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Posts Tagged ‘social networking’

It was inevitable really: I am now on Twitter. As an ID “AboutThisLater” is just the most salient expressions of frustration at twitter’s systemic brevity, to which I have yet to adapt my mode of thinking. But it just about sums things up: the Twitter feed is part of my balooning interest in the way people talk and how they will remember it.

Credit goes to @castophrenia, and to Gonzo wine vlogger @garyvee for his unshakeable, old-school swagger in comparing modern Social Media professionals who are developing the instinct for personal branding with mid-eighties breakout rap and hip-hop acts like the Beasties.

In his honour, and in celebration of getting yesterday’s raise paid in I went round Daimyo and bought coats, and also finally got around to picking up some Japanese maltbase blend whiskey. About to livetweet the tasting, hopefully with a minimum of pretension.

My first ever tweet, for posterity’s sake:

Man knows so little of his fellows.In his eyes all men act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what they do.      –Faulkner, from Light in August.

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Also, in honour of the British Press’s current hysteria over social networking robbing young people of personal contact, I reproduce a pitch/short fiction I wrote a while ago. Essentially it’s part of my budding argument that on top of brute-force codebreaking, ARGs which want to remain relevant or just do something new should start crafting experiences based around roleplaying, communication.

It won’t appeal to everyone, just as code puzzle-solving won’t. But the guy who has to write an email and sound like an insider, or take a phone call and convince as a member of an anarchist terror cell in order to avert a tragedy… that’s a Unique Experience theat money will never buy. It really doesn’t matter how competent a role-player they are, just that it’s a nerve-wracking experience.

Thus:

Re: one last favour.

Player 1 watches the man in the ball cap. No-one else has approached
him in the five minutes the player has spent skirting the scene,
eyeing the crowds. There’s still more than twenty minutes on the
clock. The man in the ball cap glances frequently at his watch, but he
doesn’t fidget, stares flatly at the tour groups taking pictures
about him. A pro.
All the same, his stillness would mark him out amongst the tourists
even if the description in the email hadn’t been so specific. Dark
clothes and hat even in the heavy sunshine. Bulky backpack. Alone at
Boudiccea’s southwest corner, Thursday, from noon to half past. The
last contingency plan.
Player one will approach, purposefully from the front, hands free at
his sides, heart pounding. Unthreatening. Nothing sudden. The contact
will acknowledge him, will wordlessly offer him a cigarette from a
packet. The player will refuse, speaking only the keywords. Again, the
email is very specific.
“It’s a little early, don’t you think?”
Ball cap stares stonily at him for lengthening seconds. The player’s
palms sting, his lips darken, his face calm. Ball cap speaks.
“You’re certain?”
This part wasn’t in the email. The player jerks a nod, snatches at a
phrase remembered from the last week.
“Uh huh. You’re compromised at every level.”
Ball cap‘s eyes widen.
“It’s all off. You’d better go to ground. It’s all gone helter-skelter
out there.” Another alien phrase, like something overheard in another
language.
Ball cap nods decisively, glances almost wistfully around at the
square, the choiring of families, the percussions of children losing
themselves. Finally he sticks out a hand. The player takes it, toes
prickling with relief, when ball cap pulls him in for a sudden
embrace, wooden and jarring.
“I’ve been in deep for years,” he says fiercely into the player’s ear.

“It’s been so long since I’ve seen an initiate. Someone who can be trusted, who knows.” The player clamps his teeth, fighting down the urge to stiffen, suppressing repulsion. Ball cap releases, visibly embarrassed.

“Wish it was under better circumstances. It’s just… nice to know there are true believers out there after all.” He finishes in a rush. The player nods, lips tight. The contact adjusts his bag.

“You’d better split. I’ll give it a few to divide pursuit, then disappear. Again.”. He fixes the player.

“Make sure you’re not followed.”

The player nods stiffly a last time, turns and marches away, claves bounding with tension. He hears ball cap shout after him, “good luck!”. He ignores it. It’s time to get back to the office. There are still other bombs around the city, but nothing to be done. Not his responsibility. He has stopped all that could be stopped. The job is over.

Tomorrow the fact that there will be no news in London will be his
nod. His silent heroism, unrecorded and unavowed. Non-event will have
become event. The alternate reality will last for as long as the
player does, long after the game is over. And for the next few days,
without willing it, he will find himself glancing over his shoulder.

Player 2 has been watching the strange exchange. Another contact,
maybe? As the new face walks away, the man in the ball cap takes out
his phone and types a text. That’s the signal. Player 2 takes a deep
breath, adjusts his bag.
Going to an unknown number somewhere in the city, the text is just one
digit long.
‘1’
Send.

All credit to @castophrenia, my love.

p

—————————————————

Transcribing my interview with stony, mottled Union leader Chris for the Community Action feature I’m working on. He reminded me powerfully of my friend Pat. I miss him.

“… you know the JET program?”

“Yeah. they make quite a lot of money.”

“well, quite a lot…”

“Well, they make more money than me!”

“Oh, I know. I’ve known everyone who’s worked for this magazine. You’re worked hard and not given all that much, right?”

“Well, I’m reasonably happy. I’ve just had a raise… Maybe I’m just misinformed… but I’m happy.”

“Well that’s the important thing.”

JETs make about 30 man/month (1 man=10,000 Yen. =around £50 when I left Britain in Sept ’08. God knows now). Non-JET ALTS make around 22 man. With my raise I now make 9.2 man. It’s an arbeito, a part-time job. But then I am still up working, and it’s just gone midnight. But then, I don’t have to pay rent. And I am happy.

are we nearly retro yet?

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Ad Hock

Had an interview with a London Social Media firm, think it went okay. I decided to come clean about not using RSS much, in part because of habit/usability, in part because my current machine is an increasingly fragile, benzine-smelling, juice-stained paving slab-in-waiting. I probably should have talked a little less, and probably should have been a little less concerned with IP rights. Ah well.

Reading around for it took me to some interesting places; returning to Rageboy for the first time in months led me to Twitter critiquer the certifiable Marcus Brown:

(Blacked out in deference to Stephen Fry: the normal format is Brown talking to camera while sitting on the toilet in his tiny Munich bathroom.)

One of the most interesting things about the process of making a Twitter feed for the publication I work for is that I have to document and codify the grammar, conventions, courtesies and allusions of Twitter. Brown may sound mad as a stoat but his manic-laconic approach is enlightening and wonderfully well read. “I beg you. I plead. Follow him.”

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I’ve had the recent Kanye West singles on YouTube loop, thinking about how his singles and Flight of the Conchords got me through my final exams. It got me to thinking about the sort of role model Kanye so well represents: Sensitive and unabashedly talented; relishing his position in an economy where women benefit briefly and peripherally from his attention; yet like Jay-Z overridingly obsessed with his fulfilment of the Provider role. Tribal; caught schizotically between bandit chief and aging chieftan.

I don’t see why I need a stylist

When I shop so much I can speak Italian

What kind of person does he sell to?

Me, apparently. Sometimes his schtick is too much, sometimes his indulgences are truly charming, like the glossy but hardly focus-grouped video for Champion.

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Also, started writing notes for a project, currently called Hock, for a simple lock-screensaver which allows limited access for self-naming users to cue up elements like songs, videos or photo albums selected with a limited browser; an integrated MC program essentially, designed for passive-display participatory entertainment at parties/events of all size. Skin your party, and allow users to show off their stuff and post publicly. Needs to be written as a pitch.

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Also, this:

Now there’s a sex symbol for you. Compare Blogosphere and Radio 4 sex symbol Gail Trimble, the one-woman “intellectual blitzkrieg” who brought in more than two thirds of the total points for Corpus Christi, Oxford’s victorious University Challenge team in the final last night:

gail-trimble-with-two-of-001

Trimble, who has already turned down an offer to appear in a “tasteful shoot for NUTS magazine“, rightly observes that people wouldn’t make so much fuss about her appearance if she was male. All the same, my Starter for Ten.

Concomitant to my post about Professionals having to step carefully when engaging with non-pros using Social Networking (Or in fact any brand for whom ‘we’re creepy so you don’t have to be’ isn’t a core motive).

“Would you believe it, my brother received a Facebook message from Nuts yesterday morning saying ‘can we have your sister’s email address, we want her to do a tasteful shoot’,” the 26-year-old told BBC Breakfast.

“So of course he sent them an answer saying: ‘Seriously mate, would you give your sister’s contact details to Nuts?'”          -Guardian

how could you be so Doctor Evil

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chroniclogo21From Paul Isakson. Found this at the top of Google returns for “future marketing”. It’s almost exactly a year old. Maybe I’m lazy for clicking on the first return; maybe I’m going undercover as a consumer. Who can tell? It advises against social networking marketing by “trying to be everyone’s friend”. It advocates an approach where the consumer doesn’t distinguish the marketing experience from the product experience. It quotes .. on the belief that brand and product have converged, and it advises all those who don’t have an interesting product in the first place to abandon hope.

Now, fairly shallow searching hasn’t yet yielded any particularly strong refutations of this argument, nor much that goes further on a theoretical basis. Paul Isakson had a post just the other day which asserted much the same thing:

“How should we leverage social media?”

paul isakson future marketing

Makes me think people haven’t been listening to him for nearly a year, or more.

The mutual backrub approach to marketing: if you give people something cool, they’ll talk about it. Reading about it made me think back to the quite parochial problem-solving I do with marketing in my blog. We wanted to get attention and an honest-endorsement from the administrator of a local-concern Facebook group. I went round and round in circles with myself trying to work out how to use our resources -free tickets to the event- to get the guy to mention it without seeming crass or setting off his antiflags.

Eventually we filled in with content expansion, something to make it worth a personal email, and I settled on cutting the tangible resources out of the equation, which allowed for a much simpler and more honest solution. An email bringing it to his attention and -crucially- asking for his advice on something (anything), and he mentioned the event with a simple endorsement on the group wall. Because he likes to feel like a broker in the community he started, and likes having something to talk about to endorse. This is the second magic spell that’s peculiar to community marketing: if you make people feel cool, they’ll talk about it.

That’s the magic behind “secret sellers” of the Pattern Recognition nightclub ilk, who drop brands into their otherwise rather extreme conversation. That’s the logic behind unique experience ARGs: cakes and honey. If ad eyeballs are the bread, then Unique Experiences are the circus.

They go beyond pattern recognition by persuading the experiencee to ignore the extent to which his experience is part of a pattern: instead, he is part of something special. The user may understand that he is a tesselating part of the pattern. “Groupmind” problem solving is a big part of current ARG design: the thinking is that people like to feel part of a group working towards a whole. But a large part of the power comes from the belief the user is if not indispensable, then at least special.

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Of course, specialisation costs money, crafting specialised experiences moreso. That was easy enough in the event promotion example: we had access to a guy with some level of clout within a small community, and it was all conducted more or less at the “amateur” level. We find it useful to walk a line between having name-recognition and being ourselves a “local concern”, which is the balancing act of brand fandom.

Professional engagement with amateur-level talkers or mavens or group participants either has to be dishonest or very, very carefully handled.

penny arcade marketing shelly yu missfit forums boards secret preteen

It’s an extreme example, but my mind always goes back to those journalists (from all levels of the citizen-professional spectrum) who invited themselves onto the boards of Facebook groups formed in the aftermath of the VT Shootings. I did a bit of study on that while working as a freelance researcher, but at their height the comments were going up faster than I could read them. Still, journalists going on and asking for input were largely met with vitriolic backlash, no matter how carefully they phrased. They were Not Welcome on those public spaces.

Kids my age described feeling “violated” when our University authorities knew that they’d been at a banned party: they didn’t say so, but the Uni had clearly been “snooping” into publicly-posted photos.

Fooling some of the people

This has all been talked about before. “Make people’s lives better” says Isakson, and quotes a CEO on how “brand and product have converged”. You can’t sell it unless it’s cool, and if it’s cool enough it largely sells itself. And there is a balancing act for cool: you have to put yourself out there, but not so much that it irritates people. Marketing is the obsessive-compulsive running for class President.

Another quote from the shareslides above is about a consumer who “doesn’t seperate the marketing experience from the product experience”. That would be the dream of a product which literally sells itself, but it’s frankly meaningless when you’re dealing with the basic synaesthetia of advertising. That is to say, describing one sensation with analogy to another: scent with erotic image, for example, or excitement with beverage.

[I can’t find a link anywhere for the Sprite “great snowboarders” ad, which is stupid because it’s the only one of theirs I can remember. It went something like this: [Exciting downhill, exciting downhill] “What do all great snowboarders drink?” [Dude spills straight into sprite machine] “The same as all the not so great ones”.

Instead try this out:

nicely done, but to be honest why even bother with the titlecard at the end? Make it a series of four :30 spots instead, with the guy getting angrier and angrier, the bottle more prominent, forever uncertain whether the clip is corporate-made or not.

That uncertainty is what’s fun about the Trader Joe’s Song (Via Brand Autopsy). Maybe this time, you think watching it, someone earnestly, honestly loves something for its own sake. Life really can break out in perfect song and dance, this once. So you want to believe.

Image ads like these are one long excercise in making image and product inseperable. But image can only do so by obscuring the product completely, hoping no-one ever actually tastes the product but instead internalises the advert (like, say, Relentless). Or by building a consensus about the relationship between the brand and the product. And it’s marketers’ ability to influence that consensus that’s dissolving, as a tradeoff for their new tools.

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Tim-Tam Slammers

Once again, these things have been talked about before. In an attempt to contribute to the worldwide brute-force attempt to solve these puzzles, I want to consider one small segment, from which we take today’s title: “The funny thing about my back is…”. It’s indulgence marketing, which I talked about a few days ago in connection with the Bourneville ad.  What would Utility Marketing look like when applied to the age-old technique of indulgence marketing?

Utility marketing is about providing a service that “gives people time back”, which is then associated in some way with the brand: it’s not about brand information as “pollution” or, in Anthony Lilley’s parlance, taxation. It’s part of the wider logic of making things easier to sell before you start selling them. Again from Brand Autopsy:

“Ask a Mighty Fine employee behind the counter how they’re doing and you’ll likely hear, “Mighty Fine.” They smile. They laugh. They look like they are having fun. Which all benefits the customer experience. Mighty Fine prides itself on hiring only “A Players” who are positive, supportive, and cooperative. To attract “A Players,” they pay above-average wages and offer much better than expected benefits. Mighty Fine knows by astonishing employees, they in turn, will astonish customers.

This is about a burger joint. But what would an A-player for the indulgence technique look like? Who is an expert in making you feel like you deserve that product, this once? Because whoever they are, they have an opportunity to provide a valuable national service by encouraging spending. More on Japan’s money-mattress crisis further down.

jell-o vintage ad racist hilarious jello mammy

Via Found in Mom’s Basement.

“Mammy sent dis ovah”

Jell-O is known to all sections as “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” In the South, for instance, it is inexpensive enough to be found in the cabins of old plantations. It is delicious enough to meet the standards of good living at the “Big House.” It is dainty enough for milady’s afternoon tea. It is appealing enough to turn the sinful, of any color, away from his neighbor’s melon patch.

It’s surprisingly racy, open-minded copy, after the manner of Spike Milligan: it challenges you with your stereotypes, offers up a bare-faced taste of the forbidden. And for getting past your effrontery, you’re invited to congratulate yourself, to indulge yourself. It’s a chauffeur-driven soup-kitchen dinner.

So how to think about this, in a modern connection? Advertisers no doubt already think about which poster will be placed next to which, or how ads are sequenced: they should start thinking about putting Organic Indulgence ads after car ads: Sustainable Furniture after overpriced cologne. They should identify through mutual rejection of excess, like the Obama-SUV ad.

It’s pointless to claim you’re thinking ahead of Google: I expect to soon see Gmail intelligent advertising responding negatively to keywords: charity donations or carbon offsets ads generated alongside emails with text references to “Vacation”, “Yacht”, “Promotion” or “Dubai”.

We know what an A-Player for a charity looks like: the magnificent Don’t Vote ads, or John Cleese on Comic Relief a few years ago staring in silence at the screen for upwards of four minutes while he’s “waiting for you to donate some money”, before shrieking “Oh get on with it, you cheap B*******!”

More than zero-footprint chocolate, I’m talking cocoa-bean picking vacations. I’m talking survival for indulgence: making your indulgence stores your personal Vegas.

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Money-Mattress

Note that it’s official, according to the Economist: Japan’s economy is nosing.

japan economy spending nosedive crash slump

Combine that with the announcementa few hours ago of the resignation of Finance Minister Soichii Nakagawa, who the other day appeared to be drunk at a G7 crisis talks press conference. How Hilarity Ensued.

Maybe it’s the right time for this, via AsiaJin: Virtual Meat for Hard Times.

air yakiniku virtual meat

Air Yakiniku is a video sensory-supplement for cheap dining: beyond simple fake-sensation ads, it’s free indulgence. You set the table with rice and sauce and laptop, click to run the video of a hand sizzling and then picking up the meat, and then you chow down on a mouthful of rice, eyes fixed on the screen, senses hopefully totally fooled. Personally, I just bring a book to our canteen, and try not to look at what I’m eating. I’m currently reading the superb Eileen Chang. I figure I’ll try and get ahead of the Nobel Literature curve this once.

Lastly, today’s thumbnail comes from the Chronic Catnip Company, which has one of the most entertaining, well characterised pitches I’ve ever seen on an utterly useless expenditure.

I’m going to bed, then school, then work, then make-up, then to research how Nudges could influence the Wealth Effect.

hearts@minds

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p1040991

phillipeApologies are well and truly due. I completely failed to mention that I would be incommunicate for about three weeks while in India over Christmas and New Year.  Woops. Mea Culpa. Also Mea still untanned and sickly. Only I could go to India and return as milk-white and snotty as when I left.

India pictures over at If it has a name.

I did get some kanji work done (mostly while lying on the beach, to my immense pride). I got off the plane back in Japan time, into the snow, dragged my three-times-as-heavy suitcase all the way back to the dorm, and found out that the big test which I’d been dreading all holiday has been more or less abandoned. The language course is a bit shambolic at the moment, and from the start of next week we’re in a completely different timetable with an emphasis on conversation rather than the blind trundling ‘progress’ of working through daily tests regardless of practice.

So this is good. For me and a small-but-growing group of compatriots who work in some connection with the magazine, the next month is a chance to get some real momentum going on a couple of projects we’ve been pushing. Social Networking/ the forum and the podcast are first among these: we had a slightly disjointed but very pleasant planning meeting over dinner and talked extensively about the benefits of Flickr, Facebook and a regular Blog platform for our increasingly aged publication.

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Those projects aside, other things have suddenly appeared on the horizon. The other night I went for a drink with a very talented illustrator mate, because I’d told him I had a pitch for him. After the first time we met, we’d gone from one of us casually admitting a fondness for comics, to discussing the merits (or otherwise) of the Watchmen trailer, to talking about making a book together, in the course of two conversations.

I was going to pitch the idea for Manifest, the Vampire/Political analogy piece I wrote about earlier, but I realised as I was eulogizing and arm-waving about it that it really wasn’t in any way ready for public view. The overall concept is difficult to explain at best, and I have only the vaguest idea about characters and a general arc. I’m by no means giving up on the idea, but it will need some actual work, rather than just time spent sat on the beach thinking of cool snapshots and epigraphs and images I’d like to run with.

early_flight_02561u_2

But if I thought I had too many ideas when I went to meet him, when I finally left the bar to catch the last train I could barely fill up the pages of my notebook fast enough. He had a pitch to make as well, and within a few minutes of him introducing it we were talking almost completely in movie references and character notes, as if we’d already signed and sealed. I went home and started typing up, really enjoying working with someone else’s material.

I realised as I was pitching my own project that the excitement of collaborative comickry is this: no matter how I planned it out my work would turn into something I could never have expected. In the past I’ve always written from first concept to final draft, and sometimes to performance, in an almost complete independence. That takes a thoroughgoing confidence which I wouldn’t exactly call ‘unwarranted’, but which definitely would have benefited from seriously collaborative editing. Work alongside someone else, with similar ideas but different plans. And this friend definitely has those: best of all, he already knew, before he met me and without my having to convince him, that Porco Rosso was by far the best Ghibli film.

porco1

The ideas he threw around are clearly ones which he’s been working on for some time, and which aren’t exactly coming from nowhere. It’s a coming-of-age story really, a strong story seen in the weird diluted light of adolescence; and the fact that it’s going to be in a retrofuturist skeuomorphic ex-Atlantis won’t detract from that. Nor will the fact that I’m writing it in the only way I apparently know how: heavy with literary reference. At the moment the epigraph is from Aristophanes’ The Clouds, and I’m retraining myself from putting more reference in.

But the fun of the work for me so far is in taking characters who he sketches in skeleton (though not literally: I’ve refused to see any sketches till I work some more) and then working them out in dialogue. No matter how ‘biographical’ or otherwise the story is, these characters aren’t leaping fully-formed from his forehead, or mine. They’re coming from the needs of the story and how we both want  to make them. They’re not descending from the Clouds.

“Indeed not. These are the clouds of heaven, great goddesses for the lazy; to them we owe all: thoughts, speeches, trickery, roguery, boasting, lies, wisdom.”

-Socrates the Sophist, Aristophanes’ Nephelae [The Clouds]

Not that any story or character ever does just appear from on high. My first instinct when writing the first notes for Manifest was to ‘list’ the mood of the book in terms of references: From Hell, Red Dawn, the poetry of Christina Rossetti, de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, Apollinaire…

In that case, the reference documents of the project what we’re currently calling Iland will be Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, Porco Rosso, Last Exile, The Aggressive Adventures of Fearless Griggs, Johnny Crossbones

05gog

It’s not exactly steampunk: ‘Retrofuturist’ is a useful term here. Though I suppose I could add to the above list one of my favourite pieces of “young adult” fiction ever, Phillip Reeve’s dieselpunk fairytale Mortal Engines.

2008-11-18-fuuil
Johnny Crossbones is another useful example here: in many ways it has a younger feel that its most obvious influence Tintin: it has teen protagonists, rather than the age-uncertain, perpetually boy-scout author insertion brat Tintin; it hasn’t got the clear political pugilism, nor the obsession with technology. But it does have “attitude”, and a cool, smart, surprisingly hot female lead, as compared to the bizarre adventure theme-park of Tintin’s world, utterly devoid of women or sex (other than the monstrous Bianca Castafiore).

Similarly Mortal Engines: give me the mutilated, revenge-crazed anti-princess Hester over any bun-faced Lyra, any day.

mortal-engines-wallpaper3_1024_768

There are elements of Iland that will put it on the “Young Adults” shelf. It is to be a comic, but it isn’t going to be ‘raced’ into prominence since, like Kari in Amruta Patil’s masterful Kari, it doesn’t have a Politic. It was always going to be the brilliant and issue-driven work of Joe Sacco, or Persepolis or ultimately Maus that made it onto the coveted New Release tables, rather than the uncertain fantasy of V for Vendetta or, say, Blankets.

But there’s plenty of room for a whiff of sex in this one, believe you me. I guess I should add Black Hole to the above list, as well: a sexy, cross-over comic and a coming-of-age story that made it big nonetheless (albeit with the dubious honour of having hardback editions that looked rather disguised as regular fiction, and were often shelved as such. I found one in my local library, and picked it up having seen it many times and believed it to be a novel).

blackhole

I’m certainly not worried about being taken off the shelves for including a bit of teen sexuality (of any persuasion- thanks, K). In that sense I’m very happy to have my work considered ‘Young Adult’, in the vein of Les Grandes Meaulnes or Bonjour Tristesse. Or, dare, I presume, Cider with Rosie.

Or look at the 1973 Disney Robin Hood, which I rewatched recently to discover that I knew every word from repeated childhood viewings.Yet in all those infant hours spent sat on the carpet rewatching the film, I somehow failed to notice that it’s not only basically about Emancipation and the Blues Route in the American South, but it’s also somehow a camp masterpiece. And it combines the two in a way I’ve never seen outside Betty Boop or Hellzapoppin.


Camp is a funny word in this connection. It would be a mistake to equate the Camp appeal of, say, The Wizard of Oz with the film’s complete absence of sexuality: Tintin is adventurous and sexless, but couldn’t seriously be called Camp without distending an already too-flexible term. Or maybe with a new term: Steamcamp. Hmm.

tintin

[Speaking of The Wizard of Oz, I loved Australia and don’t care who says otherwise. Though I will concede that if Baz had called the film anything else it wouldn’t have been panned. No doubt Mr. Luhrman has made his own peace with being regarded as presumptuous.]

australia_movie

I suppose I should stop complaining or pre-emptively defending my actions. No-one can seriously describe comics as ‘marginalised’ anymore: it’s just an anachronistic defense mechanism for the more fringe stuff of which the medium’s still capable. A year ago I wouldn’t have expected that I’d be seriously considering a writing or part-writing a comic as my ‘first book’, but we’ve got an exciting idea and it’s ready to go, and so am I.

After all, I’ve always wanted to work with comics and retrofutur/steam and with Atlantean Anachrotech, and here’s my chance. A moment’s research uncovers an unbelievable amount of stuff being made in the Steampunk/creative anachronism community: Have a look at Airship Pirate band Abney Park or Neverwas Haul, or Silloff’s ‘Steam Wars’ remodelling of Star Wars figures into Pinstripe/industrial aesthetic.

biker_on_bike

I’m never happy, I’m coming to realise, without a project. And apparently learning Japanese isn’t quite enough anymore. As if I didn’t have enough to be thinking about. This weekend is going to have to be a foray into job applications, in the vain hope of having a position to come home to within a media industry which seems to be eating itself. Wish me luck.

shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

you are after all quite short

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ascension

eurionsvgOpen Letter to the Man, supplementary: the project to convince my local magazine employer to build a free forum. I’ve been spending time reading the legal contracts used by webhosting companies, particularly Bluehost. Now, if anyone has any advice or horror stories about choosing one hoster over another then I’d love to hear it, but I’ve spent far too long reading glowing endorsements on what turned out to be shell review sites to believe any host is going to be perfect. I’d settle for perfectly well-meaning, but it’s in the nature of legalese that these companies have already prepared themselves for abuses not yet thought of, and in doing so retain the kind of powers that would give the average Free Culture reader an aneurism.

Below is an extract from the ToA used by Bluehost, which seems to be fairly standard. The terms may be altered at any time without notice, and use or continued use of any of the company’s services constitutes aquiescence to the terms. Maybe it’s a mark of my generation that I found the inclusion of profanity surprising. It’s a very specific kind of freebooter ignorance: I can scroll through linear miles of images of truly awful things without batting an eyelid but I balk at the notion that someone might seriously try to limit the distribution of such things through their hardware and under their questionable legal “jurisdiction”.

Feel free to skim.

12. Child Pornography. The use of the Services to store, post, display, transmit, advertise or otherwise make available child pornography is prohibited. BlueHost.Com is required by law to, and will, notify law enforcement agencies when it becomes aware of the presence of child pornography on, or being transmitted through, the Services.

13. Other Illegal Activities. The use of the Services to engage in any activity that is determined by BlueHost.Com, in its sole and absolute discretion, to be illegal is prohibited. Such illegal activities include, but are not limited to, storing, posting, displaying, transmitting or otherwise making available ponzi or pyramid schemes, fraudulently charging credit cards or displaying credit card information of third parties without their consent, and failure to comply with applicable on-line privacy laws. BlueHost.Com will cooperate fully with appropriate law enforcement agencies in connection with any and all illegal activities occurring on or through the Services.

14. Obscene, Defamatory, Abusive or Threatening Language. Use of the Services to store, post, transmit, display or otherwise make available obscene, defamatory, harassing, abusive or threatening language is prohibited.

The whole hosting edifice works because no-one seriously expects hosts to ever really act upon the caveat emptor they supply. The companies are just covering their backs in case of the advent of an iPatriot Act, and leaving themselves room to exercise a common sense policy in the case of extreme misuse of the format. At least it’s an American company, and as such has a notion of the broadly positive terms of Fair Use, which legally empowers a common-sense approach that’s often assumed to also be enshrined in British Law, which of course it isn’t.

[Two sides to googling “fair use”: hundreds of Fat Boy Slim album torrents “defending Fair Use”, and the story of the star of his first album cover who sued for unlicensed use of image. The court ruled that because he was smiling in the picture, he had wanted to have his picture taken, thus constituting fair use. Thanks to Japanman.]

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An assumed ‘common-sense’ pseudopolicy, such as it is, is communicated in the Bluehost contract  where specific, severe abuses such as child abuse imagery or copyright infringement are referred to in earlier clauses, while the more catch-all terms like “profane material” come in later, shorter clauses impling a generalised right to refuse. Though it’s always the short clauses you have to watch out for.

Of course, if you don’t like it, you can buy your own server. Or don’t, and stay in a backwater, certain that you’re aware of every foreign or polluting current which enters your pond, and handle it as you see fit. My generation has been forced to concede that being aware of something, being able to speak its language, discuss it, even fictionalise it, does not necessarily convert you, make you an advocate, make you tainted by it.

Yet at the same time everyone familiar with the internet has seen the same natural cycle countless times: where any decent forum will eventually become more dimwitted and drama-ridden as more and more unknown entities arrive and start ‘fluencing the tone, till everyone good leaves. It’s even happening to the Achewood assetbar, long the preserve of intelligent yet weirdly uncritical enthusiasts. No matter how good it is, it’s only a few trolls away from degenerating into flaming rubbishness.

kahoe_sign

One of the lesser-known Livejournal Wars came around the middle of last year when thousands of people woke up to find their groups and pages banned.  At the request of Warriors for Innocence Livejournal had instituted a new policy aimed at cracking down on “paedophiles and their sympathisers”, groups and individuals using it to trade “sexually abusive images and ideas”.

The policy, however, was to ban every account which listed keywords like rape and paedophilia in its interests or registered a high number of hits on those words, resulting in the banning of several rape support groups and numerous fiction and fanfic-writing and trading communities. Livejournal, vast hive of self-absorbed drama that it is, erupted in outrage and the parent company pressed the ‘back’ button a few days later, going back through each banned site individually to verify its use.

To paraphrase Jay-Z: when you argue with fools from a distance people can’t tell who is who. But though it’s easy to make fun of Livejournal’s squalling mass, its users were rightly enraged that short-sighted policy had lumped thousands of them in with a tiny minority of genuine mis-users. Such is the potential of censorship. We trust whoever arbitrates it to share our sense of decency. Or we don’t, of course.

p

I’m trying to set up a local forum for English-speaking foreigners in Japan, because we have enough of a name in our city to try to get most of the local online gaijin conversation happening under our banner. I’ve talked to my boss a lot about the need for a clearly laid out moderation policy.

He’s already more or less vetoed the idea of having a Japanese language forum at the same domain, in part because he doesn’t want conversations he can’t understand perfectly happening in his backyard. He also vetoed the idea because he has doubts whether he’d find a native Japanese speaker with the same notions of ‘moderation’ as us, or who’d express them in the untranslatable subtleties of forum-speak in a way he or I would agree with or even recognise.

Though I don’t agree with everything he says, Will Hutton has shown that braving accusations of neo-yellow-perilism can pay off. Japan is a very foreign place, not least in its often mystifying, even clandestine politics and its confusion of earnest Western-style Okinawa hippies, disconsolate consumerist teenagers, radicals of every stripe.

Once when I was just entering my teens I asked my Dad whether China and Japan weren’t, basically, the same, and he told me why not in some detail. A couple of years later I opined that America was pretty much like Britain, only more so. “No,” my Dad said. “America is the most foreign place I’ve ever been”, which at the time included Japan, Europe, Scandanavia and much of the Middle East.

itchstudios-psyker

I started this blog to ask which seemed more distant, Japan or five years in the future? I’m pretty sure I have an answer, though not a very satisfactory one. Nothing will ever really be as foreign as the future, particularly when it comes to communications. But then, communication technology’s influence on the future is so unpredictable and so alien because that influence will increasingly be determined by people who ‘we’ in many ways do not understand.

The internet has exposed its values to people, making everything available free and without judgement. But that doesn’t mean that people are infected on exposure: you aren’t tainted, but you aren’t converted to a warts-and-all freedom-loving shareista. On English blogs the talk is always about forwards or backwards: whether the net will grow wild or be potted. But the real direction will be determined by people whose forums we can’t read or participate in. The truth is, right now the future is just as foreign as everyone else is.

ichi go ichi e

p

PS. the thumbnail image I use for technology posts is the so-called EURion constellation, which features prominently in the floral decorations on Japanese banknotes. I would scan in a version to show, but, you know.

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eurionsvg2Drinking: Kirin Strong 7

Reading: The Seagull

Listening: The Columbia Broadcasting System Presents: Suspense

(I went through a period in Uni of being barely able to sleep without listening to online archives of old radio shows, mainly episodes of the Goon Show, which ultimately found its way into my undergraduate thesis and which I could probably quote verbatim.)

I went into the magazine office today to interview two flamboyant Italian wine dealers, and went to dinner with my editor/CEO. He told me a bit about what’s been holding up the reforms of the website which I’ve been trying to push through, which is really pretty crappy backroom skullbuggery. Our current designer is in the process of slowly defecting, and is already working on various freelance projects which borrow to a greater or lesser extent from new ideas that the office has been working on, in its own deliberate way, for months. One such project is set to undercut the release date of our big tourism project by about a month with a more streamlined, “hip”-specific rag model. Which is pretty rubbish.

Editor is locked in, not only because he may need to find a new designer but also because the current one is responsible for the design and upkeep of the current site, and hence its reliance on the relatively arcane language Ruby. We have no idea of how idiosyncratic his code is, how easy it will be for another designer to pick it up, and we still don’t really know if it will be possible to properly integrate a Ruby forum client like Beast into the site as it stands and host it on our current office server.

SO before we get pipped to the post again, we’re just going to call shenanigans and launch a forum. Editor has long been convinced by the idea -he’s actually pretty savvy, having run an early BBS back in the nineties- and finally decided to just go for it when I pointed out that we could just launch a forum with a a third-party hoster, with a slim design but under our name,  and call it an indefinite beta.The important thing is to get area conversation happening under our auspices, before it becomes entrenched somewhere else.

So we will have a forum. We will seize it before someone else does. Or, more likely, before any of the area-specific no-name forums which probably already exist become big enough to attract notice. We will attract ire with amateurish guerrilla marketing posts on fuckedgaijin forums and JET Facebook groups. It will be mayhem. There will be nutters, we will ban them, they will sign up with new accounts, and life will go on.

I think our tolerance for this, the organic process by which the internet happens, was increased the other day when a fairly personable but very odd bloke walked into the office with an 800-word “opinion piece” on chemtrails in Japan. I love a good conspiracy theory, but I was also the one to argue that these particular two cents might discredit our new opinion column before it really got off the ground. So he’ll be getting an indefinite postponement and a “thanks for making us aware of this!” email tomorrow.

chemtrail-contrail-croppedl

So, along with a LOT of magazine business, this weekend will be a process of sorting through the litter of information and phony third-party reviews on subscription forum systems to find one with high uptime, a good design toolkit and so on. I was mildly rattled by the level of consumer hatred directed towards Sitegrounds when you dig just a little under their very shiny shell sites, so I am going to be looking as carefully as I can. Maybe Hostmonster.

I turned a tangent on ARGs into a bit of a rant over dinner (Sri Lankan: my curry capacity has gone way down and I’ll have to get into practice before India over Christmas). But Editor was interested, and said he’d had an idea to do some sort of Game connected with the website, but hadn’t thought about it for years. I had visions of having to work up a redundant online Sudoku or something every month, but he actually meant a real-life treasure hunt with an online component, maybe a challenge to our Japanese readers to get a photo taken with a Gaijin, with a prize at the end. I talked about Geocaching, maybe using the now-ubiqitous QR codes:

qrcode

Electronteering! Unique codes on stickers with the magazine logo, posted all around the city , and you have to catch-em-all using the reader built in to every mobile phone camera. Urban info-scrumping!

Suffice it to say, I got a little carried away with ideas of questionable legality, but the concept is sound.

More soon. Also, Wowzio widgets.

this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

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