Archive for July 29th, 2011
David St. Hubbins, the lead singer of the classic metal band Spinal Tap, may have been famously addled (not to mention fictional), but he once articulated an immortal truth that’s as relevant to business as it is to rockers releasing albums with controversial covers: There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.
And in an era of social media when virtual mobs can form in an afternoon to attack companies that put a single foot wrong, many marketers are discovering that advertising ideas they thought were impressively clever are actually impressively stupid.
The latest public face-plant unfolded on Wednesday, when the feminine hygiene brand Summer’s Eve pulled a trio of ads for its shower wash and cleansing cloths that bloggers and other online critics had accused of racism. (Each spot featured a talking hand stand-in for the, um, lady part in question, and many people felt both the black and Latina versions were stereotypes.) After two weeks of standing firm, the company finally caved to the pressure, telling AdWeek magazine the negative comments were distracting from the “greater mission.”
There are a lot of missions running aground these days. A couple of weeks ago, the California Milk Processor Board unveiled a campaign that suggested milk could help calm the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. The insight was apparently rooted in science, but the message fell flat in part because it centred on a tongue-in-cheek website – EverythingIDoIsWrong.com – designed to help men avoid the thundering disapproval of PMS-affected women. (One image featured an apologetic-looking fellow holding three large milk cartons and the words: “I’m sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant.”) It was the thundering disapproval of bloggers and others that finally dunked the milk ads, but the agency responsible for the campaign claimed victory in defeat, saying it had kick-started an important discussion.
Which may be part of the problem: Starting conversations is now one of the most popular ways to engage consumers, because companies believe the approach will turn people into evangelists for their brands. But conversations can turn ugly without warning.
Russia had never seen anything quite like the prolific serial killer Alexander Pichushkin, for whom “life without killing is like life without food.” How many lives did he take? More than Jeffrey Dahmer, Jack the Ripper, and the Son of Sam combined. The terrifying thing is, no one—not even Pichushkin himself—really knows for sure
By Peter Savodnik
the maniac lumbers through a silent forest. he is a sallow-faced man with a stout physique and a deep, low voice. he’s with a friend, a woman, and they are enveloped by birch trees rising fifty, sixty feet into a pale gray sky.
They are talking about something important. What is love? Is love for real, or is it a ruse, a make-believe ambrosia? The woman doesn’t know that the Maniac has had this conversation before. He is practiced. When he talks, he has an almost preternatural concentration. He wants to be understood, and he likes to say he never lies. In court he will declare: I always say exactly what I think.
She had no idea he would be so serious. The Maniac, after all, is a clerk at the grocery store where they both work. He approached her maybe a half hour ago, started chatting, making jokes. He offered her a cigarette. She cupped it while he lit the match, then laughed at something he said. He suggested a walk in the park. She didn’t know him all that well, but well enough, and she wanted another cigarette. She accepted.
Now they’re walking over branches, wrappers, cigarette butts; past bottles, a stuffed animal, a used condom. He’s talking about intimacy, of all things. (During the trial he’ll have this to say about intimacy: “The closer a person is to you and the better you know them, the more pleasurable it is to kill them.”) They can hear trails of moving laughter somewhere far away, other people carousing, but here, in this particular swath of woods, there are only trees and shadows. They can no longer see the road. He says something—later he will try to remember exactly what it was he said—and then he smirks. He sees something flash across her face, like many disparate pieces of information coalescing into an anticipation of…what? She knows, of course, about the disappearances. Everyone does. By this point—spring 2006—something like fifty people have vanished into the woods. There are bodies, cops, sketches of suspects. She knows about the park, the Maniac, the faceless animal no one has seen or is even sure is one man or two or many. He is part of the daily chatter coursing through the apartment blocks that ring the park. They talk about him on TV every night.
iPhone fans, start drooling. Skeptics, have your grains of salt at the ready. An iPhone 5 — or at least something closely fitting the rumored description of the iPhone 5 — has just been spotted… on a train, of all places.
The shot up above (and the ever-so-slightly-different one below) comes from 9to5Mac, who received them from a tipster who claims to have spotted the device on his way home from work.
Alas, these two just-too-far-away glimpses are as good as it gets for now. While most news reporter-types out there would run through a pack of angry charging bulls and scale a building covered in butter for a shot of the iPhone 5, the tipster seems to have practiced at least a bit of caution in their undercover photography session. The person holding the device was supposedly being quite cautious to keep it at least partially covered, masking the Apple logo behind their fingers throughout.
Fortunately, their eyes worked a bit better than their camera. Here’s what they had to share about the purported prototype:
* This was not an iPhone 4 or 3GS, they say. The tipster previously owned both, and was positive it was nothing they’d ever seen before.
* It supposedly has an “almost EVO-like screen”, which fits with the long-living rumor that the next iPhone has an edge-to-edge display. Now, the EVO has a 4.3″ display — and unless Apple is planning on making the next iPhone considerably bigger, I’m doubting the iPhone 5′s display will get nearly that huge. My sources long ago told me to expect something in the 3.7″ – 3.75″ range. With next to no bezel, though, a 3.7″ display could look much bigger from a distance than it actually is.
* Rounded metal (as opposed to square) edges, with what appeared to be a tapered, black glass back — just as the rumor mill has been saying for months
Could this be the real deal? It’s plausible. The iPhone 5 is said to be coming in just over a month (sometime in September), which means there absolutely are iPhone 5s out there, right this second, being field tested. Apple can install as many cell towers on their campus as they want, but it’s nearly impossible to release a phone without testing its signal attenuation and performance in the real world. After Antennagate, you can bet that Apple is going to make damned sure that the iPhone 5 has rock solid signal performance.
It wasn’t just an asteroid come down from the heavens to destroy the former masters of the planet. No. Our Earth Mother knew their time had come, and unleashed oceans of lava to scorch the lands that dinosaurs once roamed.
At least, that’s what a few daring scientists want to argue. Matthew Jackson and his team at Boston University believe that the Earth’s largest extinctions can be traced back to massive eruptions originating from two unusually hot spots in the mantle. These sporadic eruptions result seas of magma that span 100,000 square miles. Jackson has studied the regions these flows leave behind, called large igneous provinces, and claims to have proof that the mineral signatures inside these LIPS date back to around when the dinosaurs died off.
The researchers agree that their findings are indeed controversial, and that more work needs to be done. I’m personally excited, saddened, and terrified all at once. For one, if you have to go, that’s a pretty epic way to go. Then again, to see an ocean of lava overtake you like some 90s B movie is pretty sad. And then… how likely is it that it could happen again?
With arguably the coolest job on or off the planet, astronauts need nobody’s pity of no one. Nonetheless, theirs is a life of extraordinary psychological demands: leadership, technical proficiency, split-second decision making and ironclad focus. And beyond fulfilling the “hero” requirements, astronauts have to deal with mundane chores, like bringing in new supplies and taking out the garbage.
The view is the best thing about their work environment. Air conditioning units put out constant noise. Microgravity is disorienting. Body fluids move all over the place, leaving them with puffy faces. Astronauts often have trouble sleeping and suffer from flu-like symptoms known as the “space crud.” Even on Earth, with the ability to go home at the end of the day, we’d find these taxing.
“You can train people in simulators, but in space there is no walking out of it,” said Douglas Vakoch, clinical psychologist and a director at the SETI Institute. “Flights are becoming longer and more complicated, so the stress is higher too.”
Vakoch is the editor of the Psychology of Space Exploration, released in July by NASA. Wired.com talked with Vakoch about the changing demands on astronauts.
Wired.com: What is the “right stuff”?
Douglas Vakoch: Historically someone with the “right stuff” was a tough, individualistic person who could explore an unknown frontier with great courage and certainty. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, is a good example of someone with the “right stuff.”
These characteristics are still required of astronauts in a lot of ways. Even now, we can’t take for granted that another spacecraft launch is going to be problem-free. There still needs to be this sense of courage, of focus. But I think the “right stuff” has broadened.