January 2024 newsletter – this makes a half dozen

12 minutes estimated reading time

January 2024 newsletter introduction

Welcome to my January 2024 newsletter which marks my 6th issue – bringing us to a half dozen issues in total. Here’s a quick video introduction that I recorded with HeyGen.

Dozen as a word in the English language comes from the french douzaine – meaning an assembly of 12 things of the same nature. This in turn was derived from roots in Latin. Weirdly enough the use of dozen plunged to a nadir in 1983 and then enjoyed steady growth to reach its most recent peak in 2018.

The sun rises reluctantly over the horizon every morning, disappearing each afternoon, but that doesn’t mean that inspiration stops. But each day is getting slightly more daylight here in London and in a few months we could be complaining about the heat.

If you would like a soundtrack for this edition of the newsletter, I can heartily recommend Kizunguzungu (Mr. Turner Extended Version Edit) by Disc-o-lypso.

New reader?

If is your first time reading, welcome to my January 2024 newsletter! You can find my regular writings here and more about me here

Things I’ve written.

  • A very personal (or iconoclastic) review of last year 2023 – that was twenty twenty three
  • Watch Registry – how a confluence of EU regulations and surging crime has driven a new category of online service.
  • Pebble – micro-blogging service Pebble went under in November last year. Here’s what we lost.
  • Loneliness – its impact and some of the solutions that are evolving to address it.
  • Backroom – how one of my photos went around the web and ended up in an online game.
  • Every old idea is new again – a mix of collective amnesia and the less than perfect memory of the web means that old ideas have their time as new creative.

Books that I have read.

  • Over the new year, I curled up on the sofa with 2034 by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis. Ackerman and Stavridis plot out a political pot boiler about what a future war with China might look like. The realpolitik of the book feels real, the main issue would be the complete passivity of smaller powers like the United Kingdom and France. The rise of India and the fall of China as a global power at the end is an interesting commentary on the current Xi-led government. The book seems to set out to do a few jobs. First and foremost it’s a call to arms about American preparedness (it isn’t prepared). Secondly, it’s a warning about over-relying on technology, over base skills like astral navigation – something that the advertising industry could learn from as we fumble forward across AI, martech and adtech in a time of declining effectiveness. But the book also irritated me and pulled me out of of the story with magical thinking in Chinese technology and having every part of a plane including an ejector seat open to being hacked and disabled. I could imagine car manufacturers leaving their safety systems open, but would have thought that the military would have been more sensible about their safety equipment.
  • How Did Britain Come to This?: A century of systemic failures of governance by Gwen Bevan. How Clement Attlee’s administration solved issues of minimal government in the post-war period and these solutions held up until the early 1970s. How Margaret Thatcher’s solution of markets for everything suffered from market failures over the years. All of which resulted in geography as destiny in terms of social outcomes.
  • Among the Braves: Hope, Struggle, and Exile in the Battle for Hong Kong and the Future of Global Democracy by Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin – an interesting portrayal of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement from the perspective of foreign journalists in the region. McLaughlin writes for The Atlantic and is based out of Singapore, Mahtani does a similar role for the Washington Post. The whole society movement of the protests is something that comes out in the books and makes me think that the authorities will have a longer term job to keep their illiberal agenda going. But on the flipside the American foreign policy looks weak and ineffective in the face of China. What most surprised me was how the authors uncovered details inside the government and the police force. Probably the most explosive allegation is that the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau of the Hong Kong Police were monitoring the WhatsApp group chat used by multiple rival gangs to organise the attack on Yuen Long train station. There is a large overlap between rural political committees in the Yuen Long area and triads. We know that the police did not prevent it, did nothing about it when it happened and conducted minimal prosecutions. Chief executive Carrie Lam was getting her news from the television rather than intelligence gathered using open source, human intelligence sources and ‘exquisite‘ means. Some members of the government related to mainland affairs seem to have had an indication of what was coming, but there is no evidence that Lam knew.

Things I have been inspired by.

Swiss International Airlines, the city of Geneva and the Grand Prix D’Horologerie de Genève did a classic PR stunt in October 2023. A flight crew member supervised by a watchmaker assembled a mechanical watch mid-flight between Geneva and New York at an altitude at 30,000 feet. In the idea you have precision, innovation, expertise, professionalism, quality and skill. A solid fusion of complementary brands, brand planning and creative ideation.

Unfortunately, the story seems to have been eclipsed by the Israel – HAMAS conflict in the Gaza region. The uncertainty of the news agenda illustrates the weakest point of a campaign relying purely on earned media. 

Swiss International, GPHG and Genève Tourisme assemble a watch mid-air
© Genève Tourisme

Etsy and agency The Orchard nailed gift buying with their spot ‘Dad’. The insight that family members often don’t want gifts and are concerned about clutter or the ‘wrong type’ of gifts is on-point. There is the additional layer of thriftiness that comes from being part of an immigrant family – be they Irish or Asian.

The idea also had me reflect on the time I spent helping to sort through my late Uncle’s belongings on the family farm back home in Ireland. There were ‘new old stock’ ties still in their packaging and an Insignia aftershave / shower gel gift set from sometime in the early 1990s in his drawers. Stashed there after being gifted, but unneeded.

Thoughtful gifts are priceless.

While the ad is aimed at Christmas, I saw it as I thought about my Dad’s birthday. My own parents exhibit the traits of not wanting gifts and thriftiness. But in my case, no Etsy-sleuthing was required however, with a bit of cajoling he knew precisely what he wanted from the Toolstation catalogue. The collector gene runs deep in the Carroll family.

The Orchard for Etsy

While a lot of London had their out of office on until January 15th, New Balance had their skates on previewing Scorpius, Rose Water and Medusa Azúl variants of the 1906R in association with Action Bronson. The clever thing that they have done is that each of the colour ways have a variation in brightness, appealing to sneaker heads of different temperaments. For me this was more exciting than Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Timberland also announced this month.

7-Eleven Hong Kong did one of the first campaigns that merged generative AI techniques with traditional advertising production values including extensive use of green screens and wire work that would have been more at home in the fantasy martial arts films Hong Kong made famous.

7 Select

4.5 billion years in an hour. A great way to bring data to life in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to fathom. It also works well as a background for writing late at night as well. It did remind me of Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy for some reason, and that’s no bad thing. 

I was looking at the underlying code on one of my flickr photo pages and came across this recruitment advert embedded in the code. I thought it was quite cleverly done in terms of targeting a technical audience.

Embedded recruitment ad

A bit of a late find for me, the Computer History Museum held a 2-hour event interviewing key people in the development of the Apple Mac, in order to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its launch. There is so much that can be still learned today from their experience. You can watch it here.

Finally, Tom Coates shed more light on what we are likely to see platform-wise from a post-Twitter future.

Things I have watched. 

It’s cold and dark and I make no apology for my films being unapologetically escapist and and entertaining to try and counterweight the drab conditions.

Something Wicked This Way ComesSomething Wicked This Way Comes was made in the UK during that many Disney fans describe as the studios ‘dark period’. From 1967 – 1984, the Disney family connection to the business was severed through deaths and a resignation. Film quality declined while shows and theme parks supported the business until Michael Eisner . Something Wicked This Way Comes has a fantastic cast including blaxploitation starlet Pam Grier, Broadway and Hollywood veteran Jason Robards and a young Jonathan Pryce, now better known as David Cartwright, former spook and River Cartwright’s grandfather in Slow Horses. The film is based on a book by Ray Bradbury. The film has a similarly surreal nature to Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.

I sat and watched Wild PalmsI hadn’t watched it all the way through previously and I found it much more rewarding to watch than similar shows like Twin Peaks. There is that slight dissonance and discomfort you have watching it that reminded me of reading JG Ballard’s works. 

The Criterion Collection released a sympathetic digital remastering of Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. With a lot of similar projects the work adds little, but The Criterion Collection are no ordinary publisher and the film needed a lot of work. So much so, that it took donations from Gucci and government bodies to ensure that the work was done to a high standards. The results are right there on screen, the sound has had excessive background noise cleaned up as well. It isn’t excessively loud like the audio on the remaster of Sergio Leone’s crowning achievement Once Upon A Time in the West, but it does benefit from the clarity provided. The films commentary on the hollowness of the media industry is timeless as is its tour of Rome: ancient and modern.

Michael Fassbender’s Road to Le Mans – Porsche sponsored online film series that goes through Michael Fassbender’s journey to drive the Le Mans 24 hour race.

I am a huge fan of French police dramas from the 1960s to the present day and was really impressed by Netflix show Blood Coast. It features Olivier Marchal on some of the writing and directing duties. Marchal created Braquo, which ran for three seasons until 2016.

Not exactly something to watch, but the Hot Money: The New Narcos is an amazing high adrenalin podcast with the Kinahan family and the Dubai Super-cartel at the centre of it all.

Useful tools.

ABBYY Business Card Reader.

ABBYY Business Card Reader allows you to convert business cards into contacts.app entries on your iPhone or iPad – this then syncs with my Mac as part of iCloud services. While I don’t receive as many business cards as I used to, this is still a really useful time-saver.

WolframAlpha.

WolframAlpha is a handy shortcut for data points that Statista, WARC etc. doesn’t or won’t have.

Beeper.

Beeper is a multi-protocol messaging client. You can have Slack, LinkedIn, iMessage, WhatsApp and Discord all in one client. It works on both Macs and iPhones.

WaveAI Note taker.

Wave AI is an app that provides call note taking functionality using speech to text conversation. It is based on a freemium business model. Give it a try to see if it works with your style of working. An alternative to consider is Vienna Scribe, both seem to give better results than otter.ai

Portable second monitor.

When working away from the office or home, I have found a second monitor to come in handy. The one I use is from ASUS and comes with a protective cover that doubles as a stand.

Using generative AI tools

Principled Instructions Are All You Need for Questioning LLaMA-1/2, GPT-3.5/4 – is an academic paper with tips on how to get the most out of your prompts.

The sales pitch.

Now taking bookings for strategic engagements or discussions on permanent roles. Contact me here.

More on what I have done to date here.

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The End.

Ok this is the end of my January 2024 newsletter, I hope to see you all back here again in a month. Gong hei fat choy for the forthcoming Chinese new year. It will be the year of the dragon on February 10th. 

Be excellent to each other. Let me know what you think or if you have any recommendations to be featured in forthcoming issues.