Nov 282013
 
One Direction Perfume. Whatever Next?

One Direction Perfume. Whatever Next?

 

I don’t want to come over all “in my day,” but… I tended always to prefer music that was made by groups that formed. Were not manufactured. Where the songs were written by the artists themselves. And the music was played by them too. Some session work is OK, obviously.

But essentially, I like the person who’s fronting the music to be the one who’s performing it. The one who wrote the song should be the one to get to stand in front of 70,000 fans, hearing those fans sing their words back to them. And I like to buy albums (yes, I’m that old), and concert tickets, T shirts, and other such things.

Clearly this is not the way of things anymore. The talent-vacuum robo-dancepuppets One Direction are veritable merchandise machines. Their music is a mere distraction in the never-ending quest to foist more and more tat upon an unsuspecting (pre-)pubescent audience for whom only one line of any song needs to be remembered.

And we danced all night… to the best song ever.

A billion times a day. With hoodie, onesie, t-shirt, pencil case, cushion, pillow, duvet cover, matching set of 5 dancing bears, posters, notebooks, lunch boxes, pencils, fact books, sticker books, “life” books, magazines, movies, and assorted other high-priced tat. They’ve released two albums, which should represent around £20 of expenditure. As it is, we’ve spent around £500. All for our 9 year old to get hyperexcited about music that really isn’t very good, and contains themes in its lyrics that probably aren’t that appropriate for her.

Let’s go crazy, crazy, crazy ’till we see the sun
I know we only met but let’s pretend it’s love
And never, never, never stop for anyone
Tonight let’s get some and live while we’re young

In May of this year, the band sold out a national tour inside an hour. Ticket prices started at around £100 each. Paid up front. The concerts aren’t until May of NEXT year.

But this, this takes the biscuit. Five lads releasing a perfume? What’s this got to do with music? I see that the similarly non-musical Katy Perry (seriously, has anyone heard that woman trying to sing???) also has a perfume out, but at least she’s a girl, and may therefore have a clue about what a good perfume smells like. 5 lads, who are content to have every second of their lives micromanaged as they surrender vast tracts of earnings to people in the background, are unlikely to have the first clue. And are they happy to have their images printed in pink on the side of an Edinburgh taxi?

If there was any question of these people having any artistic integrity, any desire to actually create good music that people can enjoy, then surely that question is now answered. The trick seems to be to hang the joy of creativity, do the least amount possible musically, and milk impressionably youngsters for all you can to the benefit of a vaguely malign money-making operation.

Modern music. It’s certainly not what it used to be.

Aug 042013
 

The Intersection of 36th and TrollWhat’s wrong with Twitter? Well, it’s the same thing that’s wrong with Facebook, SnapChat, or ask.fm. It’s the same thing that’s wrong with the television, and cinema, and the telephone. It’s the same thing that’s wrong with any corporate ICT network. Any data transport mechanism, for that matter.

IT folks have a witticism that “There would be nothing wrong with the network if it weren’t for the users.” It’s actually less an acerbic comment, more a wistful desire. It says that the data transport mechanism would be absolutely fine if it weren’t for the people who are trying to screw it up.

So, what’s wrong with Twitter (and all those other things I mentioned in the first paragraph)? It’s that a subset of the population has an apparently overwhelming propensity to behave like dicks.

I’d like to bring two events to your consciousness. One you will have heard of, one you may not have.

Recently, a person by the name of Caroline Criado-Perez ran a campaign to feature women as part of the design of Bank of England banknotes. Whether as a result of the campaign or not, the next £10 note will feature Jane Austen. Ms Criado-Perez became the target of a stream of vile tweets, receiving hundreds and hundreds of graphic descriptions of personal corporal violations.

In the same week, men’s lifestyle magazine GQ printed a special edition issue with 5 different covers, one for each of the talent-vacuum robopuppets One Direction. GQ received a storm of abuse from the band’s fans containing graphic descriptions of personal corporal violations.

The Criado-Perez incident has garnered much interest in the media. A range of commenters and bloggers have each weighed in with their perspective on this particular event. But many commenters have concentrated on the fact that Criado-Perez’s attackers were male. They have erroneously turned it into a “men abusing women” story.

This is a crass oversimplification.

The GQ example demonstrates neatly that the internet is not just overloaded with men using their keyboard as shields while they take pot shots at women. It demonstrates that women too are capable of unleashing streams of vile messages bereft of any form of self-censorship. The fact that the girls abusing GQ editors are talking about covering them in acid rather than bodily fluids does not make the threat any less real or personal.

What seems to be being ignored though is that the GQ incident is a contradiction of an allegation that the internet is in some way a bastion of male power.

Delving into Twitter further, we see that there doesn’t even have to be a sex-difference at all. The ongoing warfare between the “Directioners” (fans of the talent-vacuum robopuppets) and fans of Canadian androgynous screecher Justin Beiber (“Beliebers”) is a largely all-female affair. We know that men will sling mud at each other ad infinitum, but what Twitter has shown is that women (or at least pubescent teen girls) are quite keen to get in on the act.

This also is not the result of a notoriety gradient. It’s not “normals” taking pot shots at “celebrities”. The internet also carries a vast amount of more interpersonal abuse, where school classmates attack each other through anonymised communication providers such as ask.fm.

This isn’t even a social media phenomenon. Posting of deliberately inciteful or inflammatory material (largely made illegal by the Computer Misuse Act, by the way) is known as “trolling”. This term has come into more popular vernacular recently, but was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1992, and traces its origins back to the early text-only messageboard days of the internet in the mid-to-late 1980s.

So the question “What’s wrong with Twitter” stretches back to twenty-odd years before the service was even born. It is – as is so often the case with media bandwagoneering and populist outrage – the wrong question.

The question is “What’s wrong with the dicks using these mass communication networks?”

Well there, dear reader, the answer is in the question. The unfortunate side effect is that the internet has connected the world’s dicks together. And – just to be clear – here I’m using the word “dick” as a noun for someone who behaves badly, not someone equipped with a penis.

The internet, which enables mass immediate broadcast communication from individuals, has facilitated the publishing of every single thought anyone’s ever had. (Yes, including these thoughts of mine, I know)

It’s all so much noise.

But like an overheard comment in a pub, if the noise is about you, and it’s negative, you’ll hear it. And be upset by it. But the difference is that in an overheard conversation the commenter knows that the victim is there, and the victim has adequate opportunity to remonstrate with them. The internet allows anyone to connect. A keyboard and a large screen in a small study in a suburban house facilitates the kind of dissociation from the effects of a hurtful post that make the poster less likely to employ self-censorship. The instant, always-there nature of mobile internet access enables immediate commenting, rather than enforcing time to consider.

I’m not for one second advocating that targets of internet abuse “just put up with it” as some kind of “cost” of being online. I’m not suggesting mass “blocking” of hate-peddlers. I’m certainly not suggesting censorship. And let’s be clear: a “report abuse” button will not work, as Facebook users will attest. Abuse reports from 300m users will overwhelm the staff employed [Warning: Language] to process them. We can’t deal with this systemically. It’s too difficult to create an automated mechanism of sifting the abuse from genuine discussion. To paraphrase the popular saying, “One man’s discussion comment is another’s hurtful abuse.” It’s not a matter of free speech, it’s a matter of sympathy for the views of another. And “sympathy for the views” does not mean “simpering acceptance,” it means being able to separate the content of the argument from the emotional response to the argument.

Unfortunately, what I’m suggesting is one of the hardest things to enable. I’m suggesting that people stop being dicks. People need to understand that they don’t have to write what they’re thinking right now. That they don’t have to send a message of hate to someone they’ve never met. That if they wouldn’t say whatever they’re about to post to their mother, then perhaps they shouldn’t put it on a broadcast medium that allows everyone in the whole developed world to see it. People need to think about their audience. Put themselves in their recipient’s shoes.

And that’s probably what’s wrong with the internet. That we as a race are using the impersonality of the technology as an excuse for a failure to exercise any empathy. And censorship, “report to moderator” buttons, blocking, or abstaining in protest, will never fix that. People, whatever their age, sex, location, creed, or class, just need to stop being dicks to each other.

Aug 012013
 

For several years now, spokespeople close to Government ICT (Information & Communication Technology) procurement have stated a wish to reduce reliance on big companies like Fujitsu and Capita, and open the door to Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

However, this public posturing clearly does not replicate the private position held by procuring organisations.

Where this disconnect between the PR spin and the real world can be seen is in the increasing number of “framework contracts” let by governmental organisations. Frameworks are like recruitment agencies for procurement. By pre-arranging contractual terms & conditions, government procurement departments constrict the supplier market, in theory reducing procurement costs.

This behaviour works in favour of large companies. Framework contracts tend to be nebulous in nature, to allow for freedom to procure as many further contracts through the framework as possible. And whilst they have optimistic maximum values, the truth of the matter is that the framework itself has zero value to the supplier organisation. The value comes from the “mini competition” tenders issued through the framework.

So, to get onto the framework, a bidding organisation has to put together a top-notch bid team, commensurate with the high potential value of the framework. A bid team suitable for a $100m contract is essentially bidding for $0m of work. It will likely cost upwards of $50k to bid the contract, and there is no guarantee of work flowing from there on. Who outside of the top 10 industry companies can afford to play those numbers?

Naturally though the bid costs do not end with framework membership. In each “mini competition” issued through the framework, a further sales effort is required. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the framework, the costs of bidding in this competition can frequently approach the cost level of a new-client bid with full T&C negotiations. For the framework members, the mini competitions tend to have constrained deadlines (ostensibly because of the reduced contractual negotiation required), and so require the member organisation to maintain bid teams on standby to bid against a new competition.

By requiring a standby bid team, and by failing to significantly reduce the bidding effort, the costs of the initial framework bid do not result in benefits in the later mini competitions.

The government continues to issue requests for tender to become members of new frameworks, and the only one actually giving work to SMEs that I have been able to detect is the G-Cloud framework.

It seems as if the government procurement departments claiming to want to see tender submissions from SME organisations have little or no concept of the ability of an such an enterprise to fight a large Systems Integrator in a tender battle. That government procurement would expect the SME to go up against an industry behemoth like Atos or BT Global Services in a procurement exercise with zero value beggars belief.

There is still a notion that government can get best value from consolidating procurement activities across departments, and that SMEs offer the most exciting propositions. Government procurement staff fail to understand that these two aims are mutually exclusive. If the contract is successfully consolidated into a strategic multi-departmental requirement, it becomes big enough to interest an IBM or CGI-type organisation, and SMEs won’t bid it. Smaller pieces of work that are within reach of SME organisation bid teams are viewed as inefficient by procurement staff. This says more about the way government procurement works than an outcome-based analysis which demonstrates their consistent preference for large suppliers.

Large suppliers are castigated for driving out smaller companies from the industry, and for supposedly delivering “poor value” to the government customer. However, frameworks are essentially anti-competitive constructs created by the customer. Large suppliers have the financial might to compete for a framework with no guarantee of work behind it, but that sort of behaviour is inconceivable for a small company.

Whilst governments continue to let these framework contracts they make it abundantly clear that they have no meaningful intention of purchasing from small or medium enterprises.