1. Even the police have started saying “around”

    Posted August 16, 2011 in ephemera  |  1 Comment so far

    Back in November 2010 I posted about the “new media around”:

    …it’s a linguistic phenomenon that’s making waves in the media, technology and marketing industries, inlcuding seo companies offering link building services. It involves the word “around” being used as a substitute for a great many words and phrases including ‘about’, ‘related to’, ‘surrounding’ and so on.

    So for example someone who once talked about lunch plans would now say “let’s talk around lunch plans”. Or someone who used to focus on social media engagement would now “focus around” social media engagement. You get the general gist.

    Anyway I noticed the other day that Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is an unlikely convert to “around” as demonstrated in this Guardian article from last Friday:

    With the [riots] in London, I have got some of the best commanders that we have seen in the world… that showed great restraint as well as great courage…

    As a result of that we were able to nip this in the bud after a few days. I think the issue around the numbers, the issue around the tactics – they are all police decisions and they are all made by my police commanders and myself.

    If the police are using it, perhaps the “new media around” is on the verge of going properly mainstream?

  2. Justified and Ancient

    Posted July 6, 2011 in ephemera  |  2 Comments so far

    Apologies in advance.

    OK the lyrics are from "Justified and Ancient" by the JAMS / KLF. The font is Papyrus, which is ancient in a jokey Microsofty way. And the type is justified. So, justified and ancient. I'm here all week.

    OK, you’re right, I do need more sleep.

  3. Job Vacancy: Head of Dilemmas

    Posted May 2, 2011 in ephemera  |  2 Comments so far

    Leading online portal brelson.com is currently recruiting a Head of Dilemmas.

    The Head of Dilemmas is responsible for resolving all problems where two or more possible solutions exist, but none are practically acceptable. A proven track record in horn resolution, rock/hard-place avoidance and strategic rumination is essential, while experience of handling trilemmas and paradoxes is advantageous but not necessary.

    As the Head of Dilemmas you will report to the Director of Indecision and will work closely alongside the Head of Quandaries as well as smaller teams focusing on Riddles, Pickles, Stumpers and Crises.

    Cartoon of Head of Dilemmas

    Yet another winning presentation from the Head of Dilemmas to the brelson.com board. Could this be you in the hot seat?

    The successful applicant will be able to demonstrate a wide range of dilemma-handling techniques from formal logical analysis to hand-wringing and procrastination. Along with your application please submit a short (100 words) commentary on how you would apply these techniques to one of the following classical dilemmas:

    This is an important hire for us due to the high volume of mission-critical dilemmas faced by our organisation. We look forward to hearing from you.

  4. It looks like Google finally got round to “improving” Gmail ads

    Posted April 21, 2011 in ephemera  |  2 Comments so far

    If you’re a Gmail user you might have noticed – and responded sarcastically to – a little message that started to appear a few weeks ago. The message promised that better ads would be coming soon to Gmail.

    better ads in Gmail

    The excitement in the air was palpable. Gmail.com is great in many ways but its lacklustre adverts have long been a source of bitter disappointment. Would Google be able to deliver on its bold promise to address this failing? Well it looks like today they did (or at least to me anyway, you may have been seeing these for a while):

    We finally got better ads in Gmail

    I’m overwhelmed – I never thought it would happen. But yes, that is indeed a 200×200 banner in Gmail. Google has delivered, and then some.

    Having experienced the joy of better ads in Gmail, a new day has dawned for me. I hope you feel the same way too.

  5. Things you notice when cycling #2 – the Hidden Hierarchy

    Posted April 18, 2011 in ephemera  |  2 Comments so far

    I’ve been a cyclist for a few months and am still learning about bike practise and etiquette in London. I posted before about the Easy Rider, a type of cyclist that you encounter a lot. But the Easy Rider occupies just a small niche in the broader community of bikers, a community that has its secret rules, signs and codes. It’s these signs and codes that make up the “Hidden Hierarchy” of London cyclists.

    It was in September 2010 that I first cycled properly in London, getting on one of the best road bikes near the IMAX and wobbling uncertainly across Waterloo Bridge. I didn’t realise that I’d entered the hidden hierarchy at its very lowest level and had become an untouchable of the roads. When I look back I almost wince with shame. But why does this matter? And what is the hidden hierarchy anyway?

    Boris on his bike

    Don’t follow him down a dark alley

    The hidden hierarchy is something you start to get a feel for the more you cycle, and while it’s easily mistaken for basic snobbery it’s more than just the class system on two wheels. In fact it can be pretty helpful in certain situations. The way it works is that you gauge the trustworthiness or seriousness of other cyclists all the time, largely subconsciously, and figure out where they stand in the hierarchy. This then affects how you behave towards them. Do you follow their lead on scary unfamiliar roundabouts? Do you wait behind them if they’ve parked up behind traffic? Should you try to move ahead of them when pulling away from traffic lights?

    You can work out someone’s position on the hidden hierarchy using various criteria, including:

    • Do they look like they know where they’re going?
    • Do they seem confident in their interactions with traffic?
    • Do they travel at a decent but responsible speed?
    • Are they dressed sensibly and safely?
    • What kind of bike are they on?
    • Are they riding in an appropriate gear, or are their legs pumping wildly even though they’re only doing 6mph?

    The hidden hierarchy isn’t about whether someone is wearing expensive cycle gear or if they’re on a sleek and expensive bike. People like that can seem inappropriately overequipped, like men who bring their own snooker cues to play 50p frames of pool in soggy pubs. If anything the most trustworthy people tend to have older, well-worn equipment whose battered state makes them look like people who have been around the block a few times.

    A bit overdressed

    A bit overdressed for a 20-minute ride

    Here’s an example of the hidden hierarchy at work. When I started cycling I was nervous about moving through traffic jams. I didn’t have a feel for how big a gap I could get through and my balance wasn’t great either, so I worried about hitting cars. So usually I would just wait in the jam, as if I was a car, rather than take the risk of moving through the gaps.

    Now imagine an experienced cyclist saw me, with no helmet and wearing normal clothes, sitting awkwardly on a Boris bike in front of a big gap between two buses. They’d probably try to get past me and move through the gap without hesitation. It wouldn’t trouble them that someone as low-level as me has decided to wait. But what if the person waiting at the gap looked like a veteran cyclist? Maybe they knew something was up – maybe there’s danger ahead? The cyclist might think twice, and maybe even decide to stay back as well. When someone doesn’t look, ride, or behave like a bewildered novice, their actions will have a stronger influence on everyone else.

    The more I cycled the more I understood the hierarchy, and found myself taking cues from people who seemed savvier than myself. Today I don’t look for guidance as much, but the hierarchy has other effects, such as on my position at traffic lights or deciding whether to overtake someone.

    But I often wonder how others perceive me. After all, I ride a fold-up bike so people must think I’m pretty low down on the cyclist food chain. Is that a problem? I’m not sure it is. If you start to care about the hidden hierarchy, and go out of your way to look the part, you’re in danger of becoming one of those conspicuously overequipped fanatics I mentioned earlier, in which case your credibility will suffer. Maybe there’s only one true way to rise in the hidden hierarchy: just try not to care about the hidden hierarchy.

  6. A mix of envy, inferiority, and profound sympathy – watching the London Marathon

    Posted April 17, 2011 in ephemera, running  |  No Comments so far

    Today we went down to watch the London Marathon. One of Cathy’s colleagues, Pam, was running in it and it was a nice day so why not head down to lend some support?

    I’ve never run a marathon and I’ve never actually watched a long-distance race. I’ve run a 10K before, though, and while that’s not really in the same league as a marathon, I have at least an inkling of what it must feel like to run 26 miles.

    We walked down to the City and met the marathon route just where Dowgate Hill meets Upper Thames Street, south of Cannon Street. Quite quickly I settled into the routine of the well-wisher, shouting encouraging things at the people who ran by. You could add a personal touch by shouting their names as well, because most marathon runners have their names on their vests.

    Before running the 10K last year I would never have done that. I’d have thought people wanted their privacy, that they just wanted to get on with the run without the whoops and shouts of strangers. But I was proved wrong – despite being a pretty antisocial and introspective person, I found the encouragement of the crowd genuinely heartwarming and motivating, so I was determined to try to give some of that encouragement back today.

    Watching people run the marathon, I felt a kind of laziness. Why was I not running it? After doing the 10K last year I could have kept on training and might have been ready for this by now if I’d worked hard enough. So that was a pretty humbling feeling. I was almost envious of the runners.

    But at the same time I can’t deny that I felt glad I wasn’t running. I mean, you know – your rational mind can figure it out – that running 26 miles is going to be gruelling. But when you see the faces of normal people who are in the process of doing it, you get a clearer sense of just how hard it is. We even had a few people stop next to us and nearly collapse (but they all kept running in the end!). At those times I was glad that I was on the “civilian” side of the banner.

    The marathon represents something quite rare in British society in that it seems morally unambiguous. Almost everyone is running for charity, no-one can sneer at the enormity of the task, and the whole structure of class and privilege seems to have no place amidst the sea of runners. You see the odd person waving an England flag but all in all you don’t get the sense of this being about nations competing: it’s about human achievement plain and simple. Maybe I’ll try to do a marathon next year after all.

  7. Annoying things you notice when cycling or riding a Scooter #1 – the Easy Rider

    Posted February 11, 2011 in ephemera  |  5 Comments so far

    As a grizzled veteran of the London Overground, I’d become accustomed to the routine of the daily trundle across the city’s northern districts to get to Hammersmith. I’d toyed with the idea of cycling, but the length of the journey was just too discouraging.

    All that changed after I spent a couple of months working in Spitalfields and got into the habit of cycling as I really love traveling and going to new places, I used to be in a scooter club and Im recently trying to buy a new one so I can keep on the adventure, there are really great recommendations in the Scooter Adviser where you can find the best electric scooters. When I changed jobs again and ended up back in Hammersmith, I was resolved to stick with the bike – no matter how knackered I became.

    So, for the last few weeks I’ve been cycling from Islington to Hammersmith. It was traumatic at the beginning, because my route took me through central London and I nearly gagged from bus fumes on the first day. But since then I’ve found a much better route. It’s knackering, yes, but I’m getting used to it.

    It probably won’t be long before I completely adjust to the routine and become a hardened cyclist, so I’m taking to chance to note down my observations about the world of cycling before that happens. Today I’m going to talk about a type of cyclist that I call the Easy Rider.

    The Easy Rider has two gimmicks. The first is that they cycle at a very relaxed pace, and the second is that they are completely oblivious to red lights. The second comes as a bit of a surprise, as you’d expect light-jumpers to be the fast-paced cycle-courier types, not these people who glide gracefully along the road.

    You first encounter an Easy Rider when you overtake them, which isn’t difficult because they’re so slow. You don’t expect to encounter them again, but you do, and it will happen when you’re waiting at the next red light and they come trundling past you. This cycle then repeats itself – you overtake them, hit a red light, they trundle past, you start moving, you overtake them, and so on.

    It gets annoying after a while, not just because it’s always frustrating to see cyclists jump red lights, but because it’s tiring overtaking people over and over again. So you wonder, maybe they’re on to something? The Easy Rider is remarkably unruffled while you, what with all the acceleration you’re doing, are a sweaty, gasping wreck. And you both get from A to B in the same amount of time.

    But ultimately I don’t feel I can become an Easy Rider. They look really relaxed and they’re probably laughing at people like me – those suckers! – who stop at red lights, but I’d just be too worried about what might happen each time I sail out into that junction. Would my graceful insouciance survive a collision with a pedestrian, truck or car? And I frown on red-light jumping for reasons other than my own personal safety anyway. I’m happy to keep overtaking them no matter how sweaty I might get. At least I’m getting some decent exercise!

  8. Jan Pen’s striking method for picturing US income inequality

    Posted January 23, 2011 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    The Economist’s article on the rise of the cognitive elite describes Jan Pen’s compelling way of explaining income inequality in the United States:

    Imagine people’s height being proportional to their income, so that someone with an average income is of average height. Now imagine that the entire adult population of America is walking past you in a single hour, in ascending order of income.

    The first passers-by, the owners of loss-making businesses, are invisible: their heads are below ground. Then come the jobless and the working poor, who are midgets. After half an hour the strollers are still only waist-high, since America’s median income is only half the mean. It takes nearly 45 minutes before normal-sized people appear. But then, in the final minutes, giants thunder by. With six minutes to go they are 12 feet tall. When the 400 highest earners walk by, right at the end, each is more than two miles tall.

    via A special report on global leaders: The rise and rise of the cognitive elite | The Economist.

  9. Book-buying for the globally-minded voyeur

    Posted January 17, 2011 in ephemera, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    In looking for alternatives to Amazon, I’ve come across quite a few websites that are completely new to me. One of them is The Book Depository, a well-stocked online bookstore whose prices seem, so far, to be competitive with Amazon’s.

    The Book Depository has a nice feature called “Book Depository Live“, which allows you to see people buying books in (quasi) real time. Using Google Maps, the feature scrolls across the globe to show you the buyer’s location and the purchased book’s title.

    Someone in South Africa buys a book

    If I could make a suggestion to the people behind this feature, it would be that the links to books should open in new tabs. That way you could click on a book that looks intriguing without being taken away from the map view. As it is, you need to hold Shift (or Cmd if you’re on a Mac) while clicking if you want to stay on the map.

    Despite this minor quibble, though, I like this feature. It reminds me of when Twitter was still new and visualisations of tweets superimposed on top of world maps were doing the rounds. Those projects were hypnotic but ultimately empty, because Twitter content suffers when isolated from conversational context. But in The Book Depository Live you might come across an interesting-looking book that you end up buying, and maybe being affected by in some way. I guess that’s something a book has over a tweet.

  10. Caroline Blankoff’s meditation on GChat

    Posted January 7, 2011 in ephemera, webapps  |  No Comments so far

    I enjoyed reading this meditation on the subject of Google’s GChat by Caroline Bankoff, posted over at Thought Catalog. The piece is titled “45 Things I Think About When I Think About GChat” and it should resonate with anyone who’s spent time talking on that tool.

    “Thing” Number 10 is:

    It would be basically impossible to have anonymous cybersex on GChat. There is Group Chat, but there are no GChat rooms and, even if there were, they would lack the dim light of AOL’s “Romance” chat rooms. The best you could do with GChat is some kind of key party, with everyone going off the record with someone else’s contact.

    If we’re to believe Rule 34, some people must have done this at one point…