Monday, 30 June 2008

Why every creative should install Adblock Plus

For the same reason we should use Sky+ or Tivo. We've all got to move on. It's far too easy to keep cranking out shit that interrupts people while they're trying to do something else. It time to stop deluding ourselves that by doing so we're being creative. 

Yes, yes, I know. Banners and buttons and tv ads are all part of the media mix. There's a time and place for everything. Turn, turn, turn. And there's truth in all that. And the pencils for tv ads and web banners look just like the ones the guys at R/GA won for Nike+. And I do wish I had "Sony Balls" on my reel. 

But Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket, how much more fun is it to make something useful? Something enthralling? Something that people choose to engage with, rather than something they merely tolerate? Maybe if our banners were a "front door" to something more interesting, or if our TV ads played a part in something bigger - maybe then we'd be on to something. But admit it. Most of yours aren't doing that. They're just irritating little rectangles or stretches of time whose highest aim is to amuse someone just long enough to pick their pocket.

So go and download Firefox 3. Install Adblock Plus. Get a TiVo. And then when you've mentally barred yourself from the old ways of doing things, maybe you'll make something wonderful like Nike Photo iD, or BBC MusicCubes or even Wikinear. And then you'd really be creative.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Satellite Tracking of Thresher Sharks.

When I was home last, I went out fishing with my good friend Scott "Scootch" Aalbers. He's a research marine biologist, and his latest project involves the catching, tagging and releasing of Thresher Sharks. His objectives:
  • 1. Estimate a catch-and-release mortality rate for thresher sharks in the Southern California recreational fishery.
  • 2. Analyze the physiological indicators of capture stress (e.g., blood and tissue biochemistry, stress proteins).
  • 3. Investigate alternative gear types and methods (e.g., circle hooks, teasers, break-away tackle) to reduce capture stress and mortality.
  • 4. Develop a strong outreach program that uses public educational seminars and popular literature to discuss best fishing practices.
I was lucky to be asked aboard his research vessel the Fish Tale to take part in his study. At dawn, we steamed out to the ten mile bank and started dragging rapala baits. After a few hours burning diesel, we hooked up with an 11 foot male thresher shark, and that's where I came in. I was handed the pole and given my instructions: "Reel."

Now, Scootch has been on the water all his life. He's got seawater in his veins. So he could have told me to keep my knees bent and my back straight. He could have told me to take line while the boat goes down a wave, and just hold on when it goes up a wave. He could have told me any number of things that would have shortened the fight. But he didn't. And that's because he wanted me to fight the shark like a novice, day-boat passenger. By the way, if you've never fought an 11 foot thresher shark, they're strong. Way stronger than you. In fact, it took me 80 minutes to land that sucker, and that was the whole point of the exercise.

You see, Alopiidae attack their prey with their long, scythe-like tails so they're usually tail-hooked when caught. That means they have all the leverage working in their favor. It also means that they get dragged to the boat backwards. That's not good for sharks and it's why so many die, even when released.

Once we got the beast to the rail, Scootch inserted a satellite tag, took some flesh and blood samples and released him back into the deep. We waited a week for the satellite tag to release itself, pop up and "phone home." When it did, it appeard about thirty miles north of where we released the shark. Much too far for the animal to have drifted. That means it lived. Hooray!

The image below is from the sat-tag tracking website showing where the tag was found. I gotta say, I love this stuff. There's something cool going on when you're doing a mashup of "Old Man and the Sea" and "Wargames" And Scootch gets to do this kind of thing every day. He's the richest man I know.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

I've got to get some dev chops

I've just come across a service so excellent that I'm going to have to learn some basic coding, just so I can build tools for it. It's called Fire Eagle, and it's going to be mega. Basically it's a location broker. It allows users of GPS enabled mobiles to share their location with other services without having to worry about compromising their privacy and security. Any number of location-based mobile apps are going to be built using this bad-boy, and I've got one in mind. (Anyone with any rails experience is welcome to get in touch. Let's build it!)

Oh, and get this: Fire Eagle is from/been bought by Yahoo. I didn't know they had good ideas anymore.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Intergalactic Mix Tape

In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager space probes. Along with cameras, sensors and assorted gizmos, each carried a golden record containing images and sounds from earth. The idea being that any spacefaring civilization that intercepted our maiden deep-space emissaries would break out their Technics, slap down the platter and be intrigued enough to come say hello. Presumably, they wouldn't blast us into atoms upon their arrival.

The Golden Record Project was lead by astronomer, astrochemist and all around polymathic legend Carl Sagan. Among the sounds and images on the record were: a solar locater map, a Bach Concerto, some blues by Blind Willie Johnson, Sagan's son saying hello and a simple calibration circle which would tell the little green men that they had correctly played the record and could get on with enjoying the contents.

The most interesting bit of all of this, to me, is the system they developed for communicating with an alien scientist. I mean, how do you say, "drop the needle and play at 73 rpm" and "we're on that blue speck next to that average-sized star in such-and-such a corner of that galaxy over there" to someone who can't speak any earth language and may not even have ears, eyes, or carbon-based DNA? The answer is simple. Math.
Using constants which they believed to be universal (the transition time between states of hydrogen atoms, the speed of light and the periods of known pulsars.) Sagan and his team did their best to communicate some pretty detailed information.

So, a group of speccy blokes with slide-rules can communicate with alien civilizations, but London-based ad agencies need satellite offices to communicate with the people in Dubai? Something doesn't add up.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Hacking into your mobile

Okay, it's not really hacking, but Nokia Beta Labs has released a nifty little app called Mobile Web Server. It runs on Symbian OS an it lets you wiggle into your mobile from the web. Actually, it creates a webite at

Once in, you can read your messages, view your pictures and check your call logs. You can even take command of your mobile's camera and take a snapshot remotely. I can see how this may develop into an insanely useful piece of software. At the moment the connection is pretty slow and it slurps up battery power, but give it time.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

I saw these on the way to work today. I somehow think that an exhibition of the workwear of different people could be a cool thing for a brand like Timberland.

Remember that walk?

This is a record of a walk that my missus and I took earlier this year. It's provided by an excellent website called Trailino. This lets you upload GPS tracks to a central database and see them represented in several different formats. I particularly like the Google Earth movies.

To me, and to lots of other outdoors-y people, the GPS tracks our our adventures are just as significant and evocative as any photograph. We look at the steep curve of the altitude profile and remember a climb and it all comes flooding back. When will brands tke advantage of this? Or should they?

Mosaic Invaders

Found this in Soho on my way back from lunch. These little guys are all over London, and it seems the world.

Jay-Z hates Qik

Qik lets you stream live videos from your mobile to the internet. Schweet. Soon, every camera/video cam will be doing this, eliminating the possibility of the "bodyguard takes the film from your camera" moment that all paparazzi must enjoy from time to time.