Monday, March 26, 2012

Lovely Lady and The Mesmerizing Piano

Occasionally I hear my friends complain that I like to listen to the females who ride the piano bench too much.
(As in the singer-songwriter women, who excel in expressing their souls by the grand piano.)
Oh well. I just tend to like good music, be it the piano-ladies or something else. And I am well-aware of being   blatantly subjective, no apologies there.
I was eager to hear the sounds from her new up-coming album, which seems promising.
The music is definitely going darker, faster, rhythmic, industrial and techno-bubblier. Which is exactly the kind of audio-smoothie this girl likes to hear on her iPod. As usual, her Slavic roots can be heard in the undertones, as well.

Her new album, "What We Saw From the Cheap Seats" comes out at the end of May.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Digital Travel Fever

Although company blogs are the most read of blogs in general, people rarely trust their message. Corporate talk has its agenda, and by 2012, most web users are savvy enough to know they are being influenced upon.
Mutually fertile dialogue is rarely conceived via one-sided endeavors at disguising press releases as something else.

When contemplating the effective use of social media in company PR, the hardest thing to accept is the loosening of control. All the discussion cannot, and should not, be attempted to monitor with an iron fist. Negative reputation is hard to shed and get rid of within the online communities.

One snappy example of a small company making it work to their benefit is the Finnish online travel agency, . Besides hosting a discussion forum for their active audience, they have also provided a venue for blogs. Everyone can establish their own blog inside the site, and share their thoughts and experiences related to traveling. This is a clever way to crowdsource and engage their visitors, and at the same, provide more value for all. As it happens, in these glory days of WOM ("word-of-mouth marketing"), people are more prone to listen to the recommendations and advice from their fellow audience members. In this regard, "Rantapallo" has figured out the playing field.

At a recent travel fair, I had a chance to chat a little with the lovely editor-in-chief, Riikka Krenn. According to her, the young company (2007-) has been doing remarkably well. At the moment, they receive 100 000 visitors per week, and growing.

According to her, the hip countries to visit right now are Jordania and Croatia. (At this time of the year, sun and warmth in any place would sound just about right.)
Which one do you think I should take on my list of places to visit next?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sweet Sting of Rejection

In the midst of a seemingly endless supply of  rejection letters, it is easy to forget it happens to the best of us.
Spotting real talent seems to be a rare gift  indeed, and the truly original material is frowned upon. After all, different scares us, takes us to the uncomfortable zone- new is strange and unknown. Risky. And in business, risks are to be controlled. Familiar is often the safe bet. Let´s take a look at some of the famous rejection letters received by our very best. Luckily for us, they did not stop writing or listen to the (bad) advice.

Ursula K. Le Guin went on to publish a wide variety of books, essays, short stories and poetry, especially in the genre of science fiction and fantasy. She has collected five Hugo-awards and six Nebula-awards, and a plethora of other recognitions.

The rebellious American Gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson ( 1937-2005) did not take criticism well. This is the letter he sent to his own biographer, William McKeen in 1991. "The Outlaw Journalist" on Thompson ended up being published anyways, in 2008, and gained notable praise.

Tim Burton was young and eager to get published. But his good attempt of a children´s book did not quite pass the par. Disney considered his creation too derivative. Later he went on to direct such masterpieces as
"Beetlejuice", "Nightmare before Christmas" and "Sleepy Hollow". Maybe Disney just was not ready for his colorfully macabre style back in 1976.

Although we do not have the words to look at, one quite well-known writer to receive harsh rejection letters was a British lady by the name of J. K. Rowling. She was even advised to get a day job, since "children´s books do not sell well". Her books series, depicting the adventures of Harry Potter, is now the best-selling in history.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fear sells

Fear mongering, playing on our primal instinct to survive and dodge danger is a tactic long chosen by the clever advertisers. Biologically speaking, fear produces epinephrine in our brain, the "feel-good" -hormone that rewards us for experiencing frightening situations. (Horror movies, anyone?) That is why we get pleasure out of being scared, and the sensation is both contagious and addictive. Fear also overtakes reason in our thinking, and there is nothing more powerful of  a persuader than a crippling sense of danger. And this is how we make a lot of our purchases. Really. Let´s see some toothbrush images.

Feeling those gums going tender? A slice of horror in a commercial. But this is nothing new. Let´s have a look at the olden goldies.

That dust sure is a monster. Because we just cannot be clean enough, every gal needs a dose of radioactivity!

Fear of failure, or how they say "feared self", is the engine driving most of the marketing of cosmetics.
Anti-wrinkle creams, soaps, teeth whitening strips, line-control eye balms... Do we really need them, or do they even work? Or are we actually resorting to the "aid" offered to us because we _fear_ what might happen otherwise? L´Oreal states that "I am worth it", but am I worth more that gasping every single tube and case they are pushing as a boost for self-esteem? Like it or not, the message is that we are simply not acceptable without the chemicals on our skin. Be it radioactivity, DDT or parabens.

Unilever´s "Dove" -products gained a lot of good PR with their message of "real" beauty and decision to use "real" women on their advertising. This was, however, another case of smoke and mirrors. Pascal Dangin , the magician of a photoshopper, came forward to admit that "a lot" of photoshopping was needed and performed on the raw images of "real beauties".


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This is the New Year, baby

First and foremost, thank you all my readers, be it accidental tourists, visiting cowboys or returning friends.
I started this blog as a hobby, pastime and an outlet for some of my thoughts. So far, I  have resisted the temptation to give in to the machine of blogging, and just stick to one niche of topics. I´m a friend of many things in this beautiful, colorful world of ours, and stopping to look is...well, an art near extinction.
However, I have begun guest-blogging. My introduction on "Rare Exports" is here.  If you ask nicely, I may just blog for you, too. Comments welcome.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Road Rage of "Drive"

Los Angeles, the city of dreams, angels and hopes. The place of glitter, sunshine, smiling people, palm trees, swimming pools, glamour and the American dream. This is how we have come to associate the city in our minds. But for the main character of "Drive", Los Angeles is more of place filled with endless highways, pit stops, dark and dirty alleys, neon signs, unfulfilled dreams, strip malls, survival, greed, cold stone buildings, rampant crime and worn-out apartments. Like the character of Meursault in Albert Camus´ masterpiece,  "Stranger" (sometimes referred to as "The Outsider"), he appears stoic, indifferent and dissociated from social norms. That is, until he meets his lovely neighbor Irene, whose troublesome circumstances spiral into his life with faithful results.

The very slick and stylistic film by Nicolas Winding Refn has visual flair and a gruesome neo-noir feel to it.
The style borrows from the works of Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino and Clint Eastwood. Much is not said, the dialogue is stripped down and the visual is emphasized. The music is haunting, and stays with you long after the film is over. The electric soundscape has a hybrid ´70s and ´80s feel to it, and works beautifully with the visual landscape.

The lone main character (played by the magnificent Ryan Gosling) is never properly named. He is referred to as "the kid", "the driver" or "him". He is merely a drop of destiny in the ocean of L.A., while at the same time coveting more. What he does is drive, and very well so. At day he stunt-drives for films while getting paid peanuts. At nights, he works as a getawaycar specialist, assisting in heists. Expressionless and calm, he escapes the police in the darkness of LA like a true master of cars. But he is only there for five minutes. After that, he disappears into the vast crowd of anonymity, much like the generic Chevy Impala´s he uses on his gigs.

The driver is on his way to possibly acquiring a way out of mundane existence with race driving, when a chance encounter with the pretty, but married, neighbour changes everything. Irene (played by Carey Mulligan) is struggling with a small boy, while his husband is an unlucky robber being released from jail. A blackmail threat against the son leaves the husband with no choice but to agree to a final robbery. Out of sympathy for the child, the driver agrees to help, thus breaking his solitude.

Needless to say, the heist goes dreadfully wrong, the mob is involved, and our poor driver has no choice but
to search and kill the involved criminals. Chaos ensues, and the inevitability of the outcome is almost heartbreaking for the viewer. The extremely graphic violence gives us a glimpse to the shadowy circles of hardened criminals, where aggression is a banal tool for control. The ease with which our main character resorts to using violence suggests that there is more to his background that mere getaway-drives. He is indeed a survivor, who feels empathy for the small boy in the face of danger.  In the end, he may have sacrificed himself for a family that never was his. The nihilism of the worldview offered to us is claustrophobic.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shades of Bliss

"It was a dark and stormy night..." Poor Snoopy, he never did get to finish his great masterpiece.

Attempts at writing the great classic aside, these nights of November certainly are dim and gloomy. While dreaming of the utopian teleporter-trip straight to Arcadia of nectars, endless sunshine and coconuts, a girl must make do with fave books, company of lovely friends and some enchanting music.
This latest jewel of a find is from Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions. Does the voice seem familiar? It should, as she is the lead singer of "Mazzy Star", a cult band that is finally returning from a long hiatus, and releasing new material next year. But while waiting for that, we have charming Ms. Sandoval.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sylvia Plath and the "November Graveyard"

Sylvia Plath, the tragic artist in turmoil, whose legacy was to acclaim the questionable throne of the original poster girl for suicide. Ms. Plath, whose literary work forever in name has been attached to the man, who betrayed her with a friend´s wife and then milked her cult status to the bones. Ironically, both Sylvia and the mistress killed themselves in the same, identical style: by sticking their head to the gas oven. Some men can just drive a woman insane- although in Sylvia´s case, the groundwork had been laid years earlier.

Like herds of teenagers around the world at this present moment, I have read my "Bell Jar"(1963) in due time. Some books last through the times, despite the poor recognition and weak reviews of their contemporaries. And so has this piece earned its immortality with every new patch of teenagers, literature students and just plain curious book lovers. Semi-autobiographical tale on isolation and depression, "The Bell Jar" is also sharp depiction of a young woman coming to grips with her sexuality in the America of the 1950s, in the shadow of the anti-Communist witch hunt and the societal cry on replacing women back to their places as housewives. (The ideology of "Rosie the Riveter" was buried, and jobs were needed for the men, returning from war. ) Plath herself described her only remaining novel as a  simple "potboiler", and published it under a pseudonym. Despite the controversy regarding "the Bell Jar", her poetry however, especially the later works, is almost univocally acclaimed.

Not only was the woman literally gifted, she also could drew. Some of her work has been now made public and is displayed at the Mayor Gallery in London, UK.

And here is a one more snippet of the woman herself reading one of her poems, fittingly for the month we are living, "November Graveyard".


Monday, October 3, 2011

Facebook Timeline and the Perils of Oversharing

The new features of Facebook were announced a week and half ago with showy, real-life feed shown-where else, on their own "f8"-page. Anticipation is high in the air. What kind of new tricks and gimmicks have Zuckie and his pals   invented this time to  waste/consume/spend our time with? To begin with, as I commented during his speech, the logo looks somewhat similar:

Ring a bell? Has it been so long from the end of "Lost"? The first image is the official logo from the Facebook new change launch. The latter, well, is the logo of the "Dharma Initiative". I guess the bluebook-boys (and girls) are fans of the show. In any case, my comment was swiftly moved. Or disappeared to the abyss of the web. Charming coincidence.

Back to the topic of hand. What are the new changes waiting us all inside the great FB? Besides linking us together, Facebook now wants to be able to influence what we watch, hear, read and buy. Netflix, Hulu, Washington Post, Ticketmaster and Spotify among others are moving inside Facebook. "Like"- button will have other verbs, although the negative ones most definitely won´t be entering the menu. And this is just the beginning. It could be argued that it almost feels like the entire web experience is being swallowed inside the FB. And globally speaking, when FB indeed is currently the second most  opened site of the web in general, am I wrong to imply that?

"Facebook Timeline" is the major term on everyone´s lips as of speaking. (The chosen  term actually has postponed the renewal of the site, as a small web company from Chicago decided to sue the big blue book for using their  own name. Well, we all know this will be settled in no time. Money talks and... Let´s leave it at that, shall we?) What does "Timeline" imply for us common folks? Short and sweet, it is a practical face lift for the old profile. The main picture is bigger and bolder, and your personality with all its myriad epitomes is better conceptualized and communicated for your chosen audience. The idea is to enable dynamic view on your life, past and future. Electric diary of one sort-only to be shared with your preferred audience. Naturally, the idea is to get us more immersed into the world of Facebook and share more information of ourselves.

Looks like something you desire as an upgrade? Want to feel like one of the hip early adopters? For the majority, this is not open yet. But wait! By signing up as a "developer", you can try to change your profile into the new sleek look. Instructions for example here. Or here.  At present, around 100 000 people are signing up as "developers" per day.

Increasingly, our online- and offline- life is being watched and defined through the renewed Facebook. Can you choose to leave your embarrassing movie options outside its watchful eye? Maybe, but it most certainly will be difficult. All this information of your consumption habits will be made open for your friends to see, and hopefully have an effect on their shopping habits. Not to mention of the bigger, corporate significance. Next to this picture, the information gathered from your chain store vip cards pales in comparison. It may be time to suggest that Facebook will never start charging you for using their site- why should they? If anything, it should be the other way around in exchange for giving personal information. As it is the case, "we the people" are not Facebook´s customers -the advertisers are. And boy, are they eager to get their hands on that ever-growing personal data.

The question of privacy is tricky in an era, when an increasing amount of people just do not care whether their  identity is  open for discussion. We share and exist through our public personas, and it may be time that the whole concept of "fame" or "public" is redefined. Last week´s news on the upcoming (18.10) Facebook "tv-show" called "Aim High", which uses actual personal data and images of all the profiles, went largely unnoticed. So did the little tidbit on how FB tracks its users even when they are not logged in to the service. (The instructions on how to stop the tracking, are here. ) It is almost as we have quietly accepted this little exchange of info in order to gain access. And the bottom line is, nobody has to be logged in. Or share everything. But then again, it is a handy little tool to keep your contacts in check. After all, upon hearing of the looming changes most of the people seem to be worried of only one thing: how to stop people of seeing those embarrassing tracks on your "Spotify" playlists.