Archive for the 'Sounds' Category

Pop-up economics at St Pancras: not a crazy idea

I was walking through London St Pancras Station Monday lunchtime, and I thought: “That sounds like Tim Harford, the guy who presents More or Less on the radio”. This thought is not as weird as it seems. I listen to the podcast, and occasionally steal his ideas. I like him because I have an exaggerated respect for economists who talk like ordinary people, having met far too many of the other type.

By chance I was passing at exactly the right time to hear him record his new programme, Pop-up Economics, in which he stands up in front of people and tells them stories about economics. The first episode is on Radio 4 tonight. Here’s a really bad picture I took on my phone. It proves I was there, but not much else:

A bit of Tim Harford's head. Look, there were a lot of people there, ok?

A bit of Tim Harford’s head. Look, there were a lot of people there, ok?

He performed two stories, apparently from memory, of about 10 minutes each. I’m not going to tell you about them, because they were excellent – so it’s better if you listen to them on the radio (I think this show will be broadcast on 23 January, but you can listen to it on iPlayer afterwards). I can reveal that the first story covered the best way to match kidney donors to people who need a kidney, and the second one was about Full Tilt Poker. As someone who teaches people to tell stories, has an interest in economics, and who plays poker at Full Tilt, I couldn’t have been happier to hear what he had to say – unless I was suffering from kidney failure, I suppose.

Golden Crocoduck fever grips Talk Normal

Why post this clip? Because Sunday is a very important day for Talknormalists: it’s the day on which the annual Golden Crocoduck Award is announced. This is given by Peter Hadfield, also known as potholer54, to the creationist who offers the most flagrant breach of the 9th commandment: “the one that tells you not to tell fibs” as he explains.  The award is given every year on 28 October – the feast day of St Jude Thaddeus, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. It’s too late for you to vote; but please check out the nominees in the video above (one of whom actually tries to convince viewers that the earth must be stationary because when we jump we land in the same place), and then the rest of his channel.

In the summer of 2006 I was asked to go on the BBC News 24 (now BBC news channel) to have a middle-aged-manchat with Peter Sissons about why there was this thing called YouTube which was becoming really popular with da kidz.  Why, he asked me, would people want to go to a web site to watch a fireman in a tumble dryer?  – he really did ask this – especially when there’s real TV on 24 hours a day, with politicians and experts standing outside buildings and stuff (he didn’t say this. I deduced it from the height of his eyebrows when he was watching the fireman video).

Get with it daddio! I sort of said – I was living in Hoxton, on the doorstep of London’s famous Silicon Roundabout, and we all spoke like that, even those of us who were old enough to know better – da peeps need to express themselves! This is the social media equivalent of the “everyone’s got a book in them” argument. It says that everyone has got a YouTube video inside them, waiting to get out: just maybe not a very good one.

So six years later I’m all for YouTube in principle, it’s just that much of it is total crap. I’m not talking about bands I don’t like or people I disagree with. There’s a ton of that on TV too. But watching the peeps express themselves on subjects such as why the earth is the centre of the universe, or how we know dinosaurs lived on earth alongside humans, can be quite disheartening. There’s eight years of material uploaded to YouTube every day. Much of it, it appears, is uploaded by people who were asleep in science lessons, aren’t really interested in looking up the answers, but still think we need to hear their half-formed ideas. Alternatively, they simply repost something by someone they decided to agree with, without stopping to think why they might learn something by checking whether it’s true.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which bits are the worst, but luckily we have potholer54 to help us decide. If you have any interest in using logic and curiosity as a way to debunk pseudoscience, creationism and the denial of our role in global warming, he’s an excellent guide.

His videos are short (usually between 10 and 15 minutes), expertly researched with all sources listed, and very, very funny. It’s a great way to learn if ever you want to explain why there isn’t evidence for a global flood, or why Lord Christopher Monckton, the UK’s embarrassing denier of man-made climate change, is misinformed and wrong. The Monckton takedown starts here and ends (for now) here.

It’s hard to pick a favourite from his channel, but I always enjoy Hadfield’s demolition of American talk show host Bill O’Reilly:

Unlike most of his fellow ignoramuses on YouTube, O’Reilly is “paid to broadcast his ignorance to millions of people” (Hadfield’s description) via Sissons-era TV. This is one of the best arguments in favour of YouTube: without it we’d have a lot less potholer54, but the same amount of Bill O’Reilly.

For one day only

The budget cuts in local radio were starting to bite

6pm update: here’s a link to my interview on Ireland’s Newstalk. It starts about 35 minutes into this stream, but I thoroughly recommend the 10 minutes that precede my segment too: it’s an interview with the inventor of a special bag that you pee into when you can’t find a toilet. It was easily the most amusing discussion of urine that I’ve listened to before the watershed.

Today (Friday), any of you who are pretending to work from home might get the bonus of Talk Normal on your radio. That really is me! Or, if you’ve come here because you just heard me on the radio, that really was me!

Or, indeed, if you’re planning your Friday and are wondering what to do until happy hour, then residents of Coventry & Warwickshire, Leeds, Cumbria, Belfast, Antrim, Omagh, Kent, Stockport (and Congleton) and Norfolk (and some more) should tune in to local radio. During the day I’ll be chatting to all of you about a survey of jargon.

Here’s an article in the Mail online about the jargon survey. I’m quoted near the bottom. My quote about communicating in a way that people could understand was, when I checked, next to the headline “Precocious Honey Boo Boo stumbles over Spanish… and bursts into tears as ‘pageant good luck charm’ pet pig Glitzy is sent back”, which I can only assume was written by a duck pointing its bill at random words in an old copy of Hello!.

This is, of course, also how new copies of Hello! are written. It takes a lot of ducks but, crucially, not many journalists.

For first-time Talknormalists: now you’re here, have a look around. Find out my views about penguins on conference calls or discover my intimate connection to Katie Price’s breasts. Residents of South Ribble, I know your secrets. Then, most important, buy the Talk Normal book. There’s secret stuff in there that I never talk about on the radio.

 

Cliché-ridden rubbish

For insomniacs, rugby fans and those of us known as morning people, listening to ITV’s World Cup Rugby commentator Phil Vickery is a buttock-clenching lesson in Talknormalism. Obviously uncomfortable in his new job, he flips between the banal (“he uses his feet to run”), strained silence (“If the art of commentary is silence, Vickery is its Rembrandt” – The Daily Telegraph), and waffly overtalking (in Vickery’s commentary you don’t play rugby, you “get a game of rugby under your belt”).

Online rugby fans are not content (“truly, truly awful”, “needs to be cattle-prodded”, “master of platitudes”, “cliché-ridden rubbish”, “the worst commentator in the history of sport”, and that’s just the kinder ones). Searching Twitter for the word “Vickery” during an England rugby game is more entertaining than watching the team play.

It can’t be easy to be a commentator but, on the other hand, it’s his job. We might expect a certain level of expertise. This is a surprisingly common problem in British televised sport, where often the guy in the second seat seems to be doing it for a bet. In the last football World Cup Chris Coleman also gave the impression that he was just filling in until the real commentator’s taxi showed up, stringing together every football cliche from “he’s got good touch for a big man” to “you often you see a team concede soon after scoring a goal”, delivered when we’d just seen a team concede soon after scoring a goal.

Expertise in doing something does not guarantee expertise in explaining it to others, but that expertise can be trained, developed, measured and rewarded. This doesn’t just apply to sport.

Last week I spoke at a conference of the Chartered Management Institute to encourage more slavish obedience to my borderline fanaticism. A member of the audience asked how managers should solve the Vickery-Coleman communication problems in their companies. I suggested they start by formally assessing how well those managers speak and write, with compulsory training for the ones who don’t do it well, and rewards for the ones who do. Anecdotally I find that, when I work to help companies with a waffle problem, junior staff are often just copying a Vickery-Coleman boss. We catch waffle from each other like we catch a nasty cold.

Waffle infection could explain the moment towards the end of this weekend’s game when Nick Mullins, Vickery’s co-commentator, informed us that England full back Ben Foden “always has his eyes open, and is always ready to pin back his ears.” I think I remember that torture scene from one of the Saw films:

Maybe Mullins caught a nasty case of platitudes from Vickery. Although, thinking about it, he has always been rubbish too.

The thoughts of chairman Tim (part 3)

In the final part of our guide to Talk Normal and Talknormalisation, how jargon has infected the media, why social media isn’t always a good thing, and tips for better writing. Ease yourself into the weekend, as local radio DJs say, by listening to it:

Again, if you’re a subscriber, you will need to visit the site. Hope you’ve enjoyed the podcasts. I’ve got another recorded interview for you next week, but someone else will be answering the questions. That, for some of you, might be a relief.

The thoughts of chairman Tim (part 2)

More from Talk Normal’s chief solutions advocate (that’s me): in this podcast we talk about HR jargon, CSR, thought leadership and other rubbish you hear at work. Stick in the headphones during your lunch hour and let us take you to a better place.

Eighteen minutes of joy. Note: subscribers – you’ll have to visit the site to listen, but it’s worth it.

The thoughts of chairman Tim (part 1)

All go at Talk Normal headquarters. My publisher has created three podcasts about Talknormalism, the problems that jargon causes, and what we can do to solve them. I’ll add the other two parts in the next few days. Here’s part one:

Maybe you can listen to it while you’re on mute in a conference call.


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