The ABC Shops to close

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My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

Oz Comic-Con 2015 – and marriage equality

Science fiction and fantasy conventions used to be a homespun affair, run by the local clubs, featuring broadcasts of rare episodes and out-takes (before it all got released on DVD) and fan films. If there were guest artists, often they would appear only if they happened to be in the country at the time, and fees for photos and autographs were unheard of.

These days it’s big business. Not that it’s a bad thing. I like that geek culture is no longer a hidden-away, niche enterprise, and those who are interested in it have big events like Oz Comic-Con and Armageddon, and SupaNova, and others to go to every year.

And yet for all the big budget exhibition halls and merchandise stalls and paid guest appearances, it’s still the fans and their costumes that make it what it is.

OzComicon 2015: Batman

On the train into OzComiCon on Sunday morning, we were keeping a lookout for others attending — of course it’s sometimes a guess as to whether someone’s in costume, or just dresses eccentrically. I’d had a plan for a costume but wasn’t organised enough to get it all prepared, so went in civvies, but it was just as well as at lunchtime I had to duck out to talk to Channel 9 about the airport rail link.

This year it was at MCEC (along with SpecTex15 — a trade show about specialist textiles… their attendees were a little less outlandishly dressed).

Given the number of Doctor Who fans out and about, it was a shame that there were no related guests or sessions, but I went to an interesting Star Trek: Deep Space 9 session with Terry Farrell (Dax) and Rene Auberjonois (shapeshifter Odo).

Mostly it was light-hearted, but at one point they noted Friday’s marriage equality decision of the US Supreme Court, and Farrell said she was proud of the episode where she kissed another female actress — although the genders of both characters was unclear, she said that it had provided a chance to indirectly have the show stand up for people who then might have been unable to be public about their own relationships.

I’m struggling to paraphrase it well; she expressed it in a much more graceful and passionate way, and got a round of applause from the audience. In any case, it fits in well with the generally progressive vision of future society that has long been the hallmark of the Star Trek franchise — everything from the once-controversial multi-racial cast to the absence of money.

Anyway, here are some photos from OzComicon… as you can see, it was pretty busy, and people in costume were only too pleased to pose for photos.

Who you gonna call?
OzComicon 2015: Who you gonna call?

Whatever you do, don’t cross the franchises!
OzComicon 2015: Whatever you do, don't cross the franchises!

Lego TARDIS! Lego Pac-Man!
OzComicon 2015: Lego Tardis and Lego PacMan

Captain Picard from Star Trek: Next Generation snaps a photo of a Star Wars Storm trooper.
Captain Picard snaps a stormtrooper

Lots of cosplayers pose for a photo outside… you can see the picture in this News.com.au story: Costume-clad fans flock to Oz Comic-Con Melbourne 2015
OzComicon 2015: Gathering for a photo
(View this photo at full size)

More media coverage:

Speaking of marriage equality, I’m somewhat surprised to see this that this tweet netted over 300 retweets and a similar number of favourites in 24 hours, and got quoted on Buzzfeed. Cool!

Online services: they know all about you

I love using Google’s services, but I think everybody knows they (and Facebook and Twitter and many other big internet companies) make most of their money via advertising, and that’s based on what they know about YOU.

Like they say, the service is not the product — you are.

How much do they know about you? Quite a bit.

As F-Secure’s Mikko Hypponen remarked at a recent conference: “Go to Google and buy an ad. Go to Facebook and buy an ad. Go to Twitter and purchase a ‘promoted tweet’, because it will open your eyes.”

Computers at PAX 2014

Google popped up yesterday with a link to review my privacy settings. Amongst the information it showed was what Google thinks I’m interested in, based on my browsing history. It’s quite enlightening.

Here’s my list:

  • Apartments & Residential Rentals
  • Bus & Rail
  • Business & Productivity Software
  • Cleaning Supplies & Services
  • Computer Components
  • Computers & Electronics
  • Fishing
  • Food & Drink
  • Food & Grocery Retailers
  • Games
  • HVAC & Climate Control
  • Home Appliances
  • Internet Clients & Browsers
  • Linux & Unix
  • Melbourne
  • Mobile & Wireless
  • Mobile Phones
  • Movies
  • Music & Audio
  • Network Security
  • News
  • Outdoors
  • Programming
  • Shopping
  • Smart Phones
  • Software
  • TV Sci-Fi & Fantasy Shows
  • Travel
  • Web Design & Development
  • Web Services

They all look like things I’m interested in, with one notable exception: fishing. I have no idea why it would think that. I’m also not sure why Cleaning Supplies and Outdoors would be in the top 30, but I assume in all these cases I’ve gone to some web sites looking for something else, but featuring both those categories.

Perhaps it’s a similar scenario to the legendary (and quite amusing) 2002 article about people who get categorised by their Tivo as gay, or Neo-Nazi, or Korean, based on a program or two that they may have watched, and then try to “fool” it by watching the opposite.

Still, if Google fairly accurately flagged 28 out of 30 interests of mine, it makes one wonder just how much the big (and small) online companies know about us all as we gleefully use their free products.

  • Those with Google accounts might like to try the Privacy Checkup themselves.

Where are the ads?

Before you read too much of this post, play the video and (assuming you haven’t seen it before), see how long it takes you to work out what it’s an ad for.

Gosh, isn’t it optimistic! And I’m finding it really catchy.

Even the bloke at the end seems pretty happy, perhaps with good reason.

That ad seems a bit long for television; perhaps it was in cinemas, or perhaps it was online only — though it seems there was a shorter version for TV.

These TV ads accompany it:

…and this in particular I like, as it manages to capture a key reason of why the product is so important:

(There’s one more I wasn’t so keen on… if you want to see it, it’s here.)

Meanwhile, I’ve just finished reading Mark Ovenden’s excellent book London Underground By Design.

Both the Washington DC ads above and the book show examples of rail authorities that are aware of the importance of promoting their new rail lines.

Piccadilly line extension promotion - from Mark Ovenden's book London Underground By Design

Today it’s a month until Regional Rail Link opens on 21st of June, and there’s been no promotion of it at all.

So far I’ve seen no posters, no ads, nothing online (the official project web site doesn’t even seem to indicate the precise date; it only says “June”), and recent media stories about it (not since the ones advising that the opening was delayed).

I’m told even the new rail map, which would have highlighted the new line to Metro users, has been delayed until later in the year. This is a real shame — it would have been a perfect way to promote the new stations to existing users, including those who might currently be driving from nearby suburbs to the overcrowded Werribee line.

Way to get people excited and interested in the first new major suburban rail line to open in 80 years!

Let’s hope local residents hear about it opening. At least they’ve seen construction going on.

But wait a minute, I hear you say, why does the rest of Melbourne need to know about this? I don’t live anywhere near Tarneit and Wyndham Vale; how will it help me?

As former Western Australian transport minister Alannah MacTiernan pointed out in a presentation in 2013, when the new Mandurah line opened in Perth, it actually resulted in patronage growth right across the Perth rail system.

My guess is it’s a mix of the benefits of the new line serving destinations previously difficult to reach, and the halo effect — oh, look at that, a new rail line just opened — it looks so modern — I haven’t caught a train in ages, but maybe I should take another look and see if my local trains are any good… oh, they’re more frequent than they used to be… I’ll give it a go.

In this short video about the creation of the Washington DC ads, they note (at about the 3 minute mark) that the campaign increased overall awareness of Metro, and helped contribute to very strong patronage on the new line when it opened last year.

Most of us don’t look as happy as the people in the first ad when riding trains.

But I think the “Good times are ahead” message resonates because it reminds us of something important — better public transport means better access to jobs and education and other opportunities — whether or not you can drive — and an option for getting out of the traffic. I can say with some certainty that my life is better thanks to good access to PT.

So too the Regional Rail Link will be of huge benefit to the residents of Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — and the frequency boost expected on the rest of the Geelong line and on the neighbouring lines thanks to freed up capacity will also help many others.

In Victoria, we seem to have an awful lot of trouble promoting the good things about public transport.

There’s certainly political promotion — this week I’ve received two sets of flyers about the forthcoming level crossing grade separations; at the station, AND in the mail… and let’s not forget ridiculous ads for non-existent infrastructure like last year’s promotions of the proposed airport line — designed not so much to promote the line, as to influence your vote.

But there has been virtually no promotion of the new RRL line, the trains that now run every ten minutes, the fare cuts in January, or the realtime mobile Smartbus information.

With the huge investment now going into the system to produce these upgrades, it’s time PTV and the government started better promoting projects as they are completed, to ensure people know about the benefits, and the return is maximised by getting more passengers on board.

Public transport in the media is so often dominated by bad news — crowding, delays, breakdowns — the good news stories need to be told as well.

  • Washington Metro ads found via Marcus Wong and commenter wxtre
  • The appallingly catchy tune is Melbourne band Architecture In Helsinki. I once saw them in support of Belle And Sebastian and was thoroughly unimpressed. Perhaps they were having a bad night.

Update: RRL finally had a launch at the end of June (for timetables) and an official opening on June 14th (a week before services start). I haven’t seen TV ads, but there’s been a lot of online ads, newspaper ads, and flyers sent out to locals, such as the example below:

Buying shirts online

As I’ve noted in the past, I no longer wear ties to work, and have a range of different shirts.

Apart from regularly stocking up with Van Heusen and Gloweave shirts when the sales are on, I’ve been trying out Charles Tyrwhitt shirts — you know, the online shirt company that at one stage seemed to be placing endless ads in newspapers.

Some observations on Tyrwhitt shirts:

The orders have come through within about a week. Be aware that once you order from them, you will receive a truly incredible amount of advertising in the mail from them.

The quality seems quite nice. The 40/41 neck, regular sleeve length, slim fit seems to fit me well. They also do an extra slim version which I suspect wouldn’t sit on my slightly pudgy body so well. Classic fit is also okay, but I prefer the slim fit.

Charles Tyrwhitt shirt label

Despite proudly boasting their Britishness on all their literature, and pointing out items in the catalogues that are made in the UK, none of the shirts I’ve bought from them have clearly stated where they are made on the packaging or labels.

And despite appearing at first glance to be steeped in the tailoring tradition of Jermyn Street, London, they have only been around since 1986. Mind you, that’s still almost thirty years.

My most recent order was made when I probably wasn’t paying enough attention — I accidentally bought two of the identical white with blue stripes design. Whoops, But given Karl Stefanovic’s little experiment wearing the same suit on TV for a year, which went unnoticed, I doubt it’ll be a problem.

It appears that Tyrwhitt takes the Kathmandu approach to specials, but moreso. Basically nobody in their right mind would pay full price if they can possibly avoid it. Shirts evidently go on sale at full price for a while, then are heavily discounted down to a more “real” price, which most people end up paying. As Wikipedia notes: Tyrwhitt uses a high MSRP, high discount model (also called high-low pricing).

That said, the strategy has me sucked in. I’m happy to pay $35-40 for a good shirt. You could pay a lot more, though I suspect you’d get better quality.

I’d be more reluctant buying other items such as suits and shoes from them, given sizing issues, though I have bought a few pairs of shoes from Florsheim online, as they seem to be pretty consistent in their sizing (and I hate shoe shopping).

But I’ve been happy with the shirts I’ve ordered from Tyrwhitt, and will keep using them.