Random Gum: Spring into Action 2017

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I never intended for this springtime playlist to grow to such massive proportions. It’s just that I was exposed to so much music – so much sound – so much joy – so much pain in the last few months, and this is the result. My experience and memory filtered into an auditory blueprint. Effortlessly. It’s long – so long – but I did not feel like censoring or making choices because I do that all the rest of the time in my life. You don’t have to listen or like this compilation of 110 bloody songs (although on the burned discs I’ve mailed by post, it looks like maybe only 109 of them actually worked – sorry)… but I am sharing all of it anyway because it’s just what I do.

I never imagine that very much happens or changes in my life, but then when I have an opportunity to reflect, I realize that major things have happened almost weekly over the course of the last six months…. I won’t go into the minutiae of that. I will only say that, as ever, nothing is settled. I am spending a lot of time thinking, reading and writing… and it’s all I feel like doing. It makes for a bit of an insular life that yields very little to tell/share (other than ‘insights’ or takeaways from the things I read and listen to…).

The postal versions (to those for whom I have postal addresses) are going out in the mail this week.

To move on you must move through… Love to all of you.

Random Gum: Moving on Again – How to live with a phantom: Spring into action 2017
(Almost) complete playlist on Spotify.

01. Ed Harcourt – Born in the 70s
Thanks to MP & chats on generational issues. “But can you count on me?/I might let you down/In a world that is so sensational/No you can count on me/I’m living for the now/Up against the older generation’s wall”

02. The Shacks – This Strange Effect …and I like the way you kiss me, don’t know if I should/but this feeling is love and I know that’s why I feel good…

03. The Associates – Love Hangover …I don’t need no cure…
Thanks to William

04. Psychic Twin – Hopeless …And I remain hopelessly alone in the heart/Like I’ve always been from the start…

05. Bubblegum Lemonade – As Dead as Disco …I’m San Francisco; you are New York…
Thanks to some random Glaswegian Twitter guy

06. Girl Ray – Trouble …I don’t want to win anymore, Cause honey, winning it just make me feel sore…
Trouble always finds me. Slight 70s sound; good lead-in tone and theme wise to “The Lonely Man”

07. The Incredible Hulk TV theme song – The Lonely Man
For SD

08. Howard Jones – Things Can Only Get Better
Planned to include this (thinking 2017 could only be better after 2016 – wrong so far!) and then realized dear Bethany also put it on a recent mix she sent – and even gave the mix this title.

09. Bill Ryder-Jones – You Can’t Hide a Light with the Dark …The way you fall apart/I still adore it…
“The light’s on in your backroom/Are you with him/Are you with him/The lights off and it’s darkness/You’re so heartless”

10. Maud Lübeck – Mon amourenboîte
Thanks to Laurent

11. Palehound – Cinnamon …Mellow, cringing ugly fellows/Mixing water into gin/And chasing it with cinnamon…

12. Minor Victories – Breaking My Light …Will these shadows lift/They’ve been breaking my light…
Thanks and love to MP, who once or twice helped lift some shadows

13. Rabbit is Rich – Kick Your Ass
More thanks to the incomparable William, king of Christmas cards and cool music mixes

14. Andrew Bird – Tin Foil …What is moving will be still/What has gathered will disperse…
“Evil Knievel shot up from dead grass/And I loved him better each time that he crashed”

15. Maria Andersson – The Girl Who Loved Islands
Probably just because I am nothing if not an island girl at heart

16. Bill Pritchard – Mother Tongue …They lived in separate countries, as we watched their future unfurl…
“What’s that you mean?/I don’t think I caught your tone/Say that again in your mother tongue”

17. Max Shrager – Thoughts of You …to hold onto my thoughts of you…

18. The War on Drugs – Red Eyes
Always a driving song… don’t drive as much as I used to but still need songs for the road

19. Boy & Bear – Southern Sun …You see I’m not gonna wait till the end of me/’Cause I got the burning fire in bed of my soul…

20. Crystal Stilts – The Dazzled …It can’t be saved. It’s already lost, it thrives on my resistance/We are bound and marching to an ever static distance…

21. Vetiver – Can’t You Tell …Look ahead where our future hides/But the world waits wide-eyed…

22. Trailer Trash Tracys – You Wish You Were Red …Oh my darling, you’re a dying red star…

23. Steve Mason – The Letter …could it be that you don’t know me any more?…
Was supposed to see this dude twice within a week (Gothenburg and Oslo). Canceled. It was not how I had imagined anyway, so just as well that none of it happened.

24. Cass McCombs – There Can Be Only One
“Like a master’s baptism of fire/I know you have your ways/And two masters at once, no man can acquire/You set my heart ablaze”

25. Japanese Breakfast – The Woman that Loves You …You should try to do as little harm as you can to the woman that loves you…

26. Neko Case, kd lang, Laura Veirs – Down I-5 …Driving down I-5/I don’t ever want to die/Cause I’d no more get to see/All this beauty passing by me…
How many fruitless trips down I-5 have I taken? “You know you’re living if you’ve sinned”

27. Thelma – If You Let It …lines are crossed of will and fear/it is ringing loud and clear…
“Feel the limits you put/on yourself and those around you/you deserve more, you deserve more”. Here’s to seizing more.

28. Chelsea Wolfe – Appalachia …like black diamonds, ash and light/like the mines and anthracite…

29. Timber Timbre – Velvet Gloves & Spit

30. Totally Mild – Christa …It doesn’t matter what you do/It only matters who you do it with…

31. Childish Gambino – Me and Your Mama
For Naomi, who did not realize Donald Glover was Childish Gambino.

32. Houndstooth – Canary Island …it’s never been quite right/always taking things to dark inside/a restless mind is hard please/most of the time…
“Oh to be the dust that covers/everything”

33. Hefner – Half a Life …Life without my sweetheart is only half a life…

34. Stereolab – Ping Pong
Socialism in song… hitting the musical ball back and forth with MP

35. Beachbuggy – Japanese Radio Ad
More Japanese noise and more love to MP
36. AdriAnne Lenker – Jonathan …listen up, I’m a wreck I’m a mess, this is not the effect/Of a loss or a vex, this is you…
“Let me be the honest home where you can rest/Your tired mind”

37. Tinariwen – Cler Achel
A very Al Jazeera documentary-loving, Henry-Rollins-style travels kind of music

38. Chelsea Wolfe – Flatlands …I want flatlands/will you go there with me…
“When it’s said in the dark and you know it’s always there/when it’s dead in our heart but your mind is unafraid/when it’s said in the dark and you know it’s never coming back/when it’s there in your heart in your mind you set it free”

39. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – I Never Learned French
Where have all my French connections gone?
40. Cats on Fire – It’s Clear Your Former Lover
Funnish Finns. “Now, it’s possible he may have been the one who loved you the most/I don’t want to compete and I don’t like the smell of his ghost”

41. The Horrors – Still Life (Connan Mockasin remix) …Slow down/give it time…
Preferred this remix to the original; sitting in a shopping mall parking lot waiting for a friend, listening and absorbing the message: “Don’t hurry, give it time. Things are the way they have to be.”

42. Baxter Dury – Other Men’s Girls

43.Morgan Delt – Some Sunsick Day …After the blast levels our town/We can relax and watch it come down…
“After we start over again/We’ll start to feel safe in our skin/Maybe we’ll be wrinkled and grey/Or maybe we’ll get new plastic faces/We’ll finally find what we need”

44. Vashti Bunyan – Love Song
Thanks to, love for MP

45. Space Needle – Before I Lose My Style …I tried to be it all/when I left you behind…

46. Galaxie 500 – Snowstorm
Thoughts of MP and an almost-snowless winter

47. Itasca – No Consequence
With love for Annette – plenty of consequences.

48. The Limiñanas – Down Underground

49. Jenny Hval – Conceptual Romance …I want to give up but I can tell/My heartbreak is too sentimental for you…
This song is everything. ”A sexual holding pattern/Stuck in erotic self-oscillation/This landmine of a heart/The only one I’ve ever had/I’ve ever had”; “So I lose my gaze to keep you/Creating a curve for the eyes/A rejected body/And losing it is constant, but such a lonely place/What can I say?/I don’t know who I am, but/I’m working on it…”

50. Psychic Ills – Mind Daze …I’m doing fine/when I’m out of my mind…

51. Suuns – 2020

52. Minor Victories – Give Up the Ghost …When you act like I’m nothing to you/Make me feel like I’ve been replaced/I could tear you apart/Leave a brand-new scar…
53. Amber Arcades – Constant’s Dream …It’s not different we’re just getting used to it/But we’ve always known what to expect…
“Our bodies are full and nobody is trying/It’s not like we don’t want to, we’re just not desiring”

54. Still Parade – Walk in the Park
Poetry, Wanstead Park and Denise Levertov’s ark-of-the-ache-of-it connection: “Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry”. For MP

55. Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker – Something Familiar

56. Twin Limb – Don’t Even Think

57. Nice as Fuck – Door …All the shit that we talk is a smokescreen/It’s a waste of your time/A waste of my being…

58. Family Friends – Look the Other Way …I think there’s some things you forgot from when we used to talk a lot…

59. Chastity Belt – Seattle Party …Your life is so raw/You’ve been through so much…

60. Pixie Geldof – Wild Things Grow
Not anything I ever anticipated including despite lifelong weird obsession with Bob Geldof; thanks to Travis, this finds its way here
61. Lee Hazlewood – Hey Cowboy
Love to Naomi

62. Matt Duncan – 1000 Boys …This record’s skipping on a sigh… (but not an Eliot sigh…)
“That I’m smitten with my worries and my doubts/No lovelorn prince would ever dare to sing about”
63. Shintaro Sakamoto – In a Phantom Mood
Japan time!

64. Allo Darlin’ – Kiss Your Lips …Then I kissed your lips and for a moment it was heavenly/Because you found me, baby/Baby I found you…

65. Weyes Blood – Seven Words …I want you mostly in the morning/when my soul is weak from dreaming…

66. Julia Jacklin – Pool Party …Said you’re sorry you were drinking through the day then/Only stopped to let your lungs take the hit/Said I won’t blame you now but you lost my love somehow/Then you jumped right in…
I sort of misjudged this song when I first heard it – kinda fitting when I really listened

67. The Innocence Mission – Bright as Yellow …And I do not want to be a rose/I do not wish to be pale pink/But flower scarlet, flower gold/And have no thorns to distance me…

68. I Break Horses – Winter Beats …When your heart in winter beats/Don’t let that cold blood freeze/Cause frozen love will bleed…
Represent the home team (Sweden!) and other people’s Spotify playlists

69. Kim Jung Mi – Haenim
I read about “Korean folk” music, which is like 60s folk rock and nothing to do with traditional Korean music. And you can hear that when you listen to this interesting, if odd, song.

70. Vivian Girls – Where Do You Run To …It’s alright just leave the light on, I will never ask you why/Once you’ve gone remains the question baby/Where do you go? Where do you go? Why do you leave me all alone?…

71. Sam Patch – St. Sebastian
Another one of those whose sound I like…

72. Amber Arcades – Right Now …But we could go right now/We could have another life…
“I made my mind up long ago/The road is long and slow/So many things to leave behind/But everyone can live their lie/I’m not even sure that I don’t like mine”

73. “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” – from Orphee et Eurydice, Gluck, Donald Runnicles & Orchestra of San Francisco; Dawn Upshaw, Alison Hagley, Jennifer Larmore

74. Wasuremono – Cuddling
As the dear Scots say, to mean ‘cuddling’, “coorie in”
75. Spain – Nobody Has to Know …Girl we’ve fallen so in love/It was just a year ago/And you’ve kept it to yourself…

76. Blake Mills – Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me …I was wrong to turn honesty against you/And sure, some of them could use a good talk…
Seems like a timely kind of song, with thoughts of trying to keep secrets about people “fucking up”

77. King Creosote – And the Racket They Made …And your words chased round and round in my head/Last night…
To the peaceful days that started the year and the endless discography of King Creosote, which droned on all morning and throughout our entire absence when wandering through the cold countryside. “And the tide shrinks back into its womb/And I hope the empty shells and bones of your stories/Will litter and clutter the shores/And I hope that when I find them/I’ll remember how they danced/And the racket they made/When they were alive”

78. William Onyeabor – Ride on Baby …You don’t know why you love me so much, baby…
RIP William, king of Nigerian funk… reminds me of a weird time in my professional career working with insufferable hipsters who spent much of their lives in downward facing dog pose (since they had to be posing somehow…)

79. Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb …The way I act don’t seem like me/I’m not on top like I used to be…
Acknowledging when you’re not on your A-game…

80. Nick Garrie – Can I Stay With You
Calm in the eye of the storm; love for MP

81. Cigarettes After Sex – K. …I remember when I first noticed that you liked me back/We were sitting down in a restaurant waiting for the check/We had made love earlier that day with no strings attached/But I could tell that something had changed how you looked at me then…
What a beautiful song… its combination of beauty and hope kinda makes me feel melancholy.

82. Bubblegum Lemonade – This is the New Normal
Hoping that the world we live in right now is not the new normal…

83. Tenniscoats – Hikoki
Thinking of back when my mom expanded her vocabulary to include the Japanese neko and hikooki

84. Spinning Coin – Albany …When the weather comes/It comes in measures/When the pain comes/Instead of pleasure…
“I don’t know I thought I knew you but I was wrong/I was impressed by your love for complexity”

85. Wolf Alice – Bros …Are you wild like me/Raised by wolves and other beasts…

86. The Duke Spirit – Serenade …slow you remind me/how to be silent/and your story leaves me wanting/and the way I feel is changing…

87. Desperate Journalist – Distance …oh your heart/a hurricane…
How much I want to create distance. “I’ve lost you” – yes, you have.
88. Surface to Air Missive – Time Being …I don’t know where you are now/but it’s someone else for all I know…
The guilt of unanswered/unreciprocated missives. Bigger than surface

89. Billy Bragg – Upfield
“I’ve got a socialism of the heart.” Nothing describes me better at this stage in life

90. Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing!
Thanks to MP and his mad, made-up music ‘game’/DJing a Friday night from afar, as ever

91. Slowdive – Star Roving
To made-up middle-of-night games pitting songs against each other and admissions of never cottoning to Slowdive back in the old days

92. Minor Victories – Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)

93. Cat’s Eyes – Drag …Oh you’ve been dragging me down…

94. Grouper – Headache …why does love keep letting me down?…

95. Antonio Carlos & Jocafi – Você Abusou
Something from the Cerys on 6 BBC Sunday radio, listened at someone’s suggestion

96. Dirty Projectors – Up in Hudson
Love and thanks to Andreas. The sound here is not mine, but the lyrics… dear, dear heavens

97. Tasseomancy – Dead Can Dance & Neil Young …fade into folk song…
Enjoyed getting lost in the sound…

98. Valerie June – Astral Plane
Thanks to Travis

99. Princess Chelsea – The Cigarette Duet
Thanks to dear Gabe and of course love for New Zealand

100. Super Furry Animals – Hermann Loves Pauline
Gute Nacht, mein Liebling, Roscoe

101. The Proper Ornaments – Memories …memories will go/slowly float away/but I can see your face/from here…

102. The Saxophones – New Tradition
“But I haven’t shown you my best part; it’s too hard, and I’m quick to judge”

103. Sibelius – In the Stream of Life (Rautavaara)
104. Robyn Hitchcock – Goodnight Oslo

105. Spell – Stone is Very Very Cold …my hand may tremble now and then/but my heart can never break again…

106. Julie Byrne – Follow My Voice …To me, this city’s hell/But I know you call it home/I was made for the green/Made to be alone…
“I’ve been called heartbreaker/For doing justice to my own/I, too, been a fault-finder/But that life is broke/How I love you/You’re the one my heart chose/And so I will be here”

107. Ultra Vivid Scene with Kim Deal – Special One
Watching the video on a hotel room bed in Oslo, nearing the end of the five-day bubble, memories of high school for me, an intro to something new for him

108. Sheryl Crow – The Book …I didn’t know by giving my hand/that I would be written down, sliced around, passed down, among strangers’ hands…
A mainstream thing you won’t know, a lot like Friends, but still has its place in pop culture. And this song has always struck me – writers as “voyeur, the worst kind of thief” of such personal details; always be on the defensive. “I read your book/and I find it strange/that I know that girl, I know her world/a little too well”

109. Steve Mason – Hardly Go Through …I’ve never cried over someone I hardly know/But I can feel it/Can you feel it?…
“In my head I hear a voice, they say/You made the wrong choice/And you don’t need me, you’ll never need me”

110. Blondie – Fade Away and Radiate …Electric faces seem to merge/Hidden voices mock your words…
The musical definition of my earliest childhood, still resonating as I burnish in middle age. Isn’t that what memory, intellect, age and living do? Haha. One can hope. “Ooh baby I hear you spend night time/Wrapped like candy in a blue, blue neon glow”

Hot dogs and mannequins

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Freaking me out

Freaking me out

My life has seemingly been half-lived on Twitter of late. No long-form blogging streaming from this globetrotter’s fingers.

Lately, I find that wherever I go, hot dogs keep coming up as a source of illness, envy, a stand-in representative of American hegemony (even if eaten in hamburger buns) and even in the form of a chain of eateries called “Hot Dog World”. Even in a traditional UK bakery chain, they’ve launched this new hot dog proposition – and naturally, one, impatient for a coffee and pastry, will get behind the one idiot who needs a fully loaded hot dog first thing in the morning.

Looking but not seeing - mannequin heads in surgical staff clothing

Looking but not seeing – mannequin heads in surgical staff clothing

Meanwhile, in the office, my fear of mannequins has resurfaced. I joined some colleagues for a mini photo shoot this morning only to discover the freakiest, scariest mannequin I have ever seen. I tried to get a close-up shot of its face, which was difficult since I did not want to touch it. You can see how creepy the face is but don’t get the full effect of its slightly open mouth and little freaky plastic teeth (see above).

Never trust a mannequin donning a face mask

Never trust a mannequin donning a face mask

a closet of disembodied mannequin arms

a closet of disembodied mannequin arms

Mannequin hands in ... a planter?

Mannequin hands in … a planter?

The freakiest mannequin I have ever seen

The freakiest mannequin I have ever seen

Downsides to Cord Cutting

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Sometimes I would love nothing more than to get rid of all my cords and cables – there is a tangle of them in my living room powering my multiple computers, my speakers, my jumble of mobile phones, among other things. Streamlining this would be great – and as I have written before, I wish I had a true mobility solution for my mobile (I wrote about the Revocharge charging system the other day, but my only complaint there is that it is part of a Kickstarter campaign and not available for sale right now. And that’s kind of the trouble with a lot of great potential solutions – they are ideas or prototypes that are either not on the market or not market ready).

Similarly I am someone who has been living in the middle of the Swedish forest for years without ever connecting to TV or cable so never even got hooked up in that sense at all. I get all the entertainment I need with strictly online solutions.

But today I saw a Tweet from Adam Dachis about times when cutting oneself free of cables may compromise quality of experience. I would rather hassle with cables too under such circumstances, even if going without cables is liberating. It’s far more important to me, though, to find a way to be free of cables when I need my phone to stay charged when I’m wandering the world than to have a seamless and high-quality wireless headphone experience.

Listener experience is absolutely key for music lovers – and then having to recharge anyway makes it doubly inconvenient. No, Adam, you’re not the only one.

Sometimes cables trump convenience

Sometimes cables trump convenience

 

Stat Explosion and Data Overload

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May 18 skewed my blog statistics in a big way. As someone who manages a very niche, limited-reach blog for a corporation in my professional life (obviously not THIS blog), this sudden and brief explosion was an interesting look at what immediately drives traffic (a retweet from a famous person). Or rather what won’t. The corporate blog gets readers, and the number of readers and subscribers grows slowly but steadily. It is such a specialized area that it is not as though it would ever get the kind of readership that even my personal blog gets – and my personal blog is all over the place – personal, lacking in a theme or point and not actively trying to drive anything. It started as a baking/recipe blog when my colleagues (whom I had stuffed to near-death with cookies and cupcakes) demanded recipes. It evolved into a dumping ground for my thoughts and commentary on television, news/current events and all manner of other nonsense. Even if my personal blog had a steadier stream of traffic than my work blog (makes sense because the randomness of my personal blog means that all kinds of Google searches, from Mobutu Sese Seko to white chocolate macadamia cookies, from the benefits of telecommuting, to pictures of brown sugar cupcakes piled high with mounds of maple Swiss meringue buttercream and candied bacon. might lead someone to my blog), I never achieved any great reach.

on the bacon bandwagon

on the bacon bandwagon

Until today, my personal blog’s best stats never reached more than 250 visitors – and that was when I was baking a lot and posting recipes and pictures of cakes. In the absence of that, I maybe get 30 or 40 visitors. I am not that concerned with the statistics on my personal blog – I write it for my own sake and if someone else gets there and likes it, or even doesn’t like it, that’s fine with me.

But this morning, which has felt like a neverending night now that Swedish near-endless light nights are here, I posted an article about how I finally watched the witty and insightful Inside Amy Schumer, despite the misleading, one-dimensional Comedy Central ads for it that had so long turned me off. I posted about the blog via Twitter, which was retweeted from Schumer’s own account, which then led to what is for me an unprecedented avalanche of activity. Suddenly my phone was chiming: ding ding ding ding ding ding because, thanks to Schumer’s devotees (a more pleasant word than “followers”), people were retweeting and favoriting my original tweet. (Yes, I am perfectly aware of how asinine this sounds. A non-Millennial person describing the tweet and retweet process like it’s really serious business just sounds funny – even if it does have its own importance. It’s just not the be-all, end-all.)

But more than that, the link to the blog in which I wrote about changing my mind about Amy Schumer’s show made the blog statistics skyrocket. In a couple of hours, there were well over 1,000 visitors. The downside is that this opens the door to a lot of unprovoked criticism from complete strangers. But then yeah, the world’s full of haters, and that is completely fine. I hate a lot of stuff too. It is also easy to have a knee-jerk reaction (no emphasis on “jerk” or anything) – as I did to the ads, and as the commenter had to my post. But I am sure we are both cool enough people in our real lives.

The only comment on the Amy Schumer blog entry, in fact, was a negative one, basically laying into me for my “judgmental, accusatorial” observations about an ad. But, as I commented back (and I think we’re cool now), most of our judgments and decisions are kind of “split second” in nature – especially to ads. They are meant to appeal to us on some level, get our attention and in 30 seconds to make us want to do something, consume something, watch something or buy something (I won’t even use as strong a word as “persuade” since it’s more like advertisers tease and tempt with an elevator speech – so shouldn’t it be a bit more tempting, somehow?). Of course, I don’t know who the target audience was with the Schumer ads, but it’s not me – and that’s fine. But I still had to see them, and I made a judgment that watching the show might not be the best use of my time. Or that it would be as crass and shallow as the ads made it seem. That is no judgment of the show itself or Amy Schumer. And my writing about it was more like, “Hey, I was completely wrong about this – and the two people who read this blog and generally trust my opinions on these matters should know it. Watch Inside Amy Schumer!”

With a fleeting moment of greater reach, you simultaneously become a lightning strike (gone in a flash) and a lightning rod.

I suppose a celeb retweet or starting/being part of a trending topic is the sort of thing that one has to get to gain some traction. Even if, for example, in this case, it is a bunch of clicks – not “traction”. We all know it but there’s no way to predict whether any social media activity will lead to anything. Visitors to my personal blog are nice – but much like in the corporate blog environment, it’s not like they stuck around and read other things. And for personal writing, it doesn’t matter. I write what I write, I post it online and to a limited extent in social channels, but I am not writing for an audience or to achieve something.

But for the corporate writing, you sort of want to extend the reach – establish yourself as a thought leader – but you cannot do anything to damage your credibility or try to somehow get that reach artificially. It doesn’t work and won’t hold anyone’s interest. For instance I could try to steer the corporate blog in a direction where “celebrity surgeons” (is there such a thing other than the odd Dr Oz and some plastic surgeons who show up on makeover shows??) somehow feel compelled to retweet the content, but while that might extend reach for a day, it is not delivering quality or longevity or even the target audience we’d want to reach.

In a kind of related area…

“Data data data – you cannot make bricks without clay…” –Sherlock Holmes in TV show Elementary

All this discussion of statistics should lead to an action plan on how to take advantage of statistics and visitor data to guide future blog content – “give the readers what they want”. At least this is true for the corporate blog – consumer/user/customer responsiveness and centricity is really the only way to ensure continued growth for something like this.

I have been participating in a Coursera/Wharton School online class about marketing, and this week was all about customer-centricity. Since I work a lot with the ideas underpinning “taming Big Data” to gain customer insights in my freelance work, the whole idea of customer focus as one of the only real ways to differentiate makes a lot of sense – and customer data (overload) is the key to giving users what they want.

Never mind that I am totally distracted listening to the professor, Peter Fader, deliver his lectures, because he sounds too much like Bob Odenkirk – so I am supposed to be looking at a PowerPoint slide describing a couple of case studies of companies that have put customer data to good use, but it’s like I am hearing Saul Goodman explaining customer centricity to me. (And Saul Goodman arguably did put his customers first, sometimes to his own detriment and at his own peril.)

This customer-centric, data-driven approach is finally taking root in all kinds of business segments and industries. As Fader pointed out, direct marketing has always used data to target customers – but now, in the digital age, this data is readily available to almost everyone (I won’t get into the ethics of data collection, privacy, etc. except to say that while it’s great for businesses, it’s creepy for customers – see a recent article about a pregnant woman and Princeton professor who had to go to insane lengths to hide her pregnancy from advertisers, retailers and the Big Data machine.) At first companies like Google and Amazon tapped into user data because it’s in their DNA – I have spent a lot of time looking at how old-style, traditional publishers who lost both revenue and subscribers in the big digital shift are now taking back control their data (they had ceded a lot of it to third parties who started taking an ever-larger share of the pie from them) to target their website visitors, readers, subscribers with content and advertising that is highly personalized. And just today I saw a news report about a museum in London that has begun to use all kinds of data collection (traditional and digital) to continue to attract visitors. As the report stated, “Research is a key part of the museum’s arsenal.”

The application of data and personalization is the next logical step, but I wonder about the quality and longevity of this too. Collecting, analyzing and applying user data can only go so far before people feel as though someone is always looking over their shoulder. I cannot help but wonder if that sense of Big Data infiltrating one’s life will start to feel too much like Big Brother and begin to change and influence consumer behavior?

(As advertised – I rambled aimlessly!)

Baking Builds Community

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If I ever needed evidence of how cool and community-building Twitter can be, the last couple of days are a case in point. I exchanged a couple of not terribly meaningful Tweets with thinkspace (a company in the Seattle area that is a kind of office space/tech accelerator). I had heard of them but had no real reason to interact. But yesterday having crossed paths on Twitter thanks to the Mink 3D printer story making headlines in the tech world, I checked out thinkspace (awfully cool the work they’re doing in my old stomping grounds – western Washington).

But one of the coolest finds was an article in the thinkspace blog about how “baking builds community” – and this is something I can attest to – having started this blog back in 2009 or so because of my own baking obsessions and inclinations. Earlier parts of the blog are all about baking, recipes and pictures of cookies – 2014 has been almost bake-less, but somehow seeing the mention of baking mania on the thinkspace site makes me think it might be time to come out of hibernation.

Bear with me a minute – I am going to reach a point but before that will discuss a bit about the operational side of my weekly commuting life, a very impersonal and faceless grind. Each week, I spend one night and two days in Gothenburg, Sweden (where I work). Almost every week now, I stay in the same spare, no-frills hotel on the edge of the city. I don’t mind it; it is one of the least expensive options and the staff is pretty friendly. I would never go so far as to say that most Swedish companies, even those squarely in competitive consumer markets, are particularly friendly or service-oriented, but this low-end place has actually been friendlier and offered better service than I got at a lot of the city’s more upscale places.

Generally, in the year+ that I have been doing this “commute”, I have stayed in at least half of Gothenburg’s 90-ish hotels and in all parts of the city. In many cases, I have stayed in the handful of places that are actually whole apartments, which is always more comfortable for slightly longer-than-overnight stays – but they are generally expensive and impersonal, if you can actually book a flat (they are often sold out, as is almost always the case with one specific place in the city center).

This week I got an apartment that is a tiny bit off the beaten path but is nevertheless quite central – a really beautiful flat with the most personal and attentive service possible. The people running the flats (there are, I think, four or five flats there for rent) are personable and really strive to make the stay at their place fantastic. And it was. I fell in love with the apartment I stayed in (it is not one of the more spa-oriented flats that they have fashioned on the lower floor) – it was compact enough that it was not a huge amount of space but had high ceilings and skylight windows and a small loft just for sitting in natural light. It made me feel almost sad that I never found a flat just like it when I was looking to buy a flat in Gothenburg (not that I would have managed to win a bid in the cutthroat real estate market here).

The whole reason I digress and go off into this story was because I had a long conversation with the proprietress of the place – a gregarious Australian woman, and we got onto the subject of baking – my industrial-level baking habit/hobby and how I give all of it away. How it builds bridges, opens doors and of course (as she noted) probably gave me away as an American like nothing else does. Haha. I commented that Australia Day had just passed and I felt bad that I had not made any Anzac biscuits for the first time in years – and she lamented that she had not even had an Anzac biccie in 20+ years.This exchange – discussing baking – yes, just discussing, opened the door to further conversation and personalization. That really made a big difference – a human connection. And it makes me want to fire up the oven and make some cookies right now. Peanut-butter-cup-stuffed chocolate chip cookies anyone?

Baking really does build community – whether you are offering up 20 different kinds of cookies and cupcakes to the office or whether you are just discussing what you like to bake with the people you happen to meet in your daily life. Suddenly I feel inspired to get back in the kitchen.

Here’s another little piece of advice…

Made Up Make-Up? Innovation and Shifting Trends

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Every place you go today, someone is opening their mouth too much and too enthusiastically about “innovation” and setting an “innovative mindset”. While I am all for shifting the way of doing things to reach unheard-of, unthought-of conclusions, innovation – as those who really work with it know – is the end product – sometime after it is in the market or being used. Usually a person or team does not come up with an innovation by sitting in a workshop talking about what would be innovative. It comes from a lot of different places, angles and factors and can only be called “innovation” – or true innovation – after the fact when its results are known.

I would never have imagined, for example – and this is a point that lies at the heart of “innovation” – something happens that no one imagined, knew was needed or possible that changes the game somehow – either an entire market, a market segment or even whole industries and cultures – that we needed or would see some kind of major innovation in the area of consumer cosmetics and access to them. But the tech-news circuit is abuzz this week with the story of Grace Choi, a Harvard Business School grad, who realized that she could use cutting-edge 3D printing technology to print her own cosmetics.

Recently I started refreshing my basics of marketing knowledge by taking an online course via Coursera/Wharton. One of the cases the professor made was the changing face of consumer interaction with cosmetics. It used to be, if one were not going to the drugstore or big box store (e.g. Wal-mart, Target, etc.), the consumer had to ask for help from a salesperson, all the merchandise was hidden away behind a counter and each brand had its own area/station – meaning that there was not a lot of opportunity for testing and comparing things right next to each other or without having to interact on some meaningful level with another person. This perhaps created a more upscale, customer-oriented experience but for some it was inconvenient and intimidating. And completely out of the customers’ hands. The marketing model and the ways in which the brands were marketed to consumers started to change, though, when online shopping became the mainstream and when the retail experience changed by introducing stores like Sephora. Sephora is an emporium full of all kinds of different cosmetic brands, offering some staff to help out but mostly putting the testing and trying experience into the customers’ hands. To some degree, shopping online changed the process of buying cosmetics as well – but makeup is still such a trial-and-error thing – the expense of it makes one really want to test things out before committing to buying, which led to the very logical but very different retail experience in the form of a Sephora experience.

Now, thanks to some clever innovation, technology and someone simply saying, “Why not?”, we can see the next incarnation of this developing trend of putting the power (whether it is cosmetic creation or something entirely different) in consumers’ hands.

But now with her Mink printer, Choi has used 3D printer technology to remove the middle man (and its often exorbitant mark-up and lack of choice) from the equation, creating a whole new groundbreaking platform to think about. A consumer is at home and can select, print and try just about anything they want in the convenience of their home, the privacy of home, without breaking the bank. This has major implications, of course, for the multibillion dollar global cosmetics industry, especially as this innovation becomes mainstream and is perfected for consumer use. It’s early days – and maybe right now really will only appeal to Choi’s target audience (teen and young-adult women) but like everything that revolutionizes daily life, our purchasing habits – we will start to think about these things in a different way. Today we think about going to Sephora and testing out lots of colors, brands and styles. Yesterday we thought we’d go to the Chanel counter and have to ask for help at the local department store. And tomorrow we can print anything we want.

I exchanged a couple of surface-level Tweets with thinkspace (thinkspace) (after reTweeting their initial Tweet about the Mink printer) and they posed the question, “Would you buy the printer?” And the truth is, probably not now. With most things, I am not an early adopter – and I am not the target audience for this product in any case. I like to wait for things to be perfected and to offer a few more choices and options before I jump in and buy. But as someone who is always thinking about where innovation is born and how it unfolds in unexpected ways, this struck me as a game changer – even if people don’t start printing their own make-up en masse – it may shift the dynamic in terms of how cosmetics companies reach out to consumers, in the choices they offer – and that is just the beginning.

And it really could not come at a better time. In a 2012 McCann WorldGroup study, women expect brands to do more than they currently do “to help guide the process of discovery, choice, purchase and application of products, as beauty regimes become more complex”. If this is the feedback cosmetics companies are getting and they don’t respond, then I assume it’s about time that some other solution come along and deliver what people are asking for.

When I drink I don’t panic…

Do not play fast and loose with my heart…

Harbingers of Techie Doom – Skipping Humanity

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Circulating on the web is an article called “Young Techies – Know Your Place” by Bryan Goldberg. He contends that it’s a great piece of satire (a point that has been lambasted, in particular by Andrew Leonard at Salon and Jason Calacanis).

It’s hard to sum up concisely all the things that are wrong with the so-called “satire”.

It reminds me a lot of debates about whether athletes should finish school before they go pro – or grab the opportunity when they have it. In those cases, the window and scope of opportunity (and probability of getting injured) indicates that young athletes should probably seize the chance while they have it. You have all your life to go back to school later.

The same could be said of young techies – and we could all embrace the idea that formal education can be had any time (granted, it gets harder to fit into your life as you get older and have more responsibilities, but at the same time, many new high school grads really are not mature enough to invest the kind of money in college that they do and end up wasting a lot of money and dropping out or spending a lot of money and still coming out without a clue about what they want to do). If a person has the tech skills needed and in-demand and can gain valuable work experience – well-paid or not – that’s great. I don’t think anyone is saying that that should not be a personal choice.

However, Calacanis succinctly pointed out the insensitivity and lack of humanity in Goldberg’s argument: “polarization of wealth & unemployment are important issues of our time–not something to be a smug about”.

It is not as though people are not routinely priced out of living in certain cities (this has always been a problem, to varying degrees, in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris). But to laud the ability to drive prices up (rather artificially) not only sounds smug but points out clearly what these young techies may be missing in their makeup: humanity and compassion.

Humanity and compassion cannot be taught in school or in a menial job, but so much of what happens at university, as an example, is sociological learning, analysis, learning to think and process new kinds of information, emotional maturity, character building. A lot of what happens when you work in “menial 8-dollar-an-hour” jobs is a kind of learning how to live a grounded, down-to-earth life. That’s not to say everyone has to do that to understand. It is just that “jumping to the front of the line” and being smug about it – and not at all considering the larger-scale repercussions for all people – of any “revolution” (in this case a geographically restricted tech revolution that is upending real-estate/housing stability) – denies the idea that poverty or becoming one of the working poor is something that could happen to anyone. While it is not particularly likely for many of the young techies, there is something about lacking well-roundedness or lacking the connectedness to a community, that is alarming. Or, maybe it is not their disconnectedness – as much as it seems to be the disconnectedness of the guy writing on their behalf – satirically, as he claims.

No value added: Corporate tongues run amok

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“…With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power.
The enemy is illiterate.”
from “Vowel” – Nina Cassian (Romania)

Earlier today it felt as though the word “value” had jumped up and slapped me in the face. Thinking of all the overused applications of “value” (particularly “value chain” and “value proposition”), it has lost all meaning. And, once I posted something on Twitter about banishing this word from my vocabulary, someone else pointed out that there is no value added by value-added tax. Not for the one paying it, anyway. “How can we add value?” This question, triggering such irritation, is packed with no meaning. What do these things even mean anymore?

“Managers” (so appointed but not necessarily qualified) seem to be among the worst communicators I know. On a very surface level, I deal frequently with managers and directors who are non-native English speakers; there is some awkwardness to be expected then. Fine. What gets dicey though is how all managers of all nationalities turn into corporate cheerleader automatons – newspeak anyone? – in all the same ways. Incessant talk about value chains, low-hanging fruit and a lot of the lingo that has trickled down in large part from the management consulting industry triggers something in me. Hearing it, it immediately makes me think the person doing the talking has no idea what he is talking about. He needs these mutually understood (in this business community) BS words and expressions to obscure the fact that he really has nothing at all to say. Everyone must know it but everyone accepts it. To go outside of the confines of newspeak, to say in plain language exactly what is going on, would be a thought crime.

This wholesale adoption of meaningless language lacks precision.  All this “marketingspeak” could be reduced to just a few simple words that everyone could understand… simplify. Yet, these manager types (in fairness, not all of them are on this sinking ship) would lose some kind of self-importance and peer credibility if they suddenly started speaking straight English. In one previous job, a manager reviewed a paper I had written and had no problems with it but tried to get me to add in a list of his most beloved expressions because he felt sure it would help get other people to take it more seriously. Yes, adding “tipping point” and “crossing the chasm” and other such absurdity (he literally included a list of six or seven “additions”, which I ignored) will bolster the integrity of a data-driven case study?

I don’t know what it says about me, but it seems that I can only find real meaning in words like “value” and “strategy” in direct applications, such as “strategy” as it pertains to the a military operation and “value” as it pertains to something tangible like a “high-value asset” in the intelligence community. It is clear exactly what a strategy is in the military. It is not this vague, unclear, half-baked idea (well, it might be, actually, considering how modern militaries and warfare are going) – but in theory, it makes total sense. And value in a recruited intelligence asset is equally clear – you want information that the asset is in a unique position to obtain. End of story. In a business setting, especially when you unleash a whole unruly homeless dog shelter on it and let the mutts tinker with “strategy” and determine “value”, you are asking for it.

Layers of fluff and meaninglessness are my biggest conflicts with corporate life. I will not obfuscate the facts to comfort people who cannot let go of the pretense and poppycock of devaluing real language.

Just in time to boycott Twitter; instead, watching tearjerkers

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