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September 28, 2012 / trajsingh

Racism, discrimination and the sweet FA


Football fans in the UK have been following the saga of John Terry and his alleged racist remarks in a match against QPR last October for some time now. He was cleared by a court of law but found guilty in a separate FA hearing this week. (The court of law found that although he did say the words, it was not proven that was not just repeating them, incredulously, as opposed to originating them. The FA only needed it to be likely that he was abusing a fellow player on the ‘balance of probabilities” so the two verdicts are consistent in terms of having correctly applied their own rules/laws.

Leaving aside the fact that Terry has a history of interesting transgressions that he has always avoided being sanctioned for, the more interesting aspect of the case for me is around discrimination.

Over the last 30 years the UK has brought in a succession of laws broadly aimed at outlawing all sorts of discrimination, specifically around race, gender, sexual orientation and similar. The UK is certainly far behind the USA (IMHO) in terms of the conversation around these topics, and the open acknowledgement of them. But nonetheless the debate has changed enormously over that period, and the laws are well-intentioned at least.

(Although, wouldn’t it be more simple, and more correct, to have laws that focus on the rights of the individual? Instead of nailing specific forms of discrimination, rather, just state the general case: every human has specific rights which cannot be violated. Perhaps, as Churchill is rumored to have said, it just takes too long to write a concise letter, so they wrote lots of long laws instead. Heaven knows, the attention span of the modern politician, media employee and voter is far shorter today than it ever has been.)

Anyhow, here’s the point. Discrimination is part and parcel of every human. We all do it all the time. What to eat, who to be friends with, go left or right, who to marry, etc etc etc. And racism, for me, is discrimination based on ignorance of other people, coupled with the fear of the unfamiliar. (they don’t think like us, they’re not humans, they’re taking all our jobs, they eat weird food and so on).

So outlawing it is more or less futile, it’s human nature 🙂 And I’m not suggesting that people are trying to outlaw it, however, we should acknowledge the fact that racism, as one form of discrimination, will only start to ebb when the ignorance and fear are removed. I see it happening in my children’s generation, but still a ways to go yet.

The key to this is, I think, understanding that a person can be racist and yet not act on those fears and impulses. I myself have these fears, but always strive to act in an impartial and fair manner. I think most people are like me, but recognizing where the roots of the issue are would allow us to more effectively promulgate the sort of behavior we all want to see going forward.

Oh, and hats off to the old buffers at the FA for actually doing the right thing for a change, and referring it to the independent panel for review despite the court case.

September 4, 2012 / trajsingh

Why aren’t they banning q-tips?


Every day I use these useful little devices, and the same thought always occurs – why haven’t they been banned. On the pack it tells you you must not use them to insert them into the ear canal, because you might damage the ear drum. And yet, that’s pretty much the only thing they are good for (and obviously, what they were designed for).

I’m sure I’m not alone in breaking the rules here.

So, following the same guidelines as, say, the music industry, since these little suckers can be used for a ‘bad’ purpose, surely they should be banned (or at least heavily taxed), in the same way the cassette recorder and cassettes, and blank CDs and DVDs were/are. And in the same way file sharing services (which also have legitimate uses they are almost never used for) are under threat for the illegitimate things they can do (and were in fact designed to do).

I’m jus’ sayin’…

August 31, 2012 / trajsingh

Trends I’m following


Folks,

There’s lots of cool stuff to invest in out there.

Obviously Sooqini and the whole collaborative consumption/sharing economy space is paramount 🙂 We see it as being essentially unstoppable, as it fits so well with the way people increasingly want to live and run their lives these days.

Other stuff I think is still cool:

  • The whole sensor industry (adding compute power to know what’s going on, from buildings to vehicles to people, this is how we will gather the big data we need)
  • Big data (see above)
  • Haptics (input sources beyond typing and speaking, such as the movement of the device, swipes and shakes, orientation, acceleration)

Stuff that is going to be cool

  • The whole quantified self space – data about yourself from calorie intake to exercise to cycles and routines. Anything that allows you to better impact the way your life goes through measurement and analysis
  • Second screening – tying TV. music, film with content and interaction on your phone/laptop/tablet. Essential for the digital natives amongst us

What do you all think is going to be the next hot space? (Obviously, cool = hot, and equally obviously just because a space is cool/hot doesn’t mean anyone will make money…:-)

August 26, 2012 / trajsingh

The not quite ready for prime time payers


Mobile payments in Europe are a long way from being as easy and convenient as they need to be. That’s probably not a surprise to a lot of people, but it’s a source of constant frustration to me. I’ve lost count of the number of companies I’ve talked to in an attempt to find someone who can do what we (Sooqini) need – take and send payments, do pre-authorisations, refunds etc. No rocket science here you would think.

PayPal is what we use right now, but reliance on only one form of payment isn’t a great idea. And, I want to be able to accept credit cards and direct to bank account payments, because that’s what my customers want.

If there is someone out there who can help me (no dongles please) than do get in touch. I’m waiting to hear from you…

May 8, 2012 / trajsingh

Showboating with an elephant in the room


I like baseball. Ever since the ’86 Mets won the World Series I’ve been a fan. And ever since then I’ve been struggling to understand the sport. Not just the rules (although they are, it seems, practically impossible to master unless you devote an entire lifetime to the task) but also the ethos.

[An aside on the rules, I now understand the infield fly rule. But not why sometimes someone strikes out and they still can run to first base unless the catcher tags them or throws them out. Or why you can argue about almost anything except balls and strikes (the thing you’d most want to argue about). And that thing about kicking dirt over the umpire’s shoes – that isn’t a rule but it’s hilarious. I also love how Americans always ask about Cricket – another game it takes a lifetime to understand – and they ask you to explain the rules to them but in fact they don’t want to know the rules, they just want to hold it up as a shining example of British incomprehensibility.]

Anyhow, back to the ethos. A couple of days ago, a pitcher deliberately threw the baseball at a batter. This happens a fair amount, especially when you consider 30 teams play 162 games every season, not including the playoffs. In this case it was slightly unusual for two reasons. 1. the batter is a much-hyped rookie player only 19 years old (Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals) but with a reputation for being ‘cocky’ (more on this later). 2. the pitcher (Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies) admitted he did it deliberately.

Hamels was suspended for five games (not actually a big deal since starting pitchers like Hamels only play once every five days anyway, so he might not in fact miss a single game he is due to pitch in) by the baseball league. But why did he do it? By which I mean, deliberately hit Harper, and then admit it. Later in the game, the pitcher for the Nationals hit Cole Hamels when he was batting. He denied doing it deliberately, which is what usually happens, but it was clearly retaliation. And that is the way Baseball works. Your guy gets hit, you hit their guy. Someone barrels into your catcher trying to score a run, you do the same to their catcher. But it gets even more petty. If, when hitting a home run, the batter ‘flips’ his bat into the air when commencing to trot around the bases, that’s cause for anger too. Or if they trot too slowly, or pump their fists too much. And there’s more: stealing a base when your team is winning by a lot, or celebrating in too ostentatious a manner with your team mates are also frowned upon. Baseball has rules aplenty, but the unwritten rule book is what gets you.

Whereas that is somewhat unusual in sports (they all have some of this, but baseball seems to have accreted the most), it is terrifically common in all sorts of other settings, including in the world of business. Enter an unknown situation with a great idea or solution, and not conforming to the unwritten rules will kill you pretty much every time. This is why innovation experts bang on about the culture of a place stifling innovation. It’s tough to innovate when, almost by definition, that means not playing by the rules, unwritten or otherwise.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll have probably guessed I don’t have an answer to this conundrum, but I would say that the first step to resolving it is creating the ability to talk about what those unwritten rules are. Without that, you’ll just be kicking dirt on to the umpire’s shoes.

April 30, 2012 / trajsingh

Too much / too little information


For anyone who travels a lot (like me) the Air France crash a few years ago was a puzzling issue – no-one really knew what had happened. However, since they recovered the flight recorders (a hugely costly miracle to find those little boxes at the bottom of the ocean) we now have more or less all the dope on what happened. And it’s scary. Not scary in the sense of “I’ll never fly again”, but in the very real way the Airbus design philosophy contributed to what happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Airbus design philosophy, and the planes too. But it did bring home just how important these decisions can be. Whenever I’m in a train or a plane, I always find myself looking at the rivets. For me, they remind me that what I am sitting in is not a complete, whole or organic entity, but something that someone has built. Just like a car, a group of people aided by machines have designed and then put together something complex, huge and elegant. I’m constantly amazed that they manage to it it so well, so often.

Such tasks are so daunting, and so difficult to get right, especially repeatedly (interesting New Yorker article on checklists is related to getting these things right – wash your hands, everyone!) for human beings that whenever we do get it right, it’s reason to celebrate. And given air travel’s excellent safety record, it has been done right.

No doubt this particular error will be eliminated. But it does cast light on how every aspect of a product or a service is important, and vitally so in something like an aeroplane.

April 19, 2012 / trajsingh

FT/Citi Ingenuity Awards redux


I just want to encourage all of you to take a look at this. If you know someone who’s making a difference to people’s lives in the context of urban life, please direct them to the website Although there is no cash prize, the recognition is invaluable (articles and magazines by the FT, and a set of regional – and a global – award evening). Letting people know about the good work being done is a great way to get them to adopt the idea.

April 19, 2012 / trajsingh

I’m back


Sorry it’s been a while, but things got a little out of hand over the last few months.

The good news is that Sooqini is almost ready to go – so it’s been worth it. I guess there will be some posts soon about that, and about the experience (de rigeur, it seems, for entrepreneurs to blog about the experience, their hearts on their sleeeves) but all that’s for later.

December 13, 2011 / trajsingh

Laboratory UK


Is it just me, or are Britons feeling a little like lab rats these days? It seems like the UK has become a huge laboratory for testing big ideas, and how far they can be pushed.

Consider some big things:

  • The government votes ‘no’ on a European treaty, potentially isolating the country, with unknown longer term implications (good and bad, no doubt).
  • The coalition decided on a hugely austere budget, taking the approach of cutting the budget and raising taxes, rather than supporting the economy (cf. 1929 etc.)

And some smaller things:

  • Backing a scandinavian-born initiative for radically overhauling the education system
  • The Gross Happiness Index advocated by Cameron
  • Maintaining a 50% tax band, and creating a 20% (temporary) VAT rate

It has been this exciting for donkey’s years. I just hope that someone in power has at least some notion of how this all might turn out. My friend and colleague Bruno always likes to say that “Public Service Innovation” is an oxymoron (before going on to explain why it isn’t) and the  policies and actions of the current UK government would seem to bear him out.

I’ve always maintained that as animals we humans are not good at determining cause and effect, unless the effect happens pretty much immediately after the cause (ow, that stove is hot!). When there is a lag of potentially decades (cf. climate change), all bets are off. Add to that the realization that none of the current group of politicos will be in power at that time, and the bogglingly huge number of variables involved, and there is no way we will ever know for sure whether these are the right moves or not.

I prefer my government to be slow, plodding and consultative. But even I admit that this current frenetic style of politics is, at the least, very exciting.

November 29, 2011 / trajsingh

“A small number of high-profile mistakes”


According to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook made a “small number of high-profile mistakes”.

According to the FTC, it was a little more than that (via The Guardian):

1. In December 2009, Facebook changed its website so certain information that users may have designated as private – such as their friends list – was made public. They did so without warning or approval in advance.

2. Facebook said that company’s apps would have access only to the information that they needed to operate. In fact, the apps could access nearly all of users’ personal data – data the apps didn’t need, said the FTC.

3. Facebook told users they could restrict sharing of data to limited audiences – for example with Friends Only. In fact, selecting Friends Only did not prevent their information from being shared with third-party applications their friends used.

4. Facebook had a Verified Apps programme, and claimed it certified the security of participating apps. It didn’t.

5. Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.

6. Facebook claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. But Facebook allowed access to the content, even after users had deactivated or deleted their accounts.

7. Facebook claimed that it complied with the US–EU Safe Harbour Framework that governs data transfer between the US and the European Union. It didn’t.

You decide whether this constitutes a “few high-profile mistakes”, or something a little more systematic, crass and completely at odds with the wishes and needs of its customers.

So now, before Facebook can change their privacy T’s & C’s again, they need to get permission. From the government.