Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Microsoft does the IPod package

Seth Godin has a pointer to a hilarious video on YouTube - microsoft ipod packaging parody.

As he puts it, "If you've ever worked in a place with more than three marketers, this is so accurate, you might cry."

So true...

UPDATE -- If you didn't catch this video when I posted this note, you're out of luck now. It's been removed from You Tube. Sorry...

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Making it big in the blogosphere

Wow! I got two posts mentioned in the PR briefs note on the Mutually Exclusive PR weblog. Now I know I've really arrived.

Actually, Eric Eggertson, who runs the blog, is an old friend of mine from Regina and one of the best PR bloggers around. His insights and wry humour inject a note of Prairie reality into the sometimes rarified air of corporate communications. Since he entered the realm last year, he's become one of my must-reads. And he's also been kind enough to send quite a few readers my way.

Thanks Eric. And keep 'em coming!

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Clara Hughes' incredible example

Like many Canadians, I watched in awe Sunday morning as Clara Hughes won a Gold Medal at the Winter Olympics in the 5,000 metre longtrack speed skating. It was an amazing performance.

But then, she did something equally incredible, when she donated $10,000 of her own money to the charity Right to Play. She was following the example of American skater Joey Cheeks, who donated his gold medal bonus (US$40,000!) and challenged other to follow. So far, Cheeks' challenge has raised over $400,000. (Canada doesn't pay any bonuses to its gold medal winners!)

In the evening, she did an interview with the CBC's Brian Williams, where she talked about her race and her donation. Following the interview, I checked out the Right To Play website and watched as the donations started rolling in. (I added mine right away -- I was inspired by Clara's speech.)

When I tuned in, about $1,300 had been raised. But in short order, the total steadily rose, to about $17,000 now (about 20 minutes after the interview.)
(UPDATE -- As of 9:50 Sunday night, the total raised is over $31,000)

It was a graphic example of the power of television to inspire people to donate and the equally cool ability of the Internet to supply the means for people to make that donation instantly. It only takes a few seconds and the benefits are obvious.

Feel inspired yet? Take a look at Clara's challenge page and add your own donation, if you are.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Workers working harder, getting less done

Here's a story that says we're working harder but getting less done. That seems to fit with the anecdotal evidence I see around me every day. People talk about how busy they are and how they don't have time to get everything done. That seems to be at odds with all these great time-saving technologies we're all so busy adopting. But the new hardware and software doesn't seem to help. In fact, if studies like this are to be believed, they might be a big part of the problem.

Here's an excerpt from the Wired News article, just to give you the flavour:
Unlike a decade ago, U.S. workers are bombarded with e-mail, computer messages, cell phone calls, voicemails and the like, research showed.

The average time spent on a computer at work was almost 16 hours a week last year, compared with 9.5 hours a decade ago, according to the Day-Timer research released this week.

Workers typically get 46 e-mails a day, nearly half of which are unsolicited, it said.

Sixty percent of workers say they always or frequently feel rushed, but those who feel extremely or very productive dropped to 51 percent from 83 percent in 1994, the research showed.

Put another way, in 1994, 82 percent said they accomplished at least half their daily planned work but that number fell to 50 percent last year. A decade ago, 40 percent of workers called themselves very or extremely successful, but that number fell to just 28 percent.

What should we take from this information? Well, we're moving in the wrong direction, despite the technological advances we've made. We haven't learned how to use technology to our advantage, at least in a consistent way. We have learned how to take advantage of technology in a larger sense. Our corporations are more profitable than they've ever been and real advances have been made in all sorts of areas.

But we have not been as quick with figuring out how technology helps our society in a "social" sense. How are communities made stronger by high technology? How does the ability to bring people together in a virtual world translate into a better "real" world? We don't have those answers. We're not even asking the questions yet. We're starstruck by the potential wins and not paying enough attention to the issues we're facing right now.

In a company, this shows up in issues like switching from print newsletters to intranets. Features that used to be standard in a print publication, like employee profiles, retirement notices, death notices, upcoming social events, etc., are often discarded. They're not seen as driving business anymore and they get dropped from the "instant-on" Intranets. (This isn't to condemn Intranets -- just to point out that some of the "social" benefits of the older technology get overlooked when we switch to the newer models.)

We expect employees to work harder. We monitor their performance more closely. And we're more likely to question their work habits if they don't measure up to business objectives. In theory, this should make us more efficient, but in practice, as studies like this are starting to indicate, we are becoming less efficient. Or at least, we think we are less efficient and that could be the same thing.

We need some new measures for how we decide whether we're working well and whether the companies we work for are measuring up. Bottom line performance is only one measurement. When it's the only one used, it's hard on employees. But if we were to broaden the measurement base to include items like job satisfaction, community involvement, creativity -- there could be a lot on this list -- we would be able to judge the merits of our business world in a more socially responsible manner.

A change is coming, I'm sure of it. And while the rapid adoption of new technologies is part of the problem, it's also the key to a solution. We've just got to keep asking the right questions.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

I'm a writer. I also like to hear other writers talk about how they write. This list of Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing is one I really like. It's good advice and good reading too. We're all writers, even if all we write are e-mails to colleagues. Everyone benefits when we put a little thought into how we communicate with each other.

(Thanks to 43Folders for the link)

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What's the future for newsprint?

There's been a debate going on for years now on just what the future is for newspapers in an online world.

There are those who think the prospects are limited for newspapers and that their days as one of the prime delivery networks for news are limited. Recently, PR blogger Steve Rubel, complained about newspaper sites only delivering partial RSS feeds. Then he went further:
Flash forward 10 years from today. We will look back and laugh how quaint it was that we received our news on dead trees. Yes, I am saying the word “newspaper” will be a misnomer. News will be delivered automatically each day, not by the paper boy, but via wirelessly enabled e-paper devices that are easy to read. All of it will be powered by RSS.

Perhaps. A lot will depend on just how good those E-reader devices really become. Still, I'm not convinced. There are a lot of significant factors that are still pointing to newsprint enjoying a long life yet. And there are others that share my opinion.

In his Loose Wire blog, Jeremy Wegstaff, a columnist with the Wall St. Journal, takes a contrary view (perhaps not surprisingly, given his vocation.)

But Wegstaff's response is not knee-jerk, in any way. He presents a lot of thoughtful reasons on why we're not likely to give up the luxury of print anytime soon.

I tend to agree. While I do a lot of reading online, there are still plenty of situations where I want to hold something in my hands and read. A cup of hot coffee and a lot of sunshine coming in through the window -- to me, that's a recipe for curling up with a book or leafing through a newspaper, not cuddling up to my computer.

Similarly, when I commute in the morning, newspapers and books outnumber portable devices by quite a bit. Part of the debate has to do with whether we need to see news in "real time." Personally, I think that requirement is overblown in importance. We just don't have to know everything right now. If something is significant, we'll hear about it soon enough. Still, it is human nature to want to know stuff right away, especially if they can find out about it before someone else. Knowledge is power, as they say.

As I reporter, I used to see this a lot at news conferences. While sitting around waiting for a politician to arrive and tell us what the news was, we'd all debate our own theories, trying to convince each other that we knew more than the others about what was happening. And we'd do this right up until the announcement was made. It was fun, but it didn't really contribute anything to the larger picture.

What do you think? Are you likely to accept getting all your news delivered to your favourite media player via RSS? Or do you think that newspapers are going to stay relevant in a fully electronic world?

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What to get your lawyer this spring

Here's the perfect gift for the lawyer in your family! A watch that tells time in six-minute increments.

See the whole line at The Billable Hour.

(Thanks to Seth Godin for the link)

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Tips for More Productive Meetings

If you've ever been the victim of a badly organized business meeting (and I'm sure we all have been at one time or another) you'll appreciate these 9 suggestions for how to make your business meetings more productive.

The list was compiled by Merlin Mann over at 43 Folders, which is a great place to visit for all kinds of ideas about how to organize your on-life life.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Moving Employee Communications To The Top of the List

There's a new blog out on Employee Communications, a subject near and dear to my heart. It's called For Your Approval, and it's written by Ron Shewchuk, who's the author of a new book from the IABC called Writing and Editing the Internal Publication: Delivering Employee Communications with Impact, Integrity and Style.

His post today is a thought-provoking piece called The Myth of the Strategic Communicator. He raises some good points in this first of what will be several posts on this topic.

He takes aim at the notion that if communicators are going to be relevant in business, they have to gain a seat at the executive table. But in his experience, that's not a path to success, especially for communicators.

Well, I’m here today to tell you that I’ve been a temporary dinner guest at that strategic table more than a few times in my long and sordid career. And I’m ready to share a little secret: most of the time the guests are insane and the food is undercooked, overcooked, rotten or poisoned. Very few decisions actually ever get made. Long-term direction is often nothing more than the path of least resistance, or whatever your cranky investors are insisting you do next. And battle tactics are devised in a very deep, cushy bunker in which the primary goal is not victory, but self-preservation.

He's got lots of other good stuff, like why a psychopath would fit into an executive suite and how communicators share a lot with social workers. It's provacative and worth reading.

Another new blog
Another interesting update for business communications blogs is the launch of the IABC Communications Commons. The blog is actually a series of blogs (3 at the moment) which will feature well-known communicators talking about what matters to them.

Shel Holtz, who has a long history of championing new media for communicators and is the co-host (with Neville Hobson) of the For Immediate Release podcast, was one of the driving forces behind this new venture, which is sponsored by the IABC. Surprisingly, though, I couldn't find any mention of it on the IABC website yet. Perhaps it's too new to point to.

The Communications Commons features three sub-areas right now -- Branding, Employee Communications and Measurement. You can sign up for RSS feeds for each of them, as well as the general feed.

It's an indication that communicators are getting serious about using the blogosphere as a way to spread knowledge. If you're in communications and you want to stay in touch with how our world is changing, I encourage you to check out these new resources.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Social Networking meets The Daily Show

This is hilarious. Lousy quality video, but that's the way Google Video works. But the clip from the Daily Show is priceless. So what is Social Networking, you're wondering? It's what we're doing right now, kind of.

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Randy's Vinyl Tap keeps me listening to radio

I'm sitting here tonight catching up on all my RSS feeds. I subscribe to a lot of blogs (as you can see down in the right-hand column) and sometimes I fall way behind in reading the latest posts. When I was away in Victoria, I didn't have regular access to the web, so I didn't read much at all for over a week. So tonight, since I've nothing else going on right now, I've been spending some "quality time" with my computer.

Often while I do that, I listen to podcasts. But this is Saturday night, so I've got the radio turned to CBC Radio One and I'm listening to "Randy's Vinyl Tap," which is arguably the best music show in the land. While I've pretty much given up on regular radio, there are still some great shows on CBC and since they're not yet releasing them as podcasts (although they're thinking about it) Randy's Vinyl Tap is one I always try to listen to.

Host Randy Bachman, of course, was one of the founders of The Guess Who, one of the most famous Canadian bands of all time, and certainly the most famous to ever come out of Winnipeg. His show features his incredible stories about the popular music scene over the last 40 years, which he fills the show with. And he plays his personal favourites throughout, all with his unique personal touch.

Tonight, he's featuring instrumentals only. "No voices at all," he says, except his own to introduce the songs. It's been a great show so far, and there's still another hour to come.

If you haven't checked out the show on CBC Radio One (alas, it's not available as a podcast yet) try to carve some time out of your Saturday nights and listen. I guarantee you'll have a good time.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Back to the joys of commuting

So I arrived back from Victoria on Wednesday, with a relatively effortless flight back. The plane was a wide-body and there weren't many people, so we all had lots of room.

I left Victoria at 11 am and arrived back in Toronto at 7:20 pm. I was home by 8, for a "real-time" commute of about 6 hours.

Then this morning, I left the house about 6 am (morning came really early) but didn't get into the office until about 9. Add in another 3 hours of travel time to get home again tonight (at least, since the commute home is always longer) and I'll end up spending as much or more time travelling back and forth from work today as I did yesterday to go from one end of the country to the other. What a screwy way to spend my time.

Anyway, the weather in Victoria was beautiful -- sunny and warm. As opposed to the freezing rain I'm looking at right now here in beautiful downtown Scarborough. But the lasting impression I'm left with after touring around Victoria is -- We'll never be able to afford a house!

The housing market in Victoria is red-hot right now. Which is nice, if you already have one, but not so good if you're looking to buy. Heather is staying in a nice place right now that reminds us a lot of the house we used to own in Regina. Unfortunately, it's probably worth about $1 million or more in Victoria. We could never move into that neighbourhood.

We spent some time looking in the part of town we hope to live, near where Heather's practice will be. While the houses are more "affordable" there, we're still looking at paying twice what we'll be able to get for our Hamilton home, just to get something with a roof. If we want a basement, or a back-yard, or anything else, we'll be looking at a lot more than that.

It was certainly a reality check. It underscored for me that I need to ramp up my consulting business considerably in order to pull my weight in the mortgage department. And if we decide to rent instead of buy (which is looking likely at this stage) it will be tough to find a place that will welcome our two dogs. Most of the rentals we saw listed were decidedly pet-unfriendly.

Oh well -- we knew we were starting a new, grand adventure. This trip merely clarified just how grand it's going to be. I can't wait to get started.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

If you're wondering where I've been

I've been in Victoria for most of last week and the first part of this one. So I haven't been blogging (as you would have noticed if you've been visiting.)

I had hoped to show you some pictures from around here, but I've been unable to get decent connections to the Internet, so I've been passing on worrying about it and concentrating on enjoying myself.

My wife, Heather, has been out here since just after Christmas and we've been having fun looking at potential sites for her new practice office. It looks like she and her partner are close to signing a lease for an ideal location. It's all very exciting.

As for where we are going to live when we're out here, that's a different story. We know the area we'd like to be in, but we're not sure that we'll be wanting to buy another house when we arrive in the summer. So we're looking at renting, but having two large dogs limits the market considerably!

Oh well, these are the things that make moving so much fun, right?

I'll be back in Hamilton later this week and I'll resume regular programming then. In the meantime, Go Canada!

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

The indoor rowing season is underway

Originally uploaded by Dave Traynor.
Prior to sitting down to watch the Super Bowl (did you catch the performance by the senior Stones at the half?), I took in the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships in Toronto. Kelly and her boyfriend Spencer were rowing.

I've posted some pictures to my Flickr site. You can see the set here.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Painting your body is all the rage

Have you watched Miami Ink?

It's a reality show on the TLC network. My cousin's daughter, Jessica, has been living with us this year, while she finished up her Grade 12. And until she arrived, I'd never heard of this show. But Jess is really taken with it. She says she can't turn it off when it's on, even if she does have an early class.

Over the semester break last week, she went to Montreal to visit her aunt and when she got back, she had gained a couple of new flowers, as you can see here. The tatoos are beautiful and my daughter Kelly is in awe. Kelly wants a tatoo too, (a too too?) but her tastes run more to a discreet little Maple Leaf on her ankle. She wants to make sure people in Kentucky remember that she's a Canadian next year.

Personally, I've never had the urge to paint my body that way. While I've got nothing against tatoos, I guess I can't help thinking about what they'll look like a few years down the road. (When I look like the guy in the photo below) What seems like a good idea on firm, young flesh takes on a whole new perspective in middle age.

However, I notice at the company I'm working at how many younger folks sport tatoos. And they're not covering them up either. There was a time when people didn't show off body art and piercings at work, but now it's a lot more mainstream. Times change. What about you? Any thought to getting a little something extra on that exposed skin?

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

To the Moon? I don't think so.

It would appear that all those naysayers and conspiracy theorists who argued that the United States didn't really put a man on the moon back were right.

Check out this footage, if you don't believe me. The camera doesn't lie, right?

(Warning -- Don't be tempted to click any of the other links on the page. Or at least, don't tell anybody if you do!)

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