Sunday, January 31, 2010

If Fish Could Draw II: Reflecting Spheres and the Search for Old Paintings

In September 2009 I blogged about how the limitations of one media often drive creativity in another (If Fish Could Draw, 28 September 2009). One of the examples I gave was the art of Catarina Kruusval , whose illustrations are sometimes drawn with distorted verticals and perspective like the view from a fisheye lens. I am still convinced that she was inspired by wide angle lenses but it turns out I was rash to say that this view had never been seen until such lenses were invented.

Artists have, in fact, been looking at this kind of perspective since they first made metal spheres shiny enough to reflect a wide angle image. There is a famous picture of MC Escher holding a shiny sphere in his hand and observing the reflected image; he used this sphere in the 1920’s and 1930’s to make woodcuts and lithographs where he was at the center. I will be very surprised if nobody thought of this before Escher.

One earlier example is a photograph taken in 1910 by an unknown amateur photographer and included in Michel Frizot’s outstanding “Nouvelle Histoire de la Photographie”, a must-have volume for photography fans. The photographer stands in front of a polished metal sphere and is at the center of the resulting wide angle photo, taken long before fish eye lenses were invented. I left the entire image so that you can see the sphere, but if you crop the image you get the typical fisheye view.

Almost certainly other artists in earlier periods must have noticed the strange reflections in metal spheres so now I wonder who was the first to actually use this perspective in a painting or drawing? I am going to check again all the galleries and art books I can find, looking for early examples. If you happen to see one yourself please add a comment or mail me. When I find something I will post another update.

UPDATE, 15 August 2013: Thanks to Quora I have found a painting by Jan Van Eyck, the Arnolfini Portrait, that includes in the background a reflection in a convex mirror that is clearly a precise fisheye view. This was painted in 1434.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When it’s a Good Idea to Use the B Word: Two Simple PR Lessons from the Nestlé Baby Milk Saga

Preparing for a lecture about how a PR crisis can become “chronic” I have been fact checking some case studies such as the long running “Nestlé Boycott”. This case is very interesting in many ways, but today I have noted two apparently trivial details that are instructive for anyone who is creating content for websites, blogs and social media.

My first step in research is often to google the topic and the search string I chose for the first attempt was “nestle boycott” – a fairly obvious choice. Scanning the results I noted that this search locates all the content produced by the boycott campaign -- for example -- and the helpful Wikipedia page but it does not find any response from the Nestlé company.

By searching the company website very diligently I was able to find at least one document that includes what is effectively a company response -- buried in a 1999 speech at -- but it does not appear in the google search results because the company does not use the expression “Nestlé boycott” anywhere. They do use the word boycott once in the speech, but this is not enough to get on the first page or Google results. This is not surprising but on reflection it seems to be a not terribly good idea. The company also has a special website defending its position -- -- but this site does not include the word “boycott” anywhere and I found it only because I was very determined to get the company’s side of the story with or without their help.

Perhaps the company prefers to avoid using this label “Nestlé Boycott” but that’s what people call it and that’s what people are going to search for. By avoiding this label they just drive everyone to the campaign pages and any other content produced by adversaries. A more sensible approach might be for the company either to mention this label in their text, but perhaps stating it in a way that distances the company from the expression. For example, they could write something along the lines of “the organized campaign that is commonly known as the ‘Nestlé Boycott’”. This method has the advantage of working even when the content is quoted. A technical alternative is to insert the term in the “meta tags” of the web page – those hidden spaces where you can add keywords that search engines can see but do not appear on the screen. I suspect that if they did embed and tag the boycott label, combined with their ownership of the domain would ensure a high google ranking for their page, placing their response close to the pro-boycott sites.

I mentioned two lessons, and the second is another apparently minor detail that can derail the best efforts of the PR department. Just before leaving for a business trip I printed both the campaign’s excellent briefing paper “History of the Campaign” (www.babymilkaction.og/pages/history.html), the Nestlé 1999 speech page and the content of the Nestlé babymik page. Hours later, sitting on an airplane I pulled out the file to study these papers. Alas I could not read any of the Nestlé pages because the speech came out as just three blank pages with a Nestlé logo in each corner and the babymilk page was rendered unreadable by the company’s own reader questionnaire window overprinted on the text. I have mentioned this problem in this blog three years ago -- -- and I am still astonished how in 2010 large corporations can still have web pages that you cannot print properly. There is a lesson here for everyone in PR and communications: there is no point staying up all night drafting a perfect statement if the users cannot read it and there is no excuse for having a page that does not print correctly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Seven and a Half Things to do When Someone Asks You to Deliver Their Presentation

When I coach people in speaking and presenting skills I always ask what they need to know about and especially what they fear the most. Pretty consistently the nightmare of most people is having to present something that someone else has prepared. These are mostly people who are already confident presenters of their own material but they dread being handed a pile of possibly poor quality slides and having to stand up and present them.

Fortunately there are some tried and tested methods for dealing with this problem and I have distilled them into a quick checklist of seven and a half things to do. I hope this helps you one day.

CHECKLIST: Seven and a Half Things to Do When Someone Asks You to Deliver Their Presentation

1. CONSIDER SAYING NO. Say no when there is no advantage to you, but consider benefits to relationships and career if you accept.

2. TALK TO THE AUTHOR. Talk with the creator of the presentation even if they have only a few minutes. If you just have one minute use that minute to ask what was their objective and their key messages.

3. FOCUS ON THE MESSAGE. Spend your time understanding the message and how to communicate it and less on the slides you were given

4. MEMORIZE INTRODUCTION. Starting without reading makes a good first impression.

5. AVOID PROBLEM SLIDES. Skip slides you don’t understand unless they contain some key data.

6. DISTANCE YOURSELF. If you disagree with something attribute it to the original author.

7. NEVER POINT OUT MISTAKES. Never draw attention to mistakes, poorly designed slides or other issues.

7½. LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE. Make sure that your own presentations can be presented by others, using clear messages and notes.

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