Good News: Apollo 13 > COVID-19

Ron Howard’s 1995 movie Apollo 13 stands as a stirring reminder of the transcendent power of well-applied engineering. In one critical scene, Ed Harris playing NASA legend Gene Kranz learns of the imminent failure of the onboard CO2 filters. He eyes his engineers and admonishes them “Well I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a round peg into a square hole. Rapidly.”

In real life, a young Irishman named Colin Keogh is playing a similar role right now with the Open Source Ventilator project. The OSV is the latest initiative from The Rapid Foundation, a charitable organization Keogh co-founded at University College Dublin six years ago. The Rapid Foundation distributes 3D printing know-how to developing countries so people can apply low cost technology to solve problems.

In this case, the problem is daunting: the global ventilator shortage.

Low-cost robot designer Gui Calavanti launched the OSV on Facebook on March 11. Since then, more than 300 doctors, engineers, designers, nurses and venture capitalists around the world have contributed to the project. Major corporations like Accenture and Deloitte offered their R&D infrastructure for ideation and production, all in an effort to create a low-cost, rapid build solution using readily available materials and 3D printers.

And they’ve done it.

In one week, they’ve designed and built a working prototype they hope to get validated by Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) next week for use on Covid-19 patients. The 3D printing uses Polylactic Acid (PLA), a non-petroleum-based bioplastic derived from corn starch that can be manufactured anywhere.

Their timing is remarkable. And a godsend in the face of this pandemic.

The independent, U.S.-based Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates the pandemic will create demand for 960,000 ventilators. These machines augment patient respiration in severe cases of Covid-19 where lung inflammation can quickly become viral pneumonia. Ventilators literally make the difference between life and death, but they simply weren’t available. Soon, they can be.

Much like Dr. Jonas Salk declined to patent his polio vaccine in 1952, this open source project continues that laudable approach making their solution available to all.

To Mr. Keogh and all the participants applying science and innovation in the service of humanity, slainte.

Emerging Business Challenges

Amid the unprecedented uncertainty at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic, every business faces new challenges. And no matter the industry or sector, these issues are serious and daunting to everyone responsible for bottom lines, workforces, and ongoing, organizational well-being.

But to one US company, this challenge must feel particularly personal. The nearly four decade old, Tempe-based audio-visual connectivity company Covid is now dealing with a business challenge that was entirely unforeseen when the quarter started …

About now, they must hear the travails of Corona beer and think, “you’re adorable.”

I’m sending them, and everyone else responsible for stoking the mighty engine of our economy, my best wishes for business success over the long term.

And personal health and safety in the short term.

Sister Corita Kent: Uncredited Pop Art Pioneer

Perhaps fittingly for International Women’s Day, during a byzantine web search rabbit hole last night, I stumbled upon an image of an extravagantly-wimpled Catholic nun pulling silkscreens.

And that’s how I found myself introduced to and awestruck by the work of Sister Corita Kent.

That photo accompanied a list titled Some Rules for Students and Teachers. The notion of creative ‘rules’ makes little sense, but these feel oddly insightful. Created during 1967 and infused with the ethos of those times, they encourage embracing uncertainty, emphasize the work ethic, and encourage a mindset of being fully awake to everything.

The list came from an art course Sister Corita taught at the College of the Immaculate Heart in Los Angeles, Ultimately, they became the mantra for her art department.

But Sister Corita’s influence extended far beyond the classroom. She credited a visit to an Andy Warhol exhibit in 1962 for sparking her style of colorful, hand lettered words and phrases that mixed the religious and the secular, scripture and tag lines, corporate logos with social issues like poverty and hunger. Prolific and unabashedly socially conscious, her body of 800 serigraphs and small watercolors include covers for The Saturday Evening Post and Newsweek. True to the tenor of the times, her work bridges the gap between commercial and fine art, appearing on bumper stickers, t-shirts, even a massive natural gas tank outside of Boston. One particularly famous piece — “So far the crocuses have always come up” — even appeared on national billboards for Physicians for Social Responsibility. Her work still grace nearly 40 museums worldwide.

Today, art historians and the occasional retrospective exhibit have begun reassessing Sister Corita’s role as an influential player who propelled the Pop Art Movement by embodying it. She didn’t just comment with her art; she participated with it. She engaged. And she brought others along with her.

But despite all this, her place in art history almost disappeared. Neither male nor the typical expectation of an artist, her impact fell to the wayside, occasionally dismissed as novelty. Her vocation as a Roman Catholic nun only made her reputation doubly hamstrung by male domination. After 32 years of work and service, her run-ins with church hierarchy eventually led her to leave the order in 1968.

Happily, her art and faith endured the transition from Los Angeles to Boston, where she continued her work and activism, churning out messages of optimism, hope, and peace.

Today, if she’s remembered, it’s for these “Love” postage stamps from 1985:

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The United States Postal Service eventually sold over 700 million copies of them. It was a high point for Sister Corita’s recognition as an artist.

Unfortunately, she was taken by cancer not a year later. She was only 67.

As we start a new work week fresh off the inspiration of International Women’s Day, it’s worth bearing in mind at least three of Sister’s rules:

  • RULE #4: Consider everything an experiment.
  • RULE #6: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  • RULE #7: The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something.

Thank you, Sister. Happy Monday.

This Year’s Lasting Super Bowl Advertising Lesson

Now that the game is over and all the teasers and tie-ins have played out, that great arbiter of Super Bowl commercial rankings — USA Today’s Admeter — has declared a winner: Jeep’s charming and hysterical “Groundhog Day.”

Bill Murray killed it. So Jeep killed it. But Highdive? The agency that created this spot? They totally killed it.

Just not for the obvious reason.

Sure, their new spot is a note-perfect comedy gem, a meticulous recreation that adds wonderful new gags. It’s a spot we all wish we had done.

But just one year ago, Highdive was a relatively young startup agency with a handful of employees that somehow produced a :60 for the Super Bowl.

And their spot got savaged on social media.

Their ad featured a Dr. Martin Luther King sermon, artfully edited to highlight Ram Truck’s tagline “Built to Serve.” Critics cried foul, pointing out that MLK’s full remarks specifically argued against aggrandizing yourself by buying fancy cars. With Black Lives Matter very much in the headlines, their debut spot was roundly panned for being tone deaf.

So Highdive had their moment in the sun. And failed. Very publicly.

Many have written about the lessons of failure, about how much adversity can teach you for the next time. And all too many creative people lose heart when critics pounce, believing their chance is over, they missed, there will be no next time.

Happily, Highdive didn’t. And now here they are, just one year later, occupying the highest perch in the advertising landscape. They took the hit, learned from it, and bounced back with a vengeance.

And a groundhog.

Kudos to them. May many more good things lie ahead.

PS: One other lesson from this year’s ads? If you want a quick primer on how music shapes viewer emotion, pay attention to how the score and SFX of this one and this one generate inspiration and the start and stop of this one drives the comedy. Wonderful craftsmanship.

A Critical Essay for These Times

Ann Bauer is an amazing author, writer, and capturer of truths. Out of her own profoundly personal pain and loss, she came to sense a larger illness in society.

Ann initially posted this to Facebook, outlining a caustic and pervasive issue of our times and neatly summing up what we must strive to do to overcome it:

“Imagine if that were the goal: baseline civility and warm expectations.”

Indeed. Thankfully, someone smart at the Washington Post read it and asked her permission to publish it for a broader audience. Read her magnificent, inspiring, unflinchingly honest essay here.

Thanks Ann. And again, I’m so sorry for the loss of Andrew. God love you and yours.

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“Video Content: Why”: a Free e-Book(let)

That’s right, free. With no purchase.

Twenty-two pages of facts, links, and thinking on the many ways video has evolved from a selling platform to the preferred communications platform.

Our world has changed. Smart companies have commissioned research to learn exactly how so I’ve been reading what they shared, sifting through the hyperbole and exaggeration endemic to the blogging world, all to catalogue the best thinking on how to leverage online video.

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I want to share this thinking with anyone and everyone who may be interested. Download it, share it, use it however it may help; I simply ask that if you have feedback or input on how to make it better, share your thoughts. Our digital world is iterative which makes constant improvement a real possibility.

As I post this, we stand halfway between the end of Hanukkah and Christmas day; consider this my ecumenical Holiday gift to you. Read it in good health. And all the best for the New Year.

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PS: Find other downloadable links on this page.

The Best Goodbye I’ve Ever Read

The following is the final essay from “A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary” written by poet, editor, and novelist Brian Doyle. He graduated six years ahead of me in college, spent a rich lifetime writing, and died this past May from brain tumor complications. It takes a special gift to describe the tragic or maudlin with humor, but Doyle’s essay on death works as an inspirational, life-affirming, guide to living. I never met him, but I stand in awe of his remarkable talent…

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever. Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let alone understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened! And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious! And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them! And You let me write some books that weren’t half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment. I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago. But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life—make him the biggest otter ever, and I’ll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon. Remember—otters. Otters rule. And so: amen.

“A muddle of a man”? Hardly. Thanks Brian. Godspeed.

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Ryan Grewell

Heard Any Good Movies Lately?

It’s amazing how well-produced and deftly-applied sound empowers a film. Much has been written about Hans Zimmer’s extensive use of “Shephard tones” in his soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t comment.

I did however, just watch the trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s new star-studded horror movie Mother!  If you need a quick refresher on how to make music and SFX really work, watch this: Continue reading

I’ll Vacuum My Own Floor, Thank You

I love modern conveniences. Cruise control, gas grills, TV remotes: I’m an unabashed fan. But this whole IOT invasion of smart assistants like Siri and Alexa and Cortana skeeves me out. Even my dog Hank hates it. There’s a house on our daily walk where a Landroid robotic lawn mower rolls endlessly back and forth and he growls at that thing every time we pass.

So last week, when iRobot CEO Colin Angle mused about the value of the data their high end Roomba vacuums collect, it stopped me cold.

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