Friday Night is for Fighting

…or something

What I’m Watching
I took Helen and Millie to Bemidji State’s home opener for football tonight; Millie was a champ and had a blast. We stayed through the first quarter and then left to go have dinner at Burger King. I was really surprised we got a full quarter in; I thought Millie might lose it or just run around and be crazy to the point where I would just want to get her out of there far sooner. But, she was awesome. BSU was ahead 13-0 when we left (the last play we saw was them missing a PAT after their second touchdown), but they needed a touchdown in the last minute to overcome a 16-point fourth-quarter rally from Upper Iowa to win 25-23. Even with that TD, UIU blew a snap on a last-second field goal attempt that would’ve won it. Ah, Division II football and its agonizingly unreliable kicking game.

What I’m Reading
I started reading Nathan Yau’s Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization and Statistics tonight; I’ve been fascinated by data visualization for a long time, but have never taken the time to learn much about it. I learned about Yau’s website, FlowingData, a few months ago and have been following it since then. I’ve been tempted by the book for some time, and finally picked it up when I had to drop a ridiculous amount of money on books for graduate school anyway. I read the first chapter, and then was inspired to throw together this down and dirty comparison graph:

The numbers are a complete fabrication (although that final number of 600 figures at age 40 is probably not that far off), but the story the graphs tell is true — I got my first G.I. Joe toys at age 10 in 1982, and bought them through elementary and junior high school (and to a lesser extent into high school). As I was a kid, and G.I. Joe toys were for yard wars, guns and other accessories vanished as a matter of practice. I quit buying stuff for a long time, and picked up collecting again when the Spy Troops line was released in 2002 — toy collecting + grownup income = huge spike in size of collection. But, that spike also went hand-in-hand with accessory storage solutions — so while the size of my collection skyrocketed, the number of lost accessories over time flattened considerably.

The data tells a story. I absolutely love this stuff. Part of the reason I wanted to get this book was to try and learn some more about this so I can look for ways to apply data visualization at work. There are a lot of applications for this — particularly with enrollment data — and I’d love to find the time to appropriately dig into it and visualize some of our trends.

What Else I’m Reading
Nothing, really. I think I’ve got four or five weeks of G.I. Joe comics piled up in my inbox on the bedroom bookcase that I haven’t read yet. I just haven’t taken the time to read them; work’s been amazingly busy, and I just haven’t bothered with them. A three-day weekend seems like as good a time as any to catch up…

Mountain Lion progress

Exchange support on my MacBook Pro to use work email has been an adventure for the last year or so. Exchange support in 10.7 Lion was a disaster; it would take Mail.app at least 30 minutes most mornings to connect to the server and get my mail updated for the morning, and I consistently encountered message flag errors that caused freezes that necessitated force-quitting and restarting Mail.

MacOS 10.8 Mountain Lion this summer fixed the freezes associated with Mail.app changing flags on messages, but a new problem was introduced — I was entirely unable to check my email from home. It wasn’t a server issue — I could check my account perfectly fine using a webmail interface or by using Outlook, but Mail.app refused to connect to the account from my house.

10.8.1 came out this week, and that problem is now solved as well. That really cleans up my major gripes with MacOS lately — and, really, that wouldn’t have mattered much either if BSU wouldn’t have switched to Exchange. 🙂

My only other current annoyance has to do with iCloud and how it handles documents. I’ve been using Pages to write news release drafts and saving them into iCloud. If I open a document and wait a bit to save it, I end up with “Untitled.pages” documents on iCloud that aren’t deleted automatically when I finally save the document and assign it a filename. So a couple of times a week I go into iCloud and delete a bunch of stuff that looks like “Untitled 2.pages.”

Still, even with that minor gripe, so far I’m enjoying Mountain Lion very much.

Twitter stupidity in Kentucky

BANNED!
At the Chronicle of Higher Education today, there’s a story about the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville instituting new Twitter policies for student-athletes that include banned-word lists — hundreds of words and phrases that student-athletes are forbidden from using in Tweets.

This is the worst possible way to teach student-athletes how to appropriately use Twitter. First, it assumes that the people making the “banned word list” are savvy enough about the community they’re spying on to have every naughty keyword covered. This will never happen; the community will always be ahead of the censors. Always. Second, the lists are both overly broad; Kentucky’s list includes “fight,” which is a kick in the teeth to any Wildcat student-athlete who’s a gamer and wants to talk about boss fights. Louisville’s list includes brand names for alcoholic beverages, which for student athletes who are of legal drinking age means they’re banned from mentioning products they’re legally able to consume. Third, the only thing this really achieves is to force student-athletes into creating their own slang, or just using other terms, to talk about whatever is banned. Finally, it’ll likely just cause student-athletes to have a profile that administrators know about and track, and a “real” profile where they actually communicate with their friends, free of these absurd banned-word lists.

Also, imagine the nightmare it will be for the compliance staffs at both institutions to parse every single tweet coming from student athletes. It would be great if the athletes would pool together for one week and flood these two compliance offices with tens and tens of thousands of tweets, and simply overwhelm the office’s ability to keep track of them all.

By putting these policies in place, neither Kentucky nor Louisville are ultimately solving the problem they think they need to be solving. Instead of this approach, both departments should be using Twitter as a vehicle to teach their students about the power of these tools in a social, instant-communication world; this aspect of communicating in a modern, global society is not going to change or diminish in importance any time soon. If anything, as time goes on the ability to masterfully use these tools will become more and more important in order to succeed — it’s akin to what email was 20 years ago.

Both Kentucky and Louisville are institutions of higher learning. They should be taking advantage of this opportunity to be teaching ways to effectively communicate on Twitter rather than cracking down on the words student-athletes are allowed to say in order to make things easier on their administration. Because that’s what this is really about — these schools are cracking down on kids as part of some misguided effort to manage the workload for their compliance staff.

What these schools should be doing is running mandatory education sessions, where it is made it perfectly clear that despite the fact that student-athletes may primarily use these tools to talk with their friends, their stature as Division I athletes at high-profile institutions means the public is watching them in that arena. Then give them media training and teach them how to communicate, and teach them how to use the tools to ultimately build their personal fan bases and, therefore, the fan bases for their home athletic departments. Then, everybody wins.

What Kentucky and Louisville are doing here ultimately benefits no one.

 

 

ParaNorman

What I’m Watching
I took Helen to see ParaNorman this afternoon and was completely blown away by it.

The trailers looked interesting, but really only gave up the movie’s basic premise — the title character, Norman, can talk to the dead. And having seen Studio Laika’s previous film, Coraline, done in the same style — 100% hand-built, constructed objects and sets filmed entirely in stop-motion — and absolutely loving it, ParaNorman was on my “to watch” list simply because I was interested in sitting through another movie that looked like Coraline.

Coraline is one of my favorite movies; it’s a beautiful movie to look at, and knowing that every single thing you see on screen is an actual constructed object makes it that much more fun to take in. Neil Gaiman’s story is very good, as well — a girl who feels alone after being moved to a distant place by her relocated parents and then feels shut out as they don’t seem to have time for her discovers a parallel universe populated by Other Versions of the people around her that may be real or may exist entirely in her imagination. It’s a fantastic movie — I bought the BluRay the day it was released and have watched it repeatedly.

ParaNorman is a similar film to Coraline in many respects, visually, obviously, and thematically. But what the trailers don’t show is how incredibly dark this film is. It’s hinted that it’s in the vein of “kid talks to the dead; fun hijinx ensue,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a parable about the dangers of joining in with a crowd that is reacting to something unknown out of fear, and, similar Coraline, has a misunderstood kid as the protagonist. But, due to his talent for speaking with the dead, ParaNorman‘s Norman is a complete outcast from society — friendless, and not fitting even in his own family. The first five minutes or so of the film, which establish Norman’s character and introduce us to his family, are downright sad. When the film delivers the key moment in that scene, it’s gut-wrenching, and you immediately realize how difficult it must be to be Norman.

During the adventure that follows once the premise is established, the film uses the corpse of Norman’s dead uncle and a neatly bisected dog as comic relief, which should be all the indication you need of what I meant earlier when I called this a dark movie. Bullies, Norman’s cheerleader sister, a friend or two and, eventually, zombies, join the story, and we’re off on an incredibly satisfying journey.

That adventure leads to a spectacular conclusion, made even moreso when you realize that everything on screen is hand-built and there aren’t any special effects or computer imagery used to jazz up the scene. The settings are amazingly intricate, with incredibly diverse and detailed backgrounds, and there are brilliant smoke effects. Finally, without giving anything away, the film’s antagonist is downright terrifying. One of the great moments in Coraline was in the conclusion when it got tense and the Other Mother turned into the spider to pursue Coraline through the alternate universe. There’s no character transformation here, but everything about the antagonist is legitimately scary — how it moves, how it sounds, how it looks. First, it’s a fantastic achievement in character design, and second, all of the elements that have to work together to make it a terrifying on-screen creation all work. They just work.

This isn’t one of those movies-for-kids that throws in references to Thundercats and the Atari 2600 and has double entendres scattered throughout at just the right intervals to make sure the grownups who brought their kids stay interested. This is a movie for grownups, with messages about the consequences of dismissing things you don’t understand — particularly when those things revolve around your children — and the dangers of the herd mentality. It’s an adult movie that’s acceptable to bring your children to.

 

I can’t possibly recommend this movie highly enough. It seems like one of those movies that’s going to be here-and-gone in the theaters pretty quickly, so if you’ve given this film any thought at all — and, really, even if you haven’t — get to the theaters and see it. ParaNorman is a movie that deserves to be seen.

 

Hm.

I’ve had this post window open for about an hour now, and haven’t started anything.

What I’m Watching
The Syfy show “Alphas” is up on Netflix. I always meant to get into this show, but for some reason didn’t manage to do it. Just got done watching the first episode; it’s a super-hero show without being a super-hero show, which is kindof a cool concept. We’ll see how far I get into the first season before I’m inevitably distracted by other stuff.

What I’m Drawing
I finished up the fourth and fifth postcards in my Facebook project (which, on a review of who contacted me and said they wanted one, is now up to 32 postcards) to draw something on a 5×7 postcard and mail it to a friend. Both of them were incredibly well-received, which makes me happy. I started working on the sixth one tonight; it’s the first of them so far where I’m working on an original drawing and not trying simply to copy something that another artist produced originally. It’s been a good test of how I see things, even in the early stages of the layout and pencils that I’m in now, which has been fun. I’m using a reference photo to establish the perspective of the object I’m drawing, and then a second reference photo to draw the object (but at a dramatically different angle). I’m sure I’m not doing the perspective correctly; perspective is like a lot of things in my drawing in that I completely understand the concept in my head and know how it works, but I haven’t done the work to know how to properly put that on paper. So this is really good practice for me — and, really, beyond just wanting to do something fun for my friends, finding ways to practice and get better was one of the main reasons I wanted to do this postcard project in the first place.

Wrapping Up
I’m beyond thrilled that tomorrow is Friday; it has been an incredibly long week at work, mostly from a meeting-hell standpoint. Next week is going to be worse, by a significant margin, so I’m hoping for a nice, relaxing weekend. However, it’s increasingly looking like the weekend may well be spent installing a new floor in our kitchen — the old floor was torn out on a total whim by Melissa on Tuesday, and we still have no plan for what to do to replace it, so it’s plywood subfloor central in there right now.

Conversations with a Two-Year-Old

Millie, jumping into my lap in frightened fashion: “Something is going to get me.”
Me: “What is going to get you?”
Millie: “Vampires is going to get me.”
Me: “What?”
Millie: “Vampires get me. They bite me.”
Me: “Really? Where are they going to bite you?”
Millie: “On my head.”
Me: “Where did you learn about vampires?”
Millie: “I play vampires with sissy.”

I have the coolest freaking kids…

Klout changed again

Klout algorithms updated
Klout changed again; it’s using an amended scoring algorithm and is rolling out  new website features slowly over time (and, of course, will roll them out to you faster if you troll for users for them — 10 users gets you “priority access.”). My score changed with the new algorithm, increasing by about three points — I had been hovering in the 57 range, and now I’m sitting at 61 (and, according to them, have been as high as 62). Each of the last two times they’ve adjusted their algorithm, my score has increased.

I still don’t know what I think about the Klout score. Part of the new website features they’re rolling out supposedly includes a “moments” engine that shows how specific activity affects your score, and that’ll be interesting to see.  Measuring influence seems to be a difficult proposition, and to its credit Klout acknowledges this. But, as of right now, Klout claims I’m more influential online than writer Ron Marz — which just seems patently ridiculous to me.

Also, the new scoring algorithm still does not seem to be counting any influence from Facebook pages. I have Klout set up for Bemidji State‘s social presence as well; BSU’s score is 47 today, and it’s 100% derived from Twitter — even though the Facebook page I maintain for BSU is a) appropriately connected to Klout, according to everything available to me to check there, and b) has nearly 8,000 fans, had a post today that is pushing 200 likes, and had weekly reach that was just under 40,000 during our coverage of the Bemidji storm in July. And yet this is having no impact whatsoever on the score. Whether this is a Klout issue or a Facebook issue is unclear to me and, frankly, at this point I’m not sure I care. It just strikes me as another checkmark in the “no” column when asking “should I really care about Klout scores?”

I pay attention to what Klout is doing because, as someone who has social media as a significant portion of my job responsibilities, I feel like I have to. But it’s increasingly difficult to treat it as much more than a curiosity. It’s certainly difficult, at this point in time anyway, to consider treating it as something to be taken at all seriously.

Finally, my “style” changed from Specialist to Broadcaster with today’s update as well. I’d be very curious to get more information about how they assign you to the categories; perhaps that’s coming in the new website tools as well.

Helen’s Big Adventure, etc.

Helen’s Big Adventure
Helen had quite the afternoon adventure. Here’s the background. Melissa lined up our go-to babysitter to keep an eye on Millie this afternoon so she could go to school and do some prep work for fall startup. Helen was at Mel’s parents’ house making cookies that she wants to have for a bake sale when we get around to doing our garage sale. Due to the sitter, Mel and I had made arrangements to just meet for dinner, the two of us, after she was done at school. So, Mel is out; Helen’s at the in-laws; sitter had Millie; I figured I’d just take an opportunity to work late and just leave from the office to have dinner with Mel.

Sitter shows up at the house, and Millie wanted to go to the park — so sitter took her to the park. At 3:45 or so, Mel’s dad needed to go downtown for something, so he decided to just bring Helen home on his way downtown. He saw the sitter’s car in the driveway, figured somebody was home, dropped Helen off, and went to his meeting. Only, as you’ll recall, Mel’s at school, I’m at work, and the sitter has taken Millie to the park. We have a Home Alone situation.

So what does Helen do? She walked three blocks to Dave’s Pizza and asked one of the workers in there if she could get a ride to her grandma’s house (which is only another 3/4 of a mile, tops, down the road). She said she thought about just walking all the way back to her grandma’s, but “since Dave’s was open, I just thought I’d see if somebody in there would give me a ride.” Besides, she said she ran all the way to the pizza place and she was tired.

There are so many ways this could have gone horribly, horribly wrong, but in the end everything worked out just fine. Somebody drove Helen to the in-laws, and all’s right in the world. “If that ever happens again, kiddo, just stay here,” I told her.

Sheesh.

First day of high school
Megan started high school today; I’m simultaneously proud and completely dismayed to be the parent of a high school freshman. She posted a picture of herself on Facebook this morning, which is as close as I get to sharing in the “first day of school” excitement these days, but it was great to see. Should call her to see how things went; she claimed to not be remotely nervous. I’m sure she rocked it.

Work
I took last week off work; it seemed like the last opportunity to snag a week off for a good long time, and I was probably right. But as a result, I’m completely avalanched by stuff to do right now. I just have an enormous list of projects to get done, but for the last few days I’ve been at work I’ve felt more productive than I have in years. My job feels different than it did at this same time last year — which is a good thing. I’ve got a basically overwhelming volume of things to get done, but in spite of that work is *fun*. I kinda like feeling that way again.

TBM OMG
The Birthday Massacre kicks off a tour this fall to support their new LP, “Hide and Seek.” They’re going to be at the Miramar Theater in Milwaukee on Nov. 3 and at Station 4 in St. Paul on Nov. 6. I would really, really love to find some way to get to one of those two shows; they’re the only two that are remotely near here. Just for work reasons and the fact that the St. Paul show is on a Tuesday (and since Melissa’s going to Madonna in St. Paul on the 5th), that Milwaukee date is awfully tempting… Tickets are only $19.50, but it’s like a 550-mile drive. It’d be so fun though…

TBM has been one of my favorite bands for a really long time. I discovered them on MP3.com back in the fall of 2001; I was in the middle of Badness that would eventually turn into a divorce, and I spent a lot of time on that website looking for music that fit my mood at the time — equal parts sad and enraged. I found a bunch of bands there – Evanescence, just before they hit it big and got two singles on the “Daredevil” soundtrack, which in turn led to them eventually selling 7.6 million copies of “Fallen”; Tapping the Vein, a band from Philadelphia that I still totally love, although they haven’t put out nearly enough stuff; Jack Off Jill, which was just a fantastic, loud band (I also really liked the band that spun out of JoJ, Scarling.); and a bunch of others with names like Collide and KidneyThieves. In many instances, the decision process that led to downloading the music didn’t go much beyond this: load band page, see picture of band, think “hey, the lead vocalist is hot,” download songs.

In spite of the totally BS way I found some of those bands, and considering that I downloaded a lot of really horrible music, I actually still listen to quite a bit of the stuff that I found digging around on that website more than a decade ago now. But one band — The Birthday Massacre, this little band from Toronto that wasn’t even signed to a label and was getting the word out by giving its music away for free online — really resonated with me. I can’t even really explain why. I just listened to their stuff and something in my brain said “yep.”  What they did just worked for me. Sometimes I’d feel like garbage, and I’d listen to them and the music would make me feel better — which was exactly what I needed. Sometimes I’d be in a great mood and I’d listen to their music and it’d make me feel even better — which was a great bonus. Sometimes I’d feel like garbage and I’d listen to them and the music would make me feel worse — which was exactly what I wanted. It just worked for me. At one point I even signed up for their message board and posted a couple of things there.

TBM eventually got their record deal, and they’ve put out five LPs, an EP and a live record so far. Their most-recent LP, “Pins and Needles,” came out in September of 2010. I bought it on the day it came out, as I have with all of their stuff since they got signed, started listening to it, and pretty much have never stopped. I listened to it on a loop at work for weeks after it came out – I got up to several hundred plays of every song before I even gave much thought to listening to other stuff on my playlist. There’s never been an album like that for me, and I have listened to tons and tons and tons of music in my life. The 11 tracks on that album are the top 11 songs on my “25 most played” list in iTunes. It was on my iPod, and I listened to a few minutes of it every day on the way to and from work; when I got my iPhone I put it on there and did the same thing. It’s what I listen to on road trips. It’s what I listen to at work. I’ve listened to them so much that Helen loves them now, which is pretty much the coolest thing ever.

So while I don’t consider myself in the same sort of category as the “OMG UR MUSIC CHANGED MY LIFE” message board commenters, I’ve gotta say that listening to this band helped me feel better during a time in my life that I really, really needed to feel better. And even today, their music just works for me. They’ve got a new CD coming out in October, and I’m pretty sure whatever it is they put on that album will work for me, too.

Getting a chance to see TBM live would be fantastic.

Ugh

The last few weeks have been really, really busy. I’ve been out of town five times since mid-July — a shopping day trip to Grand Forks (about a 220-mile round trip); a shopping day trip to St. Cloud (close to 300 miles round trip); a one-day round trip to Albert Lea (about a 625-mile round trip); a second trip to St. Cloud for work; and a day trip to Fargo (also close to 300 miles round trip). Tomorrow, I’ll spend another five hours or so in the car as we head out of town for a long weekend and a much-needed getaway.

What I’m Reading
Picked up three comics today — nothing from my meager pull list, but a few things I wanted to check out. People have been raving about this week’s Hawkeye #1, so I picked that up; I grabbed Captain Marvel #1 which is one or two weeks old at this point; and I also grabbed Batman Inc. #1 which is from last week, maybe. Plus, I still have Saga #5 sitting on my iPad that I haven’t read yet. And, I’m three issues behind on my G.I. Joe reviews for The Terrordrome.

With the Batman Inc. thing, I keep wanting to give Grant Morrison opportunities to impress me.  I really liked the first story arc of the last Batman, Inc. book, but didn’t keep up with that series at all. I quit on Morrison’s Action Comics after about seven issues because I just wasn’t hooked, and didn’t feel like continuing to spend money on the book every month. He’s getting another chance with this new Batman, Inc., title.

I’m also still struggling to make progress in A Game of Thrones. I keep hearing about how amazing this book is, and I just can’t get into it. Part of it has to do with me being father to a 14-year-old girl, and having the character Daenerys Targaryen be only 13 and treated the way she is. From a story perspective, it seems entirely unnecessary that she be 13, so it just seems like Martin being really creepy. The HBO show exacerbates this; I’ve only watched the first two episodes and haven’t wanted to go much farther because I can’t get “Dude, she’s supposed to be 13 in the books” out of my head.

Plus, as with the show, in the book the only interesting character is Tyrion Lannister and he’s mostly a sidebar.

“It gets better after about 350 pages!” But you’re assuming I’m going to tolerate it for that long…

What’s Up at Work
I started using a new toy we bought tonight, a media contact search and social media publishing tool suite from Cision. We are using the media list-building and release distribution tools, and also their Social Publish platform. I had a small story to release tonight, and used it as a testbed for both tools. The social publish tool is pretty cool; scheduling the post’s specific release time is not at all intuitive, but the process for entering the story into the system is really easy. Twitter posted immediately, but there was a slight delay to Facebook (“slight” meaning maybe a minute, and I think that has more to do with how often Facebook parses external sources for post updates than it does with anything coming from Cision); but it posted as well with one minor issue — due to user error, I was stuck with a default “powered by Cision” graphic as the post thumbnail on Facebook rather than our logo.

During our Cision demo, which has now been well over a month ago, my first impression was that the UI for the Social Publish tool was exactly what I wished I had for BSU Today. The only thing Social Publish really adds is the built-in ability to post directly to Facebook and Twitter from within the post UI. This is somewhat counteracted by the fact that the Twitter and Facebook posts are the same — which means the information I post about a story on Facebook is artificially limited by Twitter’s character limit. We’ll have to see how often that even matters. MailChimp’s Social Broadcasting plug-in for WordPress does a better job of this; it allows for wholly separate and unique posts to Twitter and Facebook, allowing Facebook to be more detailed. Now that I think about it, we could probably use this plug-in to add this exact functionality to BSU Today…
Also, using Social Publish drives traffic away from BSU Today, and removes our ability to use Facebook and Twitter to publicize content on BSU Today that also is on social publish without double-posting. This is something I am definitely going to be mindful of.
For the traditional media release tool, building a single-city-specific media list to distribute the release there was painless. It took a few seconds; the media lists Cision generates are actually far more comprehensive than I’d ever need. Their database lists every contact at a particular outlet, so to get the four people I needed to send to in that city, I had to sort through a list of about 15 people. But, I could save the list of four after I created it, so that’s a one-time speedbump. Developing lists for larger communities — say, a distribution list to Minneapolis/St. Paul-area media — would obviously take a lot more time and effort.
One other twist to traditional-media releasing that I did not recall from our product demo was the “points” budget we are given to spend on distributing releases. We started with 5,000 points, and sending to the three contacts in Brainerd cost us three of those points. I’ll have to explore how often the point total will reset.
There are some other minor stumbling blocks — the Cision system has what look to be some useful project management tools for media releases, but as we only have a single-user account with one login, they are essentially useless to us (which is too bad; I’d have definitely been interested in exploring that).
Tonight was just the first step in a far-broader effort to integrate this tool into my workflow, really. But, I’d have to say the first experiment was pretty successful.
What I’m Watching
The more I think about “The Dark Knight Rises,” the more I get why there are people who really, really don’t like it. I still contend that the plot holes and plot ridiculousness and things that just flat-out don’t make sense were not remotely enough to derail my ability to sit in the theater and absolutely adore this movie. But I may be wavering on my initial statement that it’s the best of the three — that seems to be a case of just being caught up in that initial infatuation for something awesome. On repeated viewings it may not ultimately stack up all that well against “The Dark Knight,” but I still think “Rises” is an absolutely fantastic movie.
All for now. I’m through summer school and now have that distraction gone from my brain, so I’m hoping to be back here posting more.