Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Day of the Triffids Redux

Any director who attempts to update a classic text or film is never going to please everyone. The purists will insist that you stick to every word in the book, whereas an audience who has never seen or heard of the work, will compare it to more modern material.

Herein lies the problem of trying to adapt John Wyndhams classic Day of the Triffids.

Originally written in 1951, it has been adapted several times. Anyone 35+ in the UK is most likely to have come across the BBC TV series version, which while it looks dated now, certainly felt very scary back in 1981.

Over the last two nights, the BBC has been showing its updated version of the book. While keeping the central storyline, they have added new characters and updated to include contemporary issues such as global warming.

Personally, I think they have done a pretty good job and keep the central tenant that it mankind messes with mother earth too much, its going to come back and bite (a theme running through several John Wyndham books).

Whats interesting is that while some people like it, others are critical of it for the following reasons

1) Bad special effects - for those people weaned on the Matrix, the effects are not going come on guys and girls, its always going to be tricky to make the triffids really scary

2) Plot holes - While the ending makes no sense at all, the rest of it was all pretty plausible. I'm not sure what people were expecting from a story that deals with society collapse - perhaps they had the same issues with 28 Days Later.

I'd recommend anyone who watched the film to either

Go out and buy the book

or if you don't have time, read the Wikipedia summary and make up your own mind

Monday, 16 November 2009

Getting People To Switch

Take a look at what you do everyday on the web and in the real world and you soon work out that you constantly go back to the same place time and time again.

Whether its
  • Using Google to find web sites
  • Buying books from Amazon
  • Shopping at the same supermarket
Why do we do this? Most likely is that these sites or suppliers don't let us down and do what we ask of them, so why bother taking the time to find something else that is probably only as good.

Seth Godins latest blog post Can't Top This, suggests that if you really want to someone to switch to you come up with something that the big providers didn't think was important

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A Different Type of Lateral Thinking

I've heard a lot said about lateral, blue sky and out of the box thinking, but rarely seen it put into action.

The Economist reports on an project in High Point, North Carolina designed to make a rough neighbourhood liveable in again. By adopting a new and alternative strategy, they have been able to make a difference.

The area had been taken over by drug dealers and the police department standard reaction was to come in once in a while like an invading army, grab the dealers and leave again. While this shut down drug dealing for a couple of hours, it did poisoned communutity relations
But then they tried something different. On the advice of David Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, they started talking to community leaders in West End. They found out who the street drug-dealers were. There were fewer than they had expected: only 16, of whom three were habitually violent. Patiently, they compiled dossiers on each of them. Then they arrested and prosecuted the violent ones, and invited the rest in for a chat.

The young dealers were shown the evidence against them, and given a choice. If they stopped dealing drugs and carrying guns, they would not be prosecuted. A “community co-ordinator” sat down with each of them and asked him what he needed to go straight: a job? Drug treatment? A place to stay? An alarm clock to get to work on time? The community promised to help with all these things. The dealers’ neighbours and even grandmothers stood up and told them that what they were doing was wrong, and had to stop. Then prosecutors warned them that if they did not stop that day, they would be sent to jail, possibly for the rest of their lives.

It worked. Nearly all the dealers reformed, bar the odd bit of shoplifting. You can still buy drugs behind closed doors in High Point, but the intervention was never about drugs. It was about making the neighbourhood liveable again. Fears that the open-air drug market would simply move elsewhere proved unfounded. As the same technique was tried in other neighbourhoods and for other types of crime, such as gang-related muggings, the city’s overall violent crime rate fell noticeably, from 8.7 per 1,000 people in 2003 to 7.3 in 2008.

14% Drop In People Believing Climate Change Is Man Made

This weeks George Monbiot column in Guardian explores the worrying trend that more and more people think that global warming is not man made.

As he says
A survey last month by the Pew Research Centre suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there is solid evidence that the world has been warming over the last few decades has fallen from 71% to 57% in just 18 months. Another survey, conducted in January by Rasmussen Reports suggests that, due to a sharp rise since 2006, US voters who believe global warming has natural causes (44%) outnumber those who believe it is the result of human action (41%).
Its worth reading the whole article, especially for the work by cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker who suggest that the more we get confronted by bad news, the more strongly we stick to our own world view and reject ideas that suggest that we may need to change.

As he says in the final paragraph..
And could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the last two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

When Comics Are A Force For Good

There's an interesting new exhibition taking place at Lazarides Gallery on Greek Street in Soho, London.

Entitled Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption the exhibition
"brings together an eclectic mix of comic book and graphic novel work in a bid to politicise a new generation of activists through the medium of popular comic culture. It will feature a powerful range of political stories created by some of the world’s best comic and graphic artists such as Dave McKean, Pat Mills, Peter Kuper and Dan Goldman. It will also include a collaborative piece of work by acclaimed musician and writer Dev Hynes (aka Lightspeed Champion) and Luke Pearson, the winner of the 'Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption' Competition which ran back in August.
There's also an anthology of the best of the work available from the 5th of November

Ctrl.Alt.Shift was setup last year by the international development agency Christian Aid and aims to use art – whether comics, film or music – to create a new generation of activists.

The Guardian covered this this in an article called Pow! Comic-strip heroes fight against corruption

Monday, 2 November 2009

Think You're Having a Bad Day?

If so, try reading this sobering article about life in Katine, Uganda and how its residents put up with issues that are hundreds time worse than what most of us have to deal with with on day to day basis.

To quote from the concluding paragraph

I've learned a little of something I have seen a lot of: patience. Many of the women I have met have a capacity for endurance that is extraordinary. No doubt they know that frustration can send people mad – remember the last time you were exasperated by some incompetent service, and then multiply that a thousand times. In lives this constrained, survival requires a strict emotional economy. And yet, along with that so often comes a wonderful warmth and an irrepressible humour – so many smiles, so much laughter. It is why every time you leave, you immediately want to come back – because the immediacy and strength of human connection, often so elusive at home, is tangible there.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

More Technical Support Humour

Another cartoon from Private Eye

Perhaps I'm emphasising a little too much with the son here, but if you're going to act as unofficial technical support, you might as well have a uniform

Sunday, 6 September 2009

What Does the Financial Sector Actually Produce

Considering the billions that have been poured into the world financial system to stabilise and cancel out all the bad bets that the financial whizz kids made, you have to ask what does the financial sector produce.

Go back 40 years, before the Big Bang and the stock market did a good job of allowing companies to raise money via share issues. While it was a bit of all old boys club and insider trading common place, decisions made on the markets didn't reverberate as much as they do today. That money would be used to invest in more plant and machinery and ideally employ more people.

Skip forward to today and what happens to the trillions flowing around the system. While some is still used to invest in new plant, you do wonder what the money invested in credit default option and swaps was for and for whom.

Add into the fact that a lot of the investments were made by banks on their own accounts and you start to question the actual benefits of the financial services. They were too blind or stupid to see the huge risks they were taking, yet we had no choice but to bail them out as otherwise they would have taken us all down. According to the Observer today, the FSA was hours from shutting down cash machines

Their defenders will point out all the tax they have paid over the years, but surely this is no where near the money we have paid out to bail them out.

One last thing - just think of the worlds problems we could have made a start on solving, if all the brain power that went into building algorythmic trading systems went into looking at the issues of global poverty, clean water and climate change

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Secrets Behind Technical Support

If you're one of those people who ends up doing technical support for parents, grand parents, wives etc simply because your job has some degree of IT, I think you'll appreicate this image from the guys at the web comic xkcd

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Difference between OK and Great

Producing something that people will remember always requires a little more effort than doing something that is just OK.

Seth Godin uses the example of cooking an egg to perfectly illustrate the difference between the two in his blog post - Quality, scale and the regular kind

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Nigel Slater Broad Bean And Dill Hummus

Nigel Slater Broad Bean And Dill Hummus

The local greengrocers have started stocking Gower broad beans and after last years failures to make an interesting salad out of them, I went in search of another recipe.

The following is an minor adaptation of a Nigel Slater recipe from his The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen book and I've reduced the amounts needed.

  • 800g broad beans in their pods
  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil
  • juice of half a small lemon
  • Small handful of dill
1 .Pod the beans and drop into boiling water for 8 mins
2. Drain and then pulse to a coarse puree in a food processor
3. Add olive oil, lemon juice and the dill
4. Pulse until you it is almost smooth

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Computer Whisperer

From this weeks Private Eye

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

This Is Art

If you're getting a bit tired of diamond skulls, tracy emin and video installations, then feast your eyes on this oil painting from friend Liam O'Farell.

Its been accepted into the Royal Academy Summer exhibition and sold on the first day

Liams got a unqiue style and you can see more examples of work in his online gallery

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Who Set The 160 Character Limit For SMS Messages?

160 characters seems a rather arbitrary limit, but according to the LA Times article Why text messages are limited to 160 characters, a lot of research went into this.

When the SMS standard was agreed, network bandwidth was was expensive, so uncapped messages would have cost too much and all the carriers agreed to a limit.

Three things helped them determine the 160 characters

  1. Typing out random sentences always seemed to come in around 160 characters
  2. Postcards often had less than 150 characters
  3. Telex messages also only had 15o characters
From this they surmised that a message could be communicated in 160 characters or less

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Could Google have caught swine flu earlier?

Interesting piece in Wired about how Googles Flu Trends team managed to miss the increase in searches from Mexico on flu

Makes the point that computers are often only useful once they know what to start looking for, although you think they might have picked up the trend below.

Read the full Wired article - Google Could Have Caught Swine Flu Early

The Joy of Words

Over the last couple of years, the TV and papers have loved to analyse politicians speeches to see which are the most popular words that are used.

Worldle allows you to do this for any piece of text - the larger the word, the more often it has been used

This is a breakdown of all the tags in my delicous account.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Want to sell more chips - stick a salad on the menu

New research indicates that presence of healthy dishes on a menu can lead some people to choose dishes that aren't necessarily good for them.

A a study, students were given two menus, one with salad and chips and the other with just chips. The menu with salad and chips was three times as popular.

You can read more at in the New York times article - Want Salad With That? Make It Fries

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Everything Search Engine - The very useful file finder

If you're like me and good at naming files, but not so good at remembering exactly where you left them on your computer, the Everything Search Engine is an excellent tool.

Unlike heavy weight applications such as Google Desktop Search which searches the contents of the files, Everything simply indexes the file name and can index the contents of a whole hard drive in seconds and best of all its free.

The only downside is that it only works on NTFS drives and not FAT32

This is a screenshot showing all the files on my PC with the word mumbles in it

Not that I'm trying to scare you...

Just thought I'd draw your attention to this graphic from the Guardian about what happens if we don't start doing something about global warming.

Friday, 3 April 2009

When The Crowds Are Not So Wise

James Surowiecki, the author of "The Wisdom of Crowds" came up with some interesting points in his article How the bandwagon wrecked the wisdom of market crowds in Tuesday Guardian when talking about the credit crunch and why the wisdom of crowds didn't kick in.

  • The link between pay and non long term performance was not existent - people were paid on the instant short return results
  • The long term consequences of failure did not register in people minds
  • People outsourced responsibility to others such as ratings agencies rather than check into it themselves

The fact that Bernie Madoff 'ran' a $50,000,000,000 fund that barely traded any equities over a 20 year period would suggest that there is some truth in this.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Learning from Bees and Ants

Looks like instead of learning from the birds and the bees we should have learning from bees and ants instead.

According to the BBC website

Bees and ants are true team players unlike other creatures who seek safety in numbers for selfish reasons, according to researchers.

Scientists from Edinburgh and Oxford Universities used mathematical models to study "swarm behaviour".

They found that bison or fish want to get to the centre of large groups to keep themselves safe from predators.

Ants and bees worked together as a single unit, and were prepared to die for the greater good of the colony.
You can read the full article at

Bees and ants 'operate in teams'

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Journey of a Carrot: Part 2

Last year, I blogged about how far the humble carrot travelled between the field it was grown in to your local supermarket. Now using Google Maps we can illustrate this.

View Larger Map

Sunday, 8 March 2009

How far away is your emergency?

Seth Godin whom I have posted about before has a knack of writing short pithy posts. His latest called How far away is your emergency asks why we always wait for a disaster to happen before actually thinking about how we could prevent it

While you're reading it, try his post called Direct from Consumer Marketing about the stupidity of ignoring those customers who complain

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A Whole New Way to Build A House

How authors choose which cars their characters drive

Post from William Gibson about why his characters use Apple Macs and drive VW's. Its written in response to those people who said he was taking product placement money.

William Gibsons novels are great as he has a knack of describing the alternative worlds his character exist in and as he says "I have to convince myself, before I can hope to convince you", so writes about the products he uses.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Flower - The First Game about Global Warming writes about a new game called Flower where you control a flower petal and guide it across a ravaged landscape. As you touch other flowers, they gently come to life, as does the rest of the landscape.

Certainly makes a change from all the other games on the market at the moment and looks like an interesting way of getting people to think about it.

Wired Magazine: Part II

Just like to thank a certain staff member at Wired (you know who you are...) who picked up on my blog post and is arranging for my missing issues to be sent out to me. Its good to see that a least one company is monitoring the blogosphere to see what is being said about them.

Shame on the customer service department who took 5 days to answer my original email which was submitted via their CRM system and who chose not to answer my questions.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Know your Niche

Fascinating New York Times obituary on Alan Scott, who single handlely revived the art of building traditional brick ones.

In these troubled times, there is something to be said for a having a very particular skill and being the best at it.


Thursday, 12 February 2009

Amazon and Frustration Free Packaging

Lots of companies talk about going green and doing their bit for the environment, when in reality its mostly just talk or what is now known as greenwash

Amazon on the other hand seems to have actually taken a positive step and talked to their suppliers about replacing their clear plastic casing with cardboard.

As Amazon doesn't need to display the items in store or worry about shoplifters they can dispense with those nasty clamshell cases that are a nightmare to open.

To find out more

Read Jeff Bezos letter explaning why they have done it

Arise John Prescott - Cyber Warrior

Since retiring as deputy prime minister, John Prescott has taken to Facebook to carry on campaigning.

In this case, his NO IFS, NO BUTS - PASS ON THE CUT Facebook group is asking RBS not to pay out their bonuses saying that it would be "morally and economically outrageous".

The Facebook group is being used to promote the Give Up the Bonus petition which as of today had 29,002 signatures

While I certainly havn't agreed with John Prescott on a lot of things, I think he has summed up the national mood here.

What I'd love to hear from someone at RBS is the rationale as to why they deserve a bonus. 

Last time I looked if the british taxpayers hadn't bailed RBS, they would all be out of a job, let alone a bonus. Yet somehow these people seem to think that despite their company losing £28 billion, somehow they should get rewarded for success.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Dear Wired Magazine / Chris Anderson

Over the past couple of years, we've enjoyed a love / hate relationship havn't we.

I love the new and interesting stories that you research and write and cover topics that others don't.

What I hate is the fact that despite triumphing the best in technology and innovation, it is seemingly impossible for you to be able to send a magazine outside of the USA without managing to lose them.

So far since subscribing in August 2008, you managed to only successfully deliver 2 issues and lost 5 which is not great. Granted you finally got them to me, but months after they hit the news stands

So lets start afresh....

You stop coming up with lame excuses about distributors and get me and I'll stop hasseling those poor people in customer service who I am sure are fed up of hearing from a moaning Brit

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Where did all the money go?

The Guardian newspaper created a great graphic that explains where all the money went in the credit crunch. Perhaps the most scary thing is that actual amount of cash held by individuals and banks worldwide is $3.9 trillion whereas the total 'value' of all assets held at their peak was 290 trillion and these are falling past.

These include the toxic assets such as the derivatives and all the other wonderful financial instruments people decided to event.

The graphic can be seen here

Monday, 2 February 2009

Thank You David Attenborough

For so eloquently explaining why so many people like myself have difficulty in believing in an all loving god.

In an interview where he said he gets hate mail from creationists for not crediting god, he said

"They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."
The full article is here
Attenborough reveals creationist hate mail for not crediting God

Ten Tiny Things Every Small Business Should Do

The Guy Kawasaki blog is always worth reading for the slightly different way he looks at things.

His most recent posts are about the ten things that a company should do to look at itself more closely.

Having worked with client on similar tasks, it is always interesting to see an owners reaction when their own staff fail to answer what appear to be simple customer service emails

Monday, 12 January 2009

Telemarketing and Porky Pies

You'd think that telemarketing companies would be aware that they have a fairly poor reputation and do eveything to make sure that when they do talk to someone they try and come across as credible and persuasive.

Gecko Direct seems to have missed this trick when they called me this afternoon at 4.24 this afternoon (check your logs Gecko if you're reading this blog).

Within 120 seconds they managed to tell two lies to me
  1. That they had already spoken to me before
  2. That I had contract with 02
Guys - if you were a little more honest, you might even sell a few more phones and have less people write about you on the web

Do your adverts work?

Some sage advice from Seth Godin about purchasing adverts in a digital age...

Do Broken Windows Really Cause More Crime?

SEED magazine reports on an interesting experiment carried out in holland to see whether the broken window theory is correct.

The theory comes from an original article pubished in 1982 by Atlantic magazine. To quote Wikipedia

"Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars."

There has been much debate on whether this is true, but in the six carefully controlled tests setup by the University of Groningen, it certainly appeared to be a major factor

When an envelope containing a five-euro note was left hanging out of a mailbox on a sidewalk, 13 % of the passersby snatched it up. When the same mailbox was covered in graffiti, however, more than double the number of the pedestrians (about 27 %) took the envelope.

The original article is here

and thanks to Matt Cutts for telling me about this

Friday, 2 January 2009

Is Gaza the new Warsaw Ghetto?

Thank goodness that Ken Livingstone has had the balls to say out loud what a lot of people including myself have been thinking and directly compare the conditions inside Gaza with those inside the Warsaw Ghetto during the second world war.

Before anyone starts commenting, please note that what Ken has said is that the sanctions imposed by Israelis have meant living conditions have become so bad and has not said that Israel is acting like the Germans.

Will there is no way that Hamas actions can be defended, equally Israel's military attacks seem like disproporationate to the problem.

By all means, use Predator drones and special forces to take out the rocket teams, no one is going to complain about that. What seems so wrong, is the huge loss of life from the current air bombardement which seems to have had very little effect on the number of rockets being fired.

To put it starkly, so far 400 Palestinian lives and 4 Israeli lives have been lost, yet nothing seems to have moved forward and everything seems to be moving backwards

Perhaps the Israeli government would be wise to study the history of the second world war and in particular the air bombardments of England and Germany to understand that bombing civilian populations rarely drives people to surrender and instead the opposite effect.

Perhaps if they are thinking about a ground attack, they should read up on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and understand how people will fight when they have nothing else to lose