Friday, March 26, 2010

Tales from the Long Tail No.1

A man after my own heart

I'm thinking of David Cheval - who proposes on PM (BBC Radio4 26/3/2010) that cigarette manufacturers should be required (by law) to wrap filters in fluorescent pink paper, in contrast to the faux cork-effect paper they currently favour; and all in the interests of shaming smokers into disposing of their dog-ends more responsibly.

On hearing his letter read out on the PM program, he dashes into his wife:

Darling, they read my letter! All those years of campaigning, the indifference, the derision. You know, at times, I've even begun to doubt myself. (starts to laugh uncontrollably).

But now, now! Oh I must make plans - I must think, think, think! (digs fingertips into temples).

First thing tomorrow, phone the Director General or - no, no - Eddie Mair, should let him share the credit - mustn't get carried away.

But it's so exciting; we're going to do this! First thing tomorrow we're going to email every MP ....

Mrs Cheval (staring blankly into her drink): And here was I thinking how he was getting better ....

Meanwhile, in the Radio4 studio:

Night Lucy.

Night Eddie.

Great one tonight, by the way, Lucy.

... what?

The nutcase with the fluorescent cigarette butts. Just perfect for the friday night journey home from the office. I don't know where you find them.

With thanks to David Cheval (whoever you are) and no offence intended - I think your idea is brilliant.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Since posting my piece on tunes that get stuck in your head I have been amazed to discover that it is a well-known phenomenon and, like all the best minor mental disorders, there's a German word to describe it: Ohrwurm (literally Earworm)

There's an entry in Wikipedia. People have even written academic papers and newspaper articles on the subject:

The last site describes 'cutting-edge earworm research' being carried out at the University of Cincinnati and even offers a virtual clinic outlining useful strategies for getting a song unstuck (from which I derived a grain of consolation in seeing my own remedy listed)

Which all goes to show that whatever you can possibly imagine it already exists somewhere on the internet.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cinema Paradiso

I went last night to my local cinema to see The Road - a good film, I thought, even though, as Flann O'Brien might have put it, there wasn't a laugh in it.

But anyway it isn't the film I wanted to write about.

The Electric Picture House is a small, 100-seat cinema in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire. It is run almost entirely by volunteers and shows mainstream films: Avatar the week before last and Alice in Wonderland this week - both in 3D.

Seats are wonderfully comfortable too - while the interior is decorated in a tasteful dark blue shade that seems perfect somehow for a cinema.

I found myself wondering why I would ever want to go anywhere else.


Facebook borrowed the word friend and constructed an on-line social network around it, but since Twitter it is clear that the real currency is attention - and has been all along.

As a concept, Facebook friendship mimics the qualities of the real, face-to-face variety - things like trust, loyalty and support. But when a person's on-line friends come to be numbered in the thousands, it is difficult to see how those qualities can retain any real meaning.

Attention, on the other hand, is a much more malleable commodity. And it can be traded too - as I have just discovered in a New York Times article on the latest trends in on-line advertising. I say 'just discovered' despite the fact that I thought I understood how this stuff worked: for example you ask Google Translate to tell you the Greek for 'Does your hotel have a swimming pool?' and along with the answer Google obligingly provides you with ads for holiday resorts on the Peloponnese - except for the fact that since I'm already at the stage of asking the hotel about its facilities, I might have been more interested in travel insurance.

So it's kind of obvious and a bit simplistic - or so I thought.

When we go online we are giving things our attention and it is our attention that advertisers compete for, because once they have got it, there is the chance they can turn it to their advantage - or even sell it on. All the same, it came as something of a shock to learn of the degree to which my individual attention is being traded. When I search for something on Google (and it's not just Google by the way) it only takes a second or two for the results to be displayed but that is plenty of time for advertisers - or more precisely, software acting on their behalf - to bid for the right to stick an ad under my nose. The whole auction is conducted in a fraction of a second, with advertisers bidding not simply in response to what what I am searching for at that instant but on the basis of a profile that has been built of me over time. So it might go something like:

Google:lot#123456789:idomnivorist:dob27091949:session4102s:profile follows .. what am I bid?

The fact that I very rarely click on adverts (a fact that must feature quite prominently in my profile) no doubt makes me a less attractive prospect and advertisers might well decide to let me go by unmolested. However, the sight of a different type of on-line shopper heaving into view - one for example with an established tendency to make expensive impulse purchases - must liven up the proceedings no end.

The New York Times article includes a vivid illustration of the way things are going. Picture yourself walking along a city street, late at night, past advertising hoardings that are changing just for you.

No thanks ...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

BBC cuts

Watching Jeremy Paxman interview his boss Mark Thompson on BBC's Newsnight, I found myself imagining the conversation they might have had just before going on air.

Thompson: You know, if this is going to be convincing, you're going to have to work me over a little.

Paxman: Aw shucks boss - I can't do that!

Thompson: No - I'm tellin' yer - give it me straight in the kisser. And make like you mean it!

Paxman: Awww boss ....