Vote yes, vote no, but do vote!

My manifesto for the Gay Marriage referendum!

Gas from a Burner ; by James Joyce
Ladies and gents, you are here assembled
To hear why earth and heaven trembled
Because of the black and sinister arts
Of an Irish writer in foreign parts.

He sent me a book ten years ago:
I read it a hundred times or so,
Backwards and forwards, down and up,
Through both the ends of a telescope.
I printed it all to the very last word
But by the mercy of the Lord
The darkness of my mind was rent
And I saw the writer’s foul intent.

But I owe a duty to Ireland:
I hold her honour in my hand,
This lovely land that always sent
Her writers and artists to banishment
And in a spirit of Irish fun
Betrayed her own leaders, one by one.
‘Twas Irish humour, wet and dry,
Flung quicklime into Parnell’s eye;
‘Tis Irish brains that save from doom
The leaky barge of the Bishop of Rome
For everyone knows the Pope can’t belch
Without the consent of Billy Walsh.
O Ireland my first and only love
Where Christ and Caesar are hand and glove!
O lovely land where the shamrock grows!
(Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose)

To show you for strictures I don’t care a button
I printed the poems of Mountainy Mutton
And a play he wrote (you’ve read it, I’m sure)
Where they talk of “bastard,” “bugger” and “whore,”
And a play on the Word and Holy Paul
And some woman’s legs that I can’t recall,
Written by Moore, a genuine gent
That lives on his property’s ten per cent:
I printed mystical books in dozens:
I printed the table-book of Cousins
Though (asking your pardon) as for the verse
Twould give you a heartburn on your arse:
I printed folklore from North and South
By Gregory of the Golden Mouth:
I printed poets, sad, silly and solemn:
I printed Patrick What-do-you-Colm:
I printed the great John Milicent Synge
Who soars above on an angel’s wing
In the playboy shift that he pinched as swag
From Maunsel’s manager’s travelling-bag.

But I draw the line at that bloody fellow
That was over here dressed in Austrian yellow,
Spouting Italian by the hour
To O’Leary Curtis and John Wyse Power
And writing of Dublin, dirty and dear,
In a manner no blackamoor printer could bear.

Shite and onions! Do you think I’ll print
The name of the Wellington Monument,
Sydney Parade and Sandymount tram,
Downes’s cakeshop and Williams’s jam?
I’m damned if I do–I’m damned to blazes!
Talk about Irish Names of Places!
It’s a wonder to me, upon my soul,
He forgot to mention Curly’s Hole.

No, ladies, my press shall have no share in
So gross a libel on Stepmother Erin.
I pity the poor–that’s why I took
A red-headed Scotchman to keep my book.
Poor sister Scotland! Her doom is fell;
She cannot find any more Stuarts to sell.
My conscience is fine as Chinese silk:
My heart is as soft as buttermilk.
Colm can tell you I made a rebate
Of one hundred pounds on the estimate
I gave him for his Irish Review.
I love my country–by herrings I do!

I wish you could see what tears I weep
When I think of the emigrant train and ship.
That’s why I publish far and wide
My quite illegible railway guide.
In the porch of my printing institute
The poor and deserving prostitute
Plays every night at catch-as-catch-can
With her tight-breeched British artilleryman
And the foreigner learns the gift of the gab
From the drunken draggletail Dublin drab.

Who was it said: Resist not evil?
I’ll burn that book, so help me devil.
I’ll sing a psalm as I watch it burn
And the ashes I’ll keep in a one-handled urn.
I’ll penance do with farts and groans
Kneeling upon my marrowbones.
This very next lent I will unbare
My penitent buttocks to the air
And sobbing beside my printing press
My awful sin I will confess.
My Irish foreman from Bannockburn
Shall dip his right hand in the urn
And sign crisscross with reverent thumb
“Memento homo” upon my bum.

Jour Camerone

Legionnaires

Today in Aubagne la Légion étrangère, the French Foreign Legion, celebrates its most important anniversary, the battle of Camerone.

Camerone was the action that defined the spirit of the French Foreign Legion.  A company of only 62 men and three officers fought an army of 3,000 Mexicans to a standstill in a battle lasting ten hours.

When he realised that they were surrounded the French commander, Captain Jean Danjou, asked his men to swear an oath to fight to the death.  They swore their oath on the wooden prosthetic arm of the Captain.  This wooden hand is now the most prized possession of the Legion in Aubagne.  The greatest honour for a legionnaire is to carry the arm in parade.

The legionnaires fought action after action in the course of the day.  Three times the Mexicans begged them to surrender and save their lives.  Three times they refused.  When at last the final five ran out of ammunition, instead of surrendering they mounted a bayonet charge.

Thus was born the legend of the French Foreign Legion.

-o0o-

Ils furent ici moins de soixante

Opposés a toute une armée

Sa masse les écrasa

La vie plutot que le courage

Abandonna ces soldats Français

Le 30 Avril 1863

A leur memoire la patrie eleva ce monument

-o0o-

Here it was that less than sixty

Opposed an entire army

Its numbers crushed them

Life rather than courage

Abandoned these soldiers of France

April 30, 1863

In their memory the homerland raised this monument

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I have a rendezvous with Death ; by Alan Seeger (American & Legionnaire)

I have a rendezvous with Death

At some disputed barricade,

When Spring comes back with rustling shade

And apple-blossoms fill the air—

I have a rendezvous with Death

When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

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It may be he shall take my hand

And lead me into his dark land

And close my eyes and quench my breath—

It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death

On some scarred slope of battered hill,

When Spring comes round again this year

And the first meadow-flowers appear.

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God knows ’twere better to be deep

Pillowed in silk and scented down,

Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,

Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,

Where hushed awakenings are dear…

But I’ve a rendezvous with Death

At midnight in some flaming town,

When Spring trips north again this year,

And I to my pledged word am true,

I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Insight

It may seem like a basic question, but when I ask “what is an insight?” I get a plethora of answers.  So I set out to answer the question myself.

When I started my career it was very much in the realm of data processing and information retrieval.  Data as the raw material and information as the analysed and summarised outcome.   I then moved to the qualitative side of market research back in the days when we called it research.

Somewhere along the way data processing was seen as too old fashioned, and everybody wanted “data mining” and “big data expertise”.  Qualitative market research findings were no longer sexy.  They had to be “Insights”.

Over the years I have seen a lot of simple data, summarised information, behavioural observation, behavioural understanding and product improvement which were presented as “GROUND BREAKING INSIGHTS”.

So here is my simple view of the world:  “If it doesn’t change consumer behaviour it’s not an insight.”

The short version of this article is that Insights need to be behavioural, emotional, true (credible), relevant, original, ownable and measurable.

The World of Compromise

We live in a world of limits and compromises.  There are many things we would like to do better.  When somebody shows us a better way we adopt it quickly.  Many of the greatest inventions in history are so obvious once seen that a common reaction to them is “Why didn’t I think of that?”

The insight comes from seeing how people behave and understanding that their behaviour is a compromise from the ideal.  The inventor then leverages the insight to produce the product that changes behaviour.

Recently I worked on a project with a major packaging manufacturer.  They spent a day in a busy bakery observing workers in action.  They noticed two things in particular.

  • Existing product (a frozen part-baked bread range) was stored in large cartons that were very heavy to lift. They needed to be removed from the freezer to open them.
  • Once lifted out of the freezer the staff were reluctant to put them back in. Product left in the hot kitchen began to thaw and spoilage rates were high.

The engineers set about addressing these two insights.  They designed a new freezer carton which could be opened in-situ in the freezer.  The staff could remove only the product they needed for immediate baking.  This innovation changed how the staff in the kitchen behaved.  It made life much easier for them, so it qualifies as insight.

The change also reduced the levels of product spoilage.  This is process improvement (but not necessarily insight).  It improves profit levels for the client.

There is a nice roundedness to this outcome.  The Client makes more profit, and is consequently more likely to work with the packaging company again.  The staff have an easier time in work, so they are happy with the change.  The customers of the bakery are less likely to receive a sub-optimal product, so they will enjoy their bread and come back for more.

The world of needs and wants

Anyone who studies marketing 101 learns about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  As you rise on the pyramid you move from needs to wants.  If you are purely needs driven then you are unfortunate in modern society.  Most humans have moved beyond a daily struggle for Water, Food, Shelter and Security.

We live in a world of choice, which is good in one way and bad in another.  Everyone, even the richest billionaire, faces resource constraints.  In simple terms there is more “stuff” out there than we can afford.  If you want it all, and want it now you will be disappointed.  You have to make trade-offs.

The early trade-offs are easy.  Do you eat food this week or do you take a spa day?  Starving people don’t take spa days.  If you are needs driven then the need wins out.

In a wants driven society there are many people who forgo food and trade it off for a day at a spa.  They call it a diet, or a detox.  They don’t “need” food, so it becomes something they can trade off.

In the world of needs and wants “Insights” are clues to how trade-offs will work.  This is the realm of Economic Behaviourism.  It is a weird and wonderful place where people frequently make sub-optimal decisions which make no sense on paper.

In this world your best clue that you are dealing with actual “insights” is emotion.  Insights are born in the Freudian Id, what popular psychologists refer to as the Inner Child, the Primitive Brain or the Lizard Brain.

If your research uncovers useful data you will see people nod sagaciously as they consider how to use the findings in the business.  They will see the relevance of your findings to others, but not usually to themselves.

If your research is insightful your audience will be excited, emotional and immersed.  You will hear phrases such as “that is sooooo true!”  “That is so me!”  “I do that all the time” etc.  It is real, truthful and personal in a way that data and information never are.

Paying the piper

Insights are fantastic as long as the client can use them to make money.  As a result there are a few boxes you have to tick when you present your insights:

Relevance:  they have to change consumer behaviour in relation to your client’s product.

Originality:  there is no advantage to being the second company to leverage an insight.

Ownership:  if your client can own the insight territory this has potential for huge market share gains.  Most innovations are easily copied by the competiton.  Branding is less easy to copy.  Insights and Branding are two peas in the same pod.

Measurability:  I have seen brilliant insights that have come to nothing because they could not be applied to the customer record data.  It is pointless having something that changes the lives of 25 year old female insurance buyers if the client does not collect customer age and gender in the sales process.

Sciberras Peninsula

Capture of Fort St Elmo by Matteo Perez d'Aleccio

Capture of Fort St Elmo by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio

Valetta was founded on this day in the year 1566 on the Sciberras Peninsula in Malta.  The foundation stone for the City was laid by the eponymous Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller Order, Jean de Valette.

It is fitting that the Maltese capital should be named after Valette.  It was he who commanded the defence of the Island against the Turkish invasion the previous year.  A force of only 500 knights and about 2,000 soldiers defended the island against an invading force of Turks and Algerians numbering between 30,000 and 50,000.

The defending force withstood 4 months of constant frontal attacks by elite Turkish troops and endured a relentless barrage from the Turkish cannon.  They rebuilt walls even as they were destroyed.

It was one of the greatest and most uplifting victories in history.  It is one of three great battles that stemmed the expansion of the Ottoman Empire; the others being the Siege of Vienna and Lepanto.

Valetta was built upon the ruins of Fort St Elmo, which was lost to the Turks in the siege.  The small star shaped fort was reduced to rubble by Turkish guns within a week of their arrival.  Still, it held out for two incredible months, the defenders fighting for every scrap of stone with every drop of their blood.  St Elmo took the lives of 6,000 Turkish attackers, and half of the elite Janissary force.

Farewell to Malta; by Lord Byron

Adieu, ye joys of La Valette!
Adieu, sirocco, sun, and sweat!
Adieu, thou palace rarely enter’d!
Adieu, ye mansions where I’ve ventured!
Adieu, ye cursed streets of stairs!
(How surely he who mounts you swears!)
Adieu, ye merchants often failing!
Adieu, thou mob for ever railing!
Adieu, ye packets without letters!
Adieu, ye fools who ape your betters!
Adieu, thou damned’st quarantine,
That gave me fever, and the spleen!
Adieu, that stage which makes us yawn, Sirs,
Adieu, his Excellency’s dancers!
Adieu to Peter–whom no fault’s in,
But could not teach a colonel waltzing;
Adieu, ye females fraught with graces!
Adieu, red coats, and redder faces!
Adieu, the supercilious air
Of all that strut ‘en militaire’!
I go–but God knows when, or why,
To smoky towns and cloudy sky,
To things (the honest truth to say)
As bad–but in a different way.

Farewell to these, but not adieu,
Triumphant sons of truest blue!
While either Adriatic shore,
And fallen chiefs, and fleets no more,
And nightly smiles, and daily dinners,
Proclaim you war and woman’s winners.
Pardon my Muse, who apt to prate is,
And take my rhyme–because ’tis ‘gratis.’

And now I’ve got to Mrs. Fraser,
Perhaps you think I mean to praise her­
And were I vain enough to think
My praise was worth this drop of ink,
A line–or two–were no hard matter,
As here, indeed, I need not flatter:
But she must be content to shine
In better praises than in mine,
With lively air, and open heart,
And fashion’s ease, without its art;
Her hours can gaily glide along,
Nor ask the aid of idle song.

And now, O Malta! since thou’st got us,
Thou little military hothouse!
I’ll not offend with words uncivil,
And wish thee rudely at the Devil,
But only stare from out my casement,
And ask, for what is such a place meant?
Then, in my solitary nook,
Return to scribbling, or a book,
Or take my physic while I’m able
(Two spoonfuls hourly by the label),
Prefer my nightcap to my beaver,
And bless the gods I’ve got a fever.

Call waiting music

Fur Elise

This lovely little Bagatelle was composed on this day, 27th April, in the year 1810 according to the date on the manuscript.  It was not discovered and published until 57 years later and 40 years after the composer died.

It is one of those pieces that you love the minute you hear it.  Every aspiring piano student wants to learn it and play it.

But if you are a piano teacher, or someone who hears a lot of beginners butcher pieces, it quickly loses its magic.  When the National Tax Office phone line put it on as the piece you hear when waiting for your call to be answered, it becomes annoying and repetitive.  When the tax office recording becomes old and the sound starts breaking up it only further destroys the appeal of the piece.

There are times I envy the composer his affliction when I hear those opening notes.  I wonder what Therese Malfatti made of it, and why is it not called “Fur Therese”?

Circumnavigation

Spray

“I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind on the morning of April 24, 1895 was fair, at noon I weighed anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston, where the Spray had been moored snugly all winter. The twelve o’clock whistles were blowing just as the sloop shot ahead under full sail. A short board was made up the harbor on the port tack, then coming about she stood to seaward, with her boom well off to port, and swung past the ferries with lively heels. A photographer on the outer pier of East Boston got a picture of her as she swept by, her flag at the peak throwing her folds clear. A thrilling pulse beat high in me. My step was light on deck in the crisp air. I felt there could be no turning back, and that I was engaging in an adventure the meaning of which I thoroughly understood.”

From “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Joshua Slocum

Slocum was the first to complete a solo circumnavigation.

A meditation in poetry

Inishfree

The isle of Innisfree is a small islet that lies on Lough Gill in County Sligo.

Featured in the NY Times this week in the attached article, where Russell Shorto found “The opposite of a tourist site”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/travel/in-ireland-chasing-the-wandering-soul-of-yeats.html?_r=0

The poem was voted the all time favourite work of Irish poetry by the liars who read the Irish Times.  I bet that not half of them could recite the second line!

The Lake Isle of Innisfree : by W. B. Yeats
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.