Friday, 2 December 2016

02/12/16 - Christmas Ads

Oh look, it’s December. That means everything has to be all about Christmas, yes? OK, so let’s take a look at the Christmas adverts that have emerged so far. As ever, it’s a bit of a mixed bag…

We have to start, as tradition dictates, with the John Lewis ad. They’ve been top dog in the mawkish sentimentality charts for years now, so we expect their 2016 festive outing to be something special, right?
Er, no, unfortunately not. It’s a bit shit, actually. My principle takeout from it is one of squeamishness, in that there’s no way in hell I’d let my daughter play on a trampoline that had recently had so many filthy creatures shedding their rank spores all over it.

Flagrantly disregards the fact that some animals hibernate, too. Honestly.
OK, moving on… next up we have the Sainsbury’s effort.
This is much better – beautiful animation, very engaging. You almost don’t notice that it’s THREE AND A HALF BLOODY MINUTES LONG. Because it’s worth watching, it really is.

H&M’s advert is probably the best of the bunch. (No, this list isn’t ranked in any logical way. If you feel like building to your own personal crescendo, maybe leave this one and come back to it later.)
It was directed by Wes Anderson. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

‘Santa Forgot’ is the Stephen Fry-narrated animation for Alzheimer’s Research UK, and it’s a wonderful reworking of the traditional Christmas feelgood extravaganza, cleverly subverting expectation to swing your emotions in another direction. Proper little tearjerker.

Of all the brands you’d expect to make it big in the Christmas TV ad rankings, you could probably keep reeling them off for days before arriving at Heathrow Airport. But look, it’s actually rather lovely:

I’m contractually obliged by my employer to point out the brilliance of the McDonald’s Christmas ad. But I would even if I wasn’t, because it genuinely is ace. And now I’m getting loads of people asking whether the doll in the advert is available to buy. (It isn’t, sorry. You’re thinking of John Lewis. STOP THINKING ABOUT JOHN LEWIS, IT’S OVER.)

I’m similarly obliged to sing the praises of this festive Co-op effort. But again, it actually is excellent – given that the world has swung into unprecedented depths of evil in 2016, what with Brexit, Trump and the continued popularity of Honey G, it’s gratifying to find that The Co-op are perhaps the only retailer who aren’t complete bastards.

Ooh yes, the Marks & Spencer one! Have you seen this? It’s glorious. Love this. Another three-minuter, but well worth the effort.

This thing from German supermarket EDEKA makes a useful Christmas point; don’t overlook your kids in the pursuit of getting everything organised for the festive season – you have to keep focused on the true meaning of Christmas. (No, not Jesus. No-one’s into Christmas for the religious angle, that’s boring. Family, that’s what it’s all about. And presents, and getting smashed, and eating too much. But mostly family.)

The annual yuletide emotionfest for the Spanish State Lottery is a great one for fans of widespread mendacity against confused old ladies.

Apple’s Christmas ad is basically just that bit from the end of Elf where they all start singing together in the street… except, er, with Frankenstein’s monster. Seriously, look:

This shitty Lexus ad from the US makes the useful point that forgery is justifiable if it means getting free stuff. A festive message.

Another shit car ad from America, this ones aims to convince you that Mercedes-Benzes are the only cars that can be driven in the snow. (And it also tacitly implies that you’re better off dating within your social strata – if your dad’s got a Merc, don’t try to take a poor girl to the movies. Urgh.)

Macy’s. Hmm. I’m not sure if I like this or not. It’s beautiful to look at, they undoubtedly threw a huge budget at it… but the bit where the Santa balloon winks had me cringing hard. And why the fuck isn’t the old man surprised when the enormous balloon turns up at his house? I’d be bloody terrified.

Lots of ad-wankers have been quite scathing about Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot ad, but they can all sod off, tbh. It made me smile, and that’s basically the point of Christmas ads. (Well, aside from selling shit.) I like his reaction when he grates himself.

Harvey Nichols? Yep, this is registering pretty high on the WTF-o-meter. Genuinely bizarre.

If had released this five years ago, it would have been massive and people would have been saying ‘Ooh, it’s the Christmas ad of the year’. But nowadays this kind of thing just gets lost in the noise. I mean, yeah, it’s OK.

Wanna hear an elderly lady gargling? TK Maxx have got you covered. Oh, and this one’s got a dog in it too, because adverts have to have fucking dogs in them now.

Amazon aim to solve the global epidemic of colossal religious dickheadery by showing a priest and an imam having a cup of tea together. There’s a bit of unnecessary will-they-won’t-they sexual tension, plus a completely unbelievable bit when they both order the same gift for each other through Prime, and neither of them has the logical reaction on delivery that any normal person would have of saying ‘Shit, I must have had it delivered to me by mistake instead of him’.

Oh, and of course it wouldn’t be Christmas without Coca-Cola’s fleet of massive red lorries. Except that… no, there’s no ‘Holidays are coming, holidays are coming’ trucks here – just a bunch of people finding bottles of Coke and drinking them without pausing to consider that they might actually belong to someone else. Even Santa does it, the bastard.
(Coca-Cola disabled embedding for some reason, so you'll have to click here.)

...and that’s your lot. Yeah, there are lots of other Christmas ads, but this could go on forever, frankly.

Friday, 18 November 2016

18/11/16 - FTDS vs. Tallboy

There’s a lot of talk of fascists in the news at the moment. Y’know, because the President-elect of the United States is one, as are half of his cabinet. And the hordes of racists in Trump’s America and Brexit Britain who have collectively decided that 2016 is the year in which they can all stop pretending to be human and instead plunge into full-blown racist fuckheadery. There are countless bastards out there. And a whole lot of fascists.

So let’s take a more light-hearted look at the world of fascism (!) and consider one of Hitler’s greatest failed ideas: the V-3 supergun. Now, it goes without saying that Hitler was and still is the poster boy for fascist fuckheads everywhere, and like all true fascists his principle aim in life was to make as many people as possible suffer because he was projecting his own inadequacies on an unspeakable canvas of violence. Perhaps, like Donald Trump, he had laughably small genitalia and a spectacular insecurity complex that forced him to lash out? Seems likely. And the V-3 programme, had it worked, would have been the ultimate manifestation of what we’ll now refer to as Fascist Tiny Dick Syndrome (FTDS): the world’s biggest gun, protruding phallically out of the ground in northern France, aiming its incendiary ejaculate squarely at London.

To provide some context, by 1943 Hitler found himself increasingly outmanoeuvred; the Allies were bombing the crap out of German cities, and he was pretty annoyed about it. His FTDS was itching. But he had an ace up his sleeve (or so he thought) – a massive secret bunker that had been hollowed out of a French chalk hill, which slave labourers had hauled millions of tonnes of rock out of with their bare hands.
The plan was at once hideously complicated and extremely simple: twenty-five gun barrels pointed at London, a hundred miles away, able to fire ten bombs every minute, over and over, until there was nothing left but a smoking crater. A pretty focused idea – just pummel the shit out of Britain with lots of bombs – but the actual mechanics of it were, as you might imagine, rather tricky.

The physical workings of the supergun are still cloaked in mystery, as quite a lot of it was destroyed in a bombing raid – more on that later – and the development of the project was so secretive that few records exist. The crux of it was that each gun barrel needed to be 130 metres long and angled at 50 degrees in order to blast the payload across the Channel at 1500m/s. The bombs were to be fired in a manner similar to a railgun (which launches projectiles with electromagnetic charges rather than explosives like gunpowder or what-have-you), although the evidence suggests that Hitler’s engineers had some difficulty making the thing work. And in addition to actually firing the supergun, it was a bit of a headscratcher to devise an appropriate bomb that would remain stable in a straight line at supersonic speeds and, since the barrels weren’t rifled to impart spin, that wouldn’t just tumble uncontrollably out of the sky.

Despite the colossal scale of this project, the Allies knew nothing about it at all until the site was discovered by Canadian troops after D-Day. They were, as you can imagine, pretty surprised by the magnitude of it, and it became something of a priority to figure out how to destroy it. The Americans devised an idea to blow it up with an explosives-laden drone, but it, er… well, it didn’t go all that well.
The notion was this: they’d load twelve tonnes of explosives into a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber, fly it over Calais, aim it at the supergun, then the pilot and co-pilot would bail out and the unmanned plane would dive into the V-3 (with a second, nearby plane taking the controls remotely), thus smashing it comprehensively to bits. Unfortunately, however, when Joe Kennedy Jr and Wilford Willy took off on the perilous mission, the B-24 unexpectedly blew up over Suffolk after just twenty minutes in the air, vaporising them both.

However, the supergun site at Mimoyecques was abandoned by the Nazis after Tallboy bombs were dropped in and rendered the whole setup redundant. Engineered by bouncing bomb mastermind Barnes Wallis, the 21-foot-long Tallboy was an ingenious bomb that was tapered to remain aerodynamic near the speed of sound, and also designed to bury itself fifty feet under the ground and trigger a small earthquake; eight Tallboys were dropped into the supergun site at once and, rather effectively, really fucked their shit up. The tunnel networks, the foundations, the munition stores, the bunkers, all knocked into a cocked hat in one fell swoop. The RAF’s 617 Squadron – the famous Dambusters themselves – delivered the unprecedented payload. The devastating Tallboy was the ultimate riposte to Hitler’s supergun posturing.

So when Trump’s own FTDS manifests itself as a colossal supergun pointed at… well, whoever’s riled him on Twitter that day, try not to panic. If the worst comes to the worst, the RAF still have the Tallboy blueprints.

A little bit of loveliness from Ben & Jerry’s

Famous speeches, with added Trump

Peterborough Reunions

In the late 1970s and early '80s, photographer Chris Porsz spent some time ambling around Peterborough taking pictures of daily life. He's now spent the last seven years tracking down all of his subjects for a before-and-after shot. It's genuinely incredible. Look!

Bacon Nerf War

Obama - by Pete Souza

An inspiring collection of photos from the last eight years, by the Official White House Photographer. Click here to see the full set.

(Just imagine what the equivalent set of Trump images will look like in four years' time. Horrorshow.)

Friday, 4 November 2016

04/11/16 - SpaceTrump

It can hardly have escaped your attention that Donald Trump is a total madman. Normally I try to remain objective and rational when it comes to matters of politics, but frankly the idea of handing the nuclear codes to a dangerous, bigoted, self-serving lunatic makes my blood turn to pulpy crushed ice. He has none of the qualities you’d want in a President: rather than absorbing the inevitable criticism of office with aplomb and just getting on with things, he likes to halt everything when he’s criticised and make everybody pay. He’s juvenile, petty, and obsessed with personal vengeance. It is genuinely, staggeringly gobsmacking that such a man could even be considered for office in 2016, let alone be a realistic contender. America, clearly, has gone mental. (Or, at least, quite a lot of it has; Brexit has proven that you can’t paint an entire nation with the daft prick brush simply because approximately half of them suddenly reveal themselves to be massive racists.)
But fear not. I have a solution. All we need to do is convince The Donald that he’d be better off living on Venus. And with the right ego-massage, I reckon this is pretty easily achievable. You see, here’s why Trump is ideally suited to moving one planet closer to the sun:

It’s tropical, but there’s no Mexicans
Man, he hates Mexicans. I mean, he hates everyone, he’s a colossal racist, but for some reason he’s got it in for Mexicans in particular. But we can convince him of Venus’s Southern-state sunshine without worrying about funny foreign people spoiling the view. (Probably best not to mention that the average surface temperature is 462 degrees centigrade – let him find out when he gets there and all the fluids in his body immediately boil away into the atmosphere.)

It’s really hard to get there
He likes a challenge. Also, he hates NASA. So imagine the ego boost he could give himself by throwing a load of money (possibly at cheap Mexican labour? That’d feed neatly off his inherent hypocrisy) at building a Venus-bound spaceship.
Venus is actually a lot closer to Earth than Mars is – about half the distance, in fact. So all of the hurdles that have presented themselves in getting probes to Mars (largely around fuel – you get into a vicious cycle where for every unit of fuel you load on board, you’re carrying more weight and thus need to load on yet more fuel to carry it [although this is really only a problem for the first bit of the journey, as you’re burning fuel off all the time {it’s the launch that’s the really tricky bit}]) are diminished somewhat in terms of distance. The heat is the problem. Flying closer to the sun does dangerous, burny things. And he certainly wouldn’t be able to land - we just haven’t developed the heatproofing to allow flight within the simmering Venusian airspace. His craft would be on fire for the entire time he was flying over the planet, which wouldn’t be very long, as it would quickly disintegrate. But we don’t have to tell him this. It’s pretty clear that he’s not the sort of person that plans ahead.

The atmosphere is full of sulphuric acid
A tricky sell, but not impossible. Maybe we can convince him that sulphuric acid has a rejuvenating effect on the skin, nourishes the hair and pumps up the libido? Like some sort of spa treatment?
Amusingly for us Earthbound observers, sulphuric acid is highly corrosive, and happily carves its way through flesh, metal and rock like a hot knife through, er, burning flesh. If you were to wear a thick wetsuit and airtight breathing apparatus then you could probably float around Venus a bit, provided that you somehow stayed about 35 miles above the surface, but that’d soon all melt away and the acid would blind you and eat your skin. But again, that might not be your biggest problem, given that you’d be on fire. Let The Donald find this out for himself, it’ll be hilarious.

The surface is constantly plagued by hurricane-force winds
Surely a massive boon for a blowhard like Trump? A bit of healthy competition for all of his own blustering hot air.
Let’s say he somehow managed to make it onto the surface of Venus and tried to walk about a bit. He’d have a really hard time. The howling, swirling gales wouldn’t just have him bent double, they’d be lifting him off the ground, slamming him back down, choking the air from his lungs… it really is quite an entertaining image. Picture it with the Benny Hill theme playing, it’s quite special.

…oh yeah, and there’s no oxygen
Trump doesn’t require oxygen, of course, as he’s fuelled entirely by hatred.
Regular humans have evolved to breathe oxygen. You know this. It works on Earth because there are plenty of happily photosynthesising green things strewn about the place, sucking in carbon dioxide and pumping out oodles of delicious oxygen.
How many Earth-y plants do you think there are growing on Venus?
That’s right, fuck all.
The atmosphere is extremely dense, and composed largely of carbon dioxide - if you want to breathe on Venus, you’d better bring a shitload of trees with you. And find some way to stop them catching fire. Again – and this is developing into a bit of a theme – we don’t need to tell Trump about the trees. Let this be a voyage of discovery for him.

It’d cost a bloody fortune
He’s a rich man. (Not as rich as he would be if he wasn’t genuinely shit at business and didn’t keep going bankrupt, but it’s a scale issue – he’s still doing alright.) The one surefire way to convince Trump to fly to Venus would be this simple argument: ‘Think how impressed everyone will be with how successful you are. No-one’s been to Venus before. That’s probably just because it’s too expensive.’
He’d walk right into that, fucking chump that he is.

He wouldn’t have anything to eat
You may need to find a creative way to reframe this hurdle. Perhaps appeal to his patriotic pioneer spirit? Compare his step into the red-hot unknown with the early trailblazers of the Old West?
There’s no way you can grow any kind of crops on Venus, and it’s not like you can get Ocado to pop round. Also, there’s nothing to drink – fluids immediately boil, and the planet has no magnetic field so all the hydrogen molecules get swept away into interplanetary space by solar winds, so the steam won’t even fall back down as rain. You can’t make water there, even if you had some way to stop it disappearing. It’s hopeless. Which, of course, is all great news. But maybe you should leave this bit out of the pitch.

The crushing loneliness would destroy him
There aren’t any humans on Venus, and nobody would be stupid enough to go with Trump. Imagine a lifetime spent alone with him. It really doesn’t bear thinking about.
Thankfully he has little awareness of the reality that surrounds him, so he’d be fine with making the trip solo. He genuinely doesn’t seem to notice whether there’s anyone near him or not (well, unless they’re foreign/female/unsavoury in some other way) – he could start an argument in an empty room. He’s probably doing it right now.
Some fairly simple calculations about radio waves, the speed of sound/light, how transmissions travel in a vacuum and what-have-you suggest that he’d have no contact whatsoever with Earth, which is super news for us and entirely immaterial to him.
He’d have no access to the mass media, although he definitely wouldn’t notice as he just loves shouting inconsequentially into the Twitter void. (Again, best not to mention that when he takes his phone out to tweet ‘I’m starting to regret this, it’s really inhospitable here #itburns’, it’d immediately catch fire before he got to type anything. And he wouldn’t have any signal. He’ll find out.) So at first he wouldn’t spot that that there was no-one around. But after a few years (assuming he’d survived, which he wouldn’t), he’d start to notice that he had no-one to boss about or molest. And that would get right under his orange, leathery skin.
The best thing about this plan is that, even if he were to somehow survive (which he obviously definitely wouldn’t – ah, you get the idea now), his only option would be to slowly drive himself mad. Put yourself in that situation and, for the sake of argument, pretend that you were somehow able to make yourself immortal: you’d go totally insane. Think of the Buddhist hell of Arbuda - a frozen plain swept by blizzards, in which one must exist naked and alone for the amount of time it would take to empty a barrel of sesame seeds if you were to remove a single seed every hundred years. Swap ‘frozen’ and ‘blizzards’ for ‘really fucking hot and windy’. Sounds ghastly. Or consider this quote from Hendrik Willem van Loon’s Story of Mankind: ‘High in the north in a land called Svithjod there is a mountain. It is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles high, and once every thousand years a little bird comes to this mountain to sharpen its beak. When the mountain has thus been worn away, a single day of eternity will have passed.’
Spending all that time with just the voice in your head for company? That doesn’t sound like any fun at all. Trump would be slowly but comprehensively crushed, possibly literally, by his own cretinous fatuousness.

And the really brilliant part? Donald Trump would be totally up for going to Venus. Because he’s a fucking madman.

Justify a Whole Lotta Love

A completely excellent Madonna/Led Zep mashup.

Super Mitchell Brothers


A beautiful, customisable data-vis weather thingy - click here.

Luigi Board?

Friday, 30 September 2016

30/09/16 - MKUltra

The fun thing about conspiracy theories is that they’re mostly spouted with spittle-flecked enthusiasm by unwashed nutters with straggly beards, and have absolutely no grounding in reality. Everyone dreams up insane what-ifs when they’re smashed out of their brains on drugs (don’t they?), but it takes a special kind of fruitloop to go around telling people about them as if they were true; exponentially more so if they believe it themselves, put a lot of time and effort into convincing others of its validity, and put no effort at all into actually trying to prove that what they’re saying makes sense. (Or, if they do look into it and find that they can’t back it up, just say that the lack of evidence is all part of the scam/cover-up/conspiracy/etc.)

Some notable conspiracy theories that you may have registered amusement at include: that the 1969 moon landing was actually staged on a Hollywood film set, that the US authorities knew about 9/11 in advance but did nothing about it in order to win public support for the Iraq war, that various people who have been assassinated (JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, countless others) were actually body doubles, that Paul McCartney has been dead since 1966, that clean and workable electric cars have been around for decades but have been suppressed by oil companies, that the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was deliberately caused by a nuclear device, that subliminal advertising is rife on mainstream TV, that cures for cancer and AIDS are easily achievable but are being held back by pharma companies who’d lose billions in drug sales, that FDA guidelines in the US deliberately make people fat and unhealthy in order to prop up the drug industry, that the CIA added HIV to hepatitis vaccines in Nigeria, and so on and so forth. Load of old cobblers, of course – the sort of thing that might sound really deep and make you say ‘duuuuuuude!’ when you’re stoned, but seem absurd and juvenile in the cold light of day. The key forensic question to remember with much of this is ‘cui bono?’ – who benefits? There has to be a point to all of this, it’s a lot of effort for nothing otherwise. Does the massive effort of the cover-up balance out the gains of the subterfuge?

A particularly interesting one is the ‘theory of electronic conspiracy’. This follows six distinct stages, at the culmination of which a secret group would achieve world domination after putting in centuries of work to get there. The first stage is the substitution of precious metal coin-based currency for paper money, as began to happen during the Renaissance. The second stage is the appearance of virtual money – credit cards, for example – so that currency becomes intangible. Stage three is the proliferation of internet commerce, so that the credit cards etc are no longer physically required. Next comes the concentration of worldwide banking into fewer hands via international bank fusions. Stage five is the worldwide implementation of electronic identity cards linked to personal financial data. The sixth stage is ‘the great worldwide blackout’. Imagine the fiscal ramifications of 9/11 but on a much bigger scale, wiping out the world’s financial records in one fell swoop, sending everyone on the planet back to square one (aside from those holding the actual money/power, of course, the puppetmasters in the whole plan), leading to chaos, poverty, and the necessity of a slavery culture to survive. All hogwash, of course – what would be in it for the people who started it all off in the fifteenth century…? And how could they have predicted the technology that would make the plan possible?

Every now and then, however, a conspiracy theory surfaces that turns out to be completely true. One such revelation is MKUltra.
Project MKUltra was a covert research operation run by the CIA between the 1950s and the early ’70s, and fulfils all of the classic conspiracy theory criteria: mind control, absolute secrecy, manipulation of the public without their knowledge, copious violations of basic human rights… it could have been the plot of a far-fetched B-movie, but it actually happened.
Via the Office of Scientific Intelligence, the CIA sought to gain insight into the workings and malleability of the human psyche by conducting research in behavioural engineering. To achieve this, they had very specific programmes of administering drugs (in particular LSD), sensory deprivation, verbal and sexual abuse, hypnosis, isolation, and many forms of physical and mental torture.
MKUltra was officially sanctioned in 1953, receiving 6% of the CIA’s total budget, and was carried out for two decades before being wound up, involving many unwitting citizens of the USA and Canada in its work.

The remit of the project was to develop mind-controlling substances to be used against the Soviets, in response to such substances that had allegedly been developed by the Chinese, Soviet and North Korean governments and used on US prisoners of war. It was a kind of tit-for-tat torture thing. The CIA also (and this bit is particularly far-fetched) wanted to use such substances to control the minds of various world leaders, and cooked up a variety of schemes to gain access to Fidel Castro’s brain.
Another aim was to develop a perfect truth drug, again for interrogating Soviets, and also to develop ‘perfect concussion’ whereby sub-aural blasts could be used to erase memories. Further treats outlined for development in MKUltra documentation included: substances to promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness that would lead to public discreditation, to increase the ageing process, to simulate the symptoms of recognised diseases in a reversible manner, to induce temporary brain damage, to increase the ability to withstand physical torture, to induce amnesia, to temporarily induce physical disabilities, to blister the skin on demand, to lower ambition, and to temporarily weaken eyesight and hearing.
All of these aims, with their varying degrees of plausibility and achievability, necessitated arduous and relentless testing, and this is where the real controversy came in. Obviously with some of their techniques it would be difficult to hide from the recipient – forced isolation, sexual torture, etc – but much of it was easily tested on unsuspecting members of the public who were then followed, observed and monitored; hypnotism, the administering of mind-altering drugs and what-have-you could be innocently disguised as experiments, therapies or medical trials by companies used as fronts by the CIA.

The mind-bending properties of LSD came under particular scrutiny. The bulk of their testing in this field was on ‘people who could not fight back’ – mental patients, drug addicts, prisoners and prostitutes, mainly. In one case, a mental patient in Kentucky was administered LSD for 174 consecutive days, just to see what would happen. Operation Midnight Climax set up a variety of brothels in San Francisco in order to test on men who would be too embarrassed to talk about it afterwards; rooms were equipped with two-way mirrors, and the men were dosed with LSD and interrogated under bright lights, with subjects told that the trips would last indefinitely if they didn’t give up all their secrets. In other cases, heroin addicts were bribed to take LSD with more heroin. Even the CIA operatives themselves found that surprise LSD trips were an occupational hazard, with seemingly everyone testing on everyone else to observe the results.

As much as MKUltra was a covert thing, it was remarkably widespread in its operation, taking place in eighty separate locations including universities, colleges, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and prisons. However, it didn’t reach the public consciousness on any believable scale until 1975; the Church Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, was set up post-Watergate to investigate illegal operations in intelligence by the US government and its subsidiaries, and sought to unpick the covert actions of Project MKUltra. Unfortunately for them, it was quite tricky to do as CIA director Richard Helms had ordered that all the records be destroyed when the op was closed down in ’73, meaning that much of it was hearsay. Handily, though, a Freedom of Information request in 1977 revealed some 20,000 documents that had survived the cull, while the remainder of what was left on file was declassified in 2001, so we can at least establish some of the facts with a degree of certainty.

Of course, this spirals us towards a conspiracy theory within a conspiracy theory. Some insiders maintain that certain records and chemicals vital to the research were separated from that which was destroyed, and were passed into the hands of private contractors to continue the research; the closure of the project in 1973 and investigation in ’75 were all just a smokescreen for a larger and more sophisticated project that continues to this day. But who can really say…?

'Bike Engine'

A quite odd music video, featuring stereotypes being smashed by aesthetically self-conscious 4th-wall breaking, and other weird shit.

Audi - 'Duel'

Something peculiar that Audi ran during the Presidential debate.

Chienging Flavours

Another brilliant episode of The Katering Show...

Friday, 19 August 2016

19/08/16 - YBF!

Fans of shit telly will no doubt be aware of You’ve Been Framed! - the clip show that gleefully showcases mankind’s haplessness and the acute embarrassment caused by inadvertently cocking things up. This feeds into a primal behaviour that’s as old as the human species itself, going some way beyond schadenfreude; there’s no shame in pointing at someone and laughing when they fall off a chair or squirt ketchup in their eye. Sure, it’s not very nice, but it’s just what we do. Embrace it.

Unfortunately, You’ve Been Framed! is pretty terrible these days. It’s basically just Harry Hill narrating a YouTube fail compilation video, accompanied by oodles of agonisingly overblown canned laughter. It’s a show that doesn’t need to exist in 2016. But back in the early 1990s? Ah, that was when it was properly entertaining…
In the nineties, you see, we didn’t have the ubiquity of online fail videos. We just had ordinary people with camcorders, recording onto actual tape. (OK, I say it was ‘properly entertaining’, I was a child at the time. Make allowances.) As expertly observed in a 1995 episode of Bottom (in which Richie and Eddie try to stage a mishap to send in to Jeremy Beadle's Viciously Hilarious Domestic Violent Incidents), the premise of the show was for ITV to effectively steal the concept of America’s Funniest Home Videos and broker a deal in which the two could swap footage, on the basis that not all that many people could afford camcorders back then; viewers also submitted footage, but the real hook was that, well, most of it was made up. Sure, there was a decent amount of real footage – no-one would deliberately plunge their entire wedding party into a lake or crash an airplane through a barn – but quite a lot of the clips were very clearly staged. Much of it involved accidents happening during activities that there would be no reason for anybody to film, unless they knew that there was going to be an ‘accident’ – people sitting at desks or paying for things at supermarket checkouts or reversing into their garages, and then something painful or destructive happened and Jeremy Beadle appeared, sniggering like a priapically enthused rodent.
The lucre was a strong lure – each clip that got broadcast netted the person who submitted it a tidy £250, so it was well worth smashing something up as long as you made a cinematically entertaining job of it. Indeed, it’s become a uniquely British and highly commonplace response to anything that may go painfully wrong in day-to-day life: “Ooh, you could get £250 for that!”

OK, full disclosure: when I started writing this, I was aiming to make the point that You’ve Been Framed! was very much of its time; that it was perfect for the 1990s, but couldn’t possibly exist today because the format is entirely redundant - why stretch out a bunch of clips over a painful half-hour when you can see them all (and much more besides) neatly stitched together on YouTube? Simply search for ‘fail compilation’ and behold the idiocy of mankind in all its stupefying glory.
…but then I Googled it and realised that the show is, in fact, still on the telly. What’s more, it’s never really been off the telly – Beadle presented it from 1990-97, the reprehensible and fundamentally terrible Lisa Riley took over from 1998-2002, then Jonathan Wilkes (a man commonly described as “Robbie Williams’ friend”, having achieved little of note himself) did a year of it in 2004, and Harry Hill’s been doing it ever since. Who’s watching it? The elderly, probably. And people with shitty broadband speeds.
It’s not alone in the marketplace either. Rude Tube exists to unashamedly scrape YouTube for content, efficiently rounding up all the clips that everyone who knows how to use the internet has already seen several years ago, as well as providing the needless Alex Zane with the sort of platform that his level of talent deserves.

Not only does You’ve Been Framed! inexplicably still exist, but it’s still on ITV too. I know, I expected it to be languishing in the badlands of the high-hundreds Sky channels too. And they’re still paying £250 a pop for user-submitted videos (inflation? What’s that?), thereby ensuring a healthy flow of staged incidents. The level of real footage is presumably far higher these days, given advances in tech and the fact that everyone’s filming each other all the time with their phones these days, but there’s still the presence of Harry Hill and the canned laughter to deal with. Why not try following the You’ve Been Framed! Twitter feed instead, if you must? At least there’s no commentary.

Here’s some classic Beadle-era You’ve Been Framed! from 1994: 

It’s not actually as staged as I remember. Oh, cruel cynicism. But if you feel compelled to watch modern-era YBF!, let me just warn you that it looks like this:

Christ. The canned laughter is actually physically painful.
See, this doesn’t need to exist any more. You’ve Been Framed! is just moron-fodder for people who’ve never heard of YouTube. Find yourself a well-crafted fail compilation and save yourself the irritation. The ’90s are long-gone, it’s time to move on.

Red Ramen

This show is one of the funniest things on YouTube. I think all cooking programmes would be improved immeasurably by the addition of straight gin, constant panic, and the phrase "We... are trying... our FUCKING BEST"


Squeaky shoes

Thursday, 19 May 2016

19/05/16 - Taman Shud

It’s troublingly easy to make people disappear. If you live somewhere sufficiently remote – the Mojave Desert, say, or the Australian Outback – you can just stick a body in the ground and there’s a good chance it’ll remain unfound. What’s rather more difficult, however, is to make someone disappear while keeping them in plain sight. And it’s this that makes the Taman Shud Case so compelling.

At 6:30am on December 1st 1948, the body of a man was found on Somerton Beach, a few miles southwest of Adelaide, South Australia. He appeared to have died in his sleep – he was lying with his head resting against the sea wall, legs extended and feet crossed, an unlit cigarette in his coat collar. He looked supremely relaxed. Well, a little too relaxed, obviously, but far from suspicious.
When the police searched his pockets, they found a bus ticket, an unused train ticket to Henley Beach, cigarettes, chewing gum, and a comb. So far, so unremarkable. However, there were a few details that started to raise suspicion: all of the labels of his clothes had been carefully removed, he had no hat (which sounds insignificant, but this was unusual in Australia in 1948), he carried no wallet or identification, and his dental records didn’t match any known person. The coroner remarked that “if the body had been carried to its final resting place, all these difficulties would disappear,” which tallied with eyewitness reports of a man being carried along the beach by three other men on the evening before the body was found.

The autopsy threw up some confusing results. While the man’s heart was ‘normal in every way’, the small and usually undiscernible channels of the brain were visibly engorged by congestion, the kidneys and stomach were also congested, the stomach and liver were full of blood, and the spleen was three times its normal size. The conclusion was that there was no way the death could have resulted from natural causes, and he’d almost certainly been poisoned… but there was no trace of any foreign substance in the body. Mysterious.

The following day, Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser ran a story identifying the man as an E.C. Johnson. But the day after that, E.C. Johnson presented himself at the police station, which rather clearly eliminated him from the list of possible identities. By February 1949, there had been eight separate ‘positive’ identities of the body, a number which rose to 251 by November 1953 – but there just seemed to be no way to actually identify the man. Everyone who thought they knew who he was turned out to be mistaken.

On January 14th 1949, a suitcase was discovered at Adelaide railway station which, much like the dead man’s clothes, had had its label and those of its contents carefully removed. It contained various items of clothing, a table knife that had been cut down into a short, sharp instrument, a pair of scissors with sharpened tips, and a stencil brush of the type used on merchant ships for stencilling cargo. There was also a reel of waxed orange Barbour thread of a type not available in Australia – the same type that had been used to repair the inside pocket of the trousers the body was wearing. The only labels that remained in the case bore the name ‘T. Keane’, although after an extensive international missing persons search, police concluded that this name had been left in deliberately to send them on a wild goose chase.

The coroner’s inquest began a few days after the body was discovered, and it was highlighted that there were no signs of convulsing or vomiting at the scene – two things you’d expect to find in a death-by-poisoning case – which firmed up the suspicion that he’d died elsewhere and been brought to the beach. Possible poisons were suggested, but the official conclusion was that while he seemed to have died from poison that wasn’t accidentally administered, it was impossible to say what was administered, or where, or when, or by whom. The authorities called it ‘an unparalleled mystery’.

…and the mysteries kept coming. At the time of the inquest, a tiny piece of rolled-up paper was discovered in a small fob pocket that had been stitched inside the man’s trousers – it was printed with the words ‘Tamam Shud’. (You’ll note that the spelling is slightly different to the aforementioned ‘Taman Shud’ – early reports of the case misspelled it ‘Taman’, and that’s the name that’s stuck.) Library officials were called in, who identified it as a Persian phrase meaning ‘ended’ or ‘finished’, found on the last page of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a 12th century philosopher and poet. The police made a public appeal to find the copy of the book from which the phrase had been torn, and a member of the public – who has never been formally identified – presented the book to the authorities. There’s some uncertainty about how the book was found, although most reports claim that it was found in an unlocked car not far from the body. (The timings present difficulties, however – some claim it was discovered shortly after the body, some say two weeks before, which change the possibilities exponentially.)
On the inside back cover of the book, police found indentations from handwriting, including a telephone number and some text that appeared to be an encrypted message. Codebreakers worked with cryptographers to try to wrap their heads around the cipher, but their efforts proved fruitless. No-one could crack the code.
The phone number belonged to a nurse, Jessica Ellen Thomson, who lived about 400m from where the body was found, although when interviewed she said she had no idea who the man was, why he would have her number, or why he should be in her neighbourhood. The fact that she recoiled in horror and almost fainted when shown a plaster bust of the corpse’s head and shoulders, and that she admitted to having owned a copy of the Rubáiyát, was suspicious, but inconclusive. The further fact that she requested to remain anonymous in official records, and that the police happily acquiesced, went on to cause later complications.

And so the mystery rumbled on. The death occurred not long after the start of the Cold War, a time of heightened international tensions, and the idea of murder by unidentifiable poisons and the inability to identify the man led to widespread speculation that he was a spy. But who for? And which country’s agents (or miscreants) killed him? And why in such secretive but public circumstances? Why leave clues that led nowhere – the ‘Tamam Shud’ paper, the suitcase, the Keane labels, the phone number, the cipher? How could it be that a man could die so publically, and yet be recognised by nobody?

The body was buried in Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery, beneath a stone that read ‘Here lies the unknown man who was found at Somerton Beach’. Years after the burial, flowers started appearing on the grave; police questioned a woman seen leaving the cemetery at a time when fresh flowers appeared, but she denied all knowledge of the man. And from there, the trail goes cold. The embalming fluid will have broken down the body’s DNA, the suitcase was destroyed for some reason in the 1980s, witness statements have disappeared from police files over the years… one of Australia’s great mysteries is a seemingly insoluble case.

The closest answer available was unearthed by the investigation of Professor Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide in 2009. On investigating photos of ‘the Somerton Man’, he found something interesting in his ears: the cymba (the upper ear hollow) was bigger than the cavum (the lower ear hollow), something found in only 1-2% of the Caucasian population. On checking the dental records, the man was found to have hypodontia, a rare genetic disorder of the lateral incisors, again only present in 2% of the general population. Why were these findings of interest? Because the aforementioned Nurse Thomson’s son also had larger cymba and hypodontia. The chance of these two men just coincidentally sharing these features is around 1 in 20,000,000 – so it’s highly likely that the dead man was father to Thomson’s son instead, as she maintained, of her husband being so. But the son died in 2009 and the authorities won’t allow him to be exhumed, so there’s no conclusive proof. And even if there was, it wouldn’t answer all that many questions about the man’s death. (Interestingly, Abbott went on to marry Jessica Thomson’s granddaughter in 2010. Make of that what you will.)

In 2013, Jessica’s daughter, Kate Thomson, revealed to TV show 60 Minutes that her mother had told her she’d lied to the police when questioned, that she did indeed know the dead man, and that he was “known to a higher level than the police force”. Kate also pointed out that her mother could speak Russian (although would never say where she’d learnt it, or why), had an interest in communism, and taught English to migrants. The implication was that Jessica Thomson and the mystery man were both spies. But again, everyone involved is dead, so there’s no way of finding out.

Annoying, isn’t it? There are some things in the world that you can just never know. Such is the intrigue of international espionage – it’s not all gunfights and vodka martinis.

Tank Spang

Modern video games are bonkers. I love that someone's bothered to make this.

Homemade Hoverbike

There is just no stopping this man. He won't rest until he's invented all the mad things from your childhood dreams.

David O'Doherty's Text Song

Friday, 29 April 2016

29/04/16 - Domery

Eating is a polarising and divisive concept. Some do it for fuel, others do it for pleasure, and each camp is equally scornful of the other; sure, the former group tend to live longer, but what kind of a life is it? Give me a juicy steak instead of a bowl of quinoa and knock a few years off my life, I think that’s a pretty attractive deal.

Of course, some people have got the hang of volume-eating more than most. It’s interesting to note that the victors in competitive eating situations (which exist in abundance, worryingly) are often svelte and slender Japanese dudes who are able to wolf down several dozen hot dogs with laser-focused rapidity, rather than being the podgy butterballs from Doncaster that you might expect. The trick here is to eat a lot, but not often; allow the stomach to stretch, but don’t always keep it that way.
For other masters of the gastronomic arts, however, gargantuan food intake is not a competitive sport but a way of life, and there’s no greater poster boy for this menu-crushing peculiarity than Charles Domery.

“Who?” you may enquire. Well, I’m glad you asked, thanks for joining in. Domery is a chap from the late-1700s who was born in Poland as Charles Domerz. He served in the Prussian and French armies, and was known above all else for his really quite extraordinary appetite. It was sufficiently hearty that during the War of the First Coalition (the first attempt by European monarchies to topple Revolutionary France), he deserted the Prussian army and joined the French side because their rations were better.
His time thereafter in the French service was chronicled with some degree of astonishment by Dr. J. Johnston in the 1799 Medical and Physical Journal, detailing how in Domery’s time stationed near Paris he ate 174 cats in the space of a year, leaving just the skin and bones. He was basically always hungry, and would eat anything nearby, preferring his meat raw. He had a deep suspicion and dislike of vegetables, and yet if there wasn’t anything else available he was known to eat a few pounds of grass every day just to keep his relentlessly demanding stomach topped up to the brim.

In naval service on the ship Hoche, he tried to eat the severed leg of a fellow crew member which had been blown off by cannon fire, before his shipmates managed to wrestle it from his meaty grasp and suggest that perhaps he was being a bit insensitive. Shortly afterwards, in February 1799, the Hoche was captured by the British and Domery and the crew were interned at Liverpool, where he struck his captors agog with his absurdly bottomless appetite. Despite having been put on ten times the rations of his fellow captives, he was still always hungry; he ate the prison cat, and any rat that was unfortunate enough to scurry into his cell, and could often be found chomping on the prison-issue candles. He also ate all the medication from the infirmary, suffering no apparent adverse effects.

This enthusiasm for gourmandery piqued the interest of the expansively-named Commissioners for Taking Care of Sick and Wounded Seamen and for the Care and Treatment of Prisoners of War (later renamed ‘Sick and Hurt Board’, so as not to waste everybody’s time), who decided to do a little experiment on him – presumably just to glare wide-eyed at his abilities rather than for any sort of scientific merit. Over the course of a single day he was fed sixteen pounds of raw beef and raw cows’ udders, twenty-four tallow candles, and several bottles of porter. He scoffed it all with casual aplomb, and didn’t wee, poo or puke at any point. At the end of the experiment he was apparently perfectly happy, and keen to have a dance and smoke his pipe, then drink some more porter before bed.

You’d expect a man of such vast ingestion capacity to be a bit of a porker, wouldn’t you? But no, contemporary medical accounts have him listed as a man of normal build, shape and muscle tone, with no signs of mania or mental instability. He was just a really hungry chap who somehow managed to digest food extremely efficiently. The only real abnormality was that he’d sweat profusely while he slept and ate – but you can’t sweat out sixteen pounds of udders in a day, can you?

Unfortunately, the fate of Domery is unknown. Nothing is recorded of his life after his time at Liverpool, or indeed how he died. I like to think he ate himself.

Cassetteboy vs Jeremy Hunt

Click. Make. Play.

A lovely little melodious timewaster. Clicky.

Jackass - where are they now?

MMO Snake

Snake, online, with loads of real opponents. Addictive. Click here.

Friday, 22 April 2016

22/04/16 - TV

When I was a kid, we only had four television channels. (I realise this is true for almost everyone reading this today, but I’m going to print this out and hide it somewhere to later wow my kids with when they read it in 2028 or whenever, when televisions will be implanted into every teenager’s wrist and everybody will have several hundred of their own personalised channels.)
We had a charming wood-effect television with a screen that seemed a reasonable size when I was a nipper, but would probably look comically tiny now. It had four channels because that was all that was required; each channel knob was twistable so that you could tune them in – no auto-tuning here, you had to wiggle them back and forth to eliminate the crackling black & white static as best you could – and of course there was no remote. Being a deep and cumbersome cathode ray tube affair rather than anything approximating a modern flat-screen, it required its own large table to sit on, and when you turned it off there would linger at the centre of the screen three dots - a red one, a green one, a blue one. This may sound like a dull and insignificant detail, but those three little dots are an iconic symbol of a lost age, something future generations will never experience, like dialling a rotary phone or winding the tape back into a chewed audio cassette. You’d sit and watch the dots fade, they were symbolic of the end of the evening’s viewing.

It was always interesting to see how other people tuned their TVs in their houses. At our place the channels were ordered thusly:
1 – BBC1
2 – BBC2
3 – ITV
4 – Channel 4
This was the way most people tuned their TVs, and it made arguably the most sense. It seemed weird to me that anyone would do otherwise, bloody weirdos, because our way was so obviously the correct way. However, some folk would order it BBC1-ITV-BBC2-C4, while others would tune them in order of preference, i.e. they’d put C4 in P1 if that was their favourite, etc. One of my earliest TV-related memories is of being at my granny’s house and discovering that she hadn’t got round to tuning her fourth channel in, because ‘there was already plenty to watch’. How times change.
I wonder, incidentally, how many kids these days realise that Channel 4 was so-named because the concept of a fourth channel was quite a revolutionary thing? It’s not just because they wanted to be as high as possible in the channel ranking above the hundreds of others that there are today, but they were proud to be the fresh, new number 4 back in 1982.
Similarly, when Channel 5 launched in 1997, it was only the fifth terrestrial channel - that’s why it’s called that. There was no cleverness afoot, it’s just that there weren’t any other channels available to everyone for free. (And yes, it was as bloody awful then as it is now. [Now in 2016, I mean, although I imagine it’ll be equally bad {if not worse} in 2028.])

TV sets gained extra channels over time, for obvious reasons. When I was a teenager I had a second-hand TV in my bedroom which had eight manually-tuned channels, organised like this:
1 – BBC1
2 – BBC2
3 – ITV
4 – Channel 4
5 – [empty]
6 – [empty]
7 – Super Nintendo
8 – VHS
…so even in the mid-nineties, eight channels was an extravagance. It was years before my parents bought a television for the living room that had the luxurious ability to tune itself, and yet more time before the advent of the Sky dish. If the weather was bad and the wind was blowing the roof aerial around, you couldn’t really watch telly. Actually, that’s still kind of true of my Sky dish, but heigh-ho.

One very clear memory I have from my childhood is the arduous and complicated task of setting the video before going on holiday. My parents were teachers and we used to go to France for the entire summer holiday – six or seven weeks – so the act of setting the VCR to record everything that everyone would miss in that time was a real political struggle, as well as a baffling technological quagmire. (We did have a TV in France, but it was a black & white portable with a 10” screen that could only pick up one French channel, sometimes, when it felt like it. And French TV is balls at the best of times, let alone when it’s viewed in postage-stamp scale and infested with tiny analogue bees.) Even though our VCR was a reasonably good one, it only had a 28-day timer - as was standard then - and, of course, could only record one thing at a time, for that is how video cassettes work. And everything would be recorded in chronological order on the same tape, naturally, giving a maximum time of 360 minutes if you put a T-180 tape on Long Play. You’d generally miss the start or the end of most programmes, and find that certain things had been rescheduled so you’d have a random episode of The Antiques Roadshow instead of Blackadder Goes Forth or something.
Honestly, kids today don’t know how lucky they are to have hard disk-based digital video recorders and suchlike.

We really are tremendously fortunate these days. Not only are there hundreds and hundreds of TV channels to choose from [insert shit, hackneyed ‘so many channels and still nothin’ to watch, hur hur’ cliché, then burn it and send it to hell], but the technology by which it’s delivered is truly amazing. OK, my Sky dish may wave around in the breeze and make everything go all pixelated when the weather’s crap, but the Sky+ box itself is bloody clever. We totally take all this for granted. Series-linking? That’s a stroke of genius – how many times in the pre-catch-up era had you missed a vital episode of something because you forgot to set the video, meaning that subsequent episodes didn’t make a lot of sense? Now you don’t have to put any thought into it whatsoever. Live-pausing is bloody ace as well; when I was growing up, if you were in the middle of watching something and the phone rang (or the doorbell went, or the oven went ‘ping’ and you had to serve up your dinner, or you spilt your drink on the floor, or you needed a wee, or you heard a funny noise upstairs, or you felt a bit chilly and fancied grabbing a jumper, or an alarm was going off outside and you wanted to be nosy, or… etc) then you had to weigh up your priorities in terms of importance: was the phone call/jumper/whatever more of a pressing issue than what was happening on-screen? Could it wait until René had hidden the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies inside the large German sausage? None of these concerns need to trouble us now, you just hit ‘pause’ and go and do your thing – you don’t need to bugger about with finding a blank tape and making sure the VCR’s tuned in to the right channel either, it’s all done for you by electrickery. Similarly if someone talks over a punchline, or there’s a cock-up on live TV, or you catch a glimpse of something weird in the back of shot, you can just rewind and check. And you can pause with digital clarity! Oh, frabjous day – pausing a video meant jumping images and squinting. We’re so lucky nowadays.

The most incredible thing of all is the Sky+ mobile app. (I bet similar things are available for Freeview and Virgin and what-have-you, I haven’t bothered to check.) It’s got a full TV guide in it, with colour pictures and detailed synopses and everything, and - get this – you can record stuff on your home Sky box FROM ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. I don’t think people properly acknowledge how awesome - in the true sense of the word - this is. I can be in the pub when someone recommends a TV show to me, and within seconds I can set my recorder at home to capture it for me, ready for me to watch when I get back. Time-travel back to the eighties and explain that concept, they’ll call you a bloody madman. (Although perhaps your time-travelling machine may be of more immediate interest to them than your television recording apparatus.)

You could argue that having thousands upon thousands of hours of television available to us every day is making us rapidly less sociable, consuming our entire existences with show after show about random new subjects. I’d counter that that’s bollocks – the fact that we have these clever means by which to customise and personalise our viewing habits means that our TV-watching is smarter, more refined, less scattergun. I very rarely watch anything in real time, allowing the shows I want to see to build up as an arsenal of cosy entertainment that sits as potential energy in the corner of the room, ready to be unleashed as and when I’m not doing other things. It fits around real life, rather than dictating life’s timetable like it used to.

You know all of this, of course. But it’s useful every now and then to step back and consider these things, I find. If you’d told me as a child that all of this would be possible in the future, I’d have been beside myself with excitement. So it’s nice to feel a little beside ourselves with it all now, just to keep it in perspective. Don’t you think?

Commenting on porn

"...aaaaaaaaand SEND!"


Ah, we've all been there.

How 3D Printing Works

I love this guy's videos. It's all in the eyebrows.

Friday, 8 April 2016

08/04/16 - Ten Years!

Last week I celebrated my tenth year of working in advertising. Or, more specifically, ten successful years without being found out. Seriously, I have no idea what any of these people are doing, but I’ve somehow managed to fly under the radar thus far and apparently I now get a free pen. Not bad, is it, this advertising lark?
So, how does one thrive in this industry? Well, I’ve got some handy hints and tips for you below… but first, here’s what not to do – a selection of things that I didn’t get fired for, but probably only just:

Got drunk and forgot to come to work
This was only my third day of working here, actually. I joined the agency in the halcyon days of endless free lunches, free-flowing taxi accounts, and all manner of cash-splashing profligacy. All very different to the agency of today.
The secretaries and PAs invited me on a freebie team lunch – I forget the occasion, it may just have been that it was a Wednesday – at a local tapas restaurant, which no longer exists because we no longer send huge delegates there to get smashed every lunchtime.
They gave me lots of wine. I was young and carefree and happy to accept. It wasn’t until about 5pm that I eventually remembered to come back to work.
My new boss may have been rethinking a few decisions at this point.

Stole the MD’s car
The big cheese is a stallion of a man. Without his filthy mouth and questionable moral outlook, the agency would be a very different place. His decent nature is almost certainly the reason I didn’t get fired when one day, for some reason, I stole his car – along with an anonymous accomplice – and parked it somewhere he couldn’t find it.
It was a lovely thing. Porsche 911 Turbo, 996-generation. Easy to steal, too.

Climbed drunkenly over the fence on a weekly basis
This isn’t so much naughty as just stupid. Back when I joined in 2006, the office bar was the place to be. Every Thursday and Friday night it was rammed – the culture was such that it was weird if you weren’t there, it was just what people did. It was a much more social atmos, everyone knew who everyone else was. Ah well, times change.
Anyway, the gate to exit the complex is quite tall and very heavy. In the daytime there’s always a security guard there to open it for you (unless it’s raining and they can’t be arsed, in which case they just sit in their little hut and watch you do it, despite the fact that opening the gate is THEIR ENTIRE FUCKING JOB), but at night-time you have to open it yourself. There’s a button on the wall to release it. I did not find this button until I’d been working here for probably about a year. I just used to climb over the gate.
Given that I was drunk every time I did this, it didn’t occur to me that there might be a simpler way. Also, the top of the gate has been painted with grease to stop people climbing it, so I fell off a lot.
There are probably still CCTV files on me in the gatehouse.

Ran an anonymous blog sharing various amusing internal emails
Yeah, in hindsight there was no way that was a good idea. Fucking idiot.

JuicyPips used to be an all-staff email. Nowadays, at the request of HR, it’s an opt-in thing. You only receive it if you’ve asked to do so. Why? Because once I used the word ‘cunt’ and someone complained to HR.
To be honest, I’d used that word numerous times before in JuicyPips (only when it was artistically justified, natch) but this occasion was clearly the straw that broke that particular person’s camel’s back.
To put it in context, I was describing a person in this Envirofone ad from 2009 – the man who says ‘wonga’. I stand by my analysis.

Oh, dear. This was unfortunate.
There was a photo booth at the Christmas party one year. Some of the ladies of the agency flashed their shirt-potatoes in the booth, unaware that all the photos taken would be emailed around the agency the next day. When said email arrived, I forwarded it on to a select group of colleagues with an amused ‘Hey look, there’s boobs on page [x]. Oh, and again on page [y].’ It was very post-modern, I was lampooning modern laddishness by holding up a sarcastic mirror to their reprehensible misogyny. Or something. Anyway, one of said people forwarded it back around to everyone in the building, which made me look like a right dick. Which, frankly, I kinda was. Still, if it helps to justify it, I was quite hung over.

So if you do find yourself with an HR file thick enough to stuff a decent-sized mattress, here’s what you need to do to survive in advertising:

Say the word ‘strategy’ a lot
This seems to be very important. No-one gives a fuck what it means – if, indeed, it means anything at all – but it’s vitally important to be seen to have a strategy. Or, at least, to be talking about one.
Be sure to play around with ‘strategise’, as well as attempting the awful ‘stratify’, and deploying the hideous contraction ‘strat’.

Use horrible made-up words like ‘learnings’
Again, a lot of importance is placed on talking like a mindless illiterate. It’s ever so important to ‘share your learnings’, even if it does make everybody want to punch you in the head, you fucking idiot.

Don’t turn up on Fridays
Apparently this is OK.
I’m always here on Fridays, I’ve got shit to do. But no-one else is, it’s like the Marie Celeste. They can’t all be on a four-day week, can they? How are they getting away with it? I guess if everyone’s out of the office, no-one’s there to tell them off. Interesting.
(I say ‘I’ve got shit to do’ – I generally spend Fridays nosing around in people’s desk drawers, skateboarding naked up and down the corridors, and leaving unsavoury substances in the water dispenser tanks.)

Massively overuse the phrase ‘going forward’ (or ‘moving forward’)
This irritates the hell out of me, but apparently it’s a necessary cog in the advertising machine. You’re never just coming up with an idea, it has to be ‘the idea going forward’. If you ever mention something that’s going to happen in the future, it’s mandatory to explain it as ‘moving forward, we’d like to do this…’
Try and slip it into every sentence, people will assume you’re a pro.

Work late, even though you don’t need to
I fell into this trap early on – I went through a phase of arriving at the office at 7am and working through to 7 or 8pm. For months. It was exhausting! Because working hours are an arms race. If you’re the one who’s always in the office, perhaps you won’t be first against the wall when the redundancies come. Self-preservation, yeah?
(I don’t do this any more. I’m out of the door at bang-on 5:15 every day, as per my contract, which inevitably always leads to some berk in the lift saying ‘hur hur, leaving early are we?’ No. No, I’m not. I’ve done a day’s work, and now it’s home-time. Stop showing off about how hard you’re working, no-one’s impressed. Dick.)

Huff and puff a lot
Further to the above, you’ll do yourself a lot of favours by creating the appearance of being busy. If you’re always a bit frazzled and worked-up, you’re probably indispensable, right? So when you’re waiting at the printer for something to pop out of the slot, or tapping your toes as you wait for the elevator to come, or just making a cup of tea in the kitchen, be sure to huff and puff impatiently throughout. Your time is invaluable, and everyone needs to appreciate that. Constant, aggressive exhalation will let everybody know.

Walk everywhere quickly, holding a piece of paper
Similarly, striding briskly through the office will reinforce the point that you’re very busy and important. If you’re holding a piece of paper (and it can be any piece of paper, no-one will look at it), it’s probably something vital that you need to get to somebody else without delay.
Be sure to always be too busy to talk to anyone as well – even if you’re travelling down a few floors in the lift with somebody (which is a finite period of time, in which it makes absolutely no difference whether you’re chatty or not). Just spend your time exaggeratedly looking at your watch every three seconds and quietly muttering ‘comeoncomeoncomeon’.

Refer to a PowerPoint presentation as ‘a deck’
Everybody in advertising does this. Nobody else in the world does. It’s just one of those mysteries.

Complain about business travel
You get to fly at 500mph in a colossal metal bird, for free, then stay in a foreign hotel, again for free. Imagine what your teenage self would have made of that idea.
But no, it’s awful.

Don’t be ashamed to reel out the clichés
Oh, there’s a lot of this. You’ll hear phrases like ‘outside the box’ and ‘blue sky thinking’ on a daily basis, along with pseudo-ironic variants like ‘let’s blue sky this’. Incredibly, ‘grasp the low-hanging fruit’ actually gets a regular airing too, along with the repulsive ‘hearts and minds’. The more you cheese it up, the more you’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about.

Say weird phrases with such confidence that everyone assumes they should know what it means and thus never question it
What do you think a ‘tissue meeting’ is?
Nope, me neither. Nobody knows. But a lot of them happen, and you’re not allowed to question it because everyone else will assume that you’re not as good at advertising as they are, despite not knowing themselves. It’s a sort of test.
Tissue meetings are generally just rooms full of people uneasily eyeing each other up to see who’ll crack first.

Act like you’re in Nathan Barley, in a totally brazen and unselfconscious manner
This is particularly important if you work in digital, social, or any other adjective that the industry insists on using as a noun. Wear a suit jacket over a t-shirt. Have at least two phones on you at any given time. Reel off a lot of pithy comments about the state of Apple Corp that you’ve stolen from Wired magazine. Make sure that your legs are half-business-half-pleasure (in either combination – pinstripe trousers with Converse All-Stars, or skinny jeans with patent leather shoes). Directly quote Nathan Barley – ‘well Jackson’, ‘totally fucking Mexico’, etc – in an attempt to create an impression of irony. Fill your office with novelty items you’ve stolen from shoots. Wear sunglasses indoors.

Drop acronyms willy-nilly
Acronyms are the lifeblood of the industry. On your first day, if you’re lucky, someone will kindly explain the difference between ATL and BTL… if they don’t, you’ll be immediately baffled by the sheer volume of mentions.
You’ll be needing B2B and B2C of course, that’s basic stuff. And then there’s CPL, POS, SME, DRTV, WoM, CTR, MPS, AIDA, CAB, DAGMAR… it’s all BS, of course, but necessary.

See? It’s easy. I’ve been here this long and nobody’s noticed that I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. They’ll read this and assume that I’m joking too. (And this. [And this.]) Oh, what a gloriously absurd carnival this industry is.

The Old New World

Pretty. Just don't try to figure out how they did it.

"The Old New World" (Photo-based animation project) from seccovan on Vimeo.

Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse

This looks genuinely strange. In a good way.

Bigoted Bill

Er... yes.


Great, now we have to be scared of the wind.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

17/03/16 - 'Like', etc

‘Like’. A ubiquitous word in 2016, thanks to Facebook’s eagerness to get us to share our enthusiasm for any given picture, statement, video, song or sentiment that may pop into our feed; a behaviour that’s been appropriated by Twitter and myriad other platforms. Who’d have thought that the greatest and most marketable skill of the modern world would be the ability to make people click on things?

…but before ‘like’ became an everyday commodity in the social sphere, it was a word widely derided by snobbish old folks as the slack-jawed stutter of the thicko. Oh, kids today, they say ‘like’ all the time, they use it as a form of punctuation. It’s, like, totally amazing and, like, y’know, whatever. They misappropriate the word, using it as a quotative. And I was like ‘[…]’, and he was like ‘[…]’, and…

This, as the type of friendly and accommodating person that you surely are will know without a doubt, isn’t something to be derided at all. It is a form of verbal punctuation. It’s just how people talk, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Adding these little quasi-conscious noises into the flow of our speech is a valuable device that allows us to buy time, to shuffle the coming thoughts and words into order. And we all do it. The fact that a lot of people liberally sprinkle the word ‘like’ throughout their speech is notable only for the fact that ‘like’ is the chosen sound and stuck-up people keep banging on about it; it’s detached from meaning, it could be any sound, it works exactly the same as ‘um’ or ‘er’. This is called speech disfluency, and everybody in the world does it.

For clarity, there are numerous types of disfluency – involuntary stutters, revisions (that is, going back and repeating or rewording something you’ve already said), and of course physical movements – in particular hand gestures. The most common form of speech disfluency is what’s known as the ‘filler’ – a sound or word thrown into speech for the aforementioned purpose of buying time. In English we say ‘uh’, ‘er’ and ‘um’, and there’s plenty of ‘like’, ‘y’know’, ‘so’, ‘basically’, ‘actually’, and ‘I mean’ thrown into the mix as well. Every language has its own versions: in Japan, they say ‘e-eto’, ‘sono’, and ‘ano’; in France, it’s ‘euh’, ‘quoi’, ‘ben’, ‘tu sais’, or ‘eh bien’. The Finnish filler ‘niinku’ means ‘like’, interestingly, as does the Czech ‘jako’, the Italian ‘tipo’, and the Hebrew ‘ke’ilu’. So if that crotchety old git in the tweed jacket starts spouting off again about how English kids say ‘like’ because they watch too much American TV, you can suggest to him that perhaps they have Finnish roots or an interest in Gallic linguistics.

Now, this all gets a bit complex when you start to move beyond fillers, or indeed analyse the nature of fillers and broader speech disfluencies. It’s a commonly cited behaviour, for example, that Barack Obama generally tends to answer any question posed to him with “Look…”, whereas Ronald Reagan would always begin with “Well…” – what this tells you about their respective surety or forthrightness is entirely your own interpretation; these disfluencies may be deliberate, a sort of vocal trademark. See also the way the President in 24 would always say “Make no mistake…” And it’s also worth noting that ‘um’, ‘er’ and so on may not always simply be noises used to buy time while the brain sorts out its forward path; the speaker may wish to add a pause into a statement that’s sufficiently long to allow the message to sink in, without yielding control of the dialogue – i.e. if you just stop talking for a moment, someone may interject, but if you throw in a lengthy ‘errrrrrrrm’ then it’s obvious that you’re not done talking, that there’s further wisdom to come. Or perhaps ‘er’ and ‘uh’ are being employed as function words in their own right – they may be devoid of specific meaning, but they act to express grammatical relationships between other words in the sentence, or to express the speaker’s mood or attitude. It can be a marker of behavioural intent - look at the way Dara O’Briain tends to finish a ribald observation with a lengthy ‘Ahhhhh’, it’s his ‘I observed a funny situation, now you may laugh, but there’s more coming’ noise. Function words – ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘but’, ‘can’, and so on – are the glue that holds sentences together, and ‘um’ or ‘er’ can happily slide into that list. As can ‘like’.

The common criticism of relentless ‘like’-ing is that it’s sloppy, a lazy way of talking. But that’s nonsense. The human brain works faster than the human mouth, that’s just a fact, and trying to keep them in sync in the fast-paced thrust and parry of highly-monitored, highly-grammatical discourse necessitates the odd filler. Disfluency isn’t a badge of dishonour, it’s just a mark of being human. And, y’know, that’s just, like, fine.

Road rage, swearing, etc

Ah, nobody swears like the Brits. (And, er, the Irish.) Lovely stuff.

Sausage Party

The first minute of this trailer makes it look like a brilliant film for kids. But then... not so much.

How to send an email, circa 1984

Friday, 5 February 2016

05/02/16 - Evening Session

I have a difficult relationship with the radio these days. In my heart, I know I should be listening to BBC Radio 6 Music; indeed, I often do. But for a reason that is deeply ingrained within my subconscious, whenever I switch on the radio I always first tune to Radio 1. The DJs, on the whole, are OK; I know Nick Grimshaw is a polarising figure, but I like him and I think he does a good job with the Breakfast Show. Scott Mills also amuses me. But the thing that stops me listening pretty quickly is the music – the dozen-or-so shitty pop tunes that’ll be on shuffle all day. Obviously that’s the music that the audience wants to hear, but I just can’t listen to three Justin Bieber songs and follow it up with some appalling crap from Drake or Coldplay.
So what is this deeply ingrained reason that keeps me tuning in? Well, quite simply, it’s the Evening Session.

Now, before I try to convey the significance of just how pivotal the Radio 1 Evening Session used to be, it’s important to remember that the 1990s were quite different to today. Music wasn’t shared via Spotify or YouTube or iMessage or whatever because those weren’t things. You learned about new bands by word-of-mouth, or by reading about them in the NME (which wasn’t shit then) and the Melody Maker, or by going to gigs, or by hanging out at your local independent record shop… or, of course, by hearing them on the radio. And for an eager indie kid with a stack of blank C90s and a keenness to learn, the Evening Session was where it was at.

The show was first broadcast in 1991, but its glory years were the period 1993-97 when it was co-hosted by Jo Whiley and ex-NME journo Steve Lamacq. It was the place that brought indie and Britpop to a wide audience, along with grunge, alt-rock, lo-fi, ska punk, math rock, and all manner of evolving rock sub-genres; the Britpop wars wouldn’t have been as tabloid-fabulous were it not for the Evening Session tinderbox playing the latest cuts from Blur and Oasis back-to-back and inviting the public to phone in with their pointed views. Whiley and Lamacq wrapped us up in the burgeoning sonic spectrum of Pulp, Elastica, Mansun, Menswear, Pearl Jam, 60ft Dolls, Longpigs, Green Day, Marion, Nirvana, The Bluetones, Silver Sun, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Reef, Ash, Supergrass, The Charlatans, Placebo, Suede, perfectly juxtaposing the energetic with the sensitive, the mainstream with the underground, the established with the raw. (Check out the JuicyPips guide to nineties indie here – all as showcased on the Evening Session.)
I used to sit there with a blank cassette permanently on record-pause, ready to steal the latest track from Geneva or Eels or Cast, to absorb at school the next day via the Walkman in my inside blazer pocket and the headphone wire that ran secretly down the inside of my sleeve.

That’s why my brain tells me to listen to Radio 1. In the mid-nineties, it’s where we found all the new stuff to chew over in the playground. There’s still an unbroken, if misleading, connection in there between that station and interesting music.

There were other great DJs operating in a similar sphere before and since, of course – most notably the late, great John Peel, and later the warped genius of Zane Lowe. But the Evening Session exists as a perfect snapshot in time, capturing the zeitgeist of a hugely exciting period in music. The nineties were ace, and Whiley and Lamacq enthusiastically gripped our hands and guided us through it.
All hope is not lost for Radio 1 - Daniel P. Carter’s Rock Show on Sunday nights is usually studded with gems (although he is, it has to be said, a bit of an annoying berk) - but the real haven for Evening Session nostalgia is, of course, 6 Music. Principally because Steve Lamacq’s on there, doing the same kind of show.

Sadly, however, I no longer own a cassette recorder. So it’s not quite the same.