January 21, 2011

Texas hizzouse goes social.

I just HAD to share this article.

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Legislation Gets Social Media Presence

by Emily Ramshaw, The Texas Tribune
January 18, 2011

Your newest Facebook friend and your latest Twitter follower could be an inanimate object: a House bill.

House Joint Resolution 51 — Rep. Wayne Christian’s anti-health care reform measure to allow Texans to go without health insurance without a penalty — hasn’t even had a committee hearing. It was only filed Jan. 4. But it’s already got 111 Facebook friends and hundreds of Twitter followers — not too shabby for a 278-word bill.

In the span of a single biennium, many lawmakers have boosted their online credentials, establishing Facebook pages and persistent Twitter threads. But as far as we can tell, this is the first time a Texas bill has had its own social media presence. As lawmakers scramble to push their pet legislation through jam-packed committees, expect an increased reliance on social media tools, to rally their troops and put public pressure on their colleagues.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://trib.it/fgU8OW.

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Not sure how the addition of the social element is going to help a piece of legislature move along (other than creating buzz about it); but if this opens the gates to more citizen engagement in the legislative process it would be wonderful. So far, the Facebook page is mostly one-way conversation. It will be interesting to see if how this evolves and if other bills will set up an online presence as well.

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January 18, 2011

Epic Fail

I stumbled upon this site today. I won’t bother naming it as it is mostly a collection of rubbish, with the exception perhaps of the picture below.

That site is fed by party-goers (and shitty friends I might say) who upload embarrassing revelry pictures of their peers. The picture above is an oddity on the site because the people on it are fully clothed and relatively clean. And that drink thief could potentially be construed as funny (OK, I laughed).

It’s probably a sign I’m getting old, but I’m really shocked by the content people are willing to post online nowadays. That site, with its photos of abused drunk people (yes, burying your drunk friends under furniture or drawing on their bodies with sharpies is abuse), is only the tip of the iceberg.

Stories of the tragic aftermath of youth being harassed online are becoming increasingly frequent in the media, so I’m really shocked the owners of the site (which also houses other less offensive initiatives like the world famous lolcats and FAIL blog) actively solicit that type of content. I know people will upload similar things to Facebook, but the social networking site wasn’t created for the sole purpose of displaying embarrassing photos. It’s also there for me to share pictures of my PETS and rant about traffic with the universe.

Yes, freedom of speech and all that is the reason sites like that will continue to exist if not proliferate. Expecting young people to wisen up and to start acting decently and respectfully toward one another might also be a far stretch – pigs growing wings seems more likely.

Which makes me very thankful and appreciative of the fact that the Internet wasn’t really around when I was a teenager. Pictures of me costumed as a tree or of my younger brother forced into a dress will forever remain in the vault of history.

OR WILL THEY? (Subtly-inserted cliffhanger to make you come back)

January 10, 2011

Finders, keepers

My friend Lama’s latest blog post, titled “The Death of the Retweet Button”, revealed a disturbing and frustrating phenomenon occurring in the Twittersphere: people taking credit for other people’s discoveries.

They would rather go through the tedious process of copying the entire tweet and placing it in their tweet box, then deleting all unnecessary crap that comes on there. Then, they write the magical “RT” right before it. That way, if anyone else liked the tweet, their name remains as tribute to their efforts of finding that valuable piece of info and sharing it with the rest of the world.

While I share Lama’s sentiment and strongly believe that credit should be given where it’s due, I find it amusing that our society has evolved to a point where finding the cool stuff is almost as important as creating it in the first place. Not sure why we’re wired to do this. I remember feeling very frustrated as a teenager because everyone believed my then-boyfriend discovered this really cool Pearl Jam song (clip posted below) that wasn’t on their main albums when, in fact, I (me, moi) was the one who found it (through another friend who found it through another friend) and introduced it to our group’s musical landscape.

Yes, the fact that I’m still stewing over this is beyond pathetic.
But it goes to show that people feel a sense of ownership over the things they find first.

I also remember my younger brother battling me ferociously – when we were kids and sometimes today – to be the first to tell our parents that a famous singer or actor passed away. Not sure why he takes so much pleasure out of delivering this type of news – let’s just call that his thing. (My husband might get mad at me if I don’t mention that HE discovered Tom Segura – dude in the link – first and introduced me to him.)

Could this visceral desire to be the first to find something be the source of hipster culture? Think about it.

Hipsters spend their time trying to out-obscure one another. Why? Because they’re so unique? Or because they’ve mastered the art of finders, keepers by running breathlessly down the least beaten path?

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January 9, 2011

Book review: Tunnel and the Light

It feels like discovering a treasure when you pick up a book to read about a particular subject and end up learning a lot about something else in the process. I love finding gems about Communication in unexpected places.

The latest book I read is “Tunnel and the Light: Essential Insights on Living and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross M.D.
The book is a collection of lectures the author gave on death and features a lot of anecdotes. My first encounter with her writing took place shortly after my best friend passed away three years ago. This woman has the most thorough understanding of all the emotions felt by the grieving and the dying and the most gentle style to write about them. Not sure why I impulsively decided to read another of her books a few days ago – it was really random. Here’s the quote that has stuck with me:

There is no one dying, whether he is five or ninety-five, who does not know that he is dying. And the question is not: do I tell him that he is dying? The question is: can I hear him?

Words of stomach-punching force. Shows that:

  • we’re all equals in the face of death – being older doesn’t prepare one more for it,
  • some human experiences are absolute,
  • one should never underestimate the interlocutor/audience,
  • mastering the art of listening is key to being a good communicator.

A significant portion of the book is a lesson on the importance of non-verbal communication. Kubler-Ross interacted with so many children who were facing death in some way and who did not have the vocabulary or ability to express freely how they felt.  So she gave them paper and pencils; and they drew. These drawings told her everything she needed to know to help them.

The limitation of the written word is notably what prompted information designers like Edward Tufte or Sunni Brown (former classmate and leader of the “Doodle Revolution” ) to create work that is becoming increasingly relevant and important.

Another memorable part of the book warned against trying to make small talk with people who are suffering and to avoid telling them that everything will be just fine. The dying know what’s coming and feel censored and even more lonely when their loved ones refuse to acknowledge the painful situation. This warning is also key to corporate communication – nobody in their right mind would tell employees everything is fine and dandy while the ship is sinking. Trying to protect people from painful information is not only futile, it also generates a lot more harm than good.

Here’s my second favorite quote from the book,  great advice to help the next generation communicate – and live – better than we do:

Do not protect your children! Share your anguish and your pain with them. Otherwise they will develop into cripples. Because sooner or later the plants have to come out of the greenhouse anyway and then they cannot withstand the cold and the winds.

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January 6, 2011

Bump it (off the road)

Ever felt compelled to say something to the driver of another vehicle? I know I have… in the form of expletives for the most part. Which is probably why a tool like “Bump!” wasn’t designed for someone like me.

In case you’re too lazy to click on the link, Bump! is a service that allows motorists to message one another using a license plate number only. People can add their plate number (and phone number) to the website to start receiving messages. These can be sent straight to someone’s phone. Here’s all the good this service could bring to mankind:

  • letting people know they left their light on, their tire is flat or something’s leaking from their car,
  • kindly inviting people to move their car if it’s blocking yours,
  • telling someone who just zipped by in their ride that you think they’re cute,
  • get deals and discounts from retail stores/institutions that flagged your license plate number. That’s like Foursquare on wheels.
  • receive personalized service at drive-thru places.

The following staples of human interaction were cleverly left off the list:

  • Flipping off the person who just cut you off on the freeway,
  • Telling someone who just stole your parking spot what you think of their manners,
  • Warning the person tailgating you to back off,
  • Calling the slow driver in front of you who’s hogging the passing lane all sorts of funny names.

Call me a cynic if you want, but I think people are 10 times more likely to add this service to their road rage arsenal (already comprised of lively hand gestures, exacerbated facial expressions and aggressive car moves) than they are to use it to tell someone they’re cute.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the powers of the tool (it’s good!) and am sure it can be used for the greater good. I just think the majority of people in cars behave the same way Omid Djalili does in the video clip above.

Back in 2006, two guys created this website to allow users to report bad drivers by their license plate number. It’s a good venting outlet and is still quite popular. Can you imagine the possibilities offered by Bump! in this context? Endless!

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January 3, 2011

The end of an era?

The New Year started with a bang by dealing a major blow to freedom of speech. While we all sleep soundly, one of the four pillars of Internet Fun is under threat of demolition.

“California’s SB 1411, which adds a layer of criminal and civil penalties for certain online impersonations” went into effect on January 1, 2011. Similar laws in other states will probably follow suit at some point.

While this may be a victory for high school kids who worry about bullies impersonating them online, it is painfully obvious that lawmakers overlooked the dramatic impact this piece of legislation would have on the Twittersphere.

Some of the most interesting and witty Twitter accounts are online impersonations. Here is a small sample of what SB 1411 threatens to TAKE AWAY from us:

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December 31, 2010

On Mediocrity and Excellence

New Year’s Eve is a great time to reflect on existential matters. Such as the brand of champagne we’re going to drink tonight or the most efficient way to attend three parties in one evening.

It’s also a time to look back at what we’ve accomplished during the past year and weep. And try to become better.

What’s weighed heavily on me lately (besides the chocolate on my hips) is the inversely proportional relationship between the number of my interests and the time available to pursue them. Especially in the musical field. I’ve been learning and playing the mbira for two and a half years now and recently started learning how to play the oud. Am I happier as a result? If music is my passion, more music should result in more happy, right? No.

I’ve been consumed with guilt for the past four months because each time I pick up an instrument, I feel bad for not playing the other. It is such a frustrating feeling and the amount of progress I’ve made with each instrument since September is tell-tale sign that the multiplication of my activities inevitably leads to the fragmentation of my skills. It’s not rocket science: to become excellent at something, you have to give it your all.

When I took up the mbira back in 2008, I gave up horse riding. I miss horses a lot but still feel I made the right decision. To be a good rider, you have to keep your mind on riding mode even when you’re nowhere near a horse. Your posture, the way you walk, what you read, your exercise routine, and everything else you do daily is part of the training to become a better rider. All of that changes when you want to become a good musician. Horsemanship is about detail and precision. Mbira playing – to me – is about transcendence and abandon. I ride better when I’m “on” at all times, and play better when I get my mind out of the way.

When I embarked on the oud learning journey, I thought I’d be able to fit this new activity smoothly into my life because it was already consumed by music. I was so wrong. Music instruments are not interchangeable. They require different physical skills (mbira is percussive, oud is stringed), they are windows into different cultures (mbira is Zimbabwean, oud is Middle Eastern) and song patterns are different (mbira is polyrythmic and cyclical, oud follows a bunch of different scales and has more melodic variety). The differences are mind blowing and becoming familiar with them is mind consuming.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, developed this happiness formula:

To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

So my hopes for 2011 are:

  • to recognize I don’t have infinite amounts of time,
  • to accept I can’t become an expert at everything,
  • to continue playing both instruments,
  • to allow myself to favor one over the other,
  • to seek growth, regardless of its speed,
  • to enjoy the music, no matter what.

That seems doable.

December 30, 2010

It Can Wait

Watched AT&T’s 10 minute documentary on texting while driving today; it’s called “It Can Wait”.

Powerful stuff. I lost my best friend to a drunk driver so the act of doing moronic things behind the wheel really hits close to home. Yet, I’m ashamed to say I’ve typed away at my phone multiple times while cruising the freeway. It didn’t feel wrong, I felt in control and felt that I was safe as long as I didn’t take my eyes off the road for too long. Because I’m that good of a driver.

This short movie though really affected me because it showed that texting while driving not only threatened the life of the person doing it (I was OK taking responsibility for my own life), but also endangered the lives of others. One guy hit a cyclist and will never forgive himself for that senseless death he caused.

The movie also shows that the worst thing that could happen to someone texting at the wheel isn’t necessarily dying. A guy survived but his head was so damaged, he lost the ability to perform routine tasks and will be forever dependent on others to do basic things for him.

Finally, the clip shows the last words in the text messages that were sent before the fatal accidents. “Yeah”. “Where u at?” “LOL”. None of them were substantial. None of them were urgent. All of them could have waited.

Other PSAs were done on the same topic. They all used scare techniques to tell people not to text so they don’t die. Here’s a British example; a very shocking, very graphic video.

Did it scare me? Yes. Did it stop me from texting at the wheel? Not really. The ad did not give me a simple reason not to engage in the dangerous behavior. I either got away with it or didn’t. What makes AT&T’s piece so much more compelling and effective is the slogan.  Fear and gory images end a conversation while “It can wait” becomes part of it. Fear is avoidance. “It can wait” is personal responsibility. It’s a response one can use to quiet an urge. It’s a sentence we can tell a friend. It’s an invitation to put things in perspective and decide to be safe. It’s empowering.

We need more of that.

December 30, 2010

Waterproof ad recipe

Few things amuse me more than advertisements that take a spin on current events. Behold the Pakistani ad for feminine hygiene pads below:

I’m surprised ShamWow did not exploit the BP oil spill to sell more of their extra absorbent towels. Oh, wait… there’s a Facebook group for that. One day, I’ll write about how all your original thoughts already exist on the Internet.

November 16, 2010

Ad-monishment

Still on the topic of cars. Aren’t my transitions smooth?

Here’s a new ad for the Toyota Highlander that really rubs me the wrong way for so many reasons.

Reason #1: I’m thinking of replacing my sedan with a wagon. This ad is wrong. Wagons are super cool. They allow you to haul things and transport your dogs without looking like you’re taking up so much space in the universe and using up obscene quantities of valuable resources. This ad doesn’t show that SUVs have poor driving dynamics and are significantly more dangerous to drive than lower vehicles.

Reason #2: That little blonde kid is anything but cool. I bet he gets called names and gets beat up at school because of his girlish hair. His mother is probably his only friend which is why he’s so happy to see her after school.

Reason #3: The kid hiding in the bushes is almost a teenager. Show me one teenager who wasn’t embarrassed by his parents at some point. There is no scientific evidence to prove he was embarrassed by the wagon instead of his dad. The blond kid is much younger, still at that cute innocent age where children think their parents are awesome.

Reason #4: Seriously? “Buy this car because your kid thinks it’s cool”? The ad says nothing about the specs and features of the vehicle. Just shows that it is big enough for the kid to throw his backpack on board  and sit smugly in his seat.

Reason #5: The kid thinks his mother loves him but she does not. There was no car seat in sight.

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