Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Linkorama for 30.04.08

Lots of work work work round here. So in the meantime:

1. 26 recommendations for April are here.

2. A write up of the Little, Brown quiz that I was a ringer at last week. The champers was grand by the way, thanks.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

RIP Humph

Still at work, as I am? Well, cheer yourself up with thoughts of the the late Humphrey Lyttelton. Or possibly not, as here he's playing with Radiohead.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Don't forget

Happy St George's day
Originally uploaded by evilnick
Shakespeare entered and left the stage today as well.

(Exit, pursued by work.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Commercial: Writing's coming back

As a discipline in advertising. Apparently.

Kieran Bourke says:

Given that young creative teams are generally working on static media, that mobile plays a significant part in their lives and that their is little advertising noise in the medium, I suspect it won't be too long before we see the return of the star writer.

Thank god for that.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Commercial: Cold touch

The other day, a representative of a brand that shall remain nameless came to talk us about the way in which they manage their brand assets; logotype usage, font size and style, where templates can be found, that sort of thing.

During this 90 minute presentation, the representative was describing the way in which post-purchase material was less pretty, indeed less engaging, than sales material. He said:

"You've bought the product, so you don't get the pretty pictures. That's life."

One of the basic lessons you're taught in branding 101 is that every customer interaction matters, especially in sectors - like financial services - where the product is not tangible. The only things that you touch a customer with are service interactions, or the literature you give them or the documents you send them. Because they all matter, you should as a brand owner give all these points on the customer journey the same sort of love, care and attention that you would a big, splashy above the line acquisition campaign.

And yet, here was a senior person responsible for a famous brand effectively saying the opposite. And when put together with that brand's reputation for poor customer service and chaotic internal working structure... well, a lot of things made a lot of sense.

And when this brand disappears - which it will - very few people will weep for it. Most likely as they'll have long since moved from the brand, to others that actually care about them, and deliver a service that makes them feel valued, long after the purchase has been made.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Commercial: Digital nomads

Get used to the phrase. You'll hear a lot of it, now that that's what The Economist have classed the people on the cutting edge of incorporating mobile technologies into their lives.

And to start seeing some of the profound impacts these people will have, read Clay Shirky's view on the post-national future of Europe.


Free The Blog: What does the writer next door say?

(This was originally posted at Free The Blog, part of Free the Word, this year's International PEN festival).

As the introduction to the Free The Word festival by International PEN international secretary Eugene Schoulgin suggested, questions are always more important than answers. And in that vein, some of the ideas provided by Alaa Al Aswany during the opening event on Friday, ‘The Writer Next Door’, posed questions of wider significance.

Al Aswany proved to be a mine of astute and subtle observations, under questioning by Maya Jaggi. A dentist by training, he has not given up his practice despite the wild success of 'The Yacoubian Building', one of the biggest sellers the Arabic world has ever seen. Why not? Well, it appears to be the human contact. “I don’t care about teeth, but the people themselves,” he declared.

He argued strongly that the act of literature is not just about the writing of the layer history below politics, but also that it is meant to attack hypocrisy, “the things we know but don’t tell the truth about.” In this context, when asked about the process of radicalisation in Egyptian and other societies, he suggested that “you can’t treat the symptoms without attacking the disease.” And for him, corruption, intolerance and extremism in Arab world regimes were merely symptoms of the underlying disease of those regimes being dictatorships or undemocratic. “Arab dictators try to say that they can cure the symptoms, but they can’t. If there were real democracies, these things would disappear.”

In addition to the pervasive atmosphere of surveillance in these repressive societies, he pointed out that it was generally the least efficient people, “the mediocrities”, who rise to the top, due to their closeness to the ruling party. Diseases won’t be cured by the worst doctors.

His new novel, ‘Chicago’, draws on the time Al Aswany spent as a student in the USA, to explore from a distance the pathologies of Egypt, and especially the complex relationship the country has with migration. “Egypt is a county that many migrants keep close to their hearts. But despite this, not every migrant to the west is a failure.”

He was also robust on the question of whether there is a ‘clash between civilizations’, the Islamic and western worlds. “There are wars between kingdoms, but the world is actually divided between the human and non-human, those who want to be treated with dignity and on a fair basis and those who are dictators, fanatics, the corrupt, George Bush…”

Perhaps the most contentious point Al Aswany made was his last; that the human rights of minorities in repressive societies, “is not a priority when everybody is suffering.” As practical as that may be, it’s a view that Free The Word has been challenging this weekend.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reportage: Package deal

Saturday 12 April, 16.50, Northern line, southbound, about Kennington or so

A man is carrying a box of red flowers, closed tulips mostly. His eyes are on the woman sitting on the other jump seat to the right of him. She is wearing an olive green coat, matt grey shoes with a wisp of a point and touch of heel. On her blue denim knee are some layers of tissue paper with a chocolate brown sticker holding them loosely together.

In her right hand is a pair of scissors with red handles. She proceeds to start trimming the tissue paper.

That’s when the questions start. Did she pick them up somewhere? Buy them while she’s been out? Grab them from the kitchen draw while running out of the house? Maybe she’s a seamstress, so has to carry a pair with her at all times for professional reasons.

She looks over to the man, who wordlessly proffers a roll of sellotape. She then proceeds to fasten down the corners of the package.

The women opposite flick their eyes between her and him. They are – almost – agog with wonder and admiration, as she brushes her brown bangs back, lost in her task. He remains a silent observer, marvelling at just what other skills she might have, and terrified that nothing he can do will match this dexterity and poise.


Free The Blog: Moving Words

(This was originally posted at Free The Blog, part of Free the Word, this year's International PEN festival).

Moving Words - The Free The Word walk 19

The clouds gathered as we did, and the rain finished when we did. In between was some of the most uplifting poetry you could ever wish to hear. Below, as promised, my instant Twitter reactions to what I was hearing. You can also see more images from the walk here, and a video of one of the performances here.

And as you'll be hearing a lot more of these guys in the future, get a headstart:

Excentral Tempest
Inua Ellams
Dean Atta
Jasmine Ann Cooray

And we're done as the rain stops. Wonderful experience 04:46 PM April 12, 2008

Amazing wonderful talent on display 04:45 PM April 12, 2008

One line of verse can become the infinite 04:39 PM April 12, 2008

Writers have to live in the moment 04:38 PM April 12, 2008

This places demands netwot as an audience. You cant hide 04:31 PM April 12, 2008

You can find next door, right here in london 04:26 PM April 12, 2008

Like a box of pencils waiting to chorus words. Genius 04:23 PM April 12, 2008

The rain is now coming down on the lonely city 04:21 PM April 12, 2008

Actually, urban culture is now global culture too 04:16 PM April 12, 2008

Rapping by a puddle above the bfi. Urban culture 04:14 PM April 12, 2008

Poetry through a loudhailer on a national balcony 04:05 PM April 12, 2008

About to start the walk. Bit cold and damp! 03:59 PM April 12, 2008


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Free The Blog: Follow the literary walk

(This was originally posted at Free The Blog, part of Free the Word, this year's International PEN festival).

An experiment of sorts this afternoon. I'm going to be joining the Moving Words literary walk that starts from outside the National Theatre this afternoon at 4pm. If you'll be there, I'll be laden with bags and a natty brown and grey scarf. And if you're not...

... well, that's where the experiment bit comes in. Please sign up to use Twitter, the new social networking service, find me under my screenname 'BetaRish', click 'follow', and then - fingers crossed - you'll be able to see live updates from the walk.

No promises it'll work, and I'll post a full transcripts of 'tweets' from the walk later. But for now, fingers crossed.

The Moving Words literary walk, organised by Eastside educational trust, is this Saturday and Sunday, at 12pm and 4pm. Tickets are free but booking is essential. Please call the Young Vic on 020 7922 2922 to reserve your place.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Commercial: Can I get a rewind?

You know that hot new Gnarls Barkley album? Fancy a backwards version of it? Of course you do...

(Hat tip: Amy at tapeclub.)


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Commercial: Why the past is the future

"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard

1. Reading Ogilvy again, this time Confessions. And yes they're old, yes they're from a fusty age, but my how the aphorisms and maxims sing and soar:

- "The two most powerful words you can use in a headline are FREE and NEW. You can seldom use FREE, but you can almost always use NEW - if you try hard enough."

- "The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume a mere slogan and few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her."

(Hint: you don't have to give all the information in an ad. That's what the web is now there for.)

2. Starbucks is (temporarily one assumes) refreshing their logo, in an attempt to go back to basics. As opposed to refreshing their customer experience. Any way won't the crdit crunch put paid to the coffee inflation we have been suffering from?


Free The Blog: Found in translation - Durs Grünbein

(This was originally posted at Free The Blog, part of Free the Word, this year's International PEN festival).

I was looking for something to commemorate, or at least preserve in my mind, the previous weekend’s trip to Berlin. That I hoped to find it in Borders on Oxford Street was perhaps over-ambitious.

But I did. And I’m very glad that I did. Because I can’t think of a book that has so influenced the course of a year of my life the same way that Durs Grünbein’s ‘Ashes for Breakfast’ has.

I had, very tentatively started writing poetry again, in the proceeding few months, but everything I wrote was precisely that: tentative, hesitant and reflecting a fundamental unsureness as to whether I could make anything more than mere dabblings.

Quite why this particular volume leapt off the shelves at me, I’m still not sure – the slate-grey and green Faber cover still doesn’t fill me with the same possessive warmth that other titles from that venerable house do. However, I certainly was taken with two stanzas that caught my eye while in the shop: “From time to time / I have these days when // I feel like embarking / on a poem again”.

It was only when I got back to the office that I started to discover just how gifted, insightful and waspish Grünbein could be. He seemed to have the ability to echo precisely the sort of voices that I’d been hearing on the weekend, the weary, the slicksharp urbanites having kaffee und kuchen in the cafes, playful and serious all at once.

And there was an innate ability, as in poems like ‘No Fun’ and ‘Accept It!’, to find the smallest human drama in the city streets and magnify it into an universal truth, a truth which was even more universal due to Berlin's past as history's crucible.

Grünbein is probably one of the best poets to emerge from East Germany, and would be worthy of your time anyway. What also makes this particular volume worth investing in is Michael Hofmann’s essay on translating him: his feeling that they are some sort of kindred spirits, and the tricksiness of doing him – and poetry more widely – justice in a different tongue.

I think for my next trip to Berlin I won't bother with a guide book - this volume will be all the prompt I need.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Commercial: Think you're popular?

Moby. Famously the most irritating man in pop.

The O2
. Famously the world's most popular venue. Even more so than Madison Square Garden.

Your mates. Not famous

You. Less famous than that.

But now O2 can help change that last fact.

All you have to do is persuade your mates to join your guest list for what will be the most famous gig of the year.

What are you waiting for?


Linkorama for 08.4.08

All hail almost-palindromic days!

1. Kevin Kelly has fleshed out his freeconomic thesis some more, with eight 'generatives', that will add value to 'free' items. Most are straightforward and common sense.

2. The mobile services boom is exploding in India, according to BusinessWeek.

3. 'On the map', an exhibition of some beautiful mapping and geographical visualisations, is now on in Sheffield. You should go, especially to see the work of this designer. (Hat tip: Julie Christie)


Monday, April 07, 2008

Free The Blog: On sedition

(This was originally posted at Free The Blog, part of Free the Word, this year's International PEN festival).

‘Sedition’ isn’t a word that you hear used much nowadays – at least in the developed, Western world. Terms such as ‘seditious libel’ sound quaint or archaic. But don’t be fooled – as a judicial concept, it is still available to be used by governments of all persuasions.

While in the UK the last trial of the common law offence of sedition happened in 1947, there have been other cases in the and USA and New Zealand.

What is sedition? Generally it is “the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power”. It is about encouragement to rebel, rather than betraying one’s country, as treason is.

As a concept, it’s one that governments are more than willing to use to drive through their political agenda, as well gaining control of populations or minorities they deem difficult or dangerous. While it not appear so, the provisions to ban the ‘glorification of terrorism’ in the recent UK counter-terrorism act can be considered to widen the definition of what 'seditious' behaviour is.

So if you are at this Sunday’s ‘A Short History of Sedition’ at the Young Vic, don’t forget that it’s an issue that can – and does – affect you too.


Editorial: Too much blogging will kill you

according to the New York Ti-


Commercial: The Jackson 5

I'm not an Eastenders viewer. But this ad came very close to changing my mind.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Commercial: Intelligent placement

Thereis nothing like a bit of intelligent placement to really help an ad sing. Here are two examples found over the weekend in Shoreditch:

1. AEG taking advantage of a very noisy corner to show that their appliances are not. (That said, while I was there, the decibel count didn't go much above 70.)

Decibels now

2. Penguin taking advantage of the smoking ban to showcase Will Self's new novel.

The Butt


Friday, April 04, 2008

Free The Blog: On language gaps

(This was originally posted at Free The Blog, part of Free the Word, this year's International PEN festival).

Being involved in this blog suddenly means that I’m becoming far more alert to and aware of the gap that there always is trying to move between different languages.

I am, despite years of education, and being from second generation Asian family, to all intents and purposes, monolingual. I have enough Bengali to know when an auntie might be ribbing me, and enough Spanish to buy churros late at night in Madrid.

But that’s it. And it’s some thing that can cause a pang of guilt, especially when you come across people like this correspondent for The Economist, who speaks seven.

My language lacuna has also been brought home to me this week, thanks to two books I’ve been reading. In Christopher Priest’s The Separation, a counter-factual, ‘what if’ re-telling of World War 2, one of the main protagonists is employed as a translator during putative peace talks. You read about the struggle to find exactly the right word, that captures a political idea in one language yet has no direct translation in another, and the ramifications if a single word or clause is mistranslated.

The other tome is Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (I know, heavy week right?). Amongst the deep moral, legal and philosophical issues she carves her way through, she is unfailingly, unflinchingly clear on the way on which lacking a command of language means that you are unable to think, and also are far more easily bamboozled, misled and taken in by euphemisms or Orwellian Newspeak – what she calls ‘language rules’. And it’s precisely her fluency in English and German that allows her to show exactly how language in 1930s Germany was used to deceive, control and kill.

Because it’s never just about the words on the page; it’s always far more important than that.


Commercial: And they wonder why it won't sell...

Phil and Julie Neville's palatial marital home is still on the market, despite yesterday's blanket advertising. This nugget might be putting potential buyers off:

Despite the luxurious interior, the Neville children, Harvey and Isabella were allowed to use their mini quad bikes inside.

Re-carpeting will clearly cost a fortune.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Free the blog!

Just to draw your attention to the fact that over the next week or so, I'll be splitting my blogging time between here and 'Free the Blog!'.

It's the latest 26 project, this time in collaboration with the good burghers of International PEN. The blog is inspired by PEN's 'Free the Word!' festival, happening next weekend at different venues across London's South Bank.

And we're looking for help from 26 members - and every one else - to populate the site. As our the first post says, "we we want to receive contributions from the widest possible range of 26 members and friends of 26." Those contributions can be whatever you fancy: reviews of events you're attending, thoughts on the writers and other participants, photos, general random madness...

So - get stuck in. You can find out more about the festival here, send your contributions to, or drop me a line to find out more about it.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Information design can be fun!

Originally uploaded by davidjs_uk

No really, it can!

For evidence, see this group on Flickr and the relatively fresh Graph Jam site.

Now That's What I Call Visualisations!


Rock geeks are cool

Oh yes they are.

In amongst my delight at purchasing this, this, this, and this yesterday, my favourite item in CD Binge Monday was this, which, to my shame, I only found out about on Sunday, thanks to the excellent Fabric podcast.

You'll love it too if you like krautrock and Spiritualized. And who doesn't? On further investigation, AAS have the above image on their site. Why don't more bands give us the skinny that we really need eh? Sigh.

In other music news, you should also check this radio station out. (Disclosure: Punt DJs here. So you know it'll be good.)


And this one is genius too


Editorial: An almost good April Fool

The sad thing is, there's case to be made for a national style czar. Note to subs: fool is given away far too easily by byline and use of word 'birthright' in strap.

God, it's really not funny when jokes are deconstructed, is it?

(Oh, and here's another - which I did fall for. Ye gods.)