the value of everything for the price of nothing

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Espedair Street

“It felt like faith, like revelation: that things went on, that life ground on regardless, and mindless, and produced pain and pleasure and hope and fear and joy and despair, and you dodged some of it and you sought some of it and sometimes you were lucky and sometimes you weren’t, and sometimes you could plan your way ahead and that would be the right thing to have done, but other times all you could do was forget about plans and just be ready to react, and sometimes the obvious was true and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes experience helped but not always, and it was all luck, fate, in the end; you lived, and you waited to see what happened, and you would rarely ever be sure that what you had done was really the right thing or the wrong thing, because things can always be better, and things can always be worse.”

Iain Banks Espedair Street

Junk food lifehack for entrepreneurs

burger by robert banh

One of the biggest problems in working long project hours is the temptation to eat crappy convenience food.

Sometimes you’re too distracted to cook and don’t feel that you have time to go and sit in a restaurant or cafe; you just want to sit and work.

Bundle this up with a bit of stress, a desire for comfort and the availability of 24 hour delivery to your door and you have a recipe for waistline disaster.

Well aware of my own weakness in this regard I have successfully implemented a lifehack that prevents me from picking up the phone, or opening a browser, to order out. It’s so beautifully simple I thought I would share it here:

  1. Identify an international chain of junk food dealers
  2. Order food for delivery.
  3. When the food is delivered, refuse to accept it because it is either a) cold; or b) late.
  4. Repeat.

By the time you reach the third cycle through you should find that you are no longer able to order delivery from your chosen junk food outlet.

Pick another and begin the process again.

Don’t try this with independents in your area, they don’t deserve the lost orders.

Image: Robert Banh

Makers As Teachers

Isaiah Saxon On Makers As Teachers

Growing up in America, Isaiah Saxon didn’t ever get to watch Grange Hill – his youth bereft of the joys of Molesworth, and the terrors of Scum.

Great idea though.

Repurposing a Red Telephone Box

Clearing out some old photos as I migrate to a new laptop and found some images of a much loved village phone box repurposed for the mobile age.

British Telecom K6 Red Telephone Box with Defibrillator

Under the auspices of BT’s adopt a kiosk campaign this K6 model red telephone box is now owned by a tiny West Sussex parish. For the collective benefit of the somewhat aged community it now houses an Aivia defibrillator instead of a payphone.

When one considers the alternatives, such as being shipped off to be refurbished and sold as a naff shower stall or novelty greenhouse, this seems a fitting outcome for a former rural lifeline.

..and this mobile is a Porsche

A couple of years ago, in a fit of pique, I wrote a post about the Vertu Ferrari. At the time I was hacked off over the belaboured and backward ‘iPhone is a Ferrari‘ analogy that seemed to have become a thing.

Bizarrely, that Vertu Ferrari post continues to yield steady traffic from organic search.

Judging by the bounce rate I can only assume that impressionable young boys and men of a certain age have little interest in Telecoms, Media and Technology.

So, here’s another ridiculously over-engineered design conceit just for you guys – the P9981 Porsche Blackberry.

P9981 Porsche Blackberry

This stunningly stupid reworking of the Blackberry Bold 9900 goes on sale tomorrow, in Harrods. It’s priced at GBP 1390.

If you have more money than sense (and absolutely no taste) why not pop along and buy one?

Mary Meeker and The Faceless Drones

Reading James Bridle on Impersonating The Machine:

The current peak evolution of the Chinese Room, of the Mechanical Turk – both von Kempelen’s box and Amazon’s behemoth – is found in the even more starkly applied organisation of Taskrabbit, the ultimate people-as-a-service, an engineer’s dream version of the network which allows one to skirt any number of labour laws or ethical issues.

You can’t “protest” against Taskrabbit, against Uber, against drones. The conditions of the conversation are binary: you’re either in, or you’re out. Ultracapitalism, ultrahistory, a complete system.

Taskrabbit, Uber, drones, high-frequency trading, austerity, and this: the natural endpoint of algorithmic capitalism. Cheap humans. Just-in-time people. A generation inside the machine, so drunk and indebted that it will be their lasting fame. An airbnb of the flesh. Impersonate the machine.

I’m reminded of these slides from Mary Meeker’s recent KPCB Internet Trends 2012 presentation:


In the world Meeker describes we’re all freelancers: predicated as value creators and visionaries; crafty and flexible people; personal assistants and bag carriers.

We’ll be ‘asset-light’ and morally ambivalent, our food and laundry delivered by a series of faceless worker drones, our lawns mown at the stab of a touchscreen.

In this Downton Abbey of the 21st Century our interaction with the serving class will be managed by smartphone, tablet, and a blink of an eye in our Google Glasses.

I want no part of this.

Images: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Hat-tip to Tricia Wang for reblogging James Bridle.

Startup Advice for Holiday Cover

I’m one of those people who like to let companies know when they find a bug. Having dealt with many bugs over the years, if it were me, I’d want to know.

Yesterday we had a problem with a free online product. Nothing too serious, something that I managed to fix myself after a little rooting around, but not before raising a support ticket with the provider.

The auto-response email received highlighted just how parochial some startups can be. It stated:

PLEASE NOTE: The [company name redacted] offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday November 22 & 23 to observe the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Now, I come from the world of Telecoms, where the multitude of international festive occasions are warmly embraced as an opportunity to sweat the network and coin it in as folks call home to wish their far flung loved ones a happy holiday. We never close. Not for anything.

I’m not saying that hardworking engineers don’t deserve a little time off every now and then – they do. The thing is, once you’ve launched a useful (free or low cost) online product you should be delighted to find that customers all over the world want to use it.

After all, with no revenue to speak of it’s a numbers game – and nothing’s as sexy as global growth, right?

What’s more, if you’ve trousered the best part of a million in seed funding so that you and a few of your best buds can turn a dormroom dream into an international enterprise, it might be a good idea to sort out some sensible coverage for those support calls.

Nobody expects a lightning fast response, but when the entirety of a customer’s uploaded content appears to disappear in your not-so-smooth migration to a ‘new and better system’ don’t tell them you’re on holiday for the next four days.

Remember that many of your customers are not on holiday. They are thousands of miles away, in other countries, enjoying different cultures.

Something to think about as you dream of being bigger than Facebook.

Facebook Is Like Tobacco

In a tongue-in-cheek post, Clay Allsop of Propeller offers that Facebook’s nonsensical Like A Chair video campaign is a parody of our own ambivalent attitude toward The Social Network. He states:

What bothers me is how we’re okay with this; that the tragedy of the video is the comical absurdity of the “Chair” analogy and not the deeper tragedy that any company is trying to connect with us like this at all. How one minute we’re being pitched about Facebook addressing the human condition, and the next we’re advertised to about Farmville.

And he asks:

Really, what other company has tried to explicitly associate its product with solving existential loneliness?

Not many, Clay but there is one notable example, WD & HO Wills’ disastrous launch of a new tobacco brand, ‘You’re Never Alone With A Strand’

You're Never Alone With A Strand

This legendary TV spot and print campaign portrayed Frank Sinatra lookalike, Terence Brooks, as an angst-ridden everyman pacing the streets of London to the ‘Lonely Man Theme‘ and seeking solace in the smooth and fulsome flavour of a Strand cigarette.

Though the public identified with the late-night imagery (and the backing track, which shot up the charts) the campaign was a failure. Nobody wanted to buy a product associated with a loser.

Perhaps, in time, we’ll find that Facebook is like tobacco?

Image: Imperial Tobacco

The Toilet Touchscreen

Singapore is proud to be the most organised, hard working and process-driven city in the world, and there’s a lot to be said for the special kind of sterile and soulless efficiency practiced on The Island.

Yet one wonders whether the Six Sigmas don’t sometimes take things a little too far?

On a recent visit I was suprised to see that the pathological desire to measure, quantify and improve had led to this: 

Changi Airport Toilet Touchscreen

Now, I don’t care if that device is cleaned with the strongest anti-bacterials known to man every sixty microseconds, you’re supposed to use this thing after you’ve been to bathroom – in an airport!

Well, I  sure as hell wasn’t touching it. Clearly, Contagion didn’t play in Singapore.

Image: James’ Samsung Galaxy SII 

I am influential on the topic of Lobster

According to the team at Klout I’m influential about Lobster. Not in an achingly cool way like David Foster Wallace, nor in an artfully surreal way like Salvador Dali. No, the arbiters of online authority calculated that I am the ‘go-to-guy’ for marine invertebrates, the Jacques Cousteau of social media.

This is a diabolical case of misrepresentation. A budding marine biologist looking for an expert on all things Nephropidae would be severely disappointed to find me at the top of a SERP, the sum of my Lobster knowledge is: goes great with garlic butter and granary bread.

So how did it come to this pretty pass?

Well, as so many of these things do, it began with a Tweet. Way back in September 2011 I shared a link to an amusing article at Know Your Mobile, a retrospective of the worst mobile phone designs:

Anyone old enough to recall the age before the big black slab touchscreen dominated mobile form factor will wince at the memory of the Virgin Lobster, the most god-awful ugly phone to ever grace a mobile network, although as Philipp Weiser pointed out in reply, perhaps the Siemens Xelibri range came a close second. Anyway, my massively influential bon mot was retweeted a grand total of once and I thought no more of it.

I’d signed up for Klout in early summer when everyone and his dog was raving about the way in which companies like PeerIndex and Empire Avenue were going to change the way we measured online reputation, signaling brands to key influencers and offering the select few their fifteen perks of fame.

After the initial thrill of comparing myself against the superstars of social media I’d quickly lost interest. It was clear that Klout could be gamed by cranking up activity and interaction, an issue the company later redressed in a controversial algorithm update. Though not competitive in a leaderboard sense I was curious, and let’s face it, vain enough to check back occasionally to see how I was getting on.

When I next logged into Klout on the 18th October this was what I found:

Yes, the Grateful Dead, I know, I know, I’m an old hippy at heart. More importantly though: James Barnes’ Influential Topics – Lobster. How did they work that one out?

Klout calculates areas of expertise by scraping nouns from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Quora, and sundry other SNS. You mention it, they’ll index it. Mention something often enough (and get shared) and you’ll become an influencer on that topic. That’s great in theory but in practice, without context, we can’t expect whuffie levels of reputation marking. I’ve tweeted the word Lobster, ergo I’m an expert on the subject? Yeah, right.

Klout sucks up activity and interaction, their model assumes that everyone shares everything and that the act of sharing is in itself some form of approval or recommendation. These assumptions are wrong. This is Social Media Astrology, not Science.

Images: @affenstunde

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