Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who Are the Kandi Kids?

Due to the massive recent press coverage of the Electric Daisy Carnival and its various satellite gatherings, many people have been re-exposed to rave culture. Though it’s been held every year since 1997, the event has broken through to the mainstream news—not because of its impressive attendance records, incredible light shows and decorations, or superstar lineups of electronic artists—but because of an overdose in Dallas.

The event itself used to take place in Los Angeles, but split off into Colorado in 2008, Puerto Rico in 2009, and Dallas in 2010. One 15-year-old at the L.A. 2010 event died of a drug overdose, causing the city to ban future Electric Daisy Carnival events, so for the 2011 season, the main event took place in Las Vegas, with other events in Colorado, Puerto Rico, Dallas, and Orlando in the week leading up to the Vegas event.

During that week, at the Dallas event, the news reported that numerous attendees sought drug-related medical attention, with two people dying as a result of drug use (though the second didn’t die from an overdose; after panicking for several hours, he purportedly shouted, “This should end it,” and ran in front of a speeding semi.) The attention brought to the festival in the week leading up the massive main event in Las Vegas has led to an unprecedented amount of coverage to a party and culture that have been around for a long, long time.

The general public has specifically become interested in the subculture of the attendees of these events, the so-called Kandi Kids. With their outrageous brightly-colored outfits which often include crazy makeup, novelty t-shirts, bikini tops (or no bikini tops, traded in for pasties), costume items, and dozens of necklaces or bracelets (the eponymous candy), these types of people make excellent subjects for news stories and photo journals, and their stories of excess and marathons of partying and drug binging are extreme gossip fodder. Though to some, this may seem exciting and new, it’s really just an evolution of a long-existing subculture; nonetheless, many want to know:

Who exactly are these “Kandi Kids”?

This is a subculture that comes and goes in waves of popularity largely due to current musical trends. When pop music is highly dance-oriented—generally meaning that it uses synthesizers as the primary instrument—other forms of electronic music experience a rapid surge in listeners as well. The fans then seek out events, parties which are often called “raves,” mostly by the media and not as commonly by the actual members of the subculture. For this reason, kandi kids are sometimes referred to as “kara,” a shortened version of “kandy ravers.”

"Kandi Kids" at Electric Daisy Carnival 2010
There was another similar burst of activity within the rave scene a little over ten years ago when dance music and these types of parties were very popular. In that era, there was a near-identical subculture of partygoers who dressed in much the same fashion. Both men and women would wear angel or butterfly wings, neon wigs, and gigantic pant legs to these parties. The women all pulled their thongs way up out of the back of their pants, much to their parents’ chagrin.

"Candy Ravers" in 2001
And then ten years before that, the New York City party scene was brought to mainstream attention by the Club Kids, most famously dramatized in the 2003 film Party Monster. This was one of the first club scenes to feature thoroughly outrageous outfits, and many of the trends that currently exist within rave culture were founded during this period. If you want to read an exceptional first-person account of this era, I recommend Disco Bloodbath by James St. James. Or just watch that movie with a bit of skepticism.
"Club Kids" in 1990
However, this still wasn’t the first era to feature excessive drug use in a dance environment. We can look back yet another ten years to the disco era to find the basic origins of that aspect of the music. You can follow this logical progression, from disco, to club kids, to candy ravers, to kara by watching the trend over time. And not surprisingly, house music is the genre that seems to have survived every era. From Studio 54 through the Electric Daisy Carnival, it’s all the same scene.

I was actually a part of this scene in the early 2000s, though it was my interest in electronic music that brought me there. I was part of an electronic music group call The Alpha Particle Projext, and it was my mission to seek out contacts, get booked to play parties, and just generally have a good time. As it turned out, I had much more success as a DJ, but also playing noise sets as half of Aemma-O (later called NARC.)

I went to a crapload of these parties. I never once attended one while intoxicated; no drugs, no alcohol, nothing. It wasn’t my thing, but I didn’t condemn those that did it. I know that ecstacy enhances appreciation of music, but I would never be able to tell you what was in one of those pills, and my appreciation of music was already about as high as it could get. As I networked and played shows, the scene grew to incredible notoriety, and the parties became much more about making money for the promoters rather than fostering a scene. I can still vividly remember the last party I went to.

It was held in a warehouse in one of Atlanta’s many industrial parts of town. I had three DJ friends who were playing records that night, so I was interested in going, though my involvement in the scene had waned significantly. I arrived to an hour-long entry line which featured a full airport-style pat-down and security checkpoint—not to keep people from bringing in weapons, but to stop them from bringing in water and drugs to compete with the promoter’s employees inside.

When I got inside, I noticed that it was at least 100 degrees in there, and the ceiling fans hanging above were turned off. Everyone was sweating and suffering. Seven-ounce bottles of water were selling for $3. Drug dealers and undercover officers paced the place asking everyone if they were looking for “disco biscuits.” As I stood watching a random collection of images being projected on a wall, I felt a splash of liquid on the back of my legs. “Great, someone spilled their drink on me,” I thought as I turned around. In actuality, a tiny teenage girl, completely decked-out in raver gear including angel wings, glitter all over her face, and something like a hundred bracelets, was puking on the floor. Her friends held her up by her armpits as her eyes rolled around in her head.

A friend of mine who I had arrived with was supposed to meet up with a raver girl that he had met a few times before, and when he found her, he found an entourage of gullible young men following her around, all hoping to get her attention. She had invited all of them there to hang out with her. “Did you bring those Yellow Jackets?” she would ask one of them, who would anxiously whip them out of his pocket. Later that night she was throwing up over a wall from too many of the legal gas station stimulants.

I left. the scene wasn’t so much about music as it was about an idealistic “good time to be had” that involved promoters unfairly preying on their patrons while the crowd looked for drugs, took way too many, and got sick. There were others in that scene who didn’t take it to excess; my friend Jeff, who was playing records that night, was a moderate drug user but was completely sober that night. I spoke to him briefly about the direction the scene was headed in.

“Man, this is the way it’s always been,” he said, “and it’s the way it’ll always be. We just have to let the idiots make their mistakes so that they ditch out. Then it’ll be pure again.”

As I made my way back to the parking lot, I passed an ambulance, and paramedics were loading up a guy on a stretcher who was freaking out, screaming some of the most bizarre stuff I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m pretty sure he’d taken way, way too much LSD.

The scene collapsed on itself shortly after that event. The venue, less than a month old, was closed due to a high rate of overdoses reported that night. Other venues around the city saw a steadily declining attendance, partially due to the re-emerging metal scene in the city. It was just another moment in the cycle.

The candy ravers, meanwhile, stayed underground, remaining very close to their normal routine. The term evolved slowly from “club kid” in the 80s to “kandi kid” in 2011, but let’s face it, nothing’s really changed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's a Used CRT TV Worth in 2011?

The reign of the cathode ray tube is over. It was the original mechanical masterpiece of the television era and was the technology behind each and every TV and computer monitor we used up until a ten years ago when flat-panel technology began to become affordable. Now that you can get a 42” LCD TV for $400, no one bothers to buy CRT anymore.

Diagram by Søren Peo Pedersen
So what exactly is CRT? Well, you know those televisions and computer monitors with the ridiculously long backs that drop down at an angle? They hold a massive electron gun. I know that sounds really cool, but it can kill you if you mess with it. The gun fires a beam of electrons at the back of a phosphorous screen, selectively exciting tiny points on that screen at an unfathomably quick rate to form images. The result of this is a watchable, but low resolution image.

Not only do they have sub-par picture quality compared to the flat panels we all love, they’re ridiculously bulky, often being longer than they are wide. And if you need to move one, good luck, because those things—even the smaller computer monitors—are stupidly heavy.

You might own one. Lots of people still have these things. A couple years ago when mine broke, I went to go buy a new TV, but all the flat-panels were still close to $1000, so I settled for yet another CRT at the entirely reasonable price of $180. Then, for my birthday this year, my brother finally bought me a nice LCD TV, so it was time to sell the giant boob tube.

TV for sale; dog not included
So, what’s a CRT worth in 2011? This was something I was excited to find out. I knew it wouldn’t be a lot. I figured I’d get $20 for it, but I’d settle for $10. I anxiously posted an ad on Craigslist and waited for someone to bite.

Now I’ve sold tons of things on Craigslist, some of it entirely useless: Pyrex cookware, a kitchen knife, old mysterious power amps, a broken subwoofer (fully disclosed damage), eight-year-old computer motherboards, and a drum machine from 1986 among other things, and most of those items were in the $30-50 range, so I expected this TV to be picked up by somebody. Nope. The ad expired without a single inquiry, not even from a scammer who would want to know if “my frend can pick up it.”

So I reposted the ad. Maybe it was a rough time of year, and no one was looking for a TV. It’s in perfect working condition! It’s all black! It’s only $20! Nothing. Meanwhile, it sat collecting dust in my second bedroom.

Finally, I decided it was time for the thing to go. I had been collecting a pile of useless stuff to donate to Goodwill for quite a while, including some broken computer parts that I didn’t want to take to the dump and pay to dispose of. I know this makes me sound like a bad person, but I figure I’ll just take all my crap to Goodwill, and if it works, they’ll sell it, and if it doesn’t they’ll take it to the dump for me. Hooray! Plus, I’ve donated at least $1000 worth of stuff that I was too lazy to sell, so I’ve earned my money, I think.

I put the TV in my car, and as I was carrying it, I remembered thinking, “This is the last time I’ll ever have to move one of these things.” It was a particularly liberating thought, considering that it weighed close to 100 pounds. I also took a bag of clothes, a bag of shoes, a CRT monitor I’d been trying to sell on Craigslist for six months, a broken flat-panel monitor, and two old computer cases which I had crammed full of broken disc drives, video cards, and power supplies, and drove all of it to the donation center. When I pulled in, a young guy came out and looked in the car.

“Are those CPUs?” He asked. Technically, yes, there were CPUs in the computer cases, so I confirmed it. “Okay, I’ma have you leave those in the car and take them over to that dumpster.” Fine with me. That’s easier than driving them to the county dump. He took the TV inside. I waved goodbye.

For some reason, as he was taking the computer monitor inside, I pulled one of the computer cases out of the car. “No, no, leave that in the car! I need you to take it to the dumpster over there,” he said, pointing behind the dry cleaners across the parking lot. I put it back. He took the clothes inside, and I pulled the flat panel monitor out from under the passenger seat.

“Oh man, another monitor?” he said. “Hell yeah, I’ma get that too. I’m gettin' off in about five minutes,” he said to me. “Take that to the dumpster, too.” It had become very clear to me that he was scamming Goodwill. By acting as the gateway to donations, he could pick which items he’d take home with him to sell for personal profit. It didn’t matter to me at all.

“Okay, so you see that dumpster over there? Just put all that stuff on the ground behind it. Thanks a lot, man.” I obliged him by driving all three items over there and leaving them where they belonged: In a pile of garbage. I would have felt bad about aiding him in defrauding a non-profit organization, but everything he asked me to hold onto was completely broken, while everything that went inside was working perfectly fine. He actually helped both myself and Goodwill by taking the burden of electronics disposal off of both of us. I wonder how pissed off he was when he found out that all that stuff was trash. Well, that’s karma!

However, his actions say a lot about the worth of a CRT television. His keen eye for materials worth fencing determined that the totally intact television was worthless, while all that broken crap translated into money. It turns out that a CRT television isn’t even worth someone taking for free.

I’ll check out Goodwill in a few days and see if it’s out on display. Only then will we see what someone else thinks the thing is worth.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Do Theaters Project Film Reels Instead of Digitally?


I don’t really like going to the movie theater. They’re not usually playing anything I want to pay $11 for, and $4 for twenty-five cents worth of soda is an unbelievable rip-off. Many people say to me, “But you can’t get the same experience at home!” They’re right. I don’t get an amazing sound system, uncomfortable seating, 40 sick people coughing in the Winter, and idiots clapping at the credits in my living room.

But what I hate most about going to see movies in a public theater is film. It’s a horrible archaic form of media that we still hold on to for some reason. In an era where we could easily project a massive high-quality digital image onto a screen, our projectionists still have to lug around enormous film reels, feed them into the projector, and switch them over at exactly the right moment. By comparison, they could be placing one big disc into a drive and hitting “play.”

Laser discs have been around since 1978! Blu-ray discs can hold up to 128 GB of data and they’re only 4.5 inches in diameter! Why haven’t we made the switch yet?

Well, in actuality, lots of theaters have begun to convert their theaters to digital projectors, but the units often cost $100,000 each. The theater I go to on the rare occasion that my wife convinces me to has 18 screens—considered average in metro Atlanta. That would mean a $1.8 million investment to update each screen just for an average-sized theater! Multiply that by the number of AMC theaters in Atlanta, and you’ve got a fairly massive chunk of money the company would need to burn.

They don’t stand to recover their money, either. The savings from distribution of optical discs is attributed to the movie studio who would previously have to dump a significant portion of a film’s budget—on average $5 million or more—to have a bunch of reels printed up. Pouring and stamping out discs saves them a lot of money, but it doesn’t save the theaters any money at all, so there’s hardly any incentive to do so. They wouldn’t need to hire less projectionists, because usually there’s only one or two people running all the rooms anyway.

Theaters are slowly updating, though, under pressure from studios who are getting sick of printing film reels and sending them out, but they’re finding it hard to convince people to head into the theaters to see movies in “all-digital” format. After all, even the highest resolution digital image has a hard time competing with the “infinite resolution” of film.

Here’s some reasons why we should all embrace digital projection at our local movie theaters, even if it doesn’t result in a reduced ticket price.

The picture quality is ultimately better. Sure, film enthusiasts will claim that nothing beats the intense colors and clarity of film, but you’ve got to go on opening night to see it. Why? Because every time that film is run through the projector, it runs the risk of getting damaged. By the time a reel gets shipped off to the dollar theater, it’s a horrific mess of scratches, dust, and artifacts. The fact is, the longer you wait to see a movie projected from film, the worse the picture quality will be. However, a digital disc never loses its picture quality, no matter how many times it’s viewed.

The entire movie can run off of one disc. In order to accommodate thirty frames per second for a minimum of 5,400 seconds, a film reel needs to hold a lot of still images, but each image needs to be big enough that it looks flawless on a forty foot wide screen. If every frame was put on a single reel, the thing would need to be impractically large, so most movies use four or five reels which a projectionist has to switch between at the exact right moment. Ever seen the black dot that shows up in the upper right corner of a movie sometimes? The first dot is a warning; the second dot is the cue to flip the switch. Watch, and you’ll notice that the picture and sound quality are briefly interrupted when the switch is made. I find it distracting, but then I’m a nerd that pays attention to that stuff. The projectionist is doing a delicate dance of running around the room flipping the reels at the correct moment as if maintaining a bunch of plates spinning on poles. There’s such a huge amount of human error that’s possible here that it makes a lot more sense to feed a giant, half-terabyte disc into a digital projector and hit “play.”

A wider variety of movies can come to each theater. Theaters don’t usually take a chance on an artsy low-budget film because they’ve got to make money off of it somehow. If no one knows what it is because the studio didn’t have a huge ad campaign to raise public awareness, it’s less likely that someone will go see it. Therefore, if a theater gets their hands on a copy of something like Rachel Getting Married, they’ve got to put it in the smallest theater and try to run it exactly enough times to maximize profitability. They don’t usually share films even within their own chain because it’s too difficult, dangerous, and expensive to send the stack of reels around the city. But if they each had their own optical disc of the low-budget flick—at a production cost of only a few dollars each—the studio could make back their cost with just a few ticket sales. (This would also benefit low-budget films who would no longer need to set aside a significant chunk of money to produce the reels.)

If this all sounds good to you, then there’s good news! In 2007, Variety magazine predicted that half of theater screens would be using digital projection by 2013, and adoption statistics seem to be supporting these numbers. And with the number of movies being shot on digital cameras these days, these display methods make more sense than ever. I’ll be looking forward to the day when I can go see a movie three weeks into its release when it’s just me, my wife, and a few other people quietly enjoying a scratch-and-dust-free film. Too bad ticket prices will be $15 by then.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Where Exactly Was Ryan Dunn's Accident?

It always sucks when someone succumbs to a horrific circumstance when it clearly could have been avoided, even if that person hadn’t made millions of people laugh in his or her lifetime. And regardless of my personal feelings about drunken driving, dangerous behavior, or anything else that may have been involved in Ryan Dunn’s fatal car wreck earlier this week, the idea of someone experiencing something as violent as what he endured is something I’d rather not think about.

If you don’t know, Ryan Dunn was part of the Jackass cast, a TV show notorious for dangerous, painful, ridiculous, and often outright stupid stunts. It was something the world was bound to see sooner or later, and it evolved out of the CKY home video footage Dunn and his friends shot in the 90s. Though they were basically extending the America’s Funniest Home Videos format into psychotic territory, the troupe was ahead of their time, producing the kind of content we’d all search for on Youtube years later.

Then, on June 20, 2011, at about 2:30 AM, Dunn and a passenger were riding in his 2007 Porsche 911 away from a bar where he had been partying, raising his blood-alcohol level to 0.19—significantly impairing his ability to drive a car, much less at the estimated 130 MPH the vehicle was traveling as it jumped a guard rail and slammed into a tree. Though it might seem appropriate to some that his ultimate fate would be in the manner of the lifestyle in which he lived, no one wanted this for him. However, many people want to know:

Where did Ryan Dunn crash?

Not to be morbid, but there don’t seem to be any highly accurate suggestions for the location where his car crashed. I don’t necessarily have an interest in his death, or visiting the site, but I’d like to take a few moments to do some research into the precise location of his accident using news reports, on-scene photographs, and video.

We know for certain that the accident happened near West Chester, PA. CBS Philadelphia reports that the wreck occurred on Route 322 near Pottstown Pike—the road which leads to Barnaby’s, the bar he had been drinking at. Here’s an aerial view of this area:


This view from a helicopter shows a police car, tire marks on the street, and a double-yellow gore in the middle of the road, which means that we can narrow the possible area down to everything near the overpass of Pottstown Pike:


The gore shown in the image only appears on Route 322 for a 1500 foot stretch near this overpass. Then there’s this image of a police car next to an overpass and a torn-out guard rail covered by a police line:


Comparing that image and the street signs in the area, we can clearly see in Google Street View that this is exactly where it happened:


So looking from above, we can see the guard rail his car struck:


You can take put these coordinates into Google Maps to go straight to the accident scene:

39° 58′ 24.38″ N, 75° 36′ 51.27″ W
  
Or simply click here.

[UPDATE 6.24]: There has been some discussion about whether the accident site is on the east or west side of the overpass. Though both sides have a guard rail, clearance height sign, and merge warning sign, we can see that he definitely crashed on the northeast side of the bridge. Take a look at this view looking east which indicates the merge warning sign in the distance:


A closer view of this sign shows that it says "LANE ENDS, MERGE RIGHT" instead of the "RIGHT LANE ENDS" shown in the image of the torn-out guard rail shown above:


Then there's this view of another police car with more skid marks showing the exit from 322 to S. Pottstown Pike:


This should clear up any confusion about where the accident occurred.

[UPDATE 12/23/11]: Google Earth updated their imagery of this section of highway since the accident occurred. You can now see that warning poles have been installed in exactly the location that Dunn skidded through (seen in the image above).


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cameras are Everywhere, So Don't Stop Me from Using Them


I’m standing in the pit at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Roswell, Georgia, watching Arcade Fire, less than 50 feet from the stage. I’ve got my tiny video camera, an Aiptek HD, pointed directly at Win Butler as he croons “No Cars Go” with the help of 7,000 fans. I keep the camera low and the LCD pointed down so it doesn’t get in the way of anyone standing behind me. Suddenly I feel a tap on my left shoulder.

“You need to come with me,” a security guard yells over the roar of the sound system. I look at my wife.

“I’ll be right back,” I say, “They want my camera.”

As I slip out of the crowd, he leads me up to the will call booth. “You can’t use a video camera here,” he informs me, “But you can pick it up after the show.” I ask him why I can’t use my crappy home video camera as I discreetly slip the SD card out of the bottom of the device.

“It’s against venue policy. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.” He takes me to a woman who is in charge of snapping on wristbands for alcohol-age concertgoers, and asks her to escort me to the will call booth.

“Quickly!” I yell, “This is my favorite song, and I’m missing it.” She jogs alongside me as we head to the beginning of this massive complex of concrete.

“He needs to check his camera here,” she informs the people at the booth.

“Sorry you guys, I didn’t think there’d be a problem considering that there’s hundreds of people down there using their camera phones,” I say as I fill out a form with my contact information on it. They then release me back into the venue. They're all nice about it, and I don’t put up a fight. I just head back down into the crowd, stand next to my wife, take the GoPro camera out of my pocket which has been recording the entire time, and shoot the rest of the show.

This actually happened to me last August. The whole time (and you can see them clearly on the video) there were at least three or four people within arm’s reach that were taking pictures and video with their phones. I can hardly see what the venue’s got against this, except that they want to have complete control over the patrons of their establishment. They probably think that money might be lost due to the video showing online. When I got home, I checked the FAQ on their website to see what it says about cameras:

Cameras are allowed subject to event. Please check the event-specific voice recording by calling (404) 733-5010. If cameras are allowed by the artist, you may bring in a non-professional (point-and-shoot) style camera with no removable lenses.

When I called the recording, I was basically told the same thing: Cameras are ok unless they’re professional-level devices. Okay, I can see their point there. The band and venue don’t want people to be making money from the sale of professional-grade photos or video of their likeness. They own their image, and tend to have the ability to restrict others from capturing it while they’re performing. At least, that’s the way it was in the past.

In case you haven’t noticed, everyone’s carrying a camera everywhere they go. There’s no way to stop it. It’s extremely useful, and actually acts as a safety device, requiring those in public to accept responsibility for their actions. Having cameras everywhere—in the hands of average citizens—is actually a really good thing for the benefit of us all. At the same time, it presents an impossible task for those who wish to restrict their use. The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater has accepted this, saying that use of your camera phone is acceptable, but professional-level cameras are asking a bit much.

And when it comes to video, there’s really no difference. They don’t want a shoulder-mounted camera going in with a high-quality microphone to make superb bootlegs, but they understand that it’s pretty much impossible to stop you from used your phone camera to record a low-quality video of the performance which will end up being for the benefit of yourself and your friends, and maybe a few people who come across the video on Youtube.

I’ve lamented the mass use of phone cameras in concert venues before, as I proposed that the use of Color in one of these situations would result in the user ending up with hundreds of terrible photos, and there’s more than enough grainy, blurry videos with distorted and over-driven sound hanging out on the web. But this content isn’t stopping me from purchasing concert tickets; if anything, it’s advertising the show for me.

In fact, three days before Arcade Fire played in Atlanta, they live-broadcasted their New York City performance on Youtube, directed by Terry Gilliam. I watched the entire thing and was excited about the show. It most definitely didn’t make me less likely to see them play in my home town.



I don’t exactly know why my video camera was confiscated, considering the venue’s policy, but I’m not that upset about it. It doesn’t really benefit me or anyone to have that video, but their confiscation really just turned me off from heading back to the venue for another $125 dump of money. Business owners, take note: Harassing your patrons is bad for profits.

But just when I thought we had all accepted that the world is different these days, and ever-changing, and privacy, copyright, and distribution need to be approached from a different angle due to existing and ubiquitous technology, Apple decided to throw a roadblock in front of logical progress. The company has patented technology that tells iPhones to disable its cameras when the owner is in a “no-camera” zone, which generally applies to venues specifically. The idea is that the venue would somehow be broadcasting a signal that would tell your phone to shut down the camera’s functions.

However, this isn’t going to change anything, it’s just going to slow progress. Not everyone uses iPhones, and those that do and are highly inclined will find a way around it. Plus, there are hundreds of pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras that people will use instead. This sounds more like a way for Apple to alienate its own users by actually providing for circumstances in which their phones become less useful.

Not only is this futile, it’s a bit disturbing. If venues have the authority and technology to shut off your camera, what’s stopping anyone else from doing it? What if riot police broadcast a similar signal so they could enjoy beating you? What if I intend to use my phone to capture a crime in progress, like a person being severely beaten in the crowd of the concert? Apple doesn’t have any personal motivation that I can see to restrict the use of their phones, so this is clearly a business decision that works with the record companies that they partner with for iTunes.

Venue owners need to give up the fight and accept that they can’t control the actions of thousands of people who are all armed with cameras. It’s never going to stop, and it’s just going to incense them. By the way, here's nearly the entire concert I attended, pieced together with videos from the crowd (none of which are mine):

Ready to Start
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Haiti
Half Light II (No Celebration)
Empty Room
The Suburbs
Ocean of Noise 
Keep the Car Running
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)
Month of May
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) 

Intervention
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Wake Up

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kill the Like Button


I’ve been lamenting the choice of the “Like” verbiage within social networking for quite some time now, but the problem’s not going away.  It’s becoming more adopted by various websites across the web, and continuing to gain momentum within our culture.

Most of us primarily associate it with Facebook, but the truth is that they don’t own it. Other websites, such as Youtube, carry their own “Like” button to be used for a similar purpose. The button is all over the place, especially being used on websites that want you to share their content via Facebook, or in commercials that say “Like us on Facebook!”

Let’s break down this word for a minute. The traditional use of this word is pretty complicated, and carries many possible meanings as an adjective, adverb, conjunction, idiom, interjection, noun, and verb. Specifically, it’s that interjection that has aggravated people so much over the years. Though the word goes way back, the origin of this use of the word is in the 1980s. Here’s the definition from Dictionary.com:

Informal. (used especially in speech, often non-volitionally or habitually, to preface a sentence, to fill a pause, to express uncertainty, or to intensify or neutralize a following adjective): Like, why didn't you write to me? The music was, like, really great, you know?

Associated with the valley girls of the 80s, it pushed its way into widespread use by the youth of the 90s and held firm with the young and middle-aged alike into the 2000s. Sometimes the use of the word is so strong that a person’s speech is pretty much impossible to follow. There have even been some guerilla campaigns to try to stop or slow the overuse of the word as an interjection:


So why would social networking websites begin to use this already-overused word on their pages? Well, in Facebook’s case, the button used to be the Awesome button, which would be used as a generic positive comment on someone’s status updates, basically affirming that the declared content was of good quality. Clicking the button would basically say, “I think this is awesome!”

They then changed it to the “Like” button, which I presume was seen as more professional or accurate. “I like this,” you would say instead while clicking the button. This use of the word as a verb slowly morphed into a more bizarre use of the word as a verb. Now, people will say—with complete confidence—such bizarre things as “Like us on Facebook!”

However, this button doesn’t necessarily mean that you like something. People use it to approve content; to give it credibility. It’s a way for people to authorize and recommend content to others, but also to give feedback to the author that the content was highly rated. What the button actually means is “I approve this content.” This gives people mixed feelings when they go to “Like” something that may not be the most positive comment on Facebook. Here’s an example of a status update:

My cat died today. He lived a great long life of 17 years, and will be dearly missed. Chubby, you were the best cat ever.

Would you “Like” that? It’s a tough decision, right? You may not want anyone to think that you like that their cat died, but you may want to lend support for them and tell them that you like their eulogy. In this case, the problem can be side-stepped by actually posting a comment that supports the person posting it. However, this message could be “approved” without worry that the person would take it the wrong way.

The problem with this verbiage goes in a different direction when somebody posts something negative:

I fell in a mud puddle on the side of the road today and chipped my tooth on the curb! What a crappy day!

A total ass would intentionally “like” this, but it happens unintentionally as well. The person “liking” it may have thought that the comment was intended to be a shared bit of comedic unfortunate circumstance for the entertainment of the fellow friends, when in reality it was a tragic and disturbing experience. The person that “liked” it now looks like an ass.

As a result, people have started lobbying for a “dislike” button, but Facebook continues to insist that they don’t wish to add negative social tools to their network and encourage people to dislike things. What they need is a neutral “approval” button, but “like” is equivalent to Internet currency now, so that won’t be changing any time soon.

In the case of Youtube, “Like” exists alongside “Dislike,” but they’re used to indicate the rating of a video. In this case, the use of these two buttons seems like it would be pretty straight-forward, right? You either like or dislike a video, and you click the appropriate button. But wait, it’s not quite that simple.

Youtube used to have a five-star ratings system for videos to allow the viewing community to differentiate between good and bad content, but more importantly, to isolate extremely good and extremely bad content. To simplify this situation, Youtube went all-or-nothing on their ratings and removed the grey area. Now you either like it or dislike it, but many people don’t understand which component of the video they’re rating.

For example, you might be watching a video of something tragic, like a horrific live performance by Amy Winehouse in Belgrade. Because it’s widely talked about in the news, you want to witness it for yourself, so you search for a video of this unspeakably bad performance. You find it; it’s up close to the stage, shows the massive train wreck in reasonable quality, and the length of the video is good. It’s an excellent capture of a horrible moment.


“Wow, this is bad!” you say, while laughing uncontrollably and highly entertained. Dislike! Now the owner of this content wonders why they’ve shared good content with a 1:5 ratio of like:dislike.

There are some people who have legitimately disliked this video. “I don’t want to watch this stupid idiot be drunk and moronic on stage,” they say. Still others, who are pleased with the results of their search, who found the video they were looking for and were entertained, have “Disliked” the video despite approving of its quality. This video, which probably deserves to be highly rated, is rated low even though people like it, because of the word “Like.” “Well, I don’t really like that she’s hammered beyond belief, and her singing doesn’t sound good,” they rationalize, while clicking the “dislike” button.

Google’s tried to reinvent the concept by introducing their “+1” button, but it doesn’t seem to be picking up steam just yet. Their hearts are in the right place, though; the idea is that you are recommending the content to your friends. However, this still doesn’t cover all concepts at once. You might recommend that someone watch an Amy Winehouse train wreck, but would you recommend a feline eulogy? Probably not.

What it comes down to is that we need a way to rate or approve content without expressing support for the content. Do we need a third button? The grey-area button that says, “I don’t like the subject, but I appreciate the content as a whole”? Do we need a “Like—under certain circumstances” button?

Friday, June 17, 2011

The First American Mass Planking is Just Around the Corner

Image from michaelcampa.com
I’m going to go ahead and get this one out of the way before the media really takes it too far.

See, there’s this thing called planking that people do. It’s kind of like performance art, but it’s really an opportunity to have your friend take pictures of you doing it in an interesting location, or to have people stare at you in a public place because you like confusing people.

It originated as the Lying Down Game, developed in the late 90s. In order to play the Lying Down Game, a player must:
  • Lay face down
  • Have their hands straight out at the sides of their body
  • Legs straight out with the toes pointed
  • Have someone photograph them and post it on the Internet.
The idea is to mimic, as closely as possible, the shape and mannerisms of a wooden plank. Sound exciting? It’s not! And that’s likely part of the appeal.

The world became fully aware of the fad after rugby player David Williams planked after scoring on March 27, 2011.


Since then, there have been an unfathomable number of planking pictures taken, each trying to be in a more creative location than the last. You see, since the actual act itself is so stupid and pointless, the excitement comes from the environment: The object being planked upon, and the optional reactions of passersby.

As with all super cool fads, eventually someone had to die while doing it. On May 13th, the first planking-related death was confirmed after 20-year-old Acton Beale tried to plank on the seventh floor of an apartment building. Other plankers have dodged death by laying down on train tracks in front of oncoming trains and taunting police by laying on their cars—an apparently illegal act.

The fad is popular in countries around the world, originating in Australia, catching on in New Zealand, and being common in the UK and Iceland. In fact, both Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand have directly addressed the fad, with Julia Gillard of the former warning plankers to focus on “keeping yourself safe first,” while the latter’s John Key posed in a photo of his son doing it.

These kind of things generally get picked up in the United States and strangled for all they’re worth until they die a cold, over-exposed death, so it’s no surprise that it’s picking up steam here. Yesterday, CNN ran a news story entitled “Facedowns: New craze you’ve never heard of.” Of course, no one’s ever heard of it because no one calls it “facedowns.” The video segment’s tagline, “A Seattle-spawned lack of movement is inspiring a rather strange movement of its own all over the world,” isn’t exactly accurate, but then neither are the positions that the facedowners are doing in the segment:

Legs not straight? Arms out in front? Poor form!

I’m not sure if this is CNN’s fault or if Americans think they invented this hobby, but they didn’t, and “facedowns” is actually a much stupider term than “planking” anyway. But, given the American spirit of doing everything bigger and greater than everyone else, I have a prediction to make.

I am suggesting that we’re probably only days away from the first American mass planking. I haven’t seen anything about it online yet, but given that school is out for the summer and it’s a rising trend, it’s only a matter of time before someone organizes a huge, widely publicized flash mob planking. (There’s already a Facebook Group dedicated to this but it doesn’t seem to be catching on quite yet, as it only has 21 members.) Actually, this happened just a few days ago in Brighton, UK, so I just barely missed my mark. But the video's only got 300 views. That's roughly one per person in the video!


Here’s what will happen: Several hundred people will all meet in a public space in an urban area somewhere in a major U.S. city. Likely candidates include New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and Atlanta. It might even be a massive beach planking, occurring somewhere in Florida. Everyone will lay around, arranging themselves on top of statues, benches, fountains, and just the bare sidewalk or lawn. After a brief period of this, and once an accurate head count is taken, everyone will part ways. Someone will try to contact a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records to attend the mass planking. Hopefully no one will die.

It’s coming, I’d say, in as little as a week to as far out as three months. And then once it’s over, planking won’t be cool anymore. By this time next year, we won’t even talk about it.

Photo App Users Don't Make Good Photojournalists

Sports fans are funny, and every country seems to have a sport that fans lose their heads over. In the United States, it’s college football; in many places in Europe, it’s soccer football; but in Canada, fans go completely bonkers for hockey.

It makes sense. They’ve got tons of ice and cold weather, so even though Vancouver’s only about a hundred miles from Seattle, they’re going to get excited about hockey—especially when their team is in the season’s finals. Actually, some of these hockey fans are crazy enough about their team that when they lose badly in the final game of the series, they set fire to their own city. I’m not sure what the intention was. Punish their team for doing a bad job? Throwing a temper tantrum? A good ol’ fashioned drunken orgy of destruction?

Whatever the reason, it was the major news event yesterday. And when major news stories involve riots, as we’ve seen in Iran, Spain, and the UK recently, sometimes the best—or only—footage comes directly from cell phones. It’s something they’re extremely useful for. The smart phones of the world each come equipped with a camera and the ability to transmit pictures to the internet.

By contrast, major media outlets have to drive in with a van, set up a huge remote antenna, and transmit those images live via a massive pack attached to a video camera. Yes, the quality is greater, but in a hectic situation, we don’t really care about quality. What we want is content.

As Andrew Napolitano famously said, “The camera is the new gun.” Because they’re everywhere, and they hold people accountable for their actions, they tend to be more effective than shooting people with bullets. It’s a non-violent act of counter-protesting, capturing those who stood atop overturned cars in downtown Vancouver and set them on fire. I saw the pictures on multiple news websites that were taken by citizens armed with such cameras, not professional photojournalists. However, we’ve run into a little bit of a dilemma here.

Because smart phones have provided people with relatively powerful cameras with strong processing power right there in their pocket, we’ve moved into a new era of photography: the photo app world. People are sick of the novelty of just shooting pictures with their phone, so as a culture we’ve embraced running dozens of filters on top of those photos to stylize them, giving them a retro look, altering the color balance on the fly, and adding stylish borders among other effects. The photo app market is at the top of its game right now, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

So when the Vancouver riots happened, it was only a matter of time before Hipstamatic or Instagram would be used while taking photos of riots. Yep, mixed in with dozens of other shocking photos of car fires and smashed-out windows were a handful of retro-style shots of Vancouver on fire. This shot by Jenn Perutka may have been intended to be a stylish photo of the skyline and sunset juxtaposed with the ominous smoke of something going horribly wrong, but it was picked up by news organizations—who hunt down these photos due to their timeliness and royalty-free status—and published it alongside other, more clear photos of rioting.

I’ve got nothing against Jenn’s use of Instagram for this photo. It’s neat looking, and it doesn’t purport to be a photojournalistic capture of the event for media use. The blame is on the news outlets for running it. Here’s why:

I want you to think back to the 90s, and the home video camera you had. Remember that EFFECTS button on the side of it? With the push of a button, you could cycle through a range of effects like black and white, sepiatone, crystallize, mosaic, stained glass, inverse, etc. Hipstamatic and Instagram basically provide this service for cell phones. Now imagine watching a news story where someone’s pressed the EFFECTS button and we’re watching footage of the riot in mosaic/slow frame rate like a New Kids on the Block music video.

Here’s an example of what I expect your local news to look like in 5 years:



Photojournalists have long looked for what Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as “the decisive moment.” In these cases, it doesn’t generally matter if the photo is high quality if it captures a moment that can’t be recreated. In other words, sometimes a terrible photo with unbelievable content is superior to a well-framed, well-exposed photo of something less spectacular. An example of this is Robert Capa’s famous photo “Omaha Beach.”



The photo quality is terrible, but what it captures is incredible. We are at water level, watching a potentially doomed soldier pushing his way up onto a French beach to liberate Europeans from Nazi control. We know he’s headed into horrifically deadly gunfire. We can see the debris in the water behind him, signs that the war is raging. We can look past the fact that the photo is blurry because we know Capa didn’t have the proper light to get a moment frozen in time. He couldn’t ask everybody to hold still for a moment, and in this way, the blurriness actually adds to the chaos and feeling of frantic movement.

However, there’s a difference when an image is given intentional stylization and a news outlet runs it anyway. We don’t look at the news to see what the 2011 Vancouver riots might look like if they’d happened in the 1970s or been snapped by a Polaroid instant camera. We’re trying to see what happened, and, somewhat more importantly, who did it.

Well, there’s one great thing coming out of social media, and it has to do with what Napolitano said. Rather than shooting rioters with guns, creating a larger mass hysteria and possibly leading to people being trampled to death or being caught in the crossfire, we’ll let people make their mistakes, shoot them with the dozens of cameras nearby, and hold them accountable for their actions later. Let’s just hope that the incriminating evidence of someone torching your car hasn’t Hipstagrammed their face into obscurity.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Obituary: The CD Player in My Car

The CD player in my car passed away last night. It was nine years old.

Born into a 2003 Saturn Ion in an automotive plant in Tennessee, the CD player seemed optimistic in a world full of MP3s. It was a proprietary in-dash unit, fused to a tape deck and a radio, and filled an enormous space underneath an awkwardly placed centered main console of the vehicle. It was ready to go.


The car it lived in was light blue and was purchased by an elderly couple for their granddaughter in early 2003. It was her graduation gift, though she was technically supposed to pay them back. Unfortunately, the pair passed away in 2006, but they willed the title of the car to her.

I first heard the CD player in 2005 as she pulled up to my house on one of our first dates. The CD player was happily cranking out a tune called “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” by the death metal band Meshuggah. I could hear it clearly even with all the windows closed, and instantly fell in love. She would become my future wife.

In early 2009, as we prepared for our wedding, my Ford Taurus began to fall apart in a number of ways. Specifically, the automatic transmission was about to give out entirely, so we parked it in our apartment complex and left it there for a few months. About nine of them. We rushed out and purchased a brand new vehicle—but because it was my car that was dying and not hers, she got the new car. It was a 2010 Kia Soul.

I took the Ion, and so began my two-year affair with the CD player. My MP3 player had given up hope, having been sent through the washing machine too many times, and its screen became too dim to see. I had given up on music and was listening to nothing but episodes of the podcast Uhh Yeah Dude in chronological order, but when the MP3 player stopped, I began burning CDs. I had been using the tape deck in my car with a tape adapter to listen to MP3s in the Taurus, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I had a CD player in the car again.

I even went back to listening to actual music again, digging out piles and piles of CDRs from boxes in my closet. I pulled some of the original discs out of my 300-strong CD rack that sits in my second bedroom like a cheesy 90s version of a vinyl collection, gathering dust. The nostalgic fun didn’t last very long, as I went straight back to listening to UYD on a regular basis.

I then began a daily 60 minute commute with the CD player. With no tapes, no MP3 player, and no urge whatsoever to turn on the radio, it was my best friend, the companion that rode with me on the lengthy journey to and from work. We went through a lot together: Discussions of social media and trends, Craigslist ads, and an ever-present reminder to wear my seatbelt. We must have burned through close to 200 hours of UYD together on those pleasant journeys, and the CD player never skipped.

Then something unprecedented happened. I decided to treat the CD player to something entirely different. I would listen to the entire “Weird Al” Yankovic discography from beginning to end. No more of that talking, it would be time for some music!

The CD player died while playing “I Was Only Kidding” from the 1992 album Off the Deep End. Halfway through the song, it decided that it had enough and spit the CD out. I wasn’t used to it being selective, so I put it back in. It rejected it and never played a CD ever again.

I guess I learned my lesson. I shouldn’t have been burning so many CDs to begin with. I should have appreciated it more when I had it and not taken it for granted. In the end, it saw two loving owners who used it to its fullest. It can’t and won’t be replaced, because it’s fused to the climate controls. We’ll miss you, little guy.

After a week of mourning, I’ll get another MP3 player. I realized that to finish listening to every UYD episode that currently exists, I’d need to spend about $60 on CDRs. Coincidentally, that’s the exact same price that my old MP3 player is going for new.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Incredible True Story of FreeCreditReport.com

We’ve all seen those FreeCreditReport.com commercials right? The ones that feature a singing band? You might just think that this is a clever marketing scheme, but it’s more than that. There’s an entire story behind it, and you’re about to hear it.

The website in question is really just a front for a company called Experian, a US-based credit reporting business. In 1980, the UK-based company CCN Systems, another credit reporting group, was owned by Great Universal Stores, a massive UK retailer founded in 1900. For years, CCN did their best to monitor credit for its customers, working with a system that differed fundamentally from the credit system in the United States. However, in 1996, Great Universal Stores decided to reach across the pond and dip into a more global presence, acquiring Experian and merging it with CCN. Because Experian is a more scary business sounding name, the fused credit monster retained this moniker.

In 2001, Great Universal Stores shortened its name to the new-millenium-friendly acronym GUS. At this point, approximately 10% of its 50,000+ employees worked for Experian. As the credit reporting market grew, so did the company’s advertising presence. By 2005, the company had hired the best advertising agency in the business, and soon had a catchy jingle that stuck out in the minds of everyone that watched Judge Judy at 4:30 PM on weekdays. It went like this:

FREEEEEEE CRE-DIT RE-POOORT  DOOOT  COOOOOOOM!

Many an innocent television consumer was left replaying the ultra-catchy tune in their heads day after day. Ultimately, the URL being sung on a loop in heads everywhere led a curious few to actually visit the website. Some even signed up for and received their free credit report as promised by the Experian marketing campaign.

That same year, Experian was sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive marketing practices. The charges included misleading claims about offers the company claimed were free, but ended up being something in the ballpark of $40 per month services. Experian settled by returning approximately $950,000 of free credit monitoring for the individuals who had signed up for the supposedly “free service.” However, by this point the company was generating so much money that they were running on a $72 million annual advertising budget, so the million dollars in free services was not nearly enough to take the credit goliath down. It forged on.

Not even a second related investigation by the state of Florida’s Attorney General in 2006 was enough to shame Experian into backing down. MSNBC tried to intervene around the same time, but its findings that declared the company an outright scam had little to no impact on the general public. Experian’s massive advertising campaign not only thrived, it grew—monstrously.

Meanwhile, up in Canada, a nearly anonymous actor named Eric Violette was toiling away in the annals of the theater, portraying many a French historical figure in his native Montreal. Then one day, on a chance audition from the Martin Agency calling for actor/musicians, Violette landed the role of a down-on-his-luck guy who was the victim of credit card fraud. The commercial called for him to sing a catchy jingle which included the words “Free Credit Report Dot Com.” However, his French-Canadian accent proved unmarketable in the United States, so the commercial—and all subsequent commercials—were overdubbed by an unnamed American singer. The commercial was a major success, and Violette was called back to create more credit-related masterpieces.


Eight commercials later, Violette and the two bandmates from his commercials were internationally known; they had spanned nine different genres, from rock to hip hop, and brought joy to the lives of millions who signed up for a scam and had their accounts steadily drained for months on end. The campaign reached unprecedented levels of notoriety as people anxiously awaited to see what Eric and his band would bring to them next.

Dozens of parodies appeared online, most of which were homemade and posted on Youtube. However, a few high-budget parodies were created, including an entire MADtv skit based on the commercials. The FTC, Experian’s biggest critic, even created their own PSAs that parodied the commercials—to remind everyone that they can already get a “no-strings-attached” free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.


In 2009, the Credit CARD Act specifically mentioned FreeCreditReport.com in a section addressing any companies that offer a “free credit report” in advertisements. All such commercials must now include this statement:

This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law.

In addition to this, the act requires those same advertisers, despite advertising a free credit report, to remind viewers that they can get a free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. This last little bit—requiring Experian to advertise for its effective competitor within their own commercials—pushed the company over the edge.

In early 2010 they dropped FreeCreditReport.com as a major advertising focus and fired the band. It was time to move in a completely different direction. Experian began a highly publicized search for a new jingle-delivering band to be the face of the advertisements, which would now be for a completely different website—FreeCreditScore.com.

The auditions served to raise awareness that Experian was shifting from long-winded credit reports to the more brevity-conscious credit scores that could be related in a much more efficient manner. MTV, among other media outlets, covered the auditions extensively as they traveled from New York to Los Angeles, landing in Chicago, following the competition through to the finals. The four final bands were announced after the Major League Baseball’s All Star Game that year, and the American public voted for the winners. In the end, the victorious band was none other than Detroit indies The Victorious Secrets.


It didn’t take long for the much-anticipated first commercial to air; The Victorious Secrets delivered their jingle with vigor, truly capturing the hearts of their audience. Written by the Martin Agency’s Dave Muhlenfeld, the band merely plays the songs while they work on their full-length album, rolling in the $10,000 cash prize awarded to them for winning the competition.

Later that year, in a completely industry-bullshit-free independent decision, the band realized that their clever pun of a moniker could no longer reflect the serious tone of their musicianship. They mutually decided that it would be much better to change their name, and promptly requested to be known as the American Secrets. Said guitarist Byron Rossi:

“Some very close personal friends of the band strongly suggested we change our name. We decided to take their advice and are now moving forward into the great wide open of the glorious unknown as The American Secrets...and we intend to rock people like the proverbial ‘hurricane’ while doing it.”

Halfway through 2011, the band has completed two commercials for FreeCreditScore.com, have a show lined up for the end of July, and have released a self-titled album via iTunes. Eric Violette continues to act, and has his own band, God Against God. Meanwhile, Experian has been hanging out in the background, growing like an awesome melanoma on the skin of the Earth, announcing a 13% increase in profits this past quarter. This story’s not over.

This story is factual to the best of my knowledge and is therefore proclaimed as “true.” Any embellishments are added purely for satirical purposes. This story used the following references with the purpose of being as accurate as possible:

Credit Report and Credit History | Free Credit Report
Eric Violette
Experian plc
Home of the FreeCreditScore.com Band!
Marketer of “Free Credit Reports” Settles FTC Charges
MSNBC: Florida AG investigates FreeCreditReport.com
MSNBC: Many free credit reports still aren't free 
The American Secrets
The New York Times: A Free Credit Score Followed by a Monthly Bill
The Victorious Secrets Named New FreeCreditScore.com Band
The Victorious Secrets Change Their Name

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Doors in Public Places are Sometimes Locked

Photo by takomabibelot
Yesterday I talked about same-stepping, that awkward thing you do when trying to pass someone out in public, and described how it was one of those things that makes me apprehensive to step out into the real world and get lost in a crowd. But today I want to address something else that makes me fear public places. It affects all of us, and it’s a completely unfair thing that we all encounter on a regular basis.

I’m talking about double-doors—but specifically those sets in which one’s permanently locked.

Yep, it’s uncool. It’s dangerous. It’s probably just a way for store employees to bring a little bit of amusement into their otherwise melancholy days. I’ve been telling people for years that my theory for the half-unlocked doorway was so that a hidden camera could capture people looking stupid as they attempt to walk through the door.

If you’re one of the rare few who never experience this, here’s basically what happens: You go walk in or out of a business. There are two doors, generally glass, that are side-by-side. You’re not going to open both of them, of course, so you pick one. It’s probably the one on the right, if you live in the United States, since we’re conditioned to travel on the right sides of paths. One of the two doors is locked. If you always pick the right door, you’re going to hit the locked door either on the way in or out; this means your chances of encountering the locked door are extremely high.

You walk up to the door and push, but it doesn’t open. “Oh, oops,” you announce, as you pull the door handle. Nothing. You realize two things: That you need to use the other door, and that you look stupid.

Hey, if there’s a really good reason for it, I understand. If there’s a sign on the door that says “PLEASE USE OTHER DOOR,” then it’s your own fault. But when you’re walking in or out of a clearly open business and there’s no warning, you can’t be blamed for falling for this trick. You are an innocent victim.

I’m particularly bad about these things because I have poor posture, leaning over the front of my feet as I walk at a brisk pace everywhere I go in a quest to be ultimately efficient. I walk up to the door, shove it with a good bit of force, and it doesn’t open. My body’s momentum keeps me moving forward still, and my face stops approximately one centimeter from the glass, nearly breaking my nose and knocking teeth out of my mouth.

I can’t recall a time where I was injured or anyone laughed at me, but it’s coming. This isn’t a phenomenon that’s going away any time soon, so we’ve got to continue to deal with it. However, I assume that my theory about a sadistic storeowner with a lust for hidden camera footage of people ramming their faces into glass doors doesn’t carry much merit, since those people would be likely to sue. The lawsuit factor leads me to believe that there are other reasons behind this phenomenon. I decided to do some investigation.

Every time I encountered one of these doors, I would ask an employee why it was like that, making sure to clarify that I was merely curious and not complaining (a total lie.) Only one day passed before I exited the right side of a double-door at H&M, only to find that it was locked. I went back to the sales counter.

“Oh, that door should be unlocked,” the employee said, “I guess someone just forgot to do that.” I politely asked her if she’d do it under the guise that I wouldn’t want anyone to get injured, but in reality to see if she’d do it. She did. The door unlocked and was free to move.

A new reason: Someone “forgot,” or was lazy.

Two days later, I actually went into a Taco Bell. I have no idea why I did this, but as I attempted to enter, the door wouldn’t budge. I almost took this as a sign to go home, but dedicated to my cause, I walked up to the counter and asked someone about it. I was deferred to a manager.

“Actually, the door’s broken, we need to get that fixed.” A little more prying revealed that they had been locking the door at night with a pair of scissors, and that one day the door couldn’t be unlocked anymore. I appreciated his honesty.

Another new reason: Door is broken, and no one wants to get it fixed.

Then, about a week later, I went to take some of my wife’s clothes to a Psycho Sisters consignment store to sell them. The left-side door wouldn’t open, which was unfortunate because I was carrying a huge bag of clothes that barely fit through the open side. While the owner was going through my wife’s stuff (yes, my wife knew I was selling her clothes) I made some small talk, inquiring about the door.

“We keep one side locked when it’s really hot or cold to keep the air in,” she told me. I’m not entirely sure of this reasoning, but it sounds like something someone would do.

Yet another reason: Air conditioning is expensive in Atlanta.

So there you have it: Four potential reasons for a locked door. Though I can guarantee that someone out there is enjoying watching people try to open a locked door, I didn’t have to try very hard to find three legitimate alternatives: Oops, broken, and frugality.

But they should still put a sign on the door!

Check out this short n' sweet article which addresses similar concerns.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What Do You Call that Thing where Two People Step Back and Forth Trying to Pass Each Other?

I’m not a big fan of crowds, but I’m not scared of them. Nope, no agoraphobia here. I function perfectly fine; I don’t panic, and I don’t get angry. Regardless, I try to avoid the mall and large social functions, and it’s not because of long lines or rude people. In actuality, I’m just worried that I’m going to end up doing that stepping-side-to-side thing that you do when you encounter someone walking straight towards you.

You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s a universal phenomenon, experienced by all peoples around the globe. Why, I’d even bet that those South American tribes that aggressively fire arrows at helicopters have this issue. It might even happen to deer walking around in the woods. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s what happens:

You’re walking somewhere, and someone is walking directly toward you. You both need to get to a destination immediately behind the other person. Often, one of you will move out of the way the other. In half the situations where both people are considerate, you’ll both move to the side in opposite directions and continue on your paths. But in the other half of situations involving mutually considerate people, you’ll both step in the same direction.

“Oops!” both brains think at the exact same time, “We’re still coming right at each other. Better step to the opposite side.” Now you’re both moving to the other side, and still right in front of each other. Usually this step side-to-side motion only lasts for two or three rounds before one of you relents and stands still to let the other one move past you. I’ve had this stupid phenomenon go on as many as six rounds recently.

God, I hate that. It makes me feel stupid, because now I’ve had to share a mutually embarrassing situation with a complete stranger that I didn’t want anything to do with in the first place. Especially if I’m in a rush, I’ll come dangerously close to invading the other person’s personal space, as if we went from anonymous individuals on a path to bizarre dance partners suddenly.

I’ve come to realize that there’s no good word that exists to describes this concept. This is odd to me, because I can guarantee that even Socrates contemplated it at some point. Fortunately, there’s Urban Dictionary, which covers pretty much any concept you can think of with user-suggested terminology and definitions. Let’s explore the candidates:

  • Awkward Dance (10 thumbs up)
  • Blisterfeld (1 up, 7 down, -6 total)
  • Dezing (8 thumbs up)
  • Eldon (11 up, 16 down, -5 total)
  • Florange (8 up, 8 down, 0 total)
  • Indicisajig (9 thumbs up)
  • Palabnob (2 thumbs up)
  • Same-stepping (6 thumbs up)
  • Sidewalk Boogie (3 thumbs up)
  • Stranger Dancing (3 thumbs up)
  • Supermarket Shuffle (7 thumbs up)
  • Walkenshloffen (92 up, 1 down, 91 total)

With twelve entries, we clearly need to settle on a word. And as further proof that this concept is in dire need of naming, I’ll bet that you’ve never heard any of these terms before. What we need is a name that is descriptive of the occurrence, but emphasizes the side-to-side motion or the similarity to dancing. Right away I’ll have to eliminate the most nonsensical terms. This leaves us with:

  • Awkward Dance
  • Indicisajig
  • Same-stepping
  • Sidewalk Boogie
  • Stranger Dancing
  • Supermarket Shuffle
  • Walkenshloffen

I’m keeping the last one because it’s partially descriptive and wholly embraced by the Urban Dictionary community (also known as 13-year-olds.) Some of these, though, could still be misconstrued to mean other things. “Sidewalk Boogie,” for example, could indicate some sort of spontaneous public dancing; “Stranger Dancing” and “Supermarket Shuffle” both conjure similar imagery. “Awkward Dance” is something that I do anywhere, any time I attempt to dance. We’ll have to cut all of these. This means our finalists are:

  • Indicisajig
  • Same-stepping
  • Walkenshloffen

Indicisajig is a decent term; it describes the confusion of the situation while mocking its dance-like quality. It’s a weird mashup, but we’ve seen weirder words make it into the Oxford Dictionary recently. However, I don’t quite think it’ll catch on. Maybe as a slang term.

Same-stepping is my favorite choice, but clearly not the UD community’s. It’s an evolution of the term you would use if you were the only one to get out of the way (you would “side-step” the person coming at you) and it therefore makes a lot of sense. Calling it “stepping” is also a good way to tie in the dance aspect as well.

Walkenshloffen is pretty much a nonsense word, though it sounds German. However, even if “shloffen” was a German word, “walken” means “to tumble,” so the term doesn’t make any sense in that regard. I think if you were saying “Man, I just walkenshloffed with someone in the hallway,” no one would know what you were saying. But there’s some merit to this term getting more than eight times the votes of the second place term on UD!

What do you think? I feel like we could end up saying “Man, I hate side-stepping with people at the mall.” It’d be a lot better than saying “I just did that thing where you try to pass someone while walking toward them but they go the same direction as you and then you both go the same direction again, and then—you know what I’m talking about? Never mind.”

Feel free to choose from any of the above, or submit your own.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Snapbucket Quietly Enters the Photo App Pool

I don’t really want to share my photos with anyone. I take a crapload of photos but I rarely take one that I think is worth making anyone else look at. This is awkward for me, working for a tech company, having a degree in social journalism, and living during the War of the Photo-Sharing Apps.


When I was getting my degree, I had to set up an account with a photo-sharing website to post my stupid photo essays that I produced for my digital media and photojournalism classes. This was 2008, and smart phones barely existed. There was no Hipstagram, no Twitterypic, no ColorPath. If we took pictures with our phones, they were at 1.5 MP, they might get posted to Facebook, but in general we’d just forget about them and move on.

Anyway, I held my hand over my eyes and pointed to a random photo site on the Internet. My finger landed on Photobucket, so up the photos went. In later classes, I posted these photos there as well. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Enter the era of mobile photography, where phrases like “Shot entirely on an iPhone” and “tilt shift” became signals of the smartphone elite. Retro photography made another comeback, but instead of having to spend a bunch of time and money buying and developing film, photo apps shot up all over the place that would filter your crisp 3.0+ MP photo to look stylized, classic, and/or old. Of course, lots of people liked it. I appreciate the anachronism to a certain degree, but the market has become over-saturated, unfortunately.

We’re living in a time in which a thousand photo apps are fighting for staying power, a battle which will weed out the weak or unusable, leaving behind a few strong competitors. To be eligible in this game, you need to have an app that’s been around for a long time, or, failing that, is unique in some way or has a really strong marketing campaign. This battle has been going on for over a year now. Suddenly, I get this semi-broken email from Photobucket:


Aw snap! It’s here! My one and only photo editing app. Snapbucket allows me to snap a picture, edit it, and share with friends. But here’s the kicker: You can do all of this—wait for it—from your mobile phone! Hey, it’s the easiest way to style a picture YOUR way and share it with Photobucket. But guess what? You can also post to Facebook and Twitter too.

All my problems have been solved. I’ve never seen anything like this before! You’re saying that I can take a picture with my mobile phone, style it right there on my phone, and then share it—directly from my phone? Why, this is a revolution!

It’s an easy three-step process, really. First, snap a picture of your dog in excellent lighting with accurate colors and crisp clarity. Now, choose a filter, such as this one that makes it look like a nuclear blast is right behind you. Now, share it! Everyone can see your excellent picture balanced improperly with way too much red hue. Photobucket for life!

So let’s see if this new app satisfies any of my proposed requirements for having a fighting chance in the photo app war.
  • Early in the game: Nope, it’s June 2011. There’s already a thousand photo apps out there, so this one’s officially a latecomer.
  • Unique: Well, it allows you to apply a preset filter and share it via social networks. This is more of a base requirement than a groundbreaking feature. Snapbucket’s going to need to do stand out in some way if it wants to stick around.
  • Strong marketing campaign: Well, this is the first time I’ve heard of it, so maybe there’s more coming. However, this email is a pretty significant failure. First of all, this spam relies heavily on images to sell the product, which is a problem for me and Gmail, since images aren’t displayed by default. As a result, this is what their email looked like when I first opened it:

I don’t even know what’s happening there! Normally I would skip this altogether as clearly spam, but I’m interested in the progress of the photo app war, so I chose to display the images, getting the email shown earlier. As you can see, the image is broken into chunks, exaggerated by the borders around each clickable section of the email since they forgot to remove link borders. Here’s a sample of the code from this email—specifically, the code to show the top image with the “Snapbucket” logo:

<img style="display: block;" src="http://pic.pbsrc.com/landing/snapbucket/email_images.v2/row1.jpg" alt="Snapbucket">

Fixing this issue would have just involved placing the line “border: 0;” after “block;” which they would have realized if they had tested the email before sending it. So far, the marketing campaign is off to a rocky start! Here’s what the same email looks like after I fixed all the image link borders:


My guess is that Photobucket’s not trying to make a big splash in the photo app market. This is more of an obligatory app they whipped together so they won’t fall behind in the social media market. They’re hoping you’ll use their app to post your photos to their website instead of sending it somewhere else. The filters are just a way to appear to fit in with the current photo app scene. And if you choose to share to Facebook or Twitter, it’ll append “Snapbucket” onto your message, which translates into free advertising for the company.

It’s a smart move for a company that doesn’t want to become obsolete, but it’s not going to be the one that sticks around. They’ll need to make Super Snapbucket if they really want to be taken seriously.