Lego jumps into the virtual world of Minecraft with a splash

lego_worlds_manI have written before about Lego’s remarkable comeback story, and how more recently they have adopted a crowdsourcing approach to developing new product ranges – Lego gets into bed with Dr Who. They have also spread their brand into the digital space over the years including Lego movies and television shows, and successful computer games such as Lego Batman which has been officially recognised as the best-selling superhero videogame of all time.

However, despite a previous attempt with  Lego Universe in 2010 (which only lasted a couple of years), they have allowed Minecraft to become the monopoly player in the digital building block market place. Started by Markus Persson in 2009 it has grown to a user base of 70 million, and in September of 2014 was taken over by Microsoft in a $2.5 billion deal.

But now It turns out that Lego has not been idle during the spectacular growth of Minecraft and recently ‘soft-launched’ Lego Worlds on Steam for beta testing.

Lego Worlds is an open-world construction and exploration game in which every single element is constructed from digital Lego components. Players can change the existing worlds, or construct their own. Each landscape contains Lego vehicles, mini-figures and creatures (including the essential dragon), and are all based on real-life play-sets.

My step-son is a Lego fanatic in all of its incarnations, as well as being a keen Minecraft player. So after seeing a rave review from the influential Nerd Cubed on his YouTube channel, he was keen to buy a copy for the relatively modest cost of £11.99.

Once the download was complete he was in seventh heaven exploring the vast Lego worlds available on the system. I was amazed by the superb quality of the graphics, with the tiniest details of the real-world Lego pieces recreated on the screen. In addition to being able to travel around the virtual worlds either on foot or by climbing on board available transport such as motorbikes and horses, it was possible to recreate entire models using a ‘magic’ wand. So a helicopter or house could be conjured up within seconds and put to use.

This virtual Lego world contained the by now traditional elements seen in Minecraft of the ability to mine and build, whilst having to fight off scary monsters in the shape of Lego skeletons. But it had the added attraction of the full set of models carried over from the real-world available to build and adapt.

The beta test is due to continue until early 2016, and it will be fascinating to see how successful this game will become once fully launched into the market.

15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London

It’s been over a year since I bought my Brompton folding bicycle to help cope with my long-distance commute from Eastbourne. I have to admit there was a steep learning curve to get the complex folding system (there is only one way to do it right – but lots of ways to do it wrong). And adapting to the hyper-sensitive steering (which does become something of an advantage once mastered), took much longer. But apart from these early niggles, the bike has been a joy to own and use.

Brompton_Fold

So let’s start with a list of negatives from a year in the saddle:

  1. The almost daily stories of death and injury, often appearing on the cover of Evening Standard, make me question the risks I am taking.
    London_Evening_Standard_23_6_2015
  2. Having to share the road with tipper trucks, articulated lorries, and buses. They are noisy, big and scary for a cyclist.
  3. Fellow cyclists who blatantly ignore red lights. I can see the temptation to get going, but they give all of us such a bad name.
  4. Taxi drivers who squeeze you into the curb. I wonder if it is deliberate, or perhaps they just didn’t they see me? On reflection I would say a combination of their skill and experience, probably means it is a conscious action.
  5. Teenage scooter drivers with some kind of ‘death-wish’ who cut through the smallest of gaps and swerve across multiple lanes of traffic.
  6. Pot-holes, which seem to multiply nearer the edge of the road (where I want to cycle), forcing me out into the path of cars and vans.
  7. Pedestrians with headphones and tunnel vision, determined to cross their patch of road, often right in front of me. They seem entirely oblivious to the world around them.
    Southwark Bridge blue cycle lane
  8. Badly thought out and implemented cycle lanes. For instance my daily route takes me over Southwark Bridge with its blue cycle highway. On the bridge I feel nice and safe with a concrete bollard between me and the heavy construction lorries. But coming off the bridge, I have to filter through three lanes of those monsters, praying the lights don’t chance until I get to the safe haven of the cycle box at the front. It is genuinely scary.
  9. Cobbled back streets. I love the fact that London is steeped in history, but my bottom would appreciate some smoother tarmac please.

That was a bit depressing, so let’s end with some positives from the year of the Brompton:

  1. Mental health. According to an Evening Standard, one of the best ways of helping to develop a Mindfulness approach to live is to cycle regularly.Brompton from above
  2. Exercise. I can feel my legs getting stronger and my stomach getting a bit smaller every time I swing my leg over the Brompton’s saddle.
  3. Surprising pedestrians. My favourite trick is to stop for pedestrians as they step onto a zebra crossing. I usually have to wave them on, as they think it is some kind of trick, having become accustomed to cyclists cutting in front of them.
  4. Getting to work on time. I can usually get to work five minutes earlier than if I changed trains and relied on Thameslink to get me across central London.
  5. Knowing I can fold my bike up and get on the tube if necessary. So far I have only been ‘rained off’ once.
  6. Being able to get from Kings Cross to Oxford Circus in 15 minutes. It’s even quicker than the tube.

 

How to name your brand and get it trademarked

the-name-of-the-beastI’ve just finished reading a great book with an even greater title. The Name of the Beast by professional ‘namer’ Neil Taylor, is a guide to the ‘Perilous process of naming, brands, products and companies’.

You can tell Neil is slightly scarred from his years as a senior naming consultant at Interbrand where he discovered (much like for graphic designers), everyone is an expert. And some are very cynical about the role of professional namers such as Neil.

According to Andrew Mueller in Guardian newspaper;
“There are people, enviable yet contemptible, who make good livings inventing names for companies.

In fact, if you’re a CEO about to shovel a five-figure fee at some twit called Nathan to come up with a name like Twerq or Zamp Plus or X-Zite!, get in touch – for half the money, I’ll do you something at least as good, and certainly no more foolish.”

And people often have strong emotional bonds to brands they have grown up with, and are now being ‘messed about with’. Neil give a classic example of name failure, when Royal Mail changed to Consignia in 2000. He prints three pages of hostile comments from the time, which culminated in an embarrassing ‘volt-face’ just 15 months later.

For me, the most useful part of the book is chapter 3 where he covers the different approaches to naming.

Descriptive names
Ronseal tinBy using the Ronseal approach, ‘they do exactly what they say on the tin’. Obvious examples would be pretty much anything that starts with British (think Airways, Gas, Petroleum, Telecom etc). Sadly these names are often too good to be true, and cause problems when you go international, or change what you do over time.

Neil uses one of my favourite examples, The Carphone Warehouse. This name accurately described the brick sized phones sold in warehouse outlets when they were starting out. But today they sell sleek smartphones is smart high-street shops. I wonder if the chairman Charles Dunstone called a meeting one day to come up with a new name. But someone pointed out they had left it too late, and anyway the business was doing just fine with the original name. The positive brand values had been absorbed into the name, and risked being thrown away with a new name.

MeerkatSo although descriptive names save you having to explain what the company does, they have almost all already been taken, and even if not, can risk being too descriptive to allow you to register a trademark. For instance, Compare the Market and We Buy Any Car have been refused a trademark, but Compare the Meerkat and Webuyanycar.com were allowed.

Image-based names
Moving on from literally descriptive names, image-based names work by association using metaphors. Neil gives the examples of Visa (the shopping equivalent of a passport) and Viagra (think life and Niagra). If successful this approach can give a brand a personality which can appeal to customers.

Abstract names
Some of the most powerful brands on the planet use abstract and in some cases, made up words. Apple is currently the most profitable business in history. George Eastman used Kodak because he thought k’s were cool, so why not have one at the beginning and end of his brand name? Citroen did something similar until relatively recently when they ‘owned’ the letter X. Starting out with CX, BX and XM and then moving onto more creative names such as Xsara and Xantia.

The best thing about a made up name is that it can’t already be registered as a trademark to someone else, although you do still have to be careful it isn’t similar to a word that is in use.

Names of provenance
These are abstract names, but derive from a place or person. In fact, nearly half of the world’s top 100 brands use family names. Examples would be McDonald’s, Ford, Cadbury, Kellogg’s and Dyson.

Names that break the rules
Smeg fridgeAfter spending many pages explaining the options for naming and going into detail about how to brain-storm for names, Neil give some examples of names that break the rules.

For example, I can’t believe it’s not butter, is about as far away from a short and simple brand name as you can get, even though it does sort of explain what the product is. He uses the example of U2 who have a ‘rubbish’ name but global success, whereas Half Man – Half Biscuit have brilliant one, but are long forgotten except by a few faithful fans. Or how about Smeg fridges? Surely no one would by a brand whose name is associated with “a substance that collects inside male genitalia”.  But thanks to their bright colours and trendy retro design they have become very popular indeed.

I am glad to see that Neil spends a bit of time talking about trade marks, even if it is in a rather short chapter titled The long arm of the law. He points out how trade marks trump company or domain names, which means they need to be checked first. The famous cases of Apple Corps vs Apple Computer is covered, and Budweiser US vs Budweiser Czech lager beers.

He explains how a name can exist in different classes of business activity using Polo as an example – a VW car, a mint with a hole, and expensive clothing. As long as the consumer is not confused about what and who they are buying from, there is no problem.

Neil is definitely not a fan of trade mark lawyers, but does admit they can help you work out the risk of choosing a particular name. It all comes down to predicting how the owners of similar names with react. How likely are they to send you a ‘cease and desist’ letter from their lawyers?

cillit-bangSo you don’t have to like a name, or understand what it means for it to be successful. As long as it is legal, available and memorable you should be ok. If Cillit Bang can become a household name, surely anything goes.

Visit to the small but perfectly formed Cartoon Museum

cartoon-museum-logoLast week I joined in with the LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) visit to the Cartoon Museum.

For several years I had walked past the building in Little Russell Street, just around the corner from the British Museum, on my way to work. So I was curious to see what was inside.

After a short introduction from the director and some typically ‘info-pro’ questions relating to copyright of the collection, we were free to explore the exhibits.

Downstairs I took in the permanent collection of historical works from seminal cartoonists such as Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank. Coming up to date with some hard-hitting images relating to the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

Source Wikimedia

Source Wikimedia.org

Next was the current featured exhibition Heckling Hitler, with cartoons and comic art from World War II. There were some classics by David Low which you can view on the British Cartoon Archive.

In addition were some famous government propaganda posters from the time, including Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, Careless Talk Costs Lives and Doctor Carrot the ‘children’s friend’.

 

 

 

On the way upstairs I stumbled across a short video from Simon’s Cat. This creature was a new discovery, but this example was a brilliant reminder of my own cat’s ruthless methods of getting my attention.

Upstairs was a wonderful collection of original drawings from the likes of Dennis the Menace, Dan Dare, Rupert Bear and Roy of the Rovers. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar sight from my youth. On closer inspection it turned out to be a page from the Trigan Empire, which appeared in my childhood magazine Look and Learn. An unexpected blast from the past.

Source Wikimedia.org

Source Wikimedia.org

I would strongly recommend a visit to the museum if you get the opportunity.

The Cartoon Museum
35 Little Russell St
London
WC1A 2HH

Lego gets into bed with Dr Who

300px-LEGO_logo.svgI have long been impressed at how Europe’s biggest toy company Lego (who’s name is derived from leg godt, Danish for “play well”), managed to pull themselves back from the brink of bankruptcy back in 2003.

One of the keys in returning to profitability was listening to what their customers wanted from the company, and so re-focusing on their core products. They also began to exploit the opportunities of licensing deals with famous brands. This explains why, when you enter a typical Lego store, your eyes are assaulted by models from Star Wars films, scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter characters, and good old-fashioned  superheroes such as Batman and Superman (in their various guises).

More recently Lego have cooperated with the internet phenomenon Minecraft to enable their customers to create ‘real-world’ creations. Surely this must be the ultimate expression of turning a virtual world competitor into a physical world partner.

LegoMinecraft

Lego have continued to develop their approach of listening to their customers by introducing  a crowdsourcing community LEGO® Ideas. This an online place where Lego fans can submit their own ideas for new products, and vote for other members’ ideas. Those getting more than 10,000 votes have a chance of being selected to be made into real Lego products. To date, nine products have been released via the platform, with three more to launch in 2015.

1781839-doctor-who-watermark

One of those will be a “Doctor Who”-themed project. The Lego Review Board has chosen the “Doctor Who and Companions” project by Lego Ideas member AndrewClark2. Andy Clark is an artist at a gaming company by day, and a Lego builder by night.

Lego Doctor Who

Doctor Who began in 1963 on BBC Television, and it is the world’s longest running sci-fi drama. Since then the show has entertained generations of British children. But since its revival in 2005 this quintessentially British show has become something of a global phenomenon. So the new ‘Dr Who’ line will be sure to find a wide audience.

 

Proving the power of the blog with cups of tea

1018292_cup_of_teaWay back in 2007 I wrote a short blog post based around the British Standard for making a cup of delicious tea. British Standard for a cup of tea – BS 6008

Over the years it has proved to be a popular story, so I was intrigued to see what would happen after a recent short news item on the standard on BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

The result was over 100 views during the subsequent 7 days which surprised me.

The reason for the number of hits was that a Google search for “british standard for a cup of tea”, finds my revised blog post at third place after Wikipedia, and the Independent newspaper, but ahead of the Guardian, and Telegraph newspapers. The original post comes in at number seven, but still on the crucial first page of search results.

A pretty impressive result for a couple of humble blog posts, and solid proof of the power of blogging.

cup of tea search

It’s Valentine’s so add romance to your life with a 2-stroke candle

flyingtigermoto-475x443I’ve just popped out to the shops to find a suitably romantic card in time for Valentine’s day tomorrow.

It is always a mistake to expect something in return, but it certainly would be a big surprise if I found one of these Two Stroke Smoke Candles waiting for me at home.

It must rank towards the top amongst the niche products I have come across over the years. And sadly, thanks to emission regulations, the smell of two-stroke engines is becoming a very rare thing (in the west anyway).

Of course I do have my own supply of the smell to hand in the form of my treasured Kawasaki KR-1S.  But I am ashamed to admit that it rarely makes it out of my garage to be fired up in all its smoky glory.

But now thanks to Flying Tiger Motorcycles I can relive the two-stroke smell from the comfort of my sitting room by  for only $20 US Dollars. Although to be brutally honest, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want have that particular smell following my around my home.

Two Stroke Smoke Candle

The one and only original! Super awesome custom blended 2 stroke smoke candle. It’s made with real live Klotz 2 stroke oil with high-octane fragrance.

We have reformulated the candle and are using metal cans with an awesome new label; however, the wood wick and 16 oz of wonderful soy wax stay the same.

Two-Stroke-Candle_1024x1024

50 Shades of Grey – the shopping experience

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtWalt Disney was possibly the first to introduce merchandising to the world of feature films in the early part of the 20th Century, and the company has certainly fully exploited the spin-off potential of their films up to the present day (Disneyland and World spring to mind).

But it was the original Star Wars films from the 1970’s that made cultural history. And in doing so also turned the director George Lucas into a billionaire. In fact he made more money from the sale of action figures, lightsabers, key chains, games, books, pajamas, etc. (thanks to 20th Century Fox giving him the rights) than from the films themselves.

So now we come up to date with the release of the long anticipated film adaptation of E.L. James best-selling erotic romance novel. Which I blogged about back in 2012- The law of unintended consequences and e-books – Fifty Shades of Grey.

Regardless of how well the film is received, it seems likely the spin-off products will sell strongly, however tacky they might be. And according to the Guardian newspaper, they are pretty tacky.

50 Shades of Earl Grey

A less tacky spin-off from the film

fifty shades of grey the official pleasure collectionAnd of course one should not be surprised to find sex toys high on the list of merchandising for the film. Even the Amazon website has a page created especially for these products, with several five star reviews already posted. There is even a Pinterest page for the Official Collection with a quote from the author: “This range is what I always imagined while I was writing Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m so excited that the toys I described in the books have come to life and can now be enjoyed around the world.” E L James

fifty shades of grey the official pleasure collection overview

A sample of the kind of products available

 

 

Launch 22 – a charity business incubator in Silicon Roundabout

Launch22 logoI first met David Hardman the General Manager & Co-Founder of Launch22 back in August 2014. I was immediately impressed by his enthusiasm, and the service offered to business start-ups in the heart of Silicon Roundabout in East London.

Many of our customers in the Business & IP Centre ask where they can find incubation space for their business. And although other incubators exist in London, I’m not aware of any that are run on a charitable basis and offer scholarships. Also, I like the way they offer a mentoring service and help finding finance in addition to the work space.

Launch22-space

Launch22 is a charity business incubator dedicated to growing early-stage startups and connecting entrepreneurs with industry experts as well as like-minded businessmen. We work mostly with disadvantaged entrepreneurs for whom a social co-working space with constant access to professional advice, networking and industry-related events is vital.

Our space runs on a membership basis with scholarships available for entrepreneurs who have a great business idea, but are struggling to launch it.

Workspace
Many incubators are exclusive and expensive. We are turning that on its head so that every new entrepreneur can access great workspace, regardless of their economic or social situation.

We know from experience that starting a business is not easy. Any start-up will face challenges and difficulties on the road to success. That’s why at Launch22, we are not just providing a great workspace, we’re creating a community, a place where people can offer advice and guidance to each other, where they can collaborate on new or existing ideas, and of course make new friends along the way.

Mentoring on three levels
Entrepreneurs-In-Residence have been carefully selected because they have themselves experienced the challenges young entrepreneurs face when building a new business, and are always on hand to provide assistance when problems arise.

Allocated mentors provide vital one to one feedback, and are here to go that extra mile when it comes to understanding every facet of your business, and what it needs to succeed.

Specialist mentors are experts in their field, all giving up part of their day jobs as successful lawyers, accountants, and many more to share their wealth of knowledge with our startups.

Finance
When your business needs a kick start we’ll be there to make sure your getting the right help, at the right time, from the right people

The future of money is here now and in my pocket

Last week I made my first ever cashless payment using my shiny new debit card. The transaction itself was something of an anti-climax, but those additional four little curved white lines on my card brought back memories of the future of money.

contactless-debit-card

Many years ago I went for a job interview with a company called Mondex, who were developing a cashless payment system they called the ‘future of money’.

Mondex logo from 1993

Mondex logo from 1993

Mondex logo from 1997

Mondex logo from 1997

I didn’t get the job, but I have been watching out that future to arrive ever-since.

And now finally it is here, just 21 years after its initial announcement, and twenty years after a three-year trial began in the unlikely location of Swindon in Wiltshire.

As with so many new technologies, such as mobile phones,  the early hype did not match the reality. But gradually the impact became much bigger than predicted by the so-called futurologists. Now many of us are dependent on our phones, and I wonder how long it will take before cash begins to disappear from our pockets, and we become reliant on the little chips in our cards.

Below is one of the first newspaper reports on the Mondex card, and a reminiscence of the ill-fated Swindon trial from the Swindon Advertiser earlier this year:

`smart’card to wipe out cash – 8 December 1993 – The Evening Standard

THE National Westminster Bank, Midland Bank and BT today announced plans to introduce a new plastic `smart’ card which puts Britain ahead in the race to create a cashless society.

The Mondex card, which will be offered to more than 11 million customers of the two banks within two to three years could eliminate the use of money for many everyday transactions within a few years.

Instead of carrying hard cash, customers will be able to use the card to pay for anything from a newspaper to a drink. The cards are charged with cash electronically either down a domestic phone line, from a payphone, or through the bank’s existing hole-in-the wall cash machine network.

The cards will dramatically reduce the Pounds 4.5 billion of hard money in circulation in Britain. They will also have the capacity to carry five different currencies at once, making it possible for cardholders to move freely from country to country without going to a bank.

How smart was that? – 21 May 2014 – Swindon Advertiser
BARRY LEIGHTON revisits the electronic cash revolution of 1994…

TO borrow a line from an old HG Wells novel, it was the shape of things to come… a society where grubby notes and pockets full of change had become a spent force – something to reminisce about alongside the eight-track cartridge, loon pants and the Watneys’ Party Seven.

And in all the towns in all the world, Swindon was where it would all begin. The “electronic cash” revolution, that is. At least, that was the plan. Twenty years ago this spring financial institutions around the globe cast their collective eye upon our unlikely Wiltshire town.

Swindon in 1994 was chosen for a unique experiment that, it was envisaged, would bring to an end to more than 1,000 years of tradition – the way people bought and sold goods. A new company called Mondex had created a “smart card” that would see the pound in your pocket vanish. Carrying cash would become a thing of the past. You won’t need the stuff anymore. No more holding folding.

In the not-too-distant future, everything you bought – from a packet of chewing gum and a round of drinks to a bag of fish and chips – would be done with an electronic card. But before going global Mondex needed some guinea pigs to practice on. A community with which to experiment. They chose 170,000-population Swindon. Why? Because we were deemed ‘average’ – a typical British town, in terms of age and social make-up, whose spending habits could be scrutinised and analysed and regarded as “the norm.”

It took just over a year to install Mondex in Swindon – a project that saw hundreds of shops, restaurants and pubs gear up to receive payments for the “cash-on-a-card” system by training their staff to use new-fangled, hi-tech Mondex gadgets (see panel).

“Farewell to filthy lucre” said the Adver as one shopkeeper, eagerly embracing the concept of a cashless community, branded conventional notes “nasty, dirty and unhygienic.” Mondex predicted: “The people of Swindon will go down in history as pioneers.”

The focus of everyone’s attention, bizarrely, was one of our paper vendors, retired railway worker Don Stanley, 72, who made history by accepting the world’s first electronic cash transaction – 28p for a copy of the Advertiser.

As the months rolled on more and more Mondex machines and appliances sprang up like an alien invasion. They were everywhere: in telephone boxes, public car parks, shops, post offices, on the buses. Keen to make it easier for us give them our money, even bookie shops got in on the act.

Mondex tended to polarise opinion. PE Ault of Devon Road wrote to the Adver saying: “It is a very smart card indeed, I am delighted.” Pinehurst pensioner John Archer opined: “It’s a load of rubbish. The hassle of messing around with a card is a waste of time.”

In July 1998 Mondex said “Thanks a million Swindon” and were off. Trials were continuing elsewhere.

“Mondex devices evaporated from our streets, car parks, shops, buses and telephone boxes as if they had never been there..