Levellers: 5 Drops of Gravity

by michaelmcclary 18. March 2012 09:30

I’m a great believer in the maxim ‘This, too, shall pass’.  It’s a way of keeping me cool during excitable times and also through worrying times.   As part of this I like to gather a small collection of videos/ideas which provide a damping effect: bringing me down to earth if I’m getting a nosebleed from too much hype or merely make me feel more grounded.  Thought I’d share 5 of these..

1. Embrace Life

I first blogged about this when I talked about the D&AD Design Awards in 2010.  It’s a wonderful example of emotional connection and creative execution; one of the few pieces I’ve found which can be given the tag ‘innovative’ in a world where the term is being overused by the unimaginative.  The slow-motion video, lack of shock tactics and particularly the expressions and movement of the little girl never fail to grab me.

Embrace Life

2. ‘This, too, shall pass’

A few years ago I was lucky enough to discover the podcasts of Ajahn Brahm, a Cambridge graduate who became Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.  I found that they were great for listening to on a jog and it was refreshing to hear some intelligent and funny thoughts on various aspects of life without laying on heavy religion or feeling like I’d stumbled into a semi-pro NLP course.  This is where I heard a number of stories including this one.

From the Wikipedia entry:

“the fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad, and vice versa. After deliberation the sages hand him a simple ring with the words "This too will pass" etched on it”

It’s the only thing I’ve considered for a small tattoo, whatever the form/language. (A very wise friend of mine advised me that I should consider it for at least a year before even planning it).  Maybe one day.

3. Kseniya Simonova - Sand Animation

If you’ve eight and a half minutes to spare, or even if you haven’t, I’d recommend leaning back with earphones and full-screen mode.  This is a stunning example of artistry, skill and timing but is really a way to engage you in the story of a country subject to war.   

Kseniya Simonova

4. Last Year I Killed a Man

Not dwelling in morbid fascination but appreciating the account of a tube driver who had a person step out in front of his train.  I’ve often heard the ‘person under a train’ announcements when rushing around for meetings in London.  This short article gives some sense of the driver’s perspective.


5. Dr Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream”

Sometimes I’ll put this on to appreciate the struggle, remind myself how recently the craziness of segregation existed in America and live the history, the mass of the crowds, etc.  Other times I’ll watch and listen to an amazing orator whose timing, pauses and vocal intonation surpassed any public speaking or ‘influencer’ training course.  Either way, 17 minutes well spent.

I Have a Dream


Wax On Wax Off: Chapter 1

by michaelmcclary 14. October 2011 09:34

Our small team at work is raising money for Naomi House, a wonderful charity which runs two hospices in Hampshire and has been providing care to life-limited children since 1997.

What are we doing?

As part of a series of activities culminating in our takeover of one of their charity shops (in Fareham) on Thursday 17th October, I have had my body divided into 14 squares each of which is waxed every time £50 is raised on our charity page. Please help us to support this great charity by contributing.

Not only is this a fantastic charity but what greater additional incentive than to see this village idiot and Microsoft employee in pain over and over again?

At the end of the process – we have one week – there will be a video medley of screams and pictures circulated within Microsoft and on Facebook and the usual social channels.  Any person/company donating £50 or more will receive their own sponsorship as a square on me in the final publicity.

Stage 1 happened a couple of days ago and the next few are imminent – all to be shared with the general public :-/

Step 1–feel the pain

As part of Microsoft’s policy on charity they will be matching all donations so a square is worth £100 in total.  Please help all you can.


Windows 8 BUILD sessions available online

by michaelmcclary 16. September 2011 15:05

With the interest in the Windows 8 Developer Preview – over half a million downloads and counting – it’s good to see that many of the sessions from Build are available to view and download.

For me I’m pleased to see that Jensen Harris has one of the most viewed sessions with the ‘8 Traits of Metro-style apps’ . Not long after joining Microsoft I came across Jensen whilst exploring the new UI which was the Office Ribbon.  I’d recommend checking out his blog posts and sessions from the time; there was the spark of UX-driven design for our products which I’m glad to see has continued all the way through Metro.



The Wired Mind – Innovative HTML5

by michaelmcclary 21. April 2011 14:30

Wired UK has joined a list of UK brands such as National Rail, British Fashion Council and Film4oD in producing an HTML5 experience in conjunction with Internet Explorer 9.  This allows you to browse and search the ‘Wired Mind’.  Runs really nicely and, if you pin the site to the taskbar, you get instant access to the Wired site as well as a list of recent tags. They have a short article on it here.  The agency HowSplendid have blogged on the project, with some of the creative here.


You can click through the tag cloud to find related terms or just search for keywords and see related topics.

Selecting the small page-like icon at the top of the category gives you access to articles


From which you can click through to the article on Wired’s site


Check out the date search as well – nice use of graphics to give a mechanical feel



National Rail HTML5 Departure Boards

by michaelmcclary 7. April 2011 07:52

National Rail have produced a great HTML5-based Departure Boards experience for Internet Explorer 9.  Particularly like the use of the Pinning and Jump Lists and the nice, simple transitions.

Check out the video below or click the link and try it out for yourself.  At this stage it’s a Departure/Arrivals Board application with live train times, rather than a full journey planner but I find it useful and fast.  For me the key is the pinned jump list which puts their brand on the taskbar on a permanent basis and also gives me instant access to favourite stations, home, etc.





ESPN Cricinfo using HTML5 on IE9

by michaelmcclary 18. March 2011 09:06

ESPN have been fantastic in their use of engaging HTML5, Jump Lists and marketing to support the Internet Explorer 9 launch in the UK (and at SXSW).

Do you want to see how lucky amazing England were in beating the West Indies in the latest World Cup match? 

If you follow cricket and would like to see the output and analysis from the ‘Hawkeye’ machine, not in Flash but now in HTML5, then click the Hawkeye link from any live match in the current World Cup or check out an example here





iPlayer and pinning with Internet Explorer 9

by michaelmcclary 2. February 2011 12:01

I notice that the BBC iPlayer recently supported the pinning feature in Internet Explorer 9, giving the iPlayer a chance to be a permanent fixture on the Windows 7 taskbar whether or not the website is open.  This gives a brand a great opportunity to be in the user’s line of sight and I can only see the competition for that precious space to get tougher.

The iPlayer jumplist (right click to get the list)

BBC iPlayer Jumplist

Also, if you are playing a programme, hovering on the icon gives a preview window with pause/play button for the main iPlayer window – useful when using multiple screens:

iPlayer Thumbnail

How do you get this?  Simply go to the BBC iPlayer site (using Internet Explorer 9) and drag the icon to the left of the address over to the Windows taskbar.

iPlayer Site

Similarly, LinkedIn (along with many others) has an IE9 pinned experience:


For more examples of sites , such as Rough Guides and Sky News, making the most of the Internet Explorer 9 pinning, accelerated graphics and HTML5 standards, check out http://www.beautyoftheweb.co.uk

LinkedIn – don’t be a diva

by michaelmcclary 17. November 2010 16:30

Last year a friend of mine had some business meetings and came across a chap in the digital space.  He was then sent a couple of blanket communications; one about how the small agency was doing (pretty interesting) and another which was an impersonal ‘wecandobiz’ invitation.

Whilst going through business cards recently he came across the contact’s details and, as he kept getting opportunities for contracts to send to that particular area, pinged him a LinkedIn invite – the standard one.

This brought an acceptance – nice - and also a reply stating how impersonal standard LinkedIn invites were, how he ought to read his social marketing expert blog  post on the way that LinkedIn makes for rude invites and how he doesn’t normally respond to anonymous requests.  Blimey. 

This triggered a rather short but polite e-mail reply reminding him which methods of impersonal communication he’d used over the last year, that this wasn’t for bus dev or job-hunting and an assurance that the accepted connection was now removed.  The ensuing back-tracking reply implied that yes, maybe his views on LinkedIn conflicted with his marketing activities…

Whilst I agree that it’s much nicer to embellish your request with some context and a nice message, it got me thinking about what my process was for LinkedIn and also how much value we assign to allowing people to connect to us, particularly in the current culture of narcissistic banality (guilty as charged by the way).

So…when I get a request from LinkedIn:

  1. Do I know them, either by name/company or because they added some text to the standard invite (not often done IMO)?
  2. I’ll search my e-mail archive which contains pretty much everyone I’ve ever communicated with.
  3. Quick scan of Twitter, the web, etc, if time allows.
  4. Do we have connections in common?
  5. Does their company type / job title match the kind of person I would have met or come across either physically or virtually?

Normally I will accept unless it’s a blindingly obvious connection made in order to bombard me with some kind of recruitment marketing or general drum-beating (I had a stranger who has a global cause – very worthy – who then sent 5 to 10 e-mails per week – easily removed)

This brings me to the point: I’m not that important.  Nor are you, probably.  In the current climate it’s easy to get the value exchange wrong. I’m not giving them access to my mother’s address via FaceBook (there’s probably a comment there on default security settings..) and all connections can be rescinded/ignored if it gets too much.

So, take a chill pill, stop demanding white roses in your rider and connect – you may need them one day.


D&AD Design Awards

by michaelmcclary 9. June 2010 17:41

Last week I attended the D&AD Awards dinner at the Roundhouse in Camden.  (Check out their YouTube channel btw)

Well-organised, it was a smooth and enjoyable evening.  Paul Brazier, D&AD President, did a solid job of opening the evening and there was entertaining and irreverent MC’ing from Jimmy Carr.  There were also plenty of references to the commitment and tenacity of the many judges who travelled from around the world to get the Olympia in Kensington during the problems with volcanic ash in April.

As examples of the work on show, I thought I’d call out five of the Pencil winners. For my own extra gratification I’ve also added a TV advert that I wish had been submitted as it’s one of my personal favourites.



The Trillion Dollar Wallpaper campaign was an inspiring use of the rocketing Zimbabwean inflation to highlight the country’s difficulties and promote the sale of the Zimbabwean newspaper to the outside world.  This campaign won a number of awards in the evening and massively boosted sales of the paper (and importantly its messaging)

Details and images of the billboard campaign

Video talking about the integrated campaign


Loved the M&C Saatchi campaign for DSG, highlighting the consumer technology available at dixons.co.uk once you’ve been to the trendiest shops in town to look at it.  Particularly liked this as there was a feeling that stores such as Dixons would suffer with the advent of internet shopping and particularly price-comparison sites for consumer electronics.  They have embraced this and are positioning themselves as the go-to site for the consumer pragmatist.


We Choose the Moon is an interactive site which recreates the 1969 journey to the moon.  Plenty of video, audio and interactivity which takes you through the excitement.  Particularly interested in the radio conversations which were relayed out through the site in time with the same events 40 years earlier.


In the Environmental Design category was one of the few winners of a coveted Black Pencil – the High Line project. 

From their website:

“The High Line was originally constructed in the 1930s, to lift dangerous freight trains off Manhattan's streets. Section 1 of the High Line is open as a public park, owned by the City of New York and operated under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Friends of the High Line is the conservancy charged with raising private funds for the park and overseeing its maintenance and operations, pursuant to an agreement with the Parks Department.”


The last project in the list, although many more caught my eye, was ‘The Regulars’, a TV commercial for Victoria Bitter in Australia.  The idea of a parade with ‘Men who’ve had their Arm in a Cow’ banners is something you can almost believe, looking forward to the copycat real-life events.

Stepping away from the Awards to an advert which I feel would have stood its ground amongst the entrants: ‘Embrace Life’ for Sussex Roads Safety Partnership, more details available at www.alexandercommercials.co.uk. This one of the more beautiful pieces of advertising I’ve seen and is simple and positive rather than the shock adverts often used in this topic.  They now have a Facebook Group around the campaign and the commercial.


UK Digital Agencies Get a Look at Microsoft

by michaelmcclary 12. April 2010 01:04

On Wednesday 31st March we held an evening for over 100 Creative/Digital Agency people at the lovely Paramount in London.  This gave us an opportunity to talk about our recent Mix10 Conference, allow our Partners to display recent examples of creative digital projects and engage with folks for lots of Q&A during the networking time at the end.  I slightly underestimated the content which led to a lot of shuffling on seats at the end (my apologies) and should possibly have inserted a beer and wine break.  Nevertheless, the opening session in particular from Richard Banks at Microsoft Research and the Partner demos were well-received, along with said chill-out time.


    Picture looking east thanks to Paul Dawson, EMC

I have a chronological write-up below but I thought I’d start by thanking those who attended, those who spoke and of course those who worked hard to get the event, logistics, people, etc, all together.

3 things to take-away (before reading through the write-up)

ONE: Sessions from Mix2010, including keynotes, are available to view and download here, I’ve listed some particular favourites below:

TWO: A massive thanks to the Partners who presented and demoed their wares, we hope to add to this next time…:


THREE: Microsoft is building a presence in the Digital Solutions space thanks to three major pieces:

  • Our fantastic Partners; both Digital/Creative and Media Agencies.
  • The connections being made across the Microsoft organisation from within the business: Technology, Enterprise Account Management, MSN, Consumer
  • The innovation which is finding its way out from the Live Labs, Microsoft Advertising, Microsoft Research, Bing and Silverlight teams

Now to the evening and it’s worth reiterating that the Paramount venue was first-class: responsive, friendly staff, convenient location and stunning views of London.

The running order is below:

Richard Banks, The 40-year-old Tweet

Richard Banks (blog, Twitter) is an Interaction Designer at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.  He works in the socio-digital team and explores the persistence of artefacts, memory and context throughout one’s lifetime.  This was a really engaging opening session.  He reflected on the use of photos, household objects, an old cog from a motorbike, to retain memories, through to storage of Twitter conversations and using an old-fashioned picture viewer in a cloud-connected scenario to view Flickr photos.

image  A ladle with a lot of history (Richard Banks)

He also showed some video from the SenseCam; a camera which takes a picture of your world once a minute and allows you to replay your history in accelerated form.  I was privileged to spend some time at Microsoft Research last year and was very interested in the work which has been done in exploring the impact of memory recall for Alzheimer’s sufferers.  There is a paper with some lovely quotes from people who have used it here and more of the same on this page. If you’d like to see more of Richard’s work and the work done by the team then I’d thoroughly recommend checking out their website and, more generally, taking a look at the Microsoft Research content from TechFest.

Paul Bristow, DeltaTre, the Vancouver Olympics Experience

Next up was Paul Bristow, the MD of DeltaTre Media, based in Wimbledon and Turin. He showed us some video and statistics on the Vancouver Olympics experience as DeltaTre provided a web solution for the Olympics which incorporated live data feeds and tied into the Silverlight Video experience.  Some interesting facts include an average on-line daily view time of 54 minutes per person for Vancouver 2010 and that 30% of the Canadian population went on the site.


Michael McClary – Mix 2010 Recap

My recap was to bring out the highlights from Mix 2010.  This has been done to great effect elsewhere on the web but I’ll list what, for me, were the key take-outs.

Firstly, there was a real sense of innovation; the opening keynote started with Blaise Agueras and the advances in 3D embedded video and the Worldwide Telescope integration into Bing Maps.  For the full version I would recommend watching his recent TED talk here.  The theme for me is that Silverlight is our way of bringing the constant stream of fantastic new technologies and research output to the consumer and business audience through a lightweight browser plug-in.  Bing Maps for me is one of the best examples of one of our product teams connecting directly with the Live Labs and Microsoft Research output, more on Bing later.  Another great piece of technology is Pivot – a brilliant visual search and sorting application from Microsoft Live Labs.  You can take a look at Microsoft Pivot here, it was announced at Mix that it would be incorporated into Silverlight 4.


Secondly, the Silverlight coverage question was addressed by Scott Guthrie on stage in Las Vegas: “Silverlight is approaching 60% penetration and rising fast.” There are are ever-growing number of scenarios for which Silverlight is the number one choice.  In the past, however, there has been a reticence borne out of the fact that SIlverlight had, say, a 25-30% penetration rate, as at the beginning of 2009.  This led to two logical trains of thought: one, that the majority of users would have to install the plug-in just to experience one’s solution / application and, two, that Microsoft might not be fully-committed to this new technology – what if it is abandoned in 6, 9, 12 months?  The install rate shows that it is a technology which is delivering high-quality applications the world over and ubiquity is a question of when, not if.

Skipping onto the design tools, the enthusiasm for Expression Blend and particularly Sketchflow gets ever stronger and there were a number of improvements shown off at Mix.  I defer to the excellent Adam Kinney (blog, twitter) for a more comprehensive look at the latest features, although I feel the biggest enhancements to the tools are the addition of a number of Behaviours.  These enable an interaction designer to perform common tasks within a Silverlight application without having to write code.  In fact there are a number of Silverlight applications now which boast that they are written without a single line of code.  Expression 4 was released during the Mix keynote and also announced as a free upgrade to version 3.

image.toolbox is an on-line design school for those using Expression Studio

The last two areas of focus from me for Mix 2010 were Windows Phone 7 and Internet Explorer 9.

Windows Phone 7 was discussed and demonstrated at length during the Mix conference; it captured over half of the Day 1 keynote and there were about a dozen dedicated sessions assigned to the new platform, design and development.  There is more on Windows Phone 7 further down in Paul Foster’s session but it is clear that it was the headline-capturing subject from Mix 2010.

As for Internet Explorer 9, much was made of the support for standards, long discussions on HTML 5 and also performance improvements delivered by allowing IE9 to take direct advantage of graphics processing.


If you’d like to test the IE9 features yourself then download and run the demos within the IE9 Platform Preview.

Metia – EA Games Mass Effect II Campaign

Gavin Wignall (blog, twitter) and Dean Gifford (blog, twitter) showed the fantastic EA Games advertisement for Mass Effect II built by Metia.  This campaign highlighted the high-quality video and image quality which can be portrayed through a Silverlight ad.  Check out Dean’s blog for further information and follow-on links.


Paul Foster – Windows Phone 7

Paul (blog, twitter) has the job of bringing the message of Windows Phone 7 to the UK Developer and Designer audience and is perfectly placed to do so; his enthusiasm alone carries me along.  Windows Phone 7 has an entirely new look, operating system, development paradigm and, importantly, UX-led product design through the visual design language coined ‘Metro’.


The application development was clearly outlined; if you are building applications you’ll be taking advantage of common tools.  Standard applications willl be built in Silverlight and games will be built using XNA, a platform built on Microsoft .NET development technologies which is also used for building games for the Xbox 360.  In fact the support of the Xbox Live Platform on the phone was not lost on those who build games or even those who are now looking for more ways to enhance their gamer points scores. 


There is a lot of Windows Phone 7 activity coming up in the short term; this week sees a day of Phone sessions at TechDays and Charlie Kindel (blog, twitter) is over to engage with the Partner and Customer community.  If you’d like to know how to get involved either now or in the near future then please contact Paul or myself.   If you’d like to join the many thousands of agencies and development shops who are testing this out then download the (free) Developer and Designer tools from here

Splendid – First Direct, Tag Heuer

Splendid then took to the stage in the capable forms of Brennon Williams and Simon Parbutt.  Keen to highlight their particular abilities in Natural User Interface we looked at a couple of projects in particular.  To start with, the First Direct project was a great example of using Microsoft Surface to increase business return in a physical exhibition space.   In this case it was attracting people to investigate mortgage possibilities at the Grand Designs Live Exhibition last year.

image In a much more recent context, The Tag Heuer project is an example of Surface Units being deployed within airports.  This was built for J C Decaux to investigate the potential of Microsoft Surface-led marketing.  The Surface unit went to Heathrow Terminal 5 in February.  For more information check out the project link or take a look at Richard Griffin’s blog entry here.


Vikas Arora – Bing Maps

Vikas works in one of the most innovative teams within Microsoft, the Bing mapping team.  As mentioned earlier, Bing Maps is one of the best examples of Microsoft Research and Live Labs connecting with a product team.  To get a full tour of the latest and future Bing features as demonstrated by Vikas I would again refer you to the excellent TED talk here.  Even the standard Bing Maps shines in terms of features, the example below is the Tube proximity which is automatic if you search for somewhere in London. 


The really clever stuff in terms of visual experience and applications is available here in the Beta Silverlight version.  It’s worth checking out some of the ‘Map Apps’ for a few minutes to understand why, once they have explored the possibilities, agencies and custom developers look to Bing Maps as a tool for creating high-quality geo-based applications and experiences. 


My favourite? The WorldWide Telescope, ported to Silverlight some time ago, which allows you to see images of stars and planets such as the one below of Mars.



AKQA – Sherlock Holmes

In the words of Ian Finch from MandoGroup, who gave an excellent write-up of the whole evening here, the “jaw-dropping Sherlock Holmes campaign” was “probably one of the best pieces of work I’ve seen from an agency in years both from an end-user perspective but also through the sheer brilliance technically”.

Andy Hood came on to take us through this ground-breaking campaign which combined completely-skinned antique Bing Maps, Facebook Connect, Flash, javascript, Silverlight and a multitude of technologies and techniques, including Artificial Intelligence, to deliver a completely absorbing game.  I strongly recommend checking out Andy’s Mix10 session on blending technology and design here to see this and other projects which AKQA deliver.


EMC – Mix Rockstar using Azure

Next up was Paul Dawson, Experience Director from EMC, who delivered a great presentation with his usual engaging style.  He talked about an experiment which involved building a ‘good old-fashioned popularity contest’ based on Twitter and the Microsoft operating system in the cloud – Windows Azure.  This ran during Mix10 and was designed to find the person who managed to generate the best following and number of votes.  Interestingly EMC used Java developers as ‘they were the ones we had spare’ so it was a great example of Windows Azure scaling solidly, undergoing application upgrades with no loss of service and running a non-Microsoft runtime language.


MandoGroup – Silverlight visual dashboard

The final demo of the evening was down to the ever-enthusiastic MandoGroup, presented by Ian Finch and Carl Dickinson.   They are creating a fantastic set of Silverlight visual dashboards over real CRM and SharePoint data, as per the image below as part of a ‘Light Up SharePoint’ campaign.  It was great to see the interaction with the graphic which is actually Bing Maps with some film-set style skinning. 


Mark Taylor – Cloud

Mark Taylor runs the Developer and Platform Evangelism group for Microsoft UK and regularly speaks on our strategic direction on subjects such as Environmental IT and the Cloud.  With the unenviable task of giving a short presentation at the end of proceedings, he left the heavy product-placement out and focused on a few key messages with respect to Microsoft’s position in cloud-computing. 

One of those messages is that Microsoft have a great deal of experience in delivering both free and subscription-based reliable cloud services and have done for a number of years now.  One of the best examples of this is the Xbox Live network; a highly-reliable, high-performing service for which people pay a monthly fee (normally realised on an annual basis).  This service alone has over 20 million paying customers.  If we look at the Windows Live network as a whole then there are over half a billion LiveIds in use in the world.

Two further points which struck home for me were disambiguation of this term ‘the cloud’ – private, public, Government, and the need to think about, indeed insist on, cloud-based providers who have submitted and conform to robust industry standards such as the DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force).  When your personal and business-critical information is sitting off-site it’s even more important to consider the security and redundancy of that data.

My interpretation of the importance of the cloud to the Digital Marketing community is that the key advantages are scalability and hands-off management.  Scenarios from rich-content ad-serving and campaign microsites to eCommerce ticketing platforms and global marketing/monitoring platforms will rely heavily on this platform so it’s important that we analyse carefully the deployment options available.

In summary

A lot of content and much more which was left out; Fortune Cookie didn’t get time to talk about the eye-tracking innovation they used with their fantastic Europcar Surface application, Black Marble stood by the table in the corner ready to discuss their early experience with WIndows Phone 7 development and Huddle had a presence talking about their workspace solutions and SharePoint – thanks again to all of the Partners involved.

I also wanted to highlight the great work which is happening inside Microsoft to unite the many groups from emerging technology through account management to Microsoft Advertising – the subject of a future blog post.

Some great conversations afterwards and I hope to repeat the event with a slightly-modified format soon.

Any questions or feedback – please get in touch.