March 30, 2010

The Vatican has made available a magnificent image of the Sistine Chapel.  The image is huge and takes a while to load, but it worth every moment.   Fly around the glorious space, zoom in and out on any part.  This site alone would make the Internet worth while.


Dare We Hope …

March 30, 2010

… for a fundamental change of attitude in North America?   We could be moving in that direction if we can believe a new survey conducted with consumers by marketers Ogilvy & Mather Chicago in partnership with leading consumer insight company Communispace.

Among the study’s key findings is that “having it all” is an unrealistic goal with 75% of those surveyed saying they would rather get out of the rat race than climb the corporate ladder – and instead, 76% said they would rather spend more time with family than make more money.  Moreover, Americans are showing disenchantment with the pursuit of money with 75% again saying they would trade job security over a job that offered an opportunity for raises.

Graceann Bennett, Managing Partner and Director of Strategic Planning at Ogilvy & Mather Chicago:  “Prioritizing your life based on money is seen as a sure way to be disappointed since the pursuit of money is often reliant on factors outside of consumers’ control.  They have gone down this road before and are saying that they are not necessarily happier or better off as a result” …

According to Manila Austin Ph.D., Communispace’s Director of Research, “Consumers didn’t fully understand the idea of sustainability until they found themselves living unsustainable lives – working too hard, carrying too much debt, and not living or planning for the long term.  Now consumers are re-imagining their lives for a sustainable future for themselves and their families … “We are finding consumers make very interesting trade-offs across seemingly unrelated categories in order to get their lives into balance while still feeling like they are treating themselves to those things that make them feel normal and well taken care of,” explained Ms. Bennett.  “Holding off a few years to buy a new car may enable them to keep their everyday Starbucks indulgence going while someone else may ease up on their ambitions for a promotion to feel safer in their job even if it means less money” …

A shrinking circle of trust in banks, established institutions and even the media   has led 69% of consumers to say that the recession has caused them to rethink their perspective and values with 78% saying that the recession has changed their spending habits for the better.  The local community – “Main Street” — is  now the focus for the majority of those polled.

Oh that this might be true.

What’s The Big Deal With 3-D?

March 30, 2010

There is an interesting piece in the New York Times today about the campaigns being prepared by television manufacturers to sell us on the expensive idea of 3-D on TV.  Samsung alone will spend $100 million this year on marketing it to us.

TV manufacturers are betting on 3-D. There are forecasts that consumers will buy 3.5 million to 4 million such sets, or about 10 percent of all United States television sales, this year. But that may be optimistic. Different and incompatible technologies mean that one maker’s glasses, for example, cannot be used on another’s television model. “The glasses go for a premium — around $150 — which means it’s costly, for example, to have a few people over for a Super Bowl party, unless it’s ‘bring your own compatible spectacles,’ ” said Ross Rubin, an analyst for NPD Group, a market research firm.

This is all such nonsense! I see in 3-D all the time, it is the natural way of seeing for human beings — and we do it without having to resort to fancy glasses.  Why would I want to pay extra for what is normal?    For me, one of the aesthetics of watching television or film or even fine art is that 2-D is NOT normal, and the skill is in translating a regular 3-D world into the artistic constraints of 2-D.

I’ll stick with the unreality of movies and TV and paintings, thanks very much.

Stairway 1

March 29, 2010

This is alas mere history.  The Paris Building on Hastings Street is being redeveloped.  This was the west wall of the Paris facing the still empty lot on the corner of Abbott.


March 29, 2010


coasting from haven to haven,
port puttering, suntanning, picture taking
as if we were zillionaires on vacation,
we began the bliss of connubial convenience
with a sailing cruise off the sparkling shores
of sunsoaked southern France
with much belaying and straining,
sheet soaking and shouting of “Ahoy!”
and “Whoooppppeeeeee!!!
and much waving at the smiling faces:
“What time is it?”

Cricket As Post-Modern Consumerism

March 29, 2010

Many people in the Americas believe that cricket is a complex old-fashioned game, probably more suitable to English village greens than modern stadia. That is primarily because the same many people in the Americas are mislead by their media and have no idea that, across the world, cricket is second only to football (soccer) in its popularity. A lot of this has to do with India, where cricket is the national sport, and the television audience is almost four times the size of the US market.

Moreover, cricket has changed with the times, developing new forms that have created additional waves of popularity and television opportunity. Fans can now select from traditional 4- and 5-day matches, matches that take about 8 hours to complete, and matches that are over in three hours. Or they can watch all three; most do. Cricket has found a way to triple its audience.

The most modern of these types of cricket is called 20/20, especially as formatted under the professional Indian Premier League (IPL) which introduced cheerleaders to cricket. The eight franchises in the IPL cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  Players are literally bought and sold on televised auctions before each season and the best cricketers in the world command multi-million dollar contracts for an 8-week gig. This is huge money and the League fetishizes that money, making sure that Bollywood royalty and industrial billionaires are featured visitors to the games.  Matches take about three hours and the crowds at the arenas for the first three seasons were extraordinary even though the TV treats the games as prime time spectacles.

Moreover — and the point of this post — the League flourishes because of the wild generosity of advertizers and the looseness of the IPL rules on what can be placed on a uniform, on a pitch or on equipment. I was reminded of this by a great article on cricinfo by Rahul Bhattacharya.

Watching the IPL is like encountering one of those post-modern narratives that seeks to satirise consumerism. Surely, one thinks, this must be a critique of the contemporary world and [Commissioner] Lalit Modi not its marketing whiz but its artistic seer.

The player outfits look like a collage of flyers. Excluding the team crest, they wear two logos on the front, two on the “non-leading arm”, two on the “leading arm”, and a big one at the back. The trousers sport a logo on each leg. The helmets and caps have one at the rear and another on the side. The umpires are similarly draped, though they haven’t such a variety.

The beautiful baize of the field is defaced by anywhere between five and eight giant logos, one or two on the straights, and the remaining square. Inside the advertising boundary boards, the boundary triangles carry branding. So do the sightscreens; so do the stumps. The fibreglass of the dugouts is tattooed in logos. There is a blimp in the sky. A giant screen constantly fizzes with advertisements. The banners in the crowd can be sponsored (“Cheer your Citi”).

Watching on the telly one sometimes loses a horizontal quarter to ads, sometimes a vertical quarter, sometimes both together. Along the bottom, there are text promos the whole while.  As many viewers have noted with horror, this season features ads between not just overs but between deliveries, cunningly zooming in and out of the giant screen sometimes. Besides, there are two “strategic time-outs”. These provide 10 minutes of pure, cricket-free ads. These have been sold to Maxx Mobile: perhaps the first instance, as somebody said, of a sponsored ad-break.

Bhattacharya notes that most Indians are not participants in sports and are simply consumers.  They treat cricket on TV in the same way as they treat the popular saas-bahu, family soap operas — they will watch whichever seems to be most exciting at that moment, and huge sums of money are exciting.  In India, money “is the parameter to judge a profession, a work of art, a life … It empowers and it attracts power.”

The 20/20 form within a small high-talent league system is the most likely type of cricket to break through in the North American market.  It may take advertizers and networks some time to catch up to Indian expertise in its exploitation.

The City Really Is Cheaper

March 27, 2010

I’m a city boy and always have been.  I feel comfortable around people and concrete.  I am trained by sixty years of doing to screen out most of the extraneous noise and darker corners.   I have actually lived in West Country villages in England, and I have dreamed of retiring to Nakusp in the wilds of mountainous BC, but right here, right here in the throbbing heart of the big city, is where I am truly comfortable.

So, I am a booster for the downtown lifestyle.  I understand and appreciate the qualities of walkability, easy access to services, and easy access to a variety of modes of transportation, some of which are publicly run.   I haven’t owned a car for nineteen years, haven’t needed one.  We walk mostly, take buses, take cabs and every now and again we rent a car for the weekend.  We couldn’t live like that anywhere else but in the city.

I am comforted in my beliefs that this is the way to live by research such as that by the Centre for Neighborhood Technology.  Their new Housing + Transportation Affordability Index looks at neighborhood affordability as an aggregate of both housing and transportation costs.  In most cases, city neighborhoods — even those with much higher housing costs — were more affordable than those in the suburbs when the cost of transportation was counted in.  This feeds into what they call the Location Efficiency Index which among other attributes approximates the green footprint of a location.

Compact neighborhoods with walkable streets, access to transit, and a wide variety of stores and services have high location efficiency. They require less time, money, and greenhouse gas emissions for residents to meet their everyday travel requirements.

From the article in FastCompany that led me here:

The overwhelming result: It’s cheaper or just as cheap to live in cities when transportation is factored in. Transportation costs can range from 15% of household income in location efficient neighborhoods to over 28% in inefficient locations. So for example, while housing costs will suck up at least 30% of your income in San Francisco, transportation will cost less than 15%. In comparison, housing in nearby Richmond costs under 30% of residents’ income, but transportation uses up to 28% of all income.

It is a pity that the data on the CNT site is only for the US.  However, it has an educational value for us all.  Make sure to check out the customizable mapping options at the bottom right of the website.

* * * * *

Since I first drafted this, I have heard from Stephen Rees who writes so eruditely on transportation issues.  He wrote to remind me (as if I already knew!) that:

[T]he costs of transportation – and the effect on affordability of housing –  have been established long ago. That was why “location efficient” mortgages were developed. If the borrower did not have to cary the heavy burden of travel costs, they could afford a bigger mortgage closer to … well initially work, but since workplaces started dissipating that may not longer be so obvious. And, as fas as I can recall, it was only commute costs that counted, not all the other trips that have to be made. And anyway LEMs were not available outside the US.


But the other thing I have always had to point out is that no-one stops you from spending money on transportation, but there were – and probably will be again now after the credit crunch – all sorts of rules about how much you could borrow on a mortgage (usually multiples of income or some kind of credit evaluation). Hence the old “drive till you qualify” rule.


Having been quite out of the housing market for decades, this is all new data for me.  I made the choice long ago to follow the “don’t drive, live local” rule, I guess.