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.

Demo 2010: A mostly peaceful student protest.

Having just returned from today’s demonstration in London, I’m shocked but not quite surprised at the media coverage of the event, which is primarily focused on the violence that took place at Millbank Tower.

From what I saw, the march was a peaceful one. Arriving a little after the scheduled 11:30 meeting time, I was met by a huge throng of students stretching in all directions along Horse Guards Avenue. After a little help from some stewards, who pointed me towards the students who had come on the behalf of my former university, we stood around chatting, waving flags, and occasionally chanting slogans.

We eventually set off towards Parliament, moving slowly, but hollering our slogans passionately. As we passed Parliament, I saw that some students had decided to turn the march into a sit-down, which was nothing out of the ordinary. We then passed Millbank Tower, where a large group of students had gathered, with some protesters entreating us to stand, in solidarity, outside Conservative HQ. This was before anything got out of hand, and before any windows were broken, but ushers were still trying to get people to continue on with their marching.

After a while, we came to a halt in front of a large screen erected in front of the Tate Britain. On it, we saw a projection of NUS head honcho, Aaron Porter, shouting about something I was sadly too far from the screen to hear. From there, my small band of protesters I’d been marching with made attempts to double-back on ourselves. However, some were slightly scared by the raucous crowd circulating in the general area surrounding Millbank Tower. As a result, we decided to hang back for a short while, purchase some lunch, and then return to Horse Guards Avenue in greater numbers, joined with others from the same Students’ Union.

In a nutshell, that’s what happened, at least to us. A recurring thought amongst my peers was that there was no sense of elation when we reached the end of the march. The crowd petered out, with some protesters going home, and others going to board coaches to transport them back from whence they came. It wasn’t unsatisfying, it was just a little empty. So many Unions from across the country worked tremendously hard, along with the NUS and UCU, to coordinate today’s protest, and for what?

There are blogs emerging that advocate necessary action as opposed to “a dour rally like a ticker tape parade for the homecoming queen”, justifying what happened by claiming that some riotous response was to be expected. In my personal opinion, however, what took place was a bit rash.

While it is in the interest of students to draw attention, and perhaps make attempts in illustrating their ire towards the proposed fee increases, I don’t think that smashing bricks through car windows, and drawing on walls is the right way to garner such positive attention to our cause, and to bring about change. Believe me, I’m as angry as most about the proposed increases, and Nick Clegg’s colossal U-turn on his policy to abolish fees, but I think what happened today went a considerable way to undermining what thousands of well-wishing students set out to achieve.

Before you light your torches and get angry, let me explain myself. Most of those (at least in the blogs I’ve read) who claim that what happened at Millbank Tower was a just response, also claim that action on this scale was essential to possibly highlight students as a ‘force to be reckoned with’, who will accept nothing other than a complete reversal on economic policy, and the elimination of these preposterous fee increases. While it is necessary to make a bold statement, with something perhaps greater than a march, there are still a few universal truths we need to remind ourselves of. No matter how much we desecrate his party’s base, David Cameron will still be our Prime Minister at the end of the day. Nick Clegg will also remain our deputy PM, and will be sure to still behave as any other politician would do so in his situation. This is a sad state of affairs, at least on the behalf of students. Still, cry as we might, we are restricted within the confines of a system these men control. Rather than rebelling against it in the extreme, my suggestion is that we play ball.

Today’s march was meant to be an exercise in unity; a stand in solidarity to show that we, as students, can stand together, and be angry about spending cuts, and fee increases. However, by staging something like Millbank Tower, all we’re doing is showing the general public (who far outnumber us) that we’re a bunch of hoodlums who can’t follow basic instructions and simple marching etiquette. At the end of the day, it’s their money that will go some way, whatever happens, towards subsidising our degrees. I’d argue that it’s in our best interests to show that as a nation of students, we’re deserving of such subsidies, and ideally, towards a free education. If we had the general public on our side, the government would really be soiling themselves, as today was a chance to make people more powerful than any of us sympathetic to our cause. Sadly, that’s not what happened.

Imagine what the news reports would have been like if this would have remained a purely peaceful protest. Like, if any news outlets didn’t have any violent tales to spin out of proportion. I think I’ve made my point already, but please, do ponder this before you go to sleep tonight. What would tomorrow’s headlines have been if Millbank Tower had never happened, and what effect would this have had in rallying positive attention towards our cause? Riddle me that.

MOVEMBER: It’s Happening!

It’s that time of year where men all around the world make a solemn pledge to grow their facial hair, no matter how embarrassing it may seem. For the uninitiated, Movember is a movement (I don’t use the word lightly) created by the Prostate Cancer Charity, where men (and women!) attract sponsorship to grow (or support someone growing) a moustache for the month. It’s a great deal of fun, and it’s for an excellent cause. Prostate cancer ruins the lives of men, often requiring frequent hospital visits and painful treatment procedures. It also kills one man every hour in the UK. Something clearly needs to be done, and hats need to be tipped towards the Prostate Cancer Charity for creating something so quirky and fun, which people generally want to associate themselves with.

It is Sunday 7th. I am well aware of this, but I began my own fundraising efforts yesterday. I did start clean-shaven on the 1st, but for some reason did not document this. Just as well, I suppose, as it wasn’t too pretty.

If you’re a man, or a woman, who isn’t involved yet, then I urge you to do so. As with any good cause, raising awareness is a key factor in helping overcome whatever we’re battling. If you haven’t already, head down to the Movember website and sign up, even if it is to post pictures of your barren mug, which is perhaps punctuated by the odd sprout of facial growth. Believe me, you won’t be the only one.

Alternatively, click below to view my ‘introduction video’, as it were, where I bumble my way through a somewhat painful shaving experience. You can also visit my Mo Space (the ‘space’, I feel, is somewhat vital to avoid infringing copyright) which I’ve lovingly shortened to

Also, Mo Bros and Mo Sistas, if you are in on it, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below. Feel free to share your Mo Space links, too!

Well, ladies and gents, this is the start of a wondrous journey for me. It’d really mean a lot to me if you could spread the word about my mo-growing efforts, and of course, to my fellow participants, the favour shall surely be repaid. The best of luck to all of you!

May the mo be with you!

PETA’s 2010 ‘State of the Union Undress’ – A Strip Too Far?

I’ve always respected PETA for their work towards promoting animal welfare, and exposing the cruelty behind the meat and dairy industries. I am, however, currently reassessing my views, due to their most recent campaign to drum up support, based around a parody of America’s annual ‘State of the Union Address’.

Their ‘State of the Union Undress’ (WARNING: VERY NSFW) is a feature that’s existed for a few years, now. It is essentially a collection of videos which all involve a model standing in front of an American flag, in their underwear, talking about PETA’s work. PETA have always been provocative in their advertisements (something a quick Google Images search will reveal) but this really takes the cake. Interspersed with shots of a legitimate Congressional audience, to give the impression of a genuine Union address, each model takes it in turn to talk about PETA’s brilliant work, and how it’s essential to keep supporting them, whilst taking off their underwear.

You read that correctly. While these ‘spokespeople’ elucidate the need to keep supporting PETA through these ‘tough economic times’, they’re stripping down to their bare bottoms. The faux-Congressional audience claps and cheers, while the models make horrible puns about Americans needing to ‘stand to attention’, and what-not, and the resulting debacle is all kinds of horrible. I am, of course, speaking as a vegan with an active interest in feminism, but the ‘State of the Union Undress’ campaign makes me, dare I say, ashamed to be vegan.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that PETA are hoping, as I’m sure they have done with previous ‘State of the Union Undresses’, to create huge amounts of publicity and PR spin. I’m sure that this will happen, and they’ll be featured on all types of websites, and in all kinds of publications. It doesn’t matter that the majority of these will likely be men’s magazines and adult websites, as long as they’re getting the word out, right? Yes, people are going to take notice, but will the people PETA are trying to appeal to, who will appreciate such a calamitous publicity campaign, really be the people who will actually be likely to give a damn about animal rights, and issues of animal welfare? I worry for whoever is managing PETA’s marketing functions, who I’m sure is one of those docile souls who believes that anyone can be won over to any cause, as long as you grab their attention. The men (and possibly women) who lap this up won’t give a damn about changing their diet, just as any responsible types who PETA should actively be trying to appeal to will just shake their heads, along with the rest of us, and move on.

It really bothers me that PETA have frittered away what little credibility they had by making women expose themselves senselessly, in the name of ‘animal welfare’. No, scratch that. If they got these models to stand on a soapbox outside their local McDonalds and KFC stores, and asked them to shout, whilst fully clothed, about how animals are slaughtered for fast food consumption, that would be in the name of animal welfare. That would at least be an attempt at something that resembles trying to making a change. Instead, these women are on our computer screens, stripping for the benefit of what is probably a load of serial masturbators, trying to make them care about what they had for dinner, and what they’ll have for dinner tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, by appearing to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Well done, PETA, for what I’d probably commend as being the most ironic advertising campaign of the year. In a poor attempt to gain some publicity, you’ve successfully shown that you treat women the way most other people treat meat. You’ve also completely lost my respect.

Feminists, do leave a comment. I know you’re out there.

Paul the Psychic Octopus: HE’S STILL ALIVE!

I do not mean to alarm you, but we are all in great danger. A few days ago, the planet lost its only proven psychic being, known to us as as Paul the Psychic Octopus. Or at least that’s what the critics may say…

While there is already talk of the world-wide World Cup conspiracy to murder the psychic being, the general public has yet to realise that Paul is still very much with us. I’ll let you in on a little secret. By that, I mean I present you with INCONTROVERTIBLE PROOF that the two year-old cephalopod is none other than the very star-spawn of the destroyer Cthulhu!

Just in case you can't tell the difference, that's Cthulhu on the left, and Paul on the right.

Firstly, a little background. Paul, the ‘psychic octopus’ successfully predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s World Cup games, and also the outcome of the world World Cup final. Like many others, I was unwavering in my belief that there was always more to this magical sea creature than meets the eye.

Who is Cthulhu? I am aware that many of you may not know of the works of divine prophet and ‘science-fiction author’ H.P. Lovecraft. Essentially, Cthulhu is a land-faring, giant octopus type creature, who has the power to raze the earth of human life if and when he sees fit. Lovecraft knew the truth, and saw this coming. For more proof, look no further than the Cult of Cthulhu, which dedicates itself to prophesising Cthulhu’s return to this world, and its inevitable destruction.

Cthulhu currently lies dormant in the underwater city of R’lyeh, waiting for the correct time to strike. The trigger for this reawakening is unknown, whether it be World War Three, or simply an over-abundance of Boris Bikes. Suffice to say, we should all be very careful about everything from not relieving yourself in the sea, to doing everything we can to fight global warming, lest we disturb this mighty beast from his slumber. Still, I’m straying from the point, and this is all (pretty much) common knowledge anyway.

Anyone with even the slightest bit of knowledge of Lovecraft’s prophecies could easily see that ‘Paul’ was star-spawn; a child of Cthulhu, who simply got caught in the act. Appearing on earth from the farthest gulfs of space, star-spawn like Paul helped Cthulhu construct R’lyeh, before leaving their underwater sanctuary to exist amongst humans. Sure, Paul was somewhat foolish to remain in his original form, as it is widely documented that star-spawn possess transformative powers, but it is very unlikely that Paul met his end as a result of old age. By my reasoning, in an attempt to escape the limelight and prevent anyone from discovering his true identity, PAUL STAGED HIS OWN DEATH. I have no doubt that he is very much alive, either having transformed himself into something less conspicuous, or travelling to R’lyeh to await Cthulhu’s awakening with his star-spawn brethren.

DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE ‘PAUL’. Star-spawn may be only a fraction of the size of Cthulhu, but possess equivalent powers. They are highly dangerous, and can shape-shift at will. It is of the utmost importance that you remain vigilant, for Paul could be anywhere, or anything right now.

It doesn’t have to be this way, however! Spread the word about Paul, so the truth can be known. If we band together, we can surely find him, and stop him from reaching R’lyeh, which may cause unmentionable destruction if he manages to wake Cthulhu. WE CANNOT LET THIS HAPPEN. Alert your friends and family to the situation, and get the word out there. It is only with your cooperation that we can save humanity.

Go well, and be strong, for the end may well be near.