I know. You're looking for a 5x8 this morning, but I'm the road for the rest of the week in southeastern Minnesota for a couple of posts that I'll have for next week.
Eric Ringham and Hart Van Denburg will be posting later this morning.(3 Comments)
Posted at 8:00 AM on October 20, 2011
by Eric Ringham
Filed under: Marketing and advertising
There's this grocery store I love. I go there practically every day, some days more than once. I love the wide aisles, the civilized atmosphere, the deli section that caters so comprehensively to people who are no good in the kitchen.
But lately I think the store is trying to drive me crazy. Into every shopping trip, it's injecting little asides. Aphorisms. Injunctions. I'm beginning to think I'm hearing voices.
Hey ... over here!
This is part of some kind of marketing strategy. On the placards that advertise on-sale items - and I love the on-sale items - slogans have begun to appear.
C'mon, grab one more.
The messages are unobtrusive, almost subliminal. They are printed in a font that imitates a human hand, and their punctuation is informal at best. Sometimes they appear all in lower case, as if grabbed from the middle of a sentence.
check this out
They are not talking to me. I understand they are not talking to me. But sometimes, just every once in a while, they seem to contain a hidden meaning that only I will catch. Like the Satanic Bobblehead on that episode of "The Twilight Zone," the sale signs seem to know my fears and anxieties.
To name one: At this stage in my life I don't need to be developing a taste for half & half. I've drunk my coffee black and tough for decades. There's no reason to start adding cream to my cart now. But last evening I went to get some. I felt like celebrating. And lo, the half & half was on sale:
The sign was mocking me, just as the Satan Bobblehead mocked William Shatner.
Shake it off, I thought. Just get some dinner and head for home. Near the checkout, salsa was on sale. I moved closer to read the message on the sign.
The icing on the cake!
What could that possibly mean? How could salsa be icing on a cake?
I bought my groceries and headed home. But like the Satan Bobblehead, the signs are luring me back. I want to go see if the cake icing is on sale.
And if so, whether it has a message for me.
I'm fighting it.
It's a reflex: When a big international story breaks, local media go looking for the local angle. Now that Moammar Gadhafi has been killed, my colleague Paul Tosto remembered this local connection: In 1986, Gadhafi sent a letter to second-grade students at Maxfield Magnet School in St. Paul. The kids had written to the Libyan dictator as part of a class project, and Gadhafi's people apparently saw a PR opportunity.
The children sent Gadhafi questions about dispute resolution, and he answered as though they were taking his side. (You can read Kristin Tillotson's piece in the Star Tribune here, and David Brauer's take in Minnpost here.) What's compelling to me is that a second-grade teacher, Jill Swanson, saw an opportunity to explore a topic as complicated as propaganda, and took it:
"These were 7- and 8-year-olds sharing their thoughts really well, and then his response had a tone of 'thank you for supporting me.' When I read it to them, the kids were looking at me like, 'That's not what we said.' It was confusing to them, but it gave us a great opportunity to discuss what propaganda is, and how to spot it."
Now, that's teaching. A quarter-century later, those kids remember Swanson and the effect she had on their lives. The story fits nicely with today's commentary about Perry Mann, another teacher who made the world different for his students. So, with what we used to call MEA weekend upon us, let's take a moment to thank Ms. Swanson, Mr. Mann and all those others who made a difference in our lives. For me, it's Dann Peterson. Who is it for you?(4 Comments)
Posted at 2:53 PM on October 20, 2011
by Hart Van Denburg
It seems a reasonable question, given that a National Park Service biologist says invasive silver carp have swum up the Mississippi as far as Lock and Dam No. 1. Not that anyone has actually seen the marauding fish. Instead, its DNA has been found in water samples taken downstream of the dam. But the carp are coming.
The State of Illinois has already learned to roll with the punches in this dilemma, signing up a Louisiana chef in an effort to tart up the carp's image and use it to help feed folks who don't know where their next meal is going to come from.
"We are in uncharted water here," said Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud. "Why remove them and put them into a landfill when you can take them and use them for good?
This is a market opportunity waiting to happen. And if this video is any indication, harvesting the carp will be a whole lot easier and cheaper than scoring a booth to sell the bony fish at the State Fair.
Posted at 3:57 PM on October 20, 2011
by Michael Olson
In an era of political upheaval and economic turmoil why does Twitter tell us that "Bieber" is a trending topic? Twitter execs say it is all about the algorithm.
Organizers of political movements that use the private social network to spread their message and grow their cause are increasingly suspicious that their "hashtags" are being left out of Twitter trends.
Trending topics is one way Twitter informs users what is being discussed right now on the social network. But the widely used hashtags #ows and #occupywallstreet used in many Tweets about Occupy Wall Street have rarely pushed the topic to the coveted Trending list. The same was true for #wikileaks when the organization released oodles of confidential and diplomatic cables not intended for public consumption.
Tarleton Gillespie of Microsoft Research writes on the Social Media Collective blog:
It (Twitter) engages in traditional censorship: for example, a Twitter engineer acknowledges here that Trends excludes profanity, something that's obvious from the relatively circuitous path that prurient attempts to push dirty words onto the Trends list must take. Twitter will remove tweets that constitute specific threats of violence, copyright or trademark violations, impersonation of others, revelations of others' private information, or spam. (Twitter has even been criticized for not removing some terms from Trends, as in this user's complaint that #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend was permitted to appear.)
But censorship, the company says, isn't what's happening with Occupy Wall Street.
Wikileaks may not have trended when people expected it to because it had before; because the discussion of #wikileaks grew too slowly and consistently over time to have spiked enough to draw the algorithm's attention; because the bulk of messages were retweets; or because the users tweeting about Wikileaks were already densely interconnected. When Twitter changed their algorithm significantly in May 2010 (though, undoubtedly, it has been tweaked in less noticeable ways before and after), they announced the change in their blog, explained why it was made - and even apologized directly to Justin Bieber, whose position in the Trends list would be diminished by the change. In response to charges of censorship, they have explained why they believe Trends should privilege terms that spike, terms that exceed single clusters of interconnected users, new content over retweets, new terms over already trending ones. Critics gather anecdotal evidence and conduct thorough statistical analysis, using available online tools that track the raw popularity of words in a vastly more exhaustive and catholic way than Twitter does, or at least is willing to make available to its users. The algorithms that define what is "trending" or what is "hot" or what is "most popular" are not simple measures, they are carefully designed to capture something the site providers want to capture, and to weed out the inevitable "mistakes" a simple calculation would make.(1 Comments)
Frac sand mining is to silica-sand rich Goodhue, Wabasha, and Winona counties, as a certain football stadium is to Ramsey County. The subject can draw a crowd as it did tonight in Winona where the county planning commission faced proposals for three sand minds in the county. Goodhue and Wabasha counties have already put a moratorium on the mines, and Winona County is under some pressure to do so.
The sand is used in so-called "hydraulic fracturing" -- fracking -- in which it's mixed with water and chemicals and used to split rock formations underground to release natural gas or oil. It's a practice that's drawn environmental and health concerns in states where it's used. But the process of extracting the sand -- the sand in Minnesota is considered perfect because it can stand up to the rock it's used to split -- has worried residents of the region because the silica sand in some cases is buried deep in the ground.
This video from the summer shows a silica sand mining operation in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.
Over 100 residents showed up last night in Winona, most to object to the three Saratoga Township mine proposals (they would encompass about 19 acres) that the county highway engineer says will overburden area roads.
"Most of our economic activity is derived from truck traffic," countered geologist Jeff Broberg of Elba, on behalf of the mine developers. "While the concerns are a legitimate concern, the need to have roads that can support economic activity are just as important. You can't mine sand where it doesn't exist... Do we have people out there making money and turning our natural resources into economic assets?"
"Fracking of wells in North America has increased our petroleum production 30 percent in the last eight years," he said, warning the Commission not to embrace a proposed moratorium on sand mining operations.
He described a mining operation that looks nothing like the video above. "We can go in with payloaders and skim it off," he said. "It has a very thin soil cover. The groundwater is deep below the surface. There isn't a stream around for miles."
"If you can imagine hundreds of trucks going through our small towns, what's that going to be like?" Winona resident Reggie McLeod said.
"We're doing a lot of discussion about how it affects our health. I'm worried about people like my grandson who lives in western New York where this stuff is going. Don't we have a moral obligation to be concerned?" Don Nelson of Winona said. He encouraged residents to attend a film festival on frac mining that he's hosting, "to come see what it looks like when people set the water coming out of their faucet on fire." (Or just go here)
But a Wisconsin resident said curtailing mining operations on the Minnesota side of the river would be a missed economic opportunity. Sand from Wisconsin mines already is trucked to the city to get to the Union Pacific Railroad and barges on the Mississippi, he said, and the mine operators pay the city nothing.
"If people didn't think I was crazy, I'd pick this thing (the podium) up and shake it, because that's what happens in my house now with all the trucks," one resident said. "Everyone's talking about their economic needs. What about mine?"
"I'm not against people making money, but we need to observe the rights of the rest of the citizens of the county," Barb Nelson of Lewiston, said, after describing a talc-like powder on her furniture near another sand-mining operation.
"That's the cancer-causing silica," another speaker told her. "It goes into your lungs."
"It's sand, not nuclear waste," Winona resident Ted Hazelton said near the conclusion of the meeting.
The Commission tabled a decision until next month.(11 Comments)