January 2008

Too much coffee. Too little sleep. That’s probably why I found this hilarious:

Ah, yeah…the orgasms of Star Trek (safe for work, but might get some weird glances tossed your way)

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If you’ve spent time with anyone in the ad and marketing world over the last few years, you’ve probably heard ‘viral’ so often you want to throat punch the next guy who throws it out there like it’s an option to buy. Same deal with WoM (or ‘word of mouth’ for those of us who enjoy English free of needless acronyms). There’s simply no way to make virals work ala a sure fire formula, but that’s not stopping anyone from trying.

Part of the resistance to acknowledging the obvious lay at the feet of The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell’s expansion on the idea that trends can be laid at the feet of a class of influential elites whom the rest of us must follow like puppies. Take a second and think: “Do I know anyone who’s involved in marketing and advertising? Is there a particular personality trait that individual might possess that the above theory might possibly cater to? Perhaps a smug sense of inflated self-worth and culture-savvy and/or the belief that their work is going to BLOW YOUR MIND?” Just a thought.

As you can see, I don’t put a lot of stock in the theory. Neither does Duncan Watts, a sociologist and research scientist for Yahoo whose work seems to slam the idea of an influential trendsetter class right into the ground. Watts’ work (in both computer and live models) suggests that, as most of us realized long ago, that trends are essentially random phenomenon which succeed or fail largely due to timing, quality, and how receptive the public is to an idea at any given time.

Ed Keller (who penned another book on the Tipping Point theory entitled ‘The Influentials’), doesn’t find much to like in Watts’ work, but allow me to pinpoint one particular example that does more to display how off-base The Tipping Point theory really is:

“The data are crystal clear,” Keller adds, when I call him up. “[Influentials] give and receive advice more. If I had $100 to spend, and I could spend it focusing on the mass market or I could put some chips on a group that could get me somewhere between two and five times as much energy with word of mouth, well, they’re going to get my message out more quickly and more efficiently.” He points to a recent example: Before Nintendo launched its hugely successful Wii video-game console last year, it handed out thousands of demo units to “mom influencers” around the country, creating a “built-in base of evangelists.

Yes, the Wii became the fastest selling console ever not because it was a revolutionary gaming device aimed at families instead of hardcore gamers, not because it launched with a groundbreaking entry in one of the most popular game titles ever (Zelda), and certainly not because it cost nearly $350 cheaper than its rival (which launched with fuck all for must-have titles), but because a handful of cool people liked it.

One word: Bullshit.

And we wonder why gaming advertising is so bloody awful. Or why commercials (like say, that horrid H&R Bloch spot with the vicious woman berating her obviously de-balled husband for buying tax software*) are so uniformly terrible? Or why 99% of ‘viral’ attempts made by most companies aren’t fit to lick the pastrami scented sweat from a Dom DeLouis’ Cannonball Run gag reel? You just don’t get it, Madison Avenue. And at this rate, you never will. Most importantly, you just don’t get us.

What matters? Content. Quality content will always rise, while crap (while often getting undue attention) typically settles to the middle. Timing. It’s 2008. You do ‘subservient’ ANYTHING, and you deserve a boot to the crotch. But there are any number of bands, directors, writers, artists, etc who can tell you that there’s more than a fair share of luck in tapping into the right reaction/sentiment at the right time. I know this is scary for you, but this is important: You can’t change that, and you certainly can’t bottle it sell it like just another media buy (my apologies to Scaramouch from YesButNoButYes for appropriately that last phrase).

Interestingly enough, what Duncan Watts’ research suggest is exactly what marketing has been running away from for the last 5 years: Mass marketing works. Make it accessible, aim it broadly, and you’ll do fine. Micro-demographics and niche targeting aimed at cultivating an underground swell that breaks wide is most often going to go no further than your seed point.

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Piecing together the 5,000+ piece Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon (which has a whopping price tag of $500) isn’t exactly a single lazy afternoon endeavor. Thankfully the magic of time-lapse photography (with one frame out of every 150 shot) pares it down to a manageable 3 and a half minutes.

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Ms Pac-ManIstvan Szita and Andras Lorincz from the Department of Information Systems at Eotvos University in Hungary have unshackled Ms. Pac-Man from confines of human control by using the game as an AI learning tool. The game was considered an ideal test enviornment to explore evolving behavior in AI as the game features fully randomized ghosts, as opposed to Pac-Man, where the ghosts’ paths were predetermined (and therefore just a trick of memorization).

In a test of over 50 games, successful AI were able to edge out human players (though not by much).

I say let the AI loose on Sinistar. Maybe then someone will finally beat that damn game.

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Off-Road Velociraptor Safari

by alphamonkey on January 31, 2008

in Uncategorized

Off-Road Velociratpor SafariIf, like me, you’re spending a lot of time wondering whether Super Smash Bros. Brawl will indeed fill the world with awesome (answer from Japan: Hell, YES), you might also be wondering how to pass the time until the March 9th release date.

Have no fear, because boredom just got drop-kicked in the face. Behold the wonder of Off-Road Velociraptor Safari. Yes, you read that correctly.

Read it again: Off-Road Velociraptor Safari. Finally, a game that answers the call of ‘Hey, where’s the insano race/destructo derby hunting game that speaks to me, the discerning speed-addled dinosaur with a penchant for violence?’.

While the in-browser player can lead to some buggy-ness (I don’t recommend having any other tabs open), the graphics and gameplay are top notch. Tear ass through a veldt custom designed for maximum mayhem as you blaze about in search of tasty velociraptor snacks. Power-ups, crazy ramps, and damage galore await you in handy five minute doses.

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Your pals over at RazorFine have got a new special feature (along with an annoucement which will make all sci-fi geeks scream for blood), but that’s another story.

Today we look the DVD’s everyone should own. Yeah, that means you! Come on by and take a look at the movies we think everyone should have in their DVD collection. How many of our chosen do you own? Does your collection make the cut? Find out!

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Ah, fan fiction. Is there no greater well for unintentional comedy? I think not. After all, why go to the good stuff when the bad stuff is so entertaining? Behold Half Life – Full Life Consequences, the machina adaptation of squirrelking’s magnum opus of awesome, ‘Half Life – Full Life Consequences‘ (the original of which, you can read here)

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Speaking of ‘All of Me’, I can’t get the tune out of my head now. So of course I’ll pass that along to you (as we all know that’s the only way to rid yourself of an earworm). There’s an incredible array of versions to choose from, but this time around I’ll go with Harry Connick Jr.’s sultry New Orleans take on the tune if for no other reason than a fantastic solo from trombonist Lucien Barbarin.

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Steve Martin - Being FunnyIt’s more than a little strange to think that Steve Martin’s most public persona is nothing more than the got-to guy for uptight boob, as such a traditional (or say hackneyed) role is such a far cry from his break-out comedy (not to mention his dry and erudite writing). I’ll always have a soft spot for his stand-up, which seemed like the perfect mix of silly and smart. Oh, and for ‘All of Me’, which remains one of my favorite romantic comedies.

For the Smithsonian Magazine, Martin goes into more than a little depth on how he methodically set about trying a new brand of comedy in the article, Being Funny. A great read, and a fairly illuminating look at just how much goes into creating that perfect act.

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1988I was thinking (as I am wont to do) on how my somewhat dampened monomania regarding media remains my #1 marker for the passage of time. I can think back on events in my life and note how long ago they occurred, but it’s only with albums, films, and comics that the time-lapse really hits, you know? I don’t know why that is (nor do I want to turn this into some Nick Hornby-esque navel gaze), but I’ve found the same holds true for many of my friends and associates.

So with that in mind, I thought about taking a look back at those ‘Seriously? [X] is that old?’ moments. 10 years seems to recent (and simply not noteworthy enough), and 30 takes it to the range where I was certainly alive, but not exactly media-savvy. So 20 years it is.

The first quarter of 1988 feels like a good place to start, as the mix of music released captures an industry just on the cusp of a serious sea change. The whole year reads like a David and Goliath look at what made popular music. You had statesmen like Robert Plant grabbing his last round of real post-Zeppelin relevance with Now & Zen (which oddly enough, relied on a serious Zepplin vibe for the single ‘Tall Cool One’), while David Lee Roth wore out his welcome with the laughable Skyscraper. (For anyone who helped make ‘Just Like Paradise’ a #1 single: Shame on you.) I hate to rail on Hollywood Dave, but c’mon. An album so bad that Steve Vai left the band to tour with Whitesnake (ugh), and bassist Billy Sheehan left to form Mr. Big (double ugh). Peppered in the margins were releases like Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man (still one of my favorite albums ever), which wouldn’t grab any real mainstream attention until Concrete Blond covered ‘Everybody Knows’ for the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack two years later.

‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ will be 20 years old in March, for which I still haven’t fully forgiven Bobby McFerrin. Cheap Trick rolled out the original line-up for the slow-dance staple ‘The Flame’, and we got one last look at the highlights Eric Clapton’s career with the excellent box set, Crossroads. Sadly it’d only be two short years before the suck button got welded down for good. Talking Heads released their last studio album, Naked, putting a cap on an amazing run of albums.

So far Q1 looks much like the years preceding it, but wait! Here’s where the fun starts: The Pixies released Surfer Rosa (engineered by then unknown Steve Albini)! Morrissey releases his first post-Smiths album, Viva Hate! The Church scores a decidedly alt-sounding top single with ‘Under the Milky Way’! The world meets Icelandic art pixie Bjork for the first time as The Sugarcubes’ Life’s Too Good hits the shelves! Change is in the wind.

Certainly not a chart-burner, but Soul Asylum’s Hang Time was released in April (which I’ll always love for ‘Sometime to Return’), while my love for Erasure’s The Innocents often put me at odds with my pals, most of whom were digging Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime. Hey, 20 years later I’m not embarrassed to still own that Erasure album. I bet my prog-metal pals can’t say the same about Mindcrime, now can you? I thought not.

4 months in, and 1988 is already a pretty weird and awesome year for music. Some albums (Viva Hate, for instance) feel 20 years old while others (Surfer Rosa) still feel current (helped in no part by the enduring influence of Black Francis and company). I’ll pick this up again in a few months, as this is a year wherein each quarter deserves its own space.

So after all this, what was the song/album that made me go ‘Holy crap, that’s really 20 years old!’? ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. How sad is that?

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