Archive:
June 2018

Study shows immigrants are twice as likely to become entrepreneurs

Economic studies are one way to measure the impact of immigration.

Personally, I like to measure it another way. I like to look at my son — the great-grandson of a Mexican immigrant — while he plays cricket with his friends, nearly all of whom are second-generation Indian immigrants.

When I watch my son play cricket with his friends, I come to the same conclusion the economists at Wharton do:

Our new immigrant friends are enriching our lives and making our economy better…

It’s time to say this sort of thing more loudly. There are clear and well-understood economic benefits of immigration. But people who dislike immigration don’t do so for economic reasons (even if they kid on that they do).

We should be clearer about the ways in which immigration and diversity enrich our lives as a whole. And just how sad and pathetic our lives would be if people didn’t move around and mix with others.

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Phylactery — John Callaghan

This wonderful reinterpretation of Tilapia by Autechre appeared on Warp20, a box set celebrating the 20th anniversary of Warp Records. (Rather scarily, that occasion was itself almost 10 years ago.)

There were two CDs of Warp artists covering classic Warp tracks, and a lot of them are really good. But John Callaghan’s effort towers above everything else on it.

It probably takes a lot of guts to attempt to cover Autechre, never mind a track as strong as Tilapia. But Phylactery boldly reinvents it, and possibly ends up being even better than the original (although as John Callaghan says in the comments to this YouTube video, both have their place, for different reasons).

In case you’re not aware of the original, here you go:

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The rise of business bullshit — and how we can fight it

The modern organisation is obsessive about collaboration and consultation – but encouraging everyone’s opinions on everything invites bullshit.

Social media should have taught us by now that more opinions aren’t necessarily better…

The same applies to work. More consultation = more bullshit.

This is so true. Increasingly, I find myself feeling exasperated if I’m asked the provide an opinion on something I have no evidence about. We are often pressurised into giving opinions — “you’re supposed to be the expert”.

Baseless opinions fly around left, right and centre in any workplace. The last thing the world needs is another middle class dude like me with yet another opinion.

Let’s find the evidence instead.

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Kimi Räikkönen

There are rumours that McLaren are interested in hiring Kimi Räikkönen for 2019.

The possibility seems remote for the time being. But it did instantly tickle a part of my brain. If Räikkönen were to go to McLaren next year, then for whatever reason decide to end his career at Sauber, he would have a palindromic career. In other words, he will have worked his way back through each of the teams he has driven for, in reverse order.

The F1 teams he has driven for in order are:

  • Sauber
  • McLaren
  • Ferrari
  • Lotus
  • Ferrari
  • (McLaren?)
  • (Sauber?)

Has any driver actually done this before?

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Every breath you take, every move they make counts for WA paramedics

Fascinating examples of how an ambulance service has experimented with their communications to save lives. A great example of how to use small experiments and tests to monitor improvements.

Asking “tell me what’s happened” instead of “tell me what happened” saves a staggering nine seconds, on average, per emergency call.

Studies have shown the first phrase prompts an immediate focus on the relevant detail, while the second prompts panicked callers on the line to tell meandering stories, full of unnecessary detail.

Saying “We’re going to do CPR,” instead of asking “Do you want to do CPR?” means a sharp rise in the number of bystanders agreeing to perform first aid while waiting for an ambulance.

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Some interesting facts about Volkswagen’s record-smashing Pikes Peak electric race car

Volkswagen took a car to the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with the intention of beating the record for fastest electric vehicle up the mountain, but it didn’t just beat that one. It also beat the all-time record—leaving both so far in the dust that all the dust had probably settled by the time they got there.

OK, so in a lot of ways Pikes Peak is ready-made for electric vehicles given that range isn’t necessarily an issue, and the lack of oxygen makes things trickier for internal combustion engines. But this is nevertheless a seriously impressive development.

The record has been smashed by over 15 seconds.

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Artificial intelligence for more human interfaces

A very balanced assessment of the benefits of artificial intelligence — and its dangers. It’s lengthy, but well worth your time, containing lots of great examples of how artificial intelligence can be a force for good, but tempering that with plenty of warnings against using it badly.

Nowadays, we expect any photo search to be able to understand “dog” and find photos of dogs… And this is where Deep Learning worked its magic.

The problem is that only a few interfaces of well-known, big companies give this convenience. And that makes people wonder who owns information and where they know all these things from.

Unless we democratise this convenience and build interfaces everywhere that are that clever, we have a problem. Users will keep giving only a few players their information and in comparison less greedy systems will fall behind.

The other big worry I have is that this convenience is sold as “magic” and “under the hood” and not explained. There is a serious lack of transparency about what was needed to get there.

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Facebook is a utility; utilities get regulated

I have only just discovered this article by Danah Boyd from 2010 (and I can’t remember how). But reading it today, it feels very prescient.

I hate all of the utilities in my life. Venomous hatred. And because they’re monopolies, they feel no need to make me appreciate them. Cuz they know that I’m not going to give up water, power, sewage, or the Internet out of spite. Nor will most people give up Facebook, regardless of how much they grow to hate them.

How many people — like me — hate Facebook, but find themselves unable to give it up?

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How context is bridging the gap between UX and service design

Interesting on the similarities and differences between user experience and service design.

Service Designers generally approach digital as one of a number of interconnected touch points. They will usually figure out how all these touch-points work together as a cohesive ecosystem, before handing the design of the specific touch points over to experts.

UX Designers usually approach the problem from the other direction. They start with the core digital experience before exploring the connective tissue that joins their touch-points together. Service Designers tend to have a broader but shallower focus, while UX designers go narrower but deeper.

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The psychological tricks TfL uses to make London’s tube feel faster

A great piece of the little experiments TfL is carrying out in an attempt to improve the efficiency of the London Underground.

But it’s striking that the consensus of most of the experts in this piece seems to be that real improvements wouldn’t be possible without fundamental transformations in the infrastructure.

Short of building new stations and drilling tunnels for larger trains, we’re stuck, says Simeon Koole, lecturer at the University of Bristol. “I would be reluctant to argue there is anything specific about behaviour that makes it difficult to change, and focus more on particular material restrictions of the tube: the confined space limits the possibilities for redesigning tube cars and platforms and therefore for managing passenger flow and conduct.”

But as cities grow, perhaps any little thing we can do will be worth investigating.

See also: The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations

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Two Tottenham tower blocks at risk of catastrophic collapse

According to this article, these buildings have just failed tests that have been in place since the aftermath of the Ronan Point collapse in 1968.

…but the problems at Broadwater Farm were only uncovered in the last 12 months.

If I’m reading this article correctly, that means that these buildings have been unsafe for 40 years — but that has only just been discovered.

“It’s disgusting and it is very stressful,” said one woman who has lived in the same flat in Tangmere for 38 years. “Ain’t it funny this has just come out after Grenfell?”

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The problem of zero and one

Excellent piece by Wojtek Kutyla on why UX needs to get out of its comfort zone, and an excessive focus on technology — and the temptation to make binary declarations.

We are all reasonable creatures and we know how to seek rationale when we’re dealing with daily tasks. If we’re hungry, we’ll ask ourselves: “What do I want to eat? Eggs? Avocado? Or a burger?”. If we’re planning to buy a new car, we’ll consider it carefully, basing our ultimate choice on how functional the vehicle is and whether we can afford it.

Yet, when faced with a design problem in a professional setting we’d often go for a solution that does nothing else but fulfils a set of requirements based on assumed values communicated by stakeholders. All too seldom we’re doubting their choices and ask “what’s the rationale — where did this come from?”. Perhaps we should start doing that?

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Britain’s open borders policy

Whilst cycling the other day, I crossed the Leicestershire-Rutland border. And I was shocked to see…nothing. No border controls, no passport checks, no customs officials. Here in Rutland we have an open borders policy.

Chris Dillow makes the point that most of the debate around immigration and borders does not relate to economics.

This is part of the reason why it’s futile to try to argue with Brexiteers or Scottish independence fanatics around the economics of creating new borders. When it comes down to it, they just don’t care.

Economicky arguments for migration controls are just distractions and, I suspect, often dishonest ones.

Feelings around immigration boil down to feelings about the other.

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It’s time to rebuild the web

A reflection from Mike Loukides on Anil Dash’s recent piece on the missing building blocks of the web (which I also wrote about a few weeks ago).

His remarks on the state of RSS particularly resonate with me. Ever since Google killed off Google Reader, I have relied on Feedly. I have always had an uneasy relationship with Feedly. It seems somehow both bloated, and lacking in useful features.

It seems to be increasingly pitched at teams and businesses — the sort of audience Slack attracts. But RSS needs to be pitched at everyday individual users of the web who want to keep abreast of blogs and the like. That is the spirit of the web we have lost, and we need to return to.

Simplicity is a discipline, and not an easy one. However, by losing tons of bloat, we’d end up with a web that is much faster and more responsive than what we have now. And maybe we’d learn to prize that speed and that responsiveness.

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Canada 2005: A record-breaking race that won’t be matched behind a paywall

I didn’t know that this was the most-watched Formula 1 race in history. As this article points out, it seems unlikely at this stage that this record will ever be beaten.

I was struck that this happened the very year before CVC Capital Partners bought their stake in F1. 🤔

They made it their business not to invest in the sport (quite the opposite, in fact). F1’s slow decline began then.

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This ancient laptop is the only key to the most valuable supercars on the planet

McLaren used the most advanced (and expensive) parts and materials to build the F1s, like kevlar and gold. But despite all those motorsport-grade cables, early ’90s technology means they were also equipped with early ’90s microchips.

One irony of using cutting-edge technology is that it can in fact date the most quickly. The legendary McLaren F1 requires an early 1990s Compaq laptop with a bespoke conditional access card in order to be serviced. Despite being old technology, the laptop is so valuable for this purpose that it is worth thousands of pounds itself.

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Hacking your innovation mindset

Design thinking is about being a problem finder, not just a problem solver.

This line has reminded me of a project or two from the past year. Some of my biggest eureka moments have been around understanding what the problem actually was, and not what I had been told it was.

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The endowment effect: Why you can’t let go of your possessions

Insights from behavioural science on why people overvalue possessions they already own.

Psychologists have also concluded that this overvaluation may stem from our sense of ownership itself. We value something more simply because it is ours. If we own a car, laptop, or watch of a certain model, we would similarly overvalue that same object owned by someone else because we own one ourselves.

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Dear conference organisers: You’re doing chairs wrong

Nearly every femme-identifying person I know, myself included, has wrestled with tall bar stools, director’s chairs, and the dreaded microphone dance.

A great piece with many lessons.

Most men would probably never think of this, even though most women are all too aware of it — a classic case of design bias.

It would be easy to blame clothes instead. But why should you? Especially if certain clothes make speakers feel and perform better, which is what the conference organiser would want.

When you’re going to a panel, you want to be able to wear what makes you feel your best, which isn’t easy when you’re sitting with clenched thighs, wondering every few seconds if you’re showing too much leg.

And finally, the simple solution:

Don’t like the chair? Ask the organiser to change it.

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Childish Gambino’s This is America and how the internet killed the cultural critic

How considered criticism has been replaced by mindless churnalism collating stuff an under-pressure journalism has hurriedly gathered up on Twitter.

Floating to the top of my feed was an article in the Guardian: “This is America: theories behind Childish Gambino’s satirical masterpiece”. This video is popular, it said, then asked: “But what does it mean?”. Yes, I thought, that’s exactly what I’m here to find out. But instead of an answer, I got a summary of tweets and notes from Genius. No interpretations were drawn, no conclusions reached. Was it a masterpiece? The headline said so, but the piece just linked to tweets by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu.

I grew tired long ago of news stories that are basically just lists of other people’s tweets. I have even noticed BBC News doing this. Yet again, I’m left wondering if most of the media’s problems are with their own unwillingness to pursue quality.

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We are all trapped in the “Feed”

Om Malik summarises the problem with the big social media companies whose algorithms are causing us to drown in junk content.

Many have forgotten, but services like Digg helped popularize the idea of what I call intellectual spam. Headlines, followed by vapid content, meant to attract the likes. Against such a backdrop, a decade ago, we all assumed that the rise of the personal web, shaped by individual data would result in signals that will help us dampen the noise. We thought that our systems would get smarter, learning from our behavior, and we would be able to separate signal from noise. And this would allow us to focus our attention on the meaningful and essential.

Unfortunately, the reality of capitalism and turned that dream into a big giant popularity contest, shaped by crude tools – likes, hearts, retweets, and re-shares. We have created systems that boost noise and weaken signals. Every time I tune into news and all I see is noise rising to the top. Whether it is YouTube or Instagram — all you see are memes that are candy-colored candy, mean to keep us hooked.

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Revealed: How Britain’s biggest local TV company has “gamed” the BBC for licence fee payers’ money

Jeremy Hunt’s scheme to create a network of low-budget local TV stations was absurd from the get-go. Seven years on, it is clear that the scheme is a complete flop, with many of the stations unable to make ends meet.

In Scotland, STV2 — which was made up of five local licenses — is being closed down. The licenses appear to have been sold to the largest local TV company, That’s TV.

This BuzzFeed article outlines exactly how delightful this operation appears to be.

In summary, this is a company that seems to have been set up with the intention of exploiting the local TV model to extract license fee payers’ cash from the BBC in exchange for unusable local news reports made by inexperienced and poorly-paid reporters.

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The cult of the complex

Jeffrey Zeldman becomes the latest voice to bemoan the increasing and unnecessary complexity of modern web development.

As a designer who used to love creating web experiences in code, I am baffled and numbed by the growing preference for complexity over simplicity. Complexity is good for convincing people they could not possibly do your job. Simplicity is good for everything else.

See also: Why the cruel culture of coding is damaging society

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The internet is going the wrong way

A short and snappy summary of why and how the internet has gone wrong.

The Internet is a place for the people, like parks, libraries, museums, historic places. It’s okay if corporations want to exploit the net, like DisneyLand or cruise lines, but not at the expense of the natural features of the net.

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Flashback: How Yahoo killed Flickr and lost the internet

This page was published in 2013 as a flashback to an article seemingly written in 2012. It underlines just how slow and painful a death Flickr had. Reading this six years on is a fascinating reminder of just what could have been.

By 2012, Flickr was already on its knees, having suffered years of mismanagement under Yahoo. That mismanagement is picked apart in excruciating detail here. The article ends by asking, is it too late to save Flickr?

Flickr’s last best hope is that Yahoo realizes its value and decides to spin it off for a few bucks before both drop down into a final death spiral. But even if that happens, Flickr has a long road ahead of it to relevance. People don’t tend to come back to homes they’ve already abandoned.

Six years on, Yahoo has lurched from laughing stock to irrelevance, while Flickr has finally been sold off to SmugMug. It’s a good time to reflect on this early days of Flickr and wonder if it could ever return. But as I already noted this year, it is probably far too late.

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Why small teams win

Paul Taylor argues that small teams are undervalued, drawing an interesting comparison with introverts.

These small teams promote autonomy but also a better approach to collaboration. Having lots of small teams means they all need to be able to work together and to be able to access the common resources of the company, in order to achieve their larger goals.

The thinking has precedence in things like Brooks’ Law – which states that “adding manpower to a late project makes it later.” Getting bigger often means your communication overheads grow and doesn’t necessarily yield faster results. As Brooks said: “Nine women can’t make a baby in one month.”

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Chinese firms pile in to sponsor World Cup 2018 amid Fifa fallout

As Western firms have begun to desert Fifa due to the corruption scandal, Chinese firms have seized the opportunity to “to get their brands in front of billions of global eyeballs”.

It has been noted that companies are more willing these days to take a stand (see also ABC cancelling a sitcom because its star is racist). But this appears to be a western phenomenon.

Chinese firms seem to have no qualms around being associated with Fifa. Perhaps this is a dimension to keep an eye on as China becomes more and more important on the global stage.

This year’s Fifa World Cup provides a unique opportunity for little-known Chinese companies to get huge amounts of exposure to global consumers.

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How much would I have to pay you to quit Facebook?

Many people may feel like they are addicted to Facebook. But it’s amazing to see just how little people actually value it.

Economists have been carrying out experiments to see how much people would have to be paid to do without certain types of websites. By this measure, social media appears to be the very bottom of the pile — worth almost 60 times less than search.

Their rough-and-ready conclusion is that the typical person would have to be paid about $17,500 a year to do without internet search engines, $8,500 to abandon email and $3,500 to quit using digital maps. Video streaming through sites such as Netflix and YouTube is worth over $1,150 a year; ecommerce $850, and social media just over $300.

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The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations

How Japan uses behavioural science (nudge theory) to keep its railways flowing efficiently.

Tokyo is home to the world’s busiest train stations, with the capital’s rail operators handling a combined 13 billion passenger trips annually. Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.

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