Chris Worfolk's Blog


I feel like an idiot for voting, and you should too

June 7th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Tomorrow is the general election. Will you be voting? If you answer is anything other than “no”, you’re making bad choices with your life.

I usually vote. But I feel like an idiot for doing so.

Why? Because pretty much every economic model shows that voting is not worthwhile. Think about it: your vote is worth basically nothing. The British electorate is 45,000,000 people. You are just one of them. You don’t make any difference on the outcome.

And, presumably, you put some kind of value on your time.

An example: Leeds Central

I’m based in Leeds Central. It’s Hilary Benn’s Labour safe seat. Last time, we received 24,000 votes. His nearest competitor received 7,000 votes. That is a majority of 17,000. He has a 55% share of the vote.

This never changes. The last time Leeds Central elected anyone other than a Labour candidate was in 1923. 94 years ago. Before I was born. Before my parents were born. Before my grandparents were born.

So, no matter what I do, Hilary Benn will be re-elected as the MP for Leeds Central tomorrow.

Okay, so that established, I now have a choice. It’s polling day and I am sitting in my house. Regardless of whether I cast my vote, Hilary Benn will be re-elected. I can choose to spend 30 minutes going to the polling station. Or I can choose to spend the 30 minutes with my daughter.

What’s the rational choice here?

Voting costs time

Voting is a time-consuming business. You have to go to the polling station and get back. You might have to queue. I have had to queue for 40 minutes in a previous election.

That’s a big time-suck. How much is your time worth?

Probably valuable, right? I could be spending that time with my family or my friends. Or relaxing. Or cooking. Or getting some work done. Or learning something new. There are loads of valuable things you could do with that time.

And if your time is worthless, maybe you need to spend that time sorting your life out.

The rational action is not to vote

If you live in one of the 80% of safe seats, your vote is completely worthless. Nothing is going to change there.

If you live in one of the 20% of marginal seats, you vote is still worth practically nothing. Why? Because elections rarely ever come down to one vote.

We have a general election every 4-5 years, have done for around 200 years and currently have 650 constituencies. That is tens of thousands of constituency elections. Just once. In 1886. Seems unlikely you will be that one vote, then.

But voting is a right, and an honour

Which is the kind of thing we tell young men when we need them to go off and get themselves killed in a pointless war. “It’s an honour to service in the British military, and your duty to defend the Queen. I’d probably get some insurance for those legs of yours, though. And maybe freeze some sperm.”

When people tell me I have to vote, nobody can explain to me what that means. Or why. Why do I have to vote? It literally doesn’t make a difference to the outcome of the election. It doesn’t change anything. It is a waste of my time.

Those are concrete facts. The 30 minutes I lose spending time with Venla is a concrete outcome. “You’ll be participating in the great democratic process” is a nebulous concept with no clear value.

Yes, but if nobody voted…

People say to me “well, if everyone who wanted Bremain had gone out and voted, we would have won”. This is true. But they won’t. You don’t have control over them. You only control yourself and your one single vote.

It’s essentially the tragedy of the commons.

And if everyone thought like me and stopped voting, I would start voting, because my vote would suddenly become incredibly valuable. But until that happens, it isn’t.

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain

Of course you can. Not voting doesn’t somehow disqualify you from having an opinion when your human rights start getting stripped away or the government starts murdering disabled people.

Not voting merely shows that you have some grasp of basic probability. In short, that you’re not an idiot.

If anything, voting should disqualify you from having an opinion because you fail to grasp how the whole system works (or doesn’t work).

But Chris, you said you vote

It’s true. I’m not better than you. I’m saying that we’re all idiots together.

But young people don’t vote

You could argue “that’s fine, I am happy being an idiot, let’s all be idiots together and be proud of it.”

Fine. But young people don’t vote.

Most people say that they are disenfranchised and ill-informed. But is there any evidence for this? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that young people should be more informed. They have more access to news, access to the internet, higher levels of education than ever before and a higher IQ (which moves up 3 points every decade). They should be the most switched on.

And I think they are. What if, rather than being ill-informed fools, young people are just smarter than us? They realise how pointless voting in a first-past-the-post system is and have realised that their time is too valuable to waste on such an endeavour?

Conclusion

Voting is an irrational act. Your vote will have no impact on the outcome of the election. It does, however, cost you valuable time. The sensible thing to do is not to vote.

That is why young people don’t vote. They’ve realised this ahead of the rest of us. Sure, if they all block voted they could change the election. But they won’t, and they understand that they won’t because they each individually only control one vote, and so they do the thing that makes sense and use their time more productively.

The rest of us have been brainwashed by words like duty or feel that it would somehow be offensive towards the ghost of Emmeline Pankhurst if we choose to spend the time with our family instead.

Maybe I’m wrong. The truth is, I would like to be proven so. I would like to think I am not acting irrationally. But your argument better be well-thought-out and articulate because nobody has been successful yet.

And you say “well, I’m happy to act irrationality”. But that in itself is not a badge to be proud of. We often chastise the electorate for failing to vote in their own self-interest. But what right to do we have to make these claims when we ourselves cannot rationalise our actions? None whatsoever.

Footnotes

Image courtesy of Man vyi via Wikimedia Commons.

Why would you advertise for people people?

June 3rd, 2017 | Business & Marketing

This is the second of two blog posts about billboards. Life does not get any more exciting than this. Read part one here.

I ran up the canal. And for a long time, there was a First Direct billboard half way up my route that said: “people people wanted”. Every week I told myself I should take a photo of it. Finally, after a month, I resolved that this would be the day. So, I ran up there, pulled out my camera and… it had gone.

However, I recently saw this advert at the train station and it will illustrate my point just as well.

The headline reads…

Good with people? Then you’ll be great with us.

In both of these instances, it could be that they are just looking to drive some recruitment there way. And to an extent, it is. But there must be far more cost-effective ways of finding people than a billboard that targets everybody. Most people have a job, for example, and don’t work in customer services.

However, these advertisements serve a secondary purpose.

They are also value signalling. Not only do they advertise for friendly customer service people but they also say to everyone who reads it “why not come and bank with us – we care about getting friendly staff on board.”

Few people are people people looking to move into a different customer services role. But everybody would like a bank with friendlier customer services.

On the Manchester Arena bombing

June 2nd, 2017 | Thoughts

I, like everyone else, was shocked and appalled to see the pictures coming out of Manchester after the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. Not in the hyperbolic sense: there was a literal shock (well, not shock, but shock) and appalling. That someone would do that for a concert aimed at children genuinely takes you aback.

It’s the kind of propaganda you might expect to have spread during the Second World War. Goebbels would have been proud to convince his citizens that the enemy was deliberating bombing children. But here was someone so brainwashed by a political-religious ideology that they were actually doing it. At the M.E.N., a place where so many of us in the north have pleasant memories.

I would like to say I was inspired by the reaction of the community in supporting the victims. But the truth is better: I wasn’t surprised because that is just standard. Of course, people rushed to help, gave people rides, took them into their houses. Who was surprised by this? When did we set the bar so low? Not us.

How Tesco created a brilliant billboard

June 1st, 2017 | Business & Marketing

This image was on a billboard. You’ll have to take my word for it: it was on the inner ring road and being the responsible driver I am, I resisted the temptation to take a photo while driving at 40 mph (yes, of course I was only doing 40, officer).

But I had to post a (badly recreated) picture because it is brilliant marketing.

Why? Because the art of marketing is not about making a brilliant product and then finding some people to sell it to. It is about finding a problem that people have and designing a product to fix it.

And if you want to do it well, you have to zone in one particular pain point. Focus right in on the problem people are having and drive home that you have the solution.

What problem does almost every parent with a young child have? Trying to eat dinner. It’s impossible. Venla will not tolerate other people eating. I can’t remember the last time Elina and I ate at the same time because one of us has to bounce a baby.

Your best hope, indeed, your only hope, is to design food you can eat one handed. We don’t design around taste, or flavour, or type of cuisine: we optimise our menu for what we can eat one handed.

And Tesco has zeroed on on a problem that every young family faces and said “come buy food from us and your problem will be fixed.”

Eurovision 2017

May 31st, 2017 | Music

Venla’s first Eurovision. She was not excited about it.

Nor were the contestants. This year’s contest didn’t produce much in the way of songs I have found burrowed inside my head. I still have a fair few knocking around on my playlist from last year, so it was disappointing to see a less-exciting array this year.

At least Romania gave us some rap yodelling.

Decent year for Britain. We were on the left-hand side of the scoreboard for quite a long time.

But maybe that is a sign that we have let out expectations drop too long. We have won it five times. Great commentary by Graham Norton, as ever.

Oakwell Hall parkrun review

May 30th, 2017 | Sport

I try to test up for the week or two before a race. However, as I’m also chasing my Parkrun 250 club (I have a long way to go), I couldn’t resist doing a Parkrun the day before the Leeds Half Maraton.

As I didn’t want to do my usual 10k run there-and-back, that meant driving. And, as I was already in the car, we decided to take the whole family and head over to Oakwell Hall.

As a Parkrun, it’s a mixed bag. The organisation is brilliant. There were loads of volunteers and cake at the end. It was also scenic: probably the most scenic I have done with the exception of Lyme Park. However, on the downside, a lot of it is done on man-made pathways that are only two people wide. Therefore, for the first 2 km, you are constantly being bottlenecked and forced to stop or slow down. It’s two laps, and nobody lapped me, despite me taking it easy.

Chocolate soufflé

May 29th, 2017 | Food

My first batch didn’t rise much and collapsed quickly when I took them out of the oven.

It wasn’t a lack of time because I baked this one to death.

For attempt three, I used Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. It was tediously complex. There were so many stages. But, as you can see above, it did produce better results.

GetResponse review

May 28th, 2017 | Business & Marketing, Tech

I use MailChimp for a lot of my projects. However, while it is awesome for most things, it does lack in automation. There are workflows, but they are pretty straight forward and linear affairs with no tagging: the only action is to send another email. There is no flow chart style interface, either.

So, I have been exploring other options. The first one I picked up is GetResponse. It is very reasonably priced in comparison to its competition with the basic package starting at $15 per month. Their site says, $10, but it’s actually £10 plus VAT, which is £12, which translates to $15.56 at time of writing.

Interface and workflow

I found the interface a little confusing. I was trying to edit my campaigns, for example. This is not in the menu. You have to click a little cog next to the campaigns drop-down. This shouldn’t be a big thing, but it took me ages to find it, and it was infuriating.

I also found the workflow a little confusing. You have to create a draft message. But then when you try and drag it into a workflow, it pops up a little box saying it has to copy it to the automation folder. Then I have two copies of the message. What is going on here?

And if you want to use Google Analytics integration, you can’t do that through automation. You have to use the newsletter editing screen and copy the message over to automation.

When you click exit on editing a message, you go back to the homepage, rather than the messages page. Again, not a huge thing, but it feels like the workflow for someone using it in the real world could use more attention (MailChimp isn’t brilliant at this, either).

The automation builder itself is really nice. You can drag and drop elements onto the page, such as messages or decisions, and configure the output easily. There are lots of options including tracking opens, clicks and specific link clicks, and re-arrange and add elements to your heart’s content.

Message editor

The editor itself is okay. It lets me edit the HTML directly, which I like. However, you have to generate a plain text version manually. There is a “Copy HTML” button, but this does not bring in the paragraphs, which you then have to fix manually. It doesn’t handle links very well either, in my opinion.

I could never get the inbox preview to work, but the test emails arrived soon enough.

User management and API

The user system and API are where I really struggled with GetResponse, though. You are unable to add tags to a user when you create them. This is frustrating when someone joins by making a purchase because you want to tag them with that purchase straight away.

You might think “oh, well I’ll have to create the user, then query for that user ID, then tag them, making three requests to the API. It’s not ideal, but it will work.” Except it won’t work. Because users are not added to your list in real-time. They are done via a queue. So if you query for a user immediately after creating them, they won’t be there.

They have a PHP library for the API, but it needs some work. It typecasts everything as an object. Even the arrays. So you end up with things like:

stdObject->0

PHP doesn’t allow this, so you have to JSON encode the object, and then JSON decode it to get back to:

stdObject->{"0"}

Even if you could add tags, there is no screen to allow you to manage them.

Support & live chat

They do offer 24/7 live chat. This was a mixed bag. The first time I spoke to them they confirmed there was no tag management screen and that they did not support the API, so would not be able to answer my question about that.

The second time I spoke to them was when their message editor was playing up. I was trying to edit the HTML, and every time it broke. It turns out that unless you select “HTML editor” when you first create the message, you are stuck. I had started with a template, and there is no way to switch. So I had to create a new message and copy it in. It was difficult to get the message across to the support agent, but eventually, we found ourselves on the same page and sorted out the issue.

Other problems

Copying things over is more difficult than it seems. GetResponse uses the session to track what message you are editing. This means that if you open one message, and then a second, it things you are editing the second message on both screens.

Let me explain this with a scenario:

  • I have message A, and I want to copy over the content from message B
  • I open message A
  • I open message B and copy and paste the content to message A
  • I click “save” on message A to save the new content
  • GetResponse thinks I am editing message B and overwrites the content of message B, ignoring message A

I lost a lot of content before I realised this. Luckily, I had backups on my computer.

And in case you’re thinking an easy way to avoid this would be to duplicate message B and then edit it, think again: there is no duplicate functionality.

Getting people into an automation workflow can be tough. You can filter what happens based on custom fields. However, this doesn’t work on the initial subscription: it only works when you go in and edit the custom field of the user. Which is not very automated.

Other features

GetResponse also offers landing pages, webinars and some other stuff. I watched a webinar about their webinars, but I haven’t tried any of these systems because I just want the mailing list functionality. It might be great.

Summary

I love GetResponse’s automation builder. The drag and drop interface makes it easy to create an email sequence that follows what people do and delivers them relevant messages. It is powerful and shows you how many people are at each point.

But that is where my love ends. Coming from MailChimp, where everything is beautiful and works well, GetResponse has a lot of issues. There are so many problems that working with it becomes infuriating, undoing much of the power that the automation functionality should be adding in.

Ultimately, you can launch a simple automation workflow that is more advanced than MailChimp. However, there are so many bugs, dead-ends and limits to what would otherwise be a great tool, that you don’t get much advantage.

Mushroom town: how a tiny corner shop beat Sainsbury’s

May 27th, 2017 | Food

Unless you are from Yorkshire, you have probably never heard of Pateley Bridge. Why should you? It has a population of 2,000 people and a single high street that, if made any steeper, would be a vertical drop.

If you want to buy groceries, it’s a drive to the nearest supermarket. Or, you could try one of the two local stores located in the town.

This is a far stretch from my home city of Leeds. It has a population of over 600,000, and that is just the city itself. The wider metropolitan area makes up the biggest population outside of London.

So, you would think that the product ranges available would be incompatible. And, for the most part, they are. But, on a recent trip to Pateley Bridge, one store threw up a pleasant surprise.

Where to buy mushrooms in Leeds

If you want to buy mushrooms, a supermarket seems the obvious place. They sell food, after all. If you want to buy any mushroom more interesting than the standard varieties, you can find them at Sainsbury’s.

In a box called “speciality mushrooms”.

Which includes a selection from the following list:

“Shiitake, Buna-Shimeji, Shiro-Shimeji, Eryngii, Oyster mushrooms, Enoki, Golden Enoki, Maitake”

So, while you will end up with something more interesting, there is no way to know what you will get or in want quantities. There is no way to plan a meal, for example. And even if there was, because you get a selection, you never have enough of what you actually want.

Unless you buy a lot of boxes and throw most of the mushrooms away. Which, again, you can’t, because you do not know what you are going to get.

And there are no chanterelles anywhere to be found. Nor can they be found in Ocado’s spacious warehouse.

A surprising find in Pateley Bridge

Last month, we visited Pateley Bridge. On returning from our walk, we wanted to buy some bread and had a choice of the two convenience stores located in the town.

One of them advertised it was selling “paninis”. This quickly ruled the store out: as a pedant (yes, despite my awful spelling), I couldn’t possibly buy from a store that did not understand that “panini” was already the plural of “panino”.

By process of elimination, we entered the other store. And found this sitting on the shelves.

Despite never having seen chanterelle mushrooms in any supermarket in Leeds, nor at Kirkgate market of street stalls, here in this small town of 2,000 people, they were on sale.

Sure, they are dried. The store wasn’t having fresh chanterelles shipped in every few days. But that makes it even more inexplicable as to why you cannot buy them anywhere else.

Conclusion

There probably is an obscure shop somewhere in Leeds that sells them. If you know of it, let me know.

Until then, as I don’t fancy the hour’s drive to Pateley Bridge every time I want some mushrooms, it may be time to follow the adage “if you want a mushroom done right, you have to grow it yourself.”

Baskin Robbins: a review

May 26th, 2017 | Food

Baskin Robbins have a store in the Merrion Centre. We went in to try their wares: it would have been rude not to, really. I love Joe Deluccio’s in Trinity, so that was our main basis for comparison.

I had the chocolate mud and the mint chocolate chip. It’s not quite as smooth as Deluccio’s, but is still tasted great. The cone was a mixed bag: it was big, so contained the ice cream very well. However, it was a bit difficult to get to the ice cream and it collapsed towards the end.

On our second visit, they had no chocolate ice cream. No regular chocolate, no Mississippi mud, not even a mint chocolate chip.

The staff were surly both times. In fairness, they weren’t overly unfriendly, but they definitely are not pleased to see you. Which seems strange given they have so few other customers. Service at Joe Deluccio’s is also unfriendly, though.