Pot luck, pot noodle

I love going to Oriental/Asian supermarkets and trying new foods and ingredients. Half the fun is not knowing what stuff is (because I don't read Chinese/Japanese/Korean) or what to do with it. And the packaging is just brilliant. My lunchtime haul from one of the Chinese-run supermarkets in Selly Oak


curried spam?

On the come down from a frenzy of posting in the last 48 hours (well, by mine and Serge's standards anyway), a short post to round off the week.

My last couple of posts have attracted the attention of 'Joel' and his Indian food website. I'd had spam comments before - cleverly worded: thanks for your comment/checking out my site' comments that, the first time I saw them, had me following the link to see who's I'd forgotten I'd commented on. Clever.

Joel's comments don't even attempt subtle wiles, they're just straight up spamming. What's more, he's adopted the traditional spammer scattergun approach and commented 3 times on the same post. I didn't order spam, curried or otherwise. So please don't leave me junk comments just to boost your page ranking or site visits. I don't want to moderate my comments but I will if I have to. Genuine commenters like
Brianna more than welcome though.

Rant over. Happy Friday


Who loves ya baby?

Valentine's day approaches. Cash-in or romantic tradition you choose. Either way, Jason Sho Green has some fantastically skewed VD cards on his site. Choose carefully, just remember not to sign it


I'd been wondering what to do with these lights since I took them off my christmas tree. The wire out of the top reminds me of the fuse in a stick of dynamite

Mineral water bottle: pinched from an awards event at the Burlington Hotel
Lights: £7.50 on sale from Habitat
One of a kind bottle lamp: priceless but yours for £20 ;-)


Read my [links]

Engage me in conversation and you run the risk of being there for a while. I like to talk (or should that be converse? It's not just a one way thing) and tell stories that wander and digress, but hopefully find their way back on track eventually.

Writing is different though (state the bleedin' obvious Smith, why don't you?). Even blogs that adopt the less formal conversational style that PR and marketing gurus aspire to harness, the written word will always be more concise and structured than the spoken word. At a recent training session I ran with some academics, I was trying to convince them to cut their lengthy web content down by at least 50% in order to make it less daunting and impenetrable. I demonstrated a few techniques and edited some of their copy to show how the same information can be conveyed equally (if not more) effectively by being succinct and even went as far as to suggest that they don't include every single piece of information they have on their pages.

The web is revolutionary in its structure. Being able to link to other documents and pages, not only on your own site but on others, enables you to create mini-hubs of information. Just see how rich the BBC news pages are with their links and archives, without being too dense. This got me thinking about a recent post on Serge Cornelus' No-copy blog. Following up a promise to post on the subject of Belgian beers, Serge took the sensible decision to link out to an authoritative source rather than regurgitate the source material. This, for me, demonstrates excellently the potential of the web as an infinitely rich resource and publishing medium. Not only that, it encourages the reader to read deeper and explore sites that they may or may not have visited before.

It does in some cases however raise the issue of authority. Where blogs are acting as sources of information rather than casual reading there is a danger that linking to the wrong information or incorrect information can do as much harm as good. Andrea Weckerle prompted some interesting debate on the point in her posts on avian flu and in the spirit of this post I shall link to them rather than 'reinventing the wheel'.

Ch ch ch check it out

Beastie-esque sketch from the Saturday Night Live crew – rhymin' duct tape with cup cake. Mike D would be so proud

SNL via YouTube


I'm seeing blocks everywhere

Following my post on the zen of Tetris it seems I'm not the only one entranced with those falling blocks. Brace yourself for the next generation of "biochemical, reductionistic metaphor... for curiosity, invention and the creative urge".

Will podcast for cash/food...

Having already stolen a march on its rivals in the British media (BBC online aside) with its subscription-based content and an increasing number of popular blogs (the new 'column'?) The Guardian Unlimited site has hit the number one spot in the podcastosphere. Bringing in heavyweights like Ricky Gervais can't have been cheap but it is certainly a shrewd move alongside providing content from the broadsheet newspaper and a clever, subscription-based no advertising version of the site.

Much like a lot of blog content which tends to be self-referential or at least on the subject of blogging, the Guardian and other podcasters are providing much of the commentary/PR about blogs and podcasts in an attempt to drive them further into the mainstream consciousness.

The Guardian's Tim Dowling makes a couple of interesting points in his slightly cynical look at podcasting. His critique of the majority of podcast content as "still audio blogging. No matter what the putative subject … the average offering is usually a personal log of skin complaints, half-baked opinions, blood-sugar level updates, TV programmes watched and dreams remembered, produced with a level of technical incompetence one couldn't hope to achieve with ordinary weblog software" is probably quite valid. But if, as podcast providers and distributors like the Guardian are hoping, the mainstream comes on board we may start to see, as we have with 'traditional' websites, the podcast becoming an integral part of daily life, providing useful information.

Presumably inspired by the not inconsiderable cost of producing the 'world's number one podcast', Tim goes on to speculate on the issue of the podcast as a saleable product: "For the moment the amateurs may run the show, but it's clear that the advertisers, commercial broadcasters and pornographers are already edging in from the wings." He even goes so far as to coin his own term for a podcast you have to pay for: a podcost. [I wonder how long it will take for Microsoft to add in podcast and blog to Word's dictionary?]

As soon as the first major podcost arrives we will see a definite shift from "still audio blogging" to podcasts as a product. In the same way as blogs have multiple personalities (from personal musings to professionally driven publicity and PR tools) it will be interesting to watch the development of the podcast as it is shaped by those who are using it.


Aquatic success for London Tourist Board

Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill; Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will. Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still.
William Wordsworth
Composed upon Westminster Bridge

As far as famous rivers go, the Thames ranks right up there with the Nile, the Seine and the Amazon. On it's banks Londoners have gone about their nefarious business since the Romans and generations of poets and artists have been inspired by it.

Never the cleanest of rivers it's not out of the ordinary to hear of or see unusual things being spotted in the water or pulled from it's depths. This one's got to be a first though

[update - sadly the whale died. Hopefully not of media over-exposure]


The zen of Tetris

My wonderphone out of action for a day or two, I was recently forced to temporarily downgrade to an old mobile phone model that I'd got hanging around in the back of a drawer. After sulking about having to carry around a 'brick' that didn't have any of my reminders, diary entries or half my phone numbers in it and ruminating for a while on the folly of putting all my eggs into the one basket, I found the brick's redeeming feature – a generic version of that highly addictive classic, Tetris.

An hour and a half later I was hooked again, the old addiction kicking in, my focus solely on the falling blocks. Those of you fortunate or unfortunate (depends on your point of view and level of addiction) to have played Tetris for any length of time will have developed your own strategies and tactics for the game. As much as you plan and strategise, stray blocks are inevitable and it's the way in which you react to your new landscape that shapes the way the game will go. Panic and you're lost, re-evaluate and play on and you could just find that things take an unexpectedly fortunate turn. Whichever option you take, you can't undo a stray block so playing on is the only option.

There's a certain zen-like quality to this that appeals somehow. But I can't go into it right now, the blocks are calling.

Pic ripped off from baboon via flickr




Saturday night at the Dragon bar...

Off to London after tomorrow's match to catch Oddjob at the Dragon Bar in Leonard St. Not the round, oriental, bowler hat wearing Bond villain, my friend Tamar's new band in their first gig. 'World Funk' is promised and 'loud shirts and stray camels' are encouraged.

If you're in town, come and have a listen. I may even buy you a pint

just how intelligent is goggle [sic]?

There's a 2 Ronnies sketch, set in a pub, where 2 old boys meet at the bar and catch up over a beer. The Ronnie Corbett character is trying to tell Ronnie Barker's character about his new job but he keeps getting stuck for the right word, which Ronnie Barker cheerfully attempts to fill in, getting it hilariously wrong every time.

As Google's search functionality gets more and more 'intelligent' are we getting lazier and lazier in our search habits? In an earlier post I mused on the 'People who liked this also liked…' recommendations of other content streams given by sites like Amazon and the way they try to second-guess our taste.

EDIT: In the wake of accusations of snooping over new version of itunes the BBC reports this

Posting on the subject of the mechanics of searching, Seth Godin asks whether Yahoo Maps 'should have "known" that Paterson is often spelled with two "t"s?' His conclusion: 'Of course'.

He goes on to flag up that 'The danger zone is when only some of the obvious mistakes are caught.' How many times have you been caught out by a spell checker that didn't pick up a typo because it was not spelled incorrectly but was in fact a word used wrongly?

Mr Godin asks us to 'Watch a kid search on Google--they don't even try to get the spelling right. Why bother?' The increase in typosquatting and other devious, dark marketing practices is an indication that we aren't bothering and a direct result of what happens when we don't bother. If you don't think around the obvious ways in which someone is going to access your content through searches then someone else will. Remember the 2 Ronnies and don't rely on Google's second guesses.

EDIT: An interesting reversal on this site - deliberately searching for mis-spelled items on ebay


Stealth marketing

Now here's a thing. The guys at Howies work out of an office space/warehouse near Cardigan Bay in Wales. It has no heating and if the weather here is anything to go by, it's jolly cold. In one of their latest short-but-descriptive posts Howies' anonymous blogger informs us that "twelve members of the howies team [of 10] are wearing [Howies] Merino base layers". Can't ask for more product recommendation than the people who produce it using it themselves.

The Howies blog posts give us glimpses into the lives of the staff, the daily goings-on at the company and almost without realising it we're treated to a bit of marketing about the products themselves. Very clever use of blogging for marketing purposes. Companies take note.

Howies merino wool:
not quite Calvin Klein but they keep your bits warm


On, on you noblest (?) English!

What is it to be English? I hinted at stereotyping of Americans a few posts ago and that plus this piece on BBC online's magazine section got me thinking not only about what it is to be English but also how the rest of the world perceives us. I don't particularly associate my England or Englishness with any of the 'top 12 icons' on the government's list.

But then as the BBC says, it's different strokes for different folks:

"To John Major it's warm beer and cricket. To the Sun newspaper it's Jordan's chest and chicken tikka masala"

Of all the 4 countries in the UK, England seems to be the most multicultural (an inheritance from it's empirical days) and the one that, perhaps as a consequence of this, struggles with its identity the most.

So I thought, seeing as I know at least 2 of the people who read my blog will be able to give me an outsider's perspective, I'd ask what is England and Englishness to you? Don't pull any punches. I've written down a few notes and I'll publish them honestly and see how they compare.

Inside the mind of Jason Sho Green

Keeping on a creativity bent - I love this guy's stuff.
Go check out his site at www.youyesyou.net or his blog here


the shock of the new

Don't make me think. That's what usability guru Jakob Nielsen famously said when describing the holy grail of usability. He even used it as the title of his best-selling book. The problem with Nielsen's theories is that as good as they are at setting the standards for creating user-friendly sites, they tend to result in sites that don't deviate much from a set of 'approved' formulaic designs. Using tables in the coding of these sites added another level of restriction in terms of design.

In her article
Thinking Outside the Grid on Zeldman's A List Apart, Molly Holzschlag draws the comparison between American cities with their rigidly structured grid system and London with it's higgledy piggledy maze of archaic, meandering streets and 'old school' web designers who use Nielsen's rules and tables to build their sites and the new breed of web designer who is armed with CSS and "[has] never designed with a table in [their] career.”

CSS allows the designer a much freer hand in creating the visual landscape of a page. What you lose in consistency of design (the don't make me think elements) you make up in elegance of design. The challenge facing this generation of designers is to create a new set of 'rules' that work with the freedom of CSS but still produce usable, intuitive pages.

Breaking out of the grid system places even more importance on content and good visual communication. If something isn't where the user is expecting it to be, you'd better be damn sure they can find it quickly.

Karl's becoming a bit of a CSS expert:
www.529content.co.uk and www.artificialdigital.co.uk/ both use CSS layouts. I took some pictures on Friday that we're working into a new design for the 529 sites. Watch this space


Beware the dreaded 'man flu'

Ten times worse than bird flu (or so I've heard), man flu only seems to affect the male of the species and can only be cured by wallowing and indulging in sport on tv, wearing fleece trackpants and attempting to elicit as much sympathy as possible. If anyone wants me I'll be in bed watching the rugby highlights.

Alltogether now... ahhhhhhh


a parody of a parody of a parody

I can't remember which comedian coined the tag-line 'only in America' to contextualise and explain the stories of jaw dropping weirdness and stupidity that seem to hit the international news daily but Nicholas Wind's comment in his Fuck the 'New York Times piece on Seattle's theStranger.com – 'Is anyone else tired of living in a parody of a real country?' – is a loud shout from the intelligent side of America.

In a strangely self-perpetuating way the media often portrays Americans as backwards, insular and stupid and we outsiders lap it up because it gives us a sense of (unjustified) smug superiority. America is a huge place with an equally large, growing population. It has a huge creative, corporate and academic output. I was reading one of Chuck Palahniuk's
short 'stories' last night about how he and a friend dressed up in giant animal outfits and went out in the city to try and experience what it was like to be stared at/ridiculed/discriminated against – something that he claims that many white males can go through life without experiencing. The result of his experiment was a well-written, entertaining and thought provoking piece. In the same way there seems to be an increasing amount of good satire coming out of America at the moment. As Antoine de Caune and Jean Paul Gautier in the excellent Eurotrash realised, sometimes the best way to subvert parody is through parody itself.

(pic 'borrowed' from Howard S via Flickr)


If you liked this, you'll love...

Those of you who have had the fortune of hearing content guru Gerry McGovern speak will know that he illustrates his arguments with a mix of practical, applied knowledge and sharp imagery and metaphor (if you haven't read his stuff, I wholeheartedly recommend it). At a conference on 'creating killer content' I attended last year he gave the example of a supermarket that tried to encourage sales of Jam with free taster samples. The experiment worked and sales of Jam increased tenfold. When they gave their customers a bigger choice of Jams to try free, the sales still increased but no more than when they had a limited choice; illustrating nicely that many options is not necessarily the way to increase your sales/user take-up.

Technology writer Mark Lupton's piece in today's Guardian applies the same theory to music in his argument that: "technological innovations over the past 25 years have democratised music … but the net result has been a proliferation in the sheer amount of music now available. Unsurprisingly, it isn't all good.

All of which has made the task of finding something you love that bit harder. The old answers - riffling through your elder sibling's LP collection or tuning into pirate radio - won't suffice. Record shops, after all, list alphabetically or by broad genre, not "X sounds like Y".

His piece on how we find out about new music (artists/genre) got me thinking about what else the web/technology has opened up for us and how we filter. Technorati tags, trackbacks, links are ways into new streams of content that we wouldn't necessarily have accessed before and even 'blog rolls' are a form of recommendation of the 'if you liked my blog, you might like other stuff that I like' type. How long before we see 'people who read/subscribed to this blog also read/subscribed to…' on blogs?


Daily life 2.0?

Despite the bare-faced denial of the evidence in support of evolution by the more radical American right, to the rest of us evolution is not only history but something that we are dealing with every day. We have the capacity to learn and adapt to our environment, but when that environment is man-made we can take control and make it change. Take the way in which the web has grown and adapted to suit its users over the past decade. In response to the way in which it's users have developed in terms of skill and the technology they are using, the web's creators have changed/are changing the way in which the web (a fluid entity) is created to give us what we are starting to call the Web 2.0.

New Millennium PR's Andrea Weckerle makes an interesting point when she quotes Sarah Houghton's suggestion that libraries go version 2.0, in response to bad publicity and a generation of visitors with a different set of, web influenced, expectations.

The music industry is another example. Facing massive losses in revenue from legal and illegal downloading of mp3s and web-based retailers, traditional music stores are having to find new ways to stay in business. Cutting prices on CDs and DVDs is a long overdue move in an industry which has long been making huge profits on CDs and DVDs. But cost-cutting is not a viable long-term strategy. In the same way that Libraries must adapt the services they provide music stores will need to evolve with their customers' needs and expectations.

Both examples share a common catalyst. The influence of the web is being felt in further reaching spheres than just the online world. Its pervasive influence is changing the way we live and work on a daily basis. Prepare to see more version 2.0s

EDIT - 2 hours after I posted this I came accross a mention of books 2.0 on the Guardian's Culture Vulture blog (scroll down a fair way to find rm's comment)


Whatever happened to...

Zembla magazine (www.zemblamagazine.com). I got hold of a copy about a year ago (which my father promptly purloined) and haven't been able to get hold of another since. Anyone know where I can get my hands on a copy or if they're still going?

They say that every day is a 'school day'

Well, if the BBC are to be believed and we 'learn something new every day' then nearly a third of last year's days were school days for the staff of BBC online who have put together an almanac of 100 things they didn't know until last year.

#20. The Queen has never been on a computer.
At first I wondered why I found this so surprising but then I wondered how someone in such a position of influence (I'm not sure that power is the right word) could not have experience of something that has become such an integral part of daily life for an increasing majority of her subjects.

#29. When faced with danger, the octopus can wrap six of its legs around its head to disguise itself as a fallen coconut shell and escape by walking backwards on the other two legs, scientists discovered.
I really would love to see this.

#32. "Restaurant" is the most mis-spelled word in search engines.
Adding another geek-speak term to my armoury: typosquating - and fuelling my belief that mastering the search (or at least a good knowledge of how we search on the web) has become one of the most important things in the marketeer's bag of tricks

36. The average employee spends 14 working days a year on personal e-mails, phone calls and
web browsing, outside official breaks, according to employment analysts Captor.
Shhh, I posted this from work, don't tell the boss. Goes some way to proving what I was going on about above (#20)

81. George Bernard Shaw named his shed after the UK capital so that when visitors called they could be told he was away in London.
All I need now is a shed…

#100. Musical instrument shops must pay an annual royalty to cover shoppers who perform a recognisable riff before they buy, thereby making a "public performance".

No Stairway? Denied!

One day there will be more red than white

I thought I was well-travelled. Look how much world there is left to explore. Exciting isn't it? (map courtesty of www.world66.com/myworld66). Also, check out Google Earth if you get a minute. I bet you look and see if you can see your house.


New year resolutions

This year I will:
Write more
Start running again
Start a new job
Take more risks

I would like to:
Spend more time at the beach
Stop worrying about things I can't change
Change the things I can that I'm worrying about instead of worrying about them

I will not:
Make so many excuses
Try to please everyone all the time

There they are. Set in stone or whatever ephemeral substance blogs are made of. Perhaps if they're in the pub-lic domain (pun intended) I will be more inclined to stick to them. Perhaps.

What are yours?