General Chaos

Can they make Schaefer look any wackier?

Free stuff’s the right stuff as Schaefer prowls the hall: “Ocean City – William Donald Schaefer wandered the red carpets at the Maryland Association of Counties convention here yesterday with one thing on his mind: free stuff.

(Via baltimoresun.com – maryland news.)

OK, the man likes his mousepads. He’s 83. He’s active, engaged, and…totally out of his mind. But that’s not much of a change from when he was Governor, or Mayor–this is the guy, after all, who jumped into the now-gone seal pool at the National Aquarium in a gay-90’s (1890’s) bathing suit, straw hat and inner tube back in the ’80’s.

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General Chaos

Pavement (there goes the neighborhood, redux)

OK, so we finally heard back from next door–actually, from the father of the neighbors.

Father Landlord looks and sounds kind of like Larry David; he’s shorter, has less hair, and a substantially smaller sense of humor. He called in a very formal way: “This is (his name) calling about the note that was left at (his sons’ address).” I was half-expecting him to threaten my 11-year old for cutting his grass. P. had picked up the phone at the same time and took over the conversation, explaining that son J. was looking to make a little extra money and had extended the offer to mow their lawn (subtext–it wasn’t getting done otherwise).

“Oh, we won’t need that for a while,” he said. “We’re going to be pulling out everything in the front yard; it’s all weeds. So maybe later when it grows back in.” Then he added, “We’re going to pour concrete over the whole back yard, so we won’t need that cut.”

Great, another Hampden concrete lawn. Instead of having a tree and a fenced grass yard next door, we’re going to have a frat-house parking lot. Of course, some of our other neighbors love the idea of a low-maintenance backyard, so it might just start a freakin’ trend.

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dot-communism

Another great time-waster from the world of machinima

I’m a big fan of Red Vs. Blue, a comedy video series based on and created with Halo. It’s an entertainment form known as machinima–making movies with a video game engine. It’s sort of like puppetry, without the strings.

Well, now someone has taken the whole thing to a new level. This Spartan Life is a talk show “filmed live” on XBox Live in Halo 2. It introduces a whole new problem to the talk show format–how do you carry on an intelligent conversation with a guest while people who have no idea what you’re doing are trying to kill you?

They even have Solid Gold Elite Dancers, and a DJ playing a soundtrack of 8-bit music on a GameBoy. It’s interesting and funny–and the video blog is hilarious.

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Baltimore, buzzword compliance, dot-communism, work

Turn off delight, the party’s over

Last night, I went to an open house at MICA run by the graphic and digital design group of their Continuing Studies program. I went mostly because Sean Carton was speaking, and he had invited me to come by.

Carton has started writing a weekly column for my day job. Considering he’s now Dean of Philadelphia U.’s School of Design and Media, it was kind of strange on the surface that MICA would ask him to come speak–it almost seemed like GM having Lee Iacocca come speak at a Chevy product launch.
But I was also there to network, and to find out about MICA’s graphic/digital design programs. Plus, it gave me a chance to check out the new Brown Center at MICA, the concrete and glass monster on Mount Royal that’s most famous here in Baltimore for catching a bullet shortly after it opened. And besides, I wanted to steal some ideas from Carton.
And here’s the idea I’m stealing today — to succeed with a product, in bits or atoms, you need to delight.

Here’s the context. After a whirlwind tour through the last 20 years of digital convergence and its impact on culture — and on the amount of available attention people have — Carton talked about how important design has become to the success of a product. Products (be they physical or information-based) succeed because of the total experience people have with them, and much of that experience is a result of design.

The Delight factor is what seperates the iPods, BMWs, Mini Coopers, Muvicos, Googles and such from the rest. People overlook the specs if something engages them in a way that goes beyond just the function of the product.

It’s a dangerous word, “delight.” When I hear managers talk about “delighting the customer”, it usually comes two seconds before they spew out the most idiotic drivel I’ve heard in that particular fiscal quarter. The word itself has lost most of its meaning in daily usage; people just don’t say, “Whoa, dude, this thing delights me.” Typically, it’s used in a sycophantic greeting (“Delighted to meet you!”) or ironically (“I’d be delighted to take that back to the kitchen for you, sir”).

I have a hard time working up to delight. Sure, I covet some of the things that hit the “delight” button hard, like the Mini Cooper, the latest PowerBooks, and so on. But creating a lasting sense of wonder about anything is pretty fucking hard to do. The butterfly on this blog’s header landed next to me on a broken asphalt parking lot…that delighted me, in that moment. Doing stuff with my kids delights me. It’s a real stretch to say that any brand of anything can come close to that level of emotional connection.

And really, that’s the challenge people trying to hack our emotional responses for a buck face these days. Everything has become experiential–everybody is trying to find some way to connect in a scripted, contrived way with the product-consuming public that you really have to do a good job of faking originality to get anyone interested anymore. Everything is derivative of derivative things. To “delight”, you basically have to:

  • be original
  • be “authentic”
  • be inclusive
  • not suck

Baltimore has plenty of places that pull that off for me. The fine folks at Atomic Books know how to pull off the experience for their market niche (Yo, Benn and Rachel! And congrats on the Emily Flake book making the Must List in Entertainment Weekly, by the by). The Karzai family has experience nailed at B and Tapas Teatro. WTMD has somehow managed to steal my iPod playlist and make it their programming.

The other key piece of what Sean Carton said is that eventually, the technology or medium used to deliver whatever connection you’re trying to make with people is irrelavant. It’s about making people feel like they belong within the world that the product/website/experience reflects. A cool, makes-you-want-to-come-back web site isn’t just about the graphics, the beveling, the font choices, or demonstrating mad CSS skillz–it’s dependent upon creating a connection with the audience. The content needs to speak to people at a whole level beyond just passing along information.

I look at the stuff my company does. Does it “delight”? I don’t think so. How do you “delight” IT people, corporate executives, etc. with a tech website? It’s hard enough to just suck less, let alone not suck.

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Baltimore, buzzword compliance, dot-communism, work

Turn off delight, the party's over

Last night, I went to an open house at MICA run by the graphic and digital design group of their Continuing Studies program. I went mostly because Sean Carton was speaking, and he had invited me to come by.

Carton has started writing a weekly column for my day job. Considering he’s now Dean of Philadelphia U.’s School of Design and Media, it was kind of strange on the surface that MICA would ask him to come speak–it almost seemed like GM having Lee Iacocca come speak at a Chevy product launch.
But I was also there to network, and to find out about MICA’s graphic/digital design programs. Plus, it gave me a chance to check out the new Brown Center at MICA, the concrete and glass monster on Mount Royal that’s most famous here in Baltimore for catching a bullet shortly after it opened. And besides, I wanted to steal some ideas from Carton.
And here’s the idea I’m stealing today — to succeed with a product, in bits or atoms, you need to delight.

Here’s the context. After a whirlwind tour through the last 20 years of digital convergence and its impact on culture — and on the amount of available attention people have — Carton talked about how important design has become to the success of a product. Products (be they physical or information-based) succeed because of the total experience people have with them, and much of that experience is a result of design.

The Delight factor is what seperates the iPods, BMWs, Mini Coopers, Muvicos, Googles and such from the rest. People overlook the specs if something engages them in a way that goes beyond just the function of the product.

It’s a dangerous word, “delight.” When I hear managers talk about “delighting the customer”, it usually comes two seconds before they spew out the most idiotic drivel I’ve heard in that particular fiscal quarter. The word itself has lost most of its meaning in daily usage; people just don’t say, “Whoa, dude, this thing delights me.” Typically, it’s used in a sycophantic greeting (“Delighted to meet you!”) or ironically (“I’d be delighted to take that back to the kitchen for you, sir”).

I have a hard time working up to delight. Sure, I covet some of the things that hit the “delight” button hard, like the Mini Cooper, the latest PowerBooks, and so on. But creating a lasting sense of wonder about anything is pretty fucking hard to do. The butterfly on this blog’s header landed next to me on a broken asphalt parking lot…that delighted me, in that moment. Doing stuff with my kids delights me. It’s a real stretch to say that any brand of anything can come close to that level of emotional connection.

And really, that’s the challenge people trying to hack our emotional responses for a buck face these days. Everything has become experiential–everybody is trying to find some way to connect in a scripted, contrived way with the product-consuming public that you really have to do a good job of faking originality to get anyone interested anymore. Everything is derivative of derivative things. To “delight”, you basically have to:

  • be original
  • be “authentic”
  • be inclusive
  • not suck

Baltimore has plenty of places that pull that off for me. The fine folks at Atomic Books know how to pull off the experience for their market niche (Yo, Benn and Rachel! And congrats on the Emily Flake book making the Must List in Entertainment Weekly, by the by). The Karzai family has experience nailed at B and Tapas Teatro. WTMD has somehow managed to steal my iPod playlist and make it their programming.

The other key piece of what Sean Carton said is that eventually, the technology or medium used to deliver whatever connection you’re trying to make with people is irrelavant. It’s about making people feel like they belong within the world that the product/website/experience reflects. A cool, makes-you-want-to-come-back web site isn’t just about the graphics, the beveling, the font choices, or demonstrating mad CSS skillz–it’s dependent upon creating a connection with the audience. The content needs to speak to people at a whole level beyond just passing along information.

I look at the stuff my company does. Does it “delight”? I don’t think so. How do you “delight” IT people, corporate executives, etc. with a tech website? It’s hard enough to just suck less, let alone not suck.

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General Chaos

There Goes The Neighborhood

I like to think that I can get along with just about anybody. I’m pretty easygoing; I could probably sit down and have a beer with the most vile right-winger and have a friendly conversation–or with someone of any religious or political pursuasion that allowed them to sit down to a mildly alchoholic beverage with a stranger.

But my new neighbors are doing their best to piss me off. Or, rather, they and their parents are. And I don’t know how long I can remain neighborly Sean if they keep it up.

The whole woeful tale begins earlier this summer, when our former neighbor Anna put her house on the market. Anna was the ultimate good neighbor–we gave each other house keys, she babysat Z. and watched our house when we went on vacation, and we did the same for her. But then she met a guy, and they got engaged, and her roommate finished grad school and moved to Chicago. So she decided to sell her house and move in with her betrothed.

The winning bidders on her house, and our new neighbors, are two brothers from Lutherville. One is a law student, and the other is a manager at a local watering hole; their parents financed the purchase. I’ve only met the law student, and he seems nice enough. But.

Our introduction to the whole family, aside from brief talks with the parents during their house inspection, was waking up to find a moving truck parked on our front lawn. Apparently, the father decided that it was better to shoot first and apologize later, so he backed up right across our other neigbor’s and our lawn to get as close to the front porch of his new acquisition as possible without creasing the grass of its yard. The law student and the mother both apologized for the father’s reckless behavior, and promised to fix any damage; the mother went out and raked our yard after the was gone. No harm, no foul, right?

A month later, and nobody next door has cut the grass. It’s fucking three feet high in places. I see the father in the back yard (which is not that tall, because the brothers apparently have a lot of house guests, and the back yard is always filled with cars), and he apologizes–“I’m embarrassed about the yard; I’m picking up a trimmer for them tomorrow.” I pointed out that I had one, and I would happily lend it to them–and in fact, I had two able-bodied sons who would do the work for them if properly reimbursed. He said he would mention that to them.

Still, the grass was so high it could be hiding vermin. So J., my younger son, took it upon himself to assault their lawn with our manual push mower. His brother K. and I helped him finish it off, and Jonah left a note for the neighbors offering full-time front-and-back lawn service for $10 a week.

We haven’t heard a peep from next door.

This morning, I was pulling out to take K. to soccer practice at Poly, and a roofing truck came cruising into the alley, blocking my exit. They’re going to be here all day, blocking driveway access for everybody on our block. Again, there was no warning from next door; in fact, aside from the cigarrette smoke blowing through my air conditioner when they take front-porch smoke breaks and the daily changing collection of cars covering their back yard, I have no evidence that anyone actually even lives there.

Am I asking too much? Obviously, there’s a difference between two young women living next door and two guys in their mid-twenties, so I had lower expectations, I thought. But when you’re in a line of rowhouses, you’d figure the close quarters would infer some responsibility, right?

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