The Human Species Needs a Mum

As a species, the human race is like a teenager. In terms of the history of evolution, we’ve just appeared. Squashed into 24 hours of the history of the earth, life appeared after 12 hours, and humans appeared at 1 second to midnight. So we haven’t evolved to cope with the complexities of a large complex society. We’ve often told ourselves we are the masters of this planet but haven’t been mature enough to think – hey that means we have to be responible.

We are like the teenager that has just discovered sex, drugs and alcohol and is having a fucking good party. Only at our party we have mass production, chemical and nuclear weapons. Responsible? We don’t have a mum, but if we did surely she’d say “Did I hear see you out last night with cruise missles after bedtime? You little shit! Were you threatening Iran again – I’ll fucking slap you – come here!” She would then go through our room and confiscate all those nuclear weapons and the world be a little bit safer for a while.

We may be teenagers, but we don’t have a mum. We don’t even have a role model, which teenagers usually do have, and means there is usually something to aim for when they decide that a ounce of weed every week isn’t a great idea. We don’t have anything to aim for as an ideal.

As far as we know, we are alone in creating complex societies and must work out for ourselves the best way. Its easy to say capitalism is the only way, when there aren’t any other species out there that have built a soceity that we can copy from (and because we crush alternatives to capitalism with sanctions and international isolation).

The other thing is, we are living it up to the max today. Never before have we had so many things in the West. We are junkies addicted to gadgets, fashion, TV, cars, a constant demand for energy and lifestyle the Earth cannot sustian. And this is potentially going to throw us into a spiral of disaster and extreme weather.

And we aren’t even enjoying the fucking ride.

Massive numbers of our rich countries are on prozac, feel depressed and isolated, stressed from overwork, or unmotivated.

Please, if you are going to destroy the Earth in a frenzy of consumerism, at least enjoy the ride for fucks sake. 

Or maybe this should be a lesson, that actually material crap and money doesn’t actually make us happy. If only we had some authority to tell us that, like a mum.



Against Everything

There’s a lot of things to be angry about in this world don’t get me wrong. As activists working on issues we feel passionate about, it’s easy to lose sight of the big things we want to change by getting distracted by other things. For example the other day a friend made some Irish jokes. I don’t like the labelling of a people, it’s lazy and this serves to make Irish feel negative about themselves and to make the British feel superior.

There are many things like this that annoy me on an everyday basis. But getting angry about everything that I see wrong with the world I feel is a recipe for a mental breakdown and an unhappy life. I want to enjoy life and not be angry all the time, so there’s unfortunately a lot of things that I let slide, for my own sanity.

One of the reasons that I feel activists have not made the difference that they could do is because of this. For an ordinary person without any interest in activism, there is a lot of things that they make do or say that could be wrong. But picking up on everything they say as being wrong just reinforces the “us” and “them” situation… ordinary people will stop wanting to talk to activists if everytime they do, they are made to feel guilty, or inferior. Changing someones opinions and views is a long process, requiring lots of discussions.

Just picking up on a joke that isn’t totally correct will not change someone’s mind. It’s a marathon not a sprint!

Salvi’s Deli and Trouble in the House

After getting in trouble for leaving the house a mess, it was good to get our and get to Manchester and meet my mum. I’d wanted to eat in Salvi’s Deli for a while. I’d had coffee there a few times, and really liked the authentic Italian feel there. It’s tiny, which has a great charm. It feels like many Mediterranian places that are squeezed together in small backstreets. However, today that tiny feel caused a slight problem, because the sensor on the door kept opening when passers-by, erm, passed by, and it was 2 degrees outside. We had to wear coats most of the meal! It was a lovely meal though, there were no vegetarian pastas on the menu so the chef made one up with mixed veg, and it was fantastic, very simple but the quality ingredients made it taste very authentic. Just sort the door out and I’ll come back! I imagine it would be an excellent place to go in the evening for a glass of wine, so I might be back (when I have some money…)

After that I went to get some flowers for Tess. I didn’t expect them to come back today, but I was drunk when I read the Facebook message. So when I woke up this morning, I was surprised to see they were in the house, staring at the mess in the kitchen. I spent about two hours cleaning the flour from the experiment with baking in the kitchen (a successful experiment in sourdough making, but at a cost!) and the mud from the bathroom after planting trees in Todmorden… and the floor, the fridge, the table…

On the way home I wondered randomly about hi vis vests. I had one but it looked totally stupid over my duffel coat. Why can’t they be made attractive? Why always a vest shape, does anyone think the vest shape looks good? A lot of weird things have become fashionable, and if someone had the imagination to make something interesting out of the humble high vis, it could take off… and imagine what that would do for cycling. High vis duffel coats anyone?

Lego and drink driving in helicopters

Predictably, this was a conversation in a pub. After being amazed by a Lego set that had a dice and was also a board game, we somehow decided that there is a gap in the market for a Lego drinking board game, where one of the forfeits is to down a few pints and fly a helicopter. Since the Lego board game is moveable its easy to cheat and move the board so you make your opponent lose. We then get to find out what happens when someone drink drives a helicopter. Do police helicopters follow you and stick on their lights (on the end of the propellers obviously) and ask you to land? Do the shoot you down? Do they have a tractor beam? Well, if you play this game you can find out!

Also, why don’t Ikea do flat pack helicopters?

Information Anxiety

“Information Anxiety is produced by the gap between what we know and what we think we ought to know.”

In environmental campaign circles, that gap can be terrifying. As coordinator of MFoE there was a huge amount I felt I should know about renewable energy, fracking, transport policy, to name a few… as well as the constant battle to read group emails that constantly clogged up my email box. There’s so much to know, so many videos, articles, and news reports to read, and with a full time job, how does that balance. Nobody ever seems to tell you what you need to know these days, you are left to sift through everything on the internet until you eventually work it out, or give up, frustrated and engraged.

How is it possible to keep on top of body of information that is expanding exponentially?

The answer is you can’t, and you just have to focus, filter the data that is demanding your attention and only look at what you need to.

“One New York Times newspaper on a weekday contains more information than someone in the 17th century would come across in their lifetime.”

Quotes from Richard Saul Wurman’s Information Anxiety 2.

Space is Scary

I had a shit day today for sure. It came as a surprise, suddenly I wondered why the hell did I quit my old job… I opened the door of my comfortable house and walked out to a destiny that I want, but do I know where I am going?

But maybe that’s not it.

Space is scary.

Through adversity comes strength and resilience. I need that.

So plan, get a bar job, a shop job, any job, for a few hours a week, to stop worrying about money. Once there, look for something that I actually want. Commit the rest of my time to BF because this is what I want.


New Design For Life: Mindfulness

Just one week volunteering at new life foundation helped me to realise what had made my last 12 months difficult and how to enjoy life. I didn’t have space before, and when I did have space was taken up by being worried that I wasn’t doing something more useful. But space is useful in itself.

  1. Meditation and yoga
    When I was taking part in theses sessions, I had space to think. And space to not think too, to just be. And afterwards, my mind wasn’t cluttered, things were clearer. My mind felt bigger and spacious.
  2. Reflection
    In permaculture, unused output is waste. I put a lot energy into my life, but a lot of the things I tend to forget, because I don’t write them down. Doing stuff and then forgetting it is a waste of energy. Making notes and reflecting will help to make sense of my life. So keeping a blog and making notes is an essential part. But also this may include doing diagrams for work on posters, making lists and drawing; perhaps appreciating nature more; and listening to my own thoughts instead of pushing them out.
  3. Mindfulness
    Not having so much stuff, keeping things tidy, and taking care of things. Getting up early, focusing on a few things like cooking, baking (esp. sourdough bread!), practicing juggling, help to focus on the moment instead of worrying about things.

I will write a few reflections on how I want to improve my life to be happier and more fulfilled.


Goodbye Vietnam, Hello UX…

Right, well. After quitting my job at MMU and buggering off to Asia for two months, the UK has welcomed me back with freezing temperatures and drizzle in Watford Gap coach station.

I start a new job on Monday. Fortunately I did a bit of reading while in Asia so I didn’t forget everything, and even learned stuff. I read UX Storytellers, which is one of the best web books I’ve ever read. I made a few notes, which are below. It’s a collection of stories from UX professionals. I will be working for an urban food experiment with permaculture ideals and I believe UX and permaculture have a lot in common. My public Kindle highlights and notes are at my Kindle profile.

The main point, I think from the UX Storytelling book is simple. User stories are your product.

The Stamp, by Cennyod Bowles

You make something terrible on a website much better. And the users hate the improved version. Lesson: users get used to things, even if they are awful, and changing it can upset them. You can’t read users’ minds. A/B tests essential.

Cutting Through Opinions, by Erik Hafner Ronjum

Content is expensive. Not making it, but keeping it updated, organised, relevant, linking… that it content is cheap (e.g. the long tail) is a great mistake. Most organisations have the opposite: a long neck. A few specific tasks that users visit them for. But most organisations don’t know what their long neck is because they are unclear about their aims. Focus on the long neck.

Culture Shock, by James Kelway

Culture and environment can make or break a project. Working culture in Denmark is different: modesty, hard work, and considered design are common. It’s a more rewarding and enjoyable place to work than the culture working in the UK which is more big-headed and lazy (my opinion not his).

Shaping Spaces, by Andrea Rosenbusch

Users want to find data often in ways that systems cannot handle – in her experience, user queries in emails came from this fact. This can be just because users ask things in unexpected ways, but also because developers don’t understand – often don’t want to understand – user needs. It’s the UX job to communicate this to other developers, but not to actually do it, as that’s everyone’s job.

Love Your Audience, by Chris Khalil

Cultural “probes” are great for finding out about your audience… he describes three kinds. Ethno software is really good to capture visitors to a site and ask them to be involved in a test depending on factors like their location. Tumblr is great for capturing a user’s online behaviour. User research in Salford about our audience would be really important to read as a first step, to understand how Whole Box will fit into their life.

Using The Right Tools, by Martin Belham

Worked on the Guardian Jobs site. User testing included informal user videoing; sketching and prototype testing; surveying existing users. Best tip: ambush people in public and ask them to use the site there and then!

How To Avoid Wasting Millions, by Jay Eskenali

Rushing projects to be the first can mean you end up with a useless product.

Something, by Clemens Lutch

Sorry, this was so technical I skipped most of it. Not exactly a “story”. However I wrote down the bullet points. Use scrum for large teams. UX blueprint as an early step. Always test (with users). Use user stories and paper prototypes.


No One Is Paid To Hype Email

After the training today I thought it strange that the most obvious question that was asked didn’t occur to me.

Why in 8 hours of training wasn’t Facebook or Twitter mentioned apart from in one slide?

The one slide that was the presentation earlier that had sort of given me the answer. In the example of the huge global 1GOAL campaign, which was to get countries to to commit to their millenium development goals

  • a virtually unknown site called Stardoll (8% of referrals) referred more traffic than a Facebook page (2%), Twitter (1%), Youtube (2%), and Flickr (0%) combined.
  • search engines and email actions accounted for almost 50% of traffic

A longer report on this can be found on the Fairsay website at

I’m not convinced that one example proves the case (and Duane is not claiming it does!) – but the numbers involved are impressive – there were 315k Facebook fans, and 28k Twitter users, and 4.7k YouTube followers. Although you can’t make a conclusion from this, it makes it clear that website and email are very important ways to reach people, and you shouldn’t drop them at expense of new social media.

However, I know actions on Facebook or Twitter can make a huge difference. I have seen the Robin Hood Tax get huge media coverage on the back of hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans. I have seen outrage on Twitter over the Trafigura super injunction destroy a mutlinational’s reputation. So they can make a difference… why were they not even discussed really?

According to Duane, this is down to luck. There is no repeatable model that guarantees that the  Facebook or Twitter followers will take action, even if they support and want to take action.

And so I am coming to my own conclusion, and that is that we talk about them way too much, if they are moderately successful tools, then we have already talked about them too much.But, of course, it depends what you want to do with them. They might be good for having conversations with people (and many other things), but they are not good for translating into actions at least.

Food for thought…

What Luddites Did For Us

I’d love to be called a Luddite. But it’s unlikely in this day and age. As a web developer and social media addict, I’m the one of the last people that my friends would call a Luddite. Maybe one day I can be one, if people begin to understand what a Luddite is.

The first action recognized as being from a “Luddite” group was in 1811 when workers in Nottingham attacked and destroyed knitting frames following a gathering a framework knitters. The workers had a number of complaints about the frames, shoddy products, loss of skills, and labour rights. The owners employed people who had not completed the 7-year training required by law and so were undermining their profession. Workers had no say at all about this technology when they were being hugely affected the changes. Work was a more important part of life then… you stayed in a profession for life. Being unemployed often meant death. These weren’t the very poor, these people had a craft, had an income and were proud of their work. Trade unions were banned at the time so organising a strike was harder.

They took their name from Ned Ludd who in 1779 became well known after destroying machinery in anger.

What followed then was a similar pattern of attacks on mechanized looms, shearing frames, and other machines, mainly in the North West and Yorkshire. Many of the Manchester riots coincided with high food prices – wages had been cut due to the lower skills required and people could no longer afford to eat. They targeted specific machines that were a threat. And conditions changed – from workshops where they were in control of their lives, some workers were suddenly at risk of death or serious injury on a daily basis. That’s not to say it was all rainbows before, but technology was a serious threat to the small number of positive aspects of life that they enjoyed.

I wouldn’t say the tactics of destroying machines is the best way to go. But generally, I agree with their mindset. The protests took part in a time when government were colluding with capitalists and business owners to remove workers’ rights. A petition in 1808 on workers rights’ was rejected, and the idea of using children in work was conceived – which Luddites protested about. Technology was being used as a weapon to destroy workers’ rights and provide business with more profit, and to further the cause of the new vision of a free trade world that Adam Smith preached. The government were terrified of this movement, making it a capital offence to destroy machinery and shipping many culprits to Australia. Then the Swing Rioters took up the Luddite cause in the 1830s when their wages were cut, destroying agricultural devices.

What they were trying to do was defend a right to a transition where technology is introduced appropriately, where the social and economic implications of the technology are understood and managed properly, to ensure lives and communities are not destroyed.

Let’s face it – they were right to be sceptical about technology. It has completely transformed the way we live across the whole world.

The word Luddite used to be a word only associated with the movement, but since the 1970s has become a lazy way to describe people who can’t/don’t want to use technology. But this has nothing to do with the real movement. They weren’t anti-technology, they were anti forcing technology into people’s lives with no consideration of the impact.

Nowadays you still have Luddite movement. The Landless movement in Brazil is a Luddite movement. The use of GM crops is destroying their land with enormous monocultures, and the ‘accidental’ spreading of GM crops into a nearby farmer’s land is violating a gene-patent. The company takes the farmer to court until the farmer gives up the land. Technology is helping to destroy the workers.

Technology is never neutral if it is owned – the owner will always use this for their own intentions.

Wikipedia and open source movements could be seen as Luddite movements. They are anti-technology towards corporate control -e.g. Microsoft and Facebook. They are pro using commonly owned technology to benefit society as whole.

It makes me wonder what our relationship with technology is. When everyone is obsessed with technology, buying the latest gadget, where do we think this technology is taking us? Perhaps a 60s futuristic world where everyone is free – robots serve all our needs with hovercars and spaceships flying around the cities? It doesn’t seem that technology has enabled us to be any closer to our vision of freedom so far. Have we become the slaves to the computer instead of them serving us? We work long hours as our digital world is now 24/7, requiring instant responses, pressuring people to work as many hours as possible.

One of my favourite examples of inappropriate technology is the lovely electronic toilets in Virgin trains. They have a button to close, a button to lock, and a button to open. Let’s compare this to a nice plastic bolt (a big lightweight one that elderly/disabled would find better).

Which is more easy to use?

Which will break less?

Which is easier to maintain?

Which is cheaper?

Um. #TechFail.

I must have walked in on at least 5 people on the toilet… I’ve never had anyone walk in on me, but it’s always a worry… “I can see ‘L’ is lit up, but how do I know it’s really locked until someone tries to open it…”

We often are so obsessed with computers that we fail to recognize that old technology has advantages, because we don’t look at the consequences. We just go “ooh, shiny thing!”

EF Schumacher pointed to international development as a case of using inappropriate technology. To aid development a poor country in Africa it is helped to industrialize. For example, a community given a new set of tractors for farming. When it breaks, they can’t fix it. When oil is scarce, they can’t run it. When soil or crops change, they can’t adapt it.

Alternatively for the same money, lots and lots of top of the range ploughs could be provide tools for lots of communities, can be adapted, never break, and never run out of oil (they know how to breed animals to pull them).

I’m not saying new technology is always bad… far from it. I’m saying it shouldn’t be assumed that new technology is always better.

I feel we are coming to an interesting point in time. People are becoming more and more fed up with office based computer jobs and mechanization for the sake of it. People are beginning to want authentic goods and skills, and to be in touch with their community… not just a desk. If we followed the Luddite cause, maybe we’d be live happier lives, and actually get the best results from technology.

I’ve just been listening to Were The Luddites Right on Radio 3 and I recommend a listen if you are interested, it’s a great panel discussion.

I finish with a lyric and video from Robert Calvert’s song Ned Ludd:

They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.