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Just For The Sake Of It

It’s been a while since I’ve had inclination or time to put pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to keys, and grab some thoughts and bring them out.

I’ve been distracted by winter, by work, by family and politics... well, more trying to ignore the way politics is being reported and the characters drawn to it. What I do want to say is that, there is nothing so much like the contrast between what’s happening in New Zealand vs. Australia, United States and United Kingdom. Somehow, the New Zealand voters have taken a chance to be different, so we have a Prime Minister who is a new mother, prepared to speak out and has even made changes in how the opposition and co-operative parties have started to evolve and function.

Meanwhile, the winter started with an unexpected drop in temperature and then found a medium of mild... however... somehow... the mild has brought about in me a form of withdrawal, where I’ve found myself less willing to be physically active, more introspective and less inclined to look much beyond the hamster routine of work/sleep.

That description makes it sound like I’m being dragged about by the black dog I have written about in the past. Though it’s really not the case, despite my withdrawal in many ways, there has been an awakening and action in others. I’ve reconciled with my wife and moved home, to be with her, our kids, our cats, chickens and guinea pigs, and continue to have a job that I look forward to each working day.

In many ways, the category of family distraction has been huge... and I’m tremendously happy about it.

It warms me.

So... why the funk about writing?

It could be, that I’m missing a topic or two to drive me. Much of the writing I have done over the years has been driven by a topic I’ve been close to, either via work or passion, and that led me to write at times about music, books, games, technology, movies and television, business, mountain biking and photography. Throw in some odd bits of commentary and that’s been my output. It’s been for print and digital and now most of it aside from this website is consigned to some deep digital storage and probably no longer to be found, with the pages long gone as servers have been decommissioned and deleted. However one of the oldest I can find is an oddly curated piece I wrote about a Mutton Birds album here.

Meanwhile... here I am... fingers to keys... suns out, good coffee at a local cafe and feeling around for a topic or two.

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In Six Lines

Born in Auckland, raised in the eastern suburbs; safe, warm, skinned knees and home baking

My Mum died... I was just seventeen

Lost nearly a decade to a fog, fucked if I can remember the late eighties and early nineties...

Found myself in London [my Fathers place of birth], and I started to become alive amid the weight of the city

[returned, retrained], Became about the technology, I enabled people to connect and communicate, found a partner/wife and became a Dad

Struggled, struggled, struggled (endless fucking struggle, but kept it in), kept the Dad identity going, until it all crashed... and now, I'm learning again

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Thursday Throwback: T.I.S.M

Thursday Throwback... well, kind of... this is The Bennies performing 'like a version' of T.I.S.M's (He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River.
T.I.S.M. (This Is Serious Mum) were an anonymous Australian band who at one staged were rumoured to be The Wiggles... a story I loved. The reality is a bit more mundane, but none-the-less interesting, that seven piece line up was mostly school teachers!!!

Meanwhile, enjoy The Bennies, doing a cracker cover!

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Video: Triple J

The Dulling Of Digital

Dulling Of Digital

In answer to: Digital is getting very dull. Surely it's time for complete re-invention of the norm. Some serious inspiration. Imagination. True originality. Not design, Jira ticket. Limited by off shore development. Anyone got anything genuinely innovative to share? 

This questions was posted on LinkedIn by a person from the UK who describes themselves as a design director, designer and consultant… well Clare, this answer is for you… and anyone else who cares to read.

Digital has been my career since the turn of the century, so I've ridden the highs and lows, gone through a couple of dotcom runs, the roll out of web 2.0, watched e-commerce thrive and been responsible for taking mobile devices from voice only to hand-held Internet connected all singing-dancing damn near fuckin' super computers… so yes, this is a topic I know I'm qualified to wade into whole-heartedly.

Over that time I can call out where imagination and innovation have created shifts, leading to where we are now… such as consumer data for mobile phones, touch enabled devices, web based applications (email especially), WYISWYG design and development tools and near-real/real time read and write data bases… I know that all seems pretty boring, but if pause for a moment these broad ideas have led to many specific innovations, such as Internet based banking, e-commerce, business opportunities and engaging with government departments. We can now co-operate with co-workers based almost anywhere in the world in real-time via Internet enabled messaging, voice and video.

The hot trends right now are around supplementing our current engagement in the world about us via Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR)… however it's not really original or innovative. The concept of both is pretty much been with humans since… well, since we became humans. There is ample evidence we have always looked both inward and outward for ways to engage with the world around us. It's just been in more recent centuries we have started to apply more levels of technology.

I'll make this easy for you to understand, so you can see through the AR/VR bullshit that's being chucked about… when I was seven, through in-school testing, it was identified I had a vision problem. My Mum took me into the central hospital for testing, where I was diagnosed with myopia (short-sighted) and that I would need to wear glasses. And I have worn corrective lenses pretty much ever since… in short, I live my life in a permanent state of AR and I'm generally pretty fuckin' happy about that. If I'd been born before the 20th Century, there's a good chance I'd have lived my life not being able to see anything clearly that existed beyond my arms length.

So clearly AR is not that original…

As for VR… well in it's essentially another in-built human desire with a layer of technology thrown in… humans have always been story tellers and story listeners, we desire and crave stories that we can become so absorbed in, we can shift our own reality (even momentarily), via imagination to be within it. In our heads we virtually go there… it's our desire to hold on to our dreams in a woken state…

Let me be clear… I'm not taking the curmudgeon role of 'you fucking kids know nothing'… it's more look through the noise and look for real opportunities to innovate and engage with people in a way that's whole hearted and will make a difference.

So I'm going to throw out some bread-crumbs of where designers and developers should be mucking about to create and drive some innovation…

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence… though I'm less inclined personally to use the term AI, a better term is Intelligent Response (IR… y'all can thank me for the defining it later… I accept coffee, food and mountain bike components as valid payment), where using real-time matching of inputted data (text, voice etc.) becomes a first line solution for customer interactions. We are a long way off from creating true AI (as true AI will be conscious and aware... remember that people "conscious and aware"), but a lot of progress is being made in IR, what it needs though is a lot of work in how it can be deployed. A current examples is the generally limited chat-bots that abound, handling text and voice inquires, however these are essentially an enhanced IVR (Interactive Voice Response) designed to gateway customers.

An IR system will respond to the customer instantly, based on who they are and their relationship (new, existing etc.) to your organisation and move from there. I can imagine an IR system in a retail environment that recognises an existing customer as the enter and the provides the staff with names, purchasing history, preferences etc. thus enabling the staff to focus on providing high quality personal service.

Also you could look at IR to help enable and deliver online e-commerce experiences, utilising cookie data, localisation and when a customer confirms their identity, matching to previous purchases/behaviour.

The next bread-crumb is simplification and integration of identity… digital interaction has been pushed out increasingly to ensure our devices have become more complex and capable of multiple functions, where the best example is a mobile phone that now: contains a still camera, music player, movement monitor, location tracking, Internet connected, game device, video camera, payment enabler… and the list keeps growing. This explosion of multifunctional capability has crept into so many things, televisions, fridges, cars and juice extractors… and with them has come a complexity of hardware, software and operating systems… it's more than a Koala-can-fucking-bear.

The way is open for those who can turn the digital (and non-digital) interactions toward simpler analogue behaviour, with the 'heavy lifting' is done the background by the digital enablement.

For example, imagine a key that can be used to access your car, your home, your office and when needed gives you access to your neighbours house to feed their cat… but it's a clearly a key, something as humans we have been hard-wired to identify for the last couple of thousand years, and not an application, interactive card and some other crazy shit.

As I said designers, the solution lies in making the 'heavy lifting' happen in the background, control of the identity and security. This is moving away from the current trend of placing the technology at the front of function.

I'd be keen to here what others may have to say… please discuss.

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Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson, 1977

If you live your life in the shadow of others… how do you shine?

I think a question like this must have been constantly on the mind of Dennis Wilson, middle sibling of the Wilson brothers, who, as the Beach Boys, created and dominated the niche of West Coast surfer sound.

Dennis Wilson, was the Beach Boy who lived a life closest to the songs they sung, preferring a simpler life of living on the beach and surfing. However, he was  sensitive to the bullying handed out by their father and the dominant role his elder brother Brian had on the Beach Boys, so despite appearances, Dennis came to rely on alcohol and drugs to cope, which led to him being squeezed out of the band and ultimately to his death at 39 by drowning after a drunken fall from his yacht.

Despite, or maybe in spite of, Dennis spent the middle of the 1970's working on music for what would become his only solo album to be released during his lifetime, Pacific Ocean Blue, in 1977.

If you look back at 1977, you can see why a solo release from a former Beach Boy failed to chart, as it was the year when the Sex Pistols released God Save The Queen, Donna Summer released I Feel Love and Fleetwood Mac owned the charts with the album Rumours. It was a year of music genres opening and closing... almost in front of your eyes.

This means that Pacific Ocean Blue was overlooked, with album sales of under 5,000 in the US alone… whilst it did not become a hit album, it's become a 'musicians album'… an album that's 'essential listening' if you make music… and that's why it's remained relevant and very listenable 40 years on.

Pacific Ocean Blue echoes with the life that Dennis Wilson led, he chose to live either close to the beach or on a boat, he continued to surf, despite his health issues and he was acutely aware of the impact that the growing population of California was having on the sea and the environment. The lyrics of Pacific Ocean Blues captures it well;

We live on the edge of a body of water
Warmed by the blood of the cold hearted
Slaughter of otter
Wonder how she feels mother seal
It's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue

Other songs on Pacific Ocean Blue are inward looking, those of someone whose life has experienced highs, lows and a lot of fuzz around the edges.

What makes Pacific Ocean Blue alive and timeless though is the production. Whilst Dennis may not have been the genius that Brian Wilson was, he certainly must have looked on and listened as Brian dictated the direction and sound of the Beach Boys; as Pacific Ocean Blue is as rich and deep sounding as anything Brian created. Much of the album was recorded by Dennis alone, with West Coast musicians dropping in and out as the various songs were recorded and evolved. It's surprisingly the that album, which was recorded over a number of years, as a whole it fits together. The mix of the album, for it's time, is reasonable and raw, which lends it a contemporary ear… except in one area I note, it's got a 'deeper feel' that seems to elude more recent recordings and I'm not sure if this is due to the original analogue recording and mixing, or the time it took to record and produce.

Pacific Ocean Blue has been re-released in vinyl and digital. There was a small compact disc run, which has made them a bit of a collectors item.

Listen to Pacific Ocean Blue on Spotify:

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