Sophisticated Australian coffee culture sinks Starbucks

30 July 2008

While it’s of little help to the seven-hundred Australian Starbucks employees who are looking for new jobs today, you’d think any established coffee franchise would undertake some reasonably comprehensive market research before opening no less than eighty-four cafes.

This where some stores are in fairly close proximity to each other, and further, were opened in quick succession, particularly in a country which already has an entrenched coffee culture.

Associate Professor Nick Wailes, a strategic management expert at the University of Sydney, said Starbucks had failed to understand the Australian market. “Starbucks’ original success had a lot to do with the fact that it introduced European coffee culture to a market that didn’t have this tradition. Australia has a fantastic and rich coffee culture and companies like Starbucks really struggle to compete with that.” The president of Starbucks Asia Pacific, John Culver, admitted: “I think what we’ve seen is that Australia has a very sophisticated coffee culture.”

Originally published Wednesday 30 July 2008.

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Uneven heat emission sending Pioneers 10 and 11 off course

7 July 2008

The mystery surrounding the unexplained course deviations of deep space probes Pioneers 10 and 11, which are currently somewhere in the vicinity of the Solar System’s Kuiper Belt, may have been solved. At least partly, that is.

Slava Turyshev, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has spent the last two years studying data from the probes, which were launched in the 1970s, and concluded that uneven heat build-up across their structures is causing the trajectory anomalies:

Pioneer 11 gives off heat in certain directions more than others. The uneven heat emission is enough to nudge the spacecraft off course, accounting for 28% to 36% of the anomaly detected when Pioneer 11 was 3750 million kilometres, or 25 times the Earth-sun distance, away from us.

Originally published Monday 7 July 2008.

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Arthur C Clarke’s Newspad RSS news aggregator

30 May 2008

Author and futurist Arthur C Clarke is credited with predicting the emergence of a number of technologies, including a tablet-like device called a “Newspad”, which could serve the latest news stories from electronic versions of newspapers.

So far more has been said about comparing the Newspad to PDAs or Tablet PCs, but the Newpad also worked in a very similar way to today’s news aggregators, or RSS feed readers.

In the novelised version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (chapter title “Moon Shuttle”, pg 66-67) Dr Heywood Floyd, chairman of the US National Council of Astronautics, spends time reading on his Newspad, while traveling to the Moon.

Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.

Not only did Arthur C. Clarke predict PDAs and Tablet PCs, he also foresaw the emergence of news aggregators, and RSS technology.

Originally published Friday 30 May 2008.

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One hit wonders and pop longevity

18 May 2008

The Whitburn Project: One-Hit Wonders and Pop Longevity

Are there more one-hit wonders in the music charts today than there have been in the past? Andy Baio analysed data from 1900 to this year, in search of one-hit wonder trends.

The longest-charting one-hit wonder to hit the #1 spot is Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” from 2006, which stayed on the charts for 32 weeks. The one-hit wonder that stayed at the #1 longest is Anton Karas’ “The Third Man Theme” from 1950, which stayed in the #1 position for 11 weeks. Finally, the longest-charting one-hit wonder to appear anywhere in the Top 100 is Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing” from 1997, which peaked at #16 but stayed in the top 100 for 55 weeks.

I wonder if it’s a little too early to make a call on Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” which was released only two years ago though? He may yet enjoy further chart success in the not too distant future.

Originally published Sunday 18 May 2008.

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Gilligan’s Island conspiracy theory alternative synopsis

18 April 2008

The story about a seemingly random group of people setting off together on a three-hour cruise somewhere around the Hawaiian Islands, has, if you’ll excuse the pun, never held much water.

It’s quite clear some people expected the “cruise” to last a little longer than three hours.

First there’s Ginger, the movie star, who was carrying more luggage than any sane person would take on a three-year voyage.

Then there’s Mr Howell, the millionaire, and his brief case stuffed with “thousand dollar bills”. And what about the professor and his stash of scientific paraphernalia?

What possible utility could any of this have had during what was meant to be a three-hour cruise?

Gilligan’s Island fan Adam-Troy Castro has written an interesting dissection of the (still) popular TV show, and he may have unearthed the actual purpose of the “three-hour cruise”.

Mr Howell, rather than Gilligan, was in fact the pivotal player here.

One of the glaring questions that’s bothered us for a quarter of a century is: Since the snobbish Howell can presumably afford to buy his own yachts, why would he be interested in a “three-hour tour” aboard a dinky little charter vessel owned by two ex-navy men? And why would he take along a briefcase filled with thousand dollar bills, when one of the perks associated with great wealth is unlimited credit?

To be shipwrecked on an (apparently) unchartered and unknown island, means the Minnow, the cruise boat, had to be a long way from the main group of Hawaiian Islands, so what had they gone out to look at in the first place?

Certainly not the local reefs, since there’s no scuba equipment aboard. And certainly not the local shoreline, since when the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was not only unable to make it to port, but was blown outside Hawaiian territory. It must have been an unusual distance from shore to begin with. And still, no normal tourist site, let alone one miles from shore, can possibly explain the amount of money Howell brought with him.

It’s obvious something incredibly below board was planned, and cash stashes and superfluous scientific equipment, don’t really leave too much to the imagination.

Howell chartered the Minnow to make a multi-million-dollar drug buy. He’d paid off Gilligan, and the Skipper too. He’d brought along the necessary cash. He even brought along an extensive wardrobe, just in case the coast guard showed up and he had to leave U.S. territory in a hurry. And just to make sure he wasn’t ripped off, he brought along an expert to evaluate the merchandise he was getting.

So who was in cahoots with who though? Apart from Mary Anne, it seems everyone else was in on the drug buy.

Mary Anne appeared to be a bona fide tourist intent on some sightseeing, and the “gang” felt that not allowing her to board the Minnow, which to all intents and purposes was a tour vessel, would have looked suspicious.

Mary Anne, a Kansas farm girl … had won a Hawaiian vacation in a contest. Howell and his cronies must have let her on board because failing to do so would have raised undue suspicion among harbor authorities; they probably intended to dump her body at sea.

In a twist to proceedings however, Mary Anne was not exactly who she appeared to be either…

Vacations given away in contests are always for two people, not one! And Mary Anne, who claimed to have a fiance back home, had no real reason to be travelling alone. Therefore, she must have been maintaining a false identity as well – and since everybody else on the Minnow was frantically putting on a show for her benefit, she must have been putting on a show for theirs. The conclusion is inescapable. Mary Anne was a Fed.

The producers of Gilligan’s Island didn’t follow through with the planned fourth series, thus leaving the story… unresolved. Therefore the alternative synopsis advanced by Mr Castro may be quite plausible.

Originally published Friday 18 April 2008.

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Five Questions: Duncan Macleod, TV advert blogger

10 September 2007

Five Questions is where I talk to bloggers about their projects and some of the other things they are doing. I ask {Q}uestions, and hopefully get some {A}nswers.

TV ads: are they a necessary evil, an outright distraction, or do they make for useful intermission breaks? Not all TV ads are forgettable though, and some are almost an art form says Duncan Macleod who reviews TV ads for his blog TV Ad Land.

{Q} What prompted you to become a TV ad reviewer of all things?!

{A} I started Duncan’s TV Ad Land back in 2003 in response to requests at conferences for copies of TV ads I’d been using as illustrations. I was aware that passing around digital copies of the ads could be breaking copyright law and so undertook to show people where to find the ads on the internet for themselves.

I was already working on a blog focusing on my research on generational change and thought it might be an interesting side line. What started out as an occasional post on Blogger has turned into a domain name duncans.tv with five blogs, read by approximately 5000 people each day.

{Q} How much time a week would you spend doing research, and watching TV, for the blog?

{A} I do my research and writing for TV Ad Land in the evenings and the weekends. Ironically I don’t get to sit down and watch TV much — it’s going on in the background.

Most of my information comes from press releases, emails and other web sites. All up, counting the posts I write on TV ads, print ads, music videos, popular culture and faith, I spend between 10 and 20 hours a week blogging.

I maintain a few blogs in my work with the Uniting Church during work hours.

{Q} In your opinion what makes for an effective TV ad?

{A} I’m interested in the ads that tell a story, providing plot and characters, like the Ikea Tidy Up series. Even better are the campaigns that show some kind of character development, like the Geico Cavemen series that morphed into a television series.

And then there’s humour — the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously — like the Big Ad from Carlton Draught. Just like at the movies, music makes all the difference to the way we engage with the ad.

The recent Tooheys HarvesTed ad, in which a guy grows clones from his hair, puzzled a lot of people. But people were drawn back to the ad time and time again by the Yama Yama track.

{Q} What sort of things do you think ad makers should avoid doing when producing commercials?

{A} Effective creative teams have to work out how much information is required in the thirty seconds. Is the ad about developing interest, curiosity, loyalty, pride or love? Or is it about giving people facts and figures that they must remember?

There’s been a bit of debate over this question in relation to a recent ad for the Honda CRV in which a guy constantly changes clothes as he walks through a Sydney street. More and more we’re seeing TV ads that attract viewers to online sites that can provide the details required.

Another tension faced by advertising teams relates to irreverence. The Nandos Fix Patch and Gum ads struggled to win wide support when they showed a working mum using the fictitious nandos-fix patch and gum in a strip club before taking her family to Nandos.

The ads are funny, but have left a bad taste in the mouths of many parents I’ve spoken to. Very few people get the joke.

{Q} So are TV ads underrated creative genius, or merely a distraction TV viewers must tolerate?

{A} Some TV ads are appalling and deserve to be muted. They’re loud, hard sell and unimaginative. But we’re seeing the growth of the television commercial as an art form, a short form of the short film.

The only problem for the people behind the scenes is that they go uncredited. In most cases we’re not sure who the actors are.

As I research for Duncan’s TV Ad Land I try to tell the story of the people behind the scenes: creative directors, art directors, copywriters, film directors, producers, editors, directors of photography, visual and special effects teams, colourists, sound designers, composers and of course the actors.

Many of these people are involved in long form film work. The director of the movie Halo, (coming out in 2009) is Neill Blomkamp, known mostly for his TV ads for Nike (Evolution and Crab), Citroen Transformer, Gatorade Rain and Adidas Adicolor Yellow.

My challenge now is how to connect the popular culture angle back into my original work on generational values and spirituality.

When I talk to groups about Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y I find the TV ads, print advertisements and music video are great illustrations, texts for discussion. The Virgin Blue Get What You Want in Todd’s Life provides a way to talk about the dominant culture of choice, change and variety.

My brief with the Uniting Church in Australia has included helping people explore what faith might mean in an environment driven by consumerism. Do we ignore the lessons of the advertising world and settle for poor marketing? I suggest not.

But at the same time it’s important not to be sucked into the danger of continually presenting faith as a product that can be bought now and discarded later.

Thanks Duncan!

Originally published Monday 10 September 2007.

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The Prestige, a film by Christopher Nolan, with Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale

30 November 2006

First an aside, I wonder if The Prestige was the team behind 2005’s Batman Begins deciding to apply their collective acting and producing talents to a completely different story? We have Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and director Christopher Nolan, all from Batman Begins, present here.

The Prestige traces the unhealthy obsession (is any obsession healthy though?) friends turned rivals, Alfred Borden (Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), have with each other’s magic acts, and the ends one will go to, so as to out do the other.

Caught up in this rivalry is Scarlett Johansson as stage assistant, Olivia, who becomes romantically involved with both men during the course of proceedings. And though I knew David Bowie was also in the movie, I didn’t recognise him as Tesla, an American inventor competing with Thomas Edison.

Originally published Thursday 30 November 2006.

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Culture jamming street signs as a means of political protest

7 May 2005

Altered road sign suggesting Australia is a refugee island?

Saw this on the way to work the other morning. Along Epsom Road, in the Sydney suburb of Rosebery. I don’t know how long it has been there, or how long it will remain. I wonder what the exact point is. It could mean a number of different things when you think about it…

Originally published Saturday 7 May 2005.

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Is this Erroll Bottrell’s statue in Centennial Park Sydney?

1 January 2005

Erroll Bottrell's name at base of statue column

I don’t know who Erroll Bottrell is, but he’s carved his name into eternity… on the base of a statue in Sydney’s Centennial Park.

But the statue is a strange sort of ornament all up. It sits on top of what might be a ten metre high pseudo classic Greek column, making it kind of difficult to see. It’s one of several similar objects located near Busby pond in the park, but bears no inscription or plaque explaining what it is, or why it’s there.

Folly statue column, Centennial Park Sydney

It reminds me a little of the classic English landscape folly, being an “architectural construction which isn’t what it appears to be”. Something built for a bit of fun only. Maybe this is an Australian variation of the idea? How very eccentric.

Perhaps Erroll Bottrell designed these ornaments, and inscribed his name into the base for posterity’s sake. Maybe he was just another visitor to the park, who was handy with a carving chisel, one he just happened to be carrying at the time.

Update: Here, possibly, may be some information about Mr Bottrell.

Originally published Saturday 1 January 2005.

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Pioneers 10 and 11 courses inexplicably varying at Kuiper Belt

15 September 2004

Something weird is happening out on the boundary of our solar system, an area called the Kuiper Belt, where NASA space probes Pioneers 10 and 11 are presently located.

Both deep space probes, launched over thirty years ago, traversed the inner region of the solar system almost exactly according to plan.

Since passing beyond the orbit of Pluto though, events have taken an unexpected turn: both probes appear to be inexplicably deviating from their projected courses.

And no one can work out why. Some scientists think long held ideas on the effects of gravity over extended distances may be need to be re-thought. Others say that both probes may be leaking gases, which is contributing to the change in their trajectories.

This mystery has led to calls for a new deep space mission to see what’s happening out at the Kuiper.

By fitting a Pioneer follow-up probe with new measuring equipment, navigational device and communications gear, it should be possible to discover if the probes are in the grip of a new force of nature.

A new force of nature? Perhaps Star Wars director George Lucas’ far, far, away galaxy may not be all that distant after all…

Originally published Wednesday 15 September 2004.

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