Wednesday, July 01, 2015

How to raise your standard of living in New Zealand

The Big SleepOut 2015
Years ago I met a guy who was famous for organising very successful telethons.
He told me a story about his early days as a larrikin in the UK.
He would, he said, run tiny classified ads featuring the claim: "This is your last chance to send a pound". There was no further information other than a post box number.

My belated efforts to raise money for the LifeWise Trust to help those in real need find emergency shelter are coming to their conclusion. The BigSleepOut is tomorrow night - sleeping rough to raise awareness of this humanitarian crisis - right here on the streets in New Zealand.

I know it's easier to simply look the other way and feel helpless - but the truth is sharing even a small amount of cash with this organisation adds to a fund that really makes a substantial difference to the cause. We may not end the problem of homelessness altogether - but we can end homelessness for some - especially young people and families in desperate need. Everyone successfully helped into shelter helps raise the standard of every life in NZ.

This is your last chance to send $20. 
I hope you can.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Philanthropy and why you can't resist the urge to help.

"Margins increase the further down the torso you go." Scott Galloway
I remember watching a documentary on PBS, The Persuaders, about how marketers winkle their way into people's lives. One segment that stayed with me was about Clotaire Rapaille, a French psychologist who had advanced his career from working with autistic children in his home country to advising luxury brand marketers in the United States about how to, well, winkle their wares into people's lives. He is a fascinating character. He lived in a chateau in upstate New York. His client's would attend en masse to hear his liturgy about parting exclusive customers from their millions by deploying a theory about the human brain.

He described 'the lizard brain' - an ancient part of the human mind that behaves in an unprogrammed way - aside from consciousness or rational thought. The lizard brain is hard-wired to facilitate our base instincts for survival. For example you can rationalise your choice of mate for their refinement and taste but, whether you are male or female, rich or poor the unreasonable drive from your lizard brain is to breed with the partner that is most likely to help you pass your genetic code onto future generations. A mutual love of piña coladas and getting caught in the rain might sound like a marriage made in heaven, but, I'm sorry primal urges overcome the mild buzz of rum, coconut, pineapple juice and tropical weather conditions. To synthesise Rapaille, the display of luxury items is simply an indicator of one's capability to provide and protect the product of your union. That's why chinless wonders and old guys who strike it rich immediately buy Ferrari and Rolls Royce cars - to symbolise their supremacy in the breeding stakes. Kind of like bright feathers in the ornithological world or exaggerated size of proboscis in the mating rituals of elephant seals. Likewise all non-utility fashion is a sexual display - even if you rationalise it with a pronounced fetish for design.
It is via this circuit that we come to philanthropy. Why do we have an urge to give as well as to receive? My theory is that we are social creatures. As innate as our drive to have the most widely dispersed 'seed' is, there is the corresponding sense that we are part of the group or tribe we are related to - by paternity/maternity, marriage or species. Our DNA is bound with the group, interhelixed.

Even when we rationally 'know' that we are not related by blood to others in a wider contemporary culture… our lizard brains don't 'know' anything. Its function is simply automatic - there is little we can do about it. You can read Ayn Rand's ridiculous theories and novels and nod in undergraduate, pseudo-intellectual agreement that it is every wo/man for themselves but the lizard in you knows that hunting and living in groups is more successful and offers protection from the savagery of the wild. Which, of course, multiplies your chances of successfully passing your genes onto children and so on. There is nothing you can do about it. 

Faced with a surplus? Married with children already? Another Ferrari or Versace frock would simply be vulgar (and probably have your partner worried about the stability of and your commitment to your protective family unit). 

Your philanthropic urge - to support the society in which your children will prosper - is as innate as your drive for genetic immortality.

That is why I urge you to help me end homelessness for as many young people in need when I take part in The BigSleepout on 2 July.

It will help you sleep better at night.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It could happen to you…

Click to enlarge

The bungalow in Point Chevalier was their pride and joy. Not fancy by comparison to some of the renovated state house being turned into mansions by their neighbours but simple, stylish and contemporary. “I’m hoping we can extend the kitchen and deck out the back at some point” Vanessa explains, offering me the last macaroon “…you take it, I don’t think I could fit another one in…but Rudy suggested we just wait a little longer. He’s big on delayed gratification. Just because it’s in the magazines and blogs doesn’t mean we have to follow, does it?”

What planet are you from? I thought to myself. “Improving the indoor outdoor flow would add a hundred grand to this place…” I wondered if Vanessa and Rudy might just be a little soft in the head? “My god, these macaroons are the bomb, can’t believe you made them yourself - you should start a site and create a brand…are you sure that’s the last one? You’re not holding out on me…?” A crumb fell on my Karen Walker top. “How do you feel about the issue of homelessness?” Van asked. I eyed the sideboard and wondered if it was genuine mid-century, genuine mid-century pieces are getting big prices. 
“Terri…I asked what you thought about the homeless issue…” “Look, Van, I’m not sure who you’ve been talking to but Famka and I are just taking a breather. And, if I can interest Simon in this story  I might have enough for the deposit on a studio flat - or at least get my car back from the tow-yard - but for now I’m staying with friends - I don’t call it couch surfing. Don’t judge me, ok!! . Shit, sorry Vanny, I’m just so strung out - I haven’t slept properly for over week. I’ve been offered a job as  dancer if I want it - my mum wouldn’t call it dancing - but if I keep the fact that I got laid off from the magazine from her …I couldn’t use your bathroom could I Van? I mean your bathroom - haven’t had a shower for a couple of days - had to let the gym membership go - so I’m a bit whiffy…hey who needs the gym when you don’t get to eat every day. You’re a great mate Vanessa, I just want to say that. You and Rudy and the kids…this isn’t forever you know. It’s just, right now. Because, right now I don’t know what to do.”

…I'm performing the BigSleepOut for the 6th season in just six days time.
If you would like to help me raise awareness and funds for the Lifewise Trust to help end homelessness -
you have two choices:


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Big SleepOut is just 7 days away. We need your help.

Every year I leave the relative luxury of home to sleep out in the cold to raise money and awareness of homelessness here in the most liveable city in the world.

I've been a little slow out of the blocks with my effort this year. I need your help.

My fundraising page is here. Every little bit helps, thanks. I really appreciate your support. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Action stations…End Homelessness…let's rock!

We all know that homelessness is a real problem. I'm pretty sure you would be willing to help make a difference if you could. So here's what you can do:

I am sleeping rough in 8 days time for the BigSleepOut event to raise awareness and funds to help Lifewise help people who are homeless.

So, …now you KNOW
I know you are WILLIING
Let's DO IT!

You can support Lifewise's efforts through my official fundraising page HERE.

This is my sixth year of being involved with the event; I have found that friends and colleagues are both generous and supportive - the money we've raised has made a difference - when I first got involved I thought we could eradicate the problem easily, sadly it perpetuates.  But it would be worse without your generous help.

Thank you. I'm grateful for your support - you make the difference.

(P.S. I've kicked off my campaign a little late this year…it's even more urgent - if you could share this post on Twitter and Facebook to spread the message with your connections that would make a huge difference too - use the buttons below or copy the link in the address bar).

David MacGregor

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Optimists' Flag

Having spent all that money to talk about the New Zealand flag on our behalf it would be rude not to engage.

Here's my thoughts for a flag. I've been worried that pictures of kiwis and ferns and drab red white and blues might win the day (not that flags are really important). I also worry that if a black flag squeaks through we will look like we are in perpetual mourning. The reason the US loves the stars and stripes is because it's cheerful when displayed en masse.


Here's my rationale:
This design refers to:
• A sense of place - islands, mountains, land, sea, space.
• The traditions of New Zealand/Aotearoa:
- Kowhaiwhai design
- European heraldry

The colours:
Blue ground  - sense of place, standing proudly and distinctively. Referring to our place in the Pacific ocean - and its meaning 'peaceful'. It transitions from night to day, yesterday to tomorrow.

Yellow - facing the right/east not only symbolising the geographic place - first to see the sun but also the optimism and youthfulness of our nation and its peoples. 

Black for the traditions and heritage - the mana of our achievements and courage in the face of challenges.

The red represents the heart our passion and compassion.
Green needs little explanation.

White - two main islands, snow capped peaks, long white clouds.

The design is contemporary and avoids parochial symbols that 'belong' to any particular faction.

The geometric shapes suggest growth and regeneration as well as permanence.

Its elements can be translated into other contexts to build the national brand identity.

While it refers to traditions it heralds an optimistic and plural future; where we are of the world but distinctively ourselves.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Asylum?!!! - Have you gone mad?!!!

New Zealand refugee poster david macgregor

It's World Refugee Day and I am ashamed to say New Zealand in punching below its weight.

I made this poster a while back for Tracey Barnett. She wrote a book about New Zealand and Australia's shocking policies about refugees.

For one reason or another the poster didn't get used. So I have revived it for today.

If you want a PDF - help yourself.

If you want to help desperate people who, through no fault of their own, need to find asylum - then contact your MP and make a stink on social media.

If New Zealand wants to sit at the grown-ups table in the world then it needs to start acting like one.

And, for the record, refugees are not 'queue jumpers' or 'illegal migrants'. They would rather be in their own homes, in their own villages, towns and cities - just like you.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Will apartment prices go sky high?

Interesting to hear a snippet about how easing lending restrictions on apartments might create a bubble in apartment prices.

I don't know why apartments have been subject to constraints in any case. I remember when I first lived in Auckland city ('84, the deco style Brooklyn building near the hyatt - or whatever they call it now) the council actively discouraged people from living in the city and there was no infrastructure (I would ferry to Devonport to buy groceries) - and no people after 5 - the Fish Pot Café - where the atrocious Botswana Butchery now resides - was a near to fine dining as you could get. Pre-Link buses, getting around the city was also even more difficult than it is now.

Creating more demand for better apartment developments would be a good idea - especially for the YUCCis (Young Urban Creative Class - anointed as the successors to hipsters). We need to let go of the idea that Herne Bay and Ponsonby are 'inner city' - they are suburbs and perpetuate the wasteful use of land with outmoded styles of home.

Maybe a variation of the Nagakin Tower Complex would be a good idea. Perhaps not quite as capsule like and more an encapsulation of excellent design, economic use of space and resources, shared social areas for dining and utilitarian activities - with shared luxuries like cooks and cleaners. Private spaces can be smaller and more intimate for rest and solitude. I remember living pretty much that way as a student, even earlier in the 1980s - at Akoranga Hall, on Auckland's North Shore. Obviously it wouldn't suit families with children - though, with so many solo, pot nuke families, maybe a more communal form of living might also be more practical? It takes a village to raise a child, after all.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Access All Areas - in praise of advertising

One of the benefits of working in advertising - aside from the sports cars, Simon Cowell -like power over the success or failure of models and film companies and, the endless freebies and invitations that come from doling out substantial amounts of other-people's-money…is extraordinary access to the machinations of business.

Over the years I have seen inside the workings of fertiliser manufacturing (became barren territory when the stock market tanked in '87…'Queen St farmers' had no idea about the value of sewing as well as harvesting), I've eaten the finest ice cream in the world directly from the factory line - unfrozen ambrosia - while preparing a campaign for a rival Swiss brand, half as good and double the price. I've chair-lifted to the piste in the morning and swum in a tepid sea that very same afternoon in New Zealand's least appreciated tourist region, I've done almost every drug in the market - ingesting an understanding of the workings of the pharmaceutical industry, rather than their products. I've wrecked perfectly good cars to make a commercial no-one ever saw, travelled to Mad Max's outback location to make a 15 second promotion that ran for less than a week because it emptied the shelves of stock, jetted to Bahamas to film a rum diary…the things you see and do; the stories you hear.

That's advertising.

Unlike a McKinsey consultant one never had to wear a suit and tie or pretend to be studious - no matter how much of a student of business you might be - better not to wear it on your sleeve. Better to don a leather jacket and shades than to be donnish Mr Draper.

Ignorance was prized - in a good way: I think it was the America adman Dan Weiden who talked about 'walking in stupid every day' - no preconception, tabula rasa (though with a finely honed heuristic process). Sometimes ignorance was wielded as a way of ramming ideas through a management process where dissection produced a messy still-born campaign. Plenty of advertising people detest research and data…sometimes rightly (remember the heuristic?).

Being the 'creative guy' was like being a prize-fighter - steered into the ring then ushered back to the pen when the fight was won or lost (and your champion's belt held aloft by the water boys, coaches and tea-ladies…or anyone within a stone's throw of a winning idea's conception- duds had as many friends as Mickey Rourke when his star lost its lustre).

Advertising was an education and apprenticeship for life considering how business and society interact. The word that comes to mind is bricolage - one becomes a bricoleur - taking stock of resources, observing and listening, having the confidence and trust in one's ideas - adapting and changing when change is needed…and, if you're smart, having a feedback loop so you don't believe the bullshit (yours or anyone else's).

The Official Offal Offering from Nucking Futs™

Nucking Futs™ is my playful brand. It is to logic what Hello Kitty is to low orbit satellites. It can be applied to pretty much anything.

In this case it's for a butchery that specialises in foods and small goods (I love that euphemism) - salamis, paté, haggis…

I imagine, given the reluctance of the majority of the population to eat anything that isn't sugared to the hilt and smoothed out with palm oil, that growth will be little more than a sensational organic incline.

Here's an earlier iteration. I urge you to remember that taste is both a sense and a metaphor:

If you'd like to licence the Nucking Futs™ brand for your artisan products - contact me.

©Copyright David MacGregor. Nucking Futs™ is a trademark.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jumping from conclusions.

Living in the digital era it is easy to feel god-like. All knowing, all seeing.

Our access to information is unfettered and frictionless.

If you want to know something - Google it, ask the Twitterverse, post a question on Quora.
Searching for information has become a superficial task. How often do you go beyond the first page of search results? (For context: 93% of all online experiences begin with a search - according to Forrester Research).

Questioning no longer means what it used to.

I wonder if we are satisficing knowledge? That is searching through the available alternatives only until an acceptability answer is found. The power of Google's alogorithm - or our acceptance of it - forces an assumption that, if Google think's it's right, then it must be right. Right?

Of course the terms we use to search and our previous search behaviour will affect the results. In part Google is giving us what it thinks we want to find. It determines the accuracy of the search by who is doing the searching - much in the same way as when you search for a book about cross-stitch as a gift for your elderly, bachelor uncle Amazon will make assumptions about your interests in the future.
(Which is why I never feign pleasure in a home-cooked dish - because the danger of being served liquorice and coconut prawns repeatedly is dangerously high if you don't nip it in the bud immediately).

I was prompted to contemplate this by observing the behaviour of children.

My theory is that the most important attributes of a optimally functioning human being are - in no special order: curiosity.

Call it what you will - wonder, inquiry, questioning, searching…

There are risks with readily available information for kids.

Is the information reliable? Just because it is on the first page of Google it doesn't make it the best material on the subject.

Does the sense of authority mean the end of the conversation?

Remember in the olden days when books were few in homes (maybe a set of dated encyclopedia- if you were lucky) and libraries only stocked a limited selection. Your parents were fonts of knowledge - ask your mother/father (depending on the question) was the Google search of the day. There was still an oral tradition of passing down wisdom. If your mother said something was so you would pretty much assume that so it was. It was an authoritative conclusion. Now you knew for a fact that black people couldn't swim well enough to win an Olympic medal in the pool. 

Google and Wikipedia project only a sense of conclusive authority but also a resignation that comes with it. There is no point in doubting the facts. In fact they are so compelling why not cut and paste the results into your homework?

With access to data I think it is critical that kids are equipped with the skills of an old-school reporter. When presented with a 'fact' it is time to wheel out critical thinking skills: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

It's hard with so many distractions to get kids to concentrate on a question. They often just want to check it off the list - get the homework done in time to catch up with the latest talent quest on TV and wait for their own 15 minutes of fame to be handed on a silver platter.

Of course it's a syndrome that isn't confined to the young - it is endemic.

We are overwhelmed by stimulus and we will satisfice.

Asking questions is almost pointless.

The consequences are a compliant, unquestioning population that is distracted by an infinite number of entertainments that make us as happy as 10 year old with an unlimited supply of candy, soda and salty snacks. We'll have concluded there is no point getting up when things are sweet right here.
My own addition to critical thinking is 'what if?'.

"What if it's wrong? " "What if we added a bit of this? ""What if we set it in Fraktur instead of Comic Sans?"…Creative thinking doesn't require a correct answer or a conclusion. Research isn't about finding the right answer. It's about asking better questions.

When you reach a conclusion - it is over. Literally and figuratively.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Refocusing the introspective media lens

I detest Michael Laws public persona. The fury over his comments about TV3 newsreader 
Hilary Barry becoming upset during a live broadcast announcing the end of Campbell Live is a predictable response. I think he probably calculated that the reaction would be exactly what it has been. He'll be loving every minute.
The battle lines are drawn. It feels as if people who support John Campbell know they have been squished - and it hurts.
It feels as if legitimate concerns about matters that reasonable, informed people in a democracy should care about are, once again trampled under the hooves of marauding, carpetbagging bastards who contribute little to the common good and plunder relentlessly.

It feels like Dirty Politics all over again - where the facts are as plain as day but there is a weird light cast over the land that turns black into white and makes people have a thousand yard stare and mouth the words I love John Key no matter how bizarrely he and his colleagues behave. 

How could someone doing good and who is widely loved be treated so badly? How can this be happening to us? It's like a waking nightmare. I feel it too. Ms Barry has worked with Mr Campbell for years. She will not only be concerned for her colleague but must also be wondering what kind of infernal charnel house she is works within. The pressure must be intense. And last night she broke.
Laws' remark was a pot shot. But in taking the swipe he also made a fair point. The system that Barry and Campbell work within is ruthless. Their salaries are very high - there have been numbers bandied about - but they are none of my business - suffice they are very well paid. Some might say excessively rewarded for the work they perform (along the same line of argument as compensation for some CEOs being out of whack with…reality). 
Russell Brown has gone on the attack - lining Laws up in his sights. He said Laws lacks empathy because he has probably never felt the love and respect of his colleagues. In a comment I told him "I agree with you. I dislike Laws. I'm irked by the Campbell matter. But, to be fair - his points are worth thinking about."
I wasn't applying for the job of Devil's Advocate but I do believe in fairness and supplying the benefit of doubt - it's easy to go all ad hominem and use social media to bully through a counter attack in support of one's friends in media.
I do think that Hilary Barry performed badly in the moment. Not a judgement of her personally and she isn't the first seasoned news presenter to have lost it when personally affected by something tragic. Walter Kronkite famously struggled with the on-air announcement of JFK's death in Texas.
And this is where Russell is wrong. Even that comparison illustrates the contrast. Campbell will go on to other things. He is talented, connected and carries the goodwill of a substantial audience. He will not starve. He will not have to work two jobs at minimum wage.
Brown schooled me that I was wrong and emphatically that Laws has no point, and therefore neither do I.
But I have just made a point and I think it proves Laws'; newsreaders are highly paid professionals, they aren't robots (that's coming at some point), but I'll take it a step further - they aren't neo-natal intensive care nurses either - doing work week in week out as emotionally traumatising as being in the front lines and for shit pay. They don't break down when there is difficult work to be done - when an infant exhausts its last breath after weeks of intensive care.

Maybe a little perspective is needed. And maybe that is a conversation to be had in parallel with this media fiasco.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Pipe dreams and piss pots. Contemplating advertising craft.

David Foster Wallace was an amazing Writer. He makes this aside in his book of essays A supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

If you think about the quote it is true. When I create an ad it is directed at a person and I have every intention of rewarding their attention with either utility or some amusement to either create some connection or to reinforce a bond with the brand that I represent. 

But whilst the message is directed to a notional individual - a person in the 'target audience' or drawn from a relational database and matched to something like your interests (and maybe even addressing you by name) - an ad is never personal. The idea and its expression is for the client - the brand owner. The exchange of value might well be a fair trade and it may delight, provoke and stimulate. But, for all its craft and excellence - it can never be art any more than a urinal not selected for a Dada purpose by Duchamp is art - it will always be a urinal as much as a pipe painted by Magritte can never actually 'be' a pipe.

If you haven't read DFW may I recommend you begin with Consider The Lobster, though his fiction is tasty too.
Don't send him fan mail though. He hung himself in his garage in 2008, but not before sharing his considerable gifts, none of which were ads.

Let's reverse engineer engineering…

Michelle Dickinson is NanoGirl. She is a scientist and educator who has done wonders to promote an interest in the sciences in New Zealand and probably to a wider audience. She is young, attractive and more than willing to front for the cameras. She loves what she is doing and it shows. Recently she protested a New Zealand engineering firm's practice of objectifying women in their promotions in an irrelevant and sexist way. She was prompted to confront the issue by female students in her courses at the School of Engineering and is concerned that the imagery characterised an industry that discourages active participation by women in engineering.

As a result of Nanogirl's campaign it begs the question about engineering as a term and how its application alters the perceptions of both young women and men when considering it as an educational pathway.

I wonder if part of the issue isn't about framing - or reframing?
Regardless of whether we are talking about males or females the term 'engineering' as it is widely understood implies using some kind of force on an object to change its nature. (Which of course it is).

When I was in high school I took engineering as a subject. It was the '77-79. What we studied, or rather practiced, was how to use tools to make things. It suited me because I only had two interests in life at the time - mucking about with old British bikes and art (which involved a lot of drawings of old British bikes…and hot rods). That was engineering. Machines. When I left school I worked in a factory. Ultimately I was a die setter and studied for a NZCE (plastics). Still, engineering was about machining and making shit. Mostly it was dirty and noisy and sometimes dangerous. (In that era safety was a fingers-crossed matter - if you had some left).

Today my daughter takes 'tech' subjects - hard-tech/soft-tech (which I would have called home ec' back in the day). This is a good thing as it refers to the change in how things are made and understood. I don't think enough emphasis is placed on learning to code - or implement solutions to ideas/hypothesis - but that is another story for another time. The issue is that the blanket term 'tech' makes it all but meaningless - even if, like 'engineering', it is correct - as if it is a catch-all to mean not math, english etc.

I wonder if, to attract more people - and have an accurate representation of the population - to engineering there needs to be a movement to reverse-engineer the term. Take nanotech for example. Richard Feynman gave it a false start, implying it was a mind game for scientists, and it can be mind-boggling (just the other day I woke up in the night wondering if there is an 'up' or 'down' at an atomic level and if so how does gravity act on particles?…and what could that mean?).

What does engineering mean? It sounds like a platitude - is it about making the world better? (Not sure how mucking about with old bikes fits in there).

There are levels of engineering; from being the conceptualiser to being the riveter. The old world qualities of being able to manipulate 'heavy' things still rings out. Alongside Feynman I place Brunel 'up there' in the heroic process of bending nature to the human will.

The impression of what an engineer 'is' is rests substantially on Brunel as an archetype - he utterly changed how humans travel and trade. His innovations in ship building, port construction, railways and tunnelling made the world, for better or worse, what it is today. He was a colossus of innovation and the will to make things happen. He paved the way for modern capitalism (once again - for better or worse) with the systems that created the wealth that America tapped from vast, widely spread natural resources - without railroads there would have been no railroad barons. Western parts of the US would probably have been a different country, with different colonial rulers. Banking, arising from the trade would not have evolved as it has (once again, I'm conflicted). Intercontinental transport would have been slower - heck, New Zealand would be less significant than it already is if propellor driven ships that Brunel helped to perfect hadn't allowed refrigerated meat to be transported to Europe. Not everything Brunel proposed worked. He wanted to build a train-like system using a vacuum pipe to propel pods between cities - which sounds a lot like steampunk version Elon Musk's Hyperloop.

So in parallel with the great innovations of Brunel came the psychology of the man forcing his way into the future and blasting aside barriers - whether access to capital or the rocks in a mountainside to make way for a tunnel or bridge. It corresponded with ideas of rugged individualism (pathologically portrayed to the extreme by Ayn Rand in her bizarre philosophy set out in books like  The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged). It is a macho, confrontational vision of the future - fertilised in the soil of industrialism and colonialism.

These attitudes and impressions persist today - though the issues that engineering confronts seem characterised by repairing or mitigating the problems created by the thrusting macho world created by Brunel's Victorian ideals.

Engineers are challenged to do more with less - whether is developing stronger, lighter structural solutions to conserve materials and produce less waste or to explore solutions on a nano scale that delicately deliver a hammer blow to a problem. It's almost a remedial approach to development. We can't un-ring the bell of technology or un-see the demons set loose by opening Pandoras Box but we can refocus and reframe.

The qualities of an engineer might well be better described as 'feminine' - nurturing, preserving and growing - applied by men and women alike. We can't continue to batter our way into the future - because, as even I, with the most rudimentary understanding of Newtonian physics, know that every force has an equal and opposite. Harnessing yin and yang should be present in our thoughts as we engineer the future - and the practice of science, technology and engineering will benefit from the skilled, educated participation of both men and women - because it is so important we can't continue to eliminate half of our intellectual capacity as we have.


Richard Feynman's lecture on nanotech - where he mocks nanotech but which has been adopted - just as I am doing to promote the very thing. He's fantastic. This talk was delivered on my birthday before I was born - and you thought nanotech was mind-bending.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Elon Musk - The Sun King?

In my previous post I talked about Elon Musk as a visionary. If you had any doubts - watch this clip where he launches the Tesla battery pack for solar power.

Reducing carbon emissions is crucial to having a sustainable future. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels isn't just moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic - it is the iceberg.

Remember Steve Jobs' announcing the iPhone and it seemed like the second coming of Jeepers Cripes? You have to admire Musk's vaguely shambling, seemingly unrehearsed pitch. It's the content that wins the day.

And one other thing. The technology behind the Tesla system is open source. Think about that. He's not simply launching a slick new thing for movie stars and the 1% to feel good about reducing their carbon footprint. He's making it accessible to virtually everyone.


There's more info here (and an interesting discussion thread).

One point though - I wish he'd get a better tailor - the jacket didn't seem to fit so well.

Friday, May 01, 2015

What do you mean 'who is Elon Musk'?

Steve Jobs is dead. Bill Gates might as well be (he was always kind of boring) - in the realm of visionary world-leading people who is there to be inspired by?

How about Richard Branson? Not really. He's a publicity hound for sure and he parlayed his restlessness into starting and collecting businesses under the quirky Virgin brand. But he's never really disrupted an industry with anything unique.

There's people like Peter Thiel - one of the original investors in Paypal and Facebook - but, aside from being lucky and in the right place at the right time with some spare change he's hardly going to significantly change the world.

 You get my drift?  Who is there that not only has ideas that no one else has and has the completely insane focus to make them happen?

How about Elon Musk. No doubt you will have beard about him. He's often referred to as the prototype for Tony Stark (IronMan). He co-founded Paypal with Thiel, but unlike his Thiel he has gone on to innovate at a rate that can only be describes as (and I think this is the scientific term) …bonkers.

Musk created the Tesla car company. It makes viable electric cars - which is an astonishing accomplishment in itself but what is more remarkable is that his company is developing an entire infrastructure to make the vehicles practical - with not only a network of electric recharging stations but also making forays into generating the energy to pump into the vehicles (which is free for their owners). It makes sense that he has a significant interest in sustainable energy.

His company SolarCity is the second largest provider of solar systems in the US. (If I was you I'd look for some investments in solar power).

 He's developing plans to create transport system called HyperLoop that would allow you to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes - a distance of 350 miles. It operates like a vacuum tube.

It seems as though Musk operates in a way that takes Niels Bohr's question very seriously indeed: "Your ideas are crazy - but are they crazy enough" Oh, and he's also got SpaceX a company that is reimagining space travel (making Virgin Galactic seem like a low altitude publicity stunt). It is world's largest private manufacturer of rockets and has a deal with NASA.

You get the picture - the man is a brainiac maniac.

Obviously he attracts a lot of interest and attention - to be expected when you have wealth and influence that wasn't inherited.

People want to know the magic trick - how can they replicate Elon Musk's magic?

His ex-wife has some insights for you, posted on a Quora thread in response to the question:

 “Will I become a billionaire if I am determined to be one and put in all the necessary work required?”

“No,” she says and goes on to say that is the wrong question.

“You’re determined. So what? You haven’t been racing naked through shark-infested waters yet. Will you be just as determined when you wash up on some deserted island, disoriented and bloody and ragged and beaten and staring into the horizon with no sign of rescue?”

 “Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs.

Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion (not literally).

Then develop that potential.

Choose one thing and become a master of it.

Choose a second thing and become a master of that.

When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will :

a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and

b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

 The world doesn’t throw a billion dollars at a person because the person wants it or works so hard they feel they deserve it. (The world does not care what you want or deserve.) The world gives you money in exchange for something it perceives to be of equal or greater value: something that transforms an aspect of the culture, reworks a familiar story or introduces a new one, alters the way people think about the category and make use of it in daily life.

There is no roadmap, no blueprint for this; a lot of people will give you a lot of advice, and most of it will be bad, and a lot of it will be good and sound but you’ll have to figure out how it doesn’t apply to you because you’re coming from an unexpected angle. And you’ll be doing it alone, until you develop the charisma and credibility to attract the talent you need to come with you.

 Have courage. (You will need it.)
And good luck. (You’ll need that too.)”

 And, of course, he wants to go to Mars. I expect we'll get a postcard sometime soon.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Harrison Ford experiences the force…in his kitchen

Like modern politics magic is about distraction and deception. One of the most important elements is misdirection or controlling the audience's attention to where you want it to be (and without them realising that they have been manipulated). Even though we live in a savvy era where everyone has seen everything before and almost expect to be fooled that's not a problem for sophisticated tricksters - especially politicians and their communications 'strategists' (spin doctors). Illusionists call the heightened sense of alertness 'hot attention' and they use it against the audience in a sort of mental ju jujitsu. 

One of the first things to understand is directing the audience's gaze. Magicians use this trick - if you look at something - they will look where you looked. They can't help it. If an illusionist wants you to look away they will look at something to the left or right - away from what they are really doing with their hands. And if you look someone in the eye - they will find it very hard to look away. While you are addressing them this way they won't notice what you are really doing - and it can happen so quickly they won't even know it happened.

Have you ever wondered why magicians have magic wands and brightly coloured silk scarves that they wave around? That's because they are unexpected and novel. People are curious about new things so they pay closer attention to them. While the audience is watching as you wave your hanky or wand - you pocket a sponge ball or palm a coin.

Use a big flourish to conceal a small move. When a magician waves their hand to do the big abracadabra, meanwhile they palm the coin. In an instant it seems as if the coin magically vanished.

And, speaking of abracadabra don't forget the power of magic words. Telling stories can suspend more logical rhetoric - people hate lists of 'facts' - they're boring. They love stories. Willy Apiata's story of heroism as an SAS soldier in Afghanistan will always trump any logical discussion of the realpolitik and deals New Zealand made in back rooms to secure trade terms and more influence. Advertising legend Bill Bernbach said: 'The facts are not enough.' Another trick is to engage the audience in the story. Attention can be distracted by asking an audience member to think of a number - then secretly tell it to the person on their right. Once they are engaged in their own part of the narrative they can't pay attention the the deception happening before their eyes. It also draws the rest of the audience's attention - which is kind of like baiting a political rival into a public discussion of a seemingly trivial matter - then accusing them of worrying about trivial matters when there are bigger fish to fry. That's the technique in play at the moment over the New Zealand prime minister's hair pulling episode. In fact it was a double whammy. Rather than engaging the electorate in a meaningful discussion about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) or the deployment of New Zealand troops in the middle east -  the government stages a spectacle like the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli disaster. When the bizarre hair pulling event happens the spin doctors accuse opponents of distracting attention away from the distraction of the spectacle. The flag is waved, the coin is palmed.

Bad jokes are another part of the magician's repertoire - when John Key minces down the catwalk or says someone's shirt is a bit 'gay' it is pure magic. The audience can't laugh/cringe and think critically at the same time.

The final trick is to conceal a lie amongst a series of minor truths. When a card sharp asks you to pick a card then confirm it is your card - you do - that's true. He tells you he is going to cut the cards - true again - says he'll put your card in the middle - not true - but you are in the flow now and deception is straightforward. When you pull the card they chose from an envelope - or a lemon - the crowd is predisposed to believe you…and why wouldn't they?

Why wouldn't they indeed?

These are not the droids you're looking for.

Now, get the fuck out of my house.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Headphones to create a new experience at concerts

A friend sent me a link to this clip by the jazz group Snarky Puppy. I don't know if you like jazz or not - for me it's ok in moderation. But the thing that intrigued me wasn't the music but how it was being enjoyed by the audience. They are wearing headphones. I did some quick research and found that this could be a trend. Audience members listen to the performance through headsets connected directly to the engineer's soundboard. That way they get to experience the live event with clean, clear sound - as the artists intended.

Just a day before I had lunch with a buddy and noticed he was having a little difficulty hearing what I said in the yum cha restaurant when he wasn't looking directly at me. Or he may have been ignoring my comment about The Eagles - which is also very likely, as a DJ he is picky in his tastes. I asked if he could hear ok. He told me he had some hearing loss and was using hearing aids - he showed me the delicately wired phones. I asked if it was the result of DJing. He replied that, more likely, it was the result of years of gym classes - with pounding, loud music.

Wearing 'cans' at a musical event would make sense. Aside from transmitting the sounds pitch perfect it would also mean that you could select the volume you prefer. Combined with a smart phone app maybe you could interconnect with with friends in the audience and enjoy a private conversation - or group chat mixed in the audio stream - selecting whether to allow the intrusion or not. Maybe you could include a voice to text option so that you can so 'This bit reminds me of our holiday in Venice' isn't mixed into the stream.

It might seem anathemic to concert purists for whom feeling the music in their chests amongst 10,000 other AC/DC fans is the point, rather than intimacy or sound quality. But most mid size events aren't like that. The experience of a gig could be augmented by using cans - much in the same way that 3D glasses change the way you enjoy a film.

With revenues from recordings falling (Spotify and other streaming services barely register on bands balance sheets) concerts are part of the experience economy that is growing.
What do you think. Would you entertain the idea?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Campbell Live - Dead man walking?

Prime minister John Key has broadcast his view that Campbell Live is an entertainment and so the outcry about MediaWorks pulling the plug is nothing to do with the public good. According to the Prime Minister: "Look in the end we live in a world where it's largely about commercial returns of what is a private station. It's not funded by the government, it's not subject to anything. It's got a bunch of shareholders it needs to make a return to."

On one hand he is correct. TV3 is privately owned. They have paid their fee to license the spectrum they broadcast on so are free to air what they feel is the right programming to attract an audience that will make their operation viable. Though the government intervened to permit them to pay for their permits on 'the drip' - but let's set aside the fact that MediaWorks is a corporate welfare beneficiary for the moment and, contrary to what Mr Key said they are in fact funded by the people of New Zealand.

But let's also look at the role to the government owned broadcaster in this melee.

If TV3 and other free to air broadcasters have no public good obligation then it draws attention to the fact that TVNZ does. Instead of competing with privately owned stations, as it does, it should uncouple from addiction to advertising revenue - competing unfairly with private concerns for revenue and for the commercial programming that attracts a broad audience.

TVOne and 2 have virtually indistinguishable programming that, in turn is hard to differentiate from TV3's product. The consequence seems to be an endless reinvention of the wheel by all of the major players to compete for the middle ground. As a result the quality of programming is dubious - either imported bland 
genre driven finished product from overseas markets or licensed formats that are repacked for New Zealanders.
The cost of content, its promotion and production are part of the downward spiral that broadcast channels are experiencing around the world. They are confronting challenges to remain relevant in the era of continuously available on-demand content (VoD and the web).

The value of free-to-air seems to revert to the public service model that was once an integral part of the equation. As the government owned channels TVNZ should have more obligation to the public good. News and current affairs are an essential part of the public service mix. As Mr key infers, the proper place for people like John Campbell is in the public service arena. Take away the overly commercial bent of Campbell Live as format and you take away the criticism that dilute his reputation as a high quality journalist. His personality and indisputable charm would remain and attract an audience on a public platform - but the need to 'innovate' with b grade 'driving dog' diversions would be set aside. The news component of TVNZ should be considered as independent from partisan politics - just as the public service and government departments are supposed to be. Assuming this logic Seven Sharp would move from TVOne to TV3 and its host's partisan political spruiking could live or die by the commercial sword - instead of being on massively expensive life support from the public purse to distort the commercial reality.
In the context of the Campbell Live story media commentator gavin Ellis said "If they won't voluntarily meet civic responsibility then maybe we need to look at some form of regulation to require them to provide good, competent, professional news and current affairs."

As it has happened TV3 have, to some extent been performing the government's responsibility with Campbell Live but which the government has abdicated in the pursuit of acting as if it was a privately owned enterprise - which it is not.

So the prime minister is right. MediaWorks can manage their property as they see fit within the law and their obligations to broadcasting standards. But he can't have it both ways. TV3 is privately owned. TVNZ is not and has an obligation to public service broadcasting. They should get out of the way of private operators and provide value to the segments of society that do want access to New Zealand stories - both news/current affairs and the arts - because New Zealand viewers can get pop and pap culture anywhere but there needs to be a happy place that is free of commercial obligation.

If the current government doesn't agree with that, then it's not really as committed to free markets as it would have you believe.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Don't mourn for Campbell Live

When discussing the axing of Campbell Live​ I think it is important to isolate the parts of the conversation avoid confusion.

1. Campbell Live show
Moments of really goodness and moments of cringe inducing pap. But, by an large, an asset to the community (in the absence of anything else other than the execrable Seven Sharp - which should be illegal) - even if sometimes Campbell Live seems like an awkward cross between Fair Go and a telethon.

2. John Campbell
See above. Add in some hubris and awkward jocularity. Has succeeded in raising awareness of important issues like:

- creating understanding and empathy for Christchurch earthquake victims and their revicitimisation by government and insurance companies

- highlighting issues around zero-hours contacts

- etc

Many pundits are rallying to Campbell's cause citing his quality as a journalist and 'broadcaster' (that's a term media people like to confer on themselves in much the same way they like to talk about the Wellington 'beltway' - which is actually a specific geographic feature of Washington D.C. and nothing to do with New Zealand). I am not sure that he is a great journo there are sometimes moments I applaud - like revealing what a shallow and ineffectual person Simon Bridges is. Others, like the post election interview with John Key have been confusingly bad. His access to elected representatives and his ability to ask them hard questions has been stymied by a political culture that does not embrace transparency or taking off talking point questions. I'm not sure that's his failure. Our PM would rather routinely attend propaganda slots on morning TV and radio than be held to account when there are adults watching.

On a personal note - I like Campbell and I think his heart is in the right place. I would like for him to move up from this.

3. Commercial reality
TV3 has a chequered history and recently brought in commercially savvy Julie Christie and the oddball Mark Weldon to make cash for its shareholders. That's what they are doing. (It's also what TVNZ are trying to do with TVOne and Seven Sharp but which they, perhaps, shouldn't be - i.e. what is the role of a public broadcaster?). Like or loathe Christie's programming, money talks and you are paying for it with your attention.

4. News and Current Affairs
Obviously not as important as I once thought they were. Largely abandoned with journalism becoming a melange of PR, 'native advertising' and polemic or partisan rhetoric (often in the guise of journalism). Broadcast 'news' is now to objectivity as chocolate eggs are to religious observance. Why do you need a 6 oclock report when you already know the important things that happened from a glance at your phone and when you have already seen the amusing memes of the day in you Facebook feed?

5. The real issue
Some people are banging on about the 'dumbing down' of media. It's a hoary old chestnut. It should be ignored. Since the advent of the internet media has actually got smarter. For all its ills Spotify releases you from a radio station programmers taste and you can choose whatever newsfeed you like - I mix The Guardian,  New York Times and Google News with aggregation services like Flip. Video On Demand means I have no reason to make an appointment to watch any broadcast TV at all and I can buy or rent movies from iTunes and watch them on my phone, iPad or Apple TV.
Media has changed. I don't know what the answer is any more than anybody else - and I mean anybody. If you listen to media commentators it pays to check their credentials and biases by association - they can be a little bit in-bred (it's a small community) and shy of speaking frankly (it's a small community). There are two quotes that bear repeating when it comes to media:

"Nobody knows anything" - William Goldman - Adventures in the Screen Trade

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity." - Hunter S Thompson.

And, as we're going Gonzo here another gem from Thompson:

The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.

If you don't like what you see in media - don't look. Advertisers will follow you in the end. As for petitioning TV3? Sorry I'm not joining in that spectacle to be played and manipulated.

Feel free to discuss.