Posts in Thinking

Occam’s Razor and the Rise of Populism

Over the past few years, people have been wringing their hands over the rise of populism, whether it’s far-right parties in Europe, Brexiteers in the UK or Trump in the US. Now, academics have found the rise in populism is correlated with a rise in economic insecurity.

Read More

The end of TINA

Yesterday, I experienced something entirely new. I finally learnt what it felt like to celebrate an election result. To be honest, I’d given up hope of ever having this experience. I thought my politics were simply too far to the left, and I would never find a candidate to cheer. I could certainly never muster any enthusiasm for Tony Blair’s victories. The fact that he was elected again after the criminal disaster of the Iraq war is something I’ll never understand, but long before that, it was clear that he… Read More

On the violence of borders

I recently visited Ceuta, a piece of the north African coast that belongs to Spain and is hence part of “Europe”. It was a very strange and disturbing experience to cross that border so easily just by showing my British passport, when many people with different-coloured passports die trying to do the same thing. Here’s a photo I took of the border fence. The houses to the left are in Spain; the hillside to the right is in Morocco. There’s also a small village on the Moroccan side, just out of… Read More

The Things I Care About

What do you really care about? I asked myself that question recently, and I was surprised by the results. Firstly, it seems that I care about quite a lot of things. And secondly, although I care about these things, they’re generally not the things that I spend most of my time talking about, writing about, reading about, and taking action on. So it was a useful exercise. I’d recommend it to anyone, writer or non-writer. Just ask yourself what you really care about, and list what comes to mind, as quickly and roughly as possible, without… Read More

The Future of Books: Reactive?

How would you like to read a book that reacted to your emotions, and changed its storyline to give you exactly what you wanted? It sounds bizarre, impossible and faintly terrifying, but according to this article in NewScientist magazine, it’s coming soon, not just to books, but to movies, TV and other formats. Welcome to the world of “reactive media.” Here’s how it works. Strap yourself into a machine that monitors your brainwaves, heart rate and a host of other data, and start reading or watching. The computer senses when… Read More

Interactive apps for books: Q&A with author Vince Kamp

Personally, I like reading traditional, app-free books. I like to immerse myself in a story, taking a break from all the pictures and links and interactivity. But I also recognise that things are changing, and that people have different reading styles. The digital world offers so many new possibilities, from ‘enhanced’ ebooks to interactive apps. It’s important to keep up with what’s happening. So today I’m talking with Vince Kamp, who recently released his children’s graphic novel Robotslayer as both a book and an interactive animated app. He talks about… Read More

The limits of automatic recommendation systems

I was reading an article in NewScientist the other day about a system devised by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, which “could form the basis of a recommendation system that makes suggestions based solely on an automatic assessment of the text.” Unlike Amazon’s recommendations, which look at sales, and those on sites like Goodreads, which look at reader reviews and ratings, this one looks at writing style, e.g. the frequency of individual words. Well, I’m sceptical. You see, the very last thing I want to do after reading… Read More