Monday, March 31, 2008

US UK Europe

In Thursday's post I listed some fairly lightweight trivial differences between the US and the UK. But at the end of Friday's post I hinted at a far more important difference.

Today Neil Perkins pointed us in the direction of a recent survey in the Economist that tried to substantiate these differences. Nothing there was very surprising, there have been plenty of other discussions but it is often worthwhile to update with the current state of opinion.

The article clearly highlights one fundamental difference, the religious majority in America compared with the secular majority in Europe. I may return to that subject another day.

But in answer to the more directly relevant question, "should UK social and economic policy be closer to an American or to a common European model?" there is a very simple answer. We need to look at the history and the geography.

The United States developed the wide open resources of the Native Americans, many settlers believed that they had a God-given right to fence off their own territories and do there as they pleased. The cities and infrastructure were largely built within the last two centuries.

By contrast, many major European cities have been in existence for thousands of years, and we cannot easily change them. The narrow winding streets and crowded "historic" neighbourhoods mean that US-type policies on car ownership and public services simply do not apply here.

If the gulf stream stops or changes, then we are hit in the same way. Many British are taught to fear or mock the French and Germans, but fundamentally our problems and opportunities are exactly the same. We are inescapably European.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Saving Daylight Time

I was going to write about this in a couple of days, I've mentioned the subject before, but I'm so happy with what happened last night that I'm writing now.

The clocks went forward last night. Or was it this morning? Anyway, it's fantastic news. Thanks to the genius who suggested this idea, we now get a whole extra hour of daylight. Everybody loves daylight. So nobody has anything to complain about.

In fact, why lose the hour again in October? Why don't they just move the clocks forward again in preparation for Winter. Then we'd save daylight in Winter too. And next March, we can save another hour by moving forward again. Just keep this up for a few years, and we'd have twenty four hours of daylight every day. How cool would that be?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heathrow's in a Royal Mess - Ship it Out to Sea

I love it when this happens. On November 24th I wrote: Stay Indoors and Shut the Windows

That was not the implicit government suggestion to the villagers of Sipson, for them it's move out or get bulldozed, but it was their implicit suggestion to the million people living under flight paths.

But one of out that million has voiced her displeasure, or rather one of her loyal subjects has done so on her behalf. Yes, Elizabeth Windsor may have to get double glazing at her second home, and she might even need to put up some noise insulation in the roof of her castle. Though that won't be much use while she's going for a quiet stroll in the gardens.

And exactly as I suggested back in November, as I echoed the Times guest opinion that we should be more radical, recognising the daily noise impact while not restricting economic growth, so today Labour MP Nick Raynsford echoes exactly the same suggestion: with Heathrow all at sea, put the airport in the estuary.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Incentives are at the heart of my economic theories. And so I was delighted to see at Marginal Revolution that far more successful businessmen than I have been extolling the same point.

Marc Andreessen is (I think) the guy who founded Mosaic and Netscape, the original web browsers. He quotes from Charlie Munger, business partner of Warren Buffett and vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. And he starts his "magnum opus" with the "Reward and Punishment Superresponse Tendency"

I place this tendency first in my discussion because almost everyone thinks he fully recognizes how important incentives and disincentives are in changing cognition and behavior. But this is not often so.

Marc tends to concentrate on the application of these ideas to Silicon Valley microeconomics - the allocation of employee stock options to promising startups. I agree with Munger and suggest they have much wider relevance. From my crazy ideas for judging employee benefits to national taxation strategy, I believe that adjusting market price is the most appropriate tool for controlling demand, but it does not rule out more egalitarian distribution.

For example, the government could increase the marginal cost of driving to reduce congestion and pollution; obviously driving demand is inelastic, so revenue would increase, and there is nothing to say that this additional revenue could not be used to help those most hurt by the higher cost of driving. It's social engineering. I'm not sure that Marginal Revolution would agree with that.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Transatlantic Differences for the 21st Century

There is a lot of discussion in the big webworld about the increased use of applications and widgets and whether this will fundamentally change the nature of the internet. For example, anyone who reads a trusted site through a feeder (for example, through an RSS reader) is not hitting the site directly and therefore not feeding the advertising there. But I won't discuss the economics here, I'll only use web widgets to show up the difference between the UK and the US.

Stats taken from Wunderman on 26 March 2008:
Current top 10 Google Widgets (08.02.08) -
1. Official You Tube gadget
2. Movies

3. Google News


5. [sic] word of the day
6. Joke of the day
7. Google Map Search
8. Daily Horoscopes
10. Current Moon phase

Current top 10 Google Widgets (08.02.08) -
1. Horoscopes
2. To do list
3. Google News
4. Google Maps Search
5. BBC Sport | Football | UK Edition
6. Word of the day
7. - Word of the day
8. Joke of the day
9. Currency Converter
10. Pac Mac v.2.6

So here in the UK we rely on our horoscopes while the Americans watch videos?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Truthful Apprentice

The new series started today. It is relevant again. So here, in its unedited entirety, is my final post from the days when I used to update myspace:

I don't like liars, I don't like schmoozers, I don't like bullsh*tters

So said Sir Alan Sugar. Quite inspirational. Enough to prompt my first post here in many months. I've decided that my personal life doesn't belong on the net, and my political opinions are replicated elsewhere in the ether. But there is a tiny chance that someone I work with could read this, so a subject tangential to work...

So back to those three statements. Admirable philosophy. And the core brand image of the Amstrad boss. But the last few weeks of the Apprentice have shown that those statements were nothing more than fluff - in fact depending on how polite we are to "Sir Alan", we could say those statements were either just schmooze, just bullshit, or just lies.

Last week there was a young lady who deliberately lied to hide a genuine mistake instead of admitting it. Yet this was glossed over and she was kept on, while another young lady who simply told the truth was fired. The fired lady had other failings, but how could he trust the other one? The same week, another young man deliberately tried to defraud the VAT office while negotiating a price. Again he was kept on, and his banter was justified as schmooze; this week his incessant bullshit was praised again.

I like many aspects of the program. But there is a difference between selling toot for a pound a time to customers whom you know that you will not deal with again (so spouting bullshit is rewarded) compared to selling multi-million-dollar long-term contracts where trust and quality are integral (so bullshit is punished). It is the difference between a cowboy trader and a genuine entrepreneur.

Now I have some influence in recruitment. Perhaps some enterprising candidate will know that I am interviewing, will look here, and will get an "unfair" advantage. But I'd say those opinions are hardly radical. And unlike Sir Alan, I mean it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Edinburgh Falls

Unlike yesterday, for an example of how an Edinburgh-based writer could have written something that does respect true detective traditions, I suggest Ian Rankin. And in particular, the one-off TV movie called Reichenbach Falls.

Despite the title, it was set in Edinburgh and the plot was embedded in the city. But obviously (given that title) it is as much a tribute to Sherlock Holmes as is House MD. But it's also almost a time-shifting historical fantasy, and it's clear that I like those.

From what I recall, it did have the gritty realism that was missing from the Botswana story. It also had a suitably convoluted plot and twists to the bitter end. And it might even have had some boobs too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My House in Africa

I really wanted to like the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (BBC1, Sunday) , it being, as it turned out, Anthony Minghella's final throw of the dice. But I failed miserably, as I once did with the book.

Those words were actually from the TV Review in today's Guardian, but they could have been mine. The reviewer was harsh, he called it twee, quaint, shallow, possibly patronising.

It's Heartbeat, basically, relocated to Botswana, a beautiful African country where smiley happy people, cardboard cut-out characters, go about their business with good humour, hard work, morality and diligence.

I've never seen this Heartbeat thing, but I used to live in southern Africa, and I think the basic sentiment of the review was that the show did not really reflect the harsh reality of life there. I actually have no issue with that. My issue was the lack of "detection". The "cases" were all pathetically easy. It was more style than substance.

The author, Alexander McCall Smith, is an expert in both law and medicine, he could have included so much more. He is now resident in Edinburgh, home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes would be turning in his grave.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Polish Invasion

I tend not to put up pictures here unless they are original. So a closeup of the wall of my house.

There are four national "broadsheet" newspapers in the UK, the two biggest selling have a largely conservative anti-European leaning. I'll quote one article from each.

From The Telegraph: Almost nine in 10 new jobs created over the past decade have been taken by foreign-born workers despite a sharp increase in the number of skilled British workers, official figures show.

From The Times: Market experts estimate that about 90% of the plants on sale this Easter weekend, whether in DIY chains such as Homebase or in specialist nurseries, have come from overseas.

The Telegraph article throws out the slightly xenophobic sensationalist headline without examining it closely. Very tabloid. It suggests that you (or I) could not be both "foreign-born" and also "British".

The Times article does suggest some further explanation:

The scale of the shift is illustrated by sales of clematis. A series of strains developed in a Polish monastery now dominate the market. They were created by Brother Stefan Franczak, a Polish Jesuit monk, who started breeding clematis in the 1960s after finding seedlings in the garden of his monastery just outside Warsaw.

Franczak’s work was part of a much wider interest in plant breeding that helped create a network of renowned laboratories across eastern Europe.

By contrast in Britain, this coincided with Margaret Thatcher’s decision in the 1980s to slash Britain’s investment in such laboratories — which led to most of Britain’s plant-breeding centres being sold off or shut down.

So it is Maggie's fault?

He is risen from the dead

I'd never really thought of it this way before, but if Jesus rose from the dead then that makes him a zombie!

The Primordial Blog points us to the biblical references - there were apparently loads of these undead roaming around Palestine in biblical times.

And the PhillyChief offers advice for how to deal with zombies and evangelists and anything else that comes to eat your brains.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Economics Semiotics Idiotics

Tim Harford in the FT today pondered an eternal enigma: why do prices so rarely rise in the face of a shortage. For example, if there are more UK fuel disruptions, then it would be logical for petrol stations to increase prices instead of allowing huge queues to build up for tiny rations of fuel.

He does not give a complete answer, hence the use of the word "enigma" in his title. But he offers: The intuitive explanation, of course, is that we irrationally object to high prices even when the alternative is rationing, long queues, and uncertainty over whether we can buy what we really want.

I agree, but the "irrational objection" is just the part of human nature that would prefer to see "everyone" suffer equally instead of distributing critical products by financial capability. It appears that the son of the noted monetarist Milton Friedman also suggests evolutionary psychology could explain this sub-optimal behaviour.

But the whole article talked only of price rises. Remember that a previous price is only a signal, I still think consumer reaction to price cuts is equally idiotic.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Bad Limerick

At the request of the holy cuttlefish:

To keep the faith in this land
Gambling at Easter was banned.
But today I will bet
That the Church will not let
Treatment to progress as planned.

The Catholic Church unsurprisingly restated that they would prefer to let people unnecessarily suffer and die from treatable diseases rather than allow manipulation of brainless stem cells. And bookmakers were allowed to open on Good Friday for the first time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Virtually Profitable Newspapers

I need to thank Seamus McCauley at Virtual Economics for this one. Other bloggers have exposed the very dubious business models used in the Ernst and Young Report on the UK national newspaper industry, pdf here, but he brings a fine balance between derision and condemnation.

As a minor criticism, the report had based a half page spread (in a seven page report) on what appeared to a couple of simple questions to just 100 internal employees. Hardly seems appropriate for a national industry report.

But the major flaw appeared in the analysis that switching to a pay-per-click model would result in many times more revenue than the currently followed pay-per-page-view model - a fair guess perhaps, but order of maginitude improvements were justified by assuming that people would click through at the same rate on a news site as on a search site. Just ludicrous.

The report also predicts that in the real print world, paid-for newspapers will continue to decline in the face of rising free publications. That is true now, but I hope they are wrong. There are already moves to ban or limit plastic packaging - newspaper is quicker to biodegrade but look around central London in the evening and it seems clear what actually makes up the majority of street waste volume. The marginal cost of distributed paper should not be zero.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thy will be done

As evident in my continual misuse of grammatical standards and as I periodically restate here, I am no professional student of English.

But although it is self-evident that Indo-European languages share common ancestry, I vaguely recall that some serious scholars have alleged that language shapes culture and perhaps there are little-known languages such as Hopi that have no real concept of time; or at least no past, present and future tense as we recognise them today in our western European world.

It's very predictable that I'd recommend The Language Instinct for an excellent overview of this subject. Of course the Hopi theory is debunked there. But that book is a decade old. What I noted just today was that Geoff Pullum reminded us that English has no future tense.

"The fact that there is a stubborn tendency in English grammar books to misrepresent will be as the future tense of be doesn't make it right. "

The word will is not a marker of future tense, it is an auxilliary verb that can indicate a future tense, but only sometimes depending on context. Other English modifiers can equally be used. But reduce to common sense. English has no future tense.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bear Stearns

I'm not really one for nominative determinism, more for pointless puns. But I couldn't help but think that the name Bear Stearns was a delicious candidate to be the first bank on Wall Street to feel the crunch. After all, the definition of bear from the American Heritage Dictionary:

One, such as an investor, that sells securities or commodities in expectation of falling prices.
A pessimist, especially regarding business conditions.

It's maybe not the ideal sounding name for a company in which you would want to invest your savings.

Unlike bear, the word stearn is not in my dictionary. The closest match is probably stern. I'll just quote in its entirety the third of three definitions of this noun from Wordnet, not because it's relevant, just because it's funny:

the fleshy part of the human body that you sit on; "he deserves a good kick in the butt"; "are you going to sit on your fanny and do nothing?" [syn: buttocks]

The bare sterns did get a good kicking.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Feedback Measures and Ideals

Yesterday I wrote about measures and feedback.

Measures. It was the UK Budget this week. Arguably the biggest economic measure decided in each budget is the proportion of revenue that is redistributed to government services such as national health and education. It seems that everybody is unhappy with it. But whereas some think it is too high, others think it is too low. So everybody may think it's wrong but maybe it's about right.

Feedback. I got some negative feedback today. Well it was actually just a quick comment from a (real world) visitor, she said that she did read the blog occasionally, but now thought the posts were getting too long. But from what I see the vast majority of posts elsewhere are far longer than these (I maintain that it is often harder to say something original concisely than to say it comprehensively) or else they are just quick "look what I've seen on the web" posts. There are at least two points of common equilibrium, and I sit between them.

So I conclude that it may be easier to determine a single ideal tax rate than a single ideal post length. But as yesterday's was long by my artificial self-imposed standards, today I'll stop here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Measurement, Control and Negative Feedback

A few days ago I mentioned a problem of measurement, and I was delighted to get a bit of feedback in the comments there.

The "observer effect" is a term for when the act of measurement causes a change to the variable being measured. For example, using different examples to Wikipedia: a speed camera emits radar that strikes the object being measured, thus changing its speed, a flowmeter in a water pipe causes a restriction that impedes the flow.

But the effect is perhaps most significant in infinitesimal physics experiments, which do not concern me, and in behavioural economics, which does.

In sociology, in society generally, the knowledge that people are being observed causes those people to change their behaviour. Hence the need for double-blind studies and libraries of other control techniques. And when the actual thing that you want to measure cannot be measured directly, or if you want to predict future change, then you need to find a proxy measure.

It's amusing that Tim Harford in the FT has asked a very similar question today. Sometimes historical performance of the same variable will be the best measure, but for the "big economic measures" (interest rates, stock indexes, inflation, etc) we must constantly evaluate underlying variables looking for causal ones. There is much potential for statistical correlation techniques here.

Despite the practical difficulties with its implementation, the idea of an expenses-based evaluation of office need had theoretical appeal because the incentive works in the opposite direction to the benefit. This is what you would want from a measure designed to control anything, you want there to be "negative feedback". That phrase has new meanings in the user rated world of eBay and customer surveys, but I refer to it in the Engineering sense of Control Theory - negative feedback is an essential component of almost all systems to keep them operating within desired parameters. Ideally, the greater the force pushing something from the ideal, the greater the force of the automatic counterbalance. I've mentioned this before but my college tutors would kill me for the oversimplification and overgeneralisation.

I am conscious that I am combining two separate problems - how best to measure and how best to control. One day I'll try to elaborate on the fundamental differences, but I'll leave you with another quote from the same Financial Times article mentioned above: My guess is that it is just a matter of time before economists embrace methods from other disciplines in an effort to understand dynamic processes better than we do.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Direct Marketing on Blogs

I am forever saying that DM should mean better targeting and measurement that can complement traditional brand-building, it should not refer to junk mail and flyers. Last month's Direct Marketing International magazine took an even broader perspective, the front page editorial discussed the impact of blogs and social networks. I quote from the printed page:

The more engaging of these blogs are becoming mass entertainment; like tuning in to a favourite soap. The Shakespeares of the blogosphere.

Of course this blog is neither mass entertainment nor soap opera. But I like the comparison of endless stories largely designed to sell advertising with Elizabethan playwrights currently considered to be the epitome of classic literature. However, if a blog does become mass entertainment, then does it become just another broadcast medium more like a 20th century television channel and less like a 21st century conversation?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Contract Rates or Pay Rates

This note is not about me, it is showing a general principle.

However, for other contractors at the client, those who work on longer term projects, there is a balance between two conflicting management strategies. To simplify a complex area, let's look only at a simple case where on conclusion of a contract, or after a short period away, the client wishes to re-engage the contractor.

One approach would be treat the contractor as completely disposable anonymous resource. There is no obligation to give even the slightest hint of benefits outside of contractual terms. Consequently, at conclusion of one contract, any new contract is simply negotiated at new market conditions. If the prevailing conditions have got worse, if the contractor's own effort has made the subsequent work easier, tough luck, next contract is at a lower rate. A pay cut. Tough.

Another approach could be to treat contractors a bit more humanely, I mean more like humans. After one contract, if the next set of work is similar to the previous one, the next contract could more or less hold the same conditions as before, with rates that would change approximately in line with normal pay increases for the industry.

However, it is double standards bordering on hypocrisy to treat a particular contractor as a resource in one direction, giving rate cuts whenever possible in tough times, but then not permitting a rate rise when resource is scarce on the grounds that "that would equate to x % pay rise, that's more than employees get". This dichotomy is not just a little inefficient, it is expensive lunacy, it simply means the client can't keep the people that it urgently needs.

Again, this note was not about me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Korbo Lorbo Jitbo

Some people, including serious cricket commentators, think that the Indian Premier League is a joke. Some of the bidders were clearly having a laugh. But I just learned (thanks Esh) that my home town team is really going for it. They have been named the Kolkata Knight Riders.

Brilliant. In cricket more than in other team sports, one man can make a difference. And we can expect plenty of puns about cricket kitt.

The team colours are black and gold, because "black is the colour of goddess Kali and we aim for gold". Coincidence? Bangladesh got in first with the tiger moniker, but we just happen to use the tiger's colours.

It gets better. The mascot is a tiger, and they have named it "Hoog Lee". Sounds like a tough-talking kung-fu name - for those who don't know the river upon which Kolkata is located.

And a team anthem has been composed. The title words are in it. In English they translate to "I'll do it, I'll fight, I'll win". It's what Caesar would have said before "veni, vidi, vici". After season one of the ICL, I predict Korechi Lorechi Jitechi.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Work Locations

A very simple question, how do you judge how long somebody spends in the office? That question is not being asked in a negative sense, the professional working environment is typically one of salaried management who all work more than their contractual hours anyway, and there is no question of anyone getting a penalty. But purely for practical positive need, for example to objectively assess who most warrants limited office facilities, it might be useful to judge who spends most time using the base office versus time in other offices and other sites.

The obvious measure might be to record daily hours. But as stated above, salaried professional managers tend to work far more than official hours and they do not track their time on an hourly basis anyway. So we can look for other proxy measures of base office time.

The starting point could be a holiday and sickness report from the HR/Personnel department. That would have the basic number of days worked per year, though it would not say the working location.

One way to get that location might be to look at calendars. In a networked Office environment, it should be fairly clear who spends time in the home location, in meetings or in conference calls. But the calendar is only a plan of activity, it does not reflect the locations where working time is actually spent.

And if we simply ask people individually, apart from the subjective bias thus introduced, we should consider the responders' motivations and incentives. If there is a benefit to claiming more base office time, for example to justify better placed locations, then there will be a tendency for people to over-estimate that time. Most measures such as those I mentioned above are either incentive-neutral or equally prone to over-representation. Perhaps we need a measure that has the opposite intrinsic incentive.

Maybe look at travel expenses. Those who claim regular trips away from the base office probably have less need for base office facilities than those who do not.

Monday, March 10, 2008


The Catholic Church has released seven new mortal sins. I have a word limit, I have no comment on two of them, so in High Fidelity style, I question just five:
  1. Accumulating excessive wealth - Perhaps we could also remove tax breaks for historic institutions that accumulated excessive wealth in earlier generations?
  2. Genetic manipulation - it may be god's will to inflict hereditary disease upon the next generation and to encourage deaths from cancer, but maybe we should work to prevent it?
  3. Drug trafficking and consumption - not sure what coffee traders and pharmacists would think of this?
  4. Morally debatable experiments - well surely we should morally debate experiments?
  5. Violation of fundamental rights of human nature - are those the fundamental rights espoused in common sense and the age of reason?
Welcome to Sin City.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Who dares wins

There seems to be a developing trend here. Still one post per day, Monday to Friday tend to be about technology or marketing or science or superstition, but as evident yesterday, romance or sport can intrude at the weekend.

While we slept overnight, the England cricket team collapsed horribly to lose to New Zealand. I am sure that various commentators are going to write scathing match reports, it's reasonably easy to write something different. I am sure that the Cricinfo site will come up with pages of stats, but they have not done so yet, so I'll get in first with some almost miraculous coincidences.

One day games used to be 55 overs per side. The New Zealand second innings today was declared after exactly 55 overs, that is 330 balls. The England second innings was ended after exactly 55 overs, 330 balls. What are the chances of that?

And looking at the first innings - at the close of day one, New Zealand were 6 wickets down for 282 runs; at the close of day three, England were 6 wickets down for 286 runs (just one boundary away).

But the key bit of synchronicity is in the run rate. In the first innings, to two decimal places, England scored at only 2.00 runs per over. In an era where Australia (and even India) push for 4 or 5, that is an affront to the paying spectator. England's run rate in the second innings, exactly 2.00 runs per over.

On the same pitch in the same match, New Zealand scored at 3.3 Because England did not appear to try to win, England deserved to lose.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

David and Goliath and Romance

Three weeks after Valentine's Day, I talk about romance. Because today was the sixth round of the FA Cup, and I cheered as lowly Barnsley knocked out the mighty Chelsea. And the BBC pundits just will not shut up about the "romance of the cup".

In some ways, the English FA Cup is the purest meritocracy in popular sport. In complete antithesis to the closed shop of American Football franchises, in theory almost any club in England can register for the competition, and if they win enough games then they can progress to play against the giants. There are practical restrictions and exceptions, but it's basically common knowledge anyway.

It's also common knowledge that apart from the fans of the particular big club, everyone tends to root for the underdog. Today I did. But often I do not. In an earlier round, a non-league club knocked out Swansea. How romantic say the pundits. Crap. The Welsh club were bundled and hustled and kicked out. Like Liverpool vs Wimbledon in the 1988 final, sometimes the joy we should feel is more than canceled by distaste for the style of play.

But today it was just like watching Brazil.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Rule of Words

Tuesday was National Grammar Day, but it should be clear that I either disregard or do not know the official rules of English - instead I follow amateur linguistic guidelines - context and implied meaning are what count.

I don't usually discuss specific incidents except to make a more generic point. However, a software supplier wrote an email to a senior client today, copied to me, including the following lines:

To secure the resources from our side, we would like to complete the contract and purchase order by the 14th March. With regard to future process improvements, I mentioned a complimentary module used by [the client]

Context and implied meaning. Our prior expectation was that the extra module would cost more money, so the phrase above suggested to me that a clarification was in order. My note to the supplier was polite and specific, I quoted the above phrase and asked:

Do you mean complimentary or complementary? As we decide our budgets and scope of work, the distinction is important.

And the supplier was quick to reply. Of course he meant:

complementary as in "forming or serving as a complement; completing"...

There is no good vs evil in this, we all make mistakes and if they are clarified then that is fair enough.

But there was an unsavoury twist to this story. These emails have attached history. In addition to showing the clarification in his new note, the supplier overtyped the word in the history. He changed his original note to use complementary instead of complimentary, and even changed the quote within my email.

Looking at his final note implies that his original text was correct and also implies that I highlighted a possible distinction purely to make a pedantic point. He deliberately changed what I wrote. Probably not evil, but maybe unethical.

Of course if the original note had said complementary, then the implied meaning would have matched expectation and I would not have asked for clarification. You should know that.

And please do not misquote me.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Good and Evil in the Webworld

The clearest exposition of banner blindness is at Jakob Nielsen's site. The simple truth is that most users do not even look at on-line advertisements, let alone click through them. The few people that do are not likely to be your targets anyway, as I discussed earlier.

It is not easy to develop engaging online advertising that is attractive without being intrusive. But it is easy to get loads of cheap hits. You just need to cheat or overwhelm the user. Spam.

However you would imagine that reputable corporations would resist the temptation to have pop-ups obscuring the content that you want to read. You would imagine that they would resist the temptation to deliberately mislead the user with false headlines and false promises.

There is a lot of diversity in today's interconnected world. But as Microsoft did with the home PC market, there is always the danger/opportunity that only one will gain critical mass.

And on the day that Mark Zuckerberg has been announced as the world's youngest billionaire, Virtual Economics reminds us where Facebook stands on this issue. According to Techcrunch today, Facebook believes the best ads are the ones users don’t know are ads. Look at what Mark said in his own words, quoted here:

"There is no opting out of advertising," Zuckerberg said. If it is any consolation, he added: "The ads are going to feel like content to a lot of people."

Is that a good thing? Is it evil?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Celebrities Get Stoned

Front page story today: Celebrity drug takers get off too lightly.

The United Nations drugs watchdog says the UK and other countries respond too leniently to the drug-taking antics of celebrities, and that this sends out the wrong message to young people.

"Celebrities are often involved in illicit drug trafficking or in illicit drug use and this is glamorised," said Philip Emafo, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which released the report.

Another story today, again quoting directly. From Yahoo News:

Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the "burning bush," suggested Shanon

Seems a reasonable suggestion to me. When Abraham claimed to hear the voice of God, perhaps he was similarly afflicted? And what about all those other prophets who followed him?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Adverts Brands Channels

The common face of marketing is advertising, and the common face of advertising is the brand. Due to my focus on measurable marketing, I do not talk enough about brands. I tend to discuss targeting, personalisation, data, psychology, statistics. It is all still part of marketing, but the less glamorous side of it.

But occasionally I spot things that link the two worlds and cross the line. I wrote a recent post about the failure of banner invites to attract the target audience, and hence the necessity to consider them to be part of core brand-exposure strategy. The ongoing battle between data protection legislation and data driven message personalisation is another common theme here. The best communication strategy is also dependent upon the communication channel.

Neil Perkin has a recent post with a excellent quick summary of the new world of marketing. He quotes statistics showing that there are hundreds of advertisers, even large ones, that still only choose one channel in which to blow their entire advertising budget. But as another blogger called Andy recently stated:

1. Consumers do not see the world through channels
2. 'Brand' is only the sum of the parts consumers happen upon

Very well put, as simple as ABC, and over there these points are presented in colour.

Monday, March 03, 2008

National Grammar Day

Yesterday in England was Mamma's day, and tomorrow in the US is Grammar's Day.

The SCOGG manifesto: We owe much to our mother tongue. It is through speech and writing that we understand each other and can attend to our needs and differences. If we don't respect and honor the rules of English, we lose our ability to communicate clearly and well. In short, we invite mayhem, misery, madness, and inevitably even more bad things that start with letters other than M.

Within this blog and elsewhere, I undertake an eternal fruitless quest for perfect clarity and zero spelling mistakes. So you might guess that I agree with those statements. But that guess would be wrong. It would be reading a conclusion from the style of this blog and not from its content. I have spelled it out before.

Specifically regarding the guardians of grammar day, the Language Log, with impeccable grammar, points out three ridiculous assumptions in their manifesto that I summarise below:

  1. non-standard variants are unclear and therefore impede communication
  2. respecting and honoring "the rules of English" is what permits people to convey meaning to others
  3. for English, the "standards" seem to be defined by a self-proclaimed group of commercial publishers, editors, etc who seem to know nothing about the nature of language or its history.

I mention them here because I don't actually think that any of those assumptions are very obvious. But they are there, and he was right to highlight them. And English is not my mother tongue anyway.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Fundamental Interconnectness of Frying DNA

The invisible hand of DNA permeates almost everything here. Elements of this blog have also hinted that the true meaning of life is in Monty Python, but that answer just complements the ultimate question.

Douglas Noel Adams was a student at Cambridge, and indeed in the legendary Footlights, and so were the origins of Monty Python. Also there were Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. The first of these two is the star of House MD, about which much has been said on this site. I recently posted hints at a horrific leg break, Stephen also suffered a horrific fracture very recently. I do not repost pictures, but my radiologist friends can see the X-rays here.

As a result of his injury Stephen has suspended his weekly column in the Guardian. And with a non sequitur as ridiculous as awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger, they have given his column to Jeanette Winterson. I've mentioned her before on this site here. Her nonsense was thoroughly disemboweled by Ben Goldacre. Ben gave a talk specifically about science and blogs on Thursday evening in London. It was at Apple.

Stephen Fry has long been a ultra fan of Apple technology. It has been reported that he bought the second Mac ever sold in Europe. So who bought the first? Douglas Adams.

He got the fracture while filming a TV show in Brazil. The show was "Last Chance to See". Of course, that was written by Douglas Adams.

So that's why I need all those links.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Heavy Footprint

This comment is spurred by something written a while ago at the ever excellent primordial blog. I was described there as someone "from the UK who seems to enjoy writing about the physics of football (soccer) goons breaking opponents kneecaps. That and lots of cricket analogies." Close enough, and I'll respond to his specific request later.

Usually that blog provides an entertaining original commentary upon the madness of the world from the perspective of someone who lives very far away from most of it. But one post there dropped in a casual observation about how some people tread lightly and some clomp loudly.

I'll just throw in my viewpoint - after all that's why this blog exists. I think that we should all tread lightly, we each have a duty to leave as light a footprint as possible.

But that was not a serious point about long-term global warming, neither was it a vague philosophical observation. It was a practical reflection on daily life in a noisy city. Those who clomp loudly, without a care in the world, are disturbing the neighbours, particularly if those neighbours happen to be in the apartment below. Treading lightly in the city also means not having our headphones spill tinny buzzing to those next to us on the train, it means not leaving litter and it means allowing other people space. We should aim for a light footprint from our cars too, not just with low emissions, but also by not letting the stereo or engine blast those we pass by.

So be quiet. Respect.