The Redknapps are Thomas Cooking it

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It’s impossible to avoid the Redknapp family these days – Harry manages Spurs and has his ‘big opinion’ column in the Sun, and Jamie seems to be sitting in the pundit’s seat for every single Premier League game on Sky Sports. Fresh off making an advert that expects you to believe that the Redknapp family hang around at home playing Wii, ex-footballer Jamie and ex-popstar Louise (girl group Eternal, then a solo career, in case you were wondering) are back with a new campaign for Thomas Cook.

The ad takes you through couple’s experience is with Thomas Cook from booking online to the flight home, all the while waxing lyrical about how fantastic it all is. I find the whole thing fairly incredulous; the idea that they would take a Thomas Cook holiday to begin with, that they would sit in cattle class with the proles, the frolicking with a horse/playing football on the beach wearing a suit. I’m surprised they didn’t rope Harry in as well, but I imagine they felt Jamie was a better choice for topless golf.

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Ovei

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At a recent event I was wandering the convention floor when I came across this beautiful and unique-looking pod:

you can put a frigging X-Box in here

you can put a frigging X-Box in here

It’s called Ovei (not to be confused with Nokia’s Ovi), and it is primarily supposed to be used for education and relaxation. You get into the pod, close the door and you are completely insulated and soundproofed from the outside world in a non-claustrophobic way. There are unobtrusive speakers that can play your choice of music, and the lights change colour in a soft, lava lamp sort of way.

You can choose to use the Ovei as a place to do work, read, sleep, learn, meditate, or you can install a games console (I was assured that this is relatively easy to do) and play until you forget to eat for twelve hours. Their rep also told me that they have sold them to places as diverse as hospitals, for overworked doctors looking for a moment’s solace, and advertising agencies, for, em, overworked creatives in need of a moment of inspiration.

Prices range from approx £2K to £whatever, depending how cool and customisable you want your Ovei to be.

Location: Sengaku-ji

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Tokyo has some wonderful, must-see temples and shrines such Sensou-ji in Asakusa, Meiji Jingu Shrine, the controversial Yasukuni shrine, and Gokoku-ji – home of the tea ceremony. Once you see a few temples, they get increasingly repetitive (I have the same problem with churches), but there’s something special that keeps me going back to Sengaku-ji.

Sengaku-ji’s history is tied in with the story of the Forty-seven Ronin (leaderless samurai), also known as Chushingura; a fictionalised account of the tale. The story took place in feudal Japan where Lord Asano, who hailed from a territory outside the capital, came up for a scheduled ceremony with the Emperor. He ended up having to commit ritual suicide (seppuku) for the offense of drawing his sword on Kira, a senior courtier who he felt was embarrassing and humiliating him. Asano’s crew were disgraced, and according to the rules of bushido (samurai code of honour), they were bound to get retribution by killing Kira.

The story goes that Lord Asano's blood stained this stone red when he committed suicide

However revenge-killings had been banned by the Emperor, so naturally Asano’s men (led by a man called Oishi) were being watched. A core group of them made a resolution to throw away their reputations so they would no longer be seen as a threat, and then striking when Kira’s guard was down. They succeeded in both through drinking and whoring themselves into disgrace, then coming together on one Winter night a year later and launching an attack that killed Kira in his home. They took his head across to Sengaku-ji temple after they did the deed, as this is where Lord Asano was buried, and offered it up to his tombstone. The ronin turned themselves into the authorities, and despite the fact that they broke the law the shogunate permitted them to commit seppuku rather than be executed due to intense public pressure.

It's common to burn incense under the headstones

Despite the fact that it has obviously has been enhanced over the years, Chushingura has been told and retold across multiple media and especially resonates with Japanese people as at its core the story is about traditional values versus modernisation. Sengaku-ji is the spiritual home of the story, and is fittingly located in now what is a primarily a business district, a stone’s throw from many corporate headquarters for leading blue chip firms.  It has the general features you would find at a Japanese temple, such as the gates, main hall and cemetery (where the forty-seven ronin are buried) but there is also a statue of Oishi and a small museum that contains pieces such as the ronin’s armour and a receipt for Kira’s head (seriously). Everything in the museum is in Japanese, so you’ll need to be able to read it or be fairly good at guessing.

Stoic, truly stoic

Sengaku-ji is a short walk away from Shinagawa Station on the Yamanote or Keihin Tohoku lines, or across the road from Sengakuji Station on the Keikyu Main Line. Shinagawa is culturally bereft as an area – if the shinkansen bullet train didn’t stop there, there is very little reason to visit unless you work for one of the many nearby businesses, or have a hankering for the Outback Steakhouse (you have two to choose from) – so this may involve a special trip.

T-Mobile Pulse Review

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I got my phone stolen recently, and seeing that I was one of these foolish people who didn’t have insurance (always get insurance), my choices were fairly open as to what handset I’d pick up next. I still stand by my last post on the G2, and I have really come to love Android as an OS over the past few months, so I plumped for the T-Mobile Pulse as a replacement.

The Pulse is T-Mobile’s first pay-as-you-go Android handset, and it comes at a shade under £140 – very reasonable for a smartphone.  It is manufactured by Huawei, who seem to have even less problems white-labeling it than HTC – their brand name isn’t anywhere to be seen as the phone starts up. The handset itself is bigger than the G2, and is more generically iPhone-shaped rather than sporting anything such as the G2’s distinctive ‘lip’ design. The handset is made out of plastic, so while it is pretty tough, it couldn’t attract fingerprints any better if it was its mission in life.

The Pulse has a large colour screen, which makes for decent web browsing, and has the same Android features that make the OS great – syncing with Google contacts and calendar (wonderful when your phone’s been stolen) and the vast majority of apps will still work, including of course the pre-installed Google suite. Add to that WiFi and GPS, and you are more than good to go in pretty much any situation.

That said, there are some negatives with the Pulse. It can be slow when loading apps or processing anything remotely heavy, and the battery life is as shockingly bad as you would expect from a full colour touchscreen handset with the internet/GPS always on. The screen itself is unresponsive around the edges, and data input (despite the nice vibration you get when you press a key) is painful – a problem that’s endemic with any touchscreen I’ve used. Leading on from this, TouchPal keypad crashes and remains crashed once it stores a certain amount of predictive text words – a Godsend in some ways because I hate the thing.

Another annoyance is the headphone jack – not only is it at the top of the phone, but its 25mm instead of the standard 35mm. T-Mobile supplies you with an adapter, but it’s really not ideal, especially when playing media (video or music) on the Pulse is quite easy. The camera is also a bit rubbish – very blurry shots and no flash.

None of the above gripes really matter all that much in the grander scheme of things, as a budget level smartphone the Pulse looks good, runs Android well and does a more than admirable job for the price point.

Barry’s Ten Favourite Android Apps: Part One

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It doesn’t get as much coverage as the iPhone App Store, but Android Marketplace is starting to pick up a head of steam with an ever-increasing number of excellent and useful apps on an ever-increasing number of handsets. In this post, I’ve picked 5 out of my top 10 so far:

Twitdroid

By far the best Android app for Twitter on Android, especially if you start off using the very limited HTC Peep app that comes pre-installed on the G2. It’s core functionality is excellent, and it has useful features such as threaded DMs, easy & non-awful retweeting, and synchronised saved searches. If you go Pro, there are fancy bits like integrated bit.ly support and colour themes for an extra £3.20 (roughly, the price is in euro), but there’s plenty in the free version to meet the needs of average Twitter user.

TasKiller

Does what it says on the tin; turns off any apps that you don’t need, windows taskmanager-style,  to have running anymore to preserve your very precious battery life.  Be careful what you turn off – if you don’t know what it is then leave it alone, as you may end up accidentally crashing TouchFlo or something equally important. There’s a lot of discussion on the usefulness of task manager apps and while Android is fairly hot on knowing when or how to close apps, TasKiller is useful for killing crashed apps and completely closing certain apps.

Google Suite

Cobviously a no-brainer on Android – Maps, Mail, Search come pre-installed and have saved my life on numerous occasions. GChat is also on there but I find I don’t use IM that much as I hate data input on a touchscreen.

LockMe

Once your Android phone gets stolen (as mine just did), it will dawn on you in the most sickening way that with one swipe of their finger, the scally now in possession of your handset has complete access to your life. LockMe adds in an extra layer of protection once you wake up your phone, requiring you to enter a pre-programmed pattern of your choosing (connecting dots) to unlock it. The pleasantly surprising part is that its free, I would normally expect to have to shell out for a security app.

Shazam

If you don’t know what Shazam is by now, you need to check it out – its made for anyone who has ever frustrated trying to remember the name of a song. Turn on your Shazam app, have it pick up a piece of the offending tune, and it’ll spit back out the song name and the artist. It has all the social sharing options you might expect, but its best used for settling debates or cheating in the music round of your local pub quiz (not that I would ever advocate that).

I’ll be back soon with Part Two.

Lady GaGa goes live

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The massive oversaturation of Lady GaGa in the media is hard to ignore – be it the tabloids and celebrity mags, regular plays on the radio and almost all music channels as well as anything else from billboards to TV stints late night talk shows. Add to that comments like the one she made on Jonathon Ross (“I have no influences”), her ever-shrinking outfits and general put-on insane behaviour when she’s not really insane, and the result is a large amount of people become irritated.

I admit to liking her myself – I generally enjoy things that are a fusion of music and fashion – but it was on hearing an acoustic version of her oft-played hit Poker Face that she did for Radio 1’s live sessions that I started to really take an interest.

The strong bluesy voice, the genuine joy in her face as she sings and the character she gives the song were all a surprise to me – I’d expected that under all that make-up and autotuning she was an average singer, guided along like a nice little marionette. I imagine it must have been a decision she made early on to give up on this style of singing for what she’s doing now – it’s obviously made her more successful, and she’s never denied that she’s been about more than anything but the fame.

I’ll wait here until she gets through her current Ziggy-style supernova, and hope that she’ll eventually revert to singing like this, but until then I’ll have to make do with the occasional live session.

T-Mobile G2 Touch Review

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I did it.  I quit my BlackBerry Curve 8300.  Gone are emails piped through an Enterprise server, the hard qwerty keyboard, a guaranteed sturdiness.  I’m not an unsatisfied BlackBerry user at all, and breaking up with RIM was very much “it’s not you, its me”.  The chance to upgrade to HTC’s G2 Touch (also known as the Hero) for T-Mobile was too good to pass up.

I can't get mine to stand up like this

I can't get mine to stand up like this

The G2  is sleeker than its previous G1 incarnation, with a large touchscreen that takes up most of the front of the phone and a distinctive slight kink at the bottom which definitely helps avoid the screen getting scratched.  The back of the phone is covered in soft plastic, is very comfortable to hold and is a nice weight.  The phone has a proper headphone port as well as a 5 megapixel camera (but sadly no flash).  All other mod cons are included – GPS, gyroscope, wifi connectivity.

Its my first time to play around with Google’s Android OS – the user interface is simple & customisable, the navigation smooth and it has decent processing power (you can have many multiple apps running at once, with no noticeable affect on performance).  The touchscreen functionality is very intuitive, but the virtual keypad is frustrating and has me wishing for actual keys.  That said, anything is better than the fiddly, and frankly rubbish, trackball.

What I am loving is the full integration with Google – the Gmail interface on my phone is seamless, my phone contacts are my Gmail contacts, Google Talk is preinstalled and Google Maps is better than ever.  The only downside is that Google contacts create a contact for every email that comes into your inbox, whether you want it to or not.  Surfing the web is almost desktop quality, has the capability to run full sites rather than just cut down mobile versions, and adjusts the text to the size of the screen where it can.  The data connection leaves a lot to be desired in terms of reliability – but I’m not sure whether its the phone or T-Mobile’s network.

Android has its own app store, Marketplace, which comes pre-embedded in the G2.  Once you get past T-Mobile’s delightfully annoying content lock, there’s a good selection of free and paid-for apps – although app search is poor, especially considering the people behind it.  Once I got a good selection of apps up and running, I found it all comes at a cost – one working day’s heavy usage (especially of Twitter, browsing and using the GPS) and the battery is completely spent.  There are a few things you can do to combat this, foremost amongst which is installing apps such as TasKiller, which does what it says on the tin and allows you to turn off any and all apps that are running but you’re not using.

The G2 isn’t perfect, but the raft of features and great UI means I’m not going to get back together with BlackBerry – although I hope we can still be friends.

Evian Rollerskating Babies

This advert makes me really, seriously uncomfortable.  I don’t know whether its the unnerving CGI, the fact that I can’t help but feel concerned that the babies are going to do themselves some serious physical damage breakdancing on tarmac, or that the ad’s creators were so lazy as to use such an obvious backing song as Rapper’s Delight.

Still, what do I know?  The video’s been watched more than 8.5 million times, putting it firmly in the category ‘viral sensation’, as marketing departments around the world scratch their heads trying to figure out why this one has caught on and theirs hasn’t.  I’m not sure there’s an obvious rhyme or reason as to why certain virals spread (such as the Cadbury’s Gorilla) and others don’t.  I do know that the Gorilla doesn’t directly make me want to eat chocolate and the babies don’t directly make me want to drink water.  The value these videos create is increasing the value/coolness of the brand itself in the minds of people who enjoy them, and make them something they choose to be associated with.

doublecheck before you hit ‘share’

Im sure youll find another job straight away

I'm sure you'll find another job straight away

I was directed to the above beautiful piece of facebook failure last night, and while its easy to laugh (I am laughing incidentally) it’s also equally easy to make a slip like this.  Once you’ve plugged yourself in to social media, the golden rule of email etiquette applies – don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of a national newspaper.  Keep the moaning segregated to somewhere it can’t be used to give you the sack.

Mad Men Yourself

Giddy from just finishing David Ogilvy’s wonderful book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, I was excited to stumble across AMC and marketing agency Deep Focus’s Mad Men Yourself site.  Launched in preparation for Mad Men season 3 premiere in mid-August, the site allows you to create a personalised avatar for both ‘suits’ and ‘skirts’ in a variety of cool 50’s Madison Avenue style clothes and accessories.

Mad Men Yourself

The end output is an avatar of your character (small & large) as well as a scene of said avatar in a Mad Men setting, such as the bar, Sterling Cooper’s offices or even Don Draper’s House.

Peggy - hold my calls, get me a fresh martini and keep that weasel Pete out of my office

Peggy - hold my calls, get me a fresh martini and keep that weasel Pete out of my office

There isn’t anything technologically revolutionary about this at all, but there doesn’t have to be.  This is a well executed viral as it actively made me want to create a character for the setting and to share it with people.  I guess creating something like this is easier when you have a fundamentally cool product like Mad Men, but still – good show.