Archive for January, 2009

Impossible polaroids


Tom Ding writes:

“One day I will tire of digital photography
and ‘get back to basics.’
While my pictures will not be
easy to share with friends and family
[via popular photo sharing websites]
If a photo is unsharable,
does that make it more personal,
more meaningful to me?”

(Carles, Hipster Runoff)

Now that everyone and their mum has a super-compact, many mega-pixel camera in their bag (and another on their phone), some have begun to miss the bits of photography that they have left behind. The lomography movement has been around for a while now, long enough to spawn satirical blog post poetry and iphone imitations anyway, but the impossible project feels more substantial. And more interesting.

In case you hadn’t heard, almost a year ago Polaroid announced that due to a lack of demand, they were to cease production of the film used in their cameras; the countdown to the final time when someone would truly “shake it like a polaroid picture” had started. Most enthusiasts were left with no option but to pay over the odds on ebay for the last scraps of the stuff, but a few have embarked on something altogether more ambitious: ‘the impossible project’.

Inspired by the original inventor Edwin Land (“Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible”), a team of twelve amateur experts have acquired the equipment from one of the old factories. They are determined that by 2010 they will have invented a new type of film, compatible with the original cameras, but that uses components that are still in production. On the website a new clock is ticking (29,333,530 seconds at the time of writing); if they manage it, and if Russell Davies is right when he says that this is going to be a year for ‘real, post-digital things’, then it may have been a manifestly good idea.

The photograph, from The Impossible Project website, is of the former Polaroid film factory.

29 January 2009 at 10:39 am Leave a comment

More books… and a film

A couple of late arrivals for our review of favourites from 2008.

J. Walker Smith, Chapel Hill:


Let’s say you develop some idea of what the future is likely to hold. Do you then know what to do about it? That’s the question that University of Chicago law professor and prolific public intellectual Cass Sunstein tackles in his thorough discussion of planning for Worst-Case Scenarios. This has obvious relevance for the most frightful worries of our age like climate change, suitcase nukes, anthrax, avian flu and GMOs. But it is relevant as well to every policy action and business decision. Sunstein critiques the Precautionary Principle and Cost-Benefit Analysis to recommend an alternative that he believes better balances risks and benefits. This book is another must-read from Sunstein for anyone doing strategic analysis or scenario planning.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wasnick (Bantam Books, 2006) Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008′)mindless_eating_cover1

Behavioral economics is all the rage these days, and the bestsellers Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have helped popularize this branch of social psychology. But do we really understand how these classic psychology experiments and even the more recent work in economics apply to real life, particularly to business and marketing? Two recent books make this connection for eating and traffic. Brian Wasnick teaches marketing and nutritional science at Cornell where his lab has done pioneering work deciphering the workings of theTraffic. Wht we drive the way we do ‘mindless margin’ that lies between healthy and unhealthy food choices. Tom Vanderbilt is a science and culture journalist who embedded himself for three years with traffic researchers and engineers to answer questions like ‘why does the other lane always seem faster’ and ‘why are dangerous roads safer’ and ‘why do women cause more congestion than men.’

Larissa Persons, New York:

5x2b5×2 is the story of an unhappy marriage told backwards in five parts. It begins with the divorce. And it ends with the couple, Marion and Giles, meeting for the first time. Each of the five ‘chapters’ focuses in on a particular scene from their lives together. We see the couple hosting a dinner party while their young son sleeps. We see the birth of their child. We see their wedding. Each scene peels away another emotional layer and offers another insight into the individuals and their relationship.

Ozon exploits the construct of reverse chronology to the full. So the film is not about what happens – after all we know the end from the beginning – but rather is about why it happened. And by the time you get to the end (of the film) it is clear that the roots of the couple’s demise are there, plain for all to see, right from the start of the romance. You can see the drivers that created the future.

And while the construct turns the viewer into a clinical observer of the dissection of the marriage, the details revealed and the style of the narrative are almost disconcertingly intimate. This serves to ensure that you become intensely involved in the story itself and with the two main characters, rather than simply remaining an innocent bystander. The film therefore manages to be gripping, despite its removal of conventional suspense.

It’s not exactly an enjoyable 90 minutes, but I found 5×2 powerful and memorable. It’s also got an excellent soundtrack, courtesy of Philippe Rombi.

24 January 2009 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

Live and direct


Rebecca Nash writes:

Some anthropologists of religion work with people who seek unmediated contact with their gods. Their ethnographies contrast the experience of word as text (scriptural religions) with the immediate word (through a prophet or visions). Christian apostolics have told one anthropologist, ‘We don’t use the Bible, we receive the Holy Spirit, live and direct’.

Live and direct. Curiously this is the same claim that television news makes every day in the era of cheap satellite links and rolling news, but usually the live connection is to a reporter or an expert giving their mediated view of events, with technology – and graphics – providing a patina of immediacy.

And certainly, during the Obama campaign, there was plenty of mediated coverage, through more channels than ever before.  It became too easy, too occupying during the campaign to catch up on events by logging on to YouTube, skimming political blogs, monitoring poll data, reading coverage in magazines and newspapers. All of these channels were harnessed skillfully by Obama – his messages seemed to be everywhere. Alongside this, the media itself played a filtering role, interpreting messages, constructing meaning, and shaping opinion.

But every trend has its counter-trend. The more that’s recorded and interpreted, the more that people want to experience the live event for themselves, without interpretation. I think this desire for an unmediated experience explains in part the huge crowds at the ritual of Tuesday’s inaugural ceremony in Washington, DC.

I left work early myself to see the ceremony ‘live and direct’ (granted, on TV from my couch in London). As an American living in London I knew I wouldn’t have the self-control to watch it later, when the analysis and the commentary would have kicked in. But it was the kind of event where update and analysis were beside the point – the shared live experience, the immediate Word, not the text, was what mattered most.

21 January 2009 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

Sounds like the future


Andrew Curry writes:

Anyone with a passing interest in modern jazz knows the ECM label, now 40 years old, with its distinctive roster and innovative design. To mark the anniversary it has released 40 of the best from its back catalogue as ‘Touchstones’ – with performers ranging from Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett to John Surman, Anouhar Brahem and Jan Garbarek. The price is low (“at download prices”) and the packaging reduced.

It’s a move which pushes some obvious buttons. The €9.90 price is a response both to the digital download market and also to the recession, the card covers more environmentally friendly than the typical jewel case. But it also touches on some less obvious trends. The packaging design reduces the amount of space the CDs take up, in an age of decluttering, while also evoking the glossy look and feel, if smaller, of the original LP sleeves, creating a kind of nostalgia for the future. It can only be a matter of time before ECM’s new releases follow suit.

The picture is of pianist Chick Corea and vibes player Gary Burton, both on the Touchstones series.

20 January 2009 at 9:36 am Leave a comment

Most recent Henleymail now online

Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer

Jo Phillips writes:

The latest edition of HenleyMail (our free regular think piece email) is now available to read online here. There’s a chance to consider responses to the economic downturn in both the lead article by our UK managing director on how brands can adapt to a recession, and a perspective from Yankelovich in the United States on undermining the ‘fear factor’. There’s also an article on some of the work we have been doing on long-term futures – sharing some of the learnings and indeed the challenges that arise when we look to expand our strategic horizons in this way.

After over 60 issues, this is the last edition of HenleyMail – but only because we’re changing the name. As a result of our merger and rebrand, from now on the newsletter will be known as Futureproof. If you’d like to receive it you can sign up here.

The picture at the top of this post is ‘Hard Times’, by the 19th century painter Sir Hubert von Herkomer. From The Victorian Web.

19 January 2009 at 1:25 pm 1 comment

Those quiz answers

Andrew Curry writes:

In case you have been wondering, here are the answers to our Christmas quiz.

The Connections round first: the four sets of Connections go like this:

  • Mosquito, Vulcan, Harrier, and Hurricane are all British fighter planes
  • Snowy, Timmy, Nana, and Fang are all dogs in children’s fiction (Tintin, the Famous Five, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter, respectively)
  • Carter, Gore, King, and Wiesel are all winners of the Nobel Peace Prize (Jimmy, Al, Martin Luther, and Eli); and
  • London, Elysium, Strawberry, and Gracie are all types of fields (park in Hackney which is also the name of a Martin Amis novel, last resting place of Greek gods, Beatles song, and the ’30s singer and film star.)

On to the questions:

  1. Alan Greenspan said: ‘I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms’, to a Congressional Committee in October – the closest he’s come to admitting he might have been wrong about the financial boom.
  2. The Queen said of the credit crunch “Why did nobody notice it?”, while opening a new building at the London School of Economics, thereby discomfiting her hosts.
  3. The address of the Bank of England is Threadneedle Street.
  4. Norway topped the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, having the smallest gender gap. Chad came bottom.
  5. The jazz pianist Esbjorn Svensson died in Stockholm Harbour, in a diving accident in July.
  6. The ‘Moses’ who died this year who was a supporter of both the Civil Rights Movement and the National Rifle Association was Charlton Heston.
  7. The first competitor to get a ten in this year’s Strictly Come Dancing competition was Austin Healey, with his quickstep.
  8. The winner of the Man-Booker prize this year was Aravind Adiga, for White Tiger.
  9. The record which won the Nationwide mercury music prize was The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow’s 4th studio record.
  10. And the two films which received the most nominations at this year’s Oscar awards were No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.
  11. The thing that opened in 1908 on the west London site which now hosts Westfield was The White City exhibition centre. (The Olympic Stadium was added as an afterthought when Rome pulled out of hosting the games at the last moment and London stepped in).
  12. The 1958 invention of Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductors was the microchip.
  13. A single lap of the velodrome at this year’s summer Olympics was 250 metres.
  14. Rebecca Adlington won her two golds at the Olympics in 400m and 800m freestyle.
  15. The sportsman who made it to a hundred after a bit of a wait – but still saw his team relegated, was the Surrey cricketer Mark Ramprakash, who finally reached his hundredth first-class century.
  16. The new British coin design makes a jigsaw out of the Royal Arms by splitting the Royal Crest across six coins – all of those with a face value of less than a pound (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p).
  17. Sarah Palin’s home town is Wasilla.
  18. The ‘big bang’ under the Alps in September was from the Large Hadron Collider, which simulated the moments after the beginning of the universe.
  19. In 2008, it would have been dangerous to be in Tskhinvali because it is the capital of South Ossetia, the location of a war between Georgia and Russia.
  20. And the reigning world chess champion is the Indian player Vishy (or Viswanathan) Anand.


8 January 2009 at 6:24 pm Leave a comment

dowconzki’s Books of the Year


© Jake Goretzki

1 January 2009 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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