Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas - A Review of Sorts

Stave I

In 1965, I heard A Christmas Carol for the first time on WTFM, an FM radio station in New York, when one of the DJs read the story on Christmas Eve in lieu of Christmas Music. I was fascinated with the entire story and after Christmas went to the library to get the book.

Then, one Christmas season in the late 60s or early 70s, I saw the movie with Alistair Sim and was completely hooked. It has become a tradition for me ever since. And I own four DVD versions of the story.

Later, I read that Charles Dickens had fallen on hard times as several books did not do as well as they should have. He needed money to be able to buy present for his family and was desperate. He struggled with ideas until finally, in October, 1843, he began to work on A Christmas Carol. On December 19, 1843, it was published for the first time and by Christmas Eve the entire first edition was sold out.

Fast forward to September of this year. Our client, Cross Pens, asked us to provide the social creative for the posts you have been seeing on the Madison Avenue Social and Cross social sites since early November for The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Mad Ave Social is thrilled to help #CrossPens – who has created a special Exclusive Cross Century Classic Black Fountain Pen and Ink Bottle Gift Set which ties into this incredible Bleecker Street Media film, as a perfect holiday gift for your favorite writer or artist. All for just $95. Obviously, since Dickens was a writer and Cross produces writing instruments, it was a perfect match.

So much for the set-up and advertisement. Now to the movie.

The movie begins in 1842, in New York City, as Charles Dickens, played magnificently by Dan Stevens, was being feted for his successes as a writer. He was on the top of the world, with nothing in his way. By October, 1843, he had written and published three books which were critical flops and was paid little to no money. He had fallen from the epitome of success to the bottom of English society in a matter of months, and was in huge debt, as it happens, because he lived beyond his means.

He was suffering from writers’ block and felt that the coming Christmas would be a disaster for his family, when he decided to go out for a walk to his favorite hangout. On his way, his mind was racing. Subconsciously, he began to formulate ideas from the people he saw and from the street scenes in front of him.

Without giving too much away, he ran into some of the people he made memorable in the story: Marley, the waiter at the pub; Edward Chapman, his jolly friend and publisher who becomes Christmas Present; Tara, his children’s caretaker, who was an orphan herself, who becomes Christmas Past; a dancing couple in the street who became Mr and Mrs Fezziwig; and of course, Ebenezer Scrooge, played by the great Christopher Plummer. These are the demons and angels who become residents in his head, as he struggles with the story, until finally it coalesces as the great story we know today.

To me, I found this story to ride the emotional wave, from sadness to joy, feeling the bitterness Dickens (Stevens) felt to the humor and sheer glee when he realizes his accomplishments in only six weeks. Along the way, we see him flashback to his childhood, when his father abandoned him at the bootblack factory; his father’s miserly actions, when he sells his son’s autographs; all the personal demons which made him who he was.

Ultimately, this is a story you can enjoy and can relate to with your family. As you watch the movie, you realize how the characters come to life, how he rides that emotional rollercoaster and finally, share in the joy he feels as he accomplishes the impossible. Dickens was able to take the religious story of Christmas and give it a secular spin, teaching us about charity, kindness and caring for others.

I will definitely see The Man Who Invented Christmas again before Christmas. And next year, when the DVD is released, I will buy it to add to my Christmas Carol collection.

Frank McHale is the Chief Operations Officer of Madison Avenue Social.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The History of AI, in Fiction & in Reality

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality,
Big Data, Alternate and Augmented Reality

For those who once watched “Star Trek” or read/saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” or read ANYTHING by Isaac Asimov, we were all amazed back then that these ideas would be remotely possible in just 50 years. At least, “Star Trek” put it several hundred years into the future, in the 23rd century.

But since “Star Trek” and “2001” first made their debuts, these terms are now commonplace and much of that equipment which was shown back then, are either far along in development or, in many cases, now being used.

Who knew?  Were Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov such futurists?

Or, did they merely spark imagination to bring fantasy into a reality, from which there is now no going back? Perhaps, it was the NASA space program, which sparked new ideas in these very gifted people, who saw that the improbable was really possible. After all, the computers back in the 1960s were huge clunkers that took up gymnasiums.  Now, they fit into the palm of your hand.

Look at some of the more routine items we use today: MRIs, cell phones, CT and PT Scans, Cyber-Knife procedures, flat screen TVs, the internet, video phones, debit cards, the space station, Bluetooth, voice-recognition equipment, transponders, like LoJack and GPS. These all made their appearances in the 1960s in science fiction. Even NASA’s space shuttle, which flew from 1981 to 2011, took Heywood Floyd to the moon in Kubrick’s imagination back in 1962; artistically to the music of Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube” no less.


It’s only a matter of time until Captain Kirk’s “Beam me up, Scotty” will ultimately become less an imaginary art and more of a real utility, right?  Care to guess what year it will be possible?

Think about this. “HAL” was the first time many of us met an Artificial Intelligence-enhanced creature, with voice recognition. Now, we have SIRI, EVA, Alexa, Cortana and Google Home, literally at our beck and call.

Machine Learning? There was HAL again in 1962, as he realized that Dave Bowman was going to destroy him. And yes, I said “HE”, because HAL had, what we call today, male “personality insights”; just like “Star Trek, The Next Generation’s” character, “Data” who had personality insights, too.

Today we also have IBM’s Watson with those same personality insights.

Virtual and Augmented Reality? Captain Kirk was tortured with AR in 1968 and Captain Picard loved to go to the VR holodeck to find some good, old-fashioned, (in the 24th Century) R&R in 1987.

As you look around and hear terms like AI, VR and Big Data, in business, we first heard them in a movie theater, or at home watching TV, not in your “office” whatever your individual model looks like.

They may have not been as we know them as today, but they’ve been around for over a half century. And they are being improved upon all the time. Captain Kirk knew that when he told Scotty, “Young minds, fresh ideas.”

So, the next time you sit down to watch “Star Trek”, or the movie “I-Robot” or so many others that today fill the choices we have almost everywhere, remember the pioneers who thought of these concepts in the 1960s, way back when it was good old “Sci-Fi.” Today, these ideas are our “Science Reality.”

And who among us will be the next Roddenberry, Clarke and Asimov’s who will “write” something – maybe in computer code this time – which some might think is improbable, but someday, will be absolutely possible!

Spock may have said it best when he saw mere concepts come to fruition: “Fascinating.”

Frank McHale is the Chief Operations Officer of Madison Avenue Social

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Executive Decision: Protecting YOUR Reputation

I have posted several articles written by others, which highlight sexual harassment accusations made against powerful people across many industries, including Banking and Finance, Entertainment, Politics, Media and other industries too numerous to mention.
For those who don’t know what constitutes sexual harassment, here is an abridged definition: Harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
That pretty much nails it down for all to understand. But there is a caveat, which also must be considered and it is that it is not limited to denigrating women. Men have been known to be harassed, as well. But, this a rarity.
Just because someone is in a powerful position, or even one who is a perfunctory supervisor, does not give license for that person to make advances to those who they control. Yes, we have heard all there is to hear about Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly and Mike Cagney and their exploits. Just this week, we heard that Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman and even former President George HW Bush were accused of this crime of violating personal space of other women and men.
Even someone who has aided and abetted the perpetrator in his or her crimes is as guilty as the perpetrator. Worse probably.
Millions, and maybe billions, of dollars have been paid to silence the victims, provided they sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) while accepting the payment of hush money. By doing so, they allowed the same perpetrators to commit the same crime again against other unsuspecting victims freely and without controls.
But, others also decided to keep silent, without this settlement bonus so that their careers would not be impacted. This includes Ashley Judd, Megan Kelly and others. They are as guilty of allowing the perp to go after other victims unrestrained for fear THEIR careers would be shattered, as much as those who took the money.
There have been times when someone may have told a joke or showed a cartoon which would be humorous or outright hysterical in a nightclub or in your living room. But, it is totally inappropriate in a place of business. And just so there is no misunderstanding of the definition of business, here are two pretty definite examples of “business”: 1. person's regular occupation, profession, or trade and, 2. the practice of making one's living by engaging in commerce.
The problem now, as I see it, is this: Because of all the actual offensive acts, comments, etc., that have been reported lately, will an actual touch of tenderness and friendship on someone’s arm or shoulder, or a caring hug to comfort someone now be taken as “sexual harassment”? I surely hope not. I would hope we could make the distinction between wanton aggressive behavior and an act of humanity.
Here are some final words to all people in those powerful positions you worked so hard to achieve: If you wouldn’t want someone to touch your son or daughter inappropriately, or say something that you know is lewd and disgusting, remember that other parents would not want you to grope or create fear in theirs. If you think you are above scrutiny, karma always has a funny way to make sure it all comes out even. It isn’t the money, folks; it is your reputation, which is the ONLY thing you truly control in this life.
Don’t blow it. The better part of valor is to keep your lewd words and groping hands to yourself. And then, your reputation will definitely be secure.
Frank McHale is the Chief Operations Officer of Madison Avenue Social

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Lesson of Equifax

There has been a lot of news over the last month or so regarding identity theft, hacking of a major credit bureau  and just this week, that Yahoo had a larger data breach than originally reported, where three BILLION customers were ALL hacked in 2013.

This has become a real problem in this digital world we live in. But, we aren't alone. There have been several breaches across all sectors, including the Democrat party, health insurance agencies in the US and elsewhere, government agencies in the US and across the globe, retail establishments, and financial institutions, just to name a few. You can see the complete list on Wikipedia for yourself.

It is a larger problem than anyone would have thought. The reason? Most of these systems were last updated in the 1990s, while the technology has far surpassed any protective measures from that time. 

As a retired banker, who was also the bank's Retail Operations, Security and Data Processing Officer, I can assure you that when we became aware of a potential breach, we wrote and installed a patch to the system to prevent compromise of our customers' data. Immediately.

Sadly, when Equifax became aware of a potential breach in March, nothing at all was done until July, which has now compromised the data of 145 MILLION Americans. 

From my own personal experience, I was advised by my current bank that I was in London booking a trip; another time, I was in Alabama making a call from a jail; a third time, I was in NYC buying stuff at Home Depot AND getting coffee at a 7-11 at the same time. In each case, I was home sitting on my couch on Long Island.
The reason my bank was able to advise me that I had fraudulent activity was that I had just done transactions at establishments within five miles of my home within the last couple of hours, which would not have allowed for transactions to be completed so far away.

In addition, when I travel, I always advise my local bank that I will be away, especially the bank which houses my debit card.

Ironically, the Internal Revenue Service, just this week, announced that it had contracted with Equifax in a $7.25MM deal to "verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud.”

Truly ironic.

The IRS wants to protect you? So, they contracted with the company who has had the largest breach of personal data since 2013? You would think his would be a company the IRS, which is not loved by many Americans, would not now want to be associated. 

There are a lot of issues surrounding the Equifax fiasco, much of its own making, for sure. But it is not alone. Data processing systems need to be upgraded to the most current protection systems available, especially those which store our financial data. 

Banks, for the most part, understand this. Fintech companies certainly do. The smart banks are working with fintech companies to upgrade their data encryption. And others are starting to follow, no matter the cost. 

The lesson of Equifax, Yahoo and so many others is this: instead of trying to save a buck to protect your stockholders and investors, why not try to protect your reputation by investing in the most up-to-date hardware, software and encryption data that is presently available. In the long run, it would be the best money you could ever spend.

Your reputation is priceless.

Frank McHale is the Chief Operations Officer at Madison Avenue Social

Monday, September 25, 2017

To Kneel or Not to Kneel, One Thing is for Sure – Both Provoked Emotion

This past weekend, many of the NFL players went to "war" with President Trump over his remarks made Friday at a rally in Alabama. In addition, they carried it out to the field by kneeling, or not kneeling during the National Anthem.

This action on the part of the players is technically in violation of a league rule regarding the conduct of players during the Anthem. But, considering how the league responded last year with the Kaepernick protest, the players knew that no penalty would be forthcoming.

We like to think that as our creative social media agency trademark promises, “We Evoke Emotion.”

However, it occurred to me this past weekend and to many Americans, be they be football fans or not, that the growing controversy around kneeling, or not for the National Anthem is unwittingly sparking a passionate debate about each of our own interpretation of patriotism.

But as compared to our “evoke” trademark, kneeling or not kneeling is “provoking” emotion.  That's an important difference. And more than anything else, it’s a sign of the times.

It’s a bit ironic that the new Ken Burns documentary about the Vietnam War hopes to give each of us “an opportunity to have a better position to understand what’s going on [today].  He doesn’t stop there.  According to the Washington Post, “The filmmaker wants his new documentary, “The Vietnam War,” to bring the country together.”

I’m not sure how that’s remotely possible, in this or any other political climate.

As compared to other forms of government, ours technically has 3 separate but equal branches of government, the executive, the legislative and the judicial.  And since Jefferson, it’s always had at least 2 dominant political parties.  A loyal opposition, if you will that requires compromise.

However, one takeaway from the recent Burns documentary, between then and now is that the domestic fight took place on college campuses.  Today, with all-volunteer armed forces, it’s highly improbable our educational institutions will be the “field of play” again, at least on this latest provocative issue.

So, for better or worse, the war is being waged in our nation’s sports arenas.  One could make a case, going back to the legendary (violent) days of the Roman Coliseum that this type of public space is uniquely made for this.

Certainly, sports have always been an iconic type of activity that political views seeped on to the field.  But what makes this new tussle different, is that it surrounds our national anthem and the first Amendment, right of freedom of speech.

In the last two elections, social media acted as the field of play between our nation’s feelings about each candidate.  We also learned last week that Russia, a 3rd party outside both our government, our media and our country also had joined the Facebook fight.

According to Lincoln, our government “of the people, by the people, for the people” doesn’t necessarily include sports leagues, which have their own forms of government.

Across the league, there is division among the players what actions, if any, should be taken. Generally, most teams had a mix of standing and kneeling (or sitting) while the National Anthem was played or sung.

Even the owners of respective teams are divided on what actions would or would not be taken against the players for violating league and team rules. 

Madison Avenue Social isn't taking sides in this discussion, but we are highlighting how responses over a social media comment, or a stance, can become emotional and foster a real discussion, over that comment, or over an action taken in protest to said comment.

We are in the first quarter of this patriotist game.  In the end, the fans may or may not speak their support or displeasure for or against the players' position by TV ratings and by "cheeks in the seats".

Until the networks complain about how much money they are losing, or stadium concession revenue drops significantly, the NFL may remain silent on the actions of the players. Too early to tell.  Until then, be assured that this will be an emotional issue for the fans and the players in 2017. 

But make no mistake. Each side is no doubt “provoking,” not “evoking” the other. 

Frank McHale is the Chief Operations Officer of Madison Avenue Social

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Personal Story on Disruption

I have done much reading over the last several months about disruption, and how it transcends many industries. For example, bitcoin has made a huge impact in the financial world, so much so, that Jamie Dimon has gone out on a limb in defending his beloved banking industry to say it is fraud. Or, how about digital wallets like Venmo, Zelle and Square looking to compete with banks by offering debit cards through Visa and MasterCard.

How about the disruption in the transportation industry with Lyft and Uber as these companies are being challenged by Waymo in the development of autonomous, self-driving vehicles? Or, the heavy competition in food delivery services between GrubHub, Seamless, UberEATS, and others.

There is disruption even among the big search engines, Google and Facebook, and ancillary disruption among other sites, especially as it relates to advertising, brand placement and other marketing strategies.

Then, there is the disruption in the most basic “commodity” of all, groceries. For years, we have relied on our local grocer to offer good quality and great service for a fair and reasonable price. Soon enough, wholesale warehouses, like Costco and BJ’s, began offering groceries as part of their inventory. The only caveat was that you had to buy in bulk. So, what happened? Walmart and other big boxes jumped onto the grocery bandwagon and tried to undercut your local grocer. Those who could not compete are now gone and the rest have become bigger.

Silently watching this was another entity named for a large river in South America (not really) who pounced this year on the largest health and organic food chain, Whole Foods. Many were concerned that groceries would become competitive, much like all the other cool stuff you could buy at Amazon.

But wait! Amazon is NOT the disruption force in the grocery business. Instead, two German companies, Lidl and Aldi, have made huge inroads in the grocery industry over the last year by offering quality products across all product staples, including cereals, paper goods, snack foods, fresh vegetables, dairy and meat, at greatly reduced prices.

There are several things I noticed when I went to my local Aldi which were not like other retail outlets: I rented a wagon for a quarter, and when I returned it, my quarter was returned. So no lot boy or girl running around getting carts. When you went inside, it was fairly utilitarian and sterile, with no extraneous signage or d├ęcor to distract you from your mission. The foods sold instore were not national brands and were produced to be distributed by Aldi, much like a store brand, for about 25% to 30% of the national brand price, and about 50% of a retail grocery store brand price. And I even saw organic items on the shelves.

There was someone nearby in each section of the store to assist customers with their purchases, or could at least explain why the product was not available. In addition, there was even a small section for non-grocery items, like basic tools and some toys for the kiddies. Of course, everyone knows that impulse-buy items have the highest mark ups, or as retailers like to say, IMU.

Then, when I checked out, the cashier packed my groceries in the bags I provided, cold or frozen packed together, with no frozen items packed with jars or boxes. There was no plastic bag rack or paper bags laying around at the counter. There were boxes strategically located in the store for convenience and a couple of racks where you could buy reusable bags for future purchases. Oh, and no lottery machines or other objects blocking your way out.

When I got home, I actually made something for dinner using the products I just purchased. And it was delicious. It tasted just like anything I would have purchased at Stop and Shop or Shoprite, or even the big box stores. In the end, it was food. And it was more than affordable.

There is a lesson here to be learned by your local grocer, the warehouse clubs and big boxes. And even by Amazon/Whole Foods. Disruption can be good when it benefits the consumer, not the industry. People are not stupid; they are tired of being taken advantage.

We are all looking for good quality, great service at fair and reasonable prices. Looks like Aldi has finally mastered that for the rest of the grocery industry to learn from.

Happy shopping!

Frank McHale is Chief Operations Officer at Madison Avenue Social  #WeEvokeEmotion

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


No automatic alt text available.

Written by Tim McHale, Chief Media Officer of Madison Avenue Social. #WeEvokeEmotion

Forgive me friends, but this question came up from a post I did on LinkedIn’s Pulse over the weekend, listed here for quick reference,
However, the larger issue is that … “Tangentially, we also witnessed the introduction last week of the iPhoneX, which skipped numbers 8 and even John Lennon’s favorite # 9.”
It got me and a friend thinking.
Wonder what Jobs would have thought about that, since he was the ultimate Lennon fan, even more so that Jann Wenner, if that’s possible.
Like, when he replicated Lennon’s record company name to be his own, & then “borrowed” the Beatles, “White Album” record cover style (which is a package) to package all of “Apple’s” products and finally, tried to look like him, when he picked the exact same style of glasses (like many of us did at some point) that Lennon wore as well.
For better or worse, unless John Lennon or Steve Jobs somehow intervenes from up above (or wherever they are, if anywhere) and/or unless some of us stoke popular sentiment to arrise from this indignity – so much so – like when the world brought back “Classic Coke,” there will never be an “iPhone 9.”
Tsk, tsk…
What’s the popular sentiment out there on this issue?
As detailed in the selected image, someone is banking on the demand for selling the  domain on Godaddy to the “tune” of almost $12 large and whoever has  ain’t interested in selling it at all.
If you forget how important #9 was, here’s a short clip from the Beatles White Album Number 9 Backmasking –
Am I wasting both your time and mine on this one? Pray tell…

October 9th is coming up soon… Should we Fab Four / iPhone fans plan to co-author an open letter to Tim Cook that day?
All that said, there was this “leak” from this past May that says the iPhone 9 will be out next year, in 2018 –
Fake News? Stupid Bloody Tuesday is all I can say…:–))