1. Brexit daily update, 29th June: I bet there are already dogs called Brexit

    Posted June 29, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Day 6 in the Big Brexit House.

    Today I was thinking about how deeply the word “Brexit” might embed itself in our culture. If I’m right and the era we’re about to live through will see a fundamental reshaping of the political and economic structure of the British isles, the word “Brexit” could insinuate itself into the structure of our future society, a linguistic fossil to be preserved for centuries or more.

    brexit-football-shirt

    There will certainly be history and politics textbooks—hefty ones—called “Brexit”. Economists in the future will build their careers on Brexit studies. Maybe there will be Brexit Street, Brexit Avenue, the Brexit Centre. Maybe Brexit will begin to crop up in the names of babies. You can imagine it being abbreviated to Brex, Brexie, the Brexler. Actually those sound like better names for a dog than for a child. I bet there are already dogs called Brexit.

    Today there were two fairly long “threads” on Twitter which got a lot of attention. (I put “threads” in quote marks here because they’re actually people replying to themselves, not conversations between multiple people. It sounds narcissistic but it’s the only practical way of making lengthy statements on that platform which can later be read in a linear fashion.)

    The first was from Ben Judah, a journalist at Politico. Click on the date in the tweet below to view the full thing.

    The gist of it is that the EU, led by France and Germany, would be prepared to let the UK have its cherished controls on immigration if in return it gives up the City, causing an exodus of the financial sector from London to Paris. The deal would go down well with Brexit as it would look like one in the eye for bankers while also reducing the number of immigrants; in fact it would go down so well that the government would have little choice but to take it. The downside? A massive loss of tax revenue. So all in all it would be a huge win for France and Germany and not so much for the UK.

    The second Twitter thread came later in the day and was from Alex White at the Economist Intelligence Unit who summarised the EIU’s current thinking on the implications of Brexit. Again, click on the date to read the whole thing.

    It’s a very gloomy prognosis for the next 4 or 5 years. I’ve taken a screenshot of the whole thing so we can check back in 2019 or so and see how accurate it all was. This was being shared pretty widely but not with a great deal of enthusiasm. Read it and you’ll see why.

    If you do look at that thread you might see people replying to it saying “Well the FTSE 100 is up! So you’re wrong!”.

    everything is awesome

    I’m sorry to be boring but I want to rebut that whole argument now as I’m tired of seeing economic illiteracy exploited for political ends. The companies that make up the FTSE 100 are all global corporations whose businesses are spread across the world. Some of them will be hit somewhat by a recession in Britain as it’s a big economy, but the effect on them isn’t as big as you think it might be. In the jargon, you could say their “exposure” to the British economy is quite low even for the ones that are headquartered in Britain. So to see the FTSE 100 as an indicator of the UK economy’s future health is to misunderstand what it actually represents.

    So what about companies that do have a high exposure to Britain, or—in other words—companies whose fortunes are more closely tied to those of the UK economy? Well, take a look:

    This particular index only tracks companies whose sales come predominantly from within the UK, and the picture is pretty clear. That is the chart you should be looking at if you want to see what the markets think about the future of the British economy. Ignore Louise Mensch and her Yahoo! Finance screenshots.

    Enough financial stuff for the day. Here’s a Pokémon GIF!

    It’s funny, right? You know what else is funny? Inadvertently leaked emails. Remember, these are the people who will soon be running the country as it faces its gravest challenges since the Second World War.

    That email in full:

    At least with the Tories you know it’s Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch who choose the leader. With Labour things aren’t quite as clear-cut. Today Jeremy Corbyn is sticking to his guns despite having lost the support of the vast majority of Labour MPs.

    He has the backing of a large number of members so can only be unseated by something akin to a party coup, which is what is being attempted. But remember, this is the age of Brexit, and so the coup attempt itself is—like everything else—a cavalcade of ineptitude. And this is despite it having been in the planning stage for quite some time.

    Some final things before we say goodbye to another Brexit day. First, some great positive campaigning is already emerging from within the Tory leadership contest:

    JG Ballard foresaw Brexit back in 2000:

    People are still being racist:

    In this photo made available by Diamond Geezer, a man wearing an anti immigration T-shirt walks during Armed Forces Day Parade in Romford, England, Saturday 25 June 2016. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Monday June 27, 2016 that abuse directed at immigrants wouldn't be tolerated, after a series of incidents were reported following the country's decision to leave the European Union. ( Diamond Geezer via AP)

    In this photo made available by Diamond Geezer, a man wearing an anti immigration T-shirt walks during Armed Forces Day Parade in Romford, England, Saturday 25 June 2016. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Monday June 27, 2016 that abuse directed at immigrants wouldn’t be tolerated, after a series of incidents were reported following the country’s decision to leave the European Union. ( Diamond Geezer via AP)

    And is this going to be what I write about tomorrow?

    BREXIT


  2. Brexit daily update, 28th June: “Do not let Scotland down now”

    Posted in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Before getting into the day’s events I’d like to draw your attention to a column of Boris Johnson’s that was published on May 23rd, exactly a month before the vote.

    Thanks to an unexpected wormhole in the space-time continuum, I have come across the following passage from a historical textbook a few decades hence. It is a chapter called ’Brexit’…

    And was the word “Brexit” set in Comic Sans?

    He goes on to narrate what he found in this textbook:

    Given the choice between taking back control or being sucked ever deeper into a federal superstate, the British voted for independence on June 23. To no one’s very great surprise, Project Fear turned out to be a giant hoax. The markets were calm. The pound did not collapse. The British government immediately launched a highly effective and popular campaign across the Continent to explain that this was not a rejection of “Europe”, only of…

    …etc etc.

    Despite the superficial similarities, Boris is clearly no Biff Tannen and the time-travelling textbook he discovered isn’t proving a very useful guide to the future so far.

    The markets did have a comparatively good day today, though, which has given rise to a few Brexit talking points which I want to list here in the interest of balance. These are the claims, offered in support of the position that the economic shock is receding:

    • The pound rallied against the dollar
    • The FTSE 100 index is doing well
    • Yields on British government bonds are low.

    Each of these—and therefore the broader claim, that everything is awesome—can be rebutted but it would be too boring to go into here. Maybe another day. I’ll just leave this here for now.

    In the morning, an event of historical import took place in which British dignity and gravitas was demonstrated to the full. Yes, it was Nigel Farage’s address to the European Parliament.

    The person facepalming in the background is a cardiac surgeon who was raised in a gulag, so it’s safe to say that he was never going to be an ally of Farage.

    Other European MEPs were equally unimpressed:

    Although our national hero did have one fan: Marine Le Pen, of France’s neo-Nazi National Front. Good look, Britain.

    Shortly afterwards a very different side of Britain was on display, when Alyn Smith of the SNP gave a genuinely historic speech for which he received a standing ovation.

    Remember this: Scotland, did not let you down. Please, I beg you, chers collègues, do not let Scotland down now.

    Have I mentioned that I’m Scottish?

    OK, enough nice things: on to the racism. I’ve been at pains to mention in these updates that the rise in racist abuse has only been anecdotal so far, but the first official confirmations have started to come in now with the National Police Chiefs’ Council revealing that hate crimes rose by 57% week-on-week in the period immediately following the referendum.

    I also quoted the BBC’s Sima Kotecha’s tweet yesterday in which she said she was called a P**i in her home town for the first time since the 1980s. I found out today that that home town is Basingstoke, where I used to live. Well done Basingstoke.

    But London isn’t immune:

    And a big story yesterday involved a video of a racist incident on a tram in Manchester. The video’s been taken down now because the culprits have been arrested and it’s presumably going to trial.

    Don’t chat s**t when you’re not even from England, you little f**king immigrant. Get off the f**king tram now. Get back to Africa.

    Was this in Boris Johnson’s future textbook?

    For me, Brexit is a bit like going through the breakup of a relationship or a bereavement in the specific sense that, when I wake up in the morning, there’s a brief period—a couple of seconds maybe—when I’ve yet to remember that all this has happened. Then the memories come in and there we go: I’m back in the room, back in the Brexit room where the chintzy carpets stink of stale beer while Farage grins at me over a Hamlet cigar. Not a nice feeling.

    The last thing I’m going to talk about today is what’s going on in the main political parties. They are both in meltdown but Labour is doing a much more spectacular job of it. A no confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn yesterday delivered a gobsmacking result, with 172 MPs voting against him and only 40 in favour. He isn’t resigning though and is marshalling his supporters among the party membership. The Labour party in its current form will not survive this.

    On the Conservative side, it’s hard to know what’s going on really. Boris Johnson’s column on Monday (which I said at the time sounded “too good to be true”) turned out to be, essentially, a load of nonsense.

    Are you looking forward to this man being Prime Minister?

    happy-ending


  3. Brexit daily update, 27th June

    Posted June 28, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Welcome to my second dispatch from the land of Brexit.

    Today we saw an attempt to get back to politics as usual with senior Conservative politicians emerging from the bunkers they’d been in over the weekend. Following on from Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article (which I mentioned last night) George Osborne gave a statement at 7am with the intention of calming the markets—“Britain is open for business”—but nevertheless the pound dropped sharply against the dollar soon afterwards, possibly prompted by Boris Johnson’s comments that it was “stable”.

    Around the same time, the share prices of two large British banks, Barclays and RBS, lurched downwards so sharply that trading was temporarily suspended. Perhaps Osborne’s speech hadn’t had the desired effect after all.

    The Vote Leave campaign switched its own website into victory mode, unveiling a picture of a bus which claimed that Britain gave the EU £50m per day.

    brexit-bus

    Some people initially mistook this bus for its more famous sibling which had spent the campaign advancing the claim that the EU cost the UK £350m per week. And then, noticing that the number was different, some suspected that yet another Leave lie had been uncovered.

    Just as Twitter began to convulse with rage, someone remembered that days and weeks are different units of time.

    Still, it doesn’t matter as the whole thing is nonsense anyway.

    People who’d failed to fully understand the economic arguments of shiny red buses weren’t the only apologetic ones today. Kelvin McKenzie, the former editor of the Sun, expressed “buyer’s remorse” for having voted Leave.

    There was a lot of outrage about that but fair enough, I thought, at least he’s admitted it. More people should. It doesn’t help that so many are refusing to acknowledge that we face serious difficulties. To wit:

    Those looking for a non-gloomy spin on things would be best advised to avoid any conversations about race relations, which continued to add an undercurrent of genuine horror.

    This person is a BBC newsreader and reporter for the Radio 4 Today programme. And if you don’t trust people who work for the BBC then what about people who work for Murdoch-owned Sky? Presumably they’ll tell it like it is and assure us that there’s no problem with racism here.

    Again, it’s too early to know for sure if there has been a surge in racist abuse post-referendum, but the anecdotal evidence does not look good.

    One of my big worries is what’s going to happen as it dawns on the far right that the Leave campaign blew the dogwhistle in vain and that immigration isn’t really going to be curtailed by Brexit. The politicians who made those claims won’t be the ones on the sharp end of the backlash; it’ll be immigrants on the streets, who asked for none of this. Leading Leavers are of course denying that their campaign had anything to do with immigration whatsoever:

    And it’s worth watching this clip from Dan Hannan’s appearance on Newsnight last Friday for another example of this.

    But there was one organisation that wasn’t about to U-turn so shamelessly and has instead stuck firmly to the notion that Brexit is all about expelling foreigners and reclaiming Englishness: the Sun. Here’s a screenshot of a piece of execrable journalism which in a sane world would be career-ending:

    brex-was-won

    In the minds of these people this is an Agincourt moment, with England ascendant once more and the world cowering before its mighty flag. And then this happened:

    Yet another national humiliation as England lost 2-1 to Iceland. At least this one was pure comedy though.

    I know I haven’t really touched on what’s happening in the Labour party today but as you can imagine it’s a complete mess. Stay tuned, because it’s a fair bet that more things will be happening tomorrow.


  4. Brexit daily update, 26th June

    Posted June 27, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Last Friday morning—a couple of days ago now—the UK voted to leave the EU. As you can imagine, it’s a time of turmoil. Things are moving so quickly that events from 24 hours ago can seem like musty memories from a bygone era. And most of the conversation is taking place on Twitter and Facebook, those ever-burning fires of our memories, so it’s essentially lost from history.

    For this reason I’m going to try to keep a log of what’s going on here, in this blog, on which the pathetic paucity of new content ensures that old material will be perpetually discoverable.

    Today has been Sunday. The main news story has been the self-immolation of the Labour shadow front bench which began after Hilary Benn was sacked at 3.30am after telling his boss that he had no faith in him. The resulting torrent of resignations has dominated the news cycle, giving rise to a fleeting meme.

    Earlier today there was a flurry of interest in a piece that Nick Clegg had written a couple of days before “Independence Day” or “Black Friday” or whatever you want to call it (I call it “the fash crash”) which has come to seem eerily prescient:

    As politicians bicker, you become increasingly unnerved by what’s happening in the economy, too: overseas investors take fright; money flows out of the country; our credit rating is slashed; the interest on our borrowing goes up; unemployment rises; sterling tanks; prices in the shops go up.
    Nicola Sturgeon soon announces that preparations have started for a second independence referendum, claiming it is the only way to keep Scotland in the EU. And this time most commentators think that she will win.
    Still, at least they will finally sort out our borders, right? After all, ending mass immigration was the Brexiteers biggest claim of all.
    So imagine how you’ll feel when you discover that they don’t have a plan for that either?

    Nick Clegg’s name hasn’t come up much in conversation since his party was annihilated in 2015 but this article was very much on the money. It works well because it’s very dry: the predictions are delivered without a side dressing of campaign rhetoric so the signal-to-noise ratio is high. It’s basically a list of future events with so close a resemblance to current reality that they almost seem mundane.

    There has been a little sideshow too involving a Winnie the Pooh related meme that was doing the rounds. I can’t find the original tweet but here’s the image:

    winnie-pooh-twee

     

     

    I hate how it combines a twee message (“why can’t we all just get along?”) with a lame attempt at ribaldry in the final sentence. Plus…

    Someone came along later and fixed it.

    There also seems to have been an upsurge in racist and xenophobic incidents since the referendum, as some Leave voters—unsurprisingly given the tenor of the campaign—begin to act on their perceived mandate to expel all foreigners. Reading about these incidents and then reading the below-the-line comments they attract provides you with an insight into an odious English racism which many thought consigned to history but is now slithering back into full daylight, no longer apologetic or subtextual but proud and emboldened. I’m not going to link to any of those commenters as they’re truly toxic but here are some of the incidents:

    (this person is a professional journalist but of course he’s lying about it)

    It’s too early for official statistics to confirm if it’s true but it makes sense given how the Leave campaign was constructed. And on that note, here’s some polling from Lord Ashcroft on how the attitudes of Remain voters compare to those of Leave voters:

    ashcroft-attitudes

    But it’s all OK though because Boris Johnson has written a column in the Telegraph (he gets about £5,000 a pop for these) in which he tells us we’ll have all the benefits of being in the EU with none of the costs. Sounds too good to be true if you ask me. Here’s a more constructive proposal for getting out of this mess:


  5. I Moved House So You Don’t Have To

    Posted September 24, 2015 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    I moved house recently.

    Just before 7.30am on moving day morning I sent this tweet:

    But when the horror started, the last thing I wanted to do was to “live tweet” about it—I was far too busy enduring it.

    And I wasn’t able to “live tweet” about it when it ended either, because it has yet to end. Let’s put it this way: despite moving home nearly two months ago I’m writing this post from a Premier Inn in Chingford because our house is essentially uninhabitable at the moment. So you see, the horror endures to this day.

    I was going to write a kind of retrospective diary-style post about the whole experience of moving but then I decided that would be too dull.

    Instead, there’s a blog post I read just before the day of the move which is titled “13 Killer Moving House Tips”. I’m going to quote each “killer” tip and then talk about it from the perspective of my own move, which I wouldn’t describe as “killer” (although it did nearly kill me).

    Be warned, though, it is still pretty dull.

    1. MOVE DURING THE WEEK IF POSSIBLE

    At first I thought I was on to a winner here, because I was moving on a Friday which is generally regarded in the UK as being “during the week”. But when I read on I found out that Friday was not just part of the weekend but actually the busiest day of the weekend.

    …weekends and especially Fridays are the busiest when it comes to moving house.

    I wish someone would tell my boss that Friday was part of the weekend.

    2. TAKE TIME TO RESEARCH A MOVING COMPANY

    Simple searching in Google alone is not enough.

    I was on a bus going round Old Street roundabout when I saw a van with the name of a moving company on it. I googled them on my phone and when I found that they had a website, I was sold.

    Later on, instead of coming to my flat to quote for the move, the manager found my flat’s “for sale” listing on Zoopla or Rightmove and put together his quote based on the photos our estate agent had taken. Rather than being perturbed by this, I marvelled at his ingenuity. It didn’t occur to either of us at the time that in the estate agent’s photos we had made an effort not to include the big piles of junk we own in each shot.

    This led to the first major incident of horror on moving day, when we all realised that there was far too much stuff in the flat to fit into the moving company’s van, and desperate measures had to be taken. So my spin on this tip would be to not just research a moving company, but to make sure the moving company takes time to research you as well.

    3. PACK YOUR ITEMS PROPERLY

    Take some time off and start to pack as early as possible. 2 months prior to your move, for example.

    2 months?? You can imagine how I felt, reading this the day before I moved and having done barely any packing. Well, I’d packed my records and books into boxes and thought I was doing pretty well. Little did I know what a small percentage of the overall mess those records and books comprised.

    4. DECLUTTER YOUR HOME

    You would be surprised how many items you’ve collected over the years. [Get] rid of the ones you no longer need…

    I’m totally sold on the idea of decluttering. In fact I’ve even bought Discardia, a book which is all about the joys of decluttering. I still haven’t read it though.

    On the day of the move, however, it became clear that most of my decluttering had involved moving unwanted things into a cavernous floor-to-ceiling storage space in the corridor of our flat as opposed to actually getting rid of them. Increasingly innovative ways of organising the junk had, over the years, resulted in a solid 20-square-metre pillar of dusty old drum machines, Iomega Zip drives and monstrous SCART cables. This tottering tower of detritus was, naturally, not included in the photographs our estate agent uploaded to Zoopla, and the moving companies movers felt sad when they discovered its existence.

    The point is this: I wish I’d read Discardia.

    5. ARRANGE PARKING SPACE

    I can be a bit smug about this because it was one of the very few advisable things I’d done ahead of the move.

    6. CLEAN BEFORE YOU MOVE OUT

    Clean as you pack.

    For a few years the flat we lived in always seemed like quite a small and pokey flat, a bit cramped even. Yet it underwent an unexplained and unnatural transformation in the 48 hours before the moving date, expanding telescopically in size like the interior of the Tardis. Hitherto undiscovered vistas opened up before my eyes as I explored this now vast territory with my overworked hoover. The cleaning I thought would be so straightforward once the flat was empty became an insurmountable challenge. Long after the movers had left in their van, I was still roaming the unconquerable carpeted plains of our flat hoovering up dust and coins.

    7. DEFROST YOUR FREEZER

    I didn’t have to move our freezer and am greatly relieved about that. My advice would be, don’t move your freezer at all. Just leave it where it is. It’s happy there.

    8. LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN AT A SITTER DURING THE MOVE

    This is another one of the few things about the move which I can look back on and think, “well that wasn’t a completely insane and self-destructive idea”.

    For a few days either side of the move our children were hundreds of miles away, in Cornwall. I can only imagine the chaos that would have unfolded if our three-year-old son had been in the mix. My advice to anyone with young kids moving house would be to forget babysitters and get your children as far away from the blast zone as possible, preferably in a different timezone.

    9. LET ALL YOUR CLOSE ONES KNOW OF YOUR MOVE

    The way I did this was with the above-quoted and by now ironically prophetic tweet. Because all of my “close ones” are looking at Twitter at 7.30 on a Friday morning, obviously.

    10. FILL IN CHANGE OF ADDRESS DOCUMENT

    It’s lucky for me that the internet exists because I did most of this stuff online the day before I moved, and some of it on the day itself.

    11. NOTIFY IMPORTANT INSTITUTIONS

    Same as the above.

    12. HAVE EXTRA MONEY

    You might think you’ve got all the aspects of your move covered, but unexpected expenditures can always occur.

    Going through a house move is similar to being a financial trader operating in the peak of a wild speculative bubble (or, better, a global economic meltdown) who has chosen to take strong hallucinogens on the way into work. What I mean by that is that your normal relationship to the world of money becomes completely abstracted and the rules of conventional economic logic no longer apply. Huge sums of money will drain from your bank account while you shriek with terrible laughter, utterly unable to comprehend what it means for your finances.

    When things calm down later on—and it’ll be much later on—you won’t even be able to calculate the financial damage so it’s best not to try. So yes, it’s good to have extra money.

    13. PREPARE A BACK UP PLAN

    What if your move takes longer than expected? What if you need to leave some of your items in storage?

    This is another great tip. The backup plan I suggest you prepare is quite simple: abandon the move and just stay where you are. I’m sure it’s lovely.


  6. Thoughts on reading Ancillary Justice

    Posted July 16, 2015 in books  |  No Comments so far

    I’ve just finished reading Ancillary Justice, the recent recipient of multiple science fiction awards including the coveted Hugo. It was the first science fiction novel I’ve read for some time.

    Having once read that genre almost exclusively I was expecting to like the novel far more than I did, so I was left wondering if I’ve become less receptive to the genre as a whole or if it’s down to Ancillary Justice in particular.

    Before reading Ancillary Justice I’d heard a lot about its similarity to Iain M Banks’ Culture novels, and I could see some common elements, in particular the notion of starships having sufficiently advanced AIs that they develop personalities and become engaged in political affairs. But is that even an interesting idea any more? It seems to me that, in the early 21st century, our portrayals of the far future would be stranger if they didn’t include some form of advanced and politically engaged AI than if they did. So I’m not sold on the idea that the use of an AI as the novel’s protagonist is particularly radical.

    Of course it’s not fair to say that science fiction novels are only made good by the novelty and uniqueness of their underlying ideas, but I found Ancillary Justice flawed in some other ways too. There’s an over-reliance on what seem to be quite amazing coincidences, including the chance meeting with Seivarden which kicks off the story. For a while I expected some explanation for these, what with the numerous references to the Radch belief that there is “no such thing as coincidence”, but as the novel drew to a close it became clear that the coincidences were what they’d initially seemed to be: a convenient and lazy literary device. There were other problems with characterisation and motive but I’m not going to get into the details of these here.

    Don’t get me wrong, Ancillary Justice isn’t a car crash and it’s by no means the worst science fiction novel I read. Maybe my expectations were inflated by the awards it received; maybe I was wrong to think, upon starting it, that I was about to encounter the state of the art of modern science fiction. But I’m left with two questions. First, should I press on and read the sequels to Ancillary Justice? And second, are there other novels out there that better exemplify the best modern sci-fi?


  7. What Magna Carta symbolises

    Posted June 17, 2015 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    An informative, combative post from Jack of Kent about the Magna Carta, which is supposed to have celebrated its 800th birthday a couple of days ago. Magna Carta plays more of a symbolic than a functional role in English law. But what does it symbolise?

    [It symbolises] not a great English constitutional principle, but the lack of one.  It symbolises the capacity of people to nod-along at being told they have fictional and non-existent rights instead of having rights which can actually be enforced.  It symbolises that people are content with believing in fairy tales.

    Those with political and legal power know this.  It is safe for the government to want you to celebrate Magna Carta, which you cannot rely on in court, whilst it – for example – seeks to repeal the Human Rights Act, which you can.

    Read the whole thing here.


  8. How The Wire can help you be a better design researcher

    Posted May 22, 2015 in research, user centred design  |  No Comments so far

    I liked this post on Medium by Sam Ladner about how design researchers need to think fast and slow. If you work in design or UX or whatever, you should read it.

    Taken from the Medium article

    Taken from the Medium article

     

    The general gist is that problems can be approached with two different styles of thinking: “fast” thinking, in which the components of an idea are allowed to form in rapid succession without being challenged or tested too much, and “slow” thinking, where the opposite rule applies and ideas come into being via a more rigorous and methodical process. Design research will be more successful if you combine both ways of thinking, says the article, before going on to explain at what stages in a design process “fast” or “slow” thinking would be most appropriate.

    When I read the piece, however, I found myself thinking of The Wire (as I often do) and specifically a scene where Baltimore detective Kima Greggs arrives at her first murder scene with her partner, Bunk Moreland. Here’s the discussion they have about “soft eyes”.

    Bunk: You know what you need at a crime scene?
    Kima: Rubber gloves?
    Bunk: Soft eyes.
    Kima: Like I’m suppose to cry and shit?
    Bunk: If you got soft eyes, you can see the whole thing. If you got hard eyes — you staring at the same tree missing the forest.
    Kima: Ah, zen shit.
    Bunk: Soft eyes, grasshopper.

    Kima and Bunk

    When I’ve approached design research projects in the past I’ve often thought about them in terms of “soft eyes” and “hard eyes”. There are various points along the way where you need to defocus—take a step back from everything you’ve put up on the wall or into your spreadsheets, stop yourself from staring at individual data points or considering specific questions, and allow the whole thing, everything you’ve learned or accumulated, just permeate your consciousness. Then you’re more likely to grasp overarching themes and patterns, those elusive things that lurk behind the data. This is how I interpret “soft eyes”.

    “Hard eyes”, on the other hand, are needed at other times: when you do need to solve a very specific problem, to optimise something in your design, to understand why something isn’t working. This is when you step forward to focus on individual data points and questions, or apply checklists or other pre-defined analytical processes to solve your problem.

    Knowing when you need “soft eyes” and when you need “hard eyes” is important. You can’t get by with one and not the other. And I think this applies just as much to “fast” versus “slow” thinking, as defined in the Medium post.

    Postscript: Quora has a thread about Bunk and Kima’s “soft eyes” discussion if you want to read other people’s thoughts about what it means


  9. Benedict Evans: the cut-down version of the internet is on the PC

    Posted May 15, 2015 in links  |  No Comments so far

    Benedict Evans writes that we should stop thinking of mobile devices offering a constrained, semi-functional version of the internet experience available on PCs:

    We’ve always thought about the mobile internet as a limited thing compared to the desktop internet, because of the constraints of hardware and network. Today, obviously, those constraints are a lot less than they were in the featurephone world, but it can still feel natural to talk of the PC as the most fully-featured version of the internet, and mobile as the place where you have to make lots of allowances for limitations of various kinds, just as for a smart watch…

    I’d suggest that we should think about inverting this – it’s actually the PC that has the limited, basic, cut-down version of the internet.

    I get where Evans is coming from. I felt that way after buying my first proper smartphone—not the Windows Mobile monstrosities that I used to wrestle with in the pre-iPhone days, but my first recognisably modern smartphone, an HTC Hero back in 2009.

    It was clear right away that the device was designed and built to be on the internet, while desktop operating systems and first-gen smartphones still felt like machines from another age which had had internettiness retrofitted on to them. Up until then I’d always had to sync new phones with horrible software (Microsoft ActiveSync for example) but this was the first phone I’d had that just did all that over the internet without making a big deal of it. Thinking about the potential of the thing was overwhelming and nearly gave me a panic attack.

    What wasn’t clear to me then, though, was just how much these devices would redefine the internet by breaking it out of the browser’s sandbox, by disconnecting it from the desktop PC’s power socket. Desktop & laptop PCs still do a lot of things that mobile devices don’t and I don’t see them becoming obsolete any time soon. But their relationship with the internet is, and always will be, far less direct, far less intimate, than that enjoyed by mobile devices.


  10. The multi-party continental fantasyland that was never to be

    Posted May 12, 2015 in politics  |  1 Comment so far

    Lots of people have written about the election last Thursday and the decisive Conservative victory, which came as a surprise to everyone.

    I was going to write something too but decided against it. Instead here are some other things that might be worth reading.

    First, at Public Policy And The Past, the enigmatic “historian” has a good piece titled “So What Did Happen Last Thursday?” which offers five reasons for the surprisingly easy Tory victory and the mistaken assumption so many of us had that two-party politics was a thing of the past. Labour and Conservative actually both increased their share of the vote, so it’s very much politics as usual:

    All of this has come as some shock to your average cafe-dwelling leftist. They thought that a new world was coming into being: a multi-party continental fantasyland, in which parties would have to work together, in which voters would choose based on a buffet of different policy options, in which a ‘left alliance’ of all anti-Conservative parties could seize power, enact voting reform and generally make the world a softer, greener, more pluralistic place.

    It wasn’t.

    As a café-dwelling leftist myself I should admit to being quite excited about Borgen-style coalition politics. Not so much because I thought it would deliver the sorts of policies that I lean towards, though: more because it would liven things up a bit.

    Here’s another piece by Chris Cook on BBC News. It quotes extensively from Labour strategist James Morris, who I think I might have met once in real life. It’s an insightful look at what was going on behind the scenes during the campaign within a Labour party whose private polling was far less favourable to them than the (as it turned out, shockingly inaccurate) polls that appeared in the press.

    “The campaign strongly toughened our stance on the SNP before the final Question Time [TV appearance for Mr Miliband], but it was not enough. The Tories successfully used the fear of Scottish influence as a way of catalyzing pre-existing doubts about Labour in a way that had not been possible earlier in the campaign. Labour’s unexpected post-referendum collapse in Scotland transformed the election across the whole of Great Britain.”

    At some point in the future I’d like to learn more about this election campaign. Behind the tabloid mud-slinging and one-note anti-Scottish fearmongering there was obviously some brutal yet intricate thinking going on. Lynton Crosby is clearly someone to be reckoned with.