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Month: March 2008

Bleak House Redux: Sanford gets his apology from Massa

Well well well – in a turnup for the books that Pyrrhus himself would have found difficult to swallow, Sanford has extracted an apology from non-Congressman Massa following the slanderous claims he made about Sanford’s character and conduct.

The original case is linked in Sanford’s publication of their joint statment of toadying reconciliation, but – like cheap air freshener – this release simply disguises the one rank smell with the whiff of accommodation.

I initially commented on this case – which is pretty off-topic for me – because I know Sanford and respect his energy, enthusiasm and 110%+ commitment to all the causes into which he throws himself. I’m no softy when it comes to political machinations and manipulations, but I was stunned and disappointed that someone who was standing for a position of trust and authority would use defamation, slur and the conduct of his son in to wheedle out of his agreement. The whole thing reminded me of Jonathan Aitken’s brazen challenging of the media with his sword of barefacedness and the trusty shield of a false familial alibi.

The intervening year or so has simply shown the potentially ruinous costs of defending one’s good name (the maxim seems to be that if you can’t afford redress then you’re not deserving of it), the toll on one’s well-being and two new pressures of our age: an active, vitriolic and partisan blogging community that uses news snippets as excuses for point-making; and the ‘eternal memory’ of Google – a libel, once in the gCache, is there for ever.

My over-riding thought was one of relief for Sanford that the whole process was over, with all of the claims against his character unreservedly withdrawn. It’s a pity that there’s such a frothy love-fest of mutual adoration to pad out the thing: I’d have preferred a more simple “I told porkies thinking I could bully, bluster and slander my way out of trouble but now I’ve been called and I’d rather apologise than lose comprehensively in court”. Or even “Sorry”. Still, maybe his wishing “Sanford Dickert well in his continuing capable national service to Democratic candidates and campaigns” will do.

No, it won’t.

Ribbit – Silicon Valley’s First Phone Company

Ribbit – Silicon Valley’s First Phone Company

When I said that 2008 would be the year in which the promises of ‘mobile’ and telephony started to be delivered I didn’t envisage so much excitement so soon.

Hot on the heels of Rebtel we have Ribbit.

Ribbit is Rebtel meets Skype meets Adobe Air/Flex, meeting Visual Voicemail meets Unified Messaging meets iPhone meets CTI meets social networking meets Salesforce.

This gives me a tingle!

The importance of proofing…

Proofing and subediting are tricky, demanding and under-rated skills.

Still, the time to find and listen to those skills would be before printing thousands of carrier bags.

Then again, maybe not.

Mrs Kibble's Spelling bags

Let the presses roll. Oh, and see if we can find St Christpoher’s Place on Google Maps…

UPDATE: I’ve shown this to 8 people, none of whom found the typo without prompting.’s Graduate Academy

This is a great idea. It’s become axiomatic that there’s a skills-shortage in ecommerce, but a less-well documented problem with the explosion in ecommerce is the lack of entry-level, junior skills.

Such has been the growth that experienced ecommerce people are now looking at senior management paygrades, but there’s not been the investment within companies to grow the skills of young, generalist people, or those from other disciplines, to become the ecommerce practicioners of next year.

This initiative answers two problems for businesses:

  1. accredited, dependable training – you’ll have confidence that the graduates have covered the bases
  2. there’s a critical mass for recruiting (much easier than a ‘spray and pray’ approach to attracting junior staff).

What will the graduates do?

“What’s included for free on our Graduate Academy:

  • 3 day residential training placement in July at Reading University
  • 15 days of distance and online training during August
  • A further 2 days residential training at the end of August at Reading University
  • Free access to for the period of training
  • Guaranteed interviews with leading companies”

We’ll take a look at the progress of the Academy in more detail in InternetRetailing, but in the meantime this is a very welcome initiative and sure to be oversubscribed.

Graduate Academy | Training |

TechCrunch UK: Get Forkd – a social network for recipes

Forkd logo

Mike Butcher’s recently covered the “Feta” (cheesey ‘beta’ pun – excellent) release of Forkd – a fun community/mashup offering for online foodies.

The pun extends beyond the ‘drop all vowels’ approach of flickr, mosaiqr etc and builds on the interesting notion that an individual recipe may ‘fork’ (as in ‘branch’) as well as be approriated (the very visual ‘forking’ of something from another’s plate).

I particularly like the idea that instead of just ‘rating’ or ‘collecting’ recipies the idea is that you amend, develop, improve and share again.

This is a typically rounded, interesting and polished offering from the good folk at Isotoma (sorry, I mean by “Internet veterans Doug Winter and Andy Theyers”). Heh.

TechCrunch UK: Get Forkd – a social network for recipes

Rebtel: sub-Skype prices for international calls – on mobiles!!

Cheap international mobile calls at Rebtel

I was facing an hour-long conference call yesterday, dialling in to a US access point. I didn’t feel like stiffing my client with a humungous phone bill and as usual I’d left the various headset/handset options for Skype somewhere in a dusty cupboard. Ordinarily, I just shout at the laptop from the privacy of my home office, but this wasn’t an option in an open plan office…

Enter Michael Ross and a text message to check out Rebtel. Wonderful!

I signed up for a $10 credit, getting another $10 free on top and then the magic kicks in.

Via the website one can “convert” an international number to a UK geographic number (ie “free” in effect since my airtime bundle on the iPhone is massive). This must then trunk the call to the US over VOIP network bandwidth to a US POP near the destination phone number. The call from the virtual POP to the ‘real’ number is then a (free) local call. So – a bit like Skype except:

  • it works on my mobile.

There are some cunning touches: enter a phone number via the website and it’ll send the access number by SMS. Neat. One click to call.

Clearly, there’s an overhead in terms of storing a “Rebtel equivalent number” for each international contact, but this is a small price to pay for the absolute joy of chatting virtually free. The other downside is that the service is less attractive while roaming (since the value of ‘local’ number reduces significantly when it’s not part of one’s free airtime). Furthermore there’s not a ‘static’ incoming number (cf the SkypeIn number), but I’m not being fair here since Rebtel is a service for mobiles, and as such it’s wonderful.

Oh, did I mention it was cheap? Yesterday’s call was 25 minutes and the cost was 16cents . Yes indeed – 8p.

“99% pregnant” – misleading percentages in retail (Editorial from Internet Retailing Magazine, February 2008).

InternetRetailing‘s Editor in Chief, Ian Jindal, has been shopping hard this month and his experience at the sharp end of retail (handing over cash, rather than writing strategies) has made him ponder how retailers should respond to anticipated ‘percentage declines’ in sales.

Thanks to client engagements your Editor in Chief has had the opportunity to pound the malls, boutiques and ateliers of Hong Kong, London, New York and Manchester – all in the space of high carbon-footprint month. During my travels I’ve been both demonstrating best practice rich internet applications and spending times in some truly extraordinary retail venues – from the highest end of luxury outlets and malls in Hong Kong through discount and scale retailers in NYC, where luxury and mass-markets collide, and niche, one-outlet custom retailers in the UK. As a backdrop to this till-gazing my newsfeeds have kept me in touch with the statistics: ongoing fears of a consumer recession; growth in online sales over the Christmas season that show the channel taking an ever-greater proportion of retail sales and a mix of retail results, with some winners and a few losers whose sales have declined.

In my conversations with retailers there’s a general agreement that the “consumer situation” is going to be difficult through 2008 and that spring trading won’t help fashion retailers enough (after all, Spring/Summer goods have a lower cash value that the big winter coats and back to school outfits) and the electronics retailers lack a compelling product – no Xbox/Wii launch, no new operating system, no radical shift in computer power or screen technology. Even the DVD format war has fizzled to a conclusion.

In all, retailers are looking to proceed with caution, eye promotional activity and keen pricing as their lodestone in the difficult currents ahead – looking to steady sales or have a ‘managed decline’ while protecting margins. In a word – incrementalism.

I fear, though, that such stoicism and incrementalism will not serve retailers well: there’s no such thing as an average decline.

Customer behaviour is binary: they either buy or they do not. It’s not as if – faced by a reduced amount of free cash – a customer simply decides to spend £97 instead of £100. Clearly, retailer discounting may give that appearance (ie if we reduce prices) but the more worrying situation is that customers simply do not buy at all from us: a 100% discount!

This was obvious to me as I eavesdropped on the faithful in four different Apple stores fondling the new MacBook Air. Even early adopters acknowledge that the machine is underpowered but its impact is clear: it makes other options look undesirable and customers will wait for the ‘version 2’ rather than spend now or on an alternative. The message for rival products is “we don’t want it” not “we can’t afford it”.

Likewise, for clothing. Recent reports show that customer aspirations remain high even when cash is tight. The observed behaviour is that they’ll continue to buy high-end goods, but in lower quantities, and would fund the purchases by eschewing other non-essential purchases (ie reduced overall sales for the high end, zero sales at the lower end: no ‘average’ in sight!).

Luxury etailers, however, should not take this custom for granted. A quantitative survey by Conchango this month (covered on our portal) shows a catalogue of basic errors and shoddy customer experience. 30% of ordered goods did not arrive, and from a total score of 190 Estee Lauder (the best) only managed 109 and Dior held up the bottom with a lowly 56 (goods didn’t arrive).

The lessons from this are clear, obvious – and generally ignored. Back your products and marketing with great logistics.

The more difficult lesson though is to look through the aggregate behaviour of 100 customers and consider the unique experience of each of them: if we fail to communicate, inspire and delight then the customers’ wallets will stay firmly in their pockets. Aggregate percentage shifts in the market will disguise the fact that some retailers will take lots of money and others will see sales fall off a cliff.

A gynaecologist friend once remarked, one cannot be “99% pregnant” – you either are or you’re not. Likewise with retail in 2008: there’s no ‘99% successful’ – you’ll either make the sale or you won’t. In 2008 etail sales will need to be personal, and etailers must act accordingly.

Hong Kong for the British Council

I’m slowly catching up with posts after my MT install imploded – welcome WordPress and at last a chance to post about a great experience: visiting Hong Kong to run a masterclass on ‘publishing 2.0’ for the British Council in January. I’ve been fortunate to work with the BC on a number of occasions but this was the first opportunity to see the work of the BC outside of the administrative offices in the UK. It was extraordinary to see the throngs of schoolchildren rushing through the offices in HK for their English lessons, as well as the numbers of people using the research/resource centre. Seeing too the ‘on the ground’ advertising of the BC’s services is a reminder of the impact that the Council has in promoting English learning and culture.

I had a great welcome from the BC team and the day’s session on their Online Transformation Programme was challenging and forward-looking.

Outside of the Masterclass it was great to catch up with Antony, who can now add “Tourist Guide” to his extensive list of achievements! A trip to the Chinese Opera over in the New Territories (a unique mix of music-hall, stylised morality tale, costume drama and comedy, all to a distinctive musical style) was the first treat. The surprise was how the audience behaved: chatting, walking in and out, generally not bothering to clap – indeed, running for the doors while the final chords still reverberated… Antony and I were the sole, but stoic, applauders at the end of the 3 hour marathon!

The highlights for the rest of the stay included:

The Graham Street ‘wet market’ (ie alive, wriggling about to be introduced to a cleaver):

Graham Street wet market

The view from the Peak – in the mist and rain:

The Peak in the mist

And of course the wanderings through the streets of Central and Midlevel, temples and street furniture:

Bollards in HK.

For those interested the rest of the photos (a restrained and highly-edited 46) can be seen in the Hong Kong 2008 photoset on Flickr.

New York – Publishing 2.0 for Euromoney.

It was a real privilege to be able to run three days of workshops and presentations for Euromoney/Institutional Investor in New York, with Craig Hanna of e-consultancy. Following a presentation to the Board in London, Craig and I spent 3 days with teams in publishing, newsletters and conferences, looking at a number of aspects of B2B publishing in the era of ‘the working web’ (as I’m referring to the post-Web2.0 hype).

Around the training I managed to catch up with some people I’d not seen in too long a while: Rebecca and Sanford in particular.

The rest of the evenings and a brief weekend were spent pounding the streets in the – ahem – rather chilly, sub-zero February air. The photoset is on Flickr if you’re interested.

Highlights of the trip were:

Sakagura – a discovery thanks to Sanford: 250 rare Saki varieties and a peculiar fusion of basement car-park blockwork, er, chic; wonderful food, great service and a surprisingly small tab (gawd bless the £:$ exchange rate!) made this utterly memorable.

The new (to me) Staten Island Ferry terminal; the Kerouac exhibition at the New York Public Library, including one of his long typescript scrolls; Top of the Rock – what a view! Barney Greengrass – how is it I’ve only just found it?

The streets were as interesting as ever, and this visit my eye seemed to be attuned to medium-telephoto details.

Tattoo sign over roadworksView through a cut-out in a hoarding, Battery Park.

Plus of course the abiding obsession with pavements and street-furniture…

I took the XPan along for the trip and have 6 films that now need scanning and editing, but I’ll post those as soon as I get round to it.

Vodafone Mobile Connect – inept and unnecessary problems with Mac OSX Leopard… solved.

Update: 2010-06-16

Vodafone has released New_Vodafone_Mobile_Broadband_4.01.03.00.dmg available from here:

This rather nicely installs without having to be root (huzzah) and magically recognises more modems (I got plug n play with a Novatel 2352, not just the Huawei 220) and is an informative, useful piece of software. I’ll leave the rest here for those not running the latest version of OSX.

<- Old post follows ->

I’ve been a user of the Vodafone 3G USB thingy for over a year – £45, all you can eat, high-speed internet that’s worked largely without trouble across the UK, France and further afield.

The recent purchase of a new MacBook Pro meant that I needed to reinitialise the modem: normally a really simple activity with the Vodafone Mobile Connect (VMC) application. It seems not to do much – just sets the modem scripts and access codes for the USB thingy (a rebaged HUAWEI 220).

Anyways – every time I launched the VMC it just hung. So – no 3G, no nothing.

16 minutes into my call with the new-but-very-helpful trainee and we do the uninstall-reinstall-restart shuffle (I’d done all of this in anticipation) so after that he ‘escalates’ and tells me that my call’s been logged but that they only have one Mac specialist and so the estimated time to a diagnosis/call-back is 2-3 weeks. Yes, that’s right. Weeks.

I suggested that it’d be easier to just cancel my account since I’m out of contract and start again with non-flakey software and after some rummaging and an offer of a rebate after 2 weeks of non-functioning (!) I asked if I couldn’t just get the access details directly and not bother with VMC. In checking that he accidentally ends up chatting to the Mac guy to whom I’m instantly transferred. Excellent. I can only suggest that a more seasoned operative would have ‘accidentally’ hung up on me by now…

Anyway, in practised and weary tones the Mac guy talks me through…

  • Applications > Utilities > Directory Utility. Launch this
  • From the Edit menu, “Enable Root User”, creating a root account with uname/pword as the ever-popular combo of “root/root”
  • apple-shift-q to log out, the click “other” on the login screen and enter, yes, root/root
  • while running as root, plug in the usb modem and wait until the green light flickers (logging on) and turns blue (3g acquired)
  • launch VMC – it’ll see the modem, log onto Vodafone and then click “OK” to save the settings.
  • apple-shift-q to leave root-dom, then log in again as yourself
  • deactivate the root account (see steps 1&2 – do in reverse)

If like me you have your modem status in the menu bar, just click and connect.

That’s it. A cruddy, thoughtless, inept piece of software that insists that the initial settings are run as root.

So Vodafone have the unique position of being the only app I’ve ever had to install under OSX as root; then a special prize for telling no-one!

I asked the engineer why this wasn’t on the web and he said it’s because they didn’t want to be responsible for telling people to enable root and maybe break things. Hmmm – preferable to let people wait 2-3 weeks without access… Much better idea!

For fellow sufferers: versions are:
OSX: 10.5.2

YMMV and of course be careful while root.