Saturday, May 31, 2008

Five Portions Per Day

I'm broadly healthy. I've never been a member of a gym, but I play football twice a week and a racket sport once a week. I rarely eat out so I tend to eat home cooked food or white bread sandwiches. I eat fruit almost every day too. But I'm naturally sceptical.

So I have never believed this five-a-day nonsense. I've done a little research, and I still can't find the very first recommendation for it. Let me know if you can point me there. Yet people, apparaently rational sensible people, swear by this rule.

In the absence of a confirmed original reference, I suggest a theory. I suggest that some well meaning government advisor decided that a simple "eat more fruit and veg" message would not work for the mindless sheep who need explicit holy instructions to guide their aimless lives. So he or she decided that five a day was the clear message. But amazingly, some fools took it literally, and the virus spread. Now it is "truth". A normal balanced diet, like an evolved world, is just too complicated for some people to understand. If they've been pigging out on burgers all day then five portions of fruit juice in the evening will "balance" it.

Except from libertarian slobs trying to justify their unhealthy lifestyles, we rarely see articles criticising this five-a-day rule. Yesterday the Guardian finally did. But it still doesn't come close to the derision I feel for those who treat the rule like religion.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Background Graphics

I work with spreadsheets every day. I create them, edit them, review them. I consider some of them to be works of art. In yesterday's mail I received one with a background logo across the page that made it difficult to read the numbers. My short note back was not complimentary about that feature:
Like most background graphics, it adds to storage space and retrieval time, at the same time as hindering the clear viewing of the data. Bad on top of bad.

And don't give me the "oh it looks pretty" argument, save that for birds and flowers, not for spreadsheets.

( Though a good spreadsheet should look pretty, because of the elegance and clarity of the data there :)

Of course design and white space are important too. My reply was not entirely serious, but I stand by every word there. The official RNB guiding principles of spreadsheet design to follow shortly.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Honk if you support us

Obviously I touched a nerve with the last note. It was intended. In survey after survey, the vast majority of people always respond positively when asked "would you prefer lower fuel taxes?". But it's a really stupid question if phrased that way, without presenting an alternative, like compensating higher taxes elsewhere.

And I've said before that the notes here consciously try not to reflect popular opinion anyway. They should make you think different, if only for a moment.

The reason that truckers block roads is because they find it easy to block roads. A different economic change could cause disproportionate hurt to equal numbers of office cleaners, care assistants, supply teachers, airline pilots, organic farmers, whatever, but they can't all disrupt the whole country so easily. And they don't find it so easy to hoodwink the public with nonsensical survey questions.

And even when a road is not completely blocked, the go-slow or lane restriction always causes jams. Drivers slow down to avoid or gawk. No you prat, I'm not honking because I support your selfish bullying tactics, I'm honking because I want you to get out of the bloody way.

I'm reminded of a joke, this one.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Truck Off

To all those who support the fuel protests.

The UK government has a "windfall" of perhaps a billion pounds because of the rapid price in the price of oil, partly through increased sale price of North Sea crude and partly through increased tax revenues on processed petrol and diesel.

We have two ways to distribute the money:

1a. Use the extra tax revenue to appease a bunch of loud-mouthed fat bullies who use their tankers to block up the roads and cause disruption to millions
1b. The majority of the benefits go to those who use the most fuel. Hummer owners benefit more than hybrid owners.

2a. Use the extra tax revenue to raise the minimum tax threshold
2b. The majority of the benefits go to the poorest members of society, those who can least afford extra fuel costs.

There are a lot of selfish bastards in this country.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Diversity Cold Play

I like diversity. That is not management consulting political correctness, it is a statement of fact about my feelings for humanity. And of course, life reflects cricket and cricket reflects life.

Obviously I cannot help but support my home team, and my unfortunate affection for the mighty Kolkata has been noted elsewhere. But aside from the Knight Riders, my favourite players tend to be those who are the most diverse. As a supporter I want to see the best bowlers, batters and fielders, I don't want every team full of bits-and-pieces allrounders. And I am not alone.

Why is Monty Panesar cheered so loudly whenever he strokes a boundary or takes a catch, even more so than when he takes a wicket? It is not just for his childish enthusiasm, nor for his skin colour. It is because he is so inept at batting and fielding.

There is an old common term used in cricket for the worst batsmen, they are called bunnies, presumably after the stereotype image of the rabbit caught in the headlights. The New Zealand number eleven is a ferret, he goes in after the rabbits.

Phil Tufnell. Courtney Walsh. Devon Malcolm. Chris Martin. We salute you.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Last week I finally got an iPod. It's only a low end model, acquired second-hand - basically it's a test to see if I am going to properly buy into the Apple ethos.

Initial impression - I completely agree that it is sleek and elegant and completely intuitive to use. But something about it is wrong. It's too closed. It's Steve Jobs' vision of the world, not mine.

For example ideally any new media player, if connected up to my computer, would immediately show as a set of directories from which I could copy or move files either way. But I have no choice but to download and use iTunes too. I've already got WinAmp and VLC here to run my videos, in addition to Microsoft's own players. Do I really want another one?

As Marc Nohr notes in Marketing Direct:

The shining vision of one man and his coterie of trusted advisers drives everything - and the space for individual expression outside of that clique is minimal, whether you're an employee or a customer.

The author of the article contrasts the Apple approach with "co-creation", where producers and consumers work together, the obvious example being open source software, but it is also applicable in marketing. Because we should all know that customer-centricity, interactivity and dialogue lie at the heart of DM.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Blogging - It's good for you

Scientific American offers reasons to keep going ...
Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery.
So far so good ...
The frontal and temporal lobes, which govern speech—no dedicated writing center is hardwired in the brain—may also figure in. For example, lesions in Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal lobe, result in excessive speech and loss of language comprehension. People with Wernicke’s aphasia speak in gibberish and often write constantly. In light of these traits, Flaherty speculates that some activity in this area could foster the urge to blog.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Circular Reasoning

According to the digital cuttlefish, Friday is limerick day, but don't worry, there's no attempt here.

At times the sentiments on this site are liberal, at times they are conservative, at times they are green, at times they are libertarian, and I don't mind being labelled as any of them - so long as you stick with lower case. However what is more appropriate as a description of the common opinion here is sceptical - of management directives, of psychics, of faith healers, of religion, of popular opinion, of marketing hype. Plus I occasionally delight in adding a little filth (or at least dodgy innuendo) to proceedings.

So in that roundabout way, I suggest that today is the day to visit the Skeptic's Circle.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kick off

At last. ITV tonight. It's the big event. Teams from across Europe have been working solidly and focused towards this one day for nearly a year. It's cost a lot of money, but it should generate even more. A group of diverse talent talent from around the world was assembled here in England for this goal, though foreign money (particularly Russian) has been a big influence too. Today it finally comes together and we see the result of all that effort. It will be broadcast to millions watching across Europe. Only a select few made it to the actual party, though plenty will be celebrating afterwards. But some will watch and think, if only...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gorillas, Trucks and Money

To continue this little sequence, yesterday I noted the high profile of advertising agencies in the 1980s, and today I noticed that a similar sentiment was in the copy of Marketing Week that's on my desk now. From Jonathan Durden's article: "Charles and Maurice Saatchi pierced the public consciousness and came to represent hope and success in the same way as Sir Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch. They even came close to buying Midland Bank, which was remarkable in its audacity and ambition."

Leaving aside the irony in lumping together Saatchi and Branson who seemed to me completely opposed politically, socially, and legally in the battle for virgin atlantic traffic, the majority of the article asked the question: are there really no heroes in advertising today?

But there is perhaps an icon for advertising in the 21st century, at least according to Scamp. It's the title of a public article, so I doubt that it is much of a revelation:

Juan Cabral does earn a million pounds a year. And he's worth every penny.

I like the headline. It conveys a fact with an opinion very concisely. And the style is familiar.

Scamp goes on to explain why advertising is a bit like "writing, acting, music and art. Musicians and artists are prepared to earn next-to nothing for years, in the hope that they could one day become Mick Jagger or Damien Hirst." Though in my view that's a pretty poor argument for inequality.

And they are ultimately judged on client sales and profits anyway.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brand Aids

The inaccuracy of television subtitles is a source of regular annoyance, I specifically mentioned it yesterday as it was relevant at the moment that I was writing, and because the accuracy of message seemed very appropriate in a programme about how the advertising industry interprets the wishes of the client.

On that subject, what stood out for me yesterday were the claims by the creatives of the advertising agency that they were the only ones who really knew the essence of the brand, and much of their jobs consisted of convincing the account directors, and much of the account directors' jobs consisted of convincing the clients.

I don't have the specific quotes from Charles Saatchi and others used in the programme, but a similar sentiment is expressed here. And I'm not going to disagree with them anyway.

However the brand is arguably much more important to the advertising agency than to the client. Initially at least, the agency is judged on creativity, insight, brand recognition. The client is judged on sales and profits - the brand is just one of the symbols that is manipulated to get there.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Using the right words

I've said before that there are occasions when it is important to be precise in your language. Not necessarily grammatically correct as defined by self-appointed mavens, but correct in terms of conveyed message.

Now I'm watching The Men From The Agency - about how trailblazers in the British Advertising industry of the 1960s ended up as trailblazers in the British film industry in the 1980s. And because there is a fair bit of "background noise", and I want to be clear about what these guys are actually saying, I stuck the subtitles on.

And the discrepancy is shocking. The subtitle writers are just lazy. It's ok to miss the odd interjection, even the odd non-essential word:

Subtitles: CDP's most talked about campaign of the 70s grew out of new restrictions on cigarette advertising.

Voiceover: CDP's most talked about campaign of the 70s ironically [sic] grew out of new restrictions on cigarette advertising.

David Puttnam subtitles: Alan and Ridley put huge amounts of their own money into those films. In Alan's case, enormous courage. £80,000 may not seem like a lot people today. But in 1976 it was half of what Alan had.

David Puttnam actually: What people forget about Alan and Ridley is that, in both cases, they put enormous amounts of their own money into those films. In Alan's case, enormous courage, now £80,000 may not seem like a lot to some people today, but £80,000 in 1976 I think was half of everything Alan had in the world.

Subtitles: While Puttnam and the ads directors were conquering America, Britain was entering turbulent times.

Actual Voiceover: While Puttnam and the commercials directors were conquering America, the country they left behind was about to enter one of the most turbulent times in its history.

Almost every single line is wrong. Yes it approximates the intended meaning, but it loses the individual style of the speaker. It is meant to be transcription not summary.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gordon Brown Dravid

I don't often write about politics.

I do often write about cricket.

But what I really write about is synchronicity.

As the senior player behind Saurav Ganguly and others, Rahul Dravid was an excellent number two for more than a decade. In fact I'd go so far as to say that, despite the fact that he was not officially leader, he was actually responsible for most of the team's success this century. And he seems a genuinely nice guy too, fully aware of his own ability but always prepared to work hard to improve, determined on the field but friendly and self-effacing in interviews.

Yet finally, in charge of his own team, everything seems to be going wrong and the whole world even supposed supporters seem turned against him. Admittedly some of his team are proving to be incompetent fools. But as for Dravid himself, in some ways, he is performing heroically in adversity. The 1990s reputation for being slow is now entirely unjustified. Today, as reported on CricInfo a few minutes ago, he scored 75 in 36 balls. The entire rest of his team, all ten of them together, scored a total of 51 in 84. Do the maths.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Selfish Idiot

This morning's BBC thought for the day was particularly inspiring - of course I mean inspiring as in suggesting to me that I write something here, as opposed to being truly inspirational.

So today the speaker took off from the topical headline that crime rates for girls are increasing sharply. And the solution, justified with selected quotes from his sacred old book, was to make sure that the differences between the sexes are maintained. I notice that the quotes used to justify everything from physical assault to denial of voting rights were not used in this instance, though they would have been equally representative of his ridiculous book.

It's also funny how his special book does not even explain the fact that some people can be born with XXY chromosomes, that genes control the production of hormonal proteins and those proteins control the development of sexual characteristics, that neurological differences explain behavioural differences. But he still paraded his medieval nonsense as the source of unquestioned divine revelation.

But actually that wasn't the bit of his lecture that inspired me. It was his wilful and stupid misinterpretation of modern scientific thinking, blaming the apparent rise in individualism with the "selfish gene". Idiot. Only a nutcase could read Richard Dawkins and still not recognise that the selfish gene is precisely an explanation for co-operation and altruism.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wolf Work

In the last post I raised a general set of observations about the different types of human personality, but to me they seem even more applicable and relevant when applied to daily interactions in the office.

Whenever a problem arises, there are three ways to approach it:

1. It's part of my job to sort these things, all I can do is to try to fix it and put process in place to reduce future recurrence
2. It's a disaster, this is currently the most important issue in the whole organisation, stop everything and get it sorted
3. There is no such thing as a problem, only an opportunity.

Category 2 obviously belongs to those who may lose their nerve, their poise, their rationality and often their temper when put under pressure. And there may appear to be significant overlap between categories 1 and 3, but 1 acknowledges that there are things outside their control, 3 does not accept that.

Are You Lucky?

This is not a reference to last night's Apprentice, not about trucks having fun, not a reference to an old BBC study that showed how you can make your own luck anyway.

But is your glass half-full or half-empty?

First rule out one exception - clearly anyone born with a serious genetic defect or into war-ravaged famine-festering slums is less "lucky" than a broadly healthy person in the developed world. But let us just look at the different ways that people here deal with misfortune …

The usual distinction into optimists and pessimists is too obvious, there are at least three different ways that people tend to deal with the same unfortunate incident:

1. It's no big deal, we understand that it is human nature to remember the occasional disruption more than the usual smooth journey, but these things even out
2. I'm so unlucky, the breaks never go my way, my queue is the slowest, moan moan moan
3. I love the taste of defeat because it only makes me stronger. It's all of part of an almighty master plan.

There is overlap, people behave differently in different situations. Funnily enough, although category 2 (the traditional pessimists) are the pariahs of society, it is category 3 that can sometimes be the most annoying.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Time for blog

Only dead fish swim with the water. And today Neil Perkin wrote something that echoed here:

When I talk about blogging, the number one question I get asked by non-bloggers is where do you find the time? I think this is the wrong question about the wrong thing. I find the time because I believe it is important enough to do so.

I might expand on that another day. Meanwhile the American blogger vjack has just started a series of blogging guidelines. I'm sure that plenty of others have too. But I still aspire to the basic top ten guidelines that I published last year. Rule number one was simple: One post per day, no more, no less.

But yesterday was an exception. If I get back home too late, if I've had a few drinks, then I don't trust myself to write anything that will stand the test of time.

So this year only 134 posts in 135 days. I'll make it up.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Supporting Your Team (part two)

Of course a manager needs to be a leader, a guide, an enforcer. But a manager also needs to be a supporter. And I mean that in every sense.

I do not just mean in the obvious usage of cheerleading or defending her team from criticism, though both those attributes are critical too. But I also mean support as in assistance to help do their jobs. When someone gets stuck in their work, when they cannot resolve a problem, it is the manager's responsibility to clear that blockage. And that takes knowledge, of the problem specifics and if necessary of the appropriate additional resources required to resolve it.

Clearly not every manager is going to know more of the detail of the individual jobs and tasks than those who report to her. But if she does, then I say that is unquestionably a good thing. Knowledge is definitely a positive attribute. Narrow-minded thinking and prejudice are clearly bad qualities, they may be positively correlated with experience; energy and enthusiasm are clearly good qualities, they may be negatively correlated with experience; but again, knowledge itself is a good thing.

That is not taking away all the other qualities necessary for leadership, basic human qualities still preside. But I could not write a post called "supporting your team", as I did yesterday, without stressing this particular one.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Supporting Your Team

There were a lot of big football matches today. I watched the afternoon game on a big screen TV in a big room full of Manchester United supporters. So there was a lot of tension and passion in there.

But not from me. I was far more concerned with who won our park game in the morning. I guess because my family had to move so often when I was young, despite a childhood obsession with Liverpool FC, I never really adopted a "home" club.

However, I'll finish with a block quote from A Fan's Dilemma published this week on CricInfo:
I went back to thinking about it. And I realised that, for me at least, it would have to be support for the team that bore the name of the place I come from: Kolkata. You can't choose your hometown, just as you can't choose your parents, and wherever you live afterwards, and whoever you become, that place remains with you, becomes a part of you in a way like no other.
Listen to Bruce Springsteen, and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Flint off the Free man

You know I don't like speed cameras. Or to be more precise, I think that speed camera penalties are disproportionately harsh. For most people.

This week, Andrew Flintoff was caught on apparently driving at 87 mph in a 50 mph area. However he was cleared on a technicality.

The lawyer who defended him is the same guy who defended Jeremy Clarkson - his car was caught doing 82 mph in a 50 mph area.

The same lawyer successfully defended Alex Ferguson, David Beckham, Tiff Needell, Wayne Rooney, Colin Montgomerie, and many others who can afford fees reported to be up to ten thousand pounds per day.

The lawyer's name. Nick Freeman. This is not the time to scoff at the aptonym. This is the time to scoff at what he said: "He is very relieved to have the matter disposed of ... now he can concentrate on his cricket."

Because main headline on BBC cricket page today: Injury dashes Flintoff Test hopes.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Appeasing the gods

I spent over a year developing a Management Information System for a large insurance company based in East Anglia. I worked with the actuaries on the business processes of matching payment schedules to claim rates, and we created systems to allow dynamic exploration of the data to accurately identify the profitable and worthless market segments.

But from Marginal Revolution this week: some people buy insurance because they think it will prevent the bad thing from happening?

It was actually a reference to an excellent article in the NY Times by John Tierney: We may not slaughter animals anymore to ward off a plague, but we think buying health insurance will keep us from getting sick. Our brains may understand meteorology, but in our guts we still think that not carrying an umbrella will make it rain.

And one professor of psychology claims in the same article that "rationalists were just as likely as superstitious people to believe that insurance would ward off accidents".

Obviously I don't buy it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Economic Ape

Like a minuscule version of Scott Adams' blog, I try to find new ways of looking at old issues, merging economics with psychology with statistics - and consequently there is a fair overlap with Freakonomics. However although that is an excellent site, I think they usually don't do enough to look at the fundamental causes of human behaviour, the basic science. But yesterday they did ... as there was an interview with Frans de Waal. One of his key observations was that it is part of our inescapable nature to be concerned not so much with absolute wealth as with relative wealth and perceived notions of fairness, something I constantly echo at this site.

It's also worth directly quoting his views on a particular Oxford-based scientist: [He] is the most underrated behavioral biologist (ethologist) of his generation. His books have shaped the view of many, because he openly discussed, with great humor and flair, the human-animal connection before we had sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and the like.

I admire the guy, because it took guts to write what he wrote. As a student, I learned about his book because my professors kept warning us
not to read Desmond Morris.

That is almost exactly what I said here just a few months ago.

A Conference Tivo

A followup to the last post. There was clearly an overload of relevant material at the conference.

Most of the small exhibitor stalls were set up largely to sell products and services to small potential buyers. But the seminars were a genuine exposition of new learning. However with over 180 sessions just in the direct marketing area, each taking at least half an hour, there was no way to attend all those that were relevant.

Some attempt was made to divide it into different streams, but for any fairly senior consultant the field of direct interest already spans far more than the full spectrum of direct marketing (hence the association with internet world) and to restrict to one stream in ten is an unhealthy level of specialisation anyway.

Obviously what we wanted was a simple matrix that listed all the sessions together so it was easy to see what was available at each time, to carefully and easily plan personal schedules. But there was none.

I guess it's a bit like the commercial television backlash against the PVR, if you make it too easy to preselect all of your viewing, you will rarely get those elusive viewers who only chance upon your advertisements.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Current Task List

Last week I pointed out that the blog was effectively a current, evolving, comprehensive job resumé, and a far better source of information than most CVs. So in that spirit, and answering the question of "what do you do", a selection of my working life:

Data and The Digital Age
o Data Integration between on and offline environments, sorting the Wheat from the Chaff
o How to use data to drive effective digital communications
o Case Study of An Award Winning Digital Marketing Programme
Customer Experience: the Only Real Differentiator
o Understand the ROI of investing in customer experience
o Why online experience matters more in an age of social networking
o The science behind creating great customer experiences
Engagement Loyalty – Keeping customers interested in an increasingly fragmented market
o What drives customer engagement
o Interacting with customers differently
o Identifying customer differences
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
Web Analytics for DM
o Does DM drive online marketing?
o How to spot the impact of DM campaigns online
o Tracking the interaction of DM and PPC, affiliates and email
o To understand what customer insight is
o To understand the tools and techniques that enable learning about customers
o To understand how analysis can be turned into measurable results
Real World Proposition Development
o Defining the role of relevant propositions in today's entropic society
o Sourcing original propositions in a competitive market
o Developing high-impact propositions in a me-too environment
Advanced Search Engine Marketing & Online Brand Reputation
o Overview of how website architecture and content structure have the ability to impact SEO rankings and PPC ROI
o Exploit the opportunities that Universal Search provides
o Understand the options for link building and the level of resource needed to succeed in competitive markets
o Build a strategy to engage with users and influence brand conversations online
The Missing Millions – How Opt-Outs Can Ruin your ROI and What To Do About It
o Calculating the cost of marketing opt-outs to your business
o Avoiding opt-out triggers and tactics for retaining permission
o “Re-permissioning” legacy data
Multi channel response handling
o Understand what makes the difference to the client and focus on that
o Scripting, briefing, management and reporting
o Integrate call handling with the rest of your campaign
New Opportunities for Today’s Advertisers Using Pay per Click (PPC)
o Beyond Bid Management for Pay per Click
o Win through Continuous Quality Improvement – see how the experts do it
o Opportunities with New Ad Formats – gain a competitive advantage
B2B Digital and Direct Marketing
o What’s new in B2B marketing
o What’s working and what’s not
o What you must do in the next 6 months to stay competitive
Using Narrative Structures to Build Powerful Brand Experiences Online
o How scenarios and narratives are a vital planning tool in user-centred web campaigns
o Optimising messaging by building scenarios for different user segments
o Developing narratives that work across online and offline campaign metrics that measure engagement as well as clicks and conversions
Maximising Campaign Performance: Using Data to Increase Campaign Profitability
o How data can help you to better understand your customers
o What do your "best" customers look like?
o Understanding the campaign cycle - learn from your successes ... and your mistakes
Best Practice Campaign Management
o How to build an integrated campaign
o Setting objectives and defining the business case
o Identifying the target audience and media channels
How Testing Will Improve your Email Marketing Performance
o Why should you bother testing?
o How to test?
o What should you test? – a few big wins to get you started
Statistics and Testing for Direct Marketers
o Why statistics matter
o To control or not control
o Top Tips for Designing a Test
Semiotics: What is it? Why should I use it?

Obviously that was not a description of my typical day, it was just a small selection from the IDMF conference that I mentioned last week. But it still helps to answer the question.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Improving Flow - Part Two

It is not easy finding a plumber in central London. According to The Times: If you live in Kensington and Chelsea and need a tap fixing in one of your palatial bathrooms, you may have a problem: for every 6,137 residents of the royal borough, there is one plumber, and nowhere in Britain are they rarer.

Kevin Wellman, operations director at the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, suggests reasons for this: "The congestion charge is another factor putting plumbers off, and the heavy traffic generally makes it difficult to get around from one job to another. Plumbers have just said, 'We don't want to work in London any more'."

Sorry, Wellman is talking nonsense. The congestion charge is another factor that reduces traffic. And plumbers here charge up to a hundred pounds for each single callout, and will probably do many of these every day. So I guess they can afford it.

For all of Ken Livingstone's misuse of vegetables, he can be proud that he pioneered groundbreaking economic strategy in the face of massive almost universal opposition. Now even the gas guzzling Americans recognise that some form of congestion/pollution charging is inevitable, whether that is in the form of higher gas taxes or road use pricing. However, with his proposed push westwards from the commercial city to the more residential west end, he just pushed a good idea a step too far too soon.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Day on the Tiles

The weather forecast was completely wrong, the predicted rain never arrived and it was bright and sunny. A miracle. So I was up on the roof again.

Whenever it rains then one of the gutters overflows and a constant stream of water splashes noisily outside the window. It didn't need great detective powers to predict a blockage, so I borrowed a ladder and went up to see. Yes, there was a small pile of debris in the gutter and muck had piled up behind it.

While I had the ladder I looked round the rest of the guttering. Everything else clear. The one blockage was very close to the point where I had paid a roofer to fix the tiles. The suspicious part of me was alerted. Now surely he had an incentive to secretly create that little pile of mud, no immediate incident, but he would have known that after a few months this would eventually cause an overflow and, for those without tall ladders, another callout.

I wonder.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

How to Berry the Miracle Sweetener

I heard something odd on the radio today. They were doing some sort of weekly news round up, and they mentioned a story about a "miracle berry".

Now the word "miracle" usually indicates the presence of both a power-hungry charlatan to initiate the news and a gullible fool to spread it, but I wondered if this was something different. So I looked up the story.

The search is always on for replacements for those things that, eaten in excess, make us obese - fatty and sugary foods. In the 1960s, Robert Harvey, a biomedical postgraduate student, encountered the miracle berry, a fruit from west Africa which turns sour tastes to sweet.

This completely natural product "can be used to manufacture sweet tasting foods without sugar or sweeteners". In reported tests: "miracle berry ice lollies, in four different flavours, were compared to similar, sugar-sweetened versions by schoolchildren in Boston. The berry won every time."

But on the eve of launch in 1974, the US Food and Drugs Administration "effectively banned it". Or to be more precise, as I read it, they reclassified it from natural product to food additive, a ruling which which would require many more years of testing.

The worrying thing would be if a combination of big sugar and artificial sweetener manufacturers deliberately conspired to prevent its release. The former vice president of the miracle berry company certainly thinks so: "I honestly believe that we were done in by some industrial interest that did not want to see us survive because we were a threat. Somebody influenced somebody in the FDA to cause the regulatory action that was taken against us."

Unlike the BBC article, I'm not yet convinced.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Birds Beer Curry

When the lads go out for a curry after a few beers, it is often a challenge to see who can manage the hottest curry. I don't think I have a genetic advantage based on my DNA, but I should have a cultural advantage based on decades of tastebud desensitisation.

Unfortunately research proves that it is birds who can manage the hottest - chilis that would make not just my eyes but my whole head water are just tasteless vegetables for some.

Of course I'm not talking about my wife's habit of putting her coffee back into the microwave for a reheat before I even start drinking mine.

I've said before, the word hot is definitely misleading, arguably just wrong. The word should be jhal.

Friday, May 02, 2008


I often repeat that, like Dirk Gently and his application of the fundamental interconnectness of everything, this blog points out links between apparently unrelated areas.

But I should have decided to do it with pictures and not with words.

See Jessica Hagy.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Direct Marketing Internet World

International direct marketing. The world of the internet. There is not really a difference any more.

But the exhibitions were still organised separately. Separate registration. Separate exhibitors. Separate entrances. Even though they were held in the same hall at the same time.

Of course there is a huge great overlap, and most of the work related sections of this blog are located in that intersection. But both fields are changing so quickly that it's always good to catch up with different people, different technology, different ideas.

However some things don't fit in the overlap. Just staying with cars, I knew that the traditional mailshot could be excellent, interactive, tactile, something really different from the online world. But the award-winning mailshot for the Seat fleet campaign was essentially a full size flipchart. I guess that's not something you can fit into an email.

But it's enough to drive you online. I'll have some more to say about this later.