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Fri, 27 Dec 2013

counting

Of all the things that the increasing move to digital allows one of the most pervasive is counting. Websites count how many people visit, they count which articles are popular, how many people like things, how many people buy things. They also count how long people spend on the website, how often they come back in a month, how long they spend on individual pages. They count everything they can.

Once they've counted they can use those numbers to work out what's popular, what sort of headlines result in more people reading an article, or at least clicking through to it or linking to it. That information is then used to tailor the content of the site, to decide what to focus on and how to present it in order to increase the numbers. The sophisticated sites present the same content slightly differently to different people and compare the numbers. If it's an online shop you can count people at each step in the process of buying something to see where those that don't buy stop, and then use that to try and move people further through the process. It's all terribly useful for improving your site.

And it provokes a sense of unease in me.

Unease at the way things are reduced to the countable, at the use of numbers to justify doing things, unease at how it makes things into a puzzle to solve.

All this analysis is useful and you can learn a great deal about how people use your site but I worry about what feels to me like the increasing primacy of numbers in making decisions. I worry that not only are we relying on numbers too much, we're trying to count things that can't be and making judgements based on those numbers. Mostly I worry that all this counting only answers the small questions but encourages to concentrate on them because they can be answered.

posted at: 16:49 #

Sun, 08 Sep 2013

You don't get pigs at Butlins

Sardinia reminds me of a sketch on a Radio 4 comedy which went along the lines of "Welcome to Radio 3. Quiet, isn't it?" For late August and early September there are remarkably few people about. This is, on the whole, a good thing but does lend everywhere a slight post apocalypse edge. The hard core commitment to siesta that seems to come with Italian island living only adds to the mood. Even the slightly upmarket tourist resort that, through lack of diligent enough research, we are in for the second week is eerily quiet.

While it lacks many people what the resort does have is wild pigs. Not, in as much as I am a judge of pigs, very large ones or great herds of them but enough that you quickly learn to identify the sound when they wake you snuffling about outside the window in the middle of the night. On the whole they seem watchfully curious, rather cute and add a certain amount of character to the manufactured nature of the place. There are days when we probably see as many pigs as people.

Apparently the draw for the few people here are the beaches which seems a great shame as much of the interior is stunning; "great craggles" is an apt summary. There's also some flat plains and some lumpy, but non craggly, bits but it's the many and various ways that rocks sticks out the ground that provide the best of the scenery. With great craggles comes great twistyness but as a holiday feels incomplete without some time spent slaloming through mountain roads this is firmly in the plus column. Your mileage may, in a very literal way, vary.

Sadly is seems that this great interior does not foster the best of Italian cuisine and the beach based tourism certainly doesn't foster the best of Italian architecture. There is also not the same rich vein of towns where afternoons can be swallowed up in idle wandering as in other parts of Italy and the local specialities are at the rustic end. Crowds and getting a table are never an issue though.

Also not an issue is Bronze Age towers for there are thousands of them in various states of repair. A few have guides and information but mostly they are scattered casually about the island with only a small brown sign to draw the attention. More impressive is the willingness of the guide at the one we visit to admit that most of what he is telling you is guesswork. There are towers; they were built between 1600 BC and 800 BC; they were abandoned. Probably is as good as the whys seem to get and quite a few are "no idea, here is some speculation on the matter". It's nothing whatsoever to do with the Carthaginians though, that much is very definite.

The other defining characteristic of Sardinia is the grossly over-engineered road junctions. The idea of two roads simply meeting is something of an anathema to the road planners so each junction comes with little dividing islands, directions arrows and give ways signs at a minimum. If you are unlucky then you come across what can only be the work of a frustrated knot theorist.

Not really being the beach going type I can't say much about the beaches.

posted at: 22:06 #

Wed, 07 Aug 2013

650b

This isn't really about wheel sizes but about a thing that's been bugging me for a while about bike reviews and all the fuss about 650b has brought it into focus.

I read quite a bit about press camps for bike journalists and one thing they all have in common, from what I can tell, is a structure that goes "tell them what we've done and then let them ride the bikes". This seems problematic to me in that the journalist riding the new bike is then prepped with what they should be looking for. If you're told a bike is supposed to me more X then you can't help thinking about the Xness of he bike. You're experience of the bike has been framed.

I'd be much happier with bike tests done in ignorance of the supposed benefits of the bike.

posted at: 21:44 #

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