Who knew my weekly column was such a mouthful?

Shavers Weekly penis jibe

Shavers Weekly penis jibe

Just as well I’m thick-skinned, eh?

Those over-exuberant young scallywags at Shavers Weekly have speared me with satire in their latest, laugh-a-minute edition.

It would seem they find the weekly column I write for the Daily Record’s Edinburgh Now supplement as something of an unwelcome mouthful.

Everyone likes to be recognised for their work, so clearly this mud slinging comes as a bit of a job blow.

Despite the naughty allegations, I suppose it could have been worse.

After all, the schoolboy humour fuelled magazine labelled my fellow Edinburgh Now columnists as “boring” or “drunk”.

However, it does leave me wondering: just how could they have known about my, ah, special skill?

And with that spoiler out there, how am I possibly going to find an alternative party trick in time for the Christmas season?

Tchoh.

If Something Seems to Good to Be True, It’s Probably Not True. So What About Groupon?

Groupon: Runaway Success

Just a few short months ago the online discount service Groupon famously turned down an offer from Google.

The news raised more than a few eyebrows because of the amount of money the search giant offered to acquire the online group coupon service – a mind-boggling  $6 billion. Yes, that’s billion. With a B.

If you don’t already know what Groupon is, it works like this:

1 – A business offers a deal for its products or services with at least 50% off (thought discounts can be up to 90%).

2 – Groupon sends the offer round its database of users and they are asked to share it widely on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

3 – The business sets the number of customers needed to make the deal worthwhile for it – and the offer is only valid when that number is reached.

4 – Bargain hunters flock to your store/restaurant/business in an intensive, short period to redeem their vouchers.

The service so far is an astonishingly successful, runaway success story.

Baby faced boss man Andrew Stone decided not to check out with a hefty chunk of Google change in his hipper. Which suggests  he is super confident the service has a long-term future.

Perhaps unsurprising, since Groupon had revenues of $760 million in 2010; it’s headed for $4 billion in revenues this year; and has 70 million global subscribers.

The latest news on Groupon is that it is going to float on the US stockmarket – what is referred to in the states as an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Bloomberg has reported Groupon is speaking to bankers about an IPO valuation of $25 billion (yes, the B-word again). That’s higher than the $23 billion Google achieved when it  went through an IPO and became a publicly traded company, subject to market regulation.

On a recent episode of This Week In Tech podcast, online luminary Jeff Jarvis asked a live crowd of tech lovers at The South by South West event: “How many of you use Groupon?”

His question was met with silence and Jarvis added: “Then why is it so big? I don’t get it.”

I share his bafflement. I struggle to understand how businesses can sell product at a fraction of the usual price and from what little money they take, then have to pay Groupon.

I also have doubts about how many of those bargain-hunters will convert to long-term customers.

When news of the Groupon IPO broke I put a question out on LinkedIn asking if other people shared my suspicion that it was grossly over-valued and likely to pop. Turns out quite a few long term web watchers and smart people whose opinion I value are equally bemused by Groupon’s success.

Maybe we have a shared cyncisim? Certainly I’ve always adhered to the view that if something appears too good to be true, then it almost certainly isn’t true.

I can’t shake that feeling about Groupon – but then, I’ve never used it, either as a business or a customer.

So I’d love to hear from companies or businesses which have used the service repeatedly and found it a great way to  build a new, engaged and loyal customer base.

Likewise I’d be keen to hear from any business owner or operator who has used Groupon – and definitely won’t be hurrying back to use it again.

If you have any thoughts or experiences to share, the comment section below awaits you!

Space Junk, Defensive Laser Strikes and Conspiracy Theories

Picture: ESA (European Space Agency)

It’s been a bit of a space-fest at Douglas Towers recently.

Mostly because my daughter  is learning about planets and the solar system at school this term. Other parent will knows how such projects (Romans, Vikings etc) play a major role in family life.

So with my telescope firmly trained on the virtual heavens, a couple of stories have leapt out at me during my scan across the constellations of content out there.

These three I thought worth sharing:

ONE – Wired has reported  (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-03/16/space-junk-lasers) how NASA is poised to become the garbage crew of low earth orbit – deploying suitably hi-tech methods to rid near space of manmade rubbish.

Not content with polluting the planet itself, we are now creating a hazardous ring of waste in the near space just beyond our atmosphere.

Bits of broken satellite, tools discarded or dropped by spacewalking astronauts and thebooster rockets and other stuff which is ejected while spacecraft are being propelled into orbit. The image you see here is from the European Space Agency which is working with NASA to map every piece of space debris.

All of this garbage is forming an increasingly dense and dangerous junk belt around the planet. It poses an ever growing risk to future space flight and a threat to the communications satellites we rely on for everything from mobile phones and TV shows to sat-nav and web access.

Now NASA is considering employing lasers. Not to blast the garbage out of existence, but to  gently nudge it farther away from our dear ‘Blue Marble’.

Once any piece of space junk is pushed out of the way, it is less likely to ever collide with other space junk – the main reason the amount of dangerous debris is multiplying at an alarming rate.

TWO – Talking of garbage, pollutants and unsavoury junk swilling about where it is unwanted but where nobody is really sure what to do with it – let’s move over to the reader comments section of The Scotsman.

Sadly what could and should be a forum for informed and reasoned debate has been turned into juvenile place for the exchange of playground insults. These mostly seem to be traded by Labour and SNP policy wonks.

However, alongside the cringeworthy peacocking of the politicos, you can occasionally find musings of the harmlessly obsessed or deluded. I reckon this next sites falls pretty much into that category.

I found this link (http://sites.google.com/site/raisdebris/) while following a reader comment thread on a Scotsman story about the escalating nuclear disaster in Japan.

What is clear is that commenter (and the man behind this website),  John Hall has spent an awful lot of time worrying about space debris. His comment on The Scotsman site suggested the Japanese quake may have been triggered by falling space debris. No. Really. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t really believe that and he was exaggerating for linkbaiting effect

He also seems to suggest a possible link between falling space junk and the Lockerbie disaster and, as he puts it, he is: “convinced that space debris has impacted our planet far more times than both the scientists and authorities care to disclose.”

Indeed, his site includes plentiful links to stories suggesting space junk is the cause of many worldy woes – from inexplicable fires to irradiated sheep. While Mr Hall may be a tad obsessive about the subject, he is fastidious in pointing out that his particular conspiracy theory has nothing to do with aliens or little green men.

THREE – He should try telling that to Radivoje Lajic who has his own X Files-style explanation for why  his home in Bosnia has been hit six times by falling meteors – all confirmed as space rock by Belgrade University.

This brilliant story (http://www.europics.at/gallery2/main.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=47880) is from my NAPA colleague Michael Leidig and his team at the Central European News agency.

Radivoje believes the hits on his home (which only happen when it is raining) are the work of aliens who have got it in for him.

Aw bless. With that kind of nutty thinking and outspoken attitude, he should get himself straight over to The Scotsman reader comments section. I’m sure he’ll be made very welcome.

When is a Reward Not a Reward? When You Pay for it Yourself.

Rewarding

The nature of ‘reward’ has been very much on my mind as we start 2011. Specifically, what type of rewards help people to get the best from themselves.

Rewards that will unleash their creativity, boost motivation and make work more enjoyable for everyone involved.

When trying to find solutions for the workplace, I strive wherever possible to seek answers and examples from other aspects of life.

So let me share two recent examples of ‘reward’ systems I’ve encountered. One unexpectedly good, the other … hmmmm.

Starting with the good:

My eight-year-old daughter usually doesn’t want to come along when I walk our pet dog.

I sympathise. A five mile country yomp? When there’s so much fun stuff to be had elsewhere?

Yet on New Year’s Day the same kid attacked a more difficult, 6.75 mile trek with gusto. So what made the difference?

Well, the people behind the Wildcat Experience, which includes a walk around scenic Newtonmore in the Scottish Highlands, ensure the whole experience is particularly rewarding for youngsters who take part.

Continue reading

A social media epiphany – thanks to John Mayer, the big Tquitter

John Mayer's Suspended Twitter account

Account suspended

What do you call someone who throws their toys out of the pram and stomps away from the world’s biggest microblogging  platform?

Can I suggest they should be known as Tquitters – pronounced Teh-quitters?

This would just about fulfil the annoying Twitterati convention of trying to ‘improve’ perfectly good words by adding  T and a W sounds (see the hilarious Twitter-based spoof of the Facebook movie trailer, where a man orders a Twhisky, then insists he didn’t want any Twater).

The question arose today while I was reading the Daily Record’s main showbiz column, The Razz with Bev Lyons. There was story all about short-messaging service, Twitter.

It seems musician and songwriter John Mayer has axed his account (see picture at the start of this post), from which he regularly tweeted out thoughts and observations to an audience of 3.7 million followers. All in 140 characters or less.

Turns out I already knew about this story, because it was discussed at length on the Media Bullseye weekly podcast on September 17, courtesy of presenter Jen Zingsheim and co-host Sarah Wurrey.

The first question I asked myself was why the Daily Record – a paper I am proud to have worked for – was reporting a story as new, more than 19 days after it broke? Continue reading

I’d Love To See Microsoft Deliver A Fitting Smart Phone

A smart phone yesterday

Currently Microsoft mobile is mince.

However, I’ve got a soft spot for the platform, because my first smart(ish) phone was Microsoft – at the time it was a gamechanger for me because it enabled easy access email on the hoof.

The phone had a nice colour screen, a slide out keyboard and it was easy to work. Even though I’m now using the iPhone, I miss a real keyboard – something I never thought I’d say.

To be honest the only drawback was having to use a stylus – but that was a minor point.

Latterly though, the lack of decent internet connection was its downfall. All I really wanted to do on my phone was to be able to browse website and use social media.

While I like Apple’s products, I’m not overly fond of the company or the blind faith of fanboys (in much the same way that I’m not a fan of organised religion). Continue reading

A Poem Aboot Marvin and Bullet – Is That Why They Call It Dog-gerel?

Stars of The Scheme

Marvin and Bullet (with Dana)

I have been raving about the brilliance of  The Scheme, BBC Scotland’s warts and all look at life in one of the country’s run down housing estates.

It is by turns  hopeless, horrible and hilarious.

In the first two episodes one of the  stars of the show has been Marvin, the gaunt-faced recovering junkie and his hapless attempts to go straight (while ‘innocently’ dealing diazepam and navigating the needs of  his smacked out, jailbait girlfriend).

But the undeniable scene stealer is his pet dog, which never stops wagging its tail and is relentlessly happy-looking in the face of adversity and all the worst excesses thrown at it.

So much so that the cross bull terrier even melted the hearts of the veterinary staff at the rescue centre where is ended up with a damaged leg.

The daft mutt is called Bullet – and is already taking on legend status.

So much so that it has now inspired this poem, which was sent to me by my sister. Dunno who actually wrote it – but props, because it is very funny and perfectly sums up The Scheme, Marvin, his ‘burd’ and their dug.

Remember, you read it here first – and if anyone knows the name of the author then feel free to share.

Ma name is big Marvin,
A stay in Onthank
Ma dog is a legend
Ma burd is a skank

Am big, tall and skinny
Ma eyes have now sank
A swagger aboot
Like am built like a tank

A like tae get high on prescription drugs
When ave nae food, i’ll just eat the dug’s
A know its no big, and a know its no clever
A only drink turps tae clean oot ma liver

Am happy as Larry
Am high as a kite
Ma troosers are stinking
O’ p**s, sweat and sh**e

Ma life on the drugs has taken its toll
But that isnae stopping me fae getting ma hole
We shag on the bed, we shag on the rug,
A dae plenty o’ shaggin wi’…

Bullet the dug!

After Too Many Dull Telly ‘Tec Shows, BBC Scotland’s ‘The Scheme’ is Criminally Good

Idris Elba as DCI Luther

I’m still unconvinced by crime drama, Luther.

It tries desperately to create an unorthodox detective whose baggage is a bit less obvious or predictable than what is usually churned out in TV cop shows.

Sadly the story lines are becoming typical serial killer fodder – and  serial killer stories  invariably disappoint for a varietly of reasons.

Ubiquity renders them lazy, predictable, repetitive and means they’ve almost certainly been done better before – from Silence of the Lambs to the first series of Prime Suspect.

For me crime fiction is better when it has a basis in every day reality and flirts with the complexities and subtleties of of runof the mill criminality. Which is exactly what made The Wire one of the best TV series of the past decade.

The portrayal of baltimore drug lord Stringer Bell by British actor Idris Elba was one of many high points. A detailed and sympathetic portrait created a believable, 3D and, at times, morally ambiguous character.

Elba’s brooding screen presence is the only thing keeping me tuned into Luther, in the vain hope he will get a story line worthy of his considerable acting mettle. However, I have another reason to be glad I watched the most recent isntalment.

Not long after Luther finished, BBC Scotland unleashed new offering  The Scheme - and it was blistering.

Did I mention that I like crime stories to be gritty, believable, unvarnished – and as far away as possible from the two dimensional crap  of black/white or good/evil  we are normally served up?

Well, the scheme delivered in spades with characters including:

An ex jailbird dad who is desperately trying to keep his five kids from repeating his mistakes . No-one could ever accuse him of being soft, so the sight of him in tears when his son was jailed was genuinely moving.

Marvellous Marvin, the badly complected and dentally challenged ex junkie. After six years of being clean all he wants is a wife and family. When his girlfriend (on methdone) gets out of prison he seems on course. Until diazepam gets him first arrested, then suffering life-threatening seizures.

There’s even a touch of glamour, in the shape of two or three young women who would more readily turn heads if they weren’t careening betweeen poor boyfriend choices, teen pregnancies and cheap booze blowouts.

This show has got the lot. Drugs, booze, violence,  police chases and even borderline animal cruelty.

Just one small point. It isn’t crime fiction – it is a fly-on-the-wall reality show.

It is also (on the evidence of just one episode mind you) utterly brilliant.

I hope the BBC Scotland team behind it earn plaudits aplenty for the depth and richness of what they have captured. They spent a years charting the lives of six households in Kilmarnock. if they can sustain the quality across the show’s six episodes they will truly have produced something special.

The moral repugnancy of some characters is exposed as unblinkingly as the fortitude of some others shines through. The “cast” may be ill-educated, roughly-hewn and at times impenetrable – but there is a total lack of artifice and veneer. Nobody is showboating for the cameras. The  usual bravado seen in early days of such shows is absent.

All of which means the viewing can be painful and cringe-inducing. The sight of a mum being joined in bed by her gap-toothed and endearinly smiley five-year-old daughter should be a happy scene which resonates with every family.

Except spot what is wrong with this picture: The bedroom is luridly pink, there is a bottle of Irn Bru by the side of the bed and mum is so desperate to light up her first fag of the day she is heard screaming at the top of her lungs: “What c*** knows where my lighter is?”. Nobody, including the grinning five-year-old, misses a beat.

Yet it is this same woman who is doing her utmost to help her daughters and family friends to prevent their lives from unravelling. Any indigantion about her smoking and swearing in front of the kids evaporates as she stoically takes in homeless teenage mums and deals with booze crazed boyfriends.

Of course, the real star of the show so far is Bullitt, a hapless mongrel with a large dose of Pit Bull in its genes. The dog is frenziedly friendly and you can’t help but feel sorry for the animal even as it is sh*tting all over the place.

Like all of the other deeply flawed characters in this show, Bullit is contributing to a piece of potentially era-defining telly which could make the highly-acclaimed Shameless series appear anaemic.

I have no idea what size of audience or type of viewers The Scheme will attract. I just hope th the script writers for Luther are among them, because they will certainly learn something about stories worth telling.

If Apple Gets Bigger Than Microsoft, Will Fans Still Forgive Any Villainy?

The Apple iPad

It looks as though Apple’s market cap is soon going to exceed that of it nemesis, Microsoft.

Unless you are some sort of programming geek, or one of those ardent fanboys which Apple seems to inspire, this is no doubt meaningless.

So let me paint a simple picture:

In 2003, Apple was worth just $10 billion – while Microsoft was worth $400 billion. At the moment, Apple is worth $204 billion and rising in value, while Microsoft is worth $250 billion and is on a slide.

Tech sector watchers are eagerly predicting when they will pass each other.

But it’s not just the tech sector willing this to happen, is it? Here’s a quote from slaphead, bovine-meister and all round new media and marketing guru, Seth Godin:

Over 25 years, Apple has earned the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to their tribe. They can get the word out about a new product without a lot of money because one by one, they’ve signed people up. They didn’t sell 300,000 iPads in one day, they sold them over a few decades.

The past seven years have been defined by Macs being portrayed as sleek and elegant and used by all the cool design people.  Over the same period it became de rigeur  to hate the great MicroSatan and to cheer when Bill Gates was eclipsed as the world’s richest man by the bland Swedish fella who created Ikea.

It actually became terminally square to use a PC – not least because of those online ads which  used an accident-prone,  fat bloke in a tweed jacket who looked even Geekier than Bill Gates to represent PC users – and a T-short sporting, chilled-out dude to represent Apple users.

Three years ago I watched in awe the launch of the iPhone. I hankered for one without fully realising we were witnessing the birth of touch computing, apps and augmented reality. Like the iPod before, it was genuinely a game changer.

Strangely, the biggest Apple fanboy I knew back then now uses a BlackBerry. Various other enthusiasts who’ve advocated the iPhone for the past year now seem to be shifting to Android based touch screen phones.

Sure, Apple have captured the imagination again with the iPad launch – as referenced in the Godin quote above.

However, the basic functionality deliberately omitted from the iPad raises some questions about Apple’s intention to shamelessly milk those diehard fans for all they are worth. Other questions are being asked about the true depth of Apple’s commitment to the device.

It also seems Apple can do no wrong when it comes to the firm’s secretive attitude – or its unrelenting commitment to a ‘walled garden’ approach to third party developers, despite this being the era of open source and API.

Now there is the rise of iAd – a statement of intent that Apple intends to shoehorn advertising into the online experience of its customers.  Presumably those same customers who have spent the past decade using technology to, er, filter out interruptive marketing and advertising messages?

Apple fans have long forgiven the company such sins. Until now the firm’s been niche, edgy and the underdog – so it was easy to portray itself as an uber-cool alternative to The Man at Microsoft.

Should Apple’s market cap genuinely eclipse that of Microsoft, then its underdog cachet will be gone.

All I need now is for Seth or some other marketing guru to wheel out Hype Cycles or Adoption Bell Curves to show what such a backlash might look like.

What was once de rigeur could develop a very bad case of de rigeur mortis.