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Top-tips: Netbooks

September 14, 2011

The hype surrounding the iPad would lead you to believe it had single-handedly killed off the humble netbook, but it seems the plucky little underdog has fought back. There’s still plenty of demand for netbooks and for good reason: they don’t lock you into a walled-garden operating system, are far easier to type on and have bucket-loads more apps available (you know, software).

Granted, they’re not as sexy as the iPad but that’s beginning to change thanks to some slick models from Samsung, Asus and other manufacturers. The introduction of Intel’s dual core Atom processor also gives them greater processing power than their reputation suggests. But above all else they’re far more customisable, allowing you tweak performance, preferences and programmes any way you like. With that in mind, here are Skywrite’s top tips for those sitting on the netbook side of the divide:

1) Increase your RAM

This is without question the most important tip to improve your netbook’s performance. Microsoft insists that manufacturers cannot qualify for the cut-price Windows 7 Starter operating system when shipping products with more than 1GB of RAM. This helps to keep the price down but isn’t ideal for performance.

Fortunately, 2GB of RAM is cheap as chips these days and very easy to install yourself. However, a word of warning before you pick up the screwdriver: You risk voiding your warranty unless you get a certified technician to do it for you. Several PC retailers offer this service for about £30 but may also require you purchase the RAM from them, which is typically more expensive. The swines.

2) Cut-out the iTunes fat

iTunes is a massive hog on computing resources. Whether you’re using a netbook, laptop or desktop, it can have a noticeable impact on how smoothly it runs. Fortunately, Ed Bott over at ZD Net has written a comprehensive unofficial guide to cutting out the bloated and unnecessary software Apple bundles into iTunes.

3) Get cloud-based antivirus software

Uninstall whichever trial antivirus programme your netbook comes pre-installed with and move to a cloud-based alternative. By shifting much of the antivirus programme’s grunt work into the cloud, scanning files on a remote server instead of using your machine’s processing power, it will free-up resources substantially whilst automatically updating its database of threats. There are several options out there from the usual antivirus powerhouses but perhaps the best freeware version comes from Panda Cloud.

4) Sort out your start-ups

One of the impressive features of the iPad is that it takes mere seconds to switch on and get going, a process that can become frustrating to the most placid of PC users. You might not be able to achieve iPad-like boot times, but editing which programmes start-up automatically when your netbook powers-up can keep it reasonably sharp. To do this, just click ‘Start’ on your Windows menu, then ‘Run’, now enter ‘Msconfig’ into the dialog box and hit the Enter key. Select the ‘Startup’ tab and uncheck the programmes you don’t want to run automatically. Some have ambiguous names and descriptions, so if you want to ensure you don’t accidentally turn off your antivirus software then check out this database for clarification.

5) Get your game on

Being unable to play games on your netbook is a myth. You can comfortably play a range of less graphic-intensive games and practically any classic or retro game. Fear not, as the latest incarnation of the Football Manager series will run just fine, though you may want to switch off the 3D match generator. “But there’s no optical drive on a netbook” I hear you cry? Not a problem with digital distribution services such as Steam for modern games or GOG.com for the classics.

Being unable to play 3D games on a netbook is also a myth. The integrated graphics card won’t stand a chance with Modern Warfare 2 but that doesn’t matter with cloud-based gaming service OnLive, which can run the most advanced games on its own servers and relay your commands back to you in real-time. Browser games have also come on leaps and bounds in recent years and offer 3D games for free – check out Battlestar Galactica Online from our client Bigpoint for example.

6) Personalise Windows 7 Starter

Windows 7 Starter Edition keeps your netbook cheap (yay) but it also has some limited features (boo). One of which is the bizarre decision to not allow netbook users to change their wallpaper or other standard settings. However, because Windows isn’t a completely closed platform you can quickly fix this by installing Starter Background Changer.

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Fun times at the Financial Times

August 26, 2011

It’s not every day you’re offered the chance to experience life at one of the most recognisable and widely respected newspapers in the world, so I jumped at the chance of taking part in a short term job-swap with one of the FT’s communications team. So with no expectations and a sack full of questions I headed down to Southwark Bridge and into the bustling FT HQ.

Editorial conferences form the backbone of the Press Office’s proactive media outreach, listening out for all-important scoops, followed by the frenzied scribbling of notes and subsequent pitching to broadcast outlets. While these conferences are part of the daily routine for the many journalists, editors and wider comms team present, they were a rare and fascinating window into a world that many PRs never get to experience.

Even to the most seasoned PR professionals, editorial conferences can be mysterious and frustratingly elusive factories of censorship, where our carefully crafted stories are processed, dissected and manufactured into something new. Sometimes they are consigned to the waste heap and (thankfully) other times they are mass produced. It was a privilege and a thoroughly edifying experience to be a part of them during my short time at the FT.

Of course, getting an insight into the inner workings of the paper and a taste of the tactics used to promote the FT brand was hugely interesting, but it also served as the perfect chance to get a flavour of in-house public relations. Working with a single ‘client’, for example, is an intriguing concept to the uninitiated agency-based PR.

At Skywrite we each work with multiple organisations – in industries as diverse as B2B telecoms, gaming and lifestyle – who each have several products, services or solutions launching at varying times of the year. I quickly learnt that in-house life, at the FT at least, is no less varied. One day I was staffing briefings on the FT’s digital strategy, the next I was pitching a scoop on RBS cutting 2,000 jobs, and the day after I was promoting FT Weekend content on the wines of France to lifestyle bloggers.

The major difference was the role of proactive and reactive outreach on a daily basis. The FT and its Press Office have done an amazing job at building very close relationships with broadcast outlets, positioning their expert journalists as go-to authorities on a range on topics. This requires a lot of proactive work in the background, but when a big scoop breaks the phone does not stop ringing. It’s easy to see how quickly a typical day can be flipped on its head as the team efficiently organises the resulting myriad of enquiries and interview requests.

In contrast, almost 100% of our daily work at Skywrite is based entirely on proactivity. Either brainstorming ideas, developing campaigns or plans designed to generate media interest, creating content that fits into the news agenda, or simply pitching news and product reviews. We’re on the phone just as much as our in-house counterparts – the only difference is who does the dialling.

To find out how the other half of the job-swap went, read the FT’s Esther Kissiedu on her time at Skywrite, available here.

Five of the best: Game intros

July 11, 2011

They say that a good beginning is half the battle, so some of us at Skywrite towers have put our heads together to come up with our top 5 PC game intros of all time.

Quake 2:

The Quake series was never really big on plot or character development, but id Software certainly put together a perfectly balanced first person shooter. Nevertheless, at a time when intro cinematics were the status quo, the opening to Quake 2 managed to stand out from the crowd. From the creepy voiceover which fills in some back-story, to an exhilarating drop-ship sequence that’s vaguely reminiscent of Aliens, the intro movie sets the tone for the entire game very effectively – and it blends perfectly into the gun-toting action.

BioShock:

Any game that throws a plane crash at you and THEN a bathysphere ride has to score high marks. The reveal of the game’s underwater setting, Rapture, is among the most glorious of any gaming sequence. For a second it’s actually hard to believe that all this is being rendered in-engine. Nevertheless, the intro also manages to feed you some useful information on the political back-story of the city, which will, of course, come back to the foreground later on.

Freespace 2:

A year after Freespace had given the space combat sim a much needed shake-up, Freespace 2 arrived on the scene. Set 30 years after the original, the intro cinematic bridges this time gap perfectly. A ferocious space battle before the main title cuts to the aging and gutted debris of the capital ships years afterwards. Plus the voiceover perfectly sets the brooding tone of the entire game.

Half-Life:

Valve Software took a different approach to its seminal first person shooter by ensuring that all of the game’s action takes place from the main character’s point of view. Only a few games had tried this before (notably Unreal) and the intro is no different. For a game that has some of the most memorable action sequences ever created, the opening is very understated: you sit on a tram on your way to work, heading deep into the Black Mesa Facility. This sequence does three things: it grounds you inside a “real” world, it ensures you realise just how isolated you are inside this enormous facility and it hints at all not being well in the complex…

Total Annihilation:

This was a one-hit wonder of the RTS world, which never received the sequel it very much deserved. The cinematic intro sets up the conflict between the ARM and the CORE, as you move from one Commander to the other across a hectic battlefield. It’s a great way to introduce the sheer variety of tactical options that this game opened up to players and the orchestral score perfectly backs up the high-octane action.

That’s it from us, do comment below with your own suggestions!

Playing into the hands of pirates?

February 23, 2011

Priracy is a growing threat for all digital content

We just noticed an interesting blog from Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who found that he needed to become a pirate in order to get hold of the latest Streets album. Despite struggling with iTunes, eMusic and Amazon US, Fred could not find the record:

“It was not even listed in iTunes or emusic. It was listed on Amazon US as an import that would be available on Feb 15th, but only in CD form. I’m not buying plastic just to rip the files and throw it out. Seeing as it was an import, I searched Amazon UK. And there I found the record in mp3 form for 4 pounds. It was going to be released on Feb 4th. I made a mental note to come back and get it when it was released. I got around to doing that today. I clicked on “buy with one click” and was greeted with this nonsense” (i.e. not being able to purchase music from outside the UK) “…so reluctantly, I went to a bit torrent search. I found plenty of torrents for the record and quickly had the record in mp3 form. That took less than a minute compared to the 20+ minutes I wasted trying pretty hard to buy the record legally.”

Given the global nature of the internet, and its rapidly increasing access speeds, does it any longer make sense for the same digital content to be released to different regions of the world at varying times?

Surely this plays into the hands of pirates, and – as in Fred’s case – makes it more likely for legitimate paying customers to turn to piracy to download the music they want to listen to?

Augmented Reality: Never mind the buzz

August 19, 2009

Augmented Reality (AR) has been a favourite topic of mine since watching BBC Click’s 2007 CeBIT report. Back then it was a French company, Total Immersion, demonstrating some pretty impressive computer wizardry, merging virtual creations with real-life objects, in real-time. The potential seemed immediately obvious and far-reaching. Not just in terms of entertainment and gaming but in several other industries too, specifically publishing, education and health. It can also be used as a PR tool by adding unprecedented levels of interactivity to campaigns, as well as offering exclusive virtual content to followers of viral campaigns.

It looks as though the first mass adoption of the technology will occur in one of the major growth industries since 2007: mobile apps. Apple has been quick to file AR patents and smaller companies demonstrating the latest mobile applications are increasingly covered by influential (tech) media. New Media Age recently ran an excellent article documenting some of the innovative ways brands have used AR on mobile, which is well worth a read.

Since the 2007 CeBIT report, the buzz around AR has increased substantially and according to Gartner’s 2009 Hype Cycle, is well on the way to reaching the peak of inflated expectancy. Companies like Total Immersion now find themselves vying for the limelight with a host of competitors. With my PR hat on, it’s almost as interesting to witness this tussle as it is to observe the compelling future-solutions AR continues to tempt us with.

The hype surrounding AR will continue to grow and companies trying to establish their particular flavour of AR will struggle to cut through the noise. They cannot expect to simply sit atop the crest of the wave and hope for the best. They need proactive PR strategies (in addition to solid business models) to ensure they’re not swept away with the backwash when the wave breaks. It’s not necessarily a question of providing the most captivating concept videos, or even the best technology, it’s all about finding the right ways to reach the right people. And that’s where PR has consistently played a central role.

Putting PR to one side, AR really is an exciting technology to keep an eye on, and I look forward to reporting back when it does reach the peak of Gartner’s cycle in 1 – 2 years time. By this point I imagine it will have transcended tech media, well and truly establishing itself in the mainstream.

 

What do web trends and subway maps have in common?

April 9, 2009

Answer: Quite a lot if you live in Japan. Some clever people at Information Architects have mapped the most popular web trends of 2009 onto the Tokyo tube system map. Each rail line represents a topic – for example there is an Advertising Line, Entertainment Line and a News Line – whereas each station represents a particular trend, which could be a brand, person or internet meme.

But what’s really clever is that each web trend correlates to the characteristics of each real-life station. For example, if this was a map of the London Underground we might see YouTube represented as Liverpool Street, due its large traffic and association with flash-mob videos.  Similarly, Old Street might be Twitter due to the large population of social media types based in Shoreditch.

web-trend-map

Obviously these subtleties will make more sense to those living in Japan but it’s an impressive piece of work none-the-less, and they’ve picked up quite a bit of coverage off the back of it too. Click here for a high-res version of the map.

Youtubers stare into the future, Google stares into you bedroom!

February 4, 2009

 

This video, created around this time last year, is brilliant not just in its creativity but also in its prophecy. What started as satirical take on Google Maps’ technology has been transformed into Orwellian reality thanks to Google’s new service, Latitude.

As you may have seen, Latitude allows users to track their friends’ locations via Google Maps from either a PC or mobile device. However, adulterers and sneaks of the nation should fear not! Apparently there are privacy controls built into the software allowing people to control who sees their location and decide what location they see. Well, that’s alright then.

Ambiguous headline tickles man

December 8, 2008

The ambiguous headline is a rare and beautiful thing. As PR’s, we scan thousands of headlines every week looking for news relevant to our clients, and most of the time they do exactly what they say on the tin. But every now and again an absolute corker pops up. Perhaps they are honest mistakes – the result of a particularly busy day in the office – or perhaps the journalist has a wicked sense of humour.

I noticed a headline on the Yorkshire Post website last week that sparked my interest more than usual. It read: ‘Horsewoman died in freak show accident’. Now who else instantly thought of a half-woman/half-horse creature that died among other oddities in a freak-show accident?

Obviously this wasn’t the case and the headline actually referred to a very sad story about a woman who died in horse-show accident. You can see what the headline meant but it created a completely different meaning.

A quick Google search later and I had found a list of some classic ambiguous headlines that have appeared over the years. A few of the best were:
• Prostitutes appeal to Pope
• Enraged cow injures farmer with axe
• Iraqi head seeks arms
• Queen Mary having bottom scraped
• Police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers

There are also the ridiculously stupid headlines, which go beyond explaining the story, and explain the simply obvious:
• Something went wrong in jet crash, experts say
• Sneak attack by Soviet Bloc not foreseen
• Blue skies unless its cloudy

Take a closer look next time you read a paper and let me know if you spot any more gems.

Gnome rest for the wicked!

October 22, 2008

Has anybody noticed the suspiciously high amount of gnome activity lately? Last March, this video surfaced showing a gnome quite creepily crossing a road in Argentina:

 

In August, this Daily Mail story told how a garden gnome was stolen, taken on a round-the-world trip and returned home complete with photo album. Now, the creepy Argentinean gnome is back!

My PR side thinks this could all be part of an elaborate, if extremely patient, viral marketing campaign.  The creepy gnome videos certainly have gone viral but is an organisation behind them? There were rumours that the gnome could have been a Grunt from the Halo game franchise. Perhaps rivals World of Warcraft are behind it, showing off one of the races in its game? I really hope so – it’s great to see good virals done well.

Election 2.0

October 9, 2008

If New Labour’s landslide election win in 1997 marked the year parties woke up and recognised the importance of the media, will 2008 be looked back on as the year of new media? – If the flood of buzzwords emanating from both camps in the US presidential race is anything to go by then, yes.

 

Obama’s iPhone application, which turns the device into a political recruiting tool, is the latest example. But putting my initial cynicism aside, it does appear as though the application may actually serve a purpose other than having Apple’s uber-cool brand rub off on the would-be president.

 

 

2008 has demonstrated that YouTube and other video-casting sites have the potential to become the soap boxes of the digital era. Both US parties have been extremely proactive in uploading content to either endorse their candidate or cast doubts over the opponent, even throughout the primaries. Several clips suggesting McCain has more in common with George Dubya than just being a Republican have perhaps been the most influential.

 

I’m sure those of you who regularly check out viral video charts will have noticed how they’ve been dominated by US presidential videos. The sheer volume of these videos has hampered my personal crusade to find the next Star Wars Kid or fat guy falling off a diving board but it is evident that, crucially, these videos are reaching a wide audience, particularly notoriously apathetic younger voters.


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