What’s the opposite of a Troll? I reckon it’s an Emily…

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The ways in which strangers comment and connect online usually gets a bad rap. Perhaps because it’s so easy to take on another identity – or remain anonymous – in order to be vile to another person. A ‘troll’ used to be a goat eating creature that lived under a bridge in the minds of children. Sadly that monster has been usurped by an all too human counterpart.

But what of the wonderful instances of selfless acts of generosity and human kindness that also occur online? Well, here’s one for you.

"#WeWant Leia" by Yakface.com

I recently blogged about the Disney Store’s lack of Princess Leia products, and their absense of interest making any. As the dad of a Star Wars loving daughter, I hoped for some meaningful response from Disney, and there was a muted assurance that they will produce Leia merchandise in the future.

But the post also elicited this response from a lady called Emily:

“I don’t know if it would interest you, but I have a Leia doll and several of the Episode 1 Amidala dolls (all still in boxes because that’s how I was). It’s not the iconic Leia w/ buns, but they’re just sitting in storage and I’d be happy to dust them off and send them to you to share with your daughter. I may have some action figures but I think I gave those away already.”

Well yes, of course I was interested, so I followed up with Emily via email. The back and forth conversation basically went like this.

Me: I’m certainly interested, but how much do you want for them?

Emily:   Oh I don’t need anything in return. I know how it was growing up a girl in a Star Wars world, so I’ll gladly share what I have

Wow, that’s really generous. But hang on, there’s a problem – it’s not like I can just pop round and pick them up. We don’t live very near each other. In fact, we’re very far from each other. Emily lives in the US and we live in the UK. She replied:

Emily: I have no problem sending them across the ocean – they’re just collecting dust in storage right now and I’m happy to send them off to a better home.

Once again, wow.

Special international delivery

True to her word, some days later, we had a large package arrive in the post from America, which contained three boxed 12″ Queen Amidala dolls, a boxed 12″ Princess Leia doll, and a bonus item of a large Queen Amidala towel. It also came with the following handwritten note from Emily:

 

Simon,

I hope your daughter enjoys these dolls. I’m happy to share my love of Star Wars with your daughter and your family. Hopefully these will help fill the gap until some new official merchandise surfaces.

I only have one Leia doll, but Amidala/Padmé was marketed a fair bit, with her many dresses and hairstyles. Like many overzealous fans, I snapped up what I could, but already being in high school, I never played with them – just had them on a shelf in my Star Wars covered room until another interest came along and they got put into storage for 10 or so years. Now they can leave their boxes for some proper playtime.

Enjoy! And may the force be with you, always!

Sincerely,

Emily

Emily then signed off with these delightful Princess Leia illustrations.

Emily's Leia doodles

So it was with great relish – and Emily’s permission – that my daughter and I finally liberated these toys from the packaging they had been in for the best part of the past 15 years. It would be a sight to horrify many a Star Wars collector, but delight anyone who gains any happiness from the pure joy of a child.

My daugher loves these dolls. She is already swapping shoes and outfits between them. Ceremonial Leia looks pretty good wearing Padme’s large brown boots. ‘Royal Elegance Queen Amidala’s red shoes are a popular interchangeable item as well. There’s also some toddler hairstyling and tea parties happening.

“You never forget kids like Emily”

In 1999, the year that The Phantom Menace was out and Emily purchased all these dolls, another eagerly anticipated movie was released. Eerily, it features a young lady called Emily who parted company with her childhood playthings.

In Toy Story 2 we are introduced to Jessie, a once beloved doll who has been abandoned at a roadside when her ‘Emily’ outgrew her. In reality, perfectly normal behaviour, but in the story it was a source of great sadness and emotional trauma for Jessie, who mournfully states: “You never forget kids like Emily…but they forget you.”

Well, this real life Emily didn’t forget about her toys. They may not have been played with, but they were bought out of love (of Star Wars), and passed on for the same reason.

According to Buzz Lightyear “(a toy’s) life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid”. Well thanks to their Emily these toys will be well loved by our kid. They are out of their boxes and never going back in!

The Emilys of the real world should be celebrated. She reached out to a father and daughter she has never met, with whom she had only had the briefest of online interaction with, and made the great effort to not just simply give us these toys she purchased, but to ship them across the world to us at her expense.

It also reminded me of the end of Toy Story 3, when…***SPOILERS*** …Andy hands over his childhood toys to the little girl family friend.

IMG_1855That brought a tear to my eye, and I have to admit, this did too.

So thank you Emily. As well as giving us these awesome dolls, you have also given me renewed optimism about the world I am raising my daughter in.

And Disney take note. There IS a girls market for Star Wars, and there always has been.

(Oh, while I immensely appreciate Emily’s generosity in giving these dolls to my daughter, at my insistence we have reimbursed Emily for the shipping. She also has a big credit in the favour bank)

 

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Of Mums and Men

20140801-141614-51374659.jpgCalling myself a stay-at-home dad is a bit disingenuous. We rarely stay at home, especially when the weather is this good. Today we pay a typical mid-week, mid-morning visit to our nearby playground to meet some friends for a playdate.

We arrive before them. I ask my daughter what she’d like to go on. As she considers her answer (she’s a bit of a ponderer), a mother ushers her crying child past us. “I’ll go and see if anyone has any plasters.” I call out to her to say I have plasters if she needs any.

She enthusiastically answers yes, and she comes over with her crying daughter who has a pair of grazed knees. I tell them I hope Spider-Man ones are ok, and the mother tells her how lucky she is the nice man helped us, and that her brother will be so jealous of the plasters (he comes over and does indeed look on jealously).

With great plasters comes great responsibility.

With great plasters comes great responsibility.

I notice the girl has a snotty nose, the kind that often accompanies such bouts of crying. I offer a tissue. The mother’s eyes widen, and she tells me & her daughter how amazing I am, how great the Spider-Man plasters are, and again how lucky they are the nice man was here – because mummy forgot to bring anything. The mother laughs when I compare my daughter’s nappy bag to a secret agents ‘go bag’, that’s always packed with necessities so we can just grab it on the way out. Plasters applied, nose wiped, the mother thanks me again and wishes us a great summer.

Moments later, I am cleaning something unsavoury from the bottom of my daughters shoe. A little girl comes up to us, intrigued about what I’m doing. Aged about 3 or 4, the girl starts asking me questions, such as what’s that picture on my daughter’s shoes “Turtles.” I reply. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It was a nice conversation.

Suddenly, her mother strides over and pulls the girl away from us without looking at me or saying anything until they stop beneath a nearby tree, where the little girl is admonished for talking to a “strange man”. The girl looks perplexed. Her mother then drags her back to a huddle of other parents in the centre of the playground – a collective I call the mum-hub.

This is an elusive and distant group. I have never been invited into its confines. The other week, I spotted a mum who I had met before, who I had been chatting to at a pre-school visit we had both attended, whom I had since exchanged hellos with on the street and in the supermarket. She seemed nice, and I was looking forward to chatting to her again. I made eye contact and smiled, hoping to get at least a smile in return, and she immediately looked away. She spent the afternoon laughing enthusiastically with her fellow mum-hubbers, ignoring me even when nearby.

I have never seen any dads in the mum-hub. Not even partners. The mum-hub is usually a child-free zone too, a place of adult conversation while their children fend for themselves – laughing, playing, fighting, falling, getting stuck, getting bullied, crying. Today, there was lots of crying and distressed pre-school children that needed the attention of strangers before their parent in the hub noticed. Yet, the reaction was swift when a little girl decided to talk to me, the strange man.

None of the other mums I know – actually know as opposed to one I chatted to once – are ever in the hub either, nor was the friendly mother who I offered the Spider-Man plasters to. I can only assume they think nothing of a dad playing with his daughter.

Perhaps the mum-hub is in my imagination, but it represents those collections of mothers that are off limits to at-home dads like me. They exist in playgrounds, playgroups, and cafes.  They are cliques of (usually) at-home mums whose exclusively female daytime community is by design not accident, that prefer their women only social-parenting life. Who find it odd that a man might want to be at home with their children, perhaps even suspicious. Mother’s like Loose Women’s Nadia Sawalha, who stated “I don’t really want to talk to them. I don’t want them to be there.”

I obviously find it sad that this is the case. I’m not going to confront them about it. There’s a bit of live and let live, but mainly because it’s pretty ugly in front of children. What I can do is continue to be the engaged father I am, take my daughter to the playground, and hopefully little girls will see that there is nothing weird, or anything to be afraid of, about a man with his child in the playground. Little boys too.

I also hope all kids will see there’s nothing weird about a girl wearing Spider-Man plasters. Or t-shirts. Or outfits.

 

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7 ways for Hasbro to sell more Star Wars toys (hint: girls)

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My daughter giving her Hasbro Leia doll (courtesy Emily) a blow-dry

Hasbro, the primary Star Wars toys licensee, has a brand developer vacancy for their Star Wars line.

Like Disney, they still see Star Wars as a boys brand – but using Hasbro’s job ad as a guide, here are 7 ways the new Brand Manager can impress their new employer by improving sales, decreasing costs, and ultimately raising profits – as well as addressing the gendered marketing issue.

In fact, it’s the solution:

The primary Duties & Responsibilities of the Star Wars Brand Development role:

1. Finding innovative ways to grow higher margin businesses.
A: An innovative way to grow higher margin businesses would focus on marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys. This will increase sales with minimal additional costs.

2. Drive product innovations to better meet consumer demands.
A: Innovate by creating Star Wars products with girls in mind, meeting their additional consumer demand. Also market the entire brand to both girls and boys – girls will also buy existing products that are currently (but erroneously) deemed as ‘boys’ toys, and boys will purchase many products you might think of as being for ‘girls’.

3. Develop overall go-to-market product strategy.
A: The strategy needs to focus on the fact that Star Wars is a brand that appeals to both boys and girls, as well as their Star Wars fan parents. Create product for, and market the brand to all of them.

4. Find ways to decrease development costs and gain efficiencies.
Decrease development costs by marketing current products to girls as well as boys. Efficiencies would be gained by selling an already existing product to a new market with minimal additional cost.

5. Keep up to date on modern manufacturing trends, technologies and competitive practices.
A: Be competitive – and modern – by marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys.

6. Work with global brand strategy & marketing team to develop special and exclusive products.
A: The global brand strategy for the development of all special and exclusive products must include marketing the Star Wars brand to girls as well as boys, to increase sales.

7. Become the global insights expert and leverage learning across product lines.
A: An insight that Hasbro must learn – the Star Wars brand is in an almost unique position as, despite Hasbro’s insistence that it’s a ‘boys’ brand, it actually appeals to girls too. Additional product made with girls in mind can certainly be produced, but the overall brand is unisex. In addition, today’s parents would have grown up with Star Wars, back when it had overt cross gender appeal, so parents of boys and/or girls will be be primed to purchase product for the daughters as well as their sons. Hasbro should be including, rather than excluding girls from the Star wars brand, as it will lead to increased sales for the entire line. 

OK, it’s not really 7 ways – they all have basically the same answer: Girls.

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‘I am the way’

But you have to admit, the plan has a singular clarity to it.

The successful applicant can now arrive as saviour, with a bold game changing strategy that benefits all.

Or to put it another way, the Chosen One can finally fulfil the prophecy of bringing (gender) balance to the Force.

 

I posted an earlier version of this piece here.

 

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Dust if you must… a poem on the perils of housework.

Man Vs Pink:

This mirrors my approach to keeping the house clean…

Originally posted on Campari and Sofa:

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This sweet poem was first published on September 15th 1998 in the 21st edition of The Lady (“in continuous publication since 1885 and widely respected as England’s longest running weekly magazine for women”).

‘Dust if you Must’ was written by Mrs Rose Milligan from Lancaster in Lancashire. Whose name we love too. It being a combination of the classic English bloom and that brilliant comedian, the most excellent Spike Milligan.

We discovered at Tidings and Things on tumblr. Where one of the comments read: “I know my house is perfectly kept when I can write ‘I love you’ with my fingertip in the dust on the furniture.”

A reminder, at the end of a long and dusty week: that not everything always needs to be in it’s place.

(Thanks for the introduction to our great and much loved pal: Mr Edward Clarke of Clapham, London.)

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Batman’s secret identity isn’t Bruce Wayne – it’s Bill Finger

Batman 75If you know a little bit about comics, you probably think that Bob Kane created Batman. In fact if you know a lot about comics you still might think he created Batman. That’s exactly what Bob Kane always wanted you to think.  But Bob Kane lived in the Batcave that Bill Finger built.

Today has been designated by DC Comics as Batman Day, in honour of the 75 years that have passed since the debut of the Dark Knight in Detective Comics no. 27.

Original BatmanOn a Friday sometime prior to that 1939 comic hitting the stands, Kane had promised his publisher a great new character by Monday. In his struggle for an idea, he came up with ‘Bird-Man’, a masked Flash Gordon rip-off with wings. Kane had the good sense to show his work in progress to his friend – a writer named Bill Finger, who set about creating a better character instead.

Basically, almost everything that is iconic and cool about Batman, Finger came up with – his outfit, his origin, his alter-ego, his lack of superpowers, being a detective, the Batmobile, Gotham City, and even (in collaboration) supporting characters like Robin, Catwoman, Riddler, and the Joker.

“Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot,” - Bill Finger, Detective Comics (1939)

It was an instant hit. What followed for Kane was a career of taking credit for Finger’s and then others work, and being paid handsomely for it. The writers and artists got what Kane considered a fair page rate, but far less than he was paid by the publisher and with no credit or royalties. As a businessman, you have to admire Bob Kane – in the way you might admire Donald Trump or Tony Montana.

Despite the fact that this all is common knowledge in the comics industry, DC cannot name Finger as co-creator of Batman for legal reasons. The rumour is that Kane pretended he signed his original contract as a minor (which would’ve been illegal), and blackmailed DC precursor National into a new contract naming Kane as the sole creator of Batman, in perpetuity.

If it wasn’t for Bill Finger, today wouldn’t be Batman Day, but ‘Bird-Man’ Day. No, scratch that. Kane’s Bird-Man would have obviously faded into obscurity as the highly derivative creation it was. But here we are 75 years later – on Batman Day.

Like many of his peers, Bill Finger’s comic book career consisted mostly of anonymous writing for a basic page rate. He passed away 40 years ago in 1974. Bob Kane survived him a further 24 years until 1998. But in death, Bob did acknowledge a co-creator for Batman on his headstone – but sadly, it’s not who you think…

Kane headstone LARGE

Yup – God. As co-creators go, you could do a lot worse than THE creator I guess. God was not available for comment.

As mentioned, DC cannot actually name Bill Finger as a Batman creator, but they have done the best they can – crediting him as the writer of Detective Comics no.27, the first appearance of The Bat-Man, on the cover of DC’s 75th anniversary edition of the issue, available as a free comic book today.

Despite my love of superheroes, I’m not one to advocate violence because a) it’s usually wrong, and b) I’m a coward. But I can’t help thinking about the following tale that famed comicbook artist & writer Jim Steranko told his followers on Twitter last year.

So, as well as remembering Bill Finger, the man who basically created the Caped Crusader as we know him today, you can also celebrate Batman Day by reliving the time Jim Steranko bat-slapped Bob Kane :)

Bob Kane – you’ve been Steranko’d!

Jim Steranko

Jim Steranko

“I hadn’t encountered Kane in my travels, but at one rockin’ SDCC (San Diego Comic-Con), an associate asked me if I wanted to meet him, and walked me into a hallway.

There he was, in a small group of people, wearing patent-leather shoes– and an ASCOT, like he was Vitamin f******g Flintheart in a Dick Tracy cartoon.

For years, I’d heard how he’d taken credit for Bill Finger’s contributions (in addition to half his pay) and other despicable tales from his associates. But nothing aces an in-person encounter.

We were introduced and Kane began talking about my Batman chapter in the HISTORY OF COMICS, which treated him–and everyone else–very respectfully. He felt I credited Robinson & Finger (both of whom I knew intimately) too much. Kane (aka Kahn) was beyond pretentious, an intolerable ass as pompous as they come. I bit my tongue while he regaled us with his many achievements.

The group was waiting for an elevator, which they stepped into when the door opened. Our conversation ended, but not before he said: “See you later, Jim, baby,”and cuffed me across the face–like some rat-pack street gesture he’d seen in some cheap flick. The doors closed…I was stunned by the sheer audacity of a stranger–like him–to lay a hand on me, and boiling with anger.

That night, I couldn’t sleep and the next morning began combing the halls for his Bat Majesty. Around noon, I found him in another group, which I walked into. “Good to see you, Bob, baby!” I said, then bitch bat-slapped him across the face.

But this time, there was no elevator door closing between us. I stood there for about 15 seconds, waiting. He did nothing. I turned and left. But I regret it now. I regret that he didn’t do anything about it, even though he was at least a head taller than me. I wouldn’t have minded bleeding at all for one more opportunity to give Kane the kind of Bat Lesson that Finger, Robinson, Sprang and others only dreamed of.

Finger was THE creative force behind Batman.

ALL the cool Bat elements are his concepts.”

The Batman(Thanks to Rob Duncan for the Steranko bat-slap Storify, and no thanks to WordPress for the inability to embed it in this post!)
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Despite #WeWantLeia, Star Wars is still a ‘Boys’ only brand according to Hasbro

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My daughter giving her Hasbro Leia doll a blow-dry

Not only does the Disney Store have Star Wars pigeon-holed as a boys only brand, it seems that main toy licensee Hasbro does too.

In this job ad (courtesy of Natalie Wreyford and , Hasbro states it has “immediate need for a detail-oriented, brand developer… for Star Wars” their “Boys Licensed brand”.

Sigh.

The ad lists seven key aspects of the job, but reading them it seems to me that a plucky applicant could successfully address each of these bullet points by addressing the gendered marketing issue too.

So, if you’re a detail-oriented, brand developer candidate – who is “proactive”, “responsive”, “creative”, and with “analytic based judgement” – looking to make a name for yourself, you could try this approach. I am after all a marketing guru (:s).

 

Primary Duties & Responsibilities of Star Wars Brand Development role:

1. Lead cross-functional teams to execute key brand initiatives, including finding innovative ways to grow higher margin businesses.
A: An innovative way to grow higher margin businesses should involve marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys.

2. Drive product innovations through the system to better meet consumer demands.
A: Innovate by creating Star Wars products intended for girls, meeting their additional consumer demand, and market the entire brand to both girls and boys.

3. Develop overall go-to-market product strategy.
A: Create product and market the whole brand to both boys and girls.

4. Partner with global supply chain to identify programs to decrease development costs and gain efficiencies where applicable.
A: Market existing products to girls as well as boys.  Efficiencies gained by selling an existing product to a new market with minimal cost.

5. Maintain current knowledge of modern manufacturing trends, technologies and competitive practices.
A: Be competitive by marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys.

6. Collaborate with global brand strategy and marketing team in the development of all special and exclusive products.
A: Suggest the global brand strategy includes marketing Star Wars brand to girls as well as boys.

7. Become the global insights expert and leverage learning across product lines.
A: Your insight should involve the need for marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys. If not, this should be learned.

So there you go. You’ve got that application nailed! Why not apply using this as your template? If you can’t beat them, join them. Then beat them.

Failing that, tweet them at @HasbroNews, or email them at hasbrobrandpr@hasbro.com, and let them know that Star Wars is a galaxy for girls too – because they obviously didn’t get the #WeWantLeia memo.

 

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RECIPE: Linguine con Vongole e Pomodorini (Linguine with clams and cherry tomatoes)

Linguine con Vongole e Pomodorini  (Linguine with clams and cherry tomatoes)

Linguine con Vongole e Pomodorini (Linguine with clams and cherry tomatoes)

A slight twist on the Italian classic, cherry tomatoes add a dash of summer colour & flavour to Linguine Vongole.

I would like to say I first ate it while holidaying in Italy, but I’m pretty sure it was at Wellington Italian eatery MariLuca.

While I’m no longer a Kiwi resident, my clam of choice is still the New Zealand Little Neck. It is the Iron Man of clams, with an armoured shell to rival Tony Stark’s, which gives the molluscs the best chance of withstanding the journey from sea to your saucepan intact. They taste great too.

Make sure you use the sweetest tomatoes you can find, so they complement the sweet & salty clams. You won’t need to halve them as they should break down just enough while cooking, but if you prefer you can give the skin a little slice before cooking – they’ll be reminiscent of a tomato that’s split with ripeness.

While the butter adds a smooth richness, the key to getting this dish right is balancing the garlic, anchovy, shallot and chilli to enhance the delicious salty clam & sweet tomato combo. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. It would be a shame to overpower the clams – even Iron Clam cannot withstand a mass flavour assault.

 

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS:

  • 500g linguine
  • 1kg fresh clams, washed & cleaned
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-2 chillies, finely chopped
  • 250g very sweet cherry tomatoes
  • 1-2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • Large handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Large glass white wine
  • 50g butter
  • Salt

METHOD:

  1. In large pan, cook linguine in salted water. It needs to be al dente, so about a minute or so less than packet instructions.
  1. At the same time, in a larger pan on a medium heat, fry the shallot, garlic, chilli, tomatoes, and anchovy in generous glug of olive oil. After a couple minutes add a splash of wine and cook a further 5 or so mins.
  1. Add the clams and the rest of the wine. Cover pan with a tight fitting lid and cook for about 2-3 mins, or until all the clams have opened. Give the pan a good shake – it’ll help the clams open up and tear the tomato skins just enough.
  1. Drain the pasta, and toss into the clam mixture with the parsley and butter.*
  1. Return lid, turn off the heat, and leave everything to sit in the pan for a couple of minutes. The linguine will soak up lots of the delicious cooking liquor, without cooking any further itself.
  1. Serve in warmed pasta bowls, spooning over any remaining cooking liquor.

* You will have of course timed this to perfection, so that the clams and the linguine are ready at the same time to mix together. But if unsure about timings, it is much better to have the linguine ready before the clams. The pasta can sit a while and be heated up again with the clams, but vice versa would lead to the clams becoming tough and rubbery from overcooking.

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Science, sexism and the media.

Man Vs Pink:

New Zealand scientist and teacher Dr Michelle Dickinson (aka Nanogirl) on science, sexism, and the media.

Originally posted on Ongoing chatter from a materials girl wondering about what matters:

So lets start at the beginning, I’m an engineer and a scientist and I’m passionate about communicating science and trying to get others to be passionate about it too.

I think that understanding science is really important, no matter who you are or what your education level is.  Each one of us needs to make scientific decisions every day:

  • Should you vaccinate your children?
  • Should you go to your doctor about that lump you’ve found and if so what should you ask?
  • Should you use paper or plastic bags to take home your shopping?
  • Should you be worried about climate change?
  • Does what you eat affect your health?

Scientists can be scary and sometimes intimidating, with their endless qualifications and constant use of long words.  I have been working tirelessly on learning the skill of talking about science without all of those scary words so that the conversation can be…

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