May 2008 Archives
Whilst browsing the web the other day I happened across a fairly innocuous-looking story that, at first glance, seemed nothing more than one of those "strange but true" tales that you mentally file away to impress your mates with down the pub after work.
However, something about it set a few alarm bells ringing for me and, on further inspection, this throwaway story turned out to be a nugget of pure viral marketing gold.
It also prised open a family-sized can of worms in my hardened TV researcher's brain and set them wriggling in the part of my cranium that exists to remind me that the web can also be a truth-hunters worst nightmare.
The story concerned Ralph Hardy, a 13 year old kid in Texas who had been arrested after he swiped his dad's credit card and embarked on an epic $30,000 spending spree. This misadventure wound up with him and his mates holed up in a hotel room with a pile of junk food, a brand new Xbox and two nubile $1000-a-night prostitutes procured from the local whorehouse. It also landed Ralph in the arms of the law when the hotel room was raided by the local Texan constabulary after being tipped off by a delivery guy who'd supplied the boys with snacks.
Apparently our young hero claimed he was funding this escapade through the winnings of a World of Warcraft video games contest and, when the high-class call girls questioned his age, he convinced them that he and his friends were in fact "people of restricted growth" who worked for a travelling circus. Even better he went as far to inform them that, if they refused his custom, they would be in direct violation of the state's disability discrimination laws. Only when the boys seemed more interested in playing Halo than getting to grips with their "hired help" did the penny finally drop.
In a strange twist of narrative the poor, misinformed sex workers were released without charge whilst young Ralph was slapped with a three year community order for fraud, presumably ruing the day he figured out his dad's pin number.
Unsurprisingly the story turned out to be complete hogwash. It was later revealed to be the result of a viral marketing experiment by Cornish social media marketer Lyndon Antcliff (aka Lyndoman) who unleashed the story on popular finance site Money.co.uk.
Lyndoman deliberately laced his Munchaussen-esque tale with every conceivable narrative trigger point needed to ensure its viral success.
All of us doing business in Birmingham are tied up, whether we like it or not, with the reputation of the city. We help create it and we are measured by it.
Your address is a part of your company image. That's presumably why big corporates like tall buildings (and why helicopter shots of Canary Wharf feature in the title sequence of 'The Apprentice' even though Sir Alan Sugar's office is miles away in Brentwood.
Or it's why traditional craft industries like to use pictures of country cottages and rural workshops in their literature.
There's lots in today's Post on the merits or otherwise of tall buildings. There's the lead story, a supportive editorial and (although I don't think it's linked to the other two) a great blog from Jon Bounds on the magic of the Rotunda.
Maybe it's because I'm on the vertically-challenged side of things height wise, but I have long been fascinated by tall buildings. It's not just their size and scale that impress - although I have to admit that they do. Done well: they can be inspiring visitor attractions. Think of the Empire State and Rockefeller Centre in New York or the John Hancock Building and Sears Tower in Chicago. You have stunning buildings with great facilities that attract tourists like magnets. What's more, they have become symbols of their cities recognisable the world over. And having dragged (an admittedly somewhat windswept) Mrs P to the top of all of them bar Sears Tower, I can confirm that they have great views.
So, am I a fan of tall buildings? Unequivocally yes. Would I like to see more in Brum? Same answer. Do I think they would be good for business...dear reader, I think you can guess my response.
Which brings us to the (for me at least) more interesting question of why people might not want them. So far as the debate in Brum is concerned, there appear to be two points. One is the understandable concerns about tall buildings following the dreadful events of September 11th. However, I think that is a concern about the truly awful things that extremists can do and not a criticism of tall buildings per se. I agree with the approach being adopted by New York. The proposed Freedom Tower is a bold and brave response to the terrorists. I hope to visit it.
Which brings us onto the local objections from the Victorian Society, most recently regarding the proposed redevelopment of the NatWest Tower. Their allegation is that the redevelopment is nothing more than "political, economic and architectural opportunism" which blows "a destructive hole" in the "consistent fabric" of buildings along Colmore Row. I'm not an architect but I'm a bit surprised at the blowing-a-hole bit of the argument. Isn't that what the current tower has done? As for the opportunism, my understanding of the proposals is that British Land hope to turn an ugly concrete monstrosity into a 21st century office building. What's wrong with that?
Having said all that, I still don't like Beetham Tower. Too green.
Today was an at-desk day. Actually quite a lot of days are kinda that way but generally I've got something in the diary that gets me out the building for a bit. Today though I had a proposal I was supposed to start last week, but didn't, that had to be done by 5pm today, which it was.ÃÂ
In between constructing paragraphs about why the Delphi method rocks in research terms I was struck by the unfolding drama in my RSS reader. In fact I now realise how differently I use the internet from 12 months ago when I would probably have completely missed the row over whether or not Surface Unsigned are screwing unsigned bands and acting like dunderheads over the use of Cease and Desist notices.
It was fascinating to watch the Birmingham blogging community come together to support what it still the city's key resource for knowing what's happening and who's who in the creative and cultural industries. I'd presumed that they were fighting some corporate numbskulls who go out of their way to track down the mildest of criticism. ÃÂ So, delighted to be distracted from proposal writing, I used the power of Companies House to track down the mighty Surface Unsigned Ltd.ÃÂ
This week David Cameron laid into Regional Development Agencies. The Tories, it now seems, would strip RDAs of their transport and planning powers and might even scrap some of them completely, aiming to unravel Labour's regional agenda "piece by piece'.
Cameron went on to say that "the whole experiment with regional assemblies has been a complete mistake. The halfway house we've now got, where RDAs are being given planning powers, is a disaster too... there's a very strong case, at least in parts of the country, that RDAs should go altogether".
Hang on a minute. Scrapping RDAs could well lead to a recentralisation of policy making and delivery in London. Do the Tories really think that this will help the West Midlands economy?
Rather, this proposal seems to miss the point; a lot of good has actually been done by developing policies at the regional and local level rather than in Whitehall, and in providing strategic oversight regionally.
The library here at Birmingham City University is a model of efficiency nowadays. It emails you on the day that your books are supposed to go back and then lets you renew them online when you realise that you haven't looked at said books since the day you got them out. So it is with The 1952 City of Birmingham Development Plan.
This is as dry a document as you could hope to find. I got it out last November as I was pondering what earlier incarnations of the Birmingham Big City Plan had looked like. Given that the inner ring road is now widely recognised as a mistake, where's the document that outlines why it was needed in the first place. How clearly was the case made for it, how emotive was the language used? But since late last year there seems to have been little public discussion of the new plan as Stef Lewandowski has noted on this site. No wonder I'd let it drift.
But I've done the reading on this now and despite the rather plain, austere layout (this was 1952 after all - at the end of the Age of Austerity) the 1952 plan is by far the more exciting document. In fact it has what the new charter document lacks, it has tangible facts to get stuck into and major post-war problems to deal with. If you like, the new one's all theory where the 1952 plan is all practice.
Clare Short has suggested that Brum becomes a transition city.
The transition town movement has been set up to meet the challenges of climate change and the high cost of oil. One of the suggestions being considered by some towns - Totnes in Devon was the first with Lewes in Sussex recently deciding to follow suit - is that transition towns create their own currencies; there is now a Totnes pound. The idea is that the local currency will only be available to purchase locally-produced goods and services which will encourage local commerce and reduce Totnes's and Lewes's reliance on goods brought in from elsewhere, the amount of oil they consume and their carbon footprints.
If Brum were to accept Ms Short's recommendation, we too could see ourselves spending the Brum pound (although hopefully we might come up with a better name). And, with apologies for the legal-anorak nature of what follows, this raises a very interesting legal conundrum.
This is because the money we use now isn't actually worth anything. It's what lawyers call a bill of exchange, which is a posh way of describing an IOU. It's a promise to pay; if you think about it, that's what the words actually say on the notes produced by the Bank of England. The only way that money works is because it's backed up by assets at the Bank of England (or the lending banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland which can also issue their own currency). In practice, we never bother to call in on the asset held by the bank - we just treat the money as if it were as good as the asset. The system works fine unless we think that the bank doesn't have sufficient assets to support the money in circulation. When that happens, at the very least you get runaway inflation of the kind seen recently in Zimbabwe. The worst case scenario is a financial crisis of truly horrible proportions.
So here's the problem. What will the Brum (or indeed Totnes or Lewes) pound actually be? Well, they can only themselves be bills of exchange which will, I assume, have to be swapped at some stage in the future for other bills of exchange in the form of proper money. On the one hand, this makes me wonder whether the whole idea is going to be unnecessarily complicated. Why not just be an "informed" consumer and try to buy locally in any event if that's what you want to do? On the other hand, a little bit of me can't help but think that it might be fun trying. What do people think?
Flying in the face of traditional notions of journalistic impartiality I'm going to do something a bit cheeky in this blog post and give a bit of a plug to a project that's been going on at Maverick Television, the company that kindly pays my wages in my day job as a new media developer.
Now before you chuck rotten fruit at me, I just want to point out that A) I wasn't personally involved in this one and B) I think it's pretty newsworthy, not only from a company achievement point of view, but because it really ticks all of the boxes that I usually bang on about in this blog in terms of exploring the crossover space between TV and the web.
It also represents something quite extraordinary: a controversial, sensationalist and eyebrow-raising piece of multiplatform entertainment that genuinely has the potential to save lives.
If you haven't twigged already, I'm talking about Maverick's Embarrassing Illnesses spin-off, Embarrassing Bodies which hit the airwaves of Channel 4 last week amid the usual furore surrounding it's graphic, no-holds barred depiction of unfortunate body issues.
This time round, hidden behind the usual headline- grabbing cavalcade of warty appendages, crusty crevices, weeping orifices and unsightly growths was another newsworthy addition to the format which, in its own quiet way, was a spearheading a minor online revolution behind all of the attention grabbing TV.
I still can't quite believe that the Baggies have won promotion by ending up as Champions, whilst also reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup where 'we' (you can see I'm a Baggies fan) put in a very creditable performance.
In fact, we haven't won anything for ages, and the chance for an open-top civic victory parade and party to celebrate our dizzying heights seemed a no-brainer. Well not to the PR chiefs down the Hawthorns who thought it was all too much hassle.
Being a Baggies fan, even a fairly lazy one like me who only makes a handful of matches a year, isn't exactly fun for much of the time. You're either biting your nails hoping to make promotion or the play-offs, or biting your nails hoping to avoid the drop.
Such is the reality of yo-yo football. Of course, it's all hugely exciting, but like others I do crave the boredom of mid-table mediocrity and safety. Until that happens it would make sense to celebrate our victories as they don't come around too often (my dad was still talking about that 68 Cup Final well into the 90s).
I have just completed two weeks' jury service at Birmingham Crown Court. At the end of a case, the judge thanked us for having done our job and made the point that lots of people think we should get rid of jury trials. The judge in my case thought that was a bad idea - he is a fan of the jury system - but he did get me thinking.
Currently there is a split between the judge's role and the jury's. Judges decide on what law is relevant - can that bit of evidence be introduced? The jury decides the facts - is the defendant guilty or innocent? The alternative would be to adopt the procedure used in a number of European countries where the judge decides everything - facts and law.
There are a couple of significant downsides to jury service. The most obvious is that it is incredibly disruptive to jurors' lives - both at work and at home. The normal length of service is two weeks but complicated (and more important) cases can last a lot longer. It used to be that there were lots of ways that you could avoid serving. This tended to mean that, instead of being tried by a jury of your peers drawn from a genuine cross-section of society, alleged criminals were tried by a jury made up of people who weren't working for whatever reason, students (out of term time) and people with sympathetic and publicly-spirited employers. Certain jobs - solicitors being one - were completely exempt.
That all changed a few years ago with the government keen to ensure that juries were more representative of the whole community. Jurors are selected at random from the electoral roll. If you are registered to vote, you can be a juror. The question is whether you can really spare 6 months out of the year to be involved in that serious fraud case.
The other main criticism of jury trials is whether, especially in the case of complex frauds and the like, juries are the best people to decide guilt or innocence. The problem is that some of the alleged scams are so complicated that you need a PhD in financial fraud to understand what's going on.
On the other hand, I understand where the judge was coming from. Trial by jury is a long-held tradition in the UK and I for one think that it just feels right. The concern is whether we as a society are prepared to support jury trials as an institution. What do people think?