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Top Five Albums That Played Through My Headphones In 2015

Surviving this year, or indeed any year, would not have been possible without music. In typically Hornbyesque fashion here’s my top five albums from 2015*:

Stoned Jesus – THE HARVEST

Stupidly tight and heavy Ukrainians deliver yet another perfect hard rock set that references just about everyone. Outside the headphones  Here Come The Robots is a great track to start the day, it annoyed my neighbours quite a lot this year.

Steven Wilson – HAND. CANNOT. ERASE.

Seems like the man can do no wrong, and who doesn’t love a neo-prog concept album? Well, I do.

Strongly recommend watching the movie this record is loosely based upon, Dreams Of A Life.

Ryley Walker – 2015-06-26 – LE POISSON ROUGE – NEW YORK 

OK, so he’s incredibly derivative of Van Morrison, John Martyn, Tim Buckley et. al. I really don’t see a problem with that.

This is a fantastic live set captured and posted by NYC Taper. If, like me, you’re not going to get to see Mr. Walker perform any time soon this really is the next best thing, superb quality too.

The Wrecking Crew: WE GOT GOOD AT IT – THE ANTHOLOGY (1962-1971)

Very unofficial soundtrack to the greatest music documentary of 2008, The Wrecking Crew.

Yes, there is an OST if you’d like to buy it and support the film’s makers, but this is by far the better version, including essential tracks that would have been very tough to license.

The Wrecking Crew were the very best at what they did, for a decade and a bit they played on just about everything. This one’s got chops, enjoy.

Nordic Giants – A SÉANCE OF DARK DELUSIONS

Brighton’s finest feather-headressed post-rockers, Nordic Giants, are often written-off as a poor man’s Sigur Ros. I’d argue that this music does actually resolve itself, eventually.

With the notable exception of the Copper family it’s not often that anyone raves about music from my stomping ground of Sussex, but by all accounts Nordic Giants manage to do that multimedia thing rather well in a live setting.

Wish that KLCC Convention Centre was on their tour itinerary for 2016.

*albums made available in 2015, not necessarily albums that contain music created in 2015.

The Original Alphabet Business Concern

Sometime late morning August 24 1986 Cardiacs took over the stage at the Reading Rock Festival, a performance recorded and released as the now somewhat legendary Rude Bootleg.

Amongst the couple of hundred people paying attention were me and my friend Bart:

cardiacs-reading-1986-rudebootleg-affenstunde

Well, you’ll have to take my word for it, that’s us getting tuned in to the quirk.

Many years later my friend Pete got married at Polhawn Fort in Rame. I was Best Man, Cardiacs leader, Tim Smith, was Maid of Honour. They say you should never meet your heroes for fear of disappointment but he really was a gentleman.

As Google announces its new operating structure it’s probably time for you to buy some Cardiacs music from the original Alphabet Business Concern.

Soused – Holidays in the Sunn O)))

scott-walker-sunn-o

Destined to be every critic’s album of the year Soused is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Your barista will be raving about it for weeks.

Finally, a Scott Walker album I can get behind.

Early Product Placement At The Movies

Pretty much everything anyone would ever want to know about product placement on the silver screen was covered in Morgan Spurlock’s excellent documentary The Greatest Story Ever Sold. If you haven’t watched that yet please do, it will change the way you view movies and TV forever.

Re-watching Ozu’s Tokyo Story the other day I was struck by two instances of in-your-face product placement.

The most noticeable comes late in the film as Noriko receives a call at work. This being fifties Japan there’s only one phone in the office and we’re treated to a static shot of Noriko crossing the room to get to it. This is the frame:

tokyo-story-bridgestone-large

The shot lasts for seven seconds. You might want to kick your tyres when you get out of the theatre.

Other advertising is visible when Shūkichi and Tomi visit Noriko’s tiny apartment. Again, it’s a static shot, and again the placement is visible throughout the scene:

tokyo-story-rinso-large

The Rinso box might seem insignificant in the screencap but the eye is drawn back to it again and again. There’s nothing accidental about anything appearing in the shot, you’re watching the result of meticulous set design.

Perhaps Ozu is telling us that Noriko’s quiet virtue and devotion to familial values run deeper than her dead husband’s siblings’ because she uses a better quality detergent?

Anyway, it’s amazing to me that I hadn’t picked up on the product placement before. These are the only western brands visible throughout the film and they’re both very much dominant in the frame. I’d love to know how this came about.

Spies: Like Us

If you’re suffering from Snowden Revelation Fatigue you might have missed a tiny detail tucked away in the recent story about GCHQ’s programme to spy on diplomats at high-end hotels.

Whilst nobody should be surprised that intelligence agencies are gathering massive amounts of personal data, it is somewhat startling to find that the many and various services on offer to SIGINT are marketed in much the same way as small arms to the military.

If you’ve never collected brochures at a Defence Fair, nor flipped through ads in the back pages of Asian Military Review, take it from me, the vast majority of companies operating in this industry are not reinvesting 40% of revenue into marketing to grow the business and brand. Oh no, they’re off-piste in comic sans country.

Which brings me to Royal Concierge, the spy programme with a logo. And oxymoron aside, what a logo it is.

When you think about the marketing message, we should be in 007 territory. The Royal Concierge programme is in the business of solutions for gathering secrets from senior diplomats staying in the world’s most luxurious five-star-and-above hotels.

You would imagine the creative brief might have contained words like ‘exclusive,’ ‘sophistication,’ and ‘discretion’ – but no, the boffins at GCHQ had something far more playful in mind:

gchq-royal-concierge-logo

That’s right. A cartoon penguin wearing a cape and crown, holding a magic wand.

Bond creator, Ian Fleming, was a man obsessed by brand – so much so that he could barely mention his super spy entering a lift without clarifying it was made by Otis – I can’t imagine he’d be impressed by the caped crusader.

One can’t help but feel the Royal Concierge logo is an opportunity missed. Could have gone for something simple that captured the essence of the service: five stars and a plus symbol in gold on a black background; or something representative of the product name: an iconographic of a butler.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and the person who designed this logo has far greater customer insight than me. And if that’s the case, it’s reassuring to know that the people signing off on SIGINT technology are as enamoured of cartoon penguins as the rest of us.

Why Crazy Smart Start Ups Fail

Every wondered why a bunch of stupidly clever folks can’t get an online business off the ground?

I strongly recommend this excellent and brutally honest presentation by Lukas Fittl:

Great use of repetition to drive a point home. I said, great use of repetition to drive a point home.

I Forgot My Phone

Looks like the Situationist International was right about:

the progressively increasing tendency towards the expression and mediation of social relations through objects.

In theory, it’s about the most advanced state of capitalism that you can reach. There may or may not be nothing wrong with that, but please put your phone down every now and then. You’re pissing people off..

Hat tip to: charstarleneTV

Lazada Mobile App Disaster

A few days ago Rocket Internet announced that it had secured a further USD100 million investment in its SE Asian e-commerce venture, Lazada.

As stated in the press release funding is earmarked for logistics, operations and a continued push into mobile. I’d imagine that Google Sales offices in the region are delighted to hear about this Series B close too.

On the topic of mobile, Lazada recently released some apps which have failed to trouble the charts; one hopes they’ll set aside a few dollars aside for improving onsite marketing:

Lazada Mobile App

That image hurts my eyes. C’mon Lazada, with that investment you can manage better than this sloppy attempt to promote your apps.

It really is about time that local startups competing with the Samwer brother’s deep-pockets upped their game and started producing a better customer experience than Rocket’s cut-and-paste-to-region crap.

There is a commonly expressed notion round here that online services don’t have to be great experiences because the SE Asian market is less mature than Europe or the United States. It’s a view I’ve heard from local business owners as well as those hungry young expat MBAs parachuted in to show us ‘how to execute’ and it’s very, very wrong.

As a matter of fact, despite the lack of decent payment infrastructure and poor logistics, adoption of e-commerce is increasing exponentially. As long as Malls remain a recreational destination of choice the singular competitive advantage that e-commerce has is Quality of Service (and Cash On Delivery).

So why the crappy app promo? Why not excel rather than make do with ‘good enough’?

Success will not come as a result of a ten grand (USD) monthly AdWords budget – it will be delivered by a great user experience, it’s about time the deep pockets from overseas realised that. Hubris has a way of biting your arse.

Scrabble iOS App – Lost In Translation

Players of the popular Scrabble iOS app are up in arms over an upgrade. As the BBC reports following a switch in management from Mattel, the mark owner, to EA, a gaming house with a known preference for profit over user experience, customers have taken to Facebook in complaint.

Revised gameplay, a change of dictionary licensor, and deleted game history are the key causes of upset:

“Who wants to play it in six languages?” player Helen Hawkins, from Kent, asked the BBC.

“I’ve been playing for over four years, I had 5,000 games on my statistics, I’d won 71% of them, I had my best scores recorded – and now it’s all lost.”

In consideration of overall user numbers the player niche that requires a multilingual app is likely narrow. Indeed, it seems reasonable to deduce that the multi-lingual option was added to widen the addressable market and reduce the perceived maintenance and management overhead of many apps in many stores.

My own opinion on this is the old saw that translation is not localisation. If you want to build a loyal userbase defined by a common language localise for the culture, not the linguistics. I could harp on about this for hours.

As for the loss of saved games, well, that’s another bad decision that EA made in porting the app to their own platform: migration of user data is less of a hassle if you don’t bother doing it; everyone loves it when the product manager saves time and money.

A spokeswoman for Mattel told the BBC the firm was sorry for any upset caused.

“We are sorry we weren’t able to please everybody,” she said.

“The number of people playing has also increased significantly since the update.

“We produce the board game but we’re not experts in electronics.”

Of course the number of active daily and monthly users has increased, the upgraded app enjoyed plentiful instore marketing as an Editors Pick. These words are hardly a comfort to Ms Pissed Off from Kent, in fact they’re a red rag to a bull.

While I don’t decry the clean slate approach to rebuilding and relaunching any product, in this case the wholesale disregard for customers who had paid for an adfree version of the old app is hard to stomach.

These things are for sure: an EA game producer bamboozled a Mattel product owner with bullshit about faster horses; for many customers the app no longer does what it did when they bought it; we can expect a lot more of this kind of thing.

Mailbox app for iPhone – a very short review

Mailbox Email App for iPhone - Swipe to DeleteFinally got around to trying that Mailbox email app today. You know, the one that everyone was on the waiting list for because the company’s servers couldn’t cope with demand if they let the masses in.

As you probably know, Dropbox bought Mailbox for some ridiculous amount of money, the scaling problems got sorted, and as of mid-April the velvet rope has been lifted and we’re all allowed to use the damn thing.

Mailbox didn’t suit me at all, it’s Gmail only and it doesn’t ‘do’ portrait view. That means I can’t work with the email accounts I use every day and I can’t thumb-type with my big hands in their most comfortable position.

Were I a happy hack, or techblog commenter, those two failings alone would be enough to launch the invective troll-rocket of a blistering attack on a crap app, frothy company, and overpriced acquisition – doesn’t work for me, must be worst thing ever.

But Mailbox is actually rather good. It’s a kind of client lite for people who hate email and those folk who want to stay up-to-date but dig a UX that’s all hey-let’s-deal-with-that-shit-later. No doubt both segments love those long and short swipe actions that whizz work away from their timeline.

You see, the genius of Mailbox is its ability to convince the user they’re being productive when all they’re really doing is deferring tasks and avoiding action.

And that is the essence of Management.

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