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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.


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:


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.)


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!

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?

[show-map id=’1′]

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?

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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.

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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

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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

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 or just subscribe and share my Spotify playlist here:

5 things worth binge watching on Amazon Prime

Got £79 to spend on a bit of TV and some boring parcel delivery stuff? Thought not. But how about a one-month free trial of Amazon Prime and the excitement of rushing to binge, binge, binge on the things worth watching (which aren’t available on Sky, Virgin or Netflix in the UK) and then bailing before your card gets charged? Is it worth the hassle?

Yes it is. But you need a guide. So here’s what I enjoyed over the holidays:

1. The Man In The High Castle


I don’t want to spoil this for you, but if you’ve seen or heard the hype (some of it tasteless and ill judged, like the branded subway cars), I think you’ll enjoy it more if you dial your expectations down a notch or two.

Ridley Scott produces a Hugo Award-winning Philip K Dick story for TV, an intriguing fantasy about how the world would be different if Germany and Japan won the Second World War. The setting is exciting and there are some well drawn, likeable characters whose stories would be gripping to follow, even if there were not an uber-twist. There are physical glimpses of a different world, the one we know, and everyone is rushing round The Greater Nazi Reich (east USA), the Japanese Pacific States (west coast) and – Star Trek fans rejoice – an actual Neutral Zone in the middle trying to work it all out. Amazing idea, right?

Yes, and the team spent YEARS on it. Originally it was meant to be for the BBC, but that never worked out. There’s usually a reason why stuff gets offloaded from a Beeb deal. If it’s comedy, it’s usually because it’s not funny enough, and it ends up on Sky. With drama, who knows? Maybe the budget blew up? Or maybe the story just sprawled out of control, beyond the British tolerance to make 4 to 6 episodes, max.

It feels sprawly. I genuinely love the idea, but it could have been an amazing 4 episodes instead of a saggy 10, and still not done (series 2 just commissioned – don’t follow links like this if you want to AVOID SPOILERS…). To be fair, the original book is an idea rather than a neatly finished story package, and if the makers think they can hold attention and command viewing and budget for an epic world-building saga, good luck to them. I’ll keep watching, at least for a bit.

For now, I’d recommend a binge on series 1 if you like the idea, and enjoy the sport of thinking how it could all have worked out better in an alternative universe. Which is kind of the point.


2. Mr Robot


When was the last time you saw a good drama about computers? They aren’t the most promising subjects. Too often the stories are nebulous conspiracy hacks where nice people end up changing the world with a bit of earnest typing and lots of weirdly big, slow moving progress bars (UPLOADING!!! 97%…. 98%…… AAAAAAGH!!!) Or they contrive that somehow the physical worlds of computers and people have to merge to make the story relatable, which sometimes works (The Matrix) and usually doesn’t (Tron, The Lawnmower Man, Existenz and whatever the hell that Adam Sandler thing was with the giant Pac Man last summer. Ugh.)

Anyway, this is not that. It’s good. It works because the main character’s world is full, not just of brilliant tech genius and what he chooses to do with it, but with relatable fear, insecurity and mistrust in a world obsessed with security where we trust computers with everything. The story rockets forward relentlessly, and while the characters are so, so dark on the whole, there is just enough light – or the hope of light ahead – to keep making things having to happen. And then just when you think you know what must happen, something else does.

Can’t say much about the plot without potentially spoiling it, so just trust me – it’s worth a look, and if you like how it starts, you’ll love how it goes. Christian Slater especially is an unexpected joy. The most annoying thing is that I feel I need to see it again, but I’ll be turning it off.


3. Halt And Catch Fire


Having said there aren’t many good stories about computers, Amazon seems to have brought in a batch load. This also happens to be my favourite 1980s period drama, full stop. (Is it too soon to use “period drama” for the 1980s? Too late.)

Not much point describing the setting, because I doubt it would grab your interest. A bunch of people want to make a new PC and argue about how to do it. See? But the people are special. There is life, love, wit and style about them. And dammit, they make what they’re doing seem pretty interesting, world-changing even. I totally enjoyed getting misled into thinking this was really the story of some famous real computer company under a different name for fictional purposes, until I realised that it really is the story of spirited battlers on a new frontier. It’s not just about somebody, it’s about everybody. That means you. If you’ve ever struggled to get an idea off the ground and into a challenging world, you will relate.

And if you like tech at all, there’s soooo much nostalgia candy, the most and best since Life On Mars, with a soundtrack that even exceeds that classic. Brilliantly chosen sets of tunes illuminate and capture the essence of each character, and it’s not your standard mish mash of 80s classics as heard every Friday on Tinpot FM’s more music variety mix. The characterisation and music are so well done, they can even unsettle and shock you by playing what you think is the wrong music for the wrong person until you realise… no, there’s a bit of story I don’t want to spoil for you.

Series 1 is better than series 2, I think, so if you’re in a big rush don’t worry about getting all the way through. But you should give this one a go.


4. Betas


I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. Really only dipped in because each episode was shorter than other series, and the seriousness of some of the other stuff was doing my head in.

It’s a comedy about app developers. Amazon have REALLY tried to corner the market on computer dramas. And this 2013 series was groundbreaking. But it feels like a beta for 2014’s Silicon Valley (on HBO and Sky Atlantic), which has lasted longer.

Betas is a little brasher, the characters a little bouncier and not gelling quite as well together as Silicon Valley’s, and while it’s entertaining and more compelling than I expected, one short series felt like it told the available story well enough. There’s “will they/won’t they?” romance and “will they/won’t they?” venture capital fundraising, and I think it’s enough to enjoy it while it lasts without caring too much what happens in the very, very end.


5. Extant


It’s the sci-fi drama where your most frequent question might be “how the hell did they do that?” They got an infertile astronaut pregnant on her own in a space station. They brought a robot boy to life in an endearing way. They got Oscar-winning Halle Berry to play the lead. How did they do any of that? And how did they keep making me want to watch the first series when it got all weird yet simplistic, zoom-bangy yet ploddy at the same time? How? Any of it?

I’ve seen nearly a series and a half of Extant, and it still feels like it’s just getting set up for the real story yet to come. There’s a burgeoning alien life which can manipulate human minds, and an apparently unrelated story of the development of artificial intelligence which can exceed human capacity and will probably end up being made to fight wars for us. I’m kind of getting the feeling that humanity is going to get squished in the middle of an aliens vs. robots war starting some time in series 7 if we ever get there.

So if that sounds like your sort of thing, dive in! And if you don’t want to pay Amazon for it, you don’t have to – series 2 comes to the Syfy channel from January 13th 2016. That’s where I’ll pick it up from here. Possibly. If I get time to watch in the background.


PS – I know there are other, award winning, exclusive things on Amazon Prime. I tried Transparent but it didn’t really grab me. Mozart In The Jungle was fun for an episode, but I literally fell asleep trying to watch any more. If they ever make any more of Chris Carter’s The After, I’ll be there, but otherwise I’m happy with one “mysterious event which definitely isn’t The Rapture even though it looks a lot like The Rapture”-related drama in The Leftovers.

I think I watch too much TV. But if you have suggestions for stuff to watch, go ahead…



It was great to see you at that conference!  /  I see you found my business cards which I must have left on the train*

(* delete as appropriate)

Here’s a special mix I made just for you. (Or find it on YouTube)