Rigoletto and the Automaton
(or Shaking up the NHS)

 I’ve always thought that the music for the opening chorus of Rigoletto foreshadowed the modern party political conference.  It is a piece about court sycophancy and conspiracy which says everything about political intrigue.  

There’s a long tradition of resetting opera to make satirical points.  Ned Sherrin and Alistair Beaton did it in the Kinnock and Thatcher era with the Metropolitan Mikado and the Ratepayer’s Iolanthe.  More recently Music Theatre London set the trend for pithy new translations which led to a resurgence of exciting new small scale opera productions.  But we seem to have lost the politics.

Rigoletto feels as if its authors had anticipated our most recent political incumbents – the powerful, confident stride of Blair the leader, imperiously parting the faithful as he strides with his sycophantic train to the dais.  And in the shadows the poison dwarf, reviled by the rest of the party, who will ultimately aid his leader’s downfall, played by Alistair Campbell.  I often thought there was great scope for a New Labour Rigoletto with that pair and possibly Prescott as a lumbering Sparafucile.  But the opportunity passed by.

However, when Andrew Lansley started putting forward his health reforms, with the Lib-Dems performing U-turns on a daily basis I realised that the music and story fitted the current administration just as well. 

Read More

Sexy Cheese?

There are times when the serendipitous becomes just too compelling and you feel you need to share it with the world.  As I was doing some brand research for a future article I noticed that Neilsen’s recent survey of grocery brands places Dairylea in Position 69.  Does that make it the world’s most sexy cheese?

In an equally serendipitous coincidence, Position 70 in the same survey goes to Innocent.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Festive Christmas Ravioli

This year the mother-in-law’s coming over for dinner on Christmas day.  The main course is fine – we’ve got the goose patiently waiting to be roasted.  The desert’s already organised as Chris is the Christmas Pudding wizard of the known world.  But what do we do for a starter?  It’s Christmas Eve, the shops have shut and all that’s left is what’s in the freezer along with a desperate need for inspiration.

We do have lots of sprouts.  And because I keep on thinking we’ve run out of pasta flour and buy more and more until we have a cupboard full of it, fresh pasta’s a distinct possibility.  And what could be more festive than Brussels Sprout Ravioli?  So, armed only with a pasta maker, a ready supply of alcohol and a daughter bravely taking the triple roles of photographer, glamorous assistant and general dogsbody, it seemed time to break new culinary boundaries.

And just before we started I remembered I’d also got a piece of Zebra fillet lurking somewhere in the freezer waiting for a suitable recipe.  A quick search of the web revealed a shameful lack of recipes for either zebra or sprout ravioli.  Time for inventive genius to put right the deficiencies of the Internet for the benefit of the gastronomically adventurous… 

Read More

Social Media, Crowdsourced Reviews and the Edinburgh Festival

As usual, I spent the last few weeks of August at the Edinburgh Festival.  For those who have never been to the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s billed as the world’s largest arts event.  This year there were over 40,000 performances from 2,453 companies throughout the course of the month, selling over 2 million tickets.  However, I think that’s only around 40% of the potential tickets that could be sold.  As a result, throughout August, Edinburgh is consumed by a mad scramble of promotion, with companies handing out flyers, sticking posters all over the City and engaging in all manner of publicity stunts.  This year I expected to see companies starting to use social media and mobile phone apps to help promote themselves. Sadly, few appeared to use these at even the most basic level.

2010 was the year when the Internet finally overtook the local press.  For many years the main guide to what’s worth seeing has been the star ratings given by professional reviewers, notably from the Scotsman’s daily review section.  Over the past few years a growing number of web based review sites have emerged, with reviews contributed by audience members (and quite often by cast members).  As a result, anyone can post their own four or five star review, irrespective of the quality of the show, or their competence as a reviewer.  So every company capable of performing a Google search has been able to plaster their posters and handbills with a five star review, even though they may have submitted it themselves.  Seemingly unaware of the existence of the Internet, this triggered the Scotsman to pen a splenetic tirade about how people voicing their own opinion is devaluing the review process. 

As someone who is working with emerging location based social networking, it was disappointing to see how little has emerged at the Festival.  I came across no references to Foursquare, Gowalla or Loopt, surprisingly limited use of Facebook and Twitter and no Bluetooth marketing.  However, the growth of public reviews and the start of social media promotion by a few companies suggest that 2011 might be the year when things change and the position of the professional reviewer is finally undermined.  So what happened this year, and what do companies need to do in the future?

Read More

The Curious History of UWB

Most technologies are born and either survive or die. UWB (Ultra Wide Band) seems determined to do it differently, by constantly reincarnating itself and never quite getting there.  It’s currently at another inflection point in its serendipitous life cycle and it’s not at all obvious whether it will survive this one.


I was recently reading Kurt Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titan, where I discovered that he had invented an acronym which struck me as remarkably apposite – the Universal Will to Believe. In his case it’s probably nothing to do with wireless (although it could be), but is the mysterious power source in Tralfamodorean spaceships that is harnessed to power the Martian fleet of flying saucers.  Obscure power sources for space travel seem to be a recurring theme in science fiction, as Douglas Adams created something remarkably similar a few decades later, with his Infinite Probability Drive in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  And recurring themes and reinvention are eerily common in the curious world of UWB.

Read More

Glow in the dark Yoghurt – it’s the future for Science.

It’s always good to have a heart-warming story to start the year off.  What made this a particularly good start for me in 2009 was the fact that the story appeared in New Scientist.  In their opening issue on 3rd January, they tell the story of the “Rise of the garage genome hackers”.  It’s all about the research on genetic modification that is going on in sheds, garages and bedroom cupboards around the world.  It’s is a largely unreported phenomenon, but signals a growing trend which is the return of the scientific amateur or hobbyist.

Read More