You’re in good hands … with Virgin


Virgin Mobile in the UK has released another viral dowload to publicize their recent award for customer service. Busta Rhymes receives “hands on” service from an efficient bathroom attendant. More details on the campaign from Revolution.

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Boeing to offer in-air broadband


Boeing is claiming that its satellite-based in-air broadband service, Connexion by Boeing, will be available in 50 aircraft by the end of 2004, and 150 by the end of 2005. Deals are already in place with Lufthansa, All-Nippon, SAS and JAL, and are being negotiatied with others

With rates from $9.95 for three hours’ access to $29.95 a flight, it’s a market estimated to reach $2b a year by 2014. The irony? The first flight is being conducted today – on a Lufthansa Airbus A340.

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Vanity Fair reporter to students – you’ve gotta dig deep


Hmmm. Maureen Orth, a Vanity Fair writer who’s out promoting her new book, spoke to Berkely J-school students last month. She had some sage words of advice for them – considering she has interviewed Michael Jackson four times over the last decade.

While you can lament the idea that were living in this era of celebrity and personality, it also behooves the journalists here to get beyond the superficial and the spin and do the legwork and the research and the hard, hard work that takes to get the real story.

Read an excerpt of her book here:

The book is an informal tour of what I call the Celebrity-Industrial Complex: the media monster that creates the reality we think we see, and the people who thrive or perish there. My challenge, as a reporter in this environment, is to bring the story back alive, accurately, to find the key that unlocks the personalities, the story, or the crime. I dont mind digging in grubby places. My early experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Medellin, Colombia, prepared me to fit in at any level. I am also more than willing to pore through thousands of pages of court documents, or whatever is necessary. Often there are scores of highly paid obfuscators in the path of the story. They increase the thrill of the hunt. Willing subjects with high-paid lawyers often get court records sealed; law-enforcement authorities cover their mistakes; any number of spinmeisters or fawning acolytes steer reporters clear of the truth. That is their job. Mine is to find the reality behind the faade.

Oooh. I can almost see the spinoff now: Law & Order: Hollywood. Maureen Orth played by Tyne Daly.

Via NewYorkerish and PopCulta.

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The WRONG kind of third party support


As PR counsellors, we often advise that clients facing a crisis situation identify and secure support from reliable and reputable third party sources – like consumer safety associations, reknowned academics, or community leaders.

In Toronto, the police force is facing charges of corruption, and they’re getting support from the wrong sort of stakeholder: the Hells Angels (sub. req.):

Although others may disagree, from my perspective there is not widespread corruption in the Toronto Police Service – Donny Petersen, Ontario spokesman for the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, Downtown Toronto.

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Just when you figure out your audience …. their boss gets in the way


Recent research showed the Alton Towers amusement park in Staffordshire that a third of their adult visitors had freed up time to visit by skipping work or calling in sick.

The marketing solution? A targeted website aimed at this demographic. As Revolution magazine notes:

Alton Towers said its skivers claimed they were throwing sickies because they did not get enough holiday time. Mike Lorimer, marketing manager at Alton Towers, said: “We were actually quite surprised by the number of skivers we appear to have on park, and expect our website to be really popular as a result.” He added: “It’s not up to us to reduce absenteeism and if workers want to take advantage of the mid-week deals, why not?”

The Federation of Small Business has a problem with the campaign. Not only does the site encourage “skiving,” it actually offers a discount coupon for employees considering skipping work. Said an FSB rep:

“Staff ‘pulling sickies’ is demoralising for other employees. It is also a disciplinary offence. How would management at Alton Towers like it if their staff pulled a sickie to spend the day at Chessington World of Adventure or Blackpool?”

The FSB’s worked up enough to threaten a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority if the site isn’t pulled down. Spoilsports.

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Teens want bullet points and tidbits with their newspapers


When USA Today launched back in 1982, Al Neuharth’s baby weathered a lot of criticism for being too lite, too chipper, too optimistic and not sufficiently sophisticated.

Turns out that may be what teens are looking for in a newspaper. Tomorrow, the Newspaper Association of America will release details from their study of students from across the US. As Jon Iafeliece of North Castle Partners, the consultants on the study, told the E&P:

In terms of content, teens are looking for short, concise articles and lots of bullet points. “They don’t want the news dumbed down, they just want it more concise,” Iafeliece says.

Fittingly, USA Today’s Weekend supplement just finished an online survey of 65,000 teens:

Now, a USA WEEKEND survey of more than 65,000 American teenagers delivers some interesting news: Newspapers have established a substantial beachhead in today’s teen culture. According to the magazine’s large, if unscientific, survey, a majority of teenagers have a newspaper delivered to their homes and at least see it …

The best way to characterize their attitude — and this is exactly the result one would obtain from an unscientific survey of my own home — is that they believe in newspapers in theory and expect really to read them one day, but in practice they dip in and out of the more accessible sections. That’s promising.

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Would you like discount shoes with that tire change?


Over in Wisconsin, the Triple A has gotten some heat from customers who, when calling for roadside assistance, were pitched the benefits of the Show Your Card & Save marketing program.

… “It’s extremely tacky to pitch someone stuck in a ditch,” said Jonathan Bernstein, principal of Bernstein Crisis Management in Monrovia, Calif. …

Only a handful complained that the Show Your Card & Save reminder was out of bounds, spokesman Michael Bie said.

… “Our call counselors are empowered to either mention Show Your Card & Save or not to mention it” during calls seeking roadside service, Bie said.

In one case, however, an operator asked a motorist stuck in a ditch after skidding off an icy road if she was aware of the Show Your Card & Save program. The member then asked for details and was told she can get discounts at “places such as Casual Corner.”

But where do you draw the line? Must every consumer contact with a company be maximized and incentiveized? You would think clearly being identified as the victim of a stressful event, like a car accident, would prompt companies to be more empathic.

Maybe not. Bajaj Allianz General, an Indian car insurer, has developed the software to process an auto accident claim, from damage report to final payment, by SMS.

And how do you approach an even more sensitive subject – like a death in the family? BusinessWeek discussed how to raise awareness of new products in the funeral industry.

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That’s not viral marketing!


The Today Show ran a little panel this morning discussing the runaway success of Passion, the film bankrolled by Mel Gibson. One Hollywood authority (I think it was Peter Guber) kept mentioning viral marketing as the key to the movies’ pulling in nearly $250 million so far.

Passion has benefited from controversial subject matter, the careful marketing of Christian groups and communities, and a delicate but well-orchestrated PR campaign by a media-savvy producer and Hollywood Star. That’s not viral marketing! It’s a public relations campaign!

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A geek asks: Is this self-affirmation or criticism?


Dana points to a very useful tool – the “e-bore-meter, a global peer-to-peer i-poll.” Test your responses to these questions:

If you lose access to your electronic diary, do you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing?

When you lose your Internet connection at work, do you think you might as well go home because you can’t work?

Have you ever thought that if you could go back through time, you’d buy up all the key domain names?

And – yes, you are as pathetic as me.

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Wharton on the BBC, Iraq and Corporate Policies


Knowledge@Wharton has run an interesting, and objective, column on the upset over at the BBC.

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Which candidate will hang their hat on Styx’ “Mr. Roboto”?


MarketingWonk pointed to a new web site for Dean supporters today: Songs For Dean.

Political campaigns have long used music to motivate and energize their workers and supporters. As the result of endless repetition at campaign events, advertising and news coverage, some adopted campaign songs are more recognized for their political connotations than their original success.

The War Room, the successful documentary about the ’92 Clinton campaign for President, emphasized the influence of Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) – especially in setting the stage at the Democratic Convention in New York and at the Inauguration in Washington.

Farther back in time, Ronald Reagan used Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” as a 1984 campaign theme. Walter Mondale tried to counterattack, and hard, with a brutal ad juxtaposing pictures of children with missles launching, set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Teach your Children.”

Tim Robbins mined this vein of thought in his “mockumentary” about the political campaign of Bob Roberts, a right-wing guitar-playing candidate for the Senate.

Vincent Camby of the NYT nails the character: He’s young, healthy and sincere. More important, he appropriates gestures and language associated with 1960’s protest movements and uses them in the cause of his own brand of 1990’s right-wing rabble-rousing. He calls himself a “rebel conservative.”

One of my favourite singers, Billy Bragg, made similar comments about the Labour Party’s choice of song in 2001: it was “bland” and evoked “watered-down Conservatism”. He said: “I think so much of New Labour is about presentation rather than detail. “They are hoping we won’t listen to the verse and just hear the chorus – it’s style over content.”

Camby’s comment about appropriating the cultural indicators of the 60’s can
be applied to a number of candidates over the past thirty years, Dean included. On Songs for Dean, you can find titles like “I Want My Country Back,” “Battle Hymn of the Blog,” “Take Me Out To the Blog Game,” and, interestingly, “With Dean We’re Marching On” – which is sung to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. (warning: this wav is a real church school organ rendition)

Some more historic ditties can be found on Presidential Campaign Songs 1789 – 1996 (with some sound clips). Here’s a snappy LAT article on the subject, with choice selections from he 2000 election.

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Remembering Late Twentieth Century Satire


Two recent reviews of long-treasured magazines prompted this little mini-reminiscence. I know I’m overlooking a lot.

Once upon a time, the world was a gentler and kindler place. You had search hard and long for irony, satire and sarcasm in popular culture in North America. Sure, Lenny Bruce, Newhart, Cavett, Carlin and the Smothers Brothers were working clubs and skating a fine line of morality on TV, but you were more likely to see Jack Hanna or Senor Wences talking to Ed or Johnny most nights.

National Lampoon helped crack the veneer of respectablity. Like Carlin, they brought a critical eye to the details and conventions of that defined our everyday suburban life. Slate’s taken a look at a re-issue of a book that made us re-examine our own surroundings – the familiar cast of nerds, dweebs, losers, geeks, sluts, bikers and teacher’s pets we all knew intimately from school – National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook

National Lampoon’s work continues to resonate in popular culture today. Doug Kenney, one of the Yearbook‘s authors, helped write Animal House as well as Caddyshack. P.J. O’Rourke was another author.

Despite this ground-breaking work, it would be years before the TV networks would reluctantly welcome the caustic wit, mildly offensive skits and satirical observations of everymen like David Letterman – and then only late at night.

In 1986, as Folio reminds us, Spy magazine was launched. Gradon Carter and Kurt Andersen helped rip open the pastel pink underbelly of the egomaniacal 80s – with its attendant power suits, pink suspenders, money clips, flashy cars and pretentious society gatherings. Spy’s irreverent approach to the affairs, parties and peccadillos of businessmen, celebrities and policiticans echoed many of the ideas first published by Britain’s Private Eye and Punch magazines – but in a louder, more aggressive and more colourful manner.

Spy’s influence can be seen everywhere from The New York Times itself (which adopted its disembodied celebrity heads) to the snide asides that pop up in Entertainment Weekly and The New York Observer.

Maybe the loudest incarnation of this influence was E!’s Talk Soup, where hosts like Greg Kinnear and John Henson distilled a day’s worth of talk show freaks, soap opera antics and news oddities into a soundbite and video clip potpourri – narrated with more than a touch of sarcasm.

But has the world turned on its head? Sarcasm, irony and ennui are now so common-place that John Edwards announced his presidential run on The Daily Show.

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FAQ: So you want to hire Santa


So. Your internal communications plan notes that Santa is to host your Christmas event this year, but you have some questions about the the cost, the reequirements and possible complications. Check out our down-to-earth FAQ for the answers to many of the questions you might have.

Q: How much does Santa cost per hour?

A: Santa traditionally works for a rate of 7 cookies/hour + 1 glass of milk for every hour after the second, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. After 3 p.m., Santa’s rates change to 4 shots of bourbon and 2 six minute “elf” breaks /hour.

Q: Does Santa come with his own costume?

A: Yes, due to federal laws, Santa Claus Inc. is required to provide a full and freshly pressed official Santa uniform.

Contrary to previous arrangements, we no longer offer specials on “Pantless Santa” appearances.

Q: Do we need additional liability insurance?

That depends if you assume responsibility for transporting Santa, his elves, the large red velour throne and faux panelled wood sleigh to your event. If Santa must deliver it in his 1977 Ford Bronco, we will require an indemnity waiver.

Q: Does Santa come with Reindeer?

A: Due to a tragic violation of federal airspace over LaGuardia Airport in New York, we have discontinued our reindeer rental service. There is, however, a sale on reindeer steaks at the Food King in Queens.

Q: Is there a weight limit for Santa’s lap?

A: Be it boy, girl, man or woman, Santa likes ’em lean. Elf and waif sizes are also acceptable.

Q: Is Santa a holly jolly sort?

A: While our Santas are relatively kid-friendly, we believe in encouraging an open, honest and thoroughly festive environment for all party guests. Therefore, Santa is strictly professional and distant towards anyone under the age of 18. To engage Santa’s full friendliness, have him interact with females from 18 – 22 years old.

Q: What are some examples of Santa’s interaction with the kids?

A: Santa comes equipped with the traditional array of Santaisms including “Ho Ho Ho” and “Merry Christmas one and all.”

For an additional 3 cookies and shot of bourbon per hour, Santa will ad-lib.
Examples include:

“Reach into Santa’s pants for a Christmas miracle”

“You call this crap eggnog?”

“You don’t want that toy. It’s made by kids your age in third world countries.”

“I heard you’ve been a naughty, naughty girl this year. Care to show me how naughty?”

“Jebus? I don’t even believe in Jebus!”

“You know that Santa on 14th Street? I made him my bitch last night”

Q: Is Santa available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs?

A: Bar Mitzvahs? Are you insane? Bat Mitzvahs, maybe.

Q: Can Santa answer the essential questions of the Universe, like: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A: A woodchuck would chuck as much as a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Q: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

A: The world may never know.

Q: Why is the sky blue?

A: If it were green, we wouldn’t know where to stop mowing.

Q: Can I get an culturally-representative Santa?

A: Of course! Santa is available to represent the season of giving in many cultures. If your “gift basket” for Santa includes some top shelf shit or a little blow, we’ll paint the big guy freakin’ green.

Q: Will Santa lead us in caroling?

A: No. Santa does not sing. He has enough problems of his own already.

Q: Will Santa’s belly really shake like a bowl full of jelly?

A: Sadly, most of our Santas are not really fat. If anything, his belly shakes like a cheap felt suit full of padding. And smells like the dressing room from the Peoria Little Theatre performance of the Lion King.

Q: Is Santa cool if the shit goes down?

A: Absolutely. Santa comes fully equipped! When the shit goes down, Santa and his elf’s got your back, yo. He’s ready, willing and able. Even when drunk, Santa’s one bad motha’.

Q: Did you notice that if you move the “n” in Santa to the end of his name, you get “Satan?”

A: We did not notice that. While it is interesting, this does not imply an endorsement, either directly or indirectly, for our beloved lord and master, Lucifer.

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On Open Data, the Domesday Book and public policy


Published on the Policy By The Numbers blog:

As an open data and open government advocate, I get drawn into conversations with developers, dataset owners and bureaucrats about the difficulty in identifying, cleaning and then publishing datasets in the open. As a historian, I know that half the challenge in good economic history is identifying the appropriate data sources.

Nine hundred and twenty six years ago, William the Conqueror ordered a thorough survey of the property and economy of his recently acquired British Islands. Teams of commissioners visited 13,000 villages, towns and estates and interviewed up to 62,000 witnesses. Their work produced the data that has become known as the Domesday Book.

This data proved critical for developing strategy in the new Norman Court. Facing civil unrest and foreign invasion, the Court needed an accurate count of the financial and human capital available while evaluating their economic, political and military options.

Although there had been previous surveys, inquests and local roll-taking elsewhere in Europe, the Domesday Book looms as a landmark in data collection and analysis in the West. It provides a snapshot of the wealth, land holdings, animal population, household possessions and feudal relationships among the gentry and nobility in William’s kingdom. Really, it’s a record of how the 1% rolled a thousand years ago.

Collecting the data was not an easy process. In fact, the standards for data collection were constantly evolving as the survey was conducted; agricultural, economic and seigneurial data sources had not been combined before; the process of reviewing and correcting data was initially quite cumbersome; and the final product was still the product of a particularly focused and determined individual.

Today, technology has made the collection of social, economic and simply transactional data far simpler, but we haven’t really begun to systematically explore how these volumes of data can help governments and communities address their fundamental public policy challenges. Much of the initiative around open data has been the result of the energetic efforts of a small number of innovators and their supporters. Open data is still largely characterized by the small scale project with localized relevance.

Which makes the Open Domesday project a wonderful link between the past and present. Thanks to academics at the University of Hull and Anna Powell-Smith, an open data volunteer, the data from the Domesday Book has been translated for the technology age. Open Domesday lets the ordinary web surfer sort through this historic data by location, name or by reference to the book itself. The results are overlaid on contemporary maps of Great Britain. The ability to easily drill through centuries of history and reveal data about a community, a family or a region like this is stunning. Data collected ages ago continues to deliver results and insight.

The lasting impact of the Domesday book is often fresh in my mind when I think about the open data initiatives being launched around the world. The capacity to liberate and share data is only just beginning to affect our relationship with the government and with our communities. With every new collaboration, whether at a local level, with the World Bank, the United Nations or through the Open Government Partnership, we can imagine open data achieving scale and an impact similar to that of the Domesday Book in its time.


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Joining the Advisory Panel on Open Government


Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in the first meeting of the Advisory Panel on Open Government, a group of industry, government, media and open policy experts interested in the application of open government, open information and open data principles by the Government of Canada. While the group is still coalescing, the general ambition is to provide some sober second thought and add critical insight to the open government plans being developed by the Government of Canada.

The Panel is chaired by Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board, and includes a number of Canadian and international participants with extensive experience in open government and open data issues. I’ve taken the liberty of copying David Eave’s list of participants and their related Twitter handles:

Bernard Courtois, Past President & CEO, Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC)

Robert Herjavec, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Herjavec Group

Alexander B. Howard, Government 2.0 Correspondent, O’Reilly Media

Thomas ‘Tom’ Jenkins, Head of the Canadian Digital Media Network and Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer, OpenText Corporation

Vivek Kundra, Executive Vice President of Emerging Markets,

Herb Lainchbury, Chief Technology Officer, MD Databank Corp.

Colin McKay, Public Policy Manager (Canada), Google

Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy

Alex Miller, President and Founder, ESRI Canada

Marie-Lucie Morin, Executive Director for Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean, The World Bank

Dr. Rufus Pollock, Co-Founder and Director, Open Knowledge Foundation

Dr. Teresa Scassa, Vice-Dean of Research and Professor of Law, University of Ottawa

I expect to draw in the larger open government community – who are numerous, energetic and truly innovative – through discussion, invitation and maybe even some small sponsored events.

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Tumblr now available


That’s right. I’ve moved my slightly longer than Twitter pieces to Tumblr: i like numbers and pictures

The blog portion of Canuckflack will continue to be home for my longer writing – when I can find the time or inspiration.

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When creatives work for good


What if pervasive media was used to amuse and intrigue you, rather than single you out as a unknowing target of advertising and persuasive messaging?

“… In contrast to a Minority Report future of aggressive messages competing for a conspicuously finite attention, these sketches show a landscape of ignorable surfaces capitalising on their context, timing and your history to quietly play and present in the corners of our lives …” Media Surfaces: Incidental Media via Dentsu London and Berg.

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Your luggage cart is deeply unimpressive


Design is becoming the differentiator in the highly competitive hotel market. That and giant fat-assed breakfast buffets. Really. I have never seen so many different ways of presenting carbohydrates in one place at one time. Make your own waffles. Morning Glory muffins. Chocolate chip bagels. Oatmeal cookies. Rolled Oats. Fruit Loops knock-off cereal.

Oh, and free wifi.

Even on approach, hotels signal their competitive positioning. Family-oriented, business practical, aspirational alternative, or ostentatiously ambitious. The most noticeable are the alternative brands. Modernist building design. Minimalist landscaping. Sans serif font on the signage and letterhead. Sectional furniture in the lobby. Men’s style magazines on the coffee table. A business centre with a Mac.

If you’re at all uncertain, just check the name etched in the glass over the polished aluminum handles. More often than not, it’s a short given name, or a vague scientific allusion. ARc. Oxygen. Alt. George. Helix.

Despite all this effort, there is one common element fouling each and every lobby: the clunky brass luggage cart. No matter the target market, no matter the guest demo, a four post brass luggage cart can be found lurking around the corner, swivelling wheels never at the ready, dirty rubber bumpers marking every corner.

Really? In a world where Knoll, Herman Miller, Eames and Saarinen can each make a half decent office chair, why are we stuck with the same uninspired luggage cart?

Given a moment of introspection and another of inspiration, what could a hotel baggage cart offer?

  • graphic map of the facility to help with navigation
  • a handy place to put my room key/card while fumbling with the cart
  • a design agile enough to get through the door of the room
  • footprint versatile enough to accomodate big family suitcases as well as carry-ons
  • something that can get past a laundry cart in the hallway

Oh, and maybe a design aesthetic consistent with every other overly thought out element in the building?

I really wish people would just stop ordering right from the industrial supply catalogue.

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Instigator, not an insurgent


Last week, David Eaves asked whether young public servants are having  to turn to insurgent tactics to build the workplace of the 21st century, largely because the bureaucracy is stultifyingly slow to make collaborative tools and work processes available to them.

Can a large organization – at least one headquartered outside Silicon Valley – accomodate cultural change and an ongoing challenge to the organizational status-quo?

It appears that General Electric is taking steps in the right direction. In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, and accompanying podcast, chief marketing officer Beth Comstock explains how the global conglomerate has identified four specific roles that marketers must assume if the organization is to continue to grow: instigator, innovator, integrator, and implementer.

“Marketing leaders need to think strategically and challenge the status quo, using their unique external vantage point to see what may not be apparent to others in the business. Sometimes this entails moving beyond preaching about marketing’s merits to imagining scenarios that business heads might face—perhaps marketing’s most important role. Leaders must be willing to push change.”

An instigator is just that: a member of the team that pushes for strategic change, often to the discomfort of others.

Or, more simply:

Instigator: Incites a “better way” using a unique vantage point to see around corners (a GE Director, speaking at BMA Chicago)

In a comment to David’s original post, Geordie Adams notes that

“I see them inside the public service regularly, wish I could say everyday. I just call them progressive though, not insurgents.”

Let’s remember that GE has identified FOUR roles as essential to the success of its unit, industry and global marketing efforts: instigator, innovator, integrator, and implementer .

I argue that we can identify colleagues in the public service (whether you self-identify as #w2p, #goc, #gov20 or whatever) whose behaviour echoes one or more of these roles. Some are good at selling ideas, others are good at developing new strategies, and others are very good at the not-so-simple job of execution.

Working as a team, public servants from a range of backgrounds and equipped with a variety of skillsets can get great work done.

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Warhol’s screen tests, with a touch of Cobain


An interesting juxtaposition at the Seattle Art Gallery last month: a Kurt Cobain retrospective presented in a gallery alongside a Warhol exhibition, including many of his screen tests. Two long rooms were flanked with neverending projections of these short films, each of which featured a common name like Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed or Nico, or an otherwise unknown like Freddy Herko.

“Mary Woronov observed in Swimming Underground: My Years in the Warhol Factory that the Screen Tests were like a psychological test: “You would see the person fighting with his image—trying to protect it. You can project your image for a few seconds, but after that it slips and your real self starts to show through. That’s why it was so great—you saw the person and the image.”(Bomb magazine)

For example, take a look at Lou Reed as a young man. With the advantage of hindsght, we know that quite a few hard years were ahead of Reed:

In 2009, I had the chance to watch one of the Marcel Duchamp tests as part of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. From what I remember of the accompanying narrative, this particular sitting was irritating to Warhol because Duchamp “broke the rules” – he consciously avoided the camera’s gaze and repeatedly acknowledged other people outside the camera’s frame. Which is what made it so engaging and amusing for me.

Among the screen tests in Seattle is Freddy Herko‘s. An unfortunate story, Herko ended his life at a young age in quite a spectacular fashion shortly after the fim was shot. Herko was celebrated by his friends after his death, and was eulogized quite eloquently by Warhol (click through the link and read the entire page):

“… The people I loved were the ones like Freddy, the leftovers of show business, turned down at auditions all over town. They couldn’t do something more than once, but their one time was better than anyone else’s. They had star quality but no star ego – they didn’t know how to push themselves. They were too gifted to lead “regular lives,” but they were also too unsure of themselves to ever become real professionals.” (Warhol & Hackett, cited at the exhibition)

As for Cobain: it’s always interesting to view a retrospective of an artist whose work and identity has come to assume a large role in the development of one’s own generation. (view a slideshow here) It seems we only appreciate the cultural impact of a once-familiar icon after time,  a certain amount of emotional detachment, and several galling instances of cultural apropriation.

Alice Wheeler’s portrait of Cobain (copied in Seattle Weekly) echoed familiar Marilyn Monroe imagery, frequently referenced and featured as part of Warhol exhibitions. Somewhat unsettling were the several images of children, too young to actually remember the grunge days, sporting Nirvana and Cobain t shirts.

To tell the truth, I left the Cobain exhibition feeling like I hadn’t appreciated the impact of the grunge movement more consci0usly at the time.

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Cutting edge portable music design


New music format. Breakthroughs in portable music technology. A consumer products company effectively integrates technlogical innovation, industrial design and a novel user interface to break open a whole new market segment.

Of course, I’m talking about 1974 and a portable 8-track player.

Panasonic’s “Dynamite 8” 8-Track player was a choice piece of consumer electronics with unprecendented music portability and a clean and bright modern design. It’s still sought after, the focus of bidding wars every time one appears on eBay.

Even better, the dealer prospectus promised a wide range of marketing support for this great new product: a big magazine buy (Seventeen, Hot Rod and other demographically appropriate pubs), four months’ worth of TV buys in the fall schedule, a full package of TV, radio and print templates for dealers, and an EARTH SHATTERING COUNTER DISPLAY.

And it wasn’t just 8-tracks – just look at the range of electronics Panasonic released as part of the same line: portable radios, phone handsets and alarm clocks.

But good design will only carry your product – and your company – so far. Especially if the underlying music format is inflexible. While the 8-Track format offered improved music portability, indexing and easy song selection, it still had its ass kicked by the cassette and the relatively messy but creatively inspired home mix tape.

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Politics and donkeys in the public square


You know what political protest in North America is missing? A sense of humor and a sense of presentation. This from a Telegraph story on the not-so-leaning tower of Pisa:

“All six donkeys were impeccably behaved. They’d been ridden into Pisa’s main square, the Piazza dei Miracoli, last November by vexed vets from Pisa University and ceremoniously set down beneath its Leaning Tower. In protest at government cuts across Italian education, the profs duly gave an al fresco lecture on donkey anatomy to hundreds of bewildered tourists. Silvio Berlusconi’s photo appeared on many a banner, beside the words ‘The biggest ass of all’.

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Cheetos in motion


In the June edition of Wired, we discover how Cheetos are made.

” … the craggy bits are then spit out of the extruder, flying 3 feet at high velocity before hitting a safety cage and dropping onto a conveyor belt …”

And THEN it’s fried!

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Audacity when it comes to institutions


Three qualities that can equally be applied by public servants driven to change their unit, their division, their branch or their department.

While responsibility and accountability are still well represented by hierarchy and process, society is moving beyond a strict command-and-control structure.

Opportunity rarely presents itself to those who sit and wait. There has always been some measure of preparation, whether personal, professional or through organizational dexterity.

In the end, though, every successful person has been audacious enough to demand attention, push an idea and argue for support.

“I’m never overwhelmed by state power, ” he says. “I lean on innovation, self-confidence and audacity when it comes to institutions.”

José María Cruz Novillo, Spanish designer, quoted in a recent edition of Monocle magazine.

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Let government screw up


*addendum: This post, while it references one particular example published in the blogosphere today, was prompted by a number of examples – on blogs, in person and on twitter – where people inside and outside government have rushed to comment and judgement on social media work implemented by government agencies. It’s a product of the rush to #fail – something of a new generation of “first!” in the comment field. I didn’t try to write it as a critique of that one particular post – which had a lot of spot-on observations.

A more transparent government. A more responsive bureaucracy. A more accessible public service. Those are the hopes and goals of Canadians no matter where they fall among a particular demographic or geographic segment. Whether they’re open data advocates, engagement gurus, social media consultants or simply public servants pushing for change as quickly as possible.

I would argue that governments across Canada are committing the time, money and staff to make these changes. We’re seeing new tools, new data streams, expanded outreach activities, even contests as government organizations assess which tools and strategies would work best for them.

I have the opportunity to speak to groups across government about the benefits, challenges and potential costs of social media. In the face of institutional anxiety, I’ve argued that social media is a positive environment that encourages experimentation. In fact, online users are willing to accept mis-steps and stumbles from government organizati0ns simply because it demonstrates initiative and ambition, if not expertise.

This seems to calm nerves among more traditional bureaucrats, who have been trained through repetition and repercussion to mitigate risk – especially the possibility of public embarrassment.

Which is why I find it upsetting – yes, upsetting – to watch when people in the “social media community” decide that there’s no better way to greet a new social media initiative than a detailed critique of its failings, distributed as quickly and widely as possible in the name of “creating a conversation.”

Senior civil servants, you see, are not comfortable with the rough and tumble dialectic that frames the development of most innovative projects in the online world. While they’re trying to adapt as quickly as possible, they still rely on the advice of their functional experts to plan and launch new projects.

Blunt criticism of a project, when published or re-tweeted widely, then has to be interpreted/deciphered for these senior civil servants by the very same  technical and “social media” experts. This can become  a Sisyphean challenge: spend months building internal agreement for a project, then days defending it from criticism leveled by your erstwhile allies.

For the individual or team who spent a lot of time convincing a senior public servant to launch a groundbreaking personal web site incorporating relatively new communications channels (the public service still has fax machines), it must be frustrating to be criticized for:

  • using brown in your design;
  • poor photo montage skills*
  • a lack of “engagement”

Let’s keep this in perspective: the Clerk of the Privy Council is the head of the public service of Canada. It is a job that requires the greatest networking, engagement and communication skills of any in the public service, but these skills are largely targeted at ensuring the dozens of Deputy Ministers are implementing the government’s agenda, on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day, basis.

If you want to argue that we need a central online gathering point for public service renewal efforts, I would agree with you. That responsibility, though, has been delegated to a committee of Deputy Ministers and the Chief Human Resources Officer. There have been cross-Government experiments and pilot projects, like GCPedia and GCConnex. Dozens of departments are lurking behind the firewall with blogs, wikis, podcasts and videos. Some are even resorting to relatively sophisticated Sharepoint installs.

There is one consistent quality sought from every Clerk: the ability to delegate power. Depending upon our ambition and our inspiration, we all would like some piece of this delegated power. Members of the #W2P community would like to see a delegation (network access, software, smart phones, time for side of the table projects) that would allow them to launch and implement innovative new projects quickly and collaboratively.

Before these powers and resources can be delegated on more than a short-term basis, there must be awareness and engagement among senior leaders at the ADM and DM level. That will begin to build buzz-word worthy activities into the long-term business processes at the Branch and Department-level. We’re beginning to see that.

The fact that the Clerk is even experimenting with these tools is a tremendous step forward.

So get off his back and let the man (and the team behind the curtain) tweak their experiment.

*Don’t get me started on photos and graphic design. For the longest time, many departments had in-house photo, film, editing and production teams capable of producing clear, consistent and first rate multi-media materials. Through attrition and cost-cutting in the 1980s and 1990s, this capacity was slowly eliminated. (If you’re one of the few departments that still has this capacity, why don’t you share it with the rest of us??) Today, graphic design and pre-production layout is either contracted out, or given to someone with consumer editing software installed on their desktop. (Or someone with a Mac at home).

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Shop fronts and door frames


I’m still ripping voraciously through the social, economic and psychological links between a temporary but personal location and more historically resonant locales. I figure I’ve got an interesting paper developing, somewhere among the many other ideas bouncing around in my head.

“… Economics is revealed in shop fronts and history in door frames …” David Byrne – Bicycle Diaries

There are two factors that have kept me away from the blog, one leading from the other:

– Over the past six to nine months, I’ve made a conscious attempt to concentrate on the materials and topics more relevant to my everyday work. That’s things like social and legal concepts of privacy,the collection and use of data points and personal information, how information is integrated into advertising and marketing campaigns, and how to use social media effectively as a corporate tool in a government environment.

– I’ve been using Twitter a lot more.

I’ll be returning here more frequently (hell, it can’t be LESS frequent), but the subjects covered may be evolving.

If I was a personal branding consultant, I might call the process a “repositioning of my brand and an expansion of my niche of expertise.”

But I’m not.

Thank God.

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Location – tell me my current obsession


Lately, I’ve been zoning in on books that discuss location – whether through wayfinding, past experience in urban and wild settings, the development of innate navigational skills, or novel treatements of life in particular locations. Here’s a sampling from my recent bookshelf:

Where am I?Colin Ellard

” … Two things seem to be universal in wayfaring cultures like the Inuit and the Australian Aborigines. One of them is that they’ve honed this exquisite eye for detail that we don’t have. The other thing that these cultures do is use narrative and story. The best example of all is these song lines in Aborigines – what they’re doing is they are making an explicit connection between their creation, the creation of everything, and the shape and size of the landscape. They’re using song lines as a kind of navigational aid, but at the same time there’s this spiritual connection to place …” (Globe and Mail)

Retrofitting SuburbiaEllen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson

” … But we found, over and over in interviews, people being really sad when their mall had died. “I had my prom in that mall,” they’d say. They attribute the mall with a lot of bonding, a lot of time growing up—they really loved their malls. When it died, the first reaction was: Let’s find a developer to fix our mall. Most people didn’t want a downtown-type structure, they just wanted their mall back. It takes a paradigm shift, like the example of Belmar (see pictures at right).

Belmar was built five miles outside of Denver, and originally had no desire to be urban at all. But by the time the mall died, the surrounding suburban community of Lakewood, Colo., had become the fourth-largest municipality in the state. They had put in a library and a city hall, but it was set up like a strip mall. They eventually found a developer for the property who said “I won’t redevelop the mall, but I’ll give you a town center.” It took a while, but they bought in, completel …” (Popular Mechanics)

StripmallingJon Paul Fiorentino

” … Jonny lives and works in a strip mall in Suburban Winnipeg. For some people, this would be exciting and fulfilling enough …”

Personal Space: the behavioral basis of designRobert Sommer

Before “getting up in your grill,” there was “personal space.” This is the original work, which drawn from initial insight found at a psychiatric hospital in Saskatchewan.

Hollywood in the Neighborhood – Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley, ed

How Hollywood and the new breed of popular entertainment – movies – arrived in the heartland, and the effect this had on the community.

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His dance music will kick your dance music’s ass


Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk revisited London in the early summer, and found it wanting.

“…Politely mortified by the soft, hands-in-the-air atmosphere of the first few clubs we visited, he wondered ruefully what had become of the “hooligan energy level” of London. We finally found some for him at a club called Rage. “You know!” he shouted, gesturing around at the flickering television monitors and oblivious trance-dancers, “if people had been making a film about hell 20 years ago, they would have conjured up something like this. We were doing things like this early on, and one reviewer wrote that ‘Kraftwerk is the death of music.’ ” …” (The Telegraph)

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Smooth Silky Bacon Hot Dog


Our obsession with wrapping things in bacon is long standing, and has certainly peaked with the arrival of bacon-only blogs and bacon memes.

John T. Edge (whose writing on Southern food is fantastic and mouth-watering) examined the origin and popularity of Mexican-style hot dogs in the NYT last week.

“… By 1953, Oscar Mayer was running print ads, selling American consumers on the virtues of bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Perhaps Mexican consumers, inspired to emulate American dietary habits, took Oscar Mayer at its word, wrapping American-made hot dogs in American-made bacon, and claiming the resulting construction as their own …”

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Storage units: A moment in transition


One observation about storage units: they can appear anywhere. Alongside rail yards, behind motels, cleverly disguised as yet another building in a suburban office park, wedged in the strangest shaped lots.

This Sunday’s NYT Magazine discusses the link between self-storage units and the culture of consumption.

” … The truth is, there is no typical storage customer. As facilities crowded into the landscape, storage units became incubators for small businesses and artisans; warehouses for pharmaceutical reps, eBay merchants or landscapers. One unit at Statewide, the Doparts told me, functions as a kind of regional distribution center for Little Debbie cakes. I met a few homeless renters, who sometimes choose to pay to put a roof over their possessions instead of their own heads (living in units is not allowed); I met working-class renters using units as closets and safe-deposit boxes while serially couch-surfing or living in multifamily homes. I heard of a martial-arts instructor in Hawaii who trained clients in his unit, and a group of husbands in New England who watch sports in one on weekends. More than one operator told me they have a unit where, every morning, the renter goes in dressed as a man and comes out as a woman …”

in the NYT Magazine, The Self-Storage Self

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Disco Trade Routes


Will Straw offers up an examination of the migration of disco trends, effects and artists between cultures and communities in the 70s and 80s:

” … overlapping cycles that sent highly synthesized disco tracks by the Montreal group Lime to southern
European discos and Italian-produced electronic tracks to the gay clubs of Montreal. In the interaction of these cycles, both Hi-NRG dance music and Italo-disco worked out the terms of their commonality and their distinctiveness. More generally, Quebec disco records of the early 1980s were caught up in cycles that led to Italian remakes, Quebecois remixes or remakes of European dance tracks, and to the constant reinscribing of a well-entrenched line of passage between Quebec and southern Europe …”

Music from the Wrong Place: On the Italianicity of Quebec Disco, Will Straw, Criticism, Winter 2008

What sort of disco, you ask? Straw cites “World Invaders,” by Pluton and the Humanoids, as part of the canon of Quebec and Italodisco.

” … The use of synthesizers and vocoder in “World Invaders” has let that track slip seamlessly into the canon of Italo or Eurodisco music that has taken shape over the last decade. The widespread recourse to distorted, machinelike vocals in Italo/Quebec disco was, at the simplest level, a way of using English that displaced the question of base-level linguistic ability onto that of the novelty of vocal effects. The processing of vocals was also a partial resolution of the inevitable illegitimacy that haunts the use of English lyrics in popular music, particularly if these are sung by non-English speakers with accents that might betray their origins …”

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Orwell on Consumer Culture


” … It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come around with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ‘2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits.” … ”

” … [Being a bookseller] is a human trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman …”

– “Bookshop Memories,” 1936, George Orwell

Ah, the comfort and security that used to accompany topical expertise and local presence. And then someone had to go and invent punchcards, databases, and recommendation engines.

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More shaggin wagons than you can shake a stick at


1977. Wing collars. Rayon shirts. Dozens of  Cargo vans with outrageous panel art. Handlebar mustaches and fat rural cops. These two video clips from promise you all this … and more!

Supervan, the story of a plucky Dodge and her owner, converted to crime-fighting superheroes despite the objections of his traditionally-minded dad.

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Colin McKay: Gov Web 2.0 Communications Pioneer


Reposted from John Cass’ PR Communications, and one in a series of reminisces about Global PR Blog week, which was published five years ago this week.

Colin McKay was an early Canadian pioneer in blogging and social media, but also in the Government use of social media. In my continuing series of interviews with Alumni from the Global PR Blog week, I ask Colin questions about the conference.

John: What did you learn from the Global PR Blog Week?

Colin: Global PR Blog Week was my first real opportunity to work with like-minded people from around the world. Collaboration, community and crowd sourcing are words that are thrown around quite easily today: just five years ago, it was unusual to pull together virtual teams working to a common agenda. YoungPrPros and other listservs were the most similar beast.

John: What did you learn about blogging, if you learned anything about blogging, from the blog week?

Colin: By July 2004, I had been blogging for nearly a year. I had been posting short observations, longer analytical pieces, and even commentary. I didn’t, however, truly realize the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience that could be shared if bloggers pulled their resources together and focused on a common series of topics.

John: Did the conference give you any new insights into PR, and if so what were they?

Colin: I had been aware of the different fields of PR and communications, but hadn’t really spent much time really thinking outside my own day-to-day work. PR Blog Week really demonstrated that there were inspired and influential bloggers who could bring insight to issues common across all these fields.

John: What were the lasting effects of the Global PR Blog Week?

Colin: Personally, I am still in contact with many of the contributors. Participating encouraged me to write longer form posts and articles on my blog and elsewhere, and to consciously look to other bloggers and online sources for inspiration and ammunition.

John: How did the Global PR Blog week influence you and the industry?

Colin: I’m not sure how influential PR Blog Week was for the industry. We’ve certainly seen an explosion in the number and quality of PR pros expressing themselves online. I’d hope that PR Blog Weeks 1 and 2 demonstrated that sold, well-reasoned and influential work could come out of blogging, and that blogging was not just a distraction for disaffected employees.

Interestingly, I look back at the list of participants, and I notice many names that are still influential in the field – personalities that have remained consistent and have continued to contribute, often without a care for being identified as influential, or a guru or a thought leader.

Reviewing the post(s) you wrote for the Global PR Blog week what has changed? What has not changed, since you wrote your post?

Colin: In year 1, I covered crisis communications. I notice that I didn’t cover online tools in any detail. That would definitely change today, but my advice on the preparation, attitudes and approaches to a crisis would not.

In year 2, I focused on the intersection between online communications and the development of government policy. For the longest time, that article remained current – it seems that the ground has begun to shift over the past nine months or so. #Gov2.0 has taken a great leap forward with the arrival of the Obama administration and the experimentation of the Labour government in the UK.

John: Give an update on what you’ve been doing in the last five years, and what you are doing now?

Colin: Well, canuckflack is still well and alive, although it has received greater and less attention over the years. I continued as a communications manager at the Department of Industry until 2007, when I joined the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. At the moment, I’m the Director of Research, Education and Outreach, and have been able to launch some fairly novel outreach tools that draw from my experience blogging and fooling around with social media:, and Not to mention our fledgling Twitter account

John: Thank you Colin. Great insights into the virtual event, how PR has changed and not changed. Also I think your point about the faster pace of change in Government is very true.

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Knitting sucks and other thoughts about activism


Billy Bragg on the death of Steven Wells, poet, activist and erstwhile music critic, who died last month.

” … If there is anyone out there who wishes to take up his mantle, they’ll need more than just a snarky sense of humour and a potty mouth. The comment sections of every website are full of posts from cynical jerk-offs who get their kicks from upsetting people. Swells could be hurtful in what he wrote, but his contrarian stance was never mere posturing. It was underpinned with an unswerving belief that things could be better – culturally, politically and globally. He just wanted people to feel like he did at the paucity of talent on display – outraged to the point of engagement. To that end, he was willing to take it further than many of us are prepared to go – in your face, down your trousers and up your arse like a shit-eating rabbit on speed.”

How much of a loss is this? Depends if you read British music magazines in the 80s and 90s. Or appreciated a voice that didn’t hesitate to cut through the bafflegab and call out the pseuds.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece Wells wrote last year:

“… So this is how punk ends – not with a bang but with a jumper. Today, all over the world, thousands of punks, goths, emos and other ferociously tattooed, face-pierced miscreant bastard folk-devil scum will take to the streets to protest their disgust with war, oppression and bourgeois conformity by crocheting hideous green twat-hats with stupid ear flaps.

I’m talking about World Wide Knit in Public Day. Which, by its very name, suggests that knitting is a sordid and disgusting practice best done behind locked doors and drawn curtains. Which it is …
If you need a hobby, take up spitting.”

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Belinda Carlisle has my head – maybe


I think I’ve narrowed down a new hairstyle – to that of any of the 1984-era GoGos.

At the moment, I HAVE the Jane Wiedlin, and if it goes any longer it’ll be a Charlotte Caffey (keyboards – I had to look it up).

I figure I could go for the longer Kathy Valentine (bass), and cut it back to a Belinda Carlisle if the summer gets warmer.

I’m going to reserve the Gina Schock for a sudden desire to look like any of the cast members from Less Than Zero or Some Kind of Wonderful (see exhibit “A”)

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Forget grinding it out – just drown them out


How have the tough slogging mechanics of political campaigns turned into the petty victories of follower counts and poor graphic design?

” … As Newsom returned to his S.U.V., Ballard made sure to tell me how many Twitterers would already be able to see photos of the mayor on the backhoe. He derided Jerry Brown’s campaign Web site and ridiculed Villaraigosa’s “totally pathetic” Twitter following ..” (NYT Magazine)

That’s Nathan Ballard, the communications director to Gavin Newsom, the current Mayor of San Francisco and competitor for the job of Governor of California.

I found this moment almost repulsive: in a state where the economy and political life are near catatonic, the battle for political leadership is being framed in part by photo ops, unattributable and unreliable Twitter follower levels and poor web site design?

Is the political process at all dependent upon policy proposals anymore, or can a candidate gain a lot of ground simply by picking the right font, a sympathetic palette and an easily navigable design grid?

Oh – and a monkey to tweet?

After all, limiting your literary masterpiece to 140 characters significantly increases the odds that you can defeat the infinite monkey theorem – that an infinite number of monkeys, banging on typewriters for an infinite amount of time (while assuming there is no evolution in cognitive capacity) would not be able to reproduce Hamlet.

In fact, they’re more likely to smash the keyboard, mark their territory, and then engage in repetitive behaviour.

Wait a minute … I guess someone better get that monkey a Brooks Brothers suit and a BlackBerry.

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the threads that link you and The Economist


You could say the wire walker in this short film has intense short term focus, but is easily distracted by new opportunities. You could say that he is agile enough to react to changing situations, but acutely aware of the many competing interests around him.

If you’ve met me, or know my job, you could see why I feel some affinity for that wire walker.

In fact, if I was the type to build some sort of horribly overextended and barely consistent business talk out of the correlation between my personal life, professional life and this wire walker, I could type out three or four overwrought and barely personal posts meant to inspire you and increase my subscriber count. After all,  I AM a capable strategist and thoughtful person.

His name is Florent Blondeau, and he wants you to “let your mind wander” – or at least that’s what The Economist magazine would like. This 70 second clip is the centrepiece of a new campaign that hopes to remind Brits that The Economist covers topics they seem to be interested in: domestic politics, world affairs, business, and travel. Apparently, surveys have identified 3 million of them as flighty, brainy or shifty enough to be targeted as potential readers.

I’ve read the magazine for nearly 25 years. Strangely enough, I appreciate it most for it’s dry and sometimes wry sense of humour. That’s hard to accomplish while discussing Indian economic reform, you know.

The campaign, to be launched on July 3, will play primarily in theatres. I have to imagine the clip will play much better on a large (or as large as a multiplex will allow) screen. (Faris has added his own thoughts about this and past campaigns.)

In 2008, Blondeau and some colleagues from the French wire walking fraternity (apparently, there’s a close kinship between the wire walking fraternity and the clown school alumni) showcased their skills in a regional performance called le fil sous la neige – a brief excerpt can be found just below.

Le fil sous la neige
by contactvillette

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A minute of startling humour


Answering The Phone in a Movie Can Be Tricky at First — powered by

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The hardships and amusements of travel


Anne Engright, tired from months of book tours, provides some wry observations on international travel:

” … And this perhaps needs to be said: the amazing thing about hotels is that nothing happens in them. Lights get left on, taps drip, trays are left in hallways, and the cleaners make their sad rounds every morning. You hear them as you open the door and scan the room one last time and wheel your bag down to the lift, the sour whine of a distant hoover, as you approach and then pass the stainless steel trolley that waits outside some non-medical non-emergency, the abandoned sheets of an uninteresting night; rumpled, bare, slightly stained. What did they get up to in there? Murder? Sex? Organising their receipts? …

But, you know, you take a shower and nothing happens. The endless corridor is often empty. The men in suits with conference lanyards nod as they get in the lift and, in Toronto, one of them said: ‘Great shoes!’

…  Hotel bathrooms are highly fetishised, with their rows of toiletries, and the possibility of a sewing kit. I love the showers and have a faint, geological interest in the tiling (so much marble!), but I hate the toiletries, most of which could strip paint … “

Anne Enright in the London Review of Books

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