“Creating content” vs writing

Given that blogging is somewhat correlated with writing, I thought this article about tips for novelists may be of interest to some of you:

Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody,” said Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet more than a century ago. “There is only one way. Go into yourself.” Rilke, of course, was right – nobody but yourself can help. In the end it all comes down to the strike of the word on the page, not to mention the strike thereafter, and the strike after that….

“This most of all,” he says. “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of night: must I write?”

Everybody who has ever felt the need to write knows the silent hour. I have come across many such people – and indeed many such hours – during my writing and teaching life. I’ve been teaching now for the best part of 20 years. That’s a lot of chalk and a lot of red pencil. I haven’t loved every minute of it, but I’ve loved most. More here

And then The New Yorker’s Evan Waite and River Clegg giving it everything in this rant in their “Daily Shouts” about advertising and “content”.

I hate the term “content”. So American commercial, it’s like it’s a commodity. Aristotle didn’t create content, he wrote!

“How was your day?”

“I created 5 GB of content today!”

“Gosh, that’s amazing!”

Anyway, it’s brilliant:

Isn’t content great? It’s such a helpful distraction from the things that worry you. Like how your hair is thinning and your daughter no longer looks up to you. That stuff is a real bummer—unlike content. Content is awesome! It’s got everything: music, jokes, unlikely animal friends. One video is just eighteen seconds of a dog sleeping. Over three million views. Is watching an ad really too much to ask when your reward is a brief respite from thinking about what’s become of your life? More here

Ex-hurricane Ophelia

Ireland is beginning to recover from ex-hurricane Ophelia the worst storm we’ve had since 1961. Before getting herself to a nunnery, she claimed the lives of 3 people and left 360 thousand people without electricity.

I was down in Kilkenny during the hurricane and the power went. All in all, we were left without electricity for about 24 hours.

Here are my findings regarding life without electricity:

  • When it got dark, there was nothing left to do only talk to other people. You couldn’t read! I couldn’t go online because I was trying to preserve the battery of my devices. I cooked in candle light, but these really weren’t my finest dishes… But it didn’t seem like anyone cared, perhaps because they couldn’t really see what they were eating… We then sat around the dinner table for hours and told funny stories. I think I got to know a whole new side to the people I’ve known for a long time.
  • I got the best sleep since… forever. It seems that the artificial lights really do mess with our brains. I wasn’t even tired, but I don’t remember falling asleep and certainly don’t remember the last time I woke up this refreshed in the early hours of the morning.
  • It occurred to me that back in the day when there was no electricity you had no hope of surviving on your own.

In conclusion, this technology has made us unsociable and sleep-deprived. Not that it comes without huge benefits.

In our recent budget there is a tax break on electric cars. Where would we be if all cars were electric and this happened?

My heart goes out to the thousands of people left without power. The electricity people said it may be up to 10 days before some homes get it back, probably the ones who are most remote and vulnerable to infrastructure interruptions – and that’s a lot of old people. I imagine that’s going to be very challenging.

What Moscow looks like 100 years on since the October Revolution

I managed to make it back to Moscow for a short stint. It has changed a lot and I am quite fascinated by its many contradictions. I also couldn’t help but notice that it’s been almost exactly 100 years since the October revolution, so it’s interesting to take snapshot of where this society is after its big experiment with socialism.

Of course, the Revolution actually happened in what we would call November, but all the same, there was nothing about it. No banners, no meetings, nothing on TV. Just the odd weathered sculpture of Lenin here and there.

1. People are surprisingly chilled out

Compared to 10 years ago, people on the street have an air of calm about them. It could be that I spent a lot of my time going to touristy places, but it seems to be more than that. One’s mind immediately goes to the economic situation as the explanation — but that just doesn’t add up.

trip to moscow review

In the naughties, with oil prices firmly above $100 and more favourable international politics, you had to always keep your guard up. As in, you had to watch what is going on around you or you would have to fight to get things done right. You would get skipped in the queue, you mightn’t get the right change, one of the apples in the bag you bought at the market would be gone off – minor stuff, but it’s very draining. I remember approaching a shop door as a 13 year old girl. It was a glass door, so I could see that on the other side a man was nearing it too, much faster than I was. Then he stopped and just stood there. I opened the door to go through and he nearly knocked me off my feet with the words “How can people be so slow!” What the actual fk?! Anyway, that’s just anecdote to illustrate what I mean when I say you have to keep your guard up.

The naughties, however, was a time when the country was swimming in money. Now, with the sanctions, the rock bottom oil prices, the exchange rate the way it is, with the last remnants of unreplaced Soviet industry disintegrating, it seems that the macro economic situation is very gloomy. Somehow the people don’t mind. Maybe there is less inequality among the people who have lived there for a long time? As in, everyone’s life is worse, but there is less flashiness that grates on people’s nerves? I don’t honestly know. Talking to taxi drivers is always a good way to guage what’s current, only in Russia they’re not very talkative…

2. The silent but telling taxi drivers

A 40 km ride cost me 15 euro.

40 km. 15 euro. That’s 24 miles for $17.

How?! In Ireland, it would cost at least 50 euro.

The answer is as follows.

1. Petrol is much cheaper. In Ireland, unleaded petrol is 1.36 euro. In Moscow, it’s 0.68 euro. That’s exactly half price. And it’s not just selling below market price, Irish prices attract duties and taxes and whatever else.

2. Labour is much cheaper. You know where this is going…

Russian demographics are very difficult to figure out. People don’t trust the census gatherers, so many just wouldn’t participate in the census. The 2010 official population of “natives” is 10.5 million. Plus 1.8 million legally resident immigrants. The estimated number of undocumented immigrants is a million.

My feeling (that’s very subjective, I know, but still) is that the number of people from the former Soviet republics has grown exponentially in the last two years. I have taken seven YandexTaxi rides and six times I had a driver who had clearly moved here within a year or two. They don’t really talk to you — they’re there to do a job. They visibly rely on the satnav lady. I fear to consider how much they are paid.

At one point we were passing a metro depot and there was an advert for the vacancy of a cleaner. The staring salary was 22,000 rubles a month. That’s 325 euro or $385. Per month. I asked my mam about it and she wasn’t even sure that people get paid the nominal amount even, which brings me onto accounting tricks…

3. Fine cuisine with a side of accounting tricks

If you happen upon a restaurant in Moscow and it’s in any way decent, chances are it belongs to a man by the name of Arkadi Novikov. It’s actually scary how many restaurants he holds. They are all themed and well decorated. The food is generally very good. And for what they are, they are very cheap.

arkadi novikov restaurants moscow review
Georgian Hinkali, Harcho soup and Harachapuri went down very well
Characteristically, about half of the floor staff strike me as recent additions to Moscow’s population, coming from those same couple of countries.

The accounting trick isn’t really a trick at all, it’s just stealing. We were brought a bill for 2000 roubles and got a receipt for 500 roubles. The super friendly central Asian man must have been counting on our tiredness and fondness for beer to not notice. Mr Novikov, I am sure, will notice. I guess if you are attracting clients with low prices and that comes from low extremely low labour costs, you have to expect this kind of thing to go on. A far cry from socialism…

4. Zaryadye Park: 350 million euro gone where exactly?

The most recent addition to the Kremlin area is a park. It has a pretty cool floating bridge. A bridge that brings you where you came from – you can reflect on the metaphor…

zaryadye park moscow review

There used to be an old hotel where the park is now. The original budget for the park was approximately 90 million euro, but it ended up costing 350 million (converted based on the Russian Wikipedia page). I am not much of an architect or developer, but I really struggle to see how they spent so much money on a park… More accounting tricks? It did, of course, underwhelm me given the amount of publicity it got. I also heard that the translations are all wrong. The sign for Red Square is in Russian, English and Chinese. The Chinese translation apparently reads Red Sausage. Oh well.

On the other hand, I was very impressed with this feat of Russian design and engineering (not in Zaryadye, it’s in a park called Neskuchnii Sad):

stairs a feat of Russian engineering

You wouldn’t want to have poor depth perception walking down this stairs and I am not sure how functional it would be when it’s covered in ice in winter, but the idea is pretty cool. And then there are hardy Russian roses that manage to blossom in cold October:

Russian roses blossom in Autumn

5. There is a wake boarding station right off the Red Square

The wake boarders do impressive stuff to blasting rap music a few hundred metres from comrade Lenin’s tomb. Interesting changes.

6. Red squirrels are doing well

They come over and ask for food. How cute. People must be treating them kindly then. I didn’t see any of this 10 years ago. Red squirrels are native to Ireland, but were outcompeted by the more adapted Grey squirrel. Most Irish people won’t have seen a red squirrel, but if they can do well in the middle of Moscow, I am reassured they will do just fine.

Red squirrel in Moscow

7. Cosmonauts are still in high esteem

A random children’s playground. There was a little banner to say that this was built after a “mini-referendum”: as in people voted on the theme of their local playground.

moscow cosmonauts are still in high esteem

8. There is no fresh juice anywhere

I really struggled to find not from concentrate juice anywhere. I struggled to find this bottle and it had a security tag on it in the shop! I wanted orange juice, but could only get apple or pineapple. You can get actual fresh juice, but bottled fresh juice is a rare find. A business opportunity for any busy beavers, though I do recall Tropicana being available some years ago. I wonder what made them leave.

moscow doesn't have fresh juice

Ostrich eggs and escargot, on the other hand, are an occupied niche:

ostrich egg in moscow

What to make of it all?

As we can see, capitalism is hard at work despite the socialist dream. The most disadvantaged people of 1917 were the native peasants and factory workers. In 2017, they are more ethnically diverse and still powering the economy.

I have also travelled out towards the Volga and saw some interesting things I will describe soon!

Road to year end 2017

I think, I say, I do

Inspired by Dr. Martina Feyzrakhmanova / her post, September Planning Session, I have decided to follow her footsteps and also be accountable and share with you what I want to accomplish by December 2017. I am counting the whole of December, by the way.

Oh, I am a list person for as long as I can remember. I love ticking the items once completed. It also makes me feel that I have control and there is order.

Here’s my list:
  1. Finish reading four (4) of the nine (9) books on my bedside table.
    • “Four in the Morning” by local South African author, Phillipa Mitchell
    • Stephen King’s, “On Writing” (finally!), since I need to give myself some new knowledge
    • Danielle Steel’s classic, “To Love Again”, because I need to remind myself how romance or love story is written.
    • “Maybe This Love” by Jennifer Snow, purely to learn how others…

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Marketing strategies that could only sell antiemetics

Having to get up at 5:25 am to go to a distant hospital is remarkably effective at crystallising negative conclusions. On the bright side, knowing what not to do is super important. Via negativa and all that.

The train ride emphasised the UI problems in Amazon.

Amazon Audible:

“We don’t care that you paid for the service. Get us more clients.”

Look at this screen: why in the name of G-d is the main part of the screen a sharing button?

Why am I paying 40 quid per book and being constantly “encouraged” to make Amazon even more money?

I don’t mind a little bit of it, but this is the unmissable, ever-present centre-piece of the their user interface.

What a fail.

feeling like someone is selling to you

Coming home after a day of travelling and exploring a new hospital, I was greeted by a letter from Tesco. “Every little helps”, I think, as I open it…

Tesco

“The art of the one-directional equals sign”

So I asked for a new Clubcard cause the old one stopped working – and they sent it to me with this explanatory note on how to use a loyalty card (cause, you know, customers need one).

So if a=b, b=a… Am I right? Well, if €1=1 point, 1 point should equal €1.

But no, it actually equals one cent (you get a percent back as a coupon).

Marketing strategies that offend people’s intelligence are a bad idea.

tesco-marketing-strategies-that-offend-your-intelligence

(Also, it turns out that Irish Tesco is a considerably more upmarket establishment than its eponymous parent in the UK. The Irish branch exists as a separate subsidiary so as to not have to reveal the markups on their Irish lines, which I can only image are astronomical.)

Then Twitter came to just leave me no chance at a peaceful day of consuming products and services….

The latest set of people who sell things to you online on how to sell things online

via Twitter, of course

This reminds me of that time that my friends, having watched The Wolf of Wall Street, bought tickets to Jordan Belfort’s two-hour seminar in Dublin – where he promised to reveal all his woof-woof-woooolfy secrets.

If there was one thing that I learnt from watching The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s that one shouldn’t buy from people like him:

What did my friends say about the seminar? That they just paid 50 euro to attend a seminar that was basically a sales pitch asking them to attend a considerably more expensive two-day seminar in London. That’s where you really learn the secrets, you see.

The idea these people have is that “it’s a numbers game, so I will just follow everyone and see what I catch”. It makes people feel expendable.

marketing strategies that annoy people

Way too much offensive marketing for one day. I can’t be the only one pissed off by these marketing strategies, can I?

All publicity is good publicity and, naturally, if I had actually been very annoyed, I wouldn’t have written about the above. Twitter, Amazon and Tesco are still super-talented marketers. They have already won, and these are minor bloopers.

And then there is the utterly ridiculous, from Colgate:

marketing strategies that annoy customers

It’s an alright toothbrush though 😉

September planning session

Do you guys plan things for the year to come?

The habit of planning things around the 1st September comes from school – and old habits die hard.

It’s hard to plan things ahead. Mostly, we plan too much. Go to the gym four times a week, cut out chocolate and caffeine after 1 pm, go to bed early and get up at 7 am, practice mindfulness for 20 minutes a day every day,  stop buying things you don’t need, don’t spend more than 20 minutes a day on social media, finally learn French…

Within a week or two of our aspirational re-birth, an unplanned situation leads to failure: you stay up until 12, can’t make it to the gym, eat cake at a friend’s birthday party… And the failure leads to the self-flagellation: “I didn’t keep my promise, so I’m am weak and worthless.” And then: “Well, since I’m a weak and worthless, I have nothing to lose. I’ll eat a tub of ice cream. ” And the next day comes the disappointment: “Why did I do all this yesterday? It’s exactly what I was trying to not do? I have no willpower. I will never change, it’s hopeless. ” And the wheel of the vicious planning-failure circle keeps turning.

It often turns out that we change habits by creating new ones. And the new ones aren’t necessarily more adaptive. Going to the gym four times a week gives you “permission” to eat that ice cream. Saving money on taxi rides gives you “permission” to buy more clothes. Once again: ice cream and clothes are on a pedestal, and you – mentally – are in the gutter. Not ideal.

I have the idea that making things public makes it harder to go back on your promises. Or so says JFK. Here are things I hope to get done before December:

  • add photos of me to this blog and make it more personal
  • instead of only making a list of what I plan to do the next day, start also writing a list of things I accomplished today
  • do a basic course in coding (xhtml? html5?) and see if I want to continue with it
  • sort out my car
  • bring Mam to the theatre
  • go on a short holiday
  • go to the gym at least 40 times
  • read 3 books

You are more than welcome to follow suit and tell me what you plan. Tag it #TC2017

The picture is of my Mam and me, many 1st of Septembers ago.