Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Ordinary as Spectacle

I'm back. The "ordinary as spectacle" crept up over and over again whilst traipsing through New York City. New York is a foodie town and current trends often reflect larger cultural shifts before they are evident elsewhere. Things that are reflective of society often are repackaged, remarketed and franchised to the rest of the world. So what is in vogue? Places with simple limited menus - vanilla, chocolate or strawberry served in a Guy Debord kind of spectacle of simplicity. In other words, you will notice the ordinariness of the place in a way that makes it less ordinary.

Back in the good old days, when stylish boutique hotels and restaurants started popping up around the city, there was a trend amongst my peer group to avoid such places. Instead, we'd go skipping happily into the biggest dives in town, eating and drinking under graffiti laden walls and wood paneling. They were our secret places, off limits to tourists. Inside we'd encounter the odd dwarf junkie shooting up, but, that made it "real". And then, this kind of thing became trendy, and, hidden bars and restaurants with no names started popping up to appeal to this anti-place instinct. We'd been packaged. Onward we marched into Williamsburg and Greenpoint into obscurity. Investment bankers followed. Trendy residential buildings sprouted.

Nine years later, this "authenticity", this "ordinaryness" has taken another twist. I spent an evening uptown in touristville in the upmarket Parker Meridian hotel. We went to the cafe inside entitled "The Burger Joint". It was a genuine piece of performance art. The queue was about 45 minutes. The sign, painted on cardboard gave precise instructions. Know what you want before you reach the counter or you will be sent to the back of the line. A real New Yorker kind of rule. A staccato menu was posted -- hamburger, cheeseburger, or grilled cheese. Don't forget to say how you would like it cooked. Wood paneling laden with graffiti and tacky old-school posters adorned the walls. Familiar trendy songs of old wafted in the air. Fire leapt from the tiny open kitchen. Phones rang, people jostled for tables and the service was crisp and laid the onus for pleasure on the customer side.

What should one think upon entering an upmarket New York Hotel and encountering a scene from the lower east side of old? Beyond irony, turning left at sincerity and grabbing a few props along the way, it was pure theatre. And a very odd thing to think that the cherished hipster experience had gone full circle in clientele. The path from from a) it is genuine and the people are from places you have never known to b) here come the artists to c) let's market that to d) it is no longer genuine but the people are again from places you have never known...

The ordinary as spectacle had gone full circle. Loop de loop. And the burger was most delicious.

There are indeed too many things in the world. That is something that was highlighted by the economic crisis. Guilty about consumption? No problem. New York is on the case. If you are offered three quality items, no more, it cuts out the anxiety for you. And you can still overpay for that ice cream cone, or hamburger, guilt free.

So. You will know when the economic crisis is over when these places no longer hold the heart and soul approval of NYC foodies. When the ordinary as spectacle subsides, and, a more ornate kind of culinary presentation again reemerges (like the tall food embelishments of days past), well, then, perhaps we've gone past back on track and the bubble alarm ought to be ringing again...

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Certain Death

The Durian fruit was the star attraction at today's party. I'm in Connecticut, a conservative kind of place that requires a bit of novelty for a proper fete. And novel in Connecticut is the Durian. It was supplied by the very-novel-in-this-part-of-Connecticut three gay men that bought my Mum and Dad's house after Dad died. Somehow, they have become an extended part of the family. My childhood home now features a fantastic cocktail lounge with different seating areas and a bar where the living room once was. We had a fishpond when I was young, but this has grown and now features hundreds of Koi and is surrounded by the most astonishing garden. Anyway, back to the fruit. As promised, it had a very distinct odour and tasted like a garlic infused mango. My thoughts wandered towards Durian cocktails and I pictured mixing it with a bit of dark rum, crushed ice, and fresh mint. It seemed the right thing to do. A quick google on Durian cocktails after the party revealed the troublesome information that mixing alcohol and this fruit would result in certain death. My interest was certainly piqued. But I am still here. I'm glad to have found the following article that lays rest to this myth. At least, that is, in relation to mice.

More on subliminal stimulation...

I drifted off to sleep last evening wondering whether the phrase "subliminal stimulation" was an appropriate description of the use of music on the Weather Channel. It is certainly a neat little phrase. But is it subliminal? Marketing and music have a long history, from the good old fashioned radio to the use of music in shopping environments. I've been using spotify to listen to music as of late. I like being able to generate a random playlist for different colours - type in white, and, every band or song with the word white in the title pops up. I've been through the rainbow in both english and german. What fun.

Another very clever way to market music has popped up. Barcodes. "Grum" is a U.K. dance producer that makes barcode posters one can point a mobile phone at to download a song. Read more here. 2-D matrix barcodes are all the rage in Japan, and a whole design industry has grown up around the idea. See some examples here. After all, why should a barcode be just a barcode? Why not make it a bit more fun? This is not a particularly new idea, but, it is one that is finally gaining some momentum in use. Expect more hieroglyphics to be entering your life soon.

Ah. Subliminal stimulation. That is the marketing strategy of this decade. Slide it in - outright selling is out out out. Make it fun. Make it participatory and interactive. And make it self-replicate. Don't make do, make it happen...

It will likely cost you something but you might forget that part.

Saturday, 22 August 2009


Predictions. Thinking about Bruno (see Leigh's post below) and thinking about hurricane Bill, the thread here this week has been about predictions. One of the more marvelous things about the USA is the Weather Channel. If you live in the States, you no doubt think the Weather Channel is daft, repetitive, and, full of commercials. On the WC (oh dear - apologies), it is only serious weather if they can find some sort of way to feature an automobile in some kind of weather peril. Prone to sensationalism, preying on fear, and like a drug to a control freak, the weather channel works every angle like a preacher. But really, if you live in the UK where the meteorologists go home and stop working at 5pm every evening, a 24 hour on demand Weather Channel is an amazing thing. At least to a girl like me.

I must say, one of the things that started to upset me a bit last evening whilst waiting for the Hurricane update was the insipid background music. Apparently they think differently. To the extent that one can buy a track of Weather Channel Muzak. I kid you not -- find it here. I do hope Bruce Bueno does not conduct his interviews with anything like that playing in the background. But perhaps he uses it on his clients. Game Theory must have a chapter or two on the use of subliminal stimulants...

Surfing Hurricane Bill...

Hurricane Bill...

Under the Bellowing Tower...

I've been marooned without a computer in a small Rhode Island fishing village, listening to the bellowing hoot of dueling lighthouses. Though I was without a machine, I did have the good fortune to watch the Weather Channel last evening and learn a hurricane was headed directly towards our idyllic location. An evening beach walk confirmed this fact, as the beach had all but disappeared under the rising tide. This morning Missmc sat on the cliff under the lighthouse and watched the surfers in all their hurricane glory. What a way to end a week at the beach - gazing at wetsuits dodging sea rocks whilst careening about on twenty foot waves...I could have spent the rest of my life there, on the hill, under the bellowing tower...

Alas. I am back in Connecticut. I do hope to grab hold of this computer this evening and tell you more.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Guest posting: game theory and Iran

Hello again to missmarketcrash's readers. I have the privilege once again of making the occasional contribution while she's on holiday.

Today, in honour of missmarketcrash's Rhode Island resort, I was very interested to read this article from her near-neighbour the New York Times.

My own work is about using behavioural economics to understand, predict and perhaps influence some aspects of decision making.

So it was fascinating to learn about Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (must remember not to compress this to 'Bruno' which is what I nearly typed) who does something similar but based fully on rational actor theory. He uses game theory techniques and a software system to project how power plays and coalition building will result in political or business outcomes.

Now lots of people are sceptical about the effectiveness of this kind of prediction. It's clear that the results are highly dependent on the input parameters - in the Iranian example, he suggests that Ahmedinejad's "desire" is 90, "power" is 5 and "resolve" is 90. To be honest this sounds like nothing quite so much as the strength, stamina, intelligence and charisma scores in Dungeons and Dragons, but you do have to start with some numbers if you're going to build any kind of model.

The article may be oversimplifying his approach, but these figures seem just to be assumptions not based on any empirical measurements. The proof, in any case, will be in the pudding, but it's a little slippery to get hold of any testable predictions because lots of it is covered by commercial confidentiality - or worse, national security. However:
...a study by the C.I.A., now declassified, found that Bueno de Mesquita’s predictions "hit the bull's-eye" twice as often as its own analysts did.
Anyway my interest is piqued because, despite the suggestion that this is based on a rational agent model, it appears to use some very psychological variables which aren't incorporated into standard game theory: preferred outcome, desire and resolve. I suspect that behavioural game theory might be a better description of this.

I will be following Mr Bueno de Mesquita's work with interest - we will have an interim result by October as he has predicted a student uprising in Iran.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Fishing with Missmarketcrash

Don't feel left behind.  I am jumping on the plane, but, a flash bulletin - do be sure to check in from time to time as I will manage to post somehow.  And - the better news, you will likely be treated to a little post from my blog-associate, the analytical Leigh...

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Catch of the Day...

Missmc is leaving on holiday tomorrow.  A search of wifi hotspots in the idyllic Rhode Island fishing village I am headed towards comes up completely empty.  There is a library, but it is miles miles miles and miles away.  I could go fishing off the docks and make friends with a high-tech fisherman.  I can picture reeling in a big tuna whilst typing away to you...

I did try to get a 3G iphone yesterday with the added fantasy of tossing the wretched  netbook into the sea.  I froze with indecision and left the shop.  A two-year contract at 44pounds a month is too much of a commitment for me when rumours of the iphone being released from O2 captivity abound.  And so, I wait.

I think I will miss you.  When, and, if I can, I shall post.  I do think it is going to be rather quiet from here until September.  In the meantime, visit  Leigh seems to be on a bit of a roll with his daily posts and will surely have something on offer to amuse you.

Do check in from time to time for The Catch of the Day...aka...Fishing with Missmarketcrash.  Surely I will manage to post somehow...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Pitfalls of Globalization...

live chat with dell below -

 11:53:06    Customer  Missmc 

Initial Question/Comment: battery not removable, sound not working, mousepad faulty, password missing, complete folly
 12:13:59    System  System 
You are now being connected to an agent. Thank you for using Dell Chat

 12:13:59    System  System 
Connected with Americas\sourav_choudhury
 12:14:19    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Thank you for contacting Dell Hardware Chat support for the UK and Republic of Ireland. I am Sourav and I will be assisting you today, please give me a couple of minutes while I pull out your system records.
 12:14:43    Customer  Missmc 
hi - the system was freezing and i tried to remove battery as no other reset was working and the battery is stuck. this machine just came back from repair.
 12:15:31    Customer  Missmc 
also - i don't know the password to do system updates.
 12:15:40    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Hello, Susan. How are you doing today?
 12:15:48    Customer  Missmc 
 12:16:48    Customer  Missmc 
is there any way to get you to take this computer back and send me a fresh one? i am leaving on hol thurs and bought it to do work with me and it seems to have a host of problems.
 12:17:32    Customer  Missmc 
are you there?
 12:17:44    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Yes, I'm.
 12:18:42    Customer  Missmc 
so...what do you think?
 12:18:45    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, I see that, the system you're referring to has UBUNTU as the Operating System.
 12:18:52    Customer  Missmc 
that is correct
 12:19:47    Customer  Missmc 
besides the system freezes, it seems more to be a hardware issue with the battery stuck and bad mousepad...
 12:20:18    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, you'll need to contact our UBUNTU Support on 0844 338 1122.
 12:20:25    Customer  Missmc 
and sound issue...and everything issue. can we do an exchange and start fresh???
 12:20:44    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
They would certainly be able to assist you with your query today.
 12:21:10    Customer  Missmc 
that is crazy. i am not paying for phone support. i want this computer replaced. it has been a lemon since it landed.  It just came back after a week of service at Dell for software issues.
 12:22:44    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, I'm afraid, as the Operating System installed is UBUNTU, I'll not be able to assist you with your query today.
 12:22:45    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Hence, you'll need to contact on the above mentioned phone number.
 12:22:46    Customer  Missmc 
are you there?
 12:23:12    Customer  Missmc 
this is a hardware issue, not an os problem.
 12:23:42    Customer  Missmc 
battery and keypad - can we start there? they are disfunctional.
 12:23:42    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Please understand, as per process, you'll need to contact UBUNTU Support on 0844 338 1122.
 12:23:58    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
They are available from Mon - Fri, 8AM - 8PM GMT.
 12:24:11    Customer  Missmc 
i have paid for millions of h9ours getting the first problem sorted. i want someone to come take this computer back
 12:25:04    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
There is no chat support for the UBUNTU Dept. and you've reached the wrong dept.
 12:25:43    Customer  Missmc 
yes but can you give me the we-will-take-your-computer-back and give you a working one dept - something online so i don't have to queue and pay?
 12:26:38    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, if you contact the above mentioned phone number, the Technicians on the phone, will certainly be able to assist you address your queries for today.
 12:26:46    Customer  Missmc 
ultimately, this is a hardware issue.
 12:27:48    Customer  Missmc 
i do not have an ubuntu problem. i have a hardware problem.
 12:28:44    Customer  Missmc 
are you there?
 12:31:04    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, please understand, you'll need to contact Ubuntu Support, as I'm not authorised to assist you for this issue.
 12:31:29    Customer  Missmc 
is there a dept. that i can reach via online to get this computer exchanged?
 12:33:38    Customer  Missmc 
are you there?
 12:34:50    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, I'm afraid, there is no online support, for UBUNTU Dept. and you'll need to contact them on the above mentioned phone number.
 12:35:14    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
You can contact UBUNTU Support on 0844 338 1122.
 12:35:28    Customer  Missmc 
I am not asking for ubuntu dept. I am asking for customer service to exchange fault hardware. it is not the os that is the issue.
 12:37:55    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
I can provide you the contact no. of the Customer Care Dept. but they will not be able to assist you with this.
 12:38:31    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
You'll need to contact the UBUNTU Technical Support Dept. and they'll certainly assist you and if required will also provide you with a replacement system.
 12:40:04    Customer  Missmc 
a battery problem is not a software problem - why can't you assist? this has nothing to do with ubuntu
 12:41:56    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, please understand, an issue with a battery could sometimes be due to a BIOS issue. This has to be checked and resolved in the Operating System as well. Since we are not trained on UBUNTU I would not know which BIOS update to run or know where to look for an update. This is the reason there is a separate UBUNTU queue.
 12:42:24    Customer  Missmc 
no. that is not the case. the battery is literally stuck in the machine.
 12:45:01    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
I understand that however there are other issues with the system as well such as the sound issue. These need to be addressed in Ubuntu. In addition your request for a replacement machine can only be looked into by the Ubuntu department
 12:46:36    Customer  Missmc 
can i have the customer care number? i am really n9ot happy to keep spending money on service calls when this machine arrived with some issues, went back for service, and now is having more issues. it is costing too much to deal with a system that has not worked properly since arriving.
 12:47:16    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
 12:49:06    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
You can contact Customer Care Dept. on 0844 444 4712 / 0844 444 3792. They're available from 9AM - 6PM GMT, Monday to Friday.
 12:49:06    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
You can also email them.
 12:49:16    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
 12:50:31    Customer  Missmc 
thank you. this is really now a customer care issue I am sure you would agree.
 12:52:22    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
Susan, as you have technical issues with the system, Customer Care Dept. might recommend you to contact Ubuntu Technical Support Dept.
 12:52:44    Agent  Americas\sourav_choudhury 
But, you can still go ahead and discuss the matter with the Customer Care Dept.
 12:55:37    Customer  Missmc 
it is a pity that following a script on your end prevents you from assisting with this problem. thanks, susan