Monday, May 31, 2010

Why the folk aren't these artists gonna play the fest?

What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?

On my way out of seeing Elvis Costello's great performance at last year's Folk Fest, I overheard an old guy on the way out say, "Wow, that was great folk music." In case you couldn't tell, he was being sarcastic.

The Folk Fest has its work cut out for it. Do you go "pure folk" to satisfy the folks who still yell "Judas!" at Bob Dylan when he plays MTS Centre, or do you go "rocker" to draw a larger audience?

These questions seem to matter a lot to at least some folk-music fans, but I love folk music - and all kinds of music - and subscribe to the theory that there are only two kinds of music: "good" and "bad."

So, when I recently made a mixed CD (yeah, I still make those - cheeky!), I noticed a higher-than-average number of bands that would be right at home at the fest.

The nominees:

1. The Unthanks

Some of the most gorgeous and heartfelt music I've heard all year is from this Northumberland band. The harmonies (starting at :58) give me goosebumps every time.

Unlike Devo, I'm getting the feeling a coal mine isn't a great place to work.

2. Mumford & Sons

After a stellar performance on Letterman, USA Today included this band on its "five buzz bands to see live" list, for its "heart-swelling hooks and harmonies."

It's a bittersweet symphony, indeed:

They really "focked" it up this time.

3. Fanfarlo

A band I know very little about, other than they're from London and the songs are catchy as hell:


4. Magnetic Fields

The sometimes rock, always gimmicky U.S. band went all folksy hoedown on its latest album - and its lead singer has a hearing problem that makes him run for the hills when he hears loud music and applause. No joke!

The Folk Fest awaits:

"Crawling back to me" rhymes with "appendectomy!"

5. The xx

The spiritual heirs to Young Marble Giants are really indie/alternative, but their quiet, thoughtful songs would win over the Folk Fest in an (electronic) heartbeat.

6. The Heavy

Are blues, R&B, and rock "folk?" Probably not, but I have a feeling that this band would deliver a barn-burning Folk Fest finale for the ages.

How you like them now?

Skeletor, meet Scarecrow.

7. Graham Parker

One great set by Elvis Costello deserves another by punk folkster (folk punker?) Graham Parker, whose recent resurgence is on the back of three, incredible folk-, jazz-, and country-influenced albums.

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

Skinny, bald guys unite: you have nothing to lose but your sunglasses.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The iPad is beautiful - setting it up, not so much

It's a boy, Mrs. Walker, it's a boy!

The iPad has landed.

That according to the UPS guy who delivered mine to my door. He said that Apple dispatched a special plane full o' iPads to the Winnipeg airport on Friday, so that all of the little kids awaiting them wouldn't be disappointed.

Thanks, Santa Jobs!

So, even though I got an email from Apple earlier in the day saying, "There's no frigging way you're going to get your iPad today," I got one anyway. Classic marketing trick: to under-promise and over-deliver.

Setting it up

I know that I'm completely crap at setting up anything - right my poorly assembled EQ3 sofa?

Whenever I have to build something, the same thing happens: I begin optimistically, slowly and methodically reading through the instructions. Flash forward two hours, when I'm swearing and throwing the item across the room in a blind rage.

So, I was going to wait until Saturday morning to set up my iPad. My wait lasted for about 10 minutes before I ripped into the box with a frenzy befitting of Smeagol in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

To my evil, imaginary twin I say: "Leave now and never come back!"

Sure enough, my first instinct was the right instinct. My review, in a nutshell: love the iPad, hate the set-up process. I'm tempted to say, "It's all Rogers fault" but allow me to explain further.

I just hope you enjoy reading this review as much as I enjoyed setting up my iPad. Ahem.

He wants a hug!

First, I should say that I purchased the iPad with Wi-Fi and 3G capability. That means that I can hook into whatever Wi-Fi network I happen to be near, or hook into Rogers 3G network, like a cell phone, and access apps and the Web and everything good in the world wherever I happen to be.

Yay! But, oh boy, Rogers didn't make it easy on me or anyone, judging by the wait time on the phone to Rogers' tech support.

Rogers greatest hits

1. 3G pricing options, or lack thereof

After I ordered my iPad, and before it was delivered, Rogers went back on its original offer to allow iPhone users to add their iPad to their existing Rogers plan for just $20 a month, because that might bring its customers "pleasure" - and we know that cell phone providers aren't in the pleasure business.

Although the original offer was posted on the Apple website as an option, Rogers instead went with a one-price-fits-all strategy: $35 a month, which is $15 more than $20 - more pleasure for Rogers, less pleasure for us.

But for that extra $15, the customer service is going to be stellar, right? Well...

2. Sim card, what's that?

Two days before I got the iPad, I got the Rogers sim card in the mail. Points for timeliness.

What's a sim card? Not that you'll find out in the Rogers brochure, or from the URL that Rogers tells you to visit for technical support but actually takes you to an unrelated sales pitch.

The sim card is a little microchip that you insert into the side of the iPad on a little tray to get 3G wireless access. Before you can do that, though, you'd better invest in an Exacto Knife, because you'll have to cut along these very, very light creases to free the sim card from its imprisonment on a larger card.

Careful now, because one wrong move and - d'oh! You put the little card gold-chip down into the tray, close the tray and...

3. Registration, customer "support"

...sign up for your cellular service using the "Cellular Services" menu onboard the iPad in its "settings" menu. You simply enter your credit card and personal info, and you're automatically registered for a Rogers plan. In theory.

It took me seven tries and three calls to Rogers (I was transferred three times on the first call alone) before it actually worked.

Rogers did get back to me later in the evening - not to see if my iPad worked, but to give me a prerecorded "customer service survey" and I obliged them with the most sarcastic answers ever recorded at Rogers headquarters.

My biggest Rogers complaint: at the height of my frustration, and having given my birth date and postal code six times to prove my identity, a Rogers customer-service rep actually tried to upsell me on something called a "rocket stick." Sounds dirty, but I said "no thanks" anyway.

In comparison, here's the entire Apple iPad instructional booklet for your pleasure:

iPad screen: now in glorious color!

Once the Rogers service was up and running - three hours later - I finally had a chance to sit back and marvel at the marvelous screen. Totally marvel-worthy.

Anyone who says that the iPad is just a big iPhone is a little right and a little wrong. Yeah, the interface and apps work the same, but the iPad screen's dynamic color, depth, and resolution is really something to see.

I loaded my existing iPhone apps onto the iPad first; they worked, but looked pretty sketchy. It was then I realized that you have to download the iPad apps from the special iPad section of iTunes.

So I downloaded the ones that I've already used and like on the iPhone in addition to the ones that all the cool websites said I needed, among them:
  • AccuWeather
  • BBC News
  • Bloomberg (stocks)
  • Dizzypad HD (Frogger for iPad!)
  • GrooveMaker (for music mixin')
  • The Guardian UK
  • Harbor Master (a boat game)
  • iBooks
  • KAYAK Flights
  • NY Times Editors' Choice
  • Pages (the iPad's app for Word docs)
  • Shazam
  • TweetDeck
  • USA Today
  • Zinio (for magazines)
  • Marvel Comics
  • Dragon Dictation
  • Epicurious
  • Feeddler RSS (to follow the CreComm blogs)
  • IMDB
  • Amazon Kindle (sync your Kindle with your iPad)
  • Sci Fi Wire
To see the Guardian UK's Eyewitness photography app is to decide on the spot that you need an iPad.

Ditto for Wired Magazine, which is a much better read on the iPad than on paper, thanks to interactive ads, slide shows, embedded HD videos, and 360-degree functionality.

I'll be writing a full review of some of these apps soon - especially Pages, which I know many, many people are hoping and praying is great, so they can replace their bulky laptops with an iPad, confident that it has a workable equivalent to Word.

If it makes you appy...

iPad versus Kindle

You'll note that one of the first apps I downloaded is iBooks. Winnipeggers and Assiniboine Park zookeepers alike will be happy to know that it comes preloaded with Winnie-the-Pooh.

I also downloaded the Amazon Kindle for iPad app, which allows me to read all of the books I've downloaded onto the Kindle on my iPad.

Does this mean my Kindle is destined for the dumpster? Well, it's true that the iPad blows away the Kindle for sheer "wow power," but I see a place for both in my life.

Ooh, my aching head...a Kindle atop an iPad.

The Kindle is much smaller and lighter, making it better for the bus. The iPad is significantly heavier, which makes it a good alternative for all of the things you currently use your laptop to do.

The iPad has a backlight and the Kindle doesn't - which you prefer depends on where and when you like to read. In daylight on the bus? Kindle. At night next to a sleeping spouse? iPad all the way.

Here's how Consumer Reports breaks down the comparison:

They've got nothing on the Mac and PC dudes.

One more prediction

I'm gonna be washing my hands a lot more.


I'll be posting again soon when I've had some time to use the apps and experience the iPad in real life. Until then!

Friday, May 28, 2010

My one-man campaign against "unique" in campaigns

Cock a doodle don't.

Unique is not very unique.

"Unique" is especially not unique in advertising, evidenced most recently in the new ad campaign for The Forks (above).

The lazy copywriter loves "unique," because it sounds like a great "sales word" and reduces the actual work of having to write, specifically, why something is worth buying, which is no easy task, especially when you have to do it every day.

There are few ad writers among us who haven't rolled under their desks in the fetal position and sucked their thumbs for days, wondering why on God's green Earth anyone would want to buy the thing we've been charged with selling.

And if you can't figure out how to sell "this piece of crap," it must be a "unique" product!

Ask the ad copywriter why he or she has used the word "unique," and the conversation usually goes something like this:
Copywriter one: "Try our unique BLT sandwich today!"
Copywriter two: "What's unique about it?"
Copywriter one: "It's got ketchup on it!"
Copywriter two: "Why not just say that it's got ketchup on it?"
Copywriter one: "Errr..."
When the client moans and sighs...

It's also no secret that "the client" - the advertiser charged with approving the ad - loves the word "unique," because everyone who owns a business or works with a product everyday honestly and invariably believes two things:
  1. The product is "something for everyone;"
  2. It's "unique."
Using specifics sometimes sends the client running or starts a big debate - because specifics mean you've defined a narrow target audience and written something that can be quantified, measured, or (gasp!) noticed by that audience:
Client: "If we say that Pizza Pops blow your head off when you eat them, we may be alienating the older audience. And they don't, in fact, actually blow your head off. Let's just say they're unique."
David Ogilvy's old adage about clients could use a rewrite:
"When the client moans and sighs, make the logo twice the size
If he or she proves refractory, show a picture of the factory
Only in the gravest cases, should you show the clients' faces.
(New line) And use the word "unique" as often as possible!"
I'm not suggesting that copywriters go around alienating clients everyday - after all, you do want to actually "please" the client from time to time. However, in order to face yourself in the mirror in the morning, you owe it to yourself and your client to come up with something original, creative, noticeable, and unique. D'oh!

Unique movie quotes

It all comes down to having enough pride and belief in yourself to risk "being original," which means avoiding every single cliche that you can. The exception is when you're being ironic, which is all good, girlfriend. See what I did there?

As Adam Sandler advises upstart comedy writer Seth Rogan in Funny People:
Sandler: "Okay, don't say "ASAP." And don't say "I'm chilling" or "It's all good" or any of that stuff."
Rogan: "Okay, I don't. I don't chill anyway, so I won't. And it's not all good, so don't worry."
One of my favorite "unique" quotes of all time is from John Candy in the great John Hughes movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:

Hey: that's what my one-man campaign against "unique" in campaigns needs: a themeline!

How's this?
"If you say "unique," you're an a**hole."
Next blog: I solve the problem of world hunger.

Make up your own "unique" caption joke here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Four nifty online tools for yer readin' and communicatin' needs

1. Issuu

Despite using the cliches "wide variety" and "unique" in the first, few seconds of the video intro (boooo!) - is a very useful and very free service to make your publications easier to navigate and share online.

I've been pushing for a CreComm app to view our students' magazine projects, but Issuu might be good enough for the time being, as evidenced by this cool magazine: Little White Lies.

Nice, eh?

Thanks to CreComm grad and Clark & Huot employee Mark Reimer for the tip.

2. Evernote

Clip articles from the Web to read later, take pictures, type a note, take a screenshot. Then, place them in your Evernote account, where everything is processed, indexed, and made searchable for later - even handwritten notes.

I'm saving time already, just like my lady friend, Jill:

3. Instapaper

So many Web articles to read, so little time.

That's where Instapaper comes in. You simply visit the Instapaper website, drag a "read later" widget onto your Web browser, and save Web pages you want to - as the widget's name suggests - read later.

Then, you can read them on your iPhone using the free Instapaper app - not using any of the valuable megabytes in your Rogers data plan.

(Sorry: Rogers tells me that I'm a "heavy" data plan user, "even for people with iPhones." Translation: $$$$!)

A demo:

4. Delicious

A social-marketing bookmark website to "store, share, and discover" Web bookmarks and create a network of people with interests like yours: like Twitter for Web-page recommendations.

No, wait, come back! The site has "the largest collection of bookmarks in the universe" at 200 million and Wikipedia sez that it had over five-million users in 2008.

The specifics:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ten things that crossed my mind at last night's Buzzcocks concert

1. Adding the word "buzz" to the front of any dirty word makes it sound much less dirty.

2. What are Robert's Rules of Order regarding mosh pits?

3. The answer to "Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with?" is "Ever written a sentence with a preposition you shouldn't have ended it with?"

4. There's a harmony in my head. Lord, make it stop!

5. "Why Can't I Touch It?" A clever lament about the subjective nature of reality or a dumb masturbation joke?

6. Who stole my bike?

7. The Buscocks?

8. Two plastic cups of watery beer for $12 begins to make sense only after you've spent about $72.

9. Lava lamps never get old. At least I pray that's a lava lamp.

10. It's tough to be a hardcore punk when your feet hurt and it's past your bedtime.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My 10 favorite TV-series finales

I'm Lost 24/7.

Having just watched the last Lost and 24 of all time, and enjoying and being confused by each one in its own way, I've been thinking about the elements that make a great TV series finale.

I've narrowed it down to 10 magic ingredients.

A series finale should:
  • Be surprising by telling you something you didn't already know.
  • Not be so surprising that it ruins the rewatchability of the episodes that have come before.
  • Stand the test of time or get better with time.
  • Be in keeping with the rest of the series.
  • Take itself seriously, but not so seriously as to become pretentious.
  • Avoid cliches, like "it was all a dream" or "a lion rushed out of nowhere and ate them!"
  • Be self-referential, but in moderation.
  • Bring back characters that have (inevitably) left the show or died.
  • Tell us a little about what happens to everyone, while leaving some unsolved mysteries.
  • Break at least one of the above rules.
Here are my "most memorable" TV finales of all time; I can't outright say "favorites," because I'm starting with one that has been mocked and parodied so much, I've lost the ability to be objective. Here goes:

**Spoiler alert!**

10. St. Elsewhere

This widely mocked hospital-drama finale set the standard for making viewers go, "What the hell!?" It's here in place of the Sopranos cut-to-black ending, which pretty much did the same thing.

Imagine ER ending this way: turns out the whole show took place in an autistic boy's head, inspired by a toy hospital in a snow globe.

Zany. Wacky. Crazy. Terrible. Memorable. And it's still being talked about years later.

Oh, yeah: and the credits rolled over the MTM cat, flatlining on a gurney.

So bad, it's great!

9. Oz

One of the most overlooked shows and finale ended the series in typical style: a poisonous substance is delivered to the prison, and it's evacuation time - onto yellow buses snaking around the prison.

Cue final shots of empty set. Lovely.

8. The Shield

What's worse than Vic Mackey, everyone's favorite crooked cop, landing in prison? How about a fate worse than prison: a cubicle lit by buzzing fluorescent lights. And I know of what I speak.

7. The Wire

The greatest TV show in history had one of the greatest finales: a "one more for the road" montage and a final, lingering shot on the show's star: Baltimore.

6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Hankies, group hugs, sentiment, comedy, a group Kleenex-grab, and...the last one leaving turns out the lights. Classy.

5. Late Night with David Letterman

The best talk-show farewell ever.

Tom Hanks delivers his best performance as himself (telling a hilarious story about working as a bellhop and coming face to face with Cher and Gregg Allman), and Letterman introduces the one guest he always wished he had on the show: Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce delivers some last-minute instructions to the band on his way out, and the resulting performance of Glory Days is ragged, energetic, and pure fun. The band members look like they're having the time of their lives. Magic!

4. The Office (British version)

Why the American version of the Office will never hold a candle to the original (yeah, I know: I'm a TV snob - but what are ya gonna do?).

The finale was touching, hilarious, actually found a way to make David Brent more of a buffoon and a hero, and cleverly solved the problem of how to make a romantic resolution seem original and true.

3. Newhart

I recall watching the first half of this finale and thinking, "This show is terrible! None of this makes any sense!"

Cue last-minute save: Bob wakes up next to his first TV wife, Suzanne Pleshette, and expresses the same sentiment. Presto! - the worst finale in TV history became the best.

When I saw Bob Newhart doing stand-up comedy live at the Concert Hall a few years ago, he brought a video screen along with him, just to show this:

2. Twin Peaks

A pleasant stroll through the Black Lodge wouldn't be complete without maniacal laughing, strobe lights, blood, and a dancing midget offering coffee.

After this mind-bending sequence, our hero - FBI agent Dale Cooper - becomes the embodiment of evil, smashing his head into a mirror, laughing, and asking the very rhetorical question (in his best Jack Nicholson impression), "Where's Annie?! Where's Annie?! Where's Annie?!"

1. Six Feet Under

The ultimate finale for every show: everybody dies. Executed with grace, style, and a lovely song by Sia.

A perfect illustration of the broad sweep of life, what it means, and how quickly it's over:

RIP to three Jacks and appointment TV: 24, Lost, and Law & Order

Goodbye to you, Jack #2.

It's the end of TV as I know it, and I don't feel fine.

This will be a week long remembered: it's already seen the end of Jack Shephard and Lost, and tonight it will see the end of two more Jacks: Jack Bauer and 24, and Jack McCoy and Law & Order.

It's always bittersweet to say goodbye when your favorite TV show comes to an end, but what are the odds that three, (mostly) great long-running shows starring "Jack" come to an end at the same time?

Much has changed in the TV landscape since Law & Order's first chung-chung - or is it ching-ching? - way back in 1990, 24's 2001 real-time salute to torture and adrenaline, and Lost's Gilligan-meets-Survivor plane crash in 2004.

As the kid working the Zellers till said to me yesterday, "I haven't gone to Blockbuster or watched regular TV in years - but I've never seen more stuff."

He was talking about downloads - illegal BitTorrent stuff, of course. I do the legal iTunes downloads for the most part, but if I didn't have an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and regular income ("Moneybags Larsen," at your service!), I would probably do the same.

I didn't ask him about where he gets his local news, because I didn't want to get too depressed on a long weekend, but I have a feeling that "local news" wouldn't be too high on his - or any kid's - agenda.

Not to sound too gloomy: I don't really think that the end of Lost, 24, and Law & Order is TV's last hurrah, but it does seem to mark the end of what NBC used to call "appointment television" - TV dramas that you wanted to watch on TV when it was actually on, with commercials, not later on DVR or for free on your laptop.

Advertising killed the video star

As a hardcore Lost fan for the first and last season, and a casual fan for most of the rest, I was pretty excited to see the Lost finale last night and, for the most part, enjoyed it.

As a solution to the broad sweep of the show's arc, it really worked. "Oh, they're all dead and helping each other through purgatory!"

As a solution to minutiae like "the significance of the lottery numbers," however, it was something of a disappointment. It was like the show was saying, "The small stuff didn't really matter in relation to the big picture." And maybe it was right - but, man, I really wanted to know the significance of the lottery numbers, ya know?

But what really got me last night was the insane number of commercial breaks - Entertainment Weekly timed the finale at 45 minutes of ads and 1:45 of show. I found the sheer number of ads and breaks painful. That's saying something, because I teach advertising. I'm supposed to like ads!

We hardly knew ye, Jack #3.

I had to watch the Lost finale on the Canadian HD channel (CTV) because the high-def ABC channel kept crapping out. While I'm at it, I'd like to thank the good North Dakotans responsible for all of that great, local programming at WDAZ in Grand Forks. Ahem.

While our good friends in the U.S. got to watch these highly regarded Target ads, effective "targeting" in more ways than one...

...we Canadians got to watch that ridiculously bad promo for CTV Toronto ("Will this save lives!?" shrieks a local reporter in a (faked?) interview), a lame voiceover for a truck ad that made clunky reference to the Lost polar bear, and endless network IDs featuring the Don-Pardoesque announcer who can't help but refer to CTV as "Sey Tey Veyyyyyy!" Nice.

It's like "appointment television" is slowly but surely being supplanted by what David Letterman calls "disappointment television" - television that goes out of its way to keep you from watching it, like so many airlines, movie theatres, and cell phone companies, which won't rest until they've alienated every one of their ever-shrinking stable of "regular customers."

Thanks for the fun, Jack #1.

Everyone who's ever watched 24 knows that the show takes place in real time, which means it's better in any format that eliminates ads: DVD and downloads, the freer the better! Even the creators of the show knew it, which is why they experimented with commercial-free season premiere episodes ("sponsored by Ford," of course).

Law & Order is so old, it actually has a theme song, another victim of the push to sell every, last available second of time to advertisers. I remember that my dad used to crank up the volume at the end of the song, the better to hear the police siren:

Truth be told, I haven't watched Law & Order in years, but I appreciate what it did for the genre, and for giving Homicide: Life on the Street's detective Munch a second life.

500 channels and nothing's on

So, no, it's not likely that we'll see shows like these again. Now that they're gone, I wonder if I'll just watch fewer commercial-driven TV dramas in general.

Most other shows I watch are:
  • Reality-based: Survivor, the Celebrity Apprentice (it's like CreComm: the TV show!), American Idol (because "everybody" watches it - but this season really sucks), and Kitchen Nightmares (although every episode is exactly the same).
  • About to be cancelled: goodbye At the Movies.
  • News-based: PBS Frontline, NBC Nightly News, This Week.
  • Talk shows: Late Show with David Letterman, Real Time with Bill Maher (minus his terrible monologue), the Colbert Report.
  • On HBO: Treme (really picking up steam of late - or is that steme?), Big Love (though the last season stunk), Entourage (ditto), True Blood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, the Ricky Gervais Show, and...all of the great movies and documentaries that regularly appear on the network.
And, worst of all, not a single one stars a guy named Jack.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Lost finale or the lake? Choose wisely.

Evan Dando and I will be watching Lost tonight.

"I don't bungee jump, skydive, swim, drive, hang glide, or fly to Cancun."
- Moe Berg, "the Truth"
Tonight's Lost finale will do more than bring to a close the ongoing adventures of Jack and the Smoke Monster.

Landing on a long weekend, the finale will, more importantly, definitively separate the happy campers from the pasty loners.

Quick quiz

What are you doing tonight?
  • Sleeping in a canvass tent, foregoing bathing, and drinking Molson Canadian until you don't know the date, time, or year.
  • Sitting at home by yourself in front of the TV, curtains drawn, eating Old Dutch chips and dill dip for six hours.
True, there are probably some people at the campground who are recording the Lost finale to watch after they get home and wash the sand out of their skivvies. These are people who can only be described as "reckless."

I mean, who wants to watch a two and a half-hour finale if you already know that - spoiler alert! - the island is the snow globe-inspired figment of an autistic child's imagination? Just kidding, that was St. Elsewhere, a TV show before it was a Gnarls Barkley album.

As the pastiest white man this side of Coco, you can probably figure where my loyalties lie: with the smoke monster, man in black, and alternate universe; that is to say, "Lost," since you can probably also find all of these things on Grand Beach.

Lost's wacky precursor

I come by my allegiance honestly. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with another show featuring another group of castaways: Gilligan's Island.

At this point, the show was already in reruns, but they were new to me. Painfully, the finale was being rerun on an evening in which I had a "prior obligation." I've forgotten what it was, but my money is on piano or swimming lessons.

It was pre-VCR, so I asked my mother to watch the show for me. When I returned home, I leapt up the front steps, swung open the door, ran through the doorway, and expectantly asked, "Mom! What happened?"

"What happened with what?" she asked.

"Gilligan's Island. Did they get rescued?"

"Uh, um, uh...yeah...they did," she said.

Points to mom for trying to satisfy a young boy's dreams, which was much easier to do in the pre-Internet age (in some ways, if you know what I mean: right, the Beaver magazine? Haw, haw).

It wasn't until years later that I found out that Gilligan never did get rescued from the island during the TV series - that happened years later on a terrible made-for-TV movie: Rescue From Gilligan's Island, in which Gilligan and the gang had trouble coping with life after being rescued. Go figure.

Here is the show in its entirety - you can thank me later:

So, enjoy the campfire, campers. You can go camping any old time, but you can only watch the Lost finale - sans spoilers - once.

Bring on the smoke monster!

Friday, May 21, 2010

New layout - does it work for you?

Check out this new layout. Pretty snazzy, eh?

It's all part of the new Blogger "Blogger in draft template designer." (Hey, RRC CreComm instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart has a new template too!)

The 15 new templates look more "websitey," and have more layout and background options. Yay.

However, Blogger still isn't perfect.

What's still missing on Blogger:
  • A print gadget that allows people to print individual blog posts. I've tried adding every widget, gadget, and gidget on the Web - not a single one works with any degree of reliability.
  • Autoformatting for mobile devices for people who read your blog on them. There are more and more of 'em all the time. Right now, I use an RSS reader app. But how hard would it be to include a "format for mobile devices" switch in "Settings?"
  • An easier way for readers to leave comments. WordPress blogs have way more comments, because it's way easier to leave them. Do I really need to log in and be subjected to the greatest online time-waster ever: the reCAPTCHA squiggly word?
C'mon can do it!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No class: things I do too much in the summertime...

The other side of summer: beard and weight gain.

Old joke:
Student: Kenton, you're like school in the summertime.
Kenton: School in the summertime?
Student: No class!
Nothing is more rich with mystery than this: what do teachers do in the summertime when there's no class?

It's even a mystery to teachers themselves; it's like one day I'm saying, "Fare thee well" to my students, and the next I'm saying, "Welcome back, nice haircuts."

Between these two days is a hazy blur of these:

1. Drinking beer on a patio
They built that King's Head patio on lesson plans.

2. Spending money
Hotels. Flights. iPads. Movies. Music. Food. Drink. Summer is all about the Benjamins, homies.

3. Eating odd food combos
A half litre of wine, hot dog, and watermelon, anyone?

4. Thinking
Maybe we are all alone in the universe. Then again...maybe I'll eat some more hot dogs.

5. Wearing the same clothes
If I can't smell what I'm wearing, it must be Prêt-à-Porter time.

6. Playing the drums
Exactly like this dude, sans an adoring public:

7. Reading
On deck: "Googled" by Ken Aultetta.

8. Watching TV/playing video games
So, that's why John Locke is the smoke monster....Bioshock 2: Here I come!

9. Laughing
Until I float to the ceiling or Mary Poppins pulls me down, whatever comes first.

10. Sleeping
There's only one thing better than sleeping: singing about sleeping!

Is it fall yet?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I had breakfast with the interim president and you didn't - nyeah, nyeah, nyeah

The best moment of my life happened here (interim president not pictured).

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love to write about three things:
  1. Apple products;
  2. Star Wars;
  3. Not being selected to have breakfast with the Red River College president
Cross number three off the list.

I finally got the "not-being-selected-to-have-breakfast-with-the-RRC president" monkey off my back today when I had ONE-ON-ONE breakfast with RRC interim president Cathy Rushton at Stella's on Sherbrook.

Yes, it's a glorious day indeed. A day to be long remembered. A day that will live on in infamy. The greatest day of my life.

Oh, that's right: you weren't invited. Sucka!

Public complaining + time = gloating

Forgive my gloating, but - as I say - this momentous occasion has been a long time in the making.

To make a short story long, here's the background:

The college has an employee draw every month and the prize is Breakfast with the President - an opportunity to beef and bouquet (but mostly beef) everything and everyone at RRC with the college's top decision-maker.

As it says on the college's website:
"The breakfasts let staff informally talk to the president and share ideas about the college with their fellow employees. Participants are selected randomly by Human Resource Services so eventually every employee at the college will receive an invitation."
The problem was that I didn't ever receive an invitation, while others around me attended so many Breakfasts with the President, they ran out of things to beef.

"Uh, I mentioned how sometimes the air conditioning is too chilly," said one of my co-workers about his last visit to Breakfast to the President.

"What about me?!' I shouted at the top of my lungs at lunch hour in the Atrium, attracting the attention of no one. "I have lots of important things I could beef to the president!"

So, I went to work at doing what I do best: complaining on this blog. Really, everything you need to know is in my pièce de résistance called, "I am the Susan Lucci of Breakfast with the President."

I'm happy to point out that the complaints struck a nerve. With me. With everyone else, they struck a comedy nerve. So many people got pleasure from my torment, it became a running gag around the office - mine and the upper reaches of Red River College's Tower of Power at its Notre Dame campus.

Which is how today came to be: interim President Cathy Rushton is such a good sport, she offered me one-on-one Breakfast with the Interim President in exchange for being able to have fun at my expense at former president Jeff Zabudsky's farewell.

Hey, I teach PR, so I know that there's no such thing as bad publicity. One "mention" at the former president's farewell (why, that's like 500 or more "unique impressions!") AND one-on-one Breakfast with the Interim President? It's like winning the lottery. Twice!

The glorious payoff

The breakfast was everything I knew it would be. Cathy is a nice person and wonderful conversationalist, and the Stella's Norwegian waffle is a great Norwegian waffle: ice cream, powder, waffle - oh, sorry, back to the topic:

Uh, well...what happens at Breakfast with the Interim President stays at Breakfast with the Interim President, so I won't reveal what we talked about other than technology, RRC's People Plan, beefs & bouquets, Apple computers, Star Wars, and my ultimate goal to reinstate the RRC Glee Club to its former glory:

What next?

Now that I've finally achieved this milestone - pinnacle of success, really - I'm available for consultation with anyone who hasn't yet been selected to have Breakfast with the Interim President. Because, like, my rates are cheap and I can totally get you in.

"Cathy and I? She and I go waaaay back, Cathy and I!"

Monday, May 17, 2010

My tri-high tour begins at Miles Mac

It's like I have a twin.

O Miles Mac, I stand on guard for thee!

It was a big day for me: I got to return to high school for the first time in years, living the dream pioneered by Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School, Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married, and Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality.

Because I - like Sandra's character in the film - am an FBI agent/beauty pageant contestant who had to go undercover at a high school to...awww, forget it.

No, I went to Miles Mac high school this morning - my first in a series of three scheduled high-school visits - to talk to students in Miss Gillis' drama class about comedy writing and stand-up, and to promote the CreComm program to the next generation of potential students.

I have to admit to being a little nervous, having not set foot in a high school since I was last attending high school, which was in and around the summer of 1985: Tears For Fears rocked the charts, Back to the Future rocked the multiplexes, and Magnum P.I. rocked my video iPod, though the video iPod hadn't yet been invented.

So before today, this was really my only lasting high school memory:

And since I've graduated, I've heard that high schools have become pretty scary places. Packs of rogue students wandering the halls. Teachers giving everyone an A+ out of fear for their lives. That Lean On Me dude beating kids in the head with his baseball bat. You get the drift.

Of course, my news source was Chris Rock, but I firmly believe that he's right about everything:

So, vest in hand, I nervously made my way into the very dangerous neighborhood of Elmwood: gateway to Transcona and at least two ex-girlfriends I never want to see again, and there I found...the nicest, little high school ever.

As I walked into the school, I couldn't help but notice that students seemed surprisingly happy and motivated as they made their way to classes at the ungodly hour of 8:15 a.m.

They were also much better dressed than I remember being when I was in high school. Just check out this grad pamphlet I picked up in the principal's office:

I love that "a classic look" now includes black sneakers! When I was in high school, "the classic look" was a sleeveless Judas Priest shirt and a mullet.

I found Miss Gillis, and she led me to her drama class, which is held in this nice school theatre:

The Kenton Larsen Memorial Cometorium.

As I told the students, if I were a student at Miles Mac, I'd hold stand-up comedy shows in the theatre over the lunch hour, put up students who aren't as funny as me before I headlined, charge $8 at the door, keep the money, and rename the theatre, "The Kenton Larsen Memorial Cometorium."

Shortly after I walked into the theatre, the school played "O Canada" over the PA system, and the students stood at attention without prompting. Cool! It was the first time I've stood for "O Canada" since the Jets left the city (oops, sorry to raise that spectre).

We then had a great discussion about stand-up comedy, Conan O'Brien, jobs in comedy, and lots of other stuff. The students were fun, engaged, interested, and thoughtful in their questions.

I had fun despite the nervousness; 'twas the nervousness that made me act more a buffoon than usual: I said "shitty" a few times, suggested that everyone in the class go to a bar (Rumors: to enroll in its comedy contest), and encouraged the students to "take down the system from the inside!"

They humored me, God bless 'em. And the visit ended with me getting a lovely card, the "happy little note," below, complete with a lovely message of thanks:

As I left, I vowed to go back to high school more often. And I got my wish: I'm going back to Miles Mac on Wednesday morning to watch the same students perform their comedy sketches.

Thanks, Miles Mac drama class for the best high school memories ever - and very little drama.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Screw you, record sleeves! A not-so-fond farewell to lousy music packaging

Yeah, what Esquivel said. Or whistled.

I've been on a real musical sentimental journey recently; why, just witness my fond recollection of 45 RPM label designs here.

No more! As of today, everything must go, starting with one of the music-related things I'm least sentimental about: the end of wasteful and just plain boneheaded music packaging.

If we can accept that Napster, free downloads, and iTunes killed the album - or at least the concept of paying for it - by turning it into something intangible, we can also accept that they may have saved us from these all-too-tangible - and terrible - "innovations:"

1. Bar codes

Commerce - literally - over art.

2. The unremovable "protective tape" across the top of the CD

Pity he'll never hear it.

3. The superfluous cardboard CD cover that hides the same CD cover beneath it

Surprise! Err, no.

4. The longbox CD package

Best Value = double the cardboard!

5. The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink CD package

I see no CD here.

6. Digipaks and jewel cases

A most classy waste of cardboard and plastic!

7. Endless compilations featuring the same music

Shoplifters of the world: unite and take over!

8. Endless reissues, remasters, and box sets

Stereo or mono? Like anyone can tell the difference.

9. "Special" odd-sized CDs

Tattoo You has more music, vertically speaking.

10. The CD sleeve that not only protects, but traps the CD, so you can't remove it without amputating your hand

Amputated hand not pictured.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Canada...

If you don't drink this can of Dr. Pepper, the terrorists have won!

I like to use the above Dr. Pepper packaging as an example in one of the first PR classes of the year.

"Anyone notice anything weird with the can?" I ask the class. Usually no one does, being Canadians and all.

Then, I pass around this letter from Dr. Pepper, which was posted on its website in response to the can.

The letter says that the can was intended "to show the world that we are a united nation of people who place a high value upon freedom," and outlines "the facts" without ever really clarifying what caused the controversy in the first place.

It's an interesting letter - not really a clarification, not really an apology.

"So, what's this letter all about?" I ask. Again, a perfect question for a classroom of Canadians.

After we discuss possible theories, I ask the class, "Is anyone here familiar with the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance?" Again, usually not.

So, I recite it:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Ahhhh, so it's all about "God," then. Good old God, always showing up to complicate things when you least expect it!

A perfect springboard to talk about "target publics" and to figure out exactly who Dr. Pepper was targeting with its commemorative can, and who it was targeting with its vague letter.

American flag T-shirt controversy

I thought of this earlier this week when the controversy about the Californian kids wearing American flags on Cinco de Mayo hit the news; long story short: the school sent the kids home to douse their "incendiary" garb.

Of course, all hell broke loose in the media. Film critic Roger Ebert has an interesting discussion about it here - and leaves very few stones unturned in dissecting of the issue.

The flag issue always seems like such a waste of time to me, especially when you consider that there's 5,000 barrels of oil (or more) being spewed into the Gulf of Mexico as we speak.

Besides, I think I have the answer to this one, having attended M.E. Fitzgerald School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1980.

Here's the deal I made with my teacher, Mr. Harrington: I stood for the pledge of allegiance when everyone else did, but didn't put my hand on my heart or say the pledge, being a Canadian. That seemed to work for everyone.

Mr. Harrington, however, felt that I was being left out, and he hated it when students couldn't recite the pledge in perfect unison, so I got the permanent job of saying, "One, two, three..." so that everyone would start (and finish) the pledge at the same time.

The lesson: if you want the Pledge of Allegiance done right: get a Canadian to count you in.

Dear California: a crate of maple leaf T-shirts is on its way.