Archive:
2017

Woman’s English too good for UK entry

A pregnant Indian woman has been refused entry to live in Scotland with her Fife husband because her language qualification for entry to the UK is too advanced.

Disgusting! When is this country going to stop being so hostile to people?

Designers, it’s time to move slowly and fix things

Another reflection on how the culture of tech and design probably needs to change, this time from Basecamp product designer Jonas Downey.

Designers and programmers are great at inventing software… Unfortunately we’re not nearly as obsessed with what happens after that, when people integrate our products into the real world. They use our stuff and it takes on a life of its own. Then we move on to making the next thing. We’re builders, not sociologists.

John Bult: Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday

The story of one of the worst record covers of all time.

“During the photo shoot, Ted kept telling her to look serious, like her dad is talking to her,” Bult said. “But she just kept looking sad to me.”

When the final album was pressed, and Bult saw the finished product, he was livid.

The most popular strategies companies use to save money also kill innovation

An interesting take on business process improvements such as Lean and Six Sigma. It suggests that while such process improvements improve reliability, they also make innovation plummet. Moreover, the effects are difficult to spot because they take so long to emerge.

Innovation requires different ways of doing things, and this is exactly what this system ends. But they don’t tell you that in the ISO9000 handbook, do they?


The worst car I ever drove — Lapped dog

What happens when you get your dream drive in Formula 1 — only for it to become a nightmare. Julian Bailey on the Tyrrell 017.

I climbed in and they fired it up. Just as they did that the right hand mirror fell off..

From the archives of Motor Sport Magazine, this article is from 1999, but still an entertaining read.

Woman reports rape to police — and is arrested on immigration charges

The woman, who was five months pregnant at the time of her arrest, attended a London police station in March to report that she had been kidnapped and raped in Germany between September 2016 and March 2017.

Officers took her to the Havens sexual assault centre, which provides care for women who have been sexually assaulted.

But while there, she was suddenly arrested and taken into custody at an east London police station. She was then interrogated over her immigration status.

This country needs to end its obsession with immigration. There comes a point when you need to treat people as humans. I think treating a rape victim as a criminal is way beyond that point.

Wealth inequality is even worse in reputation economies

Cory Doctorow on how reputation economies (like the rating system satirised in the Black Mirror episode Nosedive) have a series of undesirable effects.

…reputation is useless as a hedge against the real nightmare of a setup like Ebay: the long con. It doesn’t cost much, nor does it take much work, to build up sleeper identities on Ebay, fake storefronts that sell un­remarkable goods at reasonable prices, earning A+++ GREAT SELLER tickmarks, even for years, until one day, that account lists a bunch of high-value items on the service, pockets the buyers’ funds, and walks off.

Reputation works badly and fails badly – it’s a lose-lose situation all around.

When alumni interviewers screw up, things get weird

The perils of using alumni to reach out to prospective students.

This article mainly pertains to examples found in the US. I am not sure how common this technique is in the UK.

There is a tricky balance to be struck between two of universities’ main sources of income. On the one hand there is the need to keep alumni engaged, which is thought to make them more likely to donate. But if it turns off students — particularly the right kind of students — the long-term risks could be greater.

Although highly selective colleges have become racially and socioeconomically diverse, alumni interviewers tend to be white and affluent. That can lead to awkward moments, said Ari Worthman, director of college counseling at Lakeside School, in Seattle. He recalled a low-income student who sat down with the graduate of a big-name college a couple of years ago. I’m so glad you’re looking at our school, the applicant was told, because we don’t normally interview students like you.

Record player

Help! I’m becoming an audiophile

After years of dilly-dallying, I have finally bought myself a new record player. But I’m still not convinced vinyl provides the superior sound quality.

Making good decisions as a product manager

While this article was originally aimed at product managers, the author concedes that it is relevant to any role.

Essentially, it argues that the key to good decision-making is not just understanding what the correct decision would be, but also how quickly you should make each decision. In other words, you need to know which decisions to agonise over, and which to make quickly.

You can be right 99% of the time, but if you’re wrong the 1% of times when it really matters, you’re not an effective decision maker. The takeaway is that when the stakes are high, you should work a lot harder at making the right decision.

Twice this year I have been sent customer feedback surveys before I have even received the items, because they were delayed so badly. Arse, meet elbow.

If you’re interested, the guilty parties are Specsavers (my glasses took 6 weeks to arrive) and Currys PC World (I’m still waiting on my new Chromebook).

Ashamed to work in Silicon Valley: how techies became the new bankers

It definitely feels like there has been a sea-change in people’s perceptions about Silicon Valley in the past year or so. This article goes some way to explaining why.

MBA jerks used to go and work for Wall Street, now wealthy white geeks go to Stanford and then waltz into a VC or tech firm…

The focus of Silicon Valley used to be innovation with the wonderful bonus of money on the side of that, but those two things seem to have switched – just as the pencil-pushing mentality of finance in the 70s became the champagne lifestyle in the 2000s.

Secrets from the BBC newsroom

A delicious article by Robin Lustig. It recounts the time BBC Radio 4 newsreader Neil Sleat met “the ultimate challenge to his professional skills” with relish. His task? To pronounce the name Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele.

Hooked and booked

Following on from an article I linked to a few weeks ago about the dark patterns used by Booking.com to pressurise its users into making decisions, Jeremy Keith follows up with this reflection on why A/B testing used badly makes things worse.

A/B testing is a great way of finding out what happens when you introduce a change. But it can’t tell you why.

Part of this is also about a narrow focus on the wrong metrics. If a business decides it simply wants to increase the percentage of people hitting a partiuclar call to action on a webpage, this is the path they will end up on.

If, however, they can find a more sophisticated way to measure long-term customer satisfaction, surely users will feel less stressed, and the business will improve more in the long run.

RSS: there’s nothing better

This article summarises why social media services like Facebook and Twitter are a totally inadequate way of receiving updates from blogs and other websites. We had the perfect system all along: RSS.

Yes, the technology is dated, but it remains the best at what it does and isn’t closed source or tied to some Silicon Valley company. It still works, is widely supported and does what it does better than any alternative that’s come out since. Sometimes, newer isn’t better. Sometimes the problem has already been solved. No blog or news website should be too new or too minimal to support RSS.

Nick Clegg meets Richard Thaler: ‘All it would take to stop Brexit is a couple of dozen brave Tories’

The Guardian set Nick Clegg up for a Skype interview with Richard Thaler, who has recently been awarded the Nobel economics prize.

Thaler was a big influence on the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition and it is clear from this interview that Thaler and Clegg admire each other somewhat.

At times the interview may come across to some as typical smug metropolitan centrist dadism, with the pair shaking their heads at how stupid everyone else is being. But when you read Nick Clegg’s anecdote about speaking to a voter in Chesterfield, you understand why he feels that way.

I remember speaking to a guy leaning on the fence outside his house and saying: “Any chance you’ll vote for the Liberal Democrats?” And he said: “No way.” And I said: “Why not?” And he said: “Because of all these asylum seekers.” And I knew for a fact that not a single asylum seeker had been dispersed to Chesterfield. So I said to him: “Oh, have you seen these asylum seekers in the supermarket or the GP’s surgery?” And he said something to me that has remained with me ever since. He said: “No, I haven’t seen any of them, but I know they’re everywhere.”

The improbable origins of PowerPoint

A history of PowerPoint, a piece of software that has taken over office life more than any other.

Many of us rely on it. But on the downside, PowerPoint persuades pencil pushers that they are designers. The result is that highly-paid people end up spending hours on end mucking about with fonts.

Faux grid tracks

Now that we have CSS grid, people apparently want to know how to style the divisions between the rows and the columns. Here, Eric Meyer explains one way to do it.

At this stage, I can’t help feeling that no matter how many features get added to CSS, it always results in more gnarly hacks.

Meet the people who listen to podcasts at super-fast speeds

While commuting I normally listen to podcasts at 1.5× speed. Alex thinks I’m crazy for doing that. But my behaviour pales in comparison to some of what’s described here.

[Rachel Kenny] estimates that she listens to five to seven hours of podcasts a day (which equals 15 to 21 hours at normal speed), “so maybe 20 to 40 episodes a day or 100 to 250 a week,” she said. She tracks her listening habits on a spreadsheet.

I have never tried going faster than 1.5×, because I doubt I would find it enjoyable. For me, 1.5× sounds very normal. I have no trouble understanding and following anything (though music is jarring). In fact, when I find myself listening to familiar podcasts at 1× speed, it always sounds too slow.

Your strategy should be a hypothesis you constantly adjust

Why do strategies often “break down in the execution stage”? According to this study, it is often because big companies fail to learn from new information.

Staff on the ground will often fail to raise the alarm for fear of being blamed for failing to execute the strategy correctly. But often, the flaw was in the plan itself.

The Volkswagen diesel emissions case is one stark example:

VW’s culture — specifically, its executives’ lack of tolerance for pushback from people lower in the organization — seems to have played a major role in its diesel-emissions fiasco… VW leaders lost out on the opportunity to revisit and update the strategy. Meanwhile, engineers had developed software to fool the regulators — postponing the inevitable.

This article suggests taking a ‘strategy-as-learning’ perspective instead. It’s an approach that reminds me a lot of Lean UX methods.

These pictures capture Britain’s brutalist vision of urban utopias

A selection of lecture slides from John Richings James. He was chief planner of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government during the 1960s, when many of the country’s most controversial developments were constructed.

When he became a lecturer, he took with him a fascinating selection of photos that show the good, bad and ugly of the brave new world while it was being developed.

The web began dying in 2014, here’s how – André Staltz

Highly interesting article about how the dominance of Facebook, Google and Amazon is beginning to damage the web. Facebook and Google are silently conspiring to specialise in social and knowledge respectively, further increasing their dominance. Meanwhile, the weakening of net neutrality threatens to move to goalposts even further in their favour.

Robin Hood Gardens — V&A

Absolutely stunning news that the V&A design museum has acquired a section Robin Hood Gardens for preservation. The design may be controversial and divisive, but I find it difficult to understand any argument that it is not significant and worth preserving.

Many of the podcasts I listen to are currently running ads from Bose imploring me to buy their headphones “to enjoy podcasts in even better sound quality”.

I have to say, when listening to a heavily compressed MP3 that has usually been recorded in a spare room by a semi-professional using budget domestic microphones, with their friend connected via a shaky Skype connection, while I am walking along a busy city street or riding a noisy bus… sound quality isn’t my top priority.