All posts by Jackson Atkins

Hey republican candidates: the Confederate flag issue is a no-brainer

Photo Credit: Jason Lander
How is this still a thing? Photo Credit: Jason Lander

The United States has a long and murky history of racism, especially in our southern states. The recent events in Charleston demonstrate the kind of racial attitudes that once shaped the ideology of the Confederacy back when slavery was a hot-button issue. However, we now live in the modern world where there is no longer serious debate about slavery: we know it, and the other racist ideals of the Confederacy, were immoral and wrong. So why is there still a Confederate flag flying on state property?

The flag I speak of flies on the grounds of the Capitol in Columbia, South Carolina. After the racially-motivated massacre committed by Dylann Roof, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed out of respect for the victims. Yes, governor, I think it might be time to take down the symbol of hate and oppression that has been flying alongside the U.S. flag for far too long.

Of course, there was a backlash from defenders of the Confederate flag citing the historical significance of the symbol. I agree, the flag is significant, but only as a reminder of how far our country has come and what we’ve had to overcome. Instead of flying proudly on tax-funded property, let’s put it where it belongs: in a museum collecting dust.

For further reading: the history of the Confederate flag article from NPR.

Drawing in your audience: The do’s and don’ts of online videos

skip that ad

In this age of short attention spans and endless content for people to choose from, the first moments of an online video can be make or break for drawing in the viewer. I was just reading a post by Google titled The First Five Seconds: Creating TouTube Ads That Break Through in a Skippable World. While the article is based on a study done of online ads on YouTube, I think a lot of the lessons can be useful for anyone sharing video content online.

Careful with that brand

Google tested ads that showed a brand in the first five seconds versus ads which did not and found that the the ads with no branding early on were skipped less. However, the ads which did show the brand early on were recalled more often by viewers, making this a bit of a tricky situation. If you want the audience to watch your entire video, it is probably best to introduce your brand later in the video.

Make them laugh

According to the article, ads which struck a humorous tone were far less likely to be skipped. If you are having a really hard time making your topic funny, your next best bet is creating suspense or evoking emotion. Ads that featured smiling people early on generally fared better than ads that did not. Viewers also like to see a familiar face: if they see someone they recognize in the first five seconds, they are much more likely to watch the video.

Cut the music!

Ads featuring no music in the first five seconds were actually more effective in keeping the viewers’ attention. The article speculates this may be because people are caught off guard by the silence, making the video a kind of sneak attack. For ads that did use music early on, humorous music tended to be the best. Lightheartedness wins again.

I think these tips could definitely come in handy, and not just for those marketing a product or service. Whether you are promoting your business, or advocating for a cause, keeping the viewer interested is a must. Try these tips out on your next video and see if they work. If they don’t work, remember I got them from Google.


Is there a case study for stricter gun control in America?

Due to recent tragic events, Americans are faced once again with the issue of mass-shootings and gun violence. While stricter gun control is often dismissed as unrealistic, there is in fact evidence that such measures can work. After the 1996 massacre of 35 tourists in Tasmania by a man wielding a semi-automatic rifle, Australia instituted sweeping gun control measures including a buy-back of newly banned weapons.

So did the measures work? Below are two graphs from a 2010 study analyzing homicide and suicide rates in Australia.


The data shows a significant decrease in gun-related homicide and suicide rates. Most effected by the laws were suicide rates, which fell fastest in areas where the gun buy-back program took effect earlier. In other words, Australia’s gun control has actually worked.

While this suggests gun control may be effective, it doesn’t make it more likely that the U.S. will adopt any such measures. Support for gun control surged in Australia after the 1996 shooting, but polls in the U.S. show we are still pretty evenly split on the issue. We love our guns, but we should perhaps take heed: Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since 1996.



Was Vermeer a human camera?

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the movie Tim’s Vermeera documentary about a genius inventor obsessed with creating his own Vermeer painting. Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter born in 1632 who specialized in recreating scenes of domestic life in vivid detail. The painting below is a good example of his work.

Johannes Vermeer "The Geographer"
Johannes Vermeer “The Geographer”

The subject of the film is Tim Jenison, a video graphics specialist who made a fortune as a 3D innovator. Jenison believes the photographic quality of Vermeer’s work would be impossible for a human to paint by sight alone. Instead, Jenison suggests the painter used a specialized “camera obscura” to create a mirror image of whatever he wanted to paint. Then he would blend color on the canvas until it matched the reflection.

Jenison isn’t the first to suggest Vermeer used this type of technology to assist in his paintings, but he is the first person who ever set out to prove it. Since no real documentation exists other than the paintings themselves, Jenison decided to recreate a Vermeer painting using only the technology available at the time the painter was alive. The catch? Jenison had no prior painting experience.

Jenison with the optical tools he used  (Tim's Vermeer)
Jenison with the optical tools he used (Tim’s Vermeer)

Through a painstaking process that took over two years, Jenison eventually completes a painting that looks nearly identical to the Vermeer he was imitating. While this doesn’t prove that Vermeer used this method, it certainly shows that it is possible and maybe even likely. How else could the colors and detail in his paintings be so life-like?

Rather than trying to defame or cheapen Vermeer’s work, this film does a great job of showing that art is not always what it seems. It clearly shows the blurred lines between art and invention, painter and tinkerer, and even genius and madness. The movie was directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller fame), and although it was a little dry even for a documentary, I’d still highly recommend seeing it.

Can you tell the difference? Tim’s Vermeer, left, and actual Vermeer, right (The Music Lesson).