December 15, 2012

The Punctuated Revolution

Back in the 1980s there were dire predictions of global climate change and warnings that in less than 100 years the planet could be thrown into environmental turmoil. The gist of it has proven true, only it's taking place much faster than expected.

The same is now true for the fate of traditional media.

Change is not linear and consistent, it's punctuated by events of great disruption. One year you're buying CD's from a "record store", and the next you're complaining about download speeds while sucking an entire series of TV onto your iPad.

We're still getting word from the old boys in the Main Stream Media that it's time to look seriously at the threat posed by the internet. Actually that threat was obvious at least 5 years ago and what they're now watching is the tipping of an ice berg. It starts slowly at first, with a few groans and pops, then suddenly the entire mass of ice is rolling forward like an unstoppable boulder the size of Uluru.

More recently the twitter-sphere has erupted with derision over the manifest failure of #MSM (Main Stream Media) to deliver even remotely reasonable journalism to a knowledge thirsty audience. The problem with this model is that we no longer have a Main Stream Media. All that is left of the daily papers and nightly news bulletins are marginalised entertainment units that have to scream increasingly loud to get attention.

Real news apparently doesn't sell enough advertising any more, so extreme news is used to boost the numbers. Trouble is that each time the editors jump the shark they push away a little more of their old audience and set the bar for indifference even higher. It's a spiral of death where advertisers cut their spend accordingly, journalists get the sack to keep the business profitable and the cycle spins ever tighter into itself.

At first the spiral into oblivion for a newspaper is slow and broad, resembling an editorial shift over many years as good journos are sent out to chase bad stories. The tighter the spiral descends the faster the collapse, signalled by ever more dreadful excuses for journos being given ever greater column inches. In some cases even a TV show.

We're in the final phases now, where the future of mastheads can be counted in months instead of years. Don't blink, you just might miss the moment of truth. Only a few titles will survive the wash up, and they won't be the ones that sacked all the proper journos either. Who needs to pay $2 a day to read newsprint filled with rumour and fiction, when you can jump on Twitter and get it for free?

The old boys in print are equally keen to boast that "social media" doesn't have any real journalists so what good is Twitter when you want to find out the truth. Irony is lost on them and so is mathematics. The biggest circulating newspaper in Australia claims 100,000 copies a day, which puts it narrowly in front of Annabel Crabb and her 70,000 (and growing) twitter followers.

Sure that's not 70,000 daily readers, but there's a hundred Annabels out there and each of them are eminently retweetable. The numbers scale quickly and in a targeted fashion. For all the hoo-ha over Alan Jones and his "influence", his greatest gift to the media landscape is to act as a human warning to others.

Annabel has the added advantage of offering 100% informed opinion without the distraction of advertising. A single reader can follow a few hundred news sources and tap into a network of information that is orders of magnitude greater than anything offered by every Australian newspaper put together. Put that information gathering ability behind some nice apps on your iPad, such as FlipBoard or Zyte, and you have a far superior experience in every possible way.

You can even send feedback directly to the source to let them know if they hit the mark or not. The reader is in control, not the editor. That is the revolution. Newspapers don't fear unqualified journos on Twitter, they fear being accountable to their audience.

Recent news events such as the infamous misogyny speech by Prime Minister Gillard and the Ashby conspiracy to depose the Speaker of the House failed to get due attention in the #MSM. Thankfully overseas papers like the Guardian provided newsworthy accounts of both for Twitter followers in Australia.

But the #MSM is not really main stream, it's actually the fringe. They just haven't realised it yet and neither have most of the people who object to their scale of bias. These dying mastheads are like a school yard bully, if you ignore them enough they will simply go away.

Given their rate of rabidity and desperation over the last 12 months they will be going away even sooner than anyone could have predicted.




Newspaper Death Watch
http://newspaperdeathwatch.com/

The Failed Estate / Jim Parker
http://thefailedestate.blogspot.com.au/

Let The Great Unhinging Begin / Scott Steel
http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/

Prissy Shrieks of Fear and Loathing / Mike Carlton
http://www.theage.com.au/

December 03, 2012

The $100 Brand

Every time I get a Dell brochure in the mail I am reminded of how a $100 failure can ruin a brands reputation. Failure to deliver, in this case quite literally, has lost that company tens of thousands of dollars worth of business. It was avoidable.

Three years ago I bought $100 worth of printer and paper online. Dell had a special offer. Only problem was they didn't have any printers. So they took the money and promised to sort out delivery some time later. That never happened. It took several goes to track down the problem, but after many months I had to ask for a refund.

As is often the case, a large company with inflexible systems stumbles on small matters of detail. Soon after the purchase of a phantom printer my credit card experienced fraudulent activity, and was hence cancelled. Unable to refund to my credit card, Dell said they would send me a cheque. Seems simple enough, only they didn't do this. Someone made a mistake and attempted to refund a dead card anyway.

Two years pass and I raise the problem with someone important in branding based in the USA. They make squeaky noises of shame and email important people in Australia to seek action and get it sorted. After 6 more months those important people in Australia have kicked the can down the road until a nit-wit repeats the original error but in more spectacular style.

At no point has anyone simply said,. "Oh yes, we've made an error, lets see if we can fix that."

What does it cost Dell to ignore the problem? In this case quite a bit. Due to my personal experience with failure to deliver goods, similar problems from friends of mine who failed to receive far more expensive items, and the failure to manage a simple mistake I now avoid their products totally.

That means in my office and in my editorial. I never recommend them to anyone because frankly how can I? You judge a brand by how they respond when things go wrong. Airlines that put you up in a nice hotel room and get you on the first plane to Sydney rate very highly with me. Airlines that send you a text message three hours before a flight to say "Please don't turn up to the airport until 3pm tomorrow, good luck getting a room while Bangkok floods." do not rate so well.

Dell failed every single test.

My business, and those I offer direct recommendations to, have hence not purchased any Dell items either. In the three years past that adds up to about $35,000 worth of goods we bought elsewhere. And do you think I'd miss a chance to click on their paid ads when online? I know where that money comes from, and I'm pretty sure we've spent that $100 they robbed from me by now.

I know I'm not the only one who got the short end of Dell Australia's tendency to sell products they don't actually have in stock. Perhaps you'll have more luck than me getting your refund, but if not then just spend your money elsewhere and let your friends know why.

And every month when that brochure arrives in the mail I am reminded of how big companies overlook the little people, and how much it costs them. If only they knew.


There are plenty of brands with better service than Dell. Plenty.









Extra giggles?

 Misleading information from Holland Winfield (Holland_Winfield@dell.com) who was the nit-wit in question who turned a small error into a spectacular one. Sending an unusable printer was icing on the cake and he still seems to be confused about cheques and credit card refunds. That's why the mistake was never rectified.

January 06, 2012

Farewell to my best friend



It's wrong to have favourites but truth is we always do. Twyzle was a rescue cat from the RSPCA and it was girlfriends idea at the time to adopt. It was me who got custody when we broke up but Twyzle was the kind of cat happy with anybodys company. I loved him dearly, and cried a river when he died 6 weeks ago. But he was not my favourite.




Merv was a few weeks old when he was abandoned by a stray. His mother was discovered in a friends attic and she fled, stealing away most of the litter but leaving behind two runts. I raised Merv by hand, and needles to say he loved me in ways he could never love anyone else. Total trust, he was the kitten who never grew up.

When Twyzle died it felt as though his time had come, like a soul ready to move on to his next life. Twzle was eager to live beyond the boundaries of our four walls. Merv was the opposite. He had no interest beyond his home because everything he wanted was right here. A happier cat has never lived. His departure was sudden and reluctant, as though his soul was not ready to go. I was not ready for it either. Twyzke was ill for 12 months and had survived cancer, car accidents and a jaw reconstruction. I was ready for his death for the last ten years, and the day we put him to sleep after a fatal blood clot was relief. Sad, but ready. His time had come.

In the weeks since Twyzle died I found the company offered by Merv ever more valuable. He was filling the place of two souls now, and soaking up the love. Last night Merv suffered a debilitating blood clot as well, and I knew instantly what was to come. Both cats had developed hyperactive thyroids in their senior years, and despite reasonably effective drugs the likelihood of heart complications and clotting was always high. I had chosen to ignore the truth and hoped Merv would live forever.



It's hard to explain how losing a pet can create such emotional distress unless you've been there too. For the last 16 years Merv was always there. Every day he sought affection, endeared with his little attempts to communicate and bring a peaceful purr to my spirit. Not once when I found myself emotional or upset did he fail to come to my side and offer his companionship. I'll never know what he understood inside his little cat brain, but he often surprised me.

Merv was my favourite. I saved his life and for every extra day on this earth he thanked me for it. At my lowest points, which have been many, he came to join me and I was reminded that I got at least one thing right. I helped him grow healthy and happy.

Over the years Merv grew into a happier soul. He gained confidence, revelled in the love of new companions and found great peace in his small world. Who knew a creature so small could fill so much of the world with joy and love? I changed over those years too, learning to be a better person through the responsibility of his care, learning to gain confidence just as he did. Now that Merv is gone I feel a little of myself has gone too.

I wish I could have him back, I'm not ready to lose my best friend.


Merv...















Twyzle...








Twyzle Loves Merv...










When Merv Was Really Really Little...



















January 03, 2012

The Atheist's Holiday

Myself and a few other atheists finished 2011 in a small regional town being bombarded by the life's work of people such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. At this point in history it still takes an unusually courageous individual to stand up and carry the argument. These men are not alone, but they have shouldered the burden.

2011 is a tipping point for the debate about reason over faith.

ABC television aired an interview with Richard Dawkins conducted by Andrew Denton, who took the opportunity to converse with one of our great intellectuals by asking him, "What star sign are you?"

Denton thinks he's smart, but it looks more like he's missing a few of the more useful bits of engineering that evolution has bestowed on our gene pool. Evolution should really be the topic here, and even Bill O'Reilly on the FOX network has been able to have that discussion with Richard Dawkins without resorting to idiocy.

O'Reilly will never be convinced that we live on a planet that was not designed by God, but he showed more respect for Dawkins and his message.

At the heart of the religious conviction that rejects the word of Dawkins and his kind is the idea that if we humans cannot explain it, then it must have been the work of God. He works in mysterious ways, so any mystery must be down to his presence. There was a time when science was unaware of why the stars filled the sky or the spherical nature of our planet.

Religion filled the void in those times. In a modern world where science understands ever more of our universe and the laws that govern it Religion holds dominance over an increasingly smaller realm of the mysterious. You have to suspend your belief in science to accept fully the word of most religions. And that is what angers Dawkins the most. All he wants is a fair playing field for the debate.

Intelligent Design is not a science. It belongs in the religious text, not scientific, as it fails every test of science you can imagine. A belief in God relies on 'faith', a conscious choice to accept beliefs in the absence of evidence. We learn faith from our parents and our culture, but the source of that faith comes from religion and politics.

Little wonder there are so many Gods to choose from.

Indeed to uphold a belief in one God you have to reject a multitude of others, and deny a good swathe of history as well. Science is not the only academic pursuit that gets locked in darkened room. History reveals the breath taking depth of religious forms that have come and gone, and the role religions have played when asserting power over people. Division of Church and state is a relatively new phenomenon in our world.

The fact that humans across the history and geography of our planet have been drawn to religion in all it's forms points not to evidence of God, but evidence of why we believe in a higher power. It is innate within us to look up the chain to the man in charge. Deep down we are just another form of pack-animal, and we'd rather pin the responsibility for our problems on someone at the top.

Dawkins hints at a very dark side of organised religion however, where we give our power over to others and in return we deny ourselves the chance to learn and understand. It's one thing to put your faith in God, it's another to let men in funny robes dictate your education. Libraries are filled with ideas and knowledge, and yet religion lets just one book dominate the exploration of understanding above all others.

You could argue that religions have very little to do with God, and that's the problem. In many ways they keep God at a distance from people, because the men who run the Church are the ones who speak on His behalf. History reveals a litany of men who either imagined or lied about the word of God to suit their own needs.

If God did exist wouldn't he be pretty dismayed with how his words are twisted and manipulated to suit the power hungry?

The arguments for why God is an inevitable construct of human imagination could fill a library, but then it too would look like a religion. Ironic. Science is not religion, it is a pursuit of knowledge on the basis that we are ignorant. The internet however is as close to a church as atheists can get.

It was pointed out to me during my Atheist's Holiday that the internet has changed everything for religion.

Go back a few decades and those who questioned whether God exists were a small voice in a big world. If you lived in urban Australia then your contemplation of such speculation was met by a church around every corner. You saw religion on TV and you saw cathedrals in the centre of your town. News readers would invoke reference to God on their sign off. God was everywhere, your heretical notions were insolent and naive.

Behold the internet, and there was much light. Instead of being a lonely figure in a religious world you were suddenly one of many. Literature like that of Dawkins was easy to access, along with some idea of just how many other people were thinking along the same lines. Suddenly that old church is the middle of main street no longer dominates the promenade, instead it just looks out of place and rather lonely.

The internet provided us with a way to share ideas without relying on the Church to guide the conversation. The tipping point draws near.

With the devil whispering sweet nothings into my ear we sat in front of the all mighty internet and rummaged through YouTube for fascinating conversation on the topic. We watched the debate between Hitchens and Shmuley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnMYL8sF7bQ), we relived a few other moments of Hitchens being interviewed in recent years (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uchPPbJep8g) and got a chance to see O'Reilly head to head with Dawkins even if only for a few minutes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FARDDcdFaQ) and even Stephen Fry gets into the game (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm1l7o-S8P4).

Ahh the internet, a genuine savior of the masses.