Superbowl 1984

Mac

On this day in 1984 they held an annual football game in the USA called Superbowl XVIII.  Barry Manilow sang the national anthem.  Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins by 38 points to 9.  The next day nobody was talking about the game.  Nobody was talking about Barry Manilow.  Nobody was talking about the half time show, a salute to the superstars of the silver screen.

Everyone was talking about an ad that played during the game.  An ad that ran on that day only and never again.  An ad that became the stuff of legend.

Chiat/Day ad agency commissioned Ridley Scott to direct the slot.  He took inspiration from George Orwell’s novel 1984.  He depicted a controlled society in the future, similar to the dystopian vision of Orwell’s book.  Then a blonde girl in a white shirt and orange shorts throws a hammer through a very large screen.  We are then told that Apple is about to change the world.  And to be fair they did.  They launched the Apple Mackintosh, the first mouse driven GUI computer, the things we all use now.

Apple 1984 Superbowl Ad

Some said the “Big Brother” in the ad represented IBM.  Others suggested it represented Bill Gates.  Everyone wanted to know what exactly Apple was about to launch.  The ad was made before a working prototype was available so the product does not feature in the ad.  The important thing is that the ad, like all good ads followed the mousetrap analogy.  If you want the trap to work you have to leave room for the mouse.  A good ad has a certain amount of the unknown about it, the observer has to walk into the ad and try to figure out what is going on.

In this case the analogy is doubly profound because it launched a computer with a mouse.

Still considered the greatest every Superbowl ad the Apple Mac launch 1984 ad generated millions of dollars in publicity and was aired for free thousands of times in news and reviews shows.  It then went on to win multiple awards at the Cannes Lions, generating further publicity for Apple.

It took me 4 years post launch before I got my hands on an Apple Mac.  It was still fresh and new then.

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Crushed by pressure.

first-step

There are times in our lives when we are crushed into immobility by pressure.  It may be the pressure of too much stimulation, like a soldier caught in crossfire who freezes instead of leaping for cover.  It may be pressure of time and work, like the office worker who faces such a towering pile of work and impossible deadlines that they can’t focus on a single task.  It may be an artist or writer facing self doubt about their personal validity leading to a mental block.

Military special forces deal with situation number 1 by putting recruits through stress again and again until stress becomes their new norm.  Special forces are special because when everybody else is running blindly for cover, or freezing on the spot, they can make rational decisions.  They assess the situation, make a decision and act.

Experienced office employees know you can only focus on one task at one time.  Don’t believe people who say they can multi-task.  Focus on the here and now.  Pick the most important thing.  This may not be the most “urgent”.  Do one thing well.  Complete it.  Then do the next most important thing.

Many people become stressed by the things they cannot change.  It is like a person standing in a room with a burst pipe worrying about global climate change.  You can’t solve global climate change today.  But maybe you can fix a pipe or call a plumber.  Keep it small, keep it simple.

For the writer or artist with the mental block there are a million pieces of advice.  For me what works is the discipline of writing something.  Anything.  This blog.  Lay some words on a page.  They may be rubbish.  They may turn out to be good.  They may just clear your mind.  The simple action of placing words on a page or paint on a canvas, with no motive, can be enough to move you forward.

Robert M Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance described an A student with a mental block.  She had to write an essay about her home town and got stuck.  So he told her to walk to the main street, stand outside the library, count bricks from the ground on the corner and stop at e.g brick number 20.  Then write about that brick.  Once she started to write about the brick she could not stop, and the story of the whole town unfolded.

In Time Management Training they describe their approach to daunting tasks as “Eating an Elephant”.  It’s hard to eat an elephant in one meal.  Much easier if you chop it up into lots and lots of meals.  Then just eat the elephant one meal at a time.  Before you know it you will run out of elephant.

A Grain of Sand:  by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

 

Make your moments

Tube

Photo by Matt Crabtree (16th Century Tube Passengers)

I spent years commuting to the big city on the train.  It is a journey of 1 hour 20 mins on a good day, 1 hour 30 mins mostly.  So that’s 3 hours daily on a train.

Say that to many people and they think you are crazy.  They think this is 3 hours a day wasted.  How little they know.

Much of my time on the train was spent working.  In fact it was the time getting to and from the train that had the potential to be “wasted”.  But you only waste time if you choose to do nothing with it.

That’s why I connect so well with the image above.  This lady on the Tube is not wasting time, she is eating it up, stealing precious moments for herself.  On a commute I had time to hear the music I want to hear, read books, write poetry.  Downloading podcasts gives me access to lectures on Byzantine emperors, audio books of many of the classics, some of them made hilarious by dreadful pronunciations by the narrator.

This photograph was taken by Matt Crabtree who said

One morning in 2016, on a tube journey into central London, I looked up to see a lady dressed in a velvet hood, seated in a classical, timeless pose. Immediately, a 16th-century Flemish painting came to mind. I looked around and suddenly found I couldn’t see anything else but people held in their own Renaissance-like, personal moments’.

I get that too, how travelling on public transport is like starring in your own reality TV show.  A stream of people pass each day through your life.  You have the regular characters and some who only appear in a single episode.  Each has their own part in the story and it is a wonderful story.  The story of life.

 

Is your pension killing the planet?

Pollution

You are a model citizen.  You recycle your glass bottles.  You separate your household waste.  You don’t run the tap while you brush your teeth.  You buy A rated appliances.  You are doing everything in your power to save the planet, except you won’t give up that foreign holiday and you don’t pay exceptional attention to the carbon footprint of the Asparagus and Avocados you eat.

You are also fiscally continent.  You paid attention to all the good advice not to spend all your cash.  You have been squirreling away a good solid percentage of your pay packet.  If you are lucky your employer has been matching your contributions.  If you live in certain countries the Government is also matching your contributions by making them tax free.  Year by year that nest egg is growing and growing to provide you with a well feathered retirement nest.

What is that money doing?  Did you think it was sitting in a bank, accumulating cobwebs?  You know that the pension fund does something with it, but what?  Do you pay attention to how your money is used on your behalf?  Perhaps you should.

We read news reports about global corporate businesses exploiting people all over the world and how they damage the environment with oil spills, or cutting down rain forest, employing child labour etc etc.  We see these news reports and we are shocked.  We wonder who these evil business people are, and how they can do this.

Wake up, the evil global corporation is you.  It’s your money out there.

Your fund managers are acting on your behalf.  What is their motivation?  The more successful their fund is the more money it attracts and the more commission they make.  In the world of cut throat financial competition the hard numbers are what talk.  Success is measured in financial return, not in how many ice-floes you prevented from melting this quarter.

Are you supplying the guns to child soldiers in Africa?  There is good money in weapon sales.  Perhaps you are funding the expansion of a large tobacco company into South East Asia.  The regulatory environment is not so strict there, so you can sell more product to the under 18’s. Maybe you are heavily invested in farming, and that’s OK isn’t it?  Perhaps you are growing soya beans, in Brazil, in cleared Rain Forest.  And those soya beans are fed to cattle in intensive feed lots, where the run off is polluting local rivers.  Maybe that beef led to an outbreak of eColi in the human population.

Truth is you haven’t a clue, have you?

Truth is, you don’t really want to know.  You kind of know that once you lift the lid on that particular can of worms it’s going to be ugly.  You want to take the empties to the bottle bank, pat yourself on the back, and call yourself a good citizen.

With one stroke of a pen, moving your fund into ethical investments, you can make a larger impact on the planet than a lifetime of visits to the bottle bank.

All those pension brochures show you the picture of the couple on the beach enjoying their retirement.  What they fail to show is the mountain of plastic waste on the beach.  If you want the clean beach you need to do something about it today.

Beach

 

How Green was my valley?

Aberfan_disaster,_October_1966

Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.

 

Demagogues

On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.

Zog

Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania.  He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections.  He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.

He was elected first president of Albania in 1925.  In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians.  He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.

Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy.  His military was run by Italian officers.

In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts.  His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939.  At the same time the Italians moved on Albania.  Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country.  He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.

juanandevaperon

The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.

Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia.  He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military.  He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous.  He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.

In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government.  He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.

For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him.  Throughout his career he focused on three principles.  Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work.  Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.

His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship.  His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile.  The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers.  The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution.  The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system.  The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas.  All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse.  Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.

Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel.  He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position.  He was in a constant war with third level institutions.  Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”.  His politics made for some very strange bedfellows.  He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende.  But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet.  He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him.  He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13?  I am not superstitious”.

He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime.  His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.

He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government.  But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.

A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule.  Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced.  I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.

He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw.  His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.

 

Fishtrap

LobsterPot

Easy to get in, very hard to get out.  That is the principle of the fish trap.  The photo above shows how this is done in a traditional lobster pot.  The fish can swim in from the top down into the heart of the trap to eat the bait.  Once the bait is eaten the fish swims around the perimeter looking for a way out.  But that is the trick, the exit is in the middle, not at the edge.

What has this to do with anything?  The fishtrap sums up every software company ever.  They make it easy to get in and very very difficult to get out.

An example is mobile phones.  Anyone who has ever tried to move from one technology to another will understand the pain.  When you join a mobile phone company they do everything they can to make it easy for you to import your data to their system.  All your phone contacts, all your social media and as many files as they can get from you.  They provide you with plenty of space at setup to store your photos and documents.

It is a different story when you try to leave.  If you move from Apple ios to Windows, or from Windows to Android, or from Android to Chrome etc you will find every barrier thrown in your path to prevent a seamless move.  Like the Hotel California “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.  Or as Maurice Sendak said “Oh please don’t go, we’ll eat you up we love you so!” (Where the Wild Things Are).

When you decide to invest in a technology for the next 18 months to 2 years it is a wise researcher who looks at the exit costs.

To this day I have a list of mothballed contacts locked up in Apple cloud storage that has been there since I last owned an iPhone – I think that was 2014.  I have a stack of photos that I hope I can retrieve at some later date.

I would like to sign up with a technology company that did not treat me like a plump fish to be landed on their plate.  I am not a net profit, a cash flow, an income line or a revenue stream.  I don’t love their marketing lure or their sales hook.  I want a fair exchange.  I’ll swim with you a while, but when it’s time for me to leave I don’t want to have to escape your grasping claws.  Let me go gently and I just may return one day.

 

The Fish: by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
– the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly-
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
– It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
– if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.