The Future Belongs To The Analog Loyalists

So despite my better judgement, this happened. Jen convinced me that it's a good idea. She's going to helm it — or at least I think she's supposed to. I don't want to spend too much time on it because, like I've said before in some shape or form, I still think it's important to control your own content versus supplying content for someone or something else. That and there are a lot of things I don't want to waste my time on without remuneration — predicting the Oscars, March Madness brackets, Fantasy Baseball — so I don't want to get sucked in.

Frank mentioned before that Twitter is just RSS for the masses, which I understand; if you don't have a Reader set up, then you don't get it — I understand that.

Don't expect anything pithy from the thingamajig — just a cryptic shortened link with some description that is under 140 characters.

I hate those shortened links, by the way — I think links are descriptive in and of themselves, and I'll look at a link — the link itself — before I ever click, because often I decide whether I should care based on that alone. But something like this is just baffling: — huh? Why are people so scared of long links? Has it really come to that?

I thought about setting up a Twitter account back when I started the Big Map Blog but I eventually decided that it was best to provide visitors with a service (i.e., letting people know when the Big Map is updated) and hold on to control of the content at the same time. The Big Map Blog started out as pretty basic — just a collection of links — but in time the posts have gotten more detailed — and less frequent than I originally envisioned. And certain posts end up supplementing the Big Map content — like when we go on a big trip and I compile the entire itinerary in one long post.

Anyway, I think @batclub will go back to that original intention. I imagine we'll also throw up links when there's something in the news, for example — not necessarily to highlight new content but also to remind visitors of content that's there — and that would not be something I'd want to waste anyone's time with on the Big Map Blog.

Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey are on CNN right now being feted by Piers Morgan and Martha Stewart. Hrm.

Look at it this way — we're just following in the footsteps of Amtrak, which is using the social media platform to notify riders of tremendous fuckups:

Amtrak is introducing a pilot program to notify Northeast Corridor passengers about major service disruptions via Twitter.

Which is to say, Twitter is great for a trainwreck.

Speaking of CBS New York articles, this one is really weird. So on "via Twitter" there's a seemingly non-germane link to an interview with Biz Stone from October 2010. Maybe not exactly "non-germane" but kind of random. But it gets weirder. On the paragraph that reads "Amtrak says Twitter users who choose to follow @AmtrakNEC will be notified of major service disruptions resulting in major delays or stoppage of all rail traffic due to equipment problems, severe weather, police activity or other causes" the words "Amtrak says" link to a story from November about the failed Trans-Hudson tunnel project. I don't get it.

Then it gets weirder . . . in the following paragraph that reads "Disruptions that affect only a single train will not result in a tweet," "result in a tweet" — or more accurately, the space just before the "r" in "result" and the rest of it — links to a story about how Cory Booker and Anthony Weiner have a lot of followers.

And then in the final paragraph — "Amtrak says it will review the number of followers and retweets of the messages to determine if the pilot program should be modified, made permanent or expanded to other corridors" — the words "number of followers and retweets" constitute a link to the story about the runaway Bronx Zoo cobra having a Twitter account.

In short, the most random and useless collection of links I've ever seen in a story.

Which is also to say, people on the Internet are trying to hustle. Clearly we're no different. But what I can say is that we will always try to make your Internet experience as meaningful as possible. Or as much as we can given that we're predisposed to the nooks and crannies of everyday life. We're not running a content farm, but we know we need to do what we can both to make the visiting experience worthwhile and put ourselves in a position to keep it viable. Who knows, maybe no one will use it (that would suck!), but now it's there if you want it.

You know, if you pluck the feathers and cook the shit out of it in a ragu, crow doesn't taste half bad . . .

Posted: March 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Do The Hustle | Tags: , , , ,

Wait, Who Are You? And Just How Much Cash Are You Waving In My Face?

If you watch television in the New York City area, you might be familiar with a particularly annoying — highly, highly annoying — commercial for a car dealership in Great Neck that fills the low-budget local ad slots on various cable systems. I first saw it this summer during the late innings of various meaningless baseball games. Once it gets into your head, it's difficult to extricate it from your mental space.

I kept wanting people to see it, just so they could understand what I was feeling. It's sort of like when you taste something rotten and immediately offer it to your friend: "Oh, this is disgusting — smell it!" Unfortunately, no one had the foresight to upload a video of the commercial to YouTube. The closest thing I could find was a furtive comment on a "Most Annoying WFAN Commercials" thread.

But on January 10, 2011, the good folks of Great Neck Nissan finally shared the video with the world [4/18/16 Edit: So apparently it's not there anymore (thanks, eagle-eyed Adsensebot!) but the video is posted elsewhere]:

I am surprised it took them so long to post the video. Yes, it has the hallmarks of a viral marketing cliche, but these days — when the people who make Snuggies and Forever Lazy Adult Onesies are dancing on a thin line of self-awareness that confounds cynics — you could do a lot worse than adding this video to the pantheon of ridiculous shit you waste your time on while logged into YouTube. It's not so self-consciously oddball, or even if it is, you get the sense that they didn't perceive that it was until much later (especially given how long it took to make it to YouTube — it's as if they did it by popular demand).

(Speaking of which, I always assumed "all press is good press" was attributed to Mark Twain, but the origin of the phrase, or at least the sentiment, is murkier: As far as anyone can tell, "there is no such thing as bad publicity" seems to come from Oscar Wilde's "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" and there does not seem to be a tidy explanation of the origin of the aphorism.)

The script is harmless enough — a man identifying himself as Joe Valentino — perhaps this is the same Joe Valentino — holds a wad of bills in his hand and speaks directly into the camera:

Five hundred dollars cash — that's right — five hundred dollars cash! This is Joe Valentino from Great Neck Nissan and that's what I'm willing to pay if I don't give you the absolute lowest price on any car, truck or four-by-four at Great Neck Nissan! So shop 'til you drop my friends — you can't lose — either a brand new Nissan or five hundred dollars cash!

Where does it all go wrong? It's not the out-of-place Lou Holtz/Notre Dame poster hanging over Valentino's right shoulder — even though it's strange in the way that the poster splits the viewer's attention between the Nissan logo to Valentino's left and this piece of Fighting Irish nostalgia on his right, I guess visually it does its part to help frame Joe Valentino. That said, while I understand why Notre Dame is popular — I cried watching Rudy, too! — the Irish haven't been relevant for quite some time, having lost nine straight bowl games until finally getting their mojo back in 2008's Hawai'i Bowl; hearkening back to this bygone era seems like a mixed message of sorts.

Further, I don't mind that Joe Valentino's undershirt is poking up from under that unbuttoned short-sleeved thing he's wearing. I see it as "authentic."

I also don't mind the video quality — yes, the audio seems to peak, and the commercial is jarring when you come across it during the lazy late innings of a ballgame — but that's what local commercials are all about; even though it looks like it was filmed on Betamax, there's a homespun, DIY aspect to it that we don't usually see in professionally produced commercials.

I don't even mind that Joe Valentino keeps punching at the camera with his middle finger sticking out — I didn't even notice that part until now, actually. It's pretty aggro if you look for it. Though if your mind wanders, you might find yourself remembering a similar gesture that Daniel Pearl made with his middle finger on that gruesome video in which he acknowledged his Jewish heritage to terrorists under duress. Is Valentino sending the same sort of veiled message?

No, let's be real — we all know where it goes wrong — it's that voice — that voice! — "fiiiiii-vundred dollars caaaash!" Hear it once and you think, "Oh, wow, that's over the top," but after the fiftieth or one-hundredth time, yikes — it's pretty unrelenting. And it doesn't have to be this way — had, say, Alistair Cooke recorded this, it would have been gentler, more inviting — in a smooth British accent, the promise of five hundred dollars cash would be hard to resist. Even Keith Hernandez would have been more appealing. His Coin Galleries of Oyster Bay ad shows statesmanship and class, and if I had gold I wanted to unload, I wouldn't hesitate to trust his endorsement.

I also find myself gravitating toward that bossy "shop 'til you drop, my friend" command. One, we're not friends! Two, I don't know that I want to shop until I drop — what if I can't get back up? When Valentino says stuff like that I start to envision the Great Neck Nissan car lot filled with hundreds of nonambulatory customers, some stuck on their backs staring into a blinding sun, some on their knees, legs trembling as they attempt to prop themselves up again. I don't know that this commercial ever aired during AMC's The Walking Dead, but if it had, there might have been another mixed message sent.

And this is all well and good — and I'm happy to help spread viruses — but by posting the video, Great Neck Nissan is clearly moving into Comfort Wipe territory. The danger/hope is what they come up with next.

Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Do The Hustle | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Pass The New York City Sightseeing Guide Exam

I recently took — and passed with a star, meaning a score over 120 (I got a 123)! — the New York City Sightseeing Guide Exam that is given by the City's Department of Consumer Affairs, which means that I am now a licensed sightseeing guide.

The sightseeing guide exam was rewritten in 2003 because it was outdated (9/11 changed a lot, not least of which apparently being several questions related to the World Trade Center). The new exam is apparently more in-depth than the last one, and is intended to better test the abilities of the tour guides that the City of New York licenses. The accuracy of the information from guides on certain buses has been called into question over the years (see also) so I guess the City owes it to tourists to get some stuff right.

Jen took — and passed! — the new exam several years ago, but she was no help when I asked her what was on the exam. I don't think she was being competitive either — she just didn't remember. So I asked another person we know who took — and passed! — the exam and she had some good advice: "Major rule is the Charter buses cannot go north on Park Ave past ….I think 23rd St. That is the one they really care about. Also study FDR. AIA guide book is very helpful. Random….make sure you know what Wave Hill is!!!"

These are good tips — part of the sightseeing exam, as they'll tell you when you read the study guide (.pdf), is knowing the rules for charter buses. Even if you're not driving a bus, or if you think of tours as walking tours, DCA expects you to know the rules for charter buses. Here is a link that has everything you need to know. And just so we're clear, the rule is actually that charter buses can't drive on Park Avenue north of 42nd Street, which makes sense if you think about Park Avenue north of Grand Central. And if you've ever rented a U-Haul, you already know that you can't drive it on the parkways, so that's what she meant about using the FDR. I had visited Wave Hill before, so I knew that part, but the test is pretty inventive with one question I had (they cycle through several versions apparently) that combined both charter bus rules and Wave Hill, giving you a choice of four routes to take to Wave Hill that presupposes you know not only where Wave Hill is but how to avoid the FDR while getting there.

One of the books they suggest you study is Blue Guide New York by Carol von Pressentin Wright, so I checked it out of the library and studied it over the course of a couple of weeks — not a lot, but I definitely read Francis Morrone's architecture section more than once (New York City architectural styles are important to know).

Feeling macho, I resisted Googling "New York City Sightseeing Exam Questions" for a while . . . until I finally did, and found these links: 1) An NPR piece about the new exam with some sample questions; 2) Norman Oder's criticism (and other criticism) of the new exam; and 3) Justin Ferate's sample quiz (Ferate wrote the new exam). (This blog entry also had some useful tips.)

I'm glad I came across the NPR piece because it featured this question: "The physical size of the Bronx is approximately the equivalent of what European city? (a) Paris, France, (b) Copenhagen, Denmark, (c) London, England, (d) Brussels, Belgium." My first response was "Are you fucking kidding me?" There's that old Brooklyn booster piece of trivia about how if Brooklyn were its own city it would be the fourth largest in the U.S., but who really cares that the Bronx is geographically similar in size to Paris? (I had to look that one up on the Wikipedia, and convert square kilometers even — it was a pain!)

I think Ferate explained (or I surmised — can't find it right off the bat) that the exam is written to be educational for the tour guides themselves — so it makes sense that they'd drop in seemingly impertinent details like the geographic size of the Bronx. That said, one tip I have is to read the long (sometimes really long) text for each question and skip questions that you're not sure of because the test questions often have answers embedded in them that pop up in later questions. Although I read each question in its entirety, I didn't skip any — if I had I would have scored higher for sure. One question I missed that I shouldn't have missed given that I used to work at the Parks Department was about Robert Moses. The gist of the question was that Moses built or had a significant impact on basically all this stuff in New York and elsewhere; I overthought it by first questioning Moses' substantive impact on Central Park (he didn't build most of the stuff he wanted to build there, and I think the plans for the Great Lawn predated "his" involvement in the WPA-era project, though yeah, he put a lot of playgrounds in there for sure) and Moses' impact on Van Cortlandt Park (I don't think he did all that much in Van Cortlandt Park actually — it dates to the 1880s — though yes, I guess there's that highway he ran through it). But no matter — I knew about the Bronx-Paris question beforehand, so we'll call it even. Oh, and a "FAM Tour," if you didn't already know (I got this question wrong) is a "Familiarization Tour" — I gather that's an industry term or something . . .

It was fun to visit DCA — they have all sorts of licenses, and if I wasn't worried that they'd freak out if I pulled out a camera, I would have taken a picture of the wall of license applications that feature everything from Bingo Game Operator to Laundry Jobber to Motion Picture Projectionist (really?). New York City loves to license stuff. And the staff was really nice — everyone I talked to was really psyched that I scored a 123 . . . I felt proud!

So now that Jen and I both have our NYC sightseeing guide licenses, what will we do with them? We had this idea to do tours — not the typical There's-The-Empire-State-Building Tour but rather a sort of Come-Hang-Out-With-A-Real-Life-Person Tour that would replicate the experience of coming to New York and visiting a friend of yours. It's not completely hashed out in our minds, but I think it would combine the usefulness of a so-called "FAM Tour" with the kind of fun stuff you'd get from visiting someone you know. Sort of like, hey, there's the skyline and that's X, Y or Z building and then here's the Newtown Creek, which has more oil spilled down there than the Exxon Valdez — i.e., stuff that maybe goes off of the typical NYC & Company message. I really enjoyed all the tour guides we had when we went to Peru back in July, and after we got back I started to think more seriously about it — that and it's actually a lot of fun to show people around — even if I'm not 100 percent clear about the difference between Federal Style and Greek Revival architecture on Washington Square North (it's the latter, if my Blue Guide study was correct)

In the meantime, Not For Tourists, the guidebook people that Jen and I have done some work for over the years, is doing a Chinatown "Exploration" on November 6 that I will lead, assuming they get enough people to sign up for it. (I tried to get Craig to call it a "Not For Tour" but maybe it was too strange sounding.) It's $50, but for that price you also get some street food, a drink at the end of the "tour" and also a typo-free copy of the 2011 Not For Tourists Guide to New York City, which I had the privilege of proofreading.

And if you're interested in Jen and me taking you and your (hopefully not too well-informed) buddies around, feel free to e-mail us at info -at- . . .

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Do The Hustle | Tags: , , ,