Sunday, September 30, 2007

The lively pluralist vs the expert solipsist.

"…I learned more and I learned faster by listening to the voices of the quilters on eBay. I got trained in the features to look for, what quilters consider boast worthy, and what other bidders thought was worth plunking their money down for. This was unsytematic and uncertified knowledge, but because it came wrapped in a human voice, it was richer and in some ways more reliable: the lively plurality of voices can and should outweigh the stentorian voice of experts."

David Weinberger - Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web.

Compared to Andrew Keen's book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy David Weinberger's is far better considered and reasonable. If you have even a passing interest in how the Internet is shaping your life (whether you know it or not) I recommend it to you.

Unlike the pesimistic view of the The Cult, Small Pieces has more positive scope:

"…although we don't know what the web will look like as it develops, we have solid grounds for optimism. Hope is warranted. We should give into it."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The keys to the future

Designers hold the keys to the future.

At Massey University (where I teach) there is a brilliant transport design department. They are strong in marine design.

That makes sense.

There is a great deal of demand for New Zealand maritime products. We are probably the best in the world in many facets of this category.

What I struggle with is seeing kids learning how to render 'super cars' i.e. v12, v8 2 litre plus cars.

Guys. Get your head around sustainability.

I want to see much more emphasis on materials, motives (power and intention) .

Saw this on the web - The Aptera Hybrid/Electric

I like that it is a low cost solution <30k.>When you think of solutions for these issues I want you to think about the lowest cost for manufacture and consumption.

I want you also to think about the lowest cost to the place we all live.

Micro economics is the job of designers.

The job of creators is to enhance the quality of life - not to destroy it,


Fishy design ideas

Hey, it's the weekend. Relax. Take your fish for a walk. A new product for the aptly titled Geekologie blog.

I used to keep fish in a cookie jar on my desk. Nothing in the jar except two goldfish and kermit green stones in the bottom.

It suited my slightly affected 'creative' schtick.

I switched them from their cosy, if stark (in a Corbusier kind of way) jar to a more baroque, retro candy dispensor. The silicon sealed plug I made to keep it watertight (normally the candy dispensed from the bottom)proved less than reliable. Fed em up for the long weekend. Teknikos promlematikos. Leak. Not good. Worse for the fish.

So I'm sensitive to the mistreatment of goldfish.

It's a guilt thing.

Is there a statute of limitations at the SPCA?

Having the time of their lives

I like this. Kind of nutty. But a fun way to mark time.
(Sorry I had to switch the music off - it was bonkers after a while).

David Byrne's true True Stories

I've randomly encountered David Byrne before - he was hanging an exhibition of his photographs at a gallery in London in the mid 90s. The show hadn't opened. I was lugging a portfolio around doing the rounds of ad agencies in London and had some down time. Byrne was relaxed and friendly and was happy for me to look around.

His blog makes for interesting reading. He articulates his views on culture - from his first hand experience of it. I enjoy reading his comments on strangely mundane experiences - like riding his bicycle to 42nd Street in New York to catch a screening of Transformers the movie.

It reminds me of his movie True Stories - a curiously good natured flash of post-modernism that introduced the term sesquicentennial into the vernacular consciousness.

I especially enjoyed his observations after visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House in Connecticut. Worth a look. I've added it to my RSS reader and the permanent list on your right.

Link via Bad Banana

Formulaic Creativity

Interesting article on the Fast Company magazine website - an interview with Phillipe Starck by Linda Tischler.

Do you have a formula for creativity?
Every morning, take royal jelly and omega-3 oil, eat oysters, and have a good sexual life. Don't care about anything, and never listen to anybody. Be free.

Works for me.

Creative tension

I saw a headline on a blog post over on BrandDNA : What do you do? And while his tale of a successful client meeting with three 'suits' didn't spell it out - I am pretty sure the headline refers to a story about Steve Jobs, head of Apple computer (back in the days when it was Apple Computer and he was its head - the forst time).

I thought the story was told in the wonderful book Chiat Day - the first 20 years. But I have scanned its pages and can't find it. Maybe it's apocryphal. I'll tell it to you from memory…

Young Steve Jobs is being given a tour of his new ad agency's offices in California. He is introduced to the staff and shows an interest in their roles and what they will be doing for his account.

He meets a number of the creative staff and says to each: "So,…what do you do?". Copywriters explain their work; collaborating with art directors to come up with ideas for campaigns and executions for ads, then crafting the copy.

Likewise with art directors and production people. When he gets to the account management guys he asks the first, who is feeling pretty cocky from their recent win of the account,
"So, what do you do?…"
"Well, I look after the account, attend meetings, write call reports…that sort of thing."
"But what do you do?.
The suit reiterates what he has already said, speaking more slowly just in case Jobs has comprehension issues. But Steve Jobs has anything but comprehension issues.

"I see,…Overhead."

It's nice to hear there is still tension between the suits and creatives. There needs to be some frisson in a business. Sharks tolerate remora because they need them but they are at opposite ends of the food chain.

I used to to work for an agency who had the following attitude to suits:

If you don't sell it - don't come back.

While I was searching the web for some corroboration on the Steve Jobs story I came across a fascinating site called Here's how its authors describe it: is a web site devoted to collective historical storytelling. It captures and presents sets of related stories that describe interesting events from multiple perspectives, allowing groups of people to recount their shared history in the form of interlinked anecdotes.

The site is structured as a series of projects containing related, interlinked stories. The stories are indexed by their characters and the topics they cover, and may be sorted by various criteria. Readers can rate the stories, and add comments, or other stories.

This is a very cool idea. I guess it is a Wiki of sorts.

Imagine if every organisation instituted a corporate storytelling function - there could be some sense of continuity over time as people come and go. I imagine it would be prone to Bismarkian re-writing of history in the more cynical kind of organisation. But in great, open brands it could be very interesting indeed.

Note to self: think more about this.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Valeria Maltoni is the author of one of my favourite blogs - The Conversation Agent - she left a comment here that I thought was an interesting take in language said...

I too believe that language can be a powerful ally in helping us articulate what we feel and move/inspire to action; at the same time I am conscious of how it can be manipulated and massaged to drive to a specific outcome.

The difference, as you point out here, is humanity -- candor, awareness, willingness to enter the messiness of potential misunderstandings so we can mix it up with each other. My own mother used to say that there are people who get it, no matter how you say it... and others who will never get it, no matter how hard you try.

Valerie is right. One of the fundamental concepts that I try to drill into my students at Massey University School of Design is: just because you say something clearly it doesn't mean it will be received as you intended. Static takes many forms and corrupts even the purest of messages.

The lesson is to understand the language (in all its forms) of your audience, don't assume that what you understand as truth is true for all.

When it comes to Unspeak…distorting perceptions by cynically violating what is generally understood in seemingly benign ways… I'd ask you to remember that The Final Solution was a cynically detached way of saying: exterminate Jewish people (and other groups who didn't conform to the Nazi's perverted ideology).

Holding hands

A little while ago I saw this ad for the curiously branded Bye motorcycle helmets on the badbanana blog. Interestng concept. Provocative and different. Not so good though. The fixation with dismembered hands is a curious trend. It strarted with 'Thing' in the Adams family (I think) and reach the zenith of weird creepiness with the New Zealand Yellow Pages campaign - which I find very nearly unwatchable.

I was reminded of the Bye ads by a post on a blog (which I am sorry but I have forgotten which one - sorry, I prefer to name my sources)about the viral promotion for a movie in Spanish called Pulse (check out the site - there are some creepy but fun things to do. This image from the poster made me think again about the helmet ads. There msut be some kind of Jungian archetype or dream analysis that inolves hands reaching out (just before you fall into space...)

Just interesting that these executional trends emerge.

Today I received a copy of the 07 D&AD annual to review. At first glance there is some sensationaln work in the book. I was relieved to locate the package. It had been sent to offices of HB Media - who publish Idealog.

My intial favourite thing is the light design 'lamp' by hironao tsuboi. Isn't that cool? I'm easily amused.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Clowning around

I was having a conversation the other day about how I don't like clowns. I'm attributing this morbid dislike to the Stephen King book IT - but I think it runs deeper than that.

In a curiously random way I was watching a commercial for Halo 3 on Simon Law's blog and it reminded me of the D&AD award winning promo for The Bloody Circus - a week of documentaries in Channel 4 (UK) about the war in Iraq.

I haven't seen Halo on screen - I gather it is a thing of wonder. Never been much of gamer. But it interests me that games make more money than movies. I suppose, if you take Brad and Angelina off the payroll it makes economic sense.

Wasn't Peter Jackson supposed to be making a movie from the game?

It probably was going to star Brangelina - which left nothing in the budget for talent.

C'est la geurre.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Joy of Home Work

Well I can think of worse places to work. I have been enjoying the spring sun in the backyard while I plan global domination - of what I'm not sure yet - but who's to say?

What did we do before the Internet and wireless connection. Oh, that's right - sit at my desk in an office tower looking worried.

Let me take a moment to recommend a book to you. Just a little one. Its author Marty Neumeier calls it a 'whiteboard overview'. Zag - The number 1 stratgey of high-performance brands is brilliant. It may well be received wisdom but the presentation style is simple and delightful. Whether you are a seasoned hand/old pro or a beginner I recommend this book heartily. It follows on from The Brand Gap by the same author - bit, for some reason I perfer this one.

Order a copy from Amazon or Fishpond if you live in New Zealand.

On the subject of - my copy took a long time to arrive in the post. My queries to Amazon were handled efficiently and informatively. Just when I was about to file a claim with the NZ Post - lo and behold my books turned up. But it gave me an opportunity to experience world-class service first hand.

Life lived large

Ron Mueck makes astonishing works of art. His hyper-real sculptures of humans are fantastic. Not because they are fantasies but because they are such keen observations of everyday people. He shifts perceptions by shifting the scale of the works. An enormous sculpture of a woman lying in bed, with a look on her face that makes one wonder what is going through her mind - the impression is one of affinity and identification - never mind that she is 15 feet long (or more)and largely made of fibreglass.

It also interests me that Mueck made his start in art servicing the needs of advertisers with animatronics and realistic models. The crossover between art and commerce is more common than you might expect. Sometimes it flows in one direction - art to commerce and sometimes the other way. Either way I think it enriches and informs both.

See more of this artists incredible work.


Anyone for tennis?

Layer tennis that is. I have been discussing wiki collaboration with Ben Kepes. We tried to write a book review collaboratively but found that it was difficult to co-contribute to a work like that when our thoughts were similar but the expression of our ideas were so different. One would stifle the other - or that was how it seemed at the time. So, in principle a good idea - in practice less so. Wikis are better when the subject matter is more objective.

But there are other kinds of collaboration using the web. Here is how Layer Tennis works (from Coudal Partners - a well known design firm whose approach to the web is interesting, to say the least)

How The Game Works

We'll be playing matches using lots of different applications, from Adobe® Photoshop® to Adobe® Flash®, but the basic idea is the same no matter what tools are in use. Two artists (or two small teams of artists) will swap a file back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work. Each artist gets fifteen minutes to complete a "volley" and then we post that to the site. A third participant, a writer, provides play-by-play commentary on the action, as it happens. The matches last for ten volleys and when it's complete, everyone visiting the site votes for a winner.

I'm intrigued. My knowledge of Photoshop® is pretty limited so maybe I'll pick up a few tips.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What makes an entrepreneur?

My father had strokes years before he died. My mother has been a tireless worker for the New Zealand Stroke Foundation for many, many years. When Anita Roddick died of a stroke, reported as a brain hemorrhage I felt it was a form of Unspeak - denying the simple human truth. Yes she was young - but strokes are not the sole province of the elderly (my father was younger than Roddick when he had his first). It was, ironically, Stroke Awareness Week, but the opportunity to educate was lost by giving the cause of death a makeover - seemingly to flatter her memory (the promotional pictures are of a younger Dame Anita).

I was grumpy. But reading The Conversation Agent blog tonight I came across this list of attributes that Anita Roddick felt characterised entrepreneurs and felt relaxed. Very warm, very human. I'll refer to it often.

1. The vision of something new and belief in it that's so strong that it becomes a reality.

2. A touch of craziness.

3. The ability to stand out of the crowd because entrepreneurs act instinctively on what they see, think and feel. And remember there is always truth in reactions.

4. The ability to have ideas constantly bubbling and pushing up inside until they are forced out, like genies from the bottle, by the pressure of creative tension.

5. Pathological optimism.

6. A covert understanding that you don't have to know how to do something. Skill or money is not the answer for the entrepreneur, it is knowledge: from books, observing or asking.

7. Streetwise skills. Most entrepreneurs she met have had an innate desire for social change. They understand that business is not just financial science.

8. Creativity.

9. The ability to mix all these together effectively.

10. And finally, every entrepreneur is a great storyteller. It is storytelling that defines your differences.

A spade is a spade

During a quick surf of my favourite blogs I noticed that Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts has posted an entry about the power of language.Using Words to Capture a Revolution.

I found the piece to be a little disturbing because KR seemed to be promoting the power of Unspeak as a positive force.

"One of the most compelling examples I know of is the way New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport changed from reporting car ‘accidents‘ to reporting car ‘crashes‘. A single word transformed crushed metal and broken bodies from an unexpected event that was no one’s fault, to a devastating result.

It reminded me of Steven Poole's book Unpeak which I keep close to hand (it's an important little book - buy it before it's baned or burned). While I know Mr Roberts' intentions are good in principle - in practice they reveal a desire to reframe ideas in accordance with an agenda. I am suspicious of that. If Saatchi & Saatchi weren't a global communications business with connections to very large business and governments it might be of less significance.

I also advocate that advertising practitioners avoid developing ornate language that cleverly distorts understanding/meaning. As Volkswagen famously said in their double page spread title d "How to do a Volkswagen ad" (point 4 of 6):"Call a spade a spade. And a suspension a suspension. Not something like "orbital cushioning."

Here's an extensive extract from the Epilogue to Unspeak. It's important.

"Politicians will go on trying their luck with all the rhetorical strategies in their pockets. But we should at the very least expect and demand, that our newspapers, radio and television refuse to replicate and spread the UnSpeak virus. As BBC World presenter Kirsty Lang explains:'it is much easier to take the language that's given to you, and the government knows that full well. So if you keep saying "coalition forces","coalition forces", people will use it. I think people need to be more careful. They do take phrases willy-nilly from the government without thinking, without seriously analysing what they say.' The citizen's plan of action is simple. When the media do this talk back:write and tell them. Possibly the growth of Unspeak cannot be reversed. But that doesn't mean we have to go on swallowing it."

"To resist Unspeak, after all, is not just to quibble about semantics, any more than a jury deciding whether an accused person has committed 'murder' or 'manslaughter' is engaged in an arid linguistic exercise. Words have consequences in the world. To adopt the phrase 'ethnic cleansing' is to be complicit in mass killing. To talk blandly about 'abuse' turns a blind eye to the beating to death of blameless taxi drivers. […]

Unspeak is used simultaneously to advance and disguise the claims of war and corporate interests. The masterpieces of the art are indeed 'ethnic cleansing', 'war on terror','repetitive administration'. Rhetorically, Unspeak is a kind of invasive procedure: it wants to bypass critical thinking an d implant a foreign body of opinion directly into the soft tissue of the brain. Perhaps for this reason, it seems to have a particular affinity with projects of violence.

Unspeak itself does violence : to meaning. It seeks to annihilate distinctions- between 'anti-social' and criminal; 'resources' and human beings; 'cleansing' and killing; 'combatant' and civilian; 'abuse' and torture. Because meaning is socially constructed, the unspeak that skews meaning for political ends can itself be called 'anti-social'. Unspeak finds soothing names for violence so that violence no longer surprises the deadened mind. Unspeak conjures a world where violence is the default activity, encouraging its user to think of everything in terms of violent conflict.[…]

As for accident vs crash. I'm sorry, but I am sure that most car crashes happen by accident. The prevailing idea that 'someone is always to blame' is simply an act of violence against a largely innocent population. Most of us conduct our lives with good intentions and, when accidents happen, deserve to be treated with compassion and respect. The presumption of fault, blame or guilt - at least before you have your day in court - undermines the basis of what makes us civilised.

Sexy Media

You know that Fashion Week has lost direction when goody bags have grocery items stuffed into them. I heard one show had instant coffee samples and olive oil sachets.

Not only is there no cachet in a sachet but it also just seems wrong and irrelevant.

When your expectations have been elevated by the glamorous hype of fashion to have one's bubble pricked by the banality of the supermarket seems counter-intuitive to me. You could argue that, because it is unexpected, it has cut through. Tenuous post-rationalisation I would reply - the kid of argument that supports running irritating ads on a high rotation on the premise that the fact that nobody likes them makes them more powerful.


People don't buy things from people they don't like.

Trelise Cooper seems to have zagged while others zigged. According to Simply You she excelled with her invitation and goody bag for kids.

"Trelise Cooper may have stolen the show well before Fashion Week has even begun. This year, while most designers took a stroll down easy street by simply group emailing out their show invitations, Trelise Cooper raised the bar (again) and developed a stylized invitation set to seduce even the most cynical “front-row” fashionistas.

The invitation to her winter 2008 collection show arrived in the form of a small black box. Inside lay an intricately designed coin pendant with the words TRELISE COOPER – WINTER 2008 engraved around the edge."

Having said that, Auckland Fashion Week seems to have passed without the usual breathless media hype. Perhaps the high milk solid prices earned by dairy farmers has reminded us that fashion design is a niche activity and is microbial in its input to the New Zealand economy compared to the net import volumes of 5 packs of kiddies undies and polycotton flannelette jimjams into The Warehouse distribution chain.

Fashion is more interesting though.

Speaking of which: came across this clip from New York Fashion Week 07. An interactive media concept for Elle McPherson Intimates by New Zealand brand Bendon. As pedestrians pass by the store windows the Human Locator's image sensors detect their movement and animate the imagery on-screen. There is something compelling about the technology and it is well used in the context of the Intimates store window.

According to FreeSet, HumanLocator's developers:
Human Locator is an interactive visual system developed by Freeset and designed expressly for advertising. Drawing on cutting edge computer visualization techniques to track full body movement in real time, it allows consumers to actively participate in and interact with advertising. At the same time the system provides advertisers with measurable viewer data. Freeset's Human Locator system cuts through day-to-day visual clutter and attracts and holds the consumer's attention with interaction. Human Locator brings the interactivity of the Internet to real-world environments.

Certainly a whole lot more exciting and relevant than a packet of olive oil.

Has anyone ever done a 'baddy bag?'

Humn Locator link via Brand DNA

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Born Free or Why I blog

I am not sure whether this is a momentous occasion or not. This is post number 701.
It may be a good time to take stock and think about the purpose of blogging - or rather, my purpose for blogging:

1. I enjoy writing extemporaneously about general topics of interest that inform my work and area of activity.

Sometimes the conversations I have in the blog are those that I would not have in other contexts. In part this is because, unlike real-world conversations, I can set the agenda without diversion - unless I want to. The 'conversation' in blogs is discrete from the kind you might otherwise encounter because the comments of others are post post.

In any case, I call the blog ThoughtSpurs because, hopefully the material will provoke your thoughts and ideas on topics that promote your own creativity and enquiry (which are inter-related). I may be talking into a void most of the time - but if just one person thinks different as a result, then my mission has been a success.

2. I like to write. Free form journalling in a public space is something of a discipline as well as a distraction. But it does require a certain commitment.

3. I look back over the posts and I have a record of the things that have interested me since I began - tentatively - to post in November 2004. I don't have as complete a record of any other time in the preceding 41 years.

4. I have connected with several people around the world I would not otherwise have 'met'. While it is fun to give a map the measles (like stamp collecting when I was a child) it is not quantity that matters so much as quality. The people who have come looking in desperation for Led Zeppelin tickets following my comment that Led Zep are reuniting to play the Ertegun benefit in the Millennium Dome has attracted a lot of visitors are 'traffic' but not really the audience and I am sorry if I have disappointed them. I don't really care about total numbers. (I can measure key word use from my traffic reports - I use the excellent free, invisible counter)

The criticisms of blogging by the likes of Andrew Keen - that we destroy culture when we pay attention to bloggers - is utter codswallop and demonstrates a lack of understanding of both culture and economics. Neither are static. Anthropologists, who study cultures, don't entirely devote their attention to whatever the local equivalent of the Elgin Marbles or Mona Lisa is. They observe the high and low aspects of life and form a more richly shaded view (higher resolution).

If you imagine that 'culture' is a preserve or reservation where only the refined (according to your taste) have a place then your view of the world is like a kids petting zoo, rather than a broad savanna.

When we blog we are the culture (or an aspect of it) and a reflection of it at the same time.

The Luddites may not like that - especially those who haughtily assume that the media was theirs as of divine right.

The clever amongst them will adapt. As I have quoted before "If you don't like change - you'll like irrelevance even less."

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Beer and skittles

According to Ad Age the U.S. brewing giants Anhauser Busch (owners of the Budweiser brand) and Miller have dropper their ad spending by $131 million (US) but at the same time they moved more brewskis by 2%.

I don't find that result especially surprising. Though I confess I hadn't seen the term 'Measured Media' used before. In this context the brewers say they are actually spending more but on local events and bar promotions. But the numbers don't seem to stack up.

It does reinforce (in a high profile category) that ad agencies need to think carefully about how they will earn their fees in the future.

Ad Age article

The Bambina returns

Fiat 500 cinquecento bambina
I had a love hate relationship with my Fiat 500 'Bambina'. Got knows what possessed me to possess it in the first place. It was frighteningly underpowered for Auckland's motorway system. It was reliably unreliable.

But it was cute and repairs were easy. For fun one weekend I dropped the motor out of the rear compartment using nothing more than a few spanners and large piece of 4x2. I could remove the entire engine by hand - it weighed less (when detatched from the gearbox) than the motor of my Norton Dominator motorcycle which had the same engine displacement (5oocc).

I have fond memories of driving the Bambina along the sand at Uratiti beach just north of Waipu with the canvas top rolled back. I could stand up in my budgie smugglers and drive the thing with my reedy body poking up through the sunroof cavity like the commander of a Carro d'assalto Fiat 3000 invading Ethiopia in 1935. I terrified my girlfriend and seagulls alike in search of a nice quite spot where we could work of our future melanomas. The car was so light it barely left tracks in the compacted sand.

The car didn't have a radio (or a heater - or anything other than the bare essentials). It sounded like a sewing machine. But it was thriftier than my other vehicle of the time (a Wolsely 6/110).

I loved it.

Including the cost of buying the car ($100) I spent about $250 in total - including fuel - during the whole time I owned it.

It had a nasty habit of popping the spring from the carburettor which returned the throttle. I gave up in the end and replaced the spring with a number of rubber bands courtesy of a secretary in the office where I worked.

The end came one rainy winter night. It was bucketing down - absolutely torrential rain. The candle power headlamps were barely penetrating the gloom and the already feeble brakes were soaked and virtually unstoppable. As I approached the Auckland Harbour bridge I floored the throttle (every ounce of momentum was required to cross the 1 in 2 gradient of the clothes hanger shaped structure). The rubber bands gave way in spectacular fashion and the power vanished as the tin-pot twin-pot heart puttered to a stop - starved of gas. The lamps dwindled down to embers without current to the 6v battery.

The benefit of having such a light machine was that it was no effort to push it between the posts of the overpass where traffic police now wait like carrion crows to cop miscreants. Without looking back I gingerly crossed to the other side of the road, stuck out my thumb and waited for charity to get me home.

I never saw the Bambina again. To this day I have no idea what happened to it. Reasonable to assume it was never used as a high speed getaway car though…

So I was delighted to read about Fiat's revival of the Bambina (did any other country called the cinquecento 'Bambina'?). I am certain it will find a willing audience. The success of the new Mini and Beetle prove that. We have an appetite for the familiar and evoking nostalgic emotions.

The design seems to have captured the spirit of the original and the reviews have been favourable.

Can't wait to get my hands on one.

Do they come with a sun-roof?

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Welcome to the unenlightenment

Well, having reminded myself of the existence of Charlie Brooker and read his review of Ememies of Reason by Richard Dawkins I felt the need to excerpt some of here for you. You can watch the show (in two parts on Google Video - I suggest you do before it is taken down)

In the 18th century, a revolution in thought, known as the Enlightenment, dragged us away from the superstition and brutality of the Middle Ages toward a modern age of science, reason and democracy. It changed everything. If it wasn't for the Enlightenment, you wouldn't be reading this right now. You'd be standing in a smock throwing turnips at a witch. Yes, the Enlightenment was one of the most significant developments since the wheel. Which is why we're trying to bollocks it all up.

Welcome to a dangerous new era - the Unlightenment - in which centuries of rational thought are overturned by idiots. Superstitious idiots. They're everywhere - reading horoscopes, buying homeopathic remedies, consulting psychics, babbling about "chakras" and "healing energies", praying to imaginary gods, and rejecting science in favour of soft-headed bunkum. But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults, we encourage them. We've got to respect their beliefs, apparently.

Well I don't. "Spirituality" is what cretins have in place of imagination. If you've ever described yourself as "quite spiritual", do civilisation a favour and punch yourself in the throat until you're incapable of speaking aloud ever again. Why should your outmoded codswallop be treated with anything other than the contemptuous mockery it deserves?

Maybe you've put your faith in spiritual claptrap because our random, narrative-free universe terrifies you. But that's no solution. If you want comforting, suck your thumb. Buy a pillow. Don't make up a load of floaty blah about energy or destiny. This is the real world, stupid. We should be solving problems, not sticking our fingers in our ears and singing about fairies.

…Inevitably, the world of science and logic is slowly fighting back. Hence the recent slew of anti-God books, one of which, The God Delusion, was written by Richard Dawkins, writer-presenter of The Enemies Of Reason (Mon, 8pm, C4). …

…The end result is possibly the most important broadcast of the year so far; important because it presents a passionate argument we really all ought to be having right now, if we want to prevent a great slide backwards into mud-eating barbarism. And if you think that's hyperbole, I suggest you pick up a newspaper and see how many of the world's problems are currently being caused or exacerbated by the rejection of rational thought. From fundamentalist death cults to arrogant invasions: a startling lack of logic unites them all.

Cold, clear, rational thought is the most important thing we have; the one thing that can save us. If I was made Emperor of All Media, I'd broadcast something akin to The Enemies Of Reason on every channel, every day, for 10 years. This is an urgent message that must be heard if we want to survive, as a species. …

The full article is here on the Guardian web site

Is Clive James too clever for his own good?

This morning I read Michele Hewitson 's piece in the Herald online about her encounter with Clive James. It was the second item of hers I had read in two days. Yesterday I read the article in Canvas about the joys/terrors of opening a restaurant. the latter I felt was remarkably good - in the immersive journalistic style one might expect to read in Rolling Stone back in the days of Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe. I enjoyed it - too many articles these days are pieced together from telephone interviews and web research (resurf?) with more than a dash of polemic, Jeremy Clarksonismic irony.

The Clive James article was a little irritating. Probably because Clive James can be a little irritating. There is something odd about the man that I can't fathom. There's no doubt that he is very well read and is a humorous and engaging writer. I grew up reading his television reviews - which paved the way for the likes of Charlie Brooker and I enjoyed at least the first of his autobiographical installments. The thing about James is that he seems to try too hard. Maybe it is his Australian origins that mean he must prove his intellect, rather than simply be smart.

He puts himself a little too 'out there' for my taste - I don't really care about his 'love' of Diana, Princess of Wales. The repetition of that fascination in media makes me think of someone who buys the women's weeklies because they are fixated with Jennifer Aniston's tribulations since breaking up with Brad Pitt (or Angelina Jolie's since hooking up with same). A little sad. And it seems creepy for an elderly gentleman to continue to talk about it or be drawn on it by reporters.

A friend had bought a copy of his book - Cultural Amnesia - and I was leafing through it the other day. Thought it might make a good bedside reader - the sort of thing you can dip in and out of - an anthology of biographies. It is a hefty work though (and I couldn't help but notice the hefty price) perhaps I'll borrow it when she's done.

Don't get me wrong though. I enjoy Clive James' wit and prose. And I enjoyed reading Hewitson's articles. Must look out for them in the future. (Though the Clive James story felt a little padded out or dissembled to make word-count).

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Are you missing the point?

Bob Garfield of Advertising Age says that the job of advertising agencies has to be to connect with consumers. Stop thinking that you're in the business of making ads (isn't that marketing 101? - What business am I in?). He also highlights the need for agencies to rethink how they are compensated. All good stuff - but I'm only saying that because I've been saying it for ages:

Here's my column from Idealog back in May/June 2006

Creative thinking isn't just for clients. By David MacGregor

There was a time when advertising agencies played a far more significant role in the business lives of their clients than they do today.

In order to renew those relationships, agencies are going to have to shift their thinking to compete or be consigned, as Mike Hutcheson has famously said, to being ‘colouring-in factories’.

Creativity is lauded as the most important quality when using or choosing an ad agency. The problem is that creativity (as it is understood by most creative people in advertising) means creating an ad. Common sense, right?

But the problem with common sense is that innovation is the opposite of common sense. Innovation relies on uncommon sense—imagining things that other people don’t. Sometimes the solution to a client’s business or marketing problem is not going to be an ad.

Which is a dilemma.

The problem is systemic and self-perpetuating.

The biggest cost for most agencies is people. Pay for creative work is amongst the heftiest overhead to the company. Aquent, the ‘staffing solutions’ company specialising in the marketing, communications and creative industries, reports that the median salary for a creative director in advertising is $185,000 (the average for a marketing director in a client company is $120,000). Average salary for a senior copywriter is $125,000. You get the picture.

So, having geared up with a heavyweight creative team intent on creating stunningly daring and artfully-produced ads, the agency must pedal pretty hard to ensure they recover their costs. Just breaking even is tough and is reflected in the energy and resources that agencies put in when pitching for client business.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good ad as much as the next bloke—or rather I like an ad that relieves the endless parade of dross that pollutes media at the best of times. But to reclaim a position at the top table and be valued as strategic advisors to clients, ad agencies must rethink the meaning of creativity.

The concept of a ‘campaign’ is also an idea that hampers the thinking of many in advertising. The notion persists that a couple of TV spots, some supporting print and maybe a cute online promotion constitutes a campaign.

Perhaps, insofar as it meets the criteria for entry into an award show. But in the real world, marketing warfare has changed. It’s less about large-scale campaign battles and more about guerrilla warfare.

There are some agencies that ‘get it’. Saatchi & Saatchi has a division in New York headed by the irrepressible Geoff Vuletta , Fahrenheit 212. They work closely with the likes of Proctor and Gamble to commercialise their clients’ science and invent the very brands themselves. Even their remuneration model is clever thinking—charge fees for the development and retain a share of the profit in the event of scoring a hit. Sounds like a perfect strategic partnership to me.

Advertising people are some of the smartest, wittiest and most enjoyable company I know. They have a level of inquiry and interest in the world that most people in the vertically-integrated client world find remarkable. If we can only get those clients to invite agencies to help define the parameters sooner, rather than expecting them to perform the same old party tricks.

Because the problem is systemic, the system has to change. My first suggestion is to fire the creative department. Why would any organisation want a ‘department’ for creativity? Use the unemployed creatives as freelancers. People perform better when they are responsible for putting food on the table.

Form relationships with clients where bringing ideas to the table is encouraged and long term sharing of rewards is fundamental. Agencies need to take a punt, investing in ideas and then pitching them to the client. Share the rewards with creative talent—pay royalties for outstanding contributions (I can’t think of any better way of creating outstanding contributions).

Creatives: protect your ideas. Take a leaf out of the professional photographers’ book.

Above all, put commercial ideas on a pedestal, and not cute, well-coloured, executions.

Thanks to Bad Banana for the Garfield heads-up.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Trying something new

Trip to Mars
This post is a trial. I'm using a blog editor that has been recommended Guy Kawasaki. It's called MarsEdit.
So far I can't see the point. The built in Blogger tools seem to work just fine for me.

RSS Rocks.
I can recommend the Sage RSS reader - plugin for Firefox. I haven't really used RSS feeds much but I think I'm a convert.

Of course no one preaches like the converted.

Gun Running
Watched Andy Niccol's Lord of War. Like most Niccol's movies it it based on a strong concept and beautifully executed. Gattaca, SimOne and The Truman Show are amongst my favourite flicks. Before heading for London he worked at Rialto Advertising in Auckland. I took over his office. By all accounts he is a very driven man. has a very clear vision of what he wants and gets it. Gotta admire that in a fellow.

Biofuel produces more greenhouse gas than petrol

I wonder what percentage of the news, in time and column inches' is devoted to the subject of climate change or global warming (a rose by any other name…)? There is so much comment about it that result will most likely be that a) we become immune to the message b) we might modify our behaviour in response c)we might reject the message.

All are plausible scenarios. But let's think about the last of the list for a moment.
Why would we reject the message? Surely, with such media weight, it must be hitting it's target? Who can possibly refute the spectre of global warming? If we don't do something we're going to destroy the planet - or rather make it uninhabitable by humans and the bugs will take over (which might not be such a bad thing - given the way we've behaved).

But the waters in the flow of information are treacherous. Whether you 'believe' that the Earth's climate is changing because it is just a part of the natural ebb and flow of climate over time or whether you accept that greenhouse gas emmissions are accelerating that change makes little real difference. The fact that the waste products of contemporary human life are fouling our environment is, in my opinion, something to respond to if it is within our capacity. Why wouldn't you?

Reading the London Times online this morning I came across an interesting article that reports a study performed by University of Edinburgh researchers (published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics) into the use of bio-fuels to reduce CO2 emmissions.

The study found that:

"Measurements of emissions from the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and maize have been found to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save."

"Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Scientists found that the use of biofuels released twice as much as nitrous oxide as previously realised. The research team found that 3 to 5 per cent of the nitrogen in fertiliser was converted and emitted. In contrast, the figure used by the International Panel on Climate Change, which assesses the extent and impact of man-made global warming, was 2 per cent. The findings illustrated the importance, the researchers said, of ensuring that measures designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are assessed thoroughly before being hailed as a solution."

"Dr Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh, used the findings to calculate that with the US Senate aiming to increase maize ethanol production sevenfold by 2022, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will rise by 6 per cent."

This information challenges a superficial assumption that has been made that biofuels will be, in some part, an important part of New Zealand's progression towards a more sustainable energy future. In a recent speech called 'The end of cheap oil' David Parker said:

"In New Zealand, we have sufficient tallow, a by-product of the meat industry, which would, if converted to biodiesel, produce around 5% of our diesel fuel needs. New Zealand does not currently produce much bioethanol. Some bioethanol could be produced from whey or other waste and by-product sources, but other sources are likely to be needed here and elsewhere in the Pacific. Possible sources include sugar cane in Fiji and corn in New Zealand."

Corn is maize (according to the International Starch Institute - no I didn't make that up). So maybe we should avoid that option. not that it will make much difference - the U.S. will pick up the slack for us.

My point is that there is no definitive information on this topic that we can rely on. There is an ancient Aztec saying "A man with a wristwatch knows the time. The man with two wristwatches can't be sure." (just checking to see if you are awake - of course the Aztecs didn't speak English!). When we receive conflicting information or too much choice we simply revert to pre-conditioned behaviour - or do nothing.

So, tonight, as you watch the news and consider the information that has been pre-chewed for you, bear in mind that the reality might be more complex than you are being led to believe.

In an effort to do something worthwhile about making the world a better place I suggest you simply walk around your house and turn off a few appliances at the wall connection.

Here's an idea. Set a target for power consumption in your home. Make it 10% lower than your last bill. Maybe you could start by turning the television off between 6pm and 7.30pm weekdays. Read a book instead. You'll be smarter and by the end of one year we'll be much closer to meeting our Kyoto protocol obligations without needing complex carbon trading schemes and taxation.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The motorcycle diary

If I was to stand upright on the foot brake of my mortorcycle to exert as much downward force from the pads to the rear drum as possible in order to avoid colliding with the back end of an 18 wheeler the only significant difference it would make would be the shape of the blood splatter. The CSI team would simply surmise I had stood up at the moment of impact. And they would be baffled by the apparent absence of any skid mark to demonstrate any kind of attempt at self preservation. The brake is pathetic.

Recently I've developed an aversion to yanking on the front anchors. The result is usually less than glamorous and involves another big dent on my helmet and/or my pride/dignity.

So I have decided the thing to do is to maintain speed. If I want to slow down - chop it down a couple of cogs and let different laws of physics play out. The bonus is it sounds better too and with higher revs more power is available to exit the problem zone.

If I was to apply this kind of thinking to business strategy I would say that a smooth, speedy forward progression is much more exhilirating and probably safer than a staccato stop-go approach. On a bike (or in car) for that matter I always have in the back of mind the question - where do I go if the vehicle in front suddenly stops and can I do it without loosing momentum? Braking introduces too many fresh risks, losing speed not only costs time but also requires more resources than maintaining momentum

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

3 rules for success

I was discussing the essentials of life with a friend yesterday. Not the food, shelter and sex essentials but the things we integrate into our personalities and which ultimately shape our behaviours and relationships.

As I have been feeling a little adrift of late it was useful to remind my self of some of the things I once regarded as mantras.

My essentials for a productive and happy life:

  • simplicity

  • tenacity

  • self discipline

If these three things are kept in balance my personal ecosystem will function happily.
When I drift off-course they are easy beacons by which to return to an even keel.

No one element on the list is more important than each of the others though I suppose self discipline is always the hardest for me to maintain.

I believe the same list applies to advertisers.

Complexity never works. It scuppers understanding.

Giving up too soon is one of the most frequently committed errors in marketing. Sometimes things take time. In a busy, cluttered world of media being familiar and consistent is probably more durable than reacting to every fad or trend.

And, in that same vein, the discipline not to be swayed by advisers whose agenda is to try new things, rather than progressively build on solid foundations is critical - part of self discipline is to simply trust yourself enough not to break ranks.

Hang in there.

The Cult of the Amateur

Matt Cooney, editor of Idealog asked me to review a couple of books the other day. Wikinomics - How mass collaboration changes everything and The Cult of the Amateur.

The former I found interesting because it confirmed my worldview. The latter I hated - with a passion. It is possibly the most venal book I have ever read. The author Andrew Keen argues that the Internet - and particularly Web 2.0 - is 'killing our culture and assaulting our economy'. It is so bad that, at times I wondered if it was a joke.

But the problem with criticism is that there will always be bias. As I said, my worldview is that open communication is more illuminating than the dark ages of the 20th Century when mass audiences sat mutely in front of the tele while advertisers did the talking. So, naturally, I am going to take issue with the idea that because I'm a blogger I am a mouth breathing fool who is either uninformed or simply repeating without consideration what I am told or read of another slack jawed moron's ramblings.

The medium is not the message. Matters reported in mainstream media are not necessarily of more value than ideas discussed on a special interest blog. Value, as anyone who has attended an auction will attest, is in the eyes of the bidder. The market will decide.

A wholesale onslaught on amateurism means Van Gogh may be considered a genius now but at the time he would have given his left ear to have sold a painting. he was an amateur. When Gottlieb Daimler first started tinkering with motor carriages he wasn't a professional - he couldn't be - there was no such thing as the motor profession. The inventions of amateurs can be as valid or as ridiculous as those of large institutions.

Amateurs are simple people who do things for the love of it. It does not refer necessarily to the quality of the artifacts they contribute to the culture. There are plenty of people who are paid to do things and still do an exceptionally bad job - watch broadcast TV on any night of the week.

The caveat of any criticism - professional or otherwise is that it should always be taken with a grain of salt. What suits my taste may, indeed, be sour on your palate. I encourage you to make up your own mind. Even more I would encourage you to discuss and debate what you read and learn - that is the whole point of exchanging ideas in any media format - not mute acceptance (which is so 20th Century).

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Shoulders of giants

"A failure is a man who has blundered but is not able to cash in on the experience."

"Life is just one damned thing after another."

(Both from Elbert Hubbard - look him up on the wikipedia. If it's wrong - change it)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Led Zeppelin Tickets for Sale

The worst kept secret in music history has been confirmed. Led Zep are going to reunite for a concert honouring the memory of ahmed ertegun . The catch is that there will only be 18,000 tickets for the one show only event.

And you thought it was hard to get tickets for the Warriors…

John Bonham's son will take his father's place behind the drum kit.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What would Emerson have accomplished on the web?

“The less government we have the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal government is the influence of private character, the growth of the individual . . . Leave this hypocritical prating about the masses. Masses are rude, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to divide and break them up, and draw individuals out of them . . . The only progress ever known was of the individual . . . In all my lectures, I have taught one doctrine, namely, the infinitude of the private man . . . I cannot find language of sufficient energy to convey my sense of the sacredness of private integrity.”

On the road with Jack Kerouac

When I was younger I read 'On the road' by Jack Kerouac.
I don't know if I understood it.

Around that time I also read Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance and Steppenwolf. I was seventeen and it all meant just about everything to me. And diddlysquat at the same time.

I had no idea what they were all about or on about.

Kerouac had been the darling of the beat poets. But it beat me.

Herman Hesse had a European sensibility that seemed strange and mysterious. I loved the idea of a traveller. In Hesse it is often the character who drifts from town to Town - an outsider - knapsack on his back. I could imagine a Bavarian greensward, I could project my self there.

Kerouac promised much the same, No knapsack but maybe a Buick or a Chev, knackered but functional.

Zen and the Art satisfied my craving for conversation - Chautauqua…

I loved them all but my late adolescent brain didn't join the dots. All I knew was that they resonated with me. I could feel the boom in my chest in the same way I felt music (I will never forget the pulse of Paul Simonen of the Clash's bass syncing with my own elevated heartbeat at their concert - Logan Campbell Centre in the very early 80s).

It all just resonated with me. have you ever felt that way?

I was left with the idea that life is a journey - a road trip if you will.

While I was reading one of Hesse's books I worked for a plastics factory. Afternoon shift (after school - I was still in the 6th form). One night I set off for work on my motorbike - a 500cc Norton Dominator - I had bought a new front wheel from Dave White. He said "This is much more powerful than the old one which looks great but is hopeless. Whatever you do…don't…yank…on…the…anchors". Which is exactly what I did.

A car came around the bend at the bottom of my street on my side of the road. I overreacted. Pulled on the brake and flew over the handlebars.

I landed hard on my back against the kerb. There were no outward signs of injury but I couldn't move.

When the ambulance arrived they palpated my tummy and were horrified - it was as hard as rock. They assumed I had ruptured something and was bleeding internally.

I was rushed to hospital. When the nurse cut off my jeans and unzipped my leather jacket she found…the frozen boil-in-the-bag dinner I had stuffed down the front of my pants to transport to work.

I was sent home.

The ironic twist was that I had actually ruptured my kidney and had to be rushed to hospital the following day - hard and bloated with internal bleeding - a peritoneal haematoma.

I had many long, meaningful conversations with a junior doctor on the night shift about Herman Hesse.

A fellow traveller.

Like us.

Thanks to Bad Banana for the heads up - My favourite blog right now.


Before enlightenment: chop wood, fetch water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, fetch water.

Today I heard that Anita Roddick died of a 'brain haemorrhage' (a stroke?*). She was not only an astonishingly successful entrepreneur. She eschewed advertising to build the body shop brand. But, ironically, she used communication tools as persuasively - or more so - than many with titanic budgets. If someone were to ask me how to build a successful brand I would say - study the rise of Anita Roddick. She was genius at touting her cause and associating her brand with that cause.

Per my previous post - she stood for something - though she didn't spend money on the media she spent time courting the media and inviting consumers to participate in a conversation that was so much more important than their choice of soap or balm. When you chose Body Shop products you could not only feel pampered and 'good' you could feel that you were also, if only vicariously, doing good by dealing with an ethical company.

Roddick knew how to lubricate the wheels of commerce. But she also knew that the top is just the halfway mark. She continued to spread her message even after she sold The Body Shop to L'Oreal for 650 million UKpounds.

Before enlightenment: chop wood, fetch water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, fetch water.

*I don't like the UnSpeaking of Stroke to become 'brain haemorrhage'. Illness and injury shouldn't be made flattering - even in death. This week is Stroke Awareness Week in New Zealand. After heart disease and cancer it is the next most cited cause of death in New Zealand. It affects young and old. To cloud the issue with vain terms is counter-productive to understanding and unscientific (albeit cloaking in scientific terms).

Show no mercy

Collaboration isn't easy. But it is essential. Especially if you want a good grade in my marketing communications class.

I have set an assignment that is something of an experiment. The entire class are to work on a project. All are to make a contribution to branding, developing the product and promoting an online TV channel for the design school to promote ideas and innovation.

The work has been divided, tasks assigned, jobs to be done - it requires individual effort and shared responsibility. At the end there will be one mark, one grade. Win or lose. Just like real life.

To make it fair each of the students must keep a record of their ideas and contributions to the project in the form of a blog.

Today was the first day back in class after a two week study break. The room was almost empty.I was disappointed. I wanted to hear how the project was going and make sure that things were on track. So I lectured those that were present about the importance of being present and participating responsibly. In future anyone absent with the leave of their peers would result in a reduction in the collective grade by 2%. They have six week - 12 sessions to go - so it could be the first time in the history of the world that every student earns a negative percentage score.

I enjoyed being a merciless tyrant - if only for a day.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What does your brand represent?

Who was it that said "If you don't stand for anything you'll fall for everything."?

Whoever it was, they were right.

I have worked with clients big and small who suffer from an intense desire to hedge their bets. Instead of being The One and Only in their category they become one of many. They tow the line - the conventions of their category. In short they waste their money.

The classic symptoms are:

A lack of courage.

If you won't develop a voice of your own then you will be lost in the choir. Quick, name a member of the choir at la Scala. Didn't think you could. But would you be in any doubt when you hear the sound of Callas, Pavarotti or Bono (ok bono isn't an opera singer but he has a talent for popping up everywhere - so La Scala wouldn't be out of the question would it?). There is nothing wrong with being in harmony - but be in harmony with your customers not your competitors. Stick out like a sore thumb. Just stick out. Be famous for something. Not just anything - it will have to be relevant to somebody - hopefully someone who will propagate your ideas by referral.

A lack of focus

Hey just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. If you are a brilliant real estate salesperson don't try to flog your clients a new car as well. If you're a brilliant sprinter as well as a pretty good high jumper - make your mind up. Excellence usually requires some sacrifice. Or put another way you need to focus on the thing that will give you the greatest return. In economics that's called the opportunity cost. Think of it this way - an Olympic silver medal is just a polite way of saying "I lost". Top athletes sacrifice the mundane routines of accountants, lawyers and advertising people for the mundus of training for their sport.

There is no glamour in doing the hard yards in preparation. Often it is lonely and fraught with anxiety. How can you know if your regimen will work out.

You can't.

Sorry. There are no guarantees.

Actually…wait their is one.

Let me slip in a little baseball analogy: If you don't swing for the fence you won't hit a home run.

Babe Ruth was the of the greatest home run hitters in history.

What a lot of people don't understand is that he also had more strike outs than any of his contemporaries.

It is just as important for small brands as it is for global brands. Decide what is is you represent.

Don't stretch your resources.
Don't stretch your credibility.

Pick a target. Go hell for leather to reach it.

(Me included)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Crimes against logic

Just finished reading Crimes against logic by Jamie Whyte.
Picked it up on the off chance that it might be interesting. Whyte used to lecture in Philosophy at Cambridge University. He won a gong from a magazine called Analysis. I didn't know there was a philosophy magazine. What kind of ads do they carry? Books and conferences I suppose.

It's bugging me now.
What would a philosophy magazine look like?
I suppose if it was an existential one it wouldn't matter. It would look thoughtful. Dense text, not much leading. What would the thinking person's typeface look like. Garamond? Something tweedy with leather pads on the elbows? Would it smoke a pipe. Free pipe with issue 1. Collect all four.

But back to the book:

In the chapter 'Empty Words' Jamie (if you'll excuse the familiarity - I'll tell you why I grant license to myself in a minute…depending on your reading speed) talks about 'Hooray Words':

"Do you think it is just that those who earn more should give a portion of their income to those who earn less?…many think its redistribution of income essential to a just society; others think it simple theft.

"Everybody favours justice. They disagree only about what is just and what is unjust. Justice is in this sense a hooray word. Declare that you are in favour of it and everyone will cheer his agreement, even when he disagrees with you on every particular question of what is just.

"Besides justice, there is peace, democracy, equality, and a host of other ideals that everyone embraces, whatever they believe these ideals to consist in (sic).

And there are the boo words: murder, cruelty, selfishness and so forth. Everyone agrees that murder is wrong, no matter how much they disagree about which killings are murder. many of those who earn the disapproval of legislators by beating their children also disapprove of cruelty, they think it cruel to raise children without giving them the discipline of corporal punishment…"

Good point. Mr Whyte (he said, slipping back to formality) makes you think.

When he wraps up the Hooray Words section he says - pay close attention to this we're moving into an election year after all:

"A simple test for substance in political statements is whether anyone sane would disagree. If a politician declares it her aim to make the people of Britain healthy, wealthy, and wise, she tells you nothing useful. How will you use this information to choose between her and her opponents, who almost certianly seek the same things? In a healthy democracy, where voters demand the information required to make sensible choices betwen parties and candidates, political discussion would focus on the the difficult and controversial issues where reasonable people disagree. The commitment to justice, peace and, and all the reast would, literally, go without saying"

Well said that man.

By the way - the author is a kiwi. So, because every New Zealander is separated by no more than a couple of degrees I can regard him as a long lost maaate, right? Who'd have thought?

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The ties that grind

"I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidest things we know." R W Emerson.

I have had a number of conversations with friends of late where the friendship itself has been tested by disagreement or by a sense of sleight (real or imagined). One person has spectacularly vanished from the radar over a disagreement that I have to say was of no great importance to me but plainly was sufficient to end the regular conversations we had had for the other party.

But in the main I find that the best friendships - which I characterise as conversations - are those that are durable in every sense of the word: able to be enjoyed over time because they are interesting and well made and able to take the hard knocks of strong wills and differing ideas. It is the exchange of ideas that I like the most.

When I said that friendships had been tested. I am glad to say that, in the main, they have not proven to be wanting and, even if I miss the conversations with the friend who has chosen to absent herself I won't make the assumption that it is permanent and that, maybe, she just needs time to regain composure to rejoin the fray. I hope so.

I embedded the SickPuppies Free Hugs video (which has added 12 million views on You Tube since I last posted it).

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Swan Song for Luciano Pavarotti

I wrote about Pavarotti the other day. This evening the news is that he has died. A sad loss. Pavarotti's voice may have been diminished in his later years but so what. His rendition of Nessum Dorma at the soccer World Cup saw him cross over from the rarified world of opera into the pop culture consciousness. The power and emotion in his voice introduced another generation to an art form that seemed stagnant.

When he joined Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras to perform as The Three Tenors the game was ratcheted up another notch - from opera star to worldwide celebrity.

He may be gone but he was so iconic he will remain a permanent part of the cultural landscape - probably as a mountain.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I love Melbourne

I saw this ad in TV tonight. Felt an uncontrollable urge to visit.

You see…advertising works.

But wait…there's more.

Women in art.
Who's your pick?
Any Cubist or Futurist girls out there…

Archetypes in the movies

You've probably seen this already. The film morphs images of female movie stars from the beginning of the technology to the present (to the Bach cello piece that is on the Master and Commander Soundtrack - Yoyo Ma does a nice version of it) I find it interesting because it is not until near the very end that a black woman emerges.

Though I'm not militant about it I find the representation of women in media potentially destructive. I worry for my seven year old daughter when she is spoon fed images in movies, television and advertising that have nothing to do with her. The other day she told me she wants to be a vegetarian because she doesn't want to get fat. Zoe is the nearest thing to a string bean possible without becoming a snow pea. In part the fixation comes, I believe, from obsessive media messages about how 'we' are all becoming obese (taking a statistical average then reapplying it to the sample as something generaly applicable doesn't make any sense). But I digress…

What is positive (putting aside the absence of black or Asian women in the mix) is that the women seem to develop character towards the end of the piece. It may be my own bias but actors like Sigorney Weaver and Susan Sarendon are plainly not in the mold of the starlets or ingenue (stock character) of the past. I find that encouraging.

Character is beautiful.

Good Grief 2

I was a fan of the TV show Six Feet Under. In the beginning it was something fresh. As the series progressed the storylines became more absurd. The opening titles were also groundbreaking and much emulated since.

On a visit to California some time ago I spotted a hearse for sale in Venice - complete with gurney. It was unbelievably cheap, about $700. Not bad for a Cadillac…tempting though it was I didn't have the time to figure out how I would freight it back to New Zealand. As it was Halloween the chap selling the vehicle was dressed as the Grim Reaper - complete with sickle. Where's you camera when you need it?

Perhaps this realistic scale model 1966 Cadillac S&S Landau Hearse which can be had for a paltry $99USD from a website called PushinDaisies.

According to the site:
This beautiful model hearse is a rear loader and comes complete with an extending rear service table to help load the casket. As always each model comes complete with a removable wood grain casket as well as a separate church truck for setting the casket on. Highly detailed inside & out!
Available in 4 Colors. Black, White, Silver, and Maroon.

Tempting isn't it? To die for… (Mark Twain didn't say that).

Thanks to BoingBoing for the original pist

Brevity is the essence of wit

Was it Mark Twain or Samuel Pepys who said "I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."? No matter. You get the point.

I came across a new site (via badbanana) that you might find interesting. publishes 200 word treatise on design. It's a smart idea. It has smart design. Right now there's only one post - about the demise* of print. Worth visiting.

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.(Why is everything attributed to Mark Twain as if by default?)

Under construction signs

Remember when businesses scrambled to secure their space on the web then put nothing there except for a cheesy graphic?

I have been reworking my own website. It was very out of date. S'funny I can keep a blog trickling along for fun but left my website like the proverbial builder's house.

Rather than put up a sign I have been messing around with Photoshop and made a page that I have been gradually adding to since Friday. My version of a Dutch vanitas painting?

My year of working on a Master's thesis is coming to an end. I'm wondering what to do to occupy myself. If you know any interesting gigs coming up - drop me a line.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Unsolicited Electronic Messages

I've been spammed all week by well meaning companies all over the country. I'm not being offered anything useful like a penis extension, cheap viagra or the opportunity to help out a Nigerian access their windfall. I've had to settle for this:

You are receiving this email because at some time you have provided us with your email address for the receipt of email newsletters/ product information and/or promotional material.

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 comes into effect on 5 September. This means we need to check with you to confirm whether you want to continue to receive correspondence from us via email.

The Act requires customers to “Opt In” to receive electronic messages. To ensure that you continue to receive newsletters/product information and/or promotional material, please click here.

Well the main reason is to be kept up to date with the latest products and specials and receive exclusive offers only available via email.

If you do not wish to receive any electronic communications from us, simply ignore this email and your address will be removed from our email database.

You may unsubscribe at any time by replying to email communications with “unsubscribe” in the subject line.


Nice to see leglislation having the exact consequence it was designed to curb.

Life's to short for the wrong job.

My son is going through his school's Cambridge exams. To help motivate him I showed him these (via email):

In the beginning - Spore

i have to confess that the only computer game I have ever played was SimCity. I found it utterly hypnotic. It was barely a game at all by conventional understanding of the term. But I played it or, rather, played with it for weeks before being distracted by something else - the Internet I think.

So I was fascinated to watch/listen to Will Wright, the creator of SimCity and its spawn The Sims (a precursor to SecondLife maybe?). In particular I enjoyed his thoughts on how we learn and reframing thinking from the immediate gratification of the short term to a much longer span.

In the beginning of the game you are a single cell. As the game progresses so do you, when you drag yourself from the ocean to the land you get to evolve yourself (designing your organism) until, ultimately you head out into space (If you want to).

It is a fascinating presentation, well worth watching.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Ad Parodies

In a flurry of pent up something-or-other I received a number of spoof ads from friends throughout the day.

These two had promise…or is it just me?

Advertising gone mad?

Ah, those crazy Norwegians.
Another example of advertising gone mad?

I realise I might sound a little curmudgeonly but what is the difference between this and slapping a logo on some news footage of Britney Spears flashing her backside (or worse).

Actually I featured in a commercial made using a similar animation technique and narrative style - or rather parts of me did.

I'm the groom who dumps his bride at the altar to exit stage left with the bride's maid. (Alter Ego?).

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Oh Canada, Oh can o' worms

Jason Kemp doesn't prattle on to the extent that I do but when he lays an egg it's usually a gold one.

Read his post about visiting Canadian thinker John Ralston Saul.

Listen to the radio interview embedded on the site.

Very stimulating (not saying I entirely agree - but agreeing isn't thinking, is it?)