Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Most Important Container

While riding home the other evening I heard an interview with vocalist Norah Jones. She asserted that she would like to be able to sing with "a little more of an edge."  But whenever she sang something it came out sounding like Norah Jones - beautiful.

Upon hearing her say that, and while listening to a brief clip from her new CD, The Fall, I was struck again by the realization that we are our own container.  More surely than any website profile or YouTube posting, we are the molder of our expressions. 

Certainly we can hone our expressive skills - we do it all our lives.  Barring some tragic mishap, you will be a far better writer, singer, mathematician, engineer, painter, photographer, dancer, or philosopher, in ten years or twenty years than you are now - if you work at the skills. 

But that very process of self-definition and improvement will make it very difficult for you to "play yourself falsely."  When music moves through Norah Jones it comes out beautiful.  It is the message being true to the container.

As you move through your life, a variety of pressures will be brought to bear upon your "container."  Physical, emotional and intellectual demands will be made of you.  Consider your options in fulfilling those demands.  You are molding the most important container of your life.  Mold one from which the only possible expressions are those of which you will be proud; expressions which must be beautiful.


WXPN-FM, 88.5  (2009). Norah Jones: A Star Is Reborn. Retrieved Nov. 17, 2009, from National Public Radio, Washington, DC. Web site: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120384820.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Radio Daze

It happens every year.  My favorite radio stations go off the air for a week or ten days.  Technically speaking, there is still a signal being broadcast.  But all that you hear is a string of phone numbers, URLs, and people - who have neither the skills nor the personality - seeking to impersonate the late and unlamented Billy Mays: “If you call in the next ten minutes you will be automatically entered in the drawing for our trip to Darfur!”

Bless their hearts, I know these are tough times for public radio stations, but they just have to re-think their whole approach to fundraising.  Here the Raleigh area, the best classical station, the best jazz station and the only middle-of-the-road-hesitant-delivery NPR station, all have their “Fall Fundraisers” at the same time.  It is certainly not a coincidence.  Someone told them it was a good idea.  I can hear the pitch at the meeting: “We gotta stick together on this.  Everybody hates pledge drives. They hit the channel button as soon as they hear “919.” But if NOBODY plays regular programming, there will be nowhere to run to!”

In your dreams, Fundraising Consultant.

Never have there been so many ways to put sound in our ears.  But, still, let’s pretend you get into your car without your iPod or CDs and you let the satellite service go as another small economy.  We can still get away from “The programs you love cost more now than ever before.  .  .  .”  I discovered ESPN radio. 

Wait! Wait! It isn’t as bizarre as it seems.  You see, when I can’t listen to NPR, jazz or classical I just want some sound buzzing in my ears without commercials designed for teenagers.  So I started listening to ESPN radio on my commute.  It is quite cool in some very strange ways.

For example, the other night I was listening to a Notre Dame football game.  I don’t know who they were playing.  I know it wasn’t Alabama because I get really conflicted when Notre Dame plays Alabama - I really don’t know whom I want to lose more.  But that is not the point, the point is that the announcers sounded like voices from the 1940s or 50s.  There was the play-by-play guy who called each play with a sense of awe, as though it really mattered.  I could see him in my mind’s eye – a Jimmy Stewart kind of a guy, with a crumpled fedora, but who wears a tie and sports coat out of respect for the game.  Every once in awhile he would toss a question to “Coach” whose voice was a Southern drawl deeply steeped in whiskey and cigarettes.  No, Doctor of Footballology here. It went more like this:

Play-by-play: My gosh, what a play! Fantastic effort by that plucky little back who disappeared under a heaving mass of linebackers.  I hope he’s OK! What do you think, Coach?  Was that the right play?

Coach: Well, I never would’a run it.  Sure not then.

Play-by-play: Thanks Coach!  Oh, jeepers, I can’t believe what I’m seeing now! The quarterback is .  .  . 

You get the idea.  Who writes this stuff? It is classic.  Radio from the Twilight Zone.

Then this morning was a show called “The Herd” hosted by someone named Colin Cowherd.  No, really, it says that on the website.  Anyhow, this morning he was on a rant about major league baseball rejecting the idea of an official review of video replays of close calls because it would “affect the flow of the game.”  Colin waxed wroth.  I have never heard a radio host do longer pauses:

“Baseball is a game that has no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] It has no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] But major league baseball is worried that taking two minutes to look at the video and get the call right will disrupt the flow of the game. [PAUSE PAUSE] Baseball has [PAUSE] no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] How many times does the manager come out of the dugout to dispute a call? [PAUSE] How long does that take? [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] “Five minuets?” PAUSE PAUSE, Three? [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] Baseball is a game that has no clock.

Poetry in a strange kind of way.

Colin then proceeded to ramble on about the seventh inning stretch, the potential for a week’s break between the playoffs and the World Series, inserted a little faux commercial for baseball on Thanksgiving, hit on conferences on the mound and multiple changes of pitchers during an inning, before circling back with perfect symmetry to “Baseball is a game [PAUSE PAUSE] that has no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] This is The Herd.”

Strangely, listening to The Herd has finally allowed me to understand the heretofore unfathomable appeal of Rush Limbaugh.  The delightful self-seriousness of The Herd, is genuinely entertaining.  Poor Colin must rail against the glaring stupidity of those in power.  Major League Baseball will blunder blindly ahead oblivious to the fact that “Baseball is a game [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] that has no clock.”  

Limbaugh does much the same, only he rails against Major League Liberals, The Guv’munt and now, “Obama’s America.”  His rants are, for his audience, both affirming and amusing, while he does his fundraising the old-fashioned way – with traditional commercials that our 21st century brains completely ignore.  Of course, neither Colin nor Rush have to worry about actually building their particular fields of dreams – that is someone else’s job. 

So I was startled the other day my new friends on ESPN radio began affirming the wisdom of booting Rush from a group trying to purchase the St. Louis Rams because he would be “a complication PAUSE and a distraction, PAUSE PAUSE.”  Colin likes stating the obvious as though it were news.  You gotta PAUSE PAUSE love it.  Personally, I have nothing against Rush being an NFL owner, as long as he is willing to participate in scrimmages.  After all, “Football is no game PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE for sissies!”

Hold on, let me check NPR for a moment .  .  .  .

Any of you want to have lunch with Fiona Richie?  You still have 20 minutes to meet that listener challenge.  Sigh.  “Public Radio Fund Drives [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] never end. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] This is the Schrag.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One Size to Fit Millions

I noticed a post on PC World this morning regarding potential redesigns for Facebook’s home page.

[See: http://www.pcworld.com/article/173254/is_facebook_prepping_a_new_homepage.html?tk=rss_main]

I’m not much of a Facebook fan, I glance at it every few days, but it doesn’t play much of a role in my life. Still, I can feel their pain. I run my classes using a “learning management system” called Moodle. It, too, creates a specific structure upon a page designed to meet the needs of a group. But my group numbers in the mere hundreds and still the page generates considerable confusion and chagrin. Facebook has what, 250, 300 million people to please? OMG! as the texterati would write.

People are possessive about Facebook – they refer to it as My Facebook Page. Not my page on Facebook. Sitting there on your screen, the difference may seem slight – but viscerally the difference is immense. Users think they “own” Facebook. Never mind that it is free and there remains the nagging question of who “really owns” all that stuff y’all post up there. Regardless, feelings about Facebook definitely remain “personal possessive.”

How do you change the “look and feel” of something that 300 million people think they own? We will see, perhaps, in the next few weeks. Who knows? I will make a prediction – somehow the ads will become more prominent. “Ads?” you say? Sure. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the little link next to About that says Advertising. See? You too can be up there pushing product on those millions of “My Facebook” pages.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mind Meld? Yeah, There's an App for That

I see it as a sort of swim cap - although, I'm sure a more dapper model could be produced.  Slip on the cap, think something and the words would appear on your computer screen - maybe with the soundtrack you imagine. You could "think" the cursor around the screen to revise and edit.  Then you think "save" and its done. You could have the computer play it back to you.

It is not nearly as sci-fi as it sounds.  Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist with ALS uses a "talking computer" to  articulate the words he creates with very slight muscle movements.  As early as 2000 scientists had figured  out how to let other "locked in" people manipulate computers directly from a "neural implant" (Kennedy et al).  Monkeys learned to "think" their way through a computer game even when the joystick was removed (Graham-Rowe).  So, we can do it.  The question is should we?

The benefits are myriad and obvious.  The physically disabled, but mentally robust, would have a wonderful new ally for enriching their lives.  Folks like my 97-year-old father could talk and think their way through memoirs.  The computer might even be able to track multiple tellings of the story about Ozzie and the runaway horses, and morph it into one composite version with all the details, while highlighting obvious discrepancies to be fact-checked at a later date.

I, too, would benefit.  I do some of my most insightful thinking in that wonderful place between waking and sleeping.  Sometimes I manage to remember, sometimes I even get to pen and paper.  Often I do neither.  The Vulcan MindMeld Dreamcatcher application would snare those butterfly thoughts.

The dark side is also obvious.  How do you turn it off?  Like OnStar which is only a good idea if you want people to know where you are, VMMD is only a good idea if you want to have your thoughts captured.  What if you don't?  Makes the prompt "What are you thinking now?" seem a little less cheerful, eh?  What is to keep someone from using VMMD to capture those thoughts I wish to keep safely enfolded in my skull?  Googlemind? Yeeech.  On the other hand, it might make torture unecessary - after all, you could just open the mind.

Graham-Rowe, D. (2003). Monkey's brain signals control 'third arm'. Retrieved Aug. 30, 2009, from http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4262-monkeys-brain-signals-control-third-arm.html

Kennedy, P. & Et Al., . (2000). Direct control of a computer from the human central nervous system. IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON REHABILITATION ENGINEERING,, 8(2), 198-202.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some Buckets are Barrels

Metaphors are powerful constructions.  By linking a known concept with an unknown body of knowledge we can “jump start” a dialogue much more quickly.  Consider this blog for example.  You know what a bucket is – you have used one.  You put stuff into it in order to move the “stuff” from one place to another.  Hence, the title of the blog tells you that it will be discussing the ways in which new communication media will be moving content from one place to another.

The title of today’s post indicates a shift.  The image I have is of communication software like Photoshop™, and GarageBand™, transformative software.  Photoshop claims it will give users “more intuitive user experience, greater editing freedom, and significant productivity enhancements.” (Adobe) and GarageBand™ asserts “If you want to learn to play an instrument, write music, or record a song, GarageBand can help. (Apple)

These bits of software obviously intend to do something far more than simply contain content.  They intend for content to pass through them and come out the other side as something different, hopefully better.  I see grape juice going into a barrel.  Time passes, the barrel and the juice work together for awhile, and voila, out the other side comes wine.

Our authors assert that “The Internet has unleashed an explosion of creativity.  .  .” (Palfrey and Gasser, p. 12.)  That may be true, but it wouldn’t have happened if Digital Natives didn’t have this “barrelware” to play with.


Adobe Software.. (n.d.). Create powerful images with the professional standard. Retrieved Aug. 25, 2009, from http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/photoshop/

Apple, Inc.. (n.d.). Musicians wanted: No experience necessary. Retrieved Aug. 25, 2009, from http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. NY, NY.: Basic Books.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One Web Doesn't "Fit All"

There is an interesting story in today's NY Times. The headline is: Health Debate Fails to Ignite Obama’s Grass Roots.

Here is the link to the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/15/health/policy/15ground.html?th&emc=th

I am surprised that they seem surprised. The author, Jeff Zeleny, appears to have made a classic mistake in assuming that if you pour a message into the "right" media container it will have the same effect as it had the last time you poured a message into that container. No, it doesn't really happen that way. The negotiation that goes on between our communication needs and the technologies that meet those needs is dynamic on all levels. The message, the medium, and the individuals who use the medium to encounter the message, the transformation of the message by all of the preceding, and behaviors resulting from the on-going negotiation - those are all elements in a dynamic process.

President Obama's digital election campaign made significant use of electronic resources to revitalize the PPPE [a Previously Passive Portion of the Electorate :-)] that shared both his agenda and his technology. My guess is that much of the PPPE is under 30, certainly under 40. Healthcare is a hot button issue for FFOFs [Fearful Folks Over Fifty] who, largely, do not "techno-verb": blog, tweet, Facebook or Google. Sure, that is changing, but not to the extent that we can expect the communication strategies that work for the PPPE to be equally effective the FFOFs.

The PPPE still feel immortal. They don't get sick. They want their "healthcare" to deal with accidents - car, bike, skateboard, tri-athletic, whatever. They will not be the important stakeholders in this issue - except to the extent that their lack of attention might make things more difficult for their parents who tend to be FFOFs.

As Mr. Zeleny does point out in his article, to leverage the support of the FFOFs who are concerned about healthcare, the Obama administration is going to have to address the negotiation differently, perhaps starting with a new container.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Honey, I Broke the Internet.

In much of the industrialized world we have come to see the Internet as a force of nature. Like sunshine and storm, it rolls uninterrupted around the globe and out to the ubiquitous flock of satellites that buzz like bees around the azure bloom of Planet Earth. The events of the last few days demonstrate that in reality the Internet, like aspects of nature, is fragile indeed. Here’s what happened:

Russia and Georgia [the nation, not the US state with the football team] have, shall we say, "issues." As the Soviet Union crumbled and previously independent nations and wannabe nations sorted out the new maps, Russia and Georgia asserted rights to the same turf. As a war it was smaller than most – but it got a lot of press here because at the time we liked Georgia and didn’t like Russia. The shooting part of the war has been over for a while but the bad blood continues to bubble up.

These days, bombs and bullets are taking a back seat to bits and blogs. Among the current players is an economics professor from Georgia who is a strident nationalistic blogger. The professor seems to have rubbed his Russian counterparts the wrong way. They responded with a “denial of service”* cyber attack on the blogger’s tools: Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal. Twitter went down for most of a day and the other two were severely compromised.

The point is this – two or three angry and immature geeks brought down large portions of the Internet in a fit of personal pique. They either did not stop to think, or did not care, that others depend upon the Internet for information, and communication, for work, for directions, for entertainment and for revenue. More frightening still is the thought that they had no idea of the potential scope of their personal feud. In any case, the big old monolithic Internet got zapped in a personal fight. A number of questions come to mind:

  • How dependable is the Internet?
  • To what extent do you assume your Internet connection will always be available?
  • How disrupted is your life when you are separated from your technology?
  • Do you most often use the Internet as “big and public space” or as “small and private space”?

*In a “denial of service” attack, the attacking computer(s) overwhelm the target computer with a flood of bogus messages that prevents the victim from making normal use of their computer. For a more complete definition see this article from US-CERT: The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team: http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST04-015.html