Category Archives: Writing

Why are Facebook, Gmail etc all free?

Have you ever wondered why a lot of the internet services and products that you use are all free for you to use? I’m reading Future Crimes by Marc Goodman at the moment, and it explains why in very clear detail. I’m only about a third of the way through, and it’s pretty scary reading. All it’s done so far is to set the scene about the data we share. To give you a little clue, check out this clip from the Onion News Network.

You may think that the myriad of advertisements which appear on your screen when you visit all these sites are what is paying for your free service, and you’d almost be right. What’s actually happening is that you are the product, not the advertisers. Every bit of data you post, every tweet, every picture is captured, along with details on every device you use, its location, every browser or app you use. That will include this blog article and the tablet device I’m writing it on right now. All of this information is bought and processed by data aggregation companies, and sets of data are then sold to advertisers.

Ever wondered why, if you shop at the same supermarket chain (not even the same store) regularly and use a loyalty card, the vouchers you get are for product which may complement your regular shop? So if you buy a lot of cheese, there’s a high likelihood you’ll get vouchers for crackers which go well with cheese. More and more complex algorithms are being developed to predict what you are likely to want to buy, and where you are likely to be in the next few days.  For example, if you buy a selection of swimming trunks, shorts, t-shirts and sun tan lotion, it’s likely the adverts you see will include travel insurance and holidays to sunnier places.  All of this is down to the trail of data you leave, even if you’re unaware of it. 

And the big secret? You can’t stop it. Have you read any of the Terms and Conditions you’ve signed up to? Probably not – those documents are big, they’re convoluted, and they often refer to other documents. In Future Crimes for example, evidence is given to show that the Terms and Conditions for PayPal are actually longer than the play Hamlet by Shakespeare. In them, you will almost certainly have consented to data which is collected being shared with others, without additional permission from you, and also to allowing the Ts and Cs to be changed whenever the company wants.  Oh, and get this – they also probably say somewhere that your data can be harvested from any kind of technology, known or unkown ie on systems that haven’t even been developed yet.  

If you’re trying to reduce your footprint, wave goodbye to store cards and credit cards, use cash at all times, and don’t carry a mobile device of any kind, because those are also pumping out data which tracks you.  They’re your own personal GPS!  Living off the grid is practically impossible.  

I’ll just say, read the book, and prepare to be dazzled!  


Enhancing your following 

Some time back I posted an item about how to build your following. Today, I came across this on LinkedIn and thought I should share it on here. I know it focuses on that platform, but it holds true here. I think most of us get more engagement and more views when we write from personal experience.

I know I’m not doing the things I should be to continue to build my readership – apart from anything else, I’m too intermittent – but I am going to try to get back to posting regularly, if I can. 

It’s funny isn’t it? You set out with good intentions to write once a day, once a week, once a fortnight, whatever, and then they gradually fall by the wayside. I guess that if you can establish a good routine, then that helps. My work takes me to different places on odd days, so I can’t easily say “every Thursday I’ll be here and can write for an hour”, because meetings come up and that time disappears. 

How to build a following


I was reading through my feed on LinkedIn today, and came across the following. I thought it had some really good advice on how to build and maintain a following, and thought it worth sharing here…

i know that some of these work really well, because they’ve worked for me in the past. I just need to start doing them again!


The tracks of my years


I thought I’d try to compile a playlist of songs that represent me, or that speak to me on some level, so here goes.  They’re in no particular order.

  1. Gone Cold by Clutch. Probably the first “new” band I’ve heard in a long time, though I’ve since found out that they’ve been going since the early 90s. I listen to podcasts a lot when I’m driving, and one work related podcast features this song as the intro and outro music. It has a lovely, laid back feel to it, with vocals which drawl gently through the opening lines, but which reveal more of an edge when singing the lines around the song title.  I think I am also pretty laid back most of the time, but can be steely as and when necessary.
  2. Doesn’t Make it All Right by The Specials. When you’re growing up in a pretty much exclusively white rural town in the Scottish lowlands, a song which is very much anti-racist sends a strong message,  This song combines one of my favoured music genres (ska) with a conviction that I felt strongly at the time and still do. Oh, and my favourite band, SLF, do an awesome version of it.
  3. Boogie Chillun by John Lee Hooker. Cut down, raw blues with a wonderful hook, this song is just brilliant. the lyrics, about a child’s desire to break free and get lost in their music at times exactly how I feel.  I go through peaks and troughs, and at their height I just want to be enveloped in listening to and playing great music.
  4. Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival. OK, I’m not entirely sure what a bayou is, and I’ve no idea what shoogling is (it’s one of the words in the lyrics), but this song has a similar sort of feel to me as number 1 above does.  It’s quite chilled, but at the same time full of a sort of restless energy which breaks out from time to time.
  5. Panic Song by Green Day. This song is not long, and it’s not complex: but the intro is nothing more than a build up of energy which eventually explodes into action. In a lot of respects, my anger is like that: it takes a long long time to build, then (and only very rarely) does it get released.
  6. Soul Man by Sam and Dave This mostly made the cut because a) the Blues Brothers did it, b) it’s a fab time and c) they say “play it Steve” (to Steve Cropper) and I am a Steve!
  7. Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet. Again, Steve gets a mention, this time in the intro, but I chose this because it was one of the first songs I remember by a band I used to really like. I think this and Teenage Rampage probably laid the path for me to follow in terms of melodic music with a strong drum line.
  8. White Noise by Stiff Little Fingers. As with The Specials number above, this is very much an anti-racist number, though oddly enough when it first came out radio stations refused to play it because it has a derogatory w-word in every chorus. If they’d checked the lyrics they’d have seen that it was protesting about discrimination for whatever reason, whether race, colour, creed or nationality. What a great message!
  9. In The Hall Of The Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg. I’m half Norwegian, half Scottish, and this is written by a Norwegian composer whose parents were Scots and has our hero encountering giants in their home.
  10. Donald Where’s Yir Troosers by Andy Stewart. This is a none too serious look at what it’s like to be a Scot from the sticks, and particularly when they venture down into the big city of London.  I’m a Scot who made the move from a rural part of the country away to England and to a big down. Oh, and if you want an Elvis impression, there’s one on here too – uh huh!

This was harder than I had expected, but I think I got there in the end. I hope you like the list!

Setting the scene

I spent a portion of my lunch break today sitting outside the office, just watching the world go by.

At the time, the sky was overcast with sunny spells.  There were some patches of blue amongst the clouds, which seemed to transform from grey to white and back in a random jumble.

The air was full of “fairies”, the heads of dandelions and thistles, floating on the wind.  They get everywhere, even invading the office when the door is opened, and as it was quite warm the windows were open too – and in they came.

I should start by saying that my office today was on a small business park, one of several single story buildings set between a little man made pond and a field full of solar panels, surrounded by thistles and other flowering plants.  The business park can only be reached by driving down a narrow, single track road with passing places, and there is no passing traffic.  The buildings are surrounded by block paved car parks, and on some days they are right under the glide path of planes coming in to the nearby airport: not today though.

The pond is a murky green colour, and there are lots of lily pads which are a waxy dark green gathered at the far end. Dark shapes of fish, at least a foot long, can be seen just below the surface, and every so often the dorsal fin, tail and part of the back of one or more pushes out from the water and into the air.  There are reeds around the fringes, and other tall, slim, once purple flowered plants abound too.  Many of the plants in the area have finished flowering and their heads are dying.  I’m not very good at identifying plants: I should learn about them really.

Surprisingly, there were very few birds, butterflies or insects to be seen.  However, I was delighted to see a red kite soaring over some of the other buildings.  There are a couple of farms nearby so I’m guessing that the raptor was looking for rats and other small animals which live in and around farms: preferably dead ones.  It’s lovely to see red kites up close: their colours and grace are impressive, and given that until about 30 years ago they were practically extinct in England it’s encouraging to see that their numbers are on the increase and they can be found all around the office now.

As mentioned, there is no passing traffic, and as our offices are at the end of the business park, no-one other than my colleagues park there.  No-one arrived, and no-one left, as I sat and relaxed, just watching the world go by.  A very peaceful interlude in a busy day.

Coffee anyone?


If we were having coffee right now, I’d be pretty disappointed with myself.  You see, I’ve given up caffeine for August, so I’d have relented after less than a fortnight. I had pretty bad headaches last week, as the caffeine left my system, but other than that it’s been reasonably easy – easier than I expected to be honest!  I gave up alcohol for January, which was easy because I’m not addicted to it: I suspect I am / was slightly addicted to caffeine.

If we were having coffee right now, it would be touch and go whether I’d sleep tonight. It’s nearly bed time, and I know that a coffee just before bed doesn’t help one relax.  So why do people often finish off their meal on a night out with an espresso?

If we were having coffee right now, I’d be the easiest person to make it for.  Coffee. Hot water. Stir. Done!