How to Avoid Swine Flu While Traveling

November 5, 2009

Kim and I are getting on a plane tomorrow to head to Los Angeles for the Opportunity Green conference and then onto Phoenix for GreenBuild 2010.  While I am really excited for both events which promise to be filled with environmental inspiration and hopefully a lot of great networking, I am concerned I’m going to catch the swine on one of the many flights we are taking in the next week.  I’m stocking up on Airborne and Purrell and don’t plan to even look at strangers on the plane.

Luckily, Kim’s mom Nancy is a nurse and gave us some very helpful recommendations for the trip to avoid catching ebola swine flu.  (My comments inline)

Avoid shaking hands with others at this time and make that excuse about the virus, especially at shows. Chew garlic so people won’t get close to you!!!  So nice to meet you, can we bump foreheads instead of shaking hands?  Swine flu!  Also – the garlic – am I trying to avoid Twilight cast members or the general public?

Bring masks to wear on plane, but be sure to tell attendants you are protecting you from them, not the reverse.  I’m sure we will receive a warm welcome on the plane wearing surgical masks.  Nothing suspicious here, just being cautious!

No drinks with olives or fruits, these are the most contaminated things in bars.  Does this include pina coladas?  I’m sure H1N1 can’t survive the blender.

When you check in hotel ask for a brand new pillow and a new blanket, don’t touch the comforter. But how will I get into bed?  Osmosis?

Bring Clorox wipes to wipe off phones and surfaces.  I’m bringing a fanny pack dispenser of them.

We leave tomorrow at noon.  Here’s to staying swine flu free!

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

The Science of the #TwitPitch

October 30, 2009

There are those of us (not me) who are excellent artists – like those people on cop shows that can draw a perfect rendition of the face of someone they have never met based on a description given by someone who was standing 100 yards away (“he had a nose… hair, it might have been brown – or black – maybe dark blonde.  Glasses, I think – but definitely eyes”).   There are those that are great writers – Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Perez Hilton (ok – maybe not so much with Perez – but he’s funny… usually).  And now, there is a new breed of greatness developing.   Those who are social-media mavens.  They can use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to do ridiculously amazing things, whereas I can only use them for what they were initially designed for – a way to keep in touch with friends and family.  There are those among us who are making a huge impact on the world we live in with 140 characters and the click of a button… comparatively, by the end of this sentence it will have taken me 196 words to get to the main point of this blog – and so, without further ado – I bring to you… the #TWITPITCH!

Kind of.  But first – a history lesson.

About a year ago, a journalist named Stowe Boyd decided that he no longer wanted to be pitched stories through the traditional means of e-mail and phone calls.  He preferred the 140 character method of Twitter.  By being able to pitch an idea in 140 characters (or less!) a PR professional should, ideally, be able to convey their entire message quickly and concisely.  According to the article from PR Daily, at least 2  other journalists have picked up on the trend, and encourage PR professionals to pitch them only via Twitter.

Taking a different approach – many companies are now turning to social-media to promote their brands; many companies are posting YouTube demonstrations of their products, almost every company has a Facebook “fan” page ( apparently I am a “fan” of a lot of things – including some things that have no relevance to my life what-so-ever), and lots of companies are taking up residence in the Twitterverse (which I tried to link to a definition, but apparently it doesn’t have an official one).  By using Twitter, companies are essentially able to pitch their new products and announcements directly to consumers, rather than just to reporters and editors.

And now, some real life application.

I had already started writing this blog when I was assigned the task of creating “10-15” twitpitches for one of our clients.  This particular client has one of their products in use in a very public place,  the plan is to blast a couple tweets out to the Twitterverse saying basically “hey if you’re here, check it out!”.   Perfect, I thought.  I am already “researching” twitpitches –  I’ll use this for my blog!  I figured that the assignment couldn’t be too hard – a couple quick short announcements of a fact.  EASY! Orrr not.

Here is what I have found (… well, decided).

Coming up with 140 characters of information is hard.  140 characters of “Hey I bought new shoes” is simple – see, I just did it!  But actually getting a message across takes some skill.  It took me about an hour to come up with 8 very different, but still informative and (hopefully) attention-grabbing tweets all focused around the same thing.  When you’re limited to 140 characters and you have to use the same basic words at least once in each tweet (obviously I had to mention the product and location each time, so those took up at least 20 of my characters) being creative is tough.

In theory, the twitpitch is great.  In practice – it’s astounding.  It costs nothing and assuming you’ve got a lot of followers, which a lot of companies do, you’re able to get your message out to lots of people.  Efficiency is key, however.  Telling the Twitterverse you’ve got a new product is cool, but linking to it is essential – and those links take up characters.  Making sure people know where they can find a product is important, but don’t forget to include the hashtags (ex: “#caster” – hashtags make words easily searchable through twitter).  Being able to tweet your product in 140 characters or less and have it be memorable and informative is practically an art form.  Do not take twitpitching lightly.  If you’re doing a great job of it, and using it sparingly – they could prove to be invaluable to your company.  If you are just bombarding your followers with links and “buy this now!” types of messages, you may find that you’re “unfollowed” pretty quickly.

Just for reference, below is an example of how long a 140 character tweet it.

DogWiggles has just released their most innovative dog leash yet and its only $40.  Buy it now at and have a happy pup.

(The link is fake – I made up a webaddress [I think] to show a shortened Twitter link, which people tend to use, rather than lengthy URLs.)

Notice that I didn’t include any hashtags, and it isnt exactly interesting.  But it’s all I could come up with in 140 characters and a fake product/company.

Posted by Courtney | Follow me on Twitter

Be Careful What You Wish For, Richard Heene…

October 19, 2009

It is 2009.  MTV has signed “The Real World” for 4 more seasons, which will be a total of 26 seasons.  A group of 20-somethings in Southern California have grown up and been shot to “stardom” by living their “lives” on camera.  Jon and Kate are tabloid gold.   The parents of Falcon Heene  have fostered a new nickname for their youngest son – “Balloon Boy”.

MTV began airing “The Real World” in 1992.  It’s a show about “seven strangers, picked to live in a [house/mansion/apartment/loft], and have their lives taped”.  These seven strangers are literally moved into a house, and followed with cameras as they go about their lives, that’s it – no script, no special effects.  However, MTV intentionally casts people of different socio-economic backgrounds and lifestyles, in an effort to have “drama” create itself, and it does.  Watching the show growing up, I remember thinking “are these people CRAZY?  Why would anyone ever want to have a camera following them around 24/7?”

And then in 2004, “Laguna Beach” happened, followed by “The Hills”.  Now, MTV was following around teenagers and 20-somethings in Southern California. I was entranced. I wanted to BE a reality-TV star… but how?  Perhaps I could learn from these two examples, although neither really has the desired outcome.

Enter Jon and Kate Gosselin.  Jon and Kate had 8 kids. EIGHT!  That’s crazy, and expensive.  And the producers at TLC thought so too. In an effort to make sure their children wouldn’t have to go without, the Gosselins decided to let their lives be taped and sponsored.  As a result, not only do their children have everything they may need in life – but they’ve gotten to experience some amazing things (vacations to Hawaii and Colorado, appearances on national news outlets, birthday cakes made by famous chefs – also with their own TV shows).  Their TV show has been on the air for five seasons and they’re creating a mini-empire.  In the wake of a divorce announcement, Kate has been approached about hosting her own talk show and has guest hosted on “The View”  while Jon is … desperately clinging to fame, but that’s another blog all together.

And now let’s invite Richard Heene and his clan to “fly” on over.  A meteorologist from Colorado, he has approached numerous TV channels (including TLC) pitching a reality show about his storm-chasing family.  His family appeared on ABC’s “Wife Swap”, and he regularly submitted video to CNN’s “iReport”.  After none of those avenues resulted in fame and notoriety, he took his quest to a ridiculous level.  On October 15, 2009 a 911 call was placed by the Heene family (after they called a news station!) saying their son had climbed into a home-made weather balloon and was now flying across the Colorado sky.  As the nation stopped what it was doing and devoted the better part of a Thursday afternoon to watching the balloon (to be honest, I didn’t stop and watch – but I did let the audio stream in the background while I did work), Richard Heene got what he wanted – undivided attention.   When his son Falcon was found, safe and sound, the search stop and the cameras got ready to turn off – but Richard Heene made sure to take full advantage of his 15-minutes, hitting the talk show circuit later that evening and making the rounds of the morning shows the next day.   On “Larry King Live” (with Wolf Blitzer filling in) Falcon said “we did it for the show” and the entire nation was pretty much in the same balloon – it had to be a hoax.  Richard tried to play it off by saying his son was confused, that he was referring to all the media’s attention and interviews, and not an actual show but it was too late. 

His attention-seeking nature will now be his downfall.  By keeping his family in the spotlight, Richard Heene was opening his family up to scrutiny, something I’m sure all reality stars could have warned him about.   Sure – he was getting attention, he was being interviewed on some of the most-watched programs in the country and I’m sure he believed that a Heene-focused reality show, or at least a docu-drama, was within reach.  What he didn’t count on, is that NO ONE believes that “reality-TV” is actually “reality” anymore. 

Richard Heene and Jon Gosselin have learned a thing or two about being “reality-TV” stars.  Reality-TV is not an actual representation of reality. Every single cast member (and they are called cast members) on “The Real World” and “The Hills” are perpetuating a pre-designed image.  They were chosen to be on the show by producers for the drama they could bring, and they know that.  They are acting – for the most part – even if they don’t actually have a script to read off of.  The decisions they make when those cameras are rolling are directly related to the role they are being paid ridiculous amounts of money to play.  

While Jon was filming the show with his family, his role seemed to be the husband who took a lot of flak from his wife for wanting to play with the kids and relax rather than neurotically clean their house. America felt bad for him.  But as their life post-marriage has become tabloid fodder, it appears that Jon’s actual lifestyle is nothing less than disgraceful.  Drinking, smoking and [attempting] to cash in on his family’s fame, he has quickly ruined the good guy image he had going for him. 

Richard Heene has turned his quest for stardom into criminal charges and possible jail time.  He and his wife look like a bunch of crazies, and his family’s dirty little secrets are being dredged up. His children are most likely going to be scarred for life.  He obviously got the memo that reality-TV is less reality and more fantasy and he tried to create his own “reality”.  What he didn’t account for was that at the first teeny, tiny hint of a tall-tale, the country would see right through him. 

A piece of paper is now posted on the Heene family’s front door, stating “we are tired”.  Apparently Richard Heene forgot that in the world of reality-TV stardom you don’t get to just go home from a regular day at work.  Your entire life is fodder for everyone else’s entertainment.


Posted by Courtney | Follow me on Twitter

Welcome to the Future

August 24, 2009

I’m a huge country music fan. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a new song by artist Brad Paisley, called “Welcome to the Future”. The song’s lyrics go though some pretty cool technological advancements that we have had over the past decades, some of which we probably don’t even remember living without. 

“When I was ten years old
I remember thinkin’ how cool it would be
When we were goin’ on an eight hour drive
If I could just watch TV 

And I’d have given anything
To have my own Pac-Man game at home
I used to have to get a ride down to the arcade
Now I’ve got it on my phone”

After hearing the song for the first time I started to laugh. With CEDIA fast approaching, I’m sure we are going to hear lots of product introductions that are going to make a lot of last year’s new product obsolete. That’s just the world we live in. Everything is constantly changing, especially when it comes to technology.

I found this great article on PC World about “Obsolete Technology: 40 Big Losers” and thought it would be fun to share. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Playing video games at an arcade
Status: On life support
Once a favorite activity of geeks worldwide, going to the arcade to play video games began fading away in the mid-1990s, just as going to the arcade to play pinball had done a decade before.

A few arcades survive, but the days of gamers lining up to toss quarters into “Street Fighter” or “Mortal Kombat” are long gone. It’s easy to see why: The advent of advanced gaming systems allows you to experience the same action at home, minus the dungeon-like lighting, the deafening game noise and the premature exhaustion of your lunch money for the week.

8. Getting fuzzy TV reception
Status: Deceased
When the United States flipped the switch on an all-digital broadcasting system this summer, it also effectively sent the fuzzy “white snow” to the graveyard. So long, annoying static; we always loathed you.

9. Hearing the sound of a modem connecting
Status: Nearly deceased
How a familiar series of sounds could simultaneously be so grating and so gratifying is a mystery that man may never unlock. Jonesing for a fix? Try the 56K Modem Emulator.

11. Waiting to get photos developed
Status: Showing signs of illness
Though film-based cameras aren’t completely gone, the advantages of digital snapshots —namely, that you can view a picture immediately after taking it and that you can discard bad shots at no cost — have certainly made traditional cameras far less common.

16. Enjoying complete privacy
Status: On life support
In the face of constant monitoring by Google and the many forms of GPS tracking in our lives (social networking shoe, anyone?), privacy has become a rare and precious commodity within the connected world. Speaking of which, that’s a nice shirt you’re wearing today.

22. Storing data on a floppy disk
Status: Nearly deceased
A disk with 1.44MB of storage? Shyeah, right. The once-standard protocol for storing and transferring data seems puny by today’s file-size standards. (And don’t even get started with the truly floppy 5.25-inch variety.) Few new PCs are being built with floppy disk drives anymore; and as a result, the era of the A:\ prompt is in its twilight. As for the Zip drive, Iomega may still say it sells ’em — but is anyone buying it?

29. Using proper grammar and punctuation
Status: On life support
txting and iming has made proper grammar seems kinda old skoo, dont u thnk? heres hoping 4 capitalization & punctuation 2 make a comeback in emails & other writing. the gr8 gatsby probly wuld hv been way less gr8 if it wuz written like this. Lol

38. Sending documents via fax
Status: Showing signs of illness
Why fax when you can attach? Especially since most documents are now created on computers, the facsimile may soon find itself on the endangered species list. Fear not, though, “Office Space” fans: The legend “PC Load Letter” will live on forever.

Posted by: Lauren

Insider Tips for Less Stressed Air Travel

August 22, 2009

Last night I went to see Cheryl Wheeler perform at Hi Hat in Providence. If you don’t know her, you should; she is awesome, she has a beautiful voice and she is so funny!!! One of the last songs she performed was “On a Plane.” In her intro to the song, she talked about her frustrations with air travel, and discussed the recent story of the Express Jet “mishap” in Rochester, Minn. Everyone in the crowd laughed in agreement (myself included). Cheryl got me thinking about how people hate to fly because of all the problems they encounter along the way.

Even though my g-chat status has been “drama free zone” all week, I can’t resist at least a little drama. So, with the recent horror stories about air travel in mind, I’ve decided to give the people in our industry who frequently travel a few insider tips (the “inside” part being that I conveniently happen to be dating/cohabitating with a pilot who flies commercial jets). I am going to touch upon the top five complaints I hear about airports and flying, and how you can avoid or at least deal with the situation.

(Warning: I am not really that sympathetic to the traveler’s complaints.)

  1. PROBLEM: Lost baggage. SOLUTION: Pack a carry-on! I am a serious girly girl; I like my accessories and my shoes and my makeup and clothes (do I need to go on) and if I can go to Madrid for six days with a carry-on, you can make it on your long weekend without your closet in tow. Now if for some chance a carry-on is completely not practical (say, if you are taking a super long vacation, in which case lucky you; you shouldn’t be complaining about anything) or if you are traveling with kids, then of course you’ll need to check bags. Just be smart about it. Pack some things in your carry-on that can get you through a day if for some unfortunate reason your bags get delayed. I have always received lost baggage within a day.
  2. PROBLEM: Flight delayed. SOLUTION: Suck it up!!! The airline industry doesn’t delay flights because it wants to have the 30 to 200 passengers who were supposed to be at XYZ at such-and-such a time complaining and irate at the ticket counter. Flights are delayed because of maintenance issues, weather delays, maxed out flight crews and a variety of other reasons. The reason for your flight delay is real and, trust me, it is in your best interest. So just chill out, bring or buy a book, and sit back and relax. Complaining won’t help the situation.
  3. PROBLEM: The plane was so small. SOLUTION: See my solution for #2. As my partner in crime would say, “Well, I am sorry there isn’t a 747 scheduled to go from your Podunk town to the hub.” People want more frequent flights with more options to travel. As a result, they are going to be traveling on smaller planes. You can’t expect jumbo jets to be just waiting in your little town to carry 30 passengers back and forth four times a day. It’s all a numbers game. You just need to figure out what is more important to you: Being able to drive 20 minutes to your local airport OR having a nice big plane take you to your destination. Unless you live in a big city, you aren’t gonna get both.
  4. PROBLEM: We had to taxi for a while before takeoff/we had to circle before landing. SOLUTION: Keep reading that book. I know you’re excited to exit that plane and start your business trip or vacation, but if every plane just decided it was ready to take off or land whenever it felt like it, well, you’d probably be dead, because planes would be crashing into each other all the time.
  5. PROBLEM: Horrible food. SOLUTION: Bring your own. Your ticket price doesn’t include a five-star meal from Morton’s. You’re paying for the fuel and for the pitiful salaries of the pilots and the flight attendants…definitely not for your food. If you want yummy food, pay for first class or take an international flight.

People FREAK out over EVERYTHING these days!! Stop complaining and take a few deep breaths, go do yoga or put yourself in a time out. It will all be OK. If your bag gets lost, just remember they didn’t do it on purpose (unless you were one of those obnoxious people being super-rude before you even gave away your bags, in which case you risked some bad karma). They made a mistake and you will most likely see your belongings again soon. If your flight is delayed, there is a reason and be glad they have been so thorough and are correcting it. If you want more leg space and a bigger plane, fly out of a bigger city.

I just ask that before you unload on the pilot, the flight attendant, the person at the ticket counter: This is their job. They live your most frustrating travel day FOUR DAYS A WEEK, EVERY WEEK. They hear your complaints and they get it, but there’s nothing they can do and, if there was, they’d do it. And furthermore, consider your fellow passengers. The person sitting next to you or the people around you might not think the things that have you in such a tizzy are the end of the world. In fact, your ranting and raving might be the most annoying aspect of their traveling experiences!

I could go on and on with this, but I think I’ll finish by encouraging you to check out this bit that Louis CK did on the Conan O’Brien show. Maybe it’ll give you a laugh and help you realize that your travel experience isn’t as bad as you might think. And then you can join me in the drama free zone.

Posted by: Becca

Poor Implentations of Haptic Technology

July 22, 2009

A technologicial tidal wave recently hit shores in the form of Universal Remote Control’s MX-5000 remote, the world’s FIRST remote with haptic (or tactile) feedback, and the one esteemed Gizmodo technology pundit John Herman described with the statement:

For every five products that claim some kind of haptic feedback support, maybe one actually puts it to good use—like the URC MX-5000 touchscreen remote, which uses the technology to guide your fingers while they guide your TV.” 

In case you didn’t know, haptic is defined by all-knowing Wikipedia as, “technology that interfaces with the user through the sense of touch.” From Slashgear to Ubergizmo, Engadget, CNET, Crunchgear and of course the originator, CE Pro, everyone seems to be happy about haptic and  its potential.

Given the love, I thought we’d look at products where haptic technology fails and bask in the sensory awkwardness since none can hold a tactile candle to the MX-5000. To my knowledge, no company has had the lack of foresight to develop any of these products, but then again, someone did invent this:

Appeared in June 1936 Popular Mechanics

Appeared in June 1936 Popular Mechanics

Worst Haptic Products

Haptic Coasters – Violent vibrations let you know your drink is not leaving sweat rings on the table

Haptic Bandages- Healing quickly is a thing of the past, haptic bandages make sure your wounds stay fresh and open for days

Haptic Hair-cutting Shears – For a TRULY original look

I think we found our spokesperson.

I think we found our spokesperson.






Haptic Lipstick – For that “putting make-up in the car” experience everywhere you go

Haptic Fryin Pan – A shaking motion sloshes oil on you to advise when the pan is hot enough

Haptic Chess Board – Ok, this might be kind of cool, kind of like the old Stratomatic football games

Haptic Undergarments – Don’t like where this is going…or do I?

Haptic Syringes – For hospital use only of course, patients will know their skin has been penetrated with a discomforting buzz

Posted by: Nick B.


Full Disclosure: Universal Remote Control is a client of Caster Communications

Grandma Short’s Rules of Email: Lessons in Communications

June 26, 2009

My 85-year old grandmother got an email account this week. That’s right! The mother of 11, grandmother of 40+ and great-grandmother of 20+ thought that her new Yahoo account would help her to keep in touch with her large family that  is now spread throughout the United States. She is officially on-line!

While I realize that she is by no means an early-adopter, I do give her credit for reminding me (and my family) of simple email etiquette guidelines that we, the tech-savvy, have lost somewhere within the wonders of the world-wide web. See Grandma Short’s rules below; these can certainly serve as a reminder in our daily communications with colleagues, associates, clients and friends.

Grandma Short’s Rules of Email:

1)      Don’t make me scroll.

If she has to scroll down, rest assured that she will not be reading it. It’s not that she doesn’t care, she has not gotten the hang of scrolling down the page. So, keep messages short and sweet. It does not have to be as brief as 140 characters, but get to the point.

2)      No forwards without explanation.

She does not understand why you have listed everyone’s emails at the top of your message and in such random patterns. If you want her to read it, remove superfluous information that clutters the message. Also, see Rule #1 regarding scrolling.

3)      Write in proper English.

She is not down with the lingo. “How r u?” and “BTW” does not mean anything to her. Gram has always been a stickler for enunciation, so speak and write clearly. (This is a good time to thank you, Gram, for badgering me so often to “enunciate” that I never did pick up that harsh RI accent.)

4)      Send a message, not a list of questions.

While she loves receiving emails, she does not type a response as quickly as we do and this list is highly-frustrating. If you need that many answers, pick up the phone and call. And, see Rule #1 regarding scrolling.

5)      One link and/or attachment only.

She can handle opening an attached photo and clicking on a direct link, but do not forward her to a website that requires her to sign in/up or download information.

6)      Please select a font I can read.

Cursive, really?! She cannot and hence will not read the message. I cannot agree more. (I will, however, save the 22-point font for messages to Gram as that may be a bit of an overkill for younger eyes.)   

7)      And, lastly… Stay in touch.

She appreciates the frequent communication. Though you may not visit as often as she’d like, she still  wants to know what is keeping you so busy. Keep the information and updates flowing… just make sure not to include too much at a given time.  See Rule #1 regarding scrolling.

Happy e-mailing (and 85th birthday), Gram! Watch out, Facebook!

Posted by: Katie | follow me on Twitter