Relevance for the Irrelevant

I was one of the millions of people who tuned into the Superbowl last Sunday afternoon. I didn’t really have a team that I felt strongly about winning so I was pulling for the Green Bay Packers to lose since they knocked out the Chicago Bears. I have pulled for the Bears ever since the 1986 Superbowl Shuffling team beat the New England Patriots (a team from the Boston, that for obvious reasons as a New York Yankees fan, I love to see lose). Of course, as you now know, me pulling for the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t help their cause.

Just like most of our readers, for some reason, I felt obligated to tune in. Perhaps that has something to do with football and the NFL becoming more and more the national pastime. As a baseball fan, deep down inside, this bothers me. In semi-silent protest, I watched the game while hanging out on Facebook and paid more attention to the commercials than the game, all while trying to forget about Christina Aguilera’s butchering of the National Anthem. I wasn’t the only one on Facebook during the game.  It was interesting to see how Facebook responded to plays, calls from referees, and commercials.

After the commercial (posted above for your viewing pleasure) from Volkswagen played during the Superbowl, friend of IBD Joel Frey made the following comment: “It’s pretty amazing that Star Wars is still relevant 30+ years after its debut.” Of course I loved the commercial, which had nothing to do with the Darth Vader costume that I was wearing at the time, but Joel’s statement got me thinking.

I had to watch the game because I’m a sports fan and baseball hasn’t started yet but also because football is part of the American culture. The NFL has been responsive to changing times and changed the game to better meet the needs of modern audiences. Baseball has been slow to change. The NFL has worked towards parity amongst teams leading to better competition. In the meantime MLB has imposed no salary cap which in turn has allowed the Yankees to dominate the league (not that there is anything wrong with that). The NFL has taken on challenges such as steroids while MLB has avoided them. NFL ratings are at an all time high and MLB ratings are suffering. For the record, baseball is the best sport.

Star Wars has managed to stay relevant by offering new sequels/prequels, cartoons, toys, games, websites, licenses, and many other products/media to stay relevant as well as capitalize on. The success is partly based on a great product to begin with. The other part is planned and purposeful.

So this isn’t why you tuned in today, but it is why I wrote this post. Paul and I want to stay relevant to you and your work. We are about to begin our third year writing this blog, and we realize that there are millions of better things that you could be doing with your time. Writing frankly, we are not really sure why you aren’t doing those things. Writing honestly, Paul and I have not been very successful at staying interesting or relevant to anyone ever. Our wives stay with us because they feel sorry for us and still think they can help us. We are their ultimate project.

We could continue at this blog’s current pace for a lifetime. The internet could be long gone and we may continue to write these posts to simply entertain each other (which is how this blog really came to be). If you have ever spent time with either of us alone, you now know how much socialization we need. Based on what we have learned (here on IBD and in high school) is that it is much better with you here. As numbers, readers, comments and hits have grown so has our desire to stay relevant.

Through several conversations we are planning on shaking things up a bit this next year but before we do, we would like your input. We don’t want this blog to turn into a six-hour read, written by two guys hopped up on HGH who spit all of the time, without any possibility of instant replay, and who don’t ever change the rules.

We love baseball and could easily let IBD become steeped in tradition (a strange tradition of comments in parenthesis). So, here’s your chance to tell us which type of posts you like. Let us know what topics you would like us to write about. Tell us who has the best shaped head? What series (Ask A Nerd, Get to Know a Color, I’ve Got Problems, Get to Know a Typeface) do you like best? Would you like more or fewer posts? Do you like longer or shorter posts? All friendly comments are welcome all mean comments pointed towards me will be deleted, those directed towards Paul will be accepted. If there are no comments we are going to move forward with some plans, that you may or may not notice but we want you to be a part of the process.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention we need some ideas too.

Get A Grip: Interpreting Baseball

This is a big week for Paul and me. We are celebrating the return of baseball! (I seldom use exclamation points, but in this case it is worthy.) I love new beginnings. For me, a New York Yankees fan, the start of this season comes off a World Championship, in an awesome new stadium, setting the stage for years to come. For Paul, a Philadelphia Phillies fan, the season marks an opportunity to meet the Yankees in the World Series and fall short yet again. So, how can I write about baseball for a second time in one week without ostracizing our audience with another baseball-related post? I should have asked this same question prior to posts on Star Wars, NASCAR, and Walmart but I didn’t.

Baseball is in my blood. My grandfather was a huge New York Yankees fan, which led to my love of the Yankees despite the distance from Yankee Stadium to my house (1144.26 miles to be exact, just to save Paul the trouble of researching it for the comments section). With satellite television, he never missed a game. As I grew up, keeping up with the Yankees was an important part of staying close with my grandfather. I kept up with the smallest details of players, statistics, and games to converse with him and hopefully add something insightful to the conversation. I never got one up on him.

He was a talented athlete as a child, adult, and even later in life. I never have been. I remember the disappointment in his eyes when he took me to purchase my first real baseball glove and I wanted the pink one. I also remember seeing the disappointment after he attended one of my peewee baseball games and realized that I was going to be better suited for playing Super Mario Brothers. I played in the catcher position not because of my throwing or catching ability but because I served as the best backstop. My husky disposition was effective at stopping balls especially when I closed my eyes after each pitch.

One of the greatest memories that I have of me and my grandfather came years after peewee baseball when he taught me how to throw a knuckle ball. Again I was playing catcher. The knuckle ball is a remarkable combination of skill and physics. Much like the great New York Yankee manager Joe Torre said, “You don’t catch a knuckle ball, you defend against it.” I still couldn’t catch; at least I could blame the knuckle ball this time around. He never let these details get in the way of our personal relationship or our relationship with the game. The great thing about baseball is that anyone can be a spectator and I’ve got that position covered.

The more you learn about baseball, the more you want to know. I was excited to see an exhibit in the Museum of Westward Expansion, a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, more commonly known as The Arch. St. Louis is a great baseball town and the exhibit “Baseball’s Gateway to the West” was a welcoming sight to me. The exhibit immediately caught my attention. A portion of the exhibit that I had a hard time walking away from reminded me of my grandfather teaching me to throw a knuckle ball. The simple exhibit was a creative tactile approach for explaining the various grips of types of pitches. St. Louis entrepreneur Ted Kennedy created a mail-order correspondence-type course for learning various baseball techniques. Taking on the topic in some other way would have otherwise been too complicated to explain in text and graphics wouldn’t have provided this type of experience.

As you can see, baseballs are attached to self retracting lanyards that are embossed with a “T” for your thumb and two other spots for index and middle fingers. I’ve seen explanations of various pitching techniques written and on television, but this approach brought it home. This is the next best thing from having Ted Kennedy or your grandfather teaching you. As with most interpretive experiences, personal interpretation is preferred for effectiveness and non-personal approaches run a close second.

The other portion of the exhibit that I found interesting was about the St. Louis invention of the Knot Hole Gang. The Knot Hole Gang got its name from not having tickets to the games and watching what could be seen through knot holes in the fence. The Cardinals created, as a bonus to their stockholders, the first Knot Hole Gang where tickets were handed down to children to attend games.

The designers of this portion of the exhibit took an interesting approach to interpreting the story. Instead of just graphically re-creating a fence in the compressed laminate, actual fence boards were used to make a fence complete with knot holes. When you peer through the hole you see a historic picture of a game in progress.

For a moment, I relived parts of the 1928 World Series where Babe Ruth went 10 for 16 and the Yankees swept the Cardinals. I could have relived the 1926 World Series, where the Cardinals beat the Yankees in an effort to develop empathy for Paul and the 2009 World Series, but I decided that it would be too painful.

Both of these concepts remind me that the thought, design, and innovation to interpret the story doesn’t always require a high-tech, sophisticated approach to be effective. Oh yeah, one doesn’t have to live near New York to be fan of the Yankees, a pink glove is okay for a boy, and you don’t have to be athletic to be a spectator.

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Posts for this World Series Update

Paul and I became friends in 2003. The idea of IBD was conceived (a word I don’t usually used in describing my relationship with Paul) not long after we first presented a concurrent session together at an NAI National Workshop in Reno, Nevada. It wasn’t long after becoming friends that we discovered our shared passion for baseball, along with other common emotional issues: the need for hot wings, obsessive compulsive disorders, and great taste in women.

As anyone who knows us or who has ever visited this site knows, Paul is a fair-weather Philadelphia Phillies fan and I am a die-hard New York Yankees fan. Up until this point there have been few issues between us (besides one embarrassing water-spewing incident in a restaurant, which I still maintain was more Russ Dickerson’s fault than mine), especially in relation to sports. For the non-baseball types (approximately 99.9999% of our readers) who are still actually reading this post, the Phillies are in the National League and the Yankees are in the American League. The only way these two teams can meet is in interleague play during the regular season (which happens every year) or in the World Series (which last happened in 1950).

This season was different. From the very beginning the collision course of our teams seemed possible but not probable. But due to the progressive management of the Phillies and the king-sized checkbook of the Yankees, the two best teams in MLB (Major League Baseball) made it to the World Series. At some point you have to know where to draw the line. Last night, with the start of the 105th World Series, this all changed. (Phillies lead 1-0.)

I give you this background information to tell you that over the next week to ten days life as you know it on IBD may not be normal (not that many would describe it as normal in the first place). Posts that were scheduled to be posted have been preempted. You can expect random posts, snarky comments, and overly superstitious pieces of writing as to not jinx our teams. As a Yankee fan I have become accustomed to a winning tradition and feel that I can handle the ups and downs of the series. Phillies fans have faced years of frustration (despite a current respite and stint as the current World Champions) and fulfilled themselves with bread, steak, and cheese wiz. Since the long-term effects of cheese wiz is still not known, I’m not sure how Paul will respond.

So how does this affect you? Not greatly, really. Just hang in there as one of our obsessions extends into this forum and be pleased that it is not pictures of us eating hot wings at some sort of chicken convention.

For those who came here today hoping for something more than baseball banter, here’s a throwback to an earlier post, Mini Me: Web-based Photo Manipulation Software (mildly baseball related) that may be of interest to you. If you haven’t played with TiltShiftMaker.com check it out. If this post has left you for a hankering for a real throwback, here is a video with some clips from the last time the Phils and Yanks met in the World Series (1950, Yankees win 4-0).

Go Yankees!

Interpreting NASCAR

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On March 9th in the post Hello, is there anyone out there? I made the following statement: “Warning: The creators of IBD.com (Shea and Paul) have the reserved the right to avoid topics such as the 2004 World Series, PC vs. Mac, life with red-headed spouses, east coast vs. west coast rap music, proper use of clip art, and NASCAR.” This post involves NASCAR. Did I foresee a NACAR post in my future? No way. Am I writing a NASCAR post now? I’m afraid so.

Let me get a few things out of the way before I get to the heart of this post. I am not a NASCAR fan, even though I live in the heart of the south. I’m not here to make fun of NASCAR fans either, which is a really easy thing to do. I do respect the sport (a debate for another post, possibly a second NASCAR post in my future) and can appreciate what the drivers/teams accomplish, considering I have more success working on my computer than my car (again, another post).

As a business, NASCAR is better managed than any other sport. The managers successfully handle an insane schedule, give back to the fans, have excellent television coverage and have purposefully improved their product. As a baseball and a New York Yankees fan, the chance of me getting face time with a starting player is slim to none. On any given weekend, a NASCAR fan at a race will have multiple opportunities to meet, greet, scratch and spit with their favorite drivers. Okay, that was one jab at NASCAR fans.

So, the last reason you came to IBD today is to read about NASCAR. I’m sorry. But believe it or not, there is an interpretive design component to this post. Mark Martin is from Batesville, Arkansas, which is not too far from where I live. Recently he has opened a museum and dealership in that area—the museum to honor his career as a driver and the dealership to sell Fords. I had heard many glowing comments about the museum/dealership from several visitors to the park where I work. Being moderately anti-NASCAR for no good reason except for a bias that developed based on several incidents involving persons wearing NASCAR attire, I wasn’t necessarily interested. However, recently while in the area of the museum/dealership and in the serious need of a restroom break, I stopped in to check it out. Needless to say I was impressed with the interpretation.

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The quality and design of the exhibits was excellent. There was a mixture of high-tech and low-tech exhibits. The low-tech exhibits were primarily photo montages filled with a scrapbook history of Mark Martin’s success. I was most impressed with the high-tech side of the museum. The technology and design in the touch panels worked more quickly and efficiently than any other technology-based exhibits that I have ever seen. They all worked too. The layout and design in the touch screens was so simple (insert your own NASCAR joke now) that anyone could use it. The flat screens were situated on beautiful stylistic pedestals. The video clips loaded fast and were well edited to keep even my attention. The cars along with the trophy case were impressive and needed little interpretation. The museum was practically void of text (again, insert your own NASCAR joke now). The technology took care of most of the storytelling along with the scrapbook style panels. The staff was friendly and attentive to answer questions as they diligently polished the cars, exhibits, trophies and glass.

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So what did I take away from the museum? A deeper appreciation for NASCAR? Not really. But because of the non-personal interpretation, I did feel an unplanned emotional connection to Mark Martin and the work that he put into his career that has made him successful. Did I buy a T-shirt?  Nope. But next time I come across a NASCAR race on television, I will stop and see where Mark Martin is in the standings.

Online Social Networking: Growing Your Organization and Laughing when People Fall

megan-foxAt the time of this posting, the Interpretation By Design page on Facebook has 237 fans. That leaves us approximately 867,050 fans shy of the New York Yankees fan page, 2,346,535 shy of the page for  “Laughing When Someone Falls,” and 4,812,292 behind the page for actress Megan Fox (pictured here because we’re trying to drive traffic to our site). From this we can glean:

  • The Yankees have won more championships than we have.
  • We’re not as funny as people falling down.
  • Megan Fox is prettier than we are.

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Still, with our paltry number of fans, it’s valuable for IBD to have a Facebook page.

I resisted joining Facebook personally for a long time because I equated it with MySpace, which I continue to equate with sorority members pasting construction paper and glitter glue notes on each other’s dorm room doors. Once I joined Facebook, however, I was hooked. I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and having a new venue to share and discuss online resources. Friends would post links to news articles, videos, or interesting sites, and discussion would ensue.

It’s this ability to share and discuss online resources that makes social networking important to the interpretive profession.

On July 14 of this year, NAI President Jim Covel wrote a post on the NAI blog called “They Wouldn’t Close an Entire State Park System, Would They?” about how budget concerns threatened to force the closing of California State Parks. I posted a link to Jim’s article on the NAI Facebook page (which at the time had about 600 fans), which caused the California State Parks Foundation to pick up on the article and post it on its Facebook page, which has about 42,000 fans. On that day, the NAI blog had four times as many hits as it had ever had on any other day (or has had since), and the NAI Facebook page gained 15 new fans.

This is the sort of networking that creates opportunities for growth. Maybe NAI didn’t gain any new members that day, and we probably didn’t sell any logo clothing or books, but the simple act of sharing that article made up to 42,000 people aware that NAI exists, and that can only be good. In addition to Facebook, NAI has presences on Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn. All of these sites give NAI the opportunity to share resources and information with fans or friends, and to make itself known to folks who might not have otherwise found out about it.

At the 2009 NAI National Workshop in Connecticut this November, Jamie King will present “Facebook for Your Organization,” which to my knowledge is the first-ever concurrent session on social media at an NAI National Workshop. Upcoming issues of Legacy magazine will include a series of articles by Heidi Bailey on the importance of social networking to interpretive sites. Obviously, this is more than a fad, it’s an important and ever-changing tool.

Guess I’m going to need some more glitter glue.