Monthly Archives: April 2006

On getting old

So Paul sent me a link to a track by The Au Pairs, awesome feminist guitar-funk post-punks whose prickly, jumpy-up-and-downy sort of agit-pop animated our (Paul’s and mine) late teens nicely while he was in Birmingham – The Au Pairs’ home town – and I was in Stevenage – the singer’s home town (and before we knew each other).

Listening to the Au Pairs brought on a short burst of nostalgia (short because I was supposed to be preparing for a big, trans-Atlantic video conference, which is the kind of thing you do approximately 25 years after your last major pop obsession) and a bit of clicking here and there, including, of course, Wikipedia for more Au Pairs stuff (Paul insists Lesley is not a lesbian and I don’t know why he hasn’t just corrected the entry himself, since it’s a Wiki and all that).

While I was clicking I came across Philippe Carly’s absolutely awesome archive of ‘new wave photos‘ (44 pics of Young Marble Giants, 189 of OMD, 27 of Delta Five… It goes on and on). Philippe’s doing all this for love, of course, so you should click over there right now and leave a few quid in his Paypal tip jar, especially if you too spent the end of the Seventies and the start of the eighties watching floppy-haired soon-to-be accountants and school teachers jangling and jouncing and swaying around the stage at The Hammersmith Palais or The Lyceum (do you remember those Sunday afternoon mega-gigs with a half-a-dozen bands one-after-the-other and bring your own sandwiches? Pigbag, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Thompson Twins, The Raincoats, The Passions, The Pop Group…)

Philippe tells me he’s got some pics of The Ramones in a show at Proud Galleries in London opening on 26th April – I think I’ll go.

Microsoft’s turn for a kicking again

I know it’s always Microsoft’s turn but the ‘Microsoft=dinosaur’ stuff always intensifies in the run-up to a big Windows release. Search The Economist‘s archive and you’ll find a big ‘is Microsoft finished?’ think piece in the months preceding the release of Windows 95, Windows 2000 and, now, Vista. The latest one is worth a read, though, as is Charles Arthur and Jack Schofield’s thoughtful What’s Eating Microsoft? in The Guardian. One of these days they’re going to be right.

The next SMS?

A friend of mine just told me about USSD. Of course, you already knew about USSD – it’s been in the GSM spec since the beginning (like SMS). It’s a sort of session-based SMS. It has a few current uses – like querying your pre-paid balance – but no economic model (there’s no way of billing or metering USSD traffic at the moment and no handset-to-handset functionality). You could use it, though, to trigger data delivery back to an app running on the handset, for instance. Or to request location data for a navigation app. Very interesting. Expect a rash of USSD apps over the next year or so as mobile entrepreneurs push the boundaries of voice, data and SMS. Imagine: an unexplored platform for mobile business!

The survivor…

In May 2002 I wrote this piece for The Guardian. In it I celebrated the unlikely survival of the big, dumb, general-purpose PC – over-determined, over-specced and over here. Four years on… Gordon Bennet. Would you credit it… it’s still here… Not so big, slightly less dumb but even more general-purpose.

As before, though, there’s no rational reason for the survival of the PC as a product category. All of its functions should by now have migrated into a cloud of special-purpose intelligent chaff floating around your home and your person. But no, it’s still here, and treasured by its fans more than ever – the PC looks likely to be around for a while yet…

Calendar stuff

30boxes is awesome. Why did I hesitate? I have no good reason to use a desktop calendar any more – although I guess I’ll keep iCal synched up to 30boxes for those moments I’m offline and for when I want to synch with the phone. 30boxes provides the kind of piece-of-cake management and synchronisation that I’ve always sort of vaguely wanted from Apple’s stupid, over-priced, under-specified, clumsily-named .Mac and, like all good Web 2.0 apps it provides new terms of reference: the question now is not “can I synch my primary desktop calendar with the web so I can get it when I’m away from my computer?” but “why shouldn’t I keep my primary calendar on the web and synch it with the desktop when I need to?”

Sort of weekendy blog stuff

Thinking about it, poetry might be the best application of podcasting yet. I suppose that poetry is about as close to music as language gets and listening to poetry in my ‘don’t-even-think-about-talking-to-me’ public transport bubble on the daily commute is qualitatively much like listening to The Flaming Lips or Schubert or Mrs Mills (although I feel obliged to tell you I am really pissed off with the performance of my stupid Sony Ericsson W800i Walkman phone. Simply put: if you plan to buy one and use it with a Mac, don’t bother. It doesn’t work).

Anyway, a bit of googling turns up dozens of poetry podcasts but most are poor – it’s early days, I suppose. Here’s a really good one: the annual Griffin Poetry Prize. Subscribe to the podcast and then fetch some of the brilliant MP3s from the archive – many by famous poets reading famous poems.

Daniel Barenboim’s 2006 Reith Lecture series is only a week old but already moving and thought-provoking and humane. What a man! Of course there’s a podcast. Definitely worth downloading.

Remembering Tony Blair, part one

Tony Blair ignored, neglected and ultimately abused the party that gave him power. He was right to do so.

In the early 1990s Tony Blair saw that the Labour Party in its fossilised 1980s form was not only unelectable but, worse, no longer an electoral force. The Labour Party was going the way of the Liberals: a one-time party of government reduced by dogma and an instinctive resistance to change to irrelevance and to sniping from the sidelines.

The Labour Party, though, was still a quite servicable vehicle, a political machine in good enough shape to get him (and his people) to power. Once there, as we’ve seen, his apparent interest in the party faded and his interactions with it were pared back to the absolute minimum. The party was told what it was necessary to tell it and that was it (Jack Dromey being only the latest elected official to learn that his post was more honorary than managerial).

The party’s conference, once Labour’s primary engine of policy renewal, became an annual chore, left to juniors (and the doughty, indecipherable deputy), just another diary engagement for the PM, really. The problem with marginalising a deep-rooted institution like the Labour Party, though, is that it just won’t lie down and die and now, over a decade later, it’s taking its revenge.

The thing is, Blair’s rejection of his party is more radical than even his critics think. They characterise Blair’s style of Government as ‘Presidential’ but, of course, even a President still has a party, still needs its machine to produce money and grassroots support and legitimacy. Blair’s vision goes much further, I think, to a political scene without parties – where parties, in fact, are irrelevant, where the idea of a party is absurd – to a ‘policy marketplace’ of shifting personalities and issues and platforms.

In this, of course, he is not only ahead of his time, he is probably right. Parties everywhere – in all the mature, democratic states – are fading fast – both in terms of membership and, of course, of authority. They’ve had their day. The parties will probably be the first real victims of politics’ almost universal legitimacy crisis. We’re learning that political parties are not up to the 21st Century job – they’re inefficient filters of the popular will and ineffective bearers of political authenticity.

In the modern world outside politics – in marketing and business and the media – it’s all about authenticity and directness these days. The winners in the post-party environment will be individual politicians who can tell their stories to electors without the mediation of the clumsy 19th Century clubs we call parties. Tony Blair will be their prototype.

What is our problem with entrepreneurship?

I wrote a piece for the supplement that accompanied The Guardian’s Changing Media Summit last week:

What is an entrepreneur? “A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so”. The dictionary definition will do but it doesn’t come close to taking in the full range of meanings. If you’re British you could probably add a secondary definition: “unemployable”, “difficult”, maybe “shifty”. Entrepreneurs are, on the whole, thought to be possessed of a personality disorder so profound as to make them impossible to accommodate in any ordinary organisation. Less fortunate sufferers from this disorder are to be found lining the shop doorways of our great cities after dark. This attitude is not universal but it’s widespread enough for us to begin to form an understanding of Britain’s problem with entrepreneurial behaviour. We interpret the activities of entrepreneurs as, well, dysfunctional, antisocial.

Continue reading What is our problem with entrepreneurship?