Friday, December 31, 2010

All the best and worst to you and yours from '10!

Happy New Year from the underrated band/best concert of the year!

Best movie
Exit Through the Gift Shop

Second-best movie
Toy Story 3

Greatest invention in a film
Inception: we all have a little safe in our subconscious that has a trinket in it. Guard it, baby.

Best explanation of Inception
The last line of Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Best translation

Best new Winnipeg restaurant

Best old Winnipeg restaurant

Best new bar
The Grove - within staggering distance of Mission Control.

Best beer
Innis & Gunn

Best wine
Flat Roof Manor in the summertime, on the patio at Civita

Overused word that makes people laugh but isn't funny

Underused word that is actually funny

Best catchphrases
- "Thank you for the criticism!" - Richard Baschak
- "Yay, science!" - Richard Baschak

Best book
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell (left)

Best book about what's happening to media - but why is it a book?
Futuretainment by Mike Walsh

Best book about what's happening to journalism
What is Happening to News by Jack Fuller

Most promising development in journalism

Worst PR - ever
BP Oil

Most shameful businesses
Oil, airlines, cell-phone "service providers"

Best PR campaign
Adopt a Dot - Art Institute of Chicago

Best real invention

Best class invention
BriteBites - candles that melt chocolate!

Best app
Flipboard for iPad

Worst app
Winnipeg Free Press for iPad

Best digital magazine
WIRED - iPad edition

Best digital newspaper
New York Times

Best paper magazine
Q - the British music magazine

Best sign
Star Wars protester sign: for its message, reproduction of the original logo, and timeliness

Best TV show
Mad Men

Best new TV show
Boardwalk Empire

Best TV show to play catchup on DVD/download
Breaking Bad

Best TV shrink
Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) - In Treatment

Best video game app
Angry Birds Halloween/Seasons

Best console video game
Halo: Reach

Best podcast
Adam Carolla Show 

Best lectures
TED Talks

Best dance

Best song
The Unthanks - The Testimony of Patience Kershaw

Best album
Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

Most-heralded band plays its worst concert
Arcade Fire at Lollapalooza

Least-heralded band plays its best concert
Kissaway Trail at Lollapalooza

Best new band
The Drums

Best band comeback

Best stand-up comic
Norm MacDonald, Walker Theatre

Best stand-up comedy show
CreCommedy Nights at the King's Head

Class most likely to get a noise complaint
Comedy Writing - six years in a row!

Worst bank machine

Best class "arguments"
- Orange Crush is a brand?!
- Reverse type is crappy (informed opinion) versus it's awesome (drunk opinion)

Best learning curve
Google AdWords

Most beloved late actor
Tony Curtis - Sidney Falco in the Sweet Smell of Success - the greatest PR movie of all time - and da singa of sawngs from Brooklyn in Spartacus.

Best student
The one reading this right now

Best ad campaign
Never say no to Panda

Worst copywriter
The one who wrote this:

Out of date, but happy they're still here
Music stores - Into the Music, Music Trader

Out of date, get out of here
- TV weather forecasts
- Hour-long local TV newscasts

Best blog
The ones that are regularly at the top of the student blog rolls, because frequent updates almost always indicate passion.

Least-useful feedback
Anonymous blog comments

Best blogging inroad
The ability to identify "anonymous" comments

Best and most prolific tweeter

Best photo NOT in need of a caption

Least useful accessory

Most useful accessory

Best brush with celebrity
Juliette Lewis speaks directly to me at the Pyramid Cabaret. And I'll never reveal what she said!

Best viral video
New York snow removal:

Now let's drink champagne from plastic cups, shall we?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What up, (Google) Doc?

I looked up "wiki" in Wikipedia, and it said, "You're looking at it. See "idiot." So I looked up "idiot," and it said, "You again?" - updated Steven Wright joke

As a teacher, I can remember when the word "Facebook" appeared out of nowhere.

I can actually recall the first student who said the word in class and my initial reaction: "Oh great, an online yearbook. Thank God I graduated from high school years ago."

I instantly hated the site, its name, and everything about it.

When I checked it out, I saw that all of my least-favorite people from high school were all over it. "It will never last!" I proclaimed confidently, before eating my weight in Twinkies.

Mock at your own peril, Larsen!

This year, for the first time, I heard the words "Google Docs" come up in casual conversation, oh...about 1,000 times.

Of course, I knew that Google Docs (Wikipedia link) existed, but like many Google products, it rolled out with great fanfare and then kind of vanished, until this semester, that is, when it came back with a vengeance.

I bent my wiki 

Google Docs "is an online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation editor that lets instructors and students create, store and share instantly and securely, and collaborate online in real time."

Like, duh. This idea has been around for a while in "wiki" form. Though Google Docs and wikis are both collaborative online tools, there are some differences:
  • Google Doc authors invite collaborators - with Google accounts - to edit documents, but wikis are open to anyone's views or edits, whether they have an account or not. 
  • Google Docs are built for simultaneous, real-time editing, but wikis are not. 
  • Google Docs are the online equivalent of Word documents, wikis are Web pages.
In my infinite bonheadedness, I was still thinking of "group-writing projects" as the kind of thing where, in a five-student group, three or four students would gather data and two students would have the terrible task of putting it together in a written document and making sure it all had the same tone.

As with any group assignment, it always comes down to the last person with the document. If that person screws up, everyone gets screwed over, including the poor sap who has to read and mark it (sympathy for the Devil, anyone?).

A light at the end of the group-projects tunnel

My own experience with group projects is that I hate them - I've uttered, "Oh, just let me do it" to many a lousy group in my time, and I see the same thing go on in my classes every year - the old "one student coasting on the work of four other students" trick.

And, in this day and age, it's impossible to get anyone to cop to anything other than stellar work. The best you can do is, "I did everything I was told." Boo. Put me out of my misery, Soul Asylum:

But once students told me how they were using Google Docs to collaborate on group assignments, I saw a light at the end of the group-projects tunnel: what I had considered to be a step-by-step process, in fact, had become a real-time conversation/editing/learning mashup.

I had instructed the class to make sure that the last person with the project document was someone with strong writing and editing skills; in fact, I should've suggested that the students use Google Docs to watch and participate in the editing process, so that even weaker writers could learn from the process.

I resolve to build Google Docs into group assignments, effective immediately. And to go to the gym five times a week. And to grow my hair back.

50 ways to use wikis in the classroom

As points out, like Paul Simon leaving so many lovers, there must be 50 ways to use Wikis in the classroom, including resource creation, student participation, group projects, student interaction, and classroom resources.

Wikis for teachers

I must also mention Weblogg-ed writer Will Richardson's wiki prescription for teachers:
"Step 1: Put up a wiki page with a list of interesting tools that teachers might use in the classroom, fairly complete descriptions of what the tool can do, and a few links to great examples of (classroom) use. Ask teachers to read through the descriptions and sign up for the sessions that interest them.

"Step 2: When people arrive in the rooms where the sessions are scheduled, write this on the board: “YOU HAVE 90 MINUTES. FIGURE IT OUT.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is WikiLeaks the Napster of freedom of the press?

Is WikiLeaks the future of journalism?

I wrote yesterday about my childhood dream of becoming Woodward and Bernstein and how - even though that dream had "pipe" written all over it - that I still love great journalism.

I think. What is journalism anymore anyway?

If we define ourselves today by rejecting what came before, today's journalism shouldn't look like yesterday's journalism; and if the medium is the message, and the medium has changed, we can at least agree that journalism is definitely not waiting for a local weatherperson to tell us what the weather will be like tomorrow, "after these messages."

But if, as I said in yesterday's post, power is keeping information secret from someone who really wants it, maybe the new journalism is simply finding out what that information is, releasing it, and running for your life.

Enter WikiLeaks

I was personally delighted for the profession of journalism when WikiLeaks came along. How exciting: envelopes and emails delivered to WikiLeaks "editor-in-chief" Julian Assange, who released it and made the U.S. president angry without even working up a sweat. Take that Woodward and Bernstein!

Everyone can agree that there are some things that should be secret: security issues, criminal investigations, employees' privacy. That's not the problem.

The problem is that governments and organizations use "secrecy" in order to exert control, even when it isn't warranted. Take, for example, the boss who tells me that my teaching schedule for next semester is "privileged information." Yeah, imagine if that hot info were to fall into the wrong hands, eh? Scandal, scandal I tell you!

So far, WikiLeaks hasn't released anything that's put anyone in danger, as far as we know. The WikiLeaks revelations fall into two categories: important (U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan) and embarrassing (Putin is a manly man), which made the outrage with which they were met even more ridiculous. That WikiLeaks was dropped by Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal for its sins is nothing short of scandalous.

But is it journalism?

Traditional press, new leaks

Strangely, in retrospect, it was the traditional press that gave WikiLeaks so much of its traction at first, including the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel, which worked in conjunction with the site to help make sense of the reams of information it released.

While this is a departure from traditional ideas about who a journalist is or what he or she does, would-be journalists should take heart; at the very least, this points to the ongoing usefulness of journalists, whose job in this case was to condense and bring context to piles of documents where there was none.

What it isn't is "storytelling," which was an outdated idea anyway; as Global Anchor and CreComm grad Dawna Friesen asked in her recent visit to Red River College, "What ever happened to storytelling?"

What she was getting at was the traditional idea that "the storytellers" are the media, and the listeners, readers, and viewers are the poor schlubs at home without a media outlet at their disposal; the Internet exploded that idea by showing that the new media is a two-way dialogue in which we all tell stories to each other. As it turns out, we're all pretty damn good at it.

As we know, the Internet is the TV, radio, newspaper; what we sometimes forget is that it's also a phone.

Leaky journalism

What's unclear is whether - or how - the traditional media will work with WikiLeaks and other online leak sites in the future.

While the relationship with the New York Times made sense for WikiLeaks - more credibility, exposure, and website hits - it seemed pretty obvious that as the outcry reached a fever pitch, the Times became less comfortable with the relationship - the old, gray lady goosed by the silver-haired fox when she wasn't looking.

Nonetheless, I think that WikiLeaks is important. To me, it looks to be the Napster of the information set - the canary in the coalmine that gets shut down only to inspire something even better in its wake. All we need now is for someone to come along and perfect it by showing us what the iTunes of the freedom of the press looks like.

Any takers?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All the president's publicists - why Js jump to PR

Journalism is exciting - just ask Kenneth H. Dahlberg!

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein.

That's right: I wanted to grow up to be not one, but two, Washington Post journalists.

After seeing All the President's Men, I knew that it was the only job for me; I couldn't wait to start meeting sources in parkades, trapping interviewees on the phone, and bringing down presidents on a daily basis, before I even ate lunch.

It was an exciting time for journalism, because the film's clear message is that you, young person, without any training or formal education whatsoever, can turn the world on its ass, and all you need is a shirt and tie, notepad, and gumption.

Hey, I've got gumption. And a tie. They're talking about me!

Delivering the news, old school

Don't let anyone tell you differently: delivering newspapers was, and still is, the fastest track to bringing down presidents.  

So, I showed up at the Winnipeg Tribune, a young kid with a dream, and signed up to be a substitute newspaper deliveryman for my friend, Darren Campbell, who did the gig full time.

The Winnipeg Tribune folded shortly thereafter - something to do with shitty home delivery - but my dream stayed alive when I saw my friend, now-famous CBC journalist Pat Kaniuga, get a byline on the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press.

To me, he was better than Woodward or Bernstein, because he was breaking stories on the cover of the city's biggest daily newspaper at the same time he handled a full course load - the equivalent of having one hand tied behind your back. 

With him as my success model, I enrolled in Creative Communications, majored in journalism, and promptly went to work for the local media as a "freelance journalist," where I wrote articles about how much it snowed yesterday (the editor wrote the headline, reaching deep inside himself to find the term, "The White Stuff" - ugh), the touring World Series trophy at Polo Park Mall, and an art exhibit in the Exchange District.

Maybe the only story I ever sniffed out was a secret rethinking of the Mental Health Act, but it withered before my very eyes when I got a key contact on the phone, and he yelled at me for "not asking the right questions." Where was Kenneth H. Dahlberg when I needed him?

Things perked up a bit when I started covering the Winnipeg Police news conferences for a local radio station, but I quickly realized that the cops owned the information, and I was just some poor schlub they had to deal with in order to get their message to the masses (these were the early days of the Internet, remember).
Me: "Why haven't you done an autopsy on the body you pulled from the river yesterday?"
Police spokesperson: "How long does it take you to defrost a turkey?!"
Information is power. But keeping that information secret from someone who really wants it? That's real power, as I learned each day anew.

Fort boredom

After awhile, I felt deflated and bored with the whole inverted-pyramid thing. I was also pretty broke, since the only real full-time entry-level J gigs at the time were in towns with exotic names, like Flin Flon, Slave Lake, and five or six places with the word "Fort" in their names; as stand-up  comedy taught me, where there's a "Fort," there's a chance that you won't live to see tomorrow.

So, I made the jump to the light side of the Force (see what I did there?) by applying for my first corporate gig in advertising and PR. Long story short: I got the job and surprised myself by enjoying it immensely, from a creative, professional, and - yes - financial perspective. 

Here, I not only owned the information, but I tripled my salary, was appreciated for being a good writer of creative (as opposed to "creative writer") and never again had to utter "scrum" or  "meat before attribution" in mixed company.

Better yet, I never had to chase a story, and my job had me home before 5 p.m. (I love you flex time!), watching Degrassi and drinking margaritas, when my journalist friends were just starting to write their articles, having spent another sleepless night next to their police scanner.

I am looking at it through rose-colored glasses, of course, because the proverbial "cushy" corporate gig gets more intense with each promotion and responsibility, and learning how to deal with management, the legal department, and red tape is a skill set unto itself.

And that's probably the biggest misconception about making the leap from J to PR: that "it's easier for a journalist to do it, because he or she understands how to get into a journalist's mind." The equivalent of that argument is "You'd better jog every day, so you can compete in the triathlon." Well, yeah, it won't hurt, but there's more to the triathlon than running. 

That wacky ol' Internet

I have to admit to feeling much smugness with my decision to work in PR when journalism slowly stopped being something that people wanted to pay for, and started becoming something that everyone could do as a hobby.

How was it that my 15-year-old nieces could post a concert video on YouTube and get more views then the Saskatchewan Leader-Post's coverage of the same event? Who was the real journalist anyway?

And I couldn't help but notice that each, new PR posting saw a flood of resumes from well-known local journalists, whose Woodward and Bernstein dreams had also been replaced with more practical considerations involving lifestyle and pay. 

In Public Speaking, HBO's recent documentary about writer Fran Lebowitz, she knocks the New York Times itself by making fun of its writers in general ("Writers need to know stuff") and delayed leads in particular.

"I thought the news was supposed to just be information," she says.

But here's the thing: I still love great journalism, the New York Times, and the Washington Post - even if they are shadows of their former selves.

So, like everyone, I've been waiting to see what would save these great institutions. With WikiLeaks, I think we may be seeing the first, real exciting journalism model we've seen in some time, even if a good chunk of the traditional news media doesn't get or like it.

Says Diane Francis in the Huffington Post:
"Julian Assange has created a model that will be replicated, as long as the Digital Commons demands transparency and as long as juicy secrets are left around unguarded. WikiLeaks is not a business. It is a volunteer organization, based on donations, and its site is fed from servers scattered around the world. Lacking assets to seize or sue, it falls through the jurisdictional cracks and legal attempts to curb its site, based on privacy concerns, have gone nowhere in the US and other democracies."
That's a pretty great place to start. True, you have to do time in prison and be ostracized by your peers, but - hey - even Woodward and Bernstein took some hits back in the day.

To be continued tomorrow!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Have a great holiday!

Happy holidays from 1969!

All the best to you and yours this fine holiday season!

I want to thank all of my awesome students, former students, co-workers, friends (in-person and online), drinkin' buddies, lunch dates, and family for their energy, jokes, friendship, generosity, passion, inspiration, love, kindness, and err...tolerance in 2010!

When you get down to it, we're all "niche" products, and no one is nichier - or more Nietzschean - than I: so, sincere thanks for "leaning into the discomfort," being in my corner, and just being you. And here's to more of the same in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

A hearty 10/10 to all and to all a good night!

- Kenton

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I think, therefore I am (riding the bus)

The next time they ask me, "Have you got an Air Miles card?" at the liquor mart, I'll have an answer.

"No." Pause. "Got a bus pass, though."

I'm a proud owner of the new Winnipeg Transit EcoPass for RRC employees at the Princess Street Campus - the bus pass with the name that reminds you that you're saving the environment at the same time the price reminds you that you're a cheapskate.

The pass is available to RRC staff for a very generous 60 per cent discount (for a total of about $30). It does count as a taxable benefit, though, just like my dental plan, glasses allowance, and back rubs from the gentle-yet-knowing hands of one Larry Partap. 

Buses and the men who ride them

In theory, the pass is intended to get more people to take the bus downtown to work than who already take it. However, a straw poll at the EcoPass info seminar this week showed:
  • Most people who bothered to attend the seminar already take the bus (only one guy said he doesn't).
  • Most of the attendees were men (to the tune of five to one, which is why men are often referred to in song and story as "The Caring Sex"). 
  • Most of the attendees said they have no idea how to use the yellow strips on the back door of the bus in order to disembark, but had a very healthy - no, insane - curiosity about what makes the mechanism work.
"Why don't they change that system to automatic doors?" asked one person.

"I really don't know," answered the gentleman from Winnipeg Transit. "And I really don't care," I continued for him.

As anyone who takes Winnipeg Transit knows, the proper way to disembark through the rear of the bus is to stand with your arms at your side and yell, "Back door!" - to no one in particular and without regard for the double entendre - until the doors finally open on their own and someone pushes you out.

Besides: who cares about yellow strips when you've got White Stripes?

The benefits of bus travel

As a regular transit passenger, I know there are three, main benefits to taking the bus to and from work:

1. It's a bookmobile.

The best thinking and reading of the day happens on my bus route to and from work. I read two books a month on the bus, in addition to my news apps, magazines, and email.

As the classic dialogue from Repo Man goes:
"I do my best thinking on the bus. That's how come I don't drive, see. I don't want to know how. I don't want to learn, see? The more you drive the less intelligent you are."
2. It's reality TV - in person.

The best stories from your day - any day! - happen on the bus. It's where I:
  • Saw a teenager shaving with an electric razor.
  • Learned from a German exchange student that "The kids are running fast to the bus stop" in German is "Die kinder laufen schnell zur haltestelle."
  • Ran into one of my students and said, "This must be winners' bus." Her hilarious reply: "It was until you got on." At least I think she was joking.
  • Saw the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life: a woman getting to the top of the bus steps, only to drop her bus ticket at the same time the guy behind her walked up the steps and turned his face - right into her butt. The big question: given this scenario, who needs to apologize to whom?
3. It's a wake-up call.

No matter what anyone tells you, the best cure for feeling sleepy in the morning is a minus-40 breeze up your pant leg.

See you on the bus, winners.

Monday, December 20, 2010

14 new words to use over the holidays!

"Prevenge" - all the kids are singing  it!

1. BitchWipe - Erasing the physical evidence (and/or memory) of a "not-nice" person.

2. BlurBerry - Any photograph taken on a BlackBerry.

3. The Bug Screen - A disparaging remark about the current state of the film industry. "Transformers 3 is so terrible, they shouldn't show it on a big screen, they should show it on a bug screen!"

4. Champagnties - A pair of panties in a champagne bottle. Now available at the Bay!

5. Cheesevitation - An invitation with cheese attached to it. Better than an invitation.

6. Claim Chowder - Coined by Seth Godin; making predictions about the future that turn out to be way off base. e.g.: "We'll always have the newspaper!"

7. Cyberchondria - Looking up symptoms online and realizing you have...scurvy!

8. Deadicated - Working yourself into an early grave.

9. Derection - A real turn-off.

10. Disister - A troublemaking sister.

11. Hacktivism - Thank you, WikiLeaks!

12. Plagiarinspiration - Coined by creator of the Clash's London Calling album cover, Ray Lowry, to describe the blend of originality and theft that it is.

13. Prevenge - Getting revenge before the other person commits the act for which you need to take it. I'm not sure if They Might Be Giants coined it on their song, but you have to admit that it's damn catchy.

14. Twittercism - Criticizing someone on Twitter. "Thank you for the Twittercism."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My 10 fave albums of 2010

1. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

After taking the UK by a storm, Mumford & Sons hit the North American talk-show circuit with one blistering performance after another, until USA Today - powerless to resist - named it on its "five buzz bands to see live" list.

One of the few bands to cut through the clutter and crowds at Lollapalooza with - of all things - melancholy Celtic rock. Lovely, thrilling, goosebump-inducing stuff:

2. Robyn - Body Talk Part I, II, and Body Talk

Forget Gaga and Katy, the true "Dancehall Queen" is Sweden's Robyn - with a three-album set of instant dance-floor classics. Double entendres and drummers, a duet with Snoop, top-notch boasting ("Even the Vatican knows not to  f**k with me!") and a convincing argument that Fembots have feelings too. Knocks me over, I'm in love!

3. OMD - History of Modern

Dismiss them as 80s has-beens at your peril.

Like Madness's late-career creative resurgence last year, OMD returned with one of the best synth-pop albums of their 25-year career. The sound is still pure 80s, but the duo proves that great songwriting is never out of style.

4. The Drums

I arrived at this party late, but I'm glad that I arrived at all: fun, breezy pop that knows from whence it came (errr...the 80s or the 60s or someplace between. The 70s?).

5. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

It's nice to see that the desire to escape the soulless sprawl is alive in the songs of its new champion: Arcade Fire. At the time, I called this album "an awesome soundtrack to the long, hot dog days of summer," but it sounds pretty great in winter too.

6. The Divine Comedy - Bang Goes the Knighthood

God, I love sarcastic jokes delivered with an English accent, which is why I love this album - one great hook after another amidst shout-outs to Margaret Thatcher, the Pixies, Francis Bacon, and the Lost Art of Conversation:

7. The Kissaway Trail - Sleep Mountain

Too often dismissed as the Danish Arcade Fire - even if that's what they are - this band knocked my socks off at Lollapalooza and then did it again when I brought home their (autographed!) CD. No, you can't autograph iTunes downloads. I've tried.

A great band, shot badly by me on my Flipcam:

8. The Heavy - The House That Dirt Built

A barnburning blend of blues, R&B, and rock that's so irresistible, even grumpy David Letterman demanded - and got - an encore. 

How you like them now?

9. The National - High Violet

Not even close to being the "difficult listen" I was expecting (thank you imposing album art and beard), but the sound of a band striving for - and reaching - something very special: a critic's band for everyone.

10. Graham Parker - Imaginary Television

Punk folkster/folk punker Graham Parker is always the bridesmaid and never the bride (that would be Elvis Costello), but he's riding a wave of resurgence on the back of three, incredible folk-, jazz-, pop-, and country-influenced albums.

His latest, Imaginary Television, is high concept: TV themes for shows that don't exist. Tantalizing to psychoanalyze:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The appsolutely best apps of 2010

Best app of the year: Flipboard.

1. Flipboard (iPad)

Flipboard is so great, Time Magazine named it one of the 50 great inventions of 2010. The app, says Time:
"...ends the chaos by grabbing updates, photos and links from your friends and other interesting people, then reformatting everything in a wonderfully browsable, magazine-like format. You can also add feeds from your favorite blogs and websites and share items with friends via social media and e-mail. With its oversize images and crisp typography, it's a glossy digital publication that feels as if it's been edited by your pals just for you."
Half social network, half magazine, Flipboard is conceptually new and totally awesome - a tantalizing glimpse of the future of the news business itself.

2. Pulse News Reader (iPad, iPhone)

The Pulse News Reader app is a visual news reader for your iPad. By simply choosing the sites and blogs you follow, the app creates a lovely and functional news ticker:

3. PressReader (iPad, iPhone)

PressReader is the best argument for your anti-iPad friends who painfully insist, "There's just something about reading a newspaper that I love."

PressReader lets you download thousands of the world's newspapers onto your iPad or iPhone in their original form - ads, classifieds, and all - for 99 cents an issue or a monthly subscription fee that's less than what I was paying for the Globe and Mail and Sunday New York Times by themselves.

4. Angry Birds Seasons (iPad, iPhone)

Peace on Earth, goodwill to ham.

Like millions of other iPhone/iPad users, I'm addicted to Angry Birds - die you damn stupid pigs, die! Die!

I downloaded the Angry Birds Halloween app for just 99 cents and was blown away when the free update turned it into "Seasons" and the first holiday advent game - one level of Angry Birds released every day up until Christmas.

Ask yourself: what game would baby Jesus play on Christmas? Duh!

5. WIRED (iPad)

WIRED is the Cadillac of iPad magazine experiences.

Available for $4.99, each month's mag is a separate app - and with each new issue, the magazine gets smarter with embedded video, interactive ads, and a bizarre-but-getting-better horizontal/vertical layout. I can't wait to see how the mag continues to evolve, and I'll keep buying the monthly updates to find out.

6. Pages (iPad)

Pages is the app that makes the convincing argument that it's time to turn the page on the laptop.

I've been using the Pages app - the iPad's word processor - since the day I got my iPad. I fully expected all kinds of hassles and wonky conversions to and from Word, and it's been a more pleasant experience than I could've imagined.

Pages is the "Word" part of Apple's iWork slate of apps, which includes Numbers (Excel) and Keynote (PowerPoint). The apps are available separately for about $10 each, which is a real steal - so important is it to the iPad's sales and Apple's profits to convince people that the iPad is a viable replacement for a laptop.

7. New York Times (iPad)

The New York Times app recently changed its "Editors' Choice" app to include every article in every section of the paper, including the NY Times magazine.

A shocking amount of information for the shockingly low price of free, I've seen grown men break down and buy an iPad on the strength of this app alone.

8. Zinio (iPad, iPhone)

This is a cool app that allows you to shop for, buy, and download a load of different magazines; I subscribe to Chicago Magazine, Uncut, and NME, but there are thousands more available here.

There's nothing here as exciting or interactive as WIRED, but it's a smooth app that has the jump on being the iPad's go-to destination for magazine shopping.

The app is free and comes prepackaged with five magazines, but you've gotta pay for the rest. Magazines range in price, but most offer year-long subscriptions for much less than the cover price.

9. Phaidon Design Classics (iPad)

Phaidon Design Classics will run you $20, but I justify it by considering it to be an interactive coffee-table book (the future of the Independent Professional Project?).
"This authoritative and meticulously researched collection charts the story of product design over the past 200 years. It was years in the making and was compiled via rigorous selection process by an international panel of design-world insiders, including architects, critics, curators, product designers, auctioneers, and historians."
Quite possibly the smoothest, most gorgeous iPad app around. As beautifully designed as its subjects:

10. Twitter (iPad)

You haven't used Twitter until you've used the Twitter-brand iPad app.

The rumor was that Twitter's online facelift was going to mirror this app - which it kind of tried to do - but nothing beats the perfect layout, simplicity, and beauty of fold-out tweets in landscape mode on a touchscreen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bizarre last songs

1. John Lennon - (Just Like) Starting Over

2. Buddy Holly - It Doesn't Matter Anymore

3. Sam Cooke - A Change is Gonna Come

4. Keith Moon - Who Are You

Bonus: on the album cover, Moon is seen sitting on a chair stenciled, "Not to be taken away."

5. Eddie Cochran - Three Steps to Heaven

6. Warren Zevon - I Have to Leave (from the album, "My Ride's Here" - recorded before he knew he was dying)

No video posted! Wha?!

7. Hank Williams - I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive

8. Chuck Willis - What am I Living For?

9. Michael Jackson - Take Me to the Place Without No Name

10. Ian Curtis - Love Will Tear Us Apart

Merry Christmas from the ad majors!

I give you: three hos for the holidays!

Please enjoy this sampling of holiday good cheer, courtesy of the advertising majors' "holiday messages" assignment, as recorded in Cathy Hanson's radio class.

1. Lie to your little brother, save Christmas, by Mike Choi:

2. Don't sleep with a snowball, by Maeghan Heinrichs:

3. Search for the most beautiful Christmas Lights, by Berea Henderson:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My 10 fave smash hits of 2010

1. The Unthanks - The Testimony of Patience Kershaw

Gorgeous harmonies, harrowing strings, charming accents, and the true story of Patience Kershaw, a child who spoke to Lord Ashley’s Mines Commission of 1842, which looked into child-labor conditions in coal mines and found that they sucked.

I put this on repeat for most of the year - I still get shivers at the first harmony at the one-minute mark.

2. Free Energy - Free Energy

Like MGMT's "Time to Pretend" last year, Free Energy has this year's greatest call to arms and mission statement:
"We're gonna start a new life, see how it goes/before we're tired and too slow!"

3. The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio

The best drumming of the year meets the best baritone singing the most-bonkers ("bonkersest!") lyrics: something about being carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees.

4. Robyn - Dancing on My Own

The dance song about sulking in the corner at the disco while the person you love parties it up. It's like I have a twin!

5. Steel Train - Bullet

This sounds like 1,000 other songs - most from the 80s - but I'm powerless to resist; last year was all about catching myself singing, "Whooooooah-oh-oh-oh!" at the top of my lungs in public.

6. Runner Runner - So Obvious

It's so obvious that a band named Runner Runner that yells "Go!" at the 12-second mark is onto something good. Pure power pop sugar rush. I'm going - just stop shouting at me!

7. Gorillaz - On Melancholy Hill

The best Britpop of the year, sung by Damon Albarn and mercifully free of the "guest stars" who basically ruined the rest of Gorillaz third album.

I want to live on Melancholy Hill - you can keep my things, they've come to take me home!

8. Divine Comedy - The Complete Banker

Nothing beats the recessionary blues more than a bouncy pop song that explains the financial crisis from the bankers' perspective:
"So I caused the second great depression - what can I say? I guess I got a bit carried away. If I say I'm sorry will you give me the money?"
The world needs more angry, tongue-in-cheek pop songs namechecking Margaret Thatcher. 

9. Field Music - Them That Do Nothing

Channeling the spirit of the Beatles and XTC over a throbbing bassline, acoustic guitar, and handclaps. Cheers!

10. Magnetic Fields - You Must Be Out of Your Mind

Think of your least-favorite person on Earth, then play this song. Ahhhh, feels better already, eh?

Best line of the year (at 26 seconds):
"I want you crawling back to me/down on your knees, yeah/like an apendectomy, sans anesthesia."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The only Christmas albums anyone needs

Philbin or Carey? Presley.

If there's a broken heart for every light on Broadway, then there must be 10 bad Christmas albums for every light on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

My take on music - all music - is that  there are only two kinds: good and bad. Good music is good every season, and bad music is bad every season.

So while you may find me playing the Ventures' Christmas Album in the middle of July, you'll likely only find me playing the Regis Philbin Christmas album while I'm being waterboarded by the CIA.

With that in mind, here are the only essential Christmas albums you'll ever need, and - take my word for it - they sound just as great when you're mowing the lawn as they do when you're shoveling the snow:

1. and 2. Elvis Presley - Elvis' Christmas Album and Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas

Elvis has not one but two essential holiday albums - and they're packed with an embarrassment of Christmas riches.

Elvis' Christmas Album has got some great gospel - (There'll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me) and I Believe - his definitive recording of Blue Christmas, and a great, bluesy rendition of Leiber-Stoller's Santa Claus is Back in Town.

Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas is even better. As Rolling Stone says, "it includes one bravura performance after another" including If I Get Home on Christmas Day, "the King's best recorded vocal."

It also has Elvis' intentionally hilarious treatment of of the blues classic, "Merry Christmas, Baby" in which our hero lustfully longs for his baby over James Burton's rousing guitar solos.


3. The Ventures' Christmas Album

This album was recorded in the mid-60s and melds the pop hits of the day with the Christmas classics of yesteryear.

I have no idea if or how the Ventures got the Beatles to approve the I Feel Fine/Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer mashup, but after giving it a listen, I think that you'll agree that the Ventures, the Beatles, and Rudolph should hang out more often:

4. Merle Haggard's Christmas Present

I'm usually not much of a country fan, but the first time I heard this album, it stopped me in my tracks; like Elvis Presley's In the Ghetto, Haggard's If We Make it Through December rings true as a depressing account of what it means to have no money or prospects at Christmastime - a nice reminder in the recessionary times in which we live.

Half originals and half standards (Silver Bells is the best cover), this album's emotional resonance reveals the shameless holiday cash-in albums to be exactly what they are. 

5. Phil Spector's Christmas Album (aka A Christmas Gift For You)

The ultimate rock and roll Christmas album - released under a variety of titles over the years - backed by Spector's famous and fabulous wall of sound.

Exceptional performances by Spector's stable of artists abound, but Darlene Love's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is the standout. Every year, David Letterman brings her back on his show to sing it, and every year she knocks it out of the park.

And if you only know Phil Spector from his creepy appearances in court, his sentimental, spoken Christmastime coda on the album is just the thing you'll need to confirm your suspicions that he was a crackpot long before the law ever caught up with him.

6. Jackson 5 Christmas Album

The best way to remember Michael Jackson isn't by watching his videos - too creepy a descent into plastic surgery and skin bleaching for me - but by listening to this excellent album of lighthearted fun (Frosty the Snowman) and sentimental favorites (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas).

The best track by a mile is one of young Michael's greatest vocals: Give Love on Christmas Day.

7. Stevie Wonder - Someday at Christmas

Wonder - at age 17! - makes his way through standards and originals, though there's nothing here written by Wonder himself. Highlights include the title track (reminding us to have hope for peace in a shitty world) and Ave Maria (ditto).

8. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles  - A Season for Miracles

As laid back as Christmas can possibly be with mellow but satisfying renditions of Deck the Halls and Stevie Wonder's I Can Tell When Christmas is Near.

9. Various Artists - Soul Christmas

A who's who of soul artists - Joe Tex, Booker T. and the MGs, Solomon Burke, King Curtis among them. Standouts include the most-depressing Christmas song ever recorded, Otis Redding's White Christmas, and the song that puts the X into Xmas, Clarence Carter's Back Door Santa:

10. Various Artists - Rhythm & Blues Christmas

Another incredible compilation, featuring 10 songs recorded between 1949 and 1967. Includes the greatest Christmas song ever recorded: Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters' White Christmas. Listen and learn where Elvis stole the arrangement on his first Christmas album:

The album is sadly out of print, but the song is widely available everywhere, including iTunes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The 10 greatest designs of 2010 (plus two)

1. Mall parking-lot stencil. Right side up: baby parking. Upside down: smoking Mickey Mouse.

2. The glowing, spiky balls of doom and pleasure, Lollapalooza.

3. The Flip Camera packaging that says, "Hug me!"

4. The iPad. I understand that it's beautiful.

5. The Bay's "part with your money here" floor stencil:

6. My friend's Pittsburgh Penguins' wedding ring. He and Crosby have never been happier together.

7. The Sunday dessert buffet at Shaw's Crab House, Chicago.

8. Berns & Black window treatment,  Main Street.

9. Tiffany Lachuta's CreCommedy Night poster

10. Gate Arm is Clos-ouch!, Chicago.

11. Mood-board collages, Advertising majors, Creative Communications

12. My own, personal logo I drew in the Glow Draw app. In case you were wondering: those are bad-ass flames shooting from the top of my initials. And, yes, I'm taking pre-orders for the T-shirts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The 10 creepiest designs of 2010

1. The cover of George W. Bush and His Family Paper Dolls. Please tell me that it comes with matches.

2. My student's rocket-ship design with a funny chimp in the front window and a creepy chimp in the back window.

3. The lovely couple about to welcome you - or is that burn you for witchcraft? - at the Saskatchewan German Club.

4. The ultimate dude with the Ultimate Warrior jacket.

5. The new Devo mask - glasses optional. The energy domes were a long, long time ago.

6. The wiener mascot at Dingo's on Corydon. Get that wiener some pants! No condiments jokes, please. Etc.

7.  My friend's wedding cake. The groom commits suicide as the bride marries her dogs. I assume.

8. The racially charged Side Kicks campaign. "Almost everyone's" creeped out by it.

9. The HMV "read" poster mashup; a nightmarish collage of hellish images and suspenders.

10. The Flaming Lips' concert. Why is the stage looking at me?