Apple Runs.

It’s a bit easy and tired to say that Apple is leading the way in terms of digital content. But, in one hour’s time, a visitor to the company’s website can easily see the visionary power of this singular company shaping the universe of content online. Apple just seems to be doing everything now, and everything right.
There are hundreds of brand new (and free) courses at iTunes U, allowing anyone with a pretty good connection (and the free iTunes application) to learn from educators and researchers at schools like Penn State, MIT, Otis College of Art and Design, and Duke. You can also take a look at Apple TV, which is going to very soon have total access to YouTube. The trailers on the Apple site load more quickly (and have far better quality) than any other sites out there; their large, high definition trailers are incomparable to anything I’ve seen. The massive Worldwide Developers Conference is coming up in a few weeks in San Francisco and predictions are wild that Apple’s new Leopard operating system is going to functionally and visually blow Microsoft’s Vista and the current Apple operating system out of the water. Let’s not forget that the iPhone is coming out soon, and though I’m still doubtful people will be willing to pay $500 for a phone, the product has the potential to forever change the way they interact with mobile devices. Oh, and yesterday, Apple announced the launch of iTunes Plus, which will allow consumers to buy completely DRM-free music, play it on any player, and own it forever. I’m convinced that other music online music stores will be forced to follow this model. And if you go to the iTunes Plus page within iTunes, the application will tell you, automatically, how to update your music library to DRM-free (but .30 more costly) songs.
I risk the mild ridicule of technologists and the knowing smirks of Apple afficianados, but all of this, to me, is very impressive for one evening’s visit to one company’s one website.

New Banner Ads on My Yahoo!

During the past few weeks, My Yahoo!, which has remained my homepage for over 8 years despite everything, has changed its banner advertisement style and service. It hasn’t been noticed much in the media, for some reason, but I’ve really paid attention to it.
First, the banners appear to be the same size as a typical, large rectangular banner than you might see on other sites: 728 by 90 pixels. But Yahoo! is serving them in Flash instead of JPEGs or GIFs. This is unusual for banners that are static. It seems to be a waste of resources but I’m betting that Flash is allowing Yahoo! to measure rollovers and other visitor behavior that more static media will not.
Second, these are designed to be modular and similar in style. It looks as if there is a small team of Yahoo! designers that take the advertising specs from a sales person and then build the banners to look alike, but not too alike. For instance, the banner I’m looking at now says “home theatre systems” in large type on the left and “Everything You Need to Know About home theatre systems. Find it here.” And then there is a smaller link on the bottom left reading “” and a dark arrow points to it. Why is the first part of the sentence in title case and the second part in lower case? It’s either because the sales person didn’t write it down correctly, the client didn’t approve the final copy properly, or the designers are pumping these things out. Or all of the above. Or, it’s just some cool way of writing copy these days.
Third, there are no images in these ads. Because a design agency isn’t art directing the banner ads, there’s no muss and no fuss. No product images, no logos, no fat heads rolling their eyes.
Fourth, these ads use the same typefaces throughout. The font is a bit thin for my tastes but works very well in the context of these banners.
I don’t mean to be critical of this methodology of advertising. Google pioneered (or, actually, simply popularized*) the use of plain text ads. We’ve gotten quite used to advertisements looking the same but reading differently. For Yahoo!, I think it means that they’ve come across a semi-novel way of consolidating their advertisement display while not making it plain text, which necessarily takes the shape of Verdana or Arial these days. Yahoo! is on to something here – keep the banner ads clutter-free and clear but compelling to read because they’re distinctive. Because these ads are unlike anything else, my eye gazes at them, in part thinking they’re news and in part thinking they’re of interest.
What is disappointing about Yahoo is its total lack of care for potential customers. When I click on the “Advertise with Us” link at the bottom of the My Yahoo! page, I’m taken to an outdated (the copyright date is 1994-2004), uninformative, relatively useless page that requests much too much information. It’s no wonder that Google, whose clearly written and constructed advertising page, earned $3.66 billion last quarter.
Yahoo!’s profits during the same quarter dropped seven percent. Couldn’t Yahoo! spend $10,000 to revise its advertising page and hire a couple of copywriters to review their new banner ads?

* It was Metafilter that got the ball rolling way back in 2001 with its TextAds, a system homegrown by publisher Matt Haughey.
P.S. A little further digging shows that Yahoo!’s <a href="main advertising page is different from the crappy My Yahoo! one. It makes me think My Yahoo! is not being updated or upgraded and that iGoogle and Netvibes really are the future of portal homepages.

Prairie, Prayer.

I just wrote up a five paragraph review of tonight’s Prairie Theatre Exchange’s Carol Shields Festival of New Works. Then, somehow, with my MFA-artist-trained hand-eye coordination, I hit a the Refresh button and deleted the whole damn thing.
Jesus Christ, what a dope. Here’s what I wanted to say:

  1. Tonight was a phenomenal introduction to some of the best theatrical, dance, and performance talent in Winnipeg. I loved watching these performers. Every one of them.
  2. The entirety was inspired. The directors threaded the multiple performances with overt, and sometimes covert, little narrative threads.
  3. I saw ballet dancers perform three song-stories that I think I actually understood. One, the very first one, was about a young man witnessing his life construct his own failure through love. Maybe I didn’t understand it at all. But I liked it.
  4. My friend, Donna Lewis, performed her Leotard Cohen piece, wherein the long lost (and lost) sister of Leonard Cohen comes out of her darkly lit shell. It was hilarious.
  5. I missed a lot of references to Canadian culture. But, as an outsider going on two years, I recognize that Canadian artists, to a large extent, have the luxury of not being burdened with the turgid, violent history that American artists do. It’s not that Canadian history is one of clean hands and squeaky feet; rather, the utter racial and economic pain that many American artists bear does not, thankfully, affect most artists here, nor should it. I may be utterly wrong about this and I’m willing to be raked over the coals, if I have to be, on this one. But my point is that the unstraining humility and self-conscious humor that Canadian artists tend to show is perhaps derived from a less contaminated historical narrative and a less tortured personal aesthetic.
  6. Winnipeg is a small big place. During intermission, I ran into two performing artists I actually know. This is, to me, still shocking.
  7. Coming back to the first point, I consciously realized tonight that I quite literally fall in love with those performing on the stage. I mean, I really, truly start to love the performer. It’s a fleeting love, thankfully.

Strike Struck.

Last night I had a chance to see Strike! – The Musical at The Burton Cummings Theatre here.
Disclaimer: I’m not a usually a big fan of musicals. Most professional musicals that I’ve seen (which probably amount to less than two dozen in my lifetime), are either simply treacly or trite and unconvincing. The music of musicals typically sounds like cats (pardon the reference) thrown in a bag. And the storylines usually remind me of children’s literature by failed writers. Further, musicals, to me, falsely try to equate emotional musical content with disconnected fictive worlds. They fall flat because they try to heighten the senses while hiding their subject matter.
Not so with Strike! I went into the performance, as I always try to do, open minded and excited to see what composer Danny Schur has been working feverishly to accomplish. Strike!, in my mind, succeeds because it’s a fundamentally moving story of a fictive group of people in 1919 who accidentally and unintentionally changed the way things work in the world. These people, despite the sheer diversity of their backgrounds and experiences and beliefs, sing their way to a kind of freedom.
As my wife said last night, the people portrayed in the performance worked 60 hour weeks, six days a week and made next to nothing doing it. The delight in the actors’ voices, the solemnity of the characters’ desires, and the lovely and lovingly written score combined to make a powerful statement about being alive and being free.

Jennifer Michael Hecht.

I listened to Jennifer Michael Hecht today (on (you’ll need the Real player to listen)) speak about life, love, and the universe and I was immediately taken. Her new book, The Happiness Myth, appears to fully attempt to debunk the tropes upon which we base most of our lives in the West. On the show, she essentially collapsed the difference between opium and Prozac, explaining that these two drugs are different sides of the same coin. Prozac, however, allows us to drive our cars and be productive citizens while being happy. She also talked about the relatonship between faith and certainty, doubt and discovery, and lefty culture.
I enjoyed listening to her: her New Yorkish accent, her overeducated brand of commentary, her youngish sense of possibility (and within that, a sharp capacity for critique and reason), and her aptitude for telling it straight. Ms. Hecht seems like someone I should have known when I lived in Brooklyn; she could have saved me from many of my consumerist and theoretical yearnings. I’ll read her book instead. Books are the last resort of the rascal.

This Canada.

Back to The North, a category on this blog that I’ve ignored for a few weeks.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve now lived in Canada for a year and a half. I’m slightly incredulous because I’m still geographically disenfranchised, my family is back East, and I’m unable to articulate the phrase “eh,” despite my best attempts. More interestingly, I’ve come to the mild conclusion that Canada embodies, in some ways, a better, more holistic vision of Western culture and capitalism than the United States. More to the point, I now think Canada is the relatively happy step-sister to the United States, which is riddled with Ritalin, war, and religion. By no means is life in Canada utopian (as many of my left-leaning friends in the States would like to think), but, in speaking with people here, I’ve learned that, while American complaints and anxieties are real and very massive, Canadian counterparts are real and more minor.
I probably need to give an example, and a personal one would be best. Living in New York, even before 9/11, I was constantly worried about random gun violence, trains falling off the track, car accidents, nuclear terrorism, environmental degradation, and potential loss of healthcare. Don’t get me wrong; living in New York for 11 years was phenomenal in every sense of the word. I wouldn’t have given it up for anything. But there wasn’t a day that went by in which one of these worries didn’t enter my consciousness and some days, sadly, all of them would coalesce to battle out a win for keeping me up at night. I sought help and got it and there’s no doubt that my own internal and wired neuroses traveled on the same airplane to Canada as I did.
However, the rapidity of these worries, while still extant, is much less pronounced. I’ll occasionally get a tinge of anxiety about personal income, terrorism, financial collapse, poor road conditions, or some other lovely thing but the intensity just isn’t there. I can only attribute this, in some part, to environmental effects. Canada, or the place I live in Canada, has modified my complaints. Weakend them, in fact.

Tom Hank's Typewriter.

I read today that Tom Hanks does not like or does not use computers. He prefers the , that great-great-great grandfather of our lowly keyboards. I don’t know why he prefers the typewriter, nor do I care. I vastly prefer being able to have a lightweight keyboard and screen on my lap or on my desk; the integrity of the writing process is better maintained, for me.
But I had a realization: I belong to the last generation that actively used a typewriter for writing. I think I’m it. Anyone a little bit younger than me would have learned to type on a TRS-80 or slightly newer computational device. I learned to type on keys, having to push hard on the letter “s” with my adolescently weak ring finger while getting that little thrill of throwing the carriage back, from the right to the left side.


I read today in the Times that Sony, sometime next month, will introduce something called Minisodes. These little 3 to 6 minute television shows will consolidate older, out-of-play dramas such as Charlie’s Angels and T.J. Hooker. I quite like the idea.
Afterall, though I’d like to wax nostalgic in front of The Bionic Woman or The Love Boat or Love, American Style, thinking back to my pre-pubescent thoughts, it’s more likely that I would take a gander at a five-minute, heavily edited, perhaps slightly kitchified version of it on my computer screen. Reduce, reuse, recycle.