The Ger Camp

Moleskine Entry: April 19th, 2011

Writing this today sat in a traditional Mongolian Ger tent, there’s a fire stove burning and the group next to me are learning how to play a game involving the ankle bones from a goat.


We arrived into Mongolia’s capital early yesterday morning and boy was a it ever a long day – in the best of ways.

First, after the SIX HOURS it took to cross the border, we arrived in Ulaanbataar (UB) with relative ease. We switched over to local time (which is probably still messing with our heads) and disembarked.

Our Honcho, a mad, mad woman called Odka – “Like Vodka! But no V!” she exclaimed – greeted us and drove us into town.

Things of note

  • 24hr banking in UB is a work of genius. The only caveat being that you have to knock on the door of the bank until the teller wakes up! Also, once inside, be ready to manoeuvre [quietly] around snoring cashiers.
  • Mongolian people are awesome. Friendly, smiley and very, very hospitable. We kind of came to expect this given the warm reception we had from our fellow travellers en route but, here in their home-country, the kindness of the locals really shines.
  • California Bar for breakfast? Our first non-Siberian/non-ready-made meal for over a week? Oh go on then. Classy, I know.
  • General traffic-based mayhem (I may have video of this knocking around somewhere).
  • Occasional bullet holes.

Overall, this city is cool. The mad, mad, mad culture clash of eastern tradition and western aspiration has created a truly remarkable vibe.

Between then and now much has happened but dinner is nearly ready and I have to go. There’s still so much to catch up on but I’ll have to save all that for later.

Tonight, we sleep under the stars.

Lighting the stove


The Hunt for Hanna

Just over a week ago I was sent an email about the new Blu-Ray/DVD release of the child/assassin-based thriller, Hanna.

Note: this is not your average email, but we’ll come to that shortly.

If you’ve not seen the film before (I haven’t), it’s about a teenage girl (the amazing Saoirse Ronan) who has been trained by her ex-CIA father (Eric Bana) to basically be a complete bad-ass. Think Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass [but slightly older and with less pink wig-ness] and you’re probably halfway there.

Anyway, like I said, she’s been trained to be THE PERFECT ASSASSIN and then well, from what I can see from the trailer, Cate Blanchett turns up and the proverbial really hits the fan.

Speaking of which, the trailer is worth a look -

What do you think? I missed this at the cinema as I had only just got back from my mad trip across Siberia, but it does actually look quite good. IMDb gives it a solid 7/10 and, I think I probably will pick this up at some point also.

So, why am I blogging about it? Given that a) I haven’t actually seen it yet and b) although the film looks good, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of epic masterpiece that normally drives me to put e-pen to e-paper.

Well, it’s that email I mentioned at the top. It would seem that HMV and Universal have teamed up to create a rather awesome Foursquare-based treasure hunt across three major cities in the UK (London, Birmingham and Manchester) that kicks off this weekend.

Based around the central themes of the film, each hunt contains six codes that need cracking and from there you end up with six locations that need checking into.

The prize for completing said task? Er.. a weekend in Berlin! Sweet.

If you’re any of the above cities, your orders are available c/o The Galinka Project (but be quick, you only have until Monday). In the meantime, I have codes to crack.

Catch you later.





Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices

Or “How I predicted Google Photovine before it was announced”

A few months ago, I shared a research panel alongside one Marek Pawlowski. Marek runs the MEX (Mobile User Experience) conference and is a keen mobile futurist.

He and I had met before but it’s always good to refresh connections and, a month or so later, he asked if I could take part in a new MEX pathway entitled ‘Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices’.

“Sounds great Marek, but I’m off to Siberia next month and well, I won’t really be around to contribute properly.”

“That’s fine.” he said  “Just present at the event when you’re back in May.”

So I did.

And in fact, I probably gave a better presentation because of it: chilled out (after a whole month away from the internet), wearing a t-shirt and – probably for the first time ever – presenting in trainers.

Getting back to the event, the questions Marek posed as part of the pathway were as follows:

  1. How does ubiquitous access to new sensors such as touchscreens, gestural input and location tracking change the expression of human creativity?
  2. What does artistic experimentation at the boundaries of digital technology teach us about mainstream user experience requirements of the future?
  3. How does mass person-to-person communications facilitate new creative experiences through co-operative working?
  4. Will person-to-person communications enriched with new channels, such as haptics, emerge as a new form of artistic expression in itself?
  5. Are the text-based ‘Status Updates’ espoused by Facebook and Twitter the zenith of emotional expression or can human moods be better expressed?

My presentation (and the ideas around the answers I gave) can be seen in full below but, I implore you, click through to the actual Slideshare page so you can read the corresponding speaker notes. It doesn’t really make sense without them…

#MEX11: Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices

One thing I do want to focus on, however, is slide 17, MEX Pathway point number three [quick click through]:

How does mass person-to-person communications facilitate new creative experiences through co-operative working?

The answer I gave in my talk (or at least the one word that came to mind when I the question was posed), was ‘Meme‘. The two slides that followed explored the idea of the web-based meme going mobile. To quote:

“What about memes on mobile? I snap this, send it you, you change it, send it back.. An instant meme app? Yes please. Where do I sign?”

That, was May 2011. Two months later, in July, I spot this video from Google, courtesy of The Next Web -

Alright, so perhaps it isn’t exactly the meme-based application that I was hoping for and/or predicting, but it’s pretty darn close. Theme-based sharing even. And, if you recall what the original pathway set out to cover – Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices – this app nails it.

Bizarrely, for an app developed by Google, it’s only available on iPhone right now, but I’m sure this will change over time. And when it does, I’ll be ready and waiting – because having my friends help drive my mobile creativity is something I’m really actually quite looking forward to.

Thanks for stopping by.

UPDATE: the video of said talk is now available –

James Whatley from Marek Pawlowski on Vimeo.


Like I said, go and read that Slideshare deck properly – with the speaker notes.

And when you’re done there, go and read this article on Mobile Industry Review that references some of the above findings. 


Six months of travel

Not me. A chap named Jonathan.

James, Jonathan and Ben

[that's Jonathan, over my left shoulder - don't ask about the hats]

I met Jonathan first in Russia on my first night in Moscow back in April. He was halfway through a six month trip and had big plans. We ran into each other again in Mongolia and (along with a few others in our group) we discovered we pretty much had the same schedule ahead of us for the seven days or so [taking in camping out in the desert, catching the train to China and then hanging out in Beijing].

Anyway, I got back from my trip in May, Jonathan got back yesterday.
This post, entitled ‘HOME’ (and reposted with his permission) is what he’s just published and I actually love it.


“Just finished unpacking my backpack for the last f***ing time because I am finally home in good old London. If ever there was a moment for a cliché/gay/philosophical/Disney/boring (whichever) shout, surely now is the one time I can get away with one. So here goes (and then I promise I will shut up about all this and go back to drinking K and listening to s*** music).

A lot of people have asked me recently what I’ve learnt or found in the last 6 months living like a gypsy ‘on the road’. Well, I haven’t discovered the meaning of life, I haven’t realised that the world is a beautiful place, I still don’t understand religion and I still don’t get the appeal of a tan. What I have found is a restored faith in the human race, pieced together by every individual that has gone out of their way to help me get so far. The couch-surfers around the world who put me up for a night or few, the drivers who gave me a ride when I was stood with my thumb up on the side of the road in the rain, the families that invited me to live with them and those that fed me despite being too poor to get a solid roof above their heads. The people that turned my map the right way round, the people who patiently tried to teach me a part of their language and culture, those that put up with my constant complaining everywhere I went, and everyone else who smiled at the pasty tourist far too far from home. Sure, there are a lot of dickheads in the world, but they are greatly outnumbered by amazing people.

The Cambodians have a saying ‘when glass floats’ which means when evil prevails over good. Glass will never float. That’s what I’ve learnt.



Peace out yo, have a great Monday.


Toga! Toga! Toga!

Moleskine Entry: April 17th, 2011

Today is Sunday. Last night we threw a fancy dress part and everyone got involved (well, everyone we knew anyway).

— Indian Ben | Toga James —

This was, as you can imagine, quite amusing for the Mongolian smugglers traders on board.

Around midnight Moscow time [4am Mongolian time] we were joined by a couple who had tickets stay in in the Tsar’s Retreat. That’s right, I now no longer have my room to myself. Boo.

The good news is, the couple seem quite cool. One Brit and his American wife. One night of sharing the cabin left ahead and then we reach Mongolia. Well, that’s not strictly true.

We’ll be arriving at Ulanbataar at some point tomorrow. We actually cross the border into Mongolia in a couple of hours. [Hilarious] Russian ticket inspectors are aboard now: two women, late 40s, wearing knee high leather boots, full make-up, bright pink liptstick and a light blue, figure-hugging uniform reminiscent of the flight attendants from the 70s. Possibly the best thing I’ve seen on the whole trip to date.

You wouldn’t believe it. I’d snap a photo if I could but I daren’t. I fear I would be taken outside and shot or worse, taken back and used as a Russian sex slave forced to do their every deed at the crack of a singular, jet-black whip.

I’m clearly still quite drunk.

And still, we’re on a train.

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I spotted this just over a week ago and have had it open in my browser since with the full intention of blogging it when I got the chance. That’ll be today then.

This is the new (and fairly sweary – you have been warned) single from Scroobius Pip, Introdiction.
I love Pip’s work, have done for ages – and this is a great, great track.

Oh yeah, and the price of the video production? £100.