Monday, February 29, 2016

Dinosaur Farm

I came home the other evening and Cathy had made me a dinosaur farm

People have commented the dinos might escape

After I tweeted a picture, it was pointed out that without a fence, those dinosaurs could escape. But that minor design flaw aside I thought it was pretty cool really. (And is it really a flaw? I'm all for free range animals, really.)

There is a reason behind this random-seeming creativity. In just over a month I am going to be 40 and we are planning a bit of a party. We know lots of people with kids and we are prepping a few things to keep them occupied. The Dino Farm is one such thing.

But in the meantime, it needs to be "tested", so if anyone wants me I will be busy with party prep.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Psychological insights into "collecting" - taxonomic and aesthetic collections

As I have mentioned a few times recently, I am doing a MSc in Business Psychology. A recent module, about marketing and advertising has been really interesting, particularly a tangent in a recent assignment about collecting. I find this particularly interesting as both Cathy and I have the collecting 'bug', and as a result we have a lot of stuff in our house.

The main psychological research into collecting I've read has been by Russell Belk. He distinguishes 'collecting' from 'hoarding' and 'accumulating', although I reckon they can look quite similar. But for the record, 'collecting' is "the process of actively, selectively, and passionately acquiring and possessing things removed from ordinary use and perceived as part of a set of non-identical objects or experiences". Hoarding, meanwhile, is defined as collecting several things that are exactly the same, while accumulating is the gathering of things without the idea of completing a 'set', e.g. when a person doesn't throw out newspapers and they just start to pile up.

Collecting experiences: My collection of commemorative scarfs 

That note about experiences is true, I 'collect' football grounds that I have been to and I know several other football fans who do the same thing. It's the motivation behind buying mementoes like half and half scarfs or keeping ticket stubs.

There are different ways of ‘collecting’. Belk distinguishes between taxonomic and aesthetic collecting. Taxanomic collecting is working on the basis that you can complete a set - whether that set is stamps from Zanzibar, or one of each type of Roman coin, or the complete range of original Kenner Star Wars figures from the 80s. I'd say football stickers are a very good example of this - you even get an album showing which ones you need to complete the collection. Taxonomic collectors don't tend to give up when they complete the set. They usually move on to a new set or keep trying to improve their collection with better examples of the objects in it.

Football stickers are an example of taxonomic collecting

Aesthetic collecting is open-ended. It's when you collect a particular type of art, for example, where there is no finite limit. Of the two, taxonomic collecting is more active, with collectors deliberately seeking out the objects they need to complete their collection, while aesthetic collecting is more passive - people add to their collections as they see objects they want with less 'urgency'.

I'd say the Tsum-Tsums are taxonomic and the Groots are aesthetic

I think there is also a middle ground. I'm a member of the British Thematic Association, which is the aesthetic side of stamp collecting. While I have gone out and made my own 'list' of stamps that fit my theme, I also buy things that it simply wouldn't be possible to list. That is very much a case of 'If I see it, I'll decide whether I want it in my exhibition.' There's no way of knowing if my collection is complete because it's not as simple as 'have I got every stamp featuring the Statue of Liberty?' - there are all the envelopes with those stamps on, many of which are interesting in their own right.

My stamp collection on display for a stamp society
Having said that, there are attempts all the time to turn aesthetic collecting into taxonomic collecting - the Boba Fett Fan Club has tried to list absolutely every toy and other piece of merchandise featuring the galaxy's most feared bounty hunter. It's a nigh on impossible job. My collection is pretty much aesthetic in that I buy stuff when I see it but don't go actively looking. (Although I do always check out the Star Wars toys in toy shops and other shops that sell toys.)

My Boba Fett collection
Belk notes one of the more unusual aspects of collecting, in that once a thing is in a collection, it becomes special, precious, and 'sacred'. A collector can't just get rid of it, unless replacing it with a better item. The collector needs to look after the collection. It's kind of like the old saying that what you own can end up owning you because I admit sometimes all this stuff is inconvenient.

But I can't just get rid of it, it's my collection...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shrewsbury Town v Manchester United - FA Cup 5th round review

The hype levels before this game were high. Shrewsbury had won their fourth round game against Sheffield Wednesday with a dramatic seventh-minute-of-injury-time winner. Manchester United have had a tricky season, including a Europa League defeat the previous Thursday to Danish champions Midtjylland. Manager Louis Van Gaal was "under pressure". They had a lot of injuries. Town fans could be forgiven for hoping for an upset - llike my Dad, who was interviewed for the Shropshire Star as he queued for tickets last week.

Dad gets internet famous

The ground was packed, as it had been for the Chelsea game back in October 2014. Outside, dubious purveyors of hastily produced half and half scarfs and other souvenir tat were touting their ways in the retail park we walked through to the ground. We had to queue to get in through the turnstiles a good half an hour before kick off. Such things are almost unheard of at the Meadow.

It was a cold night, but there's always something magical about a packed evening under the floodlights. This was the 50th Manchester United FA Cup game in a row that had been live on TV, and the third televised game I'd been to in a row, including Shrewsbury's round 3 win in Cardiff. The back of our stand had several cameras set up and the three sides opposite us had temporary electronic advertising boards set up - another novelty for Town fans.

I was down in block 18 where the more shouty fans stand at the back. There were some good chants, but unfortunately we were in front of a very loud mouthy bloke who just wanted to swear at the United players. In the first half he shouted racist ("Pikeys!"), sexist ("Get up you girl") and homophobic ("You ponce") abuse at them, along with generous use of the word "wankers". He was seriously draining and I was relieved that he turned out to have a small bladder and needed to keep going to the toilet. Having to put up with tiresome idiots like that makes football a drag sometimes. In the end, I ended up laughing at him with my brother and the friend we were with. It's just so ineffectual - what difference is spewing rage to the point of giving yourself an aneurysm going to make, I mean, really?

The away end was full. The 'Shrewsbury Reds' and 'Telford Reds' banners attracted a bit more ire from the crowd and chants of 'We support our local team.' I didn't join in with that chant as I'd driven 110 miles for a 'home' game and so I don't support my local team. (Not that I want to see them do poorly, or anything, but, you know how it is, they aren't the team I support.)

For some reason Manchester United opted to wear a white change strip. Our guess was it was for commercial reasons rather than a kit clash. Even though they did look like a knock off Tranmere Rovers, it was painfully clear they were a cut above within a few minutes. Juan Mata, in particular, oozed class. They passed the ball through Shrewsbury and had forced a clearance practically off the line and couple of good saves before they finally got the first goal about ten minutes before half time. Shrewsbury couldn't cope with the pace and the overlapping and a ball diagonally upfield was thumped home by Chris Smalling, the central defender who had stayed in the Shrewsbury half after a corner with nobody tracking him.

At this point there was all to play for

Just before half time Juan Mata dinked a free kick from just outside the box over the wall and into the unoccupied side of the goal and that was effectively game over. There's been a bit of a discussion about the Manchester United players standing behind the wall. Were they offside? Were they interfering with play? It doesn't really make a difference. You shouldn't trip opponents on the edge of the penalty box and give away free kicks.

Town only had time to kick off before the ref blew for the break. In the second half, Town switched to 4-4-2 and showed a bit more fight, even creating a chance in the United penalty area. Unfortunately then the visitors broke downfield and Jesse Lingard hammered in a third goal for them at the end of a lovely weighted pass.

After a couple more squandered chances, United also hit the post, although the substitute who struck the woodwork seemed to pull up with a groin strain after his shot and limped off soon after. So for the last fifteen minutes or so United were down to ten men as they had already used all their substitutes. This made the game slightly more equal and Shrewsbury had a couple of chances in the final ten minutes or so, including a free header from Abu Ogogo which went wide when it looked easier to get it on target.

Realistically, though the game was long dead as a contest and United saw out the game the way you'd expect from a top five team, completely regardless of the pointless bloke in row P's opinion regarding their self-pleasuring habits.

A blurred action shot from the second half

So, what went wrong for Town? Compared to the Chelsea game back in 2014, I felt this showed how the team this year is poorer than last season's, despite going up a division. Town had quite a clear out in January with experienced club captain Liam Lawrence moving to Bristol Rovers and several other more senior players moving on. Realistically, Town missed a wise head like Lawrence's in the middle of the park.

The young lads Town sold in the summer have not been replaced with players of similar quality and this game showed actually how good players like Ryan Woods and Connor Goldson were. Jack Grimmer and Junior Brown both played very well, and I thought Andy Mangan had a decent game, but like the rest of the team they were chasing shadows most of the time, second to the loose ball and unable to cope with a fluid opponent who kept moving and finding space.

So it was bit disappointing. It didn't feel like Shrewsbury gave much of an account of themselves and the scoreline may even have been generous to them. They could have lost by more. Of course, other teams with fewer stars and less quality than Manchester United have found Town pretty easy to beat this year - at one point the Shrewsbury fans sang "You're nothing special. We lose every week." It's just a shame they couldn't lose more gallantly.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Looking forward to the Welsh Assembly electioneering

Long-time readers of this blog may know that I have reviewed election leaflets posted through my door (here's last year's General Election one). So far we have had one leaflet in the run up to this year's Welsh Assembly elections. It is being kept safe to one side to be reviewed with the others I'm anticipating will come through the door.

For some reason I didn't do a full review of election leaflets in the last Assembly elections back in 2011. I'm a bit annoyed with myself now for not doing that, but I had a lot on I guess and I didn't know posts about election leaflets would be so popular (last year's general election one was the most viewed blog post in 2015).

Of course, over time, I have collected quite a bit of data (when I've been bothered to!) and so here is a graph of the amount of election bumf that has been shoved through our doors since 2007.

Election leaflets through the letterbox 2007-2015

Some things are fairly obvious. It's a Labour safe seat but we always get a few leaflets from them, but not too many. The Liberal Democrats seem to have died off since 2010. We got none from them last year and they were prolific before that. (In fact, all their inter-election 'Focus' papers and stuff seem to have disappeared as well.) UKIP went through a 'U' of their own, with zero leaflets in 2010 to pushing the most through our letterbox in 2015. Partly I think this is because we have a Kipper in our street, which might explain why we get so many leaflets from them. (We know he's a Kipper because he puts the posters up in his windows.)

I'm interested to see what we get this year. None of the main political parties seem flush with cash or, more crucially, have many determined, committed local supporters. I think that's what's done for the Lib Dems as a force in this area. It will be interesting to see whether UKIP sustain their levels of communication. They might be saving their ammo for the EU referendum six weeks later.

Anyway, I'll rate the leaflets nearer the time, I promise. No repeat of 2011 here. In the meantime, if you want to catch up on previous ratings, here is the complete list.
General Election 2015

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Marketing tip: Put your benefit front and central

Cathy saw this on the shelf at the supermarket and said, 'Well, that gets straight to the point'.

To the point

And she's right. It gets straight to the point and gives you the product benefit right there. It "Stops Smelly Sinks."

I think this is great marketing. If I had a smelly sink I would want a product to stop that. Seeing it made me wonder if we had a smelly sink. I was in the supermarket. I couldn't go and sniff the sink to check. I was tempted to buy it just in case. Maybe I could use it to make sure my sink didn't become smelly.

The first rule in marketing is tell people about the benefits, not the features. I don't want to know what it's made from, or what the active ingredients are, I want to know what it does or, more importantly, what it will do for me. This marketing puts the benefit front and central. I know if I use this it will stop my sink from smelling. It's clean and efficient marketing copy and I think it's great. Well done, Buster.

(I mean, I didn't buy it. But if I have to sort out a smelly sink in the future, then I probably will.)

Other posts about marketing
Analysing takeaway menus for marketing fails
'Marketing b*llocks' - the Camel Balls gum case study
Branding brilliance: How to make your Death Metal band stand out

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The end of pubs in Grangetown

The Grange, one of the last proper, historical pubs in Grangetown has closed its doors, probably for good.

Photo: Grangetown News blog

Like most of the pubs it will probably be converted into flats or pulled down to be replaced by flats. There's a good write up here, including some of the history. It had been a pub for at least 135 years.

The Grange was an old-school working class boozer. I guess we don't have enough old-school working class types in Grangetown these days to keep such a place open. I didn't go in there very often, but one of those times was to watch the League 2 play-off semi-final game between Shrewsbury Town and MK Dons, which was the last Shrewsbury game played at Gay Meadow. So it had some personal history for me. And now it is gone and I feel a bit sad about it.

When I first moved to Grangetown twenty years ago there were three pubs closer to our house than The Grange. They've all gone. The Windsor went first, converted to flats. The Plymouth on Clive Street became the Desi for a short while and then it and the Inn on the River on the Taff Embankment were both pulled down and turned into smaller blocks of flats. The Inn on the River, also known as the Pub on the Mud, featured in the short-lived BBC series Tiger Bay, although it was renamed in the show. The Baroness, a couple of doors down from The Grange became flats as well. The Neville along Clare Road tried to become a hipster bar, failed at that, became the Neville again and is now a convenience store. Yes, there are two new-build pub restaurants in the retail developments nearby, but no one seriously would call a Harvester a 'pub'. So, apart from the few social clubs that are clinging on, there is only one proper traditional pub left in South Grangetown, the Cornwall on Cornwall Street. I probably should go there before it goes too.

Reading the Grangetown blog's list of disappeared pubs, reminds me that the Inn on the River was burned down by arsonists before it was pulled down by developers. That tells you a little something about Grangetown.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Marketing b*llocks!! (Literally.) "Camel Balls" bubble gum - a branding case study

I saw these sweets being sold in the independent shop at the end of my street. I had to take a picture.

Look tasty, don't they.

Yep, that's right, bubble gum "Camel Balls". I stuck the photo on Facebook with predictable results from adults who were stunned by it and the one teenager who commented saying they were "actually surprisingly good".

In a way, I kind of admire their marketing. These are not sweets for grown ups. No Lindor master confectioner swirling delicious creamy chocolate in a bowl here. No, instead we have a pervy looking camel ready to teabag us with his over-sized camel nads. (Strangely no penis. Perhaps not so strangely...)

I can imagine teenage boys in particular taking great delight in these, and in that sense they are brilliantly marketed. They are deliberately gross - why else the emphasis on being "liquid-filled"? - but they are just about borderline indecent to be amusing rather than out and out offensive. The company know who they are aiming for and they just about manage to do it without making parents testy and writing outraged letters to the paper.

I also love the additional selling points tagged onto the box. These are gluten free, folks. Gluten free! Because the last thing you'd want to have to check is the small print on a camel ball bag to find that out.

What can we learn from this? Know your market and pitch to them. This isn't a product for everyone. And if you are going to be 'gross', then you might as well be as gross as possible. Even though the sweets look disgusting (to me), I like the way the marketing doesn't hold back at all.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts

Read another blog about marketing: The psychological basis for what makes a TV ad memorable
Also: Branding brilliance: How to make your Death Metal band stand out

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Toy mash-ups - are companies 'jumping the shark'

Anyone who has been to my house, or followed this blog, will know that I like toys and buy far more than the average child-free almost-40 year old.

Toy mash-ups have become a thing in the past few years, mainly because big companies like Hasbro and Mattel own a number of lines and the easiest way of developing new products is to take two things that work and wang them together. I'm not talking about branded versions of popular toys like Minions Monopoly, or even the licensed Lego sets that are produced featuring Lego versions of film and comic heroes. I'm talking about taking two toys and merging them.

Sometimes these work. I own a Star Wars Transformer that transforms from Boba Fett to his spaceship, Slave 1, and back. I also own several Mr Potato Heads dressed up as well-known film characters, including Darth Tater, Optimash Prime and Spider-Spud. (I'm not really sure these actually match the definition I put in the previous paragraph, but it seems right to refer to Mr Potato Head toys as mash-ups!) Hot Wheels have recently produced car versions of Star Wars characters and Marvel characters. These work better than you think.

But then you get things which take two franchises and mash them together and it just seems redonkulous. Today, I have seen some toys that I think show toy manufacturers have 'jumped the shark'. I give you... DC Comics versions of Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

In a 4 pack

In a 9 pack

And something to stick them in

This is WEIRD. Firstly, are really little kids - the primary target for Thomas - going to want DC Comics branded characters? Will they know who Green Lantern or The Flash are? Fisher Price have had a series of small-person suitable figures for a while, but will little kids get the cross-over?

Secondly, will this upset the Thomas purists and put them off? I occasionally visit a model railways forum and the moaning on there about how Thomas has been developed since going into American ownership is only going to get worse. Adults buy toys, and grandparents are the ones I think would be most likely to buy Thomas toys. I'm not sure these will appeal to that demographic.

Thirdly, is this even a mash-up that makes sense? In the Thomas series we know the good engines are the steam engines and the diesels are the bad guys, kind of. But here we have a Green Lantern diesel versus a Sinestro steam engine. The Batman-themed four-pack are all steam engines, but two are done up as the Riddler and the Joker. This makes it very confusing by ignoring the natural fault-lines that currently exist in the Thomas universe.

I don't know, maybe this will be a massive hit and children will be pestering their parents for them. There possibly is a link between the kind of people who like railways and comic book nerds. This could be the toy line of the year. But I have serious doubts.

On the other hand, this car from Playmobil is golden.

Playmobil Porsche 911
I quite like Playmobil, but I don't recall them going into licensing much before. They certainly don't so it as much as Lego, who also have Porsches available. This costs £30 and I honestly think it's probably the best value of the new toys I have seen come onto shelves in 2016. The lights work. It will be a solid, play-resistant model and it looks very, very good.

It also comes with a Porsche garage interior and a mechanic. From the looks of the box you can swap bumpers, spoiler and wheel trims to customise it if you so want. The garage bit will also make a nice backdrop if you wanted to display it.

Reverse of the box
Playmobil doesn't have the following the Lego or Star Wars figures both have. But I imagine the fact this is a Porsche will make it a highly desirable toy well after it goes out of production. It could turn out to be highly collectible and I am seriously weighing up whether to buy one.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Football review: Barry Town United v The New Saints (Welsh Cup round 4) - Saturday 6 February 2016

Ah, the romance of the cup. Feeling the need for a break from university work and wanting to watch a football match combined to take me and my match-going compadre, Connor, to Jenner Park to watch Barry Town United take on the undisputed kingpins of Welsh domestic football, The New Saints.

The Welsh Cup is one of the oldest cup competitions in the world. Barry, in their previous incarnation before they were resurrected by fans from the grip of a megalomaniac owner and added United to their name, had won it six times previously. TNS had won it five times. But this wasn't a battle of equals. In fact, it was probably Barry's biggest game since coming back from the brink of extinction. All this history was summed up nicely in the souvenir programme produced for the game.

Just £2. Bargain.
It was a cold night and the weather had been bad all day. There was a break in the rain as the teams came out to line up. The sky really was that blue #nofilter.

Just before kick off

TNS were 1-0 up soon after kick-off. But Barry equalised a minute later and after fifteen minutes were in the lead with a lovely header from a set piece.

Then some weather happened.

Stereotypical Welsh weather

TNS seemed to specialise in low passes across the box and tapped in two more to make it 3-2 at the break. This led to a chorus of "You only score shit goals" from the small singing section in the block along from us. Their other songs of note were an a capella version of 'I've got a fire in my heart for you' by the Super Furry Animals and 'God gave Barry Town to you' as alternate lyrics to a well-known Kiss tune.

Half time and we scrummed into the clubhouse along with several hundred other people. Sgorio were in there as the game was live on S4C. (Making this the second game in a row broadcast live on the Welsh language channel.) They were very professionally carrying on with the punditry as a mass of humanity shuffled past towards the bar.

Sgorio pundits talking pĂȘl-droed

The draw for the next round was going to happen after the game. There was a large fishbowl ready for the occasion.

Ready for the draw

The Welsh Cup itself, meanwhile, was safely out of reach, if not out of sight, behind the bar.

Welsh Cup

We managed to get a cup of coffee and Conn even made it to the restroom during half time. We made our way back outside just as the players were arriving back on the field and the kids half-time kickabout was finishing.

Back for half time

TNS scored two more in the second half to finish as comfortable 5-2 winners. Their fourth goal was pretty good. They had more chances, and Barry could have got at least one back if their finishing had been better. All in all, it was quite a good game, played more on the floor than you'd think, lots of pass-and-move link-up play and played at pace. A good advert for Welsh football and a very enjoyable evening out.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

At what point do you say 'I may have enough Boba Fett figures...'?

Maybe at this point. (The collection has grown.)

The collection
The sheer volume of Star Wars toys out there meant I really had to ration what I bought otherwise we would be swamped. I had a few Boba Fett figures, then acquired a few more. Remember when my collection was only this big? That was almost nine years ago.

A few more pics...

Carded figures - Muppets top left

Teeny figures, including an Angry Birds model and a 'magic bean'

Monday, February 08, 2016

Communications, innovation and choosing who to work for

The best content out there is always other people's, which is why I'm happy to be a signpost. Here are some interesting nuggets of workplace wisdom I have come across this week - one that is more general and some that seem very handy to people working in the NHS.

The first comes from Michael Katz, with his recommendation to avoid working for desperate clients. I like the analogy of visiting the supermarket with a rumbling tummy - you regret it later when you are full. When the crisis is over, your employer may feel differently than they did when they hired you back when they were at peak stress. Michael delivers it with his trademark wit - well worth a read.

I sent it on to my friend Matt because we have had discussions like this about clients who turn out to be difficult. One of the truest things I learned from Mark H McCormack's books is to not be afraid to fire your customers. Sometimes you have to sever the ties with someone who isn't paying you enough for the amount of hassle they cause. Matt and I agree on this and I knew he would like Michael's take on not working for the wrong customer.

Matt responded with two links of his own. The first to a blog by Seth Godin that talks about marketers being hampered by their own organisation. This really applies in the NHS, where everyone says we desperately need innovation and transformation but it's equally desperately hard to innovate and change anything.

Seth adds a bit at the end about knowing when to give up: Good marketers have "The willingness to quit what isn't working." Yes, we need to learn that, but it's tricky though because you're caught between throwing good time and effort after bad and the sunk cost bias of getting nothing back for all your expenditure. It's hard.

The second link was to a brilliant TED talk about how the 'rules' charities have to operate under limit their ability to actually tackle issues. Everything in this video is true for the NHS, with the newspapers ready to pillory any risks that go bad or salaries that are considered 'too high'. It's 18 minutes long, but worth watching.

Then finally something popped up in my Twitter time line that originally came from Helen Bevan, who does a lot around innovation and improvement.

We need to get good at this

I would like to see this happen because social learning and application must be the way forward for us in the NHS. Go into any office and the shelves are full of toolkits and learning papers full of ready to apply knowledge, slowly dessicating with neglect. We need a better way of talking and sharing. This slide seems to give us the evidence to try doing it differently.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Wisdom for life from Groot Comic, issue 6

Back in 2014 (was it that long ago?) I watched Guardians of the Galaxy and fell in love with it. As a film it's just a roller coaster of action, witty dialogue, special effects and has a great soundtrack to match.

The past eighteen months have seen the number of GotG toys in our house rocket (pun intended), as evidenced by this photo:

GotG Disney Infinity figures

It's hard to pick a favourite Guardian. But if I had to, I'd say my favourite character in the film was Rocket Raccoon. Cathy's favourite character was Groot, who is a talking tree of few words. Specifically "I am Groot." (Incredibly Vin Diesel who voiced Groot recorded all the lines of "I am Groot" in the film separately, in English and in all the other languages it was released in as well.)

GotG has also got me into buying comics. Not just the Guardians of the Galaxy title, which is back after a months-long hiatus, but the spin-offs as well. A six-issue run of Groot comic has just finished. I started buying it for Cathy, but I really enjoyed it as well.

In issue six, we get Groot's back story (although that has been in several of the other comics and there are many different versions of the tale), in which Groot is exiled from his home planet of fellow groots, for showing compassion towards a human child kidnapped by the groots for research purposes. Groot travels to Earth to meet the child he freed because he wants her to know that he still thinks about her. Along the way, he muses on some of the things he wants to tell her - that his exile wasn't dreadful, that through it he became a Guardian, that he wants to thank her for being the catalyst of his rebellion.

Comic books are generally dismissed as fairly meaningless. But this particular issue was quite emotional. It got me, I must admit. I had a lump in my throat at the end and was a bit blinky.

I'd freely admit I'm not a fast learner. It has taken me many years to learn some simple things in life. But one thing I have learned (the hard way) is to be open to wisdom wherever you find it. These panels seemed to me to be true and life-affirming and worthwhile lessons to dwell on. You will need to click on them to read them.

Groot Issue #6

Final panel of Groot #6

I love that last line. "Life is not about the shadow you cast on your enemies, but the shade you provide for your friends."

Friday, February 05, 2016

Creating new holidays

Celebration time?
I've been thinking a bit about the growth of special 'days' and more specifically, what kind of days are worth noting. You see a lot of this sort of thing on Twitter. They may be geeky jokes, but here are a few I like and think we should adopt as national holidays.

Pi Day – 3 March. 3.14 is the American way of laying out the date and also the approximation of Pi, the infinite number. Best way to celebrate: eat a pie, I guess.

The next two holidays bring to mind the confusion in Futurama between the Star Trek Wars and the Star Wars Trek.

5 April is First Contact Day, because in the Star Trek future-vision this is the date when Humans meet Vulcans for the first time, while testing a hyperdrive. The tests took place in Bozeman, Montana, which is also the place in The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon Cooper moves to after he decides Pasadena is too unsafe.

Less than a month later is of course, Star Wars Day. 4 May is a random date that relies on a pun (May the Fourth be With You). As you can see from the link, Disney are doing their best to use May the Fourth as an excuse to push merchandise. (Like they need an excuse!) In the last couple of years, the celebration has spilled over to the following day as well, now known as The Revenge of the 5th. Which looks a bit like Sith and references one of the dismal prequels.

Also slightly random is Towel Day, which is on the 25 May for convoluted reasons. Towel Day is in honour of Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, which suggests all hitch-hikers do their utmost to have a towel on them at all times while travelling. Observing the day is very simple: Carry a towel with you all day. 25 May is also celebrated as 'Geek Pride Day' because it was the day Star Wars was first released on in 1977). It was also the date of 'Wear the Lilac Day' after the Ankh-Morpork revolution in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, which feels more significant now that Terry Pratchett has passed away. 

Like Pi Day there is also Mole Day on 23 October, which isn't to do with the burrowing mammals, but is another maths thing.

You don't just have to have annual days. There are nine Square Root Days every century, occurring on the following dates:
  • 1/1/01
  • 2/2/04
  • 3/3/09
  • 4/4/16 - meaning there is one this year!
  • 5/5/25
  • 6/6/36
  • 7/7/49
  • 8/8/64
  • 9/9/81
So, maybe we'll get together to celebrate on the ninth of September 2081, if we make it that far. I will be 105 by then, and can't promise to remember what we should be celebrating.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Quotes from Raymond Williams, playwright and political thinker

Occasionally I read a quote that just leaps out and sticks with me. Often these are from quite unexpected sources - like when I read an article written by the Welsh health minister, Mark Drakeford, which included this quote:

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.”

I liked that. In the political narratives around us, it all seems to be about despair - extremists, the pressures of migrants, the NHS at breaking point, the economy. Every party, or factions in parties, seems to be trying to convince us that the other side will bring ruin upon us. And we seem to be buying into this. The despair has become convincing. Hope seems impossible.

I've been called a radical a few times for my politics and theological world view. It's not a label I would use to myself. But then if I am going to be regarded as a radical, I want my lived out beliefs to be a radicalism that makes hope possible.

The person who said “To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” was a playwright and political thinker, Raymond Williams. This particular quote was from a book called Resources of Hope, which was published posthumously in 1989.

The internet - that great reservoir of quotes - has some more interesting thoughts from him, many of which I agree with, and some that have made me think about things, if nothing else. Raymond Williams was very interested in class and society, and also the moral bankruptcy of unalloyed capitalism, all of which I am interested in. So, here are some more thoughts, in his own words:

“Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.” (Keywords, 1983)

“Real independence is a time of new and active creation: people sure enough of themselves to discard their baggage; knowing the past is past, as shaping history, but with a new confident sense of the present and the future, where the decisive meanings and values will be made.”

“We all like to think of ourselves as a standard, and I can see that it is genuinely difficult for the English middle class to suppose that the working class is not desperately anxious to become just like itself. I am afraid this must be unlearned.” (Culture and Society, 1958)

“What breaks capitalism, all that will ever break capitalism, is capitalists. The faster they run the more strain on their heart."

“It wasn't idealism that made me, from the beginning, want a more secure and rational society. It was an intellectual judgment, to which I still hold. When I was young its name was socialism. We can be deflected by names. But the need was absolute, and is still absolute.”

Monday, February 01, 2016

Making communications work: Always do the 'Comms around the Comms'

In 2015 I left my comms job and became the Network Co-ordinator for an all-Wales clinical network. It's not a complete change. I've taken some of those comms skills with me and I recently helped produce a video project working with some members of the network. We were quite pleased with the results, given our shoestring budget. Here's one of them:

It was a great feeling to have the videos filmed, edited, tweaked, and then finally signed off and loaded up to YouTube. You can watch all four on our website.

However, one of the big things I learned in my previous job was that the end of the project - when the product was polished and perfect - was when you needed to kick in with the actual 'comms around the comms.' It's easy to make the mistake of thinking the end result is the end of the work - I've done it! I've produced a lovely report, or a shiny video, or a glossy resource. I've put it on our website. I've thought my hard work is done.

Sorry, no. The hard work is not done. This was my comms plan for after we went public with the videos.

Comms around the Comms

It's not enough to produce the content; you need to get it read or watched or seen. How do you do that? Here are some of the ways I approach this.

1) Identify your channels
Count your channels - do you know what you have available? You might be surprised.

Aggressively promote it on your own channels - tweet it frequently using a scheduler.

Don't just rely on your channels, use other people's channels too, which leads to point 2.

2) Ask people to promote it
Send personal emails to all your contacts asking them to look at what you have done and tell others.

Be explicit in what you are asking for. Not just 'Could you tell people about this?' but 'Could you tweet this and put it on your Facebook page?' The worst that would happen is that someone will say 'No', but to make it more likely that they say 'Yes', make sure you do point 3.

3) Make it easy to share
Write tweets for people; write content for websites, lines for blogs, whatever.

Pre-empt people's needs. In Wales, people will need a Welsh version. Get it translated.

Make it relevant. Why would another organisation share your content for you with their audience? Emphasise the connection you have - for example, we had staff from different organisations involved so the web story was tweaked when we asked those organisations to share the content.

4) Engage in the dark arts
Do the SEO work on YouTube. It sounds obvious but you need to make it easy to find. Write a description. Use meta-tags. This is a bit more technical and probably won't make as much difference as a nicely-worded email to 50 colleagues. But it all helps.

5) Revisit
Keep coming back to it. Repeat your messages. Follow up with people who didn't share it - people are busy and forget. Don't be afraid to send a friendly reminder.