Category Archives: humour

The Deeley Bopper rises again for Sport Relief 2012

Deeley BopperThis evening I stumbled across a Deeley Bopper in a Sainsbury’s supermarket on my way home from work. In its current incarnation it is being used to raise money for Sport Relief 2012.

The Deeley Bopper or Deeley Bobber is one of my all time favourite ‘inventions’. I’ve used quotes because this multi-million selling innovation from the creative mind of Stephen Askin in 1981, is not actually registered as either a patent or even a trade mark.

Although I am definitely not a fan of the object itself, and you are unlikely to catch me wearing one out in the street (or in the house come to that), I use it as a great example in my business innovation work.

One of the strict rules we apply when we meet clients for our confidential Information Advice Clinics, is never to give an opinion on their business idea or invention. And the main reason for this, is however many years one might have in business, it is impossible to tell what will be successful – and vice versa.

The Deeley Bopper provides the perfect illustration. I just ask my colleagues to imagine how they would have reacted if Stephen Askin had come in for an advice session, and asked for their opinion on his latest business wheeze. I can imagine my response would have been something along the lines of; “You have to be joking. No one will buy those”.

And yet they sold in their millions in the 1980’s and appear almost as popular in their revised ‘Red Nose’ guise today. So, however stupid an idea might appear, it can still make a fortune for its creator.

A refreshing cup of coffee half-way down the piste

I’m off to the Alps in a few weeks time for a bit of ‘piste-bashing’, so this story caught my attention.
Starbucks have opened the world’s first ski-in ski-out coffee shop on the side of a mountain.

Today 10 February 2012, Squaw Valley is officially opening the world’s first ski-in/ski-out Starbucks location.

On the mountain at elevation 8,000 feet, Squaw Valley’s new mountaintop Starbucks boasts spectacular mountain views and the unique ability for guests to keep their skis or board on while they order their Starbucks® beverage of choice.

“We worked closely with the design team at Starbucks to create a one-of-a-kind experience that we know our guests will truly enjoy,” said Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley’s president and CEO. “Nowhere else in the world can skiers and riders enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes.”

Now, you can can me an old stick in the mud, but I think the idea of whizzing down the mountain with a cup of steaming Java in my hand is taking the idea of ‘coffee on the go’ a little bit too far.

British Standard for a cup of tea – BS 6008 (revisited)

morning_tea_4_1165221_porah

Today we had a visit from British Standards Institution demonstrating their British Standards Online service (BSOL), to which we have full access in the British Library.

It reminded me of one of my earliest posts on this blog, way back in 2007, British Standard for a cup of tea – BS 6008. Surprisingly this has become my third most popular topic of all time (after the Bic Crystal ballpoint pen and the not so simple paper clip)

Perhaps not so surprising when you know (according to the United Kingdom Tea Council), tea is the most popular drink consumed in Britain, with over 165,000,000 cups being (image by porah) drunk in the UK every single day of the year.

Drinking tea the right way has it’s own popular website and book with A nice cup of tea and a sit down.

Sadly the vexed topic of when to put in the milk has the nation (and families) divided, despite the British Standard suggestion of putting it in last (for tea brewed ‘properly’ in a pot);

7.2.2 Preparation with milk
Pour milk free from any off-flavour (for example raw milk or unboiled pasteurized milk) into the bowl (5.2), using approximately 5 ml for the large bowl and 2,5 ml for the small bowl described in the Annex.

Prepare the liquor as described in 7.2.1 but pour it into the bowl after the milk, in order to avoid scalding the milk, unless this procedure is contrary to the normal practice in the organization concerned.

If the milk is added afterwards, experience has shown that the best results are obtained when the temperature of the liquor is in the range 65 to 80 °C when the milk is added. While addition of milk is not essential, it sometimes helps to accentuate differences in flavour and colour.

Many, including that great British writer George Orwell, who wrote a detailed eleven point set of tea making instructions, insist on putting the milk in second;

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

Needless to say, the Tea Council have their own ideas;

  • Use a good quality loose leaf or bagged tea
  • This must be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature
  • Always use freshly drawn boiling water
  • In order to draw the best flavour out of the tea the water must contain oxygen, this is reduced if the water is boiled more than once.
  • Measure the tea carefully
  • Use 1 tea bag or 1 rounded teaspoon of loose tea for each cup to be served
  • Allow the tea to brew for the recommended time before pouring
  • Brewing tea from a bag in a mug? Milk in last is best

And of course Wikipedia have a wealth of information on the topic of tea preparation.

tea_pot_858726_76609514

The only ‘proper’ way to make a cuppa – image by rubenshito

SquidLondon brighten up a rainy autumn day

emma-jayne_parkes_and_vivian_jaegerSomething of a surprise on my way home tonight to see a full-page advert for our Success Story SquidLondon in the Evening Standard.

Fashion graduates Emma-Jayne Parkes and Viviane Jaeger founded SquidLondon after being inspired by Jackson Pollock. They thought it would be cool to walk down the street, it starts to rain and your clothes turn into a walking Jackson Pollock.

Their first product, the Squidarella, is an umbrella that changes colour as it rains. Developing such an innovative product meant that intellectual property – protecting their ideas – was an essential topic to crack. The pair visited the Business & IP Centre to learn more about how intellectual property applied to them.

Squid have now moved to the bathroom with their latest product : ‘Miss Squidolette’ Shower Curtain!

Miss_Squidolette-Shower_Curtain

An evening in the charming company of Amanda F***ing Palmer and her ukulele

I actually wrote this blog post late on Monday night, but thanks to the unpredictable nature of web editing, the whole thing disappeared in mid-edit. Whilst mustering the energy to start again from scratch, who should pop-up on my iPod but the Dresden Dolls. Considering I have over 5,000 songs, it is set to random, I took this as a sign to finish what I had started.

As I have mentioned before, the British Library is a wonderfully eclectic place, and the events we hold reflect this.

This Monday saw a performance from Amanda F***ing Palmer to a full house of her loyal and adoring fans in the intimate setting of British Library conference centre. With the exception of a couple of songs played on an electronic piano, AFP accompanied herself with a ukulele and mandolin.

 She was also joined on stage for a couple of songs by new husband Neil Gaiman, who just happens to be an award winning science fiction writer, who surprisingly hails from my home town of East Grinstead. Neil also gave a talk earlier in the day as part of our excellent Out of this World science fiction exhibition (which closes on 25 September).

I have to admit to not being aware of what I now understand is the cult of AFP, before Monday, so like any good librarian did a bit of desk research. I discovered she has performed as a solo performer, the driving voice of The Dresden Dolls, the Emcee in Cabaret, and as half of the conjoined-twin folk duo Evelyn Evelyn. And that her approach to clothes seems to be ‘less is more’. So I was somewhat surprised by her initial rather prim and proper outfit (below).

All rights reserved by Hannah Daisy

However, it did not take long for her to revert to her more ‘traditional’ attire of basque and suspenders (below with Neil Gaiman).

(Many thanks to Hannah Daisy for allowing me to use her wonderful photos of the evening.)

All rights reserved by Hannah Daisy

Although Amanda’s cabaret style of music is not normally my cup of tea, I was really impressed by her intelligent lyrics, humour and emotional depth.

The only slight niggle from the evening’s entertainment was the swearing. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not easily offended by rude words, and of course AFP’s stage name gives something of a clue to what might be expected at her shows. But I am now rather bored by the number of visitors to the British Library who seem to think that swearing in such an august institution is terribly naughty, and so irresistibly cool.

My first encounter with the  f word at the library was back in 1997, courtesy of James Brown founder of Loaded Magazine, and perhaps not so surprising given his role as father of the ‘Lads mag’. You can still see him in action on our YouTube channel.

Not long after came Richard Reed of Innocent Smoothies fame,
and Sam Roddick founder of ‘erotic emporium’ Coco De Mer, and daughter of the Body Shop legend Dame Anita Roddick.

Perhaps both could be excused because this was how they expressed their great passion for their business activities.

However, the same cannot be said of comedy veteran Arthur Smith, who during his set at What’s So Funny @ British Library last January, lead a rousing chorus of “I am the Mayor of Balham / oh yes I f***ing am / I am the Mayor of Balham / I f***ing f***ing am”

I could see he was positively revelling in his ‘rebellious’ swearing.

So, I’m afraid on Monday I refused to sing along when Amanda asked us to yell “f*** it”, in response to prompting during her performance of Map of Tasmania. Although, from the sound of it, I was probably the only one not joining in.

The evening wasn’t all swearing however, and including a surprisingly warm mention of my local (and rather dull) town of Crawley, for being the home-town of Robert Smith founder of 80’s pop band The Cure.

She has also covered Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in concert with her father, which is a good sign of musical taste in my opinion.

Needless to say, in our age of social media connections, you can follow both Amanda and Neil on their twitter feeds with half a million, and one and a half million followers respectively.

I can’t wait to see what surprises the library will throw up next.

The Apprentice Series 7 – the rise of the entrepreneurs

the_apprentice_180x180My relationship with The Apprentice series has been something of a roller-coaster ride since it started in 2005.

I have to admit that I didn’t get to see any of the first series, and regret not having watched the wonderful Tim Campbell succeed without comprising his values. I say wonderful, because he went on from winning the first series to become a friend and supporter of the Business & IP Centre in our early days. And I was fortunate enough to get to know him during this period. He has since gone on to found the Bright Ideas Trust, to help young people turn an idea into a business.

I did avidly watch the second, third and fourth series (the ‘Headless chickens’ shopping trip to Marrakech being my favourite episode. However, I became increasing disenchanted with both the egotistical nature of the candidates, and the appalling behaviour on display each week. From backstabbing their fellow ‘team’ members, to outright lying in front of Allan Sugar.

However, with this seventh series the producers have decided to ‘refresh’ the show with a new angle. Instead of the winner spending a year working with Lord Sugar, something neither party would relish I suspect, they get £250,000 to start a new business on his behalf.

So instead of a group of somewhat dysfunctional, insanely ambitious corporate wannabes, we have a group of insanely confident aspiring entrepreneurs and an inventor.

This brings the show into my bailiwick, as our main activity in the Business & IP Centre is to help entrepreneurs and inventors achieve business success.

Already, during the first three episodes, I have spotted ways in which we could have helped the contestants avoid disaster. So, I have decided to cover each show, and identify where our information or services could have made a difference.

During the first episode we were introduced to the contestants using a set of pithy sound-bites. And already I spotted Helen Milligan who desperately needs to attend our workshop Your Life, your Business, with our amazing business coach Rasheed Ogunlaru. Why? Because anyone who says “my social life, my personal life don’t mean anything to me. I live to work, that’s all I do”, Episode 1 (50 seconds in), really needs to get some perspective on their life.

In the second show, we saw the two rival teams, Venture and Logic, develop mobile phone Apps. In this case a couple of hours researching our eMarketer database would have given them plenty of information about the hot trends in this rapidly developing market. Instead their decisions were made in a vacuum and based on their own ideas of what might be popular.

The third episode was all about buying a set of items for the recently refurbished Savoy Hotel, finding the best quality at the best price. As is so often the case with The Apprentice, the producers ensured the contestants were under pressure by giving them one day and just a set of Yellow Pages. Surely I wasn’t the only one to be saying, ‘where is their laptop?’ With the help of Wikipedia they could have discovered what a ‘cloche’ was and where to buy one . They could have used Google Maps to ensure the most efficient route around the required shops, avoiding schlepping from North to South London and missing the deadline. Or perhaps finding their nearest cash and carry branch.

With access to our Kompass database they would have been able to source and locate the producers of just about any product, and start finding out prices, to give them an edge when negotiating with suppliers.

Tom PellereauAlthough Alan Sugar has already ‘fired’ three of the contestants it is difficult to tell who is going to make it through to the final at this point. However, I really like Tom Pellereau, the lone inventor in the group. His refreshing honesty and lack of political chicanery, may be his undoing in the Board Room, but I sincerely hope not. Perhaps I am to naive in thinking that, just like in Series 1, the good-guy might win.

You can read about Tom’s inventions on Steve Van Dulken’s Patent Search Blog

Kate Middleton to marry Prince Harry

The most important activity for any start-up (or existing business come to that) is research. If you don’t understand your customers, your market, or your products properly, you will make mistakes. And these could cost your business.

With this in mind, it looks like Guandong Enterprises ltd failed to do their research when producing a piece of memorabilia to celebrate our forthcoming royal nuptials. Although the names are correct on the ‘Royal mug’, the image is of red-haired Harry, instead of his older brother, less colourful brother Will.

Ironically although this mug is not likely to be a best seller, its value is going to go sky-high due to the mistake.

Will and Kate

http://www.guandongenterprisesltd.com/

Kate Middleton ‘marries Prince Harry’ on souvenir mug

Milking a story for all it’s worth

The_Monster_Ball_-_Poker_Face_revamped2.jpg: John Robert Charlton aka Bobby Charlton of Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, EnglandLast week I was admiring how successfully the Icecreamists have been at generating publicity for their Baby Gaga ice cream, made from human breast-milk, which costs £14 (Luxury foods in terribly bad taste). Then they had a set-back when their local council removed the milk for testing.

On Friday, yet another newspaper article appeared in the Evening Standard – Baby Gaga: Star takes legal action over London parlour’s breast milk ice cream flavour.

It’s a publicists dream come true. Probably the worlds most famous current pop star is threatening legal action over the ice cream, which her lawyers claim is infringing her Lady Gaga brand.

From a legal point of view, it seems unlikely that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also know as Lady Gaga, will win her case against Matt O’Connor the owner of the Icecreamists. He claims the term comes from the early sounds babies make when trying to speak, and has applied to register the trademark.

However, thanks to the Lady Gaga name, this story has now gone global, appearing in American, Russian and Indian newspapers within hours. Mr O’Connor must be rubbing his hands with glee.


Luxury foods in terribly bad taste

One of the key pieces of advice I give to aspiring entrepreneurs is to ensure they have a recognisable unique selling point (USP to use the jargon).

Often this involves finding a niche which has yet to be explored commercially. Sometimes this can be a niche within a niche. If the topic is truly unique and even better controversial, this will help to generate interest from potential customers and the press.

Wild_Kopi_LuwakAn example would be the coffee my brother kindly bought me back from Indonesia. Wild Kopi Luwak is apparently the world’s most expensive and low-production coffee. It is made from the beans of coffee berries eaten by the Asian Palm Civet.

According to Wikipedia, in its stomach, proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated, keeping their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness.

Not every coffee drinker will aspire to drink something which has been source from animal excreta. However, I can confirm that this coffee is definitely not ‘shit’, and has one of the smoothest tastes I have ever sampled.

Peter Dominiczak tasting the £14 ice cream in Covent Garden

Peter Dominiczak from the Evening Standard tasting Baby Gaga

A more extreme example would be Baby Gaga ice cream at a mind-bending £14 a go.

The Icecreamists have been at it again (Sex sells – but call it Maturialism for now), and this time they have scored a hat-trick, with extreme high price, and combining amazing taste and amazingly bad taste in one product.

Their unique selling point? The ice cream is made from fresh human breast milk. The contributors of the milk are paid £15 for every 10 ounces they provide, and apparently are queuing up to meet the demand.

The Evening Standard sent intrepid reporter Peter Dominczak along to try out the controversial new ice cream.

‘I have never been less excited by the thought of ice cream on a sunny day. I am served by a woman imitating Lady Gaga who pours the breast milk into a metal top hat before pouring liquid nitrogen over it. I am provided with a shot of Calpol – apparently to assist with any brain freezes – and some Bonjela for any issues with sensitive teeth. Even with two biscuits, I’m not sure it warrants the £14 price tag. But it tastes fantastic. Light and creamy with just enough of a vanilla tinge. I am told breast milk tastes like overly-sweet skimmed milk, but this ice cream tastes better than almost any I’ve had before. Despite the issues I have with drinking the contents of a stranger’s breast this might catch on.’

The Daily Mail also got excited about the story, One from the chest freezer: Restaurant sells breast milk ice cream

Bizarre: Company founder Matt O'Connor, 44, and the Lady Gaga waitress in the central London store

Company founder Matt O'Connor, 44, and the Lady Gaga waitress in the central London store - Source - Daily Mail - http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Update – 1 March 2011

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this story is set to run and run. Today’s update in the Evening Standard was, Breast milk ice cream seized for safety tests. Westminster Council staff took the Baby Gaga flavour at and sent it away to test for viral infections, after complaints.

The original story in the Standard has attracted quite a few comments, some positive, some negative, and some just silly.

My favourite so far is from MS in London who says;
Not very good marketing for the company. Next time I go to Covent Garden, I’ll make sure I don’t buy any icecream from this business (breastmilk or not).

Comedy at The British Library – What’s So Funny Live

It’s Friday and so time to lighten up a bit.

Actually it was on Monday evening that I was lucky enough to attend What’s So Funny Live, an evening of comedy as part of our Evolving English exhibition.

Five comics took over our rather serious Conference Centre with the challenge of making their audience laugh.

Each of them succeeded in their own way, with Ida Barr being particularly – or perhaps peculiarly, unique.

Doc Brown the rapper and performance poet-turned comedian (who prefers not to be known as the baby brother of author Zadie Smith), was the host for the evening, and contributed some excellent laid back humour. In particular his story about listening to his ‘brothers’ outraged tales of police harassment as they go about their illegal activities.

Susan Murray focussed on regional accents with some self deprecating jokes about the unimpressive nature of her West Midlands accent.

Old timer Arthur Smith followed with sketches about how everyone will eventually become a BBC Radio 4 listener – however hard they try to resist (certainly true for me). He also persuaded the audience to sing along to “I am the Mayor of Balham / oh yes I fucking am / I am the Mayor of Balham / I fucking fucking am”. Taking much delight in polluting the otherwise pristine air of  the British Library with foul language. However, he finished on a joke that was so clean it would be suitable for children and involved balloons and letting people down.

Next came Ida Barr, the creation of Chris Green. She is an ‘artificial-hip-hopping’ former Music Hall star, doddering around the stage but peppering her talk with the street language of ‘innit’ and ‘aks’. Odd, but also hilarious.

Finally came Richard Herring, famous (or perhaps infamous) for his 2009 show Hitler Moustache, in which he attempted to reclaim the toothbrush moustache for comedy… by growing one on his upper lip. He was enormously relaxed and confident with the audience, and has a great deal of excellent material to call on. He successfully unnerved us as well as making us laugh at ourselves and him. He has a great sketch about the potato of the sky…