Innovation

A good brand

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Shoreham is not by any means a good looking town. It’s part of the coastal sprawl that’s rough around the edges and hard to love (although probably once you do it’s for life). Running through from Brighton I ended up on one of the main groyns next to Shoreham port. The end point of a good 7k. The first view off its end was a line up of surfers – this is one of the few good spots on the coast – according to my surfer friends, fiercely guarded. Huddled on the groyn itself, next to a plaque commemorating those lost at sea, an old man in a raggedy jacked was catching some small fry. So much life was squeezed between the sea and a complex lock system.

Something in the Shoreham lock struck me as particularly encouraging – a nice clean logo, infographics of the vessels that come through. This was my first clue that new things were happening – the visual cue, the shell reflecting winds of change.

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Behind the computer, I had the chance to search around and find out the re-brand was a part of the Shoreham Harbour Regeneration Project. Once you’ve found one crum it’s hard not to follow the trail. Down into the News section I found the clue to the even wider context – The Greater Brighton City Deal.

Something about the Greater Brighton City Deal report stuck out – New England House, where I’d attended a few event on the Brighton Fuse- the ways in which creative and digital combine in the city to create innovation and growth:

Somehow the fuse spread and some the youngest and most innovative industries warmed the futures of one of the oldest – the tougher seafaring end.

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Culture, Introspection

Some Cultural Dimensions of Lateral Thinking in Window Painting

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The window stood three meters above the ground, vulnerable, peeling, rotting wooden frame exposed to
the elements. As the British weather started to display characteristics of a full blown summer, it was time to do something about it. Yesterday I went up a ladder – after a quick sanding which revealed the extent of the damage, it was time for the protective tint. Perched on the top step I attempted to reach with the white-dipped brush. The off run made its way to my hand dressing it in a pale sheen. Half way though I cursed, realizing a second coat and another expedition would be necessary. It wasn’t just paint – a sealant or plaster would be an imperative. I finished up that segment of the task and went to recharge my energies with some wholegrain noodles.

As I woke up this morning I looked at the results and had a Homer Simpson moment- the ledge of the window was wide and comfortable. Why did I need to use the ladder? I could have just climbed up from the inside. I had friends who were climbers, I’d borrow a harness and moor myself to the sofa in the room inside for safety… or I’d bribe one with a beer to keep a watch on the line while I painted. Yesterday I had contemplated needing a scaffolding. My neighbours had just used one to repaint their house. It was the usual way to do things.  

Drinking my first coffee, I contemplated how the two versions of doing this task seem rather culturally imbued. I am quite certain a few of my British friends would raise an eyebrow or straight out laugh at my suggestion of a harness. However, on Sofia’s streets you can see adverts for alpinisti.“No, it’s not that mountaineering has suddenly become a ridiculously popular Bulgarian national past-time. Alpinistirefers to experienced climbers who bring their own harnesses and paint, or fix bits of difficult to reach wall. It is an ingenious solution to the task of mending the formally grey socialist tower blocs which dominate large swathes of the city-scape.

You see, while ‘the British’ have health safety combined with endless attempts at efficiency and optimization, in dispersed with calls for lateral thinking, ‘the Bulgarians’ labour a common category of tarikatluk. It has both sinister and positive connotations. It represents the value of finding a short-cut to doing this, an ingenious solution. As a friend working in construction once told me – our workers are highly praised for the ability to work around problems.

The sinister side of it (and it is not an over-statement) is when short-cuts excuse laziness or don’t lead to the same quality of work. Quite often the notion suggests swindling or playing others. Imagine the end of Zorba the Greek when the construction tumbles down. Glossed-over by the music and charming demeanour is a tarikat (someone who habitually practices tarikatluk) who has failed on a major scale.

Yet sometimes Bulgaria’s version of lateral thinking doesn’t bear that taint. Sometimes, it’s just plain elegant. The trick is to try and work out when that’s the case.

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Comment

An Archetype of Endurance, Transition and Normalcy: the ultra (running) protest of Bulgaria

When Boyan Rashev wrote into Dnevnik, it was the 17th day of protest in Bulgaria. Today it is the 22nd. International media outlets such as the Economist,  the FT and the New York Times have been reporting on the events, remarking on the contrast with previous protests and the climate of widespread distaste for the political elite. The participant in these events of contention, like Rashev, are younger, educated and entrepreneurial. They are not protesting energy prices, but the persistently corrupt and incestuous nature of the ruling upper stratum. Rashev’s view is that it is clear that the many demands he and his co-protestants have could only result in the dissolution of parliament and new elections – a view all too easy to hear around Bulgaria right now. He compares the current members of parliament to pigs, who have in turn made the National Assembly into a pig-pen.

Unlike international news outlets, this local article, circulated around my friends and former research participants, captures something more than the structural elements of political and social schisms which lead to such events. It captures a certain mood, the way-markers of wide-scale social identity which I came to know so intimately during my ethnographic fieldwork in Bulgaria. In his description below ‘The Party’ needs no clarification. Transition away from the Soviet model means ‘the Party’ is commonly understood code for the Socialist (previously Communist) elite – in this context it is also the newly elected leading party in parliament. The author feels he needs to clarify that the protesters ‘are clearly well’ because he knows it is commonly believed that that are many people who are ‘unwell’ in Bulgaria, especially those who frequently protest in the streets. In my thesis I discussed this under the rubric of the ‘ill nation’ which makes its people ill too. When he talks about people in their twenties he assumes we know that Bulgaria is suffering under a serious case of outward migration, people wanting ‘to stay’ in the country is something of note.

Bulgarian flag bearing protestors

Fundamentally the statement which I have translated below is a manifesto about change, and what it would take to create change. In my PhD thesis, I argued that the Bulgarian public milieu was particularly infused with a worry about the damaged psyche of its population. This motif is an old one – harking back to the late 19th century and the attempt to make peasants into citizens. Since then, the Bulgarian intelligencia have been persistently reflecting on what it takes to create consistently moral citizens, despite the condition of persistent social flux and fundamental changes to markers of ‘proper behaviour’.

Rashev writes this piece from the perspective of a new kind of citizen, a survivor, an tough-character, an endurance runner. It is an archetype which I encountered in many forms in contemporary Bulgaria. In a country of many hurdles and problems, compassion is pushed to the side in favour of admiration for those who ‘make it’. Yet Rashev’s writing below insists on another division- that between the people who make it and preserve some sense of morality and those who succeed and occupy power, but lack any common virtues.

The text roughly translated below is a battle cry of a specific kind – one which sifts the good from the bad, establishes common norms and presents the protests as a search for morality and normalcy.

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They [the current government] are sure that we [the protesters]  will shout for a while, will have a stroll or two, will sign a few documents and chatter, complain and eventually give up and go mind our own business. Because it has always been like this, such are the Bulgarians … or at least those who they know.

They are underestimating us greatly!

Other than being a protester, a husband, a father, an entrepreneur and a manager, I have a hobby. It is called ultramaraton or running without rest over vast distances over rough terrain. The protesters prevented me from participating in the Vitosha 100 kilometers. (I’m furious – I have been waiting for it for the past year)

What does this mean for them?

It means that I am able to withstand fatigue, thirst, hunger, heat, cold and insomnia, as well as strong, persistent and increasing pain indefinitely and nevertheless continue to move towards my goal with the unwavering confidence that eventually I will reach it – no matter how far and how impossible it seems. The more there are of the above conditions, the greater, the pleasure of persevering to go forward!

It means that they are screwed because I just do not give up. I rarely miss a protest. I look at the people who are protesting with me and I cannot believe my eyes. I listen to their words and do not believe my ears. I talk to them and feel as if I am leading a monologue.

I see myself a thousand times. Fathers (and mothers) in their 30s with young children who are obviously well . Managers and entrepreneurs, artists and professionals who are of the same breed of people as me – who just do not give up! Confident because they have achieved something, despite those in the pig-pen [what the National assembly has been turned into].

I see myself 10 years ago. Young people in their early 20’s. Educated and full of hopes and dreams. Europe is at their feet – no visas and borders. But they want to stay or come back and look for reasons to do so. They love Bulgaria and want a future here. They seek opportunities and look to us because we create them.

I see the generation of my parents. Some realize what they have achieved and how easily they can lose it. Others know what they ‘have done’ and come to make up for their inaction. Everyone knows the wickedness of the Party better than us and they are here to protect us. Us and our children. Because they love us.

I see our children. For them it’s a jolly parade and we will try and make sure they remember it as such. They will be proud to have been here because this will go down in history.

I see myself a thousand times. They look at us and cannot see us as they know only lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, pride and envy. They are blind to that which is clean. They do not know that we exist.

We are the generation of the transition – those who withstood it and did not allow the tide to drag them abroad. We remember communism, but it has not distorted our consciousness. We are seasoned in the years of change, but they have not broken our dreams. We value Bulgaria’s progress, but we know what it could be and we want more. We know that not everyone is a trickster (maskari), because we do not consider themselves as such.

We have achieved everything with persistence and struggle – they offer us meagre child allowances. We bear a morality that they think they have deleted from the genes of the Bulgarians. We do not want much from them – just legality and security – and they offer us Bolen and Debeleevski[1]. We want to love both our homeland and our state, and they make us detest it, in their bid to have it to themselves. We are a nation that wants freedom and democracy, and they think we are a nation that is used to bearing the yoke[2].

We are not paid, we are the ones paying.”

We invent, we create, we produce, we provide. The whole country and everyone who gets something out of it, moves and twitches primarily due to us. We have the right of veto and should use it. Every month I pay in, on behalf of my company and its employees, over ten thousand leva. What would happen if I stop paying them until they fulfil our only request? It is not in violation of the law – it will just accumulate interest which I will gladly pay. But not to them! How long will they last if many others also do so too? I do not think that will celebrate the 9th of September[3].

 

Please not that the photo is from another protest – it’s simply for illustration purposes.


[1] Mocking nick-names for two highly contentious political figures who came into power as a result of the last elections.

[2] A common idea harking back to the times of the Ottoman empire- when the Bulgarian people are said to have been slaves, or ‘under the yoke’.

[3] This is a double-edged reference, alluding to both a close time-frame and to the date on which the Communist party took power in Bulgaria in the 40s.

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Introspection

Learning from the crash

A few nights ago my computer cashed, and then it would not start past the boot screen. I tried everything: a live CD, windows boot CD, repair start up- it just wasn’t working. It terrifyingly only allowed me to peek at the boot device list and see that the HDD (hard drive) was no longer recognized. I used to have a sync and back up schedule, but with hundreds of gigabites of photos and a few months writing on solar panel and generator electricity, my routines had somehow fallen by the wayside. I backed up the absolute essentials, but not the creature comforts of my hard drive.

After the initial panic, a good night’s sleep and a drop off at the repair man, I got a-thinking about what this crisis could teach me. You see, I am in the middle of what can only be described as a shake up in my life: finishing my PhD and moving on with my further life while still reminiscing about a year spent writing by the sea. The computer crash brought to life the reality of needing to  cover the basics and remember some solid ground rules in life:

1. Always follow through on your hunches- for quite a while I could see the computer was struggling, while I wondered whether to get a new hard drive and researched it, I also then let the interest fade back into obscurity.

2. Look after the small big things  – the basic things which make life run smoothly almost seamlessly. This is especially important in hard times when large scale concerns dominate your daily thinking. The experience of endless issues is born as much from letting important yet easy tasks fall by the wayside when bigger monsters rear their head.

3.  Seize opportunities for a shake up – as soon as something frightening happens and you have to react and fix things there is also the chance to snap out of your current mind set and re-evaluate the priorities which led to the issue cropping up in the first place. A bolt to the system is not necessarily a bad thing – once you get over the initial shock that is.

In the end data can usually be regained. Even when lost, the re-write will often bring fresh insights. In computers and in life, it’s not the crash, but the comeback that counts.

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Comment, The Geeky stuff

Feeding Dinosaurs: anti-obsolescence and the RSS switch

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Guess what, I love Google Reader. It’s not mushy – it’s rather the love one has for a train that always carries you to your favorite destination, is never late and never breaks down. Like many others I use feedly on top, but underneath the beating heart is still Google Reader. Imagine my surprise when Google announced that as part of spring cleaning they are taking it away!

In contemporary tech terms, I guess it’s a dinosaur. In Spring 2012 Lifehacker made a shy oevre into into the possible decline of RSS. Almost 90% of readers declared their unconditional attachment. Only 4%  of readers who responded had weaned in their dedication. Let’s face it, Lifehacker readers are not a random sample. If there would be any set of people who ever treasured RSS, it would be them.

The truth of RSS’s decline is probably closer to Keith Dsouza’s  even earlier article (Jan 2011). With reverence reserved for treasured relics, he remarks that the decline is not in the use of the technology but in how close to the surface it remains. Syndication, we are told, is at the root of many contemporary *tools*, the difference is in how it’s presented.

So what is the lay man’s RSS – a Facebook feed, Twitter, perhaps Google is thinking Google +. Well, it’s not the same, but it would probably be more popular. Personally I don’t need my peers on any social platform knowing whether I fancy a peek at Celebrity news or marketing blogs. I don’t want to see all my feeds mixed in with friends news and it’s simply much too comber-some to set it up in categories.

If Google expects me to switch to “+”, it’s not going to happen. I like some news mixed into my stream but not as much as I put into reader, so feedly it is. Let’s charitably pretend that the demise of Google Reader had nothing to do with Google +, but was rather an elegant way to hand clientèle to the f-team who have been giving the service a much needed face-lift for a few years now.

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Film, Side by side

Rosemary’s baby and The Shining: do you trust your husband?

AmbitionI was never a horror fan, hence it would come as no surprise that the Shining and Rosemary’s baby were always pushed to the bottom of the pile of ‘films to watch’. Recently a friend made me bite the bullet. The resulting experiences, especially with the Shining, confirmed my initial reluctance. Watching them left me with a feeling of dread, they suggested the enemy was not a hairy monster or a prison escapee-psychopath (Cape Fear anyone?). No, they pointed the finger to the cosy family unit – a woman and man. “Man cannot be trusted” – they whisper. He, on the road to success, will be monstrous to the family.

936full-rosemary's-baby-screenshot.jpegBoth films are based on Popular American Novelists – Ira Levin and Steven King. Levin’s fiction has been consistently transferred to celluloid and undoubtedly aims to ‘get at’ underlying gender issues, he also authored “The Stepford Wives”. His work on Rosemary’s baby was described by Prof. Barry Keith Grant as an instance of “yuppie horror”. Levin’s work is intricate and secretive and thus was once complimented by King for its Byzantine plot structure. In Rosemary’s baby and the Stepford wives banal daily reality is stripped with immaculate suspense to reveal the malevolence lurking beneath. Steven King, a master of horror clarified that the genre capitalizes on pre-existing anxieties. In the Shining, he utilised his own worries about the line between expressing anger towards one’s children and abuse. The Kubrick film barely covers the theme, except for that memorable scene, “I hardly touched the boy” says the main protagonist to the ghostly bartender.

In the both films the husbands are frustrated in their pursuit for success: Kubrick’s protagonist has shininghorrorwriters’ block and dreams of distraction free days, Polansky’s slick actor wants the role which will put him “on the map”, but is constantly the understudy. Their wives cater to their needs, they are for the most part innocent and docile. They are mothers, betrayed by their spouses. The women, played by Mia Farrow and Shelley Duvall have the same doe-eyed look, which faced with the horror of unfolding circumstances is replaced by wide eyed horror- the kind that leaves a feeling of dread, the sense that family life is not safe, at least not as long as an ambitious husband is near.

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