Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Duluth Trading Ballroom Jeans: get a pair!

Duluth Trading Company has a pair.

These ads for its Ballroom Jeans have just started running on the US high-def channels, and they're notable for being noticeable: this is one of the only ads I've ever stopped to look at while fast-forwarding through "non-program content" on my DVR.

As Innerscope Research recently reported, the best way to reach DVR viewers on TV is to confine the creative to the centre of the screen (even for widescreen treatments), heavy use of white space, a simple message, a minimum of cuts, and logo visibility.

Once we do watch the ad, it rewards us with some great copy involving differentiation ("the crotch gusset!"), desire ("room to crouch without singing soprano"), and a call you action you can't forget ("get a pair!").

The next time I'm in the US, I will get a pair. Thanks, Duluth Trading Company for looking out for - ahem - the little guy.

The greatest Canadians who may have never ice-danced

That's not an Olympic event, but don't stop rowing.

After this post, history is history.

Since my Canadian history post was the most popular I've ever written at one comment (about Oprah) and standing - ha! - I figured I'd follow it up with my list of 10 great Canadians you should be legally obligated to know before being able to enjoy and/or cheer on Team Canada at the Olympics.

All are taught and forgotten in Canadian high school and, as far as I know, none has ever ice danced, skeletoned, or speed skated. If only we could build a time machine...
  • Samuel de Champlain (1567) - the famous governor of New France. But what has he done for us lately?
  • James Wolfe (1727) - as dead as he was victorious in battle. The beginning of English rule in Canada.
  • William Lyon Mackenzie (1795) - Toronto's first in a long line of crappy mayors. Oh yeah: he also led the 1837 rebellions. Try that, David Miller.
  • Louis Riel (1844) - Manitoba's founder, leader of the Métis, and the reason that RRC students now have a reading week.
  • Wilfred Laurier (1841) - my favorite dude named Wilfred! The first French-Canadian PM.
  • Mackenzie King (1874) - the longest-serving Canadian PM and the king of the Mackenzies!
  • Pierre Trudeau (1919) - said the f word in the House, did a pirouette behind Queen Elizabeth, and dated Lois Lane.

The secret to classroom engagement: caffeine and helium

Classroom engagement in three, easy steps:

1. Stella's

2. Starbucks:

3. Balloons featuring the names of famous, dead horse-racing novelists:

"Who the hell is Dick Francis?"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Know your history before the Olympics are history

Not what the fur traders had in mind!

It warms my heart to see Oprah hawk the HBC Canadian Olympic mitts on her show. Wow: the Bay producing something that people actually want?! Amazing! Meet you there on Saturday for a malt and hot dog in the basement.

I also love watching one of our own own the podium at the winter games. Hey, that dude from Russell won something? Maybe I could win something too. Like a pair of mitts on Oprah!

But you can really tell that I'm Canadian by the fact that just when I start feeling really patriotic in my heart, something hits me in the cerebellum: my lack of knowledge about Canadian history.

Don't know much about (Canadian) history

I don't recall learning much about Canadian history at any level of school and I retained even less than I learned, which means that my knowledge on the topic is as piss poor as the next Canadian guy's. And the next Canadian guy is wearing a toque, eating poutine, and suggesting that the secret to the Canadian men's hockey team is, "Da boys gotta get into da corners, eh?"

In fact, the only thing I remember from grade school at all is finding an elastic band on the floor, shooting it randomly, and accidentally hitting my teacher square in the eyeball. Really, how can Louis-Joseph Papineau compare with something like that?

I've known this for a while, so I've been compiling a list of Canadian history topics that I will one day look up, so I can shame everyone I know with my knowledge of the fur trade, Samuel de Champlain, the Loyalists, the Northwest Rebellion, and - mostly - our many famous Mackenzies: Bob, Doug, and William Lyon.

The Globe & Mail has also helped me out by publishing lists of Canadian history makers and facts over the years, mostly on Canada Day.

And, so, here's the shortlist of the things we should've learned in grade school but didn't.

Cue that cruddy "believe" music!

The list
  • The Europeans come to the Prairies (1870 to 1914 - no links that I can recommend. Boo.)
  • The Industrial Revolution and urbanization (1880s to 1920s - no links that I can recommend. Double boo.)
Ahhh, I feel better already. Now get into da corners, boys, and kick dose udder guys' arses, eh?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Foursquare and 20 minutes ago: the hottest new social-networking app

I'll take the Douchebag badge to block, foursquare.

Whenever I want to know what the next big thing in social media will be, I go for drinks with CreComm grad and ICUC business development manager Dustin Plett.

From now on, I'll be checking in on my iPhone when we do.

Last week, Dustin forced me at gunpoint (OK, camerapoint) to download foursquare, a new smartphone app that "gives you and your friends new ways of exploring your city."

Like any new social-networking tool, my first reaction was, "What the hell is this piece of junk?"

However, since Dustin recommended it to me, I've discovered that there may be more to it than what first meets the eye.

In the last week alone, I've come across about 20 references to the app in the media and many more in ordinary, day-to-day conversations, from the New York Times singing its praises as a restaurant finder to Jolene Olive talking about its potential for the Downtown Winnipeg Biz.

So, what the hell is this thing?

Using the app, you check in wherever you go; when you check in, you get recommendations left by other users and you can leave recommendations yourself.

So, if you "check in" at Spuntino Cafe on Stafford and Grosvenor, you can find out that Kenton Larsen says the "Bread rolls are incredible. And the Pollo al Limone is unreal."

As you and your foursquare friends check in, you start learning where they hang out the most, as they do with you. So I know that my only foursquare friend, CreComm grad Jenny H., ate at Kawaii Crepe in Osborne Village last night at 7:15 p.m. and didn't invite me. Lucky for her on both counts!

Your consumption is rewarded by earning badges: if you find a new place in the neighborhood, you get five points. Multiple visits to one location in one evening? Two points.

Bad behavior is also rewarded: check in to a restaurant after 3 a.m. on a school night, and you earn the "school night badge." Go to places where "douchebags" are known to frequent and, yes, you earn the "douchebag badge."

If you show up more often at one place than anyone else, you become the foursquare "mayor" of that location. So, Eric L., Mayor of Starbucks on Corydon, I salute you.

The untapped potential

So, it's just another goofball way to connect with friends, earn useless points, and express your opinions in a medium flooded with them, right?

Maybe, maybe not. The untapped potential for the app is that local businesses can encourage repeat customers by rewarding their most-frequent users. So, a free Grande Chai Latte to Eric L, the Mayor of Starbucks on Corydon!

Foursquare has just started making these "specials" public on its app and website, and is promising a breakdown of demographic charts, graphs, and data to participating businesses in the near future.

Foursquare and 20 blocks around downtown Winnipeg

I can see a number of ways the Downtown Winnipeg Biz and its members could use this app to encourage shopping downtown among the young and hip, a demographic prone to having a smartphone and online friends, listening to what they say, and spending, spending, spending. Let's party!

Some potential applications:

1. Using foursquare as a promotional tool to reward loyal clientele and/or reach out to early adopters by encouraging competitions for things like "mayor of Earls" or $2 off to anyone who shows the server that they are "checking in" on foursquare and leaving feedback.

2. For targeted ads or location-based coupons. Go shopping at Portage Place and - voila - a coupon pops up on your phone for a buy-one, get-one-free discount at the IMAX.

3. Sponsoring a badge or mayorship (foursquare itself has suggested that it would be open to such a scheme). Check in the most at downtown locations and you could be awarded the mayor of downtown Winnipeg!

4. Linking foursquare promotions through the Downtown Biz's Twitter site. Yep, you can already link your Twitter account with foursquare for maximum promotional awesomeness.

5. Promote the use of foursquare to people while they walk around downtown. As the NY Times points out, the app turns faceless buildings into "voice, personality, opinion."

6. Use foursquare's location data to measure and influence consumer behavior.

So, what are you waiting for? Download the app, and I'll meet you at Spuntino for our free drinks.

I hear that the Pollo al Limone is impeccable.

The foursquare app finds a comfortable place 'tween USA Today and Whiteboard on my iPhone.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Toles' favorite films in 1986 are my favorite films in 2010

Ask not for whom the cinema tolls, for it tolls for Toles.

When I recently went to see Hollywood film producer Rachel Shane speak at the RRC Directions Business Conference, she gave a shout-out to U of M professor George Toles' film class a the U of M for being the thing that got her into film.

My ears perked up, because I took the same class way back in 1986, and I've since found out that virtually every other Winnipeg movie fan and filmmaker drawing breath has taken the class too.

Toles is a likable guy who lives and breathes films; in class, we used to giggle at his unbridled passion for movies (not to mention his impression of Cary Grant), which we used to describe as "Mr. Rogers on acid." In a good way!

To this day, I give him full credit for being the first guy I ever heard give credit to "It's a Wonderful Life" and "City Lights." Both are incredible films, even if the former features an angel named Clarence who has to earn his wings by doing a good deed.

I recall Toles saying that he felt that no one could fully understand him until they'd seen "It's a Wonderful Life." When he screened it for us, I was shocked to remember that I'd seen the film as a little kid - in church, no less! - and that the source of my childhood nightmares about falling through the ice on a pond originate in the film's opening scenes.

Learning in the dark

I recently found my Film Studies class outline from 1986, and it conjured up fond memories of my Thursday afternoons in a dark lecture theatre watching movies at the U of M with my classmates, which included my then-girlfriend.

True story: I remember the names of all of the movies we saw, but not the name of the then-girlfriend. Lovely girl, though!

I also remember the term papers I wrote in the class: a comparison between Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire (Kelly wins!), the role of art direction in Metropolis, a shot-by-shot breakdown of the statue scene in Jules and Jim, a comparison of the outlaws in Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands, and the role of parental authority in Badlands and White Heat ("Top of the world, ma!").

Cameo by Guy Maddin

One time Toles brought in a young filmmaker named Guy Maddin with his then-new short film, My Dead Father. I remember wanting to be just like him (minus the dead father), so I stuck around after class and shyly asked him how he got the money to make his short film.

He either didn't have an answer or didn't want to share it with me, so I just stammered, "It's really good. Huh-huh." And walked out feeling like a moron. Since then, Maddin and Toles have collaborated on almost every one of Maddin's projects, because they had me as a common enemy. At least that's how I tell it.

Spoiler alert!

Below is the complete list of films we watched in that class. All stand the test of time. I can think of no better introduction to classic cinema, and that includes the shout-out to one of the best Winnipeg feature films ever, Crime Wave.

I've revisited all of these films since I took the class, and many are among my favorite films of all time: Citizen Kane, City Lights, the Bicycle Thief, Badlands...really, you can't go wrong with any of these.

There are some spoilers in the clips, but if you don't already know what Charles Foster Kane is talking about when he utters, "Rosebud," it may be seriously time to re-evaluate your life!

1. Buster Keaton, Sherlock Jr. (1924)

This actually happened to me in NY, except the guy who lost the dollar threatened to kill me.

2. Buster Keaton, The Cameraman (1928)

3. Buster Keaton, The Immigrant (1931)

4. Charlie Chaplin, City Lights (1931)

The formerly blind girl learns to see...

5. Sergei Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Those soldiers are real bastards.

6. F.W. Murnau, Sunrise (1927)

7. Saul Turell's The Love Goddess (1965)

8. Fritz Lang, Metropolis (1926)

How Red River College runs the campus!

9. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane (1941)

Help save local TV!

10. Frank Capra, It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

The one thing that students learn in my PR class every year.

11. Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson.

12. Raoul Walsh, White Heat (1949)

13. Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

14. Terrence Malick, Badlands (1973)

The best soundtrack in movie history?

15. Vittorio de Sica, The Bicycle Thief (1950)

My favorite movie of all time!

16. Federico Fellini, The Nights of Cabiria (1957)

17. Francois Truffaut, Jules and Jim (1961)

Ain't love grand? Uh, no, it's not.

18. Alfred Hitchcock, Notorious (1946)

19. Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954)

20. Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960)

"Why are you putting me in the fruit cellar, Norman? Do you think I'm fruity?"

21. Jean Renoir, The Grand Illusion (1937)

22. Jean Renoir, The Rules of the Game (1939)

23. Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal (1957)

Why I stay away from beaches - that's where Pam Anderson and Death hang out.

24. Ingmar Berman, Persona (1966)

25. Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou (1929)

26. Luis Bunuel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

This happens to me every time I eat!

27. John Paizs, Crime Wave (1985)

A fine piece of Winnipeg-based cinema!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The secret to eternal youth and everlasting life is arrrgghhhhh...

I've been meaning to share the secret to eternal youth and everlasting life with you, but haven't got around to it until today; it's hard to find the time for the real important stuff, ya know.

If any harm has befallen you while you've been waiting for this info, I offer you a humble apology, hearty handshake, and lemon tree, in that order.

On a recent visit to my doctor, he very helpfully broke down what I - and all men, apparently - should be doing in order to live forever; it's as enlightening as it is a depressing indictment of spices, coffee, tea, beer, distilled spirits, and sody pop.

Nooooooooo, not sody pop!

He was nice enough to write it down for me on an educational brochure about maintaining your health (see above photo), which - if you're a man - heavily involves making sure your prostate is in the best, possible condition to be all that it can be.

Because I'm told that if you're a man who lives in a sub-zero climate, the cold will quite literally creep up your arse and slowly kill you. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but I'm sure that's what the good doctor was telling me in his own, delicate way.

The secret, broken down

So, here is the secret to eternal youth and everlasting life, as written by my doctor under the helpful headlines of "worse" and "better." Results may vary. Don't base life decisions based on this blog. Reading this may cause hair loss and some sexual side effects. Etc, etc, etc.

Caffeine (coffee, tea, and pop)
Booze (rye, beer)
No sex
Cold temperatures

No caffeine
No booze
No stress

We all know that it's impossible to have sex without booze or stress, so there's a very real possibility that this whole thing may be an elaborate joke.

Over to you, Billy Joel:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's Gradapalooza! The "How many CreComm grads can I meet in one week" challenge

Please permit me a bit of bias: the Creative Communications program at Red River College has the greatest grads ever.

And the reason I know this is because I run into them everywhere and they tell me so themselves. Ha!

Better yet, I have the photographs to prove it. Why, here's a selection of grads I've run into from this week alone. I'll keep updating this as I run into more.

Do you ever get the feeling you're being stalked? Me neither!

Citytv's Jennifer Ryan, Alzheimer Society's Daniel Paspaporn, and Downtown Biz's Jolene Olive. A trifecta of talent!

Here, RRC College Relations' own Nathan Bueddefeld sells potential RRC students on a way of life he's already living: the life of an employed CreComm grad.

Direct Focus' Matt Cohen buys me lunch at the Tallest Poppy. Thanks, Matt! All grads should buy their instructors lunch. Hellooo? I'm waiting for some free lunch here!

McKim Cringan George's Dan Vadeboncoeur, KICK-FM's Justine Routhier, and the WSO's Cheryl Waldner rock the Atrium and the mic at today's RRC Open House. Here, they pretend to be happy to see their old instructor.

CreComm grad Alana Pona's article in the current issue of localfare magazine, available for free at all MLCC outlets. This counts as running into a former student, right? Right! Update: and CreComm grad Carly Peters in the magazine's managing editor.

Portage Place marketing assistant Mike Ambrose hogs the spotlight in the mall (get it? "Hogs?" Wah, wah, wah). I was so excited to see him carrying this cardboard cutout of a pig, I completely forgot to take Portage Place marketing coordinator Brittany Leschasin's photo. Next time!

Curve FM's Pamela Roz and famous actor Gaetan Harris (he'll always be famous in my books for working on Sean Garrity's latest film, Zooey & Adam) hangin' in the Atrium.

I spelled all of these names for memory. Any fatal typos? Other than that ridiculous "Bueddefeld" name - I mean, who's ever heard of a name like that? Not me!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The most romantic theatre marquee in history

Hey, Precious, wanna go see Crazy Hearts on Valentine's Day?


Yep, the name of the film is, in fact, Crazy Heart!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Do you believe in life after Believe?

I believe I've had enough of that Olympic Believe song.

Just one play away from being its own element on the periodic table with the equally odorless, colorless, and poisonous freon, it's time for us to join hands and sing kumbaya or some other song - any other song - before we start believing ourselves into oblivion (or is that "o-believe-ion?").

Since I'm not one to complain without offering constructive solutions (err...yeah, sure...), I'm offering up some replacement tunes you can believe in.

Who's with me?

1. Cher - Believe

Key line: "I can feel something inside me say, I really don't think you're strong enough, no!"
Critique: Too much self-doubt for Olympians, I'd wager, but the disco beat would fool 'em.

2. Lou Reed and John Cale - I Believe

Key line: "I believe an eye for an eye is elemental."
Critique: The gun in the video is no starter pistol.

3. Journey - Don't Stop Believin'

Key line: "Workin' hard to get my fill. Everybody wants a thrill."
Critique: None. As I've said before, this song is perfect in every way for every occasion.

4. Chris Isaak (or the dude in this video, who isn't half bad) - I Believe

Key line: "Sometimes our dreams just don't come true."
Critique: More self-doubt, but more Olympians' dreams don't come true, so it's grounded in reality.

5. Joey Scarbury - Believe it or Not

Key line: "Believe it or not, it's just me."
Critique: Too humble. We like our athletes to be super-human, not to fly "on a wing and a prayer."

Bonus! Early contender for the summer Olympics!

6. Belle and Sebastian - The Stars of Track and Field

Key line: "You only did it so that you could wear your terry underwear."
Critique: Too slow for the victory montage, but isn't it about time that wimpy, pale people get to have their say at sporting events?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy first-ever reading week, RRC students

"Helloooo (helloo, helloo, helloo)."

"Anybody there (there, there, there)?"

Either I'm the last-surviving human after a nuclear apocalypse, or it's Red River College's first-ever reading week.

The background about how this reading week came to be is in this Uniter article written by CreComm grad Kristy Rydz; I think she gives our PR research assignment altogether more credit than it deserves, but I'm a sucker for positive feedback. Let's hear it for being needy, people!

So, what do we do on reading week? I thought I'd start by making a list. Here's what I've got so far:
  • Buy marshmallow hearts for half price. Eat them alone.
  • Clip toenails.
  • Bathe.
  • Meet past grads for lunch; give them back unmarked papers.
  • Go to the talkies in a horseless carriage.
  • Fist-fight U of M students at the Alexander Docks.
  • Watch downhill skiing. Continue saying, "That's where my career is going" until it gets a laugh.

"That's where my career is going." Cue tumbleweeds.

  • Tweet.
  • Watch Jersey Shore again to pick up some of the nuances I may have missed the first time.
  • Phone in to the Larry King Show and pretend to be the ghost of Michael Jackson calling from Cleveland.
  • Lobby for my inclusion at "Breakfast with the Interim President."
  • Work on my Freddie Mercury impression.

"Two hundred degrees - that's why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit!"

  • Buy 365 lemon trees to present to people whose feelings I will accidentally hurt over the next 365 days.
  • Shoot all of the pigeons in Grand Theft Auto.

Those damn pigeons! Just make...them...stop cooing!

  • If time permits, read.

Ask not what reading week can do for you; ask what you can do for reading week! To where do I send the lemon trees?

Love stinks! Ten great songs about the downside of Valentine's Day

Dear St. Valentine and Hallmark: thanks for the memories!

1. ABC - Poison Arrow

Key line: "Who broke my heart? You did, you did!"

2. Beck - Lost Cause

Key line: "I'm tired of fighting."

3. Chet Baker - My Funny Valentine

Key line: "Is your figure less than Greek? Is your mouth a little weak?"

4. Magnetic Fields - All My Little Words

Key line: "I could make you fly away, but I could never make you stay."

5. J. Geils Band - Love Stinks

Key line: "You just can't win."

6. The Beatles - Yesterday

Key line: "Why she had to go, I don't know, she wouldn't say."

7. Human League - Don't You Want Me?

Key line: "You'd better change it back or we will both be sorry!"

8. The Divine Comedy - The Frog Princess

Key line: "I don't love anybody. That stuff is just a waste of time. Your place or mine?"

9. The Smiths - You Just Haven't Earned it Yet Baby

Key line: "You must suffer and cry for a longer time."

10. Tom Petty - Don't Come Around Here No More

Key line: "I've given up on this love...getting stronger!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

We're all behind you: now bend over!

Intentionally cheeky or ass backward?

1. Let's say there's a sport in which the participants spend a majority of their time bent over.

2. Now let's say that you're a copywriter who has to come up with a themeline because your company is sponsoring a famous athlete in that sport.

Wouldn't you giggle just a little when you floated "We're all behind you!," matched it with a photo of that athlete bent over, and it actually got the green light?

Friday, February 12, 2010

My favorite coastal Antarctic shelf: Larsen C

British Sea Power sing about Larsen B.

When I was in grade four, my teacher Mrs. McCartney assigned an essay that would haunt me for the rest of my life.

The essay: write about all of the famous people in the world with your last name.

Of course, Mrs. McCartney, like all memorable teachers, was crazy. Her greatest hits:
  • She once made us - a group of young kids - call strangers in the phone book to ask them "how they got their first name." What could possibly go wrong?
  • Though her last name was "McCartney," she disavowed all relation to the Beatle Paul McCartney, yet claimed to be a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth.
  • She gave us a class assignment that involved having our parents drive us to a billboard, where they were to park the car and wait for us to hand draw a replica of what we were looking at: angry parents parked in front of a billboard.
  • She only dressed in purple, which led to her fairly clever nickname among students and staff, "the Purple Cow."
Nonetheless, I was excited to find out all about the famous Larsens in the world. But as I conducted my pre-Internet research, my excitement turned to depression as I quickly realized a sad fact: There aren't any famous Larsens in the world.

Larsen vs. Larson

Sure, there's Gary Larson, creator of the Far Side comic strip, and Glen A. Larson, the frackin' guy who created the original Battlestar Galactica - but they don't count, because they're the Larsons who spell their names with an "o."

True, "Larson" is the much more popular incarnation of my name and why to this day that when I log into my computer at work, I have to see the words "Kenton Larson" come up on the screen - a total bastardization of all that's good and right in the world.

And it's also true that "Larsen," spelled with an "e" has been the cause of many a student's fatal typo in CreComm. But still: you have to admit that the "e" looks so much happier and friendlier than the "o," probably because of their active participation in the words "yes" (e!) and "no" (o!).

An inconvenient name

Forgoing all of the "Larsons," my research took me to the only famous Larsen I could find: the Larsen A, B, and C ice shelf: a three-part block of ice in the Antarctic named for Carl Anton Larsen, the famous captain of a Norwegian whaling vessel who visited the site in 1893. Hey, four famous Larsens in one!

(And we can all be thankful that there's no Larsen E for the puns alone.)

So, I wrote my paper and got an A, because my crazy teacher thought my crazy paper was original for comparing myself to a block of ice.

I forgot about it until I went to see Al Gore's environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth and found out that two-thirds of my most-famous namesake - Larsen A and B - had crumbled into the sea.

"Nooooo - that was the project I did for crazy Mrs. McCartney in grade four when we had to write a paper for her crazy class!" I shouted at the Volkswagen-sized projection of Al Gore on the screen. He was unmoved.

The crappy film, the Day After Tomorrow, added insult to injury by turning the Larsen B collapse into a lame action sequence.

Here's a YouTube guy - there's always a YouTube guy - who shows the Larsen B similarities in both films:

It's sad to consider that the only thing standing between the obliteration of the entire ice shelf, the environment, life on Earth as we know it, and - most importantly - my last name is the Larsen C ice shelf.

Sez Wikipedia in a post flagged as "neutrality disputed:"
"Although the remaining Larsen C region, which is the furthest south, appears to be relatively stable for now, continued warming could lead to its breakup within the next decade. If disintegration should occur with this last major sector - then the enormous Larsen Ice Shelf viewed in 1893 by Carl Anton Larsen and his crew...will largely be gone in just over a century after first discovery, which is a mere flash in geologic time."
Farewell, Larsen. At least I'll always have Kenton:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The lone balloon: harbinger of doom or just misunderstood?

Alone in a world he didn't create...

Snubbed by passersby...

Left to fend for himself...

...the lone balloon plots his revenge on humankind!

Monday, February 8, 2010

My 1977 Chevy Nova: the original Toyota!

Pimp my ride:
A valet at the Sheraton commandeers my pride and joy.

Meet my first car: the 1977 Chevy Nova, aka the Titanic of the Road.

I don't remember even wanting the car specifically, but when I turned 18, it was all that I could afford. I purchased it in 1986 for the very reasonable price of $1, which I dutifully paid my mother after she'd driven it into the ground over the previous nine years, and I never looked back - just like Bob Dylan and Boston.

The great thing about domestic cars built in 1977 is that they were all extremely unsafe by today's standards. But to make up for it, they were built out of solid steel, so that anything you hit would be crushed like a melon and you'd be safe somewhere inside the hulking frame.

In fact, the 77 Nova was so big, when you drove it you couldn't see the road: "Hey, I hope I'm not killing anyone down there!" And when you parked it, I swear, you'd have to wipe Volkswagen Beetles off of the grill.

Fittingly, the car's name was shorthand for "supernova," which is not only what happens to a star when it runs out of gas and explodes, but was also the name of Tommy Lee's terrible side band, which also ran out of gas and exploded. A rare instance of truth in advertising!

Nova = Toyota

Best of all, my Nova had the same problem as the current crop of Toyotas: out of nowhere, it would suddenly start accelerating; the only way I could stop it was to physically stick my foot under the accelerator and lift it back up, reach down with my hand to do the same, or stick my feet through the rusted-out floorboards like the Flintstones.

Yes, there were holes in the floor, but I considered this to be akin to taking a cruise in a glass-bottomed boat. It's not the journey, it's the view. Or something...let's move on.

But there was no recall (or airbag or seat belt, come to think of it). Yet I never once thought of the sudden acceleration as a safety hazard; it was more of a "what did you expect for $1?" mindset than anything.

And no one in my family ever expressed so much as an ounce of concern about my safety. If the car accelerated uncontrollably, it just meant that I could get to their house for dinner that much faster.

It's ova, Nova

Sadly, my Nova days came to an end when someone stole it out of the Polo Park parking lot. How desperate do you have to be to see a Chevy Nova in a parking lot and think, "Oooh. Sweet ride. Let's steal it!"

And a short 24 hours after it was lifted, it appeared in a farmer's field just outside of Calgary. No joke.

Autopac decided that it wasn't worth towing back, and no one was ever arrested for the crime. However, I don't think you have to be Perry Mason to figure out who lifted it:


I believe this to be true because when the cops found my car, there was a bunch of the cows hanging around nearby. And when the officers tried to interview them, they pretended they couldn't speak English. A dead giveaway!

And if you've ever watched COPS, you know what happened next. There was a scuffle. A chase ensued. Shots were fired.

And, to make a long story short, tonight I had burgers for dinner. All's well that ends well!

Thanks, for the memories, Nova! Munch, munch, munch.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why songs about being in bands usually suck

It's a cliche and truism in the music business that most bands produce their best work on their first album and then go straight to Hell after that.

The thinking is this: you have your whole life to write the first album, so when it becomes a success, you tour and tour and tour until the only thing you have left to write about is: how you tour and tour and tour and do drugs and hang out backstage and have sex with groupies.

If "meta" is the highest level of learning (learning about learning!) then it's the lowest level of songwriting (singing and writing about singing and writing!). There are exceptions to the rule, but let's start with the worst of the worst, because those are the best.

I. The simply moronic:

1. Nickelback - Rockstar

Key line: "I want a brand-new house on an episode of Cribs." Everyone!
Worst moment: "Been there, done that."

2. Bon Jovi - Wanted Dead or Alive

Key line: "Times when you're alone, all you do is think." Ouch!
Worst moment: "I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride!"

3. Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water

Key line: "Some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground." Sounds reasonable to me.
Worst moment: The guitar riff, sorry. Even John Bender in the Breakfast Club knew a cliche when he heard it.

4. The Ramones - Touring

Key line: "Drive, drive, drive the night away."
Worst moment: Rhyming "touring" with "boring." Blitzkrieg Bop was a long, long time ago.

II. The mean-spirited:

1. Loudon Wainwright III - My Biggest Fan

Key line: "My biggest fan is a 400-pound man." Having trouble getting that singalong going, Loudon?
Worst moment: "Who knows how many stalls hang onto his balls?"

2. John Mellencamp - Pop Singer

Key line: "Never wanted to be a pop singer." Uh...then don't make albums?
Worst moment: "Never wanted to hang out after the show."

3. The Streets - When You Wasn't Famous

Key line: "So when you try to pull a girl who is also famous too - it feels just like when you wasn't famous." I would imagine.
Worst moment: "How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers when I know they've all got camera phones?"

III. The predictable

1. Jackson Browne - Running on Empty

Key line: "I don't know how to tell you all how just crazy this life feels." Totally.
Worst moment: the bowl cut, hands down. Is this Jackson or Buster Browne?

2. Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing

Key line: "They don't give a damn about any trumpet-playing band." Zzzz....
Worst moment: "And the Sultans played Creole."

3. George Harrison - When We Was Fab

Key line: "But it's all over now, baby blue." True!
Worst moment: The lame callback to Taxman: "Back when income tax was all we had."

4. The Byrds - So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star

Key line: "Just get an electric guitar then take some time and learn how to play." No way!
Worst moment: "Was it all a strange game, you're a little insane."

IV. The actually good!

1. Art Brut - Formed a Band

Key line: "Look at us - we formed a band!"
Best moment: "And, yes, this is my singing voice."

2. The Minutemen, History Lesson Part II

Key line: "Our band could be your life."
Best moment: "We were f***ing corn dogs."

3. The Clash - Garageland

Key line: "We're in a garage band. We come from garageland."
Best moment: "Complaints! Complaints! Wot an old bag!"

4. Pavement - Cut Your Hair

Key line: "Songs mean a lot when songs are bought."
Best moment: "Oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh-ooooh-ooohhh!"

Which ones did I miss?

Find the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo

I'd like to ship an invisible arrow to Tuscon.

This is one of the great optical illusions: find the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo.

Whenever I used to give this problem to my graphic design students, at least a few thought that I was seeing things, or that I shouldn't read so much into an accidental pairing of letters that, for some reason, kinda looks like an arrow.

But a graphic design accident rarely, if ever, happens. Logos are huge business - just ask Pepsi, which paid $1 million to Arnell for coming up with its updated logo. Arnell famously justified it in this 27-page document called "Breathtaking Design Strategy:"

Pepsi Breathtaking Design Strategy

The document impressively - or is that laughingly? - chronicles over 5,000 years of design to establish Pepsi's blueprint for the brand. By the time they get to "gravitational pull," you might begin to doubt your own sanity.

But, there's no doubt that something like an arrow wouldn't show up in a logo by mistake.

Which is why I was happy to come across's 2004 interview with the designer of the FedEx logo himself, Lindon Leader of Leader Creative.

In the interview, he talks about realizing that the letters could create an arrow, manipulating the font to encourage the arrow, and why it's so subtle in the finished design:
"The power of the hidden arrow is simply that it is a hidden bonus. It is a positive-reverse optical kind of thing: either you see it or you don't. Importantly, not getting the punch line by not seeing the arrow does not reduce the impact of the logo's essential communication."

"The power of the logo and the FedEx marketing supporting the logo is strong enough to convey clearly FedEx brand positioning. On the other hand, if you do see the arrow, or someone points it out to you, you won't forget it."
So, consider this to be mission accomplished.

Give up? It's right here:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A salute to great Super Bowl ads and not being able to see them in Canada

In the future, everyone will have a haircut like me and wear Hooters shorts (also like me).

Let's celebrate two, great Super Bowl traditions:

1. Great ads that people actually watch

And the one above started it all!

The 1984 ad for Macintosh computers is directed by Ridley "Blade Runner" Scott himself, and is credited with not only saving Apple, but also driving up the stakes and costs of Super Bowl spots.

Just like Star Wars saved and ruined movies at the same time, so too did this spot save and ruin ads for all time, raising one of the most debated advertising questions of all time: is it better to run your ad once when everyone is watching intently, or 1,000 times when people are kinda, sorta watching?

Unbelievably, the most-famous ad of all time ran only once, during the Super Bowl, but still set the stage for the brand in a dramatic and memorable way.

Yay: Super Bowl ads!

2. Not being able to see the ads in Canada

Thanks to digital channels, I was actually able to watch the American feed of the game last year, including the ads.

OK, I lied: I fast-forwarded through the game and watched the ads. No, I'm not joking. I have my priorities.

I'm hoping that the same thing happens this year, but if it doesn't, and you don't have the benefit of digital channels, you can thank the CRTC for it's awesome "signal substitution" rule.
  • Check out the CRTC's signal substitution rule here. Just one more reason not to save local TV. Kidding!
Only one thing left to do: blame Canada!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Whatchu saying about me, Internet?

You should hear what she says about you on Twitter.

Ever wondered what people are saying about you online?

Me neither!

In fact, up until now I've been faithful to the first and only commandment of the Internet: "thou shalt never Google thy own name!"

But perhaps I've just been fooling myself by doing the online equivalent of sticking my head in the sand or putting my hands over my ears and yelling, "I don't hear you!"

Online monitoring is becoming a big business, as is the idea that you should have some knowledge about, and control over, your online presence.

Best of all, it's simple to set up, feels vaguely like you're stalking yourself, and - get ready to perk up, ears - absolutely free! And if you have a website or blog or you're on Twitter or Facebook, having an online monitoring system is a peachy keen way to have an answer the next time someone asks, "Whazzup witchu?"

This instant, real-time data is what's revolutionizing the advertising business and the business business. The key is data, demographics, geographics, and psychographics.

Once you know who, specifically, is talking about you, and how many times they do it, your online presence gains value, and can be sold to advertisers through Google AdSense, Yahoo Right Media, or the old-fashioned way: on street corners at night.

So, here's how to keep an eye on everything you want: like God in Elvis Costello's song, "God's Comic," lying on a waterbed, watching 9 1/2 Weeks, and listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem" (1:30 in this video):

1. Sign up for Google Alerts

Enter a keyword search for whatever you like and check back for real-time results. I entered my own name (put quotation marks around yours for best results), my blog's name (same deal), "Red River College," and "pasty, white Norwegian." Kidding, but maybe I should, just to be sure.

2. Set up a home base

a) Tweetdeck

PR instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart is the Queen of Tweetdeck, which allows you to be the Mr. Sulu of your workplace - manning the helm of social networkland as you gamely ignore Captain Kirk yelling at you.

I just downloaded the Tweetdeck iPhone app, and it works like a charm, just like it claims:
"TweetDeck is your mobile browser for staying in touch with what’s happening now on Twitter and Facebook from your iPhone or iPod Touch. TweetDeck shows you everything you want to see at once, so you can stay organised and up to date no matter where you are."
I feel more organized already.

b) Addict-o-matic

This is one of the best dashboards I've seen. If there's a keyword search you find yourself constantly typing in, just put it into Addict-o-matic, bookmark it, and check back frequently to see who's talking about it (or you) on Twitter, Bing, Google, YouTube and everywhere.

c) Hootsuite

Just like Tweetdeck, this one is a "professional Twitter client," allowing you to manage multiple Twitter streams and accounts at once, set up "team workflows" for group projects, and track stats. Plus it has a nice-lookin' layout. Watch the video:

3. Start measuring your audience

a) Twitalyzer

Follow your competitors on Twitter and measure your own Twitter usage and success. This one crashes a lot for me, but it's free, so what the hell else would you expect, greedy? When it doesn't crash, I must say, it's pretty cool.

Twitalyzer gives you key Twitter metrics in the areas of impact, engagement, influence, generosity, clout, and velocity. Turns out that I'm extremely engaged and not at all generous. Tell me something I don't know, Twitalyzer!

b) Google Analytics

The big name in web traffic and demographics. Hide the code on your blog or website, and secretly track who visits your site. Like I'm doing right now, naked person!

c) StatCounter and Site Meter

Same as Google Analytics, more or less, but each of these measurement services has pros and cons. I check StatCounter once a week and Site Meter stats get emailed to me every Wednesday morning.

My hits have been getting better this past year: I've gone from about 1,000 to 5,000 unique views a month. Average "stay and read" time is a bit down from 2:45 to 2:33. So now I'm writing very long articles to force people to stay here longer. Like this one! Why not get a coffee, come back and read more, short attention-span person?

4. Don't forget about other bloggers

I recently discovered BlogPulse from the good folks at Nielsen.

The site tells you about all of the hot topics being discussed by bloggers, the traditional media that they are sourcing, the most popular viral videos, key phrases in blog posts, and even blog comments on its Conversation Tracker tool.

5. Secure your name, brand, and username

Where there's a hit, there's a writ! No, I'm not advocating that you sue anyone, lest you - or worse: I - be sued by someone else.

However, if you're interested in checking how your name, brand, or username is being used online and want to secure it across the web, check out KnowEm.

Thank God, I can still open a Plinky account under my own name! Wah, wah, wah...