Living a chilled life

Back in 2008, I made this podcast about things which make us stressed at a time when, you’ll probably notice from the beginning, I was pretty stressed. Always good to speak from experience, though…

Listening back, I think I learned a lot through and since making this, not least that conversation can feel better than monologue to me for exploring big ideas. That’s one way my upcoming podcast about being a dad is going to be different from this one.

But I enjoyed rediscovering this from the archive, and thought you might also like to dip in to this podcast which actually topped the iTunes “Self Help” chart for a while despite the message being more like “don’t do self help – there’s better help available!”

Episode 1 – the intro!

Episode 2 – the one about a bump in the road (and why self help can be a bit rubbish)

Episode 10 – end of series 1 with stories about being in control (or not!)

Remain needs to change

I was fortunate to have a critique of my EU Elections article from Robin Bunce, a Cambridge politics professor who is far cleverer than me. (However, I maintain that I sourced better GIFs.) You can read the public exchange on Facebook here if you like.

After some quibbles about my maths, Robin made three substantial points about Labour’s stance on Brexit which make sense to me, but still need a push back. They were:

  1. “Labour’s strategic ambiguity has stopped Brexit.” (At least for now, because otherwise enough Labour MPs would have put Withdrawal Agreement (WA, or May’s deal) across the line.)
  2. “In a situation where Remain is not strong enough to win a full-on battle, the best solution is a guerilla struggle.” (Stretch it out, avoid losing, keep Remain “in the game” essentially.)
  3. “As soon as the Tories elect a new leader and adopt a harder Brexit stance, Labour can endorse a second referendum as a last resort.” (It can be said that Labour tried everything else first.)

While that sounds kind of sensible to me, it also sounds all kinds of horrific, for reasons I’ll explain in my reply below.

But Robin’s most powerful point, I thought, was that “Remain have won all of the arguments* but lost the POLITICAL battle,” and that Labour needs a political strategy. (* by “arguments” I think Robin meant economic analyses rather than elections, but he could correct me on this.)

In any case, I thought I should post my reply here rather than just leaving it in a Facebook comment.

The breakfast food references are my way of trying to make sense of these polling numbers, by the way. Thousands of people were asked to rank their preferred Brexit options. “Remain” was the most polarising, in a Marmite-like “love it or hate it” way. “No Deal” had quite a few fans but most people were not keen, which I’ve likened to black pudding. The middle options were more palatable to most, but were more for settling than loving – “Soft Brexit” looks to me like the cornflakes most people will happily put up with (it’s the majority’s second choice), but the “WA (Withdrawal Agreement)”, or “May’s Deal”, is a lot less popular, perceived more like a bowl of cold porridge.

I like analogies which help me to think laterally and potentially break out new solutions to tricky problems by seeing if there’s something we can observe from a different angle. Also, I like food.


What stands out for me in your excellent analysis is the idea of perhaps winning an (economic?) argument but losing the political battle. I’ll stick with my breakfast analogy for a bit, but put it in a domestic situation...

Let’s say Dad wants black pudding but Mum says it’s too expensive and gross. Mum wants Marmite, which is better economically, but Dad says it’s yeasty shite which no one in their right mind could like, and now Mum is crying.

There’s an economic argument here, but the kids won’t remember it. They will remember how Mum and Dad started to make them feel when they kept shouting “bollocks*” at each other and nobody had any breakfast, even that crappy dust in a jar which no one likes or remembers why it ended up in the kitchen in the first place.

(*If you’re wondering why the bad language is necessary, by the way, I didn’t start it. This is the state we’re in. This is a REAL photo, from a REAL political campaign from a party generally known for its sensible, moderate views, led by your kindly uncle. How did we get here?)

The actual Liberal Democrat manifesto for the 2019 European Elections

Fact is, the significance of broken politics is starting to overtake the significance of who’s right in the economic arguments. There’s an economic cost to pay for this as uncertainty is not an attractor of business investment. But the political cost of a prolonged fight should be a scary wake up call to Labour, Conservatives and the rest.

It’s possible that Labour forces the election it wants, but in doing so loses the trust of the electorate. Enter parties like the Brexit Party which might get real wide-ranging power without offering any real policy other than Brexit. You might think that’s as unlikely as a lying, repulsive, impetuous, emotionally stunted, economically incompetent reality TV star winning the US presidency, and you’d be right.

(At time of writing, I forgot that the Brexit Party had also recruited a candidate who may be most famous for appearing on a popular reality show and not being very good at what the show is meant to be about. But I strictly shouldn’t mention that.)

The political battle is everything now, and if parliamentary democracy can’t or won’t deliver something, anything, even an unpopular but workable option, it may get overwritten by the next charismatic dictator who comes along and says we can have what we want if only we’ll trust them. Even if we obviously can’t trust them.

So Labour needs to get itself together. “We want an election” is not a policy you can put into a manifesto if you get one. So grow a policy.

I’m thinking Labour might regret trashing the WA quite so much. After all, if policy was to deliver Brexit but make it nice and soft, the WA was (and, err, still is) the way to get that. Yes, it seems like a political win to unseat May, but who’s going to celebrate that if it leaves Labour unelectable? I’m not going to write publicly about how a Conservative could reframe the whole debacle to make that happen, but they could. I think we’ll find that at least one of the leadership candidates will be better at basic political competence like this than May.

Paths for Labour to proceed with political credibility have narrowed. I think there are two, and they both involve reframing unpopular Brexit options in the hope that people will buy into one.

The one I don’t want but I think is easier, and stands the best chance of avoiding no-deal Brexit, is to embrace the WA as a bowl of crud nobody wants, but at least it’s a bowl. If we can at least settle on cornflakes (and if you’re feeding a whole crowd one thing, it obviously has to be cornflakes), that’s the way to get them. Start with an empty bowl, which is what the WA should always have been described as. It’s not what you want, it’s the way to get what we all need. But Labour have trashed and possibly smashed the WA bowl to the point where they might not be able to use it at all.

The harder option is to sell the benefits of Remain to people who hate the idea. There’s maybe a little hope here. I actually hate Marmite but still like Twiglets. I know, that makes no sense. They’re covered in Marmite and even say so on the packs now. But if enough people who don’t want Marmite for breakfast can be persuaded that they might like Twiglets instead, it’s doable.

What that means in political practice is not trying to sell the idea of being internationalist to people who don’t want it, but reinforcing the power of being British and proud of it.
Having a vote about what we do with Europe is having power. So let’s have a vote. And what can we do in Europe? Focus on Brits and British influence abroad, which is a positive thing to celebrate, rather than just worrying about people “coming over here taking our jobs”. Focus on the transforming for good we can get done in Europe rather than the paralysis implied by “remain”.

Labour ideally needs reframe “remain” with a better word, and back it up with positive, deliverable promises of what Britain can achieve for the many if it takes back control (yes, use that term) from a paralysed, incompetent, not-listening, failing Conservative party.
That’s snack food for breakfast, eat all you want.


So, what do you think? If you’re reading this far, I’m guessing you’re super into politics, or really can’t sleep.

Is there any good way to bring people happily along into a new point of view on Brexit? Can you think of a better term than “Remain”? And what do you want to do about it?

Britain and Europe – what have we learned, and what next?

Trust me, I’m not one of those experts you’ve had enough of. But I know my way around a bunch of numbers (*ask me about Excel at reasonable rates!) and I’m writing as I’m trying to process what the hell happened in the Euro Elections, perhaps like you.

Disclaimers

  1. I want to remain in the EU, so feel free to be sceptical on that basis, but come on, let’s be friends…
  2. I live in Bristol, which had an election result so massively different from the rest of the UK, you might be amazed. “How can I possibly be objective in this organic, locally grown, vegan bike-riding lefty paradise?” you may well ask. I like eating meat in McDonalds, if that helps.

The big numbers

Here’s the latest from the BBC.

If you’re The Sun or The Daily Express, that means Brexit won, right?

Not exactly. The clearest pro-Brexit parties, Brexit and UKIP got 31.6 + 3.3 = 34.9% of the votes between them. While Brexit got the most overall, they were clearly opposed by parties running on a pro-referendum, campaign to remain ticket. There just happened to be more than one of them. The Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK + nationalists Plaid Cymru and SNP were the clearest, I think. Their vote came to 20.3 + 12.1 + 3.4 + 1 + 3.6 = 40.4% including nationalists (or 35.8% without)

On either basis. people overall did not demand that Brexit is delivered – actually, the opposite.

Looking a different way through party swing, how did the Brexit/UKIP block fare against just the non-nationalist Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK?

Gain by Brexit/UKIP = 31.6 – 24.2 = 7.4%

Gain by Lib Dems/Greens/Change UK = 21.0%

That’s a net swing towards the pro-referendum parties more than towards the Brexiters.

What about the MEPs elected?

Brexit/UKIP overall gained 29 – 24 = 5 MEPs

Lib Dems/Greens/Change UK gained 15 + 4 + 0 (thanks for playing, Chukka) = 19 MEPs overall.

So the vote, the swing and the MEPs returned are overall more pro-referendum and pro-remain than pro-Brexit.

If this were a UK parliament then, yes, Farage would be Prime Minister and we’d all look forward to Anne Widdecombe’s contributions as Home Secretary, Treasurer or Minister for Strictly Come Dancing, BUT IT’S NOT.

Do we even know what people voted for?

That’s a really good question, thanks for asking. Anne Widdecombe argued that it was a vote to leave the EU because the Brexit Party only stood for one thing, and other parties got votes for a variety of reasons. (Video below from BBC iPlayer may only be visible in UK and until the end of June 2019.)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0005j6s/eu-elections-2019-part-one#t=154m30s

But by this logic, with only the Brexit party’s vote counting, they won a one-competitor race. So…

It turns out that YouGov researched what people thought the different parties stood for on Brexit, and you might be surprised at the results (full article here…)

Yes, it’s a mixed bag. All very nuanced and confusing, especially around the middle. People really didn’t know whether or not Labour were anti-Brexit (though more thought they were than not), and similarly with the Conservatives (just the other way around.)

But look carefully at what people thought even of the Brexit Party. Over 1 in 5 people didn’t know they were pro-Brexit, even though that was their only policy and the clue was in the name. In a close vote where a couple of percentage points could tip things either way,

3 percent of people thought the Brexit Party was anti-Brexit.

Honestly. The state of our country.

But why did the big parties’ votes collapse? And why did weird things happen in places like Bristol?

I think it’s all about two things which are individually hard to measure but combine to make visible support:

Votes = Policies x Confidence

If you love a policy and you’re confident that the party who says they’ll deliver will deliver, that’s a vote winner. But if either policy or confidence fails, it can all zero out.

For example, if the Lib Dems promised to get us to the moon and build an all-British stadium complex big enough to host the Olympics in 2032, that would be amazing, I would love us to compete with home advantage in the low-gravity BMX freestyle, and I would definitely vote for that if I thought they could deliver. But it’s unlikely, so not a vote winner.

On the other hand, if the Conservatives promised to stop free school meals for every child, exacerbate poverty among the least well off and give tax cuts to the rich, I would totally believe they could and would deliver that. But I don’t like the policy so, for me, not a vote winner either.

You need the right policy and the confidence to deliver to get the vote.

What happened to the Conservatives in the EU 2019 election was not a change of policy – lots of people liked their policy – but a collapse of confidence. Brexit has consumed political energy in the last couple of years to the point where it’s all that seemed to get worked on, and all people wanted to get done. In this, almost literal, “YOU HAD ONE JOB” situation, the Conservatives didn’t deliver. So confidence and votes fell like Eddie The Eagle with a broken ski.

What happened to Labour? Maybe a crisis of confidence, but probably even more a confusion and rejection of policy.

Change UK never got off the ground because they never commanded recognition of either policy or ability to deliver. The leaflet they sent us about their group of amazing independent candidates failed to name any candidates, possibly because at time of printing, there were contradictory stories about who they were.

The Greens have a lot to be happy about, especially in Bristol where they topped the vote by a loooooong way…

I think Bristol has always wanted to vote Green, and loves Green policies, but lacked the confidence they’d be able to do much in Parliament. They closely contested my constituency, Bristol West, after the Lib Dems lost popular confidence thanks to the 2010 coalition.

But then Thangam Debbonaire MP turned out to have not only the best name in Parliament, but also built confidence as an incredible local MP. She was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the 2015 election, fought it and came out with purpose. She was made a shadow minister but quit to fight for better Labour leadership. She defied the party whip to oppose Article 50 and faced hateful opposition from within the local party. She refused to stand aside for the Greens in 2017, pointing to her record as a “progressive MP” and local champion, and turned the seat from a marginal to one of the safest Labour seats in the country.

Even that didn’t help Labour win here. It doesn’t take much policy to be wrong or confidence to drop for support to come crashing down.

General Elections are more complicated, with more policies expected and demanded to govern a country rather than contest one issue. My guess is that if there were an election tomorrow, Labour would still romp home here for all the reasons they did in 2017.

But if that election taught us that marginal seats can become super safe looking very quickly, we should also have learned by now that there is no such thing as safe and, frankly, anything could happen.

And whatever parties want to commit to, they’d better be sure they are policies people want AND are confident they can deliver.

So what should Labour do next?

It’s hard to be Labour, trying to reconcile leavers and remainers among members and voters alike. But on Europe, they need to clarify the policy and build the confidence.

The trouble with committing to leave now is that many (Brexit Party supporters excepted) have little clarity about what would be next, and diminishing confidence that this can be done well.

Lack of confidence, not lack of policy, killed the Conservative vote in 2019.

If we can’t be confident in what Labour policy will accomplish – and “let’s try and renegotiate” would be pretty vague and uninspiring – they’re going to have to commit to something deliverable.

Committing to seeking a fresh election isn’t enough, because what do you put in the manifesto when you succeed?

Committing to rescind Article 50 is bold and, arguably, anti-democratic and suicidal.

But committing to a People’s Vote for confirmation of the path ahead is sensible. Labour can still respect the differences of opinion people have on Europe, and allow MPs to go separate ways on what outcome to campaign for. Having the vote is, by definition, democratic in my view, and I think it’s the only way to work out what people really meant when they voted in the Euro Elections last week.

But we’ve already voted!

Yes, and generally in elections we vote again every few years. Parliaments get a chance to work things out over five years maximum, less on average. We are most of the way towards a time when we’d naturally have a confirmatory vote on anything else through a fresh General Election, so why not for leaving the EU now that we know the terms?

How a fresh vote could work

Three options, and a single transferable preference vote for each person. The options would be the only ones which are currently deliverable. That’s the only way for people to have confidence that the process can deliver right away. No wish lists. Right now those options are:

  • Leave the EU without a deal
  • Leave the EU with the transition deal negotiated by Theresa May
  • Remain in the EU for now

But it can’t be a fair vote if it’s split three ways, can it?

That’s an argument the Brexit Party tried using to dismiss the whole idea of a People’s Vote as unfair and unworkable. This would be a fair criticism if one remain option faced two leave options, winner takes all.

But a transferable preference vote overcomes that problem. You simply put a “1” by your first choice and “2” by your next favourite option. That’s all you need – even easier than “1, 2, 3”

How would that work?

You add up the totals for everyone’s first preferences. If one has more than 50% of the votes, that’s it, game over, thanks for playing.

But if not, you take away the least popular option and use the second preferences from the people who voted for it. Adding those to the first preferences will give a clear result.

So for example, let’s say 40% put Remain as first choice, 40% want no-deal Brexit most, leaving 20% preferring transition-deal Brexit. You’d then look at the second preferences of the transition-deal Brexiters. If more of them want no-deal Brexit, that’s what we would have as the clear winner. It could go either way.


EXTRA CREDIT READING: Yes, it can be complicated…

If you offer a lot of options, you could end up with different results depending on how you add them up. This is one reason to keep a multiple choice ballot as simple as possible.

Here’s a great study from politics.co.uk using live polling data from April 2019. They went with four options, including a “Softer Brexit” to be negotiated.

Remember, this is real data, not made up to make an awkward “what if” scenario. I think it’s one hell of a breakfast buffet.

REMAIN is Marmite on toast. Lots of people love it the most, lots hate it, there’s not much middle ground.

NO DEAL is black pudding. Quite a few fans, but significantly more people don’t like it than like it.

SOFTER BREXIT and MAY’S DEAL are the blander, more cereal-like offerings. The soft Brexit people imagine they might be able to get is cornflakes. No one dislikes cornflakes. Hardly anyone really loves them either. But at least they’re better than May’s Deal, which appears to be cold porridge. Yuck. I mean, it might be better than starving, and it’s not as hated as black pudding, but there’s a very short queue for it.

Now, you can imagine how any one option for everyone is going to be unpopular.

Even more awkwardly, there’s more than one way to serve this breakfast mess. With a single transferable preference vote (also known as “Alternative Vote”), it turns out that remain would win, though it’s close. Marmite for all – people love it!

But through another way of counting the votes, say by eliminating the most unpopular options first, Remain would actually get knocked out in the first round and Softer Brexit would win. You’re all getting corn flakes because nobody hates them!

(PS – remember, this is REAL DATA, and that the cornflakes are NOT REALLY ON THE TABLE. They’re just something people would not mind if they were. The porridge isn’t looking so bad now, is it?)

So, in conclusion


But really

We are all going to have to deal with a lot of people we know and love being rather unhappy and feeling treated unfairly, possibly for quite a few years to come.

We’re all going to have to choose between sticking in groups of people who agree with us and mistrusting everyone else, or getting back to some good old British moaning behind people’s backs and just within earshot while still choosing to be polite to their faces and keeping our inner rage to ourselves, thanks very much.

After all, we all know how frustrating and disappointing British life can be, but in the end, don’t we have one overriding thing in common?

We are all part of a nation that is most famous for things that look completely crap but turn out, given half a chance, to be absolutely amazing.

The thing you need to know about Halloween

Families in our street have been excited about this for weeks. Plans and costumes have been made, decorations and pumpkins have been prepared, and our 4 year-old son and his friends have been counting the days until they go out together on a dark night for a (slightly) scary adventure with monsters, stories and sweets.

What’s not to like?

Every year I seem to have conversations like this with the one group of people I thought would really get the reason for the season. Christians are all over the place with Halloween. Many have felt conflicted about it for years, for a bunch of reasons.

For some, it’s glorifying evil and things we’d rather steer away from. I get it – we don’t want more evil or darkness in the world. (Who does?) For others, it’s like spoiled, commercialised Christmas all over again, with so many people cashing in on something which might have been good once, but now seems mainly about sweets. (And your problem with sweets is…??? No, I get it. There’s serious stuff to learn here. Heaven help us if we want to have fun at the same time.)

All of this, I think, is understandable. It’s also redeemable with one simple idea. The true meaning of Halloween:

It’s a celebration of how evil is coming to an end.

Simple as that.

We could go into all the roots of it. The clue is in the name – “Hallow” comes from another word for “Saint”, and “een” means “eve”, the day before… what? “Halloween” on October 31st was historically paired with “All Saints Day” on November 1st, where the great people of faith would be remembered for the positive difference they had made to the world, part of God’s much bigger plan to renew and redeem everything.

Like other Christian festivals, including Christmas, the timing for this was parked on top of older, pagan festivals rooted in the changing of seasons, linked to ancient stories of life, death and renewal. Jesus, with all the love in the world, and the church (sometimes, sadly, with less love) have a track record of sharing life-changing ideas by re-framing people’s symbols and celebrations. In this case, as you can see for yourself in The History Channel’s summary, the list of Halloween’s references and predecessors is huge. There are Celtic new year celebrations, Roman remembrances of the dead, and a whole bunch of different Christian ideas, symbols and traditions, all bundled into the mix.

I find it amazing that across this breadth of history and cultures, there is a lasting and seemingly universal longing for life to be better and for death not to have the last say in life.

This is one reason why it makes a lot of sense for Christians to get fully into Halloween. It’s not just a bit of fun, it links to the deep longing we all have for a better world. There’s an opportunity to share what we are looking forward to, and why we think evil is overcome by good.

For all the complexities of its roots, and all the fun of the festivities, for me, Halloween is about one thing – the end of evil.

But is evil really coming to an end?

This is a matter of faith for Christians. If you’re following Jesus, he promises that it is, so I’d believe him. But with the state of the world today, I can see how this is hard to accept.

A friend of mine likens our current situation to the time in World War 2 between D-Day and the end of the war.

There is fighting, death, even horror. It’s hard to avoid reminders of evil in the world, not just on the news but wherever we see injustice on our own streets, feel it in our own lives, or have the self-awareness to realise how we sometimes hurt others through things we do and things we fail to do.

At the risk of sounding preachy from this point (trust me, I wouldn’t go door to door forcing this on anyone!), here is what I believe: Jesus overcame evil and death, proved by his death and rising to life.

We celebrate that at Easter, but in our WWII analogy, it was “D-Day”. Jesus beating death was the guarantee that the good v evil war would come to an end, with good winning. We haven’t seen that end yet, so we are between D-Day and victory day. But we know that evil is going to get got.

So how do we share this with kids?

Here is our plan, roughly…

  1. Have fun!
  2. Really, have fun being creative with all the Halloweeny things that get our son, his friends, our neighbours and, frankly, ourselves excited in a silly, spooky, sometimes scary, but always fun loving way. (I’ve already added dozens of new, fun Halloween songs this year to Fun Kids – listen on the 31st if you want the best family-friendly Halloween soundtrack!)
  3. Tell our son, and anyone else who asks why we’re doing all this monstrous malarkey, that we are celebrating, looking forward to the end of evil in the world.
  4. We’re also telling our son that we believe it’s Jesus who makes this possible. We’ll chat more about how when he’s ready and interested.
  5. For anyone who asks, we’ll share as much of our faith as they’re interested in too.

Here’s what we aren’t planning:

  1. Anything that isn’t fun.
  2. Anything that’s actually mean or evil, because our hope is in The Gospel, not “The Purge”.
  3. Anything other than a tummy ache, and maybe some leftover sweeties, to last past October 31st. The Halloween songs all come off the radio. The other bits get taken down. I don’t really mind if the pumpkins are chucked away, broken or rot over a longer time, but they won’t last. The point is, we’re celebrating evil’s decay and demise, and that’s a Very Good Thing!

I hope your Halloween goes well and ends well. Have fun!

Why is Apple’s apology big news?

For a few hours on December 28-29 2017, the BBC reported “Apple apologises for slowing older iPhones down” as the biggest news story in the world.

There are some obvious reasons for news rooms to cover this. Apple is currently the most highly market-valued company in the world, a status which reflects the influence it has on us now, as well as expectations for the future.

Something about iPhone makes it iconic, standing for something bigger than itself. Even though Apple only sells 1 in every 8 smartphones (source: IDC), few would deny the iPhone’s influence ranging from minor tech details, like “do we need headphone jacks?”, to major quality of life issues. Before iPhone, high tech phones were gadgets virtually no one thought they needed. Now more than 2 billion people use smartphones (source: Statista) and probably can’t remember how they managed without them.

But that in itself doesn’t explain why Apple’s unusual press release about a detail of its power management software could feel like the biggest story in the world. I think there’s much more going on than a business tech story. This top 5 list of reasons why is going to start with the tech but land closer to our souls.

5. It’s like Apple just drove over land mines in our heads

I’ve heard reporters mention weeks of speculation about iPhone’s power management, but as an iPhone user since the original version, I’ve experienced a constant question every time a new one comes out. Should I get one? Apple’s answer to this seems predictably “yes”, but what if I’m perfectly happy with the one I have? Apple can tempt me towards a new phone, but would they also do anything to make me less happy with my current one?

For years, people have felt that they might. It seemed to many users like their phones slowed down shortly before a new one came out. “iPhone slow” has peaked as a measurable Google search trend every time a new iPhone has come out. (Source: Statista)

Infographic: The You will find more statistics at Statista

It’s been my experience too. For every good physical reason, like software updates increasing demand on hardware, questions remain which adds psychological pressure.

Why does my phone seem slower even if I don’t update iOS? Am I imagining it because I just want a faster new one? If it’s not my imagination (and I’d prefer it wasn’t because then I might be going mad), what might Apple be doing to my phone? Could they really be making it obsolete so I’ll buy a new one?

“Planned obsolescence” has been much discussed, and strongly denied by Apple. It would probably be illegal. So while many of our experiences made us suspect Apple was slowing our iPhones, their denials made us bury our suspicions to some extent. These never go away completely. They lie hidden, like land mines, waiting to go off if new evidence puts enough weight on them.

In this case, boom. Apple might have wanted to address one issue, the life and health of aging batteries, but the way they did it put pressure right where our old suspicions were. Apple has been knobbling our phones and not telling us! We were right!

4. We always want to be right

This sounds like vanity, but in a complicated world, being right about stuff feels important.

There is much that is hidden in the world which can affect us. So for our health and survival, our heads have to have a model of how the world works, what to expect, and what to do or avoid as a result.

Being right in our assumptions about what’s going on in the world is a hell of a lot easier for us than being wrong. When we feel we know what’s going on, we can be confident in our decisions, spending less time and energy on worry and doubt, and this tends to make us more productive and happy, even if our assumptions are wrong.

Being wrong is a big deal. We’d rather avoid the inconvenience, embarrassment and the feeling that we’ve wasted our time, let alone the pain and difficulty of change.

So we go to considerable effort, even without being conscious of this, to grab opportunities to affirm that we were right in the face of any doubt about this.

In this case, experiences of slowing iPhones led to debates about the reality of this phenomenon every year. For some, physical explanations are enough – battery chemistry is interesting! (For a few of us.) I had experienced the annoyance of unexpected shutdowns caused by weak batteries, and already figured it might be a good idea to deal with this. Turns out, Apple did too. Hooray for being right! Thanks for being so considerate, Apple!

But if the main theory you had was that Apple was secretively slowing your phone down for unexplained reasons without acknowledging this when challenged, you were right too.

The lawsuits against Apple for this don’t come from grateful, satisfied customers who feel right for trusting Apple, but from people who feel right for not trusting them. In some cases, they might be especially angry for feeling conflicted and betrayed. They loved iPhones enough to buy them, and trusted Apple enough to rely on them. Being let down here isn’t just an annoyance but a betrayal of the heart.

3. Trust is becoming a bigger and bigger deal in tech

Increasing reliance on technology isn’t news in itself, but it’s a huge trend. Any development which sheds light on this can feel like a massive story.

Mobile phones inspired many people to trust tech in new ways. Before them, we’d have to make plans before going out. With them, we can adapt as we go, change a meeting time and place, always be contactable in an emergency, always feel close when we are far away. As long as everything works, of course. This requires trust, in batteries, signal strengths and lots of other complex things we can’t directly control.

Smart phones demand more trust. They offer maps and information on the move, so if we trust them, we can land in a new city and feel right at home. They store and process our most personal data, from contacts and schedules to ideas, photos, memories and all kinds of creative expressions. In doing this, they feel like companions, trusted with our secrets, reflecting our experiences, sharing our lives.

Not only are smart phones good at storing and processing things alongside us, they are portals to the massive storage and processing of “the cloud”. From apparently simple storage lockers like Dropbox for our documents to the much more complex processing of data that Apple, Google and others do to make useful services, smart phones host technology which works when we trust it, run by businesses that grow when we trust them more.

I find it a bit frightening even to think about the amount of trust were placing in technology, companies and, ultimately, people who can let us down. Trust is a vital part of life without tech too, but tech seems to inspire and demand trust from us pretty quickly in ways we might not have fully thought through.

I’ve loved watching our three year old son start to get to grips with smart, connected voice recognition technology. It’s a way for him to explore the world and do things I couldn’t do before I was better at reading and writing. We do this together – we’re both learning how to use the tech well in a safe, satisfying way – but I’m struck by how quickly he trusts and confides in it, sharing what’s on his mind and in his heart. I’m also aware of how much we don’t really know about how all our data, voices, search results, likes, needs and wants are being used.

This is an area of sensitivity which is only going to grow as we enjoy and demand more from connected services. Sophisticated voice recognition alone needs massive amounts of data to be trained to work well. So does the processing of meaning in questions. Our brains interpret people’s meaning brilliantly. Machines are taking a while to catch up. If we want them to be useful, we have to trust them a lot. Siri in particular has a lot of catching up to do to be as smart, reliable and useful as its competitors, let alone reach the ideals of its designers.

So Apple needs our trust in massive, industrial quantities. We know it. We’ve already invested our trust through our iPhones, what we’ve used them for, and the amount of ourselves we keep pouring into them. Any story which suggests Apple might not be totally trustworthy is huge news, not just for them but – much more – for us.

2. The line between “us” and “them” is becoming scarily blurry

Are we cyborgs already? If iPhones were embedded in our heads to help us see, remember and process life experiences, the answer would be a definite yes. Does the fact that they are more portable and shareable than that make them less or more powerful as cyber parts of ourselves?

I would argue that when we trust smart phones as much as we do, it’s as if they are part of us. But while this is an illusion we can dispel fairly easily when we sell an old phone, when we buy a new one, we also buy another illusion – that we own this new piece of tech. Every so often, we get reminded that we don’t.

This is a huge issue connecting with the iPhone power management story. We think we’ve bought an iPhone, but we never really have the control over it that we think ownership should bring.

It’s the same with lots of technology that runs on code. We buy the box, but the code is always proprietary, owned by someone else, protected by law from our close inspection and tampering even if we have the skills to do so.

This feels very problematic, and brings up many questions concerning rights and responsibilities. Do we have the right to play with the things we’ve bought? What happens if these things cause us damage, or hurt other people? Where are the boundaries between my responsibilities and those of a tech company that asserts ongoing ownership of code that makes its devices work?

There are huge questions to be resolved here, possibly when tragedies occur as a result of ambiguities or misunderstandings. What will happen when someone gets killed by a collision with a car that had a driver, but was operating in “driverless” mode?

That will be huge news. Meanwhile, iPhone battery management seems pretty trivial in comparison. Yet it is news because it reminds us that these things we trust, this tech we carry, isn’t just gadgetry. It has become part of us.

1. Tech is more than our stuff, it’s part of our souls.

Someone tampering with code without our knowledge is not just risking our trust, but challenging our sense of selves, what we own, what we control, who we are and what we can do.

Maybe this sounds like unhealthy hyperbole. Perhaps I’m obsessed with tech more than I should be.

Maybe. But I think it’s no more than any other kind of treasured possession, and thousands of years ago Jesus reflected that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Wasn’t he right? I don’t think he was just talking about money, but any stuff we value, and modern tech is designed to make us value it, for the good it can do for us and the amount of ourselves it can hold. iPhones are particularly good examples of tech we value for hugely important reasons.

There’s a lot more written about what tech does than what it means. It’s easier to benchmark performance than significance.

But stories like “Apple did something to your phone” resonate because of the meaning the tech has in our lives. Maybe that isn’t totally healthy. Or perhaps it’s a good sign that we are alive, sensitive to important things like who we are, and what we can do, in a connected world.

Maybe the best part of the story is simply that Apple apologised. They hardly ever do. They take pride in secrecy, and seem to believe this helps them make the stuff we want, but if what we really want is more than functional tech but the connection and the best of ourselves that we believe tech can bring, then tech companies need to get better at being the people we want to relate to. Putting problems right, building better relationships on the way, is a great way to start. If we ever believe their profits are more important than that, Apple – as big as they are – will be sunk.

It’s stories like this that remind me of ways we are unexpectedly connected, with our tech and each other. It turns out that trust is more valuable than money, good relationships are more important than good batteries, and we are all more valuable than our stuff.

Building with Jesus

Christians – you can steal this if you want!

Every couple of weeks my wife and I meet with friends who are helping each other grow as followers of Jesus, or look into what this means if they’ve never done this before. We’re always looking for creative ways to bring practical life experience together with stuff Jesus talks about, and other things in the Bible. At the end of a challenging year, we wanted a way to find encouragement and reflect on what’s ahead for us.

This worked really well, so I’m posting for you to use or adapt however works for you. The idea is for every participant to build a structure which reflects how their life is going right now, and gather the resources which will help as they build more to come.

Preparation

I’ve made a set of cards you can print out on two A4 pages. They are a selection of quotes from Jesus. They’re meant to look a bit like bricks when you cut down the middle of the thick black borders. If you’re leading/hosting, have them ready before you meet. One set will probably do for up to 6 people in a group. Think and pray about the passage below while you’re cutting!

Download the cards from here (PDF file, 23 kB)

Here are a few examples:

Introduction

Read Matthew 7:24-27 together. It’s Jesus’ mic drop ending to his Sermon on the Mount. He just laid down an incredible amount of life changing, and world changing, practical encouragement and challenge. He wants listeners to make a choice which will determine their quality of life – not just how they feel, but what their work will ultimately mean to them and others. It’s like building something which could last or fall over, and they can choose.

Ask each other: What do we think the passage means? Does it make us feel more encouraged or challenged? What’s the difference between the wise and the foolish builder?

(For me, the key is that Jesus is not describing churchgoers vs. non-churchgoers or non-believers. Everyone in this picture has heard Jesus’ words. The difference is whether or not we put them into practice.)

Exercise

Lay out the cards and introduce them – they’re Jesus’ words that we can put into practice. Some seem harder than others, but many will feel relevant to our lives as they are now, and as we would like them to be.

Step 1 – I’m doing this

Get everyone to pick about 3 cards they feel reflect things that they have definitely put into practice this year. They don’t have to be things we think we have 100% perfected, but things where we are encouraged because we did manage them, at least once.

Share about your choices and the difference they have made to your lives. If you know each other well, you can also pick a few things that you have seen others do, and encourage them with this.

Make sure everyone feels encouraged, and ask everyone to lay out their “I’m doing this” cards in a nice solid row that they can build on. Thank God for what you have found out about each other.

Step 2 – I’m trying to do this

Everyone pick about 3 more cards representing things they feel they’re wanting and trying to get right but haven’t yet nailed.  Share about why these are important for each person, and the difference they would make if you could put Jesus’ words into practice.

This is where there’s a lot of potential for short term challenge and growth. Make sure everyone is reminded of God’s process of building, on a solid foundation. He will definitely help us with what we are wanting to apply from Jesus’ words.

Spend some time praying this in, and laying down this layer of bricks in faith on top of the first layer.

Step 3 – I would love to aim for this

Everyone pick a few more cards which sound like the life they would love to live, but feel too hard right now. Again, share about why these are important and the difference they would make in practice.

God can surprise us. When we let him build with us, he often makes the apparently impossible possible, so if we really want to put some challenging words into practice, he might well give us the opportunity to do that very soon, ahead of our own plans!

Thank God for the richness of his resources for us, and for the scale of what he can accomplish through us, and pray as we lay down another layer of bricks in faith that we will be able to do what Jesus says.

Final step – Summary and commitment

As a final encouragement, you might want to point to Jesus’ promise that “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.” (Matthew 25:29) This isn’t some weird prosperity gospel for the rich. Ask what people think Jesus is talking about here. (I think it’s faith.) If we are discouraged in following Jesus, it can be because we’ve got loads of ideas in our heads and not enough experience of seeing how they work in our lives. But when we do what Jesus says, in faith, our faith grows. We can’t master everything at once, but God does build an amazing life with us when we are wise builders, hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice.

Chat about how you can help each other put these words into practice. You might want to share specific things to do, or give permission to each other to ask about how they did later.

Nerd notes

The Bible quotes are from the New International Version – you can read or listen here.

I’ve occasionally truncated a quote to get it to fit on a card, without changing the meaning, I hope. I’ve simplified the references to keep them readable without fussing over whether or not I quoted a whole verse. Sorry, scholars. The idea is that you can/should be like a Berean and look up the context of anything which sounds interesting. But let me know if you feel anything really needs to be revised!

How much for an iPhone? You decide!

A new 64 GB iPhone 8 could cost anywhere between £1,011 and £2,142 over two years, depending on your network deal and how much data you want per month.

While it’s not news that the more data you get, the more expensive it is, you might be surprised at the range of prices for the phone for any given amount of data.

For example, if you need about 8-10 GB of data a month, you could be paying anything between £1,035 for the cheapest deal (buying the phone for £699 and having two years of SIM-only connection with Three) and £1,441.75 for the most expensive (a £58 a month contract with EE).

Here, I did a graph. I’ll post links to my working soon in a spreadsheet. While this is just for the 64 GB iPhone 8, the shapes of everything are similar for the 256 GB and Plus versions.

Stuff to notice:

  • Every provider apart from Three really doesn’t want you to sign up for a lot of data. EE and O2 offer particularly expensive deals if you flag yourself as a potentially heavy data user.
  • There’s almost always a premium for paying less upfront. The contract deals (solid lines) sit well above the SIM-only + cost of phone deals (dashed lines) except in a few weird cases. On Three, this premium generally adds between 26% and 38% to the total cost over two years. There’s another particularly extreme example on Three which is the big kink in their cost curve. You can pay £79 upfront and get 100 GB data for £65 a month (total £1,639) or get the same phone and data with zero upfront and £81 a month (total £1,944). That’s a £305 charge to borrow £79 for two years – something like 190% annual interest. Seriously? If you’re paying £81 a month for your phone anyway, you’d be mad to go for that.
  • You should probably note that there are “added value” extras in some networks’ plans, and I haven’t costed that in. If you want Spotify Premium, you’ll get that thrown in with Vodafone’s Red Entertainment plans, for example, which is worth £9.99 a month.  I just got a free pack of Hotel Chocolat chocs as a random freebie with Three. Go figure.

Ultimately, it’s worth doing a few sums before grabbing any new phone deal, especially at a low upfront price.

And I’m probably going to stick with my cost-saving strategy of buying a last-gen phone outright next time I need a new one!

Who thinks like you about music?

This week might have struck you as being all about Prince, all about Beyonce, or neither. Whichever artist and whichever songs have been dominant in your mind, the chances are there’s a place somewhere in the world that agrees with you. Where is it for you?

It’s all about Purple Rain! Beyonce who? – you might enjoy life in Slovenia, El Salvador, Malta or Egypt.

When Doves Cry is clearly the best Prince song – you’re thinking like Australia (and also Belize, Brunei and Zimbabwe).

I mainly like Prince’s newest material – you’ll find friends in Vietnam.

It’s all about Beyonce! Prince who? – now you’re thinking like Russia, India and Taiwan.

I love tons of stuff from both of these people… – the UK, US, Sweden, France and Belgium think like you.

I like Beyonce, but would like to remember Prince with something quiet and contemplative – north and western Europe is with you, especially Denmark. I’m in this category too, which is why I made this mix for Chill. Scroll below it for more facts and maps than you might ever need to explore further…

Let me explain…

It’s been an emotional and unique week in music, with two huge surprises. A legendary artist died, focussing attention around the world on his life and work, creating seismic shifts in the music charts. In the middle of this, another legendary artist had a surprise album release which has also had a huge effect on sales charts.

I thought I’d take a snapshot of sales a few days after the initial impacts to see what I could learn about how events like these play out in different cultures. I picked iTunes to analyse because, at the time of writing, Beyonce’s album and most of Prince’s music were unavailable on the most popular streaming services. It’s probably thrown up more questions than answers, but that’s good because that gives me an excuse to listen to a lot more music now and crunch a lot more numbers later.

Where are people buying Prince songs?

Prince songs in iTunes top 100 Placeholder
Prince songs in iTunes top 100

Number of Prince songs in each country’s iTunes top 100 on April 26th 2016. Hover or click each country to see its name and the number of songs.

Prince’s appeal is incredibly wide, crossing cultural boundaries and arguably defining them. In Sweden and the US, about 1 in 4 songs in the iTunes top 100 are by Prince. Most of western and central Europe, North America, Oceania and pockets of every other continent with an iTunes store are buying Prince tunes again. There are some notable exceptions, including Russia and eastern Europe, India and Japan.

What are the biggest Prince songs?

Purple reign Placeholder
Purple reign

iTunes chart position for Purple Rain (hover or click to read)

There’s a clear winner overall: Purple Rain is the biggest – and, in 15 countries, the only – song people are buying to commemorate Prince. It has made the top 100 in no less than 76 countries this week, and is the biggest selling Prince song in 62 of these countries.

A few countries have other preferences. In four (including Australia), When Doves Cry comes out top. In another four (including Mexico), Kiss has sold the most. Little Red Corvette is the biggest seller in two countries, and Vietnam throws up the interesting exception of a recent Prince song (Hardrocklover, 2015) as the country’s top choice. Mozambique prefers U Make My Sun Shine, a 2001 duet with Angie Stone which didn’t chart in the UK.

Why the differences? It could be down to local music fans’ tastes or what local media have been playing. Lots of people grew up with Purple Rain as an anthem, but by no means everyone. Sometimes a very different sounding song is needed to work on a radio playlist, and some cultures are more open than others to different sounds from Prince’s wide ranging catalogue.

Where can it snow in April?

One of the most poignant Prince tribute songs, which has been picked up in a few places, is the ballad Sometimes It Snows In April. Written for the film Under The Cherry Moon in 1986, it is so intimate and on-theme about the impact of death that fans are suggesting it was Prince’s prediction of his own demise. But, as appropriate as it is for the occasion, only a few countries have seized on it at the moment, and they are closely grouped.

Some places it snows Placeholder
Some places it snows

iTunes chart position for Sometimes It Snows in April

In Denmark, this is the top Prince song, and it’s number 2 in the chart. It’s also the top Prince song in the Netherlands, and charting high in Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Finland and France. Are these places where people are a bit more open than average to slow, thoughtful introspection? Or do they just have music champions or social networks which think a bit differently from the rest of the world?

Another global phenomenon

Beyonce
Beyonce's Lemon spread

Number of songs from Beyonce’s Lemonade album in each country’s iTunes top 100, April 26th 2016

Even in a busy chart week, Beyonce’s Lemonade album has had an instant and massive impact around the world. In 37 countries, every song from this album is in the iTunes top 100, and there is at least one song in the chart in 90 countries. It’s across every continent, including every major market.

Where have Prince or Beyonce dominated?

Beyonce and Prince compared Placeholder
Beyonce and Prince compared

Prince and Beyonce songs in each country’s iTunes top 100

This comparison is a bit cheeky. Obviously it’s not a contest. But I wanted to see if the countries where Prince hadn’t sold many downloads this week were not buying into American music trends generally.

Beyonce’s new album has been doing very well in Russia, India, Taiwan and Thailand where there are no Prince songs in the top 100. It’s had some impact in Japan, where western music often struggles to cut through. (iTunes isn’t the best measure of what’s most popular in Japan, but the dominant CD market is usually even more heavily stacked towards local pop music.)

There are 16 relatively small countries with iTunes music stores where neither Prince nor Beyonce are in the top 100 at the moment. These include Venezuela, where PSY’s Gangnam Style is currently number 1, and Nepal, which is currently most enjoying David Guetta’s Euro 2016 anthem. Local chart shows must be fascinatingly random.

But on the whole, Beyonce shows that certain artists can have a massive impact across cultures even without the advance work of a publicity campaign – or at least a specific album campaign. To be fair, one song from the album, Formation, had been given a major push through February’s Superbowl half time show. So was this the song most people wanted to buy?

Which Beyonce songs have sold best?

Which Beyonce song is on top? (world) Placeholder
Which Beyonce song is on top? (world)

Top selling Beyonce song in each country (hover or click to read)

Formation is the leading song in 48 of the 90 countries where people have been buying Beyonce on iTunes. This includes all the biggest English-speaking markets like the US, UK, Ireland and Australia. The Superbowl is seen around the world and must have had an impact on creating a demand for this song in a wide range of countries from Israel to India, Sweden, Spain, Taiwan and Japan.

But there have been no official singles so far, and at the time of writing, I gather no decision has yet been made by the record label about which song to focus on first. In nearly half the countries where the album has dropped, other songs have been picked up as listeners’ favourite buys.

6 Inch, featuring The Weeknd, comes out top in 11 countries spread around the world. Hold Up is the biggest in 10 countries, Sorry in 7 countries, and Freedom and All Night are top in 5 countries each. Daddy Lessons, Don’t Hurt Yourself and Pray You Don’t Catch Me are also top picks in some countries, which means that most of the album’s 12 tracks are doing best somewhere in the world. It might be hard to pick a single.

Different cultures might have different preferences, or it might be random. Western Europe seems fairly united behind Formation, but beyond that, it’s hard to see much consensus on which song is best.

Which Beyonce song is on top? (Europe) Placeholder
Which Beyonce song is on top? (Europe)

Top selling Beyonce song in each country (hover or click to read)

So who thinks like you about music?

Are you a contemplative European like me, a musical omnivore like the Americans, very selective in your western music tastes like the Japanese, or splendidly isolated like the people of Micronesia?

BBC brings back Def II!

Well, sort of. I just thought it was fun to remember the last time they used roman numerals for a youth brand. Hasn’t it aged well! II! II!

BBC2_DEF_II_1989

Although if you wanted to modernise that classic logo, can I suggest this modest improvement?

bbcthree-proper

4 songs and artists you should hear a lot in 2016 (but might not have heard yet in the UK)

I love this time of year. Running up to Christmas, the music industry goes all out to sell big albums by big artists they’ve spent all year marketing, but right now, nobody knows what’s going to be big, and anything could happen.

So if you like these tunes, why not share them and help make them hits? And if you want more, check out www.songsfor2016.com

DNCE – Cake By The Ocean

So this is what’s happening with Joe Jonas, the Jonas Brother who isn’t Nick and all over everything everywhere. “Cake By The Ocean” has already been big in America, and spreading, but with no current plans to market the band in the UK, you might not have heard it. Fix that now! (PS – radio people – you’ll need an edit. The official one is good, and commercially available from Amazon, etc)

Dua Lipa – Be The One

She’s on most of the cool kids’ lists of ones to watch for 2016, and my favourite from all of that sort of thing, but radio (apart from Radio 1) have been weirdly reluctant to play this so far. No idea why. Brilliant song.

Mike Posner – I Took A Pill In Ibiza (SeeB remix)

So some interesting things happened to Mike Posner after “Cooler Than Me” became a viral hit. This song sort of describes some of them. He also made two albums for a record company which looks unlikely to ever release them, then got signed by a different label who let him do something completely fresh and new. There’s a beautiful acoustic original of this track, but this remix should be conquering the radio. Soon. Hopefully. (Again, you’ll need an edit, but it’s available.)

Lukas Graham – 7 Years

This song gives me the same buzz that Wiz Khalifa – See You Again did last year, and that worked out pretty well. The band is from Denmark, they’ve made a splash in the USA now, but not appeared on the UK promotional radar yet. Again, no need to wait…

More if you like these…

See www.songsfor2016.com or just subscribe and share my Spotify playlist here: