Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

The true size of Africa

October 26, 2010

Interesting map created by Kai Krause to illustrate what he calls ‘immappancy’ – like illiteracy but a lack of geographical knowledge – caused partly by the way the standard Mercator maps we’ve grown up with give us a distorted view of reality.  Here he demonstrates how Africa is actually larger than the landmasses of the US, China, India, Japan and all of Europe combined.


While I’ve known for a long time that the classic world map is distorted, this really brings the scale of that distortion home for the first time.  And makes me feel small and ignorant, which is no bad thing.

Good on you Boris

August 15, 2010

I have lived in London for 17 years and have never cycled here – until today, courtesy of the fantastic Boris (Barclays) bikes.  Unfortunately I have to walk about 20 mins to the nearest terminal, and today the first two terminals I came to were empty, but when I finally got going it was great!

The bikes are nice and sturdy but don’t go very fast.  But the bonus is that people smile at you and other Boris bikers wave. Although perhaps that was just because I looked like a twit.

What a great addition to the London landscape.  Thank you Boris and Barclays – although I cannot bring myself to call the things ‘Barclays cycles’  as they suggest (or even ‘Barclays bikes’). Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.

PS.  My friend James has alerted me to a great free app that shows you where the terminals are and,  just as importantly, the real-time availability of bikes at each terminal. Brilliant!  It’s called London Cycle (from FIPLAB Ltd) – not branded Barclays which seems a missed opportunity.

Txting The gr8 db8

April 19, 2010

That’s the title of a book I’ve just read by the linguistics expert David Crystal. I am one of those pedants who dislikes using abbreviations in text messaging and fears that the “younger generation” will grow up not knowing how to spell or use grammar (I am aware that makes me sound like I am about 103 but there you go).  However David Crystal (who I respect greatly based on the lucidity of his previous books) says we shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist. 

He points out that abbreviating language has been going on for centuries, for the reason that it makes life easier: pm (post meridiem – after midday) first recorded in English in 1666, IOU in 1618, think of Mr, Sgt, AWOL, etc. A dictionary of abbreviations published in 1942 included ‘wd’ (would), ‘aftn’ (afternoon), ‘mtg’ (meeting) and so on. He also highlights studies showing that only a small proportion (between 6 and 20%) of texts contain abbreviations at all – it’s not a whole new language being created as much as a few dozen common words or phrases being adapted.

Teachers and examiners report that instances of pupils using text conventions within essays or exam papers are very few. In fact some studies have indicated that using texting abbreviations correlates to higher literacy in pre-teenage children, so it may actually encourage kids to understand language and be more playful with it.  Crystal points out: “Children could not be good at texting if they had not already developed considerable literacy awareness”.

So that’s a relief. And reminds me that nothing is new in this world.

Postscript Dec 2010: Saw this at the British Library exhibition ‘Evolving English’ – what we would recognise as text speak quoted in a book in 1867:

Not sure what some of those symbols mean but otherwise quite comprehensible. Looks like they were pronouncing ‘z’ as ‘zee’, or at least aware that’s what Americans do, given ‘B E Z’. Or maybe the author was American.

Susan Boyle in Norway

March 11, 2010

Just back from another trip to Sarpsborg to work with my new Scandinavian clients at Orkla. I was chatting to the driver who picked me up (of course in Norway even the taxi drivers have perfect English) who put on his Susan Boyle CD for my benefit. He said “I just loved the look on those judges’ faces when she started to sing”. 

Another reminder of the universal appeal of certain human stories – in this case the Cinderella tale of how you shouldn’t judge on appearances, that inside anyone is a star.  Yes Susan Boyle has a great voice but it’s the back story that’s made her a global phenomenon.

And a lovely new ad campaign from Zappos, the online retailer in the US that has a phenomenal reputation for service and charm. They’ve taken genuine recordings of phone calls between customers and staff and brought them to life with Muppet-style puppets. Not only really funny but creates such a good impression of the company.

Endless possibilities in accounting

February 6, 2010

We went to see the play Enron the other night. I thought it would be a serious drama but the treatment is comic/satirical with a bit of singing and dancing too. Which took a bit of getting used to but actually I think it made the serious points hit home more forcefully and memorably.

I didn’t realise that Enron had been named Fortune magazine’s ‘Most Innovative Company’ for 6 consecutive years directly before it unravelled … their greatest innovations being in the area of accounting procedures.  And its slogan was ‘Endless possibilities’ – the irony is almost too delicious.

They went bankrupt in 2001, which feels like ages ago, yet the corporate hubris portrayed in the play feels horribly familiar even now.  Companies and markets and the media are still so demonstrably capable of collective delusion and losing their moral compass. Depressing.  Makes you wonder which companies that we currently revere and may well have endlines about ‘possibilities’ might actually be a house of cards …

Apple vs. Obama

January 28, 2010

Good post from Anil Dash (legendary blogger and smart guy) yesterday – see – about how it feels like there is way more chatter and advocacy about the Apple iPad launch than about the State of the Union address or Obama’s agenda in general, despite the way Obama mobilized a lot of those people during his campaign.

Over to Anil: “What leaves me at a loss […] is how many otherwise sane and sensible people give their time and energy freely to help support a company like Apple that, despite its elegant designs and generally excellent products […] certainly doesn’t need free PR from some of the most talented people on the web.

Though Apple is a reasonably progressive company, they explicitly don’t give a shit about poor people. […] Who does need your help? I’d say the current administration does. Because the biggest difference between now and 18 months ago is not that President Obama has gotten elected; It’s that those who support his agenda have gotten lazy about helping in the effort.”

Good point huh?

Seth Godin

January 27, 2010

Seth Godin has a new book out Linchpin. I know this because I subscribe to his blog and also because, rather than use traditional media to publicise the book, he sent advance copies to lots of the bloggers and smart people he admires and asked them to read it and interview him if they wanted. Which of course they did want to, because he’s very smart, so now there’s a lot of high quality coverage of the book out there and it’s not even out yet (in the UK at least).

I’m looking forward to reading it – it looks to be a rallying cry for people to be extraordinary and make a difference. But with a lot more substance than your average self help book baloney.

Something that stood out for me in one of the interviews he’s done is the concept of ’emotional labour’ (labor to the Americans but I’m not having that): “bringing guts and ideas and love to work when you and others don’t feel like it”. That in pretty much every job “there’s a chance to lead and make change and connect and create tiny breakthroughs”.

I really like that idea – when I think about all the people I admire that’s what they do: emotional labour. They bring themselves and their passions and  imperfections to their work and take the risk of being criticized or laughed at. And in so doing they create more impact and change than a hundred people who just keep their heads down and only engage the rational, sensible bit of their brains.

I hope that emotional labour is what I am able to do for my clients, at least some of the time – to bring energy and new thinking and the ability to engage a group of people so that things that feel a bit stuck get unstuck.

Here’s a link to Seth’s blog where he lists the interesting people who have talked about the book. A good opportunity to discover some great blogs, if nothing else.

Here we go

January 25, 2010

Hey there. I figured it was about time. Having a section of my website titled ‘What I think’ and then not updating it with what I’m thinking about seemed lame.

And selfishly I am looking forward to having a better way of ‘capturing’ stuff. All the research I’ve ever read about what makes certain people more ‘creative’ than others refers to the importance of being good at capturing thoughts and ideas, so that you have a resource of stimulus for use another time.  This chimes with what the creative people that I know do:  they have notebooks, scrapbooks, diaries, bottom drawers, Delicious accounts, …

So I hope that a blog will make me better at capturing a bit more from the flotsam of stuff that I notice and think and talk about. Here goes.