Why is this Interesting? – The Fermentation Edition

This week I had another chance to contribute once more to one of my favorite newsletters, Why is this Interesting? on one of my favorite topics: how home fermentation can help create the foundations of resiliency that will make the world a better place.

Give WITI a look, it’s a great daily perspective-shifter for me.

(Previously, The Paquete Edition.)

On kombucha, waste, and culinary applications

Nick Parish (NP) has been a long-standing friend of WITI since his days as the junior reporter on the NY Post’s sports desk. He’s since worked in editorial, strategy, product design and currently lives in Portland. He’s a fly fishing mentor to Noah, and he last talked about fermentation/Kombucha way back in NYC at 2008’s Interesting New York conference, a strange precursor to this very newsletter. – Colin (CJN) 

Nick here. I love fermentation. At its core, it’s the story of how the human species has ridden out boom and bust cycles of nature, uncovering tasty treats and useful new materials in the process. It’s a story of magic and alchemy.

My love of fermenting at home started over a decade ago with kombucha in a tiny uptown apartment, glass jars from a Harlem dollar store, and a mother culture gifted from a car service driver.

Now, I’m looking after a big urban garden in Portland, Oregon, with a fair chunk of shed space for experiments. Our overgrown lot features several dozen varieties of edible berries, tree fruits, perennial vegetables, and other items you’d find in the farmer’s market, in addition to a big seasonal vegetable garden and a leech-filled pond. On good days, time spent in the garden is a feast, where we wander and graze on whatever looks ripe. On (rare) bad days it’s me fretting over soil health, pest management, and the future. 

Keep Reading…

Why is this Interesting? – El Paquete Edition

Friends Noah and Colin are doing a great new newsletters project, Why is this Interesting?

I wrote about El Paquete Semanal, which you may remember from my deep dive earlier this year.

Give WITI a look, it’s going to be big!

On Cuba, digital media, and sneakernets

Nick Parish is an old friend of ours. He escaped the city for Oregon a few years ago, but we can always rely on him for incredible cultural observation. Nick started as a reporter on the sports desk at the New York Post and went on to run the excellent comms magazine and strategy consultancy Contagious. He currently looks after product strategy at Uncorked Studios. – Colin (CJN) [He’s also the one that introduced me to fly fishing! – Noah (NRB)]

Nick here. Back when our foreign policy was more generally oriented around becoming better neighbors, I had the chance to visit Cuba a few times. I was part of a quasi-diplomatic delegation, kind of a junior ranger State Department, a privatized mix of tech dweebs, investors sniffing after policy changes, and government types in various stages of obfuscation and denial. Between visits with officials and community groups, meeting ordinary humble Cubans and the less-than-ordinary elevated Cubans (the ones trying to swap mansions and art for Bitcoin and boltholes in Miami) I had a chance to take a side quest to track down el paquete semanal. El paquete semanal (the weekly package) is a 1TB folder on a hard drive, curated by enterprising Cubans, passed hand-to-hand in the darker part of the island’s grey economy. In that big, hot hunk of drive you can find pretty much all the pop culture you might need, from Game of Thrones to all three games of the latest Marlins-Reds series. 

Keep Reading…

Con El Paquete Semanal

Illustration by Baimu for Yorokubo

Well, my research project on El Paquete Semanal is finally out in the world, and I’m happy people are digging into the content. I got to know EP and understand the cultural context over the course of two trips to Cuba, and really appreciate how the system has grown up under the island’s unique constraints. Take a look at the report and some more analysis from Quartz, which featured it as an “Obsession,” or Reddit, where it came up

Meanwhile, if you read Spanish, the artsy-future magazine Yorokubo hit me up for an interview, from which I nabbed the neat illustration above, as well as Cuban-ish1 site Isla Local. The work was also cited in an r/science discussion on Reddit, and caught the attention of Czech publication Technet.

Meanwhile, loads of cool folks tweeted about the project. Thanks for the support, everyone.

  1. I’m not sure where on the Granma Spectrum it falls []

In Person: Story Hour

notes

A few weeks ago I was able to make good on a promise and participate in the second installment of the Design Museum of Portland’s Story Hour series. The premise is quite simple: a group of storytellers have a short period of time to tell a story around a specific prompt. There are a few constraints, though: the time period is very short, either four or eight minutes, and you get a single image as your background, no slides or other a/v trickery.

The theme was ‘invisible design’ and while a bunch of kind of pop-design podcast fodder (Can you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?) came to mind I felt the constraints and format leant themselves to a little bit of meta tomfoolery.

So the whole thing was series of stories inside a talk inside an elaborate setup.

The effect was better experienced in person, but I’ll try to set it up here for you before sharing the substance of the speech.

Continue reading “In Person: Story Hour”

Appearing in La Petit Mort: River Talk

rivertalk_petitmort

A few months ago my buddy Michael Ventura asked me to write an essay for his new publication, La Petit Mort. Just last week I got the glorious, big-ass newsprint edition and found my piece, “River Talk,” reproduced faithfully. The design looks great, the illustration I cooked up wound up translating well visually, and I’m really grateful to have been involved and appearing alongside articles ranging from an ethical look at slum tourism to a primer on how to eat clean while traveling. The essay’s mostly about fishing, so head over to Current Flow State to read the whole thing.

The Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange!

contagious_zines

A while back I read a post somewhere, I think on the IDEO blog, about their experiment with a saddle stapler. There was a story about how they furnished an alcove at the back of the office, and put out the stapler, commonly used to make crude staple-bound zines, and lo, amazing rainbows of creativity happened.

We ain’t them, so I decided to steal part of this idea, with 100% more <shudder> forced creativity, and lo the Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange was born. Everybody had a few months to conceive and execute a zine, using the tools at their disposal, and we’d swap them at the end of the year.

Counting our own issues of Contagious, Most Contagious, and all the the client-commissioned stuff, we made probably 10+ print publications this year. But not everyone has the chance to get dirty with pagination, design, concept and all the other fun parts of making their own magazine. Hell, I’m an editor and I don’t feel like I always do.

I can’t tell you how impressed I was when we exchanged them today. Writers, sales folk, whoever, it didn’t matter. The publications were from the heart and fun, which is all you really need for a good zine.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Noelle: Drink More Whiskey, a primer on everyone’s favorite brown liquid, its characteristics and varieties, where to drink it, recipes, etc., with samples
Kyle: Pittie’ful Zine, a look at the pit bull terrier’s origins, evolution and characteristics, including info on pits in American history
Erin: les hashtags en francais, a study of this year’s top celebrity Twitter arrivals, with hashtagged critiques of their work in French
Arwa: Notes From Goats: A pun-filled literary magazine, as authored by goats (ie critique of The Great Goatsby)
Chris: A Hell of a Lot of Mice: Music and miscellany, including an article on Willis Earl Beal, photos from NYC venues and part of Chris’ top 52 albums of 2013 summary.

I did a short sci-fi photonovela called PATRONYM on the JP Morgan of the clone era coming to terms with his legacy.

Methods as far ranging as In Design and Comic Life and even old fashioned cut-and-paste and hand-lettering brought these to life.

Best of all, they really did what every good solo publication should do: convey something about the creator.

I was having lunch today with a guy who runs the innovation department at a really large package goods company, and one of the things he said stuck in my mind. “We have the tools,” he said, “we just don’t use them.” Sometimes you have to figure out a way to get people to use the tools.

Project Healing Waters in The New York Times

project healing waters in the new york times
A scan from The New York Times’ November 11th 2013 edition featuring Project Healing Waters

 

It was very exciting to see an organization I do some volunteer work with profiled by Helen Coster in The New York Times this year on Veterans Day. I would have never guessed the modifier that arrived along with my first appearance in the old grey lady would be “fly fishing guide,” but I’ll take it. I guess it’s a good impetus to finally get my casting instructor certification in order.

Please give the article a read to learn more about the sort of work we’re doing, and do get in touch if you’re interested.

We’ve had a huge outpouring of support since, including a bunch of people donating vintage fishing gear, which we resell to collectors to fund trips for vets.

There’s currently a great auction of vintage fiberglass and bamboo rods happening on eBay, from the collection of a man named Ed Travers. Ed’s rods, all in great condition, would make a wonderful holiday gift for the angler in your life, and a great way to give back to a worthy cause, so why not check them out? I’m helping administer the auction, and will be posting new rods every Tuesday for the next few weeks, with five sets in all available.

Writing elsewhere: Nicolas Jaar in Flaunt

flaunt-jaar-parish

Wow, a celebrity profile!

Pick up this summer’s Flaunt, the Context issue, to read a piece I wrote on Nicolas Jaar, one of the more interesting figures in dance music today. I tried to give a sense of the big ideas Jaar’s grappling with, and his perspective as an artist.

To get a sense of how that’s coming through in the music he’s making, check out his page on SoundCloud. The second issuance from his DARKSIDE project is out now, so you can give that a listen, too. That’s probably my favorite work of his.

Tetsuharu Kubota shot him quite well, I think. Apparently it was a cover story, but one of four. The cover of the copy I got has Beyonce. And includes a poster! Fancy.

Brands and Digital Downtime

I wrote this in May 2011 for the Cannes Lions Daily magazine; they wanted a view from the US, as they’ve asked me to write before. It had fallen through the cracks, but I’ve been hearing more and more ‘digital downtime’ talk lately and have only seen a few smaller brands step up and advocate for this. Maybe more on them in the future.

 

A new role for Rolls in real-time world

Amid all the noise of this always-on world, sometimes the best approach a brand can take is to find what its strong, silent side looks like, says Nick Parish, North American editor, Contagious

As ever in Cannes, great work will be given its due this week. Much of it will be, in some sense, immersive. But immersion is changing. Emotionally resonant web browser-based efforts, such as Cyber Grand Prix winner The Wilderness Downtown, an online music video for the Arcade Fire, executed by the fast-moving collaborative set growing around the Google Creative Lab, are supplanting epic TV commercials as the premier medium for mind-boggling communication.

At the same time, new technology is changing how we define advertising. TBWA’s Projeqt, developed on a brief to refine its online presence, is becoming a platform for creative minds across many disciplines, not just something that communicates TBWA’s effectiveness at making a website.

But one of the most interesting categories is the work attempting to dip its toe in the constant flow of sharing, the bits we all pass along. Real- time marketing is what it’s being called, and most look to Old Spice’s Responses work, which has also won a Cyber Grand Prix at the Festival. But in many cases real-time efforts are little more than interruption and couponing. Smart brands will be the ones that don’t just talk but listen, and are able to make sense of what people are saying, unprompted by another form of marketing intrusion.

At 60mph, the loudest sound in David Ogilvy’s Rolls-Royce was the ticking clock. But today the only brands offering respite as a positioning are those positioned as an escape from physical labour, or housework. Not the sort of chatter many modern urban dwellers find themselves inside. In that sense, Ogilvy’s line has ripened with age. Your Rolls will insulate you from the loud, irritating universe, so you can think your princely thoughts and build your mental empires. We could all use moments like these. But who will give them to us?

Some think real-time marketing means brands should be at our beck and call, popping up when we want, to prop us up if we’re falling behind, to pop by with that pallet of Wheat Thins and give us our minutes of web video fame for a tweet. It most certainly can be an effective way to engage, build a personality for your brand, and help you become an active player in a bubbling community, in Wheat Thins’ case especially so.

But, as the discipline and channels mature, brands will be measured more by how they listen than by how they talk. Surprisingly, the disparity between talking and listening is massive. Just 2% of companies, according to SAS, track what’s said about them on Twitter.

Sometimes it’s important to be actively quiet. On a recent episode of Harvard Business School’s Ideacast podcast, Sherry Turkle from MIT talked about her newest book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other. Turkle argues that we’re spending our time communicating, rather than creating. Multitasking, Turkle asserts, is boosting the former at the latter’s expense. People’s work is becoming communication — e-mail, chat, social-network engagement. ‘As we ramp up the volume and velocity, we begin to ask each other questions that we know will get an immediate response, and we begin to give responses so we can give immediately,’ she says. ‘So we’re dumbing down the questions we ask and the responses we give in order to gratify this need for volume and velocity. It’s as though the pace becomes more important than the quality of the response.’ Remember the recessionary mantra, parroted incessantly by media companies and publishers, usually through their starving- for-ad-dollars channels? In times of trouble, spend more, boost volume, otherwise you’re forgotten. In many ways, that has been twisted and misapplied, creating a pragmatic media agenda focused on being everywhere.

We’ve just seen Pepsi’s flagship product take a direct hit and cede its second-place rank to Diet Coke after abandoning brand advertising for its cause-marketing effort, the Pepsi Refresh Project. While that probably isn’t entirely due to marketing changes, those who were the loudest champions of Pepsi’s laudable efforts will tell you it shouldn’t have been pursued at the expense of brand advertising, but in addition.
Every marketer will tell you that if you’re not talking, or advertising, you’re losing relevance. But this rule is being eroded by the ability to flood the places brands are placing content, with little or no incremental increase in spending. ‘Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating,’ says Charlie Kaufman, through Jim Carrey’s Joel in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

Remember, the negative spaces your brand defines for its group are just as important as the positive. The ‘negative space’ role is reminiscent of Add Art, a Firefox plug-in which turns display advertising into art. How about a plug-in to do what Instapaper and Readability have done for publishers, offering space and time to read something later, wrapped in a calm, new, page-like package? The Karmatech concept, from students at Hyper Island for Swedish apparel brand WeSC, brings a near-field connection to a shoe, allowing wearers to step their way to social-media updates and interactions. Imagine a near-field ‘I’m open to offers’ or ‘Leave me alone’ concept, where part of the utility a brand offers is insulating people and guarding their free time. Rolls- Royce could register on Twitter and give away a Phantom to some lucky tweeter, gaining followers to rival Charlie Sheen’s rapid ascent. But it would be more interesting to think of how the brand could bring that silent interior to the real-time web.

Infiltration Beyond Tradespace

Every once in a while a mainstream journalist comes to me on the odd chance I might have something interesting to say about a topic they’re trying to write about. Occasionally I cough up something coherent.

Very seldom do two such articles come out in the same week. But somehow last week both Inc and Bloomberg News had me grumbling and muttering in their content.

The areas in which I’m quoteable? You guessed it. Digital production companies and automotive social media.

Here they are:

B-Reel: The Company That’s Changing Advertising1

BMW Courts Bloggers For $110 Million Online Boost: Car2

  1. Despite the hyperbolic headline this is a good look at a cool company. Josh Dean also wrote a book called Show Dog that my lady had just finished reading when we spoke, so there was a nice bit of serendipity in there. []
  2. Alex Webb did a good job with this. Not to discount his effort, but the story hinged on BMW actually being willing to come out and attribute the sales to their marketing effort, which is rare. Typically if folks think they have an edge they keep it to themselves. []

A Resurrection From Cannes

Phew, it’s been too long. I’ve been busy. I’ll catch you up as we go along. But expect more here. The organizers of Cannes’ Lions Daily newsmagazine were looking for the U.S. perspective for this year’s festival in June, so here’s an article I did for them. It hasn’t aged too poorly. Enjoy.

cannes lions daily

‘Everything is clean and shiny but oddly threatening’. / J.G. Ballard, 1999

Although J.G. Ballard was actually talking about technology, this late, great chronicler of Cannes-based mischief came pretty close to explaining what’s happened in the United States and Canada since its ad folk last convened on the Riviera.

Budgets and spending are beginning to come back, but there’s the sense things won’t be the way they were before last year’s slump, both in outlay and style of communications and messaging. Optimism is returning, but how to connect with the NEW new media is still baffling to many. Why should my home plumbing fixture brand be on Facebook? What’s the value of creating a badge on Foursquare for a paper goods company?

The realignment currently taking place is forcing us to reconsider the fabric of our communications landscape, and it’s taking very interesting forms.

FINELY FORMED PLATFORMS /

The first of those is platform-building, the digital terraforming smart marketers are engaging in. This is an evolution from the act of adapting content to work on the web to creating or steering content that works within the Internet’s connective tissue.

Electronic retailer Best Buy has seen its Twelpforce program, which encourages employees to help customers on Twitter, service a massive amount of people. But, all that data it’s pumping into Twitter ultimately belongs to Twitter. And it’s finite, given Twitter’s propensity to hide tweets from search after 1.5 weeks. So what did Best Buy do? It built BBY Feed, a site that scrapes all the interactions from the Blueshirts, threads them into easy-to-read interactions and tags them for search engine optimization. If a month from now, I can’t remember how Best Buy’s folks told me to put the SD card in my camera, when I search for the answer it’ll show up on BBY Feed.

Meanwhile, brand communications platforms are growing up and evolving. Gatorade’s fantastic ‘Replay’ effort through TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles was initially shot as episodic online content by an advertising production company. The conceit was simple, and on-brand: any athlete’s performance can be enhanced by Gatorade, so why not convene and re-play crucial games that ended in ties, or were called because of injury, ten or fifteen years later? The idea of older athletes getting back in shape appealed to many, interest in the property grew, and Gatorade partnered with Fox Sports Net for the second round, with the cable sports network producing it just like it would a big-league game, and simulcasting it on the web.

Parallel to platform-building, disruptive hacker behaviours have begun influencing marketers looking to place content not only on their own platforms, but in unexpected and intriguing places as well. A great example is the ‘Lost’ flight on Kayak.com. The travel search engine listed Oceanic 815, the flight around which the TV series centred, in its search database. Word spread among Losties, and thousands looked up the flight on Kayak, performing all the behaviours of any other user, an introduction to the brand’s great interface through the thrill of finding the ‘Easter Egg’ of content—the actual flight listing for the mythic Lost flight. Great content, presented in its natural environment, is set to spread, and to maximize PR value.

Similarly, Burger King put a message on Digg’s failed search page, which is served over 600,000 times per month. When you look something up that isn’t there, you get a message from Digg and BK playing on the humorous ‘Tiny Hands’ campaign for the company’s double cheeseburger: ‘Looks like your search had a typo. Maybe you’ve got tiny hands?’

MAKER CULTURE & LASHED-TOGETHER TECH /

This maker culture, along with the rise of electronic hobbyists building projects to interact with the universe, places emphasis on solutions and speed, in the classic Bernbachian sense of ‘It’s ugly, but it gets you there’.

In fact, just over forty years after the moon landing and that classic piece of Volkswagen print, Nike and the Livestrong Foundation’s Chalkbot, from Wieden + Kennedy and the robot-making punk rockers at Pittsburgh’s Deeplocal, fits the tagline–the trailer-pulled robot sets a standard for the post-digital transition in its employment of ‘guttertech’–using the lowest available technology to solve the problem. The robot, towed along the route of the Tour de France, sprays messages of cancer support and memoriam people have tweeted onto the course. The system then takes a photo, geotags it, and sends it back to the participant on the other end of the connection. Chalkbot’s no-frills, simple-yet-elegant setup and movement through digital and physical elements nimbly skitters like Wall-E around a landscape where tech bandwagon-jumping is in danger of creating a proliferation of clutter and junk.

The sensor array in our smartphones is currently the fastest track to bringing about the ‘internet of things’ – the practice of integrating digital capabilities to the most ordinary of objects. Ranchers are using RFID to track beef from pasture to abattoir and researchers at the Asthmapolis project are using GPS-triggering asthma inhalers to learn more about pollutants, and all are contributing to the proliferation of data. The objects around us are becoming networked, either through built-in communication hardware or software elements fitted on top.

MASSAGING THE DATALAYER /

A company called Stickybits, which had its coming out party this year at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, allows you to add content–a video, a comment, a photo–to any barcode scanned with its app. Essentially the company has turned every barcode-carrying product into a media node.

Keep an eye peeled this week for Contagious’ special Stickybits treasure hunt, centered on our Issue 23 cover (which you can scan from the illustration here), and has Euro RSCG London’s new Dulux spot attached to it. Find the pink bits around town this week, scan them with your Stickybits app, and win Contagious prizes.

While our Stickybit challenge is but a small example, building games is, to me, the most exciting element of future-facing marketing efforts.

Think of the devotion a good videogame commands: players often log days at quests, or facing rivals online. And unlike a film, or a magazine, the hefty price you pay for a console game doesn’t even guarantee you get to experience all the content–you have to be patient, persist, and earn the ending.

THE POINTS ECOLOGY /

Location-based services like Gowalla and Loopt and Foursquare represent a simple employment of game motivations using the sensors we carry. Get the most points. Be seen the best places. Unlock achievements.

Ultimately, brands are developing new ways to register loyalty and reward people choosing them, while enticing possible conversions from nearby consumers–nearby both in physical location and adjoining mental space (think of a hairdresser who promotes on check-ins at the beauty supply store).

Will location-based service companies wind up being overgrown, social-enabled supermarket points schemes? No one can tell yet. But as the unique user behaviour, the check-in, the acknowledgement of presence in a space-time-byte matrix, spreads and becomes more familiar, and our sensor-augmented actions begin to throw off more and more data, the smartest marketers will be engineering access to it, and in turn creating experiences and narratives all the more relevant.

Returning to Mr. Ballard’s quote, there’s good reason for these shiny things to feel threatening. The firmaments of this business are shifting, and we can’t see where they’ll settle yet. But without threat, we drift to complacency. Now is the time, more than ever, to re-examine what is useful, relevant and entertaining as the world keeps turning.

Desk-sider with Reilly

I’m very stoked to have been asked some questions about my media habits and habitat for pal Reilly Brennan’s “What’s on your desk?” series.

I most recently saw Reilly on the front page of USA Today commenting about the Chevy Volt’s mileage claims after a week fishing in Montana secluded from all feeds and transmissions. I think I whooped.

The first time we met, however, was a little different. It was on a high school Spanish Club Spring Break trip to Mexico in maybe 1997. That was a fun trip. For some reason our historical survey swung through Cancun for four days. Our initial evening in that fine town a fellow (neither of us, for the record) experienced what could be termed ‘rampaging intoxication’ for the first time and proceeded to chop apart his hotel room dresser with a ceremonial hatchet he’d purchased earlier that day from a roadside tourist trap. Goooood times.