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Eagle Scout Project

It’s been almost 7 years since I planned and built my Eagle Scout Project while a member of Troop 45 in Chapel Hill.  I thought I would go visit it earlier today (and finally take a few good pictures) and see how it is doing.  Just for a little background info, the project is located in Camp Chestnut Ridge and was completed in 2004.  If you are interested in the write up, it’s here and in PDF.  The base plans (we modified them somewhat for the project) can be found here.

And a few from when we were building it.

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Flash Catalyst: How You Too Can Look Professional!

I am in a love affair with Adobe Creative Suite.  It’s true and I’m not even going to try and deny it.  The software is just so useful!  But it’s also so powerful and comprehensive that learning how to use it to its full potential is nearly impossible.  That being said, I’m starting to get decent at it.  At least I can make mock ups for graphic designers to work off of.

But I can honestly say I’ve got Flash Catalyst pretty much down!  In fact, I just built my first real site for a few friends of mine attempting to start their own Non-Profit Organization, Educators For Change.  The site is early in development and we need to pump it full of content, but I’m feeling good about it’s look.

Of course the project has a long ways to go with my next goal being a custom blog template for the project.  I’m 90% done with the Adobe Illustrator mock up.  Now just to learn PHP…  Anyone want to help out?

Call Me Old Fashioned, But I still Write Thank You Notes

Business and society are funny things.  We talk about the rapid pace of technological progress and how technology ultimately improves our lives (and businesses), but rarely do step away from our infatuation with technology and talk about what we lose as we continue to do things quicker, faster, and “better.”  And that’s something we should do more often.  Stepping away from technology for a few hours not only allows us to reflect on what we have achieved, but in my experience, it allows us to learn how to use technology better.

I was recently reminded of this while reading a blog post from Paul Gumbinner, a NYC based Executive Recruiter who often writes about advertising jobs, interviewing, and his experiences in the Madison Avenue Advertising World.  I’ve sourced Paul a time or two for my post on Beyond Madison Avenue and I highly recommend reading his blog.  It’s good stuff.

As a whole, we are technically more connected with each other today than in any period in history.  But at the same time, I continuously find that we are much less personally connected.  In fact, I often feel like we are quickly becoming almost impassive.  Yes we email each other in what seems like a near constant stream of messages, participate in involved Twitter based conversations, and interact via social media, but less and less do we communicate via real personal interaction.

This is especially true in the business world where anonymous job posts are becoming what seems like the standard.  As a result, we have become a society that seems to feel contacting potential employers via a phone call is rude.  Furthermore when we do initiate a connection, interview with a potential employer, or even ask for advice from someone, it seems like it’s become a rare thing to write a real thank you note.  And that is  rude.

In the “old days” (the days before email, Twitter, Facebook, etc), we relied on three major forms of communication: personal interaction, snail mail, and the telephone.  And although snail mail and the telephone seem impersonal compared to a personal meeting with someone, sending a letter to someone or making a phone call can in fact be a very personal way to communicate.  Think about all the letters soldiers sent to their friends and family during the American Civil War.

Although business letters are not exactly in the same league as Civil War letters, both types of letters share many common threads; most of which stem from the effort involved in writing and sending a real letter.  Compared to email, which seems to have been reduced to quick informal messages, writing a true letter takes time no matter if the letter is three pages long or three sentences long.   And that effort shows; especially when it’s a thank you note to a business contact.  Add in the fact that the business world is increasingly tough and guess what, that extra thirty minutes may in fact lead to great opportunities.

That being said, call me old-fashioned, but I still write snail mailed thank you notes.  Yes they take time, but in my experience, they make a real impression on people.

 

 

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Not Getting the Job, but Making the Right Connection

The business world is a tough place.  And if you think it’s going to get better in the near future, let me introduce you to this novel concept called reality.  It’s something that the governments of the world are currently being introduced to (If you are unfamiliar with Marx’s Das Kapital; it’s a long, often difficult to understand set of works discussing the functions of capitalism, the history of capitalism, and most importantly, Marx’s famed view on capitalism’s diminishing rate of profit.  Like I said, it’s not an easy read.  Nor is it what I call uplifting).

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.  I wanted to talk about the value of being rejected by a potential employer.

Like I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m currently in a purgatory like state of employment/unemployment.  I’m in that fickle and highly stressful stage of life between my undergraduate degree and my graduate degree.  Yes I graduated from a top tier university with a true liberal arts degree (I could of graduated in 2.5 years… I studied 4) and a work ethic that most employers would kill for, but the fact remains that I’m also competing in a world that is in all honesty a wash of “cheap” undergraduate degrees.  (Notice how I did not describe the undergraduate as inexpensive.  They are anything but inexpensive).

But I do not let that detour me.  Doing so seems in my eyes unproductive as worrying about things that you can’t do anything about is simular to travelling via rocking chair: you expend a lot of energy, but you don’t move anywhere.

What I can do (and I encourage others to do) is continue forward progress.  It may seem like you are constantly being pushed back 4 steps, but if you make 5 forward steps, that’s still a net gain of 1 step.  It’s not a huge gain, but with the college football season coming up (and my string of productive Saturdays about to start disappearing), a gain is a gain.  It’s not a touchdown, but neither are most plays in a game.

And that brings me to my point.  When you get rejected by a potential employer, take it for all it’s worth.  Make a connection with the people at the company, make a solid impression, and initiate a relationship.  It’s not a job, but it’s forward progress.

That being said, I want to leave this post by re-visiting an old idea (the SaySomethingNice initiative) that I was reminded of by a recent (and non related) Improve Everywhere Campaign.  On a side note, Charlie Todd, the founder of Improve Everywhere is also a UNC alum and one smart guy.

 

If you can draw it, you can develop it: Flash Catalyst

Rarely do I find a piece of software that I adore.  Most of the time I can easily find some critical flaw in the software and that seems to kill my love for it.  Adobe software seems to be the exception.  I fell in love with Adobe CS2 years ago and don’t let me get started with CS5.  It’s brilliant.  CS4 wasn’t my favorite, but CS5 more than makes up for all of CS4′s flaws.

But within CS5, there is one piece of software that I really do adore above all else: Flash Catalyst.  I’ve played around with Flash enough to know it’s an untamed mythical beast.  Yes, a good Flash designer can do marvelous work with Flash, but for 95% of developers, Flash is just too much.  It’s the odd program of CS that really isn’t approachable by novice users.  One can’t really do much with it without a lot of knowledge.  It’s not instinctive like AI or Photoshop where absolute beginners can build basic outlines and teach themselves the basics via just playing around.

But that’s where Flash Catalyst is absolutely brilliant.  It allows wanna-be Flash developers a bridge between Flash and AI or Photoshop.  How so?  Well for starters, it’s designed with the AI and Photoshop user in mind.  In fact, you can build your site in AI or Photoshop and import the file directly into Flash Catalyst.

From there, Flash Catalyst offers users a limited, but wide enough range of interaction options to build a function Flash based website without the need for intricate timelines or interactions.  In fact, with just a little practice, Flash Catalyst becomes dare I say it, very easy to use.  So anyone interested in looking good on the web… listen up!  Yes, there are some major limits (I tried to add a mailto: link with no success), but the limits are in the whole view of things very minor.  And best of all, unlike Flash, you don’t need to know any sort of code to make things work.

So need a quick example?  My latest project… NewYorque.  It’s going to be good.

The Role of Demographics: What Product Developers can Learn from Four Loko

Chances are that if you are under the age of 25 or regularly watch any of the major news networks, the name Four Loko is at least familiar to you.  If you need a refresher, Four Loko is perhaps the worst tasting mass produced alcoholic drink designed specifically for one and only one purpose, to make people go… Loko. I’ve smelled it and if I think it smells bad (thank you very much organic chemistry for destroying my sense of smell), it must be awful.  I’ve honestly smelled road kill that appealed more to me.  But enough of my critic on the smell;  Turns out that if you mix an an 11% alcoholic drink and pump it fun of caffeine, it really leads to people going Loko!  Add in the fact that it sells for $3 and is targeted to college students… even the most naive person can guess the outcome.

That being said, Four Loko can also be apply described as a highly successful product design with dead on advertising and marketing campaigns.  By now you might be asking yourself, “Why Brian, you tell me this awful product exist and that no-one in their right mind would ever consume it… but then you tell me it’s awesome… are you off your meds?”  First, I’m not on any meds (my quirkiness is all-natural thank you very much) and secondly, yes, that is exactly what I am telling you.

“Well Brian, please explain.”  Gladly.

So here we go.

1) Four Loko fills a niche.  It’s unique.

Although introducing caffeine into alcoholic drinks is nothing new (think irish coffee, coffee stouts), the caffeine in the drink has traditionally been a tangential result of mixing the coffee flavor with alcohol.  When I grab a delicious coffee stout, like my current favorite beer (Big Boss Brewing’s Aces&Ates Coffee Stout), I don’t even think to myself, “why this drink contains caffeine!”  I’m not exactly complaining that it has caffeine, but it’s not why I ordered it.

That all changed with the introduction of the now legendary Red Bull and Vodka sometime in the 1990s.  Some ingenious bartender figured out they could mix the two and make a lot of money, but that’s a story for another time.  The point is a new market emerged: caffeine infused alcohol.

And that’s where Four Loko’s creators are genius.  The Red Bull and Vodka is a lovely idea, but even if you make it yourself at home, you are looking at a $3+ drink.  Red Bull isn’t cheap!  And everyone knows that the vast majority of college students are 1) cheap 2) traditionally large consumers of “adult beverages” and 3) hopefully pretty book smart (although I’ve got my questions about that).  But one thing is for sure: students know a good “deal” when it comes to booze.  Look at what beer sales at grocery stores; it’s always the cheapest/volume.  Add that demography specific trifecta together and guess what… a super lucrative secondary market emerges from the caffeine infused alcohol market; the cheap alternative.

2) Four Loko has great self-esteem.  It knows exactly who it is.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.  If you are in the advertising and marketing world, figuring out what your product really is is the greatest thing ever.  I like to call it Core Product Value.  It’s kinda like figuring out what you want to do in life and getting the motivation to do it.  Once you figure out what you were meant to do in life, only the sky limits you.  For Four Loko, it may be a cheap, low class, and a horrible tasting excuse for a drink, but it’s going to be the cheapest, lowest class, and worst tasting drink it can be and feel great about it.

3) Four Loko embraces itself.  It doesn’t try to be anyone but itself.

When Four Loko was being developed, chances are a bunch of marketing pros were working alongside the chemist to figure out how to position the product.  A product may have great value, but without a strong strategy to tap into that value, a product is as good as dead.  Think Coca Cola or my favorite, the Volkswagen Beetle: without dead-on marketing and advertising, those products would not have developed as they did.  Four Loko’s advertising and marketing strategies have done remarkably well.  Visually, the packaging is instantly recognizable and if you say the name Four Loko to the target demographic, it taps deep into consumer’s emotions.  It’s got brand personality and has developed exactly the kind of reputation it deserves: it’s cheap, full of caffeine/alcohol, and offers drinkers exactly what they want.

So Alberto… Where’s the Beef?

When asked by WADA Officials to provide evidence of tainted beef, the Alberto Contador camp released this never before seen photo…

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NOTE: This is a joke and in all seriousness, if this is your photo, contact me with any questions.  I don’t pretend to own it.  I got it off another blog so I have no clue whose photo it is and I would love to give credit.

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Veloshine Filming

Isn’t it odd how if you do something long enough, odd/awesome opportunities make themselves visible?  Well for me, that’s how half the interesting stuff I get to do happens.  This time it involved my almost excessive “hobby” of bike riding.  Add in my goal of working in the ad industry and what do you get?  A great opportunity and some very cool new friends.

Meet Jan Balster and Steve Murray, two photographers/filmakers who needed a bike rider for a commercial contest they are entering into.  Thanks to a friend-of-a-friend connection (Irish Adrian), we connected and started talking.  A few days later and my basement was once again turned into a studio. I’d say the rents must think I’m crazy, but this isn’t too un-usual for me.  For the Shimano spec ad, this same area was turned into a set for almost a week.  It’s a garage (Currently filled with the project known as “Pablo Jet-Ski-Bar”), but it makes a great studio.

The best part of the experience was the chance to talk to these two and learn a little about their history and how they got where they are.  And the fact that a RED Camera was involved…  I was pretty thrilled.

Well, after three days of filming (including a 630am start on one day) and some pretty crazy setups (on top of a moving SUV…), it’s time for me to wait, let them edit, and see what comes out.  They captured something like 2 hours of film and seemed pretty happy.  I’m totally looking forward to seeing the final cut.  Check out the gallery from day 1&2

Oh how I miss City life…

One of the many many things I miss about city life is the wonderful sound each city makes.  Each city seems to have their own unique sound and even neighborhoods have their own sound.  Take Lisbon, Portugal for example.  The traditional Fado concert doesn’t really get started until 2 or 3 Am.  And it’s common practice to have them in open venues… like the street!    Or take my experience in Vienna, Austria. I almost never closed by windows unless it was really really cold.  My neighborhood had a vibrant, often questionable night scene (nothing dangerous or anything, it’s Austria people!) and it was common to hear what my Spanish apartment-mate would call low-brow South American Spanish from midnight to the early AM.  Add the fact that one of Vienna’s busiest train stations was less than a kilometer away and it was a little loud for some.  Not for me.  I don’t speak Spanish, never mind understand it, but I really miss listening to the raw sounding conversations of the local night population.  Some people call that sound noise, but I’ll argue it’s really just spoken blues.  Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect people enjoying the quiet sounds of the countryside, but I like the rawness of city-music.  Well, after spending some time looking for a hi-fi recording of a city, I discovered a blog for an NYC photographer/videographer who is using his Canon 7d to record video of the Sounds of NYC.  It made my day.

NYC Sounds:LIVE underground:Canon 7D,1080/24p from Mike Kobal on Vimeo.

http://www.mikekobal.com/blog/?p=382

What’s Brewin’ Today? Revisiting the Tea Card Idea

Remember the Tea Card Idea from a few months ago? Well, I’ve been working on it and I’m looking at printing options right now. It’s dual layered with a black paper back and a white paper top layer. Not only does it add a nice effect, it makes printing much easier. I’ve looked around for info/pricing for white-on-black printing and it’s not cheap. BUT! I’ve got a better solution. I’ve found a place that does laser cutting and I think I can have them cut plastic templates that allow me to do the exact same thing myself. More on that to come… I’m waiting on their thoughts/estimate. And of course, if anyone has experience/ideas, please add a comment below/email me/etc. So here is the latest group of layouts.