Archive for July, 2008

War on the Amazon

A pro-Intelligent Design movie, Expelled, which apparently bombed in the USA has appeared in DVD format on US Amazon, exposing a peculiarity of the online retailer’s site.
Media reviews of the film suggest it’s a terrible Michael-Moorish attempt at pushing the ID / Creationist agenda into science classes, but that’s not the point.
All it took was a heads-up from the popular science blog Pharyngula to encourage a flood of sceptics to make the DVD’s ratings crash.
Two points here.
The obvious one is that it’s peculiar how a piece of media, no matter its quality, can receive reviews from people who have never seen it, and are relying on second hand opinions, trailers and promotions. With all of the added Comments functions available on US Amazon, it looks like it’s turning into a social network rather than a retailer.
The second point is that it does appear that we are witnessing the polarisation of such views, both in the UK and the US.
Being on the relatively sane side of The Pond, it’s easy to laugh at the absurdities of the American Christian far-right religious agenda, but the tolerance of such views has a different colour in Europe where many of the nation states are generally secular.
I’ve written before about the dissolution of views based on ethics – how, up to very recently, it was difficult to argue against any ethical issue without running the risk of being labelled as something nasty and thuggish. I include religious views here, as over recent months there has been a greater willingness to examine each and every ethical and religious issue and expose them to daylight. Green ethics came first, the questioning of religion is only just emerging from the hard-line atheist corner and going mainstream.
There are several drivers for this in the UK. The credit crunch has forced consumers to think with their pockets and not their hearts; the political cycle (the politically-correct Blair years) is turning; the English are getting restless over the perceived unfairness of devolution.
There will be international influences too, and it will be intriguing to see whether the science v religion battle that’s raging in certain US arenas translates to this country.

Footnote: One of the scientists interviewed in the movie was Pharyngula’s author, PZ Myers. He was waiting to see the film but was promptly evicted from the queue, which is ironic considering the film’s position that ID-proponents are unfairly treated. Oddly enough, Myers’ guest, Richard Dawkins (also interviewed), was allowed in to see the film.


Things I never have a use for in hotel rooms

Germany delivers an operatic surprise

I was fortunate to see this ad while in Germany for a few days. This is a real moment from last year’s series of Britain’s Got Talent.

The script reads “Life gives us extraordinary moments. The beauty of it is that we can share them.” Although the concept of bringing people together is nothing new from telecom operators, I think this execution really hits the spot for Deutsche Telekom.

The expressions on the judges’ faces, beginning with boredom and even (in Simon Cowell’s case) contempt, and their subsequent reactions are completely genuine.

Two sweet touches: The singer, Paul Potts, went on to win the show; At the time of this audition, Paul Potts was a mobile phone salesman.

Link to original clip from the show with more background.

The strangest thing

Approximately forty horses clip-clopping down Baker Street, 7:20 a.m.

The galling truth about trends

A couple of discussions on one of my favourite science podcasts, the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, reminded me of the importance of correlation when looking at quirky behavioural trends.
Take the example of a scientific statement that “global warming will cause a higher incidence of gallstones.”
This assumes that A causes D to happen. That statement was based upon the higher incidence of gallstones amongst people living in the Mediterranean where there’s a hot climate and a different diet, meaning a higher risk of dehydration, which in turn heightens the risk of people developing gallstones.
Assuming that global warming will mean more people will live in a climate similar to the Mediterranean means that gallstones are a real risk because A is likely to cause B or C (different diet / dehydration) to happen which leads to D.
I raise this because I greatly enjoy the simplistic cause-and-effect stories we see in the press about changing consumer behaviour due to the credit crunch.
The Hemline Index is one of my favourites, where correlations are drawn between length of skirts and economic cycles. They may not even be connected. It’s a bit like saying that because two totally unconnected events (e.g. lemming suicides and iPod sales) show similar characteristics on a graph, then one event affects the other.
The Hemline Index can only be connected to the economic cycle if research demonstrates that the events between are related (in this case, mood or cost of materials or other so far unidentified factors).
There’s an interesting article in Saturday’s Times newspaper which connects the rise in car boot sales to the credit crunch “as people clear out their unwanted possessions to make ends meet.” It’s a plausible argument, but too little time is given to other factors such as dissatisfaction with eBay, the motivation and reasons for buying at a car boot sale, as well as the finiteness of the supply (i.e. if you’ve cleaned out your garage and sold your junk, then what else are you going to sell?).
It’s all about having the facts.

I’d have called it stinkvertising

The ability to cram big technology into ever decreasing spaces is a sure indicator of progress. Its application is another matter. You could say inserting a mini TV screen in someone’s armpit is either innovative, gimmicky, or desperate. Maybe Right Guard were just having a laugh, cos they’re the guilty party behind sending out suitably armed monkeys to test the concept on the streets of London. The Guardian blog explains. Or check out The Sun’s unique take on it, complete with pic of babe with surely the most peculiarly-located armpit (or ill-fitting top, take your pick).


Lunch today: huge mixed grill. Chips soaked in gravy and my teeth caked in grease. Delicious. £4.95. There is a God.

Self-important bit

I’m Victor Houghton, a, er... something or other in one of the UK’s largest advertising agencies. My job title has a comma in it, which is embarrassing. I’m the chief finder-things-outer with a splash of trends who is lucky to work with all the major functions of the agency, even though I am most closely associated with strategic planning. Everything in this blog has most probably been stolen from other, infinitely more talented people, although the opinions are most definitely my own and not those of the agency.



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