Friday, March 30, 2007

David Lynch On Product Placement in Films

Although certainly not being discussed at the moment in the same way PR efforts are, marketing and advertising efforts to place products in films and TV shows is a far older discussion. If you can spot a product in a movie, chances are the company paid to put it there.

My favorite director weighs in:

Via MeFi. Incidentally, the interviewer is wrong: this isn't a "growing trend," it's been going on for years.

By the way, one of my favorite solutions for a movie that couldn't receive any product placement offers, Repo Man:

Image comes from an interview with Repo Man director Alex Cox, which contains the story of the awesome generics.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rappin' Rove

OK, as unintentionally funny as this is, it's actually genuinely funny too. Karl Rove - AKA MC Rove - rapping. On Fox News, of course.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mythos Madness

Jeff made a great post over at Grubb Street regarding what he sees as six stages (or categories) of development of the Cthulhu mythos. His first five seem pretty spot-on based on my understand of the mythos' history. The sixth (Generation 5: The Gamers II?) - the one I would be a member of (or, the one preceding me) - is everything Jeff describes, but with an interesting added bonus: there have been a variety of mythos-inspired video games and interactive fictions that have taken story development into new places.

I don't want to get into a video games vs. pencil & paper games debate, but I can say that video games have had an influence on the mythos in my mind. True, I read every Lovecraft story I could find in the Granville Middle School library in the sixth grade, but the narrative graphic adventure games I played in my younger days had as much of an impact on my developing creativity than the books I read and the movies I watched.

Rather than write an essay, here are some mythos-inspired games that jump out in my mind:

  • Alone in the Dark - Started the survival horror genre. Investigators enter an old house, discover secrets, end up dealing with a pissed off demon.
  • Phantasmagoria - Created by Roberta Williams (of King's Quest fame), a full motion video graphic adventure spanning seven CDs (!) about a demonic presence let loose in a New England house. Fun fact: fellow Allit Lorelei Shannon wrote the sequel.
  • Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem - One of the five or so decent Gamecube games, Eternal Darkness was a hell of a trip and featured an insanity system I haven't seen duplicated anywhere else. It would often break down the fourth wall, telling you your controller was unplugged, pretending to delete your save file, and screwing around with your sound settings.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth - And here we have the only 'real' Cthulhu game (by name anyway) on the list. Dark Corners of the Earth was "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" in interactive form, and if it weren't for an absolutely impossible 20-minute stretch where you're being hunted and cannot save your game and die if you so much as screw up once, it would probably be one of the best 1st-person games ever made.

Those are the four that leap to mind. Silent Hill should probably be on the list too - does anyone have any others?

Ain't That a Kick in the Head

I've blogged somewhat about transparency and other requirements of PR in new marketing, but today's bruhaha is more about the crossover between traditional PR and the blogosphere. The line between journalists and bloggers has always been a blurry one, especially when many journalists themselves have begun to blog. And I can say from working on the inside that when it's crunch time before a big outreach effort, it's doubly-important to make sure you've got things right.

Like say, for example, not sending a briefing bio to the journalist rather than the client. Oops.

All things considered, this is really just a minor screw-up. Someone at Waggener Edstrom sent Fred Vogelstein of Wired his own briefing bio. Other than a rare inside look at the machinations of corporate PR, there really wasn't much relevant information in there. Fred posted about it online, and posted the bio itself (PDF). Chris Anderson blogged about it at the Long Tail, and Wagged responded on their blog.

My first (and snarky) thought was "thank God it wasn't me/us!" But I have to wonder if this even would have been a story if it had happened before the blogosphere. Chris Anderson (full disclosure: I am a big fan of the Long Tail theory of online distribution, and I was involved in some outreach to him when I was on the Xbox corporate account) titled his post "Some choose radical transparency, some have it thrust upon them." As PR evolves and we try to find our footing with a top-tier blogosphere that consists largely of journalists like Anderson and Vogelstein who are actively (and rightly so) blurring the lines between traditional journalism and blogging, our internal machines will change as well. Does that mean us PR types are going to stop creating briefing documents? I seriously doubt it - as some of the comments on Anderson's post indicate, that's what our clients pay us to do.

But just as we can't expect to create a blog supposedly by 12-year-olds for a video game system, we also can't expect that kind of information to stay secret - and thus the need even for internal transparency. This would have happened eventually, whether it was a bio accidentally pasted into an email or some less-than-scrupulous person stealing the information and posting it online.

The interesting thing to watch here will be the blogosphere's response to this: will they act like journalists and see it for what it is? Just as PR is taking its steps out of childhood and into our awkward adolescent phase when engaging with bloggers, so too are bloggers looking across the dance floor at us. Both "sides" (and I use that term loosely) are gangly and not quite sure of themselves yet, but it'll be interesting to see whether we can manage to hold hands and dance for a song or two.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Winds Are Changin'

A member of the Something Awful forums created his own wind turbine on the roof of his apartment complex, for less than $500 Canadian. The thread has pictures, and a link to a great resource called, which has in-depth step-by-step instructions on how to create your own windmill - one big enough to put power back into the grid.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Life Imitates Art

And here, Puppeteers, is why you shouldn't try to re-enact what you see in movies in real life.

I saw 300 yesterday with Brook (more on the movie itself later), and it was better than I expected it to be. Good enough to inspire me to take out my copy of Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World and read up a bit on Sparta, and to dig out Alexander so I could watch a historically-accurate battle scene.

It was also good enough that this morning, I attempted to re-enact one of the seminal scenes from the movie. As I was taking out the recycling bin, the front door was open but the storm door was not. Liz, being the helpful soul she is, asks if I need her to open the door for me. I reply, "No, THIS IS SPARTA!" and give the door a solid kick. Like in the movie.

It seems to work for a second, but as I step out, the door reaches the apex of its forward motion, catches on the springs, and slams back into the recycling bin, spilling the bin's contents all over the sidewalk.

Sparta indeed.

And that is why you shouldn't try to imitate art.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ten Simple Rules for Forum Moderation

This will probably be of interest to fellow new marketers and old HeroClix friends. My buddy Brandon, who started at WizKids recently, found my "Jason's Ten Rules for Forum Moderators" that I'd created in my tenure there. Basically, I wanted a document I could point to that had rules in case moderation got out of hand, and I wanted a way to articulate my philosophy behind how a transparent online community should be run. It's dated November 30, 2005.

  • Moderating is a time-consuming responsibility. It will require you to read the appropriate forums at least once a day, if not more often. We will also require that you read the forums on weekend, holidays, and other times when you might not want to. You can take vacations, of course, but making a commitment as a moderator means you need to take your time responsibilities seriously.
  • You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Oftentimes, belligerent posters will become less belligerent when you don't rise to their bait and instead take a calm, reasoned approach to discussion.
  • Error on the side of forgiveness. When moderating, it is best to politely warn someone that their behavior is out of line before handing out a warning point. Often a private message (or, a public reply if the user has turned off private messages) will take care of 90% of most problems. Use warning points only when someone has been warned verbally first.
  • Zero-tolerance issues. The previous rule can be ignored in instances where a user is blatantly violating a forum rule. For example, excessive profanity, personally attacking other users, discussing religion or politics - these should be dealt with quickly.
  • Remove a thread or post only when absolutely necessary, and never delete them, ever. Most of the time, warned posts can linger as warnings to other users. Only if they are zero-tolerance issues should they be archived.
  • Complaining can be good, within limits. Remember that part of the entertainment value that WizKids offers is lively debate - and that can include complaining, too! After all, forum complainers have helped WizKids identify potential problems. However, if someone has shown that he or she is more interested in complaining than offering constructive input, feel free to remind him that each post should contribute something to the discussion.
  • What's good for the goose is good for the gander. As tempting as it may be to let something slide when a poster is defending WizKids, if the poster is breaking the rules, warning should be issued regardless of the tone of the post.
  • Personal feelings have no place in moderation. You may not like a user; you may find a user is the most annoying person on the planet; you may wish the user bodily harm. That's fine. However, those feelings should not interfere with your moderation responsibilities. If you find yourself reaching for the warning button on a particular user you dislike, stop and ask yourself if you would do the same thing to a user for whom you have no particular feelings.
  • Our main goal is to encourage discussion that is the extra entertainment value of belonging to the WizKids community. Take care not to intentionally stifle different points of view; they can be responded to logically, of course, but should be moderated only when necesary.
  • The flexible tree bends in the storm, while the rigid tree breaks. Remember that these rules are written on paper, not set in stone [note: Thank you, 3rd Ed D&D]. Part of your responsibility is knowing how to separate the spirit of a rule from the letter of the rule.

I haven't been back to the WizKids forums to see if the moderators there are still following these rules, but I would certainly implement a new version of them at the next community I help create.

The Old Ones Were, The Old Ones Are

A couple of weeks ago, Roger and I were having a conversation about the nature of the Cthulhu mythos based on this post on his Livejournal, and why exactly Lovecraft's writing was considered "horror." At the time, I did a pretty crummy job summing up the ideas of extreme existential horror in the mythos, but I found a passage this morning (in the d20 Call of Cthulhu sourecbook of all places) that does a great job articulating it:

The cosmos is everything: the universe, the stars, the planets, all forms of life, the physical laws that govern them, and the agendas at work that affect us all. Unfortunately for us, humans didn't create the cosmos, and neither did anything we commonly know. There is no God, no Allah, no Buddha. Humans do not possess immortal souls, and when we die, we are but dust.

Worse, the cosmos does not exist to give us an interesting place within it. It exists to exist. Oiur role within the cosmos is only what we make of it, for in the grand scheme of things, we are irrelevant. Even when we live, we are but dust.

Our vague conceptions of things such as gravity and subatomic particles are but the barest verge of a vast, unknowable whole. Like blind sailors marooned atop an iceberg, we fumble to understand our terrain without guessing the truth: the bulk of our reality lies occluded beneath the surface. More terrible still, it is but a solidary mass drifting without direction in an infinite ocean of mystery. And the ocean is full of monsters.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

And Just As Quickly As It Began...

It was over.

After spending 8 days with us, Leela decided to attack one of the cats, twice. Unfortunately, she was showing some aggressive (rather than playful) behavior, and the cats are missing their best built-in negative reinforcement tools: their front claws.

So we consulted with some trainers, both our friends and online. The best-case scenario would be that the dog and the cats could co-exist under supervision, but could never be left alone together. Unfortunately, that means Leela probably needs a home without other pets.

It was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make recently. You can become incredibly attached to a new companion in a surprisingly short amount of time, it turns out. I admit, I broke down and cried a couple of times (a few times.) And I'm sure tonight, when we return her to the adoption agency, isn't going to be easy.

Eventually we'll get another puppy. But not for a little while.

Update: And, she's back with the adoption agency.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On Writing

The first 500 words were like passing a kidney stone.

The last 4000 were like driving down the highway in high school with our shoes off, our feet up, and our cares a lifetime away.

Old Spice

This was going around a few weeks ago, but it came up at last night's Alliterates meeting so I figured I'd post it here. Bruce Campbell doing an ad for Old Spice. Things to watch for: the chainsaw, the book on the mantle, and the sheer length of the painting. Brilliant.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Report. You Decide.

Picture post: unaltered (except for the red circles in places) screenshots from Fair and Balanced news company Fox News. I'm not really sure what Doc Ock has to do with Democrats "making Alito's wife cry," but he's a villain and so are "them LIE-berals" so why not right?

Quote of the Week

Fair a balanced? You decide.

"It's true that Barack Obama is on the move," [Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger] Ailes said, deliberately confusing the Illinois senator's name with that of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. "I don't know if it's true President Bush called [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf and said, 'Why can't we catch this guy?'"

Thankfully, the Democrats decided that a debate to be co-hosted by Fox News simply wouldn't be appropriate when the "fair and balanced" network says things reminiscent of the "Martin Luther Coon" jokes made by conservative leaders on television during the Birmingham bus boycotts.

Yeah, conservatives really have evolved a lot since they were turning firehoses on blacks. Now, they just equate them with terrorist leaders.

Faux News' response to the Democrats canceling?

Fox News Vice President David Rhodes responded to the debate cancellation with a written statement saying owns the Democratic Party.

A party (the Republicans) and movement (modern conservatism) this fucked up does not deserve to remain in power.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Prepare to Waste Some Time

Seth sent me Desktop Tower Defense, a free, Flash game that's surprisingly addictive. And by "surprisingly addictive," I mean "oh shit, I just spent 45 minutes at work playing this awesome game."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Comedy, Timing Is Everything

Just this morning, Elizabeth and I were chatting about Mazes and Monsters, the anti-RPG propaganda movie (starring Tom Hanks!) that led thousands of parents in the 1980s to think that playing D&D would lead to your kids killing themselves/their friends/Jesus. And how silly that was.

Then I read today that a guy in Ireland blamed Shadowrun when he was caught robbing a store dressed as an Elf.

I'm resisting the obligatory anti-Shadowrun joke (I really dislike Shadowrun), but I do know that as soon as I commit a crime, I'm hedging my bets and blaming video games and RPGs.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Zombie Grinder

In addition to picking up our dog today, I've also been grinding out one of the last achievements in Dead Rising. Dead Rising is an Xbox 360 zombie game, and quite possibly the best reason to purchase the system at the moment. It's a game that's wickedly flawed, but whose awesomeness actually makes up for the flaws and still puts it far ahead of a lot of other games out there at the moment.

Achievements are Xbox 360's way of permanently recording your accomplishments. They don't actually do anything (except earn you Gamerpoints, which are equally meaningless and are just a nearly-arbitrary number), but each Achievement has a title and a corresponding picture. Think of it as a combination of a Boy Scout Merit Badge sash with a bunch of badges on it, a permanent journal of your gaming accomplishments with time and date, and a scrapbook of the various things you've done in a single game or across lots of games.

They're also an excellent way to keep you playing a game beyond when you might have stopped, especially if you're an OCD freakshow like yours truly.

I've got 46 out of 50 of Dead Rising's achievements, and I'm grinding out two of the last four today. Unfortunately the last of those two means leaving the game running for 14 hours straight, without saving or pausing. If you pause, you're going to leave the game on longer. And you have to pay attention to it every 20 minutes or so, so you can feed your character.

Sound like a pain in the ass? Yeah, but no more so than grinding out levels for a WoW character, I suppose.

I started the console at 6:45 this morning, and now (11:30 at night) I'm about an hour or so away from finishing and going to bed. Yeah.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Leela Pix Inbound!

We got Leela about 10 AM this morning (5 hours ago). She's already running around, playing, scared of the cats and becoming one of us. If you want to see more, check out my Flickr stream.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fooling Digg

As much as many of us involved in New Marketing would like to think that the web is a self-policing system, it is still a system that can be gamed. From someone at my office (via Digg itself), an account of buying Diggs and creating popularity with money.

I can tell you exactly how a pointless blog full of poorly written, incoherent commentary made it to the front page on Digg. I paid people to do it. What's more, my bought votes lured honest Diggers to vote for it too. All told, I wound up with a "popular" story that earned 124 diggs -- more than half of them unpaid. I also had 29 (unpaid) comments, 12 of which were positive.

It's interesting to note that while the writer was initially able to game the system, it did - eventually - begin policing itself to the point where the story was buried (see page 2 of the article.)

I'm undecided if that's simply because she didn't pay for enough Diggs, and all the Diggs she paid for happened at the same time, or because the community really is self-policing. What I do know is that even if a story like that were eventually buried, it would only take a couple of hours of it being "popular" before it started showing up everywhere. I don't see this as a flaw in Digg's system (which, let's be fair, is flawed.) It's a flaw in the blogosphere than many bloggers - and commentors - simply don't bother to check their facts. It's the same philosophy that lands emails with the subject line "FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: BILL GATES WILL PAY U $1 FOR EACH PERSON U SEND THIS 2" in my inbox every now and again.

But outlets like Digg make it worse, because bloggers assume that Digg's (clearly flawed) technology is safeguarded against these kinds of efforts - so there's a basic level of trust inherent in linking to stories from Digg.

Oddly enough, there are many in the blogosphere who view their work as more "pure," simply because they're not dealing with traditional PR and marketing/advertising-influenced publications (like newspapers, etc.) And yet samples like this show that a minimal investment - far less than sending a single press kit to the New York Times, and following it up to get it noticed - show that it may be even easier for New Marketers without scruples to manipulate the system. I could cite another instance I know of (where it was done TO us, rather than BY us), but I'm not sure if I'd be breaking confidentiality, so I won't.

But this kind of thing is sadly more common that you might imagine.