Thursday, June 30, 2011

YouTube: not the copyright YouTopia I had in mind

YouTube - rhymes with blood feud.

That's my pal, Margaret Gould Stewart - head of YouTube's user experience - explaining why copyright holders should allow their video to be published to YouTube, so as to experience new art forms, audiences, distribution channels, and revenue streams: a video Utopia, I tell you!

I've used this video on my blog and in class 100 times as a launching point of how "progressive copyright" works online. 

Hard to believe YouTube is the same company that removed my account last week for copyright infringement. My crime: uploading a 30-second clip from the rarely seen film The Promotion, which I intended to use in class as a great example of corporate culture.

It was my third infraction in over a decade of posting videos to the site, which is the magic number you need to reach in order to be removed; the other two:

1. A 30-second TV ad for the Minneapolis Star Tribune - the bankrupt newspaper that was trying to do something new by advertising a new online reporter.

I uploaded the ad without comment, because I found it interesting that the paper was employing this strategy to get readers and advertisers back. But - you guessed it - I got an angry letter from a Star Tribune lawyer demanding that I stop using "their content."

I removed it, but - hell - isn't the idea of an ad campaign that people get to see it? I promised the angry lawyer that I would never do anything to promote the Star Tribune again, and I haven't: now it's all badmouthing all the time, which appears to be the best way to make their lawyers happy. 

2. A 15-second clip from Roman Holiday - in which Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn have a passive-aggressive conversation about PR and journalism - also to use in class.

Were these cases copyright infringement? Sure. I didn't own the content, after all.

Could I argue it? Sure: I uploaded only three short clips that came into question in a dozen years of video uploads and intended to use them for educational purposes with students.

However, when YouTube (as owned by Google) removes your account, there is no system of appeal and you lose not only the offending videos, but all of your videos. So, goodbye to The Promotion clip and my students' stand-up comedy and improv videos along with it.

I've got the video, you've got the software: let's make lots of money

There has got to be a better way, and YouTube already has it: software that prevents users from uploading content that they don't own and/or that has been blocked by the copyright holder.

I once attempted to upload a clip from the famous Bob Newhart Show episode where he learns how media relations works the hard way. When the video finished uploading, YouTube's software instantly recognized it as Bob Newhart and blocked the content, so it couldn't be uploaded. Fair enough.

Another time, I uploaded the famous fence-painting scene from the 1973 Tom Sawyer musical (featuring a pint-sized Jodie Foster), which is great for showing how corporate entities (Tom) manipulate supply and demand to screw over the little people (the fence painters).

This time, YouTube said it was cool that I uploaded it, but that it wouldn't be available in some parts of the world. When I clicked on "some parts of the world," I found out that it meant "the entire world" - however, the video was still there for me to watch when I signed in. Fair enough.

Last year, when I uploaded Devo's performance at the Minnesota Zoo, YouTube told me that the song was owned by Universal (I think), but that Universal was cool with it as long as it could monetize the video. Fair enough.

I never monetized a single YouTube video, so I never made a dime off of anything I uploaded. However, the copyright holder earning money off of a video I upload seems to me to be the very definition of "progressive copyright."

YouTube's upload policy: wink, wink. 

So: YouTube has and uses the technology that can stop people from uploading stuff they don't own. The problem: if it stopped everyone from uploading video they don't own, there wouldn't be a YouTube.

Ninety per cent of the content on YouTube is uploaded by people who don't own it, but who are honest fans of the material. Everyone knows: if you want original video, you go to Vimeo. If you want to see the clip of Ricky Gervais visiting Steve Carell on the Office, you go to YouTube - where Sparky11771 - not NBC - has posted it.

The hypocrisy: YouTube (Google) attracts millions of viewers and makes zillions of dollars a year selling advertising on "pirated" video uploaded to its site, yet pretends to be against it by warning users to not do the very thing they see when they visit the site.

The website that punishes its users for its own vague and inconsistent policies is the website that needs to get a grip.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ten great ways to stand out at an interview, mofo

Outstanding in his own dreams. 

"I got an interview but they didn't hire me. What happened?"

Glad you asked! When you go to an interview, you should aim be like Kevin Costner on the Field of Dreams movie poster: you should wear a white T-shirt, blue jeans, brown loafers, and stand in front of a backdrop of corn husks.

And you should following these 10 simple interview rules (for dating my teenage daughter):

Before the interview

1. Go to the company's Facebook page, and click "Like" until your mouse stops working.

At the interview

2. Refuse to answer any of the interviewer's question without first consulting your Magic 8 Ball.

3. Ask the interviewer to punch you in the stomach as hard as she can.

4. Ask if there's also a position for your imaginary manservant, Fritz.

5. When they ask you, "Why do you want to work here?" Say: "I don't know. I'm a loser?"

6. Say the word muthafucka as often as possible, muthafucka.

7. Strip to your gitch and demand a complete patdown.

8. Bring along a cheese sandwich to the interview. Take a big bite of the sandwich when the interviewer stops speaking and speak only for as long as it takes you to chew and swallow one bite.

After the interview

9. The minute you leave the interview, be sure to tweet the interviewer a thank-you Weiner.

10. For the next month, answer your phone by shouting "When do I start?!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Which tweet is worse - Ebert's or mine?

My tweet: June 20, 11:18 a.m.

Ebert's tweet: June 20, 1:07 p.m.

Clearly, Ebert's is more offensive, because it's heartfelt, clever, funny, makes you think, and was written by a famous person.

Is it ever OK to say, "That's so gay?"

Is this OK?

When I was a kid, I probably heard someone say, "That's so gay" two or three times a day. I'm not sure if I ever said it myself. 

But times change, and when I hear someone say it "in real life" now - along with "That's so retarded" - I think, "Oh, please. They still make you?!"

But are there ever exceptions?

Ally training

I recently attended ALLY training at Red River College, which is an initiative to ensure that LGBTT individuals have a safe and inclusive place in the classroom and aren't marginalized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

When you've taken the course, you're an "ALLY" in that you declare your support for LGBTT individuals and work toward creating more inclusive and safe places.  

It's a great class led by great teachers. The discussion is wide ranging and blunt, including whether it's ever OK to say, "That's so gay."

Not surprisingly, most attendees said, "No, it's not OK."

At least one attendee said she finds the expression funny in an ironic sense, and would say it among her friends - straight and gay - knowing that none of them actually meant what they were saying (perhaps not unlike the clip from the 40 Year Old Virgin at the top of this post).

The course leader suggested that it's better not to say it, but also pointed out that there are two schools of thought on the issue:

1. You should never say it under any circumstances, because you don't have to say it and it hurts people when you do.
2. You should say it, thereby reclaiming the expression and removing its power to hurt and offend.

Can a comic say anything?

I then asked the question: what if a comedian says, "That's so gay" in an ironic sense, onstage? Again, most attendees said "no," until I mentioned Sarah Silverman and some agreed that she might be an exception.

Sarah Silverman's act is steeped in irony, so does that make the jokes OK?

What about Louis C.K., who has taken flack for this bit in which he uses the word, "faggot?"

C.K. explains the bit to NPR:
"I had a conversation with [openly gay comedian Rick Crom] about [the slur.] I asked him about it. He didn't lecture me or say you shouldn't say it. He just said 'If you're interested, it's totally devastating.' And he gave me that information. And I never forgot it. I was about 22. I have said [the slur] a number of times since then. But I know what I'm saying. I know what it means now."

"I've done material about gay and heterosexual differences since I started stand-up, because it's one of the most unsettled and most - it's one of the most divisive things in American culture right now, that line between gay and heterosex[uality.]
To me, I love being on that line and talking about it. And I think when you do that, you have to use all of the words and go to every extreme. I think that's what comedy is about. Comedy isn't polite and it isn't correct and it isn't accurate, even. It's just a mess. So that's the way that I approach it."
Do you buy it?

Tracy Morgan got in trouble for his comments recently, but Lisa Lampanelli is celebrated for her extreme comedy - bashing her audience with racist and homophobic insults, like Don Rickles or Joan Rivers before her, and whose audience considers it a privilege to be at the receiving end of the barrage:

As a teacher and good-hearted citizen, I understand why no one could or should say what these comics say in real life.

As a sometime standup comic, I also know that irony can be a powerful force for good by expressing the opposite of what you know to be true.

But what if your boneheaded audience doesn't get that you're being ironic and thinks it's awesome to do what you do? Do you then have a responsibility to censor yourself?

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The 10 most obscure and irritating Star Wars bloopers

  • 00:00 to 00:01 - See #8
  • 5:15 to 5:34 - See #10
  • 6:19 - See #7
If it's summertime in Winnipeg, it must be raining, and that means: time to watch Star Wars again.

I've seen Star Wars - the first film, Episode IV, "A New Hope" - about 10 million times, so the last time I actually enjoyed it as a film was when I was 11.

When I watch the movie now, it's mostly to bathe in a warm glow of nostalgia and a find even more obscure bloopers and continuity errors than the last time I watched.

And let's face it: after the first five million viewings, one starts to notice nuances that might slip past the more casual viewer. 

(By now, everyone knows that when Luke returns to the Rebel base at the end of the film, he sees Princess Leia and, fully committed to his craft, yells, "Carrie!")

These are the ones that drive me nuts:

1. The escape clause

Early in the film, R2-D2 and C-3P0 jettison from the damaged Rebel ship in an escape pod. "There goes another one," says the Imperial guard, watching from afar. Later, a guard tells Darth Vader, "An escape pod was jettisoned during the fighting."

What happened to all of the other escape pods to which the first dude was referring?

2. A leg up

Before the droids board the pod, R2-D2 extends his retractable leg and wheels toward C-3P0.

In the initial shot, R2-D2's right leg is on a collision course with a metal beam. When the camera switches angles, he's magically found his way around it.

3. Bad table manners

When Luke dines with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, he drags his long sleeve through the meal.

After, he takes a sip from his Tupperware cup and puts it on the table. Cut to another angle, and the cup is suddenly back at his lips, and he again lowers it.

4. Nice bumping into you, big nose

The Imperial spy at Mos Eisley, cunning as he may be, accidentally bumps his long nose with his hand as he directs the Stormtroopers toward the Millennium Falcon.

5. Nice bumping into you II

Princess Leia is brought before Grand Moff Tarkin for a Death Star demo.

When she enters the room, she leans forward to insult Tarkin, and Vader moves in behind her. When she straightens, she bumps into him, and he momentarily recoils like a little wuss.

6. This is CNN

James Earl Jones, of course, is the voice of Darth Vader, dubbing his dialogue long after the films were shot.

Attentive viewers will notice subtle, but recurring, mismatches between Vader's voice and actions, but this is the best one:

After Luke's lightsaber exercise on the Millennium Falcon, the action cuts to a discussion between Vader and Tarkin.

Vader says, "I told you she would never consciously betray the Rebellion," stops speaking, then suddenly raises his arm again and gestures without saying a word.

7. Crime of the century

Having escaped the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon is attacked by Imperial Tie Fighters.

Han: "We're coming up on their century ships!"

Surely he means "sentry" ships, unless it's a "hilarious" nod to 20th Century Fox, which released the film.

8. The remnants of a dumb gag

How did those pesky Rebels walk around the Death Star without anyone bothering them?

In the original cut, director George Lucas "explained" it with a dumb gag: whenever our merry band came into contact with anyone on the Death Star, they'd "act casual" by whistling, looking away, and scratching their necks.

Throughout the film, you see little moments of what's left of what woulda been a very lame shtick. 

9. Watch, you're back!

During the film's climactic assault on the Death Star, a Rebel pilot warns Luke to "watch your back."

Cut to Luke in his fighter. Suddenly, Luke's own voice comes over the intercom, though it's not clear what he's telling himself.

10. Can I have some batteries for this thing?

After Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Kenobi, he turns and walks purposefully to address Mr. Skywalker, who is shooting in his direction. In the long shot, as the blast door closes, Vader's lightsaber loses all of its power, looking suspiciously like one of those lightsaber toys that kids buy at Toys "R" Us.

Don't get me started on Empire.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where have all the (prolific) bloggers gone?

They went thatta way.

Blogging is a lot like going to the gym: you'd rather not be doing it, but you know that in the long run it's good for you.

And, at the gym and online, I can say with certitude that there's a very real danger you'll run into Weiner in his gitch. But that's another blog.

The great blogging experiment

It's been two years since Creative Communications students at Red River College have been blogging as part of their coursework and professional portfolio, so they can post their assignments, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and porn. Just kidding: porn isn't professional.

What makes the blog assignment a “professional” endeavor is that it gives potential employers a sense of how well a person can write, how often, “voice,” style, interests, sense of humor, anxieties, etc.

I continue to believe that having a blog is key to being awesome in general and getting a job in the communications industry in particular; my ad major co-instructor Audra Lesosky says that her agency, McKim Cringan George, likes to see a blogging and social-media presence from any candidate fresh out of school. Of course, that's in addition to the standard portfolio, which still has a place too.

At the same time, the right column of the CreComm Blog Network tells a tale: of the 60-some students who graduated this spring, seven bloggers remain active (grads drop off the list when the blog shows no activity for a month).

Of the students who are returning to school in the fall, about one-third continue to blog, though some spend more time "writing" blog posts than others, who may just post a video or photo without comment (OK for what it is, but it wears thin if that's all you ever give your readers).

I sometimes wonder if I've helped students hate blogging by making it an assignment. I also sometimes wonder whether people who love writing so much that they register for a full-time writing class aren't hungrier to get their morsels of wisdom out to their adoring publics.

Why, when I was a whippersnapper, I had to navigate a "gatekeeper" at a "media outlet" to get my "writing" "read" by "my audience." No more quotation marks ever - promise.

Frequency = authority

Brian Solis' blog post - "Rumors of the Death of Blogs are Greatly Exaggerated" - summarizes a 2009 Technorati survey/report on blogging. According to the report, there's a simple reason why people should blog as often as possible: frequency = authority.

Among the report's findings: 
  • "One of the primary reasons more is because they feed off the greater interaction that results from their commitment to quality and frequency of content. More importantly, self-employed bloggers claim that blogging has proven valuable for promoting business services and capabilities."
In other words, start building your audience now, because your business may depend on it later. 
  • "Authority is tied to investment of time, energy, and activity. The most-read and highest-ranking blogs publish more posts than the average blogger. The distance between elite bloggers and those who aspire to join them is tied directly to prolificness. Bloggers who rank among the highest post 300 times more than the lower-ranked bloggers."
So, you don't stop blogging because "nobody reads my blog." You blog more, so that more people eventually do.

See you at the gym, Weiners!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ten new words to the wise guy

See numbers four and 10.

1. Bargument - Bar bet or brawl.

2. Cheapsakes - Keepsakes for cheapskates, as coined by my pal Sam Posnick.

3. Deutschbag - A sour kraut.

4. Distrubbing - Disturbing rubbing. See number 10.

5. DumbAXE - Men who actually believe, deep down in their hearts, that wearing AXE products will get them hot babes.

6. Entiredly - Completely exhausted.

7. HipsterTix - When hipster journalists get sick of saying "tickets," they say "ducats" to lord their vast and ironic command of the English language over the rest of us. Now, they can just say, "HipsterTix" and the rest of us can instantly think "ducats," and nod our heads knowingly.

8. Liehole - A dishonest piehole.

9. Tweather - What Twitter says the weather is like, as opposed to looking out a window to see what it's actually like.

10. Weetweet (variation: Weitweet) - Retweeting Weiner.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Twenty new songs rockin' my iPod this month

1. New York Dolls - Fool For You Baby

A Phil Spectorish wall of sound, a dom-dom doobie-doobie lyric, and David Johansen barking, "Ooooh, yah!" Johansen's first tribute to being "a foo' in luv" since his ill-advised turn as Buster Poindexter, and it's all good, girlfriend.

2. The Strokes - Taken for a Fool

Fools are big this month.

3. The Sounds - Something to Die For

You can't go wrong with a tall, blonde Swedish woman singing a pop song about love and death.

4. Raveonettes - Forget that You're Young

You can't go wrong with a tall, blonde Danish woman singing a pop song about love and death.

5. The Unthanks - Last

The Unthanks make me sob out loud, even when I don't have a clue what they're singing about in those accents.

6. Bob Geldof - Young and Sober

A slapstick take on the events of his life so far. It'll end in tears.

7. British Sea Power - Observe the Skies

The British Navy versus aliens. Sign me up. 

8. Buffalo Tom - Hawks and Sparrows

A sweet, mid-tempo tribute to Mia "rhymes with sparrow" Farrow.

9. Steve Martin/Paul McCartney - Best Love

The Wild and Crazy Guy meets the cute Beatle - and the best song on Steve Martin's new bluegrass album. Almost makes up for Martin singing Maxwell's Silver Hammer in that crappy Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. Almost.

10. The Streets - Roof of Your Car

Kicks off with the funniest vibrato in rap and becomes a sweet tribute to summer: lying on the roof of a car, staring up at the stars.

11. The Go! Team - Bust-Out Brigade

Rock and roll needs more marching bands, and more marching bands need rock and roll. 

12. The Cars - Too Late

The best song on the reunion album has hooky synths and a big chorus - like every Cars song ever written.

13. Fleet Foxes - Battery Kinzie

Them Fleet Foxes sure love Neil Young and apples.

14. Kate Bush - Deeper Understanding

Kate Bush, not Al Gore, invented the Internet. A re-recording of her 1989 song "Deeper Understanding" featuring new, great Portal 2 vocals on the chorus. Still remarkably prescient: the Internet, Facebook, Skype, Instant Messaging, emoticons, and - er - programs from magazines (OK, they can't all be gems).

15. Art Brut - Lost Weekend

Notable for being the first song in which the singer with the bad haircut kinda, sorta, almost sings. 

16. Phosphorescent - It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)

It's hard to be cool and ironic when you're from Alabama too - but horns clearly help.

17. The Walkmen - Juveniles

Country air is good for you, no matter whose side you're on. So says this fun song that could really use a whistling solo.

18. Original Cast - I Believe (Book of Mormon) 

I also believe that God has a plan for all of us and that plan involves making my own planet. 

19. Men Without Hats - This War

The first song from the 80s synth-poppers in some time - still synthy, still 80sy, and only available for now on YouTube via the Kenton Larsen dance-cam (click on above link to get seasick).

20. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Heart in Your Heartbreak

My favorite bands are skinny and geeky and wear sweaters. Lift your skinny fists like antennas to Heaven if you agree.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's an honor to be honored with these honors

I'd like to thank God, my agent, colleagues, Steve Jobs, students, Mel Gibson, and anyone else I'm forgetting for this honor.

Big thanks to the School of Learning Innovation for recognizing Graphic Design instructor Diane Livingston and I with a Learning Innovation Award for our iPad ePub project, embarked upon by the CreComm Advertising majors and second-year graphic-design students.

The recognition includes the above video - put together by Michael Farris, manager of learning technologies and his team at Red River College - lunch with RRC President Stephanie Forsyth (so, no forthcoming blog about how I never get to eat lunch with the president), and these lovely, giant-sized framed awards, which crushed me to death yesterday as I carried them to my car:

It's just, plain nice to work for an employer that recognizes staff. Thanks for the thanks!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Look before you sleep at work

Like Woody Allen, I sleep with my glasses on.

When I sleep, I dream.

Which is why I've looked under my work desk many a time and fantasized about having a work/bed setup just like George Costanza had on Seinfeld:

Ahh, I feel more relaxed already.

Who among us hasn't wanted to catch 40 winks at 3 p.m. after the standard, 2 p.m. maple-leaf martini allotted to every man, woman, and child in Canada under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

The area under my desk is airy and spacious, and I do have some stolen (not by me) hotel linens and pillows from the Chicago trip I don't have to return until August; I could swing a pretty awesome bed 'neath my work area if I put my mind to it.

Why it reminds me of the time (cue wavy lines and harp music)...


When I was but a lad, working in the Communications department of a large, faceless corporation, I drove to Minneapolis to see the Psychedelic Furs and came back the same night - a seven-hour drive either way.

Great band. Great trip. But I made it back just in time to report to work, sans sleep.

Sitting at my desk, I was ready to tackle the day with guns blazing. But first, I just needed to close my eyes for a... I jolted awake moments - hours? - later and was so startled, I flipped my glasses off my head and shot them into the air. Where they landed, I knew not where.

I got up to find them and - crunch - I felt them flatten beneath my foot, not unlike Messy Marvin did in A Christmas Story. Blind and stressed, I had no choice but to go home early, lie down, and sleep for 12 hours straight.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ten things that crossed my mind at the Men Without Hats show at Casino Regina

1. He's wearing a hat - I want a refund.

2. I can dance if I want to. I can leave my friends behind. I choose option B.

3. Seriously - what's the deal with this perverted logo?

4. I can't enjoy this music knowing that just three feet away I could be having fun gambling away my life savings.

5. When are they going to play "Who Can it be Now?"

6. For the encore, I would like the lead singer to apologize for what his forefathers did to Louis Riel.

7. Where the hell are the milkmaid and the dwarf?

8. The name of the band is Men Without Hats - please put your pants back on, Jason.

9. I leave town for one day and 8,000 people pay a $50 non-refundable fee to be on a waiting list for a chance in four years to buy expensive tickets to see an unnamed hockey team?

10. I can't live with or without hats.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Congratulations to CreComm class of 2011

Just a handful of this year's best and brightest CreComm students.

The tassel is worth the hassle. 

Congratulations to the brand-new communication professionals who graduated today from Red River College's Creative Communications program.

It has been my pleasure to know you for the past two years, and I wish you all of the best as you embark upon the exciting life and career that awaits you.

Go forth and communicate!

CreComm Gold Medalist Kimberlee Lawson.

A well-deserved standing O for this year's grads.