Instant film and a record player were top sellers on Amazon for the holidays

Apparently, the biggest sellers on Amazon’s US site this Christmas were a turntable and film for an instant camera.

Why? The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes has a theory:

Is it weird that cheap analog products beat out modern alternatives? Kind of. But as someone who ordered a physical book and a pack of film just yesterday, none of this seems too hard to explain away. Jensen’s turntable is a low-cost way to get someone started with vinyl, which is growing in popularity right now very much because of its analog and anachronistic qualities; plus, with built-in speakers, there’s no need for a full stereo setup alongside it, either. And while I’m surprised to hear that Fuji’s Instax Mini line has such a following, it’s worth remembering that these products have a lot less competition than any individual digital camera or home speaker — since there are fewer products to pick between, the ones that do exist are going to capture more sales.

If you want to get into something, it’s always helpful if the cost of entry is low, so the risk is low. Tom Kelley, in The Art Of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, talks about another aspect which is ease of entry. He noticed that fishing was overly complicated for kids to get in to but, more importantly, their parents hadn’t fished as kids and so didn’t know how to teach their own children. So he designed a one-piece fishing rod that meant kids could quickly try it out and, if they liked it, get more involved in it.

Vinyl seems easy enough – buy a record, put it on the record player. But like those non-fishing parents, if you’ve not got a record player in the house, you need to buy one and then you’re into a different territory. As the Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch above makes painfully clear. Same with photography. No one wants to look like an idiot, so make it easy. The fact we all have cameras on us now hasn’t dampened the interest in photography, but increased it. So if camera shops want to capitalise on that, make it less baffling to take the next step.

Ford files patent for rear tire that converts into an electric unicycle

 Ford files patent for rear tire that converts into an electric unicycle The Verge

Ford has patented an invention that allows you to turn the back wheel in to a motor bike.

The patent imagines a situation where you’d pull over (or park), lift the vehicle with the help of its automatic jack, remove the tire, and get everything else you need — seat, handlebars, motor, etc. — from the trunk.

Alternatively, you could just take a fold-up electric bike with you. That way, if someone nicks your bike, you’ve still got a functioning car…

I mean, seriously.

Walking the Tube

Tube Map with walking times

Here’s an amusing trick you can play on people from Newfoundland or Lincolnshire. Take them to Bank Station and tell them to make their way to Mansion House. Using Beck’s map—which even people from Newfoundland can understand in a moment—they will gamely take a Central Line train to Liverpool Street, change to a Circle Line train heading east and travel five more stops. When eventually they get to Mansion House they will emerge to find they have arrived at a point 200 feet further down the same street, and that you have had a nice breakfast and done a little shopping since you last saw them.

Bill Bryson, Notes From A Small Island

No more will you be able to play that trick. London Transport have now added walking times to their map to help you figure out if it’s quicker to go above ground.

It’s not just foreigners who get caught out like this. I used to visit a certain pub with a friend quite regularly. I’d get the tube from Victoria to Oxford Circus, meet up, then then walk up Regent Street or carry on on the underground, then walk the last few meters to the pub. One day she was late so I walked a little bit in the other direction to see what’s there, as random walking in London is always full of surprises.

I didn’t expect this surprise: there was the pub! Literally round the corner.

We’ve become so reliant on the Underground, we’ve forgotten how London is really laid out.

Hashtag backlash: marketing campaigns that turned into social media disasters

 Hashtage #fail

In the lead-up to Anzac Day, Woolworths launched the commemoration website “Fresh in Our Memories”, a play on the supermarket’s “fresh food people” slogan. People were encouraged to upload war-related photos and tributes to the site, which would automatically add the Woolworths logo and the Fresh in Our Memories catchphrase to them. Using the hashtag #FreshInOurMemories, Twitter users were quick to call out the supermarket for being disrespectful and insensitive. The then minister for veterans affairs, Michael Ronaldson, was among those who complained, and the site was taken down.

Read the full story here – there are more stories like this, all from Australia in this case.

There are some real idiots out there. Private Eye runs a regular column called ‘Desperate Marketing’ that highlights this sort of thing – famous person dies, or terrorist incident occurs, and out come the press releases selling everything from double glazing or, in the case of the Paris attacks, wine. It’s not a recent phenomenon, but social media makes it easier to do, and these things should always be slept on.

My favourite is still #Susanalbumparty.

The British electrical plug. A design classic you either ignore, or ridicule depending on where you’re from.

Apple British plug design
The new plug packaged with the Apple Watch in the UK.

Foreign visitors have been known to query the design of the British electrical plug which, compared with that of most countries, seems quite large and – if you accidentally step on one – rather painful.

Well once it’s plugged in it’s not that large at all, and far less easy to accidentally kick out of the socket. You don’t get the sparking and whiff of ozone you do in other countries because the electricity doesn’t start flowing until all contacts are safely behind plastic. And newer designs are a lot slimmer than they used to be. Apple’s patented design (pictured above) has prongs that fold away like synchronised swimmers, a solution so elegant you wonder why no one came up with it before. I hope they make it free to others to use…

But aesthetics aside, there are other reasons why the British plug is so good: it is very, very safe. Tom Scott explains why:

The Design curriculum in English schools includes… cooking

Children cooking at school
This is what design is, according to the English National Curriculum


Worrying news about the state of teacher recruitment in the UK.

The number of new teachers for design and technology is also more than a third below what it needs to be and there is a 10% shortfall in the number of IT teachers required.

This is a pattern across most subjects (though there are too many art teachers, apparently).

Design courses at university still recruit students who’ve done art at school, rather than other subjects – even though those subjects may be more appropriate (psychology, sociology). That’s a relic of a past age, long overdue being taken outside and shot. But given that there’s a perfectly good design curriculum in schools, why are so many children doing art instead? Is design seen as engineering?

Here’s the Key Stage 3 Design Curriculum for England:

Through a variety of creative and practical activities, pupils should be taught the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to engage in an iterative process of designing and making. They should work in a range of domestic and local contexts [for example, the home, health, leisure and culture], and industrial contexts [for example, engineering, manufacturing, construction, food, energy, agriculture (including horticulture) and fashion].

When designing and making, pupils should be taught to:


  • use research and exploration, such as the study of different cultures, to identify and understand user needs
  • identify and solve their own design problems and understand how to reformulate problems given to them
  • develop specifications to inform the design of innovative, functional, appealing products that respond to needs in a variety of situations
  • use a variety of approaches [for example, biomimicry and user-centred design], to generate creative ideas and avoid stereotypical responses
  • develop and communicate design ideas using annotated sketches, detailed plans, 3-D and mathematical modelling, oral and digital presentations and computer-based tools


  • select from and use specialist tools, techniques, processes, equipment and machinery precisely, including computer-aided manufacture
  • select from and use a wider, more complex range of materials, components and ingredients, taking into account their propertie


  • analyse the work of past and present professionals and others to develop and broaden their understanding
  • investigate new and emerging technologies
  • test, evaluate and refine their ideas and products against a specification, taking into account the views of intended users and other interested groups
  • understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists

Technical knowledge

  • understand and use the properties of materials and the performance of structural elements to achieve functioning solutions
  • understand how more advanced mechanical systems used in their products enable changes in movement and force
  • understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products [for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs]
  • apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs [for example, sensors], and control outputs [for example, actuators], using programmable components [for example, microcontrollers].

For me there’s too much emphasis on CAD and engineering rather than research and ideation. I feel the influence of James Dyson here but that stuff could be left until later in students’ education, particularly as universities have far better facilities than schools. We get too many students who think design is about working on a computer and not enough who think it has anything to do with talking to actual people.

Bizarrely, however, the Design Curriculum also includes a section on… cooking. I kid you not:

pupils should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating. Instilling a love of cooking in pupils will also open a door to one of the great expressions of human creativity. Learning how to cook is a crucial life skill that enables pupils to feed themselves and others affordably and well, now and in later life.

If you look at the comments Dyson made during the consultation phase it sounds like there was even more cooking – and gardening – in there. The gardening’s gone (although I daren’t look at Key Stages 1 and 2), but the cooking remains. I’m all for cooking. I agree it’s a crucial skill and an expression of human creativity. But it belongs in a design curriculum as much as physics belongs in Religious Education.

Anyway. Back to the problem with recruiting teachers.

Until teachers are valued (financially – words are cheap) you’ll never recruit as many as you need. And that’s true no matter which educational sector you look at. Why is a city financier paid more than the people who taught her? There’s a school (no pun intended) of thought that says that teaching is a calling, a sacrifice, and that you shouldn’t do it for the money. Okay. I can buy in to the idea that someone shouldn’t seek to teach simply for the money. But turning that around into a justification for crap wages is the sort of bullshit that can only come from someone who managed to get through school and university without anything approaching common sense.

Incidentally, the Government rejects the headline, saying we’re recruiting far more teachers than ever before. But that’s not the same as saying ‘we’ve got enough teachers’. It’s not keeping pace. Numeracy isn’t just the ability to add numbers up; it’s the ability to understand what they mean.

Hyde Park visitors “covertly tracked” via mobile phone data

Hyde Park

 The Guardian reports that:

Visitors to Hyde Park, one of London’s most famous tourist spots, were covertly tracked via their mobile phone signals in a trial undertaken by the Royal Parks to analyse footfall amid drastic funding cuts. Officials were able to retrospectively locate park-goers for 12 months using anonymised mobile phone data provided by the network operator EE via a third party.

Oddly, the article doesn’t take quite the negative approach suggested by the headline (I inserted the quote marks around “covertly tracked” – they’re not there in the original headline), and the stuff about privacy appears to be inserted to make this less about an interesting way of understanding behaviour and more about an invasion of privacy.

But as the story says, the data was anonymised. It’s not exactly snooping – this type of data has been used in different forms for decades by advertisers, planners, supermarket merchandisers…

If the aim is to ensure that the world’s most frequently visited public park attracts people from all backgrounds, it sounds like an interesting use of anonymised data we could apply in many other scenarios, and a useful counter to the far less anonymous collection of data that goes on not just by government but by some of our most popular companies. Google and Facebook, I’m looking at you.

Fashion lessons from Star Wars: The Force Awakens


I think this is a piss-take by Hannah Marriott for The Guardian, but you can never tell. So I’ll mostly be wearing orange and black this season

Captain Phasma’s mask is sleek – very on-trend silver coupled with a sexy off-the-shoulder cape – but the storm troopers’ monochrome styling and dark glasses are unequivocally the best.

Avoiding spoilers: 1977 v 2015

Star Wars Poster

Like a lot of people I spent quite a bit of 2015 both anticipating the new Star Wars movie and trying (successfully as it turns out) to avoid any spoilers.

And it amazes me no end, considering the times we live in, that the film makers managed to keep one of the biggest secrets away from the vast majority of us. (Obviously I won’t say what it is – even thought the film has been out for a couple of weeks, there’ll always be someone who hasn’t seen it – I still lower my voice if ever I mention the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back).

Compare this with 1977 and the release of the movie that started it all, Star Wars (back then, no ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ in sight).

The film was previewed at the 34th World Science Fiction Convention and here’s what attendees got to see:

An hour-long slide presentation, made up of 35mm slides of the film’s production artwork and on-set production photos, was narrated live in the Muehlebach’s Imperial Ballroon, the hotel’s largest, to a standing-room-only crowd; this was presented by Lippencott. He outlined in great detail the entire plot of the film from scene one through to the final scene.

An hour! The movie’s only about twice that… Fast forward nearly 40 years and the most you get is a few carefully edited split-second shots.

Disney No Longer Selling Toy Guns in Theme Parks


What took them so long?

Disney is discontinuing the sales of toy guns of any kind at the theme parks, including bubble guns and Buzz Lightyear toy blasters. All of the gun merchandise is being pulled off the shelves and guests are encouraged to leave their own toy guns at home or not being allowed to gain entry to the park. Lightsabers and swords are still for sale as of right now. No word if they will be pulled later.

Selfie sticks also banned. Wonder if they come anywhere under Second Amendment rights?

Read the full story here