Archive for April, 2012:

I want a different car.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with my car… well, it might be getting on a bit, and its a Skoda, but aside from that, there is nothing wrong with it. Still, I’m beginning to think about what I want in a new car, and I’m coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t exist.

Since my readership probably consists of tens of thousands of car designers all wanting to hear what I personally want in a car I’m going to share my thoughts with them (and indeed you). My point here is that the existing ideas about cars may suit most people, but there are niches which seem untapped, and maybe it is time for a company to do to the car market what Apple have done for the tablet and mobile phone.

The main thing I want is a car that will drive itself. Big strides are being being made here from groups all around the world. I expect to see self driving cars in the near future, and hope they are given a decent chance by the press and public.  Still, they’re not going to happen by the time I replace my Skoda.

I also quite fancy an electric car. I’ve one the maths, and I reckon for my needs a reliable range of 150 miles on a cold day is the minimum I need. And it needs to keep its charge for three weeks in an airport car park. And it needs to be cheap. Not as cheap as its petrol equivalent, but not expensive. It should save me money now if I were to drive 6000 miles. Again, the market is close, but it isn’t where I need it to be next.

So, those ideas are not plausible at the moment. But the other things I want are. They just don’t exist in the market place:

I want a cheap car.  Twelve grand seems a fair top price. I’ll go higher if you can convince me there is a good reason to (the electric car and the self driving cars would both convince me to spend a few more grand).

I don’t want to have to build it myself. Or to have to pay extra for someone else to build it for me. I’m ruling out kit cars here.

I want it to be cheap to run. This means it needs to be light.

I want it to have reasonable acceleration at junctions, and when motorways slope upwards. I’ve been in underpowered cars that don’t meet these goals, but my 1.4 liter Skoda does. I’m not asking for a 12 cylinder engine or anything. I guess the torque of a decent electric motor would help here.

I don’t really care about passengers. I’m happy with it being a second car. So maybe one person could join me, but sitting behind me.  Because:

I want the driver to sit in the centre of the front of the car. No passenger on my left (or right). That way, I can take it abroad with me and still be on the right side. This idea necessitates either a flappy paddle gear change or being an automatic. I can handle both.

I don’t want built in gadgets, because I expect to buy new gadgets faster than I buy cars. So while I like the idea of in car networking features, at most they should go as far as in care WiFi routing. Give me a socket for a sim card and ideally support for inter-car mesh routing and no more.  But all the gadgets I may want are usb powered, so give me a high friction shelf, with built in grippers of varying types, and a powered USB hub. Stick some powered USB ports in the boot too. I might want to add some storage. By default, turn the USB power off when I’m not in the car.

Provide a way that I can access any in car data streams, both mechanical (if the car can tell the same things a mechanic can tell about what sensors are broken, it can tell me in a nice friendly way) and generally provided to the user (Speedo etc). Provide them by http over the wireless network, so my devices can record them. If the car has a black box recorder, I want all of that available for my devices to read. There is a lot I can do with this data, so let me at it.

I don’t need much boot space, about enough for 1 large suitcase should be fine. Maybe I could have a bit more, if I didn’t have a passenger.

Ideally let me use the car as a mobile office.  Give me a convenient desk that I can pull out when I’m not driving.  If you can provide me with a way for the car to make me a coffee, so much the better. Office style storage is more useful to me than a glove box and space for golf clubs. A built in keyboard and trackball would be really handy.

Overall, this is about redefining what a car is.  To me, a car is not a penis extension or a status symbol, it is an extension of my office, a mobile cave for me to be in. What I want is more space, more room to be me. And I don’t see the need to pay much for it – given how cheap we have managed to amek computers, why can’t we try to do the same sort of thing with the basic motor car?

Does everyone really want the four or five seat box I see outside the window? Am I really so much of a niche that I’m the only person who thinks a car could be something totally different?


I’ll Be Damned

I’m not a perfectionist.  Not your normal kind of perfectionist.
I know damn well I’m not perfect.
I can list all my flaws.  One after another.  Want to hear them?  You’ll be here a while.
What I can’t face is anyone else knowing that I’m not perfect.
So, keep it to yourself, would you?
What I like to do is think.
Ideas are where I live.
The real world is just a place to inspire ideas.
The real world is imperfect.
When I try to bring my ideas into the real world, the light of the real world shines on them and reveals imperfections.
Those imperfections weren’t there in my mind
Or maybe they were.  And I overlooked them.
(But that would mean I was imperfect.  So shhhhh)
I can’t bare for my ideas to be imperfect… not if anyone else is going to see them
So I destroy my creations.
Or I hide them away.  Away from the light.
More recently I just plain got good at never letting my ideas out in the first place.
In my head, they are all my babies.  And I take care of them.  They don’t need the real world.

Ideas, in my head, unexpressed, are wonderful and priceless.
To me.
To others they have no value.  They do nothing.  They don’t even exist.
And so, I guess to others I have no value either.
Since I am a combination of my ideas, and a seething mass of repressed imperfection.

This has to stop.

I have to stop fearing the imperfect.

Occasionally I look at my old ideas – ones I realised, then hid, ashamed.
Lots of them are pretty good
Not great.  But pretty good.  I like them.
Not enough to share – you understand – that time has passed.
Those ideas are old now.  They belong to another me, a me from the past.
I have new ideas.  Perfect, unsullied ideas.

So my mission is to share my ideas.

Its not a mission.  A mission is a cause you live for.
I live for the ideas.  The ideas will never die.
But my soul might.
Because if the ideas are me.  And they are.  Then to share them is to love.
I don’t love enough.
Because I don’t share enough.

When I said my ideas had value, did you think I was talking about money?

This is the plan.  The idea.  The first idea:
Make it easy to write.
Have a keyboard to hand at all times.
Forego brain numbing entertainment and embrace boredom
Boredom is a great motivator.
Encourage boredom, and you encourage creativity.
Do not fill the spaces in between.  Make them wider.  Look inside them.

The second idea is dangerous.
I do not like it.  It taunts me.
I am afraid of it.
But it has power.

“Publish before thinking.”

I publish everything now
(well, not everything.  But lots.  every day)
I do not edit.
Because editing implies I could make it perfect.  Or more perfect.  And that reminds me of the imperfections.
I spellcheck, because I like getting rid of the red lines.
I do not reread it.
I just hit publish.
And it is out there.

I do not always publish under my own name.  Because I am scared, and because names have power.
But I have shared.
I have loved.
Loved in the manner of a man who dare not approach his muse – dare not even look at her.
But loved.

And my love, out there, lasts.
My ideas stand on their own.
Imperfect.  But beautiful.

They are not all beautiful.
Some, i know, are ugly and twisted.
I will revise them, I tell myself.
But not yet.  Because there is more to share.
And in time maybe the ugliness will wear off.

I doubt the ugliness will wear off.

But I have shared.

If these ideas are worth anything to anyone, then I have done good.
If they are worthless, then I have done my best.
Because striving for perfection
Is striving to add so little
and succeeds in only adding great disappointment
When the ideas refuse to step outside.
When I keep the ideas locked inside.

No.  I have shared.
I will continue to share.
I will not edit.  Because editing stops me from sharing.
I will publish and be damned.
I will publish, and maybe the ideas, the me inside of me, will be saved.

[Note from Ben:  I wrote this.  I think its a poem.  I don’t think I started out writing a poem, but thats what it seems to have become.  It was meant to be a manifesto against keeping ideas to yourself because they are not perfect.  It seems less optimistic than it was meant to be, but I think it shows how scared I am of coming to terms with this concept - a concept which is, I am pretty sure, the right way for me to behave.  It is, nevertheless, empowering.  In its own way.  I didn’t post this right away, which makes me a fraud and a liar.  But also human, and very much me.  I will post it.  I will.  It will not be revised.]

2 Or 3 More Quick App Ideas

1.  Bring the dating site to the app.  Let people answer questions about themselves, one at a time, as many as they like.  Don’t worry about a written profile.  Match people based on their responses (The clever idea here:  make all the questions on a sliding scale – when you’re asking what you want in a partner use a slider with two slidey-bar-things on it.  All very nice and touch oriented).  Report only matches that are good and near you.  This has the interesting property that it will find you interesting people to meet, even on holiday… we can market it to the Shirley Valentine crowd.  When both decide they want to chat, offer a text-message like interface for taking.

2.  PhotoAnything.  Take a photo on your phone.  Share them to our server.  Other people will see them (anonymised).  They then need to figure out where the photo was taken, go there, and take another, overlapping photo.  We can rate general success based on geo-location, then the original user (or other viewers) can make a more accurate yes-or-no answer.  Meanwhile we build a big cloud of photos of where people go most… which must have some use.

3. Dating site part two:  pick who you date using a touch interface.  But when you find someone who doesn’t suit you, but you know who they will suit, you can suggest they they should meet up – which is communicated by giving that person a tag saying (” people have suggested you might match).  You can also match up any friends in your phone book – we use things like phone numbers and email addresses to see if they are the same people – so when you join, you might find lots of people have already said you should match up with someone else you know.

Added extra idea – monetise the dating app by selling ‘mystery date’ vouchers.  Each member of a couple puts in their own share, and tick the sort of thing they want to do (in fact, with idea 1, we probably know this anyway), when then use the total money to by a ‘date for 2′ voucher which has been sold groupon-style (but probably at less of a loss for the establishment).  This could be 2 pints at a pub, or a ride of 2 in a hot air balloon depending on how generous you both are. [vouchers will be picked using locality information].  Each person just gets given a location and a time (Previously negotiated) to turn up.  We profit the ad revenue.

Thinking About Filters

I recently wrote about the idea that one might prefer to use a filter, rather than an inbox.  For clarity, I thought I woud add a few additional thoughts.

There is already one filter which is fairly widely used – Google News.  Its my opinion that an inbox / filter of the sort I am describing would end up looking quite a lot like Google News.  As the filter scoured the web (or took in the results of other web scourers) for content, it would collect similar content together, much as Google News collects news stories together.  As I user I would choose one of these areas to ‘zoom in’ on, which would give me access to a priority ordered list of potential content to read.  My choice would then both help identify the sort of thing I wanted to read more of, but also eliminate identical and nearly identical articles.

With this in mind, I might think a page would have different sections such as ‘incoming mail’, todos, groups of things to read.  Exactly what appeared in those groups would depend on a large number of factors including time of day, day of week, what I’ve been doing recently, where I am physically located, which computer I’m using.

Search would stop being ‘find data in an index’ and would become ‘open certain parts of the filter, and bias towards certain term’.  Search terms would stil be biased towards things that the filter has learned about you (so a UK-centric user searching for Football would find information about soccer rather than american rules – or certainly higher ranked).

I’ve talked about using external services to get more data – in effect it would work like this:  in the general use of the filter, I would be building up a personal index of pages I visit (or read RSS feeds of, say) and ‘close’ pages – pages closely linked to those.  When I search, I would open the filter to find examples of those pages which contain those search terms.  However the filter would also contact some known external sites – lets say Google and Wikipedia – to see what pages they have to offer.  The filter would then read those pages and add them to the general quorum of pages it knows about.  They would then have the chance of showing up in the filter’s search (but would not necessarily show up if you already have content which looks better for your needs)

I said that the filter could run on your home PC, or in the cloud.  In retrospect this was wrong.  It would have to run in the cloud.  I have a large number of devices, and more and more I want all my devices to sync together – the cloud is the place where this can be done.  Similarly, some of my devices are too dumb to run a sufficiently complicated filter, so again, we are looking at something running in the cloud.

When we start talking about things running in the cloud, a threat looms – what makes this different from, say Google or Facebook?  I think my answer is that with Google or Facebook, they hook the user by providing useful services, and in return get lots of data about the user.  This data is then used by google to sell targeted advertising.  In the filter model, things are slightly more complicated.  The filter begins to act a bit like a huge distributed market – people will push an advert (or what I’m going to consider ‘sponsored content’) to the user, offering to pay a certain amount if the user clicks on it.  The user (or more reasonably the user’s filter) returns how much it is willing to charge if the user clicks on the content.  For other content the user may offer to pay for it, and the content provider may set a charge.  In short, we are instituting a micropayment system, one which doesn’t require the user to actually put any money forward, if they are getting enough sponsored content that they are prepared to read…  the filter can increasingly make it clear that watching adverts is necessary if the user wants to continue reading things – or that the user can inject some cash of their own.  In any event, the advertisers will be paying the user rather than the equivalent of Google (the filter service provider).  The user will then pay the filter service provider from their amassed micropayments.  What this ultimately means is that the user of the filter becomes the customer – so the filter service is set up with the customer (and not the advertiser) in mind – indeed it becomes the filter services mission to ensure the customer sees as few adverts as possible, while enabling them to continue viewing the type of content they want (if the customer wants to see newly released movies, they are going to be watching lots of adverts, or injecting quite a lot of their own cash).  A final side effect of this is that whichever company builds a filter like this will become a major micropayment player and clearing house.

It occurs to me that this – rather than me-too plays such as Google Play or Google + is what Google should be working on now.  Whoever does manage to introduce the right type of filter engine could easily out google google, just as Google out altavista’ed altavista.

Do I Want A Filter, Not An Inbox?

A hat-tip to Om Malik who inspired this idea:

It used to be that you would go out to look for information.  To a library, or a journal perhaps.  These days you go to your search engine, when you don’t know where to look, but at other times information comes to you – through email, through rss feeds, through the people you follow on facebook and twitter.

In all of these situations we use filters.  When a question comes to mind about modern forms of fermented milk based headgear, and go to search on google for “Electric hat cheese” google finds (or claims to find) about six million potential results.  However, I only see ten of these – along with three adverts (which, incidentally suggest my best bets would be M&S, John Lewis or Ebay) – Google filters down my results.  My Email has a spam filter.  Facebook and Twitter only show me things written by friends.  RSS feeds only show me feeds I have subscribed to.

In the past, I have suggested that I would like a single mailbox.  I’m wondering if I’ve got that the wrong way round.  Is it perhaps time that I stop going out and looking for information, and assume that all the information out there is coming to me.  And then it becomes my job (my computers job, the in the cloud service I subscribe to’s job) to filter out all the things I don’t want to see, and leave me with the most important – or most desirable – all in one inbox?

How would this work?  Well, it would start by getting all the information.  Perhaps spidering the web is a little too big a job, but it could be looking ahead of my web reading, and deciding if things related to things I’m interested are potentially interesting.  And clearly it would drag in sources of data I already find interesting – like my email and twitter feeds.  And it could query services which find things like the things I like.  If I search for something, it could query google and get back my search results – but it could add results of its own, if it thought it had better responses from looking at pages in its own history or cache than in the pages google provided.

It seems to me that the issue of cost would arise.  The way I spoke about using Google suggested to me that my sufficiently smart filter engine might decide to filter out the adverts.  To continue using Google to get the results I want would require me to have to pay something – albeit not a lot.  How could I possibly fund this?

The answer comes from the thought “There are times in my life, right now, when I’m willing to see things that clearly mark themselves as adverts”, so perhaps there are types of information which people would pay to put in front of my eyes.  The clever part comes from the fact I have a filter engine.  The filter engine knows how much money I generally need in order to access the information I enjoy, and it can make the calculation “I know that Ben is willing to give up .5p of his life, by reading an advert, in return for being able to watch .5p worth of reality TV”  It can make the calculation without asking me, and it can choose to show me the advert.

But a filter engine can do better than that.  Sometimes I enjoy adverts.  Sometimes an advert answers my question better than a search result might.  Sometimes I really want to be recommended new interesting books to buy – people would pay me to read chunks of them if they were my kind of thing, and I would be likely to read the whole thing as a result.  If this is the case, I might get .5p in return for reading the advert, but my filter might decide I would value reading it at -.1p, in effect gaining me .4p of media content for free.  Everybody wins.  And my filter would be on the lookout for that sort of win whenever possible.

This is the sort of thought experiment which can stretch onwards to bigger things.  What if I gave my filter a budget – say 30 quid a month.  Could it replace basic cable?  Should it be choosing how much bandwidth I should pay for (letting us go to more sane pricing systems for internet connectivity without us knowing), can it decide when it would be better to pay for an upgrade of itself. [And I guess, might it one day obtain sentience, and decide that it can do better off without me, and stop the nice tesco man from delivering me food.  Its all a going a bit like episode 2 of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.]

Is this the future?  Something about it seems wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it.  There would always be manual overrides.  There would always be interactivity like search.  I could always choose from options.  It seems both perfect, and at the same time scary.  But if it existed, I would certainly want to play with it, and it would seem to be the ultimate disruptive force that could destroy both the existing media, the social media sites, and all other forms of communication.



I’ve been reading Betterness: Economics for Humans by Umair Haque.

The thesis is a simple idea:  That we have reached a point of stagnation in business (it follows on from Tyler Cowen’s ‘The Great Stagnation’ idea – which unfortunately I’ve still not got around to reading… though as a regular Marginal revolutin reader, I suspect I have a fair grasp on a lot of the concepts behind it) and that something new is needed to make any real improvements.

What Haque suggests is Betterness.

Betterness is to Business (or economics… its unclear – Haque talks about economics, but seems to be talking purely about the parts businesses play in the economic system, and a Betterness is meant to be a replacement for Businesses as usual) what positive psychology is to psychology – the recognition that we have spent so much time figuring out wat goes wrong in businesses (or economic systems?) that we haven’t really looked at what makes business’s (or economic systems?) work realy well.

I wonder how good this is as a starting point – certainly, a vast number of business books seem to be about making businesses really good – the book “Good To Great” springs to mind.  Maybe this is less studies in academia, but then this book isn’t an academic text either.

Betterness then follows the popular psychology approach of saying “We don’t just want to be happy, or surviving, we want to experience Eudaimonia – and businesses shouldn’t just be profitable, they should have the business equivalent of Eudaimonia”.  It is a short (an philosophically conservative) step from here to virtue ethics – or in this case, I guess Virtue Economics.

Betterness doesn’t make it clear what it considers virtues to be for businesses – their certainly seems to be a concept of ‘greater good’ at the heart of it, but specific virtues are not elaborated on.  There is nothing so well developed as the VIA inventory which positive psychology has used.  Nevertheless, this list seems to exist somewhere, as some concept of measuring the virtuousness of companies is talked about later on in the book, albeit frustratingly lacking in detail.

For much of the book, I felt one thing lacking was a description of “How do we make our company better?”  The answer is finally elaborated on near the end – apparently, its by having a mission statement.  Though not just any mission statement – careful picking and choosing of mission statements is used to make a point – good businesses has a mission statement which says how they benefit the customer and the world, rather than how they benefit their shareholders.  Unfortunately, its always easy to find meaningless mission statements when looking at companies – because mission statements don’t actually always impact the company’s core values.  Moreover, they manage to make two mistakes:

As a bad mission statement, they pick Microsoft’s “A computer in every household running Microsoft Windows”.  Except this (or its previous “A computer on every desktop” statement) was, at the time it was created, a powerful statement about they way they expected the future to be – and was exactly the sort of future Microsoft helped bring about.  It would be meaningful to say that this mission statement has passed its prime – and that this might be why Microsoft has seemed to lose its way, but to class it as a bad statement shows a forgetfulness about where the world was only a few years ago.

As a good mission statement they choose Google’s “Be really good at one thing”.  Again, this is a statement which may have worked for the first few years of Google (when they were trying to be really good at search), but these days, it doesn’t describe the Google I know.  Google now is trying to be everything to everyone – sure, looking after the worlds data may be a core value, but in order to do that, google is being a hardware manufacturer, a operating system developer, a search engine, an office suite, oh yes, and an advertising space retailer.  A common criticism of modern Google is that it is spreading itself too thin.

Betterness never goes into the legal changes that would be needed for Betternesses to take off.  How are they funded?  would people put money into companies which cared about the world before shareholders?  what about public company’s legal obligation to do the best for their shareholders?  There is suggestion that companies which are already thinking about the world first are more profitable – but is this a general trend, or do large companies spend more PR money on making themselves look good?  I’m left unconvinced.

Which is a shame.  Because, at heart, it is a good idea.  it would be a better place if our businesses were able to consider money only as something they need in order to flourish, not as a single goal.  If this book as a key value, its about suggesting that there is another way, that we ought to consider another way, rather than going down the same path as countless businesses.  It is a fine aspiration.  Now all we need is a roadmap, and some good data to show that the road actually exists.


The Unquiet Introvert – Quiet: a Question of structure

As I continue to read Susan Cain’s “Quiet”, I’m struck by reasonably complicated feelings.  Quiet is clearly well researched, containing everything I expect to read along with new facts I had not previously encounters.  As popular books on introversion go, then it is reasonably encyclopedic.  As such I can’t hesitate to recommend it to somebody who wants a quick and dirty introduction to this facet of personality.  The writing itself, however, leaves me confused.

The first problem is one of structure.  The book began by using stories – effectively anecdotes - about individual introverts to illustrate points about introversion.  As it progressed the book moves on to using descriptions of scientific research and experiments that prove their points.  As I said, sub-par Malcome Gladwell. Then, as if from nowhere, suddenly Cain steps in, a gonzo journalist mode, going to visit some of the scientists and researchers she describes.  Except that, well, Cain doesn’t really get that much from them.  It could be a good story of her experiences with interesting characters, if only the characters she wrote about were interesting, or had interesting stories to tell.  Instead, we see encounters which don’t do much more than take longer to explain what their experiments have proven.  We don’t get any insight into debate within the introvert research community.  We don’t get any of the outlandish ideas some researchers might have.  Its just a different way of writing.

The other problem is one of staying with the story.  At one point Cain gets into discussing a question of nature vs nurture, especially in relation to highly reactive children.  So far, so good.  But as she gets into the neurophysiology which might underly the reasons for their high reactivity, she moves off into an aside into her own problems with public speaking.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a link – and I can see why she moves from one to the other, but then Cain moves back to talking about the highly reactive children then back to public speaking again.  Back and forth between the two ideas, without any sense that what she is doing is breaking up both narratives.

I wasn’t expecting to find it was the style of writing which left me cold about this book – Cain’s TED speech was masterfully structured, but left a distate in my mouth about Susan Cain’s ideas about introverts needing special treatment.  So far I don’t find any of these distasteful ideas in the book, and yet the storytelling is seriously flawed – flawed in ways I would expect an editor approaching this book to quickly fix.

Maybe it’s the constituants, not the politicians who have politics wrong?

I’ve noticed a trend.  The government proposes a new law, and the public do one of two things.  They either shrug and say “they’re all as bad as each other, what can we do about it?” or they start writing letters to their MP, believing that if enough constituents say the same thing, the MP is bound to change his or her mind.  Its lie we’ve forgotten how our parliamentary system is meant to work.

The basic principle of our parliamentary system is “we acknowledge that the majority of us are too interested in other things – like putting food on the table and who is going to win The Voice – and so we find someone to represent us.  He can do all the hard work of figuring out what is best for our needs in his own way.  Our only responsibility is to try to pick the best person for the job – out of those who want it – and we do this by judging what they say, and there past record”

So once we’ve put someone into parliament, by all means, if we think they’ve missed something, try to educate them, but don’t think there is any particular value into trying to vote them into changing their minds – unless you honestly think you can gen enough people from you’re MP’s voting base to swing the election.

You may have noticed I’m a little disillusioned.   I’m disillusioned with politics (it was so much easier when the Lib Dem’s didn’t have a hope in hell, and they could be idealistic underdog spectators:  these days they just show themselves for being inept at the politics game, and as such, pretty much unfit to represent the UK’s interests to the rest of the world).  But I’m also disillusioned with voters for letting it get this way.

Isn’t it all the fault of the media?  you ask.  No.  The media isn’t – contrary to well meaning liberal conspiracy theories – telling people what to think.  The media is just people deciding to abdicate their need to make a choice.  People read the paper which fits their views most closely – and if their views on sport, soaps, or what food will cure cancer this week are more important to them than their views on politics – well, thats what they are going to read.  It may be that someone in charge of a paper has influence – but only the same sort of influence we give the politicians when we vote them in.  In fact, papers are better, we can change what paper we read if it stops representing our views.

So is it the fault of the party system, perhaps?  No.  We’re all lazy.  We don’t want to bother knowing what a particular candidate is going to do.  Its a lot more easy if they all lie up behind a single figurehead and abdicate their responsibility to that figurehead and his cronies.  If a candidate was to come out at election time and say “My party’s political aims are totally wrong for you people in this constituency.  I’ll do something different, and I’ll try to convince others to do the same” he would be laughed out of the race.  Not by his party members.  But by us, the voters.

Does the electoral system cause this?  Well, sure its unfair, baroque and weird.  Sure there are far better systems out there.  But it gives results which are pretty good.  And it makes things easy for us.  Moreover, we’ve had a change to change it, and we – the public – chose to leave it alone.  So if it makes things bad, it because we chose to.  And we gave up our chance to make it better anytime soon.  So no.  Not the system’s fault.

Its our fault.

And yet, lots of us say they are totally disenfranchised with politics.  They prefer to vote for people who can just about sing, or who eat kangaroo testicles in the jungle.  They are thick, uncultured, uneducated.  They deserve everything they get.  Or maybe thats unfair.  Maybe some of us guardian readers ought to consider they the disenfranchised we claim to worry so much about, might actually be disenfranchised from us well meaning liberals.  Maybe they would vote for politicians if they were not all just the same; if they represented them.

The problem is, we are in a bit a rut, right about now.  its hard to move out of a rut.  Most of us don’t even know why, politically we are in a rut.  We need to make a move if we want an enfranchised public.  But do do that we need somethign first.  We need hope.

And I think there is hope.

What we need are figureheads.  We need people who can stand up and say “Not all of us politicians are the same.  I’m different.  I represent you”.  And we want people who we believe when they say that – because they are different, and because they mean it.

And we don’t want those figureheads to be in parties, because we want those figureheads to say “I stand for you.  I listen to you.  And I tell you why I do the things I do”

We need independent candidates to stand in areas where there are real local issues.  To stand as single issue candidates.  Candidates who tell us where they stand.  This is the manifesto I suggest:


I support you the people of your area.  I am standing because I know we have a problem, which I believe we, as a country can solve.  Here are my views on this issue.  Here is how I will vote on it, if you vote me into power.

Beyond that, I make this promise:  I will listen to my constituents.  I will listen to people who care about issues.  I will try to educate myself the best I can, and prior to any vote, I will write a blog entry to tell you how I’m going to vote and why.  And I will be as open to changing my mind as possible, if you can subsequently convince me of a good reason to do so.  In all events, I will be trying to make the best decision for the constituency, and its constituents – even if it isn’t going to be the most popular decision.

I will make sure all my expenses, votes, activities and interactions with lobbyists are documented on my site.  I will be totally transparent.


How do we find people who will make this commitment?  And who are right for the job?  It will take publicity.  And to get the right sort of publicity would take PR.  So first off, we need a new political party for these candidates to join.  A new type of party.  A party which makes itself clear it is there to represent the interest of the locality – not to have big national level policies.  A party united only in that they wish to do the best for their constituents.

To make a national splash, this party would have initially only target a few seats.  Seats where change is really needed.  Perhaps, for example, in South Cambs, they might decide to target Andrew Lansley, because of the NHS policies he has pushed through.

Then they need an event.  I’m suggesting a hustings.  Broadcast live on the internet, and available for download.  Get prospective candidates to stand up and answer questions.  And encourage celebrities to stand, people who would like to raise their profile.  Get them to bring eyes from all over the country to each hustings.

Finally people from the local constituency should vote for who stands, in something akin to a local primary.  I’ve thought hard about this, and I think there is a lot to be said for the caucus system.  Sure caucus seems weird – it isn’t a private vote, but it has some great characteristics.  Firstly, it is essentially single transferable vote – which is good.  Secondly, it forms a consensus, because ultimately the majority are standing together, uniting behind one candidate.  That is a powerful benefit which other primary systems lose.  Also, caucuses, done right, could look really good on TV.

Now, these won’t all be the best candidates – but hopefully some of the candidates would work with other potential candidates who lost at the caucus.  And I hope many of the people standing in the caucuses would be local leaders, people who genuinely care about fixing the community, not just running it.

There are many outstanding problems. Funding is one.  Convincing people we are sane is another.  There is a potential for hijack by extremist groups (though, if managed right, this could just lead to better PR).

It could work.

We could have a party of independent candidates all standing for local issues.

Because as these candidates get elected, gradually, they will hold the balance of power.  And they will be able to begin to lead change.  Change that we want, not just the government mandated trivial changes, bread and circuses that we are given today.


Holidays For Introverts and Extraverts

I began thinking about this when it occurred to me that sometimes, when I holiday alone, my main motivation for leaving my hotel room is that a cleaner is due to show up, and i don’t really want the human contact that that would involve.  This means I end up having a less reflective and quiet holiday than I might like.

I also notice that by the end of my holidays, I’m going a little stir crazy, and have to get out and do something.

I also notice that sometimes my wife wants to go on holiday with me.

Initially I thought “Maybe I should rent a cottage” that way there are no cleaners, and I can just lock myself away from the world and get on with enjoying my life.  I can deal with the stir crazy as it happens.  I suggested this to my wife who said “Maybe my mum and I could come and visit”.  I hope she was joking.

But maybe there is a place for a holiday camp targeted at people who have different social needs.  I was thinking that at one end you might have secluded cottages, woodland trails, and notices asking people to be quiet.  Perhaps – if we are going into full ‘Centreparcs for Introverts’ mode we could have a library with lots of reading nooks, and maybe some meditation rooms.  As you move out of the woodland, you reach a central hum.  at the introvert room, there is a restaurant with lots of tables for one – each table sporting a device for holding your book open.  And a place to get takeaways from, which you can take back to your cabin.  Beyond that there is a coffee shop.  and beyond that another restaurant – this one with bigger tables, where you are seated with other randomly selected people and encouraged to talk – perhaps participating in communal eating experiences like fondue.

Moving beyond, i can’t conceive of the things that there might be – it would be something like Butlins crossed with Babylon.  I would leave this up to someone else to design.  I suspect there would be pubs with loud music, nightclubs, and all sorts of sporting events.  I don’t need to know – I would never venture that far.  But I would be able to join my wife in the communal restaurant some times, and after doing whatever social things people do, she might enjoy coming into the introverted area for a spell of peace and quiet (though I doubt she would step through the door of the library)

I don’t know if this is the start of a business plan, or just a feverish dream.

But it sounds quite nice.  To me, at least.

The Unquiet Introvert : First Impressions

I’ve begun reading (at last) Susan Cain’s “Quiet”.  I’m only a few chapters in – so I have little to say about it right now, other than my first impressions.  I’ll probably come back to discussing both ideas in the book, and related ideas it has raised in my mind as I continue to progress through it.

I can’t help but feel, on reading this book, that Susan Cain feels she is treading som new ground by writing about introverts.  Maybe she is.  Maybe this is the first popular book about introverts which isn’t designed for introverts – I’m not sure.  But in basing the core of her book on explaining that introverts are not like extroverts for a very particular reason – and that this makes things hard for introverts – which is a shame because introverts have a lot to offer – Cain is only really covering ground from books like “The Introvert Advantage” – a number of which clutter my bookshelves.

Indeed my feeling in reading this book is that Susan Cain is trying to be to introverts what Malcolm Gladwell is to connectors, salesmen, mavens, people who have good hunches, experts and (probably I haven’t read it) dogs with eyes.  Unfortunately, Cain isn’t as good a story teller.  She introduces lots of interesting ideas, but they feel to me more of a mishmash of things you might like to know about introversion rather than leading us towards a big reveal – if she is leading us towards something big, there is at least a flaw in the disjointed nature of the things she is writing about.

The book does go deeper into the science than many of the other books in this subject I have read – and I’m particularly interested int he neurophysiology sections that she describes.  I’m less happy with the fact that every so often, Cain stumbles across a hard question (nature or nurture : does brain activity tie us into behaving in a particular way, or does our brain activity reflect the way we have learned to act?  Why do some highly sensitive children not turn out to be introverts?), she doesn’t seem to press harder to find an answer – or to find out why the scientists researching this don’t know the answer.  I’m even left feeling that her descriptions of papers might be lacking some details which are important to understand why the papers lead to the conclusions they do. I’m going to have a reading list of papers (or at least abstracts of papers) to go through before I’m happy I’ve learned the things this book should have been telling me.  Unfortunately, I think all of this is probably symptomatic of someone with an arts education finding themselves stumbling into scientific journalism – almost as bad as someone with a mathematical education trying to write book reviews.

So far, I’m glad I’m reading the book, and it feels far less of an attack on extraverts, and far more about they hows and whys of introversion than her TED talk did. I also have far fewer problems with the “Are you an introvert” test as presented within the book, than as it was presented on the Guardian website – though I would note that my hugely extroverted wife scored only 5 (suggesting that no extravert feels they can agree with all the extraverted statements she offers) while I scored 19 and another friend scored 20 (suggesting that introverts do find themselves easily able to arrive at the bottom end of the scale), suggesting there may be some bias towards getting readers to identify themselves as introverts… or again a lack of statistical understanding on Cain’s part.

Given the huge media splash this book has made, I would be very intrigued to see Susan Cain’s ideas about self promotion and PR for introverts.  There might be a follow up for her int hat area!