Happy Hallowe’en :-)

Hallowe'en windo display at Pauls on Bedford Street

I am looking forward to re-watching my well-worn DVD of The Crow and having toasted slices of Báirín Breac with its mixed spices and hope not to chip my teeth on the toy ring that they put in them.

You can make your own at home if you have access to an oven and enough time. This recipe is from A Little Irish Cookbook by J Murphy.

Barm Brack

Cream the yeast and the sugar and allow to froth up in the milk, which should be at blood heat. Sieve the flour, caster sugar and spice and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture and Barmbrackthe egg, beaten. Beat with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes until a good dough forms. The fruit and the salt should be worked in by hand; the gold ring wrapped in greaseproof paper should then be added, and the whole kneaded. Put in a warm bowl, cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour until doubled in size.

1/4 pt/ 125 ml/ 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp fresh yeast
8 oz/ 250 g/ 2 cups plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice, pinch salt
1 egg, 3 tbsp butter
6 oz/ 200 g/ 2 cups mixed fruit
(currants, sultanas, raisins, candied peel)
1 gold ring (in greaseproof paper)
2 oz/50 g/2 tbsp caster sugar

Knead lightly and place in a lightly-greased 7 in /15 cm diameter cake tin and allow a further 30 minutes rising time. Bake near the top of a pre-heated oven at gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C for 45 minutes. On removing from the oven the brack can be glazed with a syrup made from 2 tsp sugar dissolved in 3 tsp boiling water.

Oprah Time: Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Forrester Research occupy a unique position. They have access to the internet’s great thinkers through briefings that they have with all the leading web service companies: Yahoo!, Google, Facebook and everyone in between. On the other side they act as a marketing consultant to a number of main street brands.

Li and Bernoff have crystalised the lessons that Forrester Research learned walking both sides of the street in the Groundswell. The book does a good job of educating the average consumer on the so called web 2.0 services and how consumers interact with them. They also provide a helicopter view about how to approach incorporating social web techniques into their business.

The most valuable part of the book is the anecdotes and case studies (some of which are from Forrester Research clients) which brings the concepts that they talk about to life. Their Social Technographics model provides a framework for segmenting audiences based on their level of interaction with web properties and communities seems to be built and expanded from the adoption model that Bradley Horowitz developed and circulated back when I was in Yahoo! as a key part of the social search strategy.

There is a blog supporting the book which can be read here.  Li has since left Forrester Research to set up The Altimeter Group, you can read her new professional blog there as well.

Links of the day

Micro Persuasion: Graph Your Tweets with Twitter Charts – really nice Yahoo! Pipes / Google Charts mash-up

Skyrock.com’s Sale Hampered By Crunch, Confident Will Survive ‘Dark Days’ | paidContent:UK

The Survival Matrix – VC analysis during downturn

Intel repudiates executives’ criticism of the iPhone – NYTimes.com – PR Fail

PR 2.0: Twitter Tools for Community and Communications Professionals

FT.com Trims Free Stories Back Again, Launches Chat Community | paidContent:UK

Shenzhen Undercover: Shenzhen’s Greater Plan: No Manufacturing, No Problem.

First China Ripples of Global Financial Crisis Come Ashore – Part 1 – Trade

China Journal : Chinese Consumers Offer More Challenges for Challenging Times – interesting insights, service paramount. Experiential parts of brands most important. This bodes well for Apple’s retail strategy

Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform: A guide for the perplexed | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com

Social media and brands in 2009 – Shiny Red’s vox pop survey; nicely done. Wouldn’t necessarily agree with some of the trends such as the semantic web, but good material here

Digital Evangelist: Has Symbian not learnt from Psion?

Cultural and Social Media Observations From Japan

BBC user ecosystem – really nice diagram for presentations

Eagle Bar Diner – Rathbone Place – recommended by my colleague Petrina

Twitter for Public Relations – neat slide deck

On the sofa: Ghost In The Shell

I remember seeing Ghost In The Shell at the cinema in the 051 centre in Liverpool. The 051 Centre was more famous for the club nights ran there by Dave Graham at a time when he ran Groove Records in the city centre. Anyway the cinema had a reputation for showing world and art house films (I saw Akira, The Dollars Trilogy and The Seventh Seal there over the years) and was part of a rich audio visual arts community that existed in Liverpool during the early and mid 1990s. Watching it over a decade later on the small screen, didn’t disappoint, it was as rich and wonderful as I remembered it.

Watching it over again, a few things struck me:

  • The Matrix owes it a huge stylistic debt in terms of the real-world style, character motion and even the green character title sequence at the introduction film credits
  • The film was quite prescient is its perception of technology. The idea that our ideas and memories would be super-connected to each other is already happening with social software and services from Facebook to Flickr and Delicious. The three-dimensional visualisation of data isn’t that far from systems being demonstrated at the moment, if you think about Jeff Han’s touchscreen work at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Perceptive Pixel, the Apple iPhone and Microsoft’s Surface project
  • The films cultural references see Asia Pacific (lots of visual references to Hong Kong) as being foremost in future technology. This may seem far-fetched at first, given the world’s largest and most successful software companies are American (Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun Microsystems); but when you look at the level of engagement by Joe Public in Asian markets for social and mobile software services and cultural attitudes to new technology in general the geographic status quo is unlikely to be maintained over the longer term

Twitter killing blogs?

The likes of Paul Boutin and Ian Sample have talked about why micro-media like Twitter and the like are the future and blogs are on the endangered list. The argument goes something like this: blogging is now too big, its hard to find the good content from the bad with all the noise out there and the gifted amateur is now replaced by mainstream media.

They consider Twitter to be the new frontier. Its brevity means that its harder to write truly awful tweets. Whilst some of their points have a certain amount of merit, brevity is a valuable concept, I disagree with Boutin for a number of reasons:

  • Even if blogs as a platform died, the metaphor of blogging is so ingrained in the online text media from the comments sections under each story on the BBC and The Guardian to the personality driven columns of the New York Times Online and The Telegraph Online that their influence would live on
  • Web search allows us to find the compelling content out there, if we can’t find and follow the blog that we want,  a modicum of skill with Google, Yandex or Yahoo! will yield a good number of other options. Indeed, blogging is search’s friend – regularly updated content with high relevance is just what the search index ordered. If you are bothered about your personal online reputation, having a blog is a great way to help assure the quality of the reputation that you will have on Google
  • Blogging has a place because long form written communications has its place.  Not all communications fits into 140 characters: ‘Pass the peas please Norma’, ‘I am running late’ or ‘I am at my desk’ don’t necessarily set the world on fire. The banal nature of the vast majority of SMS sent bares witness to this, exposing them into the public light must be a nightmare of blandness despite the superstar-Tweeters like Robert Scoble whom Boutin so admires. Boutin’s argument isn’t about the platform, but about exclusivity, I saw the same thing 20 years ago when ‘normal’ people started going to the underground house nights that my friends and I were part of
  • From a business point of view BuzzLogic conducted research showed that consumers trusted blogs more than micromedia like the Facebook status messages from their friends or Twitter. That trust has a value when it influences purchasing decisions, which means real money
  • Twitter isn’t a replacement for blogs, but it does lend itself to augmenting blogs in a similar way to RSS, I currently get 10 per cent of my traffic from Twitter, people see the link to my latest blog post and click through. Or where someone has written or done something online which speaks for itself, posting the link on Twitter may be sufficient, Stephen Davies does this a fair amount

In summary think that the views expressed by Boutin are too simplistic as he assumes blogging is just about the cult of the celebrity in a web of noise. Instead, I think that blogging isn’t dead; its context and the way we relate to it is changing. In some ways, augmenting blogging with micro-media provides us with more vibrant content.

Links of the day

T-Mobile G1 POP3/IMAP email? Not so good. : Boy Genius Report

brands as social connective tissue :: Influxinsights

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: What Tim O’Reilly gets wrong about the cloud – I can see this debate going on and on.

Social Influence Marketing at Publishers Summit – Going Social Now – really nice deck by Razorfish’ Shiv Singh

Microsoft’s Vista Problem, By the Numbers – Bits Blog – NYTimes.com

MacBook Pro Tradeoffs – no matte screen, heavier, battery life that sucks. I think I’ll stick with my old model MacBook Pro for a while yet.

Oprah Time: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A one sentence summary of The Black Swan would be ‘The future is unwritten, at least in Bell Curves’. Taleb ponders the random events that arrive unseen and yet cause a huge impact on the world around us:

Positive black swans: penicillin, cellular phone, micro-processor, worldwide web, Macintosh, the iPod

Negative black swans: Altamont,Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis, July 7 public transport bombings

The book has received the most publicity around the role that it plays  debunking many of the ‘scientific’ theorems that run the financial markets. He exposes the limitations of scientific models employed by bankers and demonstrated how analysts and journalists retrofit event explanations around events that they don’t really understand.

However from  my own perspective with my interest in communications and technology (in its widest sense), even more important is Taleb’s ideas on positive black swans.

Developments that make the most impact creep on us over time. I wouldn’t have thought when I was in school at the launch of UK mobile phone networks Vodafone and Cellnet that just about everyone in the UK would have their own mobile telephone. Yet now, it feels so strange to watch films like Bullit, where a large amount of the plot feels odd because Steve McQueen isn’t packing a mobile phone.

A telephone box now seems like an artefact from another time and punctuality for social events has largely gone by the way as our social engagements can be set up and rearranged on the fly with a mobile phone.

Taleb writes in an engaging manner explaining that in order to be better prepared for these unforseen events, we need to think outside the box and learn to be open enough to recognise and embrace the positive black swans before they are too mainstream.

Things that I learned this weekend

I’ve spent most of my weekend sorting out a bathroom crisis in my home. Fortunately I had family down to give a helping hand.

  • DIY isn’t easy. Over the weekend, with the help of my Dad I replaced my toilet cistern, the flushing mechanism, the ball cock mechanism, the seals and pipes connecting the toilet to the cistern and the outlet pipe from the toilet to the drain. It was deceptively tricky to do and a second set of hands came in handy
  • You can’t do it if you B&Q it. I spent a large amount of time at B&Q in Leyton, the staff were polite and helpful; but the store stock largely catered for people who were reinventing their home rather than doing maintenance. Because of that I spent most of my money at a small independent plumbers merchant instead. I also felt a pissed off because B&Q did not live up to its brand promise. Their business is not particularly well set up  for home maintenance work, which is likely to come back into vogue as people make do in order to manage their debt in uncertain economic times
  • Bathroom chemicals are harsh. I had been using toilet blocks in the cistern to help keep the toilet bowl clean,  these had eaten away at the seals on the cistern. I bailed out the cistern wearing a fetching set of marigolds which were attached by the chemicals and sprung a leak, it was like I was working back in my first job when the laboratory gloves used to disintegrate under the attack of corrosive chemical agents and powerful solvents. Any toilet blocks are bad news, don’t use them

Links of the day

Better Lenses for Less Money: How To Use Vintage Lenses with Your DSLR

50 Inspiring Vintage Advertisements // WellMedicated

UK to force prepaid phone buyers to produce ID – it will be interesting to see what the financial impact will be. It will also hit the sales of PAYG phones as presents for elderly relatives or kids

Communities Dominate Brands: The promise of engagement marketing – interesting case study from Japanese brand Tohato which used a MMORG to capture the attention of young male adults in Japan

Communities Dominate Brands: The Relevance of 10 M – awaiting the final numbers for the iPhone

All Social Media Is Local 2008 – really good presentation by the team at Edelman including John Kerr in Singapore

Communities Dominate Brands: Ten stages in life, thinking of how we change behaviour – really interesting analysis article

Google Search Ads Rile Its Big Customers – WSJ.com

Law Blog – WSJ.com : Unhappy With its Google-Search Results, Rosetta Stone Sues Competitor

Samplify Systems — a rare semiconductor startup » VentureBeat

Motorola Readies Its Own Android Social Smartphone – BusinessWeek – but not until well into 2009

Windows Applications Seamlessly Integrated on Mac OS X – CrossOver Mac

Dork talk: Stephen Fry explains the principles of cloud computing | Technology | The Guardian

Jaffe Juice: Conversation Killers: Why most viral marketing amounts to lazy, clueless chatter

CLUB LEGEND 20th – AVEX Trax celebrates the old school TYO dance scene

The Toad Stool by Alan Wolk: Five Reasons Why Whole Foods Gets Facebook – US posh supermarket Whole Foods has some interesting lessons that other brands can learn in its use of social networks

I, Cringely . The Pulpit . Ctrl-Alt-Del | PBS – speculation on Apple’s hardware plans

New 2008 Social Technographics data reveals rapid growth in adoption – adoption picking up

Phil Windley’s Technometria | Making Screencasts in OS X

Second Life now offering Business Teleconferencing – I am surprised that this didn’t happen sooner, I’ve thought that this was the killer application for metaverses for a long time.

The Top Brands in Social Media Report 2008 – immediate future

Innovation vs. Litigation – Advertising Age – DigitalNext – the challenges that brands face in social media engagement

Chinese surfers see red over Microsoft black-outs – Reuters

Europeana – Connecting Cultural Heritage

Free offers must truly be free, ad watchdog rules | OUT-LAW.COM – “An offer should be described as free only if consumers pay no more than: a) the minimum, unavoidable cost of responding to the promotion, eg the current public rates of postage, the cost of telephoning up to and including the national rate or the minimum, unavoidable cost of sending an e-mail or SMS text message b) the true cost of freight or delivery c) the cost, including incidental expenses, of any travel involved if consumers collect the offer. Promoters should not charge for packing, handling or administration.

The German start-up scene: Copycats, but getting smarter » VentureBeat

Razorfish’s Lanctot: Flexibility’s A Double-Edged Sword For Online; Don’t Count Out Display | paidContent.org

INQ Mobile – ‘social’ handsets from Hutchison Whampoa built on brew like the existing Skype handsets

Nielsen Online » For Social Networks, There’s Still Room to Play

I, Cringely . The Pulpit . Collateral Damage | PBS – interesting take on the mobile market, not one that I necessarily agree with, but interesting none the less.

American Airlines sues Yahoo! over keyword sales | OUT-LAW.COM

BBC NEWS | Business | Blogging for beginners – BBC provides advice on how to start blogging and features Going Underground’s Annie Mole

Youcalc democratizes analytics with “smart widgets” » VentureBeat – interesting looking idea

Featured Mac Download: Don’t Get Stuck With Your Default Browser, Get Choosy – must download this weekend

Poladroid project : the easiest and funniest Polaroid Image Maker – this is brilliant

South Korea pushes to dissolve ‘the old way’ of business culture – International Herald Tribune

Icelanders are NOT terrorists – direct action website complaining about the UK government’s use of anti-terror legislation to freeze Icelandic funds following the credit fall out. Interesting use of social media.

CNNBC video – Very cleverly done, inserts user specific data in video footage

Q&A with Peter Chou, HTC’s chief executive and co-founder – SiliconValley.com – its not about competition, its about opportunity. Something to bear in mind

Oi Polloi of Manchester, mens clothing and footwear

IGN and Ipsos MediaCT Debut Most Comprehensive Research Study to Date on the Changing Face of Videogamers

<head> Web Conference: October 24-26, 2008 – gutted that I missed the London leg

Early-bird Glade tickets go on sale

Early-bird Glade tickets go on sale, originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.

The following that even small festivals have has become a bit of a national obsession. Whilst the Glade Festival is a great event and has a great vibe, I still think that there is something wrong when festival tickets go on sale some nine months before the festival takes place.

I can understand the economic sense of it, festivals take a long time to put together, require lots of paper work and require a substantial investment. But there is part of me that thinks it’s like finding a supermarket starting to sell Christmas puddings and mince pies from April onwards.

Jargon Watch: Speed flatmating, urban spam

thelondonpaper’s article Find your perfect roomie with speed flatmating talks about a new London phenomena of speed flathunting,  which are informal events modeled on speed dating for housemates who want to avoid ending up with incompatiable people, weirdos, psychopaths or other nut jobs. These events are organised by websites such as Spareroom and Easyroommate. Some people even post video auditions on Youtube for prospective flat mates, like as if they were going to take part in a reality TV drama. Whilst Shakespeare may have written that all the world’s a stage, he didn’t mean that you treat it like a contestant on Big Brother or MTV’s Real World.

Russell Davies’ blog post draping the city in data and dodging augmented urban spam about a future city scape littered with the outdoors equivalent of interactive and flash banner advertisements – this is the urban spam of the title.

Advertising agencies have already experimented with interactivity and bluetooth broadcasting in bus shelter ads for music and film, what happens if they do the same thing for Cillit Bang? Would society break down like lime scale and grime from over-exposure to Cillit Bang spokesperson Barry Scott?

Oasis advertisements on Amazon packaging

Oasis advertisments on Amazon packaging, originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.

Amazon packaging now has adverts on the outside for the forthcoming Oasis album Dig Out Your Soul. Is this ambient advertising since its on the outside of the package? And if so how would Oasis’ record company measure its efficiency and effectiveness?

I think the best guess would be to try and infer a link between an Amazon package arriving someone purchasing the album. However, the prompt to buy could come from any other marketing exercise and being an existing Amazon customer they would be naturally inclined to get the CD online, rather than scrabbling along the dusty sleeves in HMV.

Design: The Philips Shaver

I was recently reacquainted with dry-shaving the Philips shaver when I was given a Philips 8290 shaver. This was a three-headed device which looks cumbersome but does a surprisingly good job.

Philips 8290 shaver unboxing

There are two camps in dry shaving: those that prefer the rotary shavers of Philips or those that prefer the riciprocating cutters of Braun, Remington and company.

My Dad had a twin-head Philishave that sat comfortably in the palm of your hand for many years until it finally gave up the ghost. It came with a faux leather travel bag and a set of cufflinks made in the abstract shape of the shaver outline.

One of my uncles in Ireland had a big triple headed shaver with a coiled electric power cable and a jewellery box style case that added to the ritualistic nature of shaving.   Philips has always put product design at the forefront of these devices.

The Philishave brand was dropped a couple of years ago, and feels like the loss of a well-loved TV series that you used to make a date with the ‘tube in order to watch. There was a TV repair shop  that also used to serve as a Philishave service centre on my way to school and I was used to the brand name and the Philips stars and water logo embossed on packaging and shavers.

My present shaver has a steel and silicon rubber exterior and weighted just right to feel comfortable in the hand, a bit like an old school Ericsson mobile phone – heavy enough to feel substantial, light enough to use comfortably.

Philips 8290 shaver unboxing

The shaver has a sophisticated motorised bath to clean the device and comes with a ballastic nylon carrying pouch in case the shaver needs to go traveling. Not the sexiest packaging but the most practical in a world where space is at such a premium for carry-on luggage and presents less of a security risk than a Gillette Mach 3.

Philips 8290 shaver unboxing

Philips have managed to make the new razors a lot quieter, previously if you stumbled into the bathroom half asleep to shave you would be unpleasantly awake by the time the stubble was off one of your cheeks.  I originally moved from dry shaving to wet shaving in my late teens because of the superior finish offered by a razor blade over the electric shaver. However electric shavers have caught up with their manual bretheren  and the electric shaver can easily shave my head and my chin.

One thing that surprised me about Philips and the shaver is the lack of education they have for dry shaving novices. I learned from watching my Dad. If you have the stamina to work your way through the manual (think about this for a moment we need an operating manual for a modern electric shaver) there is a very brief section in there, but nothing on the web, how show-me-how videos, no wiki and no product use education dressed up as grooming tips. I think that they missed a bit of a trick there. Philips you need to sort the education piece out, drop me a mail if you want some help. :)

Jargon Watch: Credit crunch price

From Wadds blog asking for the ‘credit crunch price’: a key word that lets them know you know that’s things are different and the price they quote isn’t the real-world market value of the product or services they are offering.

In the words of our Stephen:

Question every cost. Be professional, don’t take the piss, but be prepared to go elsewhere if you get knocked back.