Educated Drivers Wanted


Advertisements for the first automatic transmissions, 1939. Image: NTY/General Motors

Interesting article in the Times recently about the explosion of problems surrounding gear selectors in automobiles that have come to light since the tragic death of actor Anton Yelchin a month or so ago.

The most interesting takeaway for me was about the intersections of technology and psychonomics, the link between products and minds. A well-crafted bicycle handbrake is an example given in the article of something that one intuitively knows how to use.

For me, ever a car nut, I was reminded of driving my 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco, the cockpit of which was perfectly laid for me. I didn’t have to think; I just moved an arm or finger or foot. It was a brilliant automobile. And I think its brilliance ultimately lay in its simplicity of operation.


Ergonomically and psychonmically perfect, at least from this driver’s viewpoint, was the last of the Volkswagen Sciroccos sold in America. I sold mine when it was 10 years old with a hair under 200,000 miles on the clock. Image: German Cars For Sale Blog.

Recently, I heard Jay Leno posit that operating an automobile has changed more in the last 20 years than it has since its invention. And I think he’s onto something.

We are cramming more and more technology into our cars while we’re hampering the driver experience. I am absolutely sure that cars manufactured today are safer than those built 20 or 25 or 50 years ago, but I’m not sure that we are operating them more safely.

In the last few years, automotive designers have been experimenting with new and different ways of electronically shifting gears — buttons, joysticks, paddles, dials — and placing these shifting mechanisms in areas of the car that may be counterintuitive; especially if you are seeking an old-fashioned (but tried and true) PRNDL shifter. However, are we actually doing the driving public a disservice when we produce vehicles that the average consumer can’t be sure they’ve put it in Park correctly?

I’m all for technology, but let’s be savvy about it.


College Changes Name Again: I Told You This Was a Mistake!

Do you ever have those days when you feel vindicated and can say to the world, “I told you so?” I’m having one of those days today!

Back in August, 2012, I first weighed in on a controversial name change of a university in Georgia. The short version is that two schools were merging, branding recommendations were made and the regents of the university system discounted the facts and renamed the university what they wanted it to be called.

At the time, I said, “I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. If, in fact, the Georgia regents did go against research when choosing the name of the combined university, they’ll be in trouble. This never works out well.” [emphasis added]

And guess what? They are now changing the name again. To what the top choice was then.

Millions of dollars were spent on this campaign before they surrendered to the inevitable. When will they ever learn, eh?

Is Journalism Descending into a World of Tweets?

Here’s a great op-ed from the Dec. 11, 2014 WSJ. It may be paywalled, but you should find it and read it.

The writer is Edward Kosner, who is the former editor of a couple of little publications that you may not have heard of: namely Newsweek, New York and Esquire. Kosner takes to task this new wave of pseudo-journos who have left fact-checking in the backroom and traded it for sensationalism (Rolling Stone’s rape victim story), omission because fact-checking might bring legal challenges (Mark Whittaker’s biography of Bill Cosby) and utter contempt for an established culture (Chris Hughes’s remaking of The New Republic).

Is it better to get it wrong but have a sensational viral build? That seems to be the central thesis of how things are heading in journalism today. In a fast-paced, TMZ-obsessed, facts-aren’t-as-important-as-they-used-to-be, feed the beast, apologize later, 24/7/365 news cycle of a world, is there room for civility and discourse and thoughtful analysis and researched, fact-checked, credible investigative pieces?

What would Edwin Newman say? Or Cronkite? Or Dan Schorr? I think Edward R. Murrow is off somewhere in the ether having a cigarette and a good, sad cry over the state of things today.

Kosner’s piece put me in mind of the latest installment of the HBO series The Newsroom, which focused on the takeover the fictional cable network by an unscrupulous non-journalist who saw nothing wrong with bending the facts if rating ticked upward and twinned that story with a ripped-from-the-headlines tale of campus rape and how hard it is for victims to get justice in a system that is weighted heavily against them.

There’s nothing in me that says that Twitter — or a blog — cannot deliver legitimate news, that newspapers that deliver the news on newsprint are better than those that delivery the news in pixels or that print newsweeklies are somehow superior to online magazines. To me, that’s not even the argument. What’s really at stake is the credibility of journalists. Do we say, “Hell, no!” and continue to check our facts and fight to publish high-quality reporting? Or do we roll over and let the 1% at the top of the corporate food chain’s mania for profits win?

KISS Off — Beginning to Make Your Website Work for Your Clients

“Simplicity should be to self-service as chocolate is to joy or sadness is to taxes.”

That’s how Gerry McGovern begins his latest New Thinking missive.

And here’s how he ends it: “Organizations are making life easy for themselves and miserable for their customers.”

Gerry McGovern. Image:

Gerry McGovern. Image:

Think about that statement when you look at your own website. Think about that when you visit a competitor’s website or your healthcare provider’s website or your cell or internet provider’s site. Think about that the next time you have cause to visit a college or university website or a big box retailer’s site. Or, and this is a big one: think about that the next time you have to apply for a job online.

Organizations big and small are making their websites work for THEM and not for YOU, the user. It’s maddening and frustrating and ultimately, I fear, most of us have given up. “This is just the way it is,” we’ll sigh and go on to the next thing.

But here’s my thought: it doesn’t have to be that way. A few simple fixes — simple for the user, not so simple for the implementer, especially if they have to convince senior management first — and you can make your site stand out from the crowd because your site visitors can actually get something done. And that’s a real step forward.

Today’s Chuckle

Here’s what I love about this: it’s a perfect encapsulation of the idea that we’re not doing anything new — we’re just using different tools to do our jobs. I often laugh at people who place great importance on their new must-have hire: the social media director. Really? You mean the person who talks to people? Sounds like PR 101 to me.

WordPress voted this image one of their best of 2013. Rightly so. Well done, Mr. Atkinson.


Thank You For Using The Internet! We Regret To Inform You That Your Free Trial Has Expired

Since its beginning, the internet and a broad, loose conception of “freedom” have been inextricably linked. The “first web page,” authored by Tim Berners Lee, described the web as a “wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.” The notion of a “free and open internet” has animated some of the web’s biggest movements, from open-source software to Wikipedia to, in some cases, outright theft. Broadband connections grew popular, leaving users continuously logged on. Regular internet users soon came to expect that almost every type of media they once paid for — music, movies, news — would be available for free, legally or otherwise.

via Thank You For Using The Internet! We Regret To Inform You That Your Free Trial Has Expired.

This is an excellent piece on BuzzFeed that’s worth a read. He valid point is made that at one point in the not too distant past, the thought of paying for content on the Web was preposterous; now that’s shifted. In fact, in many areas, pay per view and pay per click are seen as better alternatives than bundled services. It’s a changing mobile world built on shifting sands. If you don’t learn how to rebalance, you’re going to fall right on your ass.


No, the Press Release Is Not Dead

We’ve recently noticed a good deal of dialogue about the future of the press release. Some seem to feel that the press release–with its self-lauding and company-specific spin–is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in a media world that runs on in-the-minute social media. Others, however, feel that PR professionals may simply need to tweak the way they approach both the releases themselves and the journalists they pitch. We tend to find ourselves in the second camp.

via No, the Press Release Is Not Dead – PRNewser.

This is a very interesting article for those of us who dwell in this world. See my comments below the article itself.

My takeaway — short version — is that you MUST CHANGE, you MUST KEEP UP, and you MUST HAVE THE COURAGE to say “no” to those who insist on doing it the olde way. Those naysayers tend to occupy the suites in the ivory tower.