Friday, October 26, 2012

Unloading the nightmare

Tumblr's down at the moment, which is a good thing. I was tempted to post this brain dump there but downtime thwarts what might be a mistake.

Instead I'll park this here in my digital junk drawer, to be revisited at some time in the future when pieces make more sense and I find the other parts to which this oddment belongs. It's like the handle to a pot lid I keep, waiting for the day the pot and lid to which it belongs emerge from a long-stored box.

I had a dream the night before last. I want to call it a nightmare for its subject matter, but I'm not certain that's what it was supposed to be.

The dream had such intensity of feeling and a quality of reality to it that I woke up checking my breathing and for blood on the couch. I actually worried about the leather surface on which I'd fallen asleep while watching an innocuous movie hours earlier.

The story arc of this dream is gone; I can't recover the origin of the story, unless I choose to undergo hypnotherapy. I feel relatively certain that I'd been accused by some authority of a political crime, either written or oral rendering of words caused me to be sentenced to death.

I was panicked, wondering how I would escape being rounded up and sent off to my sure death. At some point a woman appeared, calming me by saying it would be all right.

She put her arm around me; she was no one I knew, but she understood my panic.

And at the point I began to relax, she clutched me closer with one arm and carefully eased/shoved a spike deeply into my chest, like a knife into cold butter. 

The spike did not reach my heart, but instead pierced my aorta. I knew it was fatal, and I knew she was the executioner/assassin.

She hugged me and shushed me, then laid me down on a bed.

Knowing it was futile to do anything else, I shouted my goodbyes to loved ones.

I woke as I began to fade.

And I checked the couch for blood at this point, still feeling the spike deep in my chest.

* * * * *

Now what the fuck do I do with this content? It messed with my head so badly yesterday I was afraid to write. I chattered on Twitter, trying to avoid thinking about this.

Was the dream spawned by unconscious worries about my auto-immune syndrome?

Was the dream a message about life direction?

Was I really the assassin/executioner -- and am I in denial about recognizing myself as a self-saboteur?

What did I do that set this dream in motion? What leftover bits were laying about in my attic that in turn acquired a life of their own?

I have no answers. Nothing seems to click as they normally do when I analyze dreams, whether mine or someone's else's somnolent unconscious escapades.

I'm afraid I will have this dream again; the urgency of the dream is not unlike other recurrent dreams I've had in the past, where something was bothering me so much that a demand for remedy persisted even in my dreams.

For now I will leave this content in this out of the way spot, not to be forgotten but to be left for the day when I remember the rest.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Print News Continues Flaming Death Spiral; Will The Guardian Bail Out in Time?

[photo: Stuart Chalmers via Flickr]
We’ve seen stories this week about two print news outlets trending away from print--phasing out a print edition in the case of Newsweek, and potential phase out of print operations in the case of The Guardian.

Newsweek’s print edition will be a thing of the past as of the end of the year. The Guardian is considering a similar move, if off-the-record sources in a Telegraph article are credible.

Ironically, The Guardian’s staff contributor Michael Wolff is doing an annoyingly smug I-told-you-so dance, bashing Newsweek’s editor Tina Brown for bothering to take on Newsweek. At the time the news magazine was sold in 2008, Wolff told one of their staff reporters, “...Newsweek wouldn't be around in five years.”

Let’s hope for Wolff’s sake that The Guardian’s owners are as brave as Tina and as monied as Newsweek’s benefactors in helping the newspaper limp along for another handful of years. The Guardian has been hemorrhaging money to the tune of £44M a year; the parent firm’s owners appear to have discussed soto voce their concerns about the losses with Telegraph’s reporter.

As the New Yorker noted this past spring, “... [The Guardian]  lost roughly $50 million last year, and though it’s subsidized by a nonprofit trust, at that rate it can survive for at most another five years.” Guardian Media Group CEO Alan Miller appeared less optimistic in June 2011, when he indicated “parent company Guardian Media Group could run out of cash in three to five years if the business operations did not change” in a report featured in The Guardian on its “digital-first” strategy.

Fine reading The Telegraph’s article by journalist Katherine Rushton, the sources cited are referred to as “Senior figures at Guardian News & Media“ and “trustees of the Scott Trust, GNM’s ultimate owner.” One might assume on the face of it that these are separate sources--senior figures and trustees being different persons--and that the Telegraph is stringing together lightly sourced gossip about a competitor.

However Rushton may have relied entirely on the reporting of Stephen Foster at More About Advertising, an independent news service focused on business reporting. Rushton links to Foster’s report in her article, in which Foster refers to his sources as “Sources at the Guardian newspaper,” “top levels of Guardian News & Media,” and “trustees of the Scott Trust.” Given Foster’s background in marketing, advertising, and business communications, it’s likely there are both sources within the newspaper as well as at trustee level who are concerned about financial losses and looking at major cost cutting.

The Guardian’s own management decisions have offered enough validation to undermine Alan Rusbridger’s denials about any discussions to leave print. The “digital-first” strategy announced in 2011 along with the move toward open journalism, described by Rusbridger in May this year in an interview with Nieman Labs, positions The Guardian to rely more heavily on breaking news in digital space and publishing there first, before moving the final story to print.

Roy Greenslade, The Guardian’s press blogger, actively countered Rushton’s Telegraph article, implying it was a “flyer”--in colloquial American English, a “trial balloon” or a “stalking horse,” an idea floated to test for or elicit reaction, possibly from competitors or from the newspapers’ constituency. Greenslade says the Telegraph story is false.

But Greenslade doesn’t respond to the original source story at More About Advertising; MAA’s Foster pushes back at Greenslade’s protests, saying, “Our story was well-sourced. It’s certainly what staff on the Guardian newspaper fear is happening...”

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: Prometheus (2012)

[Movie Poster via]
This month marks the DVD release of Prometheus, director Ridley Scott’s prequel to his 1979 film, Alien. I’ve been so wound up and excited in anticipation of this disk, since before the first time I saw Prometheus at the theater. I wanted to make a side-by-side comparison of themes and motifs in both Prometheus and Alien in order to analyze Scott’s vision of the past, present and future.

I was fortunate to see Prometheus twice in the theater, the first time in IMAX 3D. It was worth the additional hour-long travel time and expense to see in IMAX as the visual detail and the sense of immersion were incredible. The roughly fifteen minutes of film shot in Iceland are breathtaking, setting the tone for the rest of the film.

My film viewing experience both times was improved by my “date” — my 14-year-old son accompanied me, being almost as much of a sci-fi buff as I am. His reactions were priceless for their raw, untrained quality, as were his questions and comments after each viewing.

Prometheus does not rely heavily on the story arc established in Alien; the earlier sequel is now a precautionary tale of lesser heft than the more recent prequel. The xenomorph canon is preserved in both; the “monster” is a uber-killer, a space shark that eliminates human lifeforms ruthlessly and efficiently. It retains its purity, "unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality," features which Alien's android science officer Ash admired so greatly. Alien did a fine job of letting the Giger-influenced creature off its leash to do its thing. In Prometheus, the xenomorph plays a lesser role. It’s the threat of the xenomorph as exterminator that is critical to this film, as well as the meaning of its existence.

But that is the entire question of Prometheus: what is the meaning of Earthlings’ existence? who are the Engineers, genetic forebears of Earth’s humans, and why do they also exist? Ultimately, Prometheus is one massively nested existential question; the entire plot is based on the discovery that Earth may have been visited by aliens called the Engineers, and that the planet was seeded with life resulting in humans that are nearly identical in genetics to the Engineers. The mega-rich corporate funder of the exploration project, Peter Weyland, is driven by a question: what is the secret to everlasting life? How does he defer his own impending death from aging? Can the Engineers as our creators answer his questions?

Improving Secondary Schools' Recruiting With Web Design Redux

[photo: frankh via Flickr]
In my previous post I discussed some key challenges for secondary schools’ recruiting process with regard to website design. In doing so, I provided a prospective parent’s view. You’re inside the head of the folks who sign the checks.

Let’s switch gears now to a different perspective. I’m also a consultant who’s worked with secondary education institutions to improve their use of social media and websites. I’m offering you a lagniappe here, the kind of material for which I’ve billed schools and businesses. 

Your institution represents a capital investment to students and parents; they want to invest in something they can believe in, a brand with a great image and reputation. Your recruiting success along with the other goals of your institution depends upon the brand you're building.

When selecting website design firms, most schools generally use criteria different from that of for-profit businesses. Schools select firms based on what other schools have chosen, or based on feedback offered internally; they don't think in terms of branding. It’s rare that any school sets out specific, measurable goals and then looks for a design firm used to helping for-profit businesses meet these goals, let alone firms that support nonprofits.

Your institution has quantifiable aims--XX% more new students, YY% more endowments, ZZ% more new placements of your students at hiring firms. These are just as specific as a corporation’s need to realize XX% more revenue, or a nonprofit’s need to increase donations by YY%. There’s a lot of science behind web design supporting these for-profit and nonprofit goals and their respective brands; your school should find a firm with a track record of delivery.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Improving Secondary Schools' Recruiting With Web Design [UPDATED]

[photo: D.C.Atty via Flickr]
If you’re an administrator at a secondary school, you don’t know me but you want me. Badly.

You want me and my recently graduated 18-year-old daughter with a 3.78 grade point average, stellar ACT/SAT scores, solid record performance in AP and International Baccalaureate classes, proven leadership through student council and volunteer work, mixed ethnic/racial heritage, and cash to pay tuition in full after scholarships have been applied.

We would make you and your enrollment numbers look great. We place little burden on your already-busy financial aid folks. Your instructors will enjoy a driven student used to self-directed study.

It’s not easy to recruit us. Quite honestly, yours may not be the school we need by virtue of the programs offered. We’re looking for something highly specific like Biomedical Engineering, for example, and you may not offer it. It may be beneficial to both you and us not to waste our time.

How quickly can my daughter and I find out whether you offer Biomedical Engineering? We’ve got at least 15 schools to examine. If you make this task cumbersome, we won’t even bother. Believe me, we’ll tell our friends/fellow students who are looking at similar science/technology programs how inefficient your school is with regard to technology. How can anybody trust sci-tech programs at a school that doesn't use highly organized and efficient design?

That’s the real bottom line: your school’s brand is at risk. A standard rule of thumb in the private sector is that for every dissatisfied customer, there are on average six other potential customers they tell about their negative experience. Your school doesn’t want this undocumented negativity. Even if we never apply to your school, we could still damage your brand because of our user experience with your site. But the website may be the only contact we may have with you, apart from a possible visit from a campus recruiter.