Oh, this is so middle class

It seems a waste to write a long answer on Quora and not post it here too. So, here’s my answer to “What do British people mean when they say, in a derogatory(?) manner, ‘oh, this is so middle class!’?”

It’s interesting to read the answers here because so many of them indicate the class of the person writing them, whether that’s acknowledged or not.

For example, Alec Fane says:

The middle classes however… They try. They try to be posh, and proper, and correct, and jolly good fellows. But most of all, they try to be seen as these things.

Some of them do. Others have a kind of guilt about being middle class and would actually prefer to be seen as being more working class because that gives the impression of being more down-to-earth and “authentic”. One test would be to see how a middle class person behaves when talking to someone who is more working class – maybe a plumber or builder they’ve got round to do some work. I bet a sizeable proportion (including, I admit, me) will try and fit in by talking in a way they wouldn’t usually. It’s also possible this is more of a male middle class thing.

And Tom Alexander, who admits to coming from an upper class background, says:

That type of phrase is basically an example of elitism, where the person is basically saying “oh, this is so common!” in a disparaging manner

I’m sure the phrase can be used in that way, but no one I know (as a middle class person with generally middle class friends) would do so.

So, aside from the point of view of the people writing these answers, you have to bear in mind that there’s no single middle class. To say that a third (or whatever) of the population thinks the same way about something as complex as class, and their place in it, would, of course be over-simplifying.

To talk in terms of newspapers, a middle class person who reads the Times will think differently to one who reads the Daily Mail, who will think very differently to one who reads the Guardian. Partly this is political differences, but it’s not just that.

(For those less familiar… the Times is a right-leaning “quality” newspaper that (in my biased opinion) is less quality/intellectual/worthy than its readers like to think. The Daily Mail is a right-wing tabloid with sensationalist, alarmist headlines that, at best, bend the truth. And the Guardian is a left-leaning “quality” newspaper whose readers are seen as soft, hand-wringing, liberal (in the American sense) intellectuals who don’t live in the real world. (That’s me.))

A (stereotypical) Guardian reader might say something is “so middle class” in a self-deprecating way – “We’ve got this brilliant recipe for spelt loaves for our bread maker… oh god, that sounds so middle class!”

Whereas I can imagine someone who might objectively/demographically be identified as middle class, but is much more “aspirant” and sees themselves as somehow better, might say something is “so middle class” to distance themselves from what they see as a more common behaviour (like Tom Alexander, above).

And someone who is demographically middle class (in terms of income, home, job, etc) but who thinks of themselves as more working class (perhaps because their parents were working class, or because of where they grew up), would say something is “so middle class” to mock a pretentious, trying-too-hard behaviour that they see as ridiculous (whether it’s actually something they’d also be close to doing themselves or not).

As with anything about class, this is a far from clear answer. The short answer to your question is “it depends”!

In Misc on 6 November 2015. Permalink

Missing things

From Jason Kottke’s post about the Suck.com origin story a few days ago:

Reading this made me sad. I love the Web so much, like more than is probably sane and healthy for a non-human entity, but nearly every other good thing in my life has happened because of it. And that Web is going quickly, if not already gone. All good things… and all that, but it still fucking wrecks me.

I keep thinking about that.

Some of it, for me, is probably pure nostalgia for things from when I was younger, and I’d feel the same about other stuff from years ago — friends, places, events, etc.

And some of it is missing things that shouldn’t exist any more, like the small, relatively homogenous, world of the early web. It was nice, it was ours, it was different, but it was always, rightly, going to grow and change.

And some of it is missing things that were exciting because they were new and unusual, almost unbelievable — “I’m typing at someone in America and they’re writing back immediately!”. Expecting that to still be exciting would be too much.

But some of it is missing attitudes and activities and virtual places that have gone, or that might as well have gone. Some have vanished, others have become so diluted among the vastness and variety of the modern internet that they can have little impact on us. Everything’s so quick and immediate, splintered among hundreds and thousands of friends, contacts and “friends”. So many more things — sites, services, headlines, apps, alerts, groups — competing for our time and attention. There’s less room, comparatively, for the amateur. Less room for the non-commercial. For the slow conversations. For the feeling of being away from “the real world”.

So, yeah, it makes me sad.

In Misc on 5 November 2015. Permalink

First sentence

One of the best first sentences to an article I’ve read, from a recent London Review of Books:

A friend who teaches in New York told me that the historian Peter Lake told him that J.G.A. Pocock told him that Conrad Russell told him that Bertrand Russell told him that Lord John Russell told him that his father the sixth Duke of Bedford told him that he had heard William Pitt the Younger speak in Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars, and that Pitt had this curious way of talking, a particular mannerism that the sixth Duke of Bedford had imitated to Lord John Russell who imitated it to Bertrand Russell who imitated it to Conrad Russell who imitated it to J.G.A. Pocock, who could not imitate it to Peter Lake and so my friend never heard it.

From Adam Smyth’s review of two books about 17th century English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer John Aubrey, although it’s only readable by subscribers and the rest of the article, while perfectly fine, can’t match that beginning.

In Periodicals on 2 November 2015. Permalink

API "mashup" suggestions

Following my request for ideas the other day, for quick and interesting things to do with APIs and some design students, I had a few good responses…

Tom Stuart suggested using Pokéapi - The Pokémon RESTful API.

Adrian McEwan said he used International Space Station Current Location and Overpass Turbo (“a web-based data filtering tool for OpenStreetMap”) in a similar workshop. “Overpass-turbo to give you a (slightly) friendlier way to get GeoJSON for OpenStreetMap queries,” he said.

Adrian also mentioned Open Notify’s How Many People Are In Space Right Now API, which reminded me of How Many People Are In Space Right Now’s simple JSON file.

Eliot Hill suggested combining the Giphy API with a weather API, “for some kind of weird weather related gif-mess.”

Matthew Somerville wondered about “MapIt, some mapping API, Overpass - show all the swimming pools (or whatever) around a postcode?”

Alf Eaton pointed out that “There are a few nice examples at the end of tonicdev.com (including Open Notify)”.

Finally, Paul Pod said “not quite JS+API, but we had fun with cartodb.com and dumps of location data (it’s not fussy) to make visual things”.

Thanks to all of you! The only one I’ve tried so far is Eliot’s idea of a weather forecast using Giphy images; here’s the code for my first hasty bash at it. Quite nice as it’s both sort-of-useful and potentially silly.

I’ll probably make a final decision what to do after I’ve taught a couple of days, by which time I’ll have a better idea what kind of project will be both feasible and interesting.

In Web Development on 16 October 2015. Permalink

Any ideas for quick API "mashups"?

Next week I’m going to be teaching second-year design students at Goldsmiths how to make stuff on, and with, the web. A speedy whirl through the basics HTML, CSS and JavaScript in four days.

On the final day I plan to have us make something using APIs from various services, to show what can be achieved by combining data. A “mashup”, as it might once have been called. And I’m looking for good ideas.

When ntlk taught this in 2012 they fetched some Tweets and then photos from Flickr for each word in the Tweets. Since then the Twitter API has become a bit trickier to work with, probably too much to use for one packed day.

So I’m looking for alternative fun projects and wondered if anyone reading this has ideas. I’m hoping to make something that:

  • is written in JavaScript;
  • uses the APIs of two or more services to make a single “thing”;
  • only uses APIs that require a single key (or no key); no OAuth, secrets, etc;
  • is as simple to code as possible;
  • and best shows the power some simple code can have.

For example, last night I whipped up this code which gives the user a form to enter the name of a place. The JavaScript fetches a list of music artists from that place using The Echo Nest, geocodes the place using Google Maps and displays a map, then shows Flickr photos from within the bounding box of that place.

It could be the start of an “interesting things from this place” page. It’s very quick, very ugly, and full of places it will break; definitely not production-ready. But I’m trying to do as much as possible, as simply and quickly as possible. It’s OK, but I feel there must be something more exciting!

Any ideas? I’m only after ideas, not working code. There’s a list of mostly suitable APIs here in case that sparks any thoughts.

Throw things at @philgyford or by email. I’ll share all good ideas here. Thanks.

UPDATE: Here are all the suggestions.

In Web Development on 12 October 2015. Permalink

The most profound interest

I enjoyed John Lanchester’s review in the LRB of a book about the Wright Brothers and a biography of Elon Musk.

It’s all good, but the part around how no one took notice of the Wright Brothers’ first (ever in the history of humankind) flight, in 1903, was amazing, especially this:

The first eyewitness report was written by a bee expert from Ohio called Amos Root, who broke the story in his own publication, Gleanings in Bee Culture. He sent a copy to the editor of Scientific American. The magazine’s response, an entire year later, was to explain why the Wrights couldn’t possibly have done what was claimed of them:

If such sensational and tremendously important experiments are being conducted in a not very remote part of the country, on a subject in which almost everybody feels the most profound interest, is it possible to believe that the enterprising American reporter, who, it is well known, comes down the chimney when the door is locked in his face … would not have ascertained all about them and published … long ago?

So they don’t believe it, because if it were true, somebody would have told them so – leaving aside the fact that somebody already had.

Going by Lanchester’s review, it sounds like it was nearly five years after the brothers could fly before the media and public believed it, and even then, only in France.

In Periodicals on 10 October 2015. Permalink

It is very nice

Since ripping all my CDs and only buying MP3s, I’ve missed the ability to easily browse my albums when deciding what to play. While I don’t hate iTunes as much as many people seem to, it still turns music into a joyless spreadsheet.

So, given scrolling through lists of data rarely gave me the inspiration that browsing shelves of CDs once did, I came up with a typically laborious and completist solution: make a playlist containing only complete albums and EPs, and finish finding all their cover art.

iTunes albums playlist

It’s not a ground-breaking innovation but it is very nice. It’s easy to scroll through my decades-in-the-making playlist until something grabs me. Much better than looking through a spreadsheet of artist and album titles. I’m re-playing music I’d forgotten I owned, that I forgot existed, that was previously buried away among rows and columns of uninspiring text.

Of course, just as when I used to browse CDs I still find myself thinking, “No, none of these 1,200 albums are quite right.” And this still feels like a solution from the past, for people who miss physical music, and like listening to complete albums, and still buy music occasionally. But I like it.

In Music on 5 September 2015. Permalink

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