Archive:
December 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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