COMM 0014 – Post 1 – What I Did on My Vacation

drive

I, like most people, love the anticipation of an upcoming vacation. Spending some quality time with the family. A warm climate. Removed from all the demands of a work environment. Sounds perfect, right?

Well, in theory it does. And I’ll admit that most of my vacations have been close to perfect, ridiculously good. Most of them have included picturesque settings, sensational accommodations, great friends, fantastic entertainment, and an overindulgence of great food and alcoholic beverages. Can’t forget the alcoholic beverages. (Maybe that’s why I remember my vacations to be so good?)

Yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced almost perfect vacations. However, my most recent vacation happened to be my worst vacation yet. I’m hopeful it was an anomaly and not the beginning of a series of terrible vacations, God’s way of balancing the good with the bad.

Following is a short list of my tribulations from last summer.

1. Planning. Statistics support the notion that the planning stage of a family vacation can be very stressful. I concur. At least that’s the case with my family. After several months of trying to find a destination that all four members agreed upon, I was more than ready for a vacation – alone. The kids are older now and provide input; with disparate interests, they couldn’t seem to agree on a destination. What should have been an exciting process turned out to be extremely exhausting.

2. Myrtle Beach. That’s what we eventually decided on. That’s not really where I wanted to go. And it certainly isn’t where I wanted to DRIVE to. I have no interest in spending my vacation anywhere that’s remotely commercial. That’s what I want to get away from. I don’t want to shop. And I especially don’t want to shop for t-shirts, coffee mugs and ball caps. I know I may come across as supercilious, but I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with it – it’s just not me. But I also don’t like Disneyland. When I’m on vacation, I want to relax or engage in sports.

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3. The drive there. Driving was not my idea. The kids wanted to recreate experiences from earlier trips to Florida. They wanted to watch movies in the car, and stay at a couple of hotels along the way to enjoy the indoor pools. It turns out the kids somehow forgot about their significant growth spurts since the last road trip. The drive isn’t nearly as tolerable when your body is a couple of feet longer. The pools they remembered as large now seemed the size of bathtubs, and held their attention for all of about ten minutes. I thought I had forever left behind car trips punctuated with frequent stops to eat, pee or stretch. Apparently not. Oh, and crying. Yes, it had all returned.

4. Room mix-up. The large suite we booked (with two rooms and three beds) was apparently unavailable. Despite my imploring (which, I’m afraid, came awfully close to weeping), a suite wasn’t made available to us until day three. Until then we all shared a room with two double beds. It made for a difficult couple of nights.

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5. Broken air-conditioner. On the second night our air-conditioner broke down. Although it was repaired late that night, it was unbearably hot during the day and most of that night. Coupled with No. 4 above, the unpleasant meter was now at ‘High’.

6. Jellyfish. I’m not sure if it was an uncommonly popular week for them, but there were many. When I wasn’t treating my own stings I seemed to be witnessing parents attending to the stings of their crying kids.

jellyfish

7. My wallet. It was there one minute, gone the next. I don’t think I need to say any more about how painful this can be.

8. The drive back. I was dreading the drive back, and it loomed large a couple days before departure. Although most people experience a “return trip effect” that makes their drive home seem shorter than the drive to their vacation spot, I usually experience the exact opposite. The trip home always seems much longer. And our respective fuses always seem a lot shorter. Not a good combination. Now imagine a flat tire 80 km from home. I’m not kidding.

I know it’s hard to complain about a vacation. After all, Myrtle Beach isn’t all that bad and there was much to enjoy. I realize that I can be melodramatic. It’s just that, relative to my other vacations, this one was terrible. So please, don’t judge me too harshly. I don’t know any better. I’m sorry.

What about you? What unpleasant experiences have you had while on vacation?

Like My Idea? – Show me the Money!

Kickstarter

For decades, people all around this great land of ours have come up with great ideas for revolutionary products or services. And, for decades, many of them never saw the light of day due to a lack of financing. Most of the ideas that eventually became real products or services, materialized through an individual’s relentless drive or inside track to large sums of money.

Raising capital has never been easy, whether you were a single entrepreneur seeking ten thousand dollars to start a t-shirt business, or a fledgling software company looking for $20 million to increase marketing and R&D efforts. Of course, not all ideas were great, but even some of the obvious winners had difficulty securing funding.

bike

Generally, the small entrepreneur would have to know someone who could afford to take a chance on them, or they would seek a loan through a financial institution. The software company could offer stock in their company through a public offering, a process that usually saw them working with institutional investors who would then sell to the general public on a securities exchange. Either way, the financing net was nowhere near as wide as it is today.

The Internet and social media has made it possible for almost anyone, anywhere, to raise enough capital to quickly launch a good business plan. Crowdfunding (or crowdsourcing) allows individuals or corporations to fund a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people through the Internet. Kickstarter and peerbackers are two of the most popular crowdfunding sites. Today, when a great idea requires initial funding, the Internet and social media can be used to spread the word quickly and a project is ready to get started. The old model saw companies receiving large investments from each of a handful of investors; today’s model yields much smaller-size investments from thousands of investors. Individuals are now aware of the great ideas searching for funding and they’re willing to throw their money at them.

money

The model is by no means simple, and there are many variations (and cons) to raising capital this way. However, crowdfunding has a number of benefits that go beyond just raising funds. One of the biggest advantages is the engagement that project initiators have with their backers, even before they begin the project. It’s a huge plus to have thousands of passionate investors offering opinions with the design of the project and share feedback throughout the process.

At the end of the day it allows good ideas that may never have been financed by conventional financiers to attract cash from a supporting crowd. There’s hope for all of us – it’s time to head back to my lab in the basement!

Sharing the Passion

share the music

Social media has made it possible for people to explore, share and easily broaden their knowledge in their areas of interest like never before. Social media has significantly widened the scope of my ability to fully engage in my various passions.

One of my passions is music. It’s an obsession – I am music junkie. As a young kid I loved discovering new music by pillaging my brothers’ vinyl record collections. It wasn’t long before I began accumulating my own albums, and it wasn’t long after that when my brothers began borrowing albums from my extensive inventory. I hate to admit it, but I have music in various formats that preceded mp3 files – CDs, vinyl, and even cassettes tapes. But no 8-track or reel-to-reel for this young buck!

As a young kid growing up with a music obsession, I was eager to discover new music any way I could. Outside of the music discovered in my brothers’ collections, I had a limited network – there was no social media. There were friends at school, but it wasn’t as easy as it might seem to find kids who shared the same musical taste. I subscribed to a few music magazines, but these were published monthly. I spent hours in record stores flipping through milk crates full of vinyl. The storeowners and fellow patrons were my most important network. And that was it.

records

Social media has made it ridiculously easy to find new music compared to those earlier times. I’m able to have music immediately recommended to me based on my musical tastes. I can engage in discussions with like-minded music fanatics in numerous music communities. And I’m actually able to listen to music prior to deciding to pay for it. (Yes, that explains how that Culture Club album ended up in my collection.)

And I’m not even getting into how painful it was to access and play music back in the day. (Who today would have the patience to make a mix-tape on an ‘actual’ cassette tape? Exactly.)

soundcloud

Yes, social media has made it incredibly easy and enjoyable for music lovers. There are myriad ways now to explore, find and share new music. Not only can this be done through Facebook and Twitter, but through apps like SoundCloud, 8tracks and Spotify.

Do you have a favourite place to find and share new music?

Modern Dystopia?

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1984. The Handmaid’s Tale. Fahrenheit 451. A Clockwork Orange. These are just a few of the many dystopian books published over the years.

More recent additions to the genre include Hunger Games, Divergent and The Circle. Although not Dave Eggers’s finest book, The Circle is extremely interesting because it takes some of the principles from other books, such as ‘Big Brother’ from George Orwell’s 1984, and applies them in a world that is actually not that far from reality. In fact, the fictional firm in the book, called The Circle, is eerily similar to Google or Facebook.

the circle

Underpinning the book’s storyline is the social media environment we’re living in today; so much personal digital information — pictures, tweets, searches etc. — is increasingly collected. There’s concern that this has put us on a path toward a day when privacy is obsolete, where we eventually lose our status as individuals to the ever-increasing belief in the collective knowledge of crowds.

One of the more interesting verticals in the book is its take on transparency in today’s world. The main character begins wearing a camera lens that gives her watchers virtually 24/7 access to her life. She lives in an environment where people feel they have to share everything with the world or be left behind. You can feel the pressure she’s under to stay on top of all her online communication – to her work clients, her company colleagues and her friends outside work. Falling behind in any of these worlds is not acceptable.

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Transparency and information sharing are quickly eroding the level of privacy we have in our everyday lives. Just the other day, Police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, began wearing body cameras after weeks of unrest over the shooting death of Michael Brown. Facebook is now reportedly working on a feature that will let your friends search through your old posts … by keyword. Online gaming sites are collecting information about their users and then engaging them in ways specifically designed to keep them playing longer – and then market to their friends after users brag to them about their winnings. Those are just examples I read about last week – it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of where we’re heading. What about Google Glass? Or Drones?

There are myriad examples of how we are losing our ability to find ‘private’ time. The Circle does a good job of bringing this issue to the surface through a contemporary novel. Please share the title of any other similar books you’re aware of.

Mea Culpa: We’re only Human

All companies make mistakes. Humans run them, after all.

Social media has raised the potential that company mistakes will damage their reputation. There was a time when mistakes – perhaps an inappropriate comment by an employee, or rude behaviour displayed by a customer service representative – were covered up quickly, eventually dying with only a small number of people being aware of it.

Today, mistakes such as those can become an immediate concern for the company. With Twitter and other social media tools, everyone becomes a news reporter and the distribution of news can travel worldwide in seconds. People want to share stories, or support others who they feel are being treated inappropriately by a company. Companies need to respect that and act accordingly.

Can you imagine the horror when Chrysler management noticed that the F-bomb was dropped on followers of the official Chrysler Twitter account, @ChryslerAutos, in this tweet:

“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive”

Rather than attempting to delete the tweet and pretend it never existed, the company did the right thing by deleting it and quickly tweeting an apology.

They followed up with a blog post pointing out that the tweet originated from an employee of its social media agency, and that the employee was subsequently terminated. What’s very interesting is that the @ChryslerAutos account actually gained Twitter followers following this reported incident.

When employees make mistakes, it’s best that the company own them. Customers prefer the company acknowledge the mistake and apologize. It’s best not to hide these mistakes — customers prefer to see honesty and the human element. And just as social media can damage a company’s reputation if not handled properly, it can also be used to quickly stop the damage and even turn it into a positive event.

There are many examples of companies making social mistakes. This post offers advice to help you avoid getting there in the first place!

Have you had any social media mistakes occur in your company? If so, how did you handle it?

Launch Your Podcast Today!

For years, people have been predicting the death of terrestrial radio. The advent of TV was going to kill it. Most recently, satellite radio and podcasts have been identified as the mediums that will ultimately put traditional radio to sleep. There’s evidence to support declining listenership, yet there is also evidence suggesting it’s as healthy as it’s always been. What isn’t debatable, however, is that podcasts have become increasingly popular. For example, FAB Universal, a worldwide distributor of digital entertainment, recently announced a quarter-over-quarter growth of 8 million podcast audience members in 240 countries. That’s pretty good, and there’s no reason to believe it’s going to slow down.

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I’ve been a loyal terrestrial radio listener since I was a kid, yet over the last few years I’ve shifted almost exclusively to a consumption of digital media. I’m not interested in listening to Top 40 or any other music that’s forced into my ears – my iPod allows me to tune into the music I want to listen to, when I want to listen to it. The same goes for news or talk shows – I download and listen to podcasts. The only time I listen to traditional radio is in the morning, and that’s a rare time when I’ve only got a few minutes to catch the local news and weather before I leave the house. Even then, I’m more likely to get that information using my smartphone’s weather app and Twitter feed while running out to the car.

 future

Podcasts are the future, but the future is just around the corner. If you’ve been thinking about creating your own podcast, here are just eight reasons why now is the time to start!

  1. The proliferation of handheld devices. Hundreds of millions of these devices have shipped and continue to be delivered into the hands of new owners around the world.
  2. Ease of use for consumers. I’ve been listening to podcasts for years now, and it’s quite remarkable how easy it’s become to find and listen to new material. Early on, if I wanted to listen to a podcast in my car I’d have to download the podcast on my desktop and sync my iPod to it. Now, most new handheld devices have a podcast listening app baked into the OS, which means millions of new devices now enable their users to be one click away from discovering or consuming podcasts.
  3. People want choice. Consumers want to listen to what interests them, not what radio programmers think they want to hear. And, both the quantity and quality of content continues to grow. There’s a lot more choice, and the choices are getting better. That equals more listeners tuning in and looking for content.
  4. Covenience. People want to listen to their content on their own time. I do most of my podcast listening when I run. Podcasts are also great to listen to when at the gym, commuting to and from work, doing the dishes, cutting the grass or going to sleep for the night. It’s the perfect multi-tasking companion.
  5. Binge listening. Once you discover a podcast you love, you can download the entire library or select only the episodes you’re interested in.
  6. Fewer annoying ads. Generally, there are fewer ads. No more listening to five consecutive ads while waiting for the news. The ads that exist on podcasts also tend to be more creative, often woven in with the main content. And, of course, listeners can skip through ads if they’re so inclined.
  7. Technology. It’s now easy for anyone to record and publish a podcast. With nothing more than an iPhone and an app, you’ve got a lightweight, highly mobile recording studio that can record, edit and upload from anywhere with an Internet connection.
  8. Money. Podcasting is finally seeing the arrival of major advertisers.

So if you’ve been sitting on a great podcast idea, you no longer have an excuse not to act on it. You don’t need to sell your idea to a radio executive – all the technology is there to start on your own!

If you listen to podcasts I’d be interested to know your habits – what type of content do you listen to (maybe even specific shows), where do you listen to them, and how often? 

Drive Carefully – the Good, Bad and Ugly of Social Media

Quite a bit of time has passed since I was a teenager. It’s quite possible I just can’t remember what it was like, but I’m fairly certain we had it easier than today’s teens.

Considering the myriad advancements we’ve seen over the years, from food choices to transportation to technology, one could argue life today is easier for teens. And, most certainly, technology – including social media – has simplified their lives in many ways. For one, ease of connectivity through mobile devices can improve their relationships with family members. Social media also provides a way for teens to gain comfort and confidence in social interactions, especially for those who experience shyness or social anxiety. It’s also a great way to relieve stress as it provides teens with more outlets where they can express their feelings and receive social support. This is all ‘good’.

But teens also experience the ‘bad and ugly’ of growing up in today’s world  — a depleting ozone layer, a more competitive educational system, and lots of really, really bad reality TV. And so while social media offers teens many benefits, it can also be very damaging. Notwithstanding the inherent risks such as identity theft, social media can amplify the trials and tribulations of simply behaving like a typical teenager.

Social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager. When we wanted to talk to someone, we picked up a phone or walked to the person’s house. And when we had a conversation, it was between us and remained that way. There was no dialogue that others could hear or participate in. When bullying occurred, it was never in a group of more than a handful of kids. Bullies would inflict their damage and walk or run away. Today’s teens can have dozens of people continue to attack them online, scathing remarks being dispensed by others from the comfort of their own homes, often anonymously. These damaging comments will forever be available in the digital world, a constant reminder to the poor recipient.

Conversely, teenagers should measure their comments when posting in the digital world. Prior to social media, when teenagers made ill-advised comments (believe me, I made my share), they weren’t published and made available in perpetuity. I can remember several comments I made as a teenager that I immediately regretted. But I can’t remember them now, and no one can access them. Had social media been available to me at the time, it’s quite possible those comments would continue to haunt me today. I’m sure I would have been more self-regulating, but mistakes would have been made nonetheless.

cars

Teenagers using social media is in many ways analogous to teenagers driving cars. Automobiles are powerful technologies that have greatly enhanced our lives. We’re able to get to more places, faster. However, the power of the automobile must be respected. Prior to driving a car, we’re educated on the mechanics and the rules for operating one. We’re also made aware of the risks and potential damage that can occur if the rules go unheeded. There is much evidence to support the notion that, on a per mile basis, teens have a greater risk of being involved in a fatal car accident than drivers aged 20 or older. So, what is it about teens that lead to this outcome? It’s a combination of inexperience, impulsiveness and exposure during the adolescent years. These are some of the same traits that can damage a teen when using social media.

1. Inexperience
Most new drivers have insufficient experience in the real world to handle the complexity of driving. Like in any activity, they become more proficient in their driving skills the longer they have been driving and become exposed to a variety of conditions and locations.

Teens should proceed slowly when first using social media. They should become familiar with their surroundings, and gain experience by watching others around them. Educating themselves will help mitigate accidents.

2. Impulsiveness
Teenage drivers tend to engage in more impulsive behaviors. This is often attributed to their level of cognitive, social, emotion and biological development. The presence of other teenage passengers in the car with a youthful driver frequently adds to the innate inclination to act impulsively.

Impulsive behavior often results in teens using social media to post inappropriate texts, images or videos. More often than not they recognize their error, however it’s too late once it’s posted. And being in a dialogue with several others on social media increases their odds of acting impulsively.

3. Exposure
Teenage drivers tend to drive frequently at night and often with multiple teenage passengers. Studies have shown that these factors sharply increase the likelihood of a serious or fatal car crash.

Whether it be peer pressure at a party, or having their heart-broken for the first time, teenagers often find themselves in situations that will impair their judgement and lead to ill-advised posts on social media. They should learn to identify these situations and either avoid them or discipline themselves to refrain from engaging in social media while in them.

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So although new technology can make life easier by giving us the ability to easily share information, if not used properly it can be damaging, especially to teens. The Internet is their megaphone to the world. They need to consider how their actions today will impact their reputation, their college and job prospects, their friendships, and their communities — not just today, but tomorrow, 10 years from now, and 10 years from then. This means slowing down and thinking before acting. Examples include asking friends before tagging them in photos that could be embarrassing to them, and holding back from saying things to people they wouldn’t otherwise say to their faces.

I’m not suggesting that I don’t have faith in today’s teens. Quite the contrary. In fact, an article in The Guardian entitled Teenagers and social networking – it might actually be good for them states that “working out how to behave online is a new social skill”. I’m advocating that it would behoove all teens to work on that new social skill.  Automobiles and social media are both technologies with extreme power, and teens should treat them with respect. Any failure to do so can result in an error that could severely impact their future and/or the future of others.