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Unsexy fundamentals focus: User experiences that print money

An extraordinary example of someone trying to give a publisher a lot of money — and the publisher making that experience as difficult as possible.

I’ve said before that I don’t have much sympathy for most publishers who are struggling. This is one example of exactly why many of their struggles are largely their own fault.

It beggars belief that a publisher should make it so hard to buy their product online. Many of them have a long hill to climb.


Underscores, optimisation and arms races

The story of how one character — the underscore (_) — provided an early glimpse of the problems we now face with dominant tech firms exerting their power over the web.

We found ourselves resistant to what felt like a coercive effect of Google’s rising domination, especially since Google’s own Blogger platform was a competitor of ours. Our expression of that frustration was expressed by a debate over a single character: We were using _ because we thought it looked nicer, so why should we change to – just because Google liked it better? Weren’t they supposed to adapt to what we published on the web?


It’s great to see this clip of Henry Hope-Frost on You Bet.

He may have thought then that his obscure knowledge would be of absolutely no use. But it certainly came in handy when he later became one of the top motorsport journalists.

There aren’t nearly enough clips of You Bet on YouTube. I remember one contestant who was able to tell a piece of music that was being played backwards just by seeing a candle flickering in front of the speaker.

It’s extraordinary to think that this kind of geeky talent passed for Saturday night ITV entertainment in the 1990s.

Henry Hope-Frost’s untimely death traveling home from the job he loved earlier this month was tragic. This clip is a demonstration of pure fever.


The tools matter and the tools don’t matter

It is easy to sneer at a question about what brand of pen to use, or whether you should use a pencil or a typewriter.

But in this piece, Austin Kleon argues that different tools can help you “get you to a certain way of working in which you can get your conscious, mechanical mind out of the way” to enable creativity.

…handwriting is great for coming up with ideas, for note-taking and big picture thinking…

Typing, on the other hand, is great for producing writing for other people… There’s a thing called “transcription fluency,” which boils down to: “when your fingers can’t move as fast as your thoughts, your ideas suffer.”


1/1 — Brian Eno

Ambient 1 / Music for Airports is 40 years old this month.

1/1 artwork

It is spurious to claim that Brian Eno invented ambient music. Erik Satie’s furniture music deserves mention. Eno himself recognised the role of Muzak.

Music for Airports is not even Eno’s first ambient album, despite its Ambient 1 moniker. But it certainly is the most important.

Music for Airports is both experimental and timeless. Bold yet gentle. You can consciously listen to it. But it may also affect your mood without you consciously being aware of it. Or in the words of Eno, “it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

It was a genuinely new idea. It introduced the notion of designing music for a specific purpose, yet was still packaged as a pop album. A stunning concept.

But how would we feel if music like this was played in an airport? Would it be a calming influence? Or would it grate like Muzak?


Liminal thinking

A powerful explanation of how beliefs are formed, and what little resemblance they have to reality.

Your beliefs form the fundamental model that you use to navigate the world, to think about things, to decide what to do and what to avoid, like a map. We form a lot of these beliefs by middle childhood.

And since you’re the one who built the map, it’s natural to believe that it corresponds to the territory that you are navigating. After all, most of the time, your map gets you where you want to go. So much so that when the map doesn’t get you where you want to go, the first thing you question is not the map but reality.


Bertrand Russell’s chicken (and why it was not an economist)

How introspection can lead to greater understanding — and how it may not.

The chicken that is fed by the farmer each morning may well have a theory that it will always be fed each morning – it becomes a ‘law’. And it works every day, until the day the chicken is instead slaughtered.

…Economics is at a disadvantage compared to the physical sciences because we cannot do so many types of experiments (although we are doing more and more), but we have another source of evidence: introspection… why is the farmer doing this? What is in it for him? If I was the farmer, why would I do this? And of course trying to answer that question might have led them to the unfortunate truth.