Gold Men and Hams

Award acceptance speeches can be so difficult and potentially embarrassing. Words that might be perfectly acceptable in normal conversation or as part of a drunken brawl simply aren’t appropriate on a global stage with a billion people watching.

In short, it’s a good idea to write down your thoughts before accepting the little golden man.

And yet movie stars lead such complicated lives. People watch them to see the glamour, but they also enjoy a little bit of dirt. And you know how it is in show biz – you have to give the paying customers some of what they want. How much, however, is up to you.

Some complain that prepared remarks sound “canned”, and are not as memorable as more unscripted, genuine moments. Often this is true, but a bit of preparation shows respect for the audience and for one’s self. If you take the time to deliver a message that has been crafted and proofread and re-written, it will represent you better in the long run.

One year the actor Mark Rylance accepted a Tony award by reciting a prose poem written by Minnesota author Louis Jenkins. There are good things about handling it that way – including economy of language. A poem has rhythm and timing, and so it is easier to fit inside the 45-second acceptance speech time limit than, say, a bit of off-the-cuff drunken rambling.

The bad thing about using poetry – a lot of people won’t get it. Others will find it annoying or will simply ignore it. And it’s not as splashy or revealing as off-the-cuff drunken rambling.

Unless you go Seussian / dysfunctional / confessional on them.

I’ve won the prize at last, Oh My!
And now it’s time for speeches.
Thank you, thank you, mom and dad,
And no thanks to the leeches.

Did I say “leeches”? Heavens dear.
That’s not what I’m about.
And we all know of whom I speak.
No need to call them out.

No, I don’t want to dwell on that.
On agents and producers
And all the stabbers, front and back
The users and seducers.

No, this is such a happy night
And I’ve already chewed
through half of my allotted time
with anti-gratitude.

So thanks to all those who endured
my antics without cringing.
My tantrums and my selfishness.
My pouts and fits and binging.

I’m so in awe of everyone’s
commitment to perfection.
My rehab staff. My temper coach.
The guards at State Corrections.

My family – the spouse and kids.
I haven’t thanked you yet.
I know I made you happiest
when I was on the set.

I’ve only got five seconds now.
So here’s to all the rest.
The fans who paid to see me
though I’ve been an awful pest.

That’s a solid 45 seconds, if read briskly. And it would run on You Tube forever.

If you had to accept a major award, would you go with stream-of-consciousness, or carefully prepared remarks?

A Show of Hands

How many hands have you got?

Individual results may vary, but for most people, the answer is 2. You probably didn’t have to check the ends of your arms to come up with that answer – your brain already knew it. And your brain is always right, right?

Yesterday, Beth-Ann sent a link to an interesting New York Times blog about an experiment conducted in Sweden that has provided a fresh variation on the “traditional rubber hand illusion.” I admit I did not know rubber hand illusions had a tradition.
I guess the world is full of ancient and exotic rituals.

In the “traditional” rubber hand illusion, a subject places one hand on the table while their opposite hand is hidden. A rubber hand is then put on the table in front of the subject in the spot where the hidden hand would have been, had they not withheld it. An experimenter then strokes both the hidden real hand and the exposed fake hand with a brush, and before long the subject begins to associate this sensation with the false hand they can see, rather than the real hand, which they cannot.

That’s sufficiently weird, but some people can’t stop messing with tradition.

In this new wrinkle, the real hand and the rubber hand sit side by side on the table in front of the subject. A sheet is draped over the arm so it’s not clear which appendage is actually connected to the body. As in the “traditional” illusion, both hands are stroked with a brush, and an unexpected thing happens. The subject takes ownership of both hands, feels sensations in both hands, and flinches when both hands are threatened with a knife.

It took me a while to understand the importance of this: Apparently our brains are big gullible goofballs.

If you’ve lived your entire life with only one right hand and then all it takes to confound you on that topic is a rubber duplicate, a paint brush and a sheet, that doesn’t speak very well for your innate sense of the world. How could your brain do this, the traitor? Accepting another, squishier right arm as your own, even though your perfectly good and historically loyal right arm is sitting right there in front of you? Scoundrel!

Suddenly it’s easier to understand the fruitless chase for WMD in Iraq and the epidemic of older men running off with younger, bouncier women. Brains don’t need a lot of convincing to buy into an obviously ludicrous idea. The elastic brain re-configures its wiring to create a reality that matches what it sees. Or what it thinks it sees. The internal dialog must go something like this:

“That pert young co-ed finds a paunchy, bald, wrinkled up prune of a U.S. Senator like me far more attractive than handsome, fit, energetic men her own age? Love is funny that way, I guess!”

“Hmm. It appears I have inexplicably grown a second right hand. Finally, a use for that orphaned winter glove! No wonder she loves me! She’s really into three handed men!”

Amazing. Science has proven what I already know. Brains are easily duped.

Or did I simply WANT to believe that?

R2 Seeks D2

The shuttle Discovery is back in space – the last mission for this particular orbiter and the very first mission for Robonaut 2, a machine that looks like a guy from the waist up. Unfortunately, from the waist down, this R2 looks like a high–end speaker stand. But it’s the first foray off-planet for “humanoid” robots – stationary machines built to look like people. One small step for those who can’t take one small step.
Maybe the walking attachment will be called D2.

Too bad that Robonaut 2 is being permanently installed in the International Space Station on this trip – he would make a perfect government employee for the New Wisconsin. He draws no salary and has no fringe benefits. As for health care, a little more hydraulic fluid and we’re good. If long-term disability becomes an issue, upgrades are always available, but shipping is extra because he’s not allowed to go home (he could be a Democrat in the Wisconsin Senate!). Best of all, he’s the only one of his kind so collective bargaining is a non-starter.

R2 has an uncanny ability to mimic our arm and hand motions. He’s designed to duplicate some of the fine motor tasks the astronauts do, and his purpose on this trip is to be tested in the weightless environment of space. And also to freak out the other astronauts when they look up from their work to see a golden helmeted mechanical figure waving its arms around inside the space station.

“Danger, Will Robinson!”

If I were on the trip we’d get some good data on what happens when a machine gives you a strong case of the creeps in zero G. Good thing everybody wears astronaut diapers.

But best wishes to Robonaut 2 for a safe forever flight, and condolences for Robonaut 1, who didn’t qualify for space travel and will be working this summer as an automated fortune teller on various state fair midways.

Just like human space travelers, those who fly stand on the shoulders of those who remain behind.

If they have legs, that is.

What chore would you unload on a Dexterous Human Robot?

Who Is This Really?

After yesterday’s kerfuffle over a prank phone call made to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by someone posing as businessman David Koch, I’m become very hesitant to accept the stated identity of anyone I can’t see. How can I possibly know that the people I’m talking to aren’t scheming, lying bloggers trying to embarrass me?

And don’t tell me bloggers who do this sort of thing are today’s equivalent of the pioneering broadcast journalists. Go to the CBS archives. Where are Edward R. Murrow’s prank calls? You won’t find them! And I can say that with certainty, not because I’ve been in the CBS archives, but because I’m a blogger and I can make stuff up.

In the Walker call, the prankster, a fellow identified as Ian Murphy (again, who really knows?), sounds just the way a scared guy would sound if he were trying to imitate the chummy, towel snapping way billionaire puppet masters are supposed to yuk it up with their boys in the back room. He is completely unconvincing when he attempts to encourage Walker with “Now you’re not talking to any of these Democrat bastards, are you?” There’s no fire in his voice when he exhorts the Wisconsin Governor with “Beautiful, beautiful. Gotta crush that union!”

There are plenty of movies where the villain is a fabulously wealthy lout who wants to control the world. Can’t we practice our maniacal cackle a little bit before trying it out for an audience?

The prank call achieved the remarkable feat of making me feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Wisconsin’s Governor. I’ll try not to get carried away, though it has changed my outlook in some key areas. That’s why I’ve taken to recording all my phone calls and producing a daily transcript, just in case someone tries to hoodwink me.

Here’s one from yesterday:

(phone rings)

?: Reference Desk.

Me: I’m looking for a book about prank calls. How to make them, how to record them, that sort of thing.

?: A whole book about prank calls? Phone calls?

Me: Yeah. Some of the social ramifications of it. Legal too.

?: I’ll check the catalog. I don’t think anyone’s written a whole book about it. There might be some magazine articles and … how about a movie?

Me: They made a movie about prank calls?

?: When A Stranger Calls. 2006.

Me: That sounds like a joke answer to my question, and I was looking for real information.

?: There’s also a book by Walter Mosley called “The Wave”. It says here one of the plot points has to do with a character getting phone calls from someone claiming to be his dead father.

Me: I think you’re pulling my leg. Are you a real reference librarian or is this some kind of cheap put-on for your juvenile GOTCHA website?

?: You called ME.

Me: That’s exactly what a prank caller would say!

?: All I did was pick up the phone.

Me: You mean you prank answered!

We went around and around for a while, but I didn’t fall for any of her cheap gags. Some people are just too smart to be fooled!

How can you prove you are you?

Cell Phone Study Mixes Up Brains

It feels like Technology week. Yesterday we talked about blogging being “over” as discouraged writers tire of nobody reading their carefully crafted words and they switch to the rapid fire expression of Facebook and Twitter.

Today we discover a new study that shows the transmitters in cell phones are jangling our brains. Results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but the meaning of it all is entirely up for grabs.

Of course it drew the attention of marketing visionary and dealmaker Spin Williams, who sent this newsletter from The Meeting That Never Ends:

Great news about cellphones!

Researchers found out there IS an effect on the brain when you hold a cell phone up to the side of your head! That’s amazing!

Researchers had subjects undergo PET scans – one of those claustrophobic medical nightmares where they put you inside a massive, humming tube that’s so close you feel like you’re a Kentucky farmer stranded in a cave with spiders all around and the water rising from an overnight storm.

And then they tell you to relax.

The people who went into these tubes had two cell phones fixed to their heads – one on the right and one on the left. The phones had to be fixed there because there’s no way you can put your arm up alongside your head when you’re in one of those crazy-making PET scanners.

Then they had the machine look at the brain’s chemistry. They did it with no phones on, and with one phone on. Why they didn’t do it with BOTH phones on is a mystery to me, because that’s how I spend the bulk of my day!

Anyway, they found out when one cell phone was on, it was doing SOMETHING in the area closest to the phone’s antenna. Was it a spike in the “why-did-I-agree-to-be-in-this-stupid-study” lobe? We don’t know, but for some people, any undefined increase in activity anywhere in their brain is a huge step forward!

The brain tumor worrywarts have started in with their “I told you so’s”, but here’s the biggest news I take away from this landmark study.

We can make stuff happen inside people’s brains without having to cut a hatchway!

From a marketing perspective, that’s huge, because we already know at least two things about Americans and the quest for knowledge:

We hate book learning and smug smartypants professors.
We like feeling more intelligent than everyone else.
We love doing things with remote control.

OK, three things. Which leads to the next question:

How can we get smarter without any effort? No idea. But maybe this study reveals one way to start. Since we don’t know what cell phone radiation does to the brain, it’s still possible that it makes you brilliant!

Why not assume the best? If we can talk our way past the Chinese, education-wise, let’s trash the school system and buy unlimited weekday minutes for everyone!

Maybe someday we’ll be able to use cell phone transmitters to pipe information directly into the brain with no need to go through the ear mechanism, which is unreliable and prone to waxy build up! And once we can transmit information, why not secret instructions targeted to specific areas? I predict Behavior Modification Hats! And there’s a commercial side, of course. As a marketer, I want to know how I can use a radio wave gun hidden above a convenience store ceiling to tickle that one section of the brain that controls cheese ball cravings.

Brain science was always interesting, but it just got better! I can’t wait to add “Harvard Business School Phd” to my cell phone plan!

Leave it to Spin to jump a few lengths down the track on this, though so much of marketing is about trying to get inside people’s heads, how can I blame him for wanting to rush through a freshly opened doorway?

Which of your brain functions could use an electro magnetic boost?

Behind Every Curve

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I am a middle-aged person who used to feel very special and “with it”, but in recent years it has become obvious to me that I’m not anyone’s 21st century poster boy.

And yet I feel I still have something to offer!

So I started a blog. It helped me feel like I was at the forefront of technology – doing things the modern way, not stuck in routines that are considered “old school.” I’ve been at it for over two years now, and while no one would call me a “successful” blogger (on the Ariana Huffington scale of success), I do feel like I’m making progress.

My reader seems pleased, anyway. At least that’s what she says on those days when she has time to stop by.

Writing a decent blog requires some discipline. You have to spend time sorting through your ideas. You consider your opinions and try to give some shape and structure to these thoughts before posting them online. In an ideal world, you’ll even proofread your blog once before offering it to the world.

But just yesterday I learned that things have changed again, and blogs are over. Only the clueless and the lame continue with it. Blogging is simply too time consuming and the payoff is virtually nil – like setting up your lemonade stand on a street with no traffic. In winter. During a blizzard.

The new thing is to constantly rain your short, random thoughts on the universe using multiple bursts of text delivered through Facebook and Twitter. Communicating with only pictures, videos or emoticons is even better. Blogs are too writer-y.

Dr. Babooner, how can I start over AGAIN? I feel like I can’t keep up and time is running out. Am I just meant to be behind every curve?

And should I blog about this, post it on my Facebook page, or Tweet it?

Increasingly Irrelevant In Indianapolis

Here’s what I told Four I’s: “Just stay open to new ideas without expressing automatic disdain for things that are old. When young people abandon a thing, that’s no reflection on the thing itself. Young people abandon everything eventually, including being young. Draw some comfort from the fact that they will someday feel as useless and out-of-step as you. So do what feels right and consider using the full range of options, including “old school” communication. So what if ‘blogging is SO 2004’? As for your next carefully considered post, I suggest you scrawl it on a scrap of paper, stuff it in a bottle and throw it into the sea. You can’t call it a mass audience, but there are people stranded on a desert island somewhere who are desperate for something to read.”

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Leader of the Free* World

* Financing charges may apply.

Happy President’s Day!

With all the snow PLUS a postal holiday, I’ve had extra time to read through the junk mail, including this dispatch from Wally’s Intimida.

Your New Sherpa – Parked Out Back

Don’t miss the President’s Day Sale this year – we’ll have awesome deals on incredible cars of course, including the one-of-a-kind Intimida Sherpa, the largest car on the planet! It’s a mountain of an automobile that’s so massive, it makes its own weather! Come see the car environmentalists call “obscene” and mapping satellites say is “terrain”. That’s right – your new Sherpa could appear in the next World Atlas!

Wally’s Intimida is committed to providing a great car buying experience to everyone who comes in the door. We believe in freedom and equality for all! We totally buy into the time-honored sales slogan “The customer is always right”. And if you shop in February, we make this pledge – The Customer is Always President!

Face it – you’ve always wanted to be Commander in Chief, and you know you’d be a great one.

When you come to Wally’s, our sales staff will meet you at the door with applause, just for being there! We’ll play “Hail to the Chief” and we’ll sit and listen with rapt attention as you lay out your ideas for how everything needs to be. We’ll agree, totally. You’ll get lots of ovations. There’ll be confetti and you’ll have the chance to kiss a few babies.

When we take you out to the lot for your test drive, we’ll have a camera crew following you and a reporter shouting questions that you don’t have to answer. And of course there will be a cloud of security, complete with snipers on the rooftops watching out for low flying airplanes. The manhole covers along your route will be welded shut. After all, you’re President!

Once you get back to the dealership – a press conference. The sales consultant, the sales manager, the financing guy, the woman who wants to sell you nitrogen filled tires and extra rust proofing and the dude who pushes the extended warranty will pepper you with questions. It’s all in good fun and what a great experience – bring your family so they can see how you handle the pressure with confidence. Ultimately we’ll do whatever you say, mostly. This whole thing is part of your legacy and you’re in charge!

And because Every Customer is President during February at Wally’s Intimida, we’ll do some talking behind your back. You can watch on closed-circuit TV as our staff of commentators and bloviators dissects your every move and gesture. We’ll chew the fat about how realistic your goals are. We’ll list your strengths and weaknesses and wonder out loud about your true motives. We’ll develop a plan to get you to compromise. We might even decide to stonewall you. Fun! Do we give anything away by letting you in on it? Of course not – you’re the President! So much of high-level politics is obvious. The players know what’s coming and it always boils down to a power struggle over numbers. We’ll consider shutting down the whole dealership if it looks like, by doing so, we can get you to budge on that paint sealant package. Stare us down. Test your mettle. And bring lots of extra change for the vending machine – we could be here all night!

And when the great struggle is finally over, there’ll be a signing ceremony in the sales manager’s office. It may be years before any of us know who got the better end of the deal. Historians will pick through the remains, and we’ll send you on your way with enough paperwork to start your own Presidential Library!

Here’s the point – when you are Commander in Chief, you are always the most important person in the room. If you want to feel significant, like your actions and opinions matter, then come car shopping at Wally’s in February when Every Customer is President. It’ll be the greatest opportunity you’ve ever had, and the toughest job you’ve ever loved.

I have to admit this letter got to me – I would like to feel like I’m as important as the President, but I don’t know if I have the stamina. And one thing Wally didn’t mention – when it’s all over you’ll still have to manage a crushing amount of debt!

Ever had a great experience buying something big?