One of the amazing things about Japan was the food. And such a variety of tastes and styles. Oh, and the rice.
Each day I looked back through the photographs I had taken and tried to find one that summed what we had seen or done. Some days that was very easy because the day had a big goal – the Mt Fuji visit, for example – but other days it was much harder to select a single picture that summed up the visit.
Looking back over the collection, however, I see that it’s a nice overview of our trip. However, there is one major element missing: food. I have not captured the variety of amazing meals that we had. Japanese cuisine was definitely one of the highlights of the trip; no wonder it has been given UNESCO heritage status in order to protect it from the onslaught of western dishes and fast food chains.
From conveyor-belt lunchtime sushi to a high-end fish-market fresh version; from teppanyaki (accompanied by a Japanese improvised comedy show) to high-end tempura and soba noodles, ramen, sake & delicious wagyu beef. In the UK it would all be in one restaurant labelled ‘Japanese’ but each place we visited specialised and was delicious. There were no bad meals, most were incredibly cheap and service was outstanding.
Breakfast seemed the most different to my British palate: fermented soy beans, dried and grilled fish, pickled things of all sorts (labelled vegetables but I wasn’t always sure) and dried seaweed and all served – like every other meal – with white rice. I never saw another type of rice and didn’t really get an answer as to why it was always steamed white rice alongside every meal.
I can’t wait to return to try more.
My Japan restrospecive (so far) is available in two earlier parts: Tokyo and Kyoto.
If going to Japan had been a goal of mine for many years; riding the bullet train was a second aim and was a real highlight of the trip (even though you are really quite oblivious to the fact that the train is travelling at 162mph). That train, or Shinkansen as they are known, is part of a high-speed network that covers the country and runs – almost exclusively – on dedicated high-speed track. As a consequence trains are not delayed by other kinds of rail traffic and, generally, run to time. The phrase ‘to time’ Japanese-style seems to mean to the exact minute rather than the rather looser British version meaning ‘within five minutes’.
The Saturday lunchtime train took us to Kyoto for the second part of the Japan experience. We returned to Tokyo to spend the last day at Tokyo DisneySea; which really is a very different world.
Japan Vacation Retrospective Part 2: Kyoto
Photo of Day 7: Hikari Shinkansen: Bullet Train
I love travelling by train. There’s something inherently fascinating about locomotives, carriages, tracks and the networks that are formed from these things. So, I’ve always wanted to ride on the world’s original high-speed network: Japan’s Shinkansen. It’s amazing to think that trains that could reach speeds of 130 mph were introduced back in 1964 for the first Tokyo Olympics. I measured 162 mph today on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Who knows what speeds they’ll reach for the next Tokyo Olympics in 2020; a line using maglev technology is already under construction and maglev trains have set the world record at 375 mph.
We rode the Hikari service on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen which runs through to Shin-Ōsaka & Okayama and is, apparently, the most heavily-used high-speed train line in the world. Hikari is the fastest service that accepts the Japan Rail Pass (which makes using Shinkansen much more affordable) so we lingered at some stations while faster Nozomi services passed on the dedicated high-speed lines. Amazing to think that the only thing that could delay our train was an even faster train. No delays on Chessington South stopping services or leaves on the line here.
But the running speed isn’t the only fast things about the trains. The turnaround time for our train today was less than 15 minutes after the set had arrived into the platform at Tokyo central station. Waiting patiently at a space for each door was somebody to clean, turn all seats 180 degrees to face the direction of travel and place new headrest covers on each seat. The efficiency of the teamwork is a sight to behold. The bow to the boarding passengers a pleasing part of the culture.
Apparently, Shinkansen changed the way business was done between major Japanese cities by making day trips possible where they hadn’t been practical before. I wonder if we’ll ever see similar between London & Scotland?
Photo of Day 8: Fushimi Inari Taisha
A Shinto shrine houses the spirits that are worshiped in the religion. As well as the dead, the spirits could be forces of nature or elements of the landscape. There are many sub-words for Shinto shrines in Japanese but the English language only has the one.
At the base of the Inari mountain is the Inari shrine; Inari being the spirit of commerce and industry (and also of rice). There’s a 2 hour hiking trail up the mountain, from the base at the main shrine, where you climb up through thousands of orange Tori that have been donated by Japanese businesses. On the accent the gates posts appear bare orange but on the decent you see the names of the companies that donated the Tori. It’s quite simple but also remarkably clever. I don’t know if it works as advertising or not.
Conveniently located near a railway station, this temple gets busy. But as you climb the crowd thins out. There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of small shrines on the way up. And a few shops and resting places. We made it about an hour up before deciding that we should head down to see some more of Kyoto.
In a city of temples this one really stands out.
Photo of Day 9: The Way of Tea
If my memory serves me well, you should brew a Yorkshire Tea teabag for between 4 and 5 minutes. You can leave it in the mug infusing until it’s a good strong ‘proper brew’. At work, I use the timer on my watch to make sure I brew for enough time otherwise it’s too weak and somewhat pointless.
Not so with the Japanese Way of Tea which takes a good ten minutes of ceremony to get to the first cup, and is served without milk or sugar but, generally, with some kind of sweet food immediately before the drink.
Using the Matcha green tea we’ve been enjoying throughout our trip, The Way of Tea is a quiet, thoughtful process of precisely using the tea-making implements (linen cloth, tea bowl, ladle, caddy and the whisk) to prepare the perfect cup (70 centilitres of water at 80 degrees Celsius). Apart from memorising the correct sequence and placement of the utensils, whisking the Matcha powder with the water correctly to prevent bitterness is a real skill.
Hanging scrolls and flowers decorate the room and the host, perfectly attired in traditional kimono, pays respect to both the tea and the invited guests who, in turn, reciprocate with appropriate bowing. Apparently, following the preparation of the tea there’s polite conversation where controversial topics are avoided and the chatter is more about the heritage of the tea-making equipment.
Mastery of The Way of Tea, learnt in special schools, can take ten to fifteen years but, in the end, what you get is a beautiful art form and the perfect cuppa.
Photo of Day 10: Ryokan
I was expecting Japan to feel stranger, more alien to me, than it turned out to be. I assume this is because Tokyo is a major world city that exhibits the characteristics of such a sprawling urban mass: and that turns out to be quite familiar. Plus, many of the signs are in recognisable (and, therefore, easily readable) Roman characters and there’s a Starbucks wherever you turn.
Kyoto was a little different; a smaller city with narrower streets, what seemed like a temple on every street and, it seemed, more people in traditional dress. It was also the place we stayed in a more traditional Japanese Inn, a ryokan. Although I think the one we stayed in was straight out of the 1950s rather than 1650, it was simple with a tatami-matted room, public bath and basic facilities (if you count air conditioning and wifi as basic). Sitting on a cushion on the floor, sleeping on a mattress rolled onto the mats & drinking green tea is probably a tourist stereotype but it made for a different way of doing things and was unlike any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I’d recommend it: even for a few days, if your knees can cope.
Photo of Day 11: Disney Resort, Tokyo
When planning the Japan trip, there was a full day in Tokyo following the return train journey from Kyoto and before the flight home. Somehow, and I am not sure I recall how we came to this decision, we decided to visit the Disney parks in Tokyo.
In many ways this was an odd thing to do. Disney is the undisputed global king of the theme park but, surely, the experience is identikit and it would be a waste of a day that could otherwise have been used for more authentic local experience.
In the end I am glad we did. Aside from being quintessential Disney there are some subtle differences that we would have missed if we’d done something else. Plus, of course, it’s a theme park with enough rides and queues to fill several days.
There are two parks, Tokyo Disneyland, which I imagine is from the ‘how to build a Disneyland’ manual. And the nautical-themed Tokyo DisneySea which, according to its Wikipedia entry, was the fastest theme park in the world to reach the milestone of 10 million guests.
Apart from the fact that Disney doesn’t have another park like this one (although many of the major attractions do appear in other places), the most subtle difference can be seen the enthusiasm of the guests for all the Disney characters; for some reason I noted a lot of Donald Duck fans. And this is from visitors of all ages. It would be natural to expect the kids to jump with joy with an unexpected Chip & Dale encounter but not so much their fathers. Almost everybody was wearing a Disney character about their person; there’s a factory somewhere churning out thousands of pairs of Mikey ears for each day. And what makes it most interesting is that the enthusiasm is infectious. It really is a happy place.
Bringing together my impressions of Japan in words and pictures: the first week was spent in Tokyo.
Looking at the calendar I see we are already at the last Sunday in February which means it’s time to fill your timeline with the hashtag #sols once more: Sermon Of the Last Sunday. It’s my attempt to write something new each month on my site (although, a few days ago, I felt the need to write Will The Internet Kills Television?).
Apart from fulfilling my #sols need for February, today I am also keeping my personal site commitment of maintaining a copy of things I post elsewhere. Two #sols birds with one #sols entry.
At the end of January I took a holiday in Japan. Japan, and particularly Tokyo, was a destination that I have always wanted to visit but it’s taken until this year to get there. I was not sure what to expect: would everything seem radically different from life in London or would it maintain the familiarity of a big city?
As always when on holiday, I took a lot of photographs. Increasingly, these are taken on a phone which is both portable and has many other uses aside from pictures (in Tokyo, having constant access to Google Maps was enormously helpful when trying to navigate a big city). Having all the photographs accurately time and geo-stamped on a device which makes uploading easy is another significant advantage.
I decided that each evening I would review all the pictures I’d taken and post a single image that summed-up the day to an album on Flickr. It’s a little Japan vacation retrospective. I also decided to post a different kind of picture each day to Instagram. Combined they might make a small, but hopefully interesting, summary of the visit for me to remember and for others when researching Japanese holidays.
I’ll post the Instagram pictures later in the week but this is my Japan collection. However, I am dividing the pictures into 2 parts. Week one was primarily Tokyo and the second week was Kyoto.
Japan Vacation Retrospective 2017: Tokyo
Photo of Day 1: Godzilla through the years.
Movie posters in the lobby of the Hotel Gracery, Tokyo. There’s a large Godzilla climbing the outside of the hotel.
Photo of Day 2: Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo.
A torii, or traditional Japanese gate, at the entrance to the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo.
This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.
An amazing forest of 120,000 were donated by people from all across Japan when the shrine was built.
It’s simple, peaceful and very relaxing. There is beautiful simplicity to the architecture and the more religious customs.
Photo of Day 3: A robot at Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku.
For some reason whenever I think of Japan I think of robots doing useful stuff. We haven’t found any of those yet but we have found the most bizarre cabaret show, The Robot Restaurant, where the hostesses walk around the room – boxing ring style – with signs asking you to turn off your Bluetooth and wifi enabled devices for fear of interference with the controls for the show.
Ironically, most of the ‘robots’ are people in costume but there are some remote controlled participants in this video-game inspired 90-minute strobe-lightathon. There are no words to describe the craziness which seemed entirely appropriate in this neon-lit district of the city. After the Robot Restaurant’s bought what it needed, the fact that there’s any neon left for the other venues is really a modern day miracle.
Photo of Day 4: UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mt Fuji
Standing 12,388 ft, Mt Fuji is the highest peak in Japan; a World Heritage Site and, apparently, still classed as an active volcano. It’s snow-capped peak has become a symbol of Japan, which I imagine, is something of what makes it attractive to hikers and climbers. According to our tour guide the climbing season starts in July and officially ends in September but he wasn’t recommending anybody attempt it after the end of August. Given we were all quite happy in our heated, wifi-enabled coach, I’m not expecting to see any of my fellow tourists climbing next season.
We got got as high as 2020m (of the 3776m which make up the aforementioned 12,000 or so ft) before the road was closed due to recent snow falls. Still, the air was crisp, the sun was out and you could see the peak. It’s quite an impressive sight, although at the 4th station it’s the surrounding peaks you’re looking at rather than the one immediately above you.
There also seems to be an annual photographic competition which might help explain the abundance of stunning images of the mountain on the internet, as well as the large number of people carrying tripods & camera bags around the tourist locations.
My picture may not be up there with the greatest but it’s all mine. Taken at the first tour-stop, Lake Kawaguchi-Ko, one of the “five lakes”, it was our first proper Mt Fuji sighting. When they said you never forget your first time, perhaps it was views of Mt Fuji they were talking about.
Yes, I’m sure that’s right.
Photo of Day 5: Tokyo Imperial Palace Tea House
Covering an area of 1.32 sq miles the space was, during the height of the 1980s Japanese property bubble, valued to be worth more than the sum of all of the real estate in California. So, it’s decent bit of land to own. It is the main residence of The Emperor of Japan as well as home to a bunch of the kind of administrative offices needed by the ceremonial head of a nation.
Unlike, say, Buckingham Palace which you can stand in front of and photograph, it seems quite difficult to get up to The Emperor’s front door. There is some kind of limited daily tour – conducted only in Japanese – that visits some non-public areas but I can’t tell you about it because we didn’t do it.
However, the East Gardens are open to wander around and are a fascinating collection of horticulture, including areas given over to cultivating roses, tea, bamboo and a plot of land where trees representing each of Japan’s 47 prefectures have been planted. There’s an area called Cherry Blossom Island which, I imagine, will be amazing in a few months. Surprisingly, at least one tree was in bloom but it stood out against the bare winter branches of most of the plants.
Towards the end of your wander around the gardens, if you follow the route suggested in the free map (and why wouldn’t you?), there’s a 18th century Japanese garden complete with running water, pool and wooden bridge.
Around the gardens there are examples of guard houses, a museum and a beautiful example of a tea house (pictured). There’s also a late 1960s concert hall and buildings named Gakuba and Shoryobu on the guide (which house some of the aforementioned administrative offices; for the Music Department & Archives Department).
All-in-all, a place of beautiful, traditional tranquility in the heart of modern Tokyo. Open from 9am if you’re interested.
Photo of Day 6: Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
Some reports suggest that Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest wholesale seafood market in the world. I can’t vouch for that but it could take several hours to walk around the stalls of all the intermediate wholesalers. Although, as a sightseer, you don’t get several hours. The inner market is open to tourists from 10am, by which time most wholesalers are packing-up & the professional buyers have taken their fish away to be served-up across the city. That’s not to say there’s nothing to see; just most of the selling is over for the day.
If I was being strictly accurate, the market is open to 120 sightseers from about 5am if they were to have queued through the night to see a portion of the frozen tuna auction. Our guide wholeheartedly recommended not bothering and, anyway, you can’t watch the fresh tuna auction. I’m not entirely sure why.
Apparently, we were lucky to see the market in it’s current (post-1923) home: a move to a more modern facility that should have happened last November has been postponed. Cue local newspapers running “something fishy” headlines.
We took a tour of the market with local food writer & guide, Atsushi, the Tsukiji King, and I’m very glad we did. Tsukiji is a fully functioning fish market, complete with high-speed delivery vehicles & special band saws designed to chop huge chunks of frozen tuna. It’s not a place you’d particularly think to enter as a tourist so a guide proved especially welcome as I don’t think we would have wandered the warehouses alone. Atsushi showed us the inner & outer markets, explained the selling process and provided a guide to all the food paraphernalia that’s also for sale in shops around the area. I’m continually amazed by the pieces of plastic sushi that are mainly used by restaurants to show-off their ‘dishes’ in their windows.
There was the added bonus of using an expert guide; he recommended the most amazing sushi place for lunch at the end of the tour: every piece hand-made in front of you from the very freshest ingredients. I thought I’d eaten good sushi before but now I know differently.
The second part of my Japan 2017 Retrospective (pictures from Kyoto) will be uploaded tomorrow but you can review all the pictures right now in my Flickr Album.
An article in The Economist prompted me to think about how television has changed in my lifetime and why it’s taken a little bit of time for it to be threatened by the internet.
In my lifetime being connected to an always on computer network, the internet, has changed almost everything: from what you for a living; how to file your tax return about that employment and how your order form your local takeaway when you get home. Some things seem to have radically changed very quickly. When I first started working on digital advertising with major UK publishers, editors held-back news stories for the printed edition (next month) rather than post in today’s online news. I guess, they’re now tweeting it for themselves first as there’s no printed edition of many of those publications any more.
But, will the Internet kill television in the UK?
Television has behaved a little differently. When I was born there were only 3 UK television channels and not everything was broadcast in colour. Fast forward to when I was 12 and the Whiteley-Vorderman duo hosted, effectively, the first programme (Countdown) on the fourth channel. It was a slow and highly regulated evolution.
As with everything, over then next 30 years the pace of change increased. The UK went through the dish wars with the Sky-BSB years (check-out these BSB promos promising five channel television: they feel very dated indeed now) and a fractured cable industry only really came to be a player with the merger of NTL and Telewest in early 2006.
I guess it was February 2005 when video on the truly internet arrived (YouTube launched) but I think you can be forgiven for looking at the media landscape back then and thinking the internet was primarily for the written word even if, within 2 years, Netflix was launching a DVD streaming service. But the internet develops video models for business very quickly. Just this week, YouTube announced it will stop supporting the 30-second unskippable advertising format that has been the backbone of broadcast TV for decades. Can television continue to hold on to that model?
The internet has already changed what viewers watch, what kind of video programming is produced for them and how they watch it, and it is beginning to disrupt the television schedules of hundreds of channels, too. But all this is happening in slow motion, because over the past few decades television has developed one of the most lucrative business models in entertainment history, and both distributors and networks have a deeply vested interest in retaining it.
Television’s $185bn advertising business is a hefty war-chest to fight the challenge of change. I wonder how it will look in five more years? Will it be radically different – in the way printed media is now so different – or, like its broadcast parents, will television for the internet continue a slower evolution?
I also wonder when my own habits will change. When will I consume more content delivered via the broadband connection than over the broadcast air? It can’t be that far away.
I made a simple resolution as we went into 2017: I would drink an extra small bottle of water everyday to improve my hydration. So far, that one is working. Back in December I also decided that, on the last Sunday of every month, I would write something for this site. It wasn’t really a resolution, rather an updated version of the Blog Every Wednesday in August task I set myself a few years ago: the idea was to write something here to make paying for the hosting worth it. This new commitment was given the title “Sermon Of the Last Sunday”. As with all things these days, there’s a hashtag #SOLS. See if you can work out which came first: the series name or the hashtag.
Also at the end of last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read 12 books in 2017. This shouldn’t be the hardest commitment as it’s just one book a month but, if I succeed, I will end up reading more than I did last year. There are plenty of people that inspired me to try this challenge (which you can follow on Goodreads) but, possibly, I made my decision after reading Bill Gates’ favourite books of 2016. He manages an eclectic list of recommendations. I hope to have as diverse a range of books on my ‘has read’ list by the end of the year.
Still, reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic. I’ve been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading. [source]
So, when trying to come-up with the first SOLS entry I thought I’d review one of the books that ended last year. It was the book I was reading when I read Bill’s list; it was fascinating and a little hard-going at times but it took me out of my daily commute and made me think about something else. Which, I think, is something a good book should do. I have reviewed books here before, and I am not sure I will attempt to review all 12, but it’s such a well written book I’d recommend adding it to your own reading list.
I’m grateful to the staff of Waterstones in Chichester who persuaded me that this was a book worth reading as I was browsing their store at some point last year. I don’t often spend time just wandering book shops but there was an opportunity and I took it. I’m very glad I did.
Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot
For some people, a job takes you to the same place each day, surrounded by colleagues who you see daily and get to know over time. Not quite so for pilots, especially those flying long haul, where the variation in crew is almost as changeable as the constantly altering view from the cockpit.
Mark Vanhoenacker, a British Airways 747 long haul pilot, writes about flight through series of chapters documenting the experiences of moving from one part of the world to another with chapters such as Place, Wayfinding, Night and Return.
It’s not a biography of a pilot, a technical guide to flying nor a travelogue rather it’s a rhapsodic love affair with flight and all it involves and, so, it’s a little bit of all those things put together with some beautifully written, almost lyrical, prose. Don’t expect a chronological guide to flight but a collection of chapters that take their subject and describe the experience from the complex to the minutia; written from a vantage of someone obviously captivated by the charm of flight.
The style is vivid and descriptive, but the detail of the language can sometimes make reading it hard work. Don’t let that put you off because it’s worth a little perseverance to get close to understanding why the experience of flight it both magical and disorienting at the same time.
Skyfaing, A Journey with a Pilot, available at Amazon.
There was a pivotal moment for the world in August 2014 when, for the greater good of humanity, I introduced a new hashtag. #BEWA (which stood for Blog Every Wednesday in August) improved the lives of, literally, no people. Ever since, I have managed to continually reference it as an internet sensation. If there was a definition of Fake News that could be it (but probably isn’t).
Lazarus-like, #BEWA emerged from cryogenic storage in August 2016. In many ways, last year’s version was even less successful than the original incarnation. Apart from — if it’s even possible — improving the lives of even fewer than zero people, the major structural failure was a lack of Blogging Every Wednesday in August. There was an inquiry. Experts were consulted. A report could have been written but, given that a lack of writing is the core #BEWA problem, it wasn’t. There might have been outrage in a daily newspaper but it’s unlikely. Still, an imaginary voice cried, “won’t you think about the children” and, not only did I know that something had to be done, I knew I was the only person who could do the thing that had to be done.
It’s clear to me now, on this the first day at the beginning of a new era year, that what the internet needs most is more words. There is a distinct lack of anything to read on the internet. If I were really making predictions for the year I’d clearly be calling into question the lack of reading material; I may even go as far as suggesting there’s a shortage. I’m sure there’s a UN sub-committee meeting on the issue right now. Each day I can hear you cry, “what can I read today: give me words”.
And that is where #BEWA Mk2 comes in. Radically re-engineered and improved for a new generation that’s (at least) 5 months more sophisticated than the last.
But BEWA is gone. You need to buy a black tie and throw the rose on the coffin alongside the other mourners (if you can find any). Generation Now care about #SOLS.
Yes, it could be the SOLutionS to BEWA’s problems but it’s not. It certainly nothing a smart as the School of Life Sciences and it’s only been to Canada on holiday, so fans of the Southern Ontario Library Service shouldn’t get over excited. No, the elders of this parish present “Sermon of the Last Sunday”.
It’s not a goal nor is it a new year’s resolution; it’s bigger. #SOLS is a mission, a calling; a vocation that will be approached with the proper rigour such an undertaking deserves. Yes, on the last Sunday of every month I’ll write something and post it here. Gone is the need for a mid-week rush: Sunday deserves thoughtfulness and dedication.
I trust you’ll set an alarm and join me for this 12 month experiment that’s going to solve everything. Yes, everything*.
See you in 4 weeks.
* If I had employed an army of legal experts to review this entry they would have removed all the good stuff and made me say that nothing will be solved by #SOLS. Use at your own risk. Might cause sunburn. Your home is at risk etc. etc.
Maintaining the tradition of ensuring a copy of things I post elsewhere are also saved here, earlier today I posted on Facebook about the branding of a company I used to work for:
If the sponsored posts on Facebook are accurate, sometime in the next 24 hours the brand name of a company I used to work for, StickyADS.tv, will disappear as it becomes more fully part of its new parent, Freewheel. Or something like that. They don’t tell me the details.
I spent 18 months working for them as the business grew from one that was primarily focussed on France to one that expanded to Europe and, as I was leaving, an office opened in New York to address the needs of American customers. Earlier this year the company was acquired by Freewheel and, I guess, this is the next part of the coming together of the businesses.
As the StickyADS.tv brand is phased out, and having seen the sponsored post almost every time I open my Facebook app, one thing really struck me that I never truly appreciated during the period I was working there: how well the branding works and how expertly it is used. I don’t recall exactly when the current look & logo were introduced but it’s executed consistently well across all channels. From exhibition stands at major events, to laptop stickers, corporate videos or company presentations there is a consistency that you don’t see that often outside of the biggest companies.
Attaching the logo to the wall of the London office, while levelling the letters and managing the spacing, caused much hilarity for Greg and me in the summer of 2015.
Somewhere, I hope, there’s a cupboard that holds copies of the adtech brands that have disappeared over the years I have worked in this industry (“Engage: Like Never Before,” anyone?). If there is, I imagine the last StickyADS.tv branding will a shining beacon in the vast sea of logos that are no longer in use. I can’t even write the name of the company without automatically capitalising the ADS portion and including the dot-tv; I can’t recall how many times I was reminded about that.
No doubt, today, there’s a larger team of people behind it but Marie should be really happy with all the work she — and all the marketing team — have done to build and represent a brand.
Good luck, Stickers, with the next phase of your adventure.
Digital advertising in 2017? You’d be forgiven for thinking that any light at the end of the tunnel is an unstoppable train that’s coming to mow us all down.
Today, right on the front page of this site, in the blurb I wrote about myself, it says, “I’ve spent over 15 years helping European publishers apply rapidly changing ad technology to help manage online advertising but, as it’s the day job, it’s not all I (occasionally) write about.”
I just looked and it seems that I have not written – at least, not written here – about digital advertising since 27th August 2014. I used to write a lot more: there’s a whole category that houses past ramblings but, in spite of (or, perhaps, because of ) the constant changes in the industry I haven’t hit a keyboard on the topic in a while.
I do have a FlipBoard Magazine on the topic, which I recently noticed you can read in a browser as well as through their apps (hint, you should subscribe). I use this to post articles on digital advertising that I find most interesting and it serves as a good reference book for me. After a quick scan over some of the industry headlines from the past year and I can see why I haven’t really written anything:
Banner ads are dead because your phone killed them (Recode)
Internet Video Views Is A 100 Percent Bullshit Metric (Gawker)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that any light at the end of the tunnel is an unstoppable train that’s coming to mow us all down. When you add this bubble of doom to the wider political landscape (“London tech and media companies may bolt in the wake of Brexit“) then you’d be forgiven for scanning LinkedIn for a whole new industry to work in.
But, on my last working day of the year, I wanted to end the year with the thought that it’s not all as the headlines portray. There are good things to come.
Unlike previous years where I gazed in into the crystal ball for you (like here and here), I am leaving it to others to interpret the tea leaves for 2017. In summary, as Coull predicts, “2016 delivered transparency, in 2017 we’ll see action emerge from insight.”
AI will drive the majority of programmatic innovation (ExchangeWire)
Marketers will return to their heartland of strategic creativity (ExchangeWire)
What else might change in 2017? Well, this week an AdExchanger article noted, “One thing few people seem to want to discuss publicly is that the current suite of vendors benefit from the discrepancies that plague the market.” Are we at a tipping point where standardisation means more than just everybody showing the same 728×90 banner? Let’s hope so – it’s about time.
Then, of course, there’s new ad-tech. I think there’s a lot of innovation still to come in the space yet, look at Amazon:
We have been open, transparent and in constant communication with advertisers for 10 years, if you include the managed service. We’ve been iterating and bringing more value to those advertisers. Our focus hasn’t been on making noise but on listening to advertisers and doing what’s best for them. [Source: Adexchanger]
After all this, I’m still to be convinced that next year, “Programmatic TV will come of age“. I guess only the New Year will tell. I’m looking forward to finding out.
It’s a brilliant experience to see the conservation work of the park up close. If you’re thinking of somewhere for an unusual night, surrounded by the sounds of safari, then Port Lympne comes highly recommended.
The Barbary Lion is extinct in the wild.1 It was the lion that battled with Roman gladiators in the Colosseum and was, at least according to Wikipedia, kept in the menagerie at the Tower of London. But the Atlas Mountains, where they once roamed, is no longer home to any of the animals.
Science, being a mysterious and wonderful thing, is attempting a breeding program that may be able to breed back the lions by finding decedents of the original creatures.
I learnt about Barbary lions on a visit to the Port Lympne Animal Park in Kent where there’s a pair of lions housed near one of the cafes.
The Animal Park is owned by wildlife conservation charity The Aspinall Foundation2 and is known for work to breed rare and endangered species for release into the wild. It’s also home to the world’s largest ‘gorillarium’ – which is a word I can only find in relations to Port Lympne – yet watching gorillas & lions in their cages is a strange experience. I know they’re effectively extinct and therefore the charity’s work is invaluable but these animals are still in an enclosure – large as it may be. On balance, though, the work has got to be worth it.
I spent a night in one of Port Lympne’s amazing ‘treehouses’3 which feature unforgettable views across the park and across Romney Marsh with, what I think, was the wind farm in the far distance. A complimentary golf buggy allows you access to the park after the day crowds have gone when, at dusk, some of the animals seems to be more awake. It’s possible to get quite close to some animals and watch them in fairly natural habitats. Many of the 600 acres are devoted to the African Experience where, from the safari vehicles, giraffes & black rhinos can be seen wandering the park.
It’s a brilliant experience to see the conservation work of the park up close. If you’re thinking of somewhere for an unusual night, surrounded by the sounds of safari, then Port Lympne comes highly recommended. The accommodation and the staff were superb and, if the thought of the 35 steps to the treehouse and to see the amazing balcony views is a bit daunting, take the golf buggy around the back.
Each morning as I walk across the Thames, I look to my left and see the sights of St Paul’s Cathedral, the gherkin and Canary Wharf. It’s an amazing – almost iconic – skyline. Although radically changed with the modern skyscrapers, can you imagine what it must have been like just over 70 years ago when a hundred or more doodlebugs, or the V-1 flying bombs as they were more officially known, could be filling the sky and you didn’t know what their target was.1
Early in the second world war, London had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe – a period known as The Blitz. In spite of early attempts by the government to lock them, Londoners took shelter in many of the city’s Underground stations. In addition, parts of the Underground were used to store national treasures. Today it’s on an unused branch line, but in the 1940s Aldwych tube station, that I visited once before, protected artefacts from the British Museum from the damage aerial bombing could inflict.
At the height of the bombing, there were demands from the public for the government to provide more shelters. The government turned to the London transport authorities – who had the technical experience building below ground – to build new shelters. And, even though the bombing raids over London had subsided, a total of 8 deep-level shelters we’re built (although 10 had been commissioned). All the new deep shelters were built near existing tube stations: the unrealised dream being to bring them into service as railways post-war.
The shelters were eventually used for their intended purpose in the latter years of the war when, in June 1944, the flying bombs were sent to attack the city.
Last Sunday, as part of London Transport Museum’s Hidden London series,2 I visited the deep-level shelter at Clapham South. The above-ground pillar box can still be seen just around the corner from the existing tube entrance. The shelter is connected to the station but the walls have long-since been sealed forcing visitors to descend (and return later) via a 180-step spiral staircase. The lift, it appears, either not in working order or no longer fit for public use. It’s not easy on the knees but, somehow, not quite as many steps as it sounds.
Below ground is a fascinating place. Wartime pictures of the shelter show the kind of Blitz-spirited Londoners that only seem to appear on old newsreel films.3 In reality, the space built for almost 8,000 people, must have been cramped, crowded, smelly and – probably – very loud. Even with the welcome addition of the canteen-served jam tarts that were not subject to the ration book, I can’t imagine it was the nicest of places. Admittedly, the feeling of 120 feet of earth above you probably went a long way to making it a sanctuary from the horrors above the ground.
The tunnels through which you are escorted on the tour are astonishingly clean & tidy – having been most recently used as a secure archive storage facility – but it’s clear from the remaining bunk beds that life would have been cramped. Row, upon row, of the stacked bunk beds could have given almost 8,000 people safety in the Clapham South shelter; your particular bunk marked on the ticket required to access the shelter. Most people would have to bring their belongings down in to the shelter each time they went; exceptions were made for people whose houses had been destroyed by the war. That’s 180 steps with mattresses and other personal items that you wanted to keep with you.
Post-war, the shelters have been used as a hostel for visitors to the great exhibitions of the Festival of Britain in 1951, places for incoming migrants to stay until they found permanent accommodation or as army barracks. In later years, the Clapham South shelters were the aforementioned storage facility while a nearby tunnel, that you don’t visit, is today used to grow salads under LED lighting.4
Walking across the Thames bridges in the August sunshine is a world away from the realities of wartime in the city: the Hidden London deep-level shelter tour a small, but important, reminder of what people went through and a fascinating insight into the ingenuity of the city to protect citizens in more difficult times.
BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction to kick the series off while the first proper entry championed an Olympic legacy. The third discussed my fascination with location data while what should have been the fourth entry was more of an Oops. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year). Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.
In my head I am imagining the thousands who rose early to read a thrilling, pithy and insightful page of words from me over their morning coffee and artisan baked breakfast product.
Oops. My Blog Every Wednesday in August project (#BEWA) came slightly unstuck last week, didn’t it? In my head I am imagining the thousands who rose early to read a thrilling, pithy and insightful page of words from me over their morning coffee and artisan baked breakfast product. Each and every one of their days spent constantly f5-ing (for the PC nerds) to no avail.
The real world caught up with me and events on the first three nights of the week transpired to keep me away from the keyboard. I, of course, could have simply promoted the current BEWA series and pretended that was a worthy entry. It could have featured a handy numbered list something like this:
I did neither, choosing instead, to have another beer and then by the weekend, it seemed ridiculous to write an almost week-late entry. But the BEWA project has not lapsed. It’s back with a suitably stunning entry that might start with a reference to the London skyline (although perhaps not the one used here).
A little research tells me that reality TV personalities Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer first entered our lives in May 2010 when “Location Location Location” appeared in the Channel Four schedule for the first time.1
Location was the buzzword of 2010. It was the year that Foursquare entered the mainstream, having launched the previous year2 and January 2010 was my first location-based check-in on the service (The Cardinal Cafe inside 80-100 Victoria Street in London, if you’re interested).
Fast-forward six and a half years (I’ll say that again: six years) and last Friday I passed 10,000 check-ins. Check-in number one was the aforementioned cafe outside my office at the time; check-in 10,000 was the square outside my current office. That averages just over 4 check-ins for each of the 2380 days between 29 January 2010 and 5 August 2016. And, although it has no real significance, it turns out that both were on Fridays which I take as a sign of something. Although I don’t know what.
A couple of years ago Foursquare separated into two: the Foursquare app removed checkin-ins and the gamification of location data to focus on reviews and recommendations of places you might want to go. Check-ins, mayorships and the other signals of location moved to the Swarm app. I kept checking in.
The company used the game to build up an impressive (maybe the most impressive) database of places on the planet. And, unlike most other directories, this was a database of places and how popular (or trending) they were at any point in time. Critical to the value of the data is that Foursquare can understand how people move between places. Check-out the pulse of London to get an overview of behaviours at a city level.
I’m fascinated by this kind of data and what it can tell us about ourselves and our society. Each of my check-ins is sync’d to a calendar so that I could, in theory, look back where I have been. I don’t do that very often. A few years ago when I was spending a lot of time in Melbourne for work I generated a heat-map of the locations I visited just to see where I was spending time. It’s interesting to see the map but it’s not that useful. I’ve just generated another one for Europe3.
The Swarm app itself tells me more than half of my check-ins are at railway stations followed closely by coffee shops, offices, hotels and bars. I wonder how accurately that sums up my life? Is it that useful to me?
Occasionally, people see me opening a phone, selecting the Swarm app and doing the little check-in dance and wonder why I am still playing a game that many people stopped playing when the free beers for Mayors vanished. I think it’s an interesting question and, besides the fact that I do have a calendar showing the places I’ve been to, I’ve been wondering why I do it. I think I do it because the value isn’t only in the chronological history of my travels but how my experiences are useful to informing others.
I find maps so fascinating that, much to my frustration, I’ve spent many hours trying to make Apple Maps accurate for places around my house. For some reason I regularly resubmit more-or-less the same data. I’d love my phone to store a history of every journey I have taken and show them on a map and save them for future historians (a little like Google Maps can do for you). Can you image how amazing it would be to be able to see the paths our ancestors took around towns and cities of the past? The lessons we could learn!
I think Foursquare is the best alternative to those maps and historians will find their data critical for research. But, their database seems to be to be getting more and more accurate. And their ability to suggest interesting places is improving which means it’s also valuable to us today.
When travelling I find Foursquare particularly useful. That great breakfast place in San Fransisco when I was last there? Discovered on Foursquare. Oh, and the one I found the next day that was quiet but had great coffee was added to the database to help the next traveller in the area. This globally shared database of places, tips and tricks is invaluable when on the road and I’m happy to add my recommendations.
In his book Skyfaring, Mark Vanhoenacker has a theory he calls place-lag: a jet-lag like feeling of disconnect when you’re in a place suddenly very different from the last you were in.4 A feeling that is most commonly felt because of long distance air travel when your presence is the only real connection between two locations. Yet Foursquare – and similar – is able to make far off towns feel more familiar because it’s developing the powers to recommend places that we’ll like.
An understanding of place is critical to everything from taxi-hailing apps to controlling your heating (my heating knows when I am moving away from home and suggests I turn the temperature down ). We’re already hooked on GPS navigation systems but they’re improved when they understand not just where something is but how it relates to the world (which is the best entrance to the building from this direction?).
And an understanding of place is increasingly useful to the advertising industry. When I was first using Foursquare I discovered offers around San Fransisco that encouraged me to visit new places. They don’t seem to have Mayoral Specials any more but, nonetheless, if advertising’s ultimate aim is to give to you the right message, via the right medium, at the right time then knowing where you are is vitally important. Knowing where you are is more than just reading coordinates from a GPS system: it’s truly understanding the place you are in.
And these are all reasons I keep checking-in with Swarm. Every little piece of information is helpful to somebody’s future need to understand place. I want to help the world understand that the popular coffee place is inside the station rather than the one outside; that the best entrance when driving to the supermarket is the one on the other road and that people around here are looking for dinner and an offer right now could help somebody decide to where to eat.
So, even if mine is just a very small piece of the location jigsaw it’s all adding to the vast knowledge of places that helps everybody else. Clicking a little check-in helps build a better data set. And it gives me a lovely history of where I have been.
Here’s to the next 10,000.
About BEWA 2016
BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction a couple of weeks ago and the first in this series championed an Olympic legacy. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year). Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.
In December each year I post a set of photographs that sum-up the year for me. It started many years ago, before cameras on phones were commonplace, because it struck me how differently pictures taken on a phone represented the year in comparison to those on a traditional camera (which only ever gets taken when you think you’ll need one). If you look back at the pictures from the end of 2012 you’ll see a collection that features the Games of the XXX Olympiad, or London 2012 as I knew it.
On Friday night, I imagine quite late London time, the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad (Rio 2016) will take place at the Maracanã Stadium and Rio de Janeiro will have the honour of hosting the most recent games. As memories of London fade, perhaps only appearing in words like mine – when I summed up the feeling of being there for the opening ceremony rehearsals – the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema will be the newest images of the Olympics, replacing in the mind, perhaps, images of the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge. Time, then, to wonder what we are left with in London.
Back in the bid phase for the London games, Tessa Jowell, then Secretary of State for Culture, and Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London at the time, argued for the games because they believed in the legacy. As Tony Blair notes,
They argued strongly that the Games would have a twofold legacy: the regeneration of the East End of London and helping build sport into the lives of a generation of children.1
I’d argue that the games were worth it for the atmosphere, enthusiasm, national pride and the spectacle at the time, but did we get a legacy? The Guradian recently suggested that we did not, particularly of the sporting kind,
For all the golden memories of July and August 2012, already tinged in sepia, and the continuing debate about the success or otherwise of the other legacy aims it is hard not to conclude that a prize Jowell once called “the greatest in a generation – faster progress towards a healthier nation” is not already close to being squandered.2
But, recognise anybody in the photograph? Perhaps you can’t because the picture is too small and they were moving too fast for me. They are the elite men cyclists in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic passing through Parliament Square on their way to the finish line. It’s part of an annual two-day cycling festival that sees almost 100,000 people cycle around the city on roads cleared of traffic for the day and hundreds more leave the Olympic Park for the Surrey Hills on a route not dissimilar to the one taken during the 2012 games. An event started as a direct result of the popularity of the cycling events in 2012.
All those cyclists in London in the year that Bradley Wiggins, who was an Olympic gold medalist on 2012, won this year’s Tour de France.
I think there’s a legacy right there. Perhaps cycling is the sport to take events at Box Hill & the velodrome forward to inspire a future generation of athletes.
But what about this single example? Thousands of young people who have a new gymnastics club as part of the legacy? Without it, “possibly 5,000 kids wouldn’t have a venue,” said a recent report on ITV News.3 And I could call out the reported 50,000 season tickets West Ham have sold for their new ground in the former Olympic Stadium (apparently the second highest season ticket sale in the Premier League).4
You can see regeneration in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as both a public & event space. This summer there are sporting activities for kids with ‘Fit For Sport’ as well as the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide and the whole aquatics centre for swimming and diving. And if Olympicopolis comes to fruition, London will have a new cultural hub in in the heart of an area regenerated by the London games.5
And don’t forget Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe are on our televisions every week thanks to the legacy of the Paralympic television coverage.
We may not all have taken up more sport as a result of The Games but I think there’s plenty of things we can be proud of that are part of the legacy of London 2012.
Last Sunday, watching both the ammeter and professional riders pass buildings representing our great institutions – Parliament, Westminster Abbey & the Supreme Court – there was also something else happening. A little of the spirit of the games came back with the cheering crowds and even those with limited interest in the sport of cycling searching for somebody who knew who was in the lead. That positive, optimistic and friendly feeling that 2012 brought us returned, even for just a moment in our post-Brexit malaise.
Perhaps, it’s not just the infrastructure or the number of people taking part in sport we should be looking to as the legacy of the games. The games brought out a spirit in almost everybody. We should hold on to that. I believe that would be the greatest legacy of all.
About BEWA 2016
This is the first entry for 2016’s BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August). The introductory post was written in July but you might want to read it anyway. All the BEWA posts will be tagged and you can follow @curns on Twitter to see the hashtag every Wednesday.
I don’t know what it is about the railways that fascinates so many people but it does. As I type, there’s a mysterious world of trainspotters taking pictures of Diesel Multiple Units from the far end of station platforms somewhere in the UK. Certainly, it’s an important/large enough passtime for the BBC to have devoted three hours of evening TV hours to Transporting Live a few weeks ago week.
I’ve often wondered if this is only a British phenomenon? I am not sure I understand that although I will admit that, as a child, I crossed out bus registration plates in a book that listed all the vehicles operated by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. Bus Spotting: it was Pokémon Go for a 70s childhood.
Perhaps it’s not that hard to explain after all.
However, I do have my own fascination with the networks of the railways. There’s something about the running of an infrastructure that moves thousands of people daily that really interests me. Previously, I’ve highlighted the complexities of the Oyster smart-card system and written about the Hidden London visitor series which can take you to disused parts of the Underground network.
People have warned for years that London’s transport system will start to collapse due to the sheer number of people using it. That is unlikely and gentle degradation is a more likely outcome. What consistently seems to get overlooked, however, is the possibility that two or three problems, relatively small and insignificant in themselves, can come together to produce a situation that is hard to unravel and even more difficult to solve.1
How many of us travelling on the railways understand things such as Dwell time or Sunday Rest Day working?
Basically on large parts of the railway, still, Sunday is not a rostered working day for train crew, and management is reliant on people working rest days to provide a service.2
It’s worth a read if you have the time while staring at the platform display hoping a train will appear.
I guess I could have tried to make this the first in the 2016 Blog Every Wednesday in August series. However, last Wednesday I said that the quote and link format, although a blog staple, is not the BEWA way. I felt this post would be cheating. I may regret that next week when I have to find something to write about.
About 2 years ago, after paying another website hosting bill, I came up with a meme that — surprisingly — failed to take the world by storm. I have no idea why. The primary aim was to put some words on this site to justify those fees. Why it wasn’t a trending topic is beyond me.
The whole point of BEWA, for that is the meme’s catchy, social media-friendly & hashtaggable name, is to challenge myself to find a variety of topics to write about in the style of a proper blog rather than a ‘status’ update. I find this part challenging as my brain has been coached to find Internet content longer than a paragraph hard to process.
If you’re still reading at this point, congratulations, you’ve not caught the one-sentence-and-an-emoticon bug so prevalent today [insert relevant happy emoticon].
There are occasions on this blog where I link to interesting pieces elsewhere but with the BEWA project I’m challenging myself to write something longer about the topics I select and not simply quote and link. At one point, the quote and link format was a Blogger staple — and is still done remarkably well by somepeople — but that’s not the BEWA way.
If I look at this site’s referral information today (specifically, the Google searches that send visitors my way) I see that little has changed. Ex-Australian soap stars are still at the top of the tree, although there are also a few references to this post on the EU Referendum which was written and posted long before the political mess that followed the result. In the interests of not repeating myself and because I’m not more clued-up than anybody else, I’ll be avoiding both Australian soap actors and European politics in this year’s BEWA (although if I want to generate more traffic perhaps I should take the opposite view).
At this point I have one idea for something to write about that I might use so I have a few days to figure it out. Of course, it could be a lot of nonsense written about nothing. The goal, however, is to get writing again so I hope you’ll indulge me for a month. After all, you’re going to need something while you’re waiting for your train.
And what’s that you say, we’re still in July? Think of this of the summer bonus entry that you wish you hadn’t wasted 2 and a half minutes reading. The whole thing starts this time next week. Set your alarm; although there will likely be a 140 character status update to remind you. I’m preparing a selection of useful hashtags.