Stuff I’ve been reading lately

In lieu of rebooting Five things on Friday (not happening), here’s a round-up of some of the more interesting things I’ve been reading on the web this year –

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1. Magic pickpocketry
Apollo Robbins is the world’s best pickpocket. You’ve never heard of him but, within magic circles and beyond, he is somewhat of a legend. Neuroscientists, the military and anthropologists have all worked with Apollo to try and discover how he creates his particular form of distraction and extraction – this New Yorker piece is a great read.

On an encounter with Penn Jillette (of world-renowned double act ‘Penn & Teller‘) at a recent Las Vegas magician’s convention –

Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.

“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

“F***. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.

Amazing. Read the whole thing
(then watch this video from 2:12 onwards)

2. Wi-Fi on the Underground
This year it’s pretty much free to use for Orange, Vodafone, EE and T-Mobile customers. Except, no one seems to have told T-Mobile.

‘Hey left hand, what you up to?’ – ‘Sorry right hand, can’t tell you’. 

3. What three completely unrelated movies can you put together that if the story lines continued would make a good trilogy?
The above is one of the best questions I’ve seen on reddit this week, my favourite response so far?

‘Home Alone / Saw / Cube. It’s the story of a boy who takes booby trapping his house to more and more ridiculous extremes.’


4. More Blues Brothers
After MEETING JOHN LANDIS at the tail end of last year, I’m even more into my Blues Brothers than ever before. Big love to Terence Eden for shooting this Vanity Fair article – ‘Soul Men: The Making of The Blues Brothers‘ – my way.

With quotes such as –

It is 1979. Rare is the actor who doesn’t snort, pop, or guzzle. Landis, a teetotaler, misses the bigger picture. “We had a budget in the movie for cocaine for night shoots,” Aykroyd says. “Everyone did it, including me. Never to excess, and not ever to where I wanted to buy it or have it. [But] John, he just loved what it did. It sort of brought him alive at night—that superpower feeling where you start to talk and converse and figure you can solve all the world’s problems.”

And –

Three months later, Belushi’s first movie opens. This is Animal House. Belushi, having played Bluto, the gluttonous rascal who rallies Delta House to glory, becomes a Major Movie Star.

This is good. During an out-of-town car trip, Belushi asks Aykroyd to stop the car, saying, “Watch this! Watch this!” Aykroyd recounts that “he gets out of the car and starts knocking on the ground-floor windows of this primary school, knowing he’ll get a reaction. By the time we left, all the windows are up and the whole school is chanting, ‘Bluto! Bluto!’ ”

It really is a fantastic read and worth at least 20mins of your time.


5. The Basement
‘Somewhere in Portland, there’s a very old building, and that very old building has a very, very old basement. An incredible basement, a video-game-level basement, a set-decorator’s dream basement.’

It’s a short story, in a way. More of an exploration… of history. The clues, the stories, and the secrets. It’s quite the photo journal and, again, well worth your attention.

That’s all I got.

For now.


Google bought Wildfire: Mind. Blown.

For $250m apparently. The mind boggles…


So what does this actually mean?

And why is it such a big deal?!

Well, as I explained to some friends earlier:

“They – Wildfire – are a preferred developer for Facebook and have probably built every amazing branded Facebook app you’ve ever used or heard of. Google BUYING them not only gives the big G access to a whole host of Facebook data, but is also a HUGE strategical move that is just mind-blowing in its scale and ambition. 

Google just walked into Facebook’s yard, picked up their ball, players and goals, and casually walked back home.”

Gaining preferred developer status is no easy task and Wildfire have been knocking out big brand Facebook apps/games/sweepstakes now for a good four years. Since March 2012 in fact, Wildfire have been the (self-proclaimed) ‘biggest social marketing company in the world’.

In 2011, Wildfire saw revenue growth of over 300% and surpassed a total of 13,000 paying customers, including 30 of the top 50 global brands. This makes us the largest social media marketing software company in the world.

Our platform has been used to power over 200,000 marketing campaigns throughout the world. Going global required some expansion, though, so we’ve grown our team to over 300 employees (from 2 in 2008). We put offices in London, Paris, Munich, and Singapore, which helped grow our international business by 500%, and now more than 24% of Wildfire’s revenue comes from outside the U.S.

That’s some impressive work.

I’ve seen presentations from Wildfire: everything from Polaroid and Lady Gaga to Virgin Atlantic and Vodka, there’s hardly any major brand out there that hasn’t been touched by these guys. Seriously, their customer list is immense.

And, try as they might to reposition themselves as a ‘social marketing company’, Wildfire are (or were) a Facebook company.

And now they’re owned by Google.

I’ll say it again:

And now they’re owned by Google.

— —

My immediate instinct is to yell: HOLY HELL! FACEBOOK ARE GOING TO PISSED!

But then I think more…

I think about how Wildfire also have deep YouTube integration, and I think about the cool stuff they’re doing (or were doing) with LinkedIn and Twitter too.

And you know what I do then?

I think about Google+

What does Google+ need more than anything right now?

  1. Big brands
  2. Big brand promotions
  3. Big brand promotions that deliver user engagement

Y’see, no matter what the numbers say, Google+ just doesn’t cut it right now. Not for brands, not for users, not for anyone. Wildfire can bring all those folks to the party, and more.

Don’t count on Wildfire (as we know it at least) to burn for much longer though, I mean it’s not like Google have a history of killing off a whole bunch of products – right?



Google just bought Wildfire.

Mind. Blown.