One day my manager showed me a horrible graph. It was pretty simple: the graph was steady, then it dropped straight down, then after a short period, the line shot straight back up and stayed level again:
“That’s what happens when we do the right thing”, he said while pointing at the drop, “and that’s how much money we lose. We tried it just to see how bad it was for our bottom line. And this is what the data tells us.”
“Wow,” I said, taken aback. My employer clearly had two options: “do the right thing” or “be profitable”. That was the position they had manuevred themselves into through a series of bad management decisions.
My manager then said, “More than half the company would have to lose their job in order for us to stop these tactics … so are you volunteering to be one of them?”
That was the day I learned I’d rather lose respectfully than win without honor. Once people become wary of your products or your business ethics, it’s game over. You can’t sustain for long, because you won’t keep your customers much longer.
In the early 90s a young British computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee had been tasked by CERN (Centre Européeen pour la Recherche Nucléaire the now famous large hardon collider that found the Higgs Boson or a tiny thing pretending to be it) to go in and see if he could find a way of getting the Tower of Babel of different computing platforms used by the hundreds of physicists at the plant to talk to each other. He came up with something that made use of metatextual techniques that he called The Information Mine. Being a very very modest man he realised that those initials spelled out his name, TIM, so he changed it at the last minute to the World Wide Web. He wrote a language HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), a set of communication protocols (chiefly htttp — the hypertext transfer protocol) and an application, as we would now say, on which all these could run, which he called a browser.
He planned, devised, programmed and completed this most revolutionary code in Geneva on one of Steve Jobs’s black cube NeXT computers. Hugging his close to him he took the train to Paris where Jobs was going to be present at a NeXT developers’ conference. Clutching the optical disc that contained the most important computer code in history he sat at a desk while Steve marched up and down looking at hopeful programs and applications. As in all of Steve’s judgments they either sucked or were insanely great. Like a Duchess inspecting a flower show he continued along the rows sniffing and frowning until he got two away from the man who had created the code which would change everything, everything in our world. “Sorry Steve, we need to be out of here if we’re going to catch that plane,” whispered an aide into Jobs’s ear. So, with an an encouraging wave Steve left, two footsteps away from being the first man outside CERN to see the World Wide Web.
And yet, I cannot get over what seems to me a tone-deaf approach by Google’s scientists. It also highlights Google’s fundamental challenge: it fails to think about people as people, instead it treats them as an academic or an engineering problem. Instead of trying to understand the needs of actual people, they emerge with an elegant technological solution.
It is not just this one time. Google+, their social network, is a fail because it fundamentally isn’t social or about people — it is an effort to solve Google’s need for social data for better advertising using machines. Similarly, Google Glasses are a cringe-worthy assault to the social interactions of normals, but because a certain subset of Googlers — including co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page — have a cyborg fetish, it is okay to make that design. It is frustrating for me to keep repeating this, because Google is a company with huge resources and those resources could be deployed more effectively and have a much more positive impact, more quickly. And to do that, the company needs to learn to be human and develop compassion for human condition.
“Smarm, on the other hand, is never a force for good. A civilization that speaks in smarm is a civilization that has lost its ability to talk about purposes at all. It is a civilization that says “Don’t Be Evil,” rather than making sure it does not do evil.”—On Smarm
“An extraordinary atmosphere of sullen, baffled evil, as the year
opens. I don’t know what to compare 2014 to — except for many other
glum post-revolutionary situations, when the zealots succeeded in
toppling the status quo, then failed to install a just and decent form
of civil order. The world in 2014 is like a globalized Twitter Egypt.”—The WELL: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2014
“People in Western society are generally uncomfortable admitting that who they are might be partly, or perhaps deeply, structured and performed. To be a “poser” is an insult; instead common wisdom is “be true to yourself,” which assumes there is a truth of your self. Digital-austerity discourse has tapped into this deep, subconscious modern tension, and brings to it the false hope that unplugging can bring catharsis.”—The Disconnectionists – The New Inquiry
“This year, the Mail reported that disabled people are exempt from the bedroom tax; that asylum-seekers had “targeted” Scotland; that disabled babies were being euthanised under the Liverpool Care Pathway; that a Kenyan asylum-seeker had committed murders in his home country; that 878,000 recipients of Employment Support Allowance had stopped claiming “rather than face a fresh medical”; that a Portsmouth primary school had denied pupils water on the hottest day of the year because it was Ramadan; that wolves would soon return to Britain; that nearly half the electricity produced by windfarms was discarded. All these reports were false.”—Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail: The man who hates liberal Britain
Throughout all of Japan, folks can be seen queuing up outside KFC for some chicken. But why not the traditional Turkey and why KFC?
The Turkey does not breed naturally in Japan and is rarely cultivated. Apparently the taste is not of such a popularity to warrant large amounts of it to be imported into Japan either. Thus, many Japanese have not tried turkey.
Another reason why turkey didn’t catch on as a popular dish during Christmas is the fact that most Japanese folks don’t have ovens - or an oven big enough to roast an entire turkey.
One day at KFC’s Aoyama branch, a foreigner went to buy some chicken at KFC and said “I’m having a party but because there is no turkey, I’ve come to get some fried chicken instead.”
in 1974, KFC then started promoting the catchphrase “Christmas = Kentucky” and poured a load of yen into the marketing effort. The catchphrase soon caught on and together with the commercials on TV, the Japanese then started to consume a load of Chicken during the festive season.
I think the death of the album has been greatly exaggerated - this year as always has had a lot of great ones - and I don’t think the rise of playlists has to result in an either/or situation. Given the rewards are lower these days I think careers are shorter but as a punter, if I’m honest I think artists try harder now and the number of greater, filler free works has risen in recent years. Here are ten of the forty or so I’ve particularly enjoyed this year….
One of those quiet little albums that slipped out at the start of the year - apparently only 100 copies were issued on tape by cult LA label, Not Not Fun. Luckily it’s also in Spotify and its lo-fi desert music, nominally motorcycle themed is a perfect psychedelic spacey soundtrack. Watch The Bear, in particular is a downbeat highlight.
Any year with a Liz Harris release is a good year - for the record, I also enjoyed Raum and the finally re-released Slow Walkers collaborations. Another collection of spooky folk drones, this time a little more personal and emotional compared with double set AIA's supernatural overtones. Like a few of these choices, it's music to get lost in - perhaps best suited to a chilly 4pm winter sunset.
Torch songs and show tunes re-imagined for the 21st century. One of those albums where familiar elements are presented in a new context and unfamiliar patterns. Divided a lot of people - if you don’t like the first five seconds, the rest will be lost on you but a fantastic, addictive collection of world weary nocturnal city songs for the rest of us.
In a parallel world they’re winning X-Factor. I defy anyone not to listen to them and not feel better. Bright, sunny, ‘big’ music that aims for the emotional jugular every time. What is particularly impressive is how they managed to maintain this intensity over a whole album. A new talent has emerged.
An impressive, well managed return whose reception showed how much they’d been missed and their best album since Geogaddi. Approaching middle age this was definitely their grumpy album, dealing with ecological collapse and decline. Very much influenced by the recent wave of new agey synth people - Oneohtrix, Emeralds etc, this was one bleak but wonderful soundtrack. I hope it won’t be another five years before we hear from them again.
Confessional singer songwriting but without the cliched guitar. There’s been a wave of performers (such as Julia Holter) who’ve used laptops instead to sit behind their voice and Majical Cloudz stark if gentle drony backgrounds make such a compliment to the confessional downbeat lyrics detailing a variety of raw subjects - including the singer’s father’s death. This second album felt like an act finding their voice and again, I can’t wait to see what they do next.
This year’s moody statement of intent from Sandwell and friends. Following on from recent year’s Perc and Silent Servant albums this was a minimal, perfectly balanced collection on monochrome percussion and eerie drones. The album I listened to travelling (particularly on trains) more than anything else this year.
Not officially an album. But it should’ve been. Jai Paul has a funny relationship with the record industry. This ‘leak’ was a glorious sprawling mess showing that there was a lot more from where Jasmine came from. It was striking as well how UK this felt - you could hear what he’d grown up with and where often ‘British’ is an excuse for moribund nostalgia, he combines his influences in fresh, striking and original ways.
The evolution of These New Puritans from scrappy post-punk fodder to percussive, Benjamin Britten-repping one of a kind English Eccentrics has been fascinating to watch and the latest continued this evolution. Gentler than Hidden, it also felt more routed in the estuary marshes that they (and I) grew up in. Organ Eternal as well is possibly their finest moment and according to Last.fm, the track I’ve listened to the most this year.
Perhaps the first musician I’ve heard influenced by These New Puritans and interestingly enough from the Wirral - an area geographically similar to the Thames estuary. This is spaghetti western soundtracks tailored instead for the marshland and fog. One of those artists with a unique sound palette - and with the above act, a feeling that there’s a larger undiscovered territory musically still to be mapped.
So thanks for reading. For getting this far, there’s a little present - some of my favourite tracks of the year. I used to make a CD of this, something which feels a little arbitrary these days, but I’ve kept the stipulation that the selection has to be no more than 80 minutes long. If you’re interested, you can download this year’s here.
“For 500 years, technology has been playing Whac-a-mole with aura, that magnetic charge that texts and works of art gain from proximity to their makers. The printing press, the photograph, the Inkjet, the computer screen: each added another layer of mediation and put the author further from our grasp. And yet, aura keeps coming back, in first editions, original negatives, signed copies, vintage covers. Now you can even detect it in old computer consoles. The Emory University Library maintains computer stations in its Rare Books reading room that allow its users to experience an emulation of the exact “native digital environment” in which Salman Rushdie composed Midnight’s Children. Such emulations are increasingly becoming the norm.”—Papyralysis -
What do you think of Boris Johnson – as a politician or otherwise?
Judging by his recent pronouncements, Johnson seems to understand success only in terms of money. He seemed to be suggesting that there’s a finite amount of wealth and a struggle in which the poor are those who lose out because they’re less “intelligent”. He represents the interests of those who profit from dealing in assets, rather than investing in production. Larry Elliott pointed out recently that the UK hasn’t produced a single world-class manufacturing firm from scratch since World War Two. Johnson is a typical member of the elite responsible for this failure.
I could only think of one exception to Elliott’s statement: James Dyson is, I think, much wealthier than Johnson, and certainly much more creative. His manufacturing has enriched a great many people other than himself, both in the UK and abroad. It’s interesting that Dyson is an art-school graduate, whereas Johnson went to Oxford and was a member of a famously destructive club. I think he’s quite a sinister figure.
“Meanwhile, the companies we do pay directly as customers often treat us with disregard at best, abuse at worst (just think about your cable provider or your bank). Of course, we shouldn’t just accept online commercial exploitation just because exploitation in general has been around for ages. Rather, we should acknowledge that exploitation only partly explains today’s anxiety with online services.”—Hyperemployment, or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User - Ian Bogost - The Atlantic
“The vision of “technology” as something you can buy according to a plan, then have delivered as if it were coming off a truck, flatters and relieves managers who have no idea and no interest in how this stuff works, but it’s also a breeding ground for disaster. The mismatch between technical competence and executive authority is at least as bad in government now as it was in media companies in the 1990s, but with much more at stake.”—» Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality Clay Shirky