Thursday

It's enough to drive you Crazy

There are a lot of worried faces in the 'old media' world at the moment. The decline in newspaper sales has been happening for a long time. Those journalists who are tied to publications that remain tied to the traditional media (particularly local/regional newspapers) are being forced to look for careers in press offices and PR departments where they can transfer their skills. National newspapers like the Guardian are trailblazing the shift towards new media and investing heavily in blogs/bloggers and podcasts. The 'old media' are faced with a stark choice; react and change or fade away.

The music industry is another faced with a similar situation. Music executives have long been bemoaning the MP3 (legally downloaded or otherwise) as the death knell for the industry as CD sales, like newspapers, have rapidly declined. Case in point, this week's UK no 1 is tipped to be Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, a track that became enormously popular after featuring in a promotion for Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe's show, and is likely to become the first single to go to number one on the strength of downloads alone (although the predicted 35,000 downloads are well below singles sales needed for a number one less than a decade ago).

And it's not just a Generation C thing. Although statistically less likely to buy music on the internet, the success of classical downloads is being pointed to as an indication that there we may have underestimated the number of 'silver surfers' downloading music. Production of CD singles has already been significantly scaled down and record companies are starting to make decisions about what formats are suitable for certain artists. I'm already fed up with hearing the Gnarls Barkley track and it hasn't been released yet but it does provide an interesting example of how the market is driving the change in the traditional media.


You know where the bandwagon is. Jump on board for the chance to win an ipod.

Spotted today in the skies over Birmingham

The clocks have gone forward. I've offered up that hour in bed to the gods of Spring. Better late than never...

Wednesday

The first rule of Bash Bar is…

Stuffed full of fine French food, courtesy of Chez Jules' Tuesday night special, and in search of a taxi I came across Birmingham's newest 'underground' drinking den. Tucked away up a side street off the main street through town and advertised in an understated way, the list of house rules on posted on the door caught my eye (left).

As I was reading them, a couple of nouveau beatnik looking types spilled out of the door, an intriguing atmosphere leaking out behind them for the split second the door was open. I couldn't resist. Despite it being a 'school night' I decided I had time in the bank for a quick look and maybe a nightcap.

Inside, the 4 piece Jazz improvisation group playing at the back of the room added to the decadent atmosphere created by the flock wallpaper, the impressive bar and the unselfconsciously hip crowd inside.

Forget your trendy cocktail bars and your binge drinking palaces – this is what we need more of in the city.

Tuesday

Made you look, made you stare ...

I'm sure I've missed the boat on the whole blog about the Strumpette debacle. The blogosphere is ringing with posts and comments about how she's managed to create a lot of attention and hype over a blog that has generated almost 50 comments from its first post and how she may not even be a she.

For once I'm going to jump on the bandwagon/add my two penny's worth. I don't think I'm in danger of creating huge amounts of traffic to this blog by posting about a 'hot topic' because I think I've already missed the boat here and Amanda Chapel and her 'Ghoulish Office Pool Spreads' will soon be yesterday's news unless she follows up with content that continues to be controversial and entertaining enough to sustain a level of interest in her or she comes out as a male PR professional/blogger who has just pulled a very effective 'made you look' stunt.

'Amanda's' biography lists her as having "15 plus years experience in marketing communications" as well as a BA degree in Economics from Columbia and two semesters worth of a law degree at Dartmouth. 3 years college to get a BA + 2/3 of a year at Dartmouth + 15 plus years makes her (by my calculations) 36, at least. The black and white image atop her blog (above) shows a seductive, naked brunette wrapped in rumpled bed linen making come to bed eyes at her readers. Now if this is Ms Chapel (and no offence meant to any 35+ year olds out there but if it is she's in good nick), she's chosen this image carefully (I hesitate to say wisely) to compliment the blatant sexual references in her biography that are causing such a fuss.


Reading back through Andrea's post on bloggers' headshots perhaps I should rethink the image on my profile in favour of a semi-naked, traffic driving shot? Or perhaps not.


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Monday

If Starbucks made Where's Wally*/Waldo

This was on the internet so it must be true…

"Doctors have concluded that if you find the man in the coffee beans in 3 seconds your right half of your brain is better developed than most people. If you find the man between 3 seconds and 1 minute your right half of the brain is developed normally. If you find the man between 1 minute and 3 minutes then the right half of your brain is functioning slowly and you need to eat more protein. If you have not found the man after 3 minutes, the advice is to look for more of this type of exercise to make that part of the brain stronger."


* he's called Wally in the UK and Waldo in the US

Publish and be damned (2)

I posted a while back about self-publishing options and how blogs are providing a voice for many who would not normally find a voice in print*. The current trend for combining the 2 media (web and print) with publishers scouring the blogosphere to find material for their next books of published posts is interesting not least because by transforming blogs to printed media, they lose their interactivity.

As the debate over the concept of blogs initiating dialogue rages on, perhaps it is worth noting that the type of blog that tends to get published isn't the kind of blog that elicits a dialogue within its comments. Are we seeing an early evolutionary split in the blogosphere between provocative and informative/entertaining blogs?

*interesting BBC piece on announcement that the Iraqi author of blog Baghdad Burning has been nominated for BBC Four's Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction

Friday

C is for...

I went to an interesting lecture this week, delivered by Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC. Mark's lecture focused on changing user/viewer habits (BBC online and broadcast) and how the BBC are reacting to developments in technology to enable them to lead the market in new ways to acquire content in the home, 'on demand'.

The on demand concept is one that is beginning to creep into all media. The recent and enormous growth in popularity of Podcasts shows how web-savvy audiences are adopting the 'what I want, when I want it' attitude and the BBC are throwing a lot of resource at satisfying these audiences.

"On demand changes all of this. It means you can potentially consume BBC content at a time and on a device which suits you… For our licence-payers it means greater convenience and greater value, not because we expect them to consume more content in absolute terms but because we would expect more of the content they do consume to be more directly relevant and attractive to them."

Mark described (in some detail) the Beeb's trial of its MyBBCplayer technology that uses peer-to-peer technology to enable users to catch up on TV and radio programmes from the previous seven days. For me, one of the most interesting results of the trial was what Mark described as the 'long tail effect'. Briefly, rather than download activity clustering around a handful of well-known titles, users go exploring. Niche programmes, which often struggle to reach a substantial audience on linear channels, were both downloaded and viewed.

I've maintained for a long time that content is king and if you can crack delivering the right content to the right audience (and at the right time – 'on demand') you're on course for a winning solution. This BBC technology piece highlights a behavioural study published by analysts Future Laboratory on how increasing use of 3G mobile phones can change the way people communicate and create new social trends and tribes. The study dubs the new generation of mobile phone users Generation C, with C meaning content.


The mantra of Generation C: I know what I want and I want it 'on demand'

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Thursday

Amateur bloggers 'R' us

If you're reading this blog then the chances are that you're 'on-board' with the whole blogging phenomenon. One of the main criticisms of blogs by non-bloggers is that blogs are just the online journals of people with too much time on their hands, suffering under the misapprehension that people will want to read about the mundane details of their day-to-day lives (I'm paraphrasing here of course).

Those in the know acknowledge that a large proportion of the 31 million plus blogs listed by Technorati are 'personal' blogs and many of them don't run to more than a couple of posts before the blogger's enthusiasm seemingly runs out. Even more so, the number of profiles and 'about me' sections that use words like 'slightly insane', 'ramblings' and 'random thoughts' to describe the author or content of the blog suggests (hopefully wrongly) that a significant number of bloggers have slight mental health issues and that the content of a lot of blogs does conform to the non-bloggers' pre-conceptions.

It's been argued all over the blogosphere (although there does seem to be a certain element of preaching to the choir here) by those much more clued in and intelligent than me that blogs are fast becoming an extremely useful communications tool and part of daily life for many. PR and marketing executives particularly and news media are jumping aboard the 'blogwagon' fast. Blogger communities are sharing tips and tricks and trends in blogging are developing and dying out almost as fast as you can keep up with them.

Having said all that, and as an advocate of the blog as more than just a communications tool, I'd like to share this post from blogger 'the Company Bitch' with you.* CB as she calls herself writes about her battles at work, her re/ex-boyfriend and her friends' encounter with what may or may not have been a Eunuch in a way that quickly gets you hooked
in the way that millions followed the 'slightly insane ramblings' of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones. She's developing quite a loyal readership too.

*For those of you unfamiliar with the Guns and Roses track mentioned by CB, it's definitely worth downloading to truly appreciate the post

Wednesday

Blog flu

Before he went to Stuttgart, Serge posted another of his 'Strange folk, those Americans' posts in reaction to Andrea's post on opportunistic marketers playing on the fear surrounding the much talked about (128,528 blog entries on the subject listed on Technorati at the time of typing) impending 'bird flu' pandemic.

With so many bloggers posting on the subject (some more helpfully than others) I have limited my contribution this far to commenting and joining in the conversations on blogs like Serge's
NoCopy. It is interesting to compare and contrast the 2 distinct attitudes towards the situation (American v.s. European), especially froma place that sits (and swings) between the 2, financially, politically and culturally (Britain).

On the one hand, the drip drip coverage in the media over here hasn't reached or induced panic levels (we're with the European laissez faire camp on this one) but there is part of me that does think 'is this like the build up to a horror movie where there are loads of hints to the horror to come in the first half an hour for the audience to pick up on but the characters plough on regardless?'.

In contrast to the 'fear' industry that is being created in the States,
the BBC quotes reassuring expert Prof. Hugh Pennington (Aberdeen University):

"No need to panic. The virus is still a bird virus, it is not yet a human virus, and it may never be a human virus. As long as we manage to keep it reasonably under control in the birds I think we can breathe relatively easily for at least a year or two."

Maybe we should be more worried about the rumoured spread of 'blog flu'...


(via Steffen) Blog.Worm

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Monday

The nuclear sub



The White Horse, Harborne

Hurry up 'arry, we're goin' down the pub

I posted a while back on the subject of what it is to be English (prompted mainly by the rash of stereotyping of Americans I came across in various media and also by the BBC's report on the making of English icons ). I was a little surprised at the time that the English pub didn't make the BBC's list of icons, especially considering how much of English (I hesitate to say British only because I couldn't comment on the Welsh, Scottish and Irish POV's) culture is pub-centric. This may be a bold claim, especially considering that there is a significant slice of the population who do not regularly drink in pubs for one reason or another, but in its defence I make a couple of arguments.

For an insight into how important the pub is in English culture, simply look at the role it plays as a location in English television and film. British spoof zombie flick Sean of the Dead (a zom-rom-com?) parodied the characters' dependence on the pub as the centre of their social lives (not to mention safe-haven when the zombies attack) and what would Eastenders or Coronation Street be without the Queen Vic or the Rover's Return.

Find a decent pub (not chain pub [Mc Pub], a proper traditional boozer) and you'll find inside a cross section of English life and society. A typical night at The White Horse (my local) might see you trying to decipher the mumblings of Bacon (the pub's resident mohican sporting, ageing punk), entertained by the elderly drinker who yodels as he gets drunker and closing time gets nearer, or chatting to any number of characters of all ages, sexes and social classes.

One of the big draws of the house I've just bought is that it's on the bus route to work but also to the pub. Although this wasn't a deciding factor, I was talking last night with my neighbours who are also moving (to the same place as me) about their dilemma at leaving the White Horse behind. We even went on a reconnaissance mission to audition potential new 'locals' - unsuccessfully. Part of the appeal of the White Horse for them (aside from the decent beer and 'interesting' mix of punters) is the fact that they can take their dog in with them. In fact Harry is probably as popular in the pub as they are, if not more.


When I/we move it will be about 2 miles to the pub. A nice walk, a cheap taxi ride or even an entertaining ride on the night bus. They say an Englishman's home is his castle. Well that is true but his pub is the next best thing.

Thursday

Castle Smith - update

Mortgage approved, survey back ok, solicitors instructed. Things are finally starting to move. Hopefully so will I soon.

Modern day heroes (3)

What would you do if you were sent a cheque for a serious amount of money that you knew didn't belong to you but the company who sent it to you insisted was yours and that you cash the cheque?

When Carlos (G) Rojas received a cheque for $200,000 (£114,000) that was intended as a life insurance payout for Carlos (M) Rojas, following the death of his son in Iraq he didn't take the money and run, despite assurances from the insurance company who wrote the cheque that he should do exactly that.

Nine weeks of sleuthing later and Carlos M finally tracked down Carlos G who coincidentally worked in the same building, although for a different company. The pair arranged to meet and the younger Carlos G handed over the cheques to their rightful recipient:

Asked why he didn't take the money and run, Carlos G said: "Somebody's life was connected with that money. I couldn't just spend it and go on like nothing happened."

"It feels good, I think other people in the world would have done the same thing. And look, I just got a new friend. You can't put a price tag on that these days."


Honesty and friendship, qualities of a modern day hero


[full story on BBC online via the Miami Herald]

Tuesday

Anyone know a good Norwegian plumber?


With pints at over £5 a go in Norway, this is almost as good as growing money on trees. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'beer on tap'

Monday

Bread head

You've heard of stealth taxes (well if you live in the UK you have anyway). Well now we have stealth fat.

The team at Howies are on a mission to 'take the fat out of bread' (apparently 3 slices of some mass produced breads contain as much fat as a well known chocolate bar). Their mascot in this mission is Doh Boy (and his 500 strong army – I want one!). Doh Boy has his own blog and even comes packaged in a baking tin with recipes to encourage us to start baking our own (bread, not Doh Boy).




Let's see if I can add baker to my list of skills

Blogging the thin blue line

The number of blogs emerging from countries around the world with oppressive, government controlled press restrictions has only served to bring the blog and the blogger into the eyes of the mainstream. Brave bloggers have gone against the controllers and blogged about the real situation 'from the ground', giving us what we assume to be a much truer picture of life in these locations, often putting themselves at risk by doing so.

What happens when the impact of blogging does not pose a direct risk to the blogger's safety but does impact on their financial security and consequently that of their family? The BBC reports today on new guidelines issued by the Metropolitan Police relating to their workforce's blogging activity (a spokesperson for the Met stressed that it has not banned blogging) which have raised angry reactions in the blogging community.

The guidelines highlight 'a series of web-logs or blogs where authors - claiming to be police officers - have offered their views on a number of issues in a highly personalised, often controversial manner'. The conditions listed include a ban on 'expressing views and opinions that are damaging to the organisation or bring the organisation into disrepute'.

Steven Silvers' post on the 'you are what you post' effect raises some interesting issues. The Met's guidelines ban the expression of certain views and opinions by its staff or those 'claiming to be police officers'. Presumably that ban doesn't extend to bloggers who are unaffiliated with the police (and make no claim to be representing the police). But should we be careful what we post in case at some point in the future we/or a member of our family were to want to join the force?

Freedom of speech is an invaluable right and those bloggers who post their versions of events in defiance of those who seek to control the media are incredibly brave. When it comes to a choice between protecting and providing for your family or blogging the truth, I think the majority would sympathise with blogger World Weary Detective:

"I cannot challenge New Scotland Yard. I am weary indeed and cowardice is my bed-mate. The protection of my family must take precedence…It is therefore with deep regret and great sadness that I must announce that I will no longer be submitting posts to this blog."

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Introducing Guru Smith


Saturday night's Bollywood themed birthday party highlights:

The best samosas I've had in a long time
Blasting bhangra music mixed with cheesy chart classics
Realising (with some relief) that I wasn't the only one who had dressed for the occasion

Bollywood dancing
The best samosas I've had in a long time

Tuesday

Modern day heroes (2)

Taking a tip from Serge's recent spate of musically aware postings and more than a pinch of inspiration from Andrea, I am taking up the challenge of creating a semi-regular 'modern day heroes' post, beginning with a man who I will admit to appreciating more and more with the benefit of hindsight.

Jarvis Cocker, the lanky, eccentric, northern front-man for the band Pulp, will be remembered by many for a couple of great songs in the 90s and a bottom-waving protest at Michael Jackson's self-proclaimed messiah of pop performance at the Brit Awards. For me, Jarvis (as he was known throughout the late 90s – there was no need for a surname, everyone knew which Jarvis you meant), provided a much-needed antidote to the machismo of the emerging lads' culture that sprang up in late 90s Britain. The foul-mouthed posturing of Oasis providing a soundtrack to the Euro 96 football hooliganism, the booze sodden trips to Ibiza and Magaluf for a seedy mix of sun, sea and STD's, even the art-school, indie crowd with their blur and elastica inspired uniforms were pogo-ing to a stereotype. Out of the floppy hair, cords and Paul Weller wannabe's came a man who's dress sense veered between Oscar Wilde and a charity shop and who sang with a slightly foppish northern accent that bore no relation whatsoever to Liam Gallagher's abrasive Mancunian scowl.

Pulp released some great music (and some fairly average offerings) before and after 1995s Different Class brought them into the mainstream's attention. Not for the music but for being a true British eccentric; a dandy amongst football shirted hordes and, above all else, for knowing how to retire gracefully (although Jarvis, on the unlikely chance that you ever read this, please don't encourage them and do any more of those 100 best… shows), I think Jarvis Branson Cocker is a modern day hero.

I'm a real boy!


Live action Simpsons intro (via Deetour). Click on the image or this link to view

Friday

Modern day heroes

Having read Serge's post on Serge Gainsbourg and the 15th anniversary of his death (2nd March) I started thinking about how we need larger than life characters to create modern heroes.

Obituaries are unusual pieces of reportage in that they can be seen as both depressing and inspiring. Any death is a sad occasion but the nature of an obit is to celebrate the life and achievements of its subject. The BBC run an infrequent column 'covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported – characters' and this one in today's magazine section of BBC online caught my eye:

Kapitein Luitenant Francis Steinmetz was a Dutch naval officer who made a remarkable escape from the infamous Colditz Castle. He made his escape by descending from a British rugby scrum into a manhole beneath the pitch which was situated outside the castle walls. He and a fellow escapee replaced the manhole cover with a replica glass one that they could smash from below, and remained in the hole for several hours until darkness fell. They then emerged, replaced the original cover, and made off, escaping to Switzerland and then to Britain.

Amazing.


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Wednesday

Cabbages, Cabs and Condoms


Checking out today's Guardian story about Brighton Cab drivers giving away free condoms in a bid to tackle high levels of sexually transmitted infections got me thinking. While I was thinking of headlines/angles for a post I remembered a restaurant I visited in Thailand that had come up with a similar inititative. Cabbages and Condoms (as opposed to Brighton's Cabs and Condoms) is run by the Thai Family planning association (PDA). The food is excellent and the Bangkok central restaurant is nicely tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the night markets on the Sukhumvit Rd.

Often, the best way to get a message accross isn't directly or using traditional methods and blogs are quite a useful way of spreading that information.
Howies have chosen to highlight a number of companies' ethical approaches over the last few days to help raise awareness. PR blogging isn't just about the commercial aspect and making money, blogs can be a great way of raising awareness of important issues through the blogosphere. So, if you do happen to be in Brighton or Bangkok you know what to do...

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