Why do people only read things that back up their way of thinking?

Remember when the internet was in its infancy? We all had to put up with little 468 x 90 banner ads everywhere you looked – and sometimes we clicked them because we didn’t know better.

As time went on we grew smarter, we were able to tell the bad adverts from the good, and the emergence of online advertising  bumped the ugly out of the marketplace entirely. And now, our brains automatically blank out adverts to keep us focused on the content we went to the site in the first place for. Many of us use ad-blocking tools so our brains don’t even need to perform the mental airbrushing.

But what if those adverts were trying to tell us something really important?

What if the Emergency Broadcast System was hooked into those banner ads trying to give us forewarning of an avoidable cataclysm?

Social Engineering

Social Engineering refers to psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.

It is becoming increasingly common by malicious actors (bank and identity fraud, for example), but is also becoming a core part of many companies’ business models.

It all started innocently enough with the Social Graph. The ability to link people with other people, events, photos and products via rich, meaningful relationships turned the one-size-fits-all internet into a personalised window where the chaos suddenly started to shape itself into something we recognised and could engage with on a more emotional level.

Instant social gratification through ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ became our norm, information relevant to us started to travel at a speed that made some high school students, even back in 2008, say “email is too slow“. The relevancy-engine that is the Social Graph began to play on our most base motivations. Continue Reading “Why do people only read things that back up their way of thinking?”

The Sharing Economy

Your house, yesterday. Probably.
Your house, yesterday. Probably.

The ‘Sharing Economy’ is disrupting established industries and sending huge, powerful incumbents into a tizzy. Uber and AirBnB have shaken the taxi and hotel sectors, shifting power, control and profits from the RadioCabs and Hiltons of this world and into the hands of ordinary citizens armed with nothing more than a smartphone and a mobile data plan.

The question on everyone’s lips is: which industry will be disrupted by the Sharing Economy next?

A couple of years ago, I was in Portland, Oregon, for meetings with some colleagues. One lunchtime, our discussion diverged from work topics to an issue plaguing our home-lives, an issue common to both the US and UK: the reduction in bin-pickup frequency.

It’s a hot topic.

Dude, Where’s My Trash?

We tossed around some ideas to solve our overflowing bins issues, to solve the problems caused by local authorities switching from weekly to two-weekly pick-ups, and to solve that awkward situation we have all faced: that middle-of-the-night walk of shame, bin-bag over shoulder, roaming the streets like a crazed, ferral cat to find a neighbour’s bin with a bit of space left in it to deposit last night’s curry leftovers and beer bottles.

What does this have to do with the Sharing Economy?

A lightbulb lit: why not create a location-aware, social app to help out? Share My Trashcan was born, $5 per bag, with a $1 kick-back to us, it scales and is simple. But then one of our team mentally cycled through a Lean Startup build-measure-learn cycle and developed the concept, discovering that communities can come together to buy a shared dumpster, which would provide even more space (some of which could be shared with other communities!) and would also be picked up weekly.

Share My Trashcan was dead, long live Share My Dumpster!

Later in the day (after doing some actual work) we revisited the idea and the real, Lean, magic happened: we pivoted.  Continue Reading “The Sharing Economy”

An Open Letter to Michael Gove from a Teacher

Michael Gove – Probably not Satan.

This is going viral, originally from TES:


Dear Michael Gove,

You will never read this, but I feel compelled to put it out there in the faint hope that more people will realise the repercussions of your latest initiative. I am proud to work at a small school, on a small estate, in the most deprived ward in the county. The life expectancy in this ward is a full 20 years lower than the neighbouring village, which tells you a little bit about our intake. Add to this that within our 530 students, we have 36 different languages spoken and over 40% of students do not count English as their first language. Effectively, we are everything you hate and everything you would like to abolish. We are the skidmark on the sparkling underpants of your brave new world of academies and free schools. It is no secret that you would like nothing more than to see us swallowed up by a nearby school which features higher in your flawed league tables, but we have worked relentlessly hard to maintain our independence and have done enough, miraculously, to keep our heads above your floor targets for the last couple of years.

This time last year, I got immense pleasure when watching my English group, all boys, opening their exam results. 13 of this class of 22 were learning English as an additional language and a further 7 were on the special educational needs register. I was delighted, as you would imagine, that 21 of them passed their English and English Literature Exams and headed off to college, full of confidence and ambition. They hadn’t had the greatest start in life, but had worked incredibly hard to achieve what may seem to you a modest grade C at GCSE level. Today, I was excited to witness more of the same. The anticipation and excitement I feel on results day is something a thousand times more than when I received my own results. Anyone who teaches at my, or a similar school, will tell you exactly the same. We don’t teach students whose parents pay big money for them to learn Latin with private tutors, simply to be used as status symbols at social gatherings. We teach kids who have seen more turmoil and turbulence in their young lives than you or I will ever have to face and I can tell you that watching them learn that they have passed their GCSEs is the most satisfying, heart-warming reward you could ever imagine.

Fortunately, this year I was given a high set (where only about 30% of students were either EAL or SEN students) and they all performed exceptionally well. However, I spent the vast majority of the morning consoling students, who worked more than hard enough to achieve a C grade in English, had been predicted a C grade in English and effectively had earned a C grade in English, but had been credited with a D grade, thus scuppering their chances of going to a college which had conditionally accepted them based on their predicted grades. Just to be exceptionally clear, these are not privileged kids who were bright enough to get a high grade, but just couldn’t be bothered to work. These are students who are learning English as a second, sometimes third, language who have attended every revision session provided and still requested more, leading to some of us teachers having to put video lessons on YouTube to quench their never-ending thirst for knowledge. The work ethic shown by some of these students to overcome their language barriers was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. When coming to collect their results, they were far too humble to be over-confident, let alone complacent, but deep down they were content with the knowledge that they had given their all.

On opening the envelopes and seeing their D grades, each and every one of them covered their faces due to the shame that they felt. They should, of course, have been celebrating. But instead, a combination of devastation, embarrassment and confusion descended upon them and it was left to us teachers to try to explain to them what had gone wrong. The wrongdoing, it has become clear, was not their own doing. It would appear that, in a bid to halt the increase in GCSE passes, particularly in English, you have put pressure on exam boards to ensure that only a certain number of students achieve a C grade or above. When the January examination results came out, it would seem that far too many students were passing, so something would have to change for those unfortunate enough to be entered at the end of the GCSE course, which is ironically something that you are trying to make compulsory. So, the marks entered for Speaking & Listening and Written Controlled Assessment (60% of the final grade) were moderated, and agreed. This gave a number of students false hope that they had already achieved a pass in more than half of the course and all they had to do was match that mark in their examination. Incredibly, it has become apparent that the raw marks given for this part of the course, when converted, are now worth less than originally suggested and less than the credit given to those students whose identical work was submitted in January. This has, in turn, meant that these students were entering the exam, where they traditionally struggle due to issues with accessing the questions, on D grades. They never stood a chance, but they didn’t know. Unfortunately, they found out today. They can’t understand why someone would want to play around with their futures in such a cruel way and we, as teachers, should not have to be the ones to explain it to them.

You have not simply moved the goalposts. You have demolished them, sold off the playing fields where they once stood and left the dreams of these youngsters in tatters. So, there we go. It appears that today you got what you wanted. The statistics show that GCSE passes are down and to you, statistics is all they will ever be. But to me and every other teacher I have had the pleasure of working with, these children are not statistics. They are young people who you have betrayed and will forever be affected by the contents in that envelope which they opened today. We teachers will continue to do our jobs and sleep soundly in the knowledge that we did all that we could and will continue to do so.


In a difficult world where we need to ensure our children have no barriers to great education to ensure the continuity of once-Great Britain, it is time for Mr. Gove to stop treating real people’s lives with such reckless disregard. It’s time for his resignation and subsequent drift into anonymity. Your time is up Mr. Gove. The bell has rang.


How Governments have Tried to Block TOR

The most important Allium in the history of human freedom. FACT.

TOR (The Onion Router) is a second Internet running inside the existing Internet. It allows people from countries with strict regimes to bypass blocking and monitoring software.

This is a video from the guys behind TOR claiming lots of things about how Governments are using Internet surveillance and censorship to execute totalitarian control of their citizens, including sending Death Squads in the middle of the night.

“Intel indirectly runs censorship and surveillance in Tunisia.”

“Syria are killing people, and mailing their body parts back to their families, for posting anti-Government sentiment on Facebook.”

“I have data which shows the post-revolution Libyan regime worked with the pre-revolution Libyan regime to censor the Internet.”


The Stupidity of Gateshead Council: Explained!

This morning, commuters have awoken to find new road markings on my beloved B6317 approach to Blaydon roundabout. And these ones make much more sense.

Instead of having two lanes, one which ends abruptly, with no signage – not even a warning that there IS a new road layout!! – and the other which helpfully splits into two, somebody has had the sense to have two lanes…. which actually stay as two lanes all the way to the roundabout!! (Who could have fathomed such an excitingly simple solution????!)

Continue Reading “The Stupidity of Gateshead Council: Explained!”

The Stupidity of Gateshead Council

This month a local authority in the north-east of England have executed a nonsensical, short-sighted strategy to drive their tax-paying customers to frustrated anarchy. If you can make any sense of this please let me know in the comments at the bottom.


Men In Road

For as long as I’ve known there has been a wonderful example of road planning perfection at a very busy roundabout on my commute.

Handling a substantial amount of rush-hour traffic, despite being a renouned pinch-point, the approach to the roundabout splits two lanes into three, serving one of England’s most populous cities and also local destinations.

Continue Reading “The Stupidity of Gateshead Council”

Solving the English Drought Without a Hosepipe Ban

The South of England, in the UK (hello foreigners), is experiencing its second “dry winter”, which isn’t good for water levels in reservoirs and, ultimately, people. The Government is mulling the idea of hosepipe bans and reinstating the Bathe With a Friend Act of 1975, but these actions aren’t tackling the underlying problem.

Graeme, my very tall, very handy, infinitely clever, very single (hello Ladies), resourceful, Land Rover-loving chum has done what our elected Overlords are incapable of doing, he has seen a problem and looked for its root cause. Not just painting over symptoms in the hope that they will go away.

Take a look at his ideas, ranging from the downright insane (nuclear powered desalination) to the downright simples (squawk!) at his Land Rover themed website:



P.S. That photo on the front page with the Public Byway signs in it? That’s mine that is. I’ll have to contact him about my royalties…

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

This week the guy in charge of The Bank of England, Mervyn King, said that inflation was significantly closer to the 2% target this month, having dropped from 4.2% in December 2011 to 3.6% in January 2012. While this looks like great progress in making the economy a lot more stable, it is fraught with the usual problem with statistics: it’s all about perspective, and very close to being an all-out lie.

In January 2011, the feckless Conservative-LibDem Government decided the best thing for the delicate and in-tatters economy would be to increase sales tax (VAT) by 2.5%. This, naturally, doomed 2011 to be a total catastrophe for any normal people (although the wealthy have done quite well).

This led to inflation in January 2011 of 4%. Basically, something that cost £100 in Jan 2010 now suddenly cost £104 a year later.

In January 2012, inflation was 3.6%. So this means that things are now 3.6% more expensive than a year ago (when it was stupidly more expensive because of the ridiculous VAT increase). So that thing you paid £100 in Jan 2010 now costs £107.74.

You see, inflation COMPOUNDS. A 2% inflation target over two years should mean that we’re only paying £104, not as near as makes no difference, £108.


Inflation 2012


The fact that we’re 3.6% worse off than a month in which we were twice as worse off as we “should have been” is all absolutely abhorrent.

Watch these politico types and especially the bankers. And whenever you’re fed a statistic, ask yourself what it REALLY means, where it has come from and what their agenda might be.


National Health Service

I feel this is linked to how the Government are spinning things. Right now David Cameron is on a mission to bring private companies into hospitals. This, he says, will reduce the amount the tax payer needs to spend on the NHS, while bringing “private sector efficiency” to parts of hospital operation.

What he isn’t saying, however, is that this is clearly bringing a two-tier health service into place. The wealthy, again, will benefit from the premium, privately run parts, while the common person will get the parts of the system that private companies don’t want to touch with a barge pole.

And I’m going to bet serious money that we won’t see lower taxes even though we’re getting a poorer service and the tax money isn’t even going to the NHS anymore.

Where might the money be going then? Easy – to pay the interest on the loans taken out to keep the banks afloat.

I don’t care that this had to be done. The banks keep the company going, even though they are the paragons of greed, corruption, lies, arravice, stupidity and smugness. What pisses me off the most is that nobody in the Government or in the banks are willing to be honest about it.

Stop treating the People of Britain like children. Stop lying. Stop spinning facts. We’re on the verge of Blighty Spring, and you’re doing nothing but painting big targets on yourselves.


David Cameron - Lies, Damn Lies and Data