IBM Second Life Summit

I went to a summit on Second Life and virtual worlds in Hursley today, hosted by Kevin Aires, Jack Mason, and Roo Reynolds - it’s becoming obvious that there’s a big buzz about Second Life both inside and outside IBM - a primary bit of evidence being IBM’s recent announcement of a $10m investment in virtual worlds such as Second Life. For obvious reasons, I can’t relate everything that was discussed. However, the discussion did get me thinking about Second Life in a slightly different way from before: as a basis for social networking applications, rather than as a basis for any application: an example of the former being The Greater IBM Connection, an IBM alumni community. In this respect, it seems to be more analogous to, say, LinkedIn, than another application platform (Windows, the web, etc.). This scope seems realistic - as I’ve stated before, meetings and conferences seem to be the best application of Second Life that’s been demonstrated so far. The consumer impact of Second Life is still TBD.

WHSmith are Boring

A sign in the Winchester branch states that WHSmith have joined the list of retailers who have stopped accepting cheques - Shell made headlines when they announced they were to do the same back in September last year. Apparently WHSmith are concerned about fraud, and this news story implies that it’s only an experiment, but it wouldn’t surprise me if part of the decision is also related to the cost of processing and handling, and that this will become permanent - after all, it’s rare that you see a cheque being used in a shop now, and with good reason - they are tedious, awkward, and slow to process.

To my mind, WHSmith have a bigger problem, though - they are getting boring and desperate. My stationery purchase was accompanied by two exhortations to buy other, totally unrelated, products. As Seth Godin has explained at length, this kind of marketing out of context just doesn’t cut it any more - and it annoyed me. I’m not really clear any more what it is that WHSmith sell, but I rarely go there - certainly high street branches - to buy anything, and this kind of behaviour doesn’t endear me to them. As their product set begins to die out (CDs are dying, DVDs will, papers and magazines will, books will, stationery will), it becomes hard to see what areas that can invest in.

Do WHSmith have a strategy for the future?

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a murder mystery. It’s sexy, witty, and fast-paced. Lead actorsRobert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer (the latter as the superbly sarcastic Gay Perry), are a fabulous duo and perfectly cast. Michelle Monaghan adds a saucy touch. The plot is intricate and has more twists than a pretzel, just like any decent murder mystery. It has car chases and guns. Downey Jr. breaks the fourth wall all over the shop - and the icing on the cake is his aside about the poor ending to the last LoTR.

Executive Summary: You are missing out if you don’t watch this movie.

RIP, Milton Friedman

A truly great man. The world is poorer (in every sense) with his passing. Russ Roberts was fortunate enough to interview him only a few months ago - his brilliance shone through even at the age of 94. From another interview in 2004:

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income.

Update: The New York Times has a detailed story and biography.

Pleasantville

'What's sex?' - Betty

Pleasantville is a favourite film of mine. Powerful on many levels, it manages to captivate the attention as well as entertain and give pause for thought.

The premise is simple; David (Tobey Maguire) is given a remote control that allows him to enter the TV set and the programme of Pleasantville with his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). This mysterious start to the film is a well-trod one (Gremlins and Back to the Future being well-known previous examples), but it works without too much tedium. The world of Pleasantville that they enter is a black and white sitcom set in the 50s with bland, inoffensive content. David loves this programme, but, egged on by his sister’s behaviour in having sex with one of the town’s other teenagers (in a place where holding hands is risqué), he soon begins to encourage the townspeople to rebel and investigate their adventurous side. Apparently too much sex means poor quality basketball the next morning, but as each townsperson’s innocence is challenged, the town begins to turn from black and white to colour, piece by piece, in a most beautiful manner, as they realise their greater potential.

The film is a superb parody of conservative social values: everything the townspeople hold dear is challenged by David and the growing band of ‘coloreds’. There’s more than a nod towards the segregation in America of that period, with a separation of the coloreds from the non-coloreds as the more conservative folk (led by mayor Big Bob - played the always excellent J.T. Walsh - sadly his last film) try to resist the growing awareness of beauty and variety. There are some truly touching scenes, such as where Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels) sees an art book for the first time - his reaction looks like Newton’s would if you showed him a 747. The film also investigates Pavlovian response, as George (William H. Macy) highlights in a humourous scene where he seems incapable of understanding why his dinner is not on the table.

Ultimately Pleasantville is not only great fun, and funny to boot, it’s also deep, meaningful, and has a happy ending. What more could you want? This is a film to be enjoyed.

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