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Boaty McBoatface

Boaty McBoatface, The War In Iraq and Modern Democracy

So, the polar exploration ship will now be called Sir David Attenborough, instead of the overwhelmingly popular Boaty McBoatface, for the obvious reason that it’s a more ‘sensible’ name. But does this reaffirm to those who voted that democracy only works when it aligns with establishment wishes?

I feel like I should have gone now, but I didn’t. In 2002 as my London housemates prepared to go to the protest of record proportions, I openly admitted I wasn’t attending because there was no point. I didn’t even bother to vote at this time of my life, such was my mistrust in and apathy for politics. I didn’t feel in the slightest bit vindicated when we subsequently went to war, against the wishes of a huge section of British society. I felt sad. I felt that the political establishment, a Labour-led one at that, had once again done what the hell it liked without regard for us.

A comparison with Boaty McBoatface might seem trivial, but the people who took part in this poll were not only the very people we need to engage in democracy — young, savvy and engaged — but people who clearly understand the contract you make when you ask someone to vote on something. The result and subsequent change of heart only serves to show them that no, there is no point in involving yourself in anything political.

Since the middle ages and the Magna Carta (and arguably far earlier) we have all been born into a bargain with the state. We give a little of our freedom — freedom to kill who we like and park where we want — in return for the order of society, and security of the state. We live with total faith in that contract, but when it comes to the less pressing stuff, not of being murdered but whether we invade a foreign land or name a boat after a venerable broadcaster, our faith is in tatters.

I believe this is why there are no ‘normal’ people in politics. No people like you or me, just the kind of socially awkward kids that joined a political party when they were 15 instead of doing the more usual stupid teenage stuff. ‘We’ don’t really care. We never have because the entire system seems rigged and apparently resists any real change. The Farages and Corbyns of this world get ridiculed for standing by grassroots political values whilst the PM successfully brushes off necro-bestiality.

And so it is with a poll or referendum — the key instruments of democracy. They are carried out to discover what we all think so a decision can be made based on that instead of an authority figure’s arbitrary hunch. They’re risky of course. The outcome may be surprising, counter-intuitive, ridiculous. But that’s why we hold them. By having national elections we take the risk that the far right British National Party might gain power and perform a sartorially inferior re-run of the holocaust — if that’s what people really want. Of course it isn’t, but we do clearly want a polar exploration ship called Boaty McBoatface because it’s a great name and we chose it.

It might seem churlish to express my ‘appalled’ views about a silly online vote, and pointing to it as a symptom of a broken democracy. But the shame of it is, that however silly or trivial, it’s one more reason for today’s twenty-somethings — tomorrow’s political, cultural and business leaders — to believe that voting doesn’t change anything, and ultimately every important decision is down to some old white guy in a suit.


100 Amazing Diagrams That Changed The World

Diagrams, and particularly ‘infographics’ feel like an inherently modern phenomenon. Something that only people whose time is no longer consumed with avoiding plagues, scurvy and constant warring have the luxury of creating. But as 100 Diagrams That Changed the World: From the Earliest Cave Paintings to the Innovation of the iPod shows, there are some truly beautiful examples from medieval times and even earlier of man’s urge to bring order to the world around him through these highly technical yet aesthetically gorgeous works. Here’s a selection for your viewing, Pinning and printing pleasure:

The Rosetta Stone – 196 BC
Allowed Egyptologists to decrypt hieroglyphics for the first time, due to the same message written here in three different languages (hieroglyphics, Demotic, Greek).

Ptolemy’s World Map – Claudius Ptolemy, c. AD 150
Created around 700 years after the ancient Greeks realised the Earth is spherical, this map is an impressive world atlas, though note the disproportionately large Old World, and the errors in the extreme southern hemisphere.


Lunar Eclipse – Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, 1019
Diagram showing the phases of the moon, from al-Biruni’s Kitab al-Tafhim


Dante’s Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri, 1308-21
19th century interpretation of Dante’s map of Hell.

Human Body – Andreas Vesalius, 1543
No-one had seen anatomical illustrations quite like De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Detailed and animated, these drawings have become some of the most important in medicine.

Heliocentric Universe – Nicolaus Copernicus, 1543
Copernicus risked accusations of heresy when he published this revolutionary plan of the universe showing the sun, not the Earth, at the centre.

Flush Toilet – John Harington, 1596
There is the world pre-flushing toilet, and the world post-flushing toilet. This single invention improved living conditions in towns and cities immeasurably, allowing people to dispose neatly of their waste rather than literally throwing it out of the window into street-level cesspits.

Moon Drawings – Galileo Galilei, 1610
Until Galileo drew these detailed drawings of the moon – aided by his telescope – showing mountains and valleys, people thought the surface of the moon was smooth.

Color Wheel – Moses Harris, 1766
The first full colour wheel of its kind is a thing of real beauty.


A New Chart of History – Joseph Priestley, 1769
Of all these examples, this most closely resembles a 21st century infographic, taking a large unwieldy data set and visualising it as a timeline.



Line Graph – William Playfair, 1786
This 18th century graph was the first use of a line graph to display economical data.


Emoticons – Puck Magazine, 1881
This feature of ‘typographical art’ brings us the first known use of what could be called emoticons 😛

Cubism and Abstract Art – Alfred Barr, 1936
This unusual diagram shows the pivotal role Cubism played in the development of Modern Art.

Intel 4004 CPU – Ted Hoff, Stanley Mazor, Masatoshi Shima, Federico Faggin, Philip Tai, and Wayne Pickette, 1971
Intel’s early demonstration board, which would later prove to be the grandaddy of all modern home computers.

Buy 100 Diagrams That Changed the World: From the Earliest Cave Paintings to the Innovation of the iPod here



WikiRebels – The Wikileaks Documentary

Unless you’ve lived in a cave recently (or in a country that restricts access to information!) you’ll have seen popular ‘information liberators’ Wikileaks thrust into the public eye over ‘cablegate’.

This fascinating Swedish documentary (it’s in English) throws some light on the site and its shadowy founder Julian Assange. Here it is in a YouTube playlist:


Reeder For Mac Beta Released

The pretty-much-default RSS reader for iPad and iPhone – Reeder – has burst out of iOS and onto our desktops. My browser homepage is set to Google Reader, which even with performance-enhancing Chrome extensions is an ugly and unwieldy page, so this is real progress in my bid to stay fully abreast of the important things in the world.

It’s basic (which is great because it’s simple and clean) and we’re warned the beta is buggy but it’s working brilliantly so far and I demand that you install it on your Mac. Here’s why:

Clean Interface

Just like its mobile counterparts, this version is very clean and simple, which in the information-overloaded world of RSS feeds is a godsend. There are basically four areas of the app:

Feed Types

Show all items, your noted items, RSS feed items or items shared from people you’re following.

Feed Groups

Feed Groups

Showing the groups of feeds (as set up in Reader). I have my feeds grouped into ‘Tech’, ‘Business’, ‘Music’ etc and this makes it easy to just look at one category of news.

Feed List

Your feed items, auto-updating as much as very 5 minutes (or just press ‘R’ to manually refresh).

Reading Pane

Reading PaneJ

Just like the mobile version, displays the news story with cached image and text in a pretty Helvetica-esque font (or is it just Arial?). From here you can do various things with the above toolbar like post to Twitter, Instapaper, Google and open in your browser. This toolbar is customisable so you can just keep the stuff you use there.

Dock Icon Badge

Unlike the mobile versions of Reeder, the desktop version updates automatically as often as every 5 minutes, displaying the number of unread items in the dock which is handy for keeping an eye on the zeitgeist passing you by.

All-in-all this is a robust, simple app and has already made it into my dock and allowed me to set my browser homepage back to the calmness of . Get it for yourself over at