Archive for December, 2009

Souvenir of the Year: automatic mantra-chanter

Last year, my souvenir of the year was a beautiful batik picture I bought at the Sultan’s palace in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

This year, I was given a lovely model ship from Stikom, Surabaya when I returned to Indonesia, and the gift of a wonderful day out from John Foliot when I visited San Jose for OSCON.

But souvenir of the year has to be something I purchased myself, and this year I bought it in a market at Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi, India. It cost 120 Rupees (about £2) and it’s an automatic mantra chanter.

When plugged in, the portrait of the Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh is bejewelled with flashing lights while and a recorded voice sings a devotional chant. Pressing the button changes the chant; there are twenty different songs.

You may experience its glory through the power of YouTube.

This year’s Yule charity

Long-term readers might know that I don’t give Xmas cards out. It’s not merely because I’m a miserable bastard: because we’ve got friends and family in the USA, Thailand, Turkey, Norway, it seems wasteful to pay to fly shop-bought sentiment half way round the world to end up in a landfill.

So I give a donation to a charity every year. This year, I’m giving what I reckon I’d spend on cards and stamps to Help Harry Help Others. It’s a Birmingham charity set up by a nine year old boy named Harry Moseley who has a brain tumour. Harry writes

I am ok at the moment but a short time ago a very special friend of mine – Robert Harley became very poorly. I met him at the hospital and he had a brain tumour also. I love Robert and wanted to help make him better so I decided to make beaded bracelets to raise lots and lots of money for Brain Tumour UK as they have highlighted the lack of funding and research into this very serious illness.

Sadly 4 weeks into my campaign, my special friend Robert died. This makes me very sad and although my campaign is going really well, I wish I had started it sooner.

I can no longer help Robert, but I know that he was proud of me and he wore my bracelet too. I have now decided to dedicate my campaign in memory of Robert Harley as this is my way of keeping his memory alive and something I know he would have helped and supported me with if he was with us today.

Please support me and my campaign so that we together can make a difference to all people that suffer with brain tumours.

So that’s why you’re not getting a Christmas card from me this year. Instead of sending me one, please send the dosh to Harry’s campaign.

I’m off now to hang out with the family until 4th Jan, as I’ve been away travelling for 3 months this year and need a break. Have a top holiday, regardless of which invisible friend in the sky you dedicate it to, if at all.

Update October 2011: Harry died of his brain tumour, aged 11.

(Last Updated on 17 October 2011)

More stupidly hyperbolic advertising

After my first rant about the horrors of the LG TV commercial, I thought I’d continue the theme of stupidly hyperbolic advertising by focussing on an ad I saw on lots of billboards in Indonesia. It was advertising some mobile phone that allowed you to choose from a set of luridly-coloured plastic cases depending on your mood.

Nothing wrong with that. I remember when I was a teenager that there was a watch that had lots of different faces and straps that you could choose one, and it seemed quite fun. If this ad had been headlined “What’s your favourite colour?” or “What’s your mood today?” I wouldn’t object at all.

I think that, given the target consumer for livid-coloured mobile phones is likely to be teenagers, you should use good old fashioned sex to market the phone. (I’ve copyrighted this, so bugger off, ad people.) Using a blue case? It means “I’m up for flirting or snogging but nothing more”. A pink case means “looking for a one-night stand”. A yellow case indicates “I’m looking for romance and commitment”. Basically, a sort of teenie romance version of the gay handkerchief code.

But they don’t. They have the fuckwitted hyperbolic strapline “What colour is your life?”. Instead of asking me what my favourite colour is, what kind of mood I’m in or what level of clinginess I aspire to from a partner tonight, they want me to equate my life experience, ambitions, hopes, dreams, disappointments, aspirations, loves and regrets to a dayglo piece of plastic.

I thought about the day I got married, the birth of my children and decided that my life is green. Then, I thought of the day I was diagnosed with MS, was rejected by the first ever girl I asked out and I realised that my life is blue. But then, when I considered passing my driving test, getting my degree I felt my life was pink.

What colour is your life?

It’s very hard to define your life as a colour, but I believe I have come up with a method which I call Voight-Kampff Chromatography.

Fill in the form below to learn your life colour, while keeping your face within sight of your computer’s webcam. (If you have no webcam, you can take the test but the results will be 7.3% less accurate.)

Whatever the Voight-Kampff Chromatograph decides your life colour is, it’s easy to guess that of the advertising “creatives” and PR tossers who came up with this campaign. The colour of their lives is brown. Like shit.

(Last Updated on 4 January 2010)

Death to your stupidly hyperbolic advertising

My anger management has been going well, thank you very much. Even christmas music doesn’t rile me. Only one thing of late has disturbed my legendary seasonal bonhomie and general goodwill-to-all-bastards demeanour.

And that is obviously-hyperbolic advertising. We all understand the tropes of advertising so, of course, tell me that what you’re peddling is better than your competitors’ offerings while it’s actually identical; naturally, I understand that your product is consumed by pants-moisteningly attractive people and that, if I use it too, I will be considered to be attractive. That’s all fair enough.

No, I’m talking about the ludicrously unrelated association of mundane products with high concepts: imagine if toilet paper were marketed as preserving democracy, that kind of thing.

Exhibit one, the televisual rectal cyst that roused me from my semi-pissed slumber last night to begin foaming at the mouth, is the £3m ‘freedom’ ad campaign for LG (watch it if you really need to).

Cue a film of a small baby swimming in water (all very Nevermind); “the day we are born is the last day we are truly free” intones SeriousVoiceoverMan. “Before you know it, we’re boxed in; held back; constrained” he continues over images of cubicle farms, ranks of desks. Tantalisingly he asks “What if we knew we were free to go further?” over sunny visuals of flowers opening, wide open vistas, and a gratuitous pretty women in a bikini being hosed down.

So, that’s the set-up. We can see by this point that whatever it is they want you to buy is inextricably linked with the concept of “freedom”. Never mind that the ad agency’s idea of freedom is being submerged insensible in warm amniotic fluid and strapped immobile to a placenta (all very The Matrix with a dash of Oedipus complex: rather sinister, if you think about it).

In Adland, freedom usually means cars or tampons. Tampons because, as Mrs Pankhurst would have told you, women never feel truly free unless they’re swimming or wearing white trousers while simultaneously menstruating and risking toxic shock syndrome. The way to advertise cars is to remind us of the single USP of the car (you can go where you want whenever you want) that is shared by every motor vehicle, while insinuating that flooring the accelerator of the Audi Mingé is the act of an eco-warrior that does the planet a favour.

Back to the product. Tampon or Motor? Neither. Our advert is for an LG television. Now, I have nothing against televisions. I was recently persuaded by my family to purchase one the size of Luxembourg and I spend many an hour balefully peering at it. During those periods of stupefaction, I have concluded that TV has three primary purposes:

  1. It’s the best way to find out who the government requires us to hate at the moment.
  2. When used in conjunction with a games console, it’s invaluable for stimulating endorphins and adrenaline in your children without them having to go anywhere. This negates the risk of their being touched up by one or all of the 4.9 million rampant paedophiles who are roaming YOUR TOWN right now. It also means they never need move, accumulating body mass until they die aged 50 of diabetes and obesity thereby saving the nation a fortune in medical care.
  3. It’s perfect for married couples to avoid speaking to each other. Instead, they can watch Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks pretending to be in love, just like they thought they were before transient sexual attraction cooled to become festering resentment and then crusted into mutual contempt.

I’m a coward. I wouldn’t have opposed fascism, put a flower down the barrel of a soldier’s gun and certainly wouldn’t have mustered up the courage to stand in front of a Tienanmen tank. But even a happy Epsilon minus like me understands that a big TV does not equate to the concept of liberty.

In fact, the ad is like Orwell for lazy people. Freedom isn’t slavery in this hyperbolic hyperbollocks, but Freedom is passivity. Be free! Be free to absorb more advertising like this! The obsequious marketing media reports (seemingly without irony) some lovely doublethink from George Mead, the LG brand manager who says

the TV, print and online campaign aims to promote LG Electronics as refreshing and sophisticated’ … Mead said LG was trying to ‘dumb down its marketing’ to make it simple and educate consumers.

In other words: advertising people are clever. Consumers are stupid. TV=freedom.

Fuck off.

(Part two: “More stupidly hyperbolic advertising” )

(Last Updated on 18 December 2009)

Arabian Nights, Royal Shakespeare Company

Last night, a whole house load of Lawsons, my mum and stepdad, my half-sister and her kids went to Stratford to watch Arabian Nights by the RSC as a pre-Christmas treat.

Arabian Nights is the story of a storytelling Queen, Shahrazad, who will be executed by the King unless she can think up new stories to tell. Like the Canterbury Tales or Decameron, it’s basically a framing story for a disparate collection of folk tales; some are high and courtly like The Knight’s Tale and The Story of the Envious Sisters, others bawdy like The Miller’s Tale and How Abu Hassan Broke Wind.

The latter had such a triumphantly staged megafart that every child in the audience (and juvenile adults) were laughing hysterically for minutes. The cast used puppets, slapstick, and mime to tell the stories in a manner that consistently held our attention (as did the gorgeousness of lead actress Ayesha Dharker).

The show was quite long—over three hours—but it rarely dragged. Perhaps the final story could have been pacier if there had only been one brother to fail in the quest, rather than a second who repeats the first’s failure. Once or twice, some of the dialogue jarred for me; most of the dialogue was in a high narrative style so Shahrazad’s reponse to a request with “I’ll see what I can do” sounded clichéd and lazily written.

But those are small criticisms of an otherwise excellent production.

.net magazine awards night

I was jolly chuffed to be invited down to a swanky club on the 29th floor of Millbank Tower, overlooking the Thames for the first .net magazine awards ceremony. Along with dozens of web luminaries, I chomped coq au vin and swigged wine while Paul Boag doled out awards.

I was up for a gong for “Standards Champion 2009”, and Opera was up for a gong for Opera Unite in the Best innovation of 2009 category. However, neither my chum/ colleague Patrick Lauke nor I got to make a tearful acceptance speech, as I was pipped to the post by some Jeffrey-come-lately named Zeldman, and the award for Innovation was collected by the resplendently-jumpered representative of Google Chrome.

It’s hard to be graceless when one is beaten by the Godfather of Standards, so congratulations Jeffrey! I’m very honoured to have made it through the public vote to the shortlist. I valiantly fended off my disappointment by drinking far too much (and paying dearly for it when the hotel room began spinning later).

Thanks to the .net team for a fine ceremony, epicurean evening and excellent magazine. When economics aren’t great, it would be easy to dumb down the publication and go for moronic “build a Flash menu in 3 seconds” articles, but they have resisted the temptation and continue to develop a high quality magazine with high production values while promoting the best practices in Web Design. Top work, Dan Oliver and Oliver Lindberg. (Now let me win next year you bastards.)