Monday, August 31, 2009

There's an app for that

Apple's iPhone commercials include the line "There's an app for that," which is a great slogan. But I figured it was just a bit of hype until I saw this post by Andy Ihnatko on his Celestial Waste of Bandwidth blog:
Okay. So you’re in a theater watching “Transformers 2″ and you desperately need to go to the bathroom. Yes, launching an iPhone app in the middle of a movie is not socially acceptable but neither is whizzing involuntarily right in your seat, so you go ahead and launch RunPee.

The app connects to a central site and sends you a list of all currently-playing movies. Tap “District 9″ and it displays a list of scene and line cues from that movie designating the start of a good moment to leave for the bathroom without missing anything important. A timer tells you how much time you have left before the movie starts getting interesting again and there’s a synopsis of any details you might have missed, to read on your walk back to the theater.

If this is an ongoing problem for you, and the phrase “Don’t buy the 72 ounce Dr. Pepper at the concession stand” never occurs to you, you can launch the app and tap a Start button when the movie begins. The app will tell you at a glance how many more minutes you’ll need to hold it until the next gap in the action.

This just might be the most brilliant thing ever.

I bet it won’t make it into one of Apple’s iPhone commercials, though.

(”Say you have a bladder-control problem that affects your ability to see a movie without wetting the seat. There’s an app for that.”)
See the full post here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock - 40 years on

Forty years ago this weekend, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was held at Max Yasgar's farm and the world has never forgotten.

Like most people of my generation, I'm sure I was there, (everyone else says they were, so I must have been, right?) Thanks to the album and the movie and Joni Mitchell's song, I have nice complete memories which seem like my own. If you don't remember it, you can find a pretty complete description of what happened on this Wikipedia entry.

Over at the Huffington Post this weekend, there are several articles about Woodstock and it's legacy. One I like was written by Paul Krassner who had a unique perspective for the event. Here's an excerpt:
While The Who were performing, [Abbie Hoffman] went up on stage with the intention of informing the audience that John Sinclair, manager of the MC5 and leader of the White Panther Party, was serving ten years in prison for the possession of two joints; that this was really the politics behind the music.

Before Abbie could get his message across, Peter Townshend transformed his guitar into a tennis racket and smashed him on the head with a swift backhand. Townshend had assumed that Abbie was just another crazed fan. When The Who played at Fillmore East the previous week, a plainclothes cop rushed on stage and tried to grab the mike. He intended to warn the audience that there was a fire next door and the theater had to be cleared, but he was able to do so only after Townshend kneed him in the balls.
But there was more to what was going on than just the escapades on stage. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

Krassner wraps up his piece with a nice image:
But the seeds that were planted then continue to blossom now. And the spirit of Woodstock continues to be celebrated at such events as the Rainbow Gathering, Burning Man, Earthdance, the Oregon County Fair, the Starwood Neo-Pagan Festival, Pete Seeger's Clearwater Festival, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, and yes, the electronic magic montage of musicians and singers around the globe performing "Stand By Me" on YouTube.
By the way, if you haven't watched that Stand By Me video yet, do it right now. It will make you feel good all over.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Behind the front cover

In an age where you just turn on your computer and everything is there, ready to be explored, it's easy to forget how much work goes into making things work.

Peter Belanger is a photographer who was asked to shoot a cover for MacWorld magazine.

In an inspired bit of "here's something cool" film-making, he documented the whole process, using time-lapse photography, from the initial photo shoot through to the final completion of the magazine cover.

It's a fascinating little video. I especially like watching while the images are worked on in Photoshop to become the final images on the cover. It's quite a process.

Here's the link to Peter's website, where you can watch the video. I'd have to crop the size to embed it in my blog, and I really want you to see it in its native format.


Cut back on cheating by encouraging learning

The premise of this article seems so sensible, it's hard to understand why anyone would have a problem with it.
Anderman said much of the reason student cheating is so extensive is that schools place an emphasis on testing, assessment and ultimately performance-based results focused on getting the best grades and scoring highly on tests, which causes a lot of anxiety and stress for students.

"Research that I have done and some of my colleagues (have done has) shown that if you focus in classrooms on intrinsic learning, on learning really for the sake of learning and really get kids involved in long-term projects, in-depth kinds of tasks, they’re going to learn the material, they’re going to learn it well," said Anderman, a former public school teacher.

"They’re going to maintain their interest and motivation for the material, and at the same time they’ll still do fine on the test, but they won’t get all stressed about the test."

When it comes to motivational predictors of cheating, Anderman said when students believe that the teacher’s goal is to have them learn and understand materials and appreciate what they’re learning, it’s proven consistently in research that cheating is much less likely to happen.
Call me a utopian, but I do believe that this premise should apply to our schools. And if it also applied to our workplace, we'd be a lot better off.

Substitute "employee" for "student" and "manager" for "teacher" and I can imagine a workplace that functions a lot better than the results-driven culture we have now. I don't mean that employees shouldn't be expected to deliver results. But I do think that they need to be encouraged to understand what and why they're being asked to do and supported in the process.

I'm not anti-competitive but when everything comes down to "the bottom line," the end result is a negative. The old saying "the end justifies the means" is, for me, wrong. Honesty, transparency, clarity - those are the values that should be driving what we do.

We know that "what" our children are learning is important. Now we need to become as concerned with "how" they're learning and how they'll benefit from it down the road. But we'll need to change a lot more than just our school system's testing methods to make it happen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

When tactics drown out strategy

We've been struggling with a client who doesn't like spending time worrying about strategy. She's quite happy to get right down to tactics - and she wants to argue and debate the merits of them for hours.

We've been trying to get her to see that spending time on tactics without a clear strategy (or a strategic plan, as we call it) is not a good use of her time and will ultimately hurt her chances of meeting her overall communication goals.

As usual, while I was working through the problem, Internet marketing guru Seth Godin nailed it for me.
Most of us are afraid of strategy, because we don't feel confident outlining one unless we're sure it's going to work. And the 'work' part is all tactical, so we focus on that. (Tactics are easy to outline, because we say, "I'm going to post this." If we post it, we succeed. Strategy is scary to outline, because we describe results, not actions, and that means opportunity for failure.)
Here's the link to his article.