Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tweet Then Retreat?

We've all done it - signed up for something, tried it a few times, and then promptly moved on to the next thing. Danny over at Digital Dirt would probably agree that this only adds to our online trail, but beyond that, we can also be seriously skewing numbers for social media services like Twitter.

Nielson Online released a report yesterday that said that "currently, more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month, making them 'Twitter Quitters.'" I kind of love that they coined that term, even though it has some serious implications for one of my new favorite social media tools. This is a huge number of people opening accounts and not returning regularly, and even though total number of users are largely unknown (I have seen estimates from 5 million to 19 after the big celebrity showdowns of the last few weeks) the service is still trying to attract marketers and generate revenue, both of which could be seriously compromised if it looks like the lights are on, but nobodies home.

When compared to Facebook and MySpace when they were growing their audiences, Twitter's retention rate numbers look even more woeful:

I am still pretty optimistic though, so don't fret my tweeps - Twitter, in my opinion, is an entirely different animal. While many join to see what its all about, they lose interest when there is no one there to talk to. As more and more people join, those who lost interest will probably give it another go.

As I've mentioned, I joined in order to communicate with a group, and that is what kept me going. Now that friends, colleagues and fun celebrities are in the mix, I am fairly addicted. So no worries, Twitter, they'll come back...they always do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Social Media and Women

Chicks Who Click began hosting conferences earlier this year for media and tech-savvy women around the country. Their first conference was held in Boulder, Colorado in January and sounds like it was a pleasant mix of skiing and mingling of the minds.

The organization seems intent on forming a community through social media (hmm, haven't heard that before!) but focuses on empowering women to create, connect and collaborate. They host work shops, have guest speakers and encourage women to network at their events. What a great idea, and a nice way to gain access to attendees and speakers who are already successful in the field, looking to give back or mentor others.

The next event is scheduled for May 15 and 16 in Kansas City, but other upcoming conferences will be held in Dallas, San Jose and Raleigh. Hopefully at some point they will come a little closer to me, but it would be fun to see a new city while attending one of their conferences.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Real Beauty is SO Last Year

Nobody is perfect, least of all me, but when you build an entire campaign around "freeing women from beauty stereotypes" one year, should you really partner with a television show that celebrates scantily-clad, underage New York society girls the next? Well, Dove seems to be doing just that with their new "Dove Go Fresh presents Gossip Girl: real NYC stories revealed" campaign. For the next four Mondays (including tonight) they will air commercials in-between Gossip Girl show breaks featuring real New York women and their inspiring stories.

Granted, Gossip Girl is popular with women (though I can admit it is ridiculous, I haven't missed an episode), but I just don't know that featuring real women and their successes (a fashion designer, a couture wedding gown designer, a filmmaker and an "It Girl"/style director for Nylon Magazine) will break through to viewers intent on seeing who Chuck Bass beds this week. Plus, the women featured, with the exception of the filmmaker, all work in the fashion industry, which happens to be one of the industries Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has charged with giving women negative body issues. Interesting choices. How about a teacher, an aid worker or even the head of a (non-fashion) company? Didn't tie into the show as well, I guess.

So my conclusion here is that Dove saw the opportunity to address their target audience, young women, and diluted their positive message an eensy bit in order to sell some deodorant. I mean, these are still inspiring successful women, right? They made it in the cut-throat fashion world, started their own bridal lines, wrote and produced their own films and became style mavens. I am sure the Blair Waldorfs and Serena Van Der Woodsens out there would applaud them. That is, before they decided to crush them for standing in their way.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Crafty Community

There are so many online communities cropping up these days that the average person (with a job) will likely have to pick one that is most important to him or her and just participate peripherally elsewhere. I, on the other hand, participate peripherally everywhere, so I wonder how meaningful my interactions really are or what I am missing out on. One thing is for certain, I have been missing out on Etsy.

Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade items where anyone with internet access and a desire to craft can put out a shingle and instantly be in business. Growing up, these were the fun stores to go into because you could always expect something new or different. More often than not these days, craft businesses can't survive against big national chains, so sellers have been retreating to flea markets, craft fairs and swap meets. Now they have a new outlet, with even greater potential for reaching their customers.

Here is a video that gives you a great perspective on what Etsy is all about:

Etsy truly promotes community by creating a place for direct contact and interaction between buyers and sellers. This also allows for collaboration and customization. How often do you want an item, but you just can't find the exact right thing? I guarantee there is an artisan on Etsy that can help you out. There are also blogs, forums and chat features to keep everyone talking and sharing.

Surprisingly, Etsy has also become a new way of passing down crafting techniques from generation to generation. While this practice often occurred within families, it now happens through community, through Etsy's videos (they have how-to's and Virtual Labs on the site, but they also have a dedicated YouTube channel) and where possible, physical Etsy Labs where craftsmen can learn their trades.

If you haven't been there yet, you should definitely check it out. One day, when I have free time once again (sigh) I will definitely be there as well. I used to be a pretty mean knitter.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mother's Day...don't forget!

I am usually pretty good when it comes to remembering birthdays and holidays (especially now that I have Outlook, Facebook and my iPhone calendar to remind me) but lately I needn't worry. Retailers, practically screaming these days for my attention, have been making helpful suggestions as to what I can give for every little (Hallmark) holiday from Secretary's to Mother's Days. Now I love my mother, but isn't there a better way for me to show it than spending money I don't have on a gadget she likely doesn't really want?

Case in point: The Flip MinoHD is totally covetable, but not only would my mother lose it because it is so tiny, it has a $229 price tag! The company has partnered with shopping site, ideeli to offer two lucky winners free ones that feature tricked out designs, but the rest of us will have to shell out if we want one. Perhaps if there is a new baby around, this might be justifed as a more affordable way to record those precious first moments?

Equinox has also been sending me emails for the past week or so with the tag line "Mum's the word. Give her the royal treatment with a spa package specially priced for a limited time only." From my previous post about Equinox, you can probably figure out that this is not an inexpensive option either.

Because we're all worried about the economy these days, most of us will be scaling back our gift-giving over the year, and Mother's Day certainly won't be the exception.

According to the National Retail Federation's latest Consumer Intentions and Actions report 83.3% of adults will be shopping for their moms and spending an average of $123.89 (down from a 2007 high of $139.14). The majority will opt for the holiday clich├ęs: flowers, jewelry and greeting cards, to the tune of $4.84 billion. Other perennial favorites include outings, day spa trips, gift certificates and clothing.

Spending less doesn't mean you can't explore other ways to show mom she is special. How about giving her something completely free, like your time? Spend the day with her, cook for her, help her clean the house, perhaps just ask her what her perfect day would be. Even in flush times, mom might appreciate one of these suggestions as opposed to giving her the same perfume year after year.

So mom, if you are reading this, let's make a date to hang out. We can do what we do best, which is shopping, eating and gossiping. Of course I know better not to send flowers as well...there is no excuse for depriving a woman of flowers on one of the few days a year she gets them.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Universal Appeal

Gap acquired Athleta, a womens sport and active apparel brand last fall. While I have been working out a lot more lately, this new line extension probably wouldn't have caught my attention, save for the fact that last week Athleta became the fifth tab in Gaps "universality" website function. If you go to any of the company's websites, Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime and now Athleta, you are brought to their universal site which enables you to shop from any of the stores using one shopping cart and are charged one flat shipping fee.

While Amazon has been integrating sales from multiple sources for some time, it is really more of a go-between for individuals and other ecommerce stores. Gap has done something a little different with its brands, creating a portal that hopefully engages consumers and incentivizes them to shop multiple stores at once to their benefit. Of course it helps that there is audience overlap for these brands, though their styles and price points may differ somewhat. I wonder if the same concept could be applied to the Urban Outfitters brands, Urban, Free People and Anthropologie - my guess is no. Those brands are more life stage-targeted, though some of their items have a similar aesthetic so there would be some customers who shop at more than one of these stores.

Though I recently swore off online shopping in favor of going to the store, I know I can be easily swayed, so a one-stop shop is certainly pretty enticing.

Equal Opportunity Geekdom

A friend thought it would be funny to send me the link to Wired's Geek Dad blog post called 10 Annoying Habits of a Geeky Spouse. Of course I have a fantastic sense of humor and openly acknowledge that not only am I a bit of a geek (I think I practice geek chic) but I am about to become betrothed to one as well. Still, when I went down the list and saw how we measured up, my inner child, still desirous of being one of the cool kids, died another small death. We are all over this list like its our job or something. Here we go:

1. Punning - Thank goodness this is not us. While I am a fan of Sex and the City (one of the more acceptable, non-geeky shows I've watched) I could never stomach the terrible puns. I prefer to drum up old sayings, idiomatic expressions and obscure words. Nien prefers to opt-out and let me ramble on.

2. Using "frak," or Klingon, or both, instead of regular swear words - This also is a little off the mark, though we did watch every episode of Battlestar Galactica together and have both probably seen many or (more realistically) all Star Trek episodes and movies. I may have used frak jokingly, but never outside my apartment. I can swear like a normal person.

3. Weird or over-the-top ways of celebrating mainstream holidays - Consider us guilty of this one. We love to blow out halloween and are often strategizing mid summer on what we're going to wear. We are also weirdly competitive when it comes to gift-giving. Unless the person tells us it is their favorite or preferred gift we are not satisfied. We even planned out wedding for the summer solstice so our anniversary would be easy to remember.

4. Dissecting movies - Hello? Me? Never! Or should I say ALWAYS. I majored in cinema studies and Nien took some film classes in between computer science and engineering. We are all over this.

5. Wearing obscurely geeky T-shirts to "normal" places - I leave this one entirely to Nien. His favorite is the "I'm a Super Duper Programmer" shirt that I (hope) he recently retired. There are others, but we really don't need to get into it. Oh, except I found this really awesome "T-Qualizer" shirt a few years back that lights up when music is playing. Hmm, wonder why he never wears it?

6. Requiring extra room in the house for geeky things - My cool meter must be rising, because this isn't me either. Nien however, has "projects," multiple computers and toys. I pray for a day when he has an office he can cram it all into.

7. Geeky toys and decorations can be hard to explain to kids - Didn't I just mention toys? There are no kids at this point, but I bet they might question why they can't play with his Christopher Walken King of New York doll or the Leggo Death Star he claims he will have when we make more room. What about the E.T. puzzle we put together and framed? Are we going to have to fight the kiddies for it?

8. Looking up information while a discussion/argument is still in progress - Um, okay, I take issue with this one because, come on, isn't that part of the reason to have an iPhone? Of course, whipping out multiple phones to perform a search is pretty lame, so we should stop doing that.

9. Needing to watch certain TV shows ASAP to avoid spoilers - See aforementioned BSG, but also Lost. What's worse is that we DVR, wait like 10-15 minutes and then begin watching so we can still get through the commercials.

10. Geeky projects that take over the house and whole weekends - Check. This list is a little repetitive, but again we fulfill the requirement.

So there you have, like Geek Dad's Matt Blum and his wife, we also speek fluent geek. The blog, which staff writers seem to take turns writing, is worth checking out, whether you are a parent or not. Recent posts have tackled the SyFy rebranding (someone should be trying to explain that) Tiger Woods' Wii game as well as many more obscure topics that are even too geeky for me. It would be cool to see more Geek Mom posts (they have done a few to be fair) but its understandabke since Wired's readership is much more male skewing.

So, in terms of Nien and I, is there some kind of 12-step program to alleviate all this lameness? We do cool things as well, I swear. Like...hmmm, well, um? Give me a minute to think of something.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Frag Doll Casting Call

Are there any women out there looking to quit their day jobs to devote more time to playing first-person shooter games?

My gaming skillz are pretty terrible, but there are a ton of female gamers out there that could put their male counterparts to shame. Ubisoft, creator of games like Prince of Persia (which I don't play, but really enjoy watching), the Tom Clancy series and Shaun White Snowboarding put together a competitive team of kick-ass female players in 2004 to challenge the male-dominated perception of the genre. They are called Frag Dolls, and from their site, I gather the genesis of the name seems to be the following:

frag /frag/ n. & v. · n. 1 number of kills. 2 a fragmentation grenade. · v. 1 to eliminate other players in multiplayer shooters (fragging).

rag·doll physics /ragdol fiziks/ n. 1 a program allowing videogame characters to react with realistic body and skeletal physics.

frag·doll /fragdol/ n. 1 a female gamer with the skills to dominate in multiplayer shooters. 2 a lady with the sass to use the laws of physics to her incontestable advantage.

Since they came together the ladies have been taking competitions by storm winning awards and major street cred. Lo and behold, they seem to be looking for a new member, but the deadline is tight - applications have to be in tonight by 11:59 pm. Do you have what it takes? Of course that was a rhetorical question, but secretly I am thinking of two women in particular who could probably tear it up. Kiran? Amy?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Manis, Pedis and Pre-teens

I remember sitting with my grandmother when I was a little girl looking at faded old family photos of her generation. The thing that occurs to me about the ladies in those pictures now is that they were all pretty normal to "pleasantly plump" but none were overly skinny or obese. Though she was the baby of the family, her brothers and sisters grew up during the Depression, so I doubt they were concerned with body issues at a time when just being able to afford food was the main priority.

So much has changed in the last 100 years; many things for the better, but of course some things for the worse. Women and body perception is one of those changes for the worse. It used to be that girls could at least enjoy being children before being barraged by fashion magazine images of unattainable beauty in their teen years, but recently initiation into the lifelong body unhappiness club is starting at younger and younger ages.

A recent Newsweek article Generation Diva: How our obsession with beauty is changing our kids, shed light on the issue. Author Jessica Bennett talks about how girls are getting spa treatments and wearing makeup at a much younger age, egged on by reality TV makeover shows, and frankly, by their own mothers. Women obsessed with remaining young and vital by getting plastic surgery or spa treatments are unknowingly passing on those values to their daughters who want to emulate them.

There have been a few voices trying to help young girls, such as Dove through their Campaign for Real Beauty, but when pro-anorexia groups (pro-ana as they call themselves) are defiantly taking their problems to public forums like Facebook and other teen health sites, you've gotta step back and say whoa there, this is a terrible problem that is not getting any better.

How do we help our girls? Short of finding a way to stop reality TV (um, maybe change the channel?), closing glamour magazines (not entirely impossible with the way pubs have been shuttering) and generally asking celebs to not set impossible standards (yeah right), the most plausible solution seems to be a change in the example mothers set for their daughters. The beauty talk should be right up there with the sex talk if girls are going to spend so much time obsessing about it. Plus, how are these girls getting the money for all of these treatments? I don't see a 10 year-old getting a job to support her spa habit, so mom must be funding the whole operation. Say no! That money could put your kid through college - will she really be a social pariah if her eyebrows aren't waxed?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Facebook Draws the Line at Breastfeeding

If Facebook's main purpose is to start conversation, then they do a pretty good job by enraging their members who like to bitch about the site to no end. Facebook is endlessly screwing up their relationship with users by betraying their trust through flaps over their privacy agreement, but they first caught flack for implementing Beacon, a marketing tool that posted a user's third-party purchases on his or her information feed.

Then in 2008 they had to go and aggravate a demographic to be feared - Moms. Facebook has a blanket policy against pornography. That being said, they view images of most fully exposed breasts as pornography. Thus, breastfeeding pictures are clearly porn. Moms were definitely not cool with this kind of logic.

While I appreciate that they are trying to keep it clean (and I sure do know a few users that have probably benefited from a little censoring) it seems a little unfair to peg one of the most natural things a human being can do as "obscene content." Apparently the 230,728 members of the group Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene! (Official petition to Facebook) agree that there is nothing wrong with these pictures and they should not be removed. So far they have staged two worlwide nurse-in events for the Mothers International Lactation Campaign (M.I.L.C.), one in December and one in February.

While I know that America can be amazingly puritanical when compared with other countries, public brestfeeding is allowed, though we aren't all comfortable with it. So Facebook is not even holding public lactation to American standards let along the standards of what is acceptable to the international community they serve. Much has been made of the opportunities Facebook's millions of users might provide for marketing and profit. That ain't gonna happen if they keep pissing everyone off.

Monday, April 20, 2009

You think you know me?

After last class' lecture on privacy I began to think about the type of information we freely post online for the world to see. While I am a little more discreet on Facebook because not all of my friends are people I really know per se, I have been fairly free-wheeling on Twitter since my network is still relatively small there. Of course, anyone can see what I am writing, so I do find myself naturally editing myself a little bit.

Some places that many people probably don't consider personal are their online registries. Many sites nowadays allow you to create lists of things you want so hopefully your family and friends will come and buy them for you. When Amazon added their wishlist function I thought it was going to revolutionize gift-giving, but then after putting a few items on my list I completely forgot about it. This goes for when I am giving gifts as well - it never occurs to me to check out Amazon to find a friend's wishlist. Oh well, another good idea that maybe needs a better awareness campaign? I'm wondering if we will see this feature touted much more during future Amazon purchases, because I notice they now have a "Universal Wishlist" which claims you can add any item from any website. Very interesting.

Now after further thinking, I bet one of these lists is a good way to find out more about what a person is into. That's of course if you know the person's email address or name and they haven't kept it private. Say I was about to go on a job interview, could I find my potential boss' list of gardening books and find a way to weave that topic into the discussion? You know, so she would know we had something in common and would want to work with me. Or what if I went snooping and saw that everything she had "saved to buy herself later" was from the self help section, particularly on the subject of depression. Could I consider it a wishlist cry for help?

While I doubt anything that extreme would come of it, I bet you could make some pretty wrong assumptions about people based on their lists. I just hunted mine down to see what I had thought so worthy of bookmarking back in 2003-05 before I seem to have given up on the whole enterprise. Here's what I found:

Perfecto Presents: Paul Oakenfold - Great Wall

Okay, so you might see this and say, Kim appreciates a good DJ, loves trance and has probably been to a rave or two. Well, maybe in my younger, California days. My buttoned-up preppiness abounds these days, so though this album might give you clues about my past, it certainly doesn't tell you much about my present. Thinking back, I may have even put this aside as a present for Nien. At any rate, this album is not tops on my wishlist right now.

This next one throws me completely:

The Teenage Investor : How to Start Early, Invest Often & Build Wealth
So there I was in January of 2004, browsing on Amazon, and I must have somehow come across this. Using my deductive reasoning, I am going to surmise that since I was working in family programming back then, perhaps we were considering a special on teaching children about finance? That sounds pretty logical to me - please don't think this was for my benefit. While I am no Alan Greenspan (and thank god for that these days) I think I am up to the challenge of learning about investing on a slightly higher level than this.

Now we come to something I probably would like, but am pretty sure I already own:

In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003

On the same day in 2004 when I decided to put aside a book about teens and finance, I guess I did a little shopping for myself as well. So maybe if you knew this you would know that I am all about balancing work and fun? What a good detective you would be if you figured that one out. In this case, I would probably be more inclined to make this purchase, but I know I already did, elsewhere and for less money, so if someone were to get this for me now it would be one of those "Oh, you shouldn't have" moments. I should probably take this out of here.

The last item also makes sense to me and doesn't require a long trail of bread crumbs:

The Disappointment Artist

I had previously read two books by Jonathan Lethem, "Motherless Brooklyn" and "The Fortress of Solitude." It would be fitting for me to want to read another of his books, though I do like to mix it up a bit, so I probably decided to give another author a chance. Reading the Publisher's Weekly blurb makes me realize why I wanted to read this though:

Novelist Lethem's new collection of essays starts with an intriguing, if emotionally distant, consideration of his lifelong relationship with popular culture and develops into a moving memoir that transcends those references altogether.

So I'm going to leave this one will either be a reminder to buy it myself once the grad school seas part and I can enjoy some leisure reading once again, or maybe a good friend will look up my list and buy it for me?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Women of Tribeca

While we already know from a prior post that the hair on the back of my neck goes up when women filmmakers are called out for being women, Tribeca Film Festival at least tries to do it in a more serious way, without the silly fashion angle of the NY Times piece that got my feathers all ruffled. Tribeca Films Senior Programmer, Genna Terranova, interviewed some of the female filmmakers featured in this year's festival, asking them about their inspirations, troubles during filming, the challenges/advantages of being a woman filmmaker, what films inspired them and what they look forward to about the festival.

Terranova provides an interesting statistic within the interview:

A recent study (of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University in 2008) said that women comprised only 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the 250 top-grossing domestic films.

I would imagine that number might be higher if it was not limited to domestic films, but it is a pretty telling figure nonetheless. It is worth checking out the interview, especially to hear about some of the films playing at this year's festival. I have found in previous years that Tribeca's offerings are so vast that it is next to impossible to see many of the featured films, and since they accept so much, some of the films can be a little hit-or-miss. Still, I enjoy the spirit of the festival, which is why I return again and again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I'm Hearing Voices

No, I'm not crazy, I'm just listening to a ton of podcasts lately. From home to the gym, occasionally on the treadmill when the Today Show is more commercial than segment, from gym to the office, from office to home or school - you know, any time I might be tempted to have "thoughts" of my own. Those things have to be curtailed at all cost. As I've mentioned in the past, I spend way more time staring at screens or just plugged in than I am offline. Nature, what's that? Face-to-face conversation? Meh.

So back to the podcasts. I listen to several and I'll rank them in order of how I approach them.

1. Like many others in my social set (at least it seems like it from recent conversations) I listen to "This American Life" and secretly think Ira Glass is dreamy. This is the one I download and consume immediately. It was great when I first started listening because there were so many prior episodes that I could listen to multiple shows in a week, but now that I am all caught up I am on a one-a-week diet that always leaves me wanting more.
What I get out of the podcast: news, quirky takes, poignant stories, humor and outrage for social injustice...also every once in a while Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris show up to read their stories or weigh in. We all need more funny people in our day.

2. Next comes The Moth podcast. For the uninitiated, the Moth is an organization that invites people onstage to tell stories. The only requirement is that they tell their story from memory, using no notes. The results are often funny, and I find myself sporting a goofy grin as I make my way down the street. My favorite was from Mike Birbiglia, who excerpted his off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk With Me. Another reliable character often featured is Jonathan Ames, everyman poet. This guy has some interesting stories. There are some sad stories in the mix as well, which I don't mind because this podcast is basically the closest thing I have to theater these days.
What I get out of the podcast: Occasional story slam throw-down events where one finalist is eventually crowned the victor, shared human experiences and some completely out-of-this world people who don't skimp on the entertainment.

3. I heart Garrison Keillor. I've already revealed myself as a gal who likes a good story, so of course I tune-in to Keillor, the ultimate storyteller, who weaves tales of Lake Wobegon (his fictional home town) in his "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show. The "News From Lake Wobegon" section of the show is what it is used for the podcast.
What I get out of the podcast: The show is filled with interesting characters, silly predicaments and touching moments. It's all good, but to be completely honest, I also have a weird affinity for Keillor's voice, especially the regional dialect. I would hire him to read me the phone book.

4. One of my favorite podcasts is one that desperately needs to step up production, because I want more! The New Yorker offers several podcasts, but the one I most enjoy is the The New Yorker Fiction podcast. Each month fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, invites a well-known author on the show to discuss the author's choice of a story from the magazine's archives. The author reads the story and then discusses the work and its author with Treisman. Pairings have included Jhumpa Lahiri reading William Trevor’s “A Day,” T. Coraghessan Boyle reading Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” and subsequently Tobias Wolff reading Stephanie Vaughn’s “Dog Heaven.”
What I get out of the podcast: Imagine if your high school English class had been taught by the author's of the short stories you were charged with reading (those of you who actually enjoyed doing the reading like me). Beyond exposure to great work, the authors have wonderful insights into how the stories were crafted. It is also wonderful to hear a writer in awe of another writer's work. Hearing about the author's who influenced them gives me even greater context for their work as well.

5. Then there is The New Yorker Out Loud podcast. I'll admit, with school and work claiming most of my time these days, I don't really get time to sit down with any magazine and read it cover to cover. While by no means a substitute for the articles in the magazine, this podcast gives me a quick rundown of features for the week before delving more deeply into one or two articles with their authors.
What I get out of the podcast: This podcast merely helps me join in on conversation, but it really only gives me a very surface appreciation for what people are discussing. However, in some cases the podcast features the voices of the actual people who were interviewed in the magazine, and hearing their views directly is a different experience than just through the journalist as mouthpiece.

6. NPR: Fresh Air Podcast - Terry Gross's daily magazine show of current issues, interviews and art discussions.
What I get out of the podcast: This show also helps me keep up to date on current issues, though I'll admit I sometimes do not wish to get such a deep dive. Still, one show that focused on Mexican drug cartels was pretty fascinating and really painted a picture for me about a headline I generally breeze by on a quick perusal of

7. President Obama's Weekly Radio Address - This is ABC News' broadcast of the President's weekly address or another event he might be speaking at.
What I get out of the podcast: Obama nation, voice of hope and change. It gives me comfort to check in and know that Obama is on the case, trying to get me job security and a financial future once again.

8. Times Talks Podcast - These can also be hit or miss depending on who is being featured, but it is also nice to save the $25 it usually costs to see these people in-person.
What I get out of the podcast: One-on-one access to luminaries in a variety of fields. More education, which is never a bad thing.

That's it for now, but I'm tempted to add a few others. Class will be ending for the semester in a few weeks and I am taking the summer off, so maybe I can add the Lost podcast or The Onion News. Or maybe I'll read a book.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reality Weddings: WE Do

Weddings have become big business as even in a recession brides continue going over the top to plan their one perfect day. However, now instead of their shenanigans amounting to some entertaining family gossip and ending there, the television and film industry has decided to capitalize on the blessed events as well.

Films for the most part have been of the romantic comedy variety in which the hapless heroine must plan the wedding of her dreams for her bad friend or sister, in the case of 27 Dresses, all the while we know that it should really be her day. Often they are terribly formulaic affairs with so little heart that you wonder at how a wedding could be the central plot point.

Of course reality TV, soul-sucking form of "entertainment" that it often is, is even more opportunistic, ready to exploit women's wedding fantasies for ratings. Loving moments and smooth sailing don't really make for popular programming, so instead they serve up drama in the form of cat fights, blown budgets and comparison shows.

WEtv that's Women's Entertainment for anyone who may not have paused long to see the nuptial fest it has become, recognized that no one was really capitalizing on happily ever after so they now offer six different programs on the subject. Their most famous show, Bridezillas, let's you in on the craziness that happens when women invest too much emotion in making their day perfection. I'm sure many of the featured brides will wonder if participating was such a good idea when their children come across their freak outs in the inevitable "best of" show that will air somewhere down the line.

WE also airs Platinum Weddings and Rich Bride, Poor Bride. Do I even have to tell you these shows are all about money? The former shows you just how much money you can blow all at once while the latter shows you what happens when "costs meet expectations."

My Fair Wedding is what I like to call the home makeover-style wedding show, where a team of experts come in and put it all together for you. At least they don't let your neighbors plan the day as they do in Trading Spaces.

The last two shows, Amazing Wedding Cakes and Wedding Central, are more about the business of weddings. You see the people behind-the-scenes who help put it all together.

Surprisingly, makeover channel extraordinaire, TLC only has one wedding show, Say Yes to the Dress. Here, prospective brides go dress shopping at New York bridal atelier, Kleinfeld. While some of the women do spend so much more than they should on a dress they will wear once, there are some touching stories about how the staff help those with lower budgets feel special too.

Style Network has Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, while Lifetime offers Get Married. These shows are also about uber costly nuptials featuring world-renowned planners and celeb events. Aspirational programming indeed.

Each network also offers online companion pieces on their websites from wedding trends, quizzes, relationship advice, dieting advice and a virtual bridal boutique that allows you to build a model of yourself and try on gowns (very cool, TLC). WE has a dedicated bridal page, while the other channels host their content on their show pages.

As a woman planning my wedding, you would think the amazing amount of content out there would be a great resource, but actually I have been avoiding these shows as much as possible, simply because they make me crazy. I probably can't afford half of what they are suggesting and I don't want my wedding to be a circus. Also, as an already indecisive person, I don't need to watch something that will make me second guess my choices even more.

One person whose advice I probably would take is Suze Orman (it must seem like I am working for her at this point, I reference her so much). Last week on a couple asking her for advice about the budget for their wedding got some Suze straight-talk. She told them that with their financial situation, they should elope. While it was probably not what they wanted to hear, it is definitely the most realistic advice for their current situation. While the perfect wedding might seem right out of a fairytale, the real "reality program" should be NOT starting your life together with a mountain of debt from day one. Now that's a show I would watch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Twitter Me Your Deepest Thoughts

As I've mentioned in a prior post, I joined Twitter along with the other members of my poker group when we were all attempting the Master Cleanse (don't try this at home) and in need of a support system. Since then, I have been slowly adding contacts - a few current classmates, someone from high school, one coworker who joined and then never came back.

So I had this really tiny little network that was only giving me a few pearls of wisdom a day, and I really wanted more. Enter Twitter celebrities. I went through the list of popular Twitter users, and lo and behold, a whole world opened up to me.

News? Sure I could use some of that. I added CNN, Digg, Kirtsy and Defamer (okay, not so much news, but entertaining nonetheless). Interesting to note, Defamer is the most active, followed closely by Kirtsy...I may hear from CNN and Digg only once a day.

Britney Spears? Check! Of course she hardly ever has anything to say, and I found out soon after I began following her that she doesn't actually do any tweeting herself (kind of like lip-syncing if you ask me).

Then there were those that I would love to hear more from like MSNBC host, Rachel Maddow or Joel McHale from the Soup on E! Maddow occasionally has an opinion to share, but McHale is like a spazz with a microphone saying "Is this thing on?"

Martha Stewart weighs in a few times a day with helpful hints and crisp responses (I so believe it is her, don't try to convince me otherwise), and comedian Michael Ian Black always has something sarcastic, dark and funny to say. These two really maintain their individual voices, and I couldn't ask for more. Way to tweet, guys.

Then I encountered the constant tweeters.

There's Coraline author, Neil Gaiman, who LOVES to tweet. I always knew the guy was a prolific writer, but geez, Neil. He holds contests, links to his blog, talks about projects he is working on (when do you have the time?!) talks about the family.

Only second to Neil is Wil Wheaton. Yes, that's right, I said Wil Wheaton of Star Trek the Next Generation fame. Wil is fairly incessant as well, linking to his blog, talking about the book he is writing, funny things his son says and giving play-by-play for Kings hockey games (really not that interested, Wil, though I appreciate your enthusiasm).

John Hodgman who you may know better as "the PC guy" often asks for help with his book, talks about events he is at, promotes his friends, and on and on. No talk of family or personal life, John? Am I just a tool in your promotion machine?

I tried following Digg founder, Kevin Rose, for a while, but sadly had to drop him. He wrote a lot, but it was always about errands he was running. Big bore.

Twitter completely feeds into my natural voyeuristic tendencies. I love to overhear a juicy conversation, but with Twitter it all comes to me without any work. Love it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Grave Matters

An old coworker of mine, Sue Bailey, and her friend, Carmen Flowers, found themselves in the morbid predicament that many of us are likely to find ourselves in as we age; they were attending more and more funerals of friends and loved ones. Sadder still was that these events, rather than being celebrations of the person's life, were instead morose occasions of loss and pain. The women came to the realization that many people do not plan for the inevitable, and that by doing so, and having an idea of what you want your funeral to be you can also relieve some of the burden from those you love.

So the ladies decided to write a book, "Grave Expectations: Planning the End Like There's No Tomorrow," meant to be a discussion starter, planning tool and all-around irreverent approach to the end of life. They mention various options from the practical to the downright ghoulish for what to do with your remains (Verdantic would be pleased to note that they talk about green funerals). Last week Bailey and Flowers appeared on The Today Show in a segment with Meredith Vieira to talk about the book and some of the topics they cover.

In terms of entertainment, I know this subject might be a bit of a stretch, but I agree with the authors - why not spend at least half as much time planning your funeral as you would in, say, planning your wedding? A lot of the same people will be there, having the same conversation about how bad the food is.

Monday, April 6, 2009


It is amazing how something can be right on your wavelength, but under your radar. Though it has been around since 1979, NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program only came to my attention more recently as someone I know was applying. I even graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, which runs the program, so this seems like yet another case of me not paying attention to what is going on around me. What do you expect, as I've probably said before (because I do repeat myself) I was practically raised by TV and only have about a 30 second attention span.

While the author of one of one of my textbooks, Clay Shirky, is also on the faculty of ITP, it is the program's founder, Red Burns, that I want to mention. Professor Burns is the program Chair and teaches art and communications. She began NYU's Alternate Media Center, the predecessor for ITP, in the 1970's where she pioneered projects in two-way television and telecommunications projects for the developmentally disabled. She has been honored with many awards for her work and career.

If her career had a theme, it would be fostering the growth of new technology. She began the AMC for that purpose and expanded upon it by creating ITP, a program "whose mission is to explore the imaginative use of communications technologies — how they might augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people’s lives. Perhaps the best way to describe us is as a Center for the Recently Possible." Doesn't that just give you chills?

When I went with my friend to the program's last showcase, I was blown away by the breadth of projects and talent. There was a Twitter project that mapped out countries where people were tweeting from, an upright piano that allowed you to "play yourself a cocktail" and a window shade that sensed light to determine when to raise and lower itself. There were so many other cool projects as well, and the whole show had a feeling of intrepid experimentation, much like an adult playground.

It is interesting to me that an amazing idea incubator like this could have one of the most uninspiring names around (Interactive Telecommunications Program sounds to me like something that should be offered at ITT Tech) but then again my program, offered through the school of continuing education where you can also pursue Actuarial Science and Landscape Design isn't much better off, so I can sympathize. We communications students should really band together and demand better branding.

Anyway, ITP's spring show is coming up in May, and it is definitely worth checking out.

In "Here Comes Everybody" Clay Shirky mentions an application called Dodgeball that came out of the program. If you register and your friends register you build a social network, which you can expand by meeting your friends' friends. When you tell it where you will be, it will tell you who is around and send you their picture so you can identify them. So cool, but this is the first I am hearing about it, and now I find that it was bought by Google and is now being shut down. Very uncool Google. We could have all signed up and met up at the ITP event, bringing everything full circle.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Girls Want to Play Too

Nien is always telling me stories about his "work husband" Larry. Most recently, Larry has been griping because his 8 year-old daughter has been begging him for a Nintendo DS. It seems all of her friends have one and she wants one too. It's amazing how while the "bells and whistles" game companies, Xbox and Playstation, have been scratching their heads about reaching a female audience, Nintendo has quietly cornered the market with less advanced, more casual and interactive offerings like their hand-held gaming system, the DS and their Wii console.

If Larry decides to be a cool dad and buy it for her, he could really score some major brownie points if he hooks her up with the latest version, the DSi, which hits shelves tomorrow. With even more interactivity like dual cameras that can distort images, audio recorders that let you change the backing tracks to your games, downloadable games, mp3 storage and the ability to upload content to facebook, this thing clearly doesn't want its users to be able to put it down. I guess if I had one of these things when I was a kid it would have been a preview of my current iPhone addiction.

Though I never bought my own, I do occasionally steal Nien's DS Lite to obsessively play countless games of sudoku. I like the simplicity of it and also appreciate that it isn't trying to be anything more than it is. However, that unit is a totally different animal than this new version, and it is nice that buyers will still have a choice between the two.

I also applaud Nintendo every time I see one of their commercials featuring well-known female celebrities playing with the DS. They've featured Lisa Kudrow, Liv Tyler, Nicole Kidman and here is one with Carrie Underwood, who I personally think is a better choice to reach out to the younger audience, though I love them for trying to pitch to my generation as well.

So will DS continue their quiet, yet aggressive campaign to take down the big boys by stealing market share from Apple as well? I don't know too many 8 year-olds who have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, but then again, I don't know any 8 year-old period, so I clearly don't have the answer to this one.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pulling My Beak

While everyone has been debating how Twitter will monetize their business, the conversation has been focused on information aggregation and advertising. Now check out this fishy video that just happens to have popped up on Wired today...April 1. Come on people, I don't believe you for a minute.

Still I do appreciate the humor, and even like the idea of sorting tweets by friends and celebrities. However, who in the their right mind would carry around yet another device, especially one that is basically a tricked-out pager?

Wired guys Danny Dumas and Steven Leckart, I like your style. Just one word of advice - you should have gotten the Twitter folks to post this in the "What's next for Twitter?" section of the site. Amateurs!