Miscellany: A collection of interesting snippets that don't fit in anywhere else but nevertheless deserve an airing.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Polishing up presentation skills

Recently I've been giving a series of two hour talks on various aspects of social media. In the last two sessions I was lucky enough to have Lin Sagovsky as one of the attendees. Amongst other things, Lin runs Play4Real - a consultancy that takes theatre techniques into the workplace as a way of building skills and confidence in all walks of working life.

Although at pains to let me know that my sessions were full of good content Lin offered to help me improve my presentation technique. I had the cake, what was missing was the icing.

What a revelation. I knew I wasn't presenting as well as I might. I just didn't know why, or where to start to improve the situation. Very quickly Lin was able to pinpoint the areas that needed working on and offer equally rapid solutions.

In less than two hours we looked at body language, breathing, timing, staging (sight lines, lighting, acoustics), managing the audience and much more besides. All of Lin's advice and tuition addressed my specific needs.

I can't recommend her highly enough.

I have a few weeks to practice before my next public speaking opportunity which if all goes well will be the whole cake, complete with icing. And in time I might even manage a cherry on top.

If you think you could do with some help in improving your own public speaking you could do a lot worse than signing up for Lin's free tips newsletter. It's a good first step in the right direction.


Richard Swan follows up last years BNI song with a Beat Poem

At this year's BNI Big Breakfast the first speaker's slot was given over to Richard Swan who had penned a new piece to follow up on last year's pastiche of Don Maclean's American Pie. This time around the musical backdrop was a composition of his own. Watch the home recorded version on YouTube here: BNI Beat Poem

It'll be interesting to see if it can match the unexpected success of last year's piece: BNI Song which to date has been viewed almost 33,000 times. What is certain is that Richard's first piece influenced in part the decision to make greater use of video in marketing individual BNI groups. Last year saw the start of a competition amongst BNI groups for best promotional video. Perversely our own group didn't enter. Possibly because Richard is one of our members we felt there was little more to add.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Twitter Twaddle

I gave a talk recently to introduce a group of business owners to the world of twitter. A few were already regular twitterers but most had simply heard the growing buzz around twitter and social media in general and had yet to stick their toes in the water.

This post rounds up some of the twitter applications that we didn't have time to cover in any great detail.

One of the first things anyone needs after opening a twitter account is something that will manage activity in a more useful way than the twitter site itself.

Two desktop applications that I have found useful are Tweetdeck and Seesmic. I have a marginal preference for the latter but have been running both on different machines for the last month.

Both will allow you to manage multiple accounts and show your tweets, replies and direct messages alongside the general stream of tweets from those you follow. They will also allow you to create groups containing the tweets of those you particularly want to keep track of. And both will allow you to hook up to your Facebook account and shorten your urls to help you keep within the 140 character limit.

They'll do a lot more besides but these few things make either an invaluable tool. If neither take your fancy another desktop application worth looking at is Twhirl.

For tweeting away from your desk you'll want a Mobile twitter client such as tweetie or tweetdeck for i-phone or ubertwitter for Blackberry.

A URL shortening service such as bit.ly, budurl or tinyurl will help you keep track of how popular your tweets are and keep your tweets within the 140 character limit. Most desktop clients will include URL shortener but registering directly with the service will allow you to track your shortened URLs as well as simply shortening them.

Beyond these few must-haves there are hundreds of helper applications. What follows is a listing of a few that have caught my attention:

and twilert - a couple of services that send alerts based on keywords that you choose to track. Great for keeping track of tweets that mention you, your product or service, or any topic you're particularly interested in.

grouptweet - group message broadcasting for twitter. A way of using the instant messaging power of twitter within a closed group. Group tweets are broadcast privately to group members.

ping.fm - Not a twitter specific service but rather a social network broadcasting service. Ping.fm will update your status on over 40 social network sites with filters and triggers to ensure all your messages go to the right place.

nearbytweets - The Royston Vasey of the Twitterverse, a service that helps you find twitterers nearby: local tweets for local people. Key in your postcode, a keyword and a radius in miles and nearbytweets returns online twitterers tweeting on topic within your cachement area.

Another service along similar lines is
- a 'waterfall' of tweets on topics you select and within geographic boundaries you set.

whofollowswhom - Pick up to five tweeters and compare what they share in common in terms of who they follow and are followed by.

friendorfollow and twitterkarma - who's following you that you're not following back and who are you following that isn't following you. These two services will let you know. I have a preference for the way twitterkarma works but friendorfollow doesn't require you to give your password - always a plus.

twittercounter - shows growth and projected growth of followers and followed based on past activity.

tweetstats - a statistical analysis of your tweeting patterns over time: tweets per hour, tweets per month, tweet timeline and reply stats.

- a service that connects your twitter account to your google calendar.

SocialOomph - formerly tweetlater - a bundle of useful tools at the core of which is the possibility of forward booking your tweets - write now and send later. It will integrate with your bit.ly URL shortening account, allow you to manage multiple accounts, vet followers and automate much of the process. Personally I keep most of the settings on manual and still find plenty that's useful.

Another useful twitter client, particularly if you have a number of contributors to a single profile, is HootSuite.

- tweets generated from an RSS feed that you nominate

- enter your username to generate a tag cloud based on the words in the bio notes of those that follow you.

- a back up service for all your twitterings.

twibs - a business directory for twitter

twellow - a yellow pages for twitter

coupontweet - a discount coupon service via twitter

retweetist - a site that shows the most popular re-tweeted tweets. One way of discovering trends, popular topics and tweeters.

Last but not least two useful guides to twittering and twitter etiquette. The first from mashable and the second (via @subutcher) from computer-colleges.com

If anyone reading this has a favourite twitter related application or site that I have omitted, please do leave a comment.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Generation text

This last week has seen the views of Matthew Robson, the 15 year old intern at Morgan Stanley, causing a little concern in boardrooms across the world. The reason: a three page report he had been invited to put together detailing the media and communication habits of his peer group. In some quarters, this straw poll of one has since been elevated to the Gospel of a Generation.

The headline take-aways are that teenagers:

• ignore and despise advertising
• don't read the news
• don't listen or watch much radio or TV
• don't pay for anything if it can be avoided
• don't use twitter because of the cost of texting (an investment best reserved for texting their mates)
• we should all be worried because this casts a shadow over current notions of how the world works.

So what's new? Not much. But for twitter, a relatively new addition, it was ever thus. Teenagers have never had that much disposable income. They've always looked for ways of having fun without having funds. They've never really wanted to do much other than be with their friends, listen to music and watch movies. And it doesn't have to be a particular movie, As Robson says in his paper,
"Teenagers visit the cinema quite often, regardless of what is on. Usually they will target a film first, and set out to see that, but sometimes they will just go and choose when they get there. This is because going to the cinema is not usually about the film, but the experience – and getting together with friends."
In effect, the rest of the world is inconsequential to the extent that it doesn't impinge on their world.

As a group, their attitudes and media consumption habits will change. And some of that change will be driven by the rise in the levels of their discretionary spending.

The comment about twitter is a case in point. Robson cites that the major lack of appeal of the medium is the cost of texting and having better things to do with their 'free' texting allowance. This is a slightly parochial signal that only really applies in Europe - the US service having struck better deals with home turf carriers which effectively removes the cost argument - at least as far as service delivery. And anyway, modern phones have wi-fi internet access which makes tweeting free within a free access zone. It's the availability of free access to the internet and not the service, be it twitter or anything else, that would seem to determine, for a 15 year old, whether or not it's worth bothering with.

Hence it comes as no surprise that they've taken to VOIP in a big way. They're not footing the bill that provides the core internet access on which their game console will be running. So of course they use the voice chat facility on that - it's free.

And as for advertising, who do you know in any age group that admits to being in the slightest influenced by advertising. You can probably count them on the fingers of one hand. Everyone likes to think that they've arrived at their decisions via more 'respectable' routes. There's an awful lot of advertising out there and most of it, one could be forgiven for thinking, isn't aimed at anyone in particular. And most of the advertising that is targeted, isn't targeted at you. For the average (there's a weasel word) teenager, is it any wonder that most advertising is annoying or irrelevant. It's either untargeted, poorly targeted or not targeted at them.

So should the board members be concerned? Probably not, unless the organisation is paying for a lot of poorly targeted advertising. Will 15 year-olds take their free-loading habits into their twentys and thirtys? Possibly some of them will take some of those habits. And there will certainly be a lot more free stuff available by the time they reach twenty. But most will earn enough to buy themselves better options than those that are freely available. And most of them will grow up to have a wider range of interests than music, games and movies. And advertising, in the broadest sense of the word, will be helping them make their decisions. But it probably won't be advertising purely in the mass media forms most of us are familiar with.

If you haven't seen it, the full text of Matthew Robson's paper is available online at The Guardian.co.uk It's free. No need to buy a paper. Get stuck in.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hospital signage

There's something wrong with my knee that necessitates having a few blood tests. So off I went this morning to visit the local blood-letting clinic. Hospitals are not places I spend too much time (although recently the maternity ward has been a regular stop-off). Like many other infrequent visitors I find hospitals' sprawling and unfamiliar layouts difficult to navigate.

Signs are everywhere and all pointing to departments with long medical names none of which appeared to be on the sheet of paper my doctor had given me. But what makes the process doubly difficult is the proliferation of hand-made signage - word-processed A4 sheets or hand written notices to cater for every eventuality that hadn't been thought of when the initial signage went up.

In the waiting room alone there were more than twenty different erratum slips posted to the walls. I had plenty of time to wait and managed to take in quite a few. A number were repeat postings in, presumably, strategic locations.

In the corner where I was sitting, a small notice informed me that if I wished to talk privately with a member of staff, I should ask.

Stuck to the window behind me was a note and under the bold heading, "Important Notice", it said "The garden is not in use due to health and safety issues. As soon as they have been resolved we will let you know". Presumably notification will be a little word-processed A4 poster. Still, if the problem is health and safety, it couldn't happen in a better place.

Another notice informs everyone that, "Children 16 years and younger cannot have their blood taken at this hospital, they have to go to St. Helier Hospital for blood tests". For some ridiculous reason it makes me think the needles they use here must be very big.

While the blood is being drained from my arm I notice three more temporary posts. One is a poem, presumably to take your mind off the needle, " A smile doesn't cost a penny. A smile is all your own, it's never spent...". Near the poem is a more permanent, printed, notice to the staff, "Does that patient need assistance? Be ready to give a helping hand, it creates a good impression and is a good thing to do. Now think of it in terms of Corporate Governance". I never would have thought of it in those terms.

Another hand-typed note from admin reminds everyone, "Before you leave, make sure the windows are firmly shut and the lights are out. Thank You".

On my way out I see a typed instruction, "Remove bulky outer garments before seeing nurse".

Too late now.

Helpfully, a little sign on the door handle in red felt marker pen, protected by layers of yellowing Sellotape, says "Pull". I make my excuses and leave.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Mike's Hippo-poem finds a good home

An idea that has been buzzing around Mike's head for some time has finally been put to good use. His comic verse 'Hippoparadox' has been included in TwitterTitters a marvellous collection of comic writing that has been bundled together to raise money for Comic Relief. The book creators, Linda Jones and Louise Bolotin, used the crowd sourcing power of twitter to invite submissions. it was only a matter of time before news reached Mike, a self-confessed twitterholic.

The book is available now both as a download and as a printed copy. All proceeds (less the small cost of production and postage) go to raise more funds for Comic Relief. Please do buy a copy. It will make Mike's day and probably make yours as well.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Photography Books competition hosted by Blurb

Blurb the people behind 'bookshop-quality personal publishing' have a competition running (closing date 16th July 2009) for the finest, most creative and innovative self published photography books and the people behind them. Get along to http://pbn.blurb.com if you fancy your chances.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

And should never be used to start a sentence.

Mike Reed's self promotional booklet on the use of 'And'.
But is an equally bad beginning.

Both these statements express widely held views. But, are they true?

Rather than give a simple 'Yes' or 'No' answer to this most frequent of FAQs, writer Mike Reed has pulled together a panel of expert witnesses to answer the question. Testimonials from Kingsley Amis (The Kings English - 1997),Wilson Follett (Modern American Usage - 1966), and a host of others, all confirm And can be an appropriate and useful start to a sentence. And but is just as valid as an opening word.

The whole thing is packaged in a very clever folding mechanism that reveals page after hidden page of new quotations, adding considerably to the impact of the wisdom within.

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Nivea bus ad for Kid Spray obscured by bus loud speaker
Saw this on the bus. Can't help feeling Nivea have been short-changed despite spending longer trying to decipher their message than I spent on any other ad on the bus. I wonder if they get a special rate for restricted visibility. Alternatively, do they have to pay extra to have a special fitting of their ad so that it fits snuggly behind the loudspeaker. I wonder if you can buy that space specifically in order to make creative use of the speaker within the ad. What I didn't spend too much time wondering about was the news that Nivea has introduced a Kid Spray.


melo in the morining

Electronic till welcome screen reading 'melo in the morining'
Seen on welcome screen of the tills at the Sterling Cafe in the 'Gherkin' early one Friday morining.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Will the real David Hughes please stand up?

Well, it's hard to be definitive - there's a lot of us about. And a lot of us work in creative fields of one sort or another. A quick search on Google will undoubtedly yield David Hughes the illustrator (brilliant) and David Hughes the dancer (also brilliant) and a host of other David Hughes' of varying degrees of brilliance.

But it's a big world and there's room enough for all of us to co-exist without confusion. Or so I thought, until I pitched up one evening at Sadlers Wells and was given complimentary tickets that had been set aside pending my arrival. Initially grateful, if somewhat bemused, it eventually dawned on me that I wasn't the David Hughes they belonged to. They were for that other David Hughes - the dancer mentioned earlier. I did the decent thing.

Seth Godin, in his book 'small is the new big' had it about right when it comes to naming. Less than enamoured with his own name when he was younger he now recognises that it has been a bonus to have a monicker that's anything but mundane.

What goes for individuals goes double for businesses. For a long while, encapsulating the product or service offer in the business name was what it was all about - International Business Machines, Shredded Wheat, General Motors, Burger King - the list is long and littered with generic phrases that have become household names. And there's no doubt that this approach has worked very well for those I've just mentioned. Although, to build that equity in their brand name, they have invested heavily in terms of time, effort and money.

The new rule, according to Godin, particularly for the smaller business that doesn't have such deep pockets, is to create something that may be meaningless but is more likely to get you found online without too much contention.

Recent unwelcome notoriety surrounding our own fairly innocuous business name, David and Associates, may be sufficient reason for us to change to something less commonplace in the future.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

David Hughes' unwitting role in a recent email scam

David Hughes is a pretty common name. But when a friend received an email from David Hughes and Associates he immediately thought of my business. He assumed I had been the victim of identity theft. And in a sense I had - along with every other David Hughes in the world.

Below is the content of the email:

33, Bedford Row WC1R 4JH
London, England.


On behalf of the Trustees and Executor of the estate of Late Engr.Jurgen
Krugger. I once again try to notify you as my earlier letter was returned
undelivered. I hereby attempt to reach you again by this same email address
the WILL.I wish to notify you that late Engr.Jurgen Krugger
made you a beneficiary to his WILL. He left the sum of Thirty Million, One
Hundred Thousand Dollars (USD$30,100.000.00) to you in the Codicil and
last testament to his WILL. This may sound strange and unbelievable to you,
it is real and true.

Being a widely travelled man, he must have been in contact with you in the
past or simply you were nominated to him by one of his numerous
friends abroad who wished you good. Engr.Jurgen Krugger, until his death was
member of the Helicopter Society and the Institute of Electronic &
Electrical Engineers. He was a very dedicated Christian who loved to give

His great philanthropy earned him numerous awards during his lifetime. Late
Engr. Jurgen Krugger died on the 13th day of December,2004 at the
age of 80 years, and his WILL is now ready for execution.

According to him this money is to support your humanitarian activities and
help the poor and the needy in our society. Please if I reach you
as I am hopeful, endeavour to get back to me as soon as possible to enable
conclude my job. I hope to hear from you in no distant time.

I await your prompt response.

Yours in Service,
PRINCIPAL PARTNERS: Barrister Aidan Walsh. Esq Markus Wolfgang, Mr.John

Needless to say this isn't David and Associates and I'm not the David Hughes in question. The assurances in this iteration of the 'Nigerian' letter that, "This may sound strange and unbelievable to you, but it is real and true" are just some of the clues, if any were needed, that this is a scam. Setting aside the abuse of our name and the spam that has been generated, what needles me most is that - thanks to this email appearing on scam noticeboards all over the net - this scammer has a higher profile for his faked ID than almost any of the real David Hughes' - myself included.

But it is the real David Hughes' that may well bear the brunt of his email shenanigans. I've already had one email from a complete stranger in America expressing concern about the email I've supposedly sent him.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Where, exactly, did the time go?

I attended a talk at the Kingston IET last night. I had a front row seat in a shed packed with aging engineers in the garden of the Lion Pub, Wicks Road, Kingston. Well, we're all heading in the same direction at about the same rate so I guess we're all aging something or others.

I was there to push the buttons on a Keynote presentation I had prepared to illustrate the talk given by Ray Piggott, the guest speaker that evening.

One of the themes that came out of Ray's talk was the obsessive nature of engineers - left to their own devices, he argued, they would typically engineer a product to a point well beyond that which made any commercial sense. This in spite of the definition given by one of the attendees that "an engineer is someone who can design something to be produced for a shilling, that any fool could produce for half-a-crown and the Government would manufacture for 5 shillings". The currency denominations indicate something of the vintage of the sentiment.

I have a particular interest in the obsessive nature of engineers - my father was an engineer. And it came as startling news to me that the children of engineers display twice the propensity for autism when compared with the population as a whole. Autism is called a 'spectrum disorder' because it can appear in greatly varying degrees, often showing up early in life. Symptoms include: resistance to changes in routine, repetitive behavior, and obsessive interests. And looking back I can certainly see some evidence of obsessive behaviour. I remember the exasperation of my partner at the time when planning a ski trip many years ago. I had decided to put all the possible variables of every European ski resort into a spreadsheet in order to calculate the best place for us to ski. Price, obviously, but just as importantly the ratio of black, red and blue runs... the number and length of the runs... the travelling time between airport and resort... purpose built or traditional village... the list of variables went on and on. A mild case, to be sure.

More worrying for me now is the higher than average incidence of autism in the grandchildren of engineers. Certainly, if my son's obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine and the exact order in which Annie and Clarabel must be placed on the track is anything to go by, we may have a problem.

But it's nothing like the problem that Nicholas Felton has. His obsession is to track the way he spends his time in mind-boggling detail. The results are then turned into an annual report. Take a look at the 2007 Feltron Report as an example. In it he catalogues the vital statistics of his year: number of alchoholic beverages broken down by type... how much he listened to his ipod and what he listened to... how far he travelled and by what means of transport... the clothes he bought sorted by colour... food eaten by type... photos taken by location... and many more details of his year broken down into granular detail.

I can only think he comes from a very long line of engineers. Well worth a look.

The 2008 edition has yet to appear and given the amount of effort he puts into it, I'm not surprised. Possibly in recognition that it's hard work to put together, Nicholas has created a site to help other obsessives keep track of their own time. You'll find it at daytum.com

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

An end to entity envy

Using entity codes in your web copy is the right way to ensure that what you say comes out the way you intended. It's also good practice if you want your code to validate.

Blogs are particularly prone to mishaps with missing entity codes. &s frequently get mangled and text cut and pasted from a word document will often have apostrophe and quote marks that render as gibberish.

These usual suspects aside it's almost impossible to remember all the entity codes you need to ensure that your text renders as intended. And what about more exotic elements like this arrow ← or this asterisk ∗ or a trade mark ™. Most of the look-up options I've seen to date inevitably involve trawling through acres of entities that you don't need at that very moment.

Well help is at hand at LeftLogic. This site quickly returns the appropriate code for any entity you can think of. It also comes as a Firefox plug-in and as a handy desktop widget for anyone using a mac.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

I don't always know which colours go, but at least I now know where to go to get them.

David and Associates colours
It's a sad confession for a designer, I know, but it's born out of experience of hearing colour consultants speak about colour at a professional level.

It showed me I really have no idea.

We used to share office space with a colour forecasting company. The sort of business that predicts what we're all going to be wearing this time next year or two years hence. They had a tiny little office packed to the rafters with colour prediction books and swatches in every imaginable material. The cramped space meant they often had their door open to the communal corridor and inevitably their conversations would float out. Here's a typical sample: "Apple and Banana"..."Peach and Plum"..."Apricot and Raspberry"... These fruity couplets would continue in a three way competition for the most wonderful combination until someone made a complete Faux Pas and mentioned something like, "Kiwi and Kumquat". Noooo! No! No! No! went the cry from the other participants.

I knew then that I was missing something. Why was "Apple and Banana" acceptable but "Kiwi and Kumquat" beyond the pale? Was that the inside of a kiwi or the brown furry wrapper? Was the apple a Golden Delicious or Braeburn? So many unanswered questions. Clearly colour was something of a Black art (I realise black isn't a colour by the way, I do remember that much from my secondary school art classes).

If you're similarly clueless about colour then help is at hand in the form of Kuler from Adobe. It's a web-hosted application for exploring, creating and sharing color themes. It generates palettes of analogous, monochromatic, triad and complementary colours from either a 'seed' colour you enter or from an image. Very addictive.

Now, what goes nicely with Puce.


Monday, June 09, 2008

House hunting made easier

A few years ago when I was moving house for the umpteenth time I remember thinking wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a map based around travel times so that you could shortlist possible areas to live that would combine the quickest door-to-door times with house prices that fell within your budget. It didn't exist. There was an experimental project being conducted by Cambridge University and a web site that had some amazing computer generated images of commuter patterns but it hadn't reached a stage that gave any useful results. And there was no possibility of tapping in one's own requirements.

Fast forward to 2008 and things have definitely moved on. Once again the family is upping sticks and heading for same. The arrival of my son has forced us to consider all sorts of issues, not least how much time it takes to get from work to pick him up from nursery.

To the rescue comes commutefrom a brilliant web site that marries average house prices, journey times, starting points and destinations. Pick any combination of the four and it will quickly rearrange the London commuter map to show you the options. Brilliant!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A virulent infection in adland?

The latest VW and Audi ads seem to be evidence of a virus infecting the advertising world. The disease leads agencies and their clients to believe that they must make ads with lots of people busily building something related to their brand, in some suitably inventive way. Except they're all looking distinctly uninventive now.

The latest from VW:

The latest from Audi:

From Honda:

From Guinness:

From Orange (complete with hideously patronising oh-so-friendly Scots voiceover):

From Skoda:

I suppose it all started with Cog:

But why must a wheel, once invented (or at least ripped off), be reinvented so many times, for so many different brands? How lazy can you be?

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Spam-free forms

It is a constant source of irritation that most forms submitted from our web sites are simply spam. And although it's not the friendliest way of securing a form's integrity I've finally succumbed to using an image based 'captcha' system as a way of separating the real visitors from the automated form-filling spambots.

It did have the benefit of being very easy to install and is just one of a large collection of useful Dreamweaver extensions from hotdreamweaver.com

However, I also came across this useful work-around on webdoodles which has the benefit of not having to use php or captchas. Which would be good news for visitors with poor eyesight but not quite as robust as a captcha system.

And the reason for this is explained in a blog entry by a French man who writes under the pseudonym of Ploum (surely that should be Plume?). In it he describes one route that combines the best of both a captcha and an invisible text field. Thereby giving the robust security of the captcha image while avoiding upsetting those with less than 20:20 vision.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Top quality mash

Mash-up of top listings from internet buzz sitesIt's hard enough keeping on top of the latest to-ings and fro-ings on even a handful of the social media networks. As new communities proliferate the temptation is to give up on it altogether. Add to that the growing number of other required viewing sites and there just aren't enough hours in the day.

Recently I came across this brilliant mash-up of popular sites popurl that aggregates the latest and best from all of them: Digg, del.icio.us, reddit, newsvine, metafilter, truemors, youtube, tailrank, ifilm, wired, slashdot, boingboing, odeo, fark, nowpublic, stumbleupon, metacafe, propeller, clipmarks, dzone, videosift, mahalo and a host more.

Suddenly, life is simple again.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Just brilliant enough

Leading by example, and making a big impact at the same time: genius.

(Via the always interesting Billboardom.)

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Preventing your domain name being used by spammers

When we design web sites for clients we will often get involved in helping buy the domain name, choosing an ISP and setting up email addresses alongside all the other internet related resources. In building the site we will want to make it as visible as possible on the internet. In doing so we potentially attract unwanted attention in the form of spammers.

There are a number of good ways to avoid spammers trawling your site for email addresses and plenty of ways to ensure that spam is kept out of your own in-box. For the former we've often used Spam Vaccine, and for the latter I personally favour Spamfire , both from Matterform and both work on a mac.

This week I've been made aware of other people's favourites in a rather disturbing way - bounce-backs from emails we never sent to people we don't even know.

How did this happen? Because, while all the above is fine for protecting your own email address from the effects of spammers, it doesn't do much to protect the rest of the world from spammers using your domain in their spam emails. Which in turn doesn't do much for your company's reputation and could potentially mean unwarranted blacklisting for your domain.

Year's ago when we were managing our own SMTP server we experienced an avalanche of spam email traffic through our server on it's way to the rest of the world because our server was acting as an open relay. This lapse in security could have gone unnoticed but for the volume and timing of the traffic - the flood brought our server to a standstill in the middle of the working day. Although a review of the log files showed that much of the traffic had traversed our server during the night. We quickly bolted that door and thought,job done.

Recently we've seen spammers tacking on any old name in front of the @ symbol followed by one of our domain name suffixes. I hate to think how many people received a spam email last week with our domain name attached. Judging by the number of bounceback's it runs into the thousands. And if any of you are reading this, a thousand apologies.

A quick call to our ISP provided a solution in the form of an SPF record - essentially a listing in your DNS detailing which servers can send email on behalf of our domain. Those that are not listed get recognised as forgeries and are automatically rejected before they hit anybody's inbox. And I'm pleased to say it's working.

If you're experiencing this type of Spam, speak to your ISP or take a look at the SPF website.

And for those of you wondering about the most popular mail box spam protectors...
...based on our recent bounce-back experience they were: mailEnable and SpamArrest. The former is an SMTP mail server platform and the latter a web based mail filtering service. If anyone has any other suggestions experiences or observations, please feel free to add a comment to this post. No spam please.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rip it up and start again.

Tony de Marco's picture gallery of São  Paolo billboards
Following on from the short piece on Street Blitz*, I came across an article on São Paulo and it's decision to remove all billboard advertising from the city.

That's the way to do it.

Rather than adding more unsolicited visual ephemera as a protest against the intrusion of big business advertising, the populist right wing mayor of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, has passed a bill prohibiting all forms of outdoor advertising. Well, he's the mayor - he can do that sort of thing. And, as one industry insider commented, it probably takes everyone's mind off the task of removing more difficult eyesores from the streets - 'the poor state of the roads, the homeless and the notorious favelas'.

Tony de Marco has chronicled the startling effect in a photo series on Flickr. The ads may have disappeared but the structures remain in place and over time the ads themselves may creep back in, albeit in a more regulated form.

The council has already said that it would like to see the introduction of approved street furniture such as bus stops that may be allowed to carry advertising. No doubt these spaces will go to big brands with deep pockets. But for now it's an adbusters dream come true.

*19 posts on the Street Blitz map so far and only 4 days to go.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Street Blitz London 1- 15 July 07

Five days into this 15 day anti-advertising fest and the apathy is apparent. Only four posts to the Blitz map so far and the clock is ticking. Possibly the organisers should have advertised the event a bit more in advance. Hardly in the spirit of the thing I know, but at this rate the event will be more of a blip than a blitz.

And the problem with any strategy that involves fighting fire with fire is that the end result will be exactly what the promotional web site's 'motivation' statement says the event aims to undermine - except on a smaller budget.

"The corporate image factory spends a huge amount of money on billboards, posters, flyers or 'guerrilla' marketing campaigns masquerading as street art. They fill your lives with an unrelenting barrage of preposterous ideals, numb values and false icons. No one asks for your permission before they push these images in your face so neither should we seek consent in order to leave our own mark on the city."


Anyway, early days. Watch this space.

If nothing else the site does have an interesting links page to street art sites - well worth a look.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Design consultancy, sex and chocolate

Design consultancy, sex and chocolate - strange bedfellows?

Not at all it would seem.

A recent post on a business networking site was offering chocolates in exchange for unwanted design ideas. The writer suggested that a design consultancy may have been fired from a project recently, or had a falling out with their client and might appreciate this modest recompense and the chance to hit back at the client in some small way.

In exchange for a box of chocolates he would require all intellectual property rights for the submitted material. Obviously it would only be a box of chocolates for the winning entry - he wasn't made of chocolate after all. As an added incentive he suggested that there may be two boxes of chocolates if he got a particularly swift response.

He did. And not all of it was negative. I was amazed to see the number of people who were prepared to entertain the idea and asking, in serious tones, for more information about the brief, the customer demographics and so on.

They may have been swayed by promises of 'credit were it's due' - the winner would have their association with the work broadcast to a large network of potential clients. All ready to beat a path to their doors armed with boxes of chocolate no doubt.

Setting aside any issues with the economic model proposed, the problem with leftovers is - if they are not fit for the purpose they were designed for - what chance is there that they will be fit for some randomly associated business or service.

It would be like throwing so much muck at the wall in the hope that some of it sticks. One of the respondents did in fact offer to send in the scraps from his latest project for The Sewer Cleaners Association.

This wasn't the only example of someone looking for a quick and dirty solution to their branding problems and opting for a crowd sourcing approach.

A competition post to a design site last week asked for a 'sexy logo for an investment management company'. The parting shot on the brief was 'Show us sex'. The successful designer would receive $350. Exchange rates being what they are at the moment I doubt I'll be entering.

Once again I was struck by the sheer number of credulous scribblers who were prepared to respond and thought the lottery prize was worth it. The whole thing began to unravel when it became clear that what was 'sexy' to the client was not necessarily sexy to the rest of the world - and vice versa. When pushed for clarification the competition holder offered up an example of what they considered to be 'pure sex' when it came to corporate logos: Art Lebedev. Go on, take a look, you know you want to.

Unfortunately any attempt at inviting the Wisdom of Crowds is just as likely to result in the random efforts of a barrel-load of monkeys - given enough time and the complete works of Shakespeare notwithstanding.

The competition was eventually suspended due to lack of feedback from the contest holder. No winner was announced and not even a chocolate was exchanged. Perhaps I should put the chocolatier in touch with the scribblers.

Anyway enough of this. I've got a crate of Green & Black's finest to get stuck into.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Brands of the World reunited

At the request of a friend I have just trawled through screeds of bookmarks on an old laptop to find a link to a site that features logo artworks for loads of brands world wide. I thought it would be worth posting here for future reference. Brands of the World has helped out more than once when the client didn't have decent reference to their own logo or we needed it at short notice for a presentation.

Brands of the World is at pains to point out that it is not a clipart site and that all works on the site are the copyright properties of the various brand owners represented. So, no use without permission is the rule. They also take no responsibility for the accuracy or currency of the files available to download. Nevertheless we've found it really useful and it's free.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Focusing on the year ahead

Sue, Mike and David started the year with a photo diary. The intention is that we each take a shot every day of the year.

To see the current state of the project follow the link below.

Photodiary 2007

The blog of the same can be found at http://photodiary2007.blogspot.com. It has a few explanatory notes - some of the pics probably need them.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lifting the lid on a good idea

When she was young my sister's first port of call in any restaurant was the toilets. If they didn't pass her checklist of fundamental requirements we all had to leave. I haven't asked her if she still maintains this regime almost thirty five years on but every time I have to use a public loo I think of her - an unfortunate association, I know.

If the 'Ladies' are bad, the 'Gents' are worse. I can't be the only one who dreads going into the cubicle. Increasingly it seems that public toilets are being used for target practice by people who have absolutely no sense of direction. A wet seat is the inevitable result.

I was therefore delighted to see this piece of design in a toilet in Rome's Fiumicino airport. You may not be able to stop the poor behaviour of a few people but good design can stop it spoiling the comfort of the majority.

All the seat lids are weighted so that as soon as there is no-one sitting on them they lift up. Percy is only ever pointing at the porcelain.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Firefox scaling problem

I'm indebted to Indira Singh for highlighting a problem with Breed Communications site when viewed in the Firefox browser. And I'm doubly indebted to Egg Bramhill a moderator on Talk Graphics for providing the solution.

The problem was that in Firefox the Flash.swf files were only occupying a third of the screen. Everything looked fine in i.e. and Safari but Firefox left me more than a little foxed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

White Label

White Label Tees and Terrace Tees from David Black and Piers Rutterford
Those of you who are familiar with this column may recall a piece about fellow designers David Black and Piers Rutterford starting a sideline business in hi-quality football T-shirts under the title Terrace Tees.

Well they're back again, this time with a new line-up based around another sort of printed ephemera - old concert tickets. And I have the dubious honour of being amongst the first to purchase a T-shirt from their new on-line store - White Label. Plenty to choose from and I'm sure the list will grow - I plumped for Led Zeppelin (Earls Court Arena May 25th 1975), a bargain at GBP18.00 even if the ticket itself was only a quid at the time.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


A directory of existing RSS feeds. Blog Street also operates as an info Aggregator, lets you subsribe to RSS feeds and have posts delivered via email

Friday, October 21, 2005

Missing link

In the never ending quest to improve our position in the SERPS we're forever looking for appropriate sites to be linked from. The latest additions are the London Directory and UK Graphic Designers, an enormous listing of exactly that - UK Graphic Designers. So if you don't find what you're looking for here...

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Million Dollar Home Page - original and best

Being first to market still counts, whatever the venture. Inevitably copycat sites of Alex Tew's original Million Dollar Home Page were bound to come along - and sooner rather than later.

Some are thinly veiled parodies, others are wholesale rip-offs. To get the ball rolling, at least one of them has included all the links that were live on Alex's site when they lifted the idea.

Including this one.

It's a 10 pixel square linking to Indochine, and appear's on both Alex's site and one of the pretenders' - www.themilliondollarsite.com. When checking with Indochine's traffic analysis package FlySoup, Indochine gets loads of clicks from the Million Dollar Home Page site and none at all from the fake.

So if you're planning to buy some pixels, get the original and best.

Having said that one or two copycat sites have paid something of an homage to Alex's original efforts and are offering something unique in themselves. I particulary like the idea of zerodollarhomepage.com where you pay nothing per pixel and it's simply down to the webmaster's caprice whether or not your link is featured.

Given the advice to purchasers that no adult oriented sites would be featured on Alex's site there's also a smattering of sites of an exclusively adult nature. The least offensive is probably milliondollarhomepagewithtits.com - an attempt, according to Tristan Blackwell who has set up the site, to make one (or two) small improvements to an otherwise perfect idea.

Hit the gym before you hit the slopes

I've been taking serious steps to improve my general health and fitness of late and in an unusual barter arrangement have engaged the services of a personal trainer in exchange for design consultancy.

Payment in kind is atypical so don't think of forming a queue. Having said that, I feel I'm currently getting the best end of the deal. My trainer, Daniel Tiley is one of the C.H.E.K. trained fitness experts at Wapping Personal Training headed up by Jamie Kelleher. The holistic approach they take to creating a personalised regime is a complete revelation and I can't recommend it enough.

However the point of this piece is that, in the run up to the winter ski-ing season, Daniel has put together a ski and snowboard specific exercise program. Daniel specialises in low back, pelvis and lower limb injuries and sports specific conditioning. He's also a goldmine of advice on nutrition and lifestyle. The specific benefits coming out of his ski program are improved joint stability, improved core control, balance, strength, power and endurance. You'll be less likely to injure yourself, you won't feel as sore after a day skiing and you'll be able to ski longer with improved technical ability.

For a free initial consultation give him a call on 07879 630249

Different strokes for different folks

Foreign phrases dropped into the body of an otherwise English language document will often require the odd accent. I can never remember the key strokes needed and after several misguided attempts at various key combinations resorted to printing out this ready reckoner:

alt key + ` followed by e or a = è or à
alt key + i followed by i,a or o = î, â or ô
alt key + c = ç
alt key + e followed by e = é
alt key + q = œ

I recently came across Le Notepad, a little javascript application that lets you type in your prose selecting the necessary accented letters from a panel. The resulting text can simply be cut and pasted into your Word or Quark document. Magnifique!

It comes courtesy of Carol Reitan, a French instructor based at City College San Francisco.

I know the face - just can't put a name to it.

I'm indebted to Piers Rutterford for pointing out this little gem. Identifont, A site that helps you identify a typeface from a series of questions that only require answers based on direct observation. Brilliant.


Piers Rutterford and David Black - a couple of designer friends who have contributed brilliant work over the years - have set up an interesting sideline, Terrace Tees.

Terrace Tees produces exclusively designed, high quality, made-to-order football t-shirts featuring football legends. They look great and you'll feel great wearing them - 50p from every purchase goes towards your club's favourite charity. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, West Brom, Derby County, Leeds United, and Blackpool are amongst the teams currently favoured and new additions are becoming available as demand grows. If your team hasn't made the league, send an email to legend@terracetees.co.uk and make your case.

Networking tips from the experts

Attended a breakfast meeting this morning organised by BNI (Business Network International) to explore practical networking strategies.

Not surprisingly a good proportion of the time was spent talking about the benefits of networking. 'Word of Mouth Marketing' has become the current vogue for one of the oldest and best known marketing secrets. Ask anyone how they get their business and doubtless they'll attribute a large percentage to referrals, or word-of-mouth recommendations.

Taking the time to actively manage and encourage this word-of-mouth activity is what networking is all about. For newcomers it's easy to assume that you have to start from scratch and building your network is going to be difficult. Laura Hurren, the UK Regional Director of BNI hosting the session, reminded everyone that colleagues, family, friends, clients and suppliers are all part of a ready made network.

In a twist on an old saying: It's not what you know, or even who you know - it's who they know, that makes the difference.

Apart from your ready made pool of contacts there are plenty of organised networking opportunties. BNI, for one, runs structured weekly sessions all over the world. There are also plenty of less formally managed occasions that you can cut your teeth on.

Laura gave this list of best practice to get the most out of any networking opportunity:

- Identify the nature of the meeting, is it predominantly business or social.
- Plan in advance. Get the delegate list so that you can seek out the valuable contacts. Try to get to know the culture of the group.
- Make sure you have enough business cards but don't force them on people.
- Set yourself a goal for the number of people you'd like to meet.
- Remember to develop the conversation before going into your 'elevator speech'.
- Act like a host and not a guest.
- Remember the five 'W's: Who?, What?, Where?, When?, Why?
- Give a referral whenever possible - but only if it feels right.
- Describe your own products and services - but briefly.
- Exchange cards - give two; one to keep, one top pass on.
- Spend 10 minutes or less and don't linger with friends.
- Write comments on the back of business cards received as an aide memoire.
- Take time to debrief yourself. Write down the keypoints - keep a record.
- Follow up with the people you meet. Do what you say you are going to do.

Top 10 qualities of the best networkers were identified as:

- Enthusiastic
- Good at listening
- Positive attitude
- Trustworthy
- Sincere
- Good at follwing up
- Always networking
- Good at maintaining their networks - recognised gatekeepers
- Enjoys helping others
- Shows appreciation - at the very least, always says 'thank you'.

Laura finished with some warnings about stereotypes to avoid:

The limpet - Nervously locates a friendly face in the crowd and sticks with it.
Home Pigeon - Huddles with colleagues.
Party Bore - Dominates the conversation and doesn't let anyone get a word in edgeways.
Buffet Freak - When he speaks, it's with his mouth full.
Lounge Lizard - Looking to meet attractive women.
Suspect Alco - Out for the free booze.
Butterfly - Flits around, doesn't engage in conversation, constantly looking to move on.
Rabbit in the headlights - Would prefer to be anywhere else other than where he is right now.

These extracts are from just one in series of training sessions organised by BNI and made available for free to its members. David & Associates are members of a London based group that meets at Tower Hill each Friday. Check out the website for a list of our members and if your profession isn't already represented, we'd be delighted to see you there.

Whose Right is it anyway?

Attended Ownit's Intellectual Property and Copyright event last night at the Design Council. A right eye opener. Looks like we own a lot less of what we've produced than we thought. It turns out that 'Equitable Rights' carry as much if not more weight than Copyright. And looking back over the last year I can see that most of our clients could claim 'Equitable Rights'in most of the work. Time to dust off the 'Terms and Conditions' and get Margaret Briffa to give them the once over. Briffa specialise in Intellectual Property issues and have a number of events coming up that should be of interest to anyone selling, promoting or producing creative work.