Let’s Talk About Ads

Let’s talk about ads! Not the science behind marketing, blah blah blah. Smarter people than me can take care of that conversation. Instead, I want to talk about ads in general, and things that are ad-supported.

The topic that brought this to mind was a recent post on /r/podcasts about sponsors.  It was what you’d call on Reddit, a “shitpost” – a low-effort post with nothing to say.  From that spawned an actual discussion at least, with opinions being split between supporting ads and being vehemently against them.  Personally, I’m okay with them, and here’s why.

Full disclosure – I work in an industry that relies on advertising to generate revenue (radio).  I am slightly biased, but not for the reason of perpetuating a source of revenue / income.

I am a podcast creator  myself; I don’t use ads in my show, but rather rely on a Patreon campaign.  However, I understand the need for ads to offset production costs.  I have made a conscious choice to not skip ads for a product I am downloading for free.  I do not make the financial decision to donate, so I don’t want to cheat the creators out of ads that they feel are necessary to support their craft.

I understand that listening to ads on a podcast is not an act in itself that will bring them money.  This is more of a moral decision on my part.  But in a similar vein, I also decided to disable adblockers in my browser so that websites I frequent benefit from my ad views.  I understand that there’s whitelisting things you can do, so that terrible ad-based sites suffer, but I would rather just not go to those offending websites.

We live in a strange time, I think.  Younger generations feel entitled to block out all advertising to get what they want.  Some would gladly pay for subscriptions in exchange for an ad-free experience, but I think that might get close to the erosion of net neutrality.  This is also probably a ‘slippery slope’ argument in the making, so I’m going to stop there.

I think that my final opinion on the matter is that I’m perfectly fine with ads, if they are supporting a medium that I’m not paying for.  Radio, podcasts, and web sites – those are great examples.  All of those have options for ad-free experiences as well in most cases.

For radio, there is Satellite Radio available (for which I have a subscription – I enjoy both Satellite AND terrestrial radio); for podcasts, there are a host of options; for websites, ad-free versions have been around for years.  Apps have paid versions as well as ad-supported free versions.

Where it gets less tolerable are services such as Television, where I pay a subscription service and still get ads.  However it is still tolerable, because I realize that the ads are supporting the channels, so it’s really the cable service that I’m paying through the nose for.  TV is complicated, guys.

What are your thoughts?

Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud

I read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud over the weekend – yes, I typed that correctly; I started the book sometime Friday and finished it Sunday.  If you want to skip my review entire, I’ll tell you straight up that I rated it 4/5 on Goodreads.

As I mentioned, I was able to finish it in a weekend.  Surely I missed a lot of information, but at around 215+ pages, it’s not a very dense work of non-fiction – there aren’t a lot of words, and the bulk of it is juxtaposed next to images to help drive the point home.  It makes for a very quick read, but the material is there to make it a very deep dive if you’re so inclined.

The format is presented in black and white, with one chapter briefly featuring bits of colour (for emphasizing the uses of colour in comics).  Everything was otherwise clear in terms of conveying information, so definitely no marks lost for lack thereof.  In fact, I think the one chapter about the use of colour helped to bring attention to the material at hand.  Releasing it in colour may have diluted the information a bit, maybe.

The book is clearly well-researched.  McCloud knows what he’s talking about, and goes back to information and comics centuries’ old.  There are a few parts where it feels slightly repetitive, but never dry.  I really enjoyed how it made me realize some of the unseen techniques going on with comics that I hadn’t really considered before.

At times I felt a little overwhelmed with some of the ideas presented, and I feel like McCloud went a little far-afield with some of his ideas.  But overall it was presented in a friendly format and is a fun essay to read through.  4/5, definitely recommend.

Hunter – by Wil Wheaton

Alright, so I re-read Wil Wheaton’s short story Hunter tonight; I’m posting this from mobile, so you’ll have to find the link when I wrote about it in my last post.

Anyway…It’s not as good as I apparently made it out to be in that post. If I were to grade it now, I’d give it a 3. The world building is done well, but the characterization is only okay. I can see my own writing reflected here. 

Also, the twist at the end? Not really that big of a twist ending. 

I still recommend it if you have some money to blow – it’s pretty cheap after all. And it’s a short read. Took me maybe ten to fifteen minutes. 

The 20th Anniversary of Our Lady Peace – Clumsy

20 years ago Monday, Our Lady Peace released Clumsy.  Speaking without doing any research or looking up basic data, I’m pretty sure this was their most popular album, and definitely the biggest fan favourite.  Personally, I prefer Spiritual Machines – but I have a place for Clumsy for sure.

I would have been 12 years old when it was released, turning 13 in March of the same year.  I remember being vaguely familiar with Our Lady Peace, hearing about them briefly in some band feature vignette on YTV.  Rock music in general wasn’t really on my radar in 1997, but I think it was my brother that suggested I select this album from one of those mail order CD catalogs that were big in the 90s.

This was one of the albums that transitioned me to a predilection toward rock music.  Still more pop-oriented, as I think in the same year I also picked up John Mellencamp’s Mr. Happy Go Lucky.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot to say about it other than reflecting on my life when it was released.  I still listen to this album from time to time, and it holds up really well.  If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s pretty much available everywhere for purchase online or streaming, so you have no excuse.

 

An Unpopular Opinion

This is probably going to get me ZERO fan mail and INFINITY hate mail, but I have a problem with Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative.

To be clear: I support the initiative in general – mental illness is a serious issue and raising awareness is great.  And if you use their #BellLetsTalk hashtag, they are donating money to the cause.  I support that.

But my problem is with that hash tag.  Maybe I’m overthinking it, but what started out as a great campaign has, in my eyes, turned into a big advertising push disguised as a charitable cause.  I have more to say on the matter, but before I do – I’m going to figure out a way to donate some money to the cause without tweeting Bell’s proprietary hash tag.

I’m not 100% clear on how to do that, because Bell only says it’s donating money “to #MentalHealth initiatives” – I’m not sure where it’s going.  At this time, I sent out a tweet asking where I can donate directly instead of going through Bell.

As to my previous point about Bell disguising an advertising campaign as a charitable effort; I found an interesting Globe & Mail article from 2013.  I’m glad to know that I’m not the only person who has an issue with the angle of this campaign.

In reading the article, it struck me as odd that the interviewer was so focused on asking ‘why mental health’ and ‘were you concerned about any negative reactions to the brand’ – which actually tells me that Bell has done a great job of supporting the cause and giving a positive spin on it.  I mean, I’ve never had any negative impressions about the brand simply because they support mental health initiatives, but that only 4 years ago these were questions that needed to be asked is telling, at least to me.

But here’s the part of the article that I focused on – even though it was a small part of it.

Why attach your name? That gives the cynics a chance to dump on the campaign and dismiss is as marketing.

I can understand that there is cynicism. But if you know about the issue of mental health, you know the single biggest barrier to people getting help is the stigma. So having an organization with the history, breadth and heft of Bell being associated with it so publicly gives a boost to the mental health community.

OK.  I will admit that is a good reason to attach the brand to the cause the way that it is.  And I totally understand that you can’t go about this using a hashtag like “#LetsTalkBell” because then it sounds like you’re trying to talk about your next phone/tv/internet package.

Still, I think I would prefer it if the hashtag was simply, “#LetsTalk”. The campaign as a whole is fine to include name branding – but in a way I feel like throwing in the brand name dilutes it a little bit.

On the other hand, this is one day in the year that I see people address mental illnesses in a frank and honest manner, when otherwise it might not have been brought up at all.

So I think I have come around on my unpopular opinion – the tweet for this blog post will include the #BellLetsTalk hashtag to raise some money.  But I still plan on finding out where I can donate money directly, as I wrote above.  I feel more comfortable doing something like that in a less vague, more open manner.

Let’s Talk.

A Tale of Three Brewers

Last week I was working out of Barrie, ON while my wife was completing some training. Naturally, I decided to check out the craft brewery scene while I was there. There are three of them in Barrie: Flying Monkeys, Redline, and Barnstormer Brewing. Here’s a mini review of each spot.  Note that I didn’t spend a ton of time in each place – so my reviews are based on first impressions.

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Redline Brewhouse

Redline Brewhouse
A newer brewery, this one is family owned and operated and launched in mid-2015.  When I first stepped in, I was impressed by the atmosphere – very large and spacious, with cool decor on the walls (barrels, what have you).  The theme of this one in basic terms is cars – all of their beer is named after cars in some form, and their logo is a gear shifter.  Redline’s focus seems to be on the brewhouse part – when you walk in, while there is a large store for you to buy from, I think the restaurant makes them the most money.  I didn’t get the warmest of welcomes when I went in to buy beer, but still was pleasantly surprised by their 6 offerings.  I haven’t tried them all yet, but they’ve got a variety of styles and definitely worth checking out.

Barnstormer Brewing Company
Barnstormer Brewing Company

Barnstormer Brewing Company
I felt Barnstormer had a bit more of a brewery vibe than Redline.  The focus was still on the restaurant here, but their store front is – well, front and centre when you walk in.  They have a large variety of beers, including many seasonals.  I picked up 4 cans, but haven’t tried them yet.  The staff there was helpful in answering some of my questions about their beer.  I’m looking forward in particular to trying their Cirrus Saison beer. Their theme seems to be aerial in nature.

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Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery

Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery
These guys are fun.  A much smaller location compared to Redline or Barnstormer, they’re in a downtown area not far from the waterfront.  As soon as I walked in, I was greeted and asked if I’d been there before.  The server was really helpful with answering my beer questions, and I ended up choosing a couple of multi-brewery collaborations.  They have so much more to choose from though, but probably worth another trip another time.

In summary, Barrie is about 3 and a half hours away from where I live, otherwise I would have picked one brewery and spent more time there.  As it is, I think I’d make a special trip to see Flying Monkeys – but I’d just look for the other two at the LCBO.

 

Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope

infinitiesanewhope16 years later, I finally read Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope.  If you’re not familiar with the title, the Infinities series is basically a “What If” series of comics published by Dark Horse in the early 2000’s, starting with A New Hope in 2001.

I first picked up issues 2, 3, and 4 – probably 16 years ago – based on the cover of the books; at the time, I couldn’t find issue #1 in the comic book shop, so I never read the books.  Finally, this year, I found the first issue and got to reading.

Overall, I’d give the series a 3.5/5.  The first issue is definitely the weakest, starting off with a quick summary of what really happened in A Ne w Hope, with some narration boxes saying…”what if something changed” (I paraphrase)?  In the case of SWI:ANH (my abbreviation), the detail that changes is Luke’s torpedoes fail to destroy the Death Star.

What follows is that the Rebel Base gets mostly destroyed, but the Rebels  manage to escape…for a few minutes.  Han and Luke believe that Leia is dead, triggering a massive angry outburst from Luke.  They manage to escape, and on starts this new saga.

I think the best part of this story has to be the depiction of Coruscant as the seat of the Empire, taking familiar locations from Episodes I and II and flipping them around.  For instance, the artists draw the Jedi Tower almost exactly as it appears in the prequel films, but use it as the Emperor’s private residence.  It’s a very fitting place for the Emperor to set up shop, really.  But the artist team get the details perfect, including the landing platforms that are used as well.  I recognize them all from the prequel trilogy.

Overall the writing is pretty sharp and tight.  I recently read the Dark Empire series from Dark Horse, and didn’t really enjoy the writing in that series.  However, the story progresses well for Infinities and the character choices make sense.  Well, Han doesn’t really have much to do other than shuttle Luke around – but I liked the sequence where Han, Luke and Chewie head to Dagobah.  That part does work.

If you can track the series down at some point, I definitely recommend it.  I’m going to look for the other Infinities series soon – hopefully they’re just as good.  Next up though, I have the first 12 volumes of the new Darth Vader series on the way to my mailbox, so I’m looking forward to getting started with that.

Public Domain Images from New York Public Library

Categorize this as super cool.  I found out via The Verge that the New York Public Library uploaded somewhere around 200,000 images that can be used freely by anyone.

The NYPL website can be found here – and there’s a lot to explore.  Not sure exactly how to do it yet, but I will definitely have to do some exploring soon for some neat images.  The featured image of this post comes from a ‘then-and-now‘ section of the archive, which compares images from 1911 5th Avenue to 2015 5th Avenue.  I really like that kind of photo comparison, I find it neat to see how much has stayed the same.

There’s some really cool images of American history to be found here – so take some time to check it out!