long fiction and short articles

Online shopping

You used to browse big fat catalogs where you could see the stuff much as you would in a store, then order it by mail. Before we began to run out of forests, mail order catalog shopping was very popular. But it was a long time before your stuff arrived. The big promise of online shopping was to avoid the main…

Frustration by design

The designers of everyday things long ago abandoned their implicit mandate to make things better for the people who use them. The last thing that was designed with its users’ comfort and convenience as a primary driving principle was probably the humble u-bend, an essential part of toilets since the 18th century. The u-bend just sits there unobtrusively performing its…

Free stuff

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” you’ve heard it said. Among all the things of which it could fairly be said there are no such things — unicorns, cows that climb trees, the great American vegetable sandwich and so on — a free lunch is not. Just the other day I took advantage of my Starbucks ‘reward’ to…

Pride of ownership

I never really understood pride of ownership. Owning almost anything is a pain in the neck, a regretful necessity more than a blessing in my book. And the moment you feel some sort of permanence about it, you’re reminded of the way of all flesh. So basically, ownership is a reminder that you’ll die. Think of all the things you…

Starbucks

Starbucks Marketing comes up with great ideas all the time. And Starbucks staff in the stores are always the best, aren’t they. But between the Marketing boffins and the folks running the stores there’s a gap that time and again entraps their hapless customers. Here’s an example. At the end of each year now for a good few years the…

Guarantees

“You’ll like the way you look, I guarantee it,” said the guy who used to run Men’s Wearhouse. It’s hard to guarantee something as subjective as that, isn’t it? You’ll love this, really. But no matter how certain you are that Sam will like green eggs and ham, you wouldn’t want to guarantee it. Same way you’re guaranteed internet speed,…

Getting the brand back together

Bookshops — remember them? — featured shelf after shelf of self-help books, largely because they are among the easiest books to write. Simply assemble a collection of well-worn, readily recognizable banalities and use an unusual word for it. Then from that word, build an entire system that people will need to discover, learn and follow in order to reap its promised…

Technical writing

‘Technical writing’ is the sort of writing you read when you need instruction of some sort, as opposed to ‘writing’ which you generally read just before you buy something. Technical writing, or tech writing as we professionals like to call it, is very easy and only requires very few rules of thumb to get it right. The main rule of thumb is…

Gardens

You see some gardens and they’re just fantastic, aren’t they? Sometimes they complement a similarly spectacular house, sometimes they look like they may be hiding or at least drawing attention away from a neglected looking hovel. Either way, oftentimes a lot of energy is put into gardens. Like clothes in some ways, into which some folks invest a great deal of time and…

Bananas

Benjamin Franklin took solace in the fact that even if his experiments with electricity came to naught he would at least have learned a valuable lesson in humility from which we can all benefit: that despite all our best efforts nature will always have the inescapable upper hand. Bananas perform a similarly instructive function. At the very instant we forget…