Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

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You Be the Judge: Two Online Video Foursquare Parodies Too Similar?

02.09.11

With the ability to cheaply and quickly create your own videos and post them online for all to see, the chance of two people tackling the same subject matter in a similar way at the same time with no knowledge of the other is most likely quite high. Still, it’s not hard to do a quick YouTube or Google search for what you’re looking to make to see what else is out there that people have already done.

Usually, it’s already been done but it’s either terrible or ripe for more riffs – meaning you can offer a fresh angle on it that allows both versions to live out there in the world fair and square.

Other times, though, there’s just plain old plagiarism; and determining which is just a similar riff on the same topic or creative theft can be difficult.

So, here’s your chance to take a look at some evidence and help decide whether CollegeHumor’s Original comic sketch “Foursquare for Sex” is merely similar to ThesePeople’s comic sketch “Whoresquare” or if it’s too close to be just a coincidence.

Exhibit A

CollegeHumor is an entertainment website that has provides both in-house and user-generated content. In their FAQ, they answer the question asking about what happens when an average user uploads content:

The key phrase to note: “[o]ur editors go through all of the submitted content…”

Exhibit B

The time that each video appeared on the site for the very first time should be looked at. Were the two videos uploaded roughly around the same time, it could mean something different than if one had already been online for some time.

ThesePeople’s “Whoresquare” timestamp:

CollegeHumor’s “Foursquare for Sex” timestamp:

Exhibit C

The videos themselves:

ThesePeople’s “Whoresquare”

Please visit CollegeHumor’s “Foursquare for Sex” to view their video as their embedding feature is not working on this WordPress site.

Conclusion

Based on the evidence, we can deduce that:

  1. ThesePeople’s “Whoresquare” video preceded CollegeHumor’s “Foursquare for Sex” video by nearly seven months, thus being the first of the two to hit the web.
  2. “Whoresquare” was also uploaded and accepted onto the site by the CollegeHumor team
  3. CollegeHumor states in their FAQ that they watch all content.
  4. CollegeHumor’s editors watched “Whoresquare” prior to “Foursquare for Sex” being added to the site.

We – myself and Matt Cassatta, who together made that ThesePeople video – brought all of this to the attention of CollegeHumor in an email. The gist of their response:

We want to assure you that CollegeHumor’s video was not copied from your video and that any similarities are mere coincidence and nothing more. CollegeHumor takes intellectual property very seriously and we would never take someone’s work and copy it for purposes of creating our own video. The writer of our video has not seen your video, either on CollegeHumor or YouTube or anywhere else. As you point out, the Foursquare app is ripe for parody, especially in a sexual manner, and any such parody would likely have bits about “checking in”, “tips” and “becoming Mayor” as those are well known parts of Foursquare. We don’t, though, find the videos as a whole substantially similar.

Having now watched your video, we appreciate it and enjoy it.

My emphasis.

Their stance is not only that the writer never saw our video, but that they’re not even similar. That last line even implies that the entire group at CollegeHumor only now saw the video, which seems to run contrary to what they advertise in their FAQ.

The only thing we asked for in our email to them was recognition of our video. Not an apology, not a retraction of their content, just merely an acknowledgment that, indeed, we had gotten there first.

But perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps it’s all mere coincidence. Perhaps it’s just one of those things.

What do you think?

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Stocks Soar Near 12,000 While Unemployment Stays Steady Near 10 Percent

01.25.11

As the Dow Jones Industrial Average nears 12,000, its highest point since June 2008, unemployment still hovers just below 10 percent.

Just showing how much of a gap there is between perceived and actual economic health.

Meanwhile states are slashing everything from police forces to HIV testing, treatment, and counseling to college funding, and many people think that we’re in the middle of a structural shift that doesn’t seem likely to end the current unemployment rate any time soon.

For those people who still own stock, this is good news: their once vanished equity slowly regaining their worth increases their overall financial independence. And for those who had capital to invest in the market when it was at or near its low, they really should be feeling good about the news.

But for those who didn’t own stock or have 401(k)s, or who used up all of their savings to stay afloat while they were looking for work, this doesn’t help them much. Now, it could be the case that the uptick in jobs is related to this rise in the stock market. Either way, it seems that this news is indicative of one industry doing well: the financial district.

Even though, apparently, those companies saw their stocks drop:

Gains were spread across the market. Financial and health care companies were the only two of the 10 company groups that make up the S&P index to fall.

Odd considering the financial district is still giving itself large bonuses (albeit some of it deferred per new rules) and the health care industry is where much of the job growth exists.

McDonald’s Corp. gained 0.5 percent to $75.38 after it said it meet analyst expectations and warned that rising food costs could affect its margins this year.

J.C. Penny Co. jumped 7 percent to $32.52 after the retailer said it would close some stores and its catalog business to reduce costs.

So, a large retailer company shutting stores – and thus, laying off most likely hundreds of people – is good news worthy of its stock going up? And while McDonald’s showing slight improvement means that those entry-level jobs may stay intact, but those aren’t the types of careers that families can live on.

A bright spot perhaps:

Materials companies rose after a report from the National Association for Business Economics showed that economists are more positive about economic growth and the job market than at any time since the start of the Great Recession in December 2007.

Though the stocks went up based on the speculation that jobs will continue to grow, not on actual job growth. Given what we know about the depths of the unemployment rate, it seems like the stock market could be getting a bit ahead of itself.

Photo courtesy of othermore (other)’s Flickr Photostream.

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Being Treated like a Human Being: The Key to Good Customer Service

01.22.11

It doesn’t take much to provide good customer service.

Honest. I’ve been in a customer service-driven position before and I know the stress and unpleasantness that comes with having to deal with unhappy customers or clients. It can be brutal. Plus, we’re all human and we all have our good days and our not-so-good days. It happens.

But there end up being situations where there’s just a total lack of caring that is unacceptable.

Let’s use my telephone call with my doctor’s office yesterday as an example of how to quickly lose clients. Actually, let’s back up to the day before last:

I called to see about scheduling an appointment. Nothing too extreme – no need to talk to the doctor or ask about a prescription or find out some lab results. It was near the end of the day and the woman at reception answered the phone. I explained about wanting to make an appointment, to which she replied: “My computer isn’t working right now. Can you call back first thing in the morning?”

Okay, sure. I’ve dealt with systems going down on my computer and there’s literally nothing she could do. Fair enough, no biggie.

So I call back the next day (not in the morning, but in the early afternoon) and while a woman answered, it was one of those “Hello, could you please hold for me?” greetings that gave me no option but to hold. Sure, why not. I’m listening to some smooth jazz for nearly two minutes when the phone begins to ring again, as if I’d just called. The other line picks up quickly, it’s the same woman, “Hi, if you continue to hold I’ll be with you in just a minute.” Okay, sure, I reply and in nanoseconds I’m back to the saxophone and electronic drum beats.

Another minute-plus goes by and then it rings again. I imagine this flashing light on her phone going solid and her headset ringing in her ear again while she’s still dealing with a patient in person. This time, though, she’s not nearly as polite about having me hold. She picks up with a curt: “Hello?” What is this a personal line? Hello? Oh hey, Linda, long time no hear, what’s new? C’mon.

It’s clear that she knows it’s me since she knew it was me still waiting from before so it’s not like she doesn’t know that I’m calling for something related to the doctor. Instantly, I’m off-put and caught off guard so I stumble through my response of “Hi, yes, I’m-” to which she doesn’t let me finish and says, “Please hold,” and slams me back to the MIDI tunes.

No more for me. At this point I hung up. She evidently had far more important things to do and her increasing irritation with me — who should’ve been the increasingly irritated one since I’m the one on hold, not her — was not making me excited about having the jazz music turn into a ring again knowing what would greet me on the other end of the phone.

It led me to think that she had no idea how her own hold service worked on the office phones. Either that or she was irritated that the phone line didn’t let her keep someone on hold indefinitely and decided to take it out on me as if I had any control over the fact that the line took itself off hold and rang her line again.

Either way, I’d already had an appointment scheduled as a two-week follow-up, so I went in the morning as previously scheduled. I go to sign in and they ask me the usual about any changes in my insurance. As a matter of fact there had been as of January 1st – which I told them when I came in on the 7th only I didn’t have my physical card yet so I gave the check-in receptionist at that time my pertinent info which she wrote down – but this time I had my brand, spanking new card. Of course, as she makes the copies and changes to my account, it turns out that they had still billed my old insurance despite all of this back on the 7th.

Fantastic!

“How is that going to work, then?” I asked, figuring that there’s no way that Blue Cross will cover the costs if I’m no longer insured by them. She said that it would be fine because they have the new information now. I said, “You mean, you have the new information now to bill today. What about what was billed two weeks ago?” She kind of stumbled and somehow said something that sounded like it’d just work itself out.

Right. This stuff usually just works itself out, doesn’t it?

To top it all off, I’m not all that crazy about my actual doctor so I’m not needing much at this point to call up my new provider and find a different primary care physician.

And then the nurse calls me back to check my vitals and put me into the examination room. She greets me with a “Just come back here, young man,” in a grandmotherly tone that smoothed everything over just fine. She’d always been the one good thing about this office, always cheery and polite no matter how busy the office was, always treating me with respect and courtesy and not making it seem like I was being a nuisance to her.

Look at that: all it really took was being treated like a human being and I’m fine, already forgetting (okay, not really) about the phone calls, the long holds, the jazz music, and the insurance mishaps.

So, like I said before: customer service doesn’t take much. A calm, polite tone and treating me like a human being, not a nuisance. That will warm over errors any day for me. And I think most other people in the world, too.

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Computers and Health: How Staring at a Computer Can Literally Cause Your Eyelids to Twitch

12.20.10

Over the past few months, I’ve taken on a number of new responsibilities at work including a promotion to the position of Social Media Director — meaning that all things social media go through my desk first.  It’s been an exceeding rewarding and enjoyable experience, but one that has come with its own stresses and challenges, many of which are new to me.

Why do I bring this up now?  Two words: eyelid twitches.

For the past week or two now, the corner of my right eyelid has been twitching uncontrollably off and on throughout the day.  No idea why.  I just assumed that it would go away as some random occurrence, but still it continues.  Then today I mention it in passing to a co-worker who says: “Oh, I get that, too.  It’s stress.”

A-ha! That makes some sense.  I have been more on edge lately, more tired lately, having more difficulty getting up in the mornings.  She could be onto something here.  Naturally, I Google “eyelid twitching” to see what the ole Internets have to say about it.

Here’s what All About Vision had to say:

Stress: While we’re all under stress at times, our bodies react in different ways. Eye twitching can be one sign of stress, especially when it is related to vision problems such as eye strain (see below). Reducing the cause of the stress can help make the twitching stop.

Wait a minute: vision problems? I suppose it would make sense that an issue with one’s eye could indicate vision problems.  But not me.  I have 20/20 vision in one eye and 20/15 (that’s better than perfect) in the other (not sure which one is which, maybe my right eye is merely perfect, hence the twitching).  Although, the last time I had a vision exam I think I was still counting the number of hair follicles emerging from my face.

Okay, what else:

Tiredness: A lack of sleep, whether because of stress or some other reason, can trigger eyelid spasms. Catching up on your sleep can help.

It’s 1:33pm as I type this very sentence on a Monday and I could most likely doze off for a 45 minute nap right now without much trouble.  Tiredness? Check.

What else?

Eyestrain: Vision-related stress can occur if, for instance, you need glasses or a change of glasses. Your eyes may be working too hard, triggering eyelid twitching. Computer eye strain from computer use is also a very common cause of vision-related stress.

Computer eye strain, you say?  Well, I haven’t done an actual count, but if I had to guess, I’d say I spend 12 of my 16 average waking hours in front of a computer — 13 hours if you count how often I’m looking at my iPhone.  Does that count as computer eye strain?  Laugh at me, shake your head and scoff all you want: I’m just being honest; doing social media isn’t exactly something you can do with a hammer and nails.  I’ve also noticed that when I go outside and look out into the distance, I have trouble focusing my eyes.

Anything else?

If your eyelid twitching is persistent and very annoying (like the problem experienced by my patient’s wife), you should have an eye exam, because you may need vision correction. If you spend a lot of time on the computer, you also should consider talking to your eye doctor about special computer eyeglasses.

Special. Computer. Eyeglasses.

Sounds wonderful.  I hope they look more like goggles than actual specs; that’d be very appropriate.

Other possible causes are allergies, dry eyes, and nutritional imbalances. I haven’t switched up my eating habits in a while and while I’ve never been tested for specific allergies, I figure I’d have experienced this eyelid phenomenon before were that the cause.

Conclusion: my computer addiction is causing my eyelid to twitch.  Since I have a negative chance of declining my computer usage, looks like this is just something I’ll have to get used to.  Maybe it’s evolution at work.  Perhaps this is making me most effective at absorbing content through this glossy, bright screen than other humans.

Or, I’m just going to be blind soon.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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How Cross-Medium Collaboration Breeds Success in Digital Era

12.07.10

As the digital era changes our world literally in front of our eyes, artists have born the brunt of the negative effects as technology makes the illegal dispersion of music, books, movies, and photographs ubiquitous.  Hard to make money when people can get your creative efforts for free almost immediately after it’s created.

I’ve seen the music industry from being right inside the birth of an emerging band signed to a major label, putting out a full-length album that got released in stores across the country, and toured with top-name rock acts.  And while it lasted for a little while, the major label model of building and supporting musical acts doesn’t work for most — for every Kings of Leon there are countless bands that don’t make it.

This has always been the case.

Now, as those guys I knew in that band push forward without a major label behind them, they find themselves doing new things.  They’re writing music and songs for other artists.  They’re playing shows with other bands.  They’re connecting music producers with new talent.

Most artists are in similar situations and are finding that if they work together, they’ll all have a better chance at some success.  The days of selling millions of records and making fortunes overnight are over.  Sure, there will always be those outliers who buck that trend, but back before Napster and the MP3 changed everything, lots of bands still made small fortunes just getting signed to an Interscope or a Geffen, never mind actually having any hits.

Nowadays, it’s different. Instead of just collaborating with each other, they’re also collaborating with artists in other mediums. If you’re a musician, hook up with filmmakers to work on projects together.  If you’re a fine artist, put together a live show with a band.  If you’re a novelist, collaborate on an album with Ben Folds.  That’s what British writer Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch) did.

It might seem odd at first if you’re not familiar with Hornby’s material, but it’s not: music is an integral character in all of his books.  He’s also in a band and writes essays on music frequently, making this collaboration not just some random pairing of an odd couple.

Admittedly, neither of these artists necessarily needed to combine efforts to get a project off the ground.  They’re both established with a long history of commercial success.  So, it comes down to two things:

  1. Collaborating for Collective Success
  2. Collaborating for Personal Growth

You can join forces so that even though you’ll be splitting the profits, you’re better off having some success together than none alone.  But also, jumping into a new medium encourages you to adapt your creative skills, to grow, to learn.  You keep your mind sharp by giving yourself new challenges to jump over. Maybe even new, fresh ideas spring forth from this all.

And it’s not just for artists, either.  While technology hasn’t specifically singled out other professions quite in the same way, the playing field has leveled in many other aspects, which has had interesting effects.

For example: right now at work, most of the Realtors I work with haven’t blogged before.  They didn’t have Twitter accounts.  Nor did they video themselves and put them up on YouTube.  But they’re learning how to do all of that and more because they realize that technology has put marketing tools in the palms of their hands (literally) and that working together to write blog posts for the same site will increase their market share and thus: more success, more money.

Realtors become writers and micro-video stars.  Novelists write rock tunes.  Guitarists compose movie scores.  Artists paint on stage at live events.

I think Ben Folds sums it up just right:

There’s no one concept or story line unifying the songs on the album; the collaboration itself is what unifies it.

Which brings up: what happens next?  Gone are the days where people are specialists, focusing in on one trade only and being a master at that.  To compete in the new world, people must be bona fide jack-of-all-trades.  But not in the “decent at a few, great at none” modes — instead, people will need to be extreme adept at multiple crafts.

Realtors won’t be able to just be great at contracts and negotiating; they’ll also have to be video editors, creative writers, and WordPress-competent.  Guitarists won’t be able to just shred wicked solos; they’ll also need to be able to compose music for many instruments, mix their own tracks on ProTools, and of course: shoot and edit video, blog, and Tweet.

And for you? What mediums will you be combining?

Image courtesy of Parksy1964’s Flickr Photostream.

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Getting Fired for Medical Marijuana Use: Why Should Employers Drug Test At All?

09.15.10

Many people are affected by the drug war.  Just take a look at our southern border.

But those aren’t the only ones.

While the states work the whole federalism angle on the legality of marijuana use, there’s bound to be some snags.  And in the case of some people, it’s costing them their jobs.

Glenn Greenwald:

In some cases, workers have been fired for failing drug tests despite having prescriptions saying, in effect, that what they are doing is legal according to the laws of their states.

Here’s the thing: for an employer, you want your employees to be efficient, dependable, and hard-working. If an employee can accomplish all of this while smoking weed — legally prescribed or not — then what’s the issue? If he’s a total wastoid (yeah, wastoid, I said it, bringing it back along with high-tops and snap braclets), then his piss-poor performance should be enough to warrant disciplinary action, regardless of its cause.

Now, I do understand that there are HR costs involved with the hiring of a new employee so companies will want to best determine whether or not this applicant will be a quality addition to their team before they hire him — but, why test current employees?  You already hired them! They already passed your rigorous interview process (so, if they’re sucking at work then you might want to look into revamping your HR department, not firing your employee cause he takes a few puffs to ease his anxiety).  They’re doing their jobs competently, otherwise you could just drag them onto the carpet for their poor job review and cut the dead weight that way.   It’s pointless.

The problem with drug testing is that – NEWS FLASH!!!not all wastes-of-office-space take drugs and not all druggies are inept at work, despite what our current drug war culture would like you to believe. (Total mindblow, I know.)  It’s the whole “well, some pot smokers are lazy and don’t get anything done at work so we’re going to punish them all regardless of their individual aptitude” way of using a gravity bong when a simple one-hitter would suffice.

But since companies fancy themselves as some sort of moral authority now, why stop at drug testing?

  • Why not require me to bring in my hard drive so they can scan it for pirated software and music?
  • Why not scour my glove box to make sure that I indeed have proof of car insurance?
  • Why not stop by my apartment to make sure I’m not illegally leeching some wireless Internet from my neighbors?

I mean, all of those morally questionable practices could affect my job performance, believe you me. Without loads of music to fill my iPod, I’ll go insane at my desk and take my co-workers with me, kicking and screaming. Without car insurance, I could get into an accident, not be able to get a new car, be stuck taking public transport, and consistently arriving late to work irritable and making everyone around my desk miserable as a result.

And without the Internet at home… well, let’s just not imagine that dark, dark world, okay? I just had a glimpse into that lifeless hell when WordPress glitched up, forcing me to re-write this blog, nearly leading me into a total meltdown at my desk — a complete over-reaction, sure, but I almost went social (the post-modern version of going postal).

But, hey. At least I’m not smoking medical herb for my migraines, right?

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Do You Like Capitalism? Then, You Should Love Gay Marriage.

08.24.10

Marriage is big business.

Sure, it’s about love and being together forever and all that jazz, too.  But, let’s be real: it’s a serious moneymaker.

I just went to a wedding of one of my best buddies out in Rochester, NY this past weekend and it was on the second leg of my cross-country flight that it really dawned on me just how much money I was spending on his wedding.

First, there’s the flight from LAX to ROC.  It’s the summer and while Rochester is no resort town, it’s still on the other side of the continent.  I brought my girlfriend along, so multiply that by two.

Then, there’s the hotel. We went cheap and stayed at a Microtel.  But, since I was in the wedding, I arrived a couple days early to make sure I was there for all the festivities and the rehearsal dinner and everything else.  So tack on a couple extra nights.

And there’s also the rental car, the gas for the rental car, eating out for several meals, bar tabs. You can see how it adds up.  And that’s just for one guest and a plus-one.

I can’t even begin to compute how much the actual wedding cost — renting out the event center for the reception, the dress, the suit, the transportation, the hotels, the flowers, the two huge meals, the entertainment, the booze.  And this wasn’t even an overly extravagant affair; it wasn’t tiny, but it wasn’t huge.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining at all. I gladly would spend it all over again in an instant to be there with one of my best friends on his wedding day.  It’s a unique, joyous occasion to celebrate love and the expansion of friends and family.  It’s moving.  It’s hilarious.  It’s inappropriate.  It’s something you don’t forget.  You make all sorts of new memories while revisiting all of the old.

But, still.  It costs everyone involved a small fortune.  Receiving that welcomed honor of being in a wedding comes with its price tag.  And while you can’t put a dollar amount on being able to sing and dance and laugh with friends that you only get to see maybe once a year if you’re lucky, you kind of can.  The flight. The hotel.  The car.  The gas.

It all adds up.

And then it made me think about all of the different industries that I, along with my fellow weddingers, were helping sustain for this four-day excursion into upstate New York in August.  The flight attendants, the fast-food-joint workers, the caterers, the chefs, the gas station clerks, the airlines, the DJs, the waiters and waitresses, the photographers, the flower arrangers, the chauffeurs, the hotel staffs.  I’m sure I’m missing plenty more, but you get the idea.

Given the state of our economy, local businesses and big businesses alike could use the help.  And even though times might be tight for everyone, it’s a lot easier to swallow some big expenditures when its in the name of something as happy and joyous as a wedding.

Let’s forget the obvious reasons to support marriage equality on an emotional level for the moment.  Instead, think of it from the capitalist mentality. This is, after all, America, so might as well speak to the language of the land: the dollar.

If marriage is already reduced to being a thousand federal benefits anyway, what harm could it to do just talk about it like it is?  A cash cow for multiple industries.  What could be more American than that?