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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Designing Google Maps for motorbikes

Some nice work from Google Maps on how they immersed themselves in their users’ world to understand how to improve Google Maps for motorbike users in places like Delhi and Jakarta.

The research team included engineers, UX designers, product managers, and marketing leads, all from different parts of the world. We met with two-wheeler drivers from Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore, and Jakarta, in environments from bustling transportation hubs to kitchen tables in people’s homes. Our intention was to understand and relate to people in a way that felt authentic — we wanted to learn through immersion.

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Keeping digital teams happy versus keeping customers happy

Gerry McGovern tells the story of trying to persuade a digital team of what they needed to fix.

“It would be nice to fix these problems,” one person said. “But the team needs also to be able to do exciting things. We need to be able to innovate.”

Unfortunately, people at work often place too much emphasis on their own enjoyment. But our work only has meaning if it is providing value to someone.

Work shouldn’t be exciting. There’s a job to do.

See also:

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How to set up a website: a guide for the alt-right

Are you a fascist? Have you been throwing your toys out the pram because some digital platforms have finally grown a pair and removed you? If so, Bruce Lawson has some advice for you on how the open web works.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible no-one will visit your website to read how Bin Laden faked the moon landings in order to draw attention from the fact that Marilyn Monroe was a CIA-funded muslim who invented income tax and fluoridated water in order to seize your guns and pollute your precious bodily fluids. But that’s freedom.

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Proactive UX design: A big leap requiring baby steps

An excellent article from Jared Spool on the difference between proactive design and reactive design — and the importance of making your work more proactive.

Reactive UX design is just what it sounds like: reacting to a problem in the moment. “Oh, can you fix this?” “Help! Users are complaining this is too hard! What can we do?”

Without also having proactive UX design efforts, the design team is only fixing problems caused by decisions the product team has already made.

Interestingly, he also makes the point that it is easy for design teams to get sucked into doing reactive design, because it becomes comfortable for teams to do:

They like the wireframes and usability tests.

They believe this is what design work looks like. They believe design work always happens at the end of the process.

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Glasgow’s urban decay risks squandering 30 years of progress

More on the decline of Glasgow — and the lack of any action plan to reverse it.

Go west along the river and you’ll see a hotchpotch of development, wasteland and missed opportunity that literally only takes you so far – Glasgow must be one of the few cities in Europe where it’s not possible to walk or cycle right along the banks.

The urban realm of Glasgow is deteriorating through fire, desertion and neglect in a quite ghastly way, and what is most alarming is the seeming lack of a strategic plan to reverse it.

See also: What next for Sauchiehall Street?

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The danger of listening to people who talk a lot

Those who talk well and talk lots can command attention in meetings – and they get an unprecedented amount of airtime in modern organisations.

Whilst extroverts put it all out there for the world to see, introverts often keep their best ideas inside. If you’re ignoring them, you’re at risk of missing the problem and the solution.

As Paul Taylor says here, it is more important to widen and deepen connections with everyone. We need to prioritise ways of doing this, and preventing hippos and loud voices getting their way each time.

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Testing the sound mirrors that protected Britain

I very rarely link to (or even watch) a video. But I am happy to make an exception for Tom Scott’s excellent entertaining and educational videos.

Here, he tests concrete sound mirrors with drones. I’m fascinated by sound mirrors — an early 20th century technology designed to provide early warning of approaching aircraft, which became obsolete quickly as aircraft speeds increased, and radar took over.

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Big tech warns of ‘Japan’s millennium bug’ ahead of Akihito’s abdication

To be filed under ‘you learn something new every day’ — a series of potential millennium bug-style issues that could be faced when Emperor Akihito of Japan abdicates. Japanese calendars effectively begin from zero with a new era every time there is a new emperor.

Akihito has been on the throne for almost the entirety of the information age, meaning that many systems have never had to deal with a switchover in era.

Moreover, Unicode will have to create a new character to represent the new era — which has not yet been named. This clashes awkwardly with the planned release of Unicode 12.0.

But this is the most incredible scenario:

Many older computers, with aspects dating back to before the end of the Shōwa era in 1989, have never been updated to reflect the new era, and still think the year is Shōwa 93. That means Japan could face another mini Y2K problem in 2025, as those systems attempt to tick over to a three digit Shōwa year they can’t cope with.

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Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason

How Facebook’s focus on the connections between users, rather than the humans who use it, is its core problem.

Underlying all of Facebook’s screw-ups is a bumbling obliviousness to real humans. The company’s singular focus on “connecting people” has allowed it to conquer the world, making possible the creation of a vast network of human relationships, a source of insights and eyeballs that makes advertisers and investors drool.

But the imperative to “connect people” lacks the one ingredient essential for being a good citizen: Treating individual human beings as sacrosanct. To Facebook, the world is not made up of individuals, but of connections between them. The billions of Facebook accounts belong not to “people” but to “users,” collections of data points connected to other collections of data points on a vast Social Network, to be targeted and monetized by computer programs.

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Economists have lost the trust of politicians

It’s always good to read/see/hear Stephanie Flanders. Here she asks why politicians no longer have a favourite economist, in the way that Margaret Thatcher liked Milton Friedman and John F Kennedy admired John Kenneth Galbraith.

In one sense, this feels like a concern I have been reading about for a decade or two. But it also feels like an extension of the more recent phenomenon of refusing to listen to experts.

Nevertheless, there are some real questions for economics to answer. Why does it not have the influence today that it enjoyed in previous decades?

We’re also hearing mainstream economists talk more loudly about the possibility of shifting the balance back toward labor with wealth taxes and reduced taxes on earned income. That’s a big shift for a profession that seemed to think until recently that reducing the tax on capital was always and everywhere a good thing. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for an elected politician to decide that any of this advice is worth listening to.

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How a Google Maps update lead to the promotion of fringe views

Google Maps made a small tweak to its interface so that the fully zoomed-out view displayed as a globe, rather than the Mercator projection it use before.

Peter Gasston noticed that the angle many news publications found was to cover the reaction from flat Earthers.

This gave ad-funded publishers their opportunity to get some attention money: a simple product update isn’t a story, but a manufactured controversy is…

The result is that a manufactured controversy about a minor product update has given false equivalency to the fringe views of a small band of crackpots so everyone can get a few pennies in advertising revenue. This is the attention economy in action, and it’s rotten.

Remember that repeating a lie — even while you make clear that it’s a lie — makes people more likely to believe it’s true.

This is how the media works these days. And it explains a lot about what’s going on in the world right now.

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Consume less, create more

We first consume and then think if we really needed it… Have we not seen people who are constantly busy on their phones consuming stuff without moving a needle for anyone? We need to jump off the consumption treadmill.

The goal, then, is to consume mindfully…

This is part of the reason why I have committed to writing about a link each day. It gives me direction and focus for what I consume, and I find myself wasting less time on pointless content. (Goodbye Instagram, I miss you far less than I expected.)

As a result, I’m learning more, thinking more, and feeling sharper.

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Why is Radio 4’s Today programme losing so many listeners?

The Today programme has lost 800,000 listeners in the past year. That’s about a tenth of its audience, gone.

I listen to the Today programme, but I want to stop. It is unmistakably weak at the moment. Sometimes it’s for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on. It just sounds uncomfortable and clumsy at the moment. Many recent features have felt contrived and uninteresting, almost like dad dancing. Certain presenters need to be put out to pasture (and Sarah Montague wasn’t one of them).

Then of course there are the manufactured polarised debates. These have always been a staple of the Today programme, and even the publicity shot in this Radio Times piece depicts the presenters having a debate at the breakfast table, complete with finger-pointing, as if that’s a selling point. In today’s highly charged political atmosphere, it is frankly the last thing we need more of.

All this means that I have found myself switching off the radio in disgust quite a lot recently.

I haven’t yet switched off completely — but only because I can’t think of what an alternative morning listen might be. Any suggestions?

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The shoey: Why it’s a bad idea to copy Daniel Ricciardo’s F1 podium ritual)

Finally, someone has done the science on the shoey, the ritual whereby Daniel Ricciardo drinks champagne out of his sweaty shoe after winning a grand prix. It’s about as bad as you might expect.

The positive — and possibly surprising — revelation was that in most instances the alcohol kills much of the bacteria present.

In fact, the only drink that failed to do so was sparkling white wine or champagne. Not only did the fizzy stuff fail to act as a disinfectant, but it encouraged the growth of more bacteria — and we’re not talking the friendly kind.

Food (or drink) for thought when champagne is the go-to tipple for Ricciardo when he celebrates a F1 podium finish.

Via WTF1.

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From catfishing to unregistered religious marriages: finding news stories hidden In Plain Sight

This looks like a great initiative being driven by some journalists in the BBC.

It was in a conversation following the Grenfell Tower disaster, instigated by our former Director of News, James Harding, which brought about the In Plain Sight project.

In Plain Sight set out to get to those stories and tell them in a way that resonates with younger and more diverse audiences.

To do that, we’re not creating a new programme, platform or launching another BBC brand. We’re simply making sure sure that younger, more diverse members of staff are given a platform to pitch stories and then are producing and reporting those stories themselves across existing BBC outlets.

We have been running manager-free sessions, where we invite along staff from across the BBC to come and pitch ideas.

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Broadband speed map reveals Britain’s new digital divide

It turns out that it is not just rural areas that are suffering due to BT/Openreach’s inability install broadband infrastructure fit for the 2010s, never mind the future.

The UK’s status as a fibre laggard has been the subject of intense debate within the telecoms industry, with only 4 per cent of residential and small business premises connected to full-fibre networks capable of delivering ultrafast speeds, compared with 80 per cent of units in Portugal.

It transpires that some of the slowest postcodes are within our largest cities, including London and Edinburgh.

With rural areas and second cities saying they have been left behind in the race to install ultrafast broadband networks, it is surprising to see that areas of London, including Kensington, Millwall on the Isle of Dogs and Rotherhithe, have clusters of postcodes with average speeds below the minimum required by the government. Central Manchester is a broadband blackspot, as is the Baltic Triangle in the heart of Liverpool, according to the postcode-level data.

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Thermostats, locks and lights: digital tools of domestic abuse

How smart devices are being used by perpetrators of domestic abuse.

We are becoming increasingly aware of some of the darker side of technology. Perhaps this is a challenge to designers and technologists — to ensure that their products can’t be used in this sort of way.

The people who called into the help hotlines and domestic violence shelters said they felt as if they were going crazy.

One woman had turned on her air-conditioner, but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse help line that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.

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Could architecture and design do anything to alleviate walmartism?

How architecture is used to place poorer people in harsher environments.

Texture is a class thing. The more money you have, the more texture you get. The reverse is true of lighting and sound: the more money you have, the less of both of those you get.

These are not universal rules, but a return from a month spent in Europe to the United States, which is always much harsher in its economic realities than the countries over there, made it evident to me how prevalent the reality of texture discrimination is. Let’s call it walmartism: the transformation of the spaces used by those with the least means into boxes devoid of texture.

A more extreme example of a similar phenomenon is where a tower block such as Grenfell is re-clad to make it more pleasant for the rich people outside the building to look at, but more dangerous for the poor people living inside it.

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Research: Women ask for raises as often as men, but are less likely to get them

The theory that women are paid less because they are less likely to ask for a pay rise appears to be nonsense.

The bottom line of our study is that women do “ask” just as often as men. They just don’t “get.”

Even we were surprised by the results. We had expected to find less asking by the females. Instead, we found that, holding background factors constant, women ask for a raise just as often as men, but men are more likely to be successful. Women who asked obtained a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time. While that may sound like a modest difference, over a lifetime it really adds up.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Food: a class issue

Why Jamie Oliver’s stunts like trying to ban two-for-one pizza offers are counter-productive and damaging to the poor.

…there’s a deeper and nasty question here: if we can’t trust the poor to feed themselves properly, what can we trust them to do?…

The problem is capitalism, not the poor.

Some of you might have an inkling as to why the millionaire Jamie Oliver and old Etonian Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall don’t choose this route.

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The problem with professionals

Paul Taylor argues that the professional class will bring about its own demise. He notes that organisations appear to be becoming more, not less, siloed (“whole sectors are still just talking to themselves”). Moreover, this “disconnection” is visible to the general public, who catch glimpses of this behaviour on social media.

A couple of weeks ago I was on holiday flicking through Instagram. By complete chance, the algorithm had placed two photographs directly above each other.

  • Firstly was the imposing black husk of Grenfell Tower – a monument to the dead and ignored.
  • Next to it was a picture from a sector awards ceremony, with a champagne bottle placed in front of some happy smiling ‘professionals’, celebrating how good we are at engaging communities.
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The Facebook current

The Senate hearing into Facebook has come to be seen as a bit of a sideshow, partly because the questioning was so inadequate. But this article outlines why it was a bigger deal than it might seem at first glance.

[T]here was a significant amount of agreement amongst the Senators… that something needed to be done about Facebook. Forget the specifics, for a paragraph, because this is a notable development: while these hearings usually devolve into partisan cliches with the same talking points — Democrats want regulations, and Republicans don’t — yesterday Senators from both sides of the aisle expressed unease with Facebook’s handling of private data; obviously Democrats tried to tie the issue to the last election, but that made the Republicans’ shared concern all-the-more striking.

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How can we incentivise the digital world to make safer services?

How regulation came to be in railways, engineering and cars — and what this tells us about how digital services may be regulated.

Trigger points for regulation have varied depending on the field, the period of history and the country. However, the thing all these triggers have in common is a change in attitudes. People need to demand change to incentivize companies to make their products and services safer.

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Centrism isn’t dead – we just need a new word

I find it strange that so much attention is being put on centrism at the moment. I definitely do not identify with either the left or the right. But I have rarely used the word centrist to describe myself. Partly because I find it quite meaningless, and perhaps also because it assumes I am seeking a middle ground (which is sometimes true, but not always).

In an increasingly polarised political landscape, the idea of centrism is actually beginning to appeal to me more — even as it is becoming exceptionally unfashionably in certain quarters.

This article makes the argument for the need of “a rational approach to politics”, not a centrism that is simply “stuck in the middle”.

I simply want a term that adequately describes the need to shout “leave me out of this insane squabbling” or “I want no part of this imbecilic narrative”. What we are perhaps crying out for is a new term for politics that isn’t defined by the end points but by the process; defined not by the beliefs but the rational steps the lead us to those beliefs.

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