Monthly archives of “May 2015

Letter to my MP regarding the Human Rights Act and Communications Data Bill

Dear Mr Howlett,

My congratulations on your election as MP for Bath. My politics diverge from your party’s – in some cases quite sharply – on many issues, but I’ve been given no reason to think you’re anything other than a good man and a hardworking public servant.

As one of your constituents, I would like to highlight my concerns with two national policy proposals from our new government.

The Conservatives’ plan to replace the Human Rights Act with the British Bill of Rights strikes me as being driven by dogmatic, ideological and even jingoistic objections to Europe rather than by pragmatic concerns, and I am deeply worried that recusing ourselves from a charter that spells out and protects self-evident truths both further isolates us from the rest of the global community and has the potential to expose vulnerable people to harm.

My second concern is with the Communications Data Bill. As someone who works in the technology field, I believe the proposed bill won’t – can’t – achieve its objectives, and that the costs to our society would be too high a price to pay even it did.

I’d be grateful if you’d outline your position on these two issues, and if you support the government’s proposals then I would like to hear your reasoning. If like me you oppose them then I look forward to cheering you on as you do so.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher Phin

Editors and publishers should shop at Boden (and not just because the clothes are lovely)

I’m fascinated by Boden, the clothing company, both from an editorial and a business perspective. Almost every time we get an email, catalogue or promotion from them, my wife (who like me works in publishing) and I have cause to comment on how perfectly pitched their editorial sensibilities are, and how well they anticipate the desires of and engage with customers.

To take one tiny example, look at this catalogue for kids’ clothes that just dropped through our letterbox and prompted me to write this.

Boden catalogue

On the right there’s a bound-in sheet of stickers, with the line “Not all fish live in the water. These ones can go anywhere.” All well and cute, you might say – something that will appeal to a sense of whimsy in a grown-up as well as directly to children – but they’ve taken it one step further; bottom-left it says “These fish also live on the clothes in our catalogue. Can you find them all?”. Genius! That way, they encourage children to scour the catalogue, looking at every item of clothing, and so bringing to bear the full force of pester power on their parents.

Naturally, this will miss the target in many households. It might arrive at households that don’t have kids – the customer intelligence algorithms having been fooled by a one-off order of a child’s dress as a gift, for example – and even in those households that do, the kids might never get their hands on the catalogue, even assuming they wanted to. And I don’t know the cost of these stickers, nor how much difference they’d make to overall sales. Even tracking the ROI would be tricky. But my gut is that it would cost pennies yet generate pounds – and all without being obnoxious. Negligible effort and investment; potentially huge effect.

I’d urge senior-ish publishing folks to become Boden customers to see what it does and how; the lessons might not translate directly, but I’m filled with admiration for its smart engagements with customers and its clever use of techniques we thought we had a monopoly on. What a fascinating place to work.

Don’t ask me what I use my Apple Watch for – you’ll only be disappointed

Predictably, understandably, laudably, the question I’m always asked about my Apple Watch is what I use it for. This presents a tricky social situation.

Some people might as well have asked “Pff! What do you use that overpriced twatbangle for, you gullible first-world bumboy?”

Some ask with doe-eyed, kawaii enthusiasm, wagging their tails like sparkly cartoon puppies, desperate to be told that I use it for EVERYTHING and that it’s AMAZING and that I LOVE IT AND I LOVE YOU AND WOULD YOU LIKE AN ICE CREAM‽ 🍦🌈😍

Some are genuinely curious. They’re open. Interested. Ripe.

My real answer will please none of them. The real answer is that there is no big, spectacular thing that I use my Watch for in the fortnight I’ve had it. All I can offer are personal anecdotes.

The thing that prompted this post happened when I was preparing dinner earlier tonight. I had put some rice on, and when it came to the boil, I turned the heat down to low then lifted my wrist and said “Hey, Siri; set a timer for 10 minutes.” That was it. I didn’t touch the Watch. I didn’t wait till Siri tapped me on the wrist to confirm she was listening. I actually didn’t even check she’d heard me till a few minutes later when I glanced at my wrist to see how long remained on the Complication on my watch face. (That surprised me.)

I don’t like the Apple Watch because it’s overtly impressive. Actually, it’s the opposite. It is – or perhaps more accurately, might just conceivably prove with hindsight to be – one of the first examples of technology whose job is to impress you by its very ignorability.

And nobody who asks me about it wants to hear that.