Boring 2010: A Speaker’s Perspective

This weekend just gone, I gave a talk on a very brief history of the weather at Boring 2010. Inspired by Owen Billinghurst’s write-up of his speaking experience regarding fixing keyboards, I’ve decided to jot down some of my own thoughts on the conference.

It was brilliant, it was funny, it was weird, it was very cool, and it wasn’t the slightest bit boring. That’s my review. For a more comprehensive description of the day’s events, I highly suggest you look at Lucy Peel’s rather excellent blog post which features a run-down of all talks given on the day.

So, why the weather? It’s a bit of a long story. On arriving at the conference, I was questioned about who I was, and if I was a meteorologist, and why I’m talking about the weather. I’m not a meteorologist, and am by no means an expert on the subject of the weather. I do, however, enjoy a good yarn, such as the one I’m currently recounting.

I was originally planning on speaking about boring social media ad campaigns. Anyone who follows this blog will know that I have a keen interest in awesome online ads, and am generally a huge fan of web magic. I’ve also recently completed a dissertation on online brand communities on YouTube, so am quite into the whole digital thing. However, it did occur to me that a topic such as social media could potentially be far too interesting for a conference called Boring, so I decided against it.

A talk with my family about the conference and boring things got me thinking about the weather. My basic understanding about the topic was that it was quite often used as fodder in small-talk situations. I then started researching the topic, and its etymology and history, and soon realised that it’s actually a lot more interesting than we give it credit for. As I said at the conference, we’re very much a nation of small-talkers. On the whole, I’d say we’re generally happier to make small-talk with a creepy person who strikes up a random conversation, rather than make excuses before they pull out a shiv, rubber mallet, or some kind of prosthesis and bonk us over the head with it. Of course, I’m making a sweeping generalisation here, and apologise if I’ve offended anyone. In many cases, I’m often the creepy person who starts conversations with strangers, and must implore you to understand that conversations between strangers can be really, really great. We will never discover this if we don’t break out of conventional habits of small-talk, however. It was my hope that my talk could illuminate some further understanding into a mundane topic, which would give everyone listening something novel to speak about, the next time they crack wise about the weather. Who knows where the conversation could go next!

That was what I would have said if I had any real experience with public speaking, that extended beyond school elections, GCSE English Speaking and Listening Assessments, and a brief stint as part of Richmond Student Council.

Overall, the day was brilliant, and I don’t think I’ve had so much fun in a long time. Personal highlights for me were Lewis Dryburgh’s sentimental talk about car park roofs, Peter Fletcher’s tale about his first year of recording his every sneeze, and Dave Green’s extremely funny bit about weird snack foods and Chinese take-away menus. These were just personal highlights, however. It was a real joy hearing everyone speak, and I was extremely impressed by the quality of all given talks, and the animated way in which everyone made a collection of very boring topics into the most interesting and joyous conference I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. Everyone should be really proud of themselves, with an extra large hat-tip going out to James Ward and his organisational prowess, without which none of this would have been possible. Thank you all.

I’ll (hopefully) be seeing you all again at Boring 2011. I honestly can’t wait.


Cartoon Characters on Facebook

Hello. I’m one of those annoying types who recently changed their profile picture on Facebook to quite a dashing image of Disney’s Robin Hood, in aid of the NSPCC. In the past few days, I’ve been called many things for participating in such a ‘campaign’. ‘Slacktivist’ was probably the most hurtful.

This has been 'me' for the past few days.

All around Facebook, fiery conversations have been popping up constantly, about how social media has made us apathetic about making a real change, and about how people laud over others that they’re being noble, when actually they’re doing nothing more than changing their profile picture to something nostalgic and cool. The word ‘bandwagon’ has been bandied around like nobody’s business. Still, I don’t think anyone should be criticised for participating. I want to stress that there’s a difference between doing something, and doing absolutely nothing.

These people who have changed their profile pictures have all actively done something, and made the first baby steps towards making a change. Whether this change is making a donation to the NSPCC, spreading awareness, or just cheering up their friends, there is definitely some weight behind this movement. I mean, without trying to garner too much hate towards those who simply enjoyed the exercise for its pretty pictures and memories of childhood yore, I thought the whole thing was a lot of fun. From Pinky and the Brain to Captain Planet, these profile pictures have been a much welcomed return to my youth. I’m a big kid at heart, which is probably why I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this, but I’m sure it made a lot of other people happy, too.

I’m no advertising expert, but everything I’ve learnt to date has pointed towards one thing. The key to successful communications is making people happy. While the NSPCC themselves have tweeted that they didn’t actually start the campaign all the profile pictures across the globe are sparking thoughts of children in need. On a base level, this is raising awareness of the cause, and the NSPCC’s public profile to a great degree, in a way that no amount of paid advertisements could buy. This campaign reeked of ‘grass roots’ in a way that captured the public’s hearts. It was cool. It was so cool. It was unlike any other charity campaign I’ve seen for a long time, and because of this, people loved, adopted, and nurtured it.

While all may not act any further than changing their profile picture, they must not be blamed for this. Marketing types can tell you that ‘share of mind’ on its own is a very valuable commodity. Even though the NSPCC had nothing to do with this, I’m sure they’re still grateful for the support. However, instead of moaning that no one really cares, and the world sucks, I think it’s best to take a different approach. Urge people to follow through on their virtual pledges, and donate even a small sum towards the NSPCC, or any organisation that supports children. I’m sure there are many people who have already done so, but we shouldn’t criticise people for not monetarily supporting the cause. These are people who wouldn’t have given issues such as child abuse a second thought last week. If they were able to be persuaded to change their prized profile picture on Facebook, I’m sure they can also be persuaded into putting one or two pounds towards a tremendously worthy cause.

Instead of complaining that this campaign doesn’t work, it’s up to us to make this work. This is a true grass-roots movement. Unlike other ‘professional’ campaigns, it lacks the impetus to put good wishes and a willingness to support a cause into action. Next time you log on to Facebook or Twitter, why not post a link to the NSPCC’s donations page? Why not share a relevant article relating to child abuse prevention, or child welfare? Failing that, why not just show your friends that you’re backing the campaign, with or without your wallet, and provide the positive reinforcement it takes to change minds, and change the world. We started this, and it is up to us to finish this. Today is supposedly the ‘deadline’ for the campaign, so let’s make it count, for the thousands of children around the world who are affected by child abuse daily.

PETA ‘roast’ Super Meat Boy. Team Meat hit back.

Super Meat Boy is a downloadable platform game currently available on Xbox Live Arcade. It features a blob of meat, dubbed Meat Boy, navigating his way through levels spattered with blood, and filled with perilous circular saws, in order to save his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the clutches of the evil Dr. Fetus. It’s a great deal of fun, and brings something so very unique and refreshing to the platforming genre.

As with all things associated with meat, PETA inevitably caught wind of this. Since then, they have produced their own parodied version of the game, titled ‘Super Tofu Boy’. Clever, huh? Those who know me are probably aware of my hatred of PETA and all it stands for, but this just takes the cake. Super Meat Boy is a fantastic game, and I have no clue what PETA are trying to achieve by attacking it. Perhaps they’re against indie game developers Team Meat making a name for themselves? Shame on them for trying to catch a break!

What angers me more is that I know that someone got paid to make Super Tofu Boy, which is practically a direct rip-off of Super Meat Boy. The only difference is that instead of playing as a blob of meat, you play as a blob of tofu. The game still tries to retain what made Super Meat Boy great, stealing its level design (most of which are in an abattoir-type setting), gameplay mechanics (which require you to rescue Bandage Girl in each level, just as in the original) and attempting to steal its jumping mechanics, too. They clearly put a lot of effort into this ‘parody’, to the extent where they hope to make it virtually indistinguishable from the actual Super Meat Boy. Someone also must have been paid a lot of money for this; money which I am quite sure could have been better spent elsewhere, promoting righteous causes in the quest to combat animal cruelty.

PETA, I assume, are trying to tempt more people into becoming vegan (it’s only plastered right next to the game window) by trying to ridicule Super Meat Boy with heinous ‘quips’ that it fires at you between levels, such as ‘LOL @ Super Meat Boy’s bad breath!’ Very convincing. What PETA have failed to recognise, probably the result of over-excited marketing execs on a sugar high from too many raw wholefood bars, is that the people most likely to play the game are those that actually know what Super Meat Boy is, who are the people most likely to not take on board PETA’s ridiculous ‘insults’, and ridicule this sham instead. I guess PETA never got that memo about flattery, and imitation, or something like that.

A few days ago, Team Meat struck back by tweeting, “How many PETA members does it take to change a lightbulb? None. PETA can’t change anything.” It’s a fair point. PETA should stop wasting money on ludicrous ventures like this, and start putting more of their funds into their outreach programmes, or at least something that has some chance of making a difference.

Honestly, stuff like this makes me cringe. Really, PETA? This is what you do with your time? Supporting Super Meat Boy isn’t supporting the meat industry any more than buying Dexter box-sets is condoning serial killing.