Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ask Lucy

The local newspapers are quite dreary. The local blogosphere is also rather dry these days, so what does a frustrated fellow do to enliven a bad day at the office? Look to one of the few quality newspapers still around.

Ok this is not really news but the advice given by Lucy is superb.

In love with a senior at work

My bonus is being paid for by taxpayers, do I give it back?


How long do we have to wait before the local blogosphere returns to quality debate?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Música de España

Stumbled across some nice music, quite by accident.

There is a Spanish band called Los Manolos that plays some nice music including cover versions of some well known songs. Unlike other cover bands they do not simply play the music straight but instead infuse it with all the rhythms of Spain and the result is quite exhilerating.

Amigos para siempre is rather bad song by Andrew Lloyd Webber but in the hands of Los Manolos it is elevated to this.

Maybe its just the rhythms that are getting to me but when they turn their hands to the Beatles classic All My Loving it just blows me away. It is also rather amusing to hear the song sung with a Spanish accent.

This is something else by the same group, rather different in spirit but still nice.

Since I was on the subject of Spanish music, Volare is another classic by the Gypsy Kings. Have heard the song before but never listened to it properly before or knew who sang it. Seeing it being performed is an eye-opener.

Israel's democratic credentials

I tend to disagree with many of the positions taken by Israel. I also tend to sympathise with the plight of the Palestinian's: their cause if just and they suffer from a lot of repression, some of which is quite brutal.

For all its fault's however, it must be admitted that Israel is a functioning democracy. Alternative voices are heard and there is process that works. If further proof were needed, this should suffice.

Contrast that, with for example this.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The purpose of advertising

There has been some debate on the subject of the Sri Lankan advertising industry. I am not involved in this industry nor do I have a background in sales or marketing but there is a question that I would like answered.

What is the purpose of advertising?

To me, the answer is straightforward: to improve sales and ultimately profits.

Business exists for only one purpose: to make a profit. People talk of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and a business, like everybody in society needs to comply with certain standards but fundamentally a business does not exist to perform CSR. It exists to make a profit.

There is a different debate, mostly concerning bahavioural psychology, as to whether businesses actually strive to provide the best return to shareholders, but for this discussion I think it can be ignored.

Working on this principle, the role of advertising, as in every other aspect of business is to improve profits. Advertising is primarily concerned with sales (I admit that there are other reasons for advertising too) but its main purpose would be to increase sales.

This brings me to a second question: if the purpose of advertising is to improve profits, then should advertisements be judged purely on this basis?

Stated in another form, does it matter how nice is looks or how well it is put together as long it does its job? Extending this further, does it matter whether an advertisement or even a whole campaign copies something done somewhere else? Is it necessary that an advertisement be original and display a certain artistic qualities?

After all the whole business of management education is based on attempting to derive successful principles from the practices of the past. Why do we read case studies? So that we may draw on examples that may be useful in similar situations in the future and apply them where possible. If a particular advertisement or campaign is successful in one market then is there any harm in copying it or adapting it in another market? To me, as long as it works, it does not matter where it comes from or how ugly it is.

Advertisements are only a means to an end, a mere tool to be used. It is true that there are elements of ingenuity that are involved in the process of developing advertisements but I tend to think that people get rather too carried away by these things.

An advertisement is not art. The fact that it seems to be regarded as such in Sri Lanka is a reflection of the debased state of society.

An advertisement may draw on certain elements and use the mediums that are found in true art but no one should regard something as intrinsically base as an advertisement as art.

There will be instances when the maker of posters or a commercial on film or television displays great skill in the use of the medium and we may justly admire such skill and be grateful that our senses have not been assaulted but it is not art.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kicked out of HSBC

It finally happened, the straw that broke the camel's back. I went back to my old bank, NDB. HSBC, the World's Lousiest Bank finally drove me out.

It took a while. I put up with their indifference, impersonal automated service, lousy rates, sky high charges and god knows what else for a fair while. I'm a patient man and a lazy one. Its a nuisance to maintain multiple accounts and because NDB does not have a credit card I am forced to retain that but HSBC is not going to make any money out of me anymore. Well maybe just a little, but no longer will they enjoy my deposits, which is what they want.

I found HSBC's internet banking convenient and my credit cards were linked up to auto settle so I had minimum interaction with them. The little I did have however resulted in poor and increasingly worse service.

My relationship with HSBC goes back to 1994, when I first got a credit card. Service was terrible but I stayed. Then in the late 1990's I encountered a wonderful manager at the Bambalapitya branch, thanks to her service, over time I transferred everything to HSBC. After she left things began to go downhill again, a little at a time. She left me various contacts, through whom I was able to get some things done and I would also ring her occasionally to get extra help, but there is a limit to which one can bother staff who are now in different departments. I am also reluctant to use the corporate muscle that comes with my position to keep ringing the senior people to get things done on my personal account. When I'm really stuck I will, but for routine, simple things, I can hardly bother them can I?

The last straw was when I tried to ring them yesterday. I tried several times and no one would even pick up the phone and on the one or two occasions that they did the call was on left on hold and then cut.

This morning I rang my old account manager at NDB. She saw me right away, almost an hour before the bank even opened (they let me in through the staff entrance) and I made my deposit and was back in my office within fifteen minutes. Now THAT is what call service. They also paid a much better rate than that other blasted place.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

It was the babblers' nest - Conrad Felsinger

I just finished skimming Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry’s ‘Around the Fort in 80 Lives’. I saw this book while wandering around Galle during the literary festival. I was tempted to buy it but (luckily as it turns out) I did not. I discovered later that a friend owned it and borrowed it from him.

I was rather disappointed by the book; although it starts off with a good theme and has the potential to become interesting it seemed rather shallow and naive. A coffee table book with insufficient pictures and too much text; rather unsatisfying on the whole.

My mind was then taken back to an altogether different story of Galle, EFC Ludowyk's charming autumnal reflections on growing up in Galle. Deeply felt and beautifully written it is a lovely memoir of a way of life that no longer exists.

This is turn brought me to the other beautiful memoir, from an even earlier era which is the title of this post. I'm not sure how many people have read this splendid work, but if you can get your hands on a copy (I would suggest you try raiding the second hand book shops on D.R.Wijewardene Mawatha, if the last copy on Amazon gets sold) it is something that I think is a must read for anyone interested in this land. It is a highly entertaining account of schoolboy life at the beginning of the twentieth century, when a catapult was a regular part of any boy's armoury and birds the usual victim. It is a book of schoolboy life; of outrageous pranks and elaborately organised trips made in bullock carts. A vivid portrait of life in another era.

I get rather sentimental reading stuff like this and perhaps not just because I am a sentimental fool. I feel very alienated by the politics in Sri Lanka today, but deep down, I think I still retain a love for this land.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Holding seats in a theatre

Got back from the performance of the Verdi Requiem a while back, the most uncomfortable concert I have ever been to. Never realised that the cathedral could get so hot and it does not, unlike most churches have wide windows or doors. The crowd was also massive, perhaps because it was free, and since no tickets were being sold seats were in short supply.

I got in by about 6.20 and found a seat easily enough. Then a friend asked me to hold a couple of seats for him so I left my seat (it was being held by a neighbour) and occupied another a few rows behind. While waiting there an old woman with a couple of similarly aged friends walks up and exclaims "oh there are three seats here". I had omitted to put anything down on the seat so I said that I was keeping one seat for a friend so there were only two available, to which she retorted sharply "but they are not here are they?"

I was not about to get into an argument with an old woman over a seat so I gave in with no further comment.

The question is: is it right or fair to hold a seat for a friend in crowded theatre? There was a time when the British Council had a notice put up forbidding teh practice in their auditorium, but as a general practice is it fair?

Friday, March 06, 2009

A man of courage and conviction

Such men are hard to some by, particularly in the Third World, so it good to see the tale of John Githongo being published. I have always admired such men and this book should be required reading for anyone interested in politics in this country.

The book's title "Its our Turn to Eat" could apply equally well here.

Those interested in reading his report on Kenyan corruption can access it here.

Hoppers with jam, anyone?

I have introduced some friends from overseas to the delights of a hopper. The only thing is, they seem to prefer to eat them with jam, strawberry jam in particular, rather than the usual curries.

Even an egg hopper is rejected in favour of the plain hopper with jam, although the sweet milk hopper is accepted willingly enough.

Does anyone else like this (to me at least) strange combination?

I remember eating hoppers with butter as a child but cannot remember ever liking them with jam.

There's no accounting for taste I suppose.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The End.

A friend sent me this rather witty text message. How will we describe the ending of the war? Gota-dammerung?

It is difficult to find intelligent commentary on the what is necessary post victory. Malinda Seneviratne tackles some of the thorny issues in an insightful essay on Dignity and Relatedness.