Archive for May, 2010

24
May
10

Welcome to the Brave New World

I’m not a fan of the Hugh Laurie show “House,” but the last show of this season was worth watching on a TV-sized screen. The reason? The last episode — yes, the whole episode — was shot using a 35mm digital SLR camera (DSLR), the Canon 5D MKII, which you can buy at your local camera store for around $2500.00. Pretty amazing, eh?

This is nothing short of a landmark event in communications history: A multi-million dollar TV network show done on a 35mm camera. Imagine how this opens up opportunities to produce video on an elite level for people who do not have a major motion picture budget? Those of us in the business have known about the capabilities of the Canon 5D for several years now, mainly through the work of former New York Times photographer Vincent LaForet. He really showed the potential of the camera through his two-minute short film “Reverie” produced in 2008:

To date, my conclusion is that the Canon 5D MKII and HDDSLRS in general offer an incredible entry into filmmaking for a wide variety of individuals that would otherwise never have access to similar tools that would allow them to obtain the ‘professional film’ look. The economic barrier that has been around for so long (in terms of the incredibly high cost of cinema equipment) is being chipped away in part to the low cost of these camera bodies.

Canon 5D MKII all "rigged" up

Adding video capabilities to 35mm cameras is something relatively new. Unfortunately, one cannot get major production quality out of a camera like the 5D just by whipping it out of the box. The camera is just the start. Once you get it you need to build a “rig” to stabilize the camera and provide a way to get sharp focus. Plus, good lighting is essential no matter what sort of photography you are doing. Having the knowledge to recognize dramatic lighting and, if necessary, make it on your own with lights is no small skill. And you have to be able to edit, putting good images together that communicate a story. In reality, none of it is particularly easy.

Nevertheless, this breakthrough will forever change the way TV and film  is produced.

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19
May
10

Joe Mauer… college football quarterback?

Joe and Me at the Vikings-Giants Monday night game in 2001. And he drove! (Photo by Carlos Gonzales)

If you live in Minnesota, you are prone to fanciful thinking these days. After all, who could have ever envisioned the Minnesota Vikings chief rival, Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers, ever leaving the Packers in the first place and then winding up with the Vikings — and coming within an overtime field goal from leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl appearance? Never in a million years! Or so we thought.

So, I read with some amusement Michael Rand’s blog piece from a couple weeks ago wondering if it might be possible — just possible! — Joe Mauer could ever wind up playing college football after he calls it a baseball career in a feat similar to what Heisman winner and fellow Cretin-Derham Hall alum Chris Weinke did. This time, Mauer, whose current deal ends in 2018, would stay home — hear that, Seantrel! — and play quarterback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the ripe old age of 35 years old. Rand called the University of Minnesota compliance office and got the low down from Andrea Smith, the assistant director of compliance (with a specialty in eligibility). Her verdict: “There wouldn’t be anything preventing someone like that from competing.”

Well, that got me to thinking… how on earth could Joe ever be a college student in the first place? He’s arguably the most famous person in Minnesota. He couldn’t walk across campus without being hounded for autographs or pictures or propositions of some sort or another. Could he be a full-time online student and play ball as well?

Seeking to get a few answers, I called my “anonymous source” contact within the Minnesota Golden Gophers football program. “The first thing I’d want to know is can he be a good quarterback. Brett Favre honed his craft playing almost 20 years in the NFL. Joe hasn’t payed football in a while. And how is he physically after playing a demanding position like catcher for so many years? Could he hold up at QB? Those are the first things I’d want to know,” anonymous told me.

As far as school goes, the university could make special arrangements for Joe to be on campus if he wanted to get his degree — and play football. “If Joe wanted to play, we’d welcome him,” anonymous said. “He’s such a gifted athlete we wouldn’t turn him down. Would you?”

12
May
10

Sid vs. Ovi: A Picture is Worth a 50 Goal Scorer!

Kudos to NHL.com for running this data point chart to illustrate the difference in the style of play between the NHL’s lone 50 goal scorers this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby and the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin.  These charts illustrate in a compelling manner where each player scored their goals from during the regular season and are evidence of each guy’s style of play: Crosby is a “puck holder” (a playmaker) and Ovechkin is a “puck mover” (a shooter). Both players are great and you’d want them on your team if you had a chance to get them. However, in this case the argument goes, Ovechkin, whose team was eliminated in the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, was the easier player to defend because he shoots a lot from the high slot (i.e., farther away from the net) where as Crosby waits and waits and moves closer to the net before shooting. Crosby and his teammates are facing a decisive seventh game versus the Montreal Canadiens tonight in Pittsburgh, and he has been limited to only one goal in this series. Nevertheless, the charts do a great job of giving a visual picture to the way each guy plays the game.

Why don’t we see more of this? Clear, concise use of the English language is the foundation for effective communication. However, in the time I’ve spent using new media over the past year I’ve noticed a lot of people lack the ability to illustrate their message visually. In the age where we are inundated with information on a daily basis, I believe the ability to get your point across with a photograph or a chart can be a difference maker like an Ovechkin slap shot in communicating your message.

While thinking about this recently, I stumbled across Amy Mengel’s blog posting on this very subject. Her words sum up my thoughts succintly:

“Written pieces certainly have their place and purpose, but an eye-catching chart, infographic, or photo set may convey your message more memorably and in less time. Presenting information graphically forces us to trim away the superfluous details that can clutter our writing… Often it doesn’t occur to us to present information in a different format.”

Perhaps the father of modern visual communication is Professor Edward Tufte. Just recently I started reading two of his works, Visual Explanations: Images and Quanities, Evidence and Narrative and Beautiful Evidence. He’s a very “rich” writer, meaning I think you need to read his stuff more than once to really get it. And he absolutely hates Microsoft PowerPoint, by the way. But he is tremendously insightful on how to use visual information in modern communication.

I don’t know if Tufte prefers Crosby over Ovechkin, but he’d love the chart.

08
May
10

Another Bust Bites the Dust: Raiders Fire Russell

Photo: Associated Press

This just kills me. Sports Illustrated online columnist on Don Banks, a former Minnesota Vikings beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote a post-mortem piece today on the Oakland Raiders releasing, i.e., firing, their starting quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick from 2007, JaMarcus Russell. The apparent cause was a lack of motivation and work ethic by Young Mr. Russell. I’ve heard this before: A player liked the trappings being a pro athlete gave him more than he loved the challenge of excelling at the game which game him the lifestyle in the first place. Now he’s done.

The Raiders committed $39.6(m) for Russell’s first contract, but according to Banks’ piece, the money might as well have been spent in Vegas. As one of his sources said:

“[The Raiders] knew the question about his self-motivation going into the 2007 draft. They gambled, and they lost. I just think he doesn’t really want to be an NFL player. He was a great college football player, but he didn’t want it in the NFL.”

There’s an accompanying photo gallery featuring some superb photos (none are mine, however) of Russell from his college days at LSU and as a pro along with comments from 12 football experts giving their prognosis on his skills and his future as an NFL QB.  Only one of the experts wondered about his work ethic. One. “It (his pre-draft work out) just blew me away. If I had the first, second, third, fourth, fifth pick in that draft, I would be tearing apart his personal life trying to figure out whether or not I could trust this kid with $10-million …,” said NFL Networks analyst Mike Maycock.

Apparently, the Raiders didn’t do enough homework. Now here’s my point: If you were spending that kind of money on a rookie, wouldn’t you want to be sold on his work ethic and leadership abilities? I would. It goes without saying that you can have the most talent in the world, but if you have little work ethic or are a high maintenance person (needing a lot of attention to get you going), you won’t amount to much. One of my mentors as a young guy was Ron Woodey, general manager of the St. Paul Vulcans and a scout for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Mr. Woodey always wanted to know whether a player was an “overachiever.” Whether for the Vulcans or the Flyers, a player’s work ethic was a question he wanted to have answered sufficiently. Years later, that has stuck with me.

Good luck, JaMarcus Russell. I hope you saved your money.

01
May
10

Yahoo! says former Lions player a bust. Really?!

Photo by Vince Muzik

Left over thoughts from the NFL Draft. Yahoo! sports blogger Doug Farrar wrote this in his Shutdown Corner column “Draft Busts of the 2000s: Where are they now?”

LB Ernie Sims, Florida State: Recently traded to the Eagles, Sims was yet another (former Lions GM) Matt Millen overdraft – he was taken ninth overall despite serious concussion issues in college. So far, he’s been most noted in the NFL as a rangy but undisciplined player who tends to whiff mightily in space.

Click the link to Ernie Sims stats and you’ll notice he’s listed as six feet tall. Ernie Sims is NOT six feet tall! If he is six feet tall, I am Michael Jackson.

Back in 2007, I covered a Lions game at Ford Field. At one point as I was standing on the sideline, I found myself standing only a few feet away from Sims. I’m not particularly tall, and Sims was shorter than I am. He’s about 5-foot-8 (at the most). Scouts will often show up to see a player and give him the “eye ball test.” In other words they’ll show up to see the guy in person just to make sure they really are as advertised. Sims should have flunked the test. Combine that with his concussion issues, and it’s likely Sims should have never been rated a first rounder by anyone.

As former Iowa Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry used to say, “Big fast people beat little fast people.” The constant in Fry’s equation is the word fast, i.e., speed. Being 6-foot4, 220 lbs. doesn’t automatically make one an athlete. There’s more to it than that. You must be able to move. And if a guy has a head for the game and he can play, then he’s a player no matter his height.

Sims a “Millen overdraft”? As a first rounder, yes. Sims is a terrific athlete, and he still could blossom into the next Sam Mills, another “short” linebacker who had tremendous success in the NFL. But taking a guy who’s undersized that much leaves you open for heaps of criticism if the guy flops. I liken it to what famous Fidelity Fund manager Peter Lynch once said about picking stocks: If you buy IBM and it goes down, people wonder, “What’s wrong with IBM?” If you buy a small growth stock of a company few have ever of before (like Pep Boys Manny, Moe and Jack) and it goes down, people will say, “What’s the matter with YOU!” Same applies here.

Ernie Sims has been well compensated financially for whatever trauma there was to being an “overdraft.” Hopefully, things will work for him in Philly.