Evolution and competing for life

19 01 2015

So you may recall I was given a FitBit for Chrimbo.

Quite a discrete little thing – not much bigger than my handmade leather (and EVER so masculine) bracelet. It faithfully logs my every step and reports on my restless sleep each night. All it asks is that I recharge it every now and then. It’s even thoughtful enough to email me when it’s time to perform that little task.

I went for a swift bevvie on Friday with a couple of old workmates. Old as in “not current” – they’re both substantially younger than me. Anyway, one of these gents let slip that he too had recently bought a FitBit, though his was a more sophisticated one that also counts stair flights climbed, heart-rate etc.

Atrial Fibrillation aside, I tend to see heart-rate as a pretty digital thing: “on” or “off”. Off is not generally considered a good thing and can lead to permanent lack of income and a loss of social status. “On” in my case can be anything from 70 or so bpm when at rest to off the chart when it’s in fibrillation. Not a lot of point paying extra to measure that, then!

Anyway yesterday I received a curious email suggesting I become his friend on the FitBit site. This seemed harmless enough, and as I’ve recently given up FaceBook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter etc, I figured I’d best say yes so he doesn’t think I’m spurning him. What I was too dim to realise of course is that this is basically an invitation to be on a scoreboard with his daily FitBit data being compared to my own.

The theory it seems is that a little competition will egg all parties concerned to try a little harder. This naturally works best with men and women of a particular mental slant – viz: egocentric. I’m hoping Darwin was only partially right. I have no issue at all with the survival of the fittest. I’m just hoping that coming second doesn’t mean an instant relegation to the land of the dead!

So this evening I went to the gym with my son (number 3 child). Years ago I bought a “10 entry” pass for the Surrey area leisure centres. I was down to the last one or two, so I bought another 10 entries (it gives you a discounted price). But there was a snag. It seems the original 10 units were not time limited (indeed – I look very young and slim in the photo), but the new block of 10 units runs out in 2 years. What?! That’s five gym visits a year! That’s positively obsessive behaviour that is! I’m just relieved my Yorkshire genes were held at bay and I didn’t go for the slightly cheaper per unit 20 entry pack. That would be almost one visit a month! My gods, I might actually get fit if I went that often. Are they mad?!

Joking aside, I find it very calming to put on my iPod and zone out with my private thoughts whilst pounding away on the elliptical trainer. I find myself feeling a little superior when people come and go on the machines around me, demonstrating as much staying power as a kitten with a ball of string. The woman on the machine next to me was barely at walking speed, was on her phone most of the time, and didn’t even break into a sweat. I on the other hand needed to wade to shore after my session, there was so much moisture exuded.

I have eclectic music tastes and a large capacity iPod on shuffle. It’s always something of a mystery then what my fitness playlist will be on any specific occasion. Usually though one particular song stands out. For last night’s run, it was Arctic Monkey’s “Suck it and see”.

Your kiss it could put creases in the rain

You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion and Burdock

Now that, dear reader is poetry. Though possibly only if you know what Dandelion and Burdock is.

Tonight’s standout song was Ani Difranco’s “As Is”. A very dear friend alerted me to this song years ago, and I love the sentiment in the lyrics.

Cause I’ve got
No illusions about you
And guess what?
I never did
And when I say
When I say I’ll take it
I mean,
I mean as is

So, whatever the long term results of this accidental competition I seem to have entered are, at least I will continue to be reacquainted with some great poetry set to music.

Now, if you’ll excuse me dear reader, I have a dog to walk (to get my FitBit steps in for the day ;o) ). Good job I have a dog, or I’d be forced to steal one for the purpose…





Of Saints and Sinners

6 12 2014

Funny how we like to draw opposites – real or imaginary – isn’t it? Us and them. It’s become quite an artistic device.

Of Mice and Men. A book I had to read at school. A classic. So great, we studied it for weeks… and I can’t remember anything about it, except some guy dies at the end. I don’t actually remember whether mice played any part, but I strongly suspect not. 🙂 So… perhaps not so great after all? At least not if you’re 12 and consider the prime value of English literature to be in guiding you towards the correct construction of your Airfix model.

Of Monsters and Men. Great indie band out of Iceland. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir has an amazing voice I think. You know, the Icelandic music scene has produced some wonderful talent over the years. Well, OK, so really there was just Björk… but she was in the Sugarcubes first, so that’s almost three you’ve potentially heard of!

So, of saints and sinners then. The saints in this piece are the good folks at Marks & Spencer.

Marks_&_Spencer_Logo[1]

Wikipedia: M&S logo

For those not familiar, Marks and Sparks is the good old, solid, “go to” chain in the UK. They apparently had stores here in Canada until just before we immigrated here, so we just missed them. For about a year or so after we arrived you could get M&S biscuits, jam and the like at one or two supermarket chains, but I suspect that was just the logistic chain draining itself out to the general market. Obviously I’ve been out of touch for a decade and a half now, but it certainly used to be the place to get “sensible” clothes. Underwear that would outlast the wearer. Indestructible elastic. Reliable shoes. School trousers, work jumpers, that sort of thing. Nothing flash, just solid, high quality basics.

They also built their success partly on their no nonsense high quality customer service. Never an argument about returns, exchanges, etc. Well known amongst shop-lifters for accepting items for refund with no receipt. Outstanding, well respected customer service. Second to none.

From 1928 onwards, they used St. Michael as their in-house brand, to honour one of the founders, Michael Marks (who was actually Jewish, but then so was Jesus I suppose). More saintliness.

STMICHAEL[1]

Wikipedia: St. Michael logo


Anyway, you’ve no doubt noticed that Christmas is approaching. Even if, like me, you’ve given up on broadcast TV and now find your advert free entertainment on Netflix or other streamed media, you must surely be bombarded with the contradictory images associated with the season in every shop window. Sadly, the US Thanksgiving shopping frenzy has now spilled over into Canada (which has its own Thanksgiving, a month earlier) and even the UK – which has no equivalent at all (unless you include the low-key Harvest Festival that is still celebrated in churches up and down the land.) Any excuse for a sale, I suppose.

So, in amongst all this, my dear mother – still resident in Blighty – calls us up and offers to send us some M&S goodies for Christmas, since they’re offering free shipping worldwide during the imported US Thanksgiving sales. Being from Yorkshire, free anything is a definite attraction, and suggestions for presents from the M&S website were duly made. Since the shipping was free, my mum decided to order and send the presents separately so that we could each open our own package, rather than getting a single consolidated shipment. Free shipping – why not? [By the way… there are five of us.]

M&S used the Royal Mail for shipping last year. Items duly showed up in the post via Canada Post at this end, or if they were too large and nobody was in, you popped up to the local post office and collected it at your convenience. No fuss or nonsense, and – you guessed it – it was free shipping last year too!

So – enter the sinners.

For this part in the epic Christmas pantomime, we shall use DHL, as these are the people M&S have chosen to provide their free shipping this year.

567px-DHL_Express_logo.svg[1]

Wikipedia: DHL logo


Now I knew DHL was German (D for Deutsch), I didn’t know they had been bought up by the German Post Office though. Actually, in fairness, they use local courier agencies to do their drop deliveries, so the remainder of the tale is really only their fault as far as the stationary that’s used, and their chosen local business partners.

So anyway, a couple of days after the free shipping is invoked by my saintly mother the first two parcels arrive! Amazing service, one might think, and so it seemed. Great Teutonic efficiency, even if sub-contracted. Unfortunately, as can sometimes be the case, there was nobody in. They dutifully left a little pre-printed note apologising for missing us, and assuring us they’d try again next day. The problem was though, there would be fees of $37 and $43 for the parcels.

Now, though the kindly Canadian customs organisation are quite good at turning a blind eye for a few tens of dollars here and there crossing over from the US as part of a day’s sightseeing trip, they draw the line at tobacco goods, alcohol, and excessive piss-taking in the form of wide screen TVs and other expensive items. The fact that these two parcels had import duty to pay was half-expected and not in and of itself a surprise. The fact it was almost $80 for the pair though seemed to imply that my mother had been unusually generous. (Don’t forget that she’d also already paid the UK government a VAT of 20% on these goods.) Anyway, we were excited now, so my wife stayed in the next afternoon. Unfortunately the dog was crossing her legs desperate to go for a walk and in the 15 minutes they were out of the house, we missed the second attempt. Attempt 3 happened before my wife was even back home from work the next day, so in desperation she went online to find out where we could pick it up, instead. And here things take a twist…

Online we discover two things. (i) we can offer an alternative delivery location. Great! We entered my work address where someone is ALWAYS available to accept deliveries. There’s even various options including the one we selected: “please leave at reception.” Discovery (ii) was less pleasant, but explained my mother’s apparent generosity. There was indeed import duty to pay on the items. Oh well, that’s the way it is. But the duty was only a fraction of the amount to pay…

One item, valued at ~CAD$70  incurred import duty of $12.71. Not outrageous, all things considered.

However, then the provincial and federal taxes are added. A total of 12% on the value (already including UK paid taxes of 20%) plus the import duty. This comes to an additional $10.

Not satisfied with this, there is then an additional $10 flat rate fee from the courier for “processing”.

Then, just to add insult to injury, there is a fee of $4.25 because it’s “cash on delivery”. Free shipping, but still cash on delivery. Again – straight into the pocket of the local courier on behalf of DHL. $4.25, though annoying is reasonable for an agency to be inconvenienced for having to collect and verify payment on behalf of the government I suppose. The thing is… it’s not waived when the recipient goes to the trouble – as we did – to pay online and therefore avoid the inconvenience on behalf of the courier.

Oh well, at least we’d paid the fees now, and we’re safe in the knowledge that no matter what time the parcels are delivered, they’ll be signed for at work, and handed over.

Except they’re not.

Nope. We get home and find they’ve just been left on the front step for anyone to take. So much for using the online system to change the delivery address and explicitly select “leave at reception”. I guess now the government fees are collected and the courier on behalf of DHL has gouged us an additional $14.25, they no longer care whether we actually receive the items or not!

Now fuming that DHL and the local agent on their behalf have been totally cavalier with the parcels and gouged deeply for the pleasure of undergoing the risk of having some local oik steal them before we even get to open them, my wife emails the service operation of the hitherto blameless M&S. After a very laudibly short delay, the reply comes back.

Tough shit.

Of course, much more wordy (and in arguably less grammatically correct English), but essentially – that’s the way it is.

Seems things really have slid in the bastion of great service hitherto known as Marks and Spencer. The UK-resident shopper is blissfully unaware that by accepting the offer of free shipping on their Christmas presents to ex-pat friends and family, they’re actually surprising the recipient with a gift of paying over 50% of the original price, just to receive it! (The other parcel was slightly less at 48% – $43.68 on a gift of $89.35.)

Remember – the gifts were sent separately because it was free shipping. That small act of genuine thoughtfulness cost us an additional $14.25.

Daylight robbery!





Fysics is Phun!

14 11 2014

I bet after watching this you wish you’d had Nigel Sanford as a physics teacher when you were at school. Or, for that matter, a a music teacher.

Newton and Tesla would be proud…

And it seems Faraday is his tailor!


More can be found here at Colossal.





RIP Jack Bruce

27 10 2014

Only just heard that Jack Bruce passed away on Saturday.

A third of Cream, he was the bassist and co-vocalist with Eric Clapton. He was 71 and apparently died from liver failure.

Have a contemplative moment while enjoying the Sunshine of your Love – one of the best bass-lines of all times.





Did Apple Just Rip Off OK Go’s Music Video?

10 09 2014

Hell yes!

I went to see OK GO live in Vancouver a few weeks back. Their music is great, but their video work and live performance is amazing. Such innovative visuals. Remember the treadmills? They even managed to do a 3D optical illusion live in the theatre… for the entire audience!

Check out the piece on Mashable: Did Apple Just Rip Off OK Go’s Music Video?.

Basically Apple approached OK GO to do a piece for the recent iPhone 6 launch. Discussions went nowhere, so Apple just ripped off their style and video anyway…. classy!

OK GO video (Thanks youtube):

Apple video (Thanks again youtube):





That’s how I feel about you

11 05 2013

Getting antsy for the up-coming Kate Nash show at Vancouver’s Electric Owl venue. Never been, but I’m reliably told it’s “cosy”. Probably a good match for her style which isn’t over-produced.

I blogged about “Birds” last April: She said “Wha’?” | Quieter Elephant.

She’s got a third album out now, and it has some strong feminist messages. She’s also taken over as global ambassador for Because I am a Girl. I think it’s a great use of her celebrity status. She seems to manage to balance being girlie when it suits her and still being taken seriously.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to her new stuff which is definitely darker and a bit retro-post-punk in places, and along with that, her older stuff came up in the shuffle. “Birds” popped up, and reminded me of why I like Nash’s stuff. The lyrics are so observant. Hard to believe that she’s only 25 now, making her about 19 when she broke out with “Foundations“.

I loved the phrase from “Birds” as the new boyfriend attempts to express his feelings:

Right, birds can fly so high
And they can shit on your head
And they can almost fly into your eye
And make you feel so scared.
But when you look at them
And you see that they’re beautiful
That’s how I feel about you

For me it captured how clumsy new lovers are in expressing their thoughts. They stumble to find metaphors and allusions to how they feel, and end up sounding stupid.

This one struck a chord. Women can be really quite prickly and scary when you first encounter them. And yes – you sometimes can feel a bit shat on. When you get behind all that though and get to know them better (if you’re allowed to!) you might get the chance to see their real colours and appreciate the inner beauty. And then you’ll appreciate just being in their space and watching and listening. Every little movement. Every pout. Every small disaster they’ve overcome and want to recount. And you’ll come to appreciate that it was you they chose to share it with.

Anyway, they say if a bird shits on you, it’s good luck. (Not sure about having one fly into your eye though…)

“3am” was the first single from the new album. More failed relationship stuff. It smacks a bit of Billy Bragg/Kirsty MacColl to me. What do you think?





Arctic Deepness

18 02 2013

Just doing some housekeeping on my not insubstantial music collection, and listening to The Arctic Monkeys‘ “Suck it and See” album. Such a classic turn of British phrase, don’t you think?

Not actually sure how it translates into Canadiania. “Let the chips fall where they may” perhaps?

It’s not actually in the slightest bit rude, despite what you might think. It just means the outcome is unknown  and the only way to find out, is to give it a go. The analogy is a boiled sweet of unknown flavour. The only way to determine it, is to suck it and see for yourself.

Anyway, there was one line in the title track which I thought was quite evocative, and thought I’d share:

Your kiss it could put creases in the rain

Well – I liked it. You can please yourself… 🙂

Wikipedia: Suck it and See (Single)





Chris Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies song from space premieres – CBC News

8 02 2013

I wonder if David Bowie ever imagined someone really singing from space when he channelled Major Tom.

Here’s Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and The Barenaked Ladies (now firmly sans Steven Page) singing together with the girls from Toronto’s Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts glee choir.

Chris Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies song from space premieres – Arts & Entertainment – CBC News.

It’s actually quite touching to see him glancing out of the window at earth rushing past at twice the speed of a bullet.

You’d almost think the entire ISS was a Canadian affair… except, being Canadian, the song makes a big deal of it being 15 nations in co-operation.

Full video at the CBC.





Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? – NYTimes.com

30 11 2012

Discovered this NYT article thanks to a Tweet from David Usher (@davidusher), after his session at the Art of Marketing on Tuesday. I thought he was pretty cool most of the week, what with musical heartbeats and whatnot.

Heartbeat Experiment – David Usher from David Usher on Vimeo. [Similar to what he did in Vancouver.]

 

Now I read from his Tweets that he follows UFC, I’m a lot less impressed. I know,I know, prejudice is my middle name… or would be, if I had one!

Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? – NYTimes.com.

Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? - NYTimes.com

Source: NY Times





It’s not all Hash Pipes and Hand-grenades

29 11 2012

Tuesday was a day well spent.

I spent it with two colleagues at a marketing seminar in Vancouver. “The Art of Marketing”. I know, I know… “yawn” right?! The MC was Ron Tite, who sounded like he should have a career doing voice-overs for Futurama or something. Far too hyped and loud for that time in the morning.

The first speaker was David Usher. I vaguely knew him to be a singer. Turns out he fronted a band called “Moist” (Fnaar, fnaar) back in the day. He’s still a recording artist, but has now started to indulge his interests in technology. Most of the women in the audience seemed to be particularly attentive I noticed. He gave a little talk about how his band found “the rhythm” of the show every time they went on stage. A slightly different tempo at each performance. Wouldn’t it be great, they mused, if the audience could set the rhythm? Enter Arduino, a heart monitor and a drum machine. He asked for a volunteer and rejecting the high hands of several hundred females in the  audience of 2,000, he stepped off the stage and cruised for the perfect victim. In the end, he selected one young lady because she averted her eyes from his gaze.

David Usher… and John

Under ever so slight duress, she followed him up on stage and held the device as instructed in both hands. The unmistakable thump of a heart beat began… except it sounded like a drum, not the sound we’re conditioned to hear from watching hospital TV series’. Usher commented on how fit she must be as it was a very slow rate. Once he casually draped his hand on her shoulder though the rate sharply increased, the audience laughed and she went a delicate shade of crimson. It rose higher when he jokingly started to massage her shoulders.

John the guitarist valiantly attempted to strum to the rate, and as predicted the soothing tones slowed down her pulse. Usher sang a few improv lines to the rhythm of her heart, and the demonstration was done.

Usher spoke eloquently about the hard slog and grit needed to produce creativity, but that he believed it was possible for anyone. Then came the classic quote which echoed through the rest of the day: “It’s not all hash pipes and hand-grenades” . Plainly this was not premeditated, and he said something along the lines of “not sure where that came from”. He then gave a generous Q&A session. One lady said she was herself a recording artist and asked for suggestions on how to “break out”. “Do it for the love of the music” was the not entirely helpful response.

After the break, Tite called Flora Ware – the young lady who’d asked the question – up to the stage and offered her the opportunity to sing A Capella to the 2,000 strong  audience. Without hesitation she accepted and belted out a note perfect rendition of a jazz ballad to loud applause.

Mitch Joel was next up, and gave an interesting session about how to better engage the customer and have “sex with data”. He gave lots of great innovative examples including Amazon’s PriceCheck, Kickstarter crowd funding and Chipotle’s Coldplay-murdering Willie Nelson food video. He asserts that the “three screen” era (TV, PC, phone) is passing, as we enter a single screen era.

This video about Samsung’s new Smart Window technology was shown as an example of what’s just around the corner…

More people in the world, it seems, have access to mobile phones than either mains electricity or even safe drinking water.

Randi Zuckerberg (Mark – of Facebook fame – is her brother) was very smiley… and totally forgettable.

Biz Stone came next and was entertaining even if he seemed a little, er, medicated. That or exceedingly laid back. Which is possible given he co-founded Twitter. To the early complaint that “Twitter isn’t useful”, his co-founder Evan Williams is purported to have replied “Well neither is ice-cream! Shall we ban it and all joy?”

Lastly, we had Scott Stratten. From Toronto. But we won’t hold that against him. He said he used to be in HR until he realised he hated people. Then he moved into marketing… where it was OK to hate people. He came perilously close to being a stand-up comedian, but managed to keep a curb on his anti-QR Code rant, and instead gave some hilarious examples of how NOT to use it.

  • Like in aeroplane magazines… when you can’t use the internet
  • Or in emails to mobile phones… when the camera is on the opposite side to the screen you’re reading it on
  • Or in web pages… when the QR code sends you to the same web page
  • Or pulled behind an aeroplane, so you need to run down the street trying to scan it from the sky
  • Or on a dog tag in case the hound gets lost… but without a phone number! (Remember what you use to scan a QR code? Yup – a phone!)

Or my favourite… on the back of a bus! Readable only from a moving vehicle! And note what it gives you access to – Atlanta Medical Center ER. No irony at all…

Update: OK – so I found a really good image showing the bus I was talking about. Unfortunately, since I wrote the post late at night, I had forgotten to do the usual and add the source location. My bad. I was tired. I had added a link to encourage people who were interested to visit their site and read more, but had forgotten to mention it in words.

Anyway, the site owner seems to have an issue with people actually seeing their content, despite it being on a public website, easily locatable via google images, blah, blah, and put up a snotty replacement image instead. OK. A little rude (they’re probably Lancastrian 🙂 ) but OK. The image had words about stealing their bandwidth. OK… but it seemed to miss the point that even THAT image needed downloading from their site.

C’est la vie dear reader… there’s nowt as queer as folk.