Unsexy fundamentals focus: User experiences that print money

An extraordinary example of someone trying to give a publisher a lot of money — and the publisher making that experience as difficult as possible.

I’ve said before that I don’t have much sympathy for most publishers who are struggling. This is one example of exactly why many of their struggles are largely their own fault.

It beggars belief that a publisher should make it so hard to buy their product online. Many of them have a long hill to climb.


It’s great to see this clip of Henry Hope-Frost on You Bet.

He may have thought then that his obscure knowledge would be of absolutely no use. But it certainly came in handy when he later became one of the top motorsport journalists.

There aren’t nearly enough clips of You Bet on YouTube. I remember one contestant who was able to tell a piece of music that was being played backwards just by seeing a candle flickering in front of the speaker.

It’s extraordinary to think that this kind of geeky talent passed for Saturday night ITV entertainment in the 1990s.

Henry Hope-Frost’s untimely death traveling home from the job he loved earlier this month was tragic. This clip is a demonstration of pure fever.


1/1 — Brian Eno

Ambient 1 / Music for Airports is 40 years old this month.

1/1 artwork

It is spurious to claim that Brian Eno invented ambient music. Erik Satie’s furniture music deserves mention. Eno himself recognised the role of Muzak.

Music for Airports is not even Eno’s first ambient album, despite its Ambient 1 moniker. But it certainly is the most important.

Music for Airports is both experimental and timeless. Bold yet gentle. You can consciously listen to it. But it may also affect your mood without you consciously being aware of it. Or in the words of Eno, “it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

It was a genuinely new idea. It introduced the notion of designing music for a specific purpose, yet was still packaged as a pop album. A stunning concept.

But how would we feel if music like this was played in an airport? Would it be a calming influence? Or would it grate like Muzak?


OK — Micachu and the Shapes

I have been shamefully late to discover Mica Levi, and Micachu and the Shapes. This is a track from the band’s 2012 album Never. It contains a lyric that made me laugh out loud, which doesn’t happen very often.


My original iPod is a time capsule from 2002

What happened when one person started up his iPod for the first time in 15 years.

…I also came across music and artists which made me wonder what on earth I was thinking of when I loaded their tracks into iTunes. If I could talk to my 2002 self, I would sit him down and explain that Limp Bizkit’s album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water is an abomination and not at all funny (my London music buddies and I thought it was hilarious at the time)…

…looking back through the playlists on my first and oldest iPod I was struck by the fact that some of the music from 2001 and 2002 seemed far more dated than some of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

I certainly have a memory of music from 2001/2002. In fact, because of my age, it is precisely when a lot of my favourite music was released. But I do wonder what I would discover if I found my iTunes library from that period, warts and all?


What colour is a tennis ball?

It’s the dress part two!

I make this decision as much on the basis of what I think I know about tennis balls—that they are yellow—as I do on what color I recall that they looked when I last saw one… In other words, like the color of a lot of objects, how we label [a tennis ball] is determined both by perceptual and cognitive factors: the actual physical light entering your eye and … knowledge about what people have typically labeled the objects.

I have to say, it never occurred to me that a tennis ball might be any colour other than yellow.


In — Brothomstates

This is the opening track from the 2001 album Claro by Brothomstates. That was a special purchase for me, because it was the first IDM album I bought. I already knew I liked this sort of music because I was exploring what I could with whatever clips of tracks I could find online. But Claro was the first full album of this genre that I had heard. This was opening up a new world of sonic possibility to me, and I never looked back.

Wintry weather brings this album to mind. I have vivid memories of walking around my home town of Kirkcaldy in icy weather while listening to Claro on a Discman.

In particular, this opening track, In, epitomises the chilly vibe. The piercing synthesised staccato whistles may as well be icicles falling from the sky.

When thinking of what jam to feature this week, as the Beast from the East descended on the UK, I could make no other choice.


Shuffle mode has just reminded me of the time Richard D James (best known as Aphex Twin), using the pseudonym DJ Smojphace, opened for Björk at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2003.

From the YouTube video description:

For almost 2 hours Richard played nothing but “noise and feedback” from the backstage, only appearing in stage to cheerily wave goodbye in front of a very, very pissed audience.

Listen to the booing! Delightfully funny.


Inside Facebook’s hellish two years — and Mark Zuckerberg’s struggle to fix it all

A very lengthy, but entertaining and informative, read about how everything went wrong for Facebook in the past two years, and why it is a mess of their own making.

While Facebook grappled internally with what it was becoming—a company that dominated media but didn’t want to be a media company—Donald Trump’s presidential campaign staff faced no such confusion. To them Facebook’s use was obvious. Twitter was a tool for communicating directly with supporters and yelling at the media. Facebook was the way to run the most effective direct-­marketing political operation in history.


Bittersweet Bundle of Misery — Graham Coxon

Bittersweet Bundle of Misery — Graham Coxon

This song is a little bit too close to Coffee & TV for comfort. But after having left Blur, perhaps Graham Coxon wanted his own version of his own song, which I guess is fair enough.

Looking back, this song almost seems like a last gasp of the Britpop sensibility — an unashamedly, straightforwardly good pop song.


It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech

You may think you’ve read it all from people complaining that the likes of Facebook are threatening free speech. But this is a genuinely smart, thought-provoking article on the wide-ranging ways society need to rethink its approach towards freedom of speech.

We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them.

I have thought before that we need to start thinking about ‘eating your digital greens’. Which means being wary of processed content (processed through an algorithm, that is), and ensuring you seek out a balanced diet of content from different sources and perspectives.


Ed Yong: I spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in my stories

…I looked back at the pieces that I had published in 2016 thus far. Across all 23 of them, 24 percent of the quoted sources were women. And of those stories, 35 percent featured no female voices at all. That surprised me. I knew it wasn’t going to be 50 percent, but I didn’t think it would be that low, either. I knew that I care about equality, so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t part of the problem. I assumed that my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.


Count It Up — Field Music

Count It Up — Field Music

When a band you like releases a new album and it’s really good then count it up.


Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be

On average, according to Midroll’s data, podcast listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.

This is interesting, and in the detail is some cheering news for podcast listeners.

But I wonder how long it will last? I’ve been listening to podcasts for well over ten years, but I am becoming increasingly tired of the ads that are taking up more and more time during my day.

As ever, it’s a balancing act. News publishers messed this up big time by bombarding their website users with horrific ad experiences. Podcasters have to be careful not to go the same way.


‘Fame proved toxic for the relationship’: when comedy double acts go sour

David Baddiel, Andy Zaltzman, Richard Herring and other comics on fame, failure and friendship.

What happens to the members of a comedy double act who have gone through a ‘divorce’? This article focuses mainly on the comedians whose partner has gone on to have greater success.

A fascinating topic, also often regularly mentioned on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast.

And is it just me, or are most of these less successful comedians actually funnier than their more-famous counterparts?


Harsh Reality — Claro Intelecto

Harsh Reality — Claro Intelecto

A delicious slice of minimal techno. Perfect for a chilly night time walk through the city.


How Sony’s blunder revived Vib-Ribbon, a long-lost classic

This is a few years old. But I was reminded of the brilliantly quirky PlayStation game Vib-Ribbon this week, and came across this amusing article.

It tells the story of a new CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America who knew his PlayStation games, but forgot that Vib-Ribbon had never been released in North America.

Shawn Layden just wanted to make a good first impression…


Sense — The Lightning Seeds

Sense — The Lightning Seeds

The Lightning Seeds were one of the first bands I really liked. They don’t seem to have as much indie-cred as I think they deserve. Maybe that’s what happens when your biggest hit is a football anthem.

Sense is a little bit before my time, but I still think it’s one of their finest songs.


There is so much positivity in the digital world of media

As ever, Thomas Baekdal is brilliant and insightful on where traditional media companies are getting it so wrong. He compares the consistently negative focus of news outlets to successful YouTubers, all of whom are filled with “excitement and positivity”.

[I]t makes traditional journalists appear reactive, while digital natives appear proactive…

You can’t just be negative. You also have to give your readers hope and invite them to join you on a journey into a better future.


Everywhen — Massive Attack

Everywhen — Massive Attack

A lot of bands I liked wilted somewhat after Radiohead released Kid A. Not Massive Attack. 100th Window may not be their most admired album. But I thought it was one of the few that successfully met the Kid A challenge.

Gone were the trademark trip-hop beats that made them so successful in the 90s. In came a more clinical, experimental electronica sound. It switched some people off, but I think elements of this album are superb. It was an impressive reinvention, but it was also still unmistakably Massive Attack.


Legends of the ancient web

Maciej Cegłowski considers the parallels between the early decades of radio, and the web. He notes how radio became a crucial propaganda tool for the fascists of the 1930s.

In less than four decades, radio had completed the journey from fledgeling technology, to nerdy hobby, to big business, to potent political weapon.

It’s a great history lesson. Read on to find the silver lining in his talk.


Modified Blue Jam artwork

There may be no real science behind the concept of Blue Monday. But there is definitely something strange about mornings in January.

I always go back to work as soon as possible after the new year. On my morning walk to work, the streets are dark unlike any other time of year, and eerily quiet.

It’s now a new year tradition of mine to spend my first morning walk of each week listening to Blue Jam. Chris Morris’s peerless radio programme of the late 1990s mixed dark comedy with downtempo music. It was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in the small hours of the morning, maximising its unsettling vibe.

That vibe seems to suit these weird, dark Mondays in January.

The programmes are available to download via Cook’d and Bomb’d.


Roundabout — Yes

Roundabout — Yes

I used to think I got my proggy tendencies from my dad. However, he was recently dismayed to learn that I like Yes, who he says are too noodly. I guess I developed an excellent taste in music all by myself.


Conditions of a Shared Belief — Soulwax

Every Friday evening I’m going to post a tune that I’m digging right now. Because why not?

Conditions of a Shared Belief — Soulwax

I’d never taken notice of Soulwax before. But after reading a review of their latest album From Deewee in an end-of-year list, I decided to check it out on YouTube.

Wow! The motorik beat grabbed me; the climactic melody hooked me. I have become obsessed with this tune.

The album, supposedly recorded in one take, is also magnificent. This is bold, uncompromising electronic music that
commands attention. It continually surprises without being pretentious.


Predictions for digital and social marketing in 2018

Gary Andrews with some thoughts on what we might see in the coming year in the digital and marketing worlds.

There are lots of astute points here, not least on the hot potato of the moment: relationship between the tech giants and publishers.

One phrase that has been bandied around a lot towards the end of 2017 has been from publishers proclaiming their “pivot to readers”. At a basic level, this is the publisher’s way of saying we’ll no longer be beholden to platforms like Facebook and Google and will concentrate on building our own brand through focusing on our core readership instead.


‘You can’t see the join!’ — Recovering Morecambe and Wise

A late Christmas present from the BBC Research & Development blog. Three fascinating articles about an attempt to recover a long-lost 1968 Morecambe and Wise episode from a rotting roll of film discovered in the vaults of a Nigerian broadcaster.

It involves some pretty advanced tech development work – a ‘diseased’ film, a trip to Nigeria, dentistry, lasers, X-ray tomography, algorithms and some goo…


I made my shed the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor

I made my shed the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor Brilliantly entertaining article by someone who managed to game TripAdvisor into ranking his fake establishment as the number one restaurant in London. When he staged a deliberately-awful opening night, some of the patrons asked to come again. The Shed at Dulwich has suddenly become appealing.…

Read full article — I made my shed the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor