Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

October 31, 2008

You want to know how? Make a film like this. Simon Pegg has, to date, done a brilliant job of pleasing fans with his fresh and entertaining ‘Britcoms’ (of these, Shaun of the Dead remains the best). He could have blown a lot of the fan goodwill he’s built on this movie.

The film is pretty much ‘Run Fatboy Run’ all over again. Very ‘British’ and slovenly Pegg takes on toothy-grinned, super-groomed, super successful American homme for the affections of a woman and keeps losing but wins anyway. Sorry for the spoiler. The difference is its set in the world of glossy showbiz magazines.

Cringe humour is the staple ingredient (Pegg turning up for work in a rude T-shirt, accidentally spitting half-chewed food on the executives and so on). There’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before and it leaves the movie predictable, dull and lifeless. The only saving grace is Megan Fox – and that’s only in a ‘Loaded’ kind of way.

Maybe it would have worked better on the small screen.

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Digital device

October 22, 2008

It’s the end of a long day. I’m ready to run for the train. As my computer shuts down, I gather up the discarded paper from my desk and carry it to the secure confidential waste paper and thin card bin along the corridor.

The SCWPATC bin has a locked lid with a thin slit for depositing papers. I put my papers in the slot. They do not disappear, due to an excess of confidential waste paper and possibly thin cards piled up beneath.

I do not want to leave my confidential waste paper poking out at the mercy of data desperados bent on document theft. So I prod the papers firmly through the slot with my shortish, but not stubby, middle finger.

My finger gets stuck in the slot. Quite painfully, behind the second joint. I pull it up. It does not slip free. I glance at my watch. Nat. Ex. trains wait for no man (only wildfowl). I need to hurry.

I pull harder, bravely ignoring the pain. The locked lid lifts lazily off the bin, exposing an Aladdin’s cave of confidential waste paper.

I am free. I just have a large curved plastic lid encasing my hand. I look like a Pelota player. I do a quick risk assessment. The lid on my hand is inconvenient, but not life threatening. It will not change my life, although I will have to get some larger ski gloves. Typing will be difficult. I could run for the train.

With a sigh I hold the lid down firmly with my other hand and yank my trapped finger out of the slit. The lid slots back into position, re-securing the waste assets. Somewhere in the distance a train whistle blows.

Horseplay

August 19, 2008

“What is the point,” I wondered as I walked to Burger King for my dinner, “of mounted police in the City of London?”

As I queued for my Whoppa I mused that surely a horse was an obsolete technology for the front line in the war against crime and terror in the 21st century.

I mean, what are horses good for? Is it sensible for an expensively trained, well-equipped police officer to be seated on top of half a ton of sentient and volatile semi-domesticated herbivore inches away from speeding traffic and any number of sudden distractions?

In a crowd a motor vehicle becomes an obstacle and a liability. In a crowd an officer on foot is barely visible and can only influence a handful of people. In a crowd a horse is a vantage point, a form of transport, a signalling platform and an icebreaker….A horse can run faster than a man. A horse can wade through deeper water than any motor vehicle. A horse emits less carbon than an internal combustion engine per hour (depending on diet, I suppose). A horse can be reassuring, but assertive and it appreciates small treats and gentle patting.

There are some old technologies that still have their place.

I reminded myself to look carefully at legacy systems and not to shoot the police horses when we change things….What do they do with police horses once they get too old?

My burger was rather tough.

There Will Be Blood

August 11, 2008

This was certainly an intelligent and intriguing piece of filmmaking – unnerving and dark in with skilful moods contrasts. However, the media hype comparing the film to Citizen Kane or The Godfather fall a little flat, it’s just not as densely complex and occasionally falters. That being said, Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is immensely enjoyable and very good. The imagery and symbolism is powerful but the message required much further development to place it in the list of truly “great” films.

This is the story of a wilful man fuelled by anger and hatred of his fellow man with a fierce competitive edge that moves him to stop at nothing to achieve total dominance. There was a very meticulous revelation of Lewis’s character, Daniel Plainview: to begin with he seemed to be a normal, good man, but events underline how seriously disturbed he actually was. Daniel Plainview was a perfect part for Lewis: his thin, rickety posture reflects his brittle heart and nature.

The story was good, the acting, especially Lewis, mainly very good and it was perfectly scored but the dialogue and the directing were lagging at times.

Many of the characters feel too awkward and while there were areas of engaging dialogue there were too few. In parts it’s strange and baffling, but at times brilliant, captivating, raw and realistic. A sinister score enhances the dark horror that this film brings to the oil industry of that time, at times I felt quite mad myself.

The pace of the film was stunted, and overlong dialogue took over just as you expected some action or drama. There are few actors today that can do what Lewis can, though, he transforms into the character and takes you along with him. Astounding when you consider he’s spent the past few years making furniture at his home.

In the end you almost feel sorry for Plainview, the very character strengths that allowed him to accumulate great wealth, were the very same ones that led to his downfall (spoiler – sorry). A twisted tale of madness and corruption, an experience of the depths of human desire, emotion and greed. This was reasonably engaging but not up to scratch so if I had 10 thumbs – which would be odd – I’d stick six of them up for this film.

Import ants

May 22, 2008

Did you see the news about the invasion of tiny ants in Texas which eat electronic equipment?

No, seriously. Apparently these little beasties have appeared from nowhere (perhaps imported on a boat from the Caribbean) and feast on all sorts of electronic goods. From sewage plant pumps to i-pods. Nothing is safe.

I wish I’d thought of it. What a great screenplay!

Endearingly they also eat fire ants, which are rather unpleasant and can give humans a nasty bite.

I’m planning to head to Texas shortly to start selling gadgets for laminating household devices in foul tasting plastic. Meanwhile I wonder what the insurance position is. Would a normal household contents policy cover the loss of a flat screen TV due to being partially eaten by insects? Perhaps one of our well-informed readers could leave a commant?

Tongues

April 21, 2008

Yes…I admit.It is not my territory. But With time to go out on Sunday I bought myself a Teach Yourself Polish course. It promises “all round confidence”, a bit like a personal hygeine product. I’m quite excited.

A quick scan of the chapters gives me a taste of what to expect on my next trip to Poland, if I master the pronunciation…

It starts well: unit 2 “Pleased to meet you” and unit 5 “We buy some food”. But things take a bizarre turn in unit 6 “I prefer to swim”. By unit 9 “We make a date” things are looking better, but it gets more serious in unit 12 “Have you been to the doctor’s?” – probably due to swimming just after eating. Things are looking ominous by unit 16 “I’ve got a problem”, with no sign of a solution in unit 18 “How did it happen?”. Things turn out OK in the end, unit 20 “Did you like it in Poland?”

I like the narrative flow. It will spur me on to complete the course.

When I got home I compared the contents list with my Colloquial Icelandic course, in which I never got past the first couple of chapters “Welcome to Iceland!” and “Where are you from?” In fact I noticed that my book mark was still halfway through chapter 3 “Where are we going?”

Perhaps in keeping with the national character, the Icelandic course is a lot more down to earth than Polish. The chapters have pithy titles like “Clothing”, “The Family”, “Appointments” and “Accommodation”. But it loosens up towards the end with “Story, history and people” which flows unsteadily into chapter 15 “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes”, which I thought might be a Viking drinking song, but contains the unmissable section “Body parts: how to use them in Icelandic”.

Just as I put the book away one useful item of vocabulary caught my eye: “rjómabolla – a bun filled with whipped cream traditionally eaten on ‘bun day'”… In Iceland they have a ‘bun day’! I wonder if that is weekly, monthly or annually.

Somnambulism

April 1, 2008

A newspaper article caught my eye: “a study this week suggests that an amazing 40 per cent of the population in G£a$gow sleepwalks”… My immediate reaction was that I already know this. I often find one of those sleepwalkers driving the car in front of me on the way to work. But, hang on… This percentage looks rather high.

 

Is it really the case that when you are sitting in a meeting in G£a$gow it is likely that four out of the ten people round the table spent some of the night walking around oblivious? [Looks around office…hmm, well perhaps]

 

I investigated further… seeking to corroborate the story from other sources, online and in print.Actually the real story is a bit different. The story comes from a press release from the Travelodge chain of hotels. Research was conducted at 310 Travelodge hotels, with a sample of 3,000 adults… In other words an average of just under 10 people per hotel were asked about sleepwalking.

 

There are two Travelodge hotels in G£a$gow, so a maximum of 20 Travelodge guests in G£a$gow contributed to the survey. I think that it is fair to assume that a sizeable proportion of the people staying at a Travelodge hotel in G£a$gow are not actually from the city.

 

So, the real story is that…about eight people, probably residents of a variety of different towns and cities, who have stayed at a Travelodge in G£a$gow admitted to sleepwalking at some point.Which is a far cry from “an amazing 40 per cent of the population of G£a$gow sleepwalks”.I sometimes feel that standards of objectivity are slipping.

 

I do hope that you all enjoyed your extra hour on weekend night, whether you were asleep in bed or out of it.

Cleaning up

March 17, 2008

Is it just me, or has anyone else found that they are presented with a wide selection of household cleaning equipment when they log on to Amazon? In the past I have been very impressed with Amazon’s customer relationship management system and their customer propensity modelling. I usually find one or two items of interest amongst the selection of “things you might be interested in”.

Until now I had assumed that this was based on some clever analysis of what you bought and what other customers had bought. Then they identify the common features and offer suggestions based on these.I can not see how even the most sophisticated algorithms have been able to link my recent Amazon purchases to a wide choice of vacuum cleaners and chrome waste bins for “bathroom, kitchen and office”.

Is it possible that the Amazon computers know more about me than I do myself? Will I suddenly get the urge to start some energetic Spring cleaning when I get back from my travels next weekend?… Of course now that thought has lodged in my brain, there is a higher probability that I will… Perhaps Amazon are pioneering new sophistication in suggestion marketing.

Now I come to think of it, my keyboard needs a good dusting.

You have mail

March 4, 2008

I felt sorry for Gary Sinnott, the computer enthusiast from Suffolk who set up a website to promote his local town of Mildenhall. Unfortunately his domain name of mildenhall.com was similar to that of the US Air Force base just down the road – mildenhall.af.mil; not that similar really, but Gary found himself the unwitting recipient of an increasing number of emails meant for personnel at the base.

As webmaster for mildenhall.com, he received all the emails addressed to that domain. It wasn’t just junk and spam… his inbox was cluttered by some classified information, including the flight plans for George W. Bush on a visit to the region.

When the incoming emails reached 30,000 a day (according to the newspapers) Gary had to admit defeat in the face of US firepower. He closed down his website; Apparently the US authorities were unable to persuade their employees and correspondents to check the email addresses on their correspondence before clicking send. Personally I was quite surprised that the person sending the President’s flight plan didn’t pay a bit of attention to the address field.The thing is, familiarity breeds contempt and it’s all too easy to let your fingers do the thinking as they fly across the keys…

The suffix .com flows so smoothly from your fingertips compared to .af.mil (try it!).I felt sorry for Gary because I sometimes get the wrong emails. Many of you would have already experienced the problems of having a name that is shared by at least two other people in the organisation. It is very easy to type half the address and to let the automated address book fill in the rest… I sometimes get emails about claims that need settling and I’m sure that poor  Sud in claims gets fed up with IT related matters.

For the last couple of months I have been in the trainee actuaries mailing list for some reason as well. I don’t know if I share a name or part of a name with one of our actuarial team. I’ve been quite interested to read about the varied topics, meetings and presentations that our actuaries attend… Although I would have been more interested in military secrets.

A discriminating age

January 27, 2008

A feature of life in the post vacation period is that when I finally get home there is usually a pile of unopened post waiting for me. This is not often very exciting. I hardly ever get any interesting letters. The only people who send me letters are either trying to sell me something, or trying to make me pay for something; I usually only receive interesting correspondence, from real people, by email.

Last Sunday evening was no exception. I arrived home and eventually got round to skimming through week’s post; The usual stuff, a gas bill from an electricity company and an electricity bill from British Gas, who for some reason had used an envelope with bilingual English and Welsh wording; and half a dozen direct marketing envelopes destined for the bin.

But wait!…. What’s this? A direct marketing offer from….The Oldie magazine.

I get a lot of subscription offers from magazines. This is because I sometimes take up free offers and then cancel once the free issues have arrived. I am obviously held in their Customer Relationship Management and Campaign Management systems as a hot lead, but difficult to convert.

But…. The Oldie?!… The clue is in the name. Surely I’m not old enough to read that, despite the claim in the letter that “It’s about attitude not age”. The Oldie was a magazine founded by a grumpy older person who was fed up with “being inundated by a mass of celebrity- and ‘yoof’ obsessed features”….

I can’t be part of that demographic…. Their customer segmentation model must be wrong. I’ve just finished my 12 month free offer from Vanity Fair (didn’t renew with a paid subscription, I thought it was rubbish…. full of celebrities and handbag adverts with just a few good articles now and then).

That’s what happens when you let computers apply marketing rules. No empathy.It never used to be like that.