”

Sure. We all know which blogs post the soundtrack favourites from John Hughes and Wes Anderson flicks. But who else would bring you Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best” – not an immediate memory, but watch this YouTube clip.

But wait! There’s more. This guy was also featured in Flashdance! Thanks to Jason’s impulse to email the man himself, we can all revel in more 80s trivia:

5. You contributed the song “Lady, Lady, Lady” to the soundtrack for Flashdance. Is it true that you sang backing vocals on the song “What A Feeling?” If so, did you have any reservations about singing the line “I am rhythm now?”

Flashdance anytime! That soundtrack has been very good to me and my family.

Here’s some more trivia: I almost sang “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” from Dirty Dancing. Jimmy Ienner, who was the music supervisor on the movie, called me and asked if Donna Summer would be willing to sing something, but she turned it down because of the title. I’m not saying we would have definitely done the song, but you never know.

Oh, the ups and downs of the music business. That’s why when something like “You’re the Best,” or Flashdance, or whatever else comes along, you really appreciate it. I’ve been very lucky to have done some of the things I’ve been involved with.

[tags] Karate Kid, Cobra Cai, Sweep the Leg!, Daniel-San, Wax-On, Wax-Off, soundtracks [/tags]

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Hedonic groceries … shopping carts and cucumbers


New in the world of market research and evaluation: testing the efficiency of shopping patterns in grocery stores. Still unexplored: the intended and unintended impacts of in-store media and marketing on the same shopping patterns.

Relatively novel research by a group of Wharton marketing academics attempts to gauge the efficiency of routes taken by grocery store patrons. The economists’ approach begins by applying the travelling salesman problem: what is the shortest route necessary to reach a list of destinations? This problem is evaluated using a multi-node database collected with the help of RFID-equipped shopping carts and register receipt analysis.

“We see that the produce and tobacco categories are over-represented in the [efficient] group. On the other hand, canned, ready-to-eat, and frozen food, among other products, tend to be over-represented in the [inefficient] group.This indicates that on average, shoppers who purchase prepared food products are generally less forward-looking than other shoppers when they construct their shopping paths.

At the surface, inferences like these may seem only tangentially relevant to managerial interest; however, if retailers can influence [shopper route efficiency] through advertising, in-store signage, etc., and hence affect the profits associated with various look-ahead patterns, this can become a useful managerial tool.”

Despite all their economic models, these researchers have yet to win any insight into how I navigate a grocery store. Driven by a basic list of essentials, I am also influenced by end cap displays, on-shelf couponing, private label discounting, a sketchy memory for shopping lists and a dangerous sense of adventure when it comes to sauces and bastes. Or maybe they do know me:

“Some shoppers may be hedonic browsers … who like to wander around the grocery store and derive utility in ‘window shopping,'” …

“Other shoppers may not have enough knowledge of the store to remember where the products they wish to purchase are located.”

The researchers acknowledge that more nuanced data could significantly affect their findings:

“…An important dimension that we did not address in this paper is the
amount of time that shoppers spend deliberating about their purchases, or aimlessly loitering, within a given zone. We can not address this issue with our cart-based RFID data because we do not observe the shopper’s behavior directly. But as data collection technology further matures (e.g., using video recordings instead of – or in addition to – RFID tracking), this time dimension can fruitfully be explored.”

Sounds like they need to speak to some anthropologists … or Envirosell.

The Travelling Salesman Goes Shopping: The Systematic Inefficiences of Grocery Paths,” excerpted in Knowlege@Wharton.

For you operations research junkies: the Travelling Salesman Problem Generator.

A heavily edited sworn statement on the marketing of salty snacks at a grocery store.


in the supermarket vegetable section]
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Mine’s bigger.
Marion Wormer: looks questioningly at him
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: My cucumber. It’s bigger.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: I think vegetables can be very sensuous, don’t you?
Marion Wormer: No, vegetables are sensual. People are sensuous.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Right. Sensual. That’s what I meant. My name’s Eric Stratton. People call me Otter.
Marion Wormer: My name’s Marion. People call me Mrs. Wormer.
Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton: Oh, we have a Dean Wormer at Faber.
Marion Wormer: How interesting. I have a husband named Dean Wormer at Faber. Still want to show me your cucumber?

[tags] operations research, grocery, trip chaining [/tags]

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Appealing art for hyper-realists


I’m digging the work of Darlene Charneco. At touch of the pseud in the narrative, but that’s likely to be expected.

“…Ms. Charneco uses household nails, acrylic, enamel, glitter, model houses and trees, and multiple layers of resin to create 3-dimensional paintings. The works represent a lifetime of constructed memories, as well as the virtual worlds she has visited and created in her online social communities. In her artist’s statement Ms. Charneco asks the biggest question that engages her: “From an aerial view, it is hard to ignore the similarities of our cities and roads to the internal structures of a large and complex organism. One might consider the Web as a growing nervous system, full of sensors, gathering and sending information to and fro. What is our role within this organism?”

Then again, I always found Ordnance Survey Maps appealing as well.

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Market opportunity for PR in Texas high school sports


The Houston Press talks about the increasing level of media attention – professional attention – being dedicated to high school sports in Texas and elsewhere in the States:

“…The action in high school football can change in a split second. But it’s those long moments between plays that can be brutal. And for announcers, a little homework goes a long way in making sure a big game doesn’t sound bush league. “This is the toughest job in sports broadcasting,” says Michaels. “We have no media guides. We have no sports information or PR guys. We have no game notes to pick up. Doing pro sports is the easiest thing in the world: You have to read and memorize. Here, you have to dig. I mean, this is still a neighborhood game. …”

How much do you think it would pay to set up a sports information director co-op for Texas high schools?

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Exacting and iconic advertising by Helmut Krone


Michael Bierut reviews (a little late) what seems to be quite a fantastic book about the standard-setting art director at Doyle Dane Bernbach: Helmut Krone. The book. Graphic Design and Art Direction (concept, form and meaning) after advertising’s Creative Revolution.

” … It leaves me with no doubt that something I once suspected is, in fact, true: Helmut Krone is God.I sense that bit of hero worship would be scoffed at by many of those who knew Krone personally, which I never did. Another admirer, George Lois, once called him “a complex kraut” with a “dour, Buster Keaton face,” “a fidgety perfectionist who worked with deadly Teutonic patience.” And indeed, some of his simplest, clearest, most effortless-looking work was the product of brutal sweat. …” (Design Observer)

Included alongside Bierut’s piece are several memorable and still arresting examples of Krone’s work. (and more can be found at the Center for Interactive Advertising’s Volkswagen Gallery)

(For a discussion of of the relative weaknesses to be found in the history of graphic design and advertising, refer to David Crowley’s piece in Eye 57, which briefly mentions the Krone book: a “… hagiographic account… In 257 pages of densely set text, Challis presents a forensic account of the art direction of every ad in Krone’s portfolio to demonstrate his ‘rule-breaking’ genius.”)

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YouTube as anthropological record


More than a decade ago, archivists and historians fretted about what would happen to the tell-tale details of everyday life – the scribblings in the margins of books, doodles in journals, folded and unfolded personal telegrams – that help social scientists reconstruct how our parents, grandparents and forebears led their lives.

It was already obvious that handwritten notes had been abandoned in favour of the temporary record produced by e-mail. Even worse, successive generations of software and computing technology meant that electronic records were being lost to planned mechanical obsolescence, not good old mould, water rot or poor filing.

Today, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way thanks to cheap plentiful memory. A gig of memory (and rising!) in Gmail means you don’t delete your messages as quickly. Online sharing sites, like Flickr and YouTube, mean more data is being added to the public library every day (whether that data is valuable or not is subjective).

Terence Dick, writing in This Magazine, notes that YouTube may have some historical value (providing they don’t figure out a way to monetize the site and get bought out) :

” … The site’s success lies in how easy it is to make the most minor of experiences and events available to all. That convenience, however, threatens to change You Tube from an idealistic adventure in media democracy (“Broadcast yourself” is its current motto) to something much more utilitarian. … You Tube has become a message board for its users, home to in-jokes, personal letters and individual exchanges. Instead of minor masterpieces, videos are reduced to the level of Post-it notes.

… And while this might not make for compelling television, it makes for incredible anthropology. Nowhere else could you access such intimate moments in the everyday lives of strangers. Instead of their current catchphrase, the powers-that-be at You Tube might consider changing their motto to “Excavate yourself” and encourage their users to share something more authentic (and original) than their lip-synching tributes to pop stars.”

Still – YouTube the anthropological reference should learn from the experience of the movie Galaxy Quest: if your culture indiscriminately beams out thousands of hours of programming into the ether, you better hope someone out there has a really good TV Guide.

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Tobacco PR and Lawyers: Deceitful Birds of a Feather?


Hey folks! If the Federal Court of Appeals feels this strongly about members of the bar acting unethically in pursuit of billable hours from the tobacco companies, what in the world must they think of the behaviour of advertising, marketing and public relations firms?

” … Finally, a word must be said about the role of lawyers in this fifty-year history of deceiving smokers, potential smokers, and the American public about the hazards of smoking and second hand smoke, and the addictiveness of nicotine. At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes.

They devised and coordinated both national and international strategy; they directed scientists as to what research they should and should not undertake; they vetted scientific research papers and reports as well as public relations materials to ensure that the interests of the Enterprise would be protected; they identified “friendly” scientific witnesses, subsidized them with grants from the Center for Tobacco Research and the Center for Indoor Air Research, paid them enormous fees, and often hid the relationship between those witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.

What a sad and disquieting chapter in the history of an honorable and often courageous profession. …” (Judgement, Page 4 (pg 34 of .pdf))

The judgement discusses initial efforts in 1953 and 1954 to launch a public relations campaign in support of tobacco (around pg. 51 of the .pdf) and just builds speed and volume as it approaches the closing pages.

There is a danger in quoting historical documents out of context: still, they serve to shed light on the environment, the culture and the perceptions of the time:

” … According to a Hill & Knowlton memo dated December 22, 1953, the public relations firm was asked to:

develop suggestions for dealing with the public relations problem confronting the industry as a result of widely publicized assertions by a few medical research men regarding the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

11. In an internal planning memoranda, Hill & Knowlton assessed their tobacco clients’ problems in the following manner:

There is only one problem — confidence, and how to establish it; public assurance, and how to create it — in a perhaps long interim when scientific doubts must remain. And, most important, how to free millions of Americans from the guilty fear that is going to arise deep in their biological depths — regardless of any pooh-poohing logic — every time they light a cigarette. No resort to mere logic ever cured panic yet, whether on Madison Avenue, Main Street, or in a psychologist’s office. And no mere recitation of arguments pro, or ignoring of arguments con, or careful balancing of the two together, is going to deal with such fear now. That, gentlemen, is the nature of the unexampled challenge to this office.”

There are a further 192 mentions of the term “public relations” in the 1742 page judgement, and none of them are favourable. Our colleagues in marketing and advertising have their weaknesses and failures cited in greater detail.

Our colleagues at H&K, it is plainly documented, pushed their new clients about the legitimacy of their claims and encouraged independent research to support any health or benefit claims. Still, they took on the work. It was a different time, businessmen embodied different values and accepted different social behaviours.
The question for every public relations counsellor and practitioner today, it seems, falls to a fundamental and introspective examination of personal values. How will your work be interpreted through the lens of history?

No matter if you hide behind a fig leaf of a code of ethics or point to a package of professional standards, does your work feel uncomfortable?

(BTW – my apologies to the blogger who originally pointed to the judgement’s remarks about lawyers. I’ve lost my notes, and can’t link back)

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Online advertising: is there an opening for a cookie monster?


Now THAT’S targeted online advertising! YouTube serves up an ad for when you call up a video of Stevie Wonder playing the theme song on Sesame Street.

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Wave Babies, lyin’ on the sand


May 24. Victoria Day up here in Canada. The rule of thumb is usually “no white shoes before Memorial Day”, but we get a jump on the official start to summer. As Joey says, “commence the wearing of the white pants.”

My treat to you: a video that has always meant summer to me. Honeymoon Suite’s Wave Babies, filmed in beautiful Sandbanks Provincial Park. Keep an eye peeled for the parachute pants, oversized tshirts, teased hair, and keyboard axe.

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Social Media for the 70s – with a satin jacket and leather pants



Before there was MySpace and other social media, there were fan clubs and fanzines. If you had a personalized desktop, it meant you had plastered your desk with stickers and magazine covers of your favourite star, then covered it with plastic sheeting. The only custom ringtone popularly available was fifteen seconds of hissing and static as you waited for your bootleg cassette to wind around to the first track.

Back in the day, the only two-way interaction between a celebrity and a fan involved a lot of mail. Physical mail. Waiting on the porch for the mailman after school kind of mail. Newsletters. Christmas postcards. Envelopes stamped “with love from Olivia” or “from Leif.” “Autographed” posters from Bo Derek.

Those of us “of a certain age” remember Leif Garrett. His chest was bared in almost every one of his appearances in early celebrity magazines like Teen Beat. It was an eerie contrast to the hirsuite images of Barry Gibb and Abba’s Benny and Bjorn.

His fan club included a membership card, a fanzine and a “welcome message” 45rpm record from Leif, as we can see over at as ShortTermMemoryLoss.

An excerpt from the 45:

“Before I leave you, on this recording, that is.
I want to thank you for being so wonderful.
It’s fans like you who make me smile from my heart.
I can take it, just about any place.
It’s one of my favourite things to do.
And I’ve had a few opportunities to take it out.

End of recording

I have NO IDEA what the boy meant by that. Maybe it was the heroin talking.

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The Grups Among Us: Pumas, Paper, Strokes and Star Trek


Aside from the great smacks at hipsters making their toddlers wear Clash t-shirts and listen to the Hives, New York Magazine’s “Up with Grups” has some great demographic (and psychological) analysis for anyone managing – or working for – thirty and fortysomething hipsters.

“This is where the Grup diverges from the bobo, the yuppie, even the yupster. The Grup does not want a corner office. The Grup does not yearn for a fancy title. The Grup does not want—oh, please, do not ask the Grup to manage—a staff. “I just wanted to make fun stuff that went on TV,” says Peccini. “Then all of a sudden I’m doing performance appraisals and going to management seminars.”

A human-resources executive told me recently that there’s a golden rule of HR: To motivate a baby boomer, offer him a bonus. To motivate a Generation-Xer, offer him a day off. The Grup, I think, would go for the day off, too. If the boomer’s icon of success was an empire-building maverick magnate like Ted Turner, the Grup’s model would be Spike Jonze, the 36-year-old Jackass-producing, skateboarding, awesome-indie-movie-directing free agent.

Remember, the Grup of today is the slacker from 1990 who, fresh out of college, ran smack into the recession and maybe fiddled around with a riot-grrl band, then got a job at 25 for a Web-development company where she wore jeans to work and played Ping-Pong and stayed late and covered her desk in rare Japanese action figures.

Now that woman is 35, a VP at a viral-marketing firm, still dressing down because everyone knows that the youth market is where it’s at, yet is scared to death she’s going to ossify into the same kind of corporate stooge she swore she’d never become. For a Grup, success isn’t about how many employees you have but how much freedom you have to walk, or boogie-board, away.

Technorati: passionate users hipster demographics

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Controlling the message, Ottawa-style


If you live outside tiny little Ottawa, you’re probably not aware of the brouhaha brewing between the Prime Minister’s Office and the press assigned to the National Press Gallery. Let’s just sum up by characterizing it as a struggle for control of the agenda.

” … It’s not that different from the last gang in the [Prime Minister’s Office]. You can spread media chill and fear without actually writing a memo, which is what Mr. Harper did,” says Patrick Gossage, a media consultant who served as press secretary to Pierre Trudeau starting in 1976. “It’s an inherently adversarial relationship, just like the one between stock analysts and CEOs.

He adds: “There’s actually a lot of Trudeau style in this government. If there was an issue [Mr. Trudeau] was passionate about, he had all the time in the world for the media. But he was also the king of the brush-off.” (Ottawa Citizen, yet again behind a frickin’ subscriber wall)

Now available, a transcript of the tentious discussion last week between the National Press Gallery executive and the PM’s Director of Communications. (Politics Watch) Lots of talk about microphone stands, press conference protocol and the Prime Minister’s agenda.

Chantal Hebert, writing in the Star, recalls Allan Fotheringham’s warning to 1993’s newly elected Liberal government:

Chrétien, the veteran who has done it all, has a lot to learn if he thinks the old Trudeau/Mulroney secrecy gambit can be pulled off in this new Parliament … The public won’t put up with it any more, not to mention the press.”

[Hebert notes] In fact, though, Canadians and the media did put up with it for more than a decade as Chrétien went on to line up two more majority governments.”

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Smash Hits: it’s PR driven homogenity wot done it in


David Hepworth, a former editor of the British pop magazine Smash Hits, comments on its demise:

    “… There had previously been a singles chart that provided a weekly drama. Records went in at 34 and then agonisingly, enthrallingly climbed their way to the top. … These days hits are records that go in at number one. All the rest are disappointments. [Record companies] invented bands aimed at teenagers who were inevitably not as interesting as the ones aimed at everybody. The PRs moved in and did what PRs always do, which is make the world slightly duller and more congenial for PRs. Pop had previously been an alternative to reality. Now it was an alternative reality and people were taking it worryingly seriously. By then the magazine was a huge business asset that had to be protected.

    … What we do know is that the liberal application of all the following failed to save one of the biggest brands in British media: money, market research, cover gifts, brand extensions, TV exposure, sponsorship, expensive redesigns, gondola ends, retail promotions, endless conferences and all the experience in the world. (Guardian)

BBC online has comments from former readers (many thirtysomethings who haven’t bought the mag since Rick Astley went underground)

A note on Hepworth’s time as editor:

    “In 1981, Smash Hits editor David Hepworth sent a memo to record company press departments that read: “It is my intention to reverse the entire direction of [popular music publishing] in favor of entirely trivia…. We want to know the colour of your artists’ socks.” And he succeeded. In the first six months of 1979, Smash Hits drew an audience of 166,000 to NME’s 202,000; but by the end of 1984 Smash Hits’ readership had swelled to over half a million, while NME’s had dwindled to 123,000.”(The New Republic)

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