Monday, August 30, 2010

Mobile devices in school? I'll alert the media.

Start the classes, stop the presses.

It was a great, first day back at school. As usual: two, fun hours of meeting new and returning students at orientation...and I'm spent. Where's my hammock? Anyone?

But this year is also fun because of our new mobile requirement for first-year CreComm students: an iPod Touch or other app-based device - iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, iPad - to use in conjunction with their studies and assignments.

This has led much interest in the media - an article in the Winnipeg Free Press, segments on CBC Radio and TV, a point-counterpoint article in RRC's The Projector - and wafts of tweets and emails from grads, college staff, and my mom.

I'm surprised by the attention!

To put this requirement in perspective: as an instructor, I can add any textbook I like to the semester's booklist without anyone's approval, regardless of how expensive it is. I supply the ISBN, it gets added to a list, the bookstore stocks it, and students buy it. End of story.

So it's interesting that the iPod Touch gets treated much differently than a textbook. Of course, it's not a textbook. It's not a phone. It's not a box of Cheerios. Like any product, it's a bundle of values that represents different things to different people.

To me, it's one thing. To J. Galt - the dude from Atlas Shrugged and sarcastic talkbacker on the Winnipeg Free Press website, it's another:
"Wow, a college education in how to use a cellphone. I'll be looking for that on resumes when I hire from now on."
My response:
"We're not providing an education in how to use a cell phone at Red River College - we're a communications program that encompasses advertising, PR, journalism, media production, radio, TV - and more.

"A smartphone or iPod Touch is a useful tool for folks working in these areas for mobile email, video, reading news apps, downloading and reading books, mobile blogging, podcasts, tweeting, monitoring RSS feeds, being plugged in to what's going on, and understanding the “app” landscape.

"In five years, I imagine that our students will be designing apps themselves. Laugh if you like, but it may be they who are looking at your resume in the future."
Fandango, a lively folk dance and another Free Press talkbacker, asks:
"If what a person learns is only good for the next few years, and not for a lifetime, what good was the education?"
Of course, the mobile requirement is only one, small aspect of our students' education. Any good education is designed to instill a love of lifelong learning. "Technology" is by its very definition something that eventually becomes replaced by something else, isn't it?

And as Spencer Tracy reminded us in Inherit the Wind: all progress comes at a price.

We're thinking about early adoption

The move to mobile, app-based devices is a fact of life in the ad and PR industries - early adopters both.

When we visited Critical Mass and Ketchum PR in Chicago earlier this year, everyone who worked there had an iPhone and suggested our students get one too (and to get onto Twitter and download and use the Foursquare app while they're at it).

As I said in this blog post last week, everything that's happening in the communications and education industry is pointing in this direction:
  • The ever-growing number of other schools and colleges across North America, which have already introduced mobile requirements and apps. Why, just today the University of Saskatchewan updated its app. I'll bet that Red River College will have an app one day too: sooner rather than later.
  • WIRED magazine's new issue, which pronounces the Web dead and the Internet alive with the sound of apps. Required reading!
  • The fact that more and more students are coming to school with these devices anyway.
  • A new communication grad's competitive advantage is always current technology. Today that means having an understanding of the app environment, social media, and new ways of reaching audiences, publics, markets, and readers to peddle their wares (and the wares of the businesses for whom they work).
One way or another, by the end of the year we'll know if this experiment worked or didn't. I'll be interested to hear and read comments from first-year CreComm students as we move forward.

That should be easy to do: by the end of next week, they'll have their blogs up and running. Two weeks from now: Twitter accounts. Three weeks from now, they'll be teaching the course.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Welcome to the working week, the jungle, and the machine, Kotter

Welcome to the first day of school to new and returning students at Red River College.

1. Those dreams have remained and they've turned around

2. You gotta do it 'til you're through it, so you'd better get to it

3. It's alright, we know where you've been

4. We got fun n' games

Now, let's start pushing that massive boulder up the hill...who's with me?!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is supply and demand ruining Winnipeg concerts?

We are not alone.

It used to be easy to be a concert fan in Winnipeg.

When I was a kid, the general concert-attendance rule was simply "see every show that comes to town," because no shows ever came to town.

So, if weak artists on their way out showed up - David Lee Roth with special guest Andy Taylor without Van Halen and Duran Duran, anyone? - they'd still get book the arena. You'd get up at 6 a.m., stand in line all day for tickets, and be grateful to get something in the last row of the nosebleed seats.

At the show, you'd pay attention to every, little nuance and consider every last word that David Lee Roth had to say, no matter how boneheaded it was.

"Yes, Mr. Roth, you make some good points."

You'd drink up the concert like the last bottle of a fine wine, scrapbook the ticket stub, and talk about it for the rest of your life, because you knew that the artist would never come back.

My friends and I would also drive to Minneapolis to see concerts three or four times a year. Minneapolis was the land of concert milk and honey, and we saw everything we could: the Violent Femmes, Peter Gabriel, Bow Wow Wow, the Pixies, U2, Belly, Throwing Muses, Psychedelic Furs, Jerry Seinfeld, the Sounds, Weezer, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Elvis Costello.

We agreed that if we lived in Minneapolis, we'd be broke for an embarrassment of great concerts.

But we also noticed that Minneapolis concert fans weren't as excited as Winnipeg concert fans to see their heroes. In Minneapolis, the crowd greeted John Mellencamp with friendly applause. In Winnipeg, the roof nearly caved as the crowd screamed, "Oh yeah - life goes on!"

No more Black Eyed Peas - I'm full

Now, thanks to the perfect storm of MTS Centre opening up at the same time that the idea of paying to buy recorded music evaporated, we're the new Minneapolis. We get every tour from everybody, multiple times a year.

It's one of the only ways an artist can make money these days. As actor/singer Juliette Lewis said from the stage at her latest show at the Pyramid, "I'll be signing autographs at the merch table after the show, because that's how I make money when I go on tour."

Any idea how many times the Black Eyed Peas have played here? Five? Six? 200? Gwen Stefani with or without No Doubt? Even Tom Petty, who ignored our city for 30 years without batting an eyelid, has played here twice in 12 months.

As we know, the law of supply and demand states:
When supply is down, demand goes up, price goes up. When supply is up, demand goes down, price goes down.
Which means: as musicians come back over and over and over, audience demand to see them goes down, especially in the absence of a hit album or song. As more concerts come to Winnipeg, the idea of going to a concert seems normal, not special.

Five bucks, five bucks, five bucks

That might explain why, in recent times, there has been a sudden burst of "last-minute ticket sales" to concerts at MTS Centre for the low, low price of $5.

How would you feel if you paid $500 for your tickets, and found out that the guy next to you paid $5?

There's also no doubt (see what I did there, Gwen?) that a guy who pays $5 for a concert isn't going to feel compelled to "get his money's worth," because in his mind, the experience isn't worth very much. It's the classic case of a sales promotion decreasing a brand's value.

If everyone else in the crowd has seen the artist six times, maybe they won't be into the show that much either, proving the old adages that familiarity breeds contempt and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

What does it matter, then, if they gab to their friends or push their way past you during the "boring songs" to go pee or buy beer - hundreds of times a show? The artist will be back next year anyway, right?

At the most-recent Bob Dylan show at MTS Centre, the aisles were blocked the entire time with a never-ending stream of people going up the stairs with full bladders and back down the stairs with full cups of beer.

In the past, we'd call that "rude."

And what of the arseholes who yelled out so many "suggestions" at the recent Neil Young Concert Hall shows, they ruined the show for everyone else and even garnered mention in the Globe & Mail review?

At the last Bright Eyes show, I sat next to a bonehead who talked to his "would-be girlfriend" (keep trying, kid) for the duration of the show. And Bright Eyes can get really, really quiet. During one of my favorite songs, I couldn't take it anymore; I finally suggested that the young man "shut up."

"It's a concert!" he yelled back.

"That's right, it's a concert," I yelled back.

We were at an impasse, as it became clear that my definition of a concert is "listening to the music" and his was "talking during the quiet parts."

Out here in the field...

As the concert experience erodes, and it's no longer a special night out, I have to wonder: what are the odds that anything I'll see will live up to the time I saw David Bowie in the front row of the Arena? Dane Cook's surprise show at the Pyramid? Arcade Fire at the Burt? Green Day at Le Rendezvous? Queen - with a real, live Freddie Mercury! - at the St. Paul Civic Centre?

I got momentarily excited when I saw that Arcade Fire and Holy Fuck were coming back to the city, but I hesitated to buy tickets to both, because I didn't want to spoil the great memories of seeing these bands with bad memories of seeing these bands.

I still love it when the occasional show surprises me, grabs me by the throat and won't let go - the Kissaway Trail at Lollapalooza, the Hives at the Burt, Elvis Costello at the Folk Fest, The Who and Roger Waters at MTS Centre (not together) - but I wonder if the surprises will get fewer and further between.

We'll find out at the Flaming Lips. I'll be the angry guy telling everyone else to shut up.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"The scary and terrible downtown campus!" On second thought...

Photo taken by CreComm grad Mark Reimer, who was lucky to escape with his life.

I came with the building.

I always know how many years I've been teaching at Red River College's downtown campus, because I started the same year that it opened.

Ah, 2002!

I remember it well. That year, my students signed a petition against having to learn at the dangerous downtown campus with no parking and lobbied to finish their education in the much safer and parking-imbued confines of the Notre Dame campus.

The media covered the kerfuffle.

Long story short: that year, the very same students attended Red River College's new downtown campus, where their worst fears were realized as they were knifed and beaten every day on their 10-mile walks to their cars. All's well that ends well!

Of course, I'm kidding. If there's one thing I've learned in my years of working and teaching, it's this:

Fear of the unknown + A little knowledge = The sky is falling!

Not to mention a great song by Marvin Gaye!

Et tu, Marvin? Then fall Larsen!

I once worked with a person who we actually called Chicken Little - to her face! - because whenever she got wind of something, she ran around the office telling anyone who'd listen that the sky was falling.

(By the way, the only time I ever saw this person happy was when a computer inexplicably burst into flames one day. Finally, the sky had fallen!)

Without exception, her "iron-clad info" was based on something she heard "though the grapevine" - the informal communication network that operates in every corporate and educational environment.

The grapevine sucks. It's like the telephone game: you start the game with "I love you," whisper the message into the person's ear next to you, and so on. By the time the message gets back to you, it's "You should lose weight." Hilarious stuff!

The lesson is that "experience" beats "fear of the unknown" and "a little knowledge from the grapevine" every time.

In the case of Red River College's downtown campus, the students very quickly realized that they were in a state-of-the-art campus surrounded by awesome classmates, bus routes, parking, bars, and restaurants.

Hell, we even got to meet Prince Philip - the frigging Duke of Edinburgh, people! - when he toured the facility. I still remember him asking one of our students, "Is your flat as messy as my grandsons'?" The student's answer: "Pa-pa-pardon me?"

My simple two-step process

When there's an active rumor mill and limited information, you're wise to remember the great journalism adage and the wise words of philosopher Flavor Flav, respectively:

1. "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out."

2. "Don't believe the hype!"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One thing that even a non-sports fan can learn from sports

I've rarely been accused of being a sports fan and never been accused of being "athletic," despite my swimmer's build.

Wah, wah!

I attend one Bombers game a year (because I love having a beer outside on a sunny, Sunday afternoon), one Moose game (because the fights are pretty great) and only really watch the World Cup (because there are no commercials and I can commit to one sporting event every four years).

Apart from that, all I know is that hockey players "gotta get into da corners" and that football "is a game of inches."

Still, could it be that even I, a non-sports fan, can learn something from sports?

Crosby v. Chomsky

When my sports-fanatic friend flies to Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup, gets his picture taken with Sidney Crosby, and updates his PlayStation to reflect real-life hockey trades, I can only shake my head and pat myself on the back for being so clearly superior (Ha!).

I like to pester him with questions like these:
  • You do realize that no one who plays for the Phoenix Coyotes is from Phoenix, right?
  • You know you're a broke guy cheering for a game played by millionaires, right?
  • You know the outcome doesn't matter tomorrow, right?
  • You know that if you spent an equal amount of time on making the world a better place, the world might actually be a better place, right?
Very elitist and unoriginal of me, I know. Like a true egghead, everything I learned about sports, I learned from Noam Chomsky:

Pretty harsh, eh?

Criticizing sports on this level would make anyone sound like a Debbie Downer - especially when everyone around you follows and loves them. And is following sports any different than, say, attending a Star Trek convention dressed up like a Vulcan?

In both cases, you're having good, clean, fun and blowing off steam by making life a little more exciting than it would be without the distraction, though you could argue that the Star Trek convention only wastes a day and a devotion to sports wastes a lifetime.

Compare being a regular sports viewer to being a video game addict, however, and...hmmm.

De-fense, de-fense

There is one aspect of sports I like and - shudder - even find myself admiring: "discipline." It might just be another way to say "irrational attitudes of submission to authority," but it does comes in handy in life if you want to earn a living.

I've always appreciated the discipline it takes to be a professional athlete earning millions of dollars, yet keeping it real enough to accept that you don't have all the answers and the coach does.

There's something to be said for the ability to "shut up and listen" - something I'm really bad at doing myself - and taking constructive criticism without going ballistic at the person giving it to you.

In fact, when we visited Critical Mass ad agency in Chicago this year, the good people there broke down the characteristics of the people they're interested in hiring. Number one: "the ability to take criticism" - probably because it seems to be in shorter supply every year.

That means knowing what you don't know, being open to filling the gaps when someone tells you something, and sucking it up, even when you know you're right. It beats, "My dad's a lawyer with a Harvard degree, and he's going to sue you. Nyeah, nyeah!"

One of the bits of advice we give our students before they go out on a work placement is, "Don't just say, "Yeah, yeah" when someone explains something. Actually listen to what they have to say, because if you don't, pretty soon they'll stop telling you anything."

The next time someone tries to teach me something I think I already know, I'll close my eyes, paste a smile on my face, and think of the words of Belle and Sebastian (a band that has clearly never played sports or even been outdoors): "The stars of track and field are beautiful people!"

Juicebox boy out!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The good-teaching pie chart: mm-mm good!

Got a hankerin' for a heapin' helpin' o' good teachin'?

Well, take a bite of the good-teaching pie chart, which consists of all the things that teachers are supposed to do in order to make the learning experience and classroom environment the magical places they can and should be.

Most good instructors excel in one of these areas, juggle most of them well, and have one or two areas that need work. This year, I master "nurturing!" Stop laughing.

It's also worth noting that there are some high and low combos that are disastrous for teachers: being substantive but boring is useless. Being very entertaining without substance is Jersey Shore.

And what's missing? I suppose "humor" could fit into "fun" and "style," but it bears its own shout-out. For teachers, it's just like it is with new comedians: the best humor is of the self deprecating variety: the teacher is the self, and everyone else deprecates him!

Of course, a teacher is only as good as his or her institutional support: if students don't know how to do their work because the teacher didn't show up today: that's the teacher's fault. If generations of students don't know how to do their work because the teacher didn't show up: that's the institution's fault.

Lastly, if as a teacher or student, you feel a little nervousness before the school year begins, don't sweat it: that's nature's way of telling you that you care and want to do a good job - the most important piece of all.

Eleven words I've invented, unless someone else has

I remember the first time I heard the word "frenemy."

The word had a nice ring to it the first time I said it out loud, so I started using it 5,000 times a day - much in the way the Kids in the Hall's "ascertain guy" used his favorite word:

So when my fellow Red River College employees started lodging complaints alleging cruel and unusual punishment, I knew it was time to make up some new words myself.

I can only hope that one of these has the cache of fren- er...the word that shall not speak its name!
  • Cemetrees - Scary, leafless trees, like the ones you see in cemeteries on Halloween.
  • Crapp - An app that crashes.
  • Drool pool - The liquid you wake up in when you fall asleep with your head on a desk.
  • Evilution - The theory that those who are at first nice to you will, over time, morph into hideous bastards.
  • Exclamaddict - Anyone like me!!!!!!
  • Flustrated - Frustrated and flustered.
  • FoMofo - A phony - or faux - mofo.
  • Hippocritter - 'Lil hypocrite.
  • Horribullish - Being positive that bad news is on the rise.
  • Semaforeign - A flag system used to speak with people from other countries.
  • Snoozepaper - A newspaper with stories you've already read online.

How are you consuming your video?

Look away from that screen for a minute to look at this one.

Today's required reading is the Nielsen Global Video Report on How People Watch (embedded, below).

Highlights from the report:
  • Multiple platforms are a global phenomenon.
  • Asia-Pacific consumers are leading the rest of the world in online and mobile consumption. But don't assume that "market lag will buy (your business) time."
  • Cutting-edge technologies - like iPad and 3DTV - are important to affluent early adopters. Their influence on consumption of cross-platform video "should not be overstated."
  • HDTV adoption is highest among older consumers who live in North America.
  • 70 per cent of online consumers watch online video (surprise: mostly at work!), but North Americans and Europeans lag in adoption.
  • Tablets (iPads, etc.) and 3DTV are catching on to the tune of 11 and 12 per cent of global online consumers, respectively, who have one or plan to buy one.
  • TV with Internet connections are becoming more available and in demand.
Global Video Report How People Watch

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The 30 greatest things I learned this summer

1. The best app ever? Zombie Booth!

Two human brains to go, please.

2. Jeans + leggings = Jeggings!

3. Smother + Evil = Hurt

4. New invention: "the pole poll!"

Place the sticker on the place you like and don't like in Winnipeg.

5. The best way to celebrate the World Cup is with tasty South-African wines: Flatroof Manor and Fleur du Cap.

6. People who say, "An iPad is just a big iPhone" have never used an iPad or iPhone.

7. The greatest buffet on planet Earth takes place every Sunday at Shaw's Crab House in Chicago.

8. A unionized actor makes $600.25 a day.

9. The Ventures have a kick-ass Christmas album in which they fuse Christmas songs with classic rock. Rudolph meets I Feel Fine, for one.

10. I grudgingly admit that kids do have entertainment value.

11. If you wait long enough to find a Master's degree program you like, eventually someone will create one just for you and work will pay for it.

12. The Web is dead.

13. Star Wars is occultism.

I hope this was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

14. The difference between being a happenin' ladies man and desperate alcoholic? On Mad Men: one season.

15. The solution to the big transit-corridor debate:

"Back of the bus!"

16. Seventy-five per cent of the movies starring Elvis Presley are terrible.

17. I still want my MTV.

18. No matter how much I complain, I can't stop "Unique."


19. When it comes to sports play-by-plays, always go British.

20. I grudgingly admit that weddings do have entertainment value.

Is he climbing up or down?

21. Winnipeg's best new restaurant: Segovia.

22. You can trace obnoxious "anonymous" comments on your blog to their exact name and location using StatCounter.

23. For pure entertainment value, nothing beats mugging before a hilarious backdrop.

King of the Wookiees! And losers!

24. The best argument to use with people who say they "Just like the feel of a newspaper" is the PressReader iPad/iPhone app, which feels even more like a newspaper than a newspaper.

25. Apparently, the only time gas prices don't go up in summer is when BP pours 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

I call it "Last Gasp."

26. Never trust anyone who's seen Michael Buble in concert.

27. One hundred per cent of Americans chuckle out loud at the very mention of something called "Canada Day."

28. "Do not disturb" in Spanish is "No moleste."

29. Sobeys self-serve checkout is perfect. If you've always wanted a job at Sobeys.

30. "No photos in 7-Eleven!"

Just showing your newly reduced magazine section. Jeez!

Should education and storytelling be a game?

Two, fascinating TEDTalks videos involving technology and education:

1. The game layer on top of the world.

In the video below, Seth Priebatsch talks about game-oriented stuff you can use to influence behavior.

Should you be able to "level up" in school? Priebatsch says "yes" and applies the framework of "social gaming" to real life:
  1. The appointment dynamic - where happy hour meets Farmville.
  2. The influence and status dynamic - I want a black credit card and an A+.
  3. The progression dynamic - why do I only have 80 per cent on LinkedIn?!
  4. The communal discovery dynamic - working together with Digg and McDonald's.

2. Demonstrating Milo, the virtual boy.

In this video, Peter Molyneux demonstrates Milo, the virtual boy, in terms of gaming, solving the problem of storytelling, and creating a character that seems alive, notices you, looks you in the eye, and feels real. Real creepy!

Prediction: in the near future, I'll be teaching virtual kids how to level up in advertising class.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The debate: $329 or a competitive advantage in the communications industry?

Sweet or foul temptress?
"Do you think today's communication students and professionals need to use and understand mobile technology and apps?"
I posted this question on Twitter today after receiving an email from a great student and writer for Red River College's newspaper (yes, it's still actual paper!), The Projector.

I'm told that there's going to be a point-counterpoint piece in an upcoming issue about CreComm (the program in which I teach) introducing a "mobile technology" requirement this year.

My first reaction: really? There are people - communication students - who don't think this is a good idea? You can come out now, Ashton!


Here's the requirement, as it was sent out to first-year students with their book list (second-year students don't need to buy a mobile device, though I still think it's a good idea to have one):

You'll note that no one's cramming an Apple agenda down anyone's Adam's apple - you can also use a BlackBerry, Android, or anything app-based that you like (the cheapest is an iPod Touch, as it has no requirement that you sign up with a "cell-phone provider" and you can use the school's Wi-Fi for free).
"Can I use an iPad instead?"

"Yes," I said to the genial first-year student who emailed me the question.
The iPod Touch is good for mobile email, watching video, playing music, reading news apps, downloading and reading books, mobile blogging, podcasts, tweeting, monitoring RSS feeds (like classmates' blogs), being plugged in to what's going on, and understanding the “app” landscape.

The reason behind this move is very simple: in CreComm, we want our grads to have a competitive advantage when they apply for jobs, and - when they get hired - be tech-savvy when they come up with solutions to all kinds of communication and marketing problems, like "How do we save newspapers?" (Link jumps to related discussion on Graham Hnatiuk's great Progressive Winnipeg blog).

Our new grads' best competitive advantage over "old veterans:" understanding how to use and harness new media and technology to benefit their client or employer.

For support, look no further than WIRED's new article about the traditional Web being supplanted by mobile devices and apps that deliver us a more-focused and cost-based online experience.

I should also note that this technology has become standard issue in colleges and universities across North America, including the University of Saskatchewan, which has its own, awesome app.

The much-worse scenario is hearing back from grads: "Why didn't you guys teach us the stuff we need to know to get a job?!"

I don't want to teach or study at that school!

The cost/return ratio

An iPod Touch is $329.

Over the past three years, in my classes alone, we've eliminated two, gargantuan textbooks, which used to cost students an additional $400 - they were big, heavy, hardcover, American, and, if the information was useful, they were intensely dull. That's right, I said it!

To put a fine point on it, the good taxpayers of Manitoba subsidize Red River College students to the tune of 80 per cent of the actual cost of educating them. The tuition for one semester of CreComm is about $1,200 a semester - not that much higher than what I paid to attend the program in 1993.

I also note that I recently discovered (on MTV's the College Life - great show!) that one semester's tuition at U of Wisconsin, Madison is $12,000. We've competed with this very same school at the AAF ad competition many times before - its students are indistinguishable from CreComm students in every way - age, skill level, aptitude - apart from that kick-ass accent (on both sides!).

A tuition and college education is an investment - I know, because the return on my degrees, certificates, and diplomas, in terms of lifetime income alone, is great, as I imagine it is with most grads.

Let me put it this way: before CreComm, I shot my BB gun at cars. After: billionaire! Ha!

To me, the debate comes down to this: $329 or your competitive advantage in the communications industry?

As for my tweet: "Do you think today's communication students and professionals need to use and understand mobile technology and apps?"

One hundred per cent agreement from my tweeps. My favorite response, from CreComm grad Jack Rach: "Yes, and everyone else needs to understand as well."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shoot out the TV: I've seen every Elvis movie

Thank you. Thank you very much - for renting one of my eight, good films.

I can die now.

I just watched Jailhouse Rock. It wasn't so much a Blockbuster night as it was (cue movie-guy voice) "the end of an odyssey of self-discovery 15 years in the making!"

Now, when I walk down Corydon on my way to buy Spider-Man Pez at Sugar Mountain, I can proudly hold my head up high, tip my hat to passersby, and confidently say:
"Out of my way, peasants! For I have seen every Elvis Presley movie ever made!"
Cultural touchstone, showbiz legend

It's true that "you're either a Beatles person or an Elvis person," and I've made no secret of my obsession with all things John, Paul, George, and Ringo on this blog. Did I get the names and order right?

So, I'm not a person who will ever likely feel the urge to go to Graceland, put a rock on Elvis' grave, or rent a spangled jumpsuit (though I'm not ruling it out for later in life).

But Elvis' movies are the stuff of which showbiz legends are made, as these examples show:
  • Eddie Murphy: "They let him do movies, and he couldn't act!"

  • Jay Leno/David Letterman (at 1:03) "Is the character played by Elvis in every movie named Rick?"

  • Tom Hanks (3:40) - "If there's an Elvis Presley movie on Saturday afternoon, I don't care how long the kids sit in the car - we're not going to Disneyland. I'm watching Clambake!"

The good, the bad, and the ugly. Mostly the ugly.

The thing is: most Elvis movies are really, really bad. As you see in my one-line reviews/encapsulations, below, there are really only eight that I think are worth watching.

Some of the most-remembered Elvis flicks are painfully bad: Blue Hawaii, Viva Las Vegas, and Girls! Girls! Girls!, which is really just a good title and precious little else.

When you start your foray into Elvis films, you can fool yourself into thinking that you're being entertained, because it's equally jarring and bizarre to see that famous, dead guy "up there and alive," singing and dancing.

But watch too many Elvis movies in a row, and you very quickly lose your movie-reviewer compass, your very morality, sense of right and wrong, good and evil.

Compared to Elvis movies, any "normal" movie looks good. Compared to other Elvis movies, Jailhouse Rock is a classic!

So, I watched these films slowly, one or two a year over the last decade, spanning VHS tapes, DVDs, HD, Blu-ray, and digital downloads, making very sure that I didn't lose touch with the real world, like Elvis did, or lay in bed too long, like Brian Wilson and the Barenaked Ladies did.

After shooting out five or six TV sets with six guns and eating my weight in fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, I broke down the films of Elvis Presley into three categories: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The results:

The good:

Loving You (1957) - Lots of energy, and Elvis's parents have a cameo! One of the finest.

Jailhouse Rock (1957) - Con becomes a singer. The famous musical number is worth the price of admission alone, though I've never seen inmates dance like that in real life.

King Creole (1958) - From the director of Casablanca, so you can't go wrong.

Flaming Star (1960) - Watered-down Western version of the same-old Elvis template and the first sign that Elvis is really bored. Still, it's not an altogether bad morality tale.

Wild in the Country (1961) - Elvis is a believable writer!

Kid Galahad (1962) - Remake of a Humphrey Bogart boxing movie.

Elvis: That's the Way it is (1970) - Great concert documentary.

Elvis on Tour (1972) - Another great concert documentary.

The bad:

Love Me Tender (1957) - "Love Me Tender" was written during the Civil War? Ugh.

Blue Hawaii (1961) - His biggest box-office hit features Elvis, Hawaii, and Mrs. Potts herself, Angela Lansbury.

Follow That Dream (1962) - Elvis is a homesteader moving to Florida. Oh, no...

Fun in Acapulco (1963) - Just like every other Elvis film...but in Acapulco!

Viva Las Vegas (1964) - Elvis drives race cars in Vegas. The soundtrack saves this one...sort of.

Roustabout (1964) - "It's not a's a carnival!" - Barbara Stanwyck. Elvis - and we - aren't convinced.

Charro! (1969) - Another western with just ONE Elvis song. What gives? Boo.

The Trouble with Girls (And How to Get Into it) (1969) - Terrible title and film in which Elvis runs a Chautauqua and has less screen time than most of the other actors. That's right: Chautauqua.

Change of Habit (1970) - Mary Tyler Moore herself has to choose between being a nun and doing it with Elvis. Get it? Habit?

The ugly

GI Blues (1960) - One of the worst; a shameless and lame attempt to cash in on Elvis' fame as America's most celebrated draftee.

Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) - Our fishing guide is torn between two lovers. Should be called "More girls than plot."

It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) - Elvis hitchhikes to the Seattle World's Fair, where nothing happens.

Kissin' Cousins (1964) - Elvis tries to convince his lookalike relative - played by Elvis! - to convert his farm into a missile site. What?!

Girl Happy (1965) - Elvis chaperones a girl whose dad is a mobster. And that's "girl happy?"

Tickle Me (1965) - Yet another ranch, where Elvis runs into yet more wealthy, glamorous babes.

Harum Scarum (1965) - Elvis goes to the Middle East to assassinate an Arab king. Isn't that the plot of the latest Sex and the City movie?

Frankie and Johnny (1966) - Elvis is a riverboat captain with a big gambling problem. Is there any other kind?

Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) - Another movie in Hawaii? This time Elvis is a helicopter pilot.

Spinout (1966) - Will Elvis get married or drive a race car in the big race? Who cares?

Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) - Elvis stars as a frogman, later inspiring O.J. in more ways than one.

Double Trouble (1967) - Elvis does his best Austin Powers impression as a hip swinger on the loose in England.

Clambake (1967) - Elvis is an heir to a fortune doubling as a water-ski instructor who wishes that girls would like him "for himself." Noooo!

Stay Away, Joe (1968) - An "Indian rights" movie in the worst sense - it exploits American Indians at the same it pats itself on the back for being so open-minded. Embarrassing!

Speedway (1968) - Another racing movie in which Elvis gets Nancy Sinatra and Bill Bixby?! "Don't make me angry, Mr. Presley. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) - Elvis gets two jobs and has trouble holding them down. That's it.

Now I know how Elvis felt:

Kenton has left the building.

Four, great target audiences who will buy your crap

I got a new computer and bright future in sales. Yeah-yeah!

Which came first: the product or the market?

Nine times out of 10, it's the product:

You have a vision for a product that will change the world. You move Heaven and Earth to get investors, get it produced, and put it on the shelves.

Then you sit back and...nothing happens, because it turns out that teenagers don't have $1 million to buy your back-to-school jet packs. D'oh!

But if you look around, listen to what people are saying and complaining about - caring about "your market" first - then it's easier to design a product that solves those complaints within that audience's means.

Makes sense if you think about it: we had zits before we had CLEARASIL; we had big thighs before we had the Thighmaster; we had male-pattern baldness before we had ROGAINE (love the theme line: "Break a family tradition. Keep your hair.")

Actually, we still have all of these things (or is it just me who has them?), but it hasn't stopped these products from at least giving people hope that they can take care of these problems by buying stuff.

And, as I say to blank stares in class every year in Ad class, "You don't sell soap, you sell HOPE!"

The four recession-proof target audiences

So, where are the best places to sell hope these days? Apart from mall kiosks, hot-dog carts, and dark back alleys, these are the four target audiences I'd go after:

1. Employees who get work to pay for stuff.

I go to CPRS luncheons for three reasons:

1. To network with my pals.
2. To get away from work for an hour.
3. Work pays for it! Let's party!

Never discount the power of "work pays for it."

The Wall Street Journal's entire business model is based on this idea, which might explain why it's one of the few existing print entities still protecting its content, charging for it, and turning a profit.

The key: provide something of value and find a price point that "work" doesn't notice, even when it comes time to "cut costs."

The best argument when the Winnipeg Free Press calls you to become a subscriber: "I already get it at work."

2. Troubled teens and young adults

"Kids": trendy and spendy.

I was blown away last May when I visited a high school, looked around, and noticed something that I'd never seen when I was in high school: well-dressed students. With iPhones, BlackBerrys and portable gaming systems at the ready.

The power of peer pressure and fashion to this age group cannot be discounted. And, to a new generation weaned on buying iPhone apps on-demand, low-priced impulse buys are the marketer's best friend.

As well, parents are more willing than ever to fork over the dough when junior needs something - like sneakers, sunglasses, and jeans.

Despite the human body continuing to have two legs, two arms, a torso, and a head, there's apparently no end to the "new" fashion-based products you can peddle to young fashion slaves everywhere.

As my restaurant server explained to me yesterday, "Jeans plus leggings equal jeggings."


3. Seniors

While selling ointment to octogenarians may not be as sexy as, say, selling jeggings to young women, seniors have more disposable income than any other target audience, and are among the most-loyal buyers.

Senior markets are often ignored by marketers, even though they like the same stuff that young people like: iPhones, movies, workout equipment - whatever. The only thing that changes is your message and where you broadcast that message.

But where young people can only be reached when they're not in school or working, seniors are available to receive your message all day long, through online media, TV, and direct mail - which is why it doesn't cost as much to reach them as other target audiences.

4. Pet owners

"Pets are the new people." Creepy, but true.

While it would be nice to eliminate the middleman and sell to pets directly, that's probably still a few years away.

However, a nation of actors and celebrities - in view of a worldwide audience of people who idolize and emulate them - are showing their pets more public love than ever before, dressing them up in outfits, carrying them in blankets, and enrolling them in college (or was that just a movie?).

People have a deep, irrational love for Fifi and will do anything to make life better and more comfortable for her. They also feel guilty when they have to leave Fifi at home all day while they work, or when they come back from vacation.

Tap into that guilt, marketer! army...will be take over the world!

Is this song trying to sell me something?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Who needs broad when you've got pod?

The international symbol for bald man yelling.

Adam Carolla is my morning man.

TEDTalks are my inspiration.

Joe Rogan and Ricky Gervais are my laughter.

This Week in iPad and the iPad Show are my how-to manuals.

Summer of the podcast

For me, this has been the summer of the podcast - on-demand digital audio and video files published online and available for download, viewing, and listening on the computer device of your choice (mine: iPad and Apple TV).

If you've never watched or listened to a podcast, just launch iTunes on your computer, click on "iTunes Store" on the left, and - when the store opens up - click on the "Podcasts" tab at the top of the screen. Choose the ones you like. Most are free.

It was only this morning I realized that I now consume more podcasts than I do actual TV shows on broadcast TV; it occurred to me when I read this article on Yahoo: "Broadcast audience aging faster than population."

To make a long story short: broadcast TV networks are caring more about numbers than demographics these days because the median age of a broadcast TV viewer has hit 51. So, "If the demographics don't work, maybe the numbers do!"

When you consider that TV ad sales are traditionally based on the demand for young viewers, podcast ads and sponsorships are looking more and more attractive: they attract a young and dedicated audience that is keenly interested in the narrowly focused subject matter, just like our new friends "apps" do.

What happens in your bedroom goes everywhere

The variety and quality of podcasts really runs the gamut - education, dating tips, cooking instructions, news, comedy, sports, technology, pets - whatever turns you on, Chester.

My favorite podcasts tend to be the ones that prove the old adage: "an enthusiastic amateur beats a bored professional." If you imagine public access TV available to the world, you're on the right track.

Take the iPad Show, hosted by Dave Buchanan and Steve Bostedor:

Who cares about the rinky-dink production when the hosts are affable, knowledgeable, and passionate about their topic? Not I!

Shot in a small bedroom on a $10,000 investment, these "two guys on a couch" have a loyal worldwide audience to the tune of 100,000 downloads an episode, millions of views, and a growing base of sponsorships paying off their investment, according to this recent article in the Detroit Free Press.
“It becomes a very personal media, because often times you’re consuming it by yourself,” Buchanan says. “You really become attached with these people and they become your friends that you don’t know, almost like a pen pal.”
Exactly right: the podcast, like radio, is an extremely personal medium that works best when you combine it with email, feedback, Twitter, Facebook, apps, and other podcasts.

Do I smell a future assignment for radio or TV class?

The easiest way to podcast audio

I like writing online more than I like talking, which I reserve to irritate people in person, the way God intended me to irritate people.

So when I feel the need to podcast - infrequently at best - I do it the easiest way possible by using the free Audioboo app, available for iPhone and Android. You can also post "boos" directly from your Web browser though Audioboo's website.

The process:
  1. Once you've downloaded the app, launch it and press record.
  2. Talk.
  3. Stop talking and press stop.
  4. Upload it instantly to the Web and Twitter.
  5. Submit it to iTunes for approval (instructions at the jump, though you may need to log in to Audioboo to view them).
Boos are limited to five minutes - short and sweet for the short attention-span world in which we find ourselves.

Just a sec: I see a squirrel!

The easiest way to podcast video

To host and post a video podcast takes a bit more wherewithal, though it's nothing you can't do with the equipment lying around Red River College.

It helps to have a Mac computer with iMovie and a blog with an RSS feed - but, again, the easiest way to distribute your video podcast is through the service, which provides you with free hosting and automatically posts your work all over the Web, including on iTunes and YouTube.

The catch: you share revenue 50/50.

Required reading

If you haven't done so already, you need to read WIRED's new article about the traditional Web being supplanted by mobile devices and apps that deliver us a more-focused online experience, though more and more at a price.

If I may say so, the article is also the best argument for the CreComm program finally embracing mobile technology - though the rumor I keep hearing about us going "iPhones only" is as bogus as a BlackBerrry app.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summertime and the bloggin's easy

Don't mock my art.

I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, "Blog because you must, not because your teacher makes you."

Good advice, F. And you even predicted the invention of the Internet and blogging some 60 years after your death. Neat trick!

Props to my bloggin' peeps

When it comes to blogging, one can't discount the importance of self-motivation; often the difference between a successful and unsuccessful blog is simply that the successful one is updated regularly.

So, as we approach the first anniversary of every first-year CreComm student owning and operating a blog on the CreComm blog network, I'd like to give a shout-out to the students who continued to update their blogs regularly during the summer, even when there were no irritating teachers like me around to make them do it.

I believe these to be our five most-prolific bloggers of the summer months (listed alphabetically):
  • Shelley Cook - plenty of dating tips and insight into how it feels to quit smoking.
  • Jennifer Hanson - well on her way to watching and reviewing 200 movies for her Independent Professional Project. She was recently retweeted by At the Movies on the eve of its last episode.
  • Kevin Hirschfield - golfing his way around golf courses for his Independent Professional Project, like Manitoba's own Happy Gilmore.
  • Amanda Hope - a wide-ranging discussion of stuff, including reading, 'riting, and (thankfully) not 'rithmetic.
  • Jennifer Twardowski - blogging for the Edge Gallery and asking us to not necessarily know art, but to vote for what we like.
First, we'll take Manhattan, then we'll take Berlin! Etc...

When we started the blog project last year, I hoped that students wouldn't consider their blog posts to be "homework;" homework is handed in to a teacher, marked, returned to a student, burned in a bonfire, and instantly forgotten by both.

My belief is that, to a student in a writing program, blogging has more to do with having a chance to show what you can do as a writer in front of an audience of friends, family, grads, potential employers, the world, God and everyone.

Lest we forget: the opportunity to publish to a worldwide audience sans gatekeeper, editor, and print production is a relatively recent development that my CreComm graduating class and I would've killed to experience "back in the day" when edit suites consisted of a rock and a monkey.

Happy anniversary to me

As I approach the second anniversary and post #1,000 of my own blog, it's fun to look back at how crappy this blog was and, more importantly, how much crappier it's become. Wah, wah!

I started this blog at a snail's pace - just four, lousy posts in September, 2008. At the time, I didn't know whether I'd enjoy blogging, get any readers, or be stopped dead in my tracks by an employer who might not understand. Props to RRC: it understood!

(Which reminds me: I have to start pestering that new RRC president about having breakfast with her.)

According to Google Analytics, I get about 1,600 page views a day at one minute and 45 seconds average time-spent reading.

That's one reason why ad rates are lower on the Web than in print; apparently, readers of the NY Times print edition spend an average of 35 minutes a day reading and readers of the website spend an average of 37 minutes a month reading.

(Plug: I'm reading Jack Fuller's What's Happening to News, which describes the neuroscience behind the news and the way we consume it. It's a must-read for anyone who cares about these things.)

For me, the most rewarding aspect of blogging isn't the number of page views or time-spent-reading stats, but being available and part of something bigger than me: a vibrant, local blogging community.

I continue to get surprise emails from people who find my blog in their online travels, most recently from a designer in England, a new-media teacher in California, a recent visitor to Winnipeg from Detroit, and a potential student from rural Manitoba.

And, hey, you know you're famous when the animatronic parrot at McPhillips Station Casino recognizes you!

Thanks for blogging and reading.

Friday, August 13, 2010

James Brown's four rules for interviewers: Q Magazine

How do you like my new Levi's, James? Come back, Mr. Brown!

The latest issue of Q - my favorite music magazine - comes with a great bonus: the 164-page Music Bible, a "holy compendium of rock facts, quiz, & miscellany."

Among the pocketbook's cool facts and trivia is James Brown's rules for interviewers:

1. The wearing of blue jeans is not permitted.

2. Do not drink beforehand. Mr. Brown does not like the smell of alcohol.

3. Your interview will last 20 minutes if Mr. Brown likes you, two if he does not.

4. Addressing Mr. Brown as "James" will result in immediate termination of the interview.

Guess Mr. Brown fell off the wagon for this classic interview:

The balcony closes forever on At the Movies

A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips' publicity pic.

I remember the first time I ever had an inkling that there was a profession out there for me.

I was 10 years old. Star Wars and Annie Hall ruled the box office. And my favorite TV show was Sneak Previews on PBS - a commercial-free movie review show starring my heroes: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
"Mom, dad...I want to be...a film critic!"

"Uh, we've never been more proud, son. Now run along: daddy needs a drink."
My desire was solidified some years later when the satirical Spy magazine compared the salaries of the over- and underpaid. According to the magazine, Siskel and Ebert made $1 million a year each compared to a paltry 10 cents per annum for Mother Teresa.

So "nun" was out, then.

Some 30 years later, At the Movies - the show that Sneak Previews became - is going off the air. The last episode is scheduled to run at 2 a.m. Monday morning on CTV Winnipeg (the start time is herky jerky: if you want to be sure see it, set your DVR to record from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m.).

I hate this film - and you, now that I think about it

Siskel and Ebert brought serious movie criticism to TV, but even more than that, they brought smart discussions and passionate arguments about all kinds of movies to the U.S. and Canada, blockbusters and art-house films alike.

Each week on Sneak Previews, they'd review four or five films, give them a thumbs up or down, and crown one "dog of the week" - the worst movie they'd seen in the last seven days.

The commercial-free format gave them time to show extended film clips and talk and (mostly) argue at length.

As the show went along, Siskel and Ebert's attacks on each other got more personal and hilarious, as shown in their review of Bachelor Party, where Siskel also calls Tom Hanks "The poor man's Bill Murray." Ha!

You always knew you'd seen a great show when the guys went off the cue cards and started making bald and fat jokes at each other's expense, like they do here on this classic Late Night with David Letterman clip:

Over the years, Siskel and Ebert proved the cliche, "the reviewers became as famous as the movies they reviewed." Their patented "two thumbs up" - praise from both critics! - is still used today as a way to describe something that's indisputably great.
"How ya doin'?"

"Two thumbs up!"
They achieved the highest form of praise (in Canada at least) by becoming the target of an SCTV parody with Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty:

Siskel and Ebert also rescued many an art-house film from oblivion - most famously, My Dinner with Andre, a 1981 film depicting a dinner conversation between playwright Wallace Shawn and theatre director Andre Gregory.

Great film!

The departure of Siskel and Ebert

Sadly, Siskel passed away in 1999 after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor, and Ebert's battle with thyroid cancer has left him unable to speak, though he continues a vibrant online presence on his blog, the Chicago Sun-Times' website, and Twitter.

Even after Siskel and Ebert left Sneak Previews, I continued watching the show through all of its incarnations. Forgive me if I've missed any:
  • Siskel and Ebert
  • Siskel and Ebert and the Movies
  • Ebert and the Movies with guest reviewers
  • At the Movies with Ebert and (Richard) Roeper
  • At the Movies with Roeper and guest reviewers
  • The crappy year of At the Movies with the two Bens (Lyons and Mankiewicz)
  • The latest version, At the Movies with A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, who marked a return to the brainy discourse of the original show.
Why has the show been cancelled? Here's what Ebert says on his blog:
"Blame the fact that five-day-a-week syndicated shows like Wheel of Fortune went to six days. Blame the fact that cable TV and the Internet have fragmented the audience so much that stations are losing market share no matter what they do. Blame the economy, because many stations would rather sell a crappy half-hour infomercial than program a show they respect. Blame the fact that everything seems to be going to hell in a hand basket."
While it's true that a glut of online critics has made the necessity of a TV movie-review show questionable, I also appreciate that "the youngsters" today have an opportunity that I never had until later in life to watch films on a variety of media, post their personal thoughts about them on a blog, and then discuss them with the world.

CreComm student Jennifer Hanson, for instance, is watching and reviewing 200 movies this year on her website 200 Movies 1 Woman 1 Blog, as recommended by friends, family, teachers, and you and - in a neat twist of fate - recently had her Twitter-sized review re-tweeted by At the Movies. Nice!

For me, the show's move to commercial TV was the beginning of the end. Suddenly, the reviewers didn't have room to breathe: they had to review more films in less time, necessitating talking over the film clips and making one or two quick points before going to commercial.


Apart from writing some movie reviews for Red River College's the Projector, some quick-hit reviews for the Winnipeg Free Press on my internship, and the occasional review on and this blog, I never did pursue my film-review career with any degree of seriousness.

Now, I mostly watch movies that I download online and on Apple TV - I've got Kick Ass, Clash of the Titans, and A Million in the Morning cued up as we speak. Many more use video on demand, rent DVDs, or have Netflix memberships - coming to Canada soon!

More movies are available to more people all of the time, which means that film fandom will continue to thrive in the world with or without At the Movies. Good for the movies! But, I have to say, I'm really going to miss the show, Siskel, Ebert, Roeper, Scott, and Phillips all.

It's the end of an era. The balcony is indeed closed. I'm sad.