Noticing the notice

In most digital workplaces, there’s an unwritten understanding that when someone has headphones on, they’re not to be disturbed. Most of the time, digital workers recognise that sometimes you need to get into a productive flow state, and that means being allowed and encouraged to immerse yourself in the task at hand, undisturbed.

Flow is important to web workers, because it’s hard to come by. As digital knowledge wranglers, just like the machines at our fingertips, we’re constantly context-switching, running multiple processes at once, streaming concurrent thoughts and projects and activities in real time, trying to devote sufficient time and attention to each, but usually failing because of unrealistic timescales, lack of data to complete the task in hand or multiple competing priorities.

Stealing is easy: being original is hard

Every now and again, something happens which reminds you that the internet isn’t the respectful, creative, collaborative place that we rather naively hope it is, but is actually infested with people who seek to exploit, destroy and undermine the work of others.

It’s not that surprising, unfortunately, but it is a bit disappointing.

Take my 2006 camphone photo taken on the tube, of a girl reading a book:


Or rather, don’t take it. Admire it. Link to it. Comment on it. Favourite it. Tell me you like it, you value my work, you think it’s funny/clever/well-composed if you like, but don’t take it and pass it off as your own work.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this (hasty and rather crap resolution due to being taken with a camphone) shot being included in emailed & blogged collections of “great trick photography photos” and the like. Here are just a few of the places it’s been spotted over the years. Without exception in these circumstances, the image is used without permission, with no credit or link to me (therefore falling foul of Flickr’s terms of service as well as my wishes as the creator of the work). Sometimes it even appears with someone else’s watermarked copyright notice on it, which I think is cheeky, to be honest.

Memo to the women who work at reception at the BA lounge at Amsterdam Schiphol airport

baWhen you try to connect to the free guest wifi in the lounge, a login screen appears, which says – and I quote:

The username and password to access this free Wi-Fi service is available from the front desk of the lounge.”

So when a “valued guest” goes up to the front desk to enquire what the username and password for the wifi is, it’d be really awesome if you could prevent yourself from getting a big lip on, barking “the information is posted on at least three cards on the coffee tables,” then marching into the lounge, signalling for the traveller to follow, in order to point to one and say “like this one, for example.”


a) your own site says the username and password is available from the front desk
b) there are only three of those cards in the lounge, and none of them, by the way, are in the second (quiet zone) lounge, so travellers can hardly be blamed for missing them and
c) your attitude stinks: being passive aggressive, rude and mardy with paying loyal British Airways customers seems like a particularly idiotic and short-sighted way to run a hospitality service.

Also, your cheese is warm and rubbery.

Malapostrophication (redux)

Seth Godin poses the question “Am I the only one distracted by apostrophes and weird quoting?

When I get a manuscript or see a sign that misuses its and it’s and quotes, I immediately assume that the person who created it is stupid.

I understand that this is a mistake on my part. They’re not necessarily totally stupid, they’re just stupid about apostrophes.

No, it’s not just you Seth. We are judging them.

Slapdash malapostrophication

Longtime readers of this site may be aware that this is a particular bugbear of mine, and one that I have ranted about previously in these pages – with specific reference to marketing and other professional communications – and devised a classification system or malapostrophication offences, to boot.

1. Permissible Error
This usually means that the sign is handwritten, chalked or otherwise home-produced, and is generally an indication that the writer was in a hurry, or without English as a mother tongue, or both, and can therefore be permitted to make a small, apostrophe-sized slip once in a while. Classic greengrocer’s apostrophe territory.

2. Should Know Better
These are usually printed items which are created for a one-off, limited audience purpose. It tends to be that this usage is seen in charity shops, local church/school/community organisation newsletters and on the stand-up A-frame boards for independent delicatessens and sandwich shops. Most of these will have either been created by the proprietor or, occasionally, created by a signwriter acting under direct comission commission (oops!) from the owner. 99% of the time, it’s a plural error.

3. Utterly unforgivable
These are the real clangers. High distribution (vast print run – adverts, merchandise and the like), very visible channels (like billboards and television), otherwise high production values (design, or materials used) and – most importantly of all – very likely to have passed (in copy, design and approval stages) through the hands of several people, at least one of whom should have spotted the mistake. This is a quality issue, and is something that creative or marketing agencies (especially) are particularly bad at managing.

Apostrolypse now

That post from March last year contains a number of photographic examples, too.

As an additional example, here’s a photo of our local chippy, captured for posterity by one of my neighbours:

All the right bits, just not necessarily in the right place.

It’s been like that for at least the six years I’ve lived here, and I’ve come to think of it as one would a slightly batty aunt – well meaning, a little scatty, beyond redemption but utterly forgiveable because she knows how to make a mean saveloy & chips.

It must be time for another rant about commuting, surely?

Given that I currently spend a minimum of two and a half hours in transit every day, I’ve been pondering for a while whether there’s a particular thing that would improve my commute.

Certainly less time on public transport would be a boon, but would unfortunately mean living somewhere either entirely unaffordable or unsavoury, neither of which I’m keen to do.

So in the absence of cutting the time spent down, I’ve been wondering whether the addition or removal of anything specific might actually make the whole thing more tolerable.

Not going yet

The short list so far includes:

  • Air conditioning on the tube: not a big thing at the moment, and I understand there’s work under way, but some of the lines – the Victoria, mainly – do seem to get ever so fetid in summer rush hours
  • Turning off the heating on London bus services: I know that it’s probably related to the engine of the bus, but there’s been times on my twice-daily bustrek that I’ve been sure I could smell something singeing. Like human flesh. Forty years ago, we managed to put a man on the moon. Are we seriously unable to stop grilles pumping out heat on buses during the hottest part of the year?
  • People shutting up on the tube: I know it’s a bit anti-social, but on the longest bit of the tube journey, I generally try and read, and if people are shouting at each other in English, Spanish, French or German, I find it enormously distracting, no matter how loud the music in my ears is. So sometimes I wish they’d SHUSH or (better and less grumpy) that there was a dedicated reading/quiet carriage, like on long-distance trains.
  • Less human chaos in and around King’s Cross Underground station: I know they’re redeveloping it at the moment, but the fact that there’s only one main entrance/exit which is around a hairpin corner from the ticket gates means that every day – without fail – is a seething mass of bewildered tourists and idiots dragging suitcases behind them and tripping people up while looking for the right exit for the Eurostar, all bottlenecked into a pretty narrow space.

    Plus don’t get me started on the poor escalator and platform etiquette I observe daily – standing still in the “fast lane” or in the doorway to a platform is still one of the quickest ways to get punched in the back of the head in London. Fact.

    In fact, I feel that a general reduction in human idiocy between stepping off the tube and stepping into the office would be a massive (but unlikely) improvement: the main problem here is that I work close to a major transport hub, so all human life is there, albeit mainly just standing about gormlessly and smoking.

    And on a related point, whose bloody stupid idea was it to put a major bus stop on a bit of pavement just around the corner from the station on York Way? The pavement is so narrow and there are regularly 100+ people waiting for the next bus to trundle along, and since they’re not as well-versed in the art of queueing as their W/SW London compatriots, that makes it impossible to actually walk down the pavement, which instead means anyone wishing to do so needs to make a detour into the (three lane, busy) road, which can’t be a long-term good idea.

The tube renovators can't spell

All of these things are irritating, and removal/refinement/improvement in each area would doubtless improve both the experience of commuting and the state of my mood when I arrive in the office or back at home.

But after much consideration, I must conclude that the single thing that would improve my commute – and, I’m sure, that of countless other poor souls in London – is some sort of ASBO preventing people in branded T-shirts from handing out free commuter newspapers while standing in the middle of the pavement.


I appreciate that their job is to hand out free newspapers, but standing in the middle of a busy public thoroughfare, desperately thrusting free sheets into the hands of harassed commuters may well be an effective way of dispensing resources but it’s a remarkably piss-poor strategy for making people feel well-minded towards the companies who instruct their minions to do so.


Every evening is like a gauntlet of dodging the eager profferings of these branded thrusters. It’s not enough that I don’t actually want to take one of their papers – I still have to dodge and swerve around them as they slow traffic by standing directly in front of the entrance to the station, or in the middle of the pavement, or at the point at which the pelican crossing disgorges onto the main pavement from the road.

I don’t blame the individuals, but I do wish I could get a message to their shift supervisor, or whoever instructs them in the tactics of their tasks.

So here’s a message, specifically to whoever’s in charge of distribution training at thelondonpaper and London Lite, in the hope that this mention will get picked up by their social media signal filters:

Tell your uniformed distributors to stand beside rather than in the flow of foot traffic around major stations and busy areas.

If you don’t, I’m going to report them – and you – for causing an obstruction and endangering safety on the public highway, and start a campaign to get your antisocial tactics banned altogether.

Here endeth the rant.