Born Sleepy

November 09, 2011

There’s a big furore in Britain at the moment about the fact that FIFA have told the England and Wales football teams that they can’t wear poppies on their shirts during their upcoming international fixtures.

For those who don’t know, the red poppy is worn by many people at this time of year here in commemoration of Remembrance Day.

It’s understandable that there is strong feeling, given that war (and death) are emotive topics at the best of times, but the level of debate on this topic has been incredibly poor. The typical reaction has been along the predictable lines of “this is political correctness gone mad”, “who are FIFA to interfere”, and so on. Even the prime minister got in on the act today. I believe that this is misguided.

The basis of FIFA’s decision is a broader rule that they have of “member nations not adorning their shirts with ‘commercial’, ‘political’, or ‘religious’ symbols or messages”.

Most people here are interpreting it as FIFA saying that wearing poppies is “political”, in the sense that it indicates some political allegiance within UK politics, or perhaps some more philosophical allegiance in favour of war in general, or one or more of the wars we’ve been involved in specifically. To some extent that might even be true - although it’s fair to say that many people wear the poppy as a general recognition of the pain, suffering and sacrifice of war on all sides - but in any case it’s totally missing the point.

The point is that what is a “war” is subjective, what is a “just war” is even more subjective, and who “the fallen” might includes depends entirely on your point of view.

If you allow the England team to wear poppies, you’d have to allow players from any nation in the world wearing items commemorating their own particular conflicts. Other parts of the world might regard these conflicts as anything but just - they might involve alleged genocide, terrorism, and so on.

Simply calling something a war is a political act.

FIFA aren’t passing judgement on any particular war, they’re enforcing a general rule precisely in order to avoid having to do that.

For once in my life, I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Sepp Blatter and company!


I pretty much stopped reading traditional newspapers many years ago (Caroline gets the Grauniad Guardian every Saturday, and that’s my only regular exposure).

I am a news junkie though, and as well as listening to a lot of BBC Radio (4 & 5), I fairly regularly check the Guardian and BBC news websites, and subscribe to a whole ton of RSS feeds, which I read on my iPad and my laptop.

I don’t generally use iPad news apps. I actually did some work on the Telegraph and Economist iPad editions, so I have them on my iPad, but I rarely remember to launch them!

Recently though, the Guardian released a new iPad application, and I’ve been trying it out.

The application is perfectly functional, but the main thing that it has reinforced in my mind is just how outdated the concept of a daily edition of a newspaper feels. Most, if not all, of the iPad versions of daily newspapers religiously reproduce this model in their electronic incarnations. Why?

The front page, whilst a fine tradition in print, isn’t actually that useful in an electronic context. Yes it highlights one or two major stories, but the rest of it is filled with links to the lead items on other sections. I suspect that, like me, most of us don’t read all of the sections, so half of what the front page contains won’t be of interest to any given user. An auto-generated front page based on some combination of the popularity of current articles and a history of what I’ve read in the past would probably do a much better job for me.

The idea of taking a daily snapshot in time and calling it “today’s” news also seems anachronistic in a world where breaking news is available the instant it happens.

Admittedly, a well informed and considered editorial or newspaper article can present a much more coherent picture of a story than the sort of inane verbal diarrhoea that you normal get from rolling-news reporters “on the scene” regurgitating third hand information because nobody actually knows what’s happening.

A daily edition isn’t required for that though - all you need is some actual facts and the kind of intelligent analysis of the overall picture that a bit of distance and a few hours reflection will give. Inserting a pause for intelligent though doesn’t have to require waiting for the next day. In any case, newspapers are perfectly capable of producing drivel too if a news event happens to occur at the right point in their daily cycle where they have time to get a story in but not enough time to actually know anything meaningful about it.

The obsession with daily editions tends to shape the architecture of the applications too. You often have to download the content for a whole edition at once. This is like having to put up with the cascade of sections in a modern Sunday paper - most of which go straight into the recycling. Bandwidth may be relatively cheap, but it still feels a bit pointless that I must wait for an app to download some stuff about gardening that I will never read! The waste of resources involved in real newspapers is one of the reasons I stopped buying them - and yet we’re doing our best to reproduce that waste digitally.

Daily editions also impose an cut-off on the life of articles. If the navigation of a newspaper app forces me to choose a day first, then a section, then a story, I won’t get to see yesterday’s stories unless I deliberately choose to look at yesterday’s edition first - and why would I do that until I know what’s in today’s edition?

In a world where I already know that I won’t have time to read everything, this compartmentalising of stories into days has the useful effect of cutting down the overall volume, but it’s cutting it down using the wrong criteria. If I’m looking at the sports section and I’ve been out of touch for a week, I don’t just want yesterday’s results, but I’d be happy to never be shown anything about horse racing. Similarly if I want to read some book reviews, I’d probably prefer to pick a genre first, and not have to select them based on the date they were published.

It’s early days yet, but I really think it would be good to see newspaper publishers take a more creative approach to re-packing their content for the digital era. I do see value in some human mediation - suggesting interesting stories for me and arranging the content in a suggested order in the way that editors do on physical papers - but I’d like to see it happen in more imaginative ways, rather than continuing to work within restrictions that no longer apply.


The recent death of Steve Jobs is very sad, and I like many other people in the world of Mac and iOS software development would like to acknowledge how much the products that he helped to create changed my life. My sympathy goes out to his family and close friends.

A post on this topic by Jeff LaMarche crystallised something that I’ve been feeling though about the coverage of Steve’s death.

I’ve heard and read many heartfelt expressions of sadness from people - at his loss, and of respect for the work that he did and the impact that he had on their life.

However I’ve also heard some hyperbolic statements, mostly by prominent public figures, that made me feel a little uneasy.

My experience is that excessive eulogising can be a burden too if you lose someone close to you.

It is nice to remember the good sides of someone, but it’s unreal to pretend that they didn’t have quirks and flaws, and it can get a bit painful if you feel that someone is being turned into something that they weren’t. If you lose someone close, you want to remember them as they were - a human being - and not as some sort of mythical paragon.

Of course in this case it is very complicated because Steve has such a public profile and genuinely was a hero to many.

I suppose I just wish that people would limit themselves in these cases to saying what a good effect someone had on their own lives - and leave speculation about their overall place in history, or the effect they had on society as a whole, for another day (and the perspective that a bit more time will bring).


I’ve had all sorts of problems over the years with spam and comments on Drupal, so I’ve decided to look for another solution.

After a recommendation by Matt Gemmell, I’m giving Disqus a go. So far the system seems very easy to set up and configure, but I’ve hit a problem with the the facility to import the old Drupal comments into the new system.

The import seems to have worked, in the sense that Disqus now appears to contain a copy of my old comments. However, they aren’t showing up on the site, so somehow it is failing to connect the comments with the pages that are supposed to contain them.

More info to come if/when I resolve this…


August 25, 2011

It does seem to me that Apple will struggle to replace Steve Jobs. He has an unusual combination of talents. 

As the near-hysteria surrounding his resignation illustrates, perhaps his greatest talent is that of making other people believe - in him and his plans. 

Not just people too, but smart, creative, difficult people; programmers and artists. If managing programmers is like herding cats, he is a cat whisperer par excellence. 

Allied to that, he obviously has a compelling vision to believe in. 

He’s not perfect - he doesn’t get everything right, and when he chooses to focus his micro-management skills on you, I expect it’s a complete nightmare. He doesn’t strike me as capricious though, and whilst I suspect that a lot of what he does is driven by intuition, his intuition is well tuned and consistent. Under Jobs, Apple has had a clear philosophy, and on the whole the products that it sells fit together, do what they are meant to, and just make sense. 

It’s going to be hard for Apple to replace all of the above. They can find a charismatic leader, a details guy, or a visionary, but all three in one is asking a lot. More to the point - finding one who’s vision is already compatible with Apple’s current position and future heading is going to be very difficult. You’d think that the most likely place to look for someone with a compatible world view would be within Apple, albeit not at the board level. Ask yourself this though - “would Steve be working for Steve?”. Maybe not. 

Whatever happens, I’m sure that Apple have enough inertia to be fine in the short to medium term. Longer than that, and it’s possible that things will drift. That’s natural though, and probably healthy. I suspect that Apple’s position of dominance now would have been anathema to many of the early employees, who were also instrumental in making it what it is today. The new versions of those people shouldn’t be at Apple now - they should be working in the startup that will knock Apple off its perch one day. Overseen and driven on by the next Steve Jobs. Which is entirely as it should be. 

In the meantime, I wish Steve well. He and a handful of other people at Apple, Xerox and Next have changed my life, and I’m grateful to them all for that.