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Photo — 2019-03-20

People affinity mapping

I had a fabulous day at the Service Design Academy bootcamp yesterday.

It’s part of the PDA in Service Design. I never thought I’d be a student again. But I’m loving the opportunity to get stuck in and get talking to like-minded peers from other organisations.

It’s great to be back in Dundee again too! Looking forward to seeing what day two has in store.

Generating ideas

Generating ideas

Distilling our ideas

Distilling our ideas

View of V&A Dundee

The view from my hotel window

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Note — 2019-03-14

I was sorry to hear about the death of Charlie Whiting, Formula 1’s race director, less than 24 hours before he was due to oversee the first session of the season.

Charlie Whiting has been one person in the FIA I have always respected. It was very difficult to question his judgement, and you rarely heard anyone ever seriously question it.

Charlie Whiting at the fanzone during the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix weekend

We saw Charlie Whiting addressing fans when we went to the Belgian Grand Prix last year, and he seemed happy to be speaking to fans and telling them more about the sport and his job.

It has seemed, from my distant vantage point, that the FIA have had trouble finding a successor to Charlie Whiting in the role of race director. He has held the job since 1997. I couldn’t tell you who was the race director before him, and it’s difficult to imagine who it will be after him. They are big shoes to fill.

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The game changed and they didn't: The true cause of Williams' declineDieter RenckenRaceFans

An excellent analysis setting the decline of Williams into a historical context. Dieter Rencken traces the decline back to 1998, the commencement of the first Concorde Agreement following Bernie Ecclestone’s acquisition of Formula 1’s commercial rights. This is when Bernie Ecclestone began acting in his own interests, and not that of the teams.

That certainly explains why the number of independent teams has decreased since then. The remaining teams, as Dieter Rencken notes, have changed their business models to adapt to the modern commercial realities of the sport.

Williams’s dogged determination to stick to the same business model it had in the 1980s and 1990s may be seen as noble by some. But increasingly it’s being shown to be foolhardy.

Claire Williams may refuse to allow Williams to be a B-team. But let’s not forget that Frank Williams first entered F1 with a customer chassis. Why should they continue to tie their own hands?

See also: Williams have hit a new Lowe

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Chuka Umunna reminds us that centrism is not liberalism — Jonathan Calder, Liberal England

Chuka Umunna reminds us that centrism is not liberalism — Jonathan Calder, Liberal England

I’ve viewed the formation of the Independent Group with a mixture of interest, mild hope, and mild horror. Chuka Umunna’s latest vanity missive has tipped the balance further towards the horror end.

Chuka Umunna wish to bring in compulsory national service for 16-year-olds is a reminder that proclaiming you are in the centre does not make you a Liberal.

Amid Brexit, supported by the leadership of both the Conservatives and Labour, both of those parties are moving in ever-more extreme directions. With extremist views on the rise, I had begun to think of myself as a moderate. But the ‘moderate’ tiggers are little more appealing.

This is a reminder that liberalism isn’t merely moderate or centrist. It is a distinctive worldview. This reminds us of how liberalism should sell itself.

Both the Conservatives and Labour are authoritarian parties. Our job as liberals is to rail against those tendencies, not to split the (often very little) difference between them.

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Could Brexit break the BBC? The tensions, the bewildering question of ‘balance’ — and how to get it right — Mark Damazer, Prospect Magazine

Could Brexit break the BBC? The tensions, the bewildering question of ‘balance’ — and how to get it right — Mark Damazer, Prospect Magazine

An impressively thoughtful piece from the former Radio 4 controller, on why the BBC is struggling to remain unbiased amid Brexit.

One senior presenter put it like this: “We should encourage debate… while being more militant about our core approach—that we are fact-based, and question and test all sides of the debate. We should not be doing vanilla ‘on the one hand’ versus ‘on the other hand’ journalism. I am sympathetic to the arguments about the danger of ‘false equivalence,’ and think we should be clear about the weight of arguments. But if a substantial number of people believe, so to speak, that bananas are blue we have to treat that seriously. Seriously, but robustly.”

This article also briefly covers some of the limitations of TV news bulletins, and explains why in some aspects radio performs better. I do find it difficult to watch a bulletin like the 10 O’Clock News (I think I even watched the piece he mentions from Mansfield, with my head in my hands). In that format, it is impossible to cover anything in real depth — and that seems to be the true problem at the moment.

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Note — 2019-03-06

I hate to be that guy, but the latest update to the Pocket Casts Android app has completely destroyed it.

Overnight, the player widget was erased. But worse still, all the playlists I have created have disappeared and there appears to be no way of recreating them. The playlists feature has vanished. There is a mysterious new ‘Filters’ option that I can’t make head nor tail of. Whenever I try to create a new filter, it crashes.

I’d move to Google Podcasts, but that doesn’t support playlists either… Ugh.

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Williams have hit a new Lowe

Robert Kubica testing for Williams

It would have been an embarrassing start to the year by anyone’s standards. But for a team like Williams, it has been utterly mortifying. Formerly known as Williams Grand Prix Engineering, this team has always taken a great pride in its engineering excellence. In the past couple of years, that reputation has been shattered. Read full article

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Halogen — Kelly Moran

Ultraviolet cover

I was introduced to Kelly Moran by her first album on Warp Records, Ultraviolet, released a few months ago. For some reason (OK, maybe the Warp thing) I had assumed it was electronic music. So I was astonished to learn from this video that it’s actually a live prepared piano. Stunning stuff.

From that, I moved on to watch a performance of an older track, Limonium. Although short, it is perhaps even better than anything on Ultraviolet. One to watch no doubt, and I’ll certainly be investigating her back catalogue.

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The worst design of 2016 was also the most effective

Illustration of Donald Trump wearing a Make America Great Again hat

The worst design of 2016 was also the most effective — Diana Budds, Fast Company

Why Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again hat, was a wildly successful design, despite being reviled by gatekeepers of good-taste design.

The “undesigned” hat represented this everyman sensibility, while Hillary [Clinton]’s high-design branding — which was disciplined, systematic, and well-executed — embodied the establishment narrative that Trump railed against and that Middle America felt had failed them. “The DIY nature of the hat embodies the wares of a ‘self-made man’ and intentionally distances itself from well-established and unassailable high-design brand systems of Hillary and Obama,” Young says. “Tasteful design becomes suspect… The trucker cap is as American as apple pie and baseball.”

This reminds me of the story that the most “tasteful” office spaces are less productive. When given a clean-looking office cubicle, people fill it with garden gnomes.

I don’t agree with the article’s premise that this challenges the idea of design thinking. Surely it means that Hillary Clinton’s designers simply didn’t do a good enough job at it (because nice typefaces ≠ design thinking).

But this does provide a challenge to the received wisdom of what good design is, and whether tasteful design is desirable.

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Autechre make 19 previously unreleased live recordings available to buy – Scott Wilson, Fact Magazine

Autechre

Autechre make 19 previously unreleased live recordings available to buy – Scott Wilson, Fact Magazine

I totally have 19 spare hours to listen to all this right now.

thisisfine.jpg

These 19 newly released files are from the same tour as the 9 that were unveiled a few years ago, so it’s not new new. But I’m listening to the Orlando one right now and there’s enough new stuff going on to justify the £1 per MP3.

This makes me a bit more hopeful that something from their 2016 tour will one day emerge as well. The poster hangs on our living room wall.

Autechre 2016 tour poster in our living room

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Sauber and Alfa Romeo to keep fighting for ambitious results as Alfa Romeo Racing

Alfa Romeo Sauber car

Sauber and Alfa Romeo to keep fighting for ambitious results as Alfa Romeo Racing

The 2019 Formula One World Championship will see two of the most historical brands in motorsport – Sauber and Alfa Romeo – return to circuits across the globe with 2007 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen and the young Italian Antonio Giovinazzi driving for Alfa Romeo Racing, formerly referred to as the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team.

It’s a bit of a shame to see the Sauber name disappear. Even when BMW owned the team they kept Sauber in the name.

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Why data is never raw — Nick Barrowman, the New Atlantis

A man checking dials

Why data is never raw — Nick Barrowman, the New Atlantis

Why it’s wrong and perhaps even dangerous to expect “raw data” to be neutral and strictly factual.

How data are construed, recorded, and collected is the result of human decisions — decisions about what exactly to measure, when and where to do so, and by what methods. Inevitably, what gets measured and recorded has an impact on the conclusions that are drawn.

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rightclick — Mira Calix

utopia cover

It’s more than ten years since Mira Calix last released music, with her career having taken her in a more multidisciplinary artistic direction. I’ve found her music in the past to be a bit hit-and-miss. But when I heard rightclick I ended up being quite excited for the release of her new EP, utopia.

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A more complicated web — Christian Heilmann

A more complicated web — Christian Heilmann

A useful explanation as to why we can’t return to “a simpler web” that enabled anyone to easily become a publisher.

What we consider a way to express ourselves on the web – our personal web site – is a welcome opportunity for attackers… [I]t can be recruited as a part of a botnet or to store illegal and malicious content for re-distribution.

So, to me, there is no such thing as going back to the good old web where everything was simple. It never was. What we need now to match the siren call of closed garden publishers is making it easier to publish on the web. And to control your data and protect the one of your users. This isn’t a technical problem – it is one of user interfaces, services and tools that make the new complexity of the web manageable.

I’m not sure I fully agree with (or even understand) his proposed way forward. But it’s useful to think about how we can balance the desire to encourage self-publishing with fully robust, secure solutions. The game changed long ago.

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On blogs in the social media age — Cal Newport, Study Hacks

Typewriter

On blogs in the social media age — Cal Newport, Study Hacks

Putting into economic terms the distinction between blogging and social media, and articulating what we have lost through the decline of blogging.

If you want attention for your blog you have to earn it through a combination of quality, in the sense that you’re producing something valuable for your readers, and trust, in the sense that you’ve produced enough good stuff over time to establish a good reputation with the fellow bloggers whose links will help grow your audience.

I first realised this about blogging when it became clear that comments sections on major websites were almost always cesspits. People in comments sections are generally attempting to freeride on the quality of the website they are posting on.

Bloggers, on the other hand, really need to be high-quality to get any sort of audience at all. That makes blogs generally good.

Social media is quite the opposite. To start getting traction on social media, the threshold is rather low. In fact, often, lower quality works better.

Link via Khürt Williams

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Why big companies squander brilliant ideas — Tim Harford

Why big companies squander brilliant ideas — Tim Harford

How inflexible organisational structure could be one of the main inhibitors of innovation. This article is full of fascinating examples, but I found the Sony example the most striking.

…the silo that produced the PlayStation had almost nothing to do with the silo that produced portable CD players. The Memory Stick Walkman was like the tank: it didn’t fit neatly into any category. To be a success, the silos that had been designed to work separately would have to work together. That required an architectural change that Sony tried but failed to achieve.

Seemingly, there’s no straightforward answer to this:

Kodak’s position may well have been impossible, no matter what managers had done. If so, the most profitable response would have been to vanish gracefully.

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Photo — 2019-01-16

'Duncan' hen party badge

Turquoise Hexagon Dunc.

Our super talented and creative friend Lucy made these badges for guests at Alex’s hen party last weekend. I’m delighted to have got my own.

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For owners of Amazon’s Ring security cameras, strangers may have been watching — Sam Biddle, the Intercept

Ring doorbell footage

For owners of Amazon’s Ring security cameras, strangers may have been watching — Sam Biddle, the Intercept

This is jaw-dropping stuff about lacklustre security practices at Ring, the smart doorbell manufacturers — as well as a story about rather lacklustre technology problems. Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m amazed that unencrypted live video footage is available to Ring employees at all. It makes me think twice about internet of things gadgets.

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How harmful is the net promoter score? — Jeff Sauro, MeasuringU

Someone using a screwdriver as a hammer

How harmful is the net promoter score? — Jeff Sauro, MeasuringU

A very useful contribution to the debate surrounding the usefulness/harmfulness of net promoter score. Jeff Sauro transcends the often polemical nature of the debate, by analysing actual research on the effectiveness of net promoter score.

The news still isn’t all that great for proponents of net promoter score. But at the same time, it’s not quite as bad as its detractors make out.

Kudos to Jeff Sauro for doing some actual research on this.

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Note — 2019-01-06

It’s 10 years since Woolworths closed down. I worked there at the time. To this day, the whole experience is among the most surreal of my life.

At the time, I wrote a lengthy series of blog posts detailing my own story of the goings-on around the failure of one of Britain’s most iconic businesses.

Being on the shop floor while a British institution collapsed around me taught me a bit about business. But it taught me a lot about people. Enjoy this look back.

(These used to be linked to each other using a WordPress plugin, but these were lost during a migration — so here they all are.)

  1. Woolworths: The curiously British US-based company
  2. Woolworths as it was known and loved, and neglected
  3. Woolworths: Childhood memories and adult gripes
  4. It wasn’t just the credit crunch
  5. The blunder of Woolworths
  6. Identity crisis
  7. The beginning of the end
  8. The nasty side of human nature
  9. Woolworths: Final thoughts and wrapping up

For more on Woolworths 10 years on from its collapse, check out Graham Soult’s excellent report.

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Samaritans — Idles

I’ve become obsessed with this song. It contains an important message that is beginning to be heard, but still needs to be heard more widely. This is a song for now.

Discovering Idles has felt a bit like discovering Pulp when they released Common People. Although 9-year-old me didn’t really understand what appealed to me about Pulp, now I think I do. Distinctive-sounding music, yes. But also lyrics that are interesting (a rarity in and of itself), and important, and for right now.

The first time I knowingly heard Idles it was when another song was played on the radio in the morning, Great. I remember sitting up in my bed, astonished at the lyrics. You don’t often hear songs that are so political, especially ones that actually hit the nail on the head — and say what I would want to say, but so much better.

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A love letter to high street music shops — Lis Ferla, last year’s girl

Image from last year's girl

A love letter to high street music shops — Lis Ferla, last year’s girl

Another perspective on the troubles faced by HMV. Lis Ferla echoes my thoughts on why bricks-and-mortar record stores of all sorts are a vital part of the music ecosystem.

But for me, it’s about the ceremony. The owning of a tangible product. It’s the reason behind the hall cupboard stacked high with CDs I lack the immediate capacity to play, and the records that take pride of place in the living room. It’s why I’ve never gotten on board with streaming, preferring the relative “ownership” of a digital download when it’s the cheapest, easiest way to get my fix.

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Michael Schumacher’s son progresses to bring hope in tragic F1 tale — Richard Williams, the Guardian

Mick Schumacher

Michael Schumacher’s son progresses to bring hope in tragic F1 tale — Richard Williams, the Guardian

As always, Richard Williams is well worth reading. This time, a sensitive piece on the mixed feelings some people have about Michael Schumacher, five years on from his skiing accident, as his son Mick prepares to make the step up to Formula 2.

The centrepiece of this article is an interview with Damon Hill, one of Schumacher’s fiercest rivals. As usual, Hill is thoughtful when reflecting back.

Today, everyone with any direct relationship to Michael Schumacher, past or present, chooses their words with extreme care when discussing his life since the accident. “To even contemplate it is frightening,” Hill says. “Whatever my feeling was about Michael and the way he went about his career became irrelevant. From a human point of view, it was so upsetting.”

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UX your life: Applying the user-centered process to your life (and stuff) — JD Jordan, Smashing Magazine

UX your life: Applying the user-centered process to your life (and stuff) — JD Jordan, Smashing Magazine

I’m always in two minds about whether people should use work-based techniques on personal problems. I have heard of people using Trello boards at home to organise tasks, which sounds as nightmarish as it sounds sensible. I’ve even heard of people running scrum-style weekly planning meetings with their family, which definitely sounds overboard to me.

But I do like the look of some of the ideas here. For instance, I’m keen to map out out my life in weeks.

And I already know that affinity mapping can work great at home and for other stuff.

When we did the MoRun in November, Lauren and I made an affinity map to decide which of two runs to enter. My gut feeling told me another run would be better. But writing down all the pros and cons of each race, and grouping them, made it clear that my gut feeling was actually wide of the mark.

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No, we don’t really care about your privacy

No, we don’t really care about your privacy

“We value your privacy” have been the hollowest words of 2018. I am instantly suspicious of any website that displays a flashy pop-up about privacy. Like a small man with a fancy car, it looks like they’re compensating for something.

It’s what happens when you want to be seen to be GDPR compliant, rather than actually GDPR compliant.

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Windowlicker — Aphex Twin

Windowlicker cover

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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The hurricane web

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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‘People you may know:’ A controversial Facebook feature’s 10-year history

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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Dirty dealing in the $175 billion Amazon Marketplace

"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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