uk Tag

Thank You Pret A Manger

Veggie Pret a Manger in London's Soho

No Really, Cheers

Thank you for having the idea of converting one of your high-profile branches to a vegetarian and vegan-only shop, and then extending its tenure for the rest of the summer.

Whilst on a purely selfish level it’s great to go in a lunchtime food spot and know I can have absolutely anything, that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the effect that opening a meat-free version of your ubiquitous restaurant will have on the hundreds of people who will pass through its doors each day.

The Backstory

When I became a vegetarian 15 years ago I was a staunch meat eater from the north of England who had gotten very ill in Thailand and stopped eating potentially unsafe meat for a ‘little while’. That short spell turned into the rest of my life. I became more and more aware of the ethical, environmental and personal health impact of meat once I viewed its consumption from a distance.


Veggies on the Rise… and Fall?

Back then in the early noughties lots of restaurants were improving their vegetarian offering, adding clearly marked ‘v’ symbols next to dishes on their menus. More vegetarian restaurants seemed to be opening, and Britain’s food scene appeared to naturally becoming greener. But somewhere in the mid-to-late noughties the trend for gourmet meat and fast food restaurants swiftly gathered momentum. Chains like Byron, MEATliquor and Nando’s grew rapidly. Independent meat restaurants and food trucks began to dominate our cities and all of a sudden it didn’t seem that cool to be veggie any more. A more ‘authentic’, pop-up, independent aesthetic pervaded and those helpful ‘v’ symbols started to disappear from even the large chain menus. Home cooking, barbecuing and smoking meat with beer cans up chicken’s rear ends and pigs on spits grow in occurrence. There are now clubs, festivals and a multitude of books devoted to meat.

So Meat Is Good…?

Somewhere the ethical dimension of that whole scene was omitted. Not hidden – Byron cheekily place plastic cows in the nooks and crannies of their restaurants, Gourmet Burger Kitchen joke about vegetarians in their marketing, American-style meat shacks proudly illuminate neon signs formed of pig silhouettes. Clearly then, no-one at these endpoints of the meat industry is bothered by the truth about how the meat arrived at their plates. Which is strange. As a nation of self-proclaimed ‘animal lovers’, the average Brit would wince at seeing any animal being mistreated. But the sheer ubiquity of these meat outlets creates an ‘everyone’s doing it’ socially-reinforced justification, perpetuating the moral gap between two inconsistent beliefs at odds with each other – ‘meat is good’ and ‘hurting animals is bad’. Meanwhile the alternative is increasingly drowned out.


Mac ‘n’ Cheese Always Wins

And so the voice of meat avoidance (or whatever the catch-all term for vegetarianism and veganism is) today is left to its more radical proponents – Morrissey, like the embarrassing un-PC uncle of veganism or PETA with its gruesome images and stories of animal abuse sure to turn eyes and minds away from the issue. I really don’t think they help the cause, but a sandwich shop full of tasty wraps, paninis, hot melts, mac ‘n’ cheese, cakes and treats all made without meat absolutely does. It is hard to imagine someone won’t leave your Broadwick Street branch this summer thinking that perhaps they could enjoy a life without meat.

Further reading: Pret’s blog on their findings after the first few weeks 🙂


Am I Right Or Left Wing?


The 7th May general election is growing near, but people in the UK are struggling to get behind any of the leaders due to the depressing fact that normal people seemingly don’t get into politics.

So it’s likely to come down to which party’s wavelength you’re generally on, and whether you’re right-wing or left-wing. Here’s a great visualisation from Information Is Beautiful which may help clarify which direction you swing in.


So are you right wing or left wing?

In the UK the former means you should vote Conservative, or to go further to the right, UKIP. The latter leaning would see you voting for Labour, or to go a little further to the left, the Green Party. The Lib Dems are mostly left-wing with some right-wing policies too.

My personal leaning is to the left, simply because I believe that a society’s ultimate purpose is to make its people as happy as possible. For me the left-right argument is much like the dilemma many of us face personally. Do I want to be successful and rich? Or do I want to be happy, even if that means not being the best at everything and having lots of money. Do I really care if Britain has the best economy or defence on the planet? Or do I want to see a doctor when I need and know that people less fortunate than me are being taken care of?

Either way, get out and vote on 7th May. Despite what people like Russell Brand say, unless we all get more engaged with politics the current leaders are the best we’ll ever have, and deserve.


Incredible Colour Footage of London Streets & Landmarks in 1927

This amazing film shows London in 1927 – 12 years before World War II tore through Europe and changed London’s people and landscape forever. We see people enjoying Hyde Park, dodging buses in the road, going shopping and generally doing the stuff we still do today in these familiar places, just in different clothes. With the film in such good condition, it feels eerily fresh and alive, even though perhaps no-one in the footage is still with us today.

(via @KevinSpacey )


Change: A World In Flux – My #CogsTalks @ The Hospital

Here’s the presentation I gave this week at The Hospital in London, showing my take on how the digital world is changing and why this constant change shouldn’t scare us but rather is an endless source of opportunity.

Here’s the presentation I gave and below is the full video of my talk:

Visit My SlideShare

Video courtesy of VideoJug

Any questions, feel free to comment, tweet or email me 🙂


Facebook Pages Upgrade – What You Need To Know

The old, and new Facebook pages at a glance

On 10th March all Facebook Pages – i.e. pages which are not for personal accounts but for brands, businesses and organizations – will be upgraded to a new style consistent with personal profiles, with a picture gallery across the top and ‘tabs’ now linked to in the left-hand navigation menu as opposed to across the top. You can manually upgrade now at

The key things you need to know if you run or contribute to a page are:

Use Facebook as your page

This new feature allows you to take on the persona of your page as opposed to your personal identity. You can go around liking, commenting and interacting as the page.

One way you can exploit this is through joining conversations on similar pages. So if you’re a guitar shop you could go and join in conversations about guitars on Fender or Jimi Hendrix’s page to gain exposure in relevant communities. I expect to see this feature abused in the near future and it will be interesting to see how Facebook deal with this.

Notifications and a newsfeed

Once you’ve switched to using Facebook as your page, when you click the Facebook logo or ‘Home’ you will see a newsfeed as normal, but now it won’t be your personal one containing updates from your friends but rather the page’s newsfeed containing updates from other pages you have liked whilst using Facebook as that page.

You will also see different notifications. Again, instead of your personal ones they will all relate to activity on the page you are using Facebook as.

Photo gallery at the top of the page, ‘tabs’ and liked pages on the left

Once you upgrade the first thing you will notice is the new layout. You have the photostrip at the top just like on your personal profile which displays photos you have uploaded as that page (it does’t include photos uploaded to your wall by users), and the ‘tabs’ (can we call them tabs now? Maybe they’re ‘subpages’ or just ‘apps’) are linked to on the left, with pages you have liked (whilst using Facebook as your page) listed below. You can also feature any number of admins who run the page should you wish to bring out some human personality into the page.

Iframes and the death of FBML

This is in my view the biggest change by far, but a technical one and so possibly the least discussed amongst marketeers. In short, your existing Static FBML tabs will be safe (and updatable) forever, but after 10th March you will not be able to add the FBML app to create new ones. You will have to create a Facebook app and insert an iframe into it. Sounds scary, but whilst definitely more time consuming than the old Static FBML tabs it’s a bit easier than it sounds. I’m currently writing a tutorial just for you, so hang tight and stay tuned 🙂


10 Years Of The Beatles’ Styles

Illustrator Maxim Dalton has just released a limited run of 500 prints of this cool poster showing how the biggest selling band of all time evolved sartorially through the 1960’s in a fifteen-step change from all black Pierre Cardin suits to the confused, messy beginnings of the decade fashion forgot.


iPhone 4: One Week Later [REVIEW]

After queuing last week at UK mobile phone carrier O2’s store on London’s Oxford Street for over 2 hours, I actually came away feeling a bit silly. As I weaved between the tourists, pigeons and ‘Golf Sale’ guys clutching my prize I thought to myself “I’ve just queued for 2 hours… for a mobile phone… have I gone crazy? Is my life so empty that I needed so badly to upgrade to the iPhone 4 today?”. Well yeah, it was. The internet was alight with debate around Apple’s new device so I couldn’t possibly miss out, the curve might get ahead of me!

So after over a week in possession of the latest shiny object to drop out of Cupertino, here’s how I got on with iPhone 4:


I upgraded from a two-year-old, jailbroken iPhone 3G so I was always going to be blown away by the speed. Nevertheless, it is impressive wherever you’re coming from. The speed has changed the way I rely on it (ie. even more). For instance I can open ‘Maps’, search a street and pinpoint where it is within a few seconds. No delay in opening the app, typing or locating me. This could take a whole minute on the 3G, now I can do it in just a few paces.

With Apple’s A4 processor and 512MB of memory it’s no surprise that this thing never stutters. Multitasking seems smooth and I’m yet to crash or freeze an app.


Amazing. When they made a song and dance about the screen at WWDC 2010, where the launch of iPhone 4 was announced, it seemed like a fairly trivial point to drive home. Apple call it ‘retina display’, which basically means that the pixels are so small and numerous that the eye can’t detect that your text and images are in fact made up of little blocks of colour. In practice this is a really important feature. It removes another barrier to the phone, making it easier on the eye, more readable and just looks gorgeous. Apps are starting to update to make use of the higher resolution (old apps look really pixelly on iPhone 4). Notable updates so far include Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Twitter.

One big ‘problem’ this brilliant display poses is that if you’re an iPad owner, your ‘revolutionary and magical’ device will start to feel a bit old-fashioned. The display is of course bigger but I started to notice that it was made up of pixels. I found the same thing when opening my MacBook Pro. This really highlights what a step-change Apple have brought about with retina display and we the consumer will no doubt start to demand imperceptibly high resolution from all our devices very soon.


The accelerometer has always been more than satisfactory for me in terms of detecting movement on the iPhone, largely for the purpose of games, but Apple have fitted iPhone 4 with ‘Gyroscope’, an enhancement in tilt detection. This means incredibly accurate pinpointing of exactly how the iPhone is oriented in relation to the earth. This can be seen in updated shooter game ‘Gun Range’ which isn’t the best game in the world but demonstrates just how accurate the gyroscope is by relying on it to aim your weapon (instead of the old method of tapping the screen where you wish to shoot). Check out the game here.


This isn’t good news for my compact digital camera (a Canon Ixus 870 IS since you ask, and it takes nice shots for a compact). The iPhone 4 not only has a 5 megapixel sensor but the lens itself is bigger, taking richer-looking shots and working much better in low light. Throw in 720p video, iMovie (which is £2.99 in the app store and offers basic but decent editing functionality) and I think you really can leave that proper camera at home… unless you’re going out on a photography field trip.
The iPhone has also grown a second, front-facing camera which whilst not the same quality as the back camera is perfect for Apple’s new video-calling service FaceTime. To maintain a high-quality experience, Apple has restricted use of FaceTime to wifi connections, and having made Skype video calls through a tethered iPhone 3G I’m down with that. Until our mobile data networks can handle higher up and down speeds video calling will always produce Monet-esque results.

The Antenna Issue

There are enough column inches… and pixels written about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems. Suffice it to say that I find in strong reception areas it doesn’t matter how I hold the phone, but in weaker signal areas covering the bottom-left corner with my hand does make two or three bars disappear from the signal indicator. I love Apple (can you tell?) but some things they do royally piss me off. Like releasing new products and constantly being out of stock. Like rejecting perfectly good apps from the App Store whilst allowing that same store to be flooded with a long tail of dross. And like charging £25 (around $37) for a rubber band to put round your iPhone 4, which apparently helps with what is ultimately quite a big product fault. I can’t actually believe people are really buying them.


The new operating system is awesome, offering a long line of small but welcome tweaks such as a new iPod interface, better typing correction, smoother GUI animations and many more. Probably most significant is multi-tasking which allows you to access an app menu and open a new app whilst already having an app open and seems to work well, though with the speed of the new iPhone, opening and closing apps is pretty swift anyway.
The great letdown with iOS4 is simply that it’s not available for the iPad until ‘fall 2010’. Like many people I’m using my iPad as a replacement for lugging my MacBook Pro around town (nothing could replace it at home of course). But using the iPad as a business machine could really do with multitasking. Along with the relatively low-res screen this is another reason my iPad feels a bit ’09 now.

In short and sweet conclusion, this is the iPhone you need to have. If you’re still clinging onto that Blackberry or Android, this is the mobile that I guarantee will make you forget all about your old brick. In my opinion this is the first iPhone that really lives up to the hype and now that we have a mature and thriving app store plus tons of websites optimised for it, the iPhone 4 really does stand clear above any other mobile phone, mp3 player or PDA. Just pack a fold-up chair and some lunch when you go to buy one 🙂


Why I Quit Foursquare and Gowalla (And You Will Too)

I recently had a look over my profiles on Foursquare and Gowalla (the latter always being my favourite on aesthetic grounds) and seeing my patterns of behaviour spelt out in check-ins made me feel a bit uneasy.  Even though I was always careful to never check in at home, or any locations near home I could instantly see that every Saturday I go to the same organic deli. Once or twice a week I take a train from the same mainline train station. I’m the ‘mayor’ of the MySpace UK office and have made it clear which places in proximity to work I hang out at. Basically I’ve made it incredibly easy for people to find me. People who I do not know.

I get a lot of friend requests on Foursquare and Gowalla, all from people who are listed by their supposedly real names like Alex Hunt or Jenny Vergara, to take two random examples from my Gowalla friends. Despite the reality that they’re no less of a threat than if their handles were ‘s3ri4lki11er’ and ‘SocMedManiac666’ it feels fairly harmless to accept their requests because one imagines that they, like me, are just trying out this cool new thing and if they have iPhones and are into new social media fads they must be pretty harmless, right? Well, far be it from me to demonise the internet but we all know that the online revolution has been to paedos, murderers and stalkers what the advent of the chainsaw was to lumberjacks and whilst I can’t even say for sure what the real risks are to me of releasing this data, it just feels too much. And for what payoff?

People often ask me about social media, and the most common question, usually delivered in a fairly incredulous tone, is “why?”. When it comes to Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, Tumblr etc the answers are easy because these services have such obvious benefits which when explained and demonstrated can fill even the most staunch Luddite with dumb wonder. My sister recently asked me why I use location-based services Foursquare and Gowalla. My honest reply was that location is a factor which is playing an increasingly significant role in social media so it is in my interest to know everything about it so that I may wield this new technology to further my own projects. Outside of this reason, I could not find any purpose for it whatsoever. This is not to say that I think LBS (location-based services) have no use or future, I think you can do amazing things with geodata such as The Museum of London’s ingenious ‘Street Museum’ app which, using the iPhone’s built in GPS and compass, can tell exactly where you are and which direction you’re facing and overlay old photographs from their archive over the physical scenery before you. You could expand that idea and have a location-based content-sharing network so people could leave media in places, or dump files. The possibilities in that area are endless and very exciting.

Now I do understand that the ‘check in, get points to beat your friends, get badges’ mechanic taps into what we call ‘game theory’ which dictates that if you give people things to do and rewards (even ones without any real value) they will have a natural compulsion to complete the tasks and collect the rewards. That’s great for Foursquare, the mechanic is getting people using their service in droves. But to what actual end? What use is any of this to its users? When I’m on my deathbed am I going to think to myself “what was this life all about? What did I do for the world? Oh, I got the ‘Douchebag’ badge and ten others on Foursquare! I wonder if I can check in at heaven’s gates… Byeeee!”. Probably not. You might of course be tempted to level this sort of trivialisation at tweets, blogs and shared photos or videos, but content and information sharing has some indubitably genuine value. It educates, informs, entertains and drives the effort to make the world a smaller, more accessible and hopefully democratic place. This, which was once referred to quite sincerely as ‘Web 2.0’, has truly driven a human revolution. Is checking in at McDonald’s this afternoon and earning the ‘Super Size Me’ badge supporting a crucial pillar of this step-change in human history?

OK, so I hear you thinking “what’s the alternative? How do we pull together groups or conversations around a geographic location?”. Call me old-fashioned but in my mind a tweet saying “having coffee at Frank’s café, a guy just walked in with a cat on a lead” is of more value than a check-in through Foursquare from that same place. Not only is Twitter a bigger, more established network and easier to access and use but you can now geotag tweets if you so wish. It’s first and foremost about the content, which is after all the important stuff, with location being one of several optional identifiers, or meta data, attached. Conversely the LBS is firstly about location and has barely begun to start implementing content-sharing. Furthermore, the hashtag is yet to be written off as a great way of stringing tweets together. Nothing beats it for conferences and events as it’s very easy to track, search for and generate RSS feeds from. So seriously, if anyone reading this can provide a solid explanation outlining why we need Foursquare and Gowalla I will literally check in at my own house with an attached photo of my stretched, Gowalla-branded scrotum.


Is Apple’s UK iPad Pricing Taking The P***?

As Apple say on their site ‘an unbelievable price’. ‘Unbelievably frigging steep’ was my first thought on seeing what the much hyped iPads will be sold for in the UK from 28th May (pre-orders are now open)…

At first blush it looks like they’re massively taking the piss, and shooting themselves in the foot in a market where the price of the very cheapest iPad would get you a very decent netbook and the price of the highest-spec iPad would pretty much get you a MacBook or powerful PC laptop.

Let’s look at the UK prices alongside US ones (thanks to Trusted Reviews for this info):

16GB WiFi-only £429 (US: $499 = £339)
32GB WiFi-only £499 (US: $599 = £407)
64GB WiFi-only £599 (US: $699 = £475)

16GB WiFi+3G £529 (US: $629 = £428)
32GB WiFi+3G £599 (US: $729 = £496)
64GB WiFi+3G £699 (US: $829 = £564)

I personally think an iPad is far less valuable without 3G so will be plumping for the cheapest 3G model. The bummer is you can’t just import a 3G iPad from the US (e.g. using a service like BundleBox who allow you to buy stuff from America) like you can with a WiFi-only iPad because not only will you need the support of a local mobile phone carrier to provide data on the move but the iPad doesn’t take any old sim card. It takes microsim cards. Though there is one possible solution if you’re not willing to cough up £700 for being European. Fortunately one plucky chap has worked out that with a knife and a steady hand you can make your own microsim card for the iPad from any regular sim card, though I think I’ll stick to buying the 16GB WiFi+3G iPad when it launches.

Anyway, Steve Jobs has provided some explanation of the higher prices of the iPad in Europe. He says it is because of built-in taxes on products here as opposed to the sales taxes in the US which are added on top of the advertised price. He says:

Please educate yourself. UK prices must by law include VAT, which is around 18%. US prices do not include tax.

(thanks to MacRumours for the info)

That does even it up a bit. Though I still can’t help but feel that Apple have missed a trick here and should have taken a bit more of a hit on the price if they’re serious about the iPad becoming a ‘netbook killer’. For now the iPad will certainly remain a rich person’s toy.