Rules Not Reason

Although I'm fiercely optimistic and generally positive about life, humanity, the universe, and everything, I do sometimes find myself slipping into the deep recesses of despair in response to some things in the world.

So I wanted to amble down this path and think, just briefly, about why, as a species, we've consistently engaged in atrocities from the holocaust, to slavery, and everything in between but just as important - why the majority agree/ignore the practices when they're in full swing.

Allow me to focus on an issue of similar importance which is happening right now.

Animal agriculture is demonstrably awful. Let's look at the up sides:

  1. Meat briefly tastes excellent

Now the bad sides:

  1. Billions of defenceless animals live a life of suffering and pain
  2. Those same animals are subjected to violent, painful deaths
  3. The planet is overwhelmed by the pollution caused through the practice
  4. The human body degrades heavily when subjected to animal products

And yet, thanks to extreme social conditioning most people don't give a flying pig.

Why is this?

Not abusing animals for momentary pleasure is so profoundly straightforward and obvious, that there is no counter argument that stands to any amount of reason. And interestingly, a significant emotional response can be evoked through just showing people how animal agriculture works.

So why is it that people ignore this?

I believe that every human (and likely beyond) is running on profoundly simple rules and nothing more. Somewhere along the great evolutionary tale our ancestral biology stumbled upon a set of simple rules which it layered upon more and more rules of stunning simplicity.

I suggest the following rules as an extract:

  1. Exploit any opportunity which makes you feel good
  2. Discard any information that isn't immediately useful or contradicts (1)

Nothing groundbreaking. Of course "feel good" is broad, so how about a definition:

  1. I pass on my genetic code
  2. I survive longer (in service of 1)
  3. I become stronger along some axis of import (in service of 2)
  4. I move up the social hierarchy (in service of 1, 2, or 3)

Mediated by the key chemical reactions in our brain, I think those rules cover a significant amount, if not all, behaviour across the animal kingdom. And I suspect that many a researcher has defined, in more detail and with robust evidence (likely by exploiting rats in a lab), similar rules.

Rules beat out reason.

Further along the evolutionary tract we started to leverage our memory and mental aptitude to conceptualise the world and apply our rules in a networked fashion with other creatures. We fell into a never-ending dream that we nicknamed consciousness.

And as this thing we call personal identity became more important, we had to reason our way through the world. We became the central instrument in the universe experiencing itself - codifying our experiences and defining concepts of extreme complexity in order to help us understand the world.

We discarded our animal kin and drew thick lines between the animal kingdom and the soulful humanity that we are uniquely possessed with. We span a narrative of god-given supremacy which morphed into scientific discovery - and we started converting the natural order into abstract notation.

We wrote the score and started to sing, dance, and write all at once. We became civilised and space-faring, freed from the shackles of unconscious, undirected, uninspired evolution, and finally we became our own gods - masters of our own experiences.

But beneath the grand cathedral of the human condition there they still lay. Motionless and unchanging.

Rules, not reason.


The Explosion of Information

While reading a post today about alternatives to Google Analytics which are more privacy-centric (read: user-centric), a bolt of inspiration struck.

GA has dominated the web analytics game for as long as I can remember. Back in the late noughties alternatives such as Mint were viable, but as the great Google machine ploughed on, they continued to add more data points, more verticals, more graphs to just about every area you click.

As with so many new technologies this led to the birth of a whole discipline and specialism of tracking the bejebus outta users. Why? Because it's quite nice to see people are looking at your content. It's also handy to learn where they're spending their time.

But now many companies and, within them, individuals believe that their click through rate and bounce scores actually matter.

Remember this: nobody who pays salaries actually gives a damn how much time 24% of the 35-45 demographic on mobile spent reading that article you wrote last week.

They care about actual business metrics such as cash in the bank.

This explosion of data has spawned countless meetings of people who think they're looking at real, useful, and insightful data and converting this into Q2 Digital Market Strategies.

What if you turned off web analytics? Or just tracked unique visitors and £/$ spent?

Of course, there are plenty of people who actively work against this, because then their bosses might realise theirs is a bullshit job.


Deliveroo Is Killing, Not Saving The Restaurant Trade

Vaunted teal meals on wheels unicorn, Deliveroo has claimed this week that they'll generate 70,000 new jobs in the restaurant trade and help bring the industry back to its former glory thanks to huge new investment across the UK. Thank god. More bikes, fewer employment contracts, and less human interaction - just what the kangaroo ordered.

News outlets are lapping this up - hopping on the story and dishing up praise for this loveable London-based gang of food delivery aficionados.

But I take serious issue with the company for a variety of reasons.

Delivery Drivers Are Worthless

This is essentially their slogan. Delivery drivers are essentially paid less than minimum wage and are reduced to dodging traffic on peddle bikes, while moving food across our cities.

Restaurant Prices, Takeaway Quality

The food at a restaurant is only one part of the puzzle. Aside from the atmosphere of a place, the expertise of your waiting staff, and quality of interaction you can have in-person, your food should be expertly-crafted and served up fresh from the kitchen.

Deliveroo forces restaurants to shove food into containers ready to be slung across the city and yet still charge you full-whack! Insanity.

This is a race to mediocrity. A race to generalisation. If you run a restaurant slapping Deliveroo on to your offering diminishes the quality of your brand because you're subtly telling your customers that coming to your place isn't as important as convenience.

Centralisation of Resource

The idea that 70k jobs will magically appear in the industry thanks to the amazing investment by Deliveroo is pure fantasy. As a restauranteur it makes little sense to pay for a city-centre spot if you're just sending food out on bikes.

As larger chains increase their investment in delivery it makes sense to create centralised production kitchens. This will happen at scale and drive down the number of high-quality jobs generated.

A Venture and Nothing More

Venture capital is a thing. Like it or loathe it, people with money to spare will always want to see it grow.

But as with many new companies, Deliveroo's profits are almost non-existent and laughable when compared to their turnover. In-fact last year losses soared 43% and yet thanks to the fact that people will always want food to their door, they continued to grow.

If you don't make a profit, you shouldn't be in business. When the economy turns businesses that don't generate money turn too. You don't need an MBA to understand this.


Customer needs will always win and the market is clearly voting for Deliveroo. Their service is slick and thanks to Amazon's hefty investment they have plenty of runway.

I don't like the business, but that won't stop it succeeding.

I just hope people don't forget to go outside once in a while.


What is your impact on the world?

Technology as a whole has always been about enhancing the human experience, elevating our capabilities to levels that are dizzying to generations past. We've achieved the most amazing feats of engineering and perhaps the most indicative metric of success is our apathy for them. We've walked on the moon and cured diseases that previously threatened to wipe out the whole of humanity. We split the fundamental building blocks of our universe every day, and mould star-dust which has been battered and forged into elements of all manner into MRI scanners and novelty keyrings alike.

We've been layering abstractions upon abstractions for millennia in order to maximise upon the learnings of our forebears. You don't need to understand the fundamentals of the combustion engine in order to drive, nor should you. This really started to ramp up with the agricultural revolution and has gaining velocity ever since. Now it's impractical to understand every layer in its entirety so we tend to specialise in a small subset of abstractions.

When you buy a new phone you don't need to know about, let alone care about the precise origin of the device. It doesn't matter to you right now that the battery's components were forged millions of years ago in the molten core of the Earth before rising up to the crust to be later uncovered by our ancestors.

But the cost of each item shouldn't be measured in only an environmental context. We should include the human element of each interaction with the world we partake in.

And yet, we're outraged by the continual news beat of poorly-treated warehouse staff - working in conditions that echo the horrors of the slave trade in a pre-human-rights era. But why are we shocked? The strive to ever-enhance the end-user experience and extract more wealth from consumers, therefore scaling businesses exorbitantly has led to a need to divorce our customers from the true cost of production.

We've obscured the human effort that is necessary to fulfil the promise of modern convenience and keep the cost down.

In our drive for convenience and desire for lower costs, we've hidden the impact of our purchases behind the simplest of indicators - cold, hard, cash. No matter that thousands of warehouse workers collapse every year at the biggest retailors. Who cares about the suicides at electronics factories in some far-flung destination across the globe? We trade lower costs for lower standards of production in a don't ask, don't tell approach to manufacture.

We've been on a quest for ever-smaller and more light-weight devices for the best part of three decades now, and we're at the point of disregarding ingenuity in manufacturing, allowing cowboy techniques of just gluing components together to fill the void.

The most cutting edge phones are not designed to be repaired. The most cutting edge companies wouldn't allow it anyway. Take the Airpods for instance. The tiny lithium batteries within each pod will fail after 18 months, no longer able to hold a charge. Such is their construction that they can't be recycled - they're tiny, hugely complex, glue-filled internals will be left to rot in the core of the Earth for a millennia or more (providing they don't explode and set free the carbon that's been trapped in their surrounding land-fill for billions of years.)

In more recent times we've made whole industries in building brands - abstractions of groups of people working together. No longer do we talk about the human effort required to deliver something, we just talk about the features delivered by a company. A good example of this what Jaron Lanier outlines in his book, You Are Not a Gadget - chess-grandmaster-beating-software. We talk about the incredible skills of computers (usually) without considering the human effort that was required in order to build them.

Computers don't play chess well because they are ingenious automatons. They do so because their programmers have constructed powerful models of the world that, when combined with the incredible hardware that has the fingerprints of yet more human endeavour, can beat chess champions. Pretending that methods of computing such as Artificial Intelligence and Speech Recognition are emergent factors of computing power is as disingenuous as it is missing the point.

This great shift to obscuring impact is an anti-humanistic and anti-environmentalist assault on the world. If a product team can okay a device that will be totally obsolete, wholly unrecyclable and highly dangerous if disposed of incorrectly what does that say? If they disregard their empathy, relying on faceless manufacture ring brands to abstract the human torment that is necessitated by their supply chain, how do we reconcile that.

Ultimately the market will respond to consumer demand. There's no point in attempting to impose some additional rules that we wish manufactures would follow, the consumers need to vote with their purchases.

Take the outcry at single-use plastics. As consumers have adapted to demand more contentious applications of plastics, so too should we become more sophisticated, empathetic, and critical consumers of modern goods.

Our planet, our home is still reeling from the greatest advancement in technology in human history - the industrial revolution. The artefacts of this era have nudged the global thermometer up and upset a great many natural processes. We unlocked energy in order to propel us forward, but unleashed carbon at the same time - now the biggest forewarning of what is to come. The generations that follow will doubtless lament the artefacts of our era - complex, unrecyclable consumables that won't degrade for thousands of years.

How do we improve?

By asking not how much an item costs, but rather, what is your impact on the world?

I'm optimistic that our process to recycle and reclaim the fundamental elements of much of our disposable consumerism will advance. The future will be brighter, but we shouldn't allow this optimism about tomorrow foster apathy today.


Quick Update

So I just thought I better update the ol' blog - not posted since 2011 - yikes! I'm still here, and I've not given up on it! 🙂

I'm busy working on a large-scale project at the moment, so I've been consumed with work, but I will be posting a bunch of stuff relating to the project soon - there is much to blog about in the way of in-depth tutorials into all kinds of things from complex JavaScript, to even more complex PHP. I've got ideas for articles on not only the techniques, but also approaches to things like refactoring and testing code and websites as a whole. So stay tuned, and I'll be with you in the not too distant future!


Site Redesign 2011

Well I finally got around to it! For months I've been procrastinating and finding other thing to do, but today I am proud to announce that I have successfully redesigned the blog and built a new theme. What you see before you is the result of many hours working on design and coding (as most websites are), during the process which spanned several months, I had about 4 different designs for the blog. But after about a week I found myself disliking every one. But I managed to finally design what I think is a rather clean and simple theme to house the blog. Unlike the theme which preceded this new one (I'm calling it 'Focus' by the way), I set the primary goal being that of reducing visual noise. Each time I came to design an element I asked myself "is this really essential?", because I wanted to design an experience that foregrounded the content above all else.

So what have I done to ensure your reading isn't distracted? Well you won't find a sidebar anywhere on the site. You won't find a list of months in which posts were published, and you won't find my latest tweet anywhere on the site. Why not? Well the way I see it is this. Most people come to Tom's Big Box to see the articles I written - in fact in most cases I visit blogs for that purpose, and that purpose alone. So why should I add all this visual noise when nobody cares about it? If you want to see my latest tweet, follow me on Twitter. As for the archives, you can view all posts by date on the archives page, but if you want to see them any other way you will have to guess that URL; why? Because I asked myself the question "have I ever wanted to see what posts were posted in a given month?" - nope. And I doubt any of my visitors have either - I can see only 1 unique on a month's archive.

Above: I even recorded the bulk of the coding side of things in a timelapse!

But beyond removing certain elements, I've also added certain things like better code highlighting (expect a tutorial soon), and better semantic markup. The site is now coded in HTML5 meaning I can call myself one of the cool kids. I've also removed a number of plugins and just generally cleaned up the code, so the site should be working a lot faster. I've also written some very specific code just for mobile to ensure you get the best viewing experience - even though the changes are subtle, they make a big difference. I've also added caching to speed things up!

And that's it! I hope you like the new theme and I hope it helps you get a clearer view of what you are trying to see, and if you have any questions, or notice any errors, please send me a pigeon.


Updates are coming!

I've not blogged in months, I know, I'm lazy. But things are going to change. I am in the process of redesigning the site and have a number of articles that I'm working on, so this is just a post to check in and let you know I'm not gone and am going to return to blogging in the near future.

So where have I been? Well I've been busy working on sites such as Cooking Pete and updating things like my profile (the background of which lends itself to this post). I've also been working on a couple of iPhone Apps that'll hopefully be finished very soon as well. Alongside that I've got a few side projects that I am constantly adding to but that won't be ready for some time. But luckily I've encountered a number of interesting problems along the way, so I've got a number of articles in the works (I do have some nearly done, but I don't want to post half-arsed articles).

So that's it really. This post is really simply about re-assuring you that despite my last post being published in September last year, I am going to make an effort come early June to push the new design, and post a bunch more quality posts - stay tuned!


What’s that, another theme?!

Ah yes, it is true, I have changed the theme on the site yet again! Why? Well because I quickly concluded that the previous theme, named "Elegancia" was rather sub-standard, and so I set about creating a more robust theme for the site. While working on this theme I've come up with plenty of idea for tutorials, that is, I encountered a multitude of problems and have overcome them. So you can soon look forward to even more WordPress-related bits and bobs, but don't worry I add a bit of something else in along the way!

It's name you ask? Well I call this one... SimpleAs.


Say hello to Elegancia!

So some time has passed now since I started this blog, and I decided that I had had enough of the excellent theme that I had in place. And as I call myself a web designer I decided that I would design a theme, specifically one based on elegance, and then use it on my blog. The theme is called Elegancia and took me about 3 weeks to perfect. It uses some CSS3 for corner rounding and for some of the shadows, however the post-image shadows are just an image. Also take a look at the handy post switching option. What?! Well on the home page there are 3 posts below the featured post, you can drag and drop these onto the featured post to lead more information before you visit the individual post page.

The theme should be fully functional, but obviously if you find any kinks that need ironing out feel free to contact me using the link above.

The theme will soon be up for sale - more details coming soon. Also I should tell you that this is only temporary, until I finish up the real redesign especially for Tom's Big Box 🙂


Back Online

Well it's been a long time since I posted on this lovely blog, but I wanted to start again before the new year! Well sooner rather than later I always say. So all the old content has gone to be replaced with fresher, more up to date, and generally better content. My blog will now focus primarily on web design and on some technology news. Overall I will be blogging about the subjects that interest me, usually technology related. I hope to drop in the odd tutorial as well.

The tutorials I create will be wide-ranging - from After Effects to Photoshop, from design to PHP. I hope you will find it interesting and enjoy the ride!

Oh and I know I was going to build a theme of my own but when I found this one I felt it was better than something I could have achieved anyways. In the future I suspect I will build my own, but at the moment I don't have the time to be focused on such things, so I decided to leave it to the professionals!