Sunday, January 23, 2011

Road signs of awesomeness

An upcoming and unexpected expedition to the other side of the world has me thinking about road signs. Though quite simple items in and of themselves, they manage to impart a variety of emotions in their observers: despair, security, anticipation and deep satisfaction.

The last time I drove from my home town of Cincinnati to my dad’s native Colorado the first road sign for Denver on Interstate 70 westbound somewhere in Kansas read, “Denver 560 miles.” Uggggh. After logging more than 600 miles to get to that point, that particular sign almost taunts the reader as if to ask, “You sure you can handle another 560 miles of featureless road travel? At 70 miles an hour?” This is especially dispiriting at what was often 2:00 a.m. and we always made those trips non-stop.

But that sign also is the first to confirm that, yes, this is still Interstate 70, you are still tracking westbound, and yes, eventually, this road will get you to Denver.

On more than one occasion I’ve missed a key turn up in the hills of east Tennessee, and little is more reassuring than when you wind up on a backcountry dirt road and the sign for which you are looking appears. “Holly Flats 6 miles.” Ahhhhhhhh. Yes!

There are few emotions I enjoy more than anticipation. It is often in those moments of great anticipation that I feel most alive because just as often, the place or moment that I’ve hoped to achieve passes into history more quickly than anyone would prefer. The anticipation always lasts longer.

On my first trip to the south island of New Zealand, road signs and a good map were the greatest security blanket a solo traveler could ever have. “Rolleston,” “Ashburton,” “Geraldine,” “Fairlie,” “Tekapo,” “Twizel,” and “Omarama,” come to mind.

What I didn’t realize in that first trip was that I had a VERY specific destination in mind. I didn’t get there, because I didn’t know how badly I needed to.

The second trip, I made absolutely certain I got to exactly this place. Now, this isn't me in the video, but it was absolutely the clincher in the motivation I needed to take the plunge and make my first trip to New Zealand. (Note: select "or download" next to "Use on site" on the right side of the screen. Also note, the audio in the first 30 seconds of this video is NSFW).

Despite the copious amounts of fish porn and God’s country landscape photographs I collected on that trip, my favorite images are of road signs. They all owned each of those three best attributes a road sign can have: security, anticipation and deep satisfaction.

The road sign that reads “Te Anau,” is special for several reasons. First, it is not possible to go more than 50 km farther south before the next land mass becomes Antarctica. Second, Te Anau is tantalizingly close. Finally, THIS was exactly where I needed to be. Badly. It is in the town of Mossburn, where Highway 97 meets Highway 94. (You'll just have to trust me that yes, this is what it says)

Farther south, not possible
The next is even more specific. There is a particular river, which shall remain nameless here, that was a high priority for that same trip. For many of the same reasons as the previous sign, this is particularly awesome. What makes this sign superior, however, is the sheer variety of amazing places within close proximity to where the reader is standing.

Road sign of awesomeness

I plan on visiting these signs in early March and greeting them as dear, dear friends.

Does that make me weird? If so, fine by me.

No exit, no problem.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lowbrow for the burbs: side eye to the AJC

When news of the NFL’s fine of $50,000 for “refusal to cooperate” in the case of lewd text messages allegedly sent by future NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Brett Favre, media coverage was predictably swift and salacious.

But when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted the story to its website at first the headline read, “Favre fined for sexting.”

Wait. What? Really? “Favre fined for sexting?”

Because this was all together misleading and inaccurate I tagged the AJC in my Twitter feed suggesting they correct it. Minutes later the headline read, “Favre fined ‘over’ sexting.”

Ummm, no. That’s still not right, and borderline libelous.

One more direct message exchange with the staffer on duty for @AJC and minutes later the headline read, “NFL fines Favre in sexting probe.”

Oh good: corrected by putting “sexting” and “probe” together. Well done.

Perhaps even more egregious is the anti-City of Atlanta slant to which the AJC has turned its “news coverage” in an effort to attract more suburban readers. Creative Loafing (@cl_atlanta) rightly exposed that in some detail.

Hell, the AJC even vacated their city center offices on Marietta Street for suburban digs on the filthy congested north end of the Interstate 285 perimeter.

Is this really what you think your high-growth OTP target audience is after AJC? Can you not aspire to something, ummm, well… better?

In the toxic TMZ era in which we live, keeping headlines salacious is beneficial to content providers. I get that. The more click-throughs, page hits, shares, etc., the more a media outlet can charge its online advertisers; a necessary evil as newspapers in particular struggle to monetize their content in a time in which hard copy circulation remains weak at best.

But you’re taking the easy way out, dear AJC. Side eye in your direction. Correction: this is a downright nasty glare.

In an effort to give credit where it’s due there are several hard-working, and almost certainly underpaid, reporters at the AJC that provide valuable content I happily consume: SOME breaking news, Falcons, Braves and more. The team of staffers charged with maintenance of the AJC’s Twitter feed (@ajc) is quite responsive, a characteristic that matches perfectly with the high value of audience engagement and online community building.

I suppose then what I’m asking the AJC for is this. As our region’s flagship print and online news provider with a long and noble history, could you please bump it up a notch or two in the class department? Because if you’re going to insist on shoehorning “sexting” into headlines no matter what, and if you’re going to extricate your headquarters from the city that bears your banner’s name, I’ve never been prouder to be a part of the audience that is trying to find other sources for local news.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Twitter Primer For Newbies: (Hat Tip to Karin Frost)

Because my friend Karin (@karinfrost) is new to Twitter, I thought it would be appropriate to publish a lightly refreshed edition of my Twitter primer. Have at it! Hope it's helpful!

Ask yourself why would you do this? – I started using Twitter primarily to expand my media reach and relationships with reporters and editors on behalf of my clients and my own professional development. It has since become a powerful business and social networking platform that I use actively. The beauty of Twitter is its ultimate level of customization. Many younger users Twitter just to keep up with their friends in a broader way than text messaging would allow. NOTE – it is important to be patient and persistent in building your network of followers in order to use this tool effectively.

Pick a user name and password. Picking a user name is VERY important and varies based on your purpose for that user.

Some users use either their real names or something very close to it – as I do, @pdsnyder. These users are prepared for EVERYONE to know what they’re saying because Twitter is part of the viral, social media beast from which we benefit, but can also get VERY quickly burned. For business users, this requires a high level of caution in what/how you Tweet.

Some users pick fictional names or nicknames as their "handles" to remain relatively anonymous (except to their close friends). This gives them a freedom of expression that identifying their real names would eliminate.

Go find some friends that have Twitter feeds and see who they’re following. You can search Twitter by last name or user name. Since many last names are common, you will often have to sift through many users before you find your friend. is also effective for finding friends and other users that share your areas of interest and expertise.

Review a few user feeds and start following some people.

Start Tweeting

Tweeting consists of answering the question, "What’s happening?" in 140 characters (characters, not words) or less. Any links count too, which is why websites that compress like are popular.

Four habits of effective Tweeps (people who use Twitter, particularly those people that follow you, or that you follow)

They provide news and data on their area of expertise
They re-tweet (RT) news and data from other Tweeps that they believe is valuable
They keep their posts to Twitter to 120 characters or less to encourage re-tweets
They tend not to suffer from Twitterhea (Tweeting too often or irrelevantly)
They give a sprinkling of Tweets about their personal lives (I do this about sports, playing poker, and travelling)
Effective Tweeps enjoy larger numbers (and higher quality) of followers

How to increase your following
Re-tweet other Tweeps’ tweets
Engage directly with your followers via “@” replies or direct messages
Request re-tweets on news that you believe is very important or relevant
Refrain from Twitterhea
Respond or reply to requests for information to Tweeps you’re following (there is a reply function at the end of each tweet that comes into your feed)
Ask friends or colleagues in other correspondence if they tweet, and if so, what their Twitter handle is
Include your Twitter "handle" in e-mail signatures if you use it for business purposes

Good luck!
Pauly D

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Falcons pre-playoff 2010/2011 assessment: my two strongest impressions of a 13 - 3 team linger in one of three losses

Brent Grimes

Given that the 2010 NFC South Champion Atlanta Falcons just clinched the top seed in the NFC this past Sunday, I had it in mind to write something anyway, but an e-mail seeking fan comments from contributing writer J. Daniel Cox clinched it. So here goes, what I’ve liked, disliked and loved most about the Falcons 2010/2011 campaign.

LIKE: Any NFL fan would love to have the Falcons GM and head coach lead their team. Can you identify a bona-fide bust or string of poor decisions, either on the field or off, either of those team leaders has made? Other than perhaps Chevis Jackson, I don’t think you can. Offensively it’s obvious: Ryan, Gonzalez, White, Turner, Mughelli, Snelling, with strong contributions from a cohesive offensive line and enough quality threats elsewhere (Jenkins, Finneran, Douglas, Peelle, and even Weems when necessary). Dimitroff put them in place and Coach Smith’s leadership has the entire team focused and hungry. But the real difference in this team has been on defense.

My pre-season prediction was that the defense would start about average, but improve every week. This has indeed happened. The Falcons finished the regular season fifth in the NFL in points allowed. Somewhat surprisingly, the best defensive effort of the year came in a losing effort against New Orleans at home in late December for which the defense was solely responsible for keeping the team in the game. They held Drew Brees to a passer rating of 77.2 and generated two picks, returning one for a touchdown. It was hopeful and inspiring, even in defeat. Here are some individual player thoughts.

Jesus H., Brent Grimes, HAVE A YEAR!

Sean Weatherspoon, stay healthy and you’ve got many a Pro-Bowl appearance in your future. Same to the rest of the linebackers.

Proper comeback year, John Abraham. Fantastic.

Big Play Bill Moore, keep earning your nickname.

Thomas DeCoud, run tackling is great, just watch out for the headshots.

Kroy Biermann, your drive and QB disruption have not gone unnoticed.

Dunta Robinson, you’re not getting the side eye from me. Yet.

Special teams note: Thank you Eric Weems. Keep protecting my football. Matt Bryant and Michael Koenen, please just keep doing what you do.

Speaking of the December 27th Monday Night game, I still don’t know if New Orleans’ defense played particularly well, if the Falcons offense played particularly poorly, or a combination of the two, which brings me to my biggest criticism: one which hasn’t changed in three years.

DO. NOT. LIKE. As my poor fan friends in section 304 and my home pub know all too well, much of offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey’s personnel packages and play calling drive me absolutely bat-shit-crazy. Why would you run an aging and slowing Michael Turner off tackle out of a single set backfield so often? If you’re committed to running the ball (a Matt Ryan audible notwithstanding), Turner needs to see his carries cut by about one-third, with 75 percent of the remaining two-thirds with either Ovie Mughelli lead blocking from an offset eye, or with Tony Gonzalez or Roddy White motioned in the intended direction of the run to lead block.

And coach, can we please see a LITTLE misdirection or quick hit running? Are you saving a reverse as a surprise for the post season? Ovie Mughelli and Jason Snelling need their snaps on the field increase 10 percent.  Between the two of them, they have made many big plays on third down and pass protected well when asked to do so. An inside handoff to Mughelli at LEAST once a game or a counter to Snelling would suffice. And have you noticed that swing passes to Jason Snelling (third on the team in receptions in 2010) pickup around eight yards per attempt?

Also, why the insistence on avoiding the long pass attempt, coach? When Ryan is committed to throwing the deep out he’s one of the best in the league throwing it, and it’s almost always to Roddy White. Smart.

Maybe it’s by design that we hardly ever see a straight “go” route or deep post. Those are dangerous routes. But if you’re going to insist on a vanilla off tackle run game, you need to free up some space and keep the linebackers and safeties honest. One or two more deep shots per game would help. I don’t think we saw that until week eight.

To balance my criticism of Coach Mularkey, it bears repeating that this team has 13 wins. Not 10, not 11, not 12, but 13. My personal feeling is that number has more to do with the defensive improvements and overall talent in offensive personnel. But still, he’s the offensive coordinator for a team that has 13 regular season wins.

I will give him mad props for the masterful game he called against Baltimore. Normally a 50+ pass attempt game for Ryan would guarantee a loss. No matter how good you think the Falcons offensive line and running games are this team was not going to run off tackle or up the middle against that defensive front seven. I should have, but did not, understand before the game that the best way for the Falcons to put enough points on the board and control the clock to win was throwing: a lot. Game balls to Mularkey and Ryan. It is entirely possible the Falcons have to go back to that formula to pull out a win in at least one playoff game.

LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. One more note on December 27th, and perhaps my favorite attribute of the Falcons 2010/2011 campaign: The Georgia Dome crowd. In seven years of attending home games this year’s crowd has seemed both markedly louder and more consistently loud than any other year, especially on defense. There are an extra dozen or so fans in section 304 alone that are bringing more noise. It’s tough to tell because I’m busy screaming my own head off when the defense is on the field, but I KNOW it’s making a difference to the team and the outcomes of the games.

At the beginning of this year I thought success for this team would be earning the right to host a home playoff game. Well, we have it: in round two. I will try to remind myself of that. And while some part of me thinks this team is still a year away from reaching its true potential, there is a growing part of me thinking, hey, why not us?