Monday, December 29, 2008

Knights of the Round Table

Apart from the guy mentioned in yesterday's note and his playwriting colleagues Alan Bennett and Michael Frayn and a host of actors like Paul Scofield, another five who refused to accept a knighthood:

1. LS Lowry - painter

2. David Hockney - artist

3. Michael Faraday - chemist, experimenter, demonstrator, and the man who made electricity usable

4. Frederick Sanger - the only living double Nobel prizewinner, without his work we could not yet know the structures of basic proteins, let alone be able to sequence the human genome

5. Humphrey Lyttleton - jazz trumpeter, cartoonist, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cricket and Life and Death

In memory of Harold Pinter who died on Christmas Eve, my top five test batsmen:

5. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar - Needs no introduction

4. David Ivon Gower - Apparently all style and grace and elegance, played as if without a care in the world, but still England's most reliable run-getter

3. Sourav Chandidas Ganguly - India's David Gower, but also an explosive one-day batsman and an agressive inspirational captain. And he's Bengali.

2. Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards - While the rest of the world complained of West Indies' fast bowler policy, Viv just swatted away bouncers from in front of his unprotected head. In an era before batsman-friendly field restrictions, he scored just as fast as he liked. Simply the best batsman I've ever seen.

1. Bradman - obviously.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cooking Christmas Lunch

As it's festive break, please excuse a short personal post.

I rarely cook. But a recent long vacation in India (see here and here) reignited my taste buds. And I've discovered it's easy. Time-consuming and tedious, but easy. The results are excellent, even though I say so myself. Nobody else does.

My wife says it's because I have such low expectations. Because I like simple dals and tarkaris. But I do things properly, fresh spices - no pre-bought pastes, not because they are universally pricey, but because they are universally vile.

One issue is that you can only get these ingredients in "Indian" shops, not in the big supermarket that supply our basic weekly requirements. And those shops are a bit out of the way, designed for local users. Whenever we drive down, there's never anywhere to park. Problem.

Problem sorted. Tomorrow, while most of the world sits down to christmas lunch, I'll pop down then. They're always open. Thank god not everyone's a christian.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bidding Gambling and Voting

There 's stuff in the news about "penny auctions". For example the BBC reports:
I think bidding on penny auction sites is akin to a gambling-like experience," Professor Griffiths said. "Obviously, when people are bidding again and again and again and they don't actually win the item in the end, that's very much like gambling."

However, Juha Koski from online auction site disagrees. "We have two experts who have given us their opinion on this. This is definitely a game of skill and would not form under any circumstances under the definition of gambling."

That was the most surprising disagreement since Madoff disagreed with proposed hedge fund regulation. Five reasons why these auctions are really lotteries:

1. The gambler pays for every "bid", each bid is essentially a non-refundable ticket

2. The final price of the item bears minimal relation to the value of the item on the open market

3. The lottery operator (or seller) gains most profit not from the winning bidder but instead from the number of bids made (or tickets bought)

4. The operators argue that entry needs significant skill. Actually I agree - in the same sense that choosing lottery numbers requires significant skill

5.Sometimes the winning price is the lowest unique bid, that essentially proves it

It's obvious. If the supposed regulators cannot work this out then they are either incompetent statistical morons or subservient slaves of the gaming industry.

[note: yes I know that choosing lottery numbers requires some "skill" to avoid picking the obvious numbers that other people are more likely to have picked]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All's Well That Starts Well

Why the guy playing lead role in a Shakespeare play is like the priest conducting a religious wedding:

1. they both need to learn their lines

2. they both dress in uncomfortable period costumes

3. they both need to be male (very few exceptions)

4. they both talk in an old form of language that nobody really uses these days

5. the better the actor, the better the performance

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Peopleweb

Really just a follow-up to the previous post. In the style of economist Tyler Cowen and his regular sentence of the day, I quote Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing and other new marketing handbooks. From Seth's blog today:

57% of the marketers surveyed hadn't read a blog in the last year. These people are incompetent and should be fired.

Sorry, that's more than one sentence. Anyway, people have different and varied interests. Lack of interest in the web 2.0 should not be an absolute killer. Yet to put it into perspective I'll quote something obvious from Neil Perkin again , then follow with something from his last note:

It is irrelevant whether people prefer writing a blog, posting their pictures on flickr, or Facebook, or their passing thoughts on twitter, or whether they do all or any combination of the above - the point is is that they are doing it at all.

Advertising has to learn to help people do their thing with each other, rather than send messages to the world in the hope of making an impact.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Recruiters - Employ Firestarters

People should listen more than they speak. So we should read more than we write. Consequently I often find great blog posts that I likely could have written. Examples here and here. But recently I found a great blog post that I likely would have written.

Firestarters from Neil Perkin, Director of Marketing & Strategy for the commercial functions of IPC Media. It's excellent. Not only is it "I couldn't have put it better myself" but it's "exactly how I'd have put it myself".

Times are tough. The recruitment market is tough. But here are 5 reasons why employing people who blog is more important than ever:

1. They start fires. Blogging forces you to come up with new stuff. To be interesting.
2. They understand the value of connection. And are connected. To other interesting people.
3. They get digital. They appreciate the nuances and potential of social media. And how it works. Because they're doing it, not looking at it.
4. They network like crazy.
5. But most of all, because they're bothered. They have an opinion. They're not afraid to express it. They're passionate about their subject. And real passion is rare indeed.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Recipe to build a Kolkata suburb

1. A few acres of land
2. A few thousand families

Cooking time:
Sixty years

For each family:
1. Fence of your personal area with bamboo and twine, then string up a temporary shelter in the middle of it.
2. When you can afford to, replace the temporary shelter with a mud shack, keeping a small plot to grow your vegetables or tether your goat
3. When you can afford to, replace the mud shack with a fairly solid brick and plaster structure
4. As funds allow, gradually add floors to give yourself more living space
5. Tear the whole house down and build a block of flats on the same little plot, extending right to the roadside. Goodbye green space, hello modern suburb.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Urban Village

I've been away. Top five reasons why a congested Kolkata suburb of 2008 is like a traditional English village of 1908

1. The same people have lived in the same houses for generations. Almost no geographical mobility. Everybody hangs out at the same local watering holes.

2. The local store owner lives above his shop just a couple of houses down the road from you. He stocks everything and knows the price of everything. You ask him for what you need to buy, he hands it to you. Open all hours.

3. The local bank manager lives in the same street too. New accounts and loan acceptance are based largely on personal recommendation.

4. Windows and doors are open all day, most people walk to work, kids play in the street.

5. The local rag'n'bone man comes round daily with his animal-drawn trailer to collect your reusable household waste

Sounds ideal, but there is a lot that was wrong with that world, and it is disappearing fast - because now is the age of the department store - tomorrow may be the age of the internet, that will be very different again.