The ‘Approved’ Conundrum

There is a well known parents website (whose title suggests a single gendered focus) who have become an increasingly powerful presence and influencer. Quite recently I have noticed with increasing frequency that their awards or recommendations for products are now appearing on the packaging of those products.

I have no issue with this happening as the site should rate things if it wishes and getting crowd-funded response helps other consumers, so all good. But there is an issue and I think it will worsen and is unbalanced in regards to objective rating.

Advertising

The site has paid advertising and sponsored products. It also has competitions for submitting reviews on particular products. It has vouchers and offers that are exclusive to its readers. Now any one of these shows some slight favour, but nothing ‘bad’, right?

The reviews of the products are fair (broadly) and the way the ratings work is by mob decision, so that isn’t bad. Except I think you could game this system and get good response and I will highlight one way I can think of.

I have a product, it isn’t unique but it is new to my company. I want a high pickup and I want awards so the new product will fly off the shelves, I also want stores to stock it so need a high demand.

  1. Send free review copies to site owners in a fancy box with a few extra goodies as thanks for reviewing, but don’t insist on a good review. (This tactic will influence people, we all like being treated well).
  2. Offer a lot of discounts to visitors of these sites, make them special. (Increase demand).
  3. Run a competition that anyone can enter (spreading the word).
  4. Run promotion at the people who enter competitions or use discount codes to get further discounts on products and special extras and mention that a good review is loved, even tell people of the special packages that some reviewers get. (This will help to reposition any 3.5 out 5 star reviews into being a 4 – you want to be fair but 3.5 is almost 4 right?)
  5. Any site where the reviews are more positive and increasing push further offers and targeted advertising.

There is no guarantee that this will absolutely work, but if the product is good enough and you keep it subtle but pervasive you will see a change in behaviour and uptake.

Conclusion

So I think that you have to treat this in a balanced way. If you are a product advertiser who gets an award on a site like this then you shouldn’t advertise on the site. It is too much collusion and too much chance of bias.

Put it this way, if you had a bad review on the site and a worst product award you wouldn’t spend any money there and would consider it toxic. I think you have to do the same if you have great reviews.

It is a way of keeping a moral equilibrium. If you are the site owners you maybe want to think about the whole model you have created. A system that allows direct influence via numerical reward for products that (although may be fairly reviewed and loved) directly influence people’s spending has a responsibility to be fair.

You can’t be fair when someone is throwing money at you and your model is to take their discounts, advertising and free products. It is always going to affect your rating either positively or negatively.

</rant>

Paradise Trilogy

Paradise Found

So if you have hid your head under a rock for the past few days you may have missed the news about the Paradise Papers. This is another large group of financial documents, similar to last year’s Panama Papers, that detail the wonderfully creative avoidance of tax by the mostly super rich.

To many of us this just seemed like an expected news round, like the revelations that say governments spy on us as much as each other, or that elections and media agencies are targeted by foreign powers with agendas. It isn’t news if we expect the world to happen that way and we just dolefully accept it as such.

Unfortunately.

Personally I think we should drop some of our weary cynicism and try to engage with the news here. We have seen that the online world now has a strong voice, it is often visceral but the effects are physical. maybe it is time for us to voice our general displeasure.

Paradise Lost

The problem is that we have become so indoctrinated to the ideas that this is what happens that we are insulated to the cost. This is a bankruptcy at the heart of our systems of finance and distribution. It will eventually affects us all and when crashes happen, as they will, they are devastating.

Already the news cycles seem to be waning. Partly this is because like some apocalyptic Chinese curse we are currently stuck in an Interesting Times of news cycles. Where the cycle is a monocycle with a missing wheel, a jet engine and a coked up, blind and epileptic rhinoceros as the rider.

If I were to be suspicious I would hazard that there is a collective push back by a cadre of hidden oligarchs to quell this particular piece, and the Panama papers round and lifespan might support that. but I also have to balance it with dodging the Rhinoceros.

Paradise Regained

One of the most prominent elements of the news coverage has been the element of legality. Like when Tim Cook of Apple in the past declared they paid every dollar they were due to. We are told that those in the spotlight have done nothing illegal.

I hadn’t presumed they had, that’s silly to think so. This is why they have clever lawyers. This is why they have teams of accountants. This is why they have political influence that creates vague definitions and applications of law.

This is tax avoidance not evasion.

They haven’t committed a crime, per se. But what does that mean? In the UK it is pretty much illegal for me to beat my children with a stick. But that is not a universal law. So if I holiday in a country where they allow beating with a stick it is all okay as long as Ii obeyed the non-beating in my domestic homeland. Like Apple I am now taking the stick to children in the right territories.

It isn’t illegal, but it might be immoral.

If you want to stay abreast of the stories you can follow the page linked below. it is a good starting point to know who and whom so that you can conduct searches elsewhere.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/search?q=paradise+papers&filter=news&suggid=

It may be time we kept up the conversation on this.

Wrimo Time

It is that time of year again the National Novel Writing Month, or nanowrimo as it is known to its participants. As usual Leigh Keating and I will be joining in on the madness and frustration that makes up this event.

In previous years I have both won and lost (winning is writing 50,000 words in a month) at the event but I have always started with at least a direction to take, this year is different. this year I have 3 directions and I am not sure I like any of them so I am doing all three.

So what are they… I am not going to tell you to be honest. Not at this moment, not right yet. Enough to say they cover a prose story (future fantasy), a slice of semi-autobiographical and prose contemporary story and a section that is more document or artefact.

If that is intriguing, good. if not, also good 🙂 I may or may not return to keep you updated. You can join us all in nanowrimo and if you are in the North West you can join our region. We also welcome people on Facebook in the Regional forum.

 

The S-Word

This month I am doing the #inktober challenge as I am an avid doodler. My doodles are not good but I enjoy doing them.

The other day it was Sword. Seeing as my brain is broken I interpreted that as s-word and it reminded me of a few things.

To start with it is what #1 son says when I say that word. Daddy said the s-word. 

Which ties in to a joke that Lee Mack tells. He asked his 8 year old kid what is Brown and Sticky. And his kid said ‘shit’.

I asked #1 son the same and he said ‘Poo’ as he knows that mum doesn’t like them using swear words.

At the same time there is the fascination both my kids have with the Poo emoticon. #1 son likes it because it is Poo and Poo is funny. #2 son has a non neuro-typical outlook and declared the cuddly emoticon Poo to be a Happy Chocolate Ice Cream. Personally I like #1 sons joy at the world and #2 sons way of seeing it.

tl:dr: this is what I doodled. 

The Happy S-word Ice Cream
The Happy S-word Ice Cream

Love Your Community Feedback

This is just a quick post to note down a thing that I like to do and that I would encourage others to do. We all have communities whether we realise it or not, we have peers, friends, online groups and like-minded followers.

Most of us post to social media, or to private forums, or just to closed groups, and at some point you are going to say something daft, or make an error like a bad C&P, or (as is frequently the case) technology betrays you.

At some point someone is going to correct you.(1) If you say something in public they are likely to respond in the same public way. You can do two things about this:

  1. Fix it but get all butt-hurt at them for mentioning it.
  2. Fix it and thank them properly in the same public forum.

I like to opt for Option 2.(2)

Now sometimes it is especially sensitive, or you get supremely embarrassed by being corrected, you basically prefer that people correct you in private. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do option 2. It means you need to reinforce your preferences with that person so they know for next time.

As mst is always saying to me: ‘don’t attribute to malice what can easily be explained away as ignorance’.

Sometimes you need to educate people as to your preferences, and sometimes you need to tell them more than once. Doesn’t mean you need to get butt-hurt when they try and help you. You thank that person, they took the time to engage.(1)

(1) Even if they did it to be mean, small-minded, or have a sense of superiority. You get to be the better person by having the decency to reward their efforts.(2)

(2) If I ever manage to do this consistently I will be amazed as I am nothing, if not, a hypocrite who has to write blog posts to remind himself to be a better person.

Proud of #1

This week I had a conversation in the car with my 7 year old #1 son. It broadly was about what he wanted to be when he was older and how he wasn’t sure. This is the paraphrased version:

Me:  You can be whatever you want to be
#1 Son: Like what?
Me: An astronaut, a doctor, a scientist, a Minecraft developer, anything
#1 Son: An Astronaut! How do I do that?
Me:  Well when someone wants to be an astronaut he has to train hard and be healthy, or he might have a special skill like a scientist or an engineer
#1 Son: He or She daddy
#Me: [Pause] Yes. Yes you’re right it can be he or she, thank you. Should we use they so that it doesn’t matter who they are?
#1 Son: Yes
#Me: So when they…

I couldn’t have been more proud to be corrected on equality by my own 7-year-old child. 🙂

 

Wonder Woman

It’s late at night so I am going to be random and even less cogent than usual…

I just watched the latest Wonder Woman movie from DC and its selected film partners and have a few random thoughts.

Outfit

Hated the way the new outfit looked in Batman vs Superman, okay not really hated as I thought it was pretty sexy but is that what we really wanted to display, is that the image we should associate with a female here?[1] I felt they used it to satisfy a desire and not a need. So hated it as it just was a pander (or a Panda).

So to set this straight I don’t mind good looking people and sexy clothing I just want the association to be appropriate.

In contrast the way the camera is used here, the manner in which we linger on the lead is not in a predatory manner. Diana was sexy, the outfit was good, the camera wasn’t a voyeur for once, so well done. Pay particular attention to where the focus lingers and compare it with say Suicide Squad or Batman Vs Superman.

Script

Would give it both a 5 out of 5 and a 3 out of 5. yup it had issues, so lets settle on a 4.372 out of 5. Where it was good it was really good and the rest of the time it ticked the boxes. Not sure what happened as there was nothing specific it just didn’t have the right impact which is a shame as some bits were stand out ace.

Direction

I would have done things differently and there were points where I wanted things to be shown in a different way. It took me until near the end of the movie to realise the issue I was having. The director was clearly learning the medium and wasn’t ticking the usual boxes, so they were not the problem, maybe I was. It was fine and nicely rounded. The director knew when to emphasise and when to hold back and let the story take control. Solid and very professional.

Actors

Some didn’t have enough to do.

Some were given less than the best lines – see script

Some needed more screen time and some just seemed ensemble cast for a single arc story  (the leads had all the work to do).

However the focus on the leads was great and both of them were good, very strong and reliable performances.

Overall

Deserves its praise.

Some people will hate it and I could have long discussions why.

Yes, if you want to discuss gender narratives I think this film has something to say but I am not going to discuss that much here or say whether it is a positive or a negative, and I doubt I care to be trolled into giving a long answer as I’d need to re-watch it and think about it and my time is limited.

It is worth watching.

It is worth thinking about.

Aside from the overt hype, it is very worthy of recognition on a number of fronts.

It pisses on the rest of the recent DC films (Superman, Batman Vs Superman, Suicide Squad) .[2]

[1] No this doesn’t mean that women can’t be smart and sexy. No I don’t think that women need to be ordinary and portrayed as less than any image they choose. No I am not indicating anything other than what we are generally fed. No I don’t care to discuss this any more than what I just said in a vague hand gesturing way.

[2] However I don’t think that is that hard as I don’t rate these movies much above popcorn and low brow analysis fodder. And in parts cringing fucking awfulness. But they are very stylised, expensively so.

So Very Busy

There is an old adage that if you want anything done then you should find a busy person and ask them to help…

So there are two parts to that. Either they are busy because they are always efficient and can handle a great deal of things, or they are the sort of happy moron who just cannot say no to helping people.

I am in the latter category.

Whih is why I am so very busy all the time and do not think that I at all organised about it.

Well enough of this, stuff to do.

Ere I am J.H.

[Last night, Monday 31st July, we scattered my friends ashes in a small ceremony near Friar’s Crag on Derwent Water in the Lake District. I naturally took the opportunity to write some more about her to share with the people who attended. It is reprinted here for everyone else.]

In Terry Gilliam’s seminal film Brazil we have an underlying narrative about existence, reality and the nature of understanding. How we can construct realities and not see the world around us. How we can live our life in a dream and be perfectly content despite the horrifying monotony of the industrialised world and corporate government bureaucracy that dominates and controls us.

The main protagonist in the film slowly has the perfect construct of his world stripped away. He is our dreamer and we get to watch his dreams, his flights of fantasy where he escapes and becomes a hero, an angel, a saviour.

He is a Walter Mitty who hides his feelings, and nature, and escapes to his fantasy world. As the film progresses, in its real world, our protagonist finds excitement and love before it is all torn from him.

The film ends with an escape from reality into a final dream world where a lost love is regained and happiness is ever after. A contrast between what is nightmare and dream, real and unreal, our dialogue on understanding.

Only we as an audience know that the dark reality continues.

“I thought the world of you
I thought nothing could go wrong
But I was wrong, I was wrong”
(Linger, The Cranberries, Written by Noel Anthony Hogan, Dolores Mary O’riordan • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group)

It is strange that I would discuss that with you as it seems to have no relationship to Jane. I mentioned in my eulogies at the Funeral and Memorial Service that Jane and I had a shared passion in art, in literature, film and theatre. We would often discuss movies not just in how we liked them but looking for their deeper themes and relationships and comparing them to our own existence.

This is generally the manner in which we spoke, this is the discourse we would fall into within minutes of seeing each other. Barely had the pleasantries of trip and life passed before some theme, meme or fancy would fly out and we would tease and discuss it. We did this type of discussion about most things and so I decided to use the same rhetoric with you all today. I wanted to talk to you as if you were her.

This film Brazil, though, came to my mind specifically when I was deciding what to talk about today, and at the end I will let you know why.

But first I want to mention what I miss the most about Jane, what is still burning in my mind and ripping away at my heart.

You might have noticed that I am a bit of a talker. I waffle along, making loose associations and connections, letting my thoughts wander and my narrative runs with it. I said before that I am a weave talker and so was Jane. I like mixing things and repeating, like a musical from the mind of a maniac.

But I also love the thrust of good argument, and like heated passionate debate. That style of discussion means that hurt feelings can occur. So in my life I have probably had a shouting rant with almost everyone I have met or come to know as friends.

Except one.

To my recollection Jane and I never argued from mere emotions. We had heated debate and disagreement but not bad feeling. We never upset each other or shouted from a purely emotional stance.

It wasn’t that we were cold and calculated, far from it, I just said I was passionate and so was Jane. It was more that the other person usually had constructed a clever position so that you couldn’t get mad it was too much fun being taxed into thinking how to counter what they were saying.

Also Jane was phenomenally good at using a sarcastic swipe to end a discussion and change tactic. I think that Jane was one of the people in my life who knew me on a very deep level for so long that we almost wore each other’s skin. We knew how the other person would think and feel.

What tears at me is that I will never have those conversations, I will never learn from her again, and I did learn from her. I know that Jane was one of my great teachers. A person who was not only my friend, my confidant in many ways, but she also had a lot to show and I had a lot that I had to learn.

The last thing that Jane had to teach me she did so after she died. I have lost a lot of people I know, we all do. I lost my grandparents when I was young and although I know I was sad, I wasn’t that sad as I was too young.

I lost my father when I was in my twenties but that wasn’t that sad, he was estranged and I hardly knew him to understand if I cared that much about his passing, even now I feel ambivalent to his death. He wasn’t that good to my mother and he seemed to care very little for me.

I have seen friends die but no one this close. Jane is the first person that I have lost who was so close to me that we were close family, we were siblings. Jane gave me a final lesson, a study in grief.

Had I lost someone this close who I didn’t have such a conversive relationship with it would be different I think. I find myself talking to her, like now, as if she was still there. This whole narrative, like the two other eulogies I wrote is made for her to hear, for her to approve of, for her to discuss with. I can wear her skin and know which bits she will smile at, which bits will make her roll her eyes and when she will touch my arm with quiet understanding or hug me to let a feeling be shared.

I wish I had never learned this lesson, I cannot really thank her for it. I wish she was still here to tell me to cheer up and not be such a miserable old bugger. I miss my friend.

I do though thank her for all the things she did have time to teach me. Jane had the most profound effect on the way that I discussed and thought about things, she still has that effect as I am drastically changed from knowing her. Meeting her at University at a point where I was expanding my thinking and seeing someone who was so clever, incisive, kind, cutting and funny without being selfish or malicious changed the way I am.

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good
(Lou Reed, Perfect Day)

Last week would have been Jane’s 9th wedding anniversary, and the great constructs that are Facebook and Google reminded me of this. Facebook showed me memories and asked me to reshare my day from nine years ago while Google did an On This Day collage of wonderful pictures of Jane.

Once again she haunted my whole day and every time I looked around I was sure I caught a glimpse of her. I could see her looking up at me eyes glinting from some secret thought, smile broadening as she was about to share some special insight. Again I was thinking about loss and I avoided songs.

I have been avoiding some songs. Some that we knew together, some that we didn’t really listen to with each other but they make me think of her. They bring her back to be an emotion colouring my day.

I was thinking that I would share another anecdote with you. I could talk about the time we drove Jane to London just before her Kidney operation. None of us wanted to talk as we had spoke all weekend and this was possibly a last goodbye. We had Sara Cox  on the radio and she had asked for stories of things that you had to do that were scary, she was facing a horse riding adventure and was worried about it.

Nathan, Leigh and I were with Jane and she sent the message about going for her operation and a song request. Neither Nathan or I can recall the requested song.[*] We spent all of that journey waiting without relief for the song to be played and just as we pulled up to stop the text was read out and Sara played the song. It was a good sign, a sign of hope.

I asked Nathan if he could recall which song it was as my memory was failing me but like me he had so many other thoughts from that day that the song escapes us both. A fragment of history whisked away by time and other feelings.

The differences between the organic and the inorganic, the people and the machine. One remembers and the other knows how to forget.

Our technology mirrors the construct of our minds, sometimes. Designed and built by humans the machines follow the same patterns and emulate the same abilities and affinities.

Even as machines and the software that controls them start to automate the construction and design of their own systems, it too is mirroring nature. The algorithms used to programmatically determine the outcome follow numerical values and are based around naturally deterministic systems. Machines will follow a society as much as we have for we are creating them to understand the meaning and not just the structure of reality. We create complex computer languages that underpins their relationships and understanding.

The dimension we can loosely call cyberspace is an exo-brain for the species, an extension of our shared, and maybe collective, consciousness. As a species our experience of the world is grounded in our interactions and shared definitions. So too is our relationship in the growing online world.

No Last Wishes

I see glimpses of you,
They drift across my mind,
Darkness closes in,
Smiles shift to tears.

Thinking of your words,
Phrases I thought I’d lost,
Memories left to haunt,
Emphasize, and punctuate, sorrow.

I’d trade all the time we shared,
Just to hear your voice,
Just to see your smile,
Just to hold you close.
(Mark Keating, 2017)

My memory already fades and moments of my friend seem to untether and slip away, when I think of her I see a lot of pictures and occasionally a shared experience. But the photos and electronic material are so much richer in colour and definition.

What they don’t have is her touch. If I focus hard I can feel her touch on my hand, the last gentle squeeze of friendship, the last hug where we kissed cheeks and she held the back of my neck.

I loved my friend. It was the love of a brother to a sister or a child to a parent. She was my family.

All that remains are the fragments inside my mind, the human machine, and the ephemera in cyberspace.

In Brazil the protagonist’s father is called Jeremiah, and that name is used as an anagram in an unlock code. In a direct quote from the film a character reveals the code when he tells the hero:

“‘Ere I am, J.H. …The ghost in the machine.”

Jane Haggerstone, who became Jane Harvey, my own JH. I came here to say goodbye one last time.

But I keep the spectres of her as electronic ephemera, shadows and reflections in my thoughts, and the lingering pain, a loss, in my heart.

Here you are Jane, a ghost in this machine.

[*] After reading this Leigh has made the point that we may not have requested a song but merely offered a text explaining what the thing was we feared. This would likely explain why we cannot recall what song was played. Nathan attempted to contact Sara Cox but had no reply by the time we had the service.