Just before Thanksgiving, I found myself having an email conversation around an interesting Harvard Business School post regarding Spanish uber-chef Ferran Adrià and his world-renowned restaurant elBulli. The conversation started with this quote from the article:
“Adrià says he doesn’t listen to customers, yet his customers are some
of the most satisfied in the world. That’s an interesting riddle to
One of the conversation’s participants, Phil, then noted that
“All indications point to Apple/Steve Jobs using the same strategy. El Bulli isn’t at all a mass market success, but the other is. Interesting indeed.”
Gastronomy and my favourite computers, together at last? That really got me going…
2 videos happened across my desktop today, in close proximity to one another, and gave me a moment’s pause for thought.
They shared some elements of their visual language, but what was most striking was the stylistic similarity to “What Barry Says”, a pretty bleak critique of US militarism from 2003:
Now, I was always a bit suspicious of old Barry – while some of his points hit home, the entire thing was cloaked in the sort of overblown language (“War Corporatism”?) which you usually hear peddled by the Trots who sell the Socialist Worker around London. Without the stunning visuals accompanying it, his narrative just comes across as a directionless paranoid rant.
Nevertheless, the overall effect is reasonably stirring. For my money, though, today’s 2 videos were far more effective
First up, we have “Iran: A Nation of Bloggers”, a succinct and moving summary of young Iranians’ embrace of blogging as a way to protest the wrong direction many of them see their own country taking:
And then we have a speech by Harvey Milk (who’s obviously in the news again right now), set to modern visuals and a bit of mildly stirring music:
It’s almost become trite, in the wake of Obama’s presidential campaign, to talk about “hope” and “change” – but to me the contrast between 2003′s paranoid rant and 2008′s uplifting hopefulness really hit home. All the more because, despite the phenomenal victory of our President-Elect a month ago, the economic outlook is crushingly bleak; even as Obama won, bigotry claimed a victory in California; people are scared, confused and uncertain.
And yet hopeful. If everything else is washed away, it seems we still have that.
By November 4th, I suspect that a lot of people in America are going to be heartily sick of hearing about voter fraud.
Over the past week, the spectre of widespread voter fraud has been relentlessly pursued by various factions, most of them aligned on the Republican side of the bitterly divided 2-horse American political system.
So, do we really need UN Election monitors at the polls? Will this election be decided by shadowy “leftist” groups who manage to nefariously concoct millions of fake ballots nationwide?
This year at SXSWi, I was invited to take part in 20×2, an event where 20 people are given 2 minutes each to answer an “open-ended question”. The question this year was “What is the difference?”
I was blown away by the range and quality of the other participants’ answers. This was my humble effort, delivered as a straight-up talk.
The difference, in a word, is passion.
In all our pursuits and endeavours, it is passion which leads to the creation of the genuinely great, or the superlative experience.
Thank about it – who do you most associate with passion; Steve Jobs and his irritatingly exquisite products, painstakingly put together by folks who care about the minutest details or… well… Bill Gates?
I’ve seen the effects of passion in the panels I’ve attended here at South by Southwest. All of the best panels have been hosted by people with a genuine passion for what they’re talking about.
In all honesty, some of them have had so little real content that they’ve actually subtracted from the sum of human knowledge.
But when that nebulous non-content is delivered with infectious passion, it still has value. The raw emotion itself inspires, leading us to new insights and ideas.
Apologies in advance for the multiple threads this site has recently developed – there are 2 active topics which I consider to be “ongoing” right now – productivity and finance, and I’m brewing up more tasty mind-beverages on those topics even as I type this.
Veering onto another topic entirely, though, today’s major preoccupation is international in nature. Right now I’m working n a talk I’ll be giving soon to a bunch of Korean developers in Seoul, regarding Flickr’s API. What’s interesting about this is the peculiar challenges it raises.
Firstly, I’m not 100% confident that my inevitably-slightly-manic English presentation will be all that understandable to a diverse group of Korean speakers. I’ve brewed up something of a defense against this – designing slides for the presentation which contain both an English component (so that the presentation matches the talk, and I know what’s going on, more-or-less), and a Korean translation. Hence the hurry to get the slides done – so that a Korean co-worker can translate! Nevertheless, it means that every design has to be somewhat “symmetrical”; and that there’s half the usual space per slide for any given concept.
But the really weird thing is how much uncertainty a foreign culture injects into the process of building entertaining presentations. In the circles I move in (amongst my fellow Flickr-ites, for example, and other talented presenters such as the lovely Mr Coates), the Done Thing these days is to illustrate one’s slides with somewhat-relevant photographs, usually as a background to the slide.
The approach makes a lot of sense for the Flickr team (we are, after all, in the business of hosting awesome photos), and has taken off in general due to the ease with which anyone can find good creative-commons licensed imagery through Flickr.
Using photography in this way also has the advantage of making the presentation immediately more visually appealing, and allows for a host of sly (or not so sly) jokes in the form of tangentially-related imagery, or flat-out visual punnery.
Okay, so that title’s a little cruel and, yes, this is mainly filler to cover up the fact that I haven’t finished any of the pieces I mentioned previously. Soon, I promise… (again)
For quite a while, I was a big fan of Mark Morford’s SF Chronicle column. The writing was alternately breezy and frenetic, and each piece generally contained a kernel of truth or outrage which was… resonant.
Over the past year or so, though, the quality dropped. His politically-leaning pieces became directionless rants, and more and more columns were taken up with meandering rambles about consumer technology or science news.
At points, the only fun left was to play “spot the ‘Bush-ravaged’”, scanning each column to see how he’d managed to work that horribly over-used phrase of his into a subject completely divorced from Republican politics.
Today’s piece, however, is something of a return to Morford of old. It’s a little bit honest, a little bit brutal and a little bit sweet. It also contains the killer line
…whose biological clock is ticking like Dick Cheney’s pacemaker in a gay fetish dungeon…
…which made me accidentally snort tea this morning.
Since the column in question was apparently prompted by his newly single status, the headline here speaks for itself.
Props to eyeteeth for reminding me of something appalling which I first saw about a month ago, and completely failed to muster the time/energy to write about.
The item in question is a Lexus advertising campaign, whose tagline is…
A Strong Want is a Justifiable Need
Part of the problem with writing about this is that it’s so utterly horrible that it defies rational thought. Paul at eyeteeth probably chooses the best path in offering a picture of the offending ad with only a title offering commentary.
But after a few minutes, I realised that I could probably have some fun with the idea, so I dashed off a letter to Lexus’s “General Requests” email line, as follows…