Sips from the Firehose

Jun 25

Forget an MBA – Watch creativeLIVE’s “Secrets of Silicon Valley”

Posted: under Digital Migration, New Marketing.
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 How many times do you get a chance to ask spectacularly successful tech entrepreneurs anything you want?

Janine & I just completed two days of intense sessions with some of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs at creativeLIVE’s “Secrets of Silicon Valley” sessions. And yes, that was really alliterative.  Sorry. Bear with me. Everyone talked in such catchy bullet-point laden phrases that it leaked over into my speech patterns.

dave lafontaine looking at creativeLIVE heatmap

The walls of the creativeLIVE breakroom are festooned with flatscreen monitors showing what’s on their various channels. Most fascinating of all are the real-time “heatmaps” showing who’s watching at any moment, bordered by the latest comments on Twitter and Facebook.  The “Secrets of Silicon Valley” was watched by people in more than 130 countries. In the map, you see clusters of red and white dots representing the audience through my reflection as I took this photo.

If nothing else, these two days were proof that above all else, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have mastered the talent of giving really beautifully designed and stripped-down PowerPoint presentations.

Seriously folks, if you’ve ever suffered through a “Death By PowerPointless” presentation where you were assaulted with dense bullet-point slides with hundreds of words on them … slide after slide after slide, none of them memorable, that made you fantasize about massive natural disasters, zombie apocalypse or alien invasions … these two days were not that.

Here’s what was so special about the “Secrets of Silicon Valley” speakers, who are entitled to have more than their share of ego and self-satisfaction: they didn’t just brag. Nor did they ramble on in thinly disguised sales brochures for their companies.

The most compelling speakers hardly mentioned their companies. Instead, their focus was on us, the audience. On what we needed to know.

The speakers knew what they were going to say, and they said it with humor, efficiency and – most unexpectedly, from a group of uber-nerds – humanity.

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Feb 26

The Oscars on Social Media: International Audiences Yawn, US Bloggers Snark

Posted: under new media, television.
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Live-Blogging the Oscars and Tracking the Tweet Clouds

I was hoping that the real-time geo-Tweet maps would show something interesting in and around Los Angeles during the Oscars telecast. No such luck.

Apparently, not that many people in and around Hollywood were actually Tweeting during the Oscars telecast - at least, not enough to compete with some of the other topics showing up on a Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world didn’t seem too interested in the Oscars:

Strange that despite all the traffic about the Oscars, on Twitter that still didn't compete with some of the other trending news topics around the world -- such as the elections in Australia, or the massacres in Syria.

Drilling down a bit more, we can see some other names start showing up – although the Los Angeles area still isn’t #1 in Twitter activity. Guess our fingers are too busy here ferrying Scorcese-related cocktails to our mouths to actually type in a Twitter update.

Looking at the tag cloud, you can see that once you drill down past just "the Oscars," the names of the celebrities start showing up as trending topics.


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Jan 08

Wearable Media: T-Shirts, Hats & Wristbands

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Digital Migration, Video.
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Video Everywhere Comes to Our Clothing

I guess it was inevitable.

Back in the 80s, hip designers realized that consumers were willing to become walking billboards for their product logos, all for the sweet, sweet tradeoff of being able to flaunt our ability to buy outrageously overpriced clothing. Slap a big ol’ logo or even just the name onto a t-shirt, mark it up 3000%, and the nouveau riche (but inwardly crippled by insecurity & self-loathing) will fork over fat wads of cash to be able to demonstrate their affluence. And so Guess, Armani, Jordache (remember them?), Dolce & Gabbana and Nike all slapped their logos on otherwise ordinary mass-produced items, and watched their profits soar.

First, from T-Post, an interesting little take on spreading the news, via clothing. These funky designs have actual stories that you can read on the back.

tshirts that double as magazines

These t-shirts will at least keep the person waiting behind you in line at Starbucks well-informed.

I can see a real use for this kind of thing in places like Egypt, Syria, Russia, China — places where the government not only has censored the TV/radio stations, padlocked the printing plants, but DDoS’d the internet and shut down the cellphone grid. In places like that, just having a few people walk through the crowd as passive human billboards, with the latest information on their bodies, is a helluva tool to spread information.

Upside: It radically boosts your revolutionary chic.

Downside: It makes you a target for camel-riding truncheon-wielders.

Next up is a nifty little device that plays a programmable video loop, and that can be fashioned into clothing or attached to microphones to play sponsor’s messages during interviews before, during, or after big events.

It’s called VideoNameTag, and I took a demo unit with me to Kiev, when I taught a group of journalists and professors at the University of Mohyla’s Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism. You can see them puzzling over how to fit it onto their wrists – although they were certainly interested in the prospect of being able to broadcast the latest news via wireless connection to a couple of people walking through crowds.


They’re gearing up for an especially contentious election season in Ukraine this year; one where the pro-Putin crew is already pulling out all the stops to keep a lid on dissent. Not sure how much something like this could help – but then again, having a person walking through the crowd and playing a loop, such as the famous sequence showing the death of Iranian protestor Neda Soltan – could provide a form of information dissemination that would transcend the attempts at censorship.

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Sep 27

Where the Symbols on the Dollar Come From…

Posted: under Digital Migration, newspaper crisis.
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This is painted on the ceiling of the Rila Monastery in the mountains of Bulgaria, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

the eye of god in the rila monaster in bulgaria

I can’t help but wonder whose eye this ancient artist used as the model for the Eye of God. The history and beauty of this complex makes me feel like I’m about to embark on some sort of DaVinci Code-like adventure, only this one will involve online business models and the mysteries of HTML5. Heh. Hopefully, I won’t be pursued by some self-flagellating Newsroom Curmudgeon, bent on undermining my message about how there is actually hope for the future, that journalism will survive, even if it does take a form that is strange and possibly abhorrent to the practitioners steeped in The Old Ways.

I’m traveling to Bulgaria (and to this amazing historical site) to lead a series of panel discussions with scholars, students and the nascent digerati on the future of journalism in the digital age, hopefully continuing in my role as an international Digital Johnny Appleseed. The training session we did yesterday at the Institute of the Americas in La Jolla was amazing – one of the best groups we’ve ever presented to, and one where we could see already that journalists from all over Latin America were discovering on their own, ways that they could cooperate and help each other across the vast distances.

And once again, I shall be completely shameless and link to the recordings on UStream of the live sessions, featuring my wife Janine.


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Jan 25

Mindshare LA: “The Illusion of Free Will”

Posted: under Conspiracy Theories, Online Video.
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No. this isn’t about how advertising brainwashes us all into buying the latest overpriced electronic P.O.S. (although The Onion News Network has one of the most hilarious stream-of-consciousness obscene NSFW videos about this very subject).

This is an intro to a mind-blowing speech by Caltech neurologist Moran Cerf at last week’s Mindshare LA, wherein we all learned that we’re not alone in our heads … (cue Psycho music). In fact, we’re not really the ones behind the steering wheel up there; our decisions are made by what seems to be something of a quorum. And what we think we know … we don’t actually know. We just react to the most recent events, no matter how traumatic the actual event was … which goes a long way towards explaining why the U.S. voted the Republicans back into power. We really have no long-term recollection of how f’d up things were — just as long as they are slightly less painful NOW. There is a part of us that actually is rational, that knows and remembers … we just choose to shove that part/persona/personality to the background in our heads so we can go about our days cheerfully smiling into the face of our delusions.

In the rest of Moran’s speech, he dealt with such things as what are the five things that actually make us happy (and no, money & sex were NOT on the list), and how we can “listen in” to the neurons firing in a human brain to detect if a person is thinking about Marilyn Monroe, or Josh Brolin. Wearing a red bandana around his head.

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Sep 30

Taiwanimation: No Longer Parody, But Actual Useful News Interpretation

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Online Video, Politics & New Media, Video.
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A while back, I was asked to give me take on “The Emerging Visual Language of Online Video” as part of Rosental Alves’ amazing yearly journalism conference in Austin.  I made the room laugh when I showed parody videos like the “SoulWow” and others, created by the People Formerly Known As The Audience.

Check out this interpretation of Bob Woodward’s book on Obama & Afghanistan:

My larger point (other than getting a cheap laugh, which is never to be, well, laughed at) was that the first impulse of video-makers is to take things that they know and love, and that their friends know and love, and to do their own snarky take on them. It’s what we see when little kids get their mitts on video cameras for the first time, and produce their own home movies.

It’s what Spielberg did when he was a kid and producing his own WWII epics in his backyard. My sisters, cousins & I did this back in the (mumble mumble) decade, with 8mm film, and a script based on what we had seen of ads of movies like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (we couldn’t get into R-rated theaters in Wisconsin).

For the average user, producing a video is an inherently daring process. Any media creation is, really – but creating a video is so much harder than typing into a WordPress text window (ahem), that it ratchets up the anxiety. As any good comedian can tell you, laughter is the release of anxiety.

Creating funny, sarcastic or absurdist videos is a way to laugh at yourself, before everyone else does (again – check with comedians as to why they became class clowns – something to do with avoiding beatings from the bullies, I expect).

But now these videos are coming into their own. Before the book has really cleared out of the news cycles, already there’s a video (pretty good quality, too), interpreting it in a way that makes you pay attention.

In the attention economy … this is pure gold.

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Aug 10

Machinamation: JetBlue Flight Attendant’s Meltdown

Posted: under Video.
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Years ago, it took us a couple of weeks to set up a “re-creation” of the O.J. Simpson-Nicole Brown-Ron Goldman murder chain of events (special shout-out to Yasmin Brennan for finding us someone to play OJ … before she had to flee to Australia to avoid extradition).

Last year, it took 3 days or so to come up with an animated sequence showing a plane crash, using Flash.

Now, only hours after a colorful incident, “machinamation” (done by Next Media Animation in Taiwan) has come out with a short animated video showing their take on what happened on Flight 1052.

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Aug 02

Bill Cosby is Not Dead Yet: A Viral Marketing Set-up?

Posted: under advertising, Amusing Nonsense.
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First day back from a much-needed “decompression” trip to the redwood forests of West Marin, and I’m greeted by the strangest trending topics when I fire up Tweetdeck for my re-immersion in the raging info-torrent:

twitscoop shows bill cosby denying his demise as top trending topic

So many people are ReTweeting Cosby's denial of his demise that the keywords are showing up all over trending topics.

Strange. The words “Cosby,” “demise,” “rumors,” “confirming,” and the Palin-esque portmanteau “rebuttaling” are trending. So when I click through to see what everyone’s talking about, this comes up:

twitter users retweeting cosby demise denial

Check out how many people are just hitting the "RT" button to repeat what Cosby said -- without any sort of editing of the message whatsoever. Thus including the link.

Wow. OK, either there’s some sort of radio or TV contest going on here, or there’s a genuine story brewing. How can I tell that it’s not just one Twitspammer clogging up the Twitosphere? Well, check out the sources of the Tweets: Twidroid, web, UberTwitter (not shown: Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and about a dozen other clients).

Spammers give themselves away by using only one (or at most two) channels to shovel their dreck. Usually they just compromise one platform and then quickly cram their message through the crack in the security wall before someone notices and plasters it over again.

Still, there’s a possibility that there was a massive exploit of user’s Twitter accounts, and that the weblink will lead to a page where the Trojans & Spyware lurk. So, setting the various anti-virus & script-blockers to “Red Alert” status, I clicked on through. Turns out that the Cos actually does have an app.

Bill Cosby's twittered rebuttal of his demise

A simple message - and one that has been picked up by a significant portion of his million-plus followers.

Now, I’m not sure if this was entirely scam-free. Cosby is a shrewd marketer & hustler; I wouldn’t put it past him to stage a non-event like this to take advantage of the overheated, overhyped nature of the Twitosphere to get his name out there (and how many times in the past six months have you actually even heard Bill Cosby’s name? Yeah, like that). One of the surest ways to cause a kerfuffle was proved a year ago when the news of Michael Jackson’s death caused the FailWhale to appear … so maybe Cosby & his web team figured out that sock-puppeting a rumor of Cosby’s sudden death would be enough to set off a ruckus.

Which Cosby could then take advantage of by issuing a denial … and tying that denial to a message plugging his new money-making app.

Convoluted? Damn Skippy. Like setting up a three-cushion shot on an uneven billiards table. Being carried in the back of a flatbed truck. Over a rutted backwoods Arkansas dirt road.

Then again, Bill Cosby was something of a hustling pool player, once upon a time…

Bill was not always "Mr. Establishment." He had a funky side - maybe it was Sidney Poitier that brought it out of him...

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Jul 04

Animated Movie: A Marxist’s Take on the Double-Dip Recession

Posted: under Online Video, Video.
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Not sure if I agree with all the theses, but at least the intro really accurately runs down all the flak-catching targets for what was known as “The Subprime Mortgage Meltdown,” and is now about to be known as “The Great Depression II.”

Man, I wish I could draw as good as this guy. Reminds me of the UPS commercials where the guy with the whiteboard is illustrating in realtime what he’s talking about. Give me that guy at a board meeting, and I could sell those rubes bags of dirt.

Happy 4th of July, America. Not sure the clock has quite yet struck the hour for another Lexington & Concord, this time with the targets being Goldman-Sachs CDO traders …

RSA Animate – Crises of Capitalism

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May 20

Friday Noon Videos: Week of May 15

Posted: under Online Video, Video.
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Eurovision, Artsy Sheep, Sean Connery Torments Alex Trebek, and Drool-worthy Vids Made with a Canon 5DII

Please excuse the mess: I’ve been wrenching away at the template on this blog, trying to get it to function in IE7, as well as to get the banner to animate (without having to resort to either an animated GIF or a .flv file that slowed load time to a crawl).

This week, I’ve got a great mix of light & funny and experimental & trippy.

First out of the box, the most popular video of the week – the Eurovision winner. A fiddle-playing Norwegian kid, with big soulful eyes that has all the chicas in the comments section swooning.

It wasn’t until I spent a couple of months in Moscow that I realized what a big deal the winner of the Eurovision song contest was. Apparently, this has become the proxy for the landwars of the 19th century, and the combat in the voting and online is as fierce as Austerlitz.

Hey, if this can keep them damn countries from launching senseless wars against each other, I’m all for it, and will encourage it in any way that I can.  Any chance we can get Putin to do a soulful KGB ballad about the sadness & emptiness of life, now that they can no longer yank fingernails out of dissidents.

Eurovision Winner – Alexander Ryback

Julia Dales – Beatbox Champion

Next up is another musical video – somewhat more stripped down. This teenage girl manages to mimic a pretty elaborate beatbox; the comparisons to the dude in the “Police Lobotomy” movies are inevitable, if somewhat trite. I kinda wonder why this was shot in the backseat of a car? Maybe it was where they could find the best acoustics – although the window is open.

Anyway, the talent to sing while still laying down a rhythm track is hot, and the Republican Party should recruit this girl immediately, and send her thru a Cato Institute shake-n-bake seminar on right-wing ideology. That way, when next the reporters start asking pesky questions about the GOP’s alternative to Obama’s universal health coverage, she can leap into the fray and distract everyone from the utter lack of any sort of ideological alternative.

Cute Girl Has Amazing Beat Box Skill – Watch more Funny Videos

Extreme Sheep Art

I guess it’s not as bad as some of the other, more “Performance Art” pieces that could be done with a flock of sheep & some bored shepherds.

Actually, this is quite sweet, and made me think of the movie “Babe.” I had never noticed how predatory the herding dogs look when they come at the sheep; their heads are so low to the ground their muzzles must be damn near scraping, and they look like they’re coiled and ready to go for the throat. Maybe the panicked reactions of the sheep aren’t so out of line?

Anyway – any video that manages to combine sheep in lighted vests, a hillside & the 1812 Overture to good effect gets a thumbs-up from me. And the sheep have obviously been getting their cardio-vascular exercise.

Samsung Extreme Sheep LED Art
Uploaded by sertanarig.

SNL – Will Farrell Returns as Alex Trebek, Still Tormented by Sean Connery

Everytime I see versions of this skit, I collapse in laughter.

Killer line this time: “Is that what the moustache is for, Trebek?”

Why I Want a Canon 5D Mark II: Part 1 – Deep Powder Skiing

I defy anyone to try to get this kind of quality in such extreme conditions with a standard HD camera; the camera is either way too clunky (check out the trippy sequence when the skiiers are weaving through the trees – a larger camera would have smashed into the trunks & not have been able to thread the needle) or too bulky to take along with you during a downhill run like this, over moguls and deep powder.

The shots of the snow were so crisp that I got a brain freeze.

Powder Mountain Perspective from Ian Provo on Vimeo.

Part 2: Great Music Video Cinematography & Color Depth

This is just neat-o eye candy.

wemakemusic* – Dance with a Statue from Sebastian Woeber on Vimeo.

And last, check out this (it’s not embeddable, so you’ll have to click through) – it’s just a camera test, but it feels like the beginning of a 70s-vintage thriller like “French Connection” or something.  The stedicam work done with the 5D is great-it must be a treat to be able to be so nimble in your movements because of the reduced size & weight. The video is a little sticky, so you’re going to have to wait for it to buffer, which can be a pain. (Brief pause to check stats)

This vid is about 116 megs, so yeah, it’s gonna take a while. Obviously fairly uncompressed, which is why the image quality is so high.  Hope I’m not banging your bandwidth too bad, guys… but I do recommend checking out how well the 5D does Panavision with a 50mm lens on it.

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