Monthly Archives: December 2010

top 2010 takeaway: be an information omnivore.

I learn a lot every year, but like to reflect on the biggest thing I took away from the previous 12 months. For 2010, that lesson would be the importance of being an information omnivore.

An information omnivore (in my definition) is someone who reads and consumes information from a wide variety of sources … books to microblogs, speakers to cultural events. Books remain a primary source of knowledge for me (coming from a family of librarians), and perhaps no book influenced my job as much as Susan Weinschenk’s Neuro Web Design — which helped set goals and tactics during our sitewide redesign. I’m currently reading Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, which is sparking more ideas. And Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food not only influenced my diet, but served up insights for the workplace.

Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are excellent sustenance for information omnivores, dishing out a smorgasbord of articles and blog entries of interest, influence and ideas. I was blessed to make it to several conferences where I learned so much from some outstanding speakers, as well as from an awesome network of friends throughout higher ed. I think that every person I encounter — from world-famous speakers to my own students — have something to teach me if I’m smart enough to listen.

But my trumpeting of information omnivores also reflects a troubling trend: In an ideologically polarized time, more people seem to prefer less variety in their news and information diet. I’m not just talking about regular Fox News watchers, but those who choose to fill up on (depending on view) right-wing or left-wing blogs … they choose not to be informed but to have information that backs up their worldview, which they can defend in chatrooms, troll-filled online article comment sections or anywhere anyone deign have another opinion. It’s like we’re reverting to earlier days when any city of decent size had different papers for each political party. (And I can’t help but wonder, for example, what the publishers of the old Oswego Daily Palladium and Oswego Times, who savaged each other on the editorial pages, would think to know their bully pulpits merged into the Oswego Palladium-Times.)

At a time where more knowledge is at our fingertips than ever before, let’s explore it and open our minds to every avenue. Become an information omnivore — read, listen and let the treasures of learning enrich you.

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ad analysis: the 3 phases of pomplamoose fatigue syndrome.

If you have a TV, you’ve seen them. Holiday-themed ads for Hyundai featuring Pomplamoose, a musical duo who first gained buzz on YouTube before being thrust into this ubiquitous campaign. And if you’re like a lot of people, exposure took you into one of the three phases of Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome.

Phase 1: Intrigue. At first, I thought they were quirky and almost charming. A couple of indie musicians seeming to have fun with a vaguely catchy sound. Chris Martin captured this general spirit with this recent tweet:

But after a few viewings, many people move into …

Phase 2: Dislike. We get irked by the guy trying too hard to act silly, the waifish vocals, the basic disconnect between the concept and what it’s trying to sell. Andrew Careaga encapsulated this phase with measured criticism:

Phase 3: Full-on Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome. The ads can go from dislikable to detestable to downright maddening. Amy Mengel, ever the trendsetter, may have been among the first to document Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome way back on Dec. 5:

Do a search for “Pomplamoose” on Twitter (but send the kids out of the room first) or check the blogosphere and you’ll find similar sentiment everywhere. But why? Here are a few possible theories.

Familiarity breeds contempt. Overexposure begets outrage. When you can’t watch any given program without seeing some guy cavorting across your screen trying to appear goofy while an odd-sounding holiday tune plays, you’re not likely to welcome the repetition. Many acts, through no fault of their own, encounter backlash with overexposure (cf. Blowfish, Hootie and the), but it can be worse when …

Quirky gets old quickly. OK, we get it. The guy in the band is supposed to be wacky. But he’s trying too hard. And the singer’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea — it’s a bit off-key, and gauzy, and twisting a holiday classic — thus not helping the situation. Let’s face it, if you have really quirky friends, you can only stand them for so long. And they’re not constantly on your TV trying to sell you a car.

The “sellout” theorem. We expect rampant commercialism from mainstream artists ranging from Lady Gaga to Moby to Bon Jovi, sure, but if a band that has worked on establishing indie cred suddenly appears in ads, there’s an element of betrayal — not only to fans of that band, but the genre itself and the basic indie ethos. Reading this news release on the campaign made it all seem even cheaper.

So what do you think? Have you experienced Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome yet?

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‘in defense of food’ and lessons for the workplace.

Just finished reading Michael Pollan’s enlightening In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which will definitely influence what enters my kitchen and my body. But, as an information omnivore, I couldn’t help but notice some of its lessons also could feed our workplace management and communication habits.

Briefly, Pollan argues that the rise of processed foods, our fast-food mentality and nutritionism — the science of breaking food down into its smallest components and drawing isolated conclusions — have had disastrous effects on our national diet. He champions a simple philosophy — Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. — supporting real food, measured portions and healthy options. It’s a great place to start … and it parallels good advice for other parts of our lives:

Tradition is better than fad. There’s a reason, Pollan argues, that cultures can eat the same food for generations, centuries really, and suffer few adverse effects. Switch a nation to fast food and dubious quick-fix diets and health chaos ensues. Not a coincidence. As for traditional wisdom on interpersonal communication, I’ve been subjected to countless management treatises, tomes and texts, but the best advice continues to come from Dale Carnegie’s 1937 book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Advice like: Smile. Be courteous. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. How much better would the business world be if we followed such simple rules?

Goals and guidelines are better than rules. Pollan offers general guideposts starting with his refrain: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He adds other suggestions such as not eating anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize, avoiding food with unpronounceable ingredients and cooking instead of buying pre-packaged meals. Nothing earth-shattering or diet-dictatorial, but easy-to-remember algorithms. It’s common sense for a purpose, the kind of thing that should govern day-to-day business instead of 27-page memos with bulletpoints and sub-sub-subchapters.

Trust your gut. Is eating a fatty grease-laden meal healthy as long as you leave out the carbs, as Atkins Diet cultists claimed? Unlikely. As are any quick-fix claims telling you to merely avoid one thing or another. Similarly, pitches from vendors promising products or services that seem too good to be true usually are. For millenia, we humans survived on logic and gut instinct. With good reason.

Go local. Pollan suggests buying from farmers’ markets or farms as much as possible, or to consider granting a garden. Given the boom in location-based social media (geosocial), we see that our online behaviors increasingly favor the hyperlocal and instantaneous interaction with our local environment. In both cases, the benefits are fresh and immediate.

Enjoy what you do/enjoy what you eat. A central theme is the French Paradox, or how the French traditionally eat foods that would make nutritionists wince, aided by wine, yet remain healthy. But note they also enjoy actual meals — real food, consumed leisurely, with friends … knowing when they are full and not just cramming down super-sized fries in their car. Consider the psychological advantage of enjoying what you eat as an experience, as opposed to spending all your time fretting over every little thing or pursuing fad diets. Which sounds more mentally healthy? But this also should suffuse our lives: When we enjoy what we do, and what we eat, life is so much better.

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a top 20 for 2010.

As part of our collaborative year-end countdown for the Higher Ed Critics music blog, I’ve assembled my take on top discs I’ve heard from 2010.

20. Good Old War, Good Old War: Any release by this band brings bouquets of clever lyrics, soaring harmonies and genial hookiness. Just a shame the overall material in this effort seems a bit weak. Maybe next time.

19. Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record: Honestly, quite disappointed with this long-awaited record. While the Canadian collective hits a groove on songs like “Texaco Bitches” or “Meet Me in the Basement,” too much feels like unfinished ideas thrown on record.

18. Spoon, Transference: With apologies to the many friends who love the band, this would be higher if I was into Spoon … but too much of their stuff just comes off as too smugly self-satisfied, imho. Can’t argue with their overall skills, though.

17. Sade, Soldier of Love: Sade has remained relevant since 1984 (!) with soulful songs and sex appeal, and the latest disc works that formula well. The occasional new trick or two is OK, but it’s rich texture of Sade’s voice that always brings us back.

16. The Scarlet Ending, Ghosts: This Syracuse-based sextet featuring twin singer/songwriters Kayleigh and Kaleena Goldsworthy continues to evolve with image-rich songs buoyed by smart lyrics, eclectic instrumentation and engaging vocals.

15. Stars, The Five Ghosts: Like most Stars efforts, this album combines brilliant flashes like the male-female storytelling of “Dead Hearts” with some pedestrian filler, but provides enough haunting moments to make it worth remembering.

14. Butch Walker, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart: The singer, songwriter, producer and former Marvelous 3 frontman showcases his many talents here. While he seems to enjoy silky soulful songs, the rocking social satire of “Trash Day” is this effort’s standout track.

13. Pete Yorn, Pete Yorn: With Pete’s warm and craggly voice and knack for melody, the main issue is that he’s never created another album as terrific as “musicforthemorningafter.” With instantly catchy fare like “Precious Stone” and “Paradise Cove I,” this album works more often than not.

12. Brad Yoder, Excellent Trouble: This very under-the-radar singer/songwriter deserves some play. Combine intelligent commentary — “Keep It to Yourself,” on teens staying in the closet, or “How It Ends,” on big-box stores killing downtowns — with earnest singing and graceful instrumentation, and you have a hidden gem.

11. Sarah McLachlan, Laws of Illusion: Where Sarah’s best album, “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy,” chronicled young love, “Laws of Illusion” looks at life after the love departs (mirroring the breakup of her long relationship with drummer Ash Sood). As always, her voice is the engine driving this train, and it’s in fine form.

10. The National, High Violet: I like The National, but find it maddening that a band that can produce such effortlessly catchy fare as “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” “Lemonworld” and “Conversation 16” can have so many tracks on this (or any) album that fall flat. But the high points are, as always, remarkable.

9. Gin Blossoms, No Chocolate Cake: Not a typo. Not only is the reformed band still recording, but they’re making good music. Not terribly cerebral, but just listen to “Don’t Change for Me,” “I Don’t Want to Lose You Now” and “Dead or Alive on the 405” and let the ’90s nostalgia wash over you.

8. Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do: At least two reasons I love this album: “Drag the Lake Charlie” is one of the funnier/darker songs ever made, and “Birthday Boy” has the killer lyrics “Pretty girls from the smallest towns/Get remembered like storms and droughts/That old men talk about for years to come.” Marvelous moments of mayhem and mortification suffuse their latest Southern Gothic rock effort.

7. KT Tunstall, Tiger Suit: The latest album by the Scottish songstress is her most complex, least commercial and also her best. Whether it’s world-beat influences on “Uummannaq Song,” electronica touches on “Difficulty” or the simple wistful warbling and whistling on “(Still A) Weirdo,” KT offers a broader range but, as always, plenty to adore.

6. Brandon Flowers, Flamingo: The rest of The Killers wanted to take time off, but their talented frontman decided to put out a solo album that offered a frank look at his hometown, including the masterfully written “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.” While not quite as good as the full band’s output, Flowers’ vocals + sharp lyrics = jackpot.

5. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs: I keep thinking this album seems overrated, until I listen again and realize just how great it is. While perhaps only “Rococo” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” sit among the band’s greatest tracks, the consistently compelling material in a story arc critiquing our modern suburban life stands up to the hype.

4. Tracey Thorn, Love and Its Opposite: “Who’s next?” the voice of Everything But the Girl sings in opener “Oh, the Divorces”: “It’s always the ones that you least expect.” And who would expect Thorn to reappear with a masterpiece of an album about growing older? But with tracks such as “Long White Dress,” “Hormones” and “Singles Bar,” she imbues wisdom and memorable songs galore.

3. Rocky Votolato, True Devotion: Not quite as phenomenal as his previous effort, “Makers,” but still full of beautifully painted tales of lost love, lovable losers and lovingly lost causes. The well-turned depth he pours into simple refrains like “The less likely you survive” (from “Fragments”) or “Sparklers only burn for so long” (from “Sparklers”) is simply stunning.

2. Dust Poets, World At Large: There’s nothing flashy about this unassuming Canadian foursome: They merely created the best album this year almost no one’s heard. They often tackle issues such as greed (“Deceived by Gasoline”), homelessness (“Big World”), online privacy (“Skeletons in Your Inbox”) and xenophobia (“Border Town”) but always with folksy charm, wit and skill.

1. Girl Talk, All Day: Sometimes you just have to ask: “Was there an album I simply couldn’t stop listening to for weeks?” That would be this record, which drops hook after hook, beat after beat in sensational succession. While I could ponder how Gregg Gillis pushes the envelope of this (controversial) genre or the brilliance of “Jump on Stage” samples running from Portishead to Radiohead, it’s much easier to just dance — anytime, anywhere — to the excessively catchy music.

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tron: legacy, a review — we’ve come a long way, baby.

It’s a sign of my age that I recall seeing the original movie Tron when the effects still looked advanced. And that we owned the table-top version of the Tron video game. So I was very interested in the new movie Tron: Legacy, hoping it wouldn’t be a disappointing jumble of style over substance.

No worries, mate. I found the movie satisfying and enjoyable on every level. The eye-popping (literally, in 3D) special effects were astounding. A quantum leap from the old special effects — not surprising — yet truly engrossing to the point I bought into the plotline and stopped wondering how they did all the incredible things.

Engrossing action sequences? Check. Compelling storyline? Roger. Good enough acting to span the technology? Affirmative, right down to great use of facial expressions. (And I couldn’t take my eyes off Olivia Wilde, but that’s beside the point.) It’s a wild ride, and at times I was a little bit lost, but it was marvelous all the way. (And, as my brother points out, props for the inclusion from the original of Bruce Boxleitner, who deserves the visibility.) To think that the original Tron preceded the Internet as we know it and yet presaw it, in a way, is pretty amazing.

Leaving the theatre, we heard this conversation:

Teen #1: So I don’t get why they called it “Tron.”
Teen #2: Cuz it’s based on a 1980s video game called “Tron.”

Er, not exactly. Kids today should know that, once upon a time, moviemakers didn’t just take a popular video game and make a movie as a brand extension. People once created movies based on original, visionary ideas! So, in a way, Tron: Legacy is a throwback as well as an envelope-pushing work of movie magic.

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what can we do about #fbgate2016 … and beyond?

What started Thanksgiving Week when Lougan Bishop of Belmont University and I found messages on our official Class of 2015 groups telling members to join different groups, run by private company RoomSurf, became a whirlwind of community action among colleagues, then a media splash in the New York Times. Other stories followed (including one hilariously mistranslated piece). Several higher ed professionals teamed up in a myriad of ways, including blogging and other methods to spread the word, and by the end of Wednesday the RoomSurf groups were putting up disclaimers and their founder disappeared from Facebook.

But will #fbgate2015 mark the end of this kind of activity? I doubt it, and so does Lougan, who wrote a great guest post in Brad J. Ward’s SquaredPeg blog (which outed the original #fbgate2013 fake groups two years ago).

Many bloggers have weighed in with great advice. But even the best suggestions come with caveats. For example:

1) Make your own Class of 201x Facebook Groups/Pages. This has become self-evident. But, as Lougan and I discovered, nefarious intruders can swoop in at any time to try to steal members. We’re not in a part in the admission cycle where students are joining in large numbers yet. Those other groups had more members, research found, because apparently some were converted 2014 groups with existing students. And JD Ross of Hamilton College said, last year, company reps blocked him so he couldn’t see things they posted on a Class of 2014 page he administered. So the playing field, for the ethical, is still a minefield.

2) Make your groups/pages distinctive and better. When I realized we may be in for another battle for members — before colleges rallied together and the New York Times got involved — I decided to create an Official Class of 2015 Community page. And, unlike the 2015 group which I didn’t do nearly enough with, our social media intern and I filled the new page with photos, slideshows, videos, blog entries, news, the works. And asked current students to join and help. Of course, this all takes time — something we never have enough of. But, especially when establishing the groups, it makes them more worth joining. Think about holiday window shopping: You’re more likely to go into stores that look cool and have more to offer.

3) Promote the official group/pages to incoming students. In an often-decentralized campus landscape, not as easy as it sounds. I have no direct communication with prospective students (other than the web or social media) as student affairs offices handle these contacts. This means any success in social media involves coalition building and educating staffers to its benefits as well as the need for resources. On the bright side, something like #fbgate2015 — or anything that could divert our students from getting the help and advice they deserve — provides an example of why different areas of the college need to work together for a well-done, timely, useful social media presence.

4) Be vigilant. Sad but true, we can’t take for granted that all 500 million members of Facebook are ethical, logical beings. You have to constantly see if someone is portraying themselves as your college or brand … which is complicated by all the community pages (mostly ghost ships) Facebook decided to clutter the waters. And if you’re a group administrator, have many sets of eyes watching the page, knowing spammers can block you.

Because Facebook fraud will continue to appear, despite our best efforts, all we can do is keep our eyes open, have a plan and provide the best Facebook experiences possible.

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coming together: colleges unite to fight facebook fraud — updated

Imagine you’re driving through unfamiliar territory and your car starts malfunctioning. You pull into a small-town garage and ask the mechanic to look at your vehicle. “I can’t do anything about your car, but I can get you in touch with other people who bought this car,” he says. As you stand there perplexed, he adds: “Hey, would you like to book a hotel room?”

“I’d like you to see what’s wrong with my car,” you respond, growing a bit irked.

“We’ll happily book your hotel room,” the mechanic replies. Then you realize there are no cars in the shop, no oil stains and the gent saying he’s a mechanic has a spotless uniform. Something is amiss.

Now imagine you’re a high-school senior looking into colleges. You see a “Class of 2015” group for a college you’re interested in. You join it, but instead of finding anyone who can really answer your question or receiving timely info, you see posts promoting a roommate-matching service. Something is amiss.

Welcome to shady Facebook marketing, a near-annual ritual facing incoming students. New York Times education blogger Jacques Steinberg offers an interesting look at the latest fraud — where a roommate-matching group called RoomSurf (nee URoomSurf) created more than 150 fake pages for colleges from coast to coast.

How did he learn about this? Because a group of higher-education web professionals found out about the shady-looking pages, compared notes and conducted some research. A lot of research. We found the same names coming up over and over creating groups posing as official college groups.

Why do we care about this? Simple. Because we want to make sure students and parents looking at colleges — any colleges, not necessarily our own — can get honest and helpful information during this important search. It has been remarkable to see the higher-education community — outsiders may see different colleges as competitors, but we are also colleagues and collaborators — come together and perform research well into the night to make sure students (even if they won’t be our students) don’t get duped.

Whatever the shakeout of this story — whether this attention will prevent shady Facebook marketing from becoming an annual rite — I’m thrilled to see so many colleagues at so many colleges really go to great lengths to make sure we put our students first. Because when you’re kicking the tires of your ride for the next four years, you really deserve some honest answers and connections.

UPDATE, 7:50 p.m.: What a crazy day it was, with additional developments.

– By afternoon, most Class of 2015 sites created by RoomSurf now bear disclaimers saying they are not officially associated with colleges and say they were created by the RoomSurf roommate matching system. See more in New York Times blogger Jacques Steinberg’s recent update.

– Late this afternoon, the State University of New York legal office served RoomSurf founder Justin Blackwell, aka Justin Gauthier, and the company a cease-and-desist order on behalf of the 10 SUNY institutions found to be impacted by the suspect Class of 2015 groups.

– By around 6 p.m., Blackwell’s profile had disappeared, at least from view, on Facebook and he is no longer listed as creator of said groups, multiple sources confirmed. Whether this was his own choice or has anything to do with the investigation Facebook mentioned in last night’s story remains a mystery at this time.

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