What’s the deal with industry conferences (and their ticket prices)?

Ok, a real niche complaint today. But it’s one that really annoys me.

If you work in any kind of ‘industry’, you know about conferences. They’re these things where people go to do vague things like ‘learn’ and ‘network’. And broadly speaking, they’re a waste of everybody’s time.

The few that I’ve been to seem to mostly involve a mix of the following:

  • Companies bragging about how good they are and spending lots of money to produce presentations demonstrating this.
  • Software vendors talking generally about a business problem that their product just happens to be the perfection solution to.
  • Bald white guys with glasses who call themselves ‘thought leaders’ making extremely obvious observations about the industry.

Like I went to one about Social Media Customer Service (woo!). There were presentations on things like “Listening to your customer” as if that wasn’t incredibly obvious. I got to watch Zappos explain why they’re so good at customer service, as if it’s not incredibly easy to innovate in CS when you’re an online shoe company. And I was hassled by vendors trying to flog me platforms when they couldn’t actually answer questions about it because they were just sales people, not developers.

But maybe, just maybe, some people find them useful. If you like answering questions like this, then maybe they’re for you –

WOAHH WHAT AN INSIGHT. MAYBE ENGAGEMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS IMPORTANT. MY MIND IS SO BLOWN. WOOOOAHHHHOHOHOHOHOHOHAAAAAAHHHHHHH.

These conferences are also incredibly expensive.

These are the ticket prices for some event back in 2016 that I was looking at. General admission is £300. For contrast, tickets to Glastonbury 2017 were £238. In other words, the above conference thought it was more valuable than the world’s largest and greatest music festival. They thought their conference was literally bigger than Glastonbury, and a more valuable use of your time.

Why £300? Who in their right minds would pay that?

or is it just because they know everyone attending will be expensing the hell out of these tickets so they can charge whatever they want and this whole thing is just a racket

But imagine your company WASN’T paying you to attend this? Would you voluntarily decide to pay this amount to go and be bored in a hotel conference space for two days? Could you even afford it? And what a barrier to entry for young enterprise.

Of course, you have to pay the speakers at these things. Those folks who are being flown around the world to talk about why their email CRM resulted in a conversion rate blah blah who cares. But it’s still mad.

And the Early Bird bit really gets me angry. Save money by booking early. If the transparency of it all wasn’t clear enough already, this is the bit that really shines a lot on the whole practice. In the above example, the ‘super early bird’ is basically 2/3 of the price of the main ticket. This suggests to me that £200 is a fairer price for the conference than £300. They are willing to accept you paying £200 to attend, but they’d rather you paid £300. Those hotel conference rooms don’t pay for themselves!

“Early bird” is such a horrible, dripping sales-y term. You’re still not getting a good deal, even if you book early. Although the implication that a discounted ticket for this conference is a “worm” is an interesting one to consider.

IN CONCLUSION, this has been another angry rant from me. I leave you with this fascinating insight that will definitely enrich your life –

Review: Google Cardboard / Daydream

The future of reality is here! And it’s… virtual?

For a while now, everyone has been saying that VR is the next big thing. Or maybe AR is the next big thing. Or maybe AI is the next big thing. Or maybe AI AR VR is the next big thing. Who knows?

The latest Gartner Hype Cycle put VR in the Slope of Enlightenment, meaning it’s past the initial hype stage and is slowly becoming an established technology. That sounds about right to me.

The problem with VR is that to do it properly is super expensive. An HTC Vive will currently set you back a solid £600, and – worse still – you probably don’t have enough space in your rabbit hutch of a flat to actually set the thing up properly.

So when I decided to check out Virtual Reality, I didn’t go for the Vive, or the Oculus Rift, or the Playstation VR thing. I was interested in a product that Google were offering. A £15 VR headset made out of cardboard.

This is the Google Cardboard, and it’s like the cutest thing ever. Basically just two lenses in a cardboard case, it’s an entry-level solution to getting a foot onto the VR ladder. The actual VR magic is all done on your phone, hence the price point, and it actually works surprisingly well.

Using your phone, rather than a high-spec PC or console, does come with certain limitations though. You can’t do much in the way of shooting zombies in VR or playing that fun looking Rick and Morty VR game. The cardboard is much more about virtual experiences, so it’s great for VR Street View, 360 degree YouTube videos, and Paul McCartney.

It’s a great way to sample what all the fuss about VR is. And it’s incredible that you can check it out for as low as four or five pounds. All you need is a supported phone to run the thing, and off you go.

Which brings me to the other VR headset from Google: the Daydream.

I wasn’t going to get a Daydream initially, as I already had the Google Cardboard. But then I bought the original Google Pixel, which was marketed as a VR-ready phone and even came with a free Google Daydream (RRP £99). So yeah, of course I got one.

And it’s basically a more comfortable version of the Google Cardboard. It doesn’t do anything more really, other than a few quality of life tweaks. The headstrap is super useful to stop the damn thing falling off your head, the build quality is much better and prevents light from seeping in, and it’s generally more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

It also comes with a little controller accessory. This connects to your phone via Bluetooth and is used to point at things, select options on-screen, and so on. It’s a huge help and just makes navigating the menus so much easier. But feature-wise, it’s pretty much the same as the Cardboard. It still uses your phone for the actual VR, which by the way is a massive massive battery drainer and will make your phone feel hotter than the sun.

I don’t find myself using the Daydream that much at the moment. When I first got it, I often got it out to experience the novelty of VR. And if people come round, it’s a good talking point. There are also some good games you can play on it like the bomb defusing party game Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes. But there’s no must-have killer app. Yet.

SO, if you’re interested in VR but don’t wanna drop the big money, check out a Google Cardboard. The Daydream probably isn’t worth it at the £99 mark for what you get. Or if you’re ready to take the full plunge maybe go and buy a Vive or something and invite me round to come play it!

Review: Withings Activité Pop

Yup, it’s another wearable review! But this one’s actually a good one, I promise.

After not getting on very well with shocking wristbands and posture correctors, I may have finally found something good – the Withings Activité watch.

What is it? Well, it’s basically just a normal watch.

OK THANKS FOR READING THE REVIEW EVERYONE GOODBYE

Nah, it’s a little bit more than just a watch. Not so much more that it falls into another category though. It’s not a Jawbone or Fitbit – one of those so-called ‘activity trackers’. But it’s also not so advanced that you could call it a smart watch either. It’s just an activity tracking watch, a watch that does activity tracking. And it’s this simplicity that I find really refreshing.

Years ago I had a Jawbone Up. A horrible orange thing on my wrist that I had to charge every day and ended up breaking. But the list of things it could do was endless! It could track your movements, track your sleep, track your heart rate, track your eating (if you told it), track your mood (if you told it), just track your whole goddam life. It was kind of overwhelming, and ultimately… kind of useless. Worse still, even with all that you still had to wear a watch anyway if you wanted to know the time. So yeah, it was kind of dumb.

I don’t know what kind of wizardry is going on inside the Withings Activité, but here’s what it can do:

  • Activity/step tracking (visualised on the watch as a separate dial)
  • Sleep tracking
  • ‘Silent’ alarm (it vibrates on your wrist)
  • Bluetooth syncing to an app
  • 8 months of battery life

Yes, 8 months. To me, that’s the most incredible thing ever. I’m wearing a thing on my watch that’s counting my steps all day long AND telling my phone how many I’m doing, AND it’s also monitoring my sleep AND waking me up at the right time AND YET somehow it can just tick along for months and months without giving up. How is that even possible? My phone can play like half an episode of Game of Thrones before it starts getting thirsty. So yeah, massive props to the engineers behind this device.

Oh yes, another thing to mention:

  • IT TELLS THE TIME

In other words, it functions as a watch. You know, hours and minutes and all that. It automatically resets itself in line with daylight savings or if you go abroad (so basically whatever time your phone is telling the watch it is), which is neat! You can also triple tap the watch face at any time to check when you have your alarm set for. The hands magically whirl around to that time, which is one of the coolest things to just show off to people.

It really helps that it looks like a normal watch too, unlike the Jawbone (bright orange silicone was such a poor design choice). I know activity tracker design is becoming more fashionable anyway, but it makes SO MUCH SENSE for this wrist-held activity tracker to just be a watch that I can’t imagine having it any other way.

I opted for the black ‘Activité Pop’ version of the watch. The ‘Pop’ range is just a cheaper set of price and colour options, but they don’t feel especially ‘budget’ or anything like that. Also, I think ‘Withings’ as a company either no longer exists or has been entirely consumed by Nokia, so you’ll find that as the product name in most places.

Nokia are pushing the ‘Steel’ range in place of Pop. The Steel watches are functionally the same as the Pop ones, as far as I can tell (although the Steel HR also monitors your heart rate), but are made from sturdier materials. I mean, sure go for that if you want a metal watch that looks REALLY good. But I think the plastic ones are fine.

And good news, you can still buy the old Activité Pop watches on Amazon. For just £50 too. That’s a good deal. (Don’t worry I’m not getting paid for this, and I don’t know how to set up affiliate links lol).

Downsides? Not many. Replacing the battery is a little bit fiddly and I’ve had to replace the strap, but that’s all fine. Oh, did I mention that the watch is WATERPROOF too? Lol this thing is just too perfect.

Treat yourself this Christmas. Or don’t. What do I care what you do?

This water bottle flip video is a work of art

I wanted to write about something today. But I didn’t want to write about Shrek again. So I thought to myself ‘what can I write about instead?’ What else do I know? Then I rewatched a particular video for like the ten thousandth time and realised…. THIS. This is what I know.

This:

It’s thirty seconds, but very good. Go ahead, watch it a few more times. Really soak it in.

REMEMBER BOTTLE FLIPPING? The hottest craze of 2016? The bane of parents and schoolteachers world wide? Remember the viral talent show clip that started it all?

It’s weird how even a year later this can seem like ancient history. Bottle flipping videos are now cultural relics of historical importance. And the video I shared at the top of this post is just such a relic.

The clip itself is from a longer piece taken from kingvader‘s Instagram page –

But I think the cut-down video in the tweet works better. It feels tighter, cutting right to the chase, and eliminating what you might describe as the unnecessary world-building at the start. I much prefer the bottle flipper as an anonymous stranger, just busting a door down and doing his thing.

Here are my favourite bits of the video:

  1. Just slamming that door right down, or at least trying to. I’m guessing they filmed this in a school or something so didn’t want to damage anything. So his foot doesn’t quite connect with the door fully, but it’s a high kick that looks really badass anyway.
  2. The way the interviewers immediately look shocked and intimidated.
  3. “Do you have any special talents?” just right off the bat, just like in a real interview.
  4. How he goes straight into the bottle flip, as if he was gonna be doing that regardless of what they asked him.
  5. The way they kinda sit up as the bottle is in the air.
  6. Obviously, the bit when the bottle lands and the drop comes in. And how heavy and horrible the bass is there.
  7. The commitment each of the actors puts into their performance for the rest of the video. There’s the guy who just throws himself back in his chair, the guy just chucking his notes, the chap with the keyboard, and of course…
  8. Mr Milkshake Shaker. The true hero. Absolutely drenching himself in the stuff. Immersing himself in the role like some kind of Daniel Day Lewis method actor, with no regard for the mess he’s making.

Just look at the concentration:

I wish I could be that committed to literally anything. The man is an inspiration to us all.

It’s also just really funny and stupid and fun. Basically, it’s a perfect 30 second internet video and I’m glad that it exists.

Aaaand, I think that’s all I had to say about this one.

Let’s look at some incredibly awful Simpsons bouncy castles

I love really bad knock-off art. The kind you get on fairground rides. Or every ice cream van ever. But today I want to focus on a really specific sub-genre of copyright-infringing art: Simpsons bouncy castles.

I know what you’re thinking. How many can there be? QUITE A LOT IT TURNS OUT. So, as we’ve done before with Shrek and Minion cakes, here are a bunch of them unfairly deposited and criticised for your enjoyment.

LOL. A strong start for sure. Some weird superhero versions of Bart and Homer that I really like. But the crown achievement (pun intended *wink*) is the INFINITELY STARING BART HEAD on top. Why is that there?! It’d be a perfectly fine Simpsons bouncy castle without a weird disembodied head on top. And it means Bart is over-represented on the castle. Very strange.

At first, I thought this was just another angle of the first bouncy castle. But it’s not! The Homer and Bart designs on the side are reversed and different, there’s a side-slide attachment, and the Bart head is different. But again, WHY IS THERE A (now bandito-masked) BART HEAD ON THE TOP? Nobody needs that.

Ok this is more like it. A pretty decent Bart, and a real niche Homer representation of Homer from S03E01 ‘Stark Raving Dad’ where he wears a pink shirt to work and ends up sent to a psychiatric hospital. Notice the lack of a weird Bart head.

Ok. In addition to Homer and Bart, we’re now bringing Maggie and Santa’s Little Helper into the mix. It’s a real chubby Bart though. And there’s a lot of pollution for a fun piece of bouncy castle art. The whole thing just feels a bit grim. I wouldn’t like to bounce on this castle.

OK LET’S GET WEIRD AGAIN. Once more Bart and Homer make up the supporting pillars, but there’s a whole smorgasbord of other characters in the arch. There’s Smithers and Burns, Grandpa and the laziest drawing of Krusty I’ve ever seen. There’s a lovely family mural along the back (hello Marge and Lisa!) and then…. Moe and Mr Burns? Ok, I guess!

IT IS ANOTHER BART HEAD.

Now this is just very cool indeed. Lisa looking Sassy as hell, and Bart rocking a Union Jack skateboard with the coolest looking expression I’ve ever seen. A great, solid castle.

Ok this isn’t a Simpsons one but it was so good I had to include it anyway.

This one has a Bart head so enormous that you can sit inside it. Come on, kids! Come and sit inside Bart Simpson’s mouth! Touch his enormous teeth!

How hard is it to draw an accurate Homer Simpson? When you’re making bouncy castle art, you don’t HAVE to do it from memory. You’re allowed to have a picture to hand while you do it. Mate, you can even blow up a picture and trace it!

Is this some deliberate attempt to avoid copyright infringement? Is that why all knockoff art is so bad? No, I think the people that do it are just lazy and/or unskilled.

Ok, I’m done. I can’t look any more massive weird Bart heads. I’ve got enough nightmare fuel for a solid month.

SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT?

Nothing. You’ve just spent a few minutes looking at bad Simpsons bouncy castles. There’s no possible lesson you can take from this. Goodbye.

Retrospective: The Frosties Kid

About ten years ago, there was an advert for Frosties on television that has since entered the annals of history as one of the most important of all time. I’m talking, of course, about the infamous ‘Frosties kid’ ad.

There was something about it that captured the imagination. It had everything. An insanely annoying jingle. Bizarre visuals. Nonsensical lyrics. And a child star with a face that you could never, ever, not even if we’re living in an infinite universe that is constantly expanding and contracting in a never-ending series of bangs and crunches with us bound to repeat our actions in perpetuity à la Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence, EVER get tired of punching.

Oh that poor kid. The rumours that swirled around him. Was he a dying cancer patient whose last wish was to star in a Frosties ad? Was it true that his own father had killed him out of shame after the ad aired? Was he really a being conjured from the psyche of a madman, what the Tibetan mystics might refer to a tulpa? What all these rumours had in common was that they attempted to provide context to the advert. An attempt to explain something that is inherently inexplicable and unknowable. When ignorance flourishes, religion fills the gaps, and so we imagined our own creation myths for the ad.

But I’ve always found that the kid is the least interesting thing about the advert. Plenty of better writers than I have bothered to track down the kid and ask him about it, and it’s never that illuminating or interesting. Here’s a fine effort from Vice. And another from The Tab. Meh, give them a read I guess. We have bigger things to discuss.

Like, just what were the creative team thinking on this one? Reverse-creative-engineering the ad, I guess they worked from the classic Frosties tagline “they’re great!” and decided to expand that into a whole song? But like a really annoying song?

Which brings us to an interesting aside; is ‘annoying advertising’ effective? I don’t always buy the ‘well, it gets you talking about it!’ line. I don’t like the idea that advertisers are deliberately trying to annoy people. If true, that’d be the most cynical horrible thing ever, and do no favours for an industry that is already regarded as pretty cynical and horrible. But then again, GoCompare’s campaign for the last couple of years has been pretty transparent about its own annoyingness. But who knows? I guess the question we need to settle is whether this advert is deliberately meant to be annoying. And I’m saying no – it’s just targeted weirdly.

The advert is clearly aimed at kids. Specifically kids exactly like the one in the advert. And I don’t think ‘annoying ads’ work on kids. Catchy, fun advertising does, and that’s what this is meant to be. The ad wants kids to know one thing: Frosties taste great. Everything else is just window dressing to help sell that idea. And I think this the point at which things got weird in the ideas meeting.

They realised that ‘great’ rhymes with lots of words! Lots of fun words that can have wacky visuals. Except they got carried away. In the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Just because an idea sort of works on paper, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to do it. And the danger is that you get too far along the line with the idea before you realise it’s not going to work out. If you work in any kind of creative industry, you’re probably familiar with this. The slow realisation that an idea is a dud, but you’re already committed to it and the emotional weight of the sunk cost fallacy means you have to keep going through with it. This advert has all the hallmarks of exactly this happening.

I will now methodically go through the ad and identify all the weird stuff in it.

1. The Alarm Clock Sequence

Why does this kid have a bizarre Rube Goldberg machine of an alarm clock that dispenses Frosties? I guess they thought it’d be cool because kids like wacky inventions and gadgets, but it honestly raises more questions than anything. It doesn’t come up again, which just seems like bad screenwriting.

And the logistics of the machine make no sense. It’s an alarm clock, but it also serves a bowl of Frosties. His line is “I can hear the sound of Frosties hitting my plate” but the alarm clock also rings – so what’s waking him up? And what’s the benefit of having just a bowl of Frosties? You’d need milk to be able to actually eat them, and surely he doesn’t have a jug of old room-temperature milk sitting around as part of this contraption.

He also goes from bed to corridor without picking up the bowl or getting changed, but then appears fully dressed holding a bowl. The continuity is all over the place here. Or is it an attempt to reflect the non-linearity of dreams, wherein we experience events but without the intervening transitions? Is this a dream then? Only Tony knows.

2. “With Tony our mate”

The fact that the Frosties kid lives in a house with two siblings and no parents, with Tony acting as a kind of foster-father figure, is the least weird part of this ad.

3. “Even ladies who wait”

Wow. The third rhyme in and we’re already stretching. Plate and mate were pretty good, although I don’t necessarily accept that a bowl is a plate. But ‘ladies who wait’ is just unforgivable. This is the point that the advert should have been cancelled, everyone involved fired, and sent home to think on their sins. But no, this exists and we forever have to occupy the same universe as it.

The awkward phrasing of it is just so bad. Surely nothing could top th-

4. “Or a pir-ate”

Nobody says pirate like this. It’s only being said like this in order for the rhyme to work. Hey Mr Copywriter, next time try picking words that actually rhyme, yeah?

Also Frosties would be a poor choice of food for a pirate due to the difficulty of keeping milk fresh at sea, and its high sugar content at a time when dental hygiene standards were much lower than today.

5. “And your teenage brother who’s out on a date”

We are now playing the game of “fit as many syllables as possible into a line to make it work”. Seriously bro, leave some room for the rest of us. Also why are they in the Swiss Alps at this point? A lot of this advert indicates they had a huge budget for the visual design and didn’t know what to do with it.

6. “If you live in Oz, mate”

They already used “mate”. It was the second rhyme. But at least we get to see an offensive caricature of an Australian person, with what appears to be Crocodile Dundee playing a didgeridoo?

7. “Or the Empire State”

This one hurts my brain. He clearly says “Empire State”. Why not “The United States”? I get that the visual is the Empire State Building, but it would work anyway. And why is there a weird lizard monster climbing the building? Did they worry that KING KONG WAS GONNA SUE THEM? Or in this universe does that monster actually permanently live on top of the Empire State?

8. “Ladies with personalised number plates”

Real specific again, lads. Also, this is the second use of ‘plate’ as the rhyme, just with an s at the end. Lazy writing.

9. “A bloke in a crate”

Getting surreal now. Why is the ‘bloke’ a stereotypical English man in a bowler hat? Was this video directed by René Magritte?

10. Ending

By this point the child has amassed an army of followers. They follow him down the road like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, and he eventually rises up into the sky and-

Wait.

Wait just a minute.

I suddenly get it. I know what this advert is.

A young man, that travels around performing miraculous acts, slowly building up a loyal following, spreading a message of love and positivity?

OH MY GOD

The Frosties Kid confirmed for Jesus.

This advert confirmed for subtle pro-Christian propaganda.

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight”.
– Acts 1:9

Did David Bowie predict memes?

Ok, shut up and watch this.

Watch it a few more times. It’s two seconds long. Watch it like fifty times.

Watch it, and then tell me that David Bowie didn’t just say “meme school”.

HE TOTALLY DOES, RIGHT?

I want to investigate just what is going on here. Because it’s so weird and fantastic and the fact it’s David Bowie just makes it all that much more magical and interesting. So let’s start at the beginning.

This is a clip from a 2002 ‘Live By Request’ show. Live By Request was a program on the A&E Network in the US that was basically a phone-in show where artists would play songs as requested by callers. It’s a pretty cool idea, and the Bowie one is, of course, amazing. Here’s the full thing.

Anyway, the interesting bit occurs about 1hr35mins in. He’s talking about his early days. Transcript as follows:

INTERVIEWER
A lot of people don’t know, you studied as a mime when you were starting?

BOWIE
I’m afraid I did, yeah it’s vulgar.
I couldn’t get into clown school, so I ended up with mime school.
There were so many more vacancies!

PAUSE

BOWIE
[LOOKS AROUND. SMILES]
Meme school.

So it’s clear that Bowie is talking about mime school, right? WRONG. He clearly can say “mime school” normally, he does it seconds before he says meme school. It’s the pause that gives it away. He pauses, clearly thinking about his next words carefully. He looks around, gives a knowing smile, and says the words “meme school”.  Which doesn’t make any sense.

Unless, of course, you believe (as I do) that Bowie was predicting the rise of memes. In which case this makes perfect sense. His smile reveals that he’s enjoying a little in-joke. He knows the audience won’t understand, but it’s just a little fun for him. Maybe he even knows that a decade and a half on people will uncover this clip and be like “oh my god, he saw all of this coming.”

Anyway, he definitely says meme school.

Don’t believe me? Well, here he is in an even earlier interview saying the phrase “meme companies”.

CASE CLOSED

Electronic shops I used to hang out in as a kid, ranked by their selection of computer games at the time

As a child, I spent a lot of my time here –

It’s the Queensgate Centre in central Harlow. A little off-road retail park near the station, with everything a family could need for a solid day of retail therapy. There was a Pizza Hut, a Burger King, a garden centre, clothes shops, and even a cinema.

Just look at that. Look how grey and depressing it is. Look at the angular 90s cars. Look at how all the stores were basically just warehouses with signs. But then look at the logo peeking in at the right there, a shining light of hope and attraction. A world of hope and dreams. A PC World.

There was something about an electronics superstore that really appealed to me. This was the 90s, and technology was still new and exciting. We had a Windows 95 PC at home, and I’d spent hours just messing around on Paint, playing Chip’s Challenge, or messing around with screensavers. So for a child like me, a whole ‘world’ of this stuff was just heaven.

It was a place where the promises of tomorrow were always on sale. The newest processors boasted about their incredible speeds. Rows of Soundblaster soundcards enticed you with the latest in crystal clear audio. And then there were the games.

I loved games. I still love games. Computer games are probably my favourite thing in life. Most of the games I played were borrowed from Bishop’s Stortford library, where I’d rent and re-rent LucasArts adventure game classics like Monkey Island and Full Throttle. As a child without a steady income, hanging out in the aisles of game shops was a transcendent experience – seeing everything I could ever want, but not being able to have any of it.

But it wasn’t just PC World. Here’s a full ranking of all those wonderful secret grottos that I spent weekends wandering through.

5. Tempo

Whatever happened to Tempo? They had the BEST jingle at the time – “Don’t sign on the dotted line until you talk to Tempo!”. I guess they couldn’t handle the competition from the other stores as they don’t exist anymore, and they didn’t offer an overwhelmingly impressive array of games. I’ve go have a look while my parents went to check out a fridge or something, but I’d often quickly run out. They did a lot of rubbish software too, 3D garden planners or budget trackers, that kind of useless stuff. I also recall the computer stuff being in some weird upstairs area too.

4. Comet

Is Comet still around? In my head it was always very similar to Currys – maybe they merged or something. In any case, they had a decent offering of games to check out, though I remember the aisles being quite narrow and dark. I bought a boxed copy of The Curse of Monkey Island here, and it’s one of my favourite games ever.

3. Currys

Completing the Holy Trinity of homogenous electronic stores, I can’t remember much about our Currys. Of the above three, this is the only one that still remains in the Harlow Queensgate Centre, so they must be doing something right. Average games-wise but pretty solid on the electronics front. I think they were one of the few ones that generally had a playable console available, which is a must for any decent games store.

2. Toys R Us

Not necessarily an electronics store, but it still did games very well. A large section of the shop was dedicated to games, and it was so beautifully presented. The games were all kept in brightly-lit white display cases, which you’d walk along and inspect. Instead of picking up any physical product, you’d simply retrieve a little slip for the game you wanted – a shopping experience almost gamified in itself. After checkout you’d proceed to a little separate desk, give the slip to the person, who’d disappear and return with a wonderful little gift that was all yours. I got so many games this way, and the slow, complex experience is deeply-rooted in my subconscious. Chucking £40 down on a game on Steam can’t replicate any of this. Give me a little yellow slip any day.

1. PC World

The undisputed master. Everything in-store was geared towards selling electronics and games. The gaming section was enormous and flowed across multiple aisles. And these were the latest and greatest in gaming. Games that you’d need a new computer to play. Games that would only play on Windows 98. Games that had more than 256 colours. 3D games.

You could probably buy every single game I saw then today for in total less than £20, but at the time it was some unattainable zenith of aspiration. I remember finally getting a double-pack of The Sims and its first expansion Livin’ It Up and it just making my whole year.

Honourable mentions:

  • WH Smith. Yes, WH Smith the stationers. For some reason, the one in Harlow town centre had loads of games (I think they still do in most places). And since there was always a reason to go into WH Smith I’d always manage to fit in a quick look-see. It was good mostly just to check out what new was out, rather than buying stuff. But still fun.
  • Office World. Now overtaken by the more popular Staples, but Office World carried a decent selection of games too. I remember us getting our Windows 98 PC from there,

I know this is a really specific form of nostalgia, and it’s pretty self-indulgent for me to write about it. But this genuinely was a staple of my childhood and it’s something I’ve lost as an adult. I can just get whatever I want now that I have money. My enormous Steam backlog is a realisation of that bright-eyed kid’s dream of owning every game ever. But I’ll miss those times when this was all out of reach. The best games always live in our imagination.

100 people you MUST follow on Twitter

Twitter is full of so many funny and amazing people. But sometimes it can be hard to find the diamonds in the rough. Or someone good will get milkshake ducked and turn out to be a horrible racist or something.

Never fear, I’m here to help. Here are the only 100 people you need to follow on Twitter to have a good time.

  1. @cookywook
  2. @cookywook
  3. @cookywook
  4. @cookywook
  5. @cookywook
  6. @cookywook
  7. @cookywook
  8. @cookywook
  9. @cookywook
  10. @cookywook
  11. @cookywook
  12. @cookywook
  13. @cookywook
  14. @cookywook
  15. @cookywook
  16. @cookywook
  17. @cookywook
  18. @cookywook
  19. @cookywook
  20. @cookywook
  21. @cookywook
  22. @cookywook
  23. @cookywook
  24. @cookywook
  25. @cookywook
  26. @cookywook
  27. @cookywook
  28. @cookywook
  29. @cookywook
  30. @cookywook
  31. @cookywook
  32. @cookywook
  33. @cookywook
  34. @cookywook
  35. @cookywook
  36. @cookywook
  37. @cookywook
  38. @cookywook
  39. @cookywook
  40. @cookywook
  41. @cookywook
  42. @cookywook
  43. @cookywook
  44. @cookywook
  45. @cookywook
  46. @cookywook
  47. @cookywook
  48. @cookywook
  49. @cookywook
  50. @cookywook
  51. @cookywook
  52. @cookywook
  53. @cookywook
  54. @cookywook
  55. @cookywook
  56. @cookywook
  57. @cookywook
  58. @cookywook
  59. @cookywook
  60. @cookywook
  61. @cookywook
  62. @cookywook
  63. @cookywook
  64. @cookywook
  65. @cookywook
  66. @cookywook
  67. @cookywook
  68. @cookywook
  69. @cookywook
  70. @cookywook
  71. @cookywook
  72. @DaveBensonPhill
  73. @cookywook
  74. @cookywook
  75. @cookywook
  76. @cookywook
  77. @cookywook
  78. @cookywook
  79. @cookywook
  80. @cookywook
  81. @cookywook
  82. @cookywook
  83. @cookywook
  84. @cookywook
  85. @cookywook
  86. @cookywook
  87. @cookywook
  88. @cookywook
  89. @cookywook
  90. @cookywook
  91. @cookywook
  92. @cookywook
  93. @cookywook
  94. @cookywook
  95. @cookywook
  96. @cookywook
  97. @cookywook
  98. @cookywook
  99. @cookywook
  100. @cookywook

Enjoy.

What’s the deal with online petitions?

Petitions are weird. On the one hand, they’re part of a healthy democracy – the people making their voice heard when other channels have failed them. They definitely have their place.

But they’re also pretty bonkers a lot of the time.

For a long time I’ve been suspicious of the efficacy of online petitions. Sites like change.org seem to be churning out hundreds of petitions daily, and you’ve got to wonder… what’s the point? How often do petitions actually change anything?

Are petitions a symptom of so-called slacktivism? Where people thing they’re making a difference, but in the most low-effort/low-impact way possible? And, even worse, is there a danger of online petitions snowballing into quasi-witch hunts? (I’m thinking of those petitions you get that demand companies fire employees who’ve done something Twitter has decided is bad).

But rather than attempt a serious discourse on whether or not petitions are bad (my position in one sentence: mostly harmless and sometimes good), I thought I’d rather do the MUCH FUNNIER THING of just digging up some funny ones. Stuff like these –

And yeah, I’ve personally signed all of those.

Change.org has a great section where you can browse by most recent. And that’s just great for finding bananas ideas. Here’s some I’ve dug up in the past –

But these aren’t real petitions. They’re directed at nobody in particular, or at least, no democratic entities. Let’s have a look at what people are actually petitioning their government for.

Sadly, the UK Parliament Petitions website is no longer accepting submissions because the recently general election screwed things up for everyone. But there’s still some gold to be mined from their archives.

There’s a lot of this kinda stuff –

But thankfully for every one of those, there’s one of these –

907 people signed that one. 907! The Government was not obliged to respond and so it has closed.

There’s something absolutely mad about letting people have their say about things. I know that’s literally an argument about democracy, but just look at this…

Like what. There’s a good argument to be made about making the HoL more accountable (though I think a fully-elected Upper Chamber would be a disaster, cf. my Year 13 Politics Coursework). But I don’t think any constitutional expert has ever, ever, ever considered the possibility of a ‘House of Heroes.’

The petition itself goes on to explain what this would mean. “The new House of Heroes will consist of 100 members, who will be known as ‘My Honourable Hero’. Of these 100, 33 will be “Everyday heroes”, 33 from the Armed Forces and Emergency Services, and 33 Heroic National Treasures, plus 1 speaker to moderate

So, instead of a body filled with specialist industry experts free to scrutinise upcoming legislation without the pressures of fixed-term service, the proposal is to let this job be done by ‘Everyday Heroes.’ I can’t quite determine what this would involve, but presumably it’s something like nurses, soldiers, firemen. The ‘are lads and ladies‘ that ‘should be paid footballers wages‘ you often read about.

I dunno if it’s a good idea to be honest. But hey, democracy is all about debating ideas. 100 people thought this was a good idea. But it too got closed.

This one was almost certainly a joke. But I like that someone in government still had to look at it, read it, reject it, and write a response. What a good use of everyone’s time.

What a disgrace.

I like ones like this, where it’s not that the idea is deliberately stupid, but rather betrays an absolute misunderstanding of the system. It’s not ‘get enough votes and this will definitely happen.’ It still has to be debated by Parliament and all that stuff.

But just imagine. Theresa May logs onto her Government Petitions account to check out the day’s business. The ‘Deport Theresa May’ petitions has reached x number of votes. “Well,” she says, “I guess that’s that then” and proceeds to start packing her bags.

I think that’s enough for you to get the idea. Yes, petitions can be a good way of making your voice heard on a particular issue that falls outside the general scope of an election (or even a referendum). But in opening up the door for everyone to have their say on every topic, you invite chaos. Not everyone understands how governments work, and how policies are implemented. The system won’t work if it has to bow to the whim of every individual.

And I really, really don’t want us to bring back the death penalty after Brexit.