Electing the leader of 1.3bn

I’ve written before about the similarity, in pure number terms, between the Catholic church and China – same number of citizens / devotees (1.3bn), similar number of rulers (boils down to around 300).

The recent election of Francis I and of Xi Jinping brought it home again – but the comparison between the processes couldn’t be starker.

The Chinese rubber-stamp of Xi was ostensibly transparent – we know the number of votes. The Papal Conclave, on the other hand, is a mystery.

According to the Washington Post, Xi received 2,952 out of 2,956 votes cast by the National Party Congress – three abstentions and one brave dissident.

The Papal Conclave, on the other hand, had 115 electors – of which at least two-thirds, or 77 cardinals, were needed to elect Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope. But the ballots are burned, so we will never know any margin of victory, or how the voting progressed over the five rounds until the majority was gained.

So we have on one hand a process that is ostensibly transparent, but a total stitch-up – Xi has been leader-elect for years; and on the other other, a perfectly democratic, lobbying process that is utterly secure and opaque, within a confined theocracy cum-oligarchy.

It might not be perfect, but I know which I’d prefer to be a part of.

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How do you do a headline about Korea?

The subeditor’s craft is a tricky one. Original headlines are hard to come by. Some are so obvious and clichéd that they are banned in style guides – at my old employer Euromoney, using the phrase “banking on success” was almost a sackable offence.

And yet there is something of a lack of imagination doing the rounds regarding North Korea. Let’s see”

a) the country is a problem – rockets, nuclear worries, terrible regime etc
b) it rhymes with “Maria”
c) everyone remembers the Sound of Music

Result?

“How do you solve a problem like Korea” 

Used by?

It’s not UK-only either. See Time, and Global Post. And that’s just from a few quick Google searches. There will be countless others (41,600 results as of today).

It’s not every headline that is shared by the Sun and the Economist, but this one is such a classic, it spans every type of publication. I bet we haven’t seen the last of it.

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Kidnap and piracy: is the world getting safer?

Yes, maybe…

It would be nice to think that the world is a safer place. It certainly wasn’t in 2012 for journalists, who died in record numbers. But in two categories, it looks like the peak may have passed.

Kidnapping and piracy are two very different activities, but both are crimes with (in almost all cases) a very economic motive. In contrast, terrorism and other acts of violence are often ends in themselves. Whereas kidnapping and piracy are purely about money.

So when times are tight, we might expect them to go up – they are fairly drastic measures, although with potentially high rewards.

In recent years, piracy has become a big story, especially in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia, where many incidents have occurred. However, there have been reports recently that piracy is declining – when Somali pirate Mohamed Abdi Hassan called a press conference (yes, a pirate press conference) to say he was retiring earlier this month, that was seen as a watershed moment.

In fact, according to the IMB piracy reports, piracy hasn’t been this low since the 2005-08 period.

What about kidnapping? In the Philippines, there have been reports that in 2012 it has declined. And worldwide, according to the Start database, they are falling too – the data only goes to the end of 2011.

Here’s the chart. It looks like the peak year is 2010. But the 2012 kidnapping figures might change that.

Sources
Kidnapping: http://www.start.umd.edu/
Piracy: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/piracynewsafigures
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How Murray could emulate Lendl – but not in a good way

There’s a debate on the BBC website about who would win in a hypothetical tennis match between Ivan Lendl and Andy Murray. My answer:

Neither of them. They would both probably lose.

Here goes the current thinking on Murray and Lendl: Murray hired Lendl because he’s different, and was a winner who struggled early on. Lendl has made Murray a winner – check out the Olympics, US Open. QED.

Except, not quite. Murray has lost 5 slam finals now, 2 of those under Lendl. Is this failure? Only at the highest level. But this is the level we are all talking about.

But here’s the thing: Ivan Lendl is the best runner up of all time.

There is one record of Lendl’s that Murray doesn’t want – the most times as runner up in a major. Lendl holds that crown at the moment, having been 11 times a major runner up. Yes, there were those 8 wins, but no one else has ever lost so many finals.

Now you might argue that Murray has been very unfortunate to come up against only Djokovic and Federer in slam finals – no easy ride there. But that becomes self-fulfilling as an argument. If Murray had won more than he’d lost, we’d be talking about him, not Djokovic, as a tennis great, and wondering what Novak could do to win more slams.

Here’s the list of players by most slam final losses, current players in bold, pre-Open era players in grey. A few more losses, and Murray could be in joint second place.

Runner up Winner Win %
Ivan Lendl 11 8 42
Ken Rosewall 8 8 50
Jimmy Connors 7 8 53
Roger Federer 7 17 71
Andre Agassi 7 8 53
Jean Borotra 6 5 45
Fred Stolle 6 2 25
John Bromwich 6 2 25
William M. Johnston 6 2 25
Rod Laver 6 11 65
Arthur Gore 5 4 44
Bjorn Borg 5 11 69
Andy Murray 5 1 17
Tony Roche 5 1 17
Rafael Nadal 5 11 69
Gottfried Von Cramm 5 2 29
Jack Crawford 5 6 55
Jaroslav Drobny 5 3 38
Stefan Edberg 5 6 55
Herbert Lawford 5 1 17
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5 reasons why the word ‘phablet’ won’t catch on

Journalists and analysts love a new word. The current favourite is “phablet”, used to describe the new larger-sized smartphones that are nearly tablet-sized, but still a phone.

It’s a ghastly word, but don’t worry – it won’t catch on, despite the pick up in interest (see chart below). Here’s my theory why:

1) “smartphone” hasn’t caught on as a phrase

Smartphone is used in the industry to distinguish between the newer, touchscreen devices and older models termed feature phones that look like this (remember these?). It’s used all the time in articles and research.

But not in common language. No-one says “hey, have you seen my smartphone?” People still talk about their mobile. Or their phone. Because smartphone is both clumsy to say, and sounds pompous.

2) nobody cares about these distinctions in other areas

Like smartphone vs feature phone, we have laptop, netbook, PC – all industry distinctions. People just refer to their computer. And as we move to a world of uniform touchscreens, the only decisions people will care about are the cost, the operating system (Apple vs Android vs maybe Windows), and the size.

3) portmanteau words might be catchy, but don’t often work

Grexit? It’s had it’s day (see chart below). Descriptive words like “onesie” are much better.

4) people prefer to talk about brands

Seen my Kindle? Pass me the iPad?

and the biggest reason of all: 5) your mobile is not your device, it’s your number

Whatever device people call you on, that’s your mobile. As Christopher Mims pointed out on Quartz, we use these things less and less for calls – as little as 10% – but that doesn’t mean phone calls are completely dead. We still need to make and receive calls. And if you are sharing your contact details, no-one will ever ask for your “phablet” number – just as no-one asks for your “smartphone” number. They will ask for your mobile number.

Because you move your number across devices – I’ve had the same number for over 8 phones now, I reckon. Whether I have a phablet, a smartphone, or a something else, when it rings, I’ll answer it – and I’m on my mobile.

Charts:

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Why Alastair Cook’s record is no big deal

In all the celebration of Alastair Cook becoming England’s most prolific scorer of centuries, one thing occurs. Despite all the “how far could he go” conjecture, it’s just not that a big deal.

Yes, he’s a very very good batsman. But without wanting to kill the party dead, just look at the overall list. There is only one of the big test playing nations which has a lower all-time century scorer: New Zealand. Need I go on?

OK, put it another way. Cook’s 23 tons puts him equal fourth on the India list, and joint seventh on the all time Australia list for century scorers.

Is the list skewed by more test cricket in recent decades? Not really. Cook would also be 4th on the West Indies list, behind Viv Richards and Gary Sobers, as well as Brian Lara.

If Cook was from Pakistan? Third on the list. South Africa? Third. Sri Lanka? Without wanting to get repetitive – third. So of all the big test nations, bar New Zealand, he wouldn’t even be in second place.

In essence, the England centuries record of 22 was always there for the taking. The fact that it had stood for so long was a strange anomaly, and could easily become a fluid thing for a while with Petersen only one ton behind.

Cook is terrific, on a great run of form, and will be a run machine all-time great. But this isn’t the record to get that excited about. Table below the break…

Continue reading

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{in pictures} Flintoff: a winner, then and now

Different sports, same man, same result.

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Tucker vs Carney: the picture from Google

This is what a surprise looks like:

Background: Mark Carney is appointed Governor of the Bank of England ahead of bookies favourite Paul Tucker.

As the news breaks, you can see Google searches for Mark Carney in the UK shoot up from nowhere.

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Goodbye, Feed My Inbox

{UPDATE} see the comment on this article from Feed My Inbox co-founder Nick Francis – in which he explains a lot more about the service (many thanks Nick).
___________

Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

I was a customer of Feed My Inbox. It did (and for a few weeks more, still does) a useful but unglamourous service, which is take an RSS feed and turn it into email. This was great for sites that either publish now and then, like this blog, or for daily summaries of news. I even had a sign up box on this blog, recommending it.

But the service is closing down. On the homepage, the company says:

After much consideration, we have made the difficult decision to shut down Feed My Inbox over the course of the next couple of months.

Long story short, we failed to generate enough revenue to sustain the business long-term and justify the time necessary for ongoing support, maintenance and feature development.

We wish it turned out differently, but our team learned a great deal over the last 4+ years. Thank you for being a customer.

I don’t know much about the company, but I do know that it was a small outfit – perhaps just four people. I learned this from digging around on Brightwurks, which is the site owner. The company was private, so there aren’t any numbers to digest, but in one blog post the company mentioned 175,000 customers.

What isn’t clear is whether these are paying customers or not. It operated on a freemuim model – the basic service of 5 feeds was free, and then you paid for additional premium features and more feeds, starting at $5 per month.

As far as I can see it, the problem with Feed My Inbox was three-fold.

1a) Freemium doesn’t work unless you have massive scale. Because, unless you provide a killer app, most people will just stick to the free version. And then if someone offers a similar service, you are stuck – it’s hard to change the barriers between services without annoying paying customers, or attracting new ones.

1b) Freemium is a bad model for development. Paying customers fund the growth in non-paying free-riders, with the hope that some of them eventually turn into payers too. Very little of the revenues from paying customers is ploughed back into improving their service.

2) Email is a cluttered mess. There are too many newsletters, bills, updates etc, nevermind all the crap emails that people actually write, nevermind the spam. So adding to all that isn’t particularly appealing to lots of people who are already swamped.

3) Hello social media. Facebook and Twitter are far better places to follow or like stuff you are interested in, making email seem a quaint, antiquated way of getting updates. That’s without considering RSS readers like netvibes or Google Reader.

So that’s it. But you can bow out gracefully, which is the case here.

The Feed My Inbox team have put together a very helpful page of tips on other services and ways to migrate, which I think is above and beyond. Can you imagine a bank doing that? But thanks to them, I am now using blogtrottr.com, and have a sign up form on the blog for that service, and the whole service seems very good.

I just hope it lasts. It’s free.

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The 6 productivity tips you need to know

Today, after several years of drowning in email, I got my inbox to zero. Yup. There’s nothing in there. Gmail is clear.

That doesn’t mean I have no email – I have used 11 per cent of my allocated 10.1 GB. There’s just nothing sitting in the inbox.

This is the most liberated feeling I’ve had in a long long time. It should be a prescribed remedy for stress. But I digress. Having read most of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and Oliver Burkeman‘s Help, and lots of other Lifehacker-type things, I think these are the six essential things you need to know. (I’ve been bloody terrible at sticking to it, but it’s the only way to go.)

  1. Your inbox is not a good list. Why? Other people can write on it. So get a separate list you control. I love Remember The Milk, but there are tons out there. Find something that works, and stick to it. This, not email, should be your guide. Email becomes a tool, rather than the master.
  2. Get good folders / labels for your email. Use characters like “@” or “.” or numbers in front of label names to prioritise.
  3. The 4 Ds are a useful thing to remember: with every email (or bit of paper for that matter) you can (and should) do one of: do it; delegate it; defer it; delete it.
  4. If you aren’t sure whether something is important, just archive it. If it is, you’ll get some reminder along the way.
  5. If you are swamped with too much email, make it a game. It really helps. You are fooling your brain into making it fun, but so what? Get a timer, set a target, and see how much you can get rid of.
  6. Put fun things on your to-do list. It shouldn’t all be grind.

That’s it. Don’t you feel better already?

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