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General miscellany.


Parking, User Interface Design and Random Acts of Kindness

There is a car park in mid west Wales where I park fairly regularly.  I was sitting in the car next to a recently upgraded ticket machine.  The scene was like an sketch from a candid camera show.  This car park is used mainly by local people so they come prepared with the right money.  People would approach the machine with their money in an outstretched hand and pause a couple of meters from the machine, their jaws would drop in bewilderment and then they would take one of the following actions -

  • return to their car and drive off
  • crouch down in front of the machine and try to work it out
  • stare at the machine for several minutes, look around for help then return to their car and drive off
  • punch buttons at random

This is the machine in question:


The central bank of 37 buttons has the digits 0 through 9 followed by the alphabet listed A through Z with a delete key at the bottom of the second column.  There are additional silver, green and yellow buttons above this bank that do not have labels.

The text on the left of the machine tells you how to use the machine including what the unlabelled green and yellow keys are for.  This is a bilingual area and yellow key is quite important since it changes language.

The shiny buttons catch the sun and dazzle the user.  They also protrude which means that for a tall user the button text is obscured.  As a user interface design, this must be among the worst example out there.

However, I think there are more important points that this machine highlights.  The purpose of this machine is to enforce parking rule 1:


“Parking tickets are not transferable”.  Imagine if McDonalds instituted a similar rule – food is not transferable.  You can’t eat all your fries and give them to your kid.  The manager walks over to you and tells you that you and your child are to be prosecuted for stealing a meal.  I’m not clear under what moral principle that the use of the parking bay that I have purchased is confiscated.

But much more importantly, if you pay for parking time and do not use it all then you are prohibited from making an act of random kindness to a passing  stranger.  We should be encouraging random acts of kindness, we should be encouraging generosity of spirit and considerate regard for our fellow human beings.  Surely the loss of revenue is worth the smiles, the thanks, and the small increases in well-being created.


Turning veggie....

I was watching a commentator on Bloomberg TV talk about the rise in food prices. It is apparently, at least in part, being driven by a large scale diet shift across the developing world described as "the move to protein". Beef and other meats are becoming a much larger proportion of the human diet.

Raising animals for food is basically an inefficient use of grain compared to direct consumption of grain. This reduces the supply of grain driving its price upwards. It also requires increased industrialisation of farming which uses that key limited resource, oil driving its price upwards too. Animal flatulence, I am not sure expected to use that phrase in a blog, is apparently a major contributor to green house gases driving climate change. Assuming we accept that climate change is happening then we are all paying for every disaster and for every measure to reduce it.

I believe that the move to protein is hitting me in the pocket right now and is also hitting every one else. I could talk about about helping starving people who can't afford food, I could talk about the damaged world we are leaving our children, I could talk about the health benefits of lower meat intake.. However, I thought the appeal to the wallet may have more impact - a sad conclusion perhaps.

A high protein diet is, I believe, a largely western fashion. As countries around the world become richer, we export our fashions to get a cut of their increased wealth. The great thing about fashion is that it is controlled by the customer. The marketer makes a proposition, but we choose to buy or not. The Internet gives us the opportunity to deliver counter marketing and democratize the buying process.

Part of the answer to our reduced buying power and climate change is to reverse the move to protein. And the answer is in our hands. We can set an alternative fashion that is less about meat. Smaller steaks, quarter pounders not half pounders, or even turn veggie...


Glass and Steel

I travelled between our two London  offices today.  The contrast between old London and new London is breathtaking.

One office is just off Piccadilly, near Leicester Square and theatre land.  It is in the bustling heart of the west end, full of tourists, cosmpolitan.  It is colourful and lively. There is a mixture of people dressed for fun and for work.  There is a mixture of ages from little children in prams to elderly people and every age in between.  There is the whole diverse spread of humanity.

The other office is in an area of London regenerated in recent years.  The area is a monotone, monoculture. It is a work place, yes there are houses but they are houses for workers.  There are green areas, relaxation areas for workers.  Shops for workers, buses for workers, trains for workers, eating places for workers.  Where is it, I don't know.  This micro-city of steel and glass is devoid of any sense of place, a joyless desert devoid of humanity.


Passenger Incident

Today the rail announcer said that the central line had severe delays and Mile End station was closed because of "a person under a train". I didn't hear anyone mutter "oh dear" or "how sad". Did anyone think "was it an accident or suicide"?  Did anyone say a short prayer? Did anyone think of the family or friends, the train driver in torment and shock, or the people that witnessed the "passenger incident"?

Expect the obvious...

On the way to work this morning, I had to break suddenly when a bodyshop loan car pulled out in front me without indicating...