Ultipro Connections: How to do a Conference

Off The Top of My Head

Like most young adults I’ve been to my fair share of conferences for work. I’ve attended them across the street from my office. In East TN so east it’s almost in North Carolina. I’ve had to man booths, I’ve had to sit through boring talks, and even had to give boring talks. But I can honestly say I’ve never been to a good one until the Ultimate Software Connections Conference in Las Vegas, NV 3/7-3/11.

They did some things that I think other event organizers could stand to do, and while it wasn’t perfect (there were a fair few sales pitches, but you come to expect those kinds of things), it provides a good template for how to do a good convention.

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  • Book A Nice Location: Connections was at the Bellagio. It’s a little pretentious and pricey (especially if you’re doing the reimbursement thing) but staying in a good room and having nice surroundings for daily meetings and breakout sessions made for a much better experience. I don’t even gamble (I lost!) but the variety of locations and the excellent accommodations (I could spend the rest of my life in that bathroom) made for a perfect event atmosphere.
  • Have Good Speakers: If you’ve got a keynote make sure your keynote speakers are effective and entertaining. If you have breakout session instructors make sure they are comfortable and interesting presenters. The first keynote was Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs I had no idea what to expect but, he turned out to be a terrific story teller and had the crowd roaring with laughter in minutes. Even the self-help presenter, Chester Elton, did a good job. The session presenters were experienced speakers, and one in particular (Jarik Conrad on the neuroscience of human behavior) actually worked the audience and made for an intriguing session.
  • Provide Breaks: I’ve been to too many conferences and conventions that are planned like a ten-year old’s birthday party; scheduled event from beginning to end, and the sessions contain waste-of-time “getting to know you” sections. In a city like Las Vegas, the programmers were smart enough to give essentially two evenings to the attendees to pick what they wanted to do. It let us explore the city, try non-conference food (which was good but you can only have hotel buffet food so often…) and see a few sites. Also between each session there was usually (I planned badly for lunch on Wednesday) a good thirty minutes to take a break.

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  • Good Entertainment: This is where the convention did its best. Along with Mike Rowe they had Catapult on Wednesday morning and A Cappella group Home Free on Wednesday. Even their appreciation night dinner was good stand up food with a decent DJ. And on the subject of Entertainment…

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  • Having Journey Play Your Appreciation Night Doesn’t Hurt: First of all no conference I’ve ever been to has had an “appreciation night.” Secondly they had Journey play the show. The new lead singer, Arnel Pineda, worked the crowd like a good front man should and with Steve Perry pushing 70 he might have a bit more power in his voice than the original front man. At least when you could hear him over the crowd singing. At one point the girl in the glasses next to me and I were belting “Don’t Stop Believin’” to each other at the top of our lungs. She was a rockstar in her own right. How often do hear of that kind of performance at a business conference?

It was the first time I ever felt the experience of being on site was actually worth it and it made me appreciate a company that would actually put all this on for their customers. It gives everyone in a cubicle in every industry hope that maybe there next work conference might be a little less manila folder and little more Rock n Roll.

Life Lessons From Video Games: Falling Out of Love with Street Fighter?

 

LifeLessonsHeaderI’m not the kind to brag about my video game accomplishments.  Mostly because I’m very casual and don’t play games to “be the best.”  But I can say, quite unabashedly, I’m good at Street Fighter II in all its iterations.

It comes from having no life outside my Sega Genesis as an adolescent and really only being able to afford one game at a time.  I played Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II for years literally.

Since that time I’ve had every edition of Capcom’s imitable fighting franchise save for the wierdo 3-D one and the first incarnation of Street Fighter III.

I haven’t been as good at the rest of the series (except for the Street Fighter Alpha sub-franchise) mostly due to all the random over-complexity cluttering what I felt was a marvelously simple interface, but I still loved them and played them.

The announcement of Street Fighter V got me pretty excited.  I was awful at Street Fighter IV for the reasons mentioned above, but I still loved the game and playing the best 2-D fighting series on my PS4 was a thrilling concept.  Then the news broke: it’s online only; no tournament mode; no arcade mode!

Right now it stands to be the first main Street Fighter I’m choosing not to buy.  At least not in it’s current state.  The release, which Jim Sterling has brilliantly dubbed “Early AAAccess,” is severely disappointing and majorly off-putting.  While fighting games certainly lend themselves to be online, to me Street Fighter was an exercise in zen.  Like old-school beat em ups, you turn on the console, pick a character, and hit combos of buttons unleashing brutal combos on hapless foes.  Just turn your mind off to release some stress.

Even better was having a friend over, either to beat each other up or take turns at the AI.  My best friend for 20 years plus, Mike, and I bonded over games like this.  Beating up a CPU is harmless chill out fun.

Now Street Fighter has become competitive only, except for a lame-ass story mode.  It’s especially disheartening to me because, even in an arcade cabinet, the competition was almost always friendly.  You laugh when you screw up, opponents curse their failures, it’s all good fun.  Mostly because you’re all right there, looking each other in the eye.  While I’m sure somewhere there were epic arcade brawls, they never occurred in my skating rinks…

Online competitive gaming, at least in my experience, is almost never “all in good fun.”  The anonymity of the remote multiplayer makes it easy for assholes to be worse and even decent people to let their prick side protrude.  Essentially it’s the opposite of relaxing.

So like many other old school fans…I’m skipping Street Fighter V.  At least for now.  And it especially tragic because it’s beautiful.    Maybe when it gets a real release where we can play it the way we’ve been playing since the beginning.  It speaks to the changing nature of the industry that a game once the standard of excellent in home console fighting now embodies everything wrong with the AAA game business now.

Until then, at least I know Super Street Fighter II on my Sega Genesis is still playable, no servers or random online MLG wannabes necessary.  Just me, my controller, and maybe a friend or two.  It’s all it needs.  And all Street Fighter ever really should need.

Today’s Teens Wouldn’t Have Survived the ’80s and ’90s

As a parent to a teenager, I am fully qualified to write this post. It’s necessary to do so, or I may explode on one of today’s youth. This week, I watched the timeless ’90s classic Jawbreaker. A deliciously wicked mix of pretty iconic ’90s teen actors and girl-hate, complete with social statements, murder and Marilyn Manson.

Watching Jawbreaker got me thinking though. As I struggle with my own teenager to do simple things like homework, I am reminded that teens in the ’80s and ’90s had it hard. We were caught between an evolving world while trying to maintain our innocence

RavenRant

Here are five reasons why today’s teens would have “literally” died in the ’80s and ’90s:

Lack of tech

I love the meme that says: Respect your parents because they survived school without Google. Preach on. Not only that, but teachers nowadays also give students digital resources to study and do their work. Most of us had to go to the library (gasp!) to research and use a computer. Some of us – those really lucky – had computers at home, but dealt with slow Internet connections and printers that freaked out the night before a paper was due. There were no cellphones, much less ones that did work for you. Texting and social media didn’t exist. If you wanted to reach someone, you called or paged their beeper. Even less of us had those.

As far as entertainment, we had a TV and maybe a video game console. We read books. We played outside. We got sunburned from staying out too long because there was nothing else to do. We couldn’t – and most didn’t want to – waste time staring at a screen all day. Sure, technology makes much of our tasks easier now, but teens need to get a grip and do something else. It’s not rocket science; maybe get off the devices and do something productive.

We were a lot tougher

I had to get my first job when I was 10 years old. I didn’t have a choice because I wanted something important that my parents couldn’t afford. My first job was mowing yards and washing cars. I used a push mower, and the back incline was at a 45-degree angle. I weighed all of 65 lbs., but I pushed that mower side to side on that hill every week. When I was 15, I started at the store and remained there until I was 26. I essentially grew up at work.

Many of our parents couldn’t afford to buy us whatever we wanted. We got a couple of things for holidays, and we appreciated them. Way more than teens today do. And we dang sure didn’t get a $300 phone and $700 bucks worth of games, clothes, music, etc. In high school, most of my friends had almost full-time jobs, and we had to have them to help support ourselves and families. We had and wanted to become self-sufficient.

The world did not revolve around us. Ever.

The absence of social media meant we could not – and never would be – the center of attention. We were all equal. Sure, there were cliques, but you knew who your true friends were and you helped protect others. We cared about life. We knew hurt and sorrow. I knew four people in high school who died in tragic accidents, but we didn’t disrespect them by posting horrible comments about how much we hated them or go on about how big the loss. We were private, and we respected each other. We had a sense of comradery and looked out for one another. The world owned us nothing, and we had to depend on ourselves.

No Re-dos

I was blown away a few weeks ago when I found out kids can retake tests they fail (in Nashville). What?! Retakes?

I feel this is a disservice to students. First, there are no retakes in college. Secondly, there are no retakes in life or work. If you fail, you fail. It’s that simple. Teens in the ’80s and ’90s made a ton of mistakes, but most of us turned out fine. We made mistakes, partied, lied to our parents, they busted us, and we paid the price. It made us smarter too because we had to think of creative ways to get what we wanted. How do you change or improve yourself if you can just redo your mistakes? That goes against reality in ways I don’t even have words to express. Shame on the administrators who approved that process in order to achieve higher test scores.

Censorship Didn’t Exist

I was young when Tipper Gore went on her censorship crusade and eventually got the “explicit language” warning on albums. Did that stop me from buying those albums. Of course not! Did it stop people of age buying me CDs with those lyrics? Of course not! The music scene in the ’80s and ’90s was raw, expressive and full of protest. Much of it was passionate and spoke out against wrongdoings. We weren’t sheltered from the real world, we lived in it and could relate to the music.

We watched the O.J. Simpson trial and verdict in our classrooms (I was 13 years old). We followed trials that accused Michael Jackson of child sexual abuse (11 years old). We were there when Bill Clinton faced his adultery mistake with Monica Lewinsky (15 years old). We lived through the Columbine High School tragedy (17 years old) and watched the world in turmoil during the Gulf War (8-9 years old). Our parents didn’t keep it from us; they educated and better prepared us for the world that we live in now.

With all that said, I applaud all of you who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s. Thanks for reading and becoming the people you are!

New Years: Trends to Leave in 2015…

Off the Edge

It’s almost a whole new year and rather than looking back over the previous I thought I’d take a moment to talk about some things I hope we don’t carry forward as trends in the next year:

  • General Pessimism/Cynicism: One of the developments of the always online culture has been the rise of constant and needless pessimism and cynicism. Even with good news or a surprise announcement there is a tidal wave of negativity causing any positivity or even neutrality to be lost at sea. “This new movie is coming out!” immediately followed by “It’ll suck the director is s**t and the actors can’t act.” “This thing won an award” immediately followed by “it was overrated/stupid/not worth it/not as good as XXXXX thing that I like.” “So-and-so is having a sale, things are discounted 25% to 47%!” immediately followed by “When they discount more than 50% I’ll be impressed otherwise I’ll keep getting illegal bootlegs” (For real I saw a comment VERY similar to that last one just this week…) While I don’t expect the world to be full of shiny happy people (I’d have to kill everyone and then myself if that was the case) I’d like to think we could NOT automatically jump to negative conclusions right away. Though it might give 4Chan less to talk about.
  • Miserable Rich Celebrities with No Abilities: I still use an old email system that has multiple news items you can select for your “home” page. You can have entertainment, politics, sports, etc. because I like to get movie and music news I selected “entertainment” and rather than get any Entertainment Weekly style “This movie is coming out” or “This band is back together” (Guns and Roses people…I’ll be there no matter the cost…) I got article after article about Kardashians changing their hair, or having arguments, or wearing clothes. Every article is accompanied by a picture with some rich, attractive, woman with no discernable abilities other than standing in front of the camera, being rich, and dating other famous people, looking absolutely effing miserable. I don’t know who has made this trend popular or why people insist on making these “celebrities” famous, but I’d like to see less of that and more of people who actually do something, are good at something, and might even enjoy what they do. One more picture of a despondent, collagen inflated, dead-eyed face might induce a shooting spree. We can do completely without them…
  • Wearing Designer Athletic Clothes as Regular Clothes: Wearing your workout gear to go shopping or get gas or even to work doesn’t make everyone think you’ve been working out. Mostly it makes me personally wonder what would happen if I wore the ratty clothes I work out in to the office. It’s very American to wear exercise clothes as loungewear…and it’s a trend I hope dies with the last light of 2015.
  • Screen Obsession: This one is NOT going to happen but it’s something that is becoming the epidemic of the new age. I was at a shopping center a few months ago, walking from place to place when I passed a family, a woman and two girls, sitting on a stone wall together. The mom was staring at her phone, the teenage girl was staring at her phone, the pre-teen girl was staring at her phone. A family sitting together, out together all staring at some device and really getting nothing out of it. I use my phone for a few things, but the utter obsession people have developed with these devices is getting scary. Despite it being the latest/greatest of the “information age” it certainly hasn’t made people any smarter… It’s a good idea to make sure at some point each day you detach from the mobile device for a bit. Let the battery die. Live without it for a while. It won’t kill us to actually interact with a non-glowing, behind glass world for a while.
Great pic by Cameron Power from 2015 of ONE guy not staring at his phone at a train station.
  • Fandom Superiority: This is my big one, but probably only because of the news I read or the posts I see. Star Wars is not better than Star Trek is not better than Dr Who is not better than Lord of the Rings is not better than DC is not better than Marvel. I personally prefer some of those things over others, but all of these opinions are subjective by definition. Just because you prefer Batman movies to Iron Man movies doesn’t make you deeper, more profound and just because you like prefer Tony Stark to Bruce Wayne doesn’t automatically make you more fun. Fan mash ups and “oh you think XXXXX, that’s cute” posts don’t ever actually provide any insight or value they are just ways for fans to declare what they like is better than what someone else likes. And because you read the book and someone else just saw the movie or show doesn’t make you a bigger fan. It just means you’re a fan of the book and the movie or show. It IS ok to just like the movie and not the book. There are people who are just movie fans after all. Furthermore, just because you dress your kid as Yoda, Captain Kirk, Godzilla, Batman, Spiderman, or Dr Who doesn’t make you a better parent than someone who dresses their kid in a football jersey, a band tour shirt, or their favorite designer. It just means your indoctrinating them with your version of fandom over another. Your love of Mumford and Sons doesn’t make your tastes any better than someone who prefers Motorhead. You’re just different. Fans of all media, from sports to comics and movies to music need to stop segregating themselves, accept that we all have different tastes, and limit their sense of superiority. It’s just entertainment. Be entertained…
It seems fans are turning the media they love into hate vectors for the those they don’t…

Those are my high hopes for the New Year. I don’t do personal resolutions because if it’s not worth doing in October it’s not worth doing in January. But we at RevPub wish everyone a happy new year and a good start to their 2016!

Being Thankful for Thanksgiving Specials

Thanksgiving always seems to be a bit of a no-man’s land holiday. Wedged between the “cool kids’” Halloween and the consumer-palooza that is Christmas, Thanksgiving in the United States is usually just a day to eat food and get a preview for how uncomfortable Christmas dinner with these same people will be in three weeks. At least once upon a time my family had a “let’s just get Chinese food” tradition, but lamentably that too seems to be a faded memory…

Because of this rather nebulous state, Thanksgiving doesn’t tend to have big holiday specials or events. Even the Thanksgiving Day Parade, once a staple of the holiday, has become a reason for celebrities to hock their latest projects and it has mostly been taken over by Christmas as well, after all everyone waits to see Santa at the end of it.

Despite this, some great Thanksgiving episodes of TV shows have been made. I took a moment to list a few of my very favorites:

Seinfeld: The Mom and Pop Store

The Gang at Tim Whatley’s Pre-Thanksgiving Day Party. Though Jerry Crashed…

Following the Seinfeld rules of “no learning and no hugging” this episode takes place with Thanksgiving as kind of a backdrop, without the episode being about anyone being thankful or hitting anyone in the feels.   Elaine wins her boss, Mr. Pitt, the opportunity to hold one of the ropes of the Woody Woodpecker balloon in the Macy’s Parade. The gang goes to Tim Whatley’s party to view the parade and the trophy she won along with the tickets falls out the window and pops the balloon. This episode also contains the Jon Voight car and Jerry sneaking into Whatley’s party to get dental advice (he wasn’t invited because he’s an instigator). The namesake comes from Kramer’s business with a shoe repair shop he accidentally gets shut down for code violations. The episode ends with a great Midnight Cowboy.

Frasier: A Very Lilith Thanksgiving

That turkey mysteriously vanishes while Niles is cooking it later this episode…

One of my favorite episodes of this venerable show. Frasier and his ex-wife Lilith are desperate to get their son Frederick accepted into the prestigious Marbury Academy. The dean of admissions can only interview them briefly just before Thanksgiving and hilarity ensues. Frasier was always at its best when it was played as a stage farce and this is that quality perfected. Frasier and Lilith obsess over what they said in the interview, make multiple, increasingly cringe-worthy visits to the dean (one of which includes mention of Golda Meir’s little known relative “Oscar”), steal the Crane family turkey, and cause a huge fight in the Dean’s family. In typical sitcom fashion everything works out of course, though in typical Frasier fashion not like anyone expects.

Frasier: The Apparent Trap

Are they getting remarried for real? Frasier’s face says it all…
“What’s this joyous news I hear?”

Yes there are TWO episodes of Frasier and yes they both have Lilith in them, and it has nothing to do with my celebrity crush on Bebe Neuwirth. In this episode Lilith and Frederick end up stuck in Seattle for Thanksgiving and Frederick seems to be trying to maneuver his parents to get back together. Through more excellent farce setup, Frederick puts the seeds of this concept into each of his parents’ minds, and both Frasier and Lilith seek council (Frasier from Martin, Lilith from Niles) about what to do. The absolute discomfort the two of them feel just before they discover that Frederick has been setting them up is gloriously funny. This episode also has some of my favorite all-time Frasier quotes: Frasier (upon hearing Lilith’s date caught something from lab rats): “Now, nobody ever got anything from a rat that wasn’t resolved in a day or two;” Martin (Instructed to find a subtle way to tell Frasier if he think Lilith is coming on to him): “Run for your life!” and Niles (after hearing from Frederick that Frasier and Lilith are getting remarried, in an absolutely flawless strained line reading): “What’s this joyous news I hear?” It is family holiday anxiety to the extreme.

Spin City: The Competition

The fun starts at 4:00 in…

The City Council challenges Mike and the Mayor’s office to a competition to see who can feed the most homeless people turkey dinners (Mike: “Did she just question….my stones?”). The loser has to perform a song at a press event. During some great, typical sitcom setup Mike and crew are Daffy Duck’d into picking the worse shelter, have to improvise their cooking, and deal with personal issues, including James’ girlfriend (played by Jennifer Garner) coming to visit him from home. The absolute payoff of this episode comes after the credits, when Mike and the Mayor’s office have to sing “So Long Farewell” from The Sound of Music at a press event, having lost the bet. Their deadpan delivery of this song is one of the funniest events in the show’s run.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Dressing

The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future (aka “Hustlin’ Tom Turkey”)

Yes this absurdist show had a Thanksgiving episode, and it’s a great one. The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future returns in a new “sleek turkey body” interrupting the Aqua Teens’ Thanksgiving dinner with Carl (he stayed outside for fear of catching “some disease,” though his roll was wet…). During typical Aqua Teens nonsense the story told by TCGoCPftF’s story is disassembled and he’s discovered to be a malfunctioning “Hustlin’ Tom Turkey.” Though apparently his old sock is still laser-guided… The story ends as dozens of Tom Turkey descend on the Aqua Teens’ home only to be sent next door to Carl’s where they unleash laser-guided sock vengeance upon him for eating a turkey leg. It’s ridiculous, hilarious, and contains a burned taco pie. What else could we want?

BONUS! Addams Family Values

As a bonus I have to bring up Addams Family Values. Not only is this one of the rare sequels superior to the original film, but it also has one of my favorite Thanksgiving moments in media history. Sure a lot of people point to other movies as “Thanksgiving Movies” (Sorry, I don’t like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…) but how many of those have an original Thanksgiving play including a song?! Not just any song but a great song.  Yes, a turkey just yells at the audience to “Eat ME!”

Remembering Wes Craven

What may seem like old news to most of the world still lingers at RevPub. As lifelong horror fans, the news of Wes Craven’s passing stuck us pretty hard. I even cried, which I normally don’t do for people I don’t know. However, I felt he knew me.

Wes Craven
Photo: movieline.com

That’s what was so difficult to accept. His passing wasn’t just of an adored horror director. It was the end of an era – the end of some of the best horror ever. The end of a legend.

As a teenager, I of course saw Scream in theaters. I ruined the ending for my RevPub partner – sorry James – and it took teen audiences by storm. It was the ’90s version of Halloween. It was the ’80s version Friday the 13th. And it came from someone who had already given the world Freddy and his Nightmares on Elm Street. It captured a new generation and created millions more horror fans.

The Screams and Nightmares never my favorites though. My favorite Wes Craven film is The People Under the Stairs, and it has been since I was a child. It was my Goonies. In fact, I had seen People a dozen times before I had seen Goonies. If you’ve seen both, you’re probably thinking ‘wtf?’ because People is an incredibly child-violent movie. I’m proud of that fact though.

Fool People Under the Stairs
Photo: cinapse.co

I owe my child horror movie cannon to my Dad because he was an avid fan. I was reading Stephen King at 9 years old. I was terrified of IT by 8, but People resonated with me in a different way. It didn’t scare me. It was a wonderful adventure of horrible adults, thieves, and triumphant kids. I would also argue it is one of the best socially themed movies in my lifetime. Rich white people driving out poor black people, and the community unites against them. All while the rich white people are hunting children. Powerful stuff.

The plot spoke to me. I grew up without much money. My parents struggled to pay bills, and we moved A LOT. By the time I entered high school, I had attended seven schools. I didn’t have the latest clothes, and my parents could not buy me whatever I wanted. But it was all okay.

That’s why I love People Under the Stairs. The movie addresses abuse, poverty, racial tension, and the dynamic between ‘parents’ and children. It addresses how society overlooks kids – often forgetting them and their feelings – and as a kid at the time, it empowered me. The movie gave me hope that I too could overcome my obstacles. I could escape.

More than 20 Years Later

I rewatched it when I heard the news to show my respect. As an adult, this is still one of my favorite horror movies. It’s very funny in a messed-up way. Plus, Ving Rhames from Pulp Fiction – my favorite movie of all time – plays a major part and says some awesome one-liners. The People Under the Stairs takes us on a twisted adventure with kids who try to escape a house full of passages, traps, and killers. The kids avoid shotguns, a large dog, two adults hunting them, all while trying to find gold coins. People is as much as an adventure movie as The Goonies, just bloodier.

Wes Craven understood people. He understood fear. Fear lives within everyone, no matter your age, race, identity, or social class. Fear can unite or break us. And Wes knew how to help us release it …

With a heavy heart, I hope he rests peacefully and knows his legend will always live in the hearts of horror fans worldwide. No one will replace him, and we at RevPub thank him for making us cringe and laugh – and for making us stronger.