Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Dubliner Rosemary Smith is a 79 year old woman who owned her own driving school. But from the 1960s through the 1970s she was one of the world’s foremost rally drivers. With the right support, she could have done so much more. Renault decided to put her behind the wheel of a single seater racing car. Rallying and racing are different disciplines, but Smith still had some of the magic as you could see in this video

Westbam featured in a short film talking about how he started off and the intersection of music and culture in Berlin during 1989

American Petroleum Institute has put together a video reminding the public of all (ok just a small amount of) the stuff that oil actually goes into. When Teslas rule the roads, we’ll still need oil

The sound track of my week has been various mixes from DJ Nature

Campfield Futon – Snow Peak – I love the design and quality of Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak. The Campfield Futon is an amazingly flexible piece of furniture that would be great outdoors or in an apartment

Jump Around – 25 years later

It’s hard to believe that the House of Pain’s Jump Around turned 25 last week. The iconic intro from ‘Harlem Shuffle’ used to be a call to the dance floor when I used to play it on Wednesday night sets at a late closing wine bar in the North West of England.

The video fired my love of American workwear, previously I’d only really seen this worn on African-American  artists. I loved the form follows function, timeless style and burly nature of the garments. I hunted down supplies of Carhartt and Dickies in Leeds and Covent Garden – it’s kept me warm and dry ever since.

More importantly it was emblematic of an Irish blue collar swagger that the UK Irish community just didn’t have. The closest thing we had was the shambolic Pogues or wit of Dave Allen which he welded like a katana in the hands of a samurai. We were much more heads down as the troubles in Northern Ireland and sectarianism impacted our lives.

This was a spectacularly mean-spirited time; where the government used the police to beat the miner’s strike into submission and wilfully demolished the weak industrial base to build the financial services sector. Acid house and rave were created partly because the youth wanted to escape through hedonism.

The post Good Friday Irish experience of Irish emigrants just a few years later was rather different. Britain was on its way to Cool Britannia liberalism – when being in an Irish pub, no longer meant keeping an eye out for Special Branch agent provocateurs or well-known grasses.

A failure of stock markets or innovation?

In the past the Silicon Valley dream was relatively simple. Hard graft with a possibility of a reward in terms of a stock market listing or a buyout by a larger technology company eager for the new, new thing.

Now things are different, businesses like Google, Uber and Facebook held out for as long as possible to go public. Technology companies from Apple to Zynga have been punished repeatedly in the market for real and perceived mis-steps. Activist investors charge around Silicon Valley in a similar manner to the way they bullied the S&P index in the 1980s.
160704 - private equity & the tech sector
Now technology companies are making up almost half of private equity LBOs. An LBO is a leveraged buy out; its where a prospective owner uses a mix of loans and their own money to purchase a company. The company usually has a steady cash flow that is used to pay down the loans and associated interest. These businesses are generally discounted because they are no longer perceived as being high growth companies.

The private equity owner looks to either flip the company to another purchaser, or flip parts of the company to pay down the loan. Either flipping or piecemeal sales are designed to raise more value than the original price paid.

Since these businesses are servicing large amounts of debt, they are vulnerable to fluctuations in their business conditions or interest rate rises. For example, Irish telecoms network Eircom defaulted on corporate bonds in 2012, having been through a couple of LBOs in the previous decade.

There always has been some LBOs in the Valley, Computer Associates bought up rivals and ran them as part of a conglomerate, with a focus on maximising the business cash flow rather than market share growth. General Atlantic Partners and Cerebus Capital Management had specialised for a long time in LBOs of mature ‘also ran’ business software companies with regular support customer support contracts. But the recent growth in LBOs is unprecedented for the technology sector.

*January, 1 2016 – July 1, 2016.

More information
Private Equity Has a Crush on Tech | WSJ – paywall
What are the major reasons behind Yahoo’s drastic downfall?
Barbarians in the valley

Nominated in diaspora category of Blog Awards Ireland

Unfortunately there is no voting process I could ask you to game at the moment :)
blog awards ireland

Postcard from Ireland

I spent most of my time outside of the major cities visiting family and shopping in small market towns.
Here are my thoughts and observations from four days or so in Ireland:

  • The consumer economic system is largely frozen by a lack of access to credit, this has held the country in stasis with regards reigniting its property markets
  • Economic decline didn’t seem to be as apparent as say the North of England. I am not sure why this is
  • Prices are largely the same as in the UK, but Irish consumer products are generally uncompetitive in terms of price. For instance a bag of Oatfield sweets costs €2.49; a British brand equivalent would be in the region of €1.50
  • Sky usage seems to be prevalent. Irish houses outside the main towns tend to like to keep their aerials inside the roof where possible. However there seemed to be more satellite dishes secured to houses this time. In addition, in public spaces like the airport lounge, Sky News was the default channel
  • Election campaigns don’t seem to have benefited from an ‘Obama’ dividend. I found only one candidate who was using social media in even rudimentary way. They launch their campaigns in a very old school way with public meetings and traditional signs can be found in every townland
  • There was an increasing level of Euro-scepticism amongst Irish voters, despite Ireland having probably benefited the most from the rise of the EU. This has lead to good opinion poll showings for both Sinn Fein and independents focused on local issues
  • Whilst super fast broadband is advertised even in rural townlands; mobile networks gave very patchy coverage indeed


The best Murphy’s Bitter advert ever

Apparently during the late 1990s Murphy’s Bitter ran this anime influenced advertising spot on Channel 4 in the UK. I never saw it at the time, but thought I would share it here and now:

There is also a homage to Kurosawa’s chambara works a la The Hidden Fortress and The Seven Samurai, it can’t be embedded, so I have a link to it instead.

Colloquial Dublin English

This is a small sub-set of one English dialect which shows just how hard it is to derive context even for other English speakers.

Lady Gaga, the lawyer and the Irish Web 2.0 debacle

The Irish Independent ran the story of Ate My Heart Inc.; a company owned and controlled by popstar Lady Gaga who

‘demanded I roll over and hand over my domain name and trademark’

This action was taken against an Irish-based cookery blogger. This surprised me for a number of reasons:

  • The two brands and domains whilst similar couldn’t be mistaken for each other, giving the Ate My Heart legal team a relatively weak positon if it ever went to court
  • You would have a harder time differentiating the Lady Gaga brand from the many social accounts run by dedicated Lady Gaga fans
  • Lady Gaga and her management seem to be exceptionally savvy about the use and abuse of social media; and its power hence the community that they run

It also reminded me of IT@Cork / O’Reilly Publications debacle that broke out over the use of web 2.0 in 2006. IT@Cork was a small local group interested in business technology who decided to host a session on web 2.0. They invited Tim O’Reilly along to speak alongside other representatives from web 2.0 firms. They were legalled by CMP who run the Web 2.0 Expo and Web 2.0 Conference with a cease and desist letter.

The subsequent online firestorm caused Tim O’Reilly to come back off holiday and broker a smarter solution.

Ate My Heart could have reduced their risk and had a win-win situation like O’Reilly eventually opted for, but instead went all in on a relatively weak legal position, hoping presumably that the blogger would buckle rather than publishing their letter online and calling them out, but they chose not to.

I guess the implicit message to Irish Lady Gaga fans were that they didn’t matter all that much.  From a PR perspective, something to keep an eye on in case clients take a similar gung-ho approach to reputation management through litigation; not everyone will be as lucky as Lady Gaga was on this occasion.

Archived from blog posts I wrote for PR Week

Rage against the machine with art

I noticed an interesting Facebook campaign overnight. Artists took over the half-built Anglo Irish Bank headquarters in Dublin and created artworks to mirror the post-bust Ireland. Anglo Irish Bank is Ireland’s version of the Royal Bank of Scotland or Northern Rock and is now in control of NAMA – a government agency set up to deal with toxic assets.

More information: Rómánsach Ireland

This is sharp contrast to the corporate art projects one usually associates with the banking sector.

Reality television relic

Irish public broadcaster RTÉ is celebrating 50 years of television broadcasting and one of the shows being re-broadcast is The Green Linnet. The Green Linnet in question was a drab green Citroen van based on the Citroen 2CV car in which two traditional musicians toured Europe and played music on the streets to earn their keep. The filming took place in 1978 and the series was shown in early 1979.

Watching a few episodes and a retrospective, I realised that the programme was an unintentional proto-reality show; as the filming caught the eventual frayed nerves of the musicians living in an artificially-created environment under constant surveillance. It was a pint-sized Big Brother house on wheels.

The constricted space in the van and their general condition got progressively grottier living on camp sites and spending every waking moment together. The Green Linnet pre-dated the Dutch show Nummer 28 (which is considered by many to be the first modern reality show) by some 12 years. The breakdown also mirrored highlights in MTV’s The Real World.

More information here.

Dublin Airport artifact from the knowledge economy circa 2004 | 爱尔兰机场和过时的软件

I would have thought that Dublin Airport Authority would have been enriched by the current situation in Ireland with expensive EU funded financial whizz-kids flying into the country to ‘help out’ and an exodus of young under-employed professionals leaving to make a life somewhere else. So I was surprised that the company had mobile assets that would have been current circa 2004/5. More here.
Dublin Airport
PocketPC (not even Windows Mobile) and PalmOS were supported – no Symbian (Series 60 and 90 devices would have been out at the time), let alone Android or iOS.

Happy hallowe’en | 万圣节

Hallowe’en was a special time for me growing up. Alongside St Patrick’s day it made me feel connected with with my wider family in Ireland. We would have a barm brack sent to us by my Granny. This is kind of like a giant tea cake but richer or less stodgy than say Soreen. It is available most of the year around as a dessert after your evening meal with butter spread on top.

For Hallowe’en barm bracks there is usually a cheap gold-coloured metal ring wrapped in grease-proof paper in the centre of the brack and there was usually a bit of excitement if you found it in your slice. RTE Radio 1 usually had scary Irish folk tales on with sound effects. Their effect was amplified by the eerie quality that mild interference on the medium wave signal would give.

Hallowe’en now means scouring London for a barm brack and some Barry’s tea to wash it down with. I usually call my parents to find out what they are doing for the festival and listen to a bit of the radio online. I usually settle down and watch The Crow on DVD and Gremlins as my nod to the modern interpretation of the festival.

I found this infographic that highlights some of the numbers around the US celebration of Hallowe’en.
Infographics: Halloween by the Numbers
Courtesy of: CreditDonkey

Lifecycle marketing for politics in Ireland

I was going through the Irish Sunday Independent to read coverage of the Irish rugby union squad’s win against their Australian counterparts when I came across this chart of data looking the standings of the different political parties.
Fianna Fail research Sunday Independent
A little bit of background before I delve into things:

  • The Irish Independent is a paper that has traditionally supported Fine Gael and up until 1995, went head-to-head with The Irish Press
  • Fianna Fail and their rival Fine Gael are both quite similar centre-right parties. The difference between them comes from the history at the foundation of modern Ireland. Up until recently, the reason why you voted for one over the other was to do with family, tradition and to a lesser extent personality. Over the history of the Irish Republic, Fianna Fail has historically enjoyed more time in office
  • A background of government corruption investigated by a plethora of government tribunals and perceived financial mismanagement that led up to the banking crisis meant that Fianna Fail got punished in the polls by the Irish electorate

Looking at the election data I was struck by how the Fianna Fail party vote was skewed from a demographic point-of-view:

  • Fianna Fail has a broadly consistent level of support across age groups with a dip for middle-aged voters (presumably because they have been hit the hardest in terms of assets lost during the ongoing financial crisis)
  • In the 65+ years age group however Fianna Fail gets twice the percentage of votes that everyone else has given them
  • This is mirrored in the amount of support they get from the F socio-economic class indicating an electorate not actively engaged from an economic point-of-view
  • Fianna Fail’s support is geographically skewed towards the least productive areas of the country with the harshest agricultural conditions and least economic development, again with an older population

It is a political party with an engaged electorate that is literally dying off. In this respect at least, Fianna Fail is keeping good company:

  • Harley Davidson suffered from this problem
  • Numerous cigarette brands: Woodbines, Senior Service have also suffered from a diminishing clientele

So what’s a party to do? If one looks at the likes of the UK Labour Party, it took a decade and a half for the party to reinvent itself after Michael Foot’s disastrous election campaign. It needs to:

  • Exorcise the past, cutting out the taint of corruption and that means pushing aside a lot of the existing politicians
  • Bring in new people and new ideas
  • It needs to stand for something that people will care about and get behind. It could do worse than look at the recent German Pirate Party success in Berlin state elections if it is to get younger voters on side with ideas ranging from online file sharing to social and community issues

Oprah Time: Beyond The Crash by Gordon Brown

On leaving office, Gordon Brown immediately spent a lot of time hammering out a book Beyond The Crash. Unlike Peter Mandelson this wasn’t the Westminster equivalent of a sordid kiss-and-tell exposé or a Tony Blair-esque sales brochure to secure speaking engagements. Instead Brown set out to do what he does best, putting on page deep thought and analysis about the knotty problem of global finances. He did an excellent job of marshaling ideas and sources in the book. His grasp on Asian economics and China in particular is very good. There is a whole section on the Asian crisis of 1998 which is well worth reading on its own.

In this respect, the book is a solid piece of work, Brown isn’t as compelling a writer as other economic thinkers that the Labour party has looked to like Will Hutton; but he does a good job at making his ideas and concepts understandable to the average reader.

Where things go wrong with the book is where Brown tries to humanise his writing. His comments of praise for colleagues and other politicians feels wooden, as if it was written into his book as a postscript. And it is because of this that we see a glimpse of Brown the politician; the polar opposite of his predecessor Tony Blair. Someone who thought at great depth and knew what to do but didn’t have the surface finish.

If you are prepared to persevere with the book, it is a good read, and is currently for sale in Amazon Marketplace at a massive discount to the cover price.