Monthly Archives: February 2005

There are two kinds of blog

There are obviously more than two kinds of blog. I suppose I mean here are two kinds of blog. Anyway, there’s the kind that’s so stuffed with actionable nuggets, little (and big) things that you can actually try out and that make you go: “Oh shit. That’s another thing I have to figure out (like I don’t have enough things to figure out).” Ben Hammersley‘s is that kind of blog. There’s nothing on this page that isn’t interesting and worth a few minutes of your time (except maybe the skirt). Then there’s the kind that represents a throughly engaging worldview and provides lots of entertaining evidence for its validity. Russell Davies‘ is that kind of blog.

Still rotting

A long time ago I ran a company called Webmedia. It was a web design firm and we earned the special distinction of ‘going bust before the boom’ (as one journalist pithily put it). Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it lately since I spent the weekend talking about business ethics in Switzerland. One incident in particular has been making me laugh. One of my managers (she ran the production department) came to me one day and asked if I’d mind if she gave me a business book she’d just read. She thought I might like it. “Sure. I said. Please do”. A bit later on, and without comment, she left the book on my desk – it was called ‘The Fish Rots From The Head‘…

The last time we tried ID cards

Spot-on opener for the new series of Jonathan Freedland’s The Long View on Radio 4. The programme’s about the last time we tried ID cards in the UK and the court case that brought it all to an end in 1950. I could say something glib: ‘important lesson’, ‘timely reminder’, ‘tinker with an Englishman’s rights at your peril…’ something like that… but you should probably just listen to it (I’ve got an MP3 if you find the programme’s been overwritten by next week’s).

Humour me

I’m blogging like mad over at Beth Krasna’s Thinking Ethics. Pop over and have a read why don’t you. Mind you, since I seem to be posting more-or-less on my own at the moment, I think I might start to feel a bit lonely soon. The blog is a companion to Beth’s Thinking Ethics seminar last weekend in Geneva and should extend the value of the event nicely (if any of the other participants can find the time to join in).

New York & India

Rush out and buy these special issues before they disappear from the shelves at the end of the week: The Economist’s terrific Survey of New York and New Scientist’s comprehensive special on science in India. Both are outstanding – the best specialist journalism in Britain and lots of clever, exclusive content. Both mags are really on form, if you ask me.

The Economist’s survey seems to be available for nothing at the web site and quite a lot of the New Scientist’s special is also free online.

Brand not dead after all

A parade of Victorinox Swiss Army Knives
On the way to the airport Friday I found a Swiss Army Knife at the bottom of my bag. Not much of a knife (and the little tooth pick was gone anyway) so I gave it up to the nice lady at the X-Ray machine.

On the flight I thought about the poor sods who make these things. I assumed they must have been wiped out by 9/11. Since about 75% (complete guess) of Swiss Army knives must be bought at airports and since you can no longer take them on aeroplanes I couldn’t think of a viable survival strategy. Of course, I was totally wrong. Geneva airport is thick with Swiss Army Knife concessions. Giant, mechanical pen-knives open and close silently at every gate and in every souvenir store. They weren’t wiped out at all. In fact, the business insight here is that even the nastiest existential shock might conceal an opportunity.

When you buy a Swiss Army Knife at an airport now, a nifty pre-paid envelope is produced and your new knife is posted back to your home. That’s pretty neat but the leap forward here is that they now (obviously) capture your name and address in the sale and, with your permission, sign you up for the quarterly catalogue, special offers, ads for related products, whatever. 9/11 had the paradoxical effect, for the Swiss Army Knife people, of converting millions of customers from an undifferentiated horde of anonymous foreigners to a rather up-to-date International customer database. I hope they make good use of it.

Food’s Hatfield

Risks to health from the Sudan 1 food dye are assessed to be ‘very small’ by the Food Standards Agency (you’d need to eat two or three wheelbarrows of Branston pickle to get close to a dangerous dose). The simple withdrawal of Sudan 1 from manufacturers’ stock rooms would have been the appropriate response. Instead we have the insanity of a total purge of the food chain, costing tens of millions and producing its own new and unquantifiable risks, epic waste and serious economic damage to the whole chain, especially to smaller firms. The Food Standards Agency has been ‘captured’, to use the trendy term, by the infantile ‘precautionary principle‘ and bounced into a Hatfield-scale overreaction – the only beneficiaries will, as usual, be the fear merchants in the pop press.

Being in Switzerland

Books at the Thinking Ethics seminar, geneva, 18 February 2005
My hyper-connected friend Azeem introduced me to Beth Krasna, an equally hyper-connected and hyperactive Swiss polyglot technocrat. Beth invited me to participate in a fascinating and more-than-slightly intimidating seminar on ethics in Geneva. So here I am, wrestling with a pointlessly expensive (and unusably faint) Swisscom Wi-Fi signal in my hotel room (actually, sitting on the floor in the corridor just outside my hotel room which is the only place I can get a usable signal), uploading some photos from the first afternoon.

The seminar is divided into themed strands and mine is called ‘Ethics and Disobedience’. The brains in my session are contributed by an Imam, a Philosopher, the Dean of Geneva Cathedral and the Quakers’ man at the UN. More tomorrow. Now I must rest my brain (I’ll also be posting, along with other willing participants, on the Thinking Ethics blog).

Revolutionary love

Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book is a page turner. Loads of historically resonant words, including these handy phreaking tips:

“AT&T, like all public utilities, passes itself off as a service owned by the people, while in actuality nothing could be further from the truth. Only a small percentage of the public owns stock in these companies and a tiny elite clique makes all the policy decisions. Ripping-off the phone company is an act of revolutionary love, so help spread the word.”

“You can make a local 10 cent call for 2 cents by spitting on the pennies and dropping them in the nickel slot. As soon as they are about to hit the trigger mechanism, bang the coin-return button. Another way is to spin the pennies counter-clockwise into the nickel slot. Hold the penny in the slot with your finger and snap it spinning with a key or other flat object. Both systems take a certain knack, but once you’ve perfected the technique, you’ll always have it in your survival kit.

If two cents is too much, how about a call for 1 penny? Cut a 1/4 strip off the telephone book cover. Insert the cardboard strip into the dime slot as far as it will go. Drop a penny in the nickel slot until it catches in the mechanism (spinning will help). Then slowly pull the strip out until you hear the dial tone.

A number 14 brass washer with a small piece of scotch tape over one side of the hole will not only get a free call, but works in about any vending machine that takes dimes. You can get a box of thousands for about a dollar at any hardware store. You should always have a box around for phones, laundromats, parking meters and drink machines.”

Stop the presses

It’s National Chip Week. No, really. It is. So I thought I’d bring you these lovely facts:

“A portion of chips (175g) contain double the fibre, 75 times more folate and four times more vitamin C than an apple.”

“Kate Winslet loves chips. She recently said “the perfect Saturday night for me is to get the kids to bed, pour myself a glass of wine and send Sam for fish & chips.””

“A portion of chips (175g) also contains five times more vitamin C than a bunch of grapes (100g).”

Of course, you’ll find even more unlikely chip facts at the National Chip Week web site.