Archive:
September 2018

The centrist fallacy

Fascinating piece from Nick Barlow on why it is problematic for the Liberal Democrats to attempt to chase centrist voters. Because while most people report having centrist views, when you analyse what their views actually are, more people are actually economically-left authoritarians.

These views are the effective centre of views in Britain, but they’re not really at the centre of political debate and in conjunction they tend to be the most unrepresented.

What is concerning for a liberal is that there do not seem to be many of us generally. Moreover, Nick Barlow’s analysis suggests that liberals tend to be on the economic left, not the centre.

Comment

UK’s worst-selling map: The empty landscape charted by OS440

The story of Glen Cassley and Glen Oykel, the country’s least-popular Ordnance Survey map.

On my visit last week, Dave Robertson and I strolled through these wonders that were only intermittently blighted by rain or midges. We met only one set of fellow walkers – who looked aghast when I explained that I would be writing about the region. “Please don’t let everyone else know about this place,” they pleaded.

It’s a bit surprising and disappointing that the ten least popular Ordnance Survey maps are all of areas in Scotland. I’m not so sure about Kilmarnock and Irvine, but Glen Cassley sounds like it might be worth a visit.

Comment

Wow and Flutter — Stereolab

I’ve recently been digging this old Stereolab song. By chance, this Peel session was recorded 25 years ago today.

Promo video

Comment

Health chiefs make urgent order for 112 ambulances amid Brexit shortage fears

When you’ve started stockpiling ambulances, maybe it’s time to admit that Brexit is a mistake.

The emergency vehicles, built by Mercedes in Germany and finished off in Ireland, are desperately needed by London Ambulance Service to help hit 999 response times over winter. Concern at the highest levels of LAS over a no-deal Brexit has seen the order rushed through to ensure they arrive before Britain leaves the EU on March 29 next year.

Thirty of the vehicles, which take months to build, will enter service by March, with 82 being “stockpiled” in case Brexit results in supplies drying up.

Comment

These classic BBC Two idents designed by Lambie-Nairn have now been retired — but not for the first time.

They were first replaced in 2001 by the Personality idents, which (despite the name) were actually rather insipid by comparison. Then came the downright dull Window on the World idents.

Lambie-Nairn’s idents returned in 2014. But they were originally developed in 1991. At the time, they were credited with transforming wider perceptions of the channel. It had been seen as dull and worthy, but became arty and exciting.

27 years is a hell of a long time for these idents to last, especially considering the subsequent shift to widescreen, then HD broadcasting. They have pretty much stood the test of time.

Later idents in the set became more complex and less focused. But I am especially fond of the very original idents from 1991, which were particularly pure and striking. The use of the Gill Sans 2, coloured with viridian, and backed with ethereal music, is such a simple idea, yet it was employed with remarkable versatility.

Comment

Why the future of data storage is (still) magnetic tape

A fascinating and entertaining piece about why tape is still used so much for data storage. I sort of knew that tape was still used a lot, but I didn’t know why, and I assumed that it was a legacy thing. This article taught me otherwise. And the security benefits are particularly interesting.

It’s true that tape doesn’t offer the fast access speeds of hard disks or semiconductor memories. Still, the medium’s advantages are many. To begin with, tape storage is more energy efficient: Once all the data has been recorded, a tape cartridge simply sits quietly in a slot in a robotic library and doesn’t consume any power at all. Tape is also exceedingly reliable, with error rates that are four to five orders of magnitude lower than those of hard drives. And tape is very secure, with built-in, on-the-fly encryption and additional security provided by the nature of the medium itself. After all, if a cartridge isn’t mounted in a drive, the data cannot be accessed or modified. This “air gap” is particularly attractive in light of the growing rate of data theft through cyberattacks.

Comment

It’s time to say goodbye to Twitter

sonniesedge on taking a break from Twitter.

That cross-pollination of views that you might never have heard before is still Twitter’s amazing core feature. I learned so much about intersectional justice from the people on it. I heard disabled people’s voices. I saw the world from the point of view of women of colour. I saw political issues that I’d never been aware of before.

But lurking behind those vitally interesting points of view is a host of people ready to push the kindness of humanity through the mincer with their keyboards.

When I decided to reduce my use of social media, I expected that I wouldn’t miss Twitter. Its tendency to generate more heat than light is a great detriment.

But even while I don’t post so often on Twitter, I found that I still get some enjoyment from reading Twitter, and I still turn to it a few times a day. In comparison, giving up posting to Facebook has been a piece of cake, and I don’t remotely miss having Instagram on my phone. But Twitter still seems to bring me value, despite its problems.

Comment

The web I want

Why developers’ obsession with using complicated JavaScript to deliver some text to users needs to stop.

I made my first website about 20 years ago and it delivered as much content as most websites today. It was more accessible, ran faster and easier to develop then 90% of the stuff you’ll read on here.

20 years later I browse the Internet with a few tabs open and I have somehow downloaded many megabytes of data, my laptop is on fire and yet in terms of actual content delivery nothing has really changed.

Comment

Another burned bridge could drive Alonso to Nascar

This opinion piece from Dieter Rencken on how Fernando Alonso has destroyed his own F1 career contains an insight on the fate of his team bosses that I wasn’t aware of before.

Every F1 team boss Alonso has driven for save Paul Stoddart (who owned Minardi, and thus could not be fired), lost his job during Alonso’s tenure with that team: Renault’s Flavio Briatore (also his manager), Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali and Marco Mattiacci, McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh, Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier. One could also add the names of more than a few senior engineers to this roll call.

It’s quite extraordinary that even Alonso’s heavily-hyped potential move to IndyCar could be thwarted by his own past behaviour.

From me: Fernando Alonso’s failed F1 career presents him with the chance to become a legend

Comment

Smart voice assistants and smart homes — from the past

A really enjoyable piece on the history of smart home devices, and how Google Home and Alexa aren’t such new ideas. The video is well worth a watch, particularly because it demonstrates 1970s technology from Pico Electronics in Glenrothes! It’s amazing to see it work so well.

The point of Thomas Baekdal’s piece here is to demonstrate how trends aren’t new, but they emerge over a long period of time. It reminds me a bit of Gartner’s hype cycle, and a recent Nile webinar about how to employ foresight to understand emerging trends. Not to forget the Nielsen Norman Group research demonstrating that intelligent assistants still have horrible usability problems.

Comment

Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien: ‘Cricket was my refuge’

On the associations between playing cricket and playing music.

I’ve had the odd gig where I’ve been able to slow down my breathing and my heart-rate. I remember playing this show where I could divide the bar up, a four-beat bar into 32 or 64s, and play anywhere on that beat. It was the most intoxicating feeling. A batsman must have it. The great batsmen, they have all the time in the world. They’re able to stretch time with their breathing. All the chaos that might be in your own life is alleviated, it’s about being in the moment, being in the flow.

Comment

The future of SEO has never been clearer (nor more ignored)

I don’t always pay attention to SEO stuff, but I found this analysis of trends in search interesting. It seems that search engines are sending less and less traffic to websites. It’s interesting to compare this trend to the original Google ethos, which was that wanting to keep people on your own site was crazy. But that’s where Google seem to be now.

Much like how today I’d take 10 email subscribers to my newsletter over 1,000 Facebook “likes,” I think in the future, we’d all much rather have 10 Google searches for our brand name than 1,000 Google searches for phrases on which we’re trying to both rank and compete for a click against Google themselves.

Comment

Stop building for San Francisco

Realising that forcing websites to go HTTPS makes them more inaccessible for people with poorer connections was a penny dropping moment for me.

But this article takes the argument a bit broader.

First of all, you need to understand who your audience is, as people. If they’re genuinely wealthy people in a first world city, then you do you. But for people in rural areas, or countries with less of a solid internet infrastructure, failing to take these restrictions into account will limit your potential to grow. If you’re not building something that is accessible to your audience, you’re not building a solution for them at all.

You ≠ user.

1 comment
Louise, Alex, me and Jamie with our breads

Louise, Alex, me and Jamie with our breads

Alex and I took our friends Louise and Jamie to a bread making workshop as part of a wedding present.

Thank you to Colin at Bread in Fife, who led the class and was great fun to work with. Formerly based in Freuchie in Fife, he has since moved to Edinburgh — but remains called Bread in Fife.

We had fantastic fun making bread that we baked in a Dutch oven. We each had our own recipe to follow. I made a wholemeal loaf, Alex made a walnut boule, Louise made a white cob, and Jamie made a harvest loaf.

While waiting for the dough to prove, we made digestive biscuits. We also made a Russian bridie-like pie called a pirozhki, which contained an onion and egg filling.

Lunch for this week is sorted!

1 comment

The carrot is not important — Chasing it is
“I’ve never had a goal”

Two related posts from Jason Kottke.

I think I fall into the camp of people who don’t want or need a goal. Alex once astutely pointed out that I will set myself a goal, then work towards it, and once I reach my goal, I stop.

Pedal for Scotland is a case in point. Last year I stopped cycling immediately after completing it, having spent all summer getting fit. Sure enough, I have done the same again this year.

I tell myself that it’s harder to cycle in winter, and Pedal for Scotland happens to fall at the point in the year where it’s getting darker in the evenings. But perhaps that’s just an excuse. I plan to start running and doing other forms of exercise to make sure I keep fit in winter as well.

Anyway, the point is, perhaps a goal is useless if you think of it as the only point. I love this idea — that chasing the carrot is more important than the carrot itself.

Comment

Just write

Sara Soueidan on why you should just write, regardless of what the voice in your head may be telling you.

Start a blog and publish your writings there. Don’t think about whether or not people will like or read your articles — just give them a home and put them out there.

Most popular blogs I know started out as a series of articles that were written for the authors themselves, as a way to document their process and progress for their future selves to reference when they needed to.

Like Sara, I have found it difficult at times over the years to publish stuff to my blog, out of fear that it wouldn’t be good enough.

Over this past year I have committed to publishing something every day. It is not always high-quality. But doing so has been good for me, and has achieved most of what I had hoped for.

Comment

Trying to use the new F1 timing app

The new Formula 1 timing app is comically bad. Even on quite a large screen, it only shows 10 drivers — at a gigantic font size. Meanwhile, the live driver tracker is juddery and completely unusable.

But hey, I guess it uses Sean Bratches’ new fonts.

The old app wasn’t perfect, but at least it gave you all the information you needed to follow a session, and the driver tracker was usable.

It’s difficult to believe Liberty Media did any usability testing with any F1 fans before unleashing this style-over-substance atrocity.

1 comment

Wolff says rivals ‘didn’t have the balls’ to commit to Ocon deals

I am as upset as anyone else that Esteban Ocon probably won’t be racing in F1 next year. But this is not a good look for Toto Wolff. The other teams are perfectly entitled to hire whoever they want (particularly if a top-notch driver like Daniel Ricciardo becomes available).

If Toto Wolff thinks Esteban Ocon should be racing next year, he could always have given him a Mercedes drive. Notably, he hasn’t.

1 comment

Dundee’s renaissance — a personal, alternative view

Brian Taylor reflects on Dundee’s resurgence.

But mostly this renaissance is driven by the collective will of the people.

It is marvellous to behold.

Together, they have decided to stop apologising for their city. They have decided to revisit her ancient history and, hopefully, pursue her proud future.

See also: The city with grand designs

A fantastic piece on the history of Dundee’s creative renaissance, which has been decades in the making.

Congratulations and good luck to everyone involved in the V&A Dundee, which opens this weekend. I will be visiting later this month.

Comment

After Chris Evans — Why women are leading the race for the breakfast slot

In a sense, it’s no surprise to see women as front-runners to replace Chris Evans as BBC Radio 2 breakfast show presenter. It is a scandal that, until recently, no women had a regular slot during the day on Radio 2 since the 1990s.

Radio 2 always explained that the male presenters were hugely popular. And I can think of several people who would likely switch off the Radio 2 breakfast show if Sara Cox were to get the gig. But as Miranda Sawyer notes:

[Sara] Cox and [Zoë] Ball are considered the women most likely to break Radio 2’s all-male daytime club because many men still think of them as “one of the lads”.

I am a relatively reluctant listener to the Radio 2 breakfast show. I’m not averse to Sara Cox per se.

But regardless of who takes over, Alex and I have already decided we will listen instead to Lauren Laverne when she takes the helm of the BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show in January. I have avoided its current host Shaun Keaveny because… I find it too blokey.

2 comments

Inventive tips for separating your job from your life when you work from home

I don’t work from home, but I still enjoyed this piece on little rituals that help you separate work time from personal time.

I’m glad of my 30 minute buffer between home and work. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t reduce it. The walk helps me ease my way into the day, and gives me the headspace to prepare for what’s to come, or — if it’s the end of my day — what’s just happened.

Comment

Does the universal symbol for disability need to be rethought?

Details of a project to create symbols representing people with invisible disablities.

Today, disability is represented by the International Symbol of Access (ISA), which was created by Danish design student Susanne Koefoed back in 1968. It’s a strong graphic of a person in a wheelchair that has had tremendous success in conditioning societies all over the world to respect and give preferential treatment and access to disabled people.

[Liam] Riddler agrees that the current symbol is extremely powerful and successful. But he points out that it really only works well for people with more visible disabilities, like those using wheelchairs or other visual aids. “In some instances, someone with an invisible disability might be mistaken for an able-bodied person, and as a result be subjected to abuse and unfair judgment as to why they’re using disabled-access facilities,” he explains via email. This, he says, can lead to unwarranted embarrassment, shame, and withdrawal from society.

It’s a noble idea, but surely creating multiple distinct symbols would only create further ambiguity. I’m not even sure people seeing the ISA necessarily see it as a person in a wheelchair, just as a save icon doesn’t mean you’re using a floppy disk.

More: Visability93 — McCann London.

Comment

Alex and me after Training for Warriors

Alex took me to Training for Warriors, the high-intensity interval training programme she attends three times a week. Usually it is a women-only session. But today, regulars were invited to bring their male partners with them.

Alex was keen for me to see what she gets up to at Training for Warriors. I was a little reticent about going, because this isn’t really my sort of thing. I prefer moderate runs or long bike rides by myself.

True enough, I struggled at elements of today’s session. I have never been good at push-ups and the like — and moreover, I have never felt the need to get good at them.

Training for Warriors is also big on community spirit, with participants encouraging each other on. As an introvert, I actually find that sort of thing distracting, and more than once I flopped to the floor when someone spoke to me mid-push-up. I’ll stick to the solo bike rides!

Speaking of which, I’m doing Pedal for Scotland tomorrow. So I was also concerned about making myself sore or tired out ahead of 45 miles of riding tomorrow.

But although today was tough for me, I also found it enjoyable. I’m glad to have gone today, and really pleased that Alex is so enthusiastic about it.

Comment

5 thoughts on self-help

I have never read what I would think of as a self-help book. I’m sceptical of them. But at the same time I am interested in self-improvement. Or at least, keeping check on yourself and learning generally, which I guess is a form of self-help.

In this article, Austin Kleon points out that:

…the problem with self-help today is that it has returned to the very quick-fix pseudoscientific snake-oil cures that [the first self-help book, written by Samuel] Smiles (what a perfect name) was reacting to…

I would argue that this isn’t necessarily just a problem for the self-help genre either. I am inherently wary of anything that claims to provide a one-size-fits-all silver bullet solution. Because it’s bound to be more complicated than that.

One of the worst things that self-help can do is convince you that you as an individual are to blame for all of your problems, and that if you’re struggling it’s just because you aren’t making the right moves.

Worst of all, some self-help books imply that if the book fails to help you, it’s not the book’s fault, it’s yours.

Comment

Using contractions could be making your writing inaccessible

We found that some of these users did not understand sentences that had negative contractions in them (negative contractions are words like ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘don’t’). They interpreted the sentence without inferring the ‘not’.

I have been in two minds about using contractions for a while. On the one hand, avoiding contractions does seem to reduce ambiguity. But at the same time it can make your writing seem stilted and overly-formal.

As always with writing style, there will be no true answer, and the right way forward will depend on the circumstances. But if in doubt, it is worth considering avoiding contractions.

Comment

A lesson from Germany on how to cover far-right leaders

It’s a radical idea — interviewing extremists without pandering to their extremist ideas. It turns out that by asking them about their policy positions instead of just letting them bang on about their racist ideas, you can quickly show them up.

German television viewers found out Sunday night when the broadcaster ZDF ran a major interview with Alexander Gauland, a co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which capitalized on anti-refugee sentiment to earn its first-ever seats in the German Parliament last fall. Ahead of the interview, ZDF’s Twitter feed teased the interview as dealing with “climate change, retirement, digitalization—and without refugees.”

The resulting 19-minute interview, in which Gauland struggles to answer basic questions about his party’s positions on such issues, has been lauded by opponents of the AfD as masterful.

Comment

Designers are defining usability too narrowly

Another call on designers to think more widely when they are working on digital products. Khoi Vinh saw a Nielsen Norman Group report on best practice on websites aimed at children — but he felt the report focused too narrowly on usability.

I don’t dispute the findings at all. But it’s disturbing that the report focuses exclusively on usability recommendations, on the executional aspect of creating digital products for kids. There’s not a single line, much less a section, that cares to examine how design impacts the well-being of children…

We’re moving past the stage in the evolution of our craft when we can safely consider its practice to be neutral, to be without inherent virtue or without inherent vice. At some point, making it easier and easier to pull the handle on a slot machine reflects on the intentions of the designer of that experience.

Comment

Salmond’s £80,000 warning to Sturgeon

I had sort of missed this story while I was on holiday, but this from Torcuil Crichton seems to be a useful summary.

Salmond’s fight for “fairness”, as he labels it, only serves to telegraph to them, and us, what forces are stirred when women choose to cross a powerful man, as he undoubtedly is.

Comment

Thinking in triplicate

This is a very strong piece by Erika Hall, raising some seriously good points and questions about where user experience design is, and where it needs to go. It is well worth reading the full piece, and me pulling out a quote cannot do this justice. But here are some selections I particularly liked:

If good design entailed good business, women’s clothes would come in a wide range of sizes with usable pockets and our social media feeds would unfurl in reverse chronological order with an unremarkable absence of Nazis.

While most of the designers I know are far from objectivists, design as it is currently practiced is tantamount to Ayn Rand’s radical selfishness. We design for the experience of a single user at a time and expect that the collective experience, and the collective impact, will take care of itself.

It’s much more pleasant for designers to talk about empathy in one room and MBAs to talk about profits in the other and have marketers in the middle like an injectable filler.

This is exactly the sort of article we need to be seeing more of.

Comment

The six main stories, as identified by a computer

We have all heard the idea that there are only a handful of different stories. Now we can feed stories into computers to see the six different story arcs that exist — the extrapolation of an idea first expressed by Kurt Vonnegut.

This may not seem like anything special, Vonnegut says—his actual words are, “it certainly looks like trash”—until he notices another well known story that shares this shape. “Those steps at the beginning look like the creation myth of virtually every society on earth. And then I saw that the stroke of midnight looked exactly like the unique creation myth in the Old Testament.” Cinderella’s curfew was, if you look at it on Vonnegut’s chart, a mirror-image downfall to Adam and Eve’s ejection from the Garden of Eden. “And then I saw the rise to bliss at the end was identical with the expectation of redemption as expressed in primitive Christianity. The tales were identical.”

Comment