Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ten reasons to be happy to be a Canadian on Canada Day

Has a year gone by already? Seems like just yesterday I put on that skin-tight Speedo with the Canadian maple leaf on the crotch and marched down Portage Avenue, proudly waving my flag at passersby.

"Hey, everyone, is my patriotism showing?"

It was and it is.

So, once again, it's worth pausing on Canada Day to lean on the moisture vaporator, look up at the setting twin suns, and give thanks for being lucky enough to be born in a country with all of this great stuff in it:

1. Our bad-ass prime minister:

2. Canada's first lady, Celine Dion, is finally having the twins that her husband has been waiting patiently for ever since she was 11.

3. Canadian Cask Innis & Gunn is available at MLCC for a limited time, so get yours today! Innis & Gunn: It's All in the Taste. Can I have some free beer now?!

4. I have it on good authority that the beaver is making a comeback.

5. Canada is the only place on Earth where a hooker's come-on is, "Blow ya for some smokes, eh?"

6. Crossing the Canadian border: "Got any guns?" Crossing the American border: "Got any citrus fruits?"

7. Blog on Canada Day and get time and a half!

8. Air Canada is the only airline on Earth so technically advanced that it has actually found a way to also lose your emotional baggage.

9. If it's good enough for Burton Cummings, it's good enough for me! It's not good enough for Burton Cummings? OK, well, it's still good enough for me.

10. We're a country full of love, dammit.

Ten things that crossed my mind at Star Wars in Concert at MTS Centre

1. Oh, crap, I was supposed to go to Toshi Station today to pick up those power converters!

2. Who let all of these nerds into the place?

3. Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?

4. This totally reminds me of the time that I fell out of that tree on Kashyyyk.

5. Video at 1:22 - friend yawning or Wookiee abuse?

6. It was totally worth the extra $50 to get into the concert early and pose in front of cheesy sci-fi backdrops.

7. Come to think of it, this also totally reminds me of the time I fell off that balcony on Coruscant.

8. That's no small moon - it's my head.

9. This long and slow lineup caused by Ticketmaster's crappy "paperless ticket system" makes me think that Ticketmaster is just like the evil Galactic Empire and we're just like the plucky Rebellion who are going to one day blow up its Death Star. Am I right, people?

10. It's time to ban smoking on all Trade Federation cruisers.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When will smoking become a hazy memory at RRC?

When Smokey sings, I see smoke rings.

The air outside of hospitals is thick with smoke and irony.

Because that's where the doctors, nurses, and orderlies congregate to catch up, talk about their hard day, and...have a smoke!

I can see the ad campaign now: "After a long, hard day of operating on people's diseased lungs, four out of five doctors prefer Camel cigarettes to unwind!"

Of course, we hold doctors to a higher health standard than others, because they're the ones who tell us to take care of ourselves and scold us when we don't.

So common is this cognitive dissonance - the dentist with rotten teeth, the drug counselor with a meth habit, the firefighter who doesn't notice his pants are on fire - we have an expression of moral indignation for it:
"Physician, heal thyself!"
Where there's smoke...there's learning

So, let's say that I teach advertising and PR (which tells us that image is king) at a downtown, progressive college heralded for being at the forefront of technology and creativity, but to get inside you must pass through a wall of smoke at both, major entrances...

While it may not be as hypocritical as a doctor with a two-pack-a-day habit, it always strikes me as an odd juxtaposition: all of the architectural beauty and state-of-the-art technology that taxpayers' money can buy behind concrete barrels of sand and butts.

In yesterday's blog post (below), I railed against smoking near a rail - or whatever surrounds your favorite restaurant patio - mostly for reasons of health and the right to enjoy fresh air, but I think that smoking outside "an institute of higher learning" raises questions of health and image.

More to the point: can you be a "progressive" college and still allow smoking to take place at your two, main entry points?

Of course, if my thesis is right, and image is everything, the college doesn't have to ban smoking; it just needs to make sure that all of the smokers out front always use a pipe, cigarette holder, or humidor, for that classy Sherlock Holmes, Audrey Hepburn, Arnie vibe:

Maybe not.

RRC's smoking policy

If you go to the Red River College website and search "smoking policy," you learn some startling facts:
  • "College Administration has received numerous complaints regarding exposure to smoke upon entering and exiting the buildings as there are often many people smoking in front of the entrances/exits."
  • "The assembly of people outside the exits/entrances increases the College’s operating costs given that litter is not being properly disposed of and heat is lost while doors are held open."
  • "The present situation poses a serious safety concern, primarily as a fire hazard. The College has had two fires started from the cigarette butts that have not been properly disposed of outside of the entrances/exits."
Complaints? Costs? Two fires?!

So, then, it's kind of lame that Red River College's 2003 solution was to invite students and staff to three brainstorming sessions, which resulted in the formation of 20(!) designated smoking areas at Notre Dame Campus.

Considering that I had just one student who identified herself as a smoker in last semester's first-year class (she's very nice, so don't judge her!), 20 smoking areas seems like a lot of square footage.

The college's online smoking policy doesn't include a plan for Princess Street Campus (though I have a hazy, smoke-filled memory of an email about it) and also suggests that a ban could day:
"We believe that every person has the right to clean air and a safe working environment while on campus. We will be monitoring the implementation of the policy. There is still a possibility of a complete ban of smoking on campus property should the College feel the designated areas program is not working."
It also turns out that Red River College offers smoking cessation support through its Health Centre, so you can get a edumacated and cessamacated at the same time. Who knew?!

The best solution?

So, maybe the college's best bet is this (an awesome possibility for this year's first-year PR research assignment):
  1. Research the "smoking areas." I'll bet that frequency of use is down from '03.
  2. If I'm right, reduce the number of areas and rethink where the remaining ones should be. Think: far away from where non-smokers or passersby are likely to be.
  3. Target the people who still smoke there. Educate them about the college's smoking cessation program. Make it easy for them to enroll.
  4. Communicate that, in one year, there will be no more smoking on campus property.
Then, we'll all head over to the Health Sciences Centre to teach those doctors a thing or two...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My dream: smoked salmon on a smoke-free patio

One baby seat in the smoking section, please.

"They can dazzle or delight, or bring a tear when the smoke gets in your eyes."
- Elvis Costello, "Indoor Fireworks"

Patios, sunshine, fresh air, and beer: these are a few of my favorite things. Not in that order!

But it's with greater frequency that I find myself sitting on one of Winnipeg's lovely outdoor patios, sipping a beer in the sunshine, and soaking up the atmosphere - a grimy table with overloaded ashtrays and smoke blowing in my face from six different directions.

If we can see a reason to stop smoking next to soccer fields, public schools, and on the Fresh Cafe patio, isn't it time to ban smoking from - cough cough! - other restaurant patios - hack hack! - and - wheeze! - outdoor public places - phlegm! - where people congregate in close quarters?

Yes, I realize that drinking beer is bad for you too, but the difference with beer is that I don't go up to people with my beer stein, grab them by the hair, and make them guzzle it down. Yet!

And, yes, I realize that a good number of outdoor patios are situated near the street, where you inhale lots of other good stuff, like automobile exhaust - but I'll let my good friend, BP President Tony Haywood, field that concern. Take it away, Tony!

"I'd like my life back too," I thought, as I sat inside Civita, looking down - literally and figuratively - upon all of the smokers huffing and puffing on the narrow, outdoor patio in the hazy, blue air.

Smoking has already been banned on patios in lots of places, including Calgary - a city that is notable for being full of cowboys who love their tobacky as much as they love oil and their freedom to wear leather chaps and Stetsons in broad daylight.

Calgary actually banned smoking on public patios years ago, even before it was banned in bars. Not only can you not smoke on the patio in Calgary, you now can't even smoke near it; you have to haul your leather-chapped arse three or four feet away and smoke with all of the other Alberta outcasts: lovers, dreamers, and women not named "Kitty."

Standing on the lip of a volcano

I come by smoke avoidance honestly: I was once a (hilarious!) host at Rumor's Comedy Club, in the good-0ld days when the audience, comedians, and Indonesian children could light up at will - and did.

So, when you'd get onstage to entertain, the combination of a 4,000-watt spotlight burning into your retinas and constant gulps of billowing smoke made it feel a little like you might be standing on the lip of Eyjafjallajökull.

One night after hosting, I woke up bolt upright (Stephen King's favorite way to have someone wake up) and thought, "Oh, crap - my apartment's on fire!" I jumped out of bed and realized that it was only the skanky pile of my smoky clothes on the floor I'd worn to Rumor's earlier that evening.

If those are my clothes after one night, what must my lungs have been like?! Mmmm...smoked lungs - my favorite flavor!

When the indoor smoking ban became law, I'd open my set at Rumor's by asking, "Who is against the new smoking ban?" and the crowd would invariably cheer. "You guys are so addicted, you're actually cheering for cancer!" I'd say, instantly turning the jittery, cigarette-deprived crowd against me. "Yay - smallpox! Yay - scurvy! Yay - the consumption!"

The Terminator: more cigarette than human

I get it: smoking is an addiction and once you're hooked - oh, Lord, it's hard to quit. If someone told me I had to stop, say, eating chips, it would be really hard to stop. But cigarettes have nicotine in them, which means they're really, really, really, really hard to quit.

Just ask the smoking baby at the top of this blog post or my aunt, who smoked for over 60 years and only stopped recently after she had a stroke - a blood clot formed by plaque built up in an artery and caused by a lifetime of smoking.

But, for some reason, the health arguments don't work on people anymore. I guess if you're going to smoke in light of all the medical evidence against you, no amount of evidence will have an impact.

Part of it is that smoking still has that "feel" of rebellion, like cigarettes are still "The Torches of Freedom" that Edward L. Bernays made people believe they were in 1929.

As we talk about in PR class every year, Bernays was a paid consultant for the American Tobacco Company, and the first "Thank You For Smoking" guy. He was so successful at making us believe that smoking was good for us, we can all be glad that he never got his hands on drinking and driving.

My final appeal

I have a dream that one day we can all join hands - smokers, non-smokers, Indonesian babies, comedy-club patrons, and the Ghost of Yul Brynner - sing kumbaya, and eat smoked salmon on a smoke-free patio.

I'd like to end by saying...pretty please with sugar on top? First round's on me!

Getting to fight!

Friday, June 25, 2010

My favorite urban legend: Paul is dead!

Don't you see?! It's a casket - a casket, I tell you!!!

It's very unlikely that a dead guy would continue to record albums, tour around the world multiple times, and get married to Heather Mills, but it's just crazy enough might be true!

I see that CreComm instructor Duncan McMonagle recently had his summer students (School in the summertime? No class!) explore the idea of urban legends and how they can get past the most astute editor, which I believe has more than a little something to do with the old journalism adage (stated ironically here, for your reading pleasure):
"Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story!"
My favorite urban legend is one that still has a surprising amount of traction. It's the one that goes like this: the Beatles' Paul McCartney died in a car accident in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike, soundalike actor/singer.

I first heard about this urban legend when I was a Beatles-obsessed kid. Paul was my favorite Beatle, so I worried that it was true and spent hours and hours reviewing "the evidence" - little clues that were supposedly placed by the other Beatles in their albums' songs and artwork.

How ridiculous that anyone could believe...then again, it could's true, and here's the evidence to prove it!

Paul is dead! The evidence:

1. The lyrics:
  • Come Together: "One and one and one is three..." What about Paul?!
  • Strawberry Fields Forever: At the end of the fadeout, ever so softly, we hear John say, "I...buried...Paul..." Or is that "I'm very bored?" Or "Cranberry sauce?" The first one!!!
  • A Day in the Life: "He blew his mind out in a car. He didn't notice that the lights had changed."
  • Glass Onion: "And here's another clue for you all/the walrus was Paul."

2. The backward messages

Play these songs backward - or follow the links to YouTube to hear other people do it - to hear about how Satan killed Paul McCartney in a car accident:
  • Revolution #9: "Paul is dead!" followed by the car crash that killed him and "Turn me on, dead man."

3. The album photographs and artwork

  • Yesterday and Today - The cover - the photo at the top of this post - clearly shows Paul looking out of a casket. But why is he so happy?
  • Revolver - Paul stares sadly off to the side of the album, like he doesn't belong.
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
In the photos, Paul wears a patch on his left arm: OPD = officially pronounced dead! Or is that "Ontario Provincial Police?"

Front cover:

Paul is "marked for death" by the hand being held over his head.

At the bottom of the picture, Paul's bass is surrounded with yellow flowers, sitting atop...a grave?!

Paul is the only member of the Beatles holding a black instrument.

In the younger representation of the Beatles, Paul consoles Ringo, because that's the era in which Paul died.

Back cover:

Paul's back is to the camera.

The words "without you" in the song title appear above his head.
  • The White Album
On the poster insert, a dead Paul floats in the bathtub in the top, left corner.

Paul also sports a new scar on his lip - though it's tough to see online.
  • Magical Mystery Tour

Turn the album upside down to reveal a "hidden phone number" in stars, where you can phone to find out details of Paul's death. If only we had an area code...and knew how to dial an upside-down "A."

In the album's photo booklet, Paul's "double" sits at a desk with a sign that reads, "I was you."

In the same booklet, another hand marks Paul for death.

In the video for Your Mother Should Know, Paul is the only Beatle wearing a black carnation.
  • Abbey Road
The gravedigger, the corpse, the pallbearer, the minister.

Paul, "the corpse," has bare feet, closed eyes, and is smoking a cigarette.

Volkswagen license plate: 28IF. Paul would be 28 IF he had lived.

On the back cover, a shadowy skull and bullet holes. The holes connected form a "three" - one for each of the remaining Beatles. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Beatles, for it tolls for three!


Duncan: can I please have credit for this assignment?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

As Ringoes, so go the Beatles: his best moments at the drums

"John had the vision, Paul had the heart, George had the spirit, and Ringo had two fried eggs on toast, please."
- The New Rolling Stone Album Guide

A slap-happy drummer just can't get a break.

Just ask Ringo Starr, "the least-important Beatle," known for playing the drums, writing a small smattering of songs, singing the band's two, big novelty hits about undersea living, and being an all-around nice guy.

But, as we know, nice guys finish last: the poor guy has taken it on the chin so many times, even he apparently believes the hype.
"Whenever I hear another drummer, I know I'm no good. I'm no good on the technical things. I'm your basic offbeat drummer with funny fills. The fills were funny because I'm really left-handed playing a right-handed kit. I can't roll around the drums because of that."
  • The late comedian Bill Hicks blamed the drugs:

  • John Lennon's (lighthearted) answer to whether Ringo is the best drummer in the world:
"Ringo's not even the best drummer in The Beatles."
Weinberg backs Ringo

When I worked on the O'Brien show, I had a rare chance to make smalltalk with Springsteen/Conan drummer Max Weinberg - a great drummer in his own right - who told me that his favorite drummer is Ringo Starr.

I didn't have a chance to ask him a follow-up question - by that point, security was on me - but as a (so-so) drummer myself, I must concur with Mr. Weinberg that Ringo rules (with the exception of Keith Moon, who was the greatest rock drummer of all time - and he did it full of drugs, booze, and hamburgers).

I basically learned to play the drums by copying Ringo, and there's much to recommend: his tempo, timekeeping, power, and - most of all - the idea that drums should only complement a song, not take it over. To most drummers, that idea is a very hard sell.

To me, calling Ringo, "The least-talented Beatle" is akin to calling him, "The fourth most-popular person in the world," which ain't so bad.

And I happen to love Octopus's Garden AND Yellow Submarine!

Ringo's top-eight moments at the drums:

1. Slow down - it's all about the bass drum.

2. Long Tall Sally
- the great fill during the guitar solo.

3. I Should Have Known Better
- immaculate timekeeping.

4. Please Please Me
- that sweet, sweet backbeat.

5. The End
- can a drum solo be understated?

6. I Want to Hold Your Hand
- cymbalific and shambolic!

7. Rock and Roll Music
- Slap-happy!

8. Tomorrow Never Knows
- the Tommy Gun attack.

Snagging Snaggletooth: my favorite childhood toy

I'll take the top, right rectangle to block.

I haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet, but I don't have to: I've lived it. Yes, in 3D!

Creative Communications student Jennifer Hanson recently gave Toy Story 3 a rave review on her two-for-one blog and Independent Professional Project and posted a picture of her favorite childhood toy. She challenged everyone with a blog to do the same.

This is mine. Warning: this is about as geeky as it gets. No, really.

Toy Story .5

In 1978, I'd seen Star Wars, oh, about 15 times in the theatre, because there was no bit torrents, iTunes, Blockbuster, or home video of any kind. You had to soak up a movie while you could, because once it left the theatre, you couldn't see it again until broadcast TV bought the rights and showed it with commercials 10 years later.

This meant that when an event movie came along, like Jaws and Star Wars, you went back over and over and over until you could recite the lines along with the actors.

Lord help me, but I still know the entire dialogue from the Death Star battle in Star Wars:
  • Luke: "Bigs, Wedge: let's close it up. We're going in, we're going in full throttle, that oughtta keep those fighters off our backs."
  • Wedge: "Right with you, boss."
  • Biggs: "But Luke, at that speed will you be able to pull out in time?"
  • Luke: "It'll be just like Beggar's Canyon back home!"
This was also before the obligatory merchandising tie-ins with toy manufacturers and McDonald's, which presented an interesting problem: Star Wars was a surprise hit, and the first action figures wouldn't be ready until a year after the movie came out.

Since we all know the rule of supply and demand, we know that the delay meant pent-up demand. So when the figures actually showed up on the scene, insane kids waited for hours and hours and hours, pushing and shoving their way into the stores, yanking Star Wars merchandise from the cold, dead hands of other kids.

I got to the store late the first time, only to find empty cardboard boxes with Star Wars logos on them, where the figures had been. I took the empty boxes home with me as a sad consolation prize.

Eventually, supply met demand, and my friends and I all had the first wave of figures...except for a little, red rat with a bucktooth.

Snagging Snaggletooth

Hasbro made the mistake of thinking that kids only wanted the main Star Wars characters, so it flooded the market with Han, Chewie, and R2-D2, but held back on a little-known or seen character from the Cantina scene, which was awkwardly called, "Snaggletooth."

For every kid in town, "Snaggletooth" became the holy grail of toys. We waited next to our landlines - because there weren't cell phones either - for news from the front lines, ready to mobilize mom at a moment's notice.

Months went by, and the damn things still weren't in stores. Then, after seeing Star Wars yet again at Grant Park Mall - where it played for years! - my friends and I found evidence: a Snaggletooth cardboard back at Kmart, sans figure!

It was like finding a Yeti footprint without finding the Yeti. My friends and I took turns holding the cardboard, staring at it, and blinking. What...the...hell!?

I tracked down a store employee and asked, "Are there more of these?"

"No, and I'm afraid that this one left the store in someone's pocket. You can have the cardboard if you want."

Cue long shot of planet Earth: Nooooooooooooooooo!


For the next year, my friends and I lived at Kmart, getting to know clerks on a first-name basis - one of whom eventually called me to let me know that...they had ONE.

Mom raced me to Kmart - it was actually there! - I brought it to the checkout in my trembling hands, bought it, took the figure out of the package, and carried it around with me wherever I went, the better to make sure I still had it.

But I couldn't tell my friends right away, because I knew how heartbroken they'd be. I felt vaguely selfish, like a goal hanger at the World Cup.

So, it wasn't until a few months later that I found myself waiting for the Grant Park bus with my friends, Jason and Kevin, gathered up my courage, and produced the figure to show them.

"I found it," I said.

"So did we!" they said, and produced their figures, which they also had on their person.

That afternoon, Jason, Kevin, and I went to see Star Wars with our three Snaggletooths - Snaggleteeth? - knowing that life would never get better.

Until 1980 when that first wave of Empire Strikes Back figures hit Toys R Us...but that's another Toy Story.

My favorite bits of advice from "Googled"

The next time I'm searching for the solution to a problem, I'll just pause, look up to the sky, and ask myself, "What Would Google Do?"

Not much choice, since the company has swallowed up a good chunk of the newspaper, TV, radio, advertising, magazine, books, photography, pornography, and - oh, hell - every business that used to earn a dime before we had "search."

(By the way, Jeff Jarvis has a book called "What Would Google Do?" and an excellent blog about technology, education, prostates and stuff here.)

Search - now in book form!

I've almost finished reading Ken Auletta's book, Googled, to which I recently made a passing reference and gave a lukewarm thumbs up on this blog - "interesting, but dry," I think I said. I'm not sure. You can Google it, if you like.

The good news is that the book is a grower. Just like autobiographies that start off with the most-boring chapters - "It all started out in a small Saskatchewan farm in 1899..." - Googled gets better as it goes along and ends big by explaining how Google plans to take over the advertising business.

I was so inspired, I instantly monetized this Google-supported blog to include ads in my RSS feed - "text and/or images on every fourth feed." I figure that if an advertising instructor can't do it, who can? No one, I tell you!

Even better than getting rich off of my 1,600 page views a day (it never goes up or down - is StatCounter screwing with me?!) is that the book is rife with advice about how to start and operate a business in the Google- and Apple-dominated world in which we live.

What does Google do?

My favorite snippets of info from the book that I would like to follow myself, some as practiced by Google and some by Auletta's (many) other interviewees:

1. Take a work break.

Google gives staff 20 per cent of their time back to pursue their work-related passions. That's one out of five days a week.

Uh, Mr. CreComm Chair, could we make my day off a Friday or a Monday? Uh...I'll get back to my course outlines now.

2. Question "the way we do things around here."
  • Boss: "Do it this way."
  • You: "Noooooo!"

3. Do for yourself - have a vision, and don't just be a head waiter.

One of my big complaints about the academic environment and the work environment in general is that what passes for "managing" and "coordinating" these days is taking a wish list from others and seeing how far you can stretch the budget.

Even better: have a vision, set priorities, and work outside the established order (at least to start). The established order will always go along with success eventually.

4. Don't be territorial - nothing is proprietary.

Can you Imagine?

5. Build communities.

In the online world, this refers to stuff like Twitter and Facebook. In the real world, it's meeting and "networking."

6. Remember your target audience is the end user, not you or shareholders.

7. Focus on your core competencies.

Which some say that Google has not done...

8. Have a mental sparring partner.

It worked for Professor X and Magneto !

9. Choose your battles.

10. Push.

11. Set aside time everyday to look around online.

And don't forget to visit Kenton's Infotainment Scan while you're at it! We now return to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

12. When starting an online business, follow the "Albie Hecht rule:"

The audience must be able to:
  • Watch (on any device)
  • Learn (by searching)
  • Play
  • Connect (social networks)
  • Collect ($)
  • Create (user-generated content)
"If we have four of the six, we put it into development. If we get six out of six, we think we have a hit." I believe the iPad gets a 6/6...

Order the book here:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How to wheel and deal with unappealing appeals

"No fair!"

Ahh, my two favorite words between Kindergarten and junior high. Then I turned 15, got a job working in a coalmine and realized how good I'd had it before the black lung and Pneumoconiosis set in.

Just like Devo!

"How long can this go on?!"

I'm exaggerating a smidge, but just to prove the larger point that no matter how much you hate school, no matter how arbitrary or cruel you believe the teacher to be, no matter how intellectually or physically demanding the studies, a job always makes school look like Mardi Gras.

It's true: if you have a problem at school, there will always be someone to listen, and if you have a complaint at work, there will always be someone to fire you.

When I used to yell, "No fair!" at my dad, he'd say, "You got a complaint? Take it to the complaint department!" Clever, because it didn't exist.

Your boss might very well say the same thing, knowing that there is no complaint department at work either. But we actually have a complaint department at school - Student Services, which does a lot of other things as well.

(RRC's policies and guidelines are laid out right here.)

But do not go gently into that good night, m'lords and m'ladies, because appealing grades is a touchy matter, for a number of reasons:
  • Teachers tend to think of themselves as students' employers. Students may think of themselves as consumers and instructors as providers.
  • Students need teachers' goodwill and recommendations to get a job and, by definition, may not like grades to begin with. The teacher might actually be unfair. Or both.
Therein lies the groundwork for fun, fun, fun. Let's party!

Fair play's my game!

Let it be said that I'm for anything that allows someone to appeal unfairness - in the academic environment and society at large. Who wants to be treated unfairly? Not me!

Of course, I don't want to treat anyone unfairly and like to think, as David Beckham once got paid to say, "Fair play's my game!"

But if teaching has taught me anything, it's that two people can see the exact same thing, but interpret it completely differently:

So, if someone thinks that I've been unfair, I'd genuinely like to know about it and even find out if I'm wrong.

That said, my belief is that a marks or grade appeal should be a last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted - including a good, old-fashioned discussion, perhaps over coffee, which always makes everything feel better.

Hell, I feel better just thinking about it!

This is where most informal "appeals" come to an end. You come to some sort of agreement and move on - split the difference, see the other person's point of view, or agree to disagree.

I'm sure that here is where some grudges are born, but as Cougar sang before he became Mellencamp, "Oh, yeah: life goes on!"

The governor called - he wants his phone back

Yesterday, I wrote about the nightmare of the legalese-based course outline (see post below).

Part of the greater push into this territory is owing to the extremely rare (but not unknown!) student who looks for loopholes when all hope is (almost but not quite) lost.

In my limited experience, the institutional marks appeal is the equivalent of waiting for the governor to call when you're already sitting in the electric chair: at this point, we all kind of know where this is going, but - you never know - the governor might actually call this time!

The first sign that something is amiss is that the appeal has become "institutional." Most "appeals" are normal discussions like the one I outline above.

So, the person who launches an institutional appeal is usually someone who has already had that discussion, but who still feels:
  • Desperate (in danger of failing, perhaps);
  • Hard done by (because it feels like no one listened or because the instructor disagreed);
  • Wants to prove a point or "get even;"
  • All of the above
So, it's unlikely that "tightening up the rules" would dissuade a person who feels any of these things - when it reaches this point it's about other things, real or imagined.

It's extremely rare for an emotion-based appeal to be successful, for reasons you can see come to life every afternoon on Judge Judy:
  • "He stole my pen!"
  • "I did not!"
  • "He stole my pen!"
  • "I did not!"
The good-old days, they were terrible

It's worth noting here that I'm not just an instructor in CreComm, I'm a grad. I liked it so much, I bought the company!

When I graduated from CreComm in the early 90s, appeals didn't exist (or if they did, no one had ever heard of them). Let me put it this way: if you got an F, it never magically turned into a D. In fact, if you complained, it became an F-minus.

Sure, we'd complain to other students and gossip about the same things CreComm students do now, but it was unheard of for a student to "file a formal appeal" about a mark or disciplinary action. If an instructor got mad, we were afraid and felt lucky to get away from the situation drawing breath.

The only mark that ever truly shocked me was in my very last semester of TV class; after being on the honor roll for my entire CreComm career, I was awarded a big, fat D, knocking me off the roll on my last attempt.

Today, the situation would be ripe for appeal: the instructor didn't give out assignments in writing, missed class a lot, and - believe it or not - couldn't work the TV equipment.

So, I took the rare move of...graduating and forgetting about it. The upshot? Nothing: no one has ever asked to see my CreComm marks transcript. No one! So my blemished record actually only exists in my mind - and this blog.

Had I complained, I would have only accomplished the not-very-hard task of pissing off my teacher and the upshot would have been the same thing, plus an angry instructor.

I recently mentioned this story to the CreComm chair - my boss - who just laughed said, "She probably just entered the mark wrong."

So my D might actually be a typo? Great, now I have to draw that little line across my transcript and make it look like a B - no appeal required.

All's well that ends well!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Pappy's Day - rolling stones, rodeos, and preachers

Happy Pappy's Day to these papas and all of the papas in between:

1. Rodeo

Magnetic Fields would like to kiss you...

2. Rolling Stone

Daddy had a lot of Temptations...

3. Preacher

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo
Pappy: don't be mad at Maddy.

4. Hard of hearing

Thanks, Barbra: now daddy needs a drink.

And, by the way, would it kill you to give daddy a hug?

While you're at it, hug XTC.

P.S. One year ago, I wrote about the best Father's Day song of all time

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Send out the fools, send in the clowns!

I've gone from not suffering fools gladly to demanding that we get some clowns on the scene, stat.


Quick background:

I wrote a blog post yesterday about the saying, "doesn't suffer fools gladly" (see post below - it's a barnburner) and ended it by saying: "Tomorrow: a complete analysis of Send in the Clowns."

Self-satisfied with my hilarious close, I popped open a beer, plunked my sorry carcass down on the couch, and watched last week's Tony Awards - the least-watched and most entertaining awards show on TV - and there was Catherine Zeta Jones singing...Send in the Clowns (above).

"Why, that's Kirk Douglas' fourth wife singing that song!" I yelped to the empty room, mentally checking off his other wives, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and the movie business.

As she sang the song, a Steven Sondheim composition from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, I was sufficiently moved to momentarily wonder, "What the hell is this song about, anyway?"

Eight hours later, I woke up with a renewed sense of purpose to get to the bottom of it, and these words in my head:
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.
Gee, I sure hope they're friendly clowns.


The first thing you have to do when you listen to the song is get these two versions of Send in the Clowns out of your head immediately:

Krusty the Clown:

U2 - the Electric Co (clowns arrive at 3:36)

U2 and Krusty? Strange days indeed.

Send in the Clowns is a strange song indeed, structurally - four verses and a bridge in triple time, three beats to the bar, waltz-style - and contextually.

In the musical, the song is sung by Desirée, who's feeling blue because she's living a life of regret and disappointment. I think I speak for all of us when I say, "Get in line, Desirée."

More specifically, she's pissed at her beau, Fredrik (not the kid in the white pantaloons from the Sound of Music) for not leaving his young wife for her. In light of this rejection, she sings this song:

Judy Collins has looked at clowns from both sides now.
Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.
So, she's depressed because her dude is happy, and the only way she can be happy is to get a little Volkswagen to roll up, and - cue hilarity - watch the clowns pour out of the car, right? Right!

Well, that was a hard day's work...err...turns out, my reading - and maybe everyone's reading - of the song is totally wrong.

Sondheim on clowns
Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.
So, I found this interview with Steven Sondheim on YouTube here (embedding disabled, so I can't post it here - thanks, clowns).

He says:
"I get a lot of letters over the years asking what the title means and what the song's about; I never thought it would be in any way esoteric. I wanted to use theatrical imagery in the song, because she's an actress, but it's not supposed to be a "circus" - it's a theater reference meaning "if the show isn't going well, let's send in the clowns;" in other words, "let's do the jokes."
"I always want to know, when I'm writing a song, what the end is going to be, so Send in the Clowns didn't settle in until I got the notion, "Don't bother, they're here" which means that "We are the fools."
And then in the New York Times, he says:
"As I think of it now, the song could have been called "Send in the Fools." I knew I was writing a song in which Desirée is saying, "aren't we foolish" or "aren't we fools?" Well, a synonym for fools is clowns." He agreed that "Send in the Fools" doesn't have the same ring to it."
Which actually makes this song the spiritual companion of "doesn't suffer fools gladly?" Except, we're suffering because we're the fools? Like, I'm funny? Like I amuse you? Like I make you laugh? Like I'm a clown?

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.
Laugh not at the clown, for the fool is thee! Better get out the lipstick and greasepaint...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Advertising: bridging the rift between Magic & Bird

The next time you have a fight with someone, you might want to consider starring in a sneakers ad together.

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals - a great documentary now showing on HBO Canada - traces the history of the rivalry between basketball legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, which began in 1979 when they led their rival midwest universities to the big championship - just like Hoosiers, sans Hackman!

In the arena of sports fans, I'm not in the ballpark (to bungle not one but two sports cliches) but there's a lot to recommend in this documentary: part character study, part friendship dissection, and part basketball nostalgia.

I lived in Boston in the early 80s, and had nothing to do with sports whatsoever - no, these were the heady days of Empire Strikes Back action figures and Underoos - but I and every kid in Boston knew about Bird and Johnson and talked about them like we knew them personally.

Flipping the Bird to ads

My knowledge of Bird had more to do with his endless appearances on local TV as a product pitchman; I still do a dead-on impression of Bird appearing in a (as far as I know) local ad for McDonald's, which went something like this:
McDonald's patron: "Larry Bird! What are you doing in McDonald's?!"
Bird (barely feigning interest): "Going one-on-one with a McChicken."
When you think about it, "going one-on-one with a McChicken" is a perfect way to describe what you do with a McChicken - or any food - at McDonald's. You don't eat the food: you fight it.

The big turning point in the documentary comes when Bird and Magic go from being rivals to becoming the best of friends in a "We are the World" moment on the shoot for this 1986 Converse ad at Bird's Indiana home (the only way Bird would agree to do the commercial with Johnson):

Bird and Johnson made friends, Converse sold tons of sneakers, the NBA got a new image and a pretty great gimmick, and fans got great team- and talent-based basketball.

Who says advertising is a bad thing?

Now, about those yellow and green sneakers...

Monday, June 14, 2010

You call yourself a student? What kind?

There are five kinds of students in this world and, sorry Breakfast Club, they're not brain, athlete, basket case, jock, and princess.

In my Certificate in Adult Education class last year (and every year, just like Groundhog Day!) we learned that we could classify all students into five, basic stereotypes.

On one hand, it's nice to believe that sometimes a student doesn't like you because he or she doesn't like any teacher - on the other, it's a little depressing to consider that, no matter what you do as a teacher or student, success and failure may be predestined.

To simplify: sometimes it feels like we teachers are just standing around watching students achieve or not achieve what they would do anyway, like Lord of the Flies with a chaperone.

At some point, you have to wonder whether your primary role as a teacher is to "help those who help themselves," "help those who don't help themselves," "help those who want your help," or "help those who don't want your help."

It's human nature to do the first, but a good teacher at least attempts to reach out to and retain every student. But if you want to get to the heart of where classroom issues start, maybe having an understanding of these five student "typologies" - and knowing which one you are - is where to begin:

1. Success Students
These students are:
  • Task oriented.
  • Successful.
  • Cooperative.
  • Accepting of challenging and difficult questions and assignments more quickly and more often.
  • Well behaved.
  • Comfortable with their role.
  • Liked by instructors.
Better known as: "The valedictorian!"

2. Social Students

These students are:
  • People oriented.
  • Able to achieve, but value friendships more.
  • Often assigned easier tasks or questions.
  • Sometimes off on their answers.
  • Popular, and have lots of friends.
  • Disliked by some teachers.
Better known as: "Can you crank it down a notch?"

3. Dependent Students
These students are:
  • Always seeking instructor support, direction, and help.
  • Usually responsible for a majority of demands on instructor time.
  • Comfortable offering ideas, but they may be off.
  • Lower-level achievers.
  • Sometimes ostracized by peers.
  • Sometimes the source of instructor concern.
Better known as: "You again?"

4. Alienated Students
These students are:
  • Often from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Often reluctant learners.
  • Prone to rejecting everything the classroom stands for.
  • Openly hostile and "troublemakers."
  • Often withdrawn, and may be ignored by instructors and peers.
  • Often rejected by instructors as "unteachable."
Better known as: "Troublemaker!"

5. Phantom Students
These students are:
  • Seldom seen or heard.
  • Shy.
  • Average performers.
  • Sometimes independent.
  • Reluctant to volunteer ideas.
  • Reluctant to participate.
  • Prone to being forgotten by instructors and peers, who may be completely indifferent to them.
Better known as: "Who?"


Which are you? Not sure which I am, but if you have some easy questions for me to knock out, I can get on with socializing.

By the way, all of the incredible art in this blog was drawn by me using the Brushes app, just like that recent New Yorker cover - not that Brushes wants me to brag about it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Apple introduces iAd: a whole, new world of appvertising

Marketing always wins.

It's something we discuss in advertising class early and often. It doesn't matter where technology is headed or where we ultimately train our eyeballs: somewhere, somebody is making plans to sell advertising on it.

"Hey, is that my bald head you're staring at? Slap a Nike logo on it!"

It's with that reminder that Apple brings you...iAd! This is Apple's first, real attempt to get interactive advertising into iPhone and iPad apps.

If you haven't heard about it yet, it's because the announcement kinda got buried in the iPhone 4 launch.

I'll let Steve Jobs do the talking (see the videos below), but here are the highlights:
  • The secret to the ads: interactivity and emotion.
  • Apps provide one billion ad opportunities per day and "an incredible demographic."
  • The ads keep you in the apps - you don't get yanked out of your app or get redirected to the Safari browser.
  • Developers get 60 per cent of ad revenue. I wonder where the other 40 per cent goes? Hmmm...
  • The ads will NOT be designed using Adobe (another in a recent spate of "f- yous" from Apple to Adobe).
  • Advertisers can embed games, posters, video, wallpapers, and other "free stuff' to users.
Great way for advertisers and developers to get audience attention and generate revenue, or great way for Apple to charge us twice for the same app by making us watch compulsory ads for something we already paid for?

To be continued...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

iPad blogs day five: some final thoughts

It's been an interesting week of iPad-only goodness.

At first, I really did miss my laptop, mostly out of habit. But, like a breakup and a bad haircut, happiness was just one week away. And now I can't tell what I ever did see in that old girlfriend: dirty keyboard, smudged screen, and dim display.

I now find myself using my new love, the iPad, for everything: serving drinks, shaving, keeping doors open, absorbing BP oil spills - everything!

Like Jerry Springer telling us what he's learned at the end of his show, here's what I've learned after one week of iPadding:

1. The sooner you stop treating the iPad as a museum piece, the better.

After plunking down almost $1,000 for a top-of-the-line iPad, apps, add-ons, connectors, and cases, it's tempting to leave the device in the box on the shelf, like a rare Yoda action-figure collectible.

This is a mistake.

The best thing you can do when you get an iPad is carry it around, dig into it, and force yourself to use it like the tool it is.

In my experience, the iPad's true value doesn't make itself known until you break the laptop habit. Once you do, the sky's the limit.

As Tim Curry sang in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, "In just seven days, I can make you a man!" Even better: with the iPad, no stockings or suspenders is required.

2. You probably don't need the attachments right away. Or at all.

The VGA connector works - I attached the iPad to a digital projector yesterday, and Keynote looked great. But will I use it again before September? Probably not.

The keyboard attachment also works great - apart from a slightly wonky fit when you put your iPad in the officially sanctioned case. But the internal keyboard is much better than I expected, and who wants to lug around a keyboard attachment every day?

As for the case: looks nice, but you could probably just plunk the iPad in your bag and it would survive just fine.

3. Get over the fact that your hands are dirty, you slouch, and spit a lot.

My back is sore from staring down at my lap (no jokes, please) while I type.

The iPad screen is covered in fingerprints and spit.

Human beings sure are dirty, which is why you need this: the iPad bathtub case!

I just hope it doesn't cut into my G.I. Joe water-battle time.

4. Keep checking for new apps and updates.

The apps have been app-dating and new ones app-earing at a fever pitch. One day, no Huffington Post or Pulse News, the next...Yes!

Pulse News is particularly powerful, which is why the New York Times first gave it a rave review and then threatened legal action: choose your favorite 20 websites, blogs, and/or Twitter feeds, and watch them come to life in your very own news ticker.

I'll let a judge decide who owns an RSS feed - until then, and probably after, I'll be digging this app.

5. Watch your Rogers dataplan.

The young woman who broke the bad news to me about the reason my bill was double this month didn't want to blame me, but: I used too much 3G data.

One WIRED download = half your data usage for the month. This is why the Americans are flipping out over AT&T dropping it's "unlimited usage" plan: it freaking sucks.

6. Start watching and listening to iPad podcasts.

The enthusiastic amateur does beat a bored professional, and for proof just check out some of these podcasts - the best place to get iPad and app advice:
And get the company line at Apple Keynotes. Steve Jobs is like a modern-day Mr. Rogers of technology. Have a drink whenever he says, "It just works."

7. Don't underestimate the power of a simple idea, well executed.

I give you the free app Gravitarium, which plays soothing music and a light show worthy of Pink Floyd.

Relax and watch the purty pictures, or touch the screen to interact with the lovely lights. Then, take a pic of your favorite moments.

Click on this for a total freak-out:

I feel better about spending that $1,000 already!


Until next blog, be good to yourself and each other. I'm Jerry Springer.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, June 10, 2010

iPad blogs day four: writing in Pages

Is it time to turn the page on your laptop?

I've been testing the Pages app - the iPad's word processor - all week. I fully expected all kinds of hassles and wonky conversions to and from Word, and - surprise! - it's been a more pleasant experience than I could've imagined.

I've been saving this review, because I really wanted to test the hell out of Pages. For many people in my field, I believe that the decision to buy an iPad comes down to this app - "Yeah, the iPad is a great toy, but can I use it to write stuff for work?"

I'm happy to report that the answer is, thank you Sammy Davis Jr., "Yes, you can!"

What is Pages?

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.

When you first use Pages, the biggest hurdle you face is psychological: they might have very well called it, "I can't believe it's not Word."

I admit that I've been calling Pages "Word" all week when I've shown people how it works, just so they wouldn't get confused - kinda like when my friend's mom used to make burgers, but insist that they were "Big Macs."

In fact, the Pages app works a lot like Word. You get:
  • 16 templates from which to compose your document, including term paper, resume, invitation, flyer, letters (four kinds!), and - PRs take note - proposal.
  • 43 fonts.
  • Text styles.
  • Tables and charts.
  • Graphics, photo styles, and effects tools.
  • A toolbar.
  • Spellcheck and a dictionary.
  • 200 levels of "undo."
  • The ability to import and email Word documents.
Pages does NOT have a thesaurus, allow you to track changes, preview your document, adjust columns, or use a mouse. It's touchscreen all the way, baby!

You can choose between the iPad's onscreen keyboard and keyboard attachment. I tried both, and found the onscreen keyboard to be the easiest and most convenient way to be mobile and get things done.

The attachment doesn't work so well when your iPad is in a case, but if your iPad is always in one place, you might prefer to keep it affixed to the keyboard attachment.

As well, I prefer the landscape view, which isn't available when you use the keyboard attachment.

Using Pages

In Pages, everything starts with the My Documents button at the top of the page. When you select it, you can create a new document or open an existing one.

You navigate your documents by flipping through thumbnails and stopping on the one you want to see.

The formatting buttons and styles are organized somewhat differently than Word's, but they're quite easy to figure out. I'll spare you the details, other than to say that you can format copy, align words, and insert tabs without a problem.

The real innovation comes when you're working with images. Inserting photos in Pages with your fingers is, I dare say, way easier than using a mouse.

You simply insert an image from your iPad's photo library and use your fingers on the touchscreen to drag it where you want it, resize it, rotate it, and watch the text flow around it automatically - to a guy raised on Pagemaker, it's truly a thing of beauty.

Word compatibility

To open your Word documents in pages, you email them to your iPad, hold your finger on the attachment, and select the "Open in Pages" option that pops up.

You can also transfer docs in iTunes, but I didn't bother trying out that option - I'm already an obsessive "Email stuff to myself" guy, so it comes pretty naturally.

Likewise, you can share any Pages document that you create as a Word doc, and send it by email or invite others to open it at

I've spent a significant amount of time sending documents to and from Pages in various versions of Word and it works well - but watch for some minor wonky formatting: there are no Wingdings in Pages and, as I say, no Track Changes.

As well, you need to email the Pages document to another computer if you need to print it; the iPad can't send docs to the printer without the middleman. Yet!

Pleasant surprises

Let's end with the three, biggest positives:
  • Pages is really fast, in terms of the app launching and in terms of opening documents.
  • There is no "File" menu, and you NEVER have to save: the app does it automatically.
  • The built-in user guide is a model of what a user guide should be: simple, short, and useful. In five minutes, you're good to go.

You probably won't love Pages as much as me if you're constantly printing and merging documents.

That said, Pages is easily the best mobile writing app on the market - better than anyone had any right to expect. I created my first assignment handout on the bus today, and it was waiting for me in my email inbox when I arrived at work.

When I use Pages, I imagine that I must feel exactly like Sinead O'Connor, because - like her - I have very little hair and "I do not want what I haven't got."


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad