Weekly Reading

Given this week’s rolling blackouts affecting millions of people in California courtesy of PG&E, it’s a fortuitous time to have been reading about Enron, but I’ve been doing just that.

Bethany McLean’s The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron is the tell-all story behind the rise and crushing downfall of Enron, which at it’s peak in 2000 was one of the most valuable companies in the world.

As the story unveils you start to grasp the cavalier attitudes that led to Enron’s inevitable downfall, including Enron’s involvement in the 2000 California electricity crisis, where Enron purposefully manipulated the market with such schemes as “Fat Boy” and “Death Star” to make hundreds of millions of dollars in trading profits - to the detriment of Californians.

Of course, this isn’t just a story about an energy crisis, this is a story about the rampant unethical and illegal activity that led to the company inevitably declaring bankruptcy after their accounting schemes ran away from them.

Say you have a dog, but you need to create a duck on the financial statements. Fortunately, there are specific accounting rules for what constitutes a duck: yellow feet, white covering, orange beak. So you take the dog and paint its feet yellow and its fur white and you paste an orange plastic beak on its nose, and then you say to your accountants, ‘This is a duck! Don’t you agree that it’s a duck?’ And the accountants say, ‘Yes, according to the rules, this is a duck.’ Everybody knows that it’s a dog, not a duck, but that doesn’t matter, because you’ve met the rules for calling it a duck.

If you ever want to understand quite how badly capitalism can go wrong without adequate oversight, read this book.

One of the fun side effects of the Enron bankruptcy and subsequent fraud investigations by the SEC is that it gave us the Enron Corpus, a database of over 600,000 emails sent by some of Enron’s key employees. This dataset has been key in developing machine learning and natural language processing techniques and continues to be used to this day.

Want something a bit more fun? You can sign up to receive 225,000 Enron emails in chronological order over a period of 7, 14 or 28 years.

I’m now reading Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence, the sequel to One Word Kill which I read last week. This one’s going to be a bit of a palate cleanser after all the accounting fraud I read about.

For all the digital marketers out there, on October 1st, the Court of Justice of the European Union made a ruling on the use of cookies, the wording is remarkably clear and unambiguous and leaves us in no doubt as to what the correct way of dealing with cookies is.

In today’s judgment, the Court decides that the consent which a website user must give to the storage of and access to cookies on his or her equipment is not validly constituted by way of a prechecked checkbox which that user must deselect to refuse his or her consent.

That decision is unaffected by whether or not the information stored or accessed on the user’s equipment is personal data. EU law aims to protect the user from any interference with his or her private life, in particular, from the risk that hidden identifiers and other similar devices enter those users’ terminal equipment without their knowledge.

Let’s wait and see if anyone actually changes their behaviour, eh 🙃

On that note it’s time to look at Conseful Tech again, a project that aims to raise awareness around building technology that obeys digital consent. Their definition of consent is well worth paying attention to.

A couple of very useful looking email tools were released last week that are well worth checking out. These are Milliner a WYSIWYG email editor and alter.email, a kitchen sink of useful tools for cleaning your email HTML code.

Ironically, I’ve probably talked the ears off about my problems sleeping due to noise (from flatmates and whatever other random noise). Our world is getting noisier and with that comes a whole host of negative effects to our health and general well being, and things may only get worse from hereon in.

One of many similar tools, but sheet.best seems like a great way to build a simple prototype or MVP, turning a Google Sheet into a simple JSON API.

Ted Goas makes a compelling argument for the business case for good design. Good design is something we can all explicitly experience and understand, it creates trust and frequently ends up as a signal booster for your marketing and advertising campaigns. Good design is a key brand differentiator and should absolutely be invested into.

This segues quite nicely into Wistia’s recent Brand Affinity Marketing campaign. Much like Hubspot before them with their now ubiquitous “Inbound Marketing” methodology, Wistia are trying to create a new marketing buzzword around what they call Brand Affinity - which is simply just another way of looking at content marketing. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but Wistia have long been one of the great B2B content marketing brands. This campaign is going to be a useful case study, much like Hubspot’s before it.