TheodoreSLaBarbera.com

Since 2003, the off-ramp on the Information Superhighway.

Month: November 2009

America Off-Line

AOLMy work-related e-mail and social media accounts were all a-flutter this morning over AOL’s announcement that it is abandoning its traditional running man/triangular logos for something new and fresh.

AOL Sunday revealed the new brand identity it will begin using Dec. 10th, when it spins off as a free-standing, publicly traded company from Time Warner. Actually, it revealed several of them. The new identity/ies is built around a new, constantly changing logo that replaces its trademark “running man” with an array of characters ranging from a goldfish to stylized graffiti-like images to a hand sign known as an illuminati gesture.

Nothing says “reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic” more than a company that changes its logo in a last-ditch attempt to regain relevancy and market share.  It is the hallmark of all dying organizations; you could fill an entire textbook with examples.  This particular one does little to inspire me to think otherwise…especially since, in a partial lower-case font, the logo is now not so much an acronym as it is someone meekly saying “awwwwl.”

It’s funny (sad, actually) that the article above and hype make no mention of actual changes to content or business practices at the newly independent former Internet powerhouse.  Content and value, and the way that a company communicates those things to consumers, are the core drivers to a stable and successful business.  GE has made it for over a century now with an unchanged logo but a constantly innovating technological focus.

So, what’s next for AOL?  Clearly, life as an Internet Service Provider has long since flat-lined in a world of mobile and cable broadband.  Perhaps its future lies as the next digital video innovator: a platform with little size or length restrictions (i.e., “not YouTube”) and access to hundreds if not millions of ad-supported clips from users, movies, television, or even business conferences.  The cost might be prohibitive, of course, but I’m struggling to think of ways that this company can stay even remotely relevant into 2010.

Good luck to Tim Armstrong and company…they are going to need it.

2012: A Discussion in Both Cinematic and Real-World Varieties

Seven Things I Learned While Watching 2012

1. It’s no Independence Day.

I am a huge fan of one of Roland Emmerich’s previous works, Independence Day. ID4 was a nearly perfect reincarnation of the spectacular book and movie War of the Worlds, told for a modern-day audience. 2012 lacks every element that made ID4 so great: likable characters, good drama mixed with humor, and just enough geeky science that the overall plot felt marginally believable.

2. It’s “disaster-porn” of the worst magnitude.

My goodness, I know that a tale about the “End of the World” involves carnage and death on a planetary scale, but for the first two hours it feels as if the audience is forced to suffer through every single death among the billions of victims one after another in sadistic and numbing fashion. Literally no stone is left unturned across the wasteland that becomes the United States, or the Vatican, or Asia. Africa, though, is curiously left unscathed. What’s up with that?

3. It’s junk science isn’t even plausibly believable.

So the sun lets off some “neutrinos” that heat/melt the earth’s core and, coupled with a mysterious alignment in the galaxy, the planet’s entire crust and magnetic fields shift violently.

Huh?

Where’s the big “Planet X” that’s destined to wipe up out? Where are the supporting revelations from the i-Ching and Nostradamus? The screenwriters grabbed a few cool terms from the 2012 lexicon and turned it into garbage. I actually laughed during the discussion of those wacky and terrible neutrinos. At least give us some global warming or a wayward asteroid!

4. John Cusack is a vacuum of charisma that fills the screen with suck.

Seriously, did every other major actor approached turn this flick down? Where’s Will Smith, or Denzel Washington, or even Ben Affleck? Instead, it’s Cusack filling the role of loser author with family issues, a PG-rated and less-charming archetype of David Duchovny’s Hank Moody in Californication. Big, heroic scenes call for big, heroic characters. Instead, we get a guy best known for holding up a stereo standing aside his ex-wife’s even dorkier new husband.

5. It is actually possible to hate a movie and the main characters so much that you wish for random catastrophes and deaths.

Cusack. The dorky surgeon new husband. The “I’m too old and dumb to believe this crap” President of the United States (Danny Glover). The fickle, fair-weather wife (more on that below). The usual screen-time hogging children. Evil Russians and bureaucrats. It’s no wonder why I hoped beyond hope for the US Ark to wipe out in spectacular fashion against the ridges of Mount Everest, or at least for Cusack and company to drown in unheroic fashion during the climax. That’s a bad thing, by the way.

6. A simple piece of electrical wiring can jam several-ton hydraulically controlled doors, but a half-drowned, oxygen-starved human can easily go in and remove the jam — and then not get crushed!

Yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

7. Amanda Peet got hit with the ugly stick, and is a poor wife at best.

Sorry, I didn’t even recognize the formerly lovely and sexy (in a cute, buck-toothed way) Peet until approximately halfway through the flick. I suppose I’m still more accustomed to her more quirky appearances as a contract killer (The Whole Nine and Ten Yards) or as a crazy dominatrix girlfriend from hell (Saving Silverman) than as the cookie-cutter wife.

That being said, my gosh was her character a total bitch. Let’s examine the facts: her first husband (Cusack) was a down and out struggling writer who’s first major published work failed utterly (400 copies sold total). So she leaves him for a dorky surgeon of some sort. Then, while the surgeon actually does more to save the main characters’ collective asses than anyone else by actually flying the various airplanes they use to escape by the hairs of their collective chinny chin chins, she begins to get goo-goo eyes for the ex. She finally succumbs and kisses Cusack…a mere 15 minutes or less after her hubby dies! What a ho!

2012: The Real Deal

Meanwhile, here’s a great summation of the major arguments for and against the apocalypse courtesy of Information is Beautiful.  Man, those guys do some great work.

2012: The End of the World?

Loved and Accepted

A wonderful extended weekend and vacation was had for your humble blogger down in Charleston, South Carolina, featuring the best friend I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting via this very blog.  In fact, it was so magical and relaxing that I actually found myself sobbing at the CHS Airport last night when faced with the prospect of returning to my horrible, high-pressure life.

You see, in South Carolina:

  • Between five doggies, two teenagers, one brother, and one boyfriend, all universally accepted and welcomed me into their lives.
  • There was no judgment, no pressure to look your absolute best at all times; if you didn’t want to gel up your hair for the day that was totally fine.
  • Nobody sent me any accusatory or mean-spirited e-mail, or BCC’ed a higher-up to make me look bad.
  • If I offered up a thought, it wasn’t questioned or not considered, and nobody told me that they didn’t “understand” what I did or why I even worked there.
  • Even moreso, I didn’t even use a computer once for five days.  The unpluggage turned out to be pure bliss and freedom away from the hassles of the real world.

So, it hit me, as it should hit all of you: if you truly hate your life so much that you dread returning to the mundane routine to the point of tears, perhaps it’s time to to address the matter.  This doesn’t mean doing something radical — as much fun as quitting my job and moving down south would be!  Instead, it’s about addressing real, tangible ways in which you can look at your life and improve the little things.  Find a hobby, redefine your job responsibilities (even if just in your own mind) in a way that matches your overarching goals, eat different or better foods.  It’s your life, and you know how best to facilitate, dare I say, hope and change.  And that power, despite all it may seem, remains in your hands.  You control your own destiny.

When It Comes to Professional Sports, I’m a Total Loser

As the hated New York Yankees paraded up the Canyon of Heroes on Friday — and I was caught amongst the drunken, sweaty hoards of Bomber fans during my commute — I started to reflect on my own favorite teams, and how truly I’ve taken the road less traveled for the average New Yorker.

For many, adopting the Yankees proves an easy choice — they are always competitive in this modern baseball era, a team with an unparalleled history of excellence and magical stories.  Instead, my proximity to Shea Stadium coupled with the fact that I come from a “National League Family” (Brooklyn Dodgers fans on both sides) made me wind up with an intrinsic love of the New York Mets, the lovable, star-crossed other team from the Big Apple.

Eventually, my affinity for the underdog lead me to choose all of the so-called “second” NY teams as my franchises of choice, and as I grew older I became an impassioned fan of the New York Jets in football and New York Islanders in hockey.  Fortunately, in basketball I only had one choice — the New York Knicks — so there’s no controversy in my rooting interest there (although, of all the major NY franchises, the Knicks have often proven to be the most frustrating themselves!).

So, how am I doing?  I put together some raw numbers in a Google Spreadsheet and crunched the digits.  Adding up all of the seasons of the teams that I’ve actively rooted for (more on that methodology later), my overall professional sports rooting record stands at:

3,766 wins / 3,816 losses / 162 ties (48.63% winning percentage)

Yup.  I’m a lifelong loser.  Only once has my team been crowned the World Champions of their sport, the 1986 New York Mets, and only thrice more have they even reached the vaunted league championship game or series (2000 Mets and 1993 and 1998 Knicks). Total playoff berths: 27, out of a possible 83 seasons.  Sobering statistics, indeed.

A little more information on each team, and when I started to follow them:

New York Mets (2398-2332-0)
Amazingly, the Mets are actually above .500 for the duration of my fandom, and although I have vague recollections of listening to Mets games on the radio dating back as far as I can remember, I decided to mark my official “start” date as the 1980 season, when I was four years old; I felt this was a fair assessment of when I could effectively start to grasp the basic concepts of professional baseball.  The Mets are, of course, also the only team to earn me a World Series Championship, in my first-ever taste of the playoffs at a spry ten years old in 1986, and honestly if I only had one team left to root for the remainder of my life the Mets will always be that team.

What’s truly stunning, though, is the fact that the Mets are a winning franchise when starting at 1980 and counting through this 2009 season (although it’s only by a mere 66 games).  The “dominant” franchise years of 1984-1990, coupled with the “good enough” runs of 1997-2001 and 2005-2008 were enough to overcome the low points (41 wins in the strike-shortened 1981 season and 59 in 1993 for “The Worst Team Money Can Buy.”)

New York Jets (130-158-0)
What can you say about Gang Green?  The parity and short seasons of the NFL leave the franchise all over the place with little rhyme or reason, from the horrors of the Rich Kotite Era (3-13 in 1995 and 1-15 in 1996) to the perplexities of the Herm Edwards Era of Clock Management (two ten-win seasons and a rare division title interspersed with four- and six-win campaigns).  If only Vinny Testaverde hadn’t been injured in the first week of 1999, who knows what could have been?

I officially count 1991 as my first year as a true fan of the Green and White. Before that, I grew up in a rabid Giants house (my dad used to audio tape big games throughout the Parcells run) but it was a particular game — the finale of the regular season in 1991 where the Jets beat the Miami Dolphins to earn a last-minute playoff spot — that I caught myself really passionately into a football team and game.  I remember that game as if it was yesterday, for some reason.

New York Islanders (493-627-162)
Want to know why my record is so poor?  Look no further than the woeful and poor hockey franchise from Long Island.  Sure, there were glory days in the early 1980s, but those salad days occurred before the Cable Man had ever Cometh to my home, so for all I knew “ice hockey” was just that blue Activision cartridge I had for the Atari 2600.  Instead, for my Isles history, it’s one solitary run as deep as the second round of the playoffs (the vaunted 1993 trip to the Wales Conference Finals) and seven straight seasons as among the worst teams in the sport (24, 24, and 21 total victories in 1998-2000).  21 wins?  For fucking real guys? Jeez.

Why did I pick the Isles?  Well, hockey definitely had a passionate fan base at my high school, and it seemed readily apparent that the people I hated were all Rangers fans while my best bud was the only Islanders fan around.  So that, coupled with the fact that the Isles were on SportsChannel, which my family paid for to see the Mets and I needed to justify holding year-round, it was a no-brainer at the time.  Boy, did that bite me in the ass, though, as the Broadway Blueshirts immediately won the Stanley Cup afterwards in 1994, forever removing from me the ability to chant the best taunt in sports — “1940!”

The Islanders may very well be the only team I ever have to truly worry about moving away from NY.   With prospects for a new arena looking dimmer than ever with the election of fiscally prudent Republicans throughout Nassau County (not necessarily a bad thing, honestly), and a current payroll that actually sits BELOW the official NHL Salary Floor (only nigh-impossible “incentives” such as “Doug Weight potting 30 goals” get them over the top), it’s hard to see the team staying put for much longer.  I will be devastated short-term, and likely disavow any rooting interests in the sport.  But eventually?  Well, I can’t root for the relocated Kansas City Rednecks or whatever they will be called — I’d rather see them lose every game for the duration of their history — so the only choice would be…to cross party lines and adopt the Rangers.  Sure, I loathe them now, but it makes sense.  Good team, good uniforms, and a total fuck you to my once favorite franchise.  That’s a long way — and a lot of permutations — from happening, though.

Seriously, think about it.  The New Jersey Devils?  That’s just dumb.

New York Knicks (745-699-0)
I’m hesitant to even include the Knicks at this point, as the Isiah Thomas Era left me barely enthusiastic about the sport of basketball in its entirety.  But there can be little question that the Knicks run through the Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy Years proved easily among the most dominating in my fandom, with ten straight playoff appearances and two runs all the way to the NBA Finals, and a colorful, hard-working roster filled with guys like Charles Oakley, John Starks, Anthony Mason, Allan Houston, and even briefly Latrell Sprewell. Indeed, without the Knickerbockers, one would wonder how I’d ever managed to make it through the 1990s.

Funny thing, I actually watched the Knicks the other night and enjoyed the experience.  It felt a little like my first year — the 1991 team of Xavier McDaniel and Gerald Wilkins that fought so valiantly against the Detroit Pistons in a low-scoring (to say the least) opening-round playoff affair.  Only this team is the exact opposite — all offense and maybe the worst D I’ve ever seen.  That being said, maybe there’s hope to rekindle the spark once again.

Well, this has been a fascinating experiment, and an enjoyable trek back through the uplifting highs and the horrific lows.  To anyone who ever questioned why someone would so passionately root for something they cannot control, let me ask you: is there any roller coaster ride more thrilling and a payoff more rewarding that pulling out the big game after so much failure?  Sports is all — redemption tale, Greek tragedy, and feel-good story — in one billion-dollar package.

Introduction to Facebook for Associations

A few weeks ago, I received an offer from Scott Oser at the College of Association Marketing to participate in a series of Webinars tailored to the novices of the association social media set.  After a great first offering — Intro to Social Media with Deirdre Reid (with me as sidekick/color commentator) — today was my chance to present Introduction to Facebook for Associations (with Deirdre returning the favor as the Phil Simms to my Jim Nantz).  It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity, and I’m grateful for the chance to work with the super-cool Scott and Deirdre.

Here is a copy of the presentation deck, for those interested.

In addition, here is a wide array of links and resources that might be of further study/use to those who attended the Webinar or are interested in the topic of social media.

1. “Facebook: The Complete Biography,” (Mashable.com, August 2006)

2. “Facebook Surpasses 175 Million Users, Continuing to Grow by 600k Users/Day,” (Inside Facebook Blog, February 2009)

3. Page Rank 10 Web Sites (Search Engine Genie)

4. Google Page Rank (PRChecker.info)

5. Alexa Top 500 Global Sites (Alexa.com)

6. Compete Site Comparison With MySpace and LinkedIn (Compete.com)

7. Facebook Vanity URL

8. Facebook Causes and Fundraising

9. American Academy of Physicians Assistants Fan Page

10. “Revealing the People Defining Social Networks,” (PR 2.0 Blog)

11. “How One Association Uses Social Media as an Information Distribution Tool to Their Members,” (Branding and Marketing Blog)

12. “Facebook Fan Page Best Practices,” (Livingston Buzz)

13. “Ten Things Social Media Can’t Do,” (Advertising Age)

See ya next week for Introduction to Twitter for Associations!

Vote or Die. Or Don’t. You’ll Probably Live and Not Much Will Change Either Way.

Fresh off the humiliating election of woefully over-matched President Barack Hussein Obama — accompanied by nearly filibuster-proof majorities for the Democrats in both houses of Congress — this year’s Election Day turns our focus to more local, personal roots, as several notable contests are underway in both the Empire and Garden states.  These campaigns, though, are not without their own national implications, especially for the Republican Party.

Upstate, with the withdrawal of Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava, a previously uninteresting House seat is now up for grabs between Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Doug Hoffman.  I was clear last year in my contention that, when the fate of the free world was at stake, conservatives and similarly minded individuals needed to hold their collective noses and pull the lever for John McCain, given the alternative (and, indeed, looking at the sorry state of affairs in DC these days, I maintain this was the correct call).

This time, though, with a relatively insignificant seat up for grabs for merely 365 days, I think it’s safe to say that we are all gleeful to see the out-of-touch liberal pragmatists running the GOP get what was coming to them via a little right-wing revolution.  Based on The Other McCain’s profile and relentless on-the-ground coverage, it seems clear that Hoffman is a good guy and just the sort we need more of patrolling the hallowed halls of the US Capitol.

Meanwhile, what’s left of the woeful and inept New York GOP casts its fate with Napoleonic Mayor-for-Life Michael Bloomberg, in the hopes that Mike and his free-spending millions won’t jilt them at the altar yet again after safely securing the throes of office.  I’m sorry, but even with a potential train-wreck such as the incompetent and out-of-touch liberal alternative in Democrat Bill Thompson, I will not be casting my vote for Mayor Mike.  Whether I hold my nose and vote Democrat or merely abstain entirely will be a game-time decision.  But no lover of liberty and the will of the people can in clear conscience support a man who basically single-handedly overturned a public referendum and ended term limits so that he can gain an additional four years.  No doubt the Mayor and his overdeveloper friends will carry the day on Tuesday, but it will not be on my hands.


Rare is the day I embed and praise a Communication Workers of America video!

At least I have a worthy and decent City Council candidate in Dan Halloran at the most local of levels to support — a Conservative Republican with a chance to win even!

Meanwhile, across the Hudson River, the incumbent governor and noted expert vehicle driver Jon Corzine is in the battle of his life against the rotund but affable Chris Christie.  Yeah, he’s fat, but who cares?  He’s cool with it.  Question for Jersey residents: you have among the highest taxes and costs of living in the United States, and businesses and residents are fleeing the state faster than the Israelites beat a path out of Egypt.  Is more Big Government and Big Finance at the hands of the former Goldman Sachs’ CEO really the answer?