“How about we blow up the car?” – the dangers of broadening the debate

BOB, MANDY, REBECCA, and FRANKIE gather for a family meeting to make an IMPORTANT DECISION.

MANDY: Right, shall we get started? As you all know, we’ve decided it’s time we get ourselves a second family car. The question is what car do we get? I’m sure we all have some strong opinions. This is why we thought it would be right to have a broad, open and honest debate on the subject. Frankie and Rebecca, you said you would bring together all the options under consideration. Are you ready to tell us?

FRANKIE: Um. I think so. Should I just, like, read them all out?

MANDY: That’d be perfect.

FRANKIE: Ok. Well, Dad suggested option one should be a brand new Vauxhall Ampera–

BOB: A great car. A hybrid, modern, stylish–

MANDY: Hold on, Bob. Allow Frankie to tell us all the options first. Frankie?

FRANKIE: Thanks. Yeah. Uh, the second option, suggested by Mum, is a, um, second-hand 2005 Kia Sedona–

MANDY: Yes, very sensible. Does what we need it to and it won’t cost the earth. When approaching this decision, I think it’s important to–

FRANKIE: Um. Sorry. But I haven’t said all the options yet.

MANDY: Of course, pardon me. Please continue.

FRANKIE: Uh, for the third option, we, me and Rebecca, thought we could, like, blow up the car?

BOB: What?

MANDY: Come again?

FRANKIE: Uh, blow up the car.

MANDY: The car we have?


BOB: Why on earth would we do that!?

REBECCA: We’re not saying we’d do it! You said you wanted a proper debate! But the choice was, basically, between getting car A or car B – that’s not much of a choice!

BOB: Rebecca, that’s because we want another car. Blowing up the car we actually have is not going to help!

REBECCA: You said you wanted a proper debate! A proper debate needs a proper range of options. You can’t just say choose between this thing I want or something a bit like the thing I want! What’s the point!?

FRANKIE: You did say you wanted a proper debate, Dad.

MANDY: Ok, ok. Calm down everyone. Let’s keep blowing up the car as an “option”, yes? We don’t have to pick it, we just know it’s there. Let’s move on, shall we? Ok? Ok. Option one. Who wants to talk about the hybrid. Bob?

BOB: Hm. Fine. I think the Vauxhall is the best option. Sure it’ll cost a bit more up front–

MANDY: More than a bit, don’t you think?

BOB: It’ll cost more up front, but the money we save over time on petrol and tax will more than offset that. Eventually. Plus, we can finally get the nice, modern family car with all the latest features and comforts. We always wanted that, yes? And you know it’ll last a lot longer too. Not to mention how environmentally-friendly it is. That’s a big thing, nowadays. Being green. Isn’t that right?

FRANKIE: Yeah, sounds good.

REBECCA: Uh. I can see the benefits.

MANDY: That sounds lovely. But, honey, we do have to be realistic. That car will require us to take out a big loan. We’ll be paying it off for a long time. We could go to the second-hand lot tomorrow and pick up a very reliable, almost-new car. Yes, the Kia won’t be as fancy, but it’d do the job. We want something the kids could learn to drive in without worrying about bumps and scrapes. Right? Not the mention that the money saved could be spent on holidays, or improving the house. There’s a lot more to life than a posh car and I don’t want us to lose sight of that.

FRANKIE: Um. Good point.


BOB: Well, honey, I really think you’re overstating the cost–

FRANKIE: Wait. Uh. We still haven’t discussed the third option.

BOB: What? Do we need to? I thought we decided–

REBECCA: You said–

BOB: But it’s completely stu–

MANDY: Bob. Fine. We did say we’d do this properly. Rebecca, do you want to make the case for blowing up the car?

REBECCA: Well, I’m not saying we should definitely do it. But, you know, it would be the most cost-effective option. I mean, it wouldn’t cost a thing really. And we’d save a lot more money in the long run. Also, having no car at all is better for the environment than having one or two, isn’t it? Yes, there’ll be a bit of pollution as we burn it to a crisp, but that’s nothing compared to running a car every day…

FRANKIE: Plus, I think it’d be cool to see a car get blown up.

REBECCA: We could also do it immediately. Like, right now.

MANDY: Ok. Well. Case well made, Rebecca. Let’s talk a bit more about the Kia–

REBECCA: Isn’t anybody going to make a counter argument to blowing up the car?

BOB: No!

REBECCA: Why not!?

BOB: Because it’s the stupidest bloody idea I’ve ever heard! End of.

REBECCA: There you go again trying to shut down the debate! This isn’t fair. You’re not even taking this seriously!

BOB: Of course I’m not taking this seriously! Blowing up the car!? Are you mad!?

REBECCA: I’ve already made the arguments in favour of blowing up the car! You’re the one who hasn’t been able to come up with a single reason why we shouldn’t!

BOB: Why would I waste of time arguing against something so preposterous!? It isn’t even worth thinking about!

REBECCA: That is so typical of you–

MANDY: Rebecca! Enough. Bob, you can surely spend half a minute explaining why blowing up the car is not a good option.

BOB: Really? You really want to indulge this nonsense?

MANDY: In the interest of simply moving on, yes I think you should.

BOB: Fine! Blowing up the car is a foolish bloody idea because we need a car. In fact, the point of this whole silly debate is that we need two cars. Not one car. Not zero cars. Two. Blowing up the car will not give us the result we want. It will – suffice to say – give us nothing except the burnt out wreck of a car. It is madness. And anyone who is not a complete idiot would clearly agree with me!


REBECCA: And there you go again! Trying to shut down the debate with your… your derision and your, um, ad hominem attacks! It’s impossible to have a real discussion when you’ve already made up your mind and don’t listen to a single word I say!

MANDY: Rebecca, please calm down. I think we’re just both having a hard time understanding why you want to blow up the car.

REBECCA: I’m not saying I do want to blow up the car! Only that if we want to have a proper debate we need to consider blowing up the car as one of the options!

FRANKIE: I would quite like to blow up the car.

BOB: Frankie!

FRANKIE: What? I haven’t heard a good reason why we shouldn’t. I don’t need a car.

BOB: But we do! And how would you get to see your friends and go places if we don’t drive you in a car.

MANDY: This is getting a bit heated. Bob, maybe you could calmly and clearly make the case for why, when it comes down to it, we need a car?

BOB: Are you joking? We’re no closer to deciding what second car to get and you want me to waste more time on this subject?

REBECCA: Hah! So like you…

MANDY: Quickly. Please.

BOB: We need a car because people need cars!

REBECCA: Circular logic. Typical…

BOB: Very well. We need a car because we sometimes – often – have to go places that are too far to walk and we might also need to take things with us that are too large or too heavy to carry by hand–

FRANKIE: You can get carts that you can attach to bikes for carrying things.

REBECCA: That’s true. And I know lots of people who don’t have their own cars and get around fine.

BOB: For crying out loud, kids. No. No more. This is nonsense.

REBECCA: Are you denying the existence of carts you can attach to bikes?

BOB: What? No–

REBECCA: Are you calling me a liar?

BOB: No! I’ve just had enough arguing about this!

REBECCA: You wanted a debate–

BOB: Jesus Christ! Mandy, can we just make a decision. Vauxhall or Kia. I don’t even care which anymore…

MANDY: Bob, we did promise we’d include everyone in the decision. And.. um…

BOB: What?

MANDY: Well, all this talk has made me wonder whether we do need two cars after all. I mean, we definitely want one car. Don’t get me wrong. I really don’t think we should blow it up (but, of course, I am glad we heard everyone’s opinion and discussed the possibility of doing so). After all, maybe we can get one of those carts for the bike and you can use that instead of a second car?

BOB: You’re as crazy as the kids. We all agreed we wanted a new car. That wasn’t even supposed to be part of the debate!

MANDY: I do not appreciate that tone, thank you very much. When the facts change, I change my mind. You should try to be more open-minded, Bob.

BOB: What facts have changed!? This is absurd!

MANDY: The fact that I no longer want a new car. I’m perfectly happy with the current one we have.

BOB: But–

REBECCA: Shall we make our votes?

FRANKIE: I vote to blow it up.

BOB: You–

MANDY: I vote to keep the current car and not waste any of my money on a new one that I won’t even drive.

BOB: That isn’t even an option!

REBECCA: Dad’s right, mum. You have to pick one of the options on offer.

MANDY: Very well. In that case I vote to blow up the car.

BOB: Have you lost your mind!?

MANDY: It’s exactly that attitude, Bob, which is why people are voting against you.


REBECCA: I’m going to vote for–

BOB: Rebecca, please. I’m begging you. Don’t vote to blow up the car. I’m sorry I was rude. Really really sorry. I know you’re clever and sensible. Please make the right choice. Please.

REBECCA: I’m voting for the Kia.

BOB: Yes! Good good. Me too! That’s what I’m voting for! The Kia Sedona. A decent, solid car.

REBECCA: For the record, that’s what I was always going to vote for. I only wanted to make sure we had a proper debate. That’s all.

MANDY: That’s two for the Kia and two for blowing the current car up.

MR & MRS JONES: Ahem. We also vote to blow your car up.

BOB: What are our neighbours doing here?

REBECCA: You said you wanted a proper open debate. I invited them to take part so we could get a broader range of voices involved.

BOB: They don’t even like us!

REBECCA: That’s not the point!

BOB: No, no, no, no, no. We can’t have just anyone waltzing in here deciding to blow up our bloody car!

REBECCA: You’re just upset because you lost the vote!

BOB: It doesn’t even affect them!

MR JONES: Well, I do have to say, it does affect us as we all park on the same street and one less car will mean more space for us. So, certainly, yes. Two more votes for blowing your car up, if you please.

BOB: I can’t believe this.

MANDY: That means four votes for blowing the car up against two for getting the Kia. I’m sorry, love.

FRANKIE: Yes! This is going to be amazing!

BOB: What the hell just happened?

MANDY: Don’t worry, darling. I don’t think they’ll really blow up the car. It just represents a definitive vote against getting the second car, that’s all. Everything will be fine. You’ll see.

FRANKIE: I’ve got matches!



The Joker – Questions Raised by the Clown Prince’s New Look



Well, it doesn’t look like any Joker we’ve seen before. But, to be fair, we need to judge this latest interpretation in its own context. No comparisons to Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson here, folks.

Film is a visual medium and directors obviously know the importance of visuals. No respectable director would purposefully release an image that didn’t communicate exactly what they wanted to communicate.

So let’s give the benefit of the doubt and assume all my questions below are exactly what the director wanted us to ask.

I’ll start with the big one:

What the actual fuck?

Who is this guy? Why is he topless and covered in tats? Why does he look like an LA street gang member? Is he an LA street gang member? Why am I supposed to care about a shock-rock reject, emo gang member? Is this look supposed to suggest a kind of juvenile machoism? Is that why he looks like a bad video game character? But then why isn’t he physically intimidating? Why is he striking a pose that suggests vulnerability? Why is he so obviously striking a ‘pose’? Does he do this pose a lot? Is this pose totally him? Did someone go to take a photo of him and he was like “wait, hold on, I’m gonna do my ‘arrrghh’ pose cos that’s totally me”? Why didn’t the other person tell him that’s a bad idea? Did the person taking the photo not care about how silly this looks?

Why has he got tattoos? When did he get them done? Was it when he was too young to know better? Is he embarrassed by them now? Is that why he’s like ‘noooooooo’ cos someone’s taking a photo of him without his top on and he doesn’t want it to go up on Instagram and make him look like a prat? Did he design the tattoos himself, or point at a picture on the wall of the tattoo parlour and say, “that skull, please”? Did he get drunk and wake up with hahahahahahaha written across his chest and go, “ohhhh, man, I was so wasted last night, what a mistake”? Is he proud of these tattoos? Why does he want everyone to know he’s damaged in the head? Is he physically damaged or emotionally damaged? Is that a cry for help? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? Because if we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, why does he look like such a douche?

Why the jester and gambling iconography across his body? What does that mean to him? What’s the point of tattooing those things on his body? Does he walk around topless at parties to show these off? Does he like to take his top off in public and make old ladies nervous? Has he got a lot of time on his hands to get this kind of stuff done? Does he think he’s a fan of the Joker from the Batman comics and wants to prove how much of a fan he is in order to appear ‘edgy’ in front of his mates, but actually he’s only read a couple of graphic novels and doesn’t really get the character? Has he such a lack of a personality that he needs to draw on common iconography found elsewhere and stamp it on himself to claim an ‘identity’? Did he lose a bet?

Does he want to fit in with the rest of the LA street gang he’s a member of and prove how much of a badass he is but everyone teases him because he’s such a try-hard and is that why he thinks he’s ‘damaged’? Does he shave his body hair? Why does he dye his hair bright green? Does he think it makes him look cool? What’s up with his eyes? Is that make-up? Does he know he looks a bit like Marilyn Manson? Is that intentional? Why does he look like he’s about to cry?

Why does he wear a big, ugly gold ring on his pinky finger? Was it a gift from his granny? Does it have sentimental value? Does he like bling? Did he steal it or did he buy it? Is that supposed to show off how rich he is? And why does he wear a single purple satin glove? Is he a Michael Jackson fan? Is something wrong with his hand? Was that the only glove he could find? Does he realise it looks a bit silly? And that it makes people think of Michael Jackson? Is that a comparison he is happy for people to make? Or did he not really think about it?

What happened to his teeth? Does he think that makes him look scary or did he spend all his money on gold rings and couldn’t afford proper dentures? Why do his top teeth look rotten? Does he not brush properly and is that why he has fake teeth? Were they knocked out? Was he bullied and is that why he feels ‘damaged’? Why did he choose that font to express how ‘damaged’ he is? Does he think it’s poetic or romantic? Is this guy a bit of a romantic? Does he write poetry in swirly handwriting? Does he have a Tumblr account? Did he get these tats to impress girls?

Why is the photo taken at a completely flat level against a plain background and why is he tilting a little? Why does it look like he’s going “woooooaaaahhhh”? Why does the style, tone and shadowing look like something from a glossy magazine shoot? Is that what it’s supposed to look like? Or is this supposed to be something like a mugshot taken by the police? Did the police ask him to take his clothes off, but told him to keep on the glove and the ring? Why would they do that? Or did they arrest him while he was walking around topless? Why does he walk around topless? Does he not wear clothes? If he usually wears clothes why have they released a photo of him not wearing clothes? Is it just so we can see his stupid tattoos?

Why is he holding his head like that? Does he have a headache? He looks like he’s freeeeeeeaking out. Did he ingest some bad ‘shrooms? Why is he like “nooooooooo what have I done!?”? Why does this look like a bad album cover?

Why is he not far enough away to look hauntingly remote and mysterious, yet not close enough to look intimidating and intense? Why is he perfectly positioned to look like a normal, average guy with stupid tattoos and make-up pulling a funny face? Is the point that he’s just a normal guy with stupid tattoos and make-up pulling a funny face? If that’s the point, are we supposed to get excited?

Why did they take a good actor, cover him in so much distracting shit that it completely buries any characterisation he might be trying to pull off, and then make him do a pose that looks like something out of a shitty music video?

Do they want us to think the movie is going to be shit?

Still believe Ukip isn’t racist? You’re wrong.

I do worry that members of my family will vote for the stridently anti-immigrant Ukip tomorrow, despite the fact that my girlfriend is an immigrant. Even if they did, I know this doesn’t mean they dislike like my girlfriend or want her to leave the country. I know they like her a lot, just as they like all the other immigrants they are friends with.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people I know, like many others across the country (such as Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, who loves his German wife despite claiming he feels “uncomfortable” in the presence of other foreign-speaking people), have blindly accepted this vague idea that there are ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants.

This sounds like “common sense”. But I’ve always found it strange that the good immigrants happen to be those we know in real life while the bad immigrants are those we don’t.

“90% of White and minority residents feel that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together” – Policy Exchange, A Portrait of Modern Britain

Ukip love sharing their fear of the bad immigrants – faceless, nameless foreign villains threatening our very lives. It sure is effective. It’s certainly got me worried as this is pretty much the textbook definition of racist propaganda.

And yet, there’s been a weird reluctance to call Ukip out for being racist.

Well, Farage’s supporters claim to like ‘plain-speaking’, so hopefully they’ll appreciate this:

Ukip is racist party. Its representatives are small-minded, mean-spirited bigots and Nigel Farage is the worst of them all as he puts the most effort into hiding his true colours – presumably because he’s well aware how repellant people will find his undisguised, racist self.

Are all Ukip voters racist? I have no doubt a great many are. But most, perhaps, are simply being manipulated by the same cynical tactics used throughout history by racists, nationalists and fascists the world over in pursuit of power.

When society is experiencing rapid change and times are hard, people worry about the future. They look to politicians for answers they can understand.

Respectable politicians respond to this by attempting to unify and motivate.

Racist politicians divide and scare.


Ukip’s answer to all our problems (real or imagined) is to blame the nasty immigrants. This is racial scapegoating. This is fostering fear and distrust of a group of people, claiming that some outside force threatens our way of life and that only by removing this threat will things get better.

This is nakedly, shamelessly racist.

And this is the only answer they give. Education, health, unemployment, housing. Everything’s the fault of the immigrants. Get rid of the immigrants, get rid of the problem.

What’s even more revealing is that this ‘answer’ has been proven completely wrong time and time again. But that’s not important to Ukip because they are racist. They invent or corrupt facts to fit their racist beliefs. That’s what racists do. It’s a pretty fucking massive clue that they are, indeed, racist.

But they are getting away with it, because Nigel Farage isn’t saying he wouldn’t want to live next door to a group of Irish, Jews, Jamaicans, or Pakistanis.

He’s saying Romanians and that is somehow more acceptable.

“The paradox of racism is that at any given moment, the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous.” – Andrew Gelman, Slate

I’m sure Ukip will get a lot of support in tomorrow’s elections. I’m less sure how many people voting for them are truly aware that they’re voting for a party of racists.


Bollocks: a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’

I started writing this review a couple of weeks ago, at which point I was roughly halfway through chapter one. I didn’t publish because I thought I was perhaps being a bit too harsh. After dipping back into Blink however, I and now am certain that this is one of the weakest, shallowest, unrelentingly stupid non-fiction books I’ve ever read. So please, read this review and (just to be sure you appreciate how vigorously I hate reading this) mentally upscale all negative comments by a factor of 100.

For Blink to make a convincing argument, Malcolm Gladwell requires of the reader two things: a) they don’t use their brain, and b) they accept that the point he’s making is wrong.

Shop fronts of Snappy Snaps and JessopsI’m not the first person to take a poke at Gladwell’s personal brand of pop psychological bullpap (Adam and Joe did a particularly entertaining bit about it on their radio show a few years ago), but Blink is the first of his books I’ve delved into. Equipped with a tiresome palette of loaded anecdotes and sciency-sounding studies, Gladwell attempts to paint a world in which instinct offers greater insight than contemplation. He calls this ‘thin-slicing’.

And by ‘thin-slicing,’ Gladwell contends, deploying trendy-sounding jargon to better qualify his point, we can quickly and effortlessly identify fraudulent pieces of art, doomed marriages and the best candidates for a job. The appeal to the ignorant is obvious: why strain yourself with deep thought when it’s easier to just run with whatever random crap is floating around your brain at the time? Under the slightest weight of scrutiny, however, the premise collapses quicker than the cheerleading team of the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Society forming a pyramid.

Early in the book, Gladwell presents a scenario. Imagine, he says, that you’re asked to judge a person’s suitability for a job based on your impression of their personality. To do this, you have two options. Option one, you meet with the candidate three times a week over the course of a year, eventually becoming their best friend. Option two, you spend fifteen minutes nosing around their bedroom. Which one offers a better judge of character?

For Gladwell to elicit the slightest flutter of interest from the reader, he relies on them assuming option one to be the better of the two. For Gladwell to get the kind of fuck-me-my-mind-is-blown reaction he seems to be aiming for, the reader needs to be so wedded to the idea that option one is the way to go, they need several patronising pages of poorly conceived psychological study to show them the light.

The study, unsurprisingly, purports to show that option two is the better choice: strangers who spend a short time poking around someone’s bedroom are a better judge of certain aspects of that person’s character than the subject’s closest friends. Gladwell makes it clear that we’re supposed to find this both unbelievable and face-palmingly obvious:

“If you are like most people, I imagine that you find [the study’s] conclusions quite incredible. But the truth is they shouldn’t be…”

But there’s simply nothing incredible going on here. As Gladwell’s own description of the study explains (between over-excited embellishments), the personality traits ‘thin-slicers’ judged more accurately than friends were centred around how organised, stable, and independently minded they were (or were not). Meanwhile, the friends were significantly more accurate at judging how extraverted and agreeable the person is (or isn’t). In other words, looking at a bedroom (one of the most personal, intimate areas of someone’s life) affords you exactly the kind of non-insightful insight you’d expect from such a perspective, while offering no clue whatsoever as to a person’s wider behaviour. Likewise, friends accurately know how a person acts in public, but not so much about what they keep out of sight. This says nothing about the strength of ‘spontaneous decisions’ and more about the benefit of perspective.

But there’s a deeper flaw here. Gladwell presents two options and says himself that most people, using their gut reaction, choose the first – i.e., the ‘wrong’ choice. To get to the ‘right’ choice requires a level of critical thinking and/or a fairly extensive psychological study – which is about as non-spontaneous as you can get. If my blink response can’t steer me in the right direction with such an inane (and supposedly unsurprising) example, what use is it on matters of real importance?

Even if we try to ignore the wider argument of the book and focus on the component psychological ‘revelations’, we end up frustrated. I’m convinced that Gladwell actively goes out of his way in his efforts to avoid saying anything of real insight. At the close of chapter one, he talks about how humans are natural thin-slicers and, illustrating this alongside some excruciatingly inane anecdotes, points to an example in which non-experts took part in a divorce prediction test (that he found, apparently, “overwhelming”) after being given a list of emotions to look for when watching videos of couples. The observers predicted which couples would divorce with “better than 80 percent accuracy”. To Gladwell, this was just another anecdote to throw in to show how effective the blink effect is, alongside a birdwatcher accurately (according to the birdwatcher) identifying a bird from a fleeting glance two-hundred feet away and a Hollywood producer telling the story about why he cast Tom Hanks in the movie Splash. But what’s interesting to me is how these people knew to look for the emotions in that list, or the distinguishing features of bird species, or the characteristics of a leading man that resonate with movie-goers. Of course, the ‘trick’ is knowing what to look for – crack that and we can streamline the old mental process, cutting out the crappy thought-streams and focus on what matters. Surely that’s what’s at the heart of this?

Apparently not. Gladwell dismisses this at the beginning of chapter two, further tailoring the bullshit for the gleefully clueless by arguing that even if you can’t explain why you feel something, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong or full of shit. This is just how thin-slicing works! We shouldn’t even try to understand what’s jerking that knee.

“If we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments.”

Appropriately, Gladwell rejects an in-depth analysis and instead prefers to recall the most whimsical, least helpful personal account of anything I’ve ever read: “[when attempting to determine whether a piece of art was a fraud or not, the fakebuster said it was as if] his eyes and senses were a flock of hummingbirds popping in and out of dozens of way stations.” What the fuck am I supposed to do with that information?

Depressingly, I’m only about a fifth of the way through the book (I thought I’d get into the swing of things by making a snap judgment). There’s a chance it’ll all begin to make sense, or maybe Gladwell will qualify his central point into extinction (“It only works with certain aspects of some topics on which you’ve already acquired extensive knowledge and experience”). He may even be saving his best material for later, biding his time before dropping some ‘facts’ that will truly rock my world (if it does get better, leave a comment letting me know – I’m as yet undecided whether or not to finish it).

I just can’t see that happening, however. It’s not premise that is infuriatingly shallow. Gladwell explores his subject with the subtlety and authority of that twatty kid from primary school who totally is an expert in some cool martial art – “did you know I could kill a man with one finger? Like this… well, yeah, but if I used my full strength your head would explode.”

Gladwell paints another scenario: he’s a professor; you walk down a long corridor to his office, sit down on a table and proceed to do a simple word test (helpfully included in the book). Once you’ve completed the test, he writes:

“That seemed straightforward, right? Actually it wasn’t. After you finished that test – believe it or not – you would have walked out of my office and back down the hall more slowly than you walked in.”

Maybe I’m missing a ‘wonderment gland’ or something, because I am not amazed at the idea of how Gladwell asserts I would’ve behaved had I really completed that test in his office.

The study referenced is quite interesting by itself – the word test was littered with terms that subconsciously trigger feelings of old age in your mind; if you’re a bit of a Derren Brown fan (as I am), you’d be familiar with the idea. But Gladwell ‘reveals’ the finding in such a breathlessly childish way, I found myself immediately sceptical, wondering whether the corridor had a slight-but-significant gradient leading away from the office. I know books like this are supposed to challenge one’s lazily-accepted beliefs, but this is surely the opposite effect to what was intended. He’s got me doubting things I had hitherto accepted!

This perfectly sums up how utterly worthless the book is: I was a believer in Blink before I started reading it.

Pixelmator takes one step even further in the right direction

Doesn’t it seem like only Sunday I was moaning about how much I wished Pixelmator to be the rich-featured, reliable image editor I dream it could be, only to be let down by some buggy and odd behaviour? Well, it seems as though I wasn’t the only one wishing as Pixelmator have announced a whole bunch of improvements:

  • For starters, with Pixelmator 2.0.3, most users will see their memory footprint cut in half. That should sweeten performance noticeably and make using Pixelmator an even faster and smoother experience.
  • The Export for Web feature is vastly improved, with fixes for both stability and compatibility issues.
  • We also fixed a few nasty crashes, worked some magic in cases where PXM files were going corrupt, and topped off the update with dozens more enhancements.
  • And, if you’ve wished for a return to the old Deselect shortcut—well, we listened. From now on, Command-D is for Deselect.

While many of these fixes/tweaks are pretty minor, it boosts my confidence that Pixelmator will one day develop into something more than worthy of the heartiest of hearty recommendations – without caveats.


Appgasm! My Big Happy List of Not Crappy Apps

All revved up for yet another scathingly bitter blog post, I realised I’m so bloody negative. I figured maybe that’s why commenters have called me a “cunt”, or criticised my “knowing superiority” saying “no-one is interested in my pile of shite” (it’s of course entirely possible that they say those things because they’re true)*.

With this in mind, I thought I’d mix it up a bit, drop the grump and share some of the things I encounter daily that aren’t shit (nor NSFW). So here, gorgeous reader, is my entirely affirmative inventory of incredible apps.

Awesomely ace apps

Scrivener (Mac)

With Scrivener, it’s less a question of ‘where have you been all my life?’, and more ‘how did I ever live without you?’ Working on a novel (what twat isn’t?), I was used to fussing over several docs, notebooks, bookmarks and scanned scribblings to keep my thoughts in order. This mess is alleviated by Scrivener’s most obvious feature: the ability to ‘project manage’ your writing via integrated notes, images and character and setting cards. The most useful feature for me, however, has been the ability to structure chapters and sections with synopses, allowing me to delineate my progress (which may not be the most productive approach, but certainly suits my style) without losing track. There are tonnes more professional-level functions I haven’t needed to use, but even at its most basic Scrivener has made the daunting task of producing a novel far less of a ball-ache.

Website | Mac App Store

Coda (Mac)

I’ve been through a few code editors over the years and few have struck the balance between lightness and functionality that has made Coda my current fave. There are few stand-out features, only a simplicity and slickness that makes writing HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP , etc. and editing FTP content pretty effortless. Saying that, I don’t think I’d be able to live without Clips: saved lines of code that can be quickly added to your files using shortcut terms. I do find myself wishing for code clean-up and a way to quickly select between tags, but the latter, at least, can added through the TEA for Coda plugin.

Website | Mac App Store

Google Chrome (Mac)

A similar story to Coda, there is little Chrome offers that other web browsers don’t – even the mighty omnibar (making the search and address bar one) is no longer unique. In fact, Chrome’s bookmarks sync doesn’t seem to work properly between my work Mac and home Macbook and there are still some add-ons that I have to turn to Firefox for. Despite all this, Chrome is still my first choice in browsers because it provides a streamlined, minimalised web experience.


Handbrake (Mac)

The free Handbrake has been my go-to video converter for yeeeeears. And I haven’t found anything that offers more without becoming needlessly complex. It’s perfect for ripping DVDs or converting videos into iTunes- and HTML5-friendly formats (note: it doesn’t do OGG) in the minimum amount of clicks.

Remember: pirating movies is wrong and evil!


ColorSchemer Studio (Mac)

I downloaded ColorSchemer Studio from the Mac App Store on a whim but now use it almost daily. If you want an instant, cohesive colour scheme for your design, ColorSchemer Studio makes it ridiculously easy. Less time fussing about colours means more time to experiment with other aspects of the design. Besides, it’s great simply having an app that saves the colour schemes of my designs for quick reference later.

Website | Mac App Store

Xcode (Mac)

There’s just no better way to create iOS applications. In fact, there’s no other way at all! Ok, so there’s no choice if you want to create apps for Apple devices, but I still find Xcode massively more intutitive, helpful and pleasant than any other IDE I’ve used.

Website | Mac App Store

Flipboard (iPad)

It’s inconceivable to me that any iPad owner would not already have Flipboard, which is, until the day they’re projected onto Kate Beckinsale’s butt, the sexiest way to browse RSS feeds. Flipboard comes preloaded with a selection of sources to browse and the ability to pull in from (and push out to) your Facebook and Twitter feeds, but I barely use these features. I prefer instead to sync it with my Google Reader account and find flicking through Flipboard’s gorgeously simple interface just a pleasant, seamless experience.

Website | App Store

Paper by FiftyThree (iPad)

‘Fucking awesome’, I think is the best way to describe Paper by FiftyThree. Coupled with a capacitive stylus, it’s an incredibly intuitive and addictive way to sketch and (to a lesser extent) take notes. While nowhere near as feature-rich as many of the (also great) drawing apps available for the iPad, its stripped-down nature and tailored palette makes it far more inviting to pick up and create. You’ll want this.

Website | App Store

Instapaper/Pocket (Web, iPad, iPhone, Mac)

There’s a certain amount of sentimental guilt attached to this one. Both Instapaper and Pocket (formerly Read it Later) allow you to save web content for offline reading. In fact, for my uses, there’s very little difference between them. I’ve long been attached to Instapaper, largely due to its gorgeous design. But then, Read it Later reinvented itself to become Pocket and release an equally gorgeous set of apps. Like a shameless hussy, I dumped Instapaper and jumped into bed with Pocket. Out of residual loyalty, I recommend both…

Instapaper: Website | App Store

Pocket: Website | App Store

Tube Deluxe & UK Train Times (iPhone)

I find this killer combo of apps essential. In one click, Tube Deluxe lets me know the status of all London underground tub lines, while my favourite feature for UK Train Times shows me the ‘next train home’ wherever I am. Brill.

Tube Deluxe App Store

UK Train Times App Store

Honourable mentions

iA Writer / Byword (Mac, iPad, iPhone)

I’ve only just started using the Markdown text-to-html conversion, but already I love it. If you blog using tags (H1, LI, EM and so on) I seriously recommend it. There are a fair few Markdown text editors to choose from; I’ve very briefly tried iA Writer and Byword (I’m writing this in Byword on the Mac, my post from earlier was started in iA Writer for Mac and finished in Byword for iPad), and early impressions are mixed. iA Writer for Mac looks incredible and functions brilliantly, but I found the iPad version to be limited. Byword for iPad, on the other hand, is fantastic (with some clever and useful keyboard additions), but I found the Mac version not as good as iA Writer. Unfortunately, with both offering their own kind of iCloud integration, you kind of have to stick to one (note: Byword also syncs with Dropbox).

At the moment, I’m tending towards Byword for its cool ‘copy as HTML’ feature, making blogging a snap.

iA Writer: Website | Mac App Store | App Store

Byword Website | Mac App Store | App Store

Pixelmator 2 (Mac)

I really want to love Pixelmator, and for basic image-editing (like wanky blog pics) it does the job. It’s got a great UI and feels light without lacking too much in features. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced too many crashes when working with PSDs (which the creators claim it’s able to handle), resizing layers takes ages, and I haven’t really pushed its potential in terms of web design, so I can’t really recommend it yet as I’m not sure if it suits my needs. I mention it because it may suit yours…

Website | Mac App Store

That’s it for now. There may be more to add in the future (I’ve just downloaded Photoshop Touch for iPad – I like it!). Until then, I’ll probably be back to my normal miserable self soon. Yay!

*For the record, most of the comments I’ve received have been extraordinarily kind.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the idea of a 7-inch iOS device…


This article was originally intended as a frothful rant aimed at Macworld UK’s Ben Camm-Jones, who opines that Apple should launch a 7-inch iPad. ”Absurd!” I was to proclaim, and ”pointless!” I planned to spout. It was going to be a classic example of the type of rambling sub-analytical blog-turd that has led this humble writer to be hailed by ‘critics’ worldwide as “an arrogant piece of shit.”

But then something funny happened. The more I thought about a 7-inch iOS device, the more I found myself thinking, hmmm… this might just work.

That doesn’t mean the iPad Mini hype-mongers are right. I maintain that a budget, low-spec, small screen iPad makes no sense for consumers or Apple. However, I’ve grown exponentially infatuated with the idea of a big iPod Touch. I don’t know whether this interest is due to a previously undiscovered void in my digital lifestyle (that has to be one of the more pretentious sentences I’ve written), or whether it’s just your basic Kindle envy (on my daily commute, I now see more people reading Kindles than paperbacks). All I know is Apple should definitely launch a big-ass, 7-inch iPod Touch.

I think this makes infinitely more sense than an iPad Mini. For although the iPad is routinely dismissed as a mere consumption device, its lasting appeal is that it can accomplish a huge range of tasks through a massive choice of apps using creative new modes of interaction. The future of the iPad will only see more advanced apps allowing users to accomplish even more complex tasks. This requires more power to be crammed inside the iPad’s dinky frame. So even if the iPad never truly replaces desktops or laptops (as I doubt it will), it will still need to develop in capability relative to these. A second tier pad with minaturised screen will only hinder the evolution of the platform. It would be a downgrade creating two ‘speeds’ of development.


On the other hand, a larger screen iPod Touch will only enhance the user experience in all the ways the device is intended: watching video, playing games, and browsing the web. I don’t imagine many people are currently using the Touch for reading books, but they could if it had a larger screen. There will be no step backwards in terms of technology, rather the opportunity for greater battery life and, of course, the bigger screen, which, with retina-level apps, needn’t compromise on the Touch’s current display quality. Why would Apple make an inferior iPad when they could make a superior iPod Touch?


In fact, there are several advantages to using the iPod Touch as a basis for the 7-incher over the iPad:

  • Upscaled iPhone apps would look way better than shrunken iPad apps. All iPhone apps would work on a larger screen, while many iPad apps would be practically unusable squished onto a smaller screen.
  • Less developer work. Major changes to the iPhone or iPad line-up would mean devs will be compelled to take these variations into account. The need to tailor your app for the Touch audience is not as vital. I don’t think many devs are building apps with the Touch in mind. If that status quo remains, so be it. If devs actually want to optimise for the Touch because they find it’s worth the effort, that’s their choice.
  • It won’t hurt sales… probably. A 7-inch iPod Touch would be entirely different to the iPhone and iPad, meaning minimal cannibalisation of sales. I believe a smaller, cheaper iPad would detract from regular iPad sales as some people will always choose the cheapest option. Yes, it could also massively increase iPad sales, but if the user experience of the Mini is just as good as the Regular, there’s no incentive to buy the more expensive option. If it’s not, what’s the point?
  • No need to awkwardly split the product portfolio. The iPod Touch is pretty popular, but I reckon Apple could safely replace the current model with a 7-incher without negative repercussions. What the Touch would lose in pocketability (i.e. as a music player), it would more than make up for in terms of video, gaming and reading experience. It may even be a big benefit for the Touch to no longer be defined as a cheapo iPhone sans phone. Consider, alternatively, two different types of iPad, each offering a completely different experience and benefiting two completely different users. Why muddy the waters unnecessarily?
  • It’ll sell to current owners of iDevices. I can’t imagine most iPhone and iPad owners rushing out to buy the same devices with a different screen size. Likewise, there’s currently no real reason why these people would buy a contemporary-gen iPod Touch. The ‘Touch 7’ is different enough to be a justifiable purchase (arguably).
  • A bigger Touch will be cheaper than a smaller iPad (I’m guessing…). I don’t know for sure, but surely the tech required to power a 7-inch Touch will be less than that needed to power an IPad? Of course, even if the production costs were the same for both, the retail price for an iPad Mini would have to be somewhere below the iPad 2 and above the 4th gen iPod Touch (probably nearer to the former). In my hypothetical fantasy world, Apple could/should sell the Touch 7 for the same price as the present day Touch. This puts it in the same region price-wise as the Kindle Fire.

I think you’ll agree that those are six pretty awesome reasons for the Touch 7. But if you’re still wedded to the idea of a bigger iPhone or smaller iPad, allow me to summarise:

  • Big iPhone: reduced display quality, two-tier development on flagship device, won’t fit in pocket.
  • Small iPad: less powerful, inferior experience for creative tasks, too expensive.
  • iPod Touch 7: an upgrade that redefines the device, the cheapest option, no extra work for app developers required, 7-inch usage suits the brand.

It just makes sense.

Is there really nothing more to Nokia’s Lumia 900 than Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt?

I guess Nokia got even more than it could’ve hoped for after making its $1bn deal with Microsoft last year. On top of an epic decline in smartphone market share, and an even epic-er implosion of its share value, Nokia looks to have gained some awesome viral marketing tips from its Microsoft buddies (who could forget this campaign?).

In a particularly bold ignorant and aggressive misguided series of YouTube videos, Nokia takes the fight to smartphone rivals, labelling the competition as “borderline defective, glorified prototype[s]” (though, judging by the videos, they’re mainly criticising handsets built circa 2007 & 2010 – yes, that’s Nokia squaring their flagship saviour-of-a-mobile against 2/5 year old handset-shaped strawmen).

It’s all very odd. The three videos, the first shot in a massively expensive marketing drive to push the Nokia Lumia 900, are titled ‘death grip’, ‘outside’ and ‘fragile’. The ‘Beta Phone’ flaws they’re mocking are, respectively, dropped signal when the phone is held a certain way (i.e. anntenagate), low-quality screens that make viewing in direct sunlight difficult, and glass screens that break when dropped.

If you haven’t seen the videos yet, here’s a taste (keep a bottle of mouthwash handy):

The whole concept is absurd. For one thing, consumers aren’t really faced with a choice between a Lumia 900 and hypothetical phones with dull screens, dodgy antennas and cases made of snowflakes, launched back when Charlie Sheen still retained a slither of dignity. I’m sure there are some clumsy, gorilla-handed, half-blind wannabe-smartphone owners out there whose sausage-sized fingers are positively twitching from Nokia’s promise of an unbreakable, interference-free phone with a screen that throbs with the power of ten suns, but there’s got to be more to the 900 than FUD. Right?

These videos are awful. How cheap do you have to go to find a smartphone with a display that can’t be viewed on a sunny day? Is that what Nokia is pitching itself against? And is the ‘death grip’ something that only affects iPhones?

Actually, that last question isn’t even rhetorical. I checked the online user guides for Lumias 710 and 800:

You’re holding it wrong!

I guess these smartphones were prototypes too.

To be fair, maybe the iPhone 4’s antenna problems were so much worse than any other handsets – but considering it had a return rate of only 1.7% it couldn’t have been that bad (in comparison, Nokia’s N97 Mini was reported to have a return rate of 20%).

And what makes the Lumia 900 so much less breakable than the villainous, inferior ‘prototypes’ that came before it? It’s all to do with something called Gorilla Glass. You may have heard of it; as this article from PC World says:

Five years ago, the Apple iPhone launched the Gorilla Glass renaissance. There is some debate as to whether or not current iPhone models still use it or not. The Corning site lists devices that use Gorilla Glass, but states up front that there are non-disclosure agreements in place with some vendors that prohibit it from naming them. That sounds like something Apple would do. All I know is that I’ve dropped my iPhone 4S four times in the past week, and it doesn’t have a scratch.

Corning claims the super-strong glass is used in nearly 600 different products, and it expects 2011 revenue from Gorilla Glass to top $700 million.

Corning (the creators of Gorilla Glass) list 12 smartphone manufacturers as users of their product. What was Nokia’s point again?

But the thrust of these videos isn’t to highlight the 900’s superiority in terms of these aspects (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them ‘features’). The impression viewers are supposed to get when viewing these videos is that all the other smartphone manufacturers are out to dick over their customers in silly, petty ways. Now, I don’t think that Nokia’s ever been a nasty company; they used to have something of a reputation for quality. But they’re now partners with Microsoft: a company whose entire business strategy is based around fucking over their customers. Spare a thought for the poor souls who found themselves stricken, abandoned after buying into one of their many feeble attempts to penetrate the consumer market (e.g. Zune and all previous iterations of Windows mobile), or those who bought a barely operational Vista PC before quickly having to invest in another upgrade just to make it work.

The version of Windows 7 pre-installed on my parent’s laptop doesn’t even allow you to change the desktop background unless you pay for a £70 upgrade!

I expect that from Microsoft, but I’m disappointed in Nokia. However, having thought about it and with Redmond alumni Stephen Elop steering the Finnish company, I can see why they went for this type of negative campaign. The 900’s a huge deal for both Nokia and Microsoft – make or break, possibly. When needing to resuscitate Nokia’s smartphone sales and rescue Microsoft’s mobile OS from obscurity, they only had two options. One, they could genuinely produce a game-changing device with a user experience that makes other smartphones look dumb in comparison. Or two, they could spend a lot of money trying to convince people they’re doing option one. Which did they choose..? (Hint: Microsoft has no idea how to do option one).

In terms of specs, in direct comparison with the iPhone 4S, the Lumia 900 unambiguously arrives at a fairly decent second place (it may be out-muscled into third or fourth if some available Android handsets were thrown into the comparison). And in terms of user experience, the Windows Phone 7 operating system is nothing new. It was launched over a year ago and hardly anybody gives a shit.

This isn’t some revolutionary new device that is going to change the smartphone industry as we know it. This is a slightly improved version of the already available Lumia 800 running the same version of an operating system that very few people seem to want.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s a bad phone. For the price they’re flogging it, it’s probably a good bargain and, who knows, it may be entirely perfect for you in every conceivable way. I’m just saying it’s not objectively better than all other available smartphones and it is objectively inferior to the leading smartphones in several key ways. The Nokia campaign is predicated on the entirely false notion that the best-selling (and best-loved) smartphones of the past five years are (this quote again) “borderline defective, glorified prototype[s]”. Insanity.

More importantly, we don’t know if other smartphone manufacturers have been sitting in meetings, making bad decisions to wilfully and enthusiastically screw their customers. But we do know that some agency got the green light from Nokia (and possibly Microsoft) to make a series of videos that aim to deceive, frighten and confuse consumers into buying a product that can not live up to the hype.

Prometheus trailer: chest-burstingly awesome

It’d be totally wrong of me to blog pictures of the girl from The Hunger Games looking booby without paying any attention to what is by far one of the most exciting films of recent years: Prometheus.

Since 1986, the rule has been that if someone says a sentence containing the words/syllables ‘new’, ‘alien’ and ‘-quel’, the next few words to come next are almost guaranteed to be ‘probably’, ‘be’ and ‘shit’. If Ridley Scott pulls this off, it’s a huge bloody deal.

Watch new Prometheus trailer and viral video online now | TotalFilm.com.

How one man fed the world his rotten Apple

I’ve been reading a fair bit about the latest twist in this Apple / Foxconn controversy, but this account of how an unrepentant Mike Daisey duped everyone into believing his fabrications is by far the most insightful:

“This is how Daisey perpetrated his con since “The Agony and the Ecstasy” premiered in early 2011: He took a vacation to China, hacked together a story out of some sensational lies then paraded them around like the world owed him a favor. While we were too busy wallowing in self-recrimination to check if what he said was true, he used his fake facts to leverage himself into the position of the world’s most prominent Apple critic, appearing on MSNBC and “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and writing an op-ed in the New York Times. In the process he debased anyone who actually cared about the true injustice of Apple’s manufacturing process. Daisey’s lies hurt labor organizations like SACOM by giving their critics ammunition to ignore their real complaints. He cynically warped the stories of Chinese workers to promote his campaign, and trivialized the work of journalists who actually do real reporting on the issue.”

via How I Was Duped By Mike Daisey’s Lies.