Educated Drivers Wanted

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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.

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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.

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Send in the ‘Crowns’ — Today’s Surly Grammar Post

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Image: thegrammarnazi.tumblr.com

A good piece in the Times today from Op-Ed columnist Charles Blow. The only quibble I have is with the headline: Don’t Coronate Carly Fiorina Just Yet.

Coronate? No, I don’t think so. The word is crown. You crown a monarch at a coronation; you do not coronate them.

Now, technically, coronate is in the dictionary and its meaning is “to crown,” thus, begging the question of why we need this word. Seems superfluous on its face. In fact, the OED labels this usage rare.

There has been an upswing in the usage of coronate recently and, like other ‘contrarian grammarians,’ I find it grating. Like utilize. No, it’s use.

Over on the excellent Grammarphobia blog they posit that it’s not the rare usage that the OED notes that we’re seeing/hearing these days, but rather:

If I had to guess, I’d say the verb “coronate” that you’re hearing is a back-formation from the noun “coronation.” (A back formation is a word formed by dropping a real or imagined part from another word.) In this case, people assume that at a coronation, somebody gets coronated.

I agree. And the New York Times should know better.

(Also, if you want to get REALLY pedantic, crowning someone in a democracy is a metaphoric oxymoron, but, it’s Monday and I’m just not going to go there.)

Bad Tweeting

There’s this in today’s MediaBistro feed, a little piece about the AP —  yes, the Associated Press — retracting it’s third tweet in a week. Fundamentally, while the AP may know journalism, it seems flummoxed by the 140-character social media app.

It’s a good lesson in knowing what you are doing before you jump in with both feet. And while that’s the lesson for new tweeters — twitterers? twits? — it’s not like the AP just starting tweeting last week. C’mon, already!

The next bit is about the New York Times possibly shortening its daily print edition. Possibly a by-product of the leaked internal memo about focusing on digital from earlier this year, I would imagine. Do people want a smaller daily Times? I’m not sure about that. There’s a lot of testing left to be done. The Grey Lady needs to get it together before doing something rash. Just sayin’.

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New York Times Digital Innovation Report Leaked; Significant Document Reveals Much

The leaked New York Times innovation report is one of the key documents of this media age » Nieman Journalism Lab.

This is essential reading for those looking at digital solutions to information dissemination. This Nieman article outlines some of the key takeaways from the leaked report, but if you are really into this (read: geek, like me) then you’ll want to download the PDF and read the whole thing.

The biggest thing I take from this is — and this is no surprise — if top management is not going to agitate for change, or at least back up the communications leaders who are trying to affect the change, well, stop hitting your head against the wall, babies, ’cause it ain’t gonna happen.

PS — Search out the Customer Carewords international report on web management from 2013 (he thinks, guessing off the top of his head) where they reveal that worldwide the single biggest deterrent to innovation on the web is senior management.

Like, Degrading the Language? No Way

Like, Degrading the Language? No Way – NYTimes.com.

For those of us engaged in the act of communication, we have often been hoist by the petard of grammar “rules.” English is a grammar nightmare and things shift all the time. It is because of these shifts that I have had arguments — not discussions, mind — but out and out arguments with colleagues over the years about:

  • the Oxford comma
  • beginning a sentence with a numeral
  • ending a sentence with a preposition
  • semicolons
  • split infinitives
  • “snuck.”

Everything changes. Twenty years ago, English teachers would be in absolute agreement that the correct past participle of “to sneak” was “sneaked.” Today “sneaked” and the more vernacular “snuck” run about even. The latter will probably be preferred in another 20 years.

Great article. I mean, if you’re a word geek like me!

Tweets: Private Musings or Advertising Fodder?

Interesting article on Mashable about the CBS Films appropriating a tweet from New York Times film critic A.O. Scott and then publishing it as an advertisement for the film Inside Llewyn Davis in the New York Times without Scott’s knowledge.

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A.O. Scott’s modified tweet, cheekily using a lyric from Dink’s Song, a folk music staple sung in the film Inside Llewyn Davis. Scott did not know that CBS Films was going to use his tweet as an ad for the film.

So, the question that goes begging here is this: when you tweet something, can anyone pick it up — modifying it, in this case — and republish it for their own gain?

Fundamentally, the Times actually has a point: newspapers republish quotes from critics every day in advertisements for movies, plays, concerts and the like. Thus, since the content of the ad did not violate the Times‘ own advertising guidelines, no one thought about it.

Until Tony Scott saw it, that is! He tweeted that, “we’ve reached a strange new place in marketing when tweets become full-page print ads.”

If anything, it’s amusing. I’m not really sure why (or if) Scott thought no one would pick up a tweet of his to run. I’ve no idea if he’s actually shocked or if he thinks it’s in incredibly poor taste. Or if anyone believes that a review in a print publication is the only thing that one writes that may be gleaned for quotes.

Back in the day, I was a savant about getting “pulls” together for ads. Rare was the time when I couldn’t find something to pull.

If the reviewer writes, “This play is an abysmal waste of John Smith’s great talent,” then is it wrong for me to pull “great talent?” My answer as a marketer is “Hell, no!” I can’t afford (generally speaking) to look that gift horse in the mouth.

Of course, the real argument in audience development circles is the role of the critic in promotion. I can argue from here to next week about how we need to get away from using critics’ pull quotes in our advertising and develop our own audience bases on the front end — and I have, many times — but I am just as human as the next guy and when some critic presents me with “This is the greatest play in the history of world theatre” should I stick to my principles and not buy an ad with that line in it?

There are principles, my friends, and then there is the need to fill the coffers. And, at that point, I do believe the argument becomes academic!

How the New York Times Can Fight BuzzFeed and Reinvent Its Future

How the New York Times can fight BuzzFeed & reinvent its future — Tech News and Analysis.

The NYT’s multimedia project Snow Fall was a huge success, attracting big audiences and lots of plaudits. But the paper can do even better — it can build a new business from this type of project, and change the definition of journalism in the new century.

A great piece by Om Malik on GigaOm that’s really worth a read. If you’re not familiar with Snow Fall, there’s a link in Malik’s piece. You really should check it out. As he notes, it’s a way to reinvent long format journalism using today’s technology. Absolutely the sensible way to go. Absolutely. Will big media choose to follow his lead? Not bloody likely.