In Praise of Despair, Inc.

Most people in corporate America are familiar with Successories.  If you haven’t heard them called “Successories,” I’m sure you know them by sight.  Successories sells mugs, pencils, and pads, but is best known for posters which say things like:

ATTITUDE:  A positive attitude is a powerful force — it can’t be stopped!! (photo = waterfall)

SUCCESS:  Some people dream of success . . . while others wake up and work hard at it.  (photo = early morning golf green with footprints in dew)

TEAMWORK:  Coming together is a beginning… Keeping together is progress… Working together is a success. (photo = Blue Angels)

My favorite poster is one of a child that looks strangely like my son and I both did at that age.   It reads:

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

So with these sometimes sappy and sometimes motivational posters out there, along comes Despair, Inc. which turns Successories on its proverbial ear and provides a humorous turn to these posters.  Instead of platitudes like those I wrote above, Despair looks at things a bit differently.  It’s posters, called “demotivators” put forward statements such as:

APATHY:  If we don’t take care of the customer, maybe they’ll stop bugging us (photo = telephone)

CONSULTING:  If you’re not a part of the solution,there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem (photo = handshake)

IDIOCY:  Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups (photo = skydivers falling in a circle)

Here are three of my favorites:

There’s a lot more where these came from.  If you’ve got the guts in your office (I don’t!), they are spectacular.

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In Praise of Sports Club Stats

Sports Club Stats is one of the neatest sites for sports fans to monitor the ongoing success of their sports teams as they progress towards qualifying for their league’s playoffs.  Once I found this site, I can say honestly that I visited every day during the last NHL season to watch the progress of the Washington Capitals towards the playoffs and towards capturing the President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best record.

Sports Club Stats keep track of leagues from the first game to the last and tracks the probability of each team making the playoffs and the probability of finishing in a particular spot in the league.  It does this by replaying the rest of the season over and over and over – as in 10 million times each day for major league baseball now.  It replays the season two different ways:

  • “Weighted” – which considers records and home field advantage to predict each game’s likely winner
  • “50/50” – which gives each opponent an equal chance at winning every game

As I monitored the Caps, “weighted” in mind was a more optimistic view and “50/50” was a conservative view.  If the Caps looked good under the 50/50, then they were in good shape.  Because Sports Club Stats also shows which games that day have the most impact, fans can determine exactly whom to root for and whom to root against to help their team the most.

The site is fascinating because, by replaying the season and calculating the probable records, it automatically takes all the games and the specific opponents.  This means that teams are both eliminated from consideration and clinch playoff spots on Sports Club Stats long before they “officially” clinch in media outlets.  This also leads to some intriguing information (from this morning’s “weighted” scenario):

Sports Club Stats Says the Yankees Have a 95.5% Chance of Making the 2010 Playoffs

  • The Padres and the Rangers are the most likely teams to make the playoffs at 98.4%, higher than the Rays (97.5%) and Yankees (95.5%), which both have better records than the Padres and Rangers.
  • Because of the Rays’ and Yankees’ records, the Red Sox only have a 6.7% chance of making the playoffs.
  • Even though the Rays and Yankees have the best records, the Rays have a 20% greater likelihood of finishing first than the Yankees.  This may reflect an easier schedule and more home games for the Rays going forward.
  • The Cardinals can go 15-23 the rest of the way and still make the Wild Card in one scenario and can go 30-8 in another scenario and miss out on the playoffs entirely.

Sports Club Stats cover the major college and pro leagues in the US and soccer leagues from around the world.  (For what it’s worth, Chelsea, Blackpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Blackburn all have over a 9% chance of wining the Premier League title in England, but it is early days.)  Unfortunately for some, it looks like their auto racing tracking has lapsed a bit.  You can also can give the site with the league structure and schedule of your fantasy league, and the site will run projected finishes.

There is a lot more detail than I can possibly explain here.  If you like over analyzing your team’s chances and knowing exactly where they stand, you will enjoy the site as much as I do.

For example, I know that the Cardinals chances at the playoffs drop from 52% to 45% if they lose to the Nationals tonight.  If the Cards win, the likelihood increases to 56.4%.   As I write, the game is 10-10 in the 12th.

In Praise of Webicon

For this Thursday’s “Other Sites I Like” post, I’ll add one more site that is purely for fun to go with Graphjam and GIFSoup that I’ve featured in previous weeks.

Webicon.me is a feature of Paste Magazine and allows users to take ordinary photos and modify them into one of five designs, with four core features:

  1. Obamicon which transforms photos into images with blue, grey and red colors reminiscent of the Obama campaign posters
  2. Luvicon which puts photos into a pink posterized format complete with a heart on which you can write a message
  3. Iranicon which similarly transforms photos but puts them into a green format similar to Iranian election posters
  4. Conanicon which modifies the photo to add a big swath of red hair to look like Conan O’Brien

Like similar sites, Webicon stores users’ creations and shares them in a gallery for rating and comment.  In addition, once you’ve created an image, you can order a mug, t-shirt, stamp and other items with that image emblazoned.

The pictures are all created with similar functionality.  Click on the design you’d like from the Webicon main page.  You then either snap your own photo with a webcam or upload any jpeg, gif, or png photo up to 4MB in size.  Once the photo is uploaded, you can choose to use the image as-is or tell the software where your main image is located by clicking around that image.  It’s a bit tedious, although the image of Marcia Brady at right took only three minutes to cut out.  Once you’ve saved your image, you can then change the picture text, rotate or zoom in, and change the color.  Click “save & submit” and you are all done.

(For the record, I don’t have a Marcia Brady thing.  Since I used Marcia for the animated GIF, I might as well use her here as well.)

To show the ease of this site – I create a few others below.

My fellow Washington Capitals fans should enjoy the one of the left and my kids the one on the right.  Enjoy.

I Like GIFSoup, But I Can’t Praise It Just Yet

For this week’s “Other Sites I Like Post” I want to tell you about GIFSoup (www.gifsoup.com).  Not unlike Graphjam, which I wrote about two weeks ago, GIFSoup is just plain fun.

(I want to give a nod to my friends at Japers’ Rink who introduced me to GIFSoup.  Thanks guys!)

Unfortunately, despite the capabilities that I describe below, which are pretty neat, GIFSoup continues to have problems that prevent me from really praising and recommending it.  I’ve delayed this post for about 24 hours, hoping that the site would get back to being functional.  It hasn’t.  That is unfortunate.  Googling a bit showed me that the site has had problems before on more than one occasion.

For any that don’t know, “GIF” stands for graphic interchange format, which was introduced by Compuserve in 1987 to display pictures.  In the 1990s, Netscape introduced the ability to animate a GIF and show motion in the picture.  For more on GIFs than you ever want to know, visit this Wikipedia article.

GIFSoup provides a service that allows any user to create an animated GIF from most YouTube videos.  It does not allow private YouTube videos to be used.  However, you can make a personal video temporarily public, copy it over, and then make it private again.  The animated GIF repeats an action sequence in an infinite loop.  Once you’ve created the animated GIF, it can be used as a static picture would.  It can be pasted in presentations, in emails, on message boards, blogs, etc.

GIFSoup offers two services.  The free services allows each user to create 100 animate GIFs up to 15 seconds long each.  Each GIF created for free also carries the GIFSoup watermark.  For $2.95 per month, users can create unlimited animated GIFs up to 25 seconds long each without a watermark.  Based on the site’s problems, I wouldn’t make the $2.95 per month investment just yet.

Creating an animated GIF on GIFSoup is very easy.  Once you find the YouTube video from which you want to create the GIF, you paste the URL (the web address) into a box on the home page and click “Create GIF.”  The video loads and you are taken to the next page, where you can view the full YouTube video and select the starting and end points for your animated GIF.  GIFSoup also allows you to preview your sequence and modify before saving.

When the site worked, I had some fun with GIFSoup before writing this post, and I created four animated GIFs.  They are all sequenced below.

Marcia Gets Hit in the Nose by a Football

Jordan Beats the Cavs

Keep in mind that GIFSoup has its share of problems.    So, as cool as it is, be ready for the frustration.  Unfortunately, it is the only site of its kind that I can find and, when it works, it is great.

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UPDATE — Frustrations aside, two days later, I was finally able to upload a video of my son on the Flow Rider on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas from YouTube and made an animated GIF.  Again, because the site was up and functioning, it took all of a few minutes.  I also noticed this time that GIFSoup allows each user to make their GIFs private.  As noted above, once I created the animated GIF, I was able to go back to YouTube and make my video private there as well.

Here’s what I created:

The Flow Rider on Freedom of The Seas

In Praise of Graphjam

If you work in corporate America or in consulting, then you’ve seen your share of charts and graphs.  Thanks to PowerPoint and Excel, graphing anything has become way too easy.  Why talk about market share or profit growth or sales in text or bullet points, if you can show it in a graph?

Now, with Graphjam, you can express much, much more with the same types of charts.  As a regular creator and viewer of graphs and charts at work, I find Graphjam is a great spot for mid-day comic relief.

Graphjam is part of the Cheezburger network of 49 humor sites that post humorous (sickening?) photos from all different perspectives.  Each site allows users like you and me to post or create our own art and to vote and comment on others’ postings.  The Cheezburger network includes sites such as:

My favorite, however, is Graphjam.  Graphjam allows users to create pie charts, venn diagrams, line graphs, bar charts, and equations that tell a story you want to tell.  One of my recent favorites:

Each of us, however, has our own story that we can tell with a graph.  Here’s one I quickly created that conveys a simple reality.  Have fun making your own.