Monthly Archives: June 2005

What I love

The Extreme Sports Channel. Really. It’s brilliant. Me and Olly sit open-mouthed in front of Freestyle Moto-Cross, Vert skateboarding and Ultra-skidoo (is that what it’s called?). I’m a 42 year-old male – completely missed the skateboarding thing as a kid (my dad did once fix a bit of hardboard to a roller skate so I could roll down the cycle track outside our house on my arse – no question of standing up).

I absolutely love the attitude of the kids I see on the channel. They’re the opposite of the starched sporting prima donnas we see at Wimbledon – they’re irreverent, ironic, idealistic, precious about the culture out of which their sports grew. They’re ambitious, though, and they’ll probably wind up getting all their weird street pursuits accepted as Olympic sports – but that’s the kiss of death for the culture. Once they have to stop playing ‘skatecore’ at events and wearing jeans to compete that’ll be the end, I’m sure.

What I hate

I hate the way NTL’s proxy servers hijack my web site. When I post a new entry to this blog it can take my own ISP (NTL) up to 48 hours to allow me to see it. They have hardware proxy servers in their network which hold an old copy of the site and won’t allow me to see a newer copy until they’re good and ready. This saves them money but means their customers can never be sure of getting the latest version of the sites they visit. If you’re an NTL customer you’re already experiencing this, whether you know it or not. If you’ve ever wondered why favourite web sites don’t appear to change even when you’re sure they should have done, you’re experiencing the malign effect of NTL’s proxy servers. I suggest you call them and complain.

Unmonolithic behaviour from Auntie

I don’t know how many State-owned broadcasters there are left in the world (Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Italy…) but can you imagine any one of them having the resources or the courage or the commitment to new forms to attempt anything like this? I’m very proud of the Beeb and of the people inside it who are pushing (and the other open source projects I know to be going on in there). Keep your eye on the feed for this one.

What are you doing next Tuesday afternoon?

So I’m looking over your shoulder as you finish off this morning’s third vanilla latte and fill out next week’s diary. I can see that it’s all coming together nicely: lots of cleverly interlocking meetings with top industry figures, up-and-coming talent and nicely-placed suppliers (plus that appointment with your probation officer)

But… hold on… is that a huge gap? An entire afternoon in the West End with nothing to do? Tuesday 28th June? Surely not! But don’t worry. Remedy this catastrophic calendar oversight by slotting in a stimulating afternoon of blogging wisdom from the nice people at New Media Knowledge.

60 quid buys you privileged access to Mink Media’s Sabrina Dent, The Observer’s Online Editor, Rafael Behr, Fjord Media’s Mike Beeston, blog consultant Suw Charman, interesting marketing type Johnnie Moore and Adriana Cronin-Lukas from The Big Blog Company (plus me, chairing – and maybe a cup of coffee). Read more about it and reserve a place here (or I suppose you could just sit in Soho Square and drink cider with all the other new media types).

Our fat future

The orthodoxy now is that our kids (and their kids) will be fatter than us, that they’ll be less healthy, more idle and more likely to die young. Public health professionals want us – understandably – to change our behaviour. So, they use the magic of extrapolation to produce a picture of a future population markedly less healthy than ours.

I don’t want to argue with the raw data: we are obviously fatter and less active than we used to be. Obesity and all the related illnesses are on the rise. But what of the future? Is it inevitable that we all just get fatter and fatter, sicker and sicker until some kind of epic health meltdown? No, of course not. In fact, the most likely scenario is that we quite quickly – ten to twenty years – reverse the effects of our fatty diets and sedentary lifestyles and head off in another direction all together.

Doom-mongers, politicians and Daily Mail journalists all love extrapolation. Extrapolation from current conditions can be relied on to produce some truly spectacular scare stories – you don’t need to follow the obesity curve out very far before 100% of the human population is clinically obese (or dead). What will actually happen is that the manufacturers, the junk food chains, the supermarkets, governments, health activists, parents and schools (oh, and Jamie Oliver) will, between them, produce a large and decisive change in behaviour. They’ll do this without coordination but probably not without some compulsion and, trust me on this, the primary actors in the reversal of the expected health apocalypse will be… wait for it… the food industry.

This is why banning junk food advertising for kids is an absurdity. The truth is that the advertisers are in the best possible position to address childhood obesity and to get kids exercising. Advertising works (anyone want to argue with that?) and advertising people, properly briefed and motivated, can produce the kind of behavioural changes we need. If anyone can make exercise and healthy lifestyle cool, sugar and fat uncool, it’s the people who currently persuade us, at fabulous expense, to consume Coco Pops, McDonalds and Sunny-D.

What’s needed is a big and unhysterical and non-dogmatic campaign to get everyone on the right team. Advertising people (client and agency) are not evil and lots of them have kids of their own. Once properly motivated they’ll join the cause and promote the right stuff. Public health and private gain are not incompatible. It might be McDonalds that gets your kid exercising.

Hard play

I’ve been meaning to blog this for while. Russell thinks ‘soft play’ is “one of those things that’s better than it used to be” and I see what he means but I’m not so sure. I’m a pretty involved dad and I spend a fair amount of my time in a local soft play area and I’m definitely ambivalent about these things. Half the time (I suppose while I’m drinking a frothy coffee and reading the paper I hopefully brought with me) I think they’re pretty cool and a bit or a liberation for harassed 21st Century parents and the other half of the time (while I’m loitering by the spongy slide thing, trying to prevent injury, for instance) I think they’re a kind of kiddie hell where you pay (through the nose) for pleasures that used to be free.

It’s a very natural instinct of capitalists everywhere to ‘add value’ – to transform something that already exists by refining or enhancing it so you can charge more for it, at least for a while, until your precious improvement becomes the norm. So I guess it was inevitable that clever businesspeople would ‘add value’ to old-fashioned play by offering a secure place with reasonable coffee and no obvious sharp edges and charging for it. I remain to be convinced, though, that our kids are going to benefit, ultimately, from spending time (and cash money) in video-monitored, time-limited, rule-governed, air-conditioned play places like these. I’m not going to idealise my own childhood – which was an ordinary, working class 1960s sort of affair – but these ultra-confined play facilities are the polar opposite of the free-range play of our youth and that must influence our kids’ image of the world. Are we producing a generation of agoraphobics?

Being a dad, benefits thereof

The inside of my Superdad Father's Day card, 19 June 2005
It plays a tune. It flashes. It makes a hardened, unsentimental dad cry. Listen, I know it was invented by Hallmark Cards (or was it the CIA?) and I know there’s no genuine tradition anywhere of celebrating the contribution of Dads to the world (unless you count the whole of human culture, right sisters?) but I’ve decided I’m all in favour of Father’s Day (or is it ‘Fathers’ Day’?). I was quietly thrilled when my family retreated to the living room to not-very-secretly wrap my Father’s Day gift and this lovely singing card (I thought they’d forgotten!).

Interpretation please

According to my web site stats over 11,000 people are visiting every month. That sounds quite good doesn’t it? In fact, if I look back at how much I’d have paid in the past (at, for instance) for 11,000 uniques per month it begins to look quite sickening. I’m clueless, though, as to how many of those are real human beings and how many robots or RSS aggregators (or dead people or extra-terrestrials). The numbers are interesting: for instance, apparently, 13,767 out of my 32,373 monthly pages are ‘not viewed’ (what’s going on there then?) and 80% of my search engine referrals come from Google Images (I’m number one result for ‘badges‘). I’m sure at least half a dozen of those 11,000 ‘uniques’ are web stats experts so, do me a favour, tell me how many real people are actually seeing this site every month!