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Different conversations

In the second issue of Tom Rowley’s Backstory magazine, he features an article by one of the booksellers in his shop, Amy Strong. Strong interview Isabel Wall, the editor who has worked on some of my favourite books by Alice Winn, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Elif Shafak and many others.

I was fascinated to learn more about the role of a novel’s editor. The paragraph that stuck in my mind was this:

Wall tries to go to her authors’ events as often as possible. ‘It is really interesting how you can go to events with the same author, but depending on who’s interviewing them… that generates such different conversations and makes me think about their work in different ways.’

This made me reflect on how observing friends and colleagues in different social situations shapes our perception of them. Last week, a colleague and I were pondering whether promotions change people or whether it’s just our perceptions that change: it’s much the same question.

Wall’s observation also felt appropriately literary: after all, we come to understand characters in novels by watching their actions and conversations in different circumstances.

This post was filed under: Notes, , , , , .

Miniature bonsai

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the time Wendy and I visited the spectacular Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, which—among many other attributes—boasted an incredible collection of bonsai trees.

By sheer coincidence, as I tidied a wardrobe yesterday, this 10cm miniature plastic bonsai from IKEA fell out and hit my head. It’s not quite the same, is it?

This post was filed under: Travel, , .

Do it like this

I’m currently reading Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies. More on that when I’ve finished it—but these facing pages summed up so much that I couldn’t help but share them early:

This post was filed under: Notes, .

You put your whole self in, your whole self out

Last year, I reflected a little on Civil Servants being encouraged to bring their ‘whole self’ to work. I wouldn’t have guessed that the very next year, under the same political leadership, the same workforce would be told to ensure that ‘your beliefs remain at the front door’ (because heaven forfend that someone should wear a non-standard lanyard).

Yesterday, I was interested to read Zoë Schiffer’s piece on Platformer about a similar—but altogether more thoughtful—change in the culture of technology firms.

It’s intriguing to watch the pendulum swing.

This post was filed under: Politics, Technology.


This post was filed under: Travel, .


This post was filed under: Photos, Travel.

‘Racing Ahead’

When I lived in Stockton, this life-sized sculpture by Irene Brown stood outside M&S. The sculpture was removed in 2013, when the High Street was being spruced up. M&S closed in 2018.

The sculpture isn’t really my sort of thing, but it is enormously popular with Stocktonites. There was great fanfare when the refurbished sculpture was repositioned outside the library in 2016, and where I took this photo yesterday.

This post was filed under: Art, Photos, , .

‘User-friendly front door’

I recently read a corporate document that promised the creation of ‘a user-friendly front door.’

I’m part of the intended audience, but I can’t explain what the sentence was trying to communicate. I don’t know whether the ‘front door’ is a website, a phone line, a physical location, a team of people, some combination of the above, or something different altogether. It is, apparently, to be an automatic door: it will be ‘using automation to make processes more efficient’.

I enjoyed the delicious irony of the authors failing to communicate while, at the same time, promising to be ‘user-friendly.’ I enjoyed the mixed metaphor of ‘automation’ making ‘a door’ ‘more efficient’. And, most of all, I enjoyed the fundamental absurdity of a ‘user-friendly’ ‘door’.

I was reminded—as I often am—of this from Jeanette Winterson’s 12 Bytes:

When institutional content tries to be more user-friendly, we get marketing-speak clichés like: stakeholders, bad actors, road maps, blue-sky thinking, low-hanging fruit, facilitators, roll-out … Conferences are the worst. I have been to some of them. By the afternoon I am sweating under the mental pressure of translating non-language. We need writers involved – and we need language that speaks to people. This isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about doing what writers do well – finding a clear, precise, everyday language that goes beyond utility, without jargon, with beauty.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3. I note with wry amusement that the AI conception of a ‘user-friendly front door’ has a knob on the left and a handle on the right, making it entirely unclear as to which way the door opens.

This post was filed under: Technology, .

Which plan? What’s working?

In The Times last week, Matt Chorley wrote about a focus group’s reaction to the Government’s oft-repeated plea:

In the meantime, Sunak presses on, vowing to listen to voters while refusing to change. “Stick with the plan that’s working.” On our most recent Times Radio focus group of swing voters, we asked about that slogan. “Which plan’s that?” scoffed one. “And what’s working?” said another, before they all descended into guffaws.

This was still ratting around my mind when I saw this laminated sign above a hospital bed—not in deepest mid-winter, but on a glorious spring afternoon:

This isn’t a one-off: it has become the norm in many NHS hospitals these days. It’s this graph of the relative collapse capital spending in the NHS made photographic:

‘Which plan? What’s working?’ might be the most apposite piece of political commentary in years.

This post was filed under: Health, Politics, , .

A crushing realisation

Apple recently released an advert for a new iPad, and it seems it’s like a Rorschach test for our times.

The first I heard of this advert was when I saw this article in the FT, reporting that Apple had apologised for it. And so I sought out the advert. The message I got from it? Apple has managed to fit a load of different tools and functions into an extremely thin device. I wasn’t offended by it, but thought I could see why others would be: wanton destruction of perfectly good instruments, tools etc. In a world of limited resources, and from a company that preaches about sustainability, it’s not a good look, even if it’s all just visual effects.

But it turns out that I was wrong. The controversy was related to a different metaphorical interpretation of the advert. As Tedium explained:

Apple’s infamous “Crush” ad deeply misunderstands the role of the hydraulic press in meme culture.

I’m completely ignorant of the role of hydraulic press in meme culture. It turns out that there’s a whole industry around videos showing hydraulic presses crushing things. I did not know this existed. I’ve heard of Will It Blend—but I’m clearly behind the times when it comes to online video culture.

The ad doesn’t connect because the message it’s trying to promote is essentially completely at odds with our understanding of the hydraulic press, which we only understand as a device that breaks things in the most brutal way possible. There’s no intelligence at all, artficial or otherwise. It just crushes things.

Clearly, many people had viscerally negative reactions. TechCrunch called the advert ‘disgusting’. Where I saw a neat metaphor for packing functions into a device, others saw an enforced digital transformation:

Does your child like music? They don’t need a harp; throw it in the dump. An iPad is good enough. Do they like to paint? Here, Apple Pencil, just as good as pens, watercolors, oils! Books? Don’t make us laugh! Destroy them. Paper is worthless. Use another screen. In fact, why not read in Apple Vision Pro, with even faker paper?

Our social context can completely change the way we interpret the same piece of footage… and perhaps I’m getting old.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Technology, , , , .

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