You are a human rocket

13 Apr

We got a little crafty on Saturday night and painted a sign to cheer on the Raleigh Rock ‘N’ Roll marathon runners.

You are a human rocket
At first, it was just going to be this sign with the rocket flames coming out the back. Then Daniel had the idea of adding a nose to the rocket (really this entire sign was his idea, I just helped paint it). We punched a couple holes into each sign, connected them with zip ties, and woke up early Sunday morning to cheer on the runners.

Human Rocket

We set up somewhere around the 14.5 mile mark. We clapped and cheered for many of the runners. They had just  battled some brutal Raleigh hills and had more hills on the horizon. A few of the runners thanked us for the sign. One runner said the sign provided her with a “zen moment.” We also got to see the runners heading back toward downtown after finishing their run down Reedy Creek and back. I think those runners were at the ~18 mile mark. I can’t even imagine.

It was definitely inspiring to see these runners, all shapes and ages, taking on 26.2. I’ve never had an interest in training for a marathon, but cheering on these runners definitely planted a seed in the back of my mind. Maybe someday I’ll be a human rocket too.

Congrats to all the finishers.

Why bots make it nearly impossible to get affordable tickets to the Taylor Swift RED Tour

11 Dec

This is the story that makes me “RED” when it comes to one of my favorite performers – Taylor Swift. And I’m not alone. Thousands of Taylor’s fans are finding out what happens when scalpers use computer bots to snatch up the majority of tickets to her big arena shows and then resell them minutes later for an obscene amount of money on sites like StubHub.

Taylor is embarking on a tour that will take her to at least 45 cities in 29 states. But thousands of her fans in all of those cities will be disappointed to find out that, even if they sign up for her fan club to secure a link and special code to get pre-sale tickets, then log onto their computers at the precise moment tickets go on sale, they’re still probably going to get crappy seats. I know because I am one of them.

I signed up for Taylor Nation – Taylor’s fan club – last year after I tried to score seats to her show in Greensboro, NC, at the precise moment they went on sale. Despite being logged into Ticketmaster and refreshing my browser at the exact moment tickets became available, I still wound up with $100 tickets that were literally in the last row in the nosebleed section at the Greensboro Coliseum.

When I saw Taylor in 2011, we were able to move down to a closed off section to get closer to the stage. We were only able to get $100 seats in the back row of the nosebleed section, despite logging online to buy tickets the instant they want on sale.

I decided that next time I would be on top of my game. So I joined the fan club and waited for my exclusive fan club access to tickets.

On Monday, Taylor’s fan club emailed me the presale link/code for her upcoming show at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. Today, at precisely 10 a.m. when tickets went on sale, I clicked on the link in two separate browsers and searched for two “best available” seats. Moments later, I had two choices. Pay $99 to sit in row nosebleed section (no thank you) or pay $99 to sit on the complete opposite end of the stage in one of the lower levels (the lesser of two evils, I decided). I just tried searching again, a few moments ago, and there are now no tickets available. Tickets go on sale to the general public on Friday.

But if you go to StubHub.com, there are currently 1,970 tickets available, ranging in price from (BRACE YOURSELF) $169-$999 EACH.

Taylor puts on an incredible arena show. On the Speak Now tour, she rode in a gazebo-like structure (seen here under the spot light) across the entire floor and performed songs on an island at the back of the arena to give fans with mediocre seats an up-close view.

This problem isn’t unique to Taylor’s tour. Ticketmaster has blogged about the problem of bots snagging up all the tickets before. And if you Google the issue, you’ll find plenty of other performers who have faced the same problems, even the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. There’s even an entire thread about it on the forum on Taylor Swift’s website.

But here’s why I’m especially sore about Taylor fans having to endure this. When the PNC Arena put out a press release announcing the stop on Taylor’s tour, it included a paragraph touting that Taylor herself wanted there to be tickets available at under $50:

“The RED Tour will be produced and promoted by The Messina Group (TMG). At Taylor’s request every show will include tickets priced at under $50. TMG is a partner of AEG Live, one of the top live entertainment companies in the world, which produces world tours featuring internationally renowned artists and regional concerts and festivals.”

So this leads me to wonder, does Taylor actually know what’s happening in the ticket market? Is she aware that her fans, many of whom are young and rely on their hard-working parents to buy them tickets, can’t even secure tickets? Does Taylor herself know that right now, tickets for her tour stops around the country are being bought by scalpers and resold at prices that make it next to impossible for her average fan to ever see her on stage?

I love Taylor. She’s an incredibly talented writer and performer. I just wish Ticketmaster would fix its system so that affordable tickets could get into the hands of real fans and not scalpers.

Certainly Taylor’s handlers know about this. Certainly her online community manager knows this, since fans are lamenting this on a forum on Taylor’s official website. So surely Taylor must know this, right? And if she does, then why does she even bother requesting that every show offer tickets under $50. It seems disingenuous. Instead, maybe she should help fight the system.

Yes, we know “everyone hates Ticketmaster and no one can take it down” because its system is oh so reliable. But perhaps if artists like Swift and Springsteen, for example, pooled their clout together, they could get Ticketmaster to employ the best engineers and developers in the world to help thwart the bots. If one of Ticketmaster’s biggest problems is that its “notoriously slow to innovate,” than artists like Swift, Springsteen and beyond owe it to their fans to flex their muscles to make it happen.

Because, I’m pretty sure when Taylor started writing music, she never wanted her fans to have to pay $999 to see her perform.

My journalist heart breaks a little more as The Durham Herald-Sun moves copy desk to Kentucky

13 Aug

When I worked at The Herald-Sun we had a food critic. We had a religion reporter. A health reporter. A court reporter. A cops reporter. A county government reporter. An associate editorial page editor. An illustrator. A librarian. An obituary clerk.

And we had a lot more. When I worked at The Herald-Sun we had a full-time copy desk.

After tonight, there will no longer be a copy desk at Durham, North Carolina’s hometown newspaper.

Just like all those other positions we had when I worked there, the local copy desk is being eliminated. Page design and copy editing of the Durham, NC, newspaper will soon take place 622 miles away, in the Owensboro (Kentucky) Messenger-Inquirer newsroom.

When I worked at The Herald-Sun in 2004, I was one about 90 newsroom employees. When the copy desk is officially dissolved, only 20 editorial employees will reportedly remain.

In 2007, I spotted all these newspaper boxes behind The Herald-Sun's building. The paper's circulation was an estimated 50,000 in 2006 and stands at about 25,000 today.
In 2007, I spotted all these newspaper boxes behind The Herald-Sun’s building. The paper’s circulation was an estimated 50,000 in 2006 and stands at about 25,000 today.

Layoffs Were Once Unexpected

Newsroom layoffs aren’t surprises anymore. But they were seven years ago, when I took my first newspaper reporting job at The Herald-Sun. I was fresh out of grad school and landed the city hall beat at a 50,000-circulation family-owned newspaper. I thought I made it.

I packed all the clothes I could stuff into my VW Golf and took my first road trip half way across the country. I didn’t know anyone in North Carolina. Not a soul. But I didn’t care. I just scored a job at a family-owned newspaper. That meant job security. That meant excellent health insurance and Christmas bonuses. That meant working for a newspaper with soul.

I still remember the day the Paxton Media Group bought the 50,000-circulation newspaper from the Rollins family, which owned the paper for nearly 110 years. For months there were rumors that the paper was being sold. But we didn’t know who would buy us. And we certainly didn’t know what it would mean for our future.

The morning the deal went down in late 2004, I passed editor-in-chief Bill Hawkins on my way to the copy machine. I asked him how he was, not because I thought anything was wrong, but because that’s what you say when you pass the editor-in-chief in the hall. “Not good,” he said, and then walked into his office.

An hour or so later Hawkins was one of about 80 employees who were laid off. Employees were escorted to their cars. They couldn’t collect their belongings. They couldn’t say goodbye. They were part of the first sweeping newsroom layoffs in our country. Not long after that, layoffs like these would become business as usual for newspapers, with thousands of journalists losing jobs.

After that day, paranoia would sweep over me every time an editor walked down my row of cubes. I always thought I was one day away from getting laid off. So much for job security.

Circulation Starts to Sink

When I started at The Herald-Sun, the circulation was roughly 50,000. I thought I would work there for three to five years before looking for my next reporting gig at a bigger newspaper. Less than a year after the paper was sold, I started looking for a new journalism job. Newsroom morale was low. We were doing more with less. We weren’t delivering the same quality, hometown journalism that previously kept Durham residents from subscribing to our more sophisticated McClatchy-owned competitor, The News & Observer. After the sale, some Bull City residents even tossed their newspapers back into our parking lot.
I still have business cards leftover from my days at The Herald-Sun.

I still have business cards leftover from my days at The Herald-Sun.

I landed at The Island Packet, a McClatchy paper serving Hilton Head Island, SC, and the surrounding mainland communities. The circulation was small, about 22,000, but I was lured by the ocean and the prospect of moving up the McClatchy chain. That was before McClatchy bought Knight Ridder, the poorly-timed deal that saddled the company with so much debt it will likely never recover.

Some of my journalist friends questioned my decision to leave a 50,000-circulation newspaper for one less than half its size. But now, six years later, The Herald-Sun reportedly only maintains a circulation of about 25,000. Meanwhile, the small-town Island Packet is still holding on to its 22,000 readers.

I can’t imagine what morale must be like in that newsroom these days. But I have deep respect for the remaining journalists who help publish the paper every day. It’s just a shame that the Bluegrass State will soon have a hand in designing and proofreading our Bull City newspaper. But, sadly, The Herald-Sun is not alone.

Now This Is A Trend

In June, the Raleigh News & Observer announced it was transferring its copy editing and page design desk to Charlotte. And newspapers throughout the country are making similar moves (which almost always result in layoffs), according to the Chicago Tribune.

Me and my page designer gals, Andrea and Laura, being silly during one of our Girls Night Out adventures.

Me and my page designer gals, Andrea and Laura, being silly during one of our Girls Night Out adventures.

The best thing I got out of The Herald-Sun’s copy desk ended up having little to do with copy editing or design. Instead, I got friendship. A few page designers took me under their wings when I first moved to Durham and didn’t know a soul. They wined me and dined me. They were my first North Carolina friends.

Six years after leaving the paper, we still get together for dinner every other month or so despite living an hour apart, picking up right where we left off. And because of everything we went through at The Herald-Sun and as print journalists in general, we’ll always have a special bond that no layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts can ever take away.

(P.S. If you see any errors in this blog post, it’s because I didn’t have a copy editor).

Good Morning America and Chrysler team up to scare you into buying your kid a new car

12 Apr

I just heard this on Good Morning America and had to get it off my chest because it bothered me. There was a “Good Morning America” quick tip commercial that came on after George Stephanopoulos finished telling us about the Royal Wedding. It was presented as a Public Service Announcement-style commercial and features Ann Pleshette Murphy, PhD Parenting Contributor.

“Good morning, America. OK, so your teen just got their license and your panicked. And for good reason: Car accidents are the leading cause of death among teens. So think twice before you give your child a used car. Make sure you get it fully checked out by a mechanic, and make sure your teen never drives with a cell phone, or food or more than one friend in the car. And what can you do to … to make their driving safer? Go to ABCNEWS.com/GMA for the answers.

Then a booming voice comes on to let us know that “This GMA Quick Tip brought to you by Chrysler.”

And then this handy PSA is followed up by a commercial for the Chrysler Durango!

gma quick tip

Why does this bother me so much? Because it’s totally using a fear tactic to market new cars. And it perpetuates this American buy-buy-buy culture that got us into this national financial mess. There is nothing wrong with buying your 16-year-old kid a used car. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. And you hopefully you will take ANY used car you buy to a mechanic for a safety once over.

Hopefully every parent who saw this pseudo PSA noticed what I did and won’t let GMA and Chrysler scare them into buying them a new car for their teen. It’s fine if you choose to because you want to and can afford to, but don’t feel bad if you pass on the family car to your kid and buy yourself a new car. This is really lame marketing and GMA should have figured out a better way to make a buck.

What to do in the Triangle this weekend

17 Mar

I’ve got the Austin blues. After spending a week in Austin, Texas, for the SXSW Interactive conference, I’m back in the tamer Triangle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be home, but I definitely left a piece of my heart in Austin. To remind myself that the Triangle still has it going on, I looked up what was going on this weekend. Here’s what I found:

Raleigh:

  • If you’re into beading/making jewelry, then stock up on beads at the Bead Mercantile Show in the Kerr Scott Building at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. No need to make your friends or lover suffer through a bead show. Set them loose on the flea market, which also takes place at the fairgrounds this weekend.

Durham:

  • There are virtually no seats left to the Blue Man Group, or if there are, then I don’t know how to use the ticket chart on Durham Performing Art Center’s website. But a few single seats appear to be scattered throughout the theatre. One of my coworkers wouldn’t stop gushing about the show today, so I’m guessing it’s truly incredible. So if you don’t mind sitting by yourself, then look into getting tickets.
  • Learn about the role Christianity played in slavery during the Civil War. Dan Fountain, director of Public History at Meredith College, will talk about his recent bookSlavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African-American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870″ at 2 p.m. Sunday at Historic Stagville.

Chapel Hill:

Willard Doxey and Marilyn MarkeWillard Doxey and Marilyn Markel

Carrboro:

  • DSI Comedy is donating 50 percent of proceeds from all of its shows this weekend to help aid those suffering in Japan. There’s a total of five shows on Friday and Saturday night that you can attend. Full schedule and details here.

I’m certain there’s more going on this weekend. If you know about something fun, interesting or unusual, leave it in the comments section.

I turned my cat into a color palette

16 Mar

I’ve been turning to ColourLovers for color inspiration since 2007. It’s hard to stop clicking through palettes because I always think the next page will have an even better one. I recently created my first palette on the site because I couldn’t get these colors out of my mind.

Anyone can do it, you don’t even need an eye for color because I’ve seen some heinous color concoctions. Here’s one I made tonight inspired by my cat, Mogwai.

mogwai cute

Mogwai
Color by COLOURlovers

Raleigh R-Line turns into “Love Bus” to celebrate second anniversary

13 Feb

If you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day in downtown Raleigh, you may want to make plans to ditch your car and ride the R-Line. The free city circulator bus is celebrating its second anniversary by turning into a “Love Bus.” But don’t worry, it’s totally PG.

All riders will receive a Valentine’s Day gift bag and the option to have their honey serenaded from local singing groups. There will also be a raffle, and I’m guessing the prizes are going to come from one of these sponsors: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, the IMAX theatre, McDonald’s on South and Peace Streets, Revive Massage Therapy, Tir Na Nog, Triangle Food Tour, Rocky Top Hospitality and The Hibernian.

The R-Line has been a helpful addition to downtown Raleigh. It’s hard to believe it’s already been operating for two years. Riding it is a cinch. Just stand by one of those signs with a big “R” in the red circle during operating hours and wait for it to pick you up (the buses run every 10 to 15 minutes). It’s completely free, and you don’t have to be familiar with downtown Raleigh to figure out how to find your stop. The bus drivers always seem helpful and so are other riders.

And if you’re a downtown Raleighite, the R-line provides great way to hear what people think of downtown. It’s fun eavesdropping on conference goers, out-of-towners and the North Raleigh residents who venture into the city for a night on the town. It’s probably one of the best ways to get unfiltered feedback on what people think of downtown Raleigh.


Ignite Durham enlightens 650 people at the Carolina Theatre

10 Feb

The only problem with Ignite Durham is that organizers are going to have a hard time topping themselves next year. The two-hour event at the historic Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham featured 14 micro presentations ranging from the Lost Art of Political Cartooning to highlighting our year of the Camahueto. Cama what? Yes, Camahueto.

Five-minute, 20 slide presentations are happening in more than 100 cities around the world as part of global Ignite week. The takeaways will vary, but attendees at each Ignite event should leave with some new knowledge and possibly even a desire to right some wrongs in our world.

At Ignite Durham we learned:

* The importance of getting involved and volunteering to help our neighbors. Henry Kaestner told us about a survey by the organization Durham Cares that found 64 percent of Bull City residents did not volunteer last year. He urged us to find a way to get involved.

* You can make a difference with minimal commitment. Another inspiring speaker, Sara Rose, also has a passion for making a difference through volunteer work. In 2009, she founded Change the Triangle, which makes it easy as pie to find time to volunteer in the Triangle, even if you think there’s just no time in your schedule. Her organization arranges a monthly volunteer activity planned and organized ahead of time. All you have to do is show up.

* Honeybees are overworked and under loved. Bee lover Jimmy Chalmers, a powerful and passionate speaker, tells us that part of the reason the honeybee population is dwindling is because some beekeepers are overworking their precious bees. Did you know honeybees need a vacation just like the rest of us? Well, they do.

Honeybees are not created to work 12 months a year. But some beekeepers don’t care. When it’s too cold to keep their bees pollinating, they put them on trucks and ship them to warmer climates. So honeybees have a carbon footprint. WTF, America?! Lesson learned: I will be doing my research before buying anymore honey.

* Skepticism is greater than cynicism. Researcher Tom Webster urged us all to be skeptics, not cynics. My little journalist heart sang because as our world becomes increasingly messed up and information becomes increasingly easy to put our fingers on, I’ve found myself dipping my toe in the cynicism waters more and more lately. His presentation helped put both of my feet back on the land of the skeptics. If you don’t know the difference between skepticism and cynicism, take a moment to familiarize yourself. The world definitely needs more skeptics than cynics.

Organizers Ryan Boyles and Jeff Cohen, Host Zach Ward and Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Sullivan made it all possible, along with other helpers and sponsors. Feel free to give those who deserve a shout out in the comments. I wanted to make this entire post a love fest for all the fantastic presenters, but my cup of tea is dry and I have to go to work.

Thank you, Ryan Boyles and Jeff Cohen for coordinating Ignite Durham. And thank you to everyone else who made it happen. It’s events like this that keep the Triangle cool.

NHL All-Star game commercial changes Raleigh skyline, moves RBC Center

23 Jan

I saw a side of downtown Raleigh tonight that I’ve never seen before, and chances are you haven’t either. There’s a new commercial on TV advertising this weekend’s All-Star NHL game in Raleigh, NC that makes our downtown seem a lot bigger (and more snowy) than it really is. The commercial is by the VERSUS channel.

Here’s a screengrab of the clip:

rbc

Now, if you’ve never been here, and you saw this commercial you might think the RBC Center (where the All-Star game will go down) is smack dab in the center of downtown. You might also think there are a lot more skyscrapers downtown than there really are. Certainly our tallest building, the RBC Plaza, could look small depending on the perspective of the shot, but the fact that there are other unidentifiable buildings towering over it is pretty amusing.

rbc with text

In reality (as we Triangle residents know), the RBC Center  is about six miles away from downtown. And the 32-story RBC Plaza, the downtown skyscraper with the 130 foot spire on top, is the tallest building in downtown Raleigh. Some of the buildings in the commercial don’t even exist in downtown Raleigh (or if they do, the producer certainly has taken some liberties with them in the shot). Here’s what Raleigh’s skyline really looks like:

Flickr photo by twbuckner

Flickr photo by twbuckner

Watch the commercial for yourself (the Raleigh clip is at the 18-second mark):

VERSUS 2011 NHL All-Star Game ad from Greg Wyshynski on Vimeo.

I hardly think any first-time Raleigh visitors traveling here for the game even noticed this clip. And even if they did, I’m sure it probably won’t alter their perception of our city. Still, it’s interesting to see how the Versus network reshaped our skyline.

New Starbucks drive-thru menu omits tall size drinks and prices

31 Aug

I rolled through the Starbucks drive-thru this morning on my way to work to order a latte and noticed that the drive-thru menu got a facelift. The newly-designed three-panel menu featured pictures of all the major pastries and drinks but it was missing one thing — the listing and pricing for tall sizes. The new menu seems to indicate Starbucks now only has two sizes — grande and venti (or medium and large, in Starbucks speak).

I snapped a photo with my cell phone camera and tweeted it via Posterous while I waited in the drive-thru line for my grande latte. I knew they hadn’t eliminated the tall size from the menu because, admittedly, I ordered a tall latte the day before INSIDE the Starbucks. So why did Starbucks omit the tall size from their latest drive-thru menu design?

I asked the woman who handed me my drink and she said she was unaware of the change and thanked me for telling her. I asked @Starbucks via Twitter and as of this writing have yet to receive a response.

But I can’t help but believe it’s because Starbucks wants to encourage drive-thru patrons to order a larger, more expensive coffee concoction.

sbux menu 1

In fact, the new menu omits a less expensive Starbucks staples altogether — plain hot Mochas. Instead, the newly-designed menu emphasizes the Mocha’s more expensive sugary sisters: The Caramel Macchiato and the seasonal Toffee Mocha. You can still order a tall drink via the Starbucks drive-thru. The new menu offers a concession with the lines: “Looking for something else? Please ask us.”

For some reason, this menu change really started to grate on my nerves. So on my lunch break, I went back and snapped some better photos of the menu. I also went inside to inquire about the change. An employee told me the change was made Saturday night. The employee worked the drive-thru Sunday morning and said customers kept asking: “Can I still order a tall drink?” The employee drove around back at the end of the Sunday shift to look at the sign and noticed it was changed.

sbux menu 2

It has been suggested that Starbucks may have omitted the “tall” size and pricing from the new drive-thru menu to make more room for the photos of the drinks. Indeed, the previous menu did not feature photography of every drink. However, there is plenty of room on this new layout to include one more listing for the small ahem, excuse me, tall size.

I totally support local coffee shops whenever I can. The only reason I go to this Starbucks is because it is the only coffee shop on the way to work. Most weekdays I brew my own coffee at home, but I do splurge on Starbucks at least once a week.

How can I be so worked up over a design change like this when there are wars being fought and oil-soaked beaches to clean up? Well, it just seems shady to me. It seems like Starbucks is trying to encourage people to order bigger drinks, which come with a higher price tag and calorie count. And I don’t think it’s fair for this massive coffee chain to make a change like this without someone pointing it out. So thank you for letting me get this off my chest and off my camera.

What do you think about the change?

*UPDATE 9.1.10*

The Consumerist picked up my post!

*UPDATE 9.14.10*

I was just contacted by editors at The Consumerist who tell me Starbucks will be altering its menu to include tall sizes again! Since my blog post, the story has received national media attention, including articles from MSNBC, USA Today and ChicagoBreakingNews.com.