February 2024 newsletter – No.7

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February 2024 newsletter introduction

Welcome to my February 2024 newsletter which marks my 7th issue. I hope that your year of the dragon is off to a great start.

Strategic outcomes

The number 7 is a bit of a mixed bag, depending on how you look at it. In the old testament, the 7th heaven is where God’s throne is, alongside the angels. It had been considered a place of happiness, hence Gwen Guthrie’s Seventh Heaven. In Mandarin, the number is considered generally a positive thing, the number is a homophone for ‘arise’ and ‘life essence’. But that’s only half the story.

Chinese Ghost Story

Indications of 7’s unlucky nature include the seventh month in the lunar calendar being a ‘ghost month’. In Cantonese, it is a homophone for a vulgar way of saying penis. I hope your February wasn’t a dick of a month. 

For film buffs it’s almost 28 1/2 years since the transgressive crime thriller Seven was released. It was a break out hit and became the seventh highest grossing film of 1995, behind Die Hard with a Vengeance, Toy Story and Apollo 13. It beat out other films like Braveheart in box office earnings, but Braveheart ran away with the Oscars. 

Let’s hope that feng shui master Michael Chiang is correct in terms of the positive energies from the year of the dragon.

New reader?

If this is the first newsletter, welcome! You can find my regular writings here and more about me here

Things I’ve written.

  • FOOH – and the ethical and marketing challenges it presents with a thought experiment harking back to the golden age of pornography.
  • Technonationalism – how current technological developments mirror the cold war and the 20th century Asian economic miracle.  
  • Innovation signalling – how innovation is used by brands for show, rather than for genuine progress.
  • Pipes by Yahoo – a remarkable web service that also causes us to reflect on the post modern web of today.
  • Hong Kong measurements – how something as simple as measurement units are a melding of culture, history, modernity and politics in a time of change.
  • Y2K was always more than a fashion phase, but it seems to have faded from the zeitgeist which means the fashion takes have no context. Here’s a bit of context for you.

Books that I have read.

  • What the Taliban Told Me by Ian Fritz. Fritz writes really, really well, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to complete his personal memoir about his upbringing, service in Afghanistan onboard an AC-130 gunship and depression. In some ways it reminded me of Jarhead – Anthony Swofford’s memoirs of his life up to the time of being in the US Marines during the first Gulf War. Swofford’s book came out a decade and a half after his service. Fritz’ book feels much more immediate and without the flashes of humour and beauty that was in Swofford’s book.
  • Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher. This was originally written in 2016, but has been updated to incorporate changes over subsequent years. It shows how government policy, ethnographic-nationalism, law enforcement, the legal system, collective punishment and community pressure is applied on modern women. I still find the content covering domestic violence shocking. This isn’t the China of Mao where in theory women hold up half the sky, instead it seems to be on a trajectory that would eventually see it closer to Mao’s view of China’s population, or Ceaușescu’s Decree 770 and other associated pro-natalist laws. This is a world away from the equally oppressive one-child policy, which had been brought in to deal with population related problems from the Mao-era.
  • The Big Book of Cyberpunk edited by Jared Shurin. I am huge fan of cyberpunks better known authors: William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling. This collection of 100+ stories written by authors from 25 countries is a mixed bag, but that’s no bad thing.

Things I have been inspired by.

J Walter Thompson Wunderman Thompson VML Intelligence launched their annual Future 100 report. It’s a great read and its continuity over the years makes it stand apart from the plethora of trends reports that get published every year. Their trends which intersect luxury and health are particularly interesting:

  • Althluxe
  • Bioharmonizing spas
  • Longevity resorts
  • Idyllic idleness

Author Cory Doctorow’s essay for Locus magazine plays devil’s advocate in considering the future of the crypto-based ecosystem and artificial intelligence is well worth a read. Doctorow speculates on what kind of bubble artificial intelligence is likely to become and the effect that its deflation may have. He draws on the outcomes of tech bubbles in the past including the dot com bubble and the telecoms bubble that accompanied it.

Just Conecting published a report on what seems to work on LinkedIn. It’s an interesting snapshot of what works at the moment, I am sure things will change over time as the algorithm evolves. Much of the focus seems to be orientated towards personal branding over business brands.

Over at Japan House, I marvelled at the exhibition Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Sara River. The Ainu are native to Japan’s northern islands and have survived for millenia in the extreme cold. Historically they were discriminated against, but now there is an appreciation of their culture. The art pieces on display are unique in their design, but share the attention to detail one sees in other Japanese work.

The Science Museum has an amazing exhibition on: Zimingzhong 凝时聚珍: Clockwork Treasures from China’s Forbidden City. Prior to the opium wars, UK craftsmen created fantastic clockwork-powered creations that were given as gifts to the emperor of China. The exhibition finishes on June 2, 2024. I went during Chinese new year. I came away with a refreshed appreciation of modern watchmaking complications, in particular devices like ‘minute repeaters’.

NS Lyons magnus opus The China Convergence is read by Regina Doman. Lyons’ premise is that western systems have converged with China’s approach to governance due to the rise of the technocrat. In this respect his perspective is similar to that shared by documentary maker Adam Curtis. Like Curtis, Lyons’ The China Convergence asks uncomfortable questions of us. Are we basically a less extreme version of the same system to the presses of mass and scale?

While we’re talking China, I can recommend the China Update YouTube account that provides a concise summary of Chinese business news and economic analysis garnered from a wide range of Chinese and western business publications.

Finally, IPSOS ongoing collection of reports this time reflects on the power of nostalgia. This time focusing on youth culture from cottage-core, Barbie mania, vinyl to vintage technical clothing and streetwear and the underlying drivers behind it. Why Nostalgia Is So ‘Fetch’ Right Now by Samira Brophy is well worth a read.

2023 Global Trends Report by ACROSS Health is a great census of healthcare professional media preferences and insight into omnichannel communications trends for pharmaceutical marketing. It is good reading and indicates that pharma clients who have an excessive efficiency bias and want to go to digital-only customer journeys will be left behind by peers taking a mixed approach.

Things I have watched. 

Agent Hamilton – Carl Gustaf Hamilton is a Swedish answer to James Bond or Jack Ryan. Hamilton was the main character in a series of books written by a former investigative journalist, Jan Guillou, who served time in Sweden for exposing illegal intelligence operations. Guillou wrote the first Hamilton book in 1986 and the last one in 2012.

Blake and Mortimer – if you’re a fan of TinTin, you’ll like Blake and Mortimer as both come from the French -Belgian comic tradition. This cartoon series is based on the adventures of an eminent Scottish scientist and a British military intelligence officer in mid-century Europe. It’s nice light entertainment and I can recommend the graphic novels as well of which there are now 30+ stories including the Before Blake and Mortimer off-shoots. The authors have also wrote other excellent series like XIII.

Useful tools.

Audio Hijack 4.3

Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack has been a mainstay on my Mac for far more years than I care to mention. It was great for everything from recording conference talks to putting together quick and dirty talk tracks that concepting films can be cut too. Version 4.3 features OpenAI’s Whisper transcription software that can cater to transcribing dozens of languages. I have found it better than tools like Otter.ai for me.


Krisp.ai is a freemium service providing intelligent noise cancellation, call transcripts and meeting notes all in one. It works with Teams, Google Meetup, Slack and Zoom.


Just like Evernote back in the day, Obsidian has become a bit of a cult app for those that find it really useful. At its heart, it is a note taking and writing application. It will sync between desktop and mobile devices, but that costs $8/month – which is expensive. I haven’t been using it beyond a quick trial, as I have a well-defined set of tools that I use and Obsidian didn’t really slot in well. But I can appreciate the value of it to others. One thing I would be leery of, if you are moving to Obsidian is the cottage industry in snake oils salespeople hawking the ‘ultimate’ online course for Obsidian. Instead check out Obsidian’s own community pages of courses.


Todoist is a shareable to do list that places it somewhere between quick and dirty project management and personal productivity. I am giving it a try following a recommendation from a friend. It’s not about whether products like this are good or not, but usually if it fits into your style of working, so your mileage may vary.

Personal Update.

the adforum phnx 2024 jury badge

More details on the awards here.

The sales pitch.

Now taking bookings for strategic engagements (from the end of April onwards) or discussions on permanent roles. Contact me here.

More on what I have done to date here.


The End.

Ok this is the end of my February 2024 newsletter, I hope to see you all back here again in a month. Be excellent to each other.

Don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Let me know if you have any recommendations to be featured in forthcoming issues.