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Colin Johnson’s blog


Archive for October, 2012

On Newsletters, Shoddy and Fine

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Lots of sub-units of large organizations try to create newsletters. I am thinking of things at the scale of a university department or faculty. My experience with these is that they start out with a great fanfare, and the first two-three issues, produced as glossy printouts or pdf files, look fantastic and are full of interesting articles. However, after that, production tails off; people have already disburdened themselves of things that they want to write, and the overworked administrator who has taken on the job of producing the newsletter has other important things to do.

One problem is that these newsletters are fairly unfocused in their audience; are they for the consumption of that sub-unit internally, or are they meant to be for a wider audience. This is often unclear. In many cases, a news stream or blog (perhaps different ones for different audiences) might be better; but, again, it still needs to be used and to have some sense of audience.

Something that worked very well, though, was what I think of as the “shoddy newsletter” for internal communication. When I was a Head of School, I would keep a text file at hand, and update it with ideas that I was thinking about, things that I wanted feedback on, and snippets from emails that I had received from elsewhere in the University or outside. This would then get emailed to staff as an “update” every week. I found this effective; basically, people were kept in the loop without being burdened with lots of emails being sent out. If I were to do this again, I’d probably do one for students, too.

Job (1)

Friday, October 12th, 2012

As if philosophy wasn’t theoretical enough anyway…

Art (1)

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

I was pleased to hear that my artwork Internet Search Result 2012-08-14 (‘square’) was accepted for the art exhibition associated with the Contemporanea Duemiladodici contemporary music festival in Udine later in the month. There should be an online version of the exhibition later this month.

square from the Udine exhibition

The piece consists of a square image selected from Google Images search results from the word “square”. I’m getting increasingly interested in this sort of “auto-generated” art, both for what the process says about creativity (what role am I playing here? What role the individual creators of the images? What the computer infrastructure?) and for the serendipity of images thrown up by this process. More discussion of this in a paper coming out soon in Digital Creativity; email me if you want an advance copy.

Hidden in Plain Sight (1)

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Kudos to the writer who got this past the editor (from Metro a wee while ago).

WHY settle for being an advertising rep when you can be a sales ninja? What sounds more exciting – a web kahuna or search engine operative? People fed up with traditional descrip- tions such as adviser and sales manager are inventing terms to make their role sound more colourful and attractive. Even bosses are getting in on the act, with some preferring to be known as head cheese. The new terms include word herder or copy cruncher instead of the old- fashioned copywriter. Many workers are also ‘socialising’ business cards with Facebook-style personal touches. ‘Titles such as execu- tive or manager don’t stand out and Top ten new titles 1. Sales ninja 2. New media guru 3. Word herder 4. Linux geek 5. Social media trailblazer 6. Corporate magician 7. Master handshaker 8. Communications ambassador 9. Happiness advocate 10. Copy cruncher don’t have much meaning,’ said Paul Lewis of business cards company Moo. com. ‘One-word job titles no longer act as an accurate description of what a person does or what they are like.’

The Squeezed Middle (1)

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

A few years ago I was having dinner in London (around 50 miles from home) when I felt ill towards the end of the meal. As a result, my journey back to the train station was delayed—I had to walk slowly, pause from time to time to avoid vomiting, etc.—and so I arrived at the station with only a couple of minutes before the last train home.

That got me thinking about what would happen if I had missed the train. I could have dealt with this by myself, by trying to find a hotel room or paying a fortune for a taxi all the way home. But, there are circumstances where this might not be possible—a smaller town with little accommodation, someone who, rather than being ill, had lost their wallet and train ticket and only realised this at the last minute, or who just didn’t have the money for this circumstance.

Had I been more seriously ill—say, if I had collapsed unconscious—then I would have been whisked to hospital and kept in overnight, even if the eventual cause had turned out to be fairly trivial. Bizarrely, I would have been in a better overall situation to have been more ill than less.

But what would have happened in the seemingly more minor situation? Would the police be in any way sympathetic, or would the situation be dismissed as trivial? Would a request to sit (awake, without disturbing anyone) in a police station foyer or a hospital waiting room be acceptable? If so, why is it acceptable for me (as a person with a house and job to go to who has just fallen on bad luck of an evening) to make such a request whilst a similar request from a homeless person would be dismissed out of hand.

This can have serious consequences. In the news this week was the story of Caroline Coyne, a severely drunk woman who was murdered. Earlier in the evening she had asked a police car for help with getting home, only to be dismissed with “we’re not a taxi”.