Meaning and Magic on a Disney Cruise: Part 1

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be posting about my 11 night Mediterranean cruise on the Disney Magic, and other Disney-related thoughts. I’m also (slowly) uploading photos to my Flickr.

On a Disney cruise, you never stop hearing about the fantastic time you’re having. Wasn’t last night’s Captain’s dinner just delicious? Didn’t you love Naples? The movie tonight is going to be simply stunning! Let’s give another round of applause to our cast for such an amazing show!

Most passengers on my cruise did, in fact, think that the dinner was delicious; they did love Naples; and they were more than happy to give a standing ovation to the cast for every show. It’s not as if they needed to be reminded of this, so why were the Disney cast members so insistent that everyone know they’re having a great time?

Here’s why. Try this experiment – find a pen or pencil, put it in your mouth and bite it for a minute.

How do you feel? A bit foolish or embarrassed, probably – but maybe a little happier, as well. The simple act of making yourself smile can actually improve your mood. It won’t take away a bad mood, but it can tip the balance from feeling indifferent to feeling happier. It can turn an indifferent or sulky teenager into a mildly impressed one, and of course, it can turn the average Disney fan into a devoted follower.

Docked in Malta

Disney understands the secret of great advertising. They don’t just want people to buy Disney products – they want them to be happy about what they’ve already bought, so they’ll buy more in the future. And a Disney cruise isn’t just a way to make money, it’s a brilliant opportunity to sell more Disney products – including movies, DVDs, games, toys, theme park tickets, clothes, and of course, more cruises – to a captive audience.

This may sound awful, but here’s the thing: the food on a Disney cruise isn’t bad. The ports – and the shows – range from average to amazing, the cast members are pretty good, the service and facilities are excellent, and the ship is by far the finest-looking cruise ship I’ve seen. Disney has plenty to be proud of. And so, just as Steve Jobs is fond of describing the iPad – a very good device, though not without its flaws – as ‘magical’, ‘revolutionary’, and ‘unbelieveable’, Disney wants you to believe that its cruises – very good, though far from perfect – are just as magical.

(While plenty of other brands regularly exaggerate the quality of their beers, cars, soap, underwear, etc, in their life-changing abilities, people seem to be less bothered by them than by offenders like Apple and Disney. I think there are two factors behind this: firstly, unlike most other companies, it really does seem like they mean it when they say their products are magical. Secondly, there are an awful lot of people out there how really do believe these claims. These two factors combined are enough to enrage millions of anti-fanboys around the world).

The Beginning

The cruise I went on with my girlfriend was an 11 night tour of the Mediterranean on the DCL Disney Magic, departing from Barcelona and visiting Malta, Tunisia, Naples, Civitavecchia, La Spezia, Ajaccio (in Corsica), and Villefranche.

Screen shot 2010-06-01 at 00.37.20

A basic cabin costs around $2000 per person, but thanks to a tip from HotUKDeals, we found tickets for half the price – a great bargain (probably due to the recession). We’d only been on one cruise before, with my parents to Cork (yes, in Ireland) last year. I found it to be a pretty interesting experience – after all, any ship with 4000 passengers and its own rock climbing wall, ice skating rink, and countless restaurants and pools, is bound to be interesting from at least a logistical, engineering, and cultural perspective. Plus it was pretty relaxing. So I wasn’t turned off from the idea of cruising. Continue reading “Meaning and Magic on a Disney Cruise: Part 1”

San Francisco

I’m going to be in San Francisco from Thursday 10th until Wednesday 16th July, mainly for FooCamp but also for general meetings and so on. If you’re around and would like to meet up, just send me an email (you can get it from the ‘About’ page).

The trip is not the reason why I haven’t been updating here; I’ve been busy working on a new project that will take a fair while to complete, and so things will be quiet around here for a while. The good news is that if you like reading this blog, you should also like the new project!

Mr. Otis and Mr. Schindler…

For the benefit of those who don’t subscribe to my Twitter feed, or don’t know what Twitter is (almost everyone), I heard a funny and mysterious message while on the plane from Toronto to London. We’d landed only minutes earlier and were taxiing to the terminal when a flight attendant said:

We have a message for Mr. Otis and Mr. Schindler – your lifts are waiting at the gate.

A couple of people chuckled, because it’s quite funny – Otis and Schindler are the two largest lift manufacturers in the world, founded by Elisha Otis and Robert Schindler over a century ago. I find it hard to believe, however, that their descendants, or even representatives, were actually on the plane – certainly no-one actually called Mr. Otis or Mr.

Perhaps the message was just a joke, but I doubt it. Most people have no idea what Otis and Schindler mean, and even if they did, I find that flight attendants aren’t usually given to making jokes over the PA. It’s not as if this message was appended to another announcement, either.

So, what was it all about? I suppose it was for the benefit of some passenger on the plane who didn’t want to be named. Or maybe it’s a codeword for an emergency, like the ‘Mr. Sands’ message on the London Underground that’s actually a fire alert.

If you have any ideas on what this message might mean, or if you’ve heard it elsewhere, please let me know in the comments. And no, this is not an ARG or anything like that, I really did hear it on the plane.

Berlin Calling

Three people – a doctor, the CTO of an up-and-coming web company, and the CEO of an up-and-coming 3D game engine company – have independently told me the same thing in the last month. It’s time to move to Berlin.

In any discussion of where I work and what I do, the subject of London’s frustratingly high house prices and cost of living comes up. Relocating to elsewhere in the UK, such as Guildford or Bath, is usually dismissed since they are ‘completely boring’ and the prices aren’t really that much lower there anyway. There’s some ambivalent comparison of various European cities, and then it’s pointed out to me that in Berlin, not only could I afford a mansion, a swimming pool and a shooting range for the amount I currently spend on rent, but I could also have access to all sorts of ‘culture’. Plus, unlike Paris and most of Europe, Berlin quite likes Americans, which is always helpful.

I have to admit that I’m not about to move to Berlin, or anywhere else, any time soon; I like London, even with its high prices, just as it is right now. But I occasionally daydream about leading a band of young creatives and entrepreneurs to somewhere cheaper, proclaiming, “Screw you,
London – we’ve had enough, and now we’re going.”

More seriously, having travelled all over Europe in the last few months, I’ve been struck by how easy and cheap it is to fly and Eurostar everywhere, and also by the surprising abundance of interesting people I meet in each city. I know that sounds terrible, but I think that ‘web’ and ‘digital’ people like myself in the UK are fixated on the US as the only place where interesting people are and where interesting things happen; and more precisely, New York and San Francisco. I always intended to move to the US as soon as I could after university. Now, I’m not really that attracted. The magic has gone.

So, it has to be said, there are interesting people in Europe. Services and connectivity are at least as good, if not better, than the UK, and of course, the cost of living is far lower. Why not move to Berlin? Because it’s hard to be the first person to do it. You come up against all sorts of  unexpected hurdles and you don’t have anyone to give you advice. When you finally get there, you’re on your own, with few other British or American startups.

Now, the CTO I mentioned earlier did come up with the interesting idea of spending short stints in Berlin, anywhere from one month to six months. This would require some very understanding employees, of course, but while young people aren’t quite that mobile yet, I do think they’re getting there. I suggested another tack – a group of startups and small companies could join forces and agree to rent out a set of offices and apartments, and simply take turns staying there. Like an incubator (or a timeshare).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Berlin or elsewhere. The impulse behind this daydream, which is evidently shared among many, many people, is that cities like London are getting just too expensive to work in. Much of the work we do can be done anywhere; however, we like living in cities, not in the middle of nowhere. A possible solution presents itself in European cities such as Berlin, that have thriving cultural and tech scenes, that are modern and easily accessible and friendly to foreigners. By moving, you’re not just outsourcing yourself to another country, you’re getting to see the world.

London, watch out…

New York

Just a quick note, I’m going to be in New York from today until Sunday, so if you’re nearby and would like to meet up, send me an email!

Where’s Adrian? (The Return)

Over the next three months, I’m going to be travelling to six different countries.

Amsterdam (Sept 25th-29th): I’m speaking at the PICNIC Academy about ARGs on either Tuesday or Wednesday (pay no attention to their schedule, they’re moving things around). I’ll also be around for the rest of the conference, including Come Out and Play.

Brussels (Oct 16th-17th): Going to speak about ARGs at Fo.am. Should be fun to see what those guys are up to.

Zurich (Oct 19th-20th): Speaking about ARGs and marketing at GameHotel. Haven’t been to a games conference for a few months so I’m looking forward to having a go on all the new games.

New York (Oct 30th-Nov 4th): Speaking about ARGs at Embrace the Chaos, an ARG/marketing conference.

Vienna (Nov 16th-19th): Talking to the guys at Subotron about ARGs. Will I ever be able to talk about another subject? Time will tell.

Toronto (Dec 11th-21st): A holiday! No talking about ARGs, except to all those people who ask me what I do.

If you’re going to be at any of those places at the same time as me and want to meet up, just drop me an email. And if you’re wondering if I have anything new to say about ARGs, the answer is surprisingly ‘yes’. More on that in a week or two.

A Dream of Madness

During a tour of the Pearl River Delta region of China, for one night I stayed at a place called the Ocean Spring Resort. It’s a new holiday resort surrounding a famous hot spring, with hotels, a theme park, spas, health centres, water features, pretty much everything that a resort needs. Oh, and it’s massive. There are vast, vaguely disturbing stretches of concrete in which restaurants and shops occasionally emerge out of. Since it still had a couple of months to go before being finished, there weren’t many people around, which made the place feel like some deserted alien planet.

Still, the facilities were generally very good. The hotel was good, and more importantly, the hot springs were absolutely incredible. When I think of a hot spring, I think of a place like Bath, where they probably have a few fairly full pools of varying size inside a building. This being China, I expected something perhaps two or three times as big. Instead, not only was the building itself rather vast, with at least a dozen large pools, but there were also something like 30 or 40 pools outside. Plus an enormous lagoon. A multi-level lagoon. And the pools were variously scented with coffee, chocolate, oils, and so on. Basically, it was really quite amazing and made me review my opinion of Chinese resorts.

This was a good thing, because a couple of hours earlier, we’d gone to a theatre performance there. It too was quite amazing, but in a way that left me dumbfounded and reeling. Continue reading “A Dream of Madness”

Fire Alert at Heathrow

I was sitting in the lounge area of Terminal 3 in Heathrow when the PA system came on.

“This is a security announcement. All passengers are reminded that baggage should-”

A sharp beeping interrupted the message. “A fire alarm has been activated in your area. Please go to the nearest emergency exit immediately. A fire alarm has been activated in your area. Please go to…”

People looked up quizzically; was this real? Most people decided not to take any chances and began to collect their bags and look around for the nearest green sign. This was hastened when shop staff started closing up. As I walked to the nearest exit to me (the one by Chez Gerard, heading into various gates) I noted with satisfaction that everyone was moving calmly but with seriousness; clearly the we’ve had bomb and terrorists drilled into our heads so much by popular culture that everyone knew what to do.

A stream of people were heading the same way as me. If you’ve been to Terminal 3, you’ll know that some of the walks to the far-off gates can take a while. 5 minutes for a fast walker, easily 10 minutes for a slow one. About halfway along, around when I was wondering why it was taking so long to get to an emergency exit that actually led outside the building, I spotted a green sign… that pointed back in the way I’d come. Brilliant.

Some people milled around it, paralysed by the competing signals, but most people just kept walking on. A little further on was another, more promising, green sign that hung above a double-set of fire doors. Some people were sitting around inside, looking bored, but the doors were locked. I shook my head.

When I’d come in to Heathrow earlier this morning, I was thinking about bombs. It was a nice day, and I wondered what would happen if someone set off a bomb in the airport. How long would it take to get back to normal? Would they still run some flights? I suppose I had this on my mind after watching a bunch of action movie trailers last night, most of which had some combination of huge explosions and nuclear bombs.

I knew that this fire alert probably wasn’t serious, but it all seemed very odd. Along with most other people, I kept on going until I almost reached the end gates. There, a small group had collared someone wearing a uniform – he wasn’t security or anything like that, he looked like a construction worker.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“There was a fire alarm back in the shops area. It told us to go to the nearest emergency exit, so here we are,” someone replied.

“Huh, I didn’t hear anything. All the tannoy systems are linked up together, so if there was a fire alarm back there, we should’ve heard it here.” All the same, he got on his phone to his supervisor, who evidently didn’t know any more.

“So what should we do?” we asked him.

“I don’t know. Like I said, if there was a real fire, we should be hearing it here.” He just seemed a bit bemused by the entire situation.

“Yes,” replied a woman, “but there was a fire alarm, and you said you didn’t hear it down here. So maybe it’s still going on. And there are some people going in the opposite direction now, back to the shops.”

He nodded. “That’s true. Well, all I can say is that you could just wait here, or you could go back and find out more.”

We all shook our heads, and headed back to the shops. No-one seemed particularly bothered, although I did hear someone say, “What if someone had fallen and hurt their knee?” What indeed.

After another five minute walk, I got back to the shops area. There was a small crowd hanging around, and a woman in uniform saying “You can go back now, it’s open!” So I went back, and on the way, saw some staff hanging around in Chez Gerard; they hadn’t even moved since the alarm.

I know that if there was a real fire, or a real bomb scare, everything would’ve moved a lot faster. But events like this just desensitive everyone. A fire alarm going off in a busy terminal is a big deal for the people in it, even if it isn’t for the staff. The fact that none of the staff know what’s going on, that the emergency exits signs point in the wrong direction, that it takes 5 minutes to get to the nearest exit – which is locked – is unbelievable.

They x-rayed my shoes when I came in. What’s the point? Security is only as strong as its weakest link.

Lost and Found

After two years, the Cube has been found, and with it comes the end of Season 1 of Perplex City. A couple of days ago, we launched a new site at perplexcity.com (we call it the Puzzle Portal); it’s still in beta, but there are going to be some good changes over the next few weeks.

We’re also hard at work preparing for Season 2. In fact, we’ve been doing that for quite a while now. I’m remaining quite tight-lipped about what’s going to be in our second season, so as not to spoil the surprise, but I will be saying a few things while I’m over in San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference (I’ll be there from 3rd to 9th March, in case you want to meet up).

My talk at GDC, The New Alternate Reality Games, is on Friday 9th at 12:20pm, and I’ll be talking about new trends in ARGs and the direction we’re heading in for Season 2. I’m also going to be giving a talk at Google on Monday, and a video will be posted on the web at some point in the future. The Google talk will focus on how you interact with ARGs.

Finally, a couple of other Perplex City things. Firstly, come along to the Perplex City Party at the Gherkin in London this Saturday! It’ll be a lot of fun. Secondly, Andy Darley’s story of how he found the Cube is well worth reading. He’s a great storyteller and we’re happy that someone like him found it.

Where’s Adrian? (The Sequel)

Next week, I’m speaking at a couple of conferences on Perplex City in London. Can you guess I didn’t get much notice? Anyway, if you happen to be going to either, please say hi!

Tuesday November 28th: BBC Audio Drama Festival. I’m speaking on the Gaming panel, which is at 9:30am and also repeated at 11:30am.

Friday December 1st: FutureMedia C21 Conference. I’ll be on the first ‘Case Studies from the Digital Frontier‘ panel at 9:50am.

I’m probably going to the London MetaFilter meetup on December 8th, and I’m going to be in Toronto from December 13th to 21st.

In other news, I’ve posted a rather long comment with further thoughts on religion and a ‘church without religion’, in response to Chris and Brooke’s interesting points. I’m talking to a lot of people about this (probably boring them to death) and doing a lot of thinking. It’s a very interesting subject.