Imagery’s Impact Depends on the Viewer’s Own Perception

A picture conveys one thousand words … we all know this old bit of wisdom. What’s rarely discussed, however, is which one thousand words.

Monday morning’s first rays of sunshine found me queuing bleary-eyed at the departure terminal McDonalds in Hong Kong International Airport. I had been awake since 0400 and looked it. At that moment nothing in the world was more important to my frazzled, sand-in-the-gears neurons than acquiring a cup of hot, black coffee.

After placing my order I had a few moments to contemplate my existence (there was quite a horde of us twilight zombie travelers patronizing the Golden Arches) while my order was prepared. It was then that by chance I gazed downwards directly into the eyes of a darling little girl…

"Oh, what a darling little girl! And look she's smiling like Ronald because of how Ronald McDonald House Charities have improved her life!" (intended reaction)
“Oh, what a darling little girl!
And look she’s smiling like Ronald because of how Ronald McDonald House Charities have improved her life!”
(intended reaction)

Now, I’m not here to cast aspersions on RMHC. It seems they are a legit humanitarian operation. However, I am here to shame whoever designed this particular advertisement…

…because the thousand words that materialized into my consciousness were decidedly not the thousand words the marketing and advertising design team intended!

Let’s look a little more intently at that sweet cherub:

"Dear Buddha I need some black coffee... what's taking them so long? *looks down* OH THAT POOR CHILD!" (my 05:30 sleep-deprived reaction)
“Dear Buddha I need some black coffee… what’s taking them so long?
*looks down*
(my 05:30 sleep-deprived reaction)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Ronald around these parts. He doesn’t feature so much in the advertising campaigns anymore. McDonalds propaganda in China focuses on happy teenagers and young twenty-somethings having exhuberant, musical meals at sparkling franchises. I guess that’s down in Shanghai? Because it sure as hell isn’t what happens in Shenyang.

In Hong Kong I was subjected to an overly long video about a couple holding their wedding reception at a McDonalds! All I could think about was serving BigMacs for the main course and having a hot apple pie wedding cake (ok, actually that second part sounds pretty awesome). How would you even invite people to an event like that?!?

Anyway, the point is that when I looked into that girl’s face, her appearance definitely did not call to mind Ronald himself, but instead a rather … different … personality.

"Let's put a smile on that face!"
“Let’s put a smile on that face!”

Wikimania 2013 – the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Decompressing in Shanghai International Airport on my way home, it’s time to take a Sergio Leonesque look back at the previous four days…

the Good

  • Management – Apart from a few instances where speeches started late, the event was impeccably organized. Transportation was well-documented, seminar locations were clearly marked, and one was never left wondering “what now?”
  • Catering – Though I did notice some vegetarian attendees bemoaning the paucity of meat-free dishes, the catering was top-notch. From morning coffee and tea to lunchtime buffets, the food was fresh and seemingly endless.
  • Atmosphere – I’ve written about this a bit already, but it bears a second mention – the atmosphere of enthusiasm, passion, and commitment was striking.
  • WiFi – Conferences are notorious for crippling the host’s wireless infrastructure. A Wikimedia event is on an entirely different level as during speeches one is surrounded by people livestreaming, chatting, and yes – editing Wikipedia articles(!) – during the presentations. Despite some pre-conference instability, throughout the main event it all worked flawlessly.
  • Camaraderie – I didn’t hear a cross word all week. A number of people lost items during the event and later reclaimed them after other attendees turned them in. The Wikimania mailing list chronicled the misplacement and subsequent return of several cameras, a smartphone, some laptop power bricks, and even a credit card! Unthinkable in China, really.

the Bad

  • Cost – Hong Kong is expensive. To attendees from developed economies, HK is notably over-priced. To attendees from developing countries, HK is insane. There was a refreshingly large number of people from outside the G8 (a strength of the Wiki* Movement), and I expect almost all of them went home with far lighter pockets. Next year’s event is in London – nearly the same economic level. There are attendance scholarships available from the Wikimedia Foundation, but resources are limited. I hope to see future events held in more economical locations.
  • Message Delivery – in hindsight this is kind of a “duh” thing, but apart from the foundation leaders who more or less make their livings by speaking, the presentation delivery quality of the seminars I attended was on the whole quite low. There are many shades to communicating and being eloquent via keyboard is wholly unrelated to commanding an audience in the flesh and delivering a clear, concise, and impactful presentation. Ultimately, I don’t think this is a solvable problem. You can’t expect people to be good at everything, and Wikimania attendees are all volunteers. And yet worth noting – I now believe the real value of the seminars is sowing the seeds for future dialogue.

the Ugly

  • Litter – I was taken aback to see abandoned refuse in a number of seminar rooms and the common eating/break area. Trashcans were plentiful and never far away, yet a small but noticeable number of people were still leaving bottles, cans, plates, and napkins atop tables and chairs. For folks that subscribe to such highminded ideals, this was unexpected and frankly unacceptable.
  • Hygiene – It goes without saying that personal hygiene standards vary widely across the globe (though I wish they didn’t). But I also strongly believe it is incumbent upon the traveler to meet or exceed the hygiene standards of the destination community. Hong Kongers’ fastidiousness towards matters of personal hygiene tracks far closer to Tokyo than Tirupati. Unfortunately a number of attendees didn’t rise to the challenge, so to speak, and silently made their presences known.

Wikimania 2013

From August 7th to 11th around 1,000 people from all over the world gathered in Hong Kong to share ideas, renew friendships, and plan the year to come for numerous related organizations.

From The Netherlands and Kazakhstan, Australia and Chile they came. From universities and hospitals, governments and private corporations they came. From synagogues and mosques, churches and nowhere in particular they came. Men and women, young and old, fit and disabled, straight gay and otherwise they came.

What common thread could possibly unite such a fantastic spectrum of humanity? A few simple words:

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.

That’s what we’re doing.

That concise yet unthinkably ambitious quote comes from the end of Jimmy Wales’ reply to a user-submitted question titled 7) Getting people involved – by Anonymous Coward in a SlashDot interview on July 28th 2004.

the face of the movement (source)
the face of the movement (source)

It’s an interesting article to return to as a snapshot of the early era of Wikipedia – the site had gone mainstream but was still viewed with skepticism and outright hostility in many quarters. One wonders if Mr. Wales had any inkling of the wikiworld to come when he typed those replies…

English Wikipedia is closing in on a decade of tremendous growth (adapted from)
English Wikipedia is closing in on a decade of tremendous growth (adapted from)

One must admit that part of the allure of Wikimania is the intimacy. Wikipedia and its sister projects span the globe, are home to millions of users, and are closing in on 2 billion edits. Yet at Wikimania 2013 there were just one thousand attendees strolling around Hong Kong Polytechnic University, including Jimmy Wales himself, who looked perpetually out of breath and a little disoriented as he was led from here to there and back again for various speaking engagements… that is until he was led onstage, a place at which he is clearly at home.

For the weary veteran, Wikimania rekindles your hope in humanity.

For the curious newcomer, Wikimania throws back the curtain and inspires participation as one realizes that the folks at the heart of the movement are just like them.

Wikimania 2014 is in London. Will you be there too?

Anatomy of a Scam

Being neither elderly nor born yesterday, I have a reliable internet and email scam detector installed between my ears. And yet, to quote an old soccer coach, “we must give the credit where the credit is due.”

Today I received an awfully compelling scam email:


Let’s break down the points of interest:

  1. I frequently use and that email address for business travel.
  2. The email’s visual design matches a standard email.
  3. I have a real reservation with that starts on August 8th.
  4. The room rate is exorbitant.
  5. You can change or cancel before August 6th (the day the scam was delivered).

One cannot say whether the timing and content was dumb luck on the scammer’s part, or if they somehow got some of my personal data and crafted a targeted email that at first glance looked like a reservation screw-up for my next business trip. Either way, it 100% got my attention…

Ultimately, though, the scam needs a hook – a way to snag the fish – and the method they chose to use is a bit dated:

Don't think I'm going to open that...
Don’t think I’m going to open that…

A zip file attachment? You’re gonna have to do better than that, lads!