Archive:
2018

Windowlicker cover

Windowlicker — Aphex Twin

The other day we heard Windowlicker by Aphex Twin being played on BBC Radio 6 Music in the morning. On the one hand, this is very excellent. On the other, it has made it less likely that Alex will let me set the radio alarm to wake us up with 6 Music in the new year.

Needless to say, Windowlicker is a masterpiece. At the time it was mind-bendingly futuristic-sounding. 20 years on it still sounds pretty fresh and exciting.

It was also the last thing Aphex Twin released before Drukqs, which might explain why the album got mixed reviews.

When the video for Windowlicker was featured on one of those Channel 4 top 100 programmes, it resulted in this fantastic TV moment, featuring Frank Sidebottom.

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Screenshot of the text only version of the NPR website

The hurricane web

This post really underlines how media companies have taken the web in totally the wrong direction.

It shows how media organisations like CNN and NPR brought out lightweight “text only” versions of their websites to help hurricane-stricken areas with low bandwidth.

…in some aspects, they are actually better than the original.

Most importantly, it’s user friendly. People get what they came for (the news) and are able to accomplish their tasks.

It reminds me of the GDPR compliant version of the USA Today website, which many noted was actually a far better experience than the standard version that was filled with trackers and ads.

Think how brilliant the web could be again, if people removed all the crap from their pages and focused on what users actually need.

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Facebook graphic

‘People you may know:’ A controversial Facebook feature’s 10-year history

I had forgotten (or never realised) that ‘people you may know’ was originally a LinkedIn feature before Facebook poached it. This article covers how the shady world of shadow profiles enabled Facebook to turn this cute idea into something spooky.

If Facebook sees an email address or a phone number for you in someone else’s address book, it will attach it to your account as “shadow” contact information that you can’t see or access.

That means Facebook knows your work email address, even if you never provided it to Facebook, and can recommend you friend people you’ve corresponded with from that address. It means when you sign up for Facebook for the very first time, it knows right away “who all your friends are.” And it means that exchanging phone numbers with someone, say at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, will result in your not being anonymous for long.

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"Prime and punishment"

Dirty dealing in the $175 billion Amazon Marketplace

A fascinating article about the various dirty tricks and scams that independent retailers are playing on each other on Amazon Marketplace.

For sellers, Amazon is a quasi-state. They rely on its infrastructure — its warehouses, shipping network, financial systems, and portal to millions of customers — and pay taxes in the form of fees. They also live in terror of its rules, which often change and are harshly enforced…

Sellers are more worried about a case being opened on Amazon than in actual court…

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Jeremy Corbyn

Remainers condemn Jeremy Corbyn pledge to push on with Brexit

Anyone surprised that Jeremy Corbyn is keen to continue with Brexit simply hasn’t been paying attention. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have done nothing more to stop Brexit than the Conservatives have.

Remember, Jeremy Corbyn was the first senior politician to call for Article 50 to be invoked — within minutes of the referendum result being announced. He was more enthusiastic about Brexit than any Conservative leader.

The idea that Labour Party is pro-Remain is the greatest lie in politics today. That this perception ever existed was perplexing, given that you could figure that out simply by listening to Jeremy Corbyn.

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Anno: Four Seasons cover

Solstice – Light Out — Anna Meredith ft. Scottish Ensemble

I’m really taken with Anno: Four Seasons. It weaves new compositions by Anna Meredith into Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, performed by the Scottish Ensemble.

This track is the final on the album, finishing Winter — and apt for this moment.

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Iain Lee

TalkRadio host kept suicidal caller on phone until ambulance found him

Radio host Iain Lee kept a suicidal caller to his show on the line for half an hour while emergency services tracked him down after he revealed he had taken an overdose.

I didn’t hear this particular call. It sounds like it must have been an extraordinary piece of radio, handled brilliantly by Iain Lee and Katherine Boyle.

This is another example of why Iain Lee’s Late Night Alternative is one of the most important programmes on radio.

Mental health has been a running theme of the programme almost since day one. I have probably learnt more about mental health from the Late Night Alternative than anywhere else.

But above all, it’s a programme about life.

Last week, one highly amusing caller talked about how her family had accidentally walked in on her father masturbating. The next caller apologised for making a clunky gear change, before talking about how his wife had died that day.

How extraordinary to think that people in this sort of position would turn to a radio show. Iain Lee sets out to provide an alternative to endless Brexit phone-ins. Continually, this programme demonstrates why we need that alternative.

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Maze

Is tech too easy to use?

Making the case that, sometimes, friction in design is a good thing.

Often, invoking the concept of friction is a useful way to obscure some larger, less savory goal. For Facebook, “frictionless sharing” was a thinly veiled cover for the company’s true goal of getting users to post more often, and increasing the amount of data available for ad targeting. For YouTube, auto-playing videos have sharply increased view time, thereby increasing the platform’s profitability. And for Amazon, tools like one-click ordering have created a stunningly efficient machine for commerce and consumption.

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Illustration of a woman in a workplace

Thoughts on vulnerability

This is a really enlightening and enjoyable article about how vulnerability can sometimes be a strength.

What I’ve realized is that sometimes being vulnerable is a really powerful feeling, like being bilingual: being present and making clear decisions in a meeting while rocking a baby, or confidently stopping someone mid-presentation to ask what an acronym means. Or having my waters break and calmly finishing a meeting. Like, that’s bad-ass, right?

But what struck me most about this article was the point about how a thoughtless office space design in a less-than-diverse workplace created an unforeseen problem for a woman who needed a little privacy.

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Electric scooter in San Francisco

Adding value, by adding values

Ben Terrett from Public Digital has written something similar to I tried to write last week about designing for society, not just for individuals. Of course, this is much clearer and more succinct than (and written before) mine.

To illustrate the point, the article uses the example of an electric scooter hire scheme in San Francisco:

This is a service where every detail has been designed for the user. It’s unbelievably convenient—for the user alone, and no-one else.

The downside is streets swamped with dumped scooters. There’s nowhere “official” to put them, so like me, no-one knows what to do with a scooter once they’ve finished using it. They just get dumped anywhere.

These scooters are absolutely meeting a user need, but at the expense of a societal need.

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Why makers write

This is a bit of a sales pitch, but it is a good piece on the importance of writing regularly.

Deep understanding is necessary for makers. Understanding develops the perspective and conviction needed for bringing products to market. This is why blog-first startups are viable. Writing forces a maker to deeply understand the value they intend to bring into the world.

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Music for Dieter Rams cover

Aus – Ein — Jon Brooks

Gary Hustwit’s new documentary Rams, about the designer Dieter Rams, is released digitally today. It’s bound to be good — not least because it features original music by Brian Eno.

But perhaps it would have been more apt to include music from the Jon Brooks album Music for Dieter Rams.

Every sound on this record, from the melodic sounds to the percussion, the atmospheric effects to the bass lines originates from the Braun AB-30 alarm clock.

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This week I found out I won’t make the cut of that Scottish independence referendum documentary I was filmed for a few months ago. Due to a change in editorial focus, apparently.

It’s actually a bit of a relief because, as you’ll see from the original post, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how it panned out. I could actually do without any hassle resulting from being on TV.

When I texted Alex about it, her reply was: “Oh good!!!!” You know it’s serious when four exclamation marks come out.

When I asked why, she said, “I was worried about your political views being on the BBC.” (To be honest, I think we should worry about all sorts of other people’s political views that are allowed on the BBC these days, but there we go…)

Still, it was interesting to be part of the process, and good to know my blog could still get noticed in this sort of way.

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Desire paths

UX past, present, and future

An enjoyable and informative history of user experience. Some familiar themes, but not entirely your standard take. A reminder that people have been doing something like user-centred design for longer than we sometimes think.

…UX is not really a new thing. It might seem new to your organisation and its design process, but in fact it’s been emerging since before the dawn of the internet, back in the 80s, and people have been looking to solve similar problems for almost 140 years.

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Suspiria cover

Open Again — Thom Yorke

I was very surprised by how good Thom Yorke’s Suspiria soundtrack is. Thom Yorke says he was pushed out of his comfort zone making this album. It worked. It’s a joy to hear him exploring genuinely new territory instead of just making bad dubstep like his last solo album.

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Apple's new map

Apple’s new map

I always enjoy Justin O’Beirne’s analysis of how Google Maps and Apple Maps are evolving.

In this post, Justin considers an Apple Maps update that appears to have an insane level of detail. But the further you read, the worse it becomes. The new map has taken Apple four years to make, and covers just 3.1% of the US (an area around — you guessed it — San Francisco).

I risk spoiling the article here. But essentially, a large number of unusual errors and inconsistencies in the map point to much of the new data being manually created.

It all makes me wonder what the point is of having this sort of detail. A picture of a baseball field that the map doesn’t recognise as a baseball field strikes me as pointless. It’s little more than a heavily compressed, coarse vector graphic version of a satellite map. It tells you nothing that the satellite photo couldn’t.

In other words, this superficially impressive update is just that — superficial. Well, I guess it’s Apple after all…

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Woolworths ten years on

Diamond Geezer looks at what became of London’s Woolworths stores, ten years on from their closure, documenting their distinctive architecture in the process.

I was hoping the results would be more varied…

There will be more from me on Woolworths in due course…

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Keeping it weird

Or, more accurately, stopping it being weird. This refers to the problem that most psychology research is conducted on people that are western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.

Tim Kadlec considers the implication this has on our understanding of how people use the web.

We’ve known for a while that the worldwide web was becoming increasingly that: worldwide. As we try to reach people in different parts of the globe with very different daily realities, we have to be willing to rethink our assumptions. We have to be willing to revisit our research and findings with fresh eyes so that we can see what holds true, what doesn’t, and where.

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Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen’s tense victory sends interest in chess soaring

The recent World Chess Championship, which saw an unprecedented 12 consecutive draws before moving onto a rapid chess tie-breaker, is apparently causing “a mini-boom” in interest in chess.

I remember the World Chess Championship being televised by Channel 4 in the mid-1990s when I first started playing chess as a child. That may have spurred my interest a little.

“We’ve seen a lot more interest in school chess. A lot more people phoning up for lessons. A lot more inquiries online,” said Malcolm Pein, the chief executive of the charity Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC), which has seen increased web traffic…

CSC is doing its part to bring the game to a wider audience, encouraging pupils at mainly inner-city state schools to take it up. “Every private school has a chess club, but only a very small minority of state schools do,” said Pein.

I was lucky that my state school had a chess club. It was quite well attended, although that was mainly because chess club members were entitled to skip the lunch queue. The practice was eventually clamped down on, so only the geeks were left again…

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Slow LMP1s: you asked for it

Hazel Southwell explains why hybrid technology is the future, and why reverting back to old-fashioned V8s wouldn’t solve anything, by looking at how the current LMP1 regulations are panning out.

…the privateer P1s do not go as fast because they are not as good [as the hybrids]…

When a combustion-only car storms up the Le Mans pit straight and then brakes into the curve of turn one, all the energy and fuel burnt through to accelerate turns to heat in the brakes – and is gone. When it gears up the torque to get up the hill to Dunlop, the heat the engine fires up disappears into the night as nothing, fumes out of the exhaust that don’t move the car forwards.

👏

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Nine ways to unlock creativity in your organisation

A reminder why finding the right problem is often more important than finding the right ideas.

[M]ost of our organisations don’t suffer from a lack of ideas, they suffer from a lack of process that identifies the ideas worth having…

Creativity is not innovation. Creativity is a prerequisite for sure. Innovation, however, is the practical application of creativity.

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Ambient 1 / Music for Airports playing on my record player, with the record sleeve in front of it

The newly issued half-speed remastered edition of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1 / Music for Airports is very welcome.

The CD version I bought about 15 years ago sounded rather poor quality, with a distracting tape hiss running throughout. A bit frustrating when it’s one of the greatest and most important pieces of music of the 20th century.

It was a bit of a mystery to me why some other Brian Eno albums got this lavish remaster treatment first. The new version is spread across 2 LPs of heavyweight vinyl, played at 45rpm. This means each track luxuriously has its own side.

I don’t know much about the science of remastering techniques. But there’s no doubt to me that this sounds fantastic.

I’ve never been so pleased to hear a remastered album. The tape hiss is all but obliterated, and there are lots of details I hadn’t heard before.

40 years on from its original release, one of the most pleasing pieces of music now sounds almost perfect.

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David Coulthard interviewing Pierre Gasly

F1 season ends and building of the broadcasting paywall begins

Channel 4’s Formula 1 commentator Ben Edwards began his broadcast yesterday saying, “For many of us, it’s an end of an era.” He talked about it being Fernando Alonso’s final race, and Kimi Räikkönen’s swansong at Ferrari. Not directly mentioned, but telegraphed, was the fact that this was also the last F1 race to be shown on free-to-air TV in the UK, with the exception of next year’s British Grand Prix.

Channel 4 have done an exceptional job of covering the sport over the past three years. I share Richard Williams’s weary assessment of the Sky coverage we must pay through the nose for:

There are aspects that stretch the patience, like the rushed and inane encounters of the grid walk and the plethora of pensioned-off drivers saying nothing very much.

When Sky first shared the rights with the BBC in 2012, the big names went to Sky — but the good names stayed with the BBC. Channel 4 have continued in that vein, if anything improving on the BBC. Their diverse range of pundits are sharper, wittier, more perceptive, more insightful, with more recent race experience.

From now, British viewers are left worse off — and so is F1 itself.

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Making work meaningful: A leader’s guide

McKinsey report on how to engage employees.

People who find meaning at work are happier, more productive, and more engaged. Four practical interventions can help make the search more likely to succeed.

I am struck by how two of the four interventions listed are fundamentally about understanding your users better.

Reduce anonymity

Talk with employees about who their customers are, and encourage each employee to connect with one.

Build regular, face-to-face interactions with customers into existing processes, stimulating employees to learn who is most affected by their work.

Help people grasp the impact of their work

Invite customers who have had the best—and worst—experiences with your products to talk with employees in person so your team can see how their work affects customers.

Another reason why user experience is worth it.

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Sainsbury's own brand packaging for trifle sponge cakes

Live well for less

Present&Correct has noticed that the Sainsbury’s own brand packaging archive is now available online.

I did snap up a copy of Jonny Trunk’s Own Label book when it came out. It features a wealth of Sainsbury’s own brand packaging from the 1960s and 1970s. The period marks a shift towards a more experimental, modernist approach to packaging design, “completely different from what had gone before,” according to Jonny Trunk’s foreword.

I find this sort of thing fascinating, because it’s almost telling a social history by stealth. It’s an insight into everyday life in mid-century Britain. When you turn the page and see packaging for broken eggs, you’re not just seeing a history of graphic design.

It’s one of the reasons why I also really enjoy visiting the Museum of Brands.

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Me wearing a Boards of Canada t-shirt

I may not be at work today, but that’s not stopping me wearing an old band t-shirt for #TShirtDay. I’ve chosen a slightly worse-for-wear Boards of Canada t-shirt that hasn’t seen the light of day for a while.

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Oblique Strategy card: "Tidy up"; Blockbox card: "Write it on a train."

I’ve been writing an article that I’ve been thinking about for well over a year. Upon writing it, it’s turned out to be surprisingly short. So I turned to my two favourite block-busters — and they both told me to do things I was thinking about doing anyway.

Oblique Strategies told me to tidy up.

Blockbox said write it on a train.

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Fernando Alonso on his deckchair

Fernando Alonso: the F1 great who couldn’t catch a break

On the eve of Fernando Alonso’s final Formula 1 race, Andrew Benson has written a brilliant five-part article on the key moments in his career. This series is full of fascinating anecdotes and new details about the breakdown of his relationship with McLaren in 2007, what he was really like with Ferrari, and what drove him to move back to McLaren.

More than ever, it’s clear that those who have worked most closely with Fernando Alonso regard him as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. It’s all the more shocking that his career has delivered so little in terms of silverware. This series helps explain exactly why that is.

This is probably one of the best articles about Formula 1 I have read for several years.

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