Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Commercial: Book futures

In preparation for a Battle of Ideas debate on whether the book can survive in an era of soundbites and texting, some thoughts that were offered to one of the participants. BoI suggested reading is also available at the link above.


1) Um, yes, they will survive. It should be the first lesson that is taught in all media/technology/innovation classes - new media rarely, if ever or at all, kill old media. Instead new media change the way that old media are consumed. The classic is example is the way that radio shifted from a primary device to a secondary one. Changed use - but not no use or dead. So 'books' will survive the upcoming technological change.

2) The 'affordances' of books, eg its physical properties, are still attractive, and in some ways superior, to any screen-based technologies. Marginalia is easier on paper, paper can survive dropping and rain slightly better, you can't bend a screen, the resolution of type on paper is easier on the eyes.... screens are great for lots of things, but for reading lots and lots of text in an unbroken session, paper is still best.

3) Why the assumption that books have to be lengthy and cannot accommodate soundbites and text language? We're being very un-imaginative if we believe that for a book to be 'valid' it must be of x hundred pages long, and consist of a canonical subject matter. Now whether these 'soundbite' books will be of the same value is a different question. But the success of short books, the return of episodic novels, the cut downs of the Penguin Great Ideas etc etc, all suggest that if a book is the right length, edited deftly, and attractively packaged, it will find its readership.

And anyway books have survived in ages far less friendly to them: who thinks that the illuminated manuscripts and the first Caxtons did not have to compete against the pleasures of the oral tradition, the itinerant preachers and the debased language of mead and wenches anyway. The question is essentially framed in a Victorian position of moral superiority of an age's cultural production. And that can be challenged.

And now the counter, non-Panglossian:

1) the economics of current book publishing could be the real danger - to literature at least. How many new titles come out every year? Do they all sell? I doubt it? And if the huge sums that are spent on, say footballers' less than riveting early life stories, aren't recouped, the cross subsidy for 'proper' literature disappears. Which means mass marketing of it gets harder.

But then that might not matter anyway, due to the Long Tail effect - all hail micro-publishing and print on demand, effectively.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Eeek! Committed!

Or perhaps I should be: I'm now definitely doing a reading of my Metroland piece on 2 December, with details still to be arranged. But most likely departing from Marylebone. There's also a second batch of recommendations for October, can be found in the 26 newsletter. Sign up now, if you're not already.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Commercial: Scot choc OK shock

Well, that's unfair considering that nobody's tasted all the chocolate in Scotland... even if some citizens have the appearance that they've had a damn good go.

But still, props to G to finding and bringing back this delicious Glaswegian brand of sweet stuff: excellent product quality, simple and elegant branding, and design that is luxurious yet minimalist. You can get some of your own here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Listorama: Scales

The Antoniadi Scale: Astronomical viewing conditions
Atterberg: Behaviour of soil in the presence of water
Beranek: Loudness
Brix: Strength of sugar solution
Douglas: Ocean surface disturbance
Forel: Ocean and lake water colour
Fujita-Pearson: Tornado intensity
Holmes: Mental stress
Kelvin: Stellar collapse time
Linke: Shades of blue of the sky
Mohs: Mineral hardness
Ringelmann: Darkness of smoke
Saffir-Simpson: Hurricane intensity
Scoville: Hotness of peppers
Snellen: Visual acuity
Wentworth: Sedimentary rock particle size
Zielinski: Winter storm intensity

Source: The Guardian G2, 09.06.06

Friday, October 20, 2006

Downs, and ups

Downs: above review in this week's TLS. By all accounts I didn't bother to write my piece in Common Ground. Go figure. Also, the news that Robbie Williams has covered Lewis Taylor's 'Lovelight'. It's OK, and if it means Lewis gets cash, great, but... why?

Ups: The tone of voice at Zopa is calm, upbeat and enticing. A mention in the LSE Alumni Relations newsletter. And New Young Pony Club are my new favourite band. 'Get Lucky' is just genius. Fabulous imagery in the opening verse to add to the electric shimmer.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

October's recommendations

from 26 members can be found here.

Yes, Flickr and pictures are taking over more of my life than just words. Will attempt to rectify that as soon as.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Just a quick note: new mobile VoIP provider Truphone has a fab tone of voice, especially this:

Do you really make cheese?

Yes! Truphone is (surely) the world's only tech start-up based on a working organic farm.Crockhamdale is a hand-made sheep's milk cheese, Wensleydale style. Delicious to eat, but quite tricky to find.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Existential study of orange

Concentrate now...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Capsule: Frost/Nixon

The play is actually much more about Frost; Nixon is merely a slide player, a vehicle for his return for fame and fortune in New York. And what it shows more than anything is the large part that luck plays in all these sorts of high-wire resurrection acts: if Jim Reston hadn't found that document...

But mostly, the most interesting and revelatory stuff is contained in asides, and are subtly highlighted through Michael Grandage's direction. The one that lingered most was Nixon's walk off stage after his victory salute into the helicopter: he still clung to the belief that he could come back, and he wasn't ready to leave the stage yet.

Similarly, Nixon's rambling, drunken and, most-likely imagined, late-night phone call to Frost in his hotel room, is brilliantly revealing of the strains of ambition, especially for 'jumped-up country boys', like the two of them were.

What with the adaptation of The Last King of Scotland and The Other Boleyn Girl forthcoming, and The Queen packing them in, this is clearly Peter Morgan's imperial moment. And Frost/Nixon is a very purple patch indeed.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Socialcasting; or, some thoughts on TV

The Venice Project (the new thing from the people who brought you Skype and KaZaa) are looking for some thoughts on the future of TV. Here are mine.


....Hopefully it goes without saying that these are ideas beyond mere bandwidth and narrowcasting - The Venice Project’s compelling idea should be about more than the shift from a ‘few-to-many’ world to a ‘many-to-even more’ one.

Thought 1 - Change the metaphor. Better still, find a new one

Using the words ‘TV’ or ‘television’ sets an expectation in people’s minds. About content quality, image quality, narrative structure, information provision, viewing experience. You say that you are going to take the ‘best elements of the TV experience’. But will you deliver those via a TV? If not, then you are better off finding a new way of describing the service and the experience. Don’t get locked into an old media description of what you are trying to do, just because you feel people won’t get something new, or are too familiar with the idea of TV. If you educate them properly, they will learn and follow. (Oh, and not calling it TV also frees you from some of the existing UK and European restrictions on the provision of audiovisual content and services.)

Thought 2 - People will still make appointments to view…

…its just that you won’t control their diaries. Yes, people will want to see things immediately that have been sent to their inboxes. But people will also want to re-watch that content at a different time, in a more leisurely and relaxed setting. So content has to be always there, available,accessible and quick to get.

Thought 3 - Channel branding is not dead

Yes, people do search and watch particular programmes, with no regard for network. But people do still have a suite of channels, aboutthree or four, which they feel are theirs, which they turn to most regularly toprovide them with a well-edited choice of content that they can relax in front of. The Venice Project should aim to become one of those destinations, one ofthe three or four channels in people’s suite.

Thought 4 - People do not mind being interrupted by adverts

But they had better be good ads, or people will flip over, surf away or switch off. And ‘good’ in this context means creative, funky, irreverent, powerful and gripping. And if the ads can’t be good, then make sure that sponsorship and product placement are easy to make happen, and that people can interactively follow-up, ideally with one click.

Thought 5 - People will still expect to see ‘TV’ on a TV

A similar point to thought one – but how do you get round it? Well, by making sure that your content is backwards compatible with old 625 lines sets as well as the latest in high-definition plasma screens. And by also making it easy for people to transfer content to and from different devices, whether that’s old school TVs or new school PDAs, laptops… wherever there’s a screen.

Thought 6 - Complex narratives are better narratives

On the London stage at the moment is a play called Frost/Nixon, which deals with one of the most high-profile television events of the last century. At one point a character says, “The first and greatest sin oftelevision is that it simplifies. Diminishes. Great, complex ideas, tranches oftime, whole careers, become reduced to a single snapshot.”

Except that this is changing. If you read Steven Johnson’s excellent Everything Bad Is Good For You, you’ll come away from it with the belief that not only are people now able to cope with much more complex narratives in their TV content (far more complex than most films), but that audiences actively demand them, and get engaged with them – just look at the way the viewers of Lost turn the notion of passive ‘viewers’ on its head, not sitting back but getting involved on and offline. And shows that engage more lead to a more upmarket audience profile and therefore more lucrative advertisers.

So the challenge is, how do you move beyond the first flowering of TV in an online world (once unfairly characterised to me as, “Dogs falling off their skateboards on YouTube”), and support narrative complexity in a fragmented world?

Thought 7 - Everyone will be a ‘caster

We know this. YouTube has shown this. MTV Flux will showthis. Current TV shows that people will do this with a particular politicalviewpoint. The real question is: what kind of ‘caster?

My answer: The Venice Project should be about, and facilitate, socialcasting: not just allowing people to find the watercooler moment they talk about the next day; but helping people to create and share their own watercooler moments. And through this sharing and the wider social network that people create, you avoid the limiting dangers of television soeloquently warned about by Edward R Murrow: "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it ismerely wires and lights in a box."

That’s the challenge for The Venice Project: to take TV beyond wires and lights in a box.

One more thought: I’m sure you know about the film of thesame name that you currently share: A great start for the brand would be to make this the first piece of contentavailable to users. A quiet nod to your past, and great start for an exciting future.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A year in the Netherlands

The undoubted highlight of the winners of the recently-announced 2006 Red Dot Design Awards is this 2006 diary created by Dutch agency 2D3D, for their clients and other contacts. It directly associates words, colours and moods to months to create a seasonal feel. The match between month and mood is in itself a great piece of poetry:

January: black

February: inside

March: young

April: green

May: life

June: sun

July: colour

August: outside

September: old

October: brown

November: dead

December: moon

Goes to show that great design is enhanced by great words.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

A scent of you

For National Poetry Day, with apologies to Joni Mitchell:

I met her in Fitzrovia
fragrance in the air

“I nose this town,” I said
and followed her vapour trails

To Chanel No 5 and Chelsea
she’s a Peter Jones girl

To Bow and barley
and the stout pint we drank.

By Pudding Lane
the burning tinge was cinnamon
the foundations of her gin palace lemon.

Strawberries in Southwark soon followed
and to Oval and its square-cut grass
the sharp-cut mint in which she washed me.

A sniff on the wind
and I’m falling

“You smell like you now,”
she said, smiling.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Me and my shadow

The dangers of idly tapping in your blog name into the URL address bar, and assuming that you will come up... it appears that Edwin and me agree on our beta-ness. However, it seems a shame that he gave up after three goes, at least on the evidence available. Let's see if any communication flows from this; and that he gets back into the fray.

***STOP PRESS: Alas no - the email to bounced back. A pity. ***

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tour: Madrid (advert)

It is a white city, baked in an oven that only goes off at night. You can buy anything you want from The English Shop, and there are squares of sun, saints and generals. The party starts as soon as you step on to the streets and doesn't stop until the last beer or the next morning, whichever's later.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Capsule: Zidane - A 21st Century Portrait

"Aqui, aqui-". It's the thing that Zinedine Zidane says most frequently in this portrait of him by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno. And the word 'here' is the clue to unlocking the portrait.

1) Here as in me, the physical self.

But there are only a few moments that delineate his physicality. The sphere of sweat glistening on his left ear like a diamond stud. The way that he is not conscious of this; as it pours off him, he does not pause to wipe it off him. The inverted triangle of the body: thin, delicate legs where his beautiful touch comes from; the thunderously proportioned thighs where his power comes from; a broad muscular chest for drive. He looks for all the world like a monk hellbent on revenge, except for one moment when he smiles a smile that spilts his face horizontally in two, pulling his deepset eyes forward to reveal a battery of crows' feet.

2) Here as in now, about consciousness and time

The cliche that great players of all sports do stop time is true. But the film provides an insight into the way that they do it. It is touch, control and precision, which means, yes, killing the (foot)ball dead, making it do what you want. But a deeper, sub/un conscious anticipation which means that the leg/foot/head is perfectly positioned to accept the offering. It is a nano-second that equals advantage; and an actual slowing down of the universe.

And the film gets as close as any motion picture has ever done to showing this sensation, which athletes call being 'in the zone'. In his comments on the film, Zidane says that he only remembers fragments of games, and it is clear after watching this why this is so: passages of play, directions of play are not linear. And following this, blocking out the crowd (noise consultant Kevin Shields makes them the most visceral participant), and simultaneously being part of and anticipating the action means that the idea of time as a progressive flow breaks down.

Time is instead a series of sometimes connected, atoms of moments.

He seems to subconsciously recognise this: after every significant snatch of play that he has been involved with, he inadvertently scrapes his boots back on the turf, and taps his toes vertically. The tools are clean; time to begin again.

He begins again by sometimes hearing the commentary of French games that he watched on TV in his youth: La carte verte is the sandbox again, where dreams are started again.

3) Here, as in give me the ball

Because of how he plays(ed), he doesn't go foraging, but asks instead for the ball to be delivered to him. Most times it is, and a small task is the subsequently completed: a flick, a shuffle, a small touch on. And then you notice that, in addition to his ability to bend time, his other sporting value is this - he fails in what he sets out to do athletically less often than other players.

The stats if passes not delivered, runs not completed are high for all player, both Real Madrid and Villareal. But his are slightly fewer. This means there is less need of exhortation - he is of few words during the course of the match - but also less need of his supporting cast, team mates and opposition alike. They are there, they are recognised, but they are not here, even when he rushes into the bundle that ultimately gets him sent off, even when he idly receives disinterested congratulations after setting up Real's equaliser (a run down the left hand side of the penalty box which showed him assuming the characteristics and body shape of a traditional winger).

There is one aqui missing from the film. The insight into the here of the soul beneath, which all good portraiture should do. The eyes are hooded, face mostly blank, so it is only those feet, those nervous, twitching cradles which provide a glimpse of the real no 5 under the shirt.

But here is the biggest insight. There is no script. Even if there was a game plan, it gets up ended. That's why sport is the ultimate drama. But also why a man blessed with the ability to bend the world a little to his will will always succeed: in the absence of words, he will know the right words to say, and the right actions to complete. And always in the right time of now, aqui, aqui.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Type crazy

A bit late now, seeing as the London Design Festival closed last night, but the above should take you through to the Sgt Rock Flickr record of 26 Sayings, a collaboration between 26 and Lippa Pearce, soon to be of Pentagram.

And the playfulness exhibited should hopefully stand as a small tribute to Alan Fletcher, who died last week, and who's wit this work was directly influenced by. The Guardian obituary is here.

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