Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Ideas for blog posts

After six years of this, I'm still not running out of stuff I'd like to write about.

My output in the last few weeks has slowed down slightly because there are too many topics which have sprung to mind and I waste time deciding which one to do and then I end up doing nothing. I scribble them down on bits of paper during the day and then accumulate the unused ones on a master list at home, which is now three pages of A4.

They cover all sorts of different themes, so today, I'll list all the ones that vaguely relate to design, organisation or evolution:

1. Why democracy only works if there is a sense of 'national identity' in the first place. Democracy still works in federal states as long as people in each sub-division have a sense of identity. So there are tensions between different cantons in Switzerland who speak different languages and there are tensions between the English, the Welsh and the Scottish but these are surmountable because they all live in their separate pristine areas; but 'democracy' in the modern sense simply does not even work properly in Northern Ireland - it's all about tribalism and favours. So these people who think that you can simply install or impose 'democracy' in Middle Eastern or African countries have completely missed the point.

2. Why only a few people have 'leadership skills'. This is an atavistic thing that was useful when we still lived in small bands or tribes, but on the level of nation-states made up of millions of people, it can be sorely counter-productive - even though, having a single national 'leader' goes some way towards creating a sense of 'national identity' and thus enabling democracy to continue.

There was a good article by Jamie Tehrani at the BBC explaining the analogous phenomenon of celebrities; this urge to follow successful people was a useful trait when we lived in small bands or tribes but is now largely counter-productive.

3. Town planning: if you allow people to pitch their tents or huts any old where, what do they always overlook/forget to create, even though it would be to everybody's advantage? Look at the pictures of the tent city at Glastonbury or the huts round a Tibetan temple.

4. Town planning: because the original settlers in the British isles all lived along the coast, most people, however urban or urbane, still attach a premium to having a view over, being able to take a stroll along or being at a pub-restaurant overlooking a river, harbour or beach. It doesn't seem to matter if the waterway is almost entirely man-made i.e. canal or dock.

5. Town planning: some people have a dog and/or like dogs, other people hate dogs, so there would be an overall benefit to everybody if the two were segregated. It's fair to assume that dog-lovers would be happy to pay a bit extra to live in an area where dogs are allowed/welcomed, and dog-haters would be happy to pay a bit extra to live in a dog-free area. I'm always wary about banning things, but there's no reason it can't be applied ab initio to new estates and could be phased in elsewhere, i.e. people in each smaller defined area can simply have a vote. From there on in, dog-lovers will graduate to dog areas and dog-haters to dog-free areas.

6. The same logic applies to 'expensive' and 'cheap' areas. If you are the council and you build two more or less identical estates and set the rent at £100 a week in one of them and £200 a week in the other, then initially this will seem bizarre, but after a while, those will be come the new 'market rents'. People who earn a bit more and can afford to pay a bit more will be happy to pay to be among their peers and sheltered from the great unwashed, and lower income people will be happy to make do living among the GU because the rent is cheaper.

7. These people who hanker after the old county boundaries. Do they seriously imagine that the land has some magical properties which makes it "Berkshire" rather than "Oxfordshire" or vice versa? Where conflicts are a little more recent, let's say five or six centuries ago, I can vaguely understand which some people classify themselves specifically as Yorkshiremen or Lancastrians, but are there really some people who object to being subjected to the cruel tyranny of the Oxen when they'd rather be ruled by Berks? When was the last war between the two tribes?

8. Drewster's idea about private compulsory purchase orders as briefly discussed on this thread at HousePriceCrash.

9. Somebody told me that the opposition to the Aberdeen bypass was spear-headed by one single NIMBY who owned an isolated house on the route of the new road who didn't want the traffic noise. I said that there was a simple solution to this: buy up a small plot of land half a mile away, build an identical copy of his existing house, only a bit newer and better, and lay out the garden exactly the same and just do a swap (forced or otherwise).

The 'value' of his land is only the scarcity value of the planning permission in a noise-free area. Superficially, that 'value' is reduced or destroyed if the road is built, but the 'value' can easily be released again by building the new house. So the only cost involved would be building the new house for a hundred thousand quid; this would save the millions of pounds which all the enquiries and delays cost.

10. A design lecturer at printing college told us this simple rule: "It's good design if nobody notices it". This is a very good rule indeed, and applies to more or less everything, whether you are looking at form or function. For example, the first thing you notice when you sit in the driver's seat of a Trabi is that the steering wheel is slightly to your right, which is really annoying. So you notice, so it's probably bad design.

But conversely, have you ever consciously noticed that the steering wheel in most cars is dead straight in front of the driver's seat? The same applies to aesthetic questions just as much, so the rule with typefaces is do not mix and match typefaces or even line-spacing in one document because this detracts from the actual message your are trying to convey; the human eye is distracted and it is more difficult to concentrate on reading it.

11. As I've said before, having a fixed daily routine appears to help you live longer. Part of this is simply because it saves you having to think too hard about what you are going to do that day, so your life is less stressful. Which segues in nicely to the finding that having a fixed bed time for your children helps their development; it takes the stress out of things, kids just have to learn to put up with it rather than having a fight every day.

12. A more specific rule for interior design is: "More storage space = more crap", see also "Why having in-trays is a recipe for disaster".

13. Optimum land use: the striking similar between the 'chalets' at Butlins and some retirement bungalows in Uxbridge (in terms of both internal and external layout) which I saw when I was out getting my nomination papers when I stood as a candidate for a party I used to belong to.

Just sayin', is all.


Rich Tee said...

What I find interesting about leadership is the importance of charisma. It's impossible to define or capture or teach, but you know it when you see it.

Charismatic people don't really do anything except give people something to believe in, then the people do all the rest themselves.

In modern politics, charisma actually seems like a disadvantage since modern societies are so bureaucratic and complicated that it favours managers rather than leaders. People with charisma seem to prefer to go into business nowadays, probably because it is easier to feel you are achieving something in a business.

Rich Tee said...

I would also add, in that BBC article, he describes how people are interested in what cars celebrities drive etc.

I would describe this as a "cargo cult" effect; people can't perceive how celebrities became famous, so just copy the superficial aspects in the (ultimately futile) hope that they can replicate it, like the cargo cults trying to replicate the circumstances that brought them gifts beyond their comprehension.

This wouldn't happen in a small tribe because it would be intimate and everybody would be far more aware of everything that the other tribe members are doing.

The Stigler said...

The main way to create a single country is by going as far towards libertarian values as possible. If you have lots of government jobs, you'll get lots of corruption as people will help their own tribal group.

With libertarian/classic liberal values, people start to value trade over tribe. They see the "other" as suppliers and customers. They might decide that they'll ignore their cousin who says they shouldn't allow black people in their bar, because the black people are putting a roof over their head, and their cousin isn't.

It's why the USA is this country made up of huge numbers of relatively recent immigrants from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Puerto Rico, all of whom primarily consider themselves as American.

The best thing they could do in Northern Ireland is to get rid of all benefits, legalise narcotics and shrink the state. Within a couple of generations, the catholic/protestant rivalry would be about as much trouble as England and Scottish rugby fans.

DBC Reed said...

As regards counties I think the original idea was that you should be able to access and do business in the main county town, and other towns, easily there and back within one day. This would have been at a time when people travelled by horse or walked for instance to a hiring fair (as in Thomas Hardy) or drove cattle along the road to market. But there remains an advantage in working and living within shorter journey times of all the frequent destinations.

JimS said...

1. It has been said that there is no demos in the EU so there can be no democracy.

Re. Stigler's comments: It used to be the case that immigrants arrived in the US looking for the 'American Dream'. I heard a programme recently that very much suggested that the Mexican/Puerto Ricans now saw themselves as Hispanic and can do things for themselves, including dispensing with English.
3. The Tibetan example looks remarkably organised.
5. Why should dog/non-dog people have to pay a premium for their choice? Win/win at no cost I would have thought.
6. Is it desirable to have 'good' and 'bad' areas? Might not your scheme lead to palaces v shanty town?
7. Why does where you live have to change its name based on the local authority? Royal Mail, BT and all the other utility authorities might find it nice if addresses aligned with their service districts. I quite like the way that some German and French public bodies retain medieval heraldry on their uniforms. Not all tradition is bad.
12. Is it true that German houses use standard room sizes? It would be nice to think that things 'fit' after a move. I used to have a box room but even though my next house was bigger I never did manage to find proper homes for all my stuff.

Mark Wadsworth said...

RT, agreed, both comments.

TS, maybe, but the way the British govt achieved some sort of fragile peace in NI was creating loads and loads of government jobs and endless tiers of bureaucracy to buy off the leaders of the warring factions.

DBC, that doesn't explain why there are tiny counties and huge ones.

JS, re 1, agreed, that's where it begins to go wrong (see also Canada). Re 5, "because", that's why. Re 6, yes it might, so what?

Re 12, no they do not have official "standard sizes" but each town or county has certain "recommended minimum sizes for new builds" and on the whole their homes are bigger and nicer than in the UK.

Sarton Bander said...

Anonymous said...

A big thank you from me for all those posts. It's a great blog, and the only one I read every day. And I probably wouldn't be in "that party" if I hadn't been influenced by it. :)

Mark Wadsworth said...

SB, nice one.

AC, thanks. In fact, another topic on my "to do" list is "Bloggers/commenters who use their real names tend to be better than bloggers who use an alias" and you'll get an honourable mention in that one.

Morgan Charles said...

No 7, County Boundaries, I suspect the reasoning goes thus:
People like to identify with a larger group, as a sort of subset of nationalism. The counties formed just such a grouping. The problem with the new (1974) counties was that they had none of the 800 years or so of history, or things like regiments, badges, flags, coats of arms, that the old counties had, so there were very much fewer added psychological benefits in identifying with them. Also the British dislike change. Also the old boundaries were fairly arbitrary, unlike the new ones, which everyone knew had been planned by some bureaucrat.

Mark Wadsworth said...

MC, yes, if we could jump in a time machine back to pre-74 we would decide to leave well alone.

But after three score and ten years, most people will develop their new allegiances, and there will be Oxen who would baulk at the idea of becoming Berks again.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is obvious or I'm being thick, but isn't your dog idea the solution to democracy in general, and the county problem too?

To use a more political example, suppose a certain county decided to ban smoking in all public places, a neighbouring county decided to allow it. In the absence of other pressures, most smokers would eventually end up in the smoking county and non-smokers in the non-smoking county.

Wasn't this sort of the point of having different US states? One of the problems with the EU is that while it promotes freedom of movement between the countries, it also wants every country to be the same, which sort of removes the purpose of moving to a new country.

Rich Tee said...

"Bloggers/commenters who use their real names tend to be better than bloggers who use an alias"

The trouble for me is that I have an unusual name, and I don't want anybody typing my name into a search engine and finding out everything I've said online for the past ten years.

If I were in the public eye I would use my real name though.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Doej, that's an excellent point, I'll add it to the list of topics I could blog about if I had time.

RT, one of the reasons why real name bloggers are better is that if you are using your real name, you tend to be a bit more polite and circumspect - precisely because you don't want people to find out you said something outrageous.

Physiocrat said...

There is a library in that lot. My colleagues and I used to work on the design principle that our work should not be noticed, but that was unusual and we had a lot of trouble from colleagues and bosses who thought that good design was when people could see what they had got for their money.

Public transport vehicle design has got very bad since the 1960s from that point of view.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Ph, actually, I must refine the design rule a bit. On closer inspection, good design does not raise the question "why did they do it like this"? It just seems natural or "right". The fact that sometimes the right thing initially seems quite radical is by the by.

Can you give examples re public transport vehicles?

Physiocrat said...

Designs so good you do not notice...
Front-engine, rear-entrance, half-cab double deck buses.
Slam door trains eg all suburban trains pre-1965.
BR Inter City trains, mark 1 stock.
Tube trains (still! Amazing)
London Underground surface stock up to and including D78.
London black cabs.

The Stigler said...

As for 12: I learnt to only own things that I regularly use. Otherwise, I rent. And I only own when I'm already doing something and realise that i'm tipping too much into rent.

So, I won't buy some golf clubs because then I'll play golf. I'll buy golf clubs because I'm playing regularly and pouring money into club hire.

It not only reduces clutter, it's also better financially.

Anonymous said...

Ph, ta. I'll have to think about that.

TS, that's another good topic, but a slightly different one. (That's why it's good to move home every few years, to save lugging old crap, you just chuck away everything you haven't touched for the past 12 months.)

If you want to be scientific about it, let's assume it costs £20 to hire something for the day but £50 to buy outright.

Superficially you say "Well, I might use this another two or three times, so I've got my money back"

But then you end up with rooms full of old crap - even if you have used the things a few times, you have not necessarily got your money back because of the storage costs.

And then you get emotionally attached to certain things which e.g. "bring back happy holiday memories" like three bloody mini-surfboards in our shed which we used for precisely three hours two years ago.

Sarton Bander said...

I told my friend to cost his storage space.

He now buys less, so it does work.

Morgan Charles said...

(That's why it's good to move home every few years, to save lugging old crap, you just chuck away everything you haven't touched for the past 12 months.)

It depends on your personality: hoarders will quite happily move boxes of stuff from one attic to the next ad infinitum. However, I would agree that having a "family home" that is passed from generation to generation, does tend to accumulate inordinate amounts of junk.
The buy/hire argument is easily solved for me, if it's more expensive to hire, I'll buy. If I need the space, I'll sell it again. That's what eBay's for. Not that I've sold much, but then I like having lots of junk around.