October 20, 2008 by Colin
There are many positive qualities to the tram system in Strasbourg: new trams, wide windows, efficient and predictable schedules, broad green tramways and a simple fare structure.
More remarkable, however, is the inspired effort to weave the network into the spirit of the community.
Artists were commissioned to create static and multimedia installations that warmed the relationship between an infrastructure project and the Strasbourgoeis: custom tickets for the “A” line, stations as a subtle artistic canvas, intentionally manipulated compasses scattered along the system, art incorporated into beams and columns, and a charming and lighthearted project to humanize the otherwise mechanistic station announcements.
Rodolphe Burger, a French composer and musician, created Vox Populi – a series of interstitial melodies, backing tracks and station announcements which were completely enchanting during my stay in Strasbourg this week.
There is little more surprising than hearing a small melody, performed by the Conservatoire de Strasbourg, precede a small child announcing the upcoming stop for La Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme – an institution that defends the rights of young and old throughout Europe.
As Burger told an interviewer in 2001, a hundred people from 4 to 82 recorded station names and standard safety and information messages::
“… Plus de cent personnes ont été enregistrées, pour introduire le maximum de variation dans les voix, les timbres, les accents, etc …
Quand un supporter annonce le stade de la Meinau, quand un professeur célèbre annonce « Université », quand un habitant du quartier de l’Elsau annonce le terminus en poussant une sorte de cri de joie, quand une interprète anglophone du Conseil de l’Europe bute sur la station
« Alt Winmarick », s’excuse (là, apparemment, d’après les échos que j’en ai, lorsque cette annonce tombe, c’est l’hilarité générale dans la rame), etc …”
Burger also referred to the influence of singing and chanting traditions among the Aborigines of Australia and the Navajos of North America – where direction and instruction were communicated through tone, rhythm and personal voice.
“… Ça me fait penser au Chant des pistes de Chatwin, dans lequel il explique comment, chez les aborigènes, la carte et le chant sont liés. C’est présent aussi chez les Navajos. Les chants sont des chemins dans un paysage …”
The key is to create intertwining narratives and story lines, preventing each trip from becoming a routine and numbing experience framed by monotone announcements and mechanical chimes. It certainly works, as I noticed the distinct voices and musical combinations when arriving at each station on the “B” and “E” lines.
While I didn’t have the time – or the inspiration – to look for the other artistic elements on the line, a different report emphasized how the various projects worked together:
” … Il faudrait aussi évoquer les projets affectant l’ensemble de la ligne B : les dessins d’Alain Séchas dans les caissons lumineux des colonnes des stations, les boussoles de Jean-Marie Krauth incrustées dans le sol des vingt-quatre stations et le traitement de l’ambiance sonore des rames par Rodolphe Burger …” (Vacarme)
October 12, 2008 by Colin
It has to be a tough day, sitting in a folding lawn chair in a public square, a dozen or your artworks displayed on easels or pedestals around you.
Which is why I feel for the forty-odd artists packing the Place Broglie in Strasbourg this Sunday.
Because the people walking this square have distinctly bourgeois tastes, and they’re letting it show.
Now, I am the last person to claim authority, taste or style when it comes to art.
But even I can tell that most of the people here are drawn by the physical qualities of some pieces of art, not their inspiration, their execution or presentation.
What do I mean? They’re shopping for art that will fill a space and impress their friends.
That means a big crowd around the lady who applies photoshop filters to her photos of lone wolves on the horizon, or a fishing shack on a beach. That her photos are mounted in a relatively popular 1:6 proportion doesn’t hurt either.
Ditto for the graffiti artist actually creating near-photo portraits right here on the sidewalk.
“Oh this? The artists also did the “screw authority” tag under the A70 autoroute. He’s authentic in his passion.”
Or the “abstract” painter who layers textures and paint mediums in distinctly angular patterns – a style first popularized by Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson
Strangely, the Keith Haring rip-offs aren’t moving, and the startlingly good pop art isn’t drawing a crowd at all.
And forget anything that shows a touch of anger or anguish. The lady with the angry nude watercolours is having an exceptionally cold reception.
Thankfully, the guy trying to move rough charcoal sketches of naked ladies isn’t getting much slack either.
It is depressing, though, to see artists producing more and more of their work in tryptchs or series of small postcard-sized images, to suit the suburban sensibilities of sidewalk art browsers.
October 5, 2008 by Colin
All this blah blah blah about the relative strength of vinyl sales (following on the heels of several month’s worth of reports about the impending collapse of independent and chain record stores) occasionally focuses on the hard – and creative – work of band members, friends, hangers-on and small label owners to promote their music.
Such is the case of Seventh Rule Recordings, a Chicago outfit that works to win listeners for “brutally punishing underground metal”.
“We just don’t believe in just putting out shit like let’s get it done as fast as we can,” [Cara Flaster, cofounder] explains. “That’s so gross. I don’t care if we put out ten records—they gotta look good.”
Those who pick up early editions of Seventh Rule vinyl will find that the dedication to aesthetics goes deeper than the cover. A 200-copy edition of Intimacy, for instance, is being pressed on white vinyl splattered, spin art-style, with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to match the cover. Eighty-four copies—the “nuclear” edition of the record—comes on black vinyl bisected by a vivid band of yellow.
Scott admits that special limited edition releases help pressure hardcore record collectors to buy—and buy early—but he and Cara are also motivated by their own geeky allegiance to vinyl …” (Chicago Reader)
October 2, 2008 by Colin
I’ve decided to improve my life at work. Not by increasing my productivity. Not by chasing down new opportunities. Certainly not by replacing my Bob and Doug MacKenzie action figures.
Instead, I’m going to begin assuming qualities and mannerisms normally seen from primetime television characters:
- when presented with a problem, I’ll tilt my head 45 degrees, look at the ground, and take off my sunglasses
- if something seems evidently contradictory, I’ll do a double take, look you right in the eyes, and go “huuuuhhh?”
- I’m going to mark off a corner of the conference room and use it as my own personal confessional
- how about introducing an amusing and quirky sidekick with an eccentric professional specialty into our circle of friends at work?
- forbid that the topmost button on any shirt or blouse be buttoned up
- poor performance review? welcome to exile island – the photocopier room
- begin carrying all my pens and notebooks in an aluminum briefcase. Before beginning a meeting, I’ll pull on a pair of latex surgical gloves, kneel down, and ask “what do we have here?”
- speed up corporate audits by introducing an 80 year-old British self-taught private investigator to the process
- replace every mid-level manager with a gruff yet attractive former Marine who starred in an 80s summer teen movie
- find a sassy wife that is disproportionately attractive and a better friend to my colleagues than me
- get a 60″ interactive whiteboard, like CNN’s John King
- introduce the tribal ‘do rag as a corporate promotional item
- weld the doors shut on all cars in the corporate fleet
- when all seems doomed, introduce Heather Locklear, John Larroquette or TedMcGinley into the mix
August 3, 2008 by Colin
Back in university, there were two or three guys whose most prominent piece of furniture was a giant black performance speaker – the sort of three foot by five foot box normally carted around in the back of a Ford Econoline van, the sort of thing that needed a strong professional amp.
Usually, these guys didn’t even play an instrument or belong to a band – they had made a significant investment in audio equipment so that they could be “da man” when it came time to set up a house party.
“Jesus! Look at the size of that speaker! They’ll hear the music down the street! You da man!”
Made in Queens is the story of a group of young Trinidadian men who wheel around their Queens neighbourhood on BMX bikes – jacked to the max with those old school speakers and decks.
“In this age of obsessive video sharing and social networking, nearly every action is designed and packaged for public consumption. Especially with young people,” says co-director Joe Stevens. “The immediate charm of Nick and his crew is that they’re the exact opposite of all that. There is nothing calculated or self-conscious about who they are. They’re just a group of friends doing something to challenge themselves and have some laughs. It’s a story which would have never come from kids who were born here.”
Here’s the trailer:
[tags] Made in Queens, amps [/tags]
July 24, 2008 by Colin
Let’s assume you work for a government body that is deeply involved in highly contentious issues – issues that are very interesting (and frustrating) to communities both online and offline. Let’s also assume that your organization has very little chance of changing the fundamental policies and procedures that frame these issues in the public’s eyes.
In other words, you’re largely a punching bag, buffeted by public opinion, proposals and criticism from activists and civil society groups, and general incredulity from the public. Is it worth developing a proactive social media program? It’s always worthwhile to put passive social media measures into place – extensive monitoring of the conversations and debates taking place online, the measurement of shifting opinion and perception among your various communities, perhaps some element of limited participation in comment fields and on discussion boards.
But is it worth the effort to launch a blog or similar long term initiative if your comment fields will get filled with criticism, claims that your social media work is simply parroting or reinforcing your traditional media work, or growing references to critical reports, video clips and commentary that undermines the very point you were trying to make (see this post from the Transportation Safety Administration blog post where they try to explain the relatively small numbers of people actually stopped by no-fly lists)?
What if your efforts to keep comment fields relevant and abuse-free means you effectively build in discontinuity into your so-called “conversation”? Take, for example, the purgatory established for non-serious comments on the UK Identity and Passport Service consultation blog, mylifemyid.org? Or the cutting criticism found at the foot of the launch posting for the same site?
What’s the real question when considering your options? Is your organization ready to take a beating in the name of consultation, openness and conversation? After all, if your daily business is to argue the benefits of an unpopular policy or program, do you have the tools, the staff or even the operational flexibility to reflect and absorb any of the criticism or constructive commentary you are sure to receive as part of a social media campaign?
Or should your approach to social media be more self serving? Forget all those promises of access, change, conversation, progress and participative government touted by aspirational and inspirational social media consultants – why not just create a blog and accompanying campaign as part of an effort to engage your critics on as many battlefields as possible?
After all, you can’t rebut the argument if you don’t even have a ticket to the debate.
In some cases, it may be useful for a government organization to create a blog and implement other social media tactics to argue their side – even if the readers and commenters will have no hope of effecting any change AT ALL.
The key, as always, is use the tool effectively and understand the terrain upon which you have chosen to engage your enemy. It’s go big or go home. It’s time to break out of your institutional language, your ingrained reticence to confront opposition and your dependence upon senior administrators to speak on behalf of the organization. That’s probably why the TSA blog recently called out all its lurkers – the large majority of the 4000 unique readers per week* that the TSA blog receives – to submit questions to be answered in coming weeks.
It’s almost the Rocky School of Social Media (trademark pending) – when faced with overwhelming odds, continue to engage your opponent, seek out their weak spots, and hope that the more supportive members of the general public help push you through to the end. Paint the benefits of your issue in the most positive light possible, and simply be seen engaging your detractors.
After all, if they’re going to criticize you anyway, why not draw them to a site where you control the colour scheme and the blogroll?
*there’s a metric for you – compare your uniques and comment traffic to that of the TSA blog, which is undoubtedly a lightning rod for criticism on public policy issues.
[tags] govt 2.0, egovernment, corporate blog, government blog [/tags]
July 21, 2008 by Colin
You’ve been there. You’ve got a small budget but you want big impact for your next team building exercise. You need a motivational speaker that will make a big impression and possibly knock their socks off.
Well, do I have a deal for you.
Of course, that cost is just to fly the man in to make a celebrity appearance a minor league wrestling event in Ohio. The speech might be extra.
On a personal note, King Kong Bundy and Hulk Hogan were the two wrestlers I always chose when playing the stand-up arcade game Wrestlemania. And, for your viewing pleasure, the Bundy/Hogan cage match from Wrestlemania 2 (with the added pleasure of over-the-top colour from Jesse “the body” Ventura.
[tags] King Kong Bundy, team building, teambuilding, motivational speaker, speaker [/tags]
July 6, 2008 by Colin
- Pick An Unusual Name - hyphens, adverbs and acronyms will always make you seem smarter and better qualified.
“David St. Hubbins … I must admit I’ve never heard anybody with that name.
It’s an unusual name, well, he was an unusual saint, he’s not a very well known saint.
What was he the saint of?
He was the patron saint of quality footwear.”
- Never Explain Why Your Staff Are Leaving - the only value your agency will bring to the table is in the assumed experience of your team. If they’re jumping ship, think up a better excuse or the business will crash.
“You know, several, you know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It’s just not really widely reported.”
- Suck Every Ounce of Credibility From Each One Of Your Engagements – it’s not really a secret, but social media gigs are not the largest piece of the pie. Each and every one of your projects must be coloured, magnified, even exaggerated to imply that your agency continues to grow – in revenues, in influence and in market share.
“I’ve told them a hundred times: put ‘Spinal Tap’ first and ‘Puppet Show’ last.”
- Exaggerate The Impact Of Your Tools – social media is the solution to all of the marketing world’s problems, will being communities together and will wash the stink of countless poor business decisions from your client.
“Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
[pause] These go to eleven.”
- Attack Your Detractors – inevitably, you will be criticized for your work, for parroting the propaganda of other social media acolytes or for being the groomsman on the social media bandwagon. Stay firm in your convictions, and your knowledge that you have a three year lease on the office.
“This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within. The musical growth of this band cannot even be charted. They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry.”
That’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?”
- Don’t Let History, Experience Or The Blunt Force Of Reality Dampen Your Spirits – there are naysayers out there. Even three years into what we continue to argue is a fundamental shift in the economic and social fabric of at least 5% of the world’s economy, we are continually asked to justify the social media spend. Just push through and keep selling the story.
“In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people… the Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing… “
- Learn to Work A Room – Like A Bus Station Hooker – as a small agency in a world dominated by multi-nationals, look for every opportunity to differentiate yourself and promote your skills. Jump at every chance to “promote your brand” and sell your particular brand of social media expertise. Work the conference circuit so aggressively it seems like you’ve forgotten where you actually call home.
[tags] social media agency, business development, Spinal Tap, conference, speaker, Nigel Tufnel [/tags]
July 3, 2008 by Colin
Yeah, yeah. High fuel prices. Rising cost of bread. Over priced tomatos. Despite all this, the looming recession hadn’t significantly affected my lifestyle – until now.
My Chinese takeout restaurant has switched to a smaller clamshell for its “two items with noodles” special. And dropped one of the two types of hot sauce.
That there’s a price increase, folks.
I can feel it in my gut.
June 19, 2008 by Colin
Airlines, in a desperate attempt to remain profitable, are considering incremental charges and fees for services once considered routine. Like checking your bags before boarding your flight.
” … J. Scott Kirby, president of US Airways, said that passengers would prefer to pay for the features they actually used. Historically, he said, all passengers paid for checking bags even when they did not bring luggage, because a charge for transporting them was built into the ticket price.
Now, he said, “those who want the infrastructure to check bags, will check bags; those that don’t, won’t pay for them.” (NYT)
I hope airlines are building in the infrastructure for passengers who will choose to carry-on their luggage. Faced with an economic disincentive, passengers are bound to opt for the haul and stow – which may be a problem considering most airlines are also moving to smaller regional and commuter jets on most domestic flights.
June 17, 2008 by Colin
Hoooo eeeeee! There’s some bootleggin’ going on! The fine folks of Dublin, Texas stil make Dr. Pepper with cane sugar – the only bottler in the United States to continue producing the quirky drink this way.
Problem is, their distributions rights are limited to the 40 miles around the plant.
We all know what that means – the locals are moving crate after crate out of the bottling plant, selling it bottle by bottle in corner stores and gas stations.
It’s like Smokey and the Bandit, but at a much smaller scale.
20 cases per individual, only available at the plant. And $7.89 for a six-pack of 8 ounce bottles.
“Hey! You lookin? You lookin for a snoot-full of the earthy aroma, the tangy yet fizzy bite of an old-fashioned soft drink? Just come back here, and bring your money with you.”
More details at the Dallas Observer.
May 30, 2008 by Colin
Whaddya know. You can still make money off old school ties and inside information – in the United Kingdom:
“… We test the hypothesis that analysts’ school ties to senior officers impart comparative information advantages in the production of analyst research. We find evidence that analysts outperform on their stock recommendations when they have an educational link to the company.
A simple portfolio strategy of going long the buy recommendations with school ties and going short buy recommendations without ties earns returns of 5.40% per year.
We test whether Regulation FD, targeted at impeding selective disclosure, constrained the use of direct access to senior management. We find a large effect: pre-Reg FD the return premium from school ties was 8.16% per year, while post-Reg FD the return premium is nearly zero and insignificant.
In contrast, in an environment that did not change selective disclosure regulation (the UK), the analyst school-tie premium has remained large and significant over the entire sample period.”
Sell Side School Ties by Andrea Frazzini, Christopher Malloy, Lauren Cohen, NBER Working Paper No. 13973
May 19, 2008 by Colin
“Wow. I never would have thought of that!”
It’s a thought that runs through my head maybe twice a month, as I come across marketing or sponsorship gimmicks that leverage a very niche audience to promote a specific product.
I don’t mean mass merchandisers parcelling off some of their advertising budget to include a weird marketing buy, like the goal crossbar at soccer games.
And I don’t mean large companies directly targeting their niche markets, like Speedo and Nike sponsoring swim teams.
Instead, I admire the insight that leads planners to find very small buys that may prompt a change in buying behaviour.
Like Tetley Tea sponsoring lawn bowling.
Now, I’ve never been lawn bowling. It seems like a slow, relaxed sport, but I doubt you drink tea WHILE bowling. More likely, you drink it afterwards – and Tetley builds brand preference by sticking their name right there, on the ball.
Now, if someone could tell me if curling stones have beer company sponsorship …
[tags] lawn bowls, Tetley Tea, curling, niche marketing [/tags]
May 3, 2008 by Colin
- Is George Foreman a design genius? Otherwise, he’s just a thief. Remember the Meat Toaster! (Armagideon Time)
- Los Angeles is awash with illegal billboards – and not small ones. (LA Weekly)
- You know what would make a cool business card? Something that looked like the card from an old-school library card catalog.
- How “historical sociologists” work, by Charles Tilly via MR.
April 29, 2008 by Colin
The political economy of taco trucks, as explained by Jonathan Gold: personal skill, quality products not overburdened by design or packaging, effective location scouting, and feature-rich marketing.
“…I love mini-malls. I love swap meets. I love tamale carts. I love itinerant fruit vendors. I love old Guatemalan women with hampers full of corn on the cob and squirt-bottle mayonnaise. I love the pickups that roam the Eastside, with loads of mangoes or bushels of fresh green chickpeas.I love the guys who lop off the tops of coconuts with rusted machetes.
I love entry-level capitalism at its most chaotic, where the barriers to doing business are on the wispy side of minimal, where a family with a dream and a catering license can support itself selling delicious barbecued cabeza from a truck window, where two dozen oddball eating places can be launched for less money than it would take to open a single outlet of Burger King.
There are plenty of cities in America where freedom is best expressed as the right to choose between Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr., but Los Angeles is not one of those places. I think that’s why I live here…” (LA Weekly)
[tags] Taquero, taco truck, Mexican food, fast food, community development, economic growth [/tags]