Why Won’t Capitalism Produce a Decent Kettle?

It was the late 1970s. As children of a mix of working and middle class, multicoloured parents at a secondary comprehensive school run by left-wing radicals in the heart of St. John’s Wood, we were the definition of melting pot. On one matter we were agreed — having a Bosch appliance in your kitchen meant you’d made it.

I persuaded my wife recently that none of our kettles had served us well enough, and that a Bosch was the answer. “Don’t look at those negative Amazon reviews, they’re from losers” I insisted.

Our journey began when our eleven year old small electric kettle finally had to be put down due to mechanical wear. It still worked, and perhaps I did feel a little like Fitzgerald in The Revenant, but I had my eyes on the prize: A kettle that could handle multiple temperatures; well that’s where it started, it always starts with good intentions before morphing without your conscious realisation into a twisty road signposted “hell”.

Amazon offered very little help. Did we really need WiFi on a kettle? Why was the user interface for temperature control on the kettles that had it so unbearably arcane? What’s the point in a kettle that forces you to resort to an instruction manual every time you use it? What about filter kettles? Well, these were all redundant for us since we got our distiller1.

In the end it was the lure of a bargain that did for me. They know how to get suckers like me — list that thing you wrote off for its totally ridiculous price at half its normal price, which still makes it bad value and see how many suckers will bite. A bit like all those games you buy when the Steam Sale is on, but never play, because if you’d really wanted to play them, you’d probably have bought them at the original price. So I hit “buy” on the Breville.

The Breville wasn’t bad. It was just a bit too “divide the family so you can target each member as an individual for maximum commercial gain” for our liking. You see, it only boiled one cup at a time. It could be a big cup, but it could only be a single cup as it only had a single spout. If you had guests over, or more than one of you wanted a brew at the same time, well, tough, you had to take it in turns. It had no temperature control and it had no other function. It just boiled one cup at a time. And that, in fact, is what makes it pretty great. By separating water storage from water heating functions, it’s efficient. Not just energy efficient, but when we temporarily replaced it with the Bosch, we had to fill up the bloody Bosch every single time we boiled the kettle

Then we decided to try a cheap alternative. Except that “cheap” now feels like cardboard. I don’t know how capitalism manages to keep prices going up and quality keep going down (wasn’t global capitalism supposed to fix this), but the Von Shef feels like it was put together with chewing gum and cardboard. And recycled paper socks.

I don’t know why they call it a Von Shef. Did they mean “Chef”? It doesn’t feel very cheffy. It doesn’t feel very Sheffield either, if by “Shef” they were somehow alluding to Sheffield steel. Von Shite might be more accurate. What’s wrong with this pretender then, given that the price wasn’t too bad at about £27 incl. delivery
– It beeps all the time. Nobody understands why, but we’re all tired of our gadgets beeping at us for no obvious reason all the time
– The temperature control is on the handle. It’s impossible to work out
– It took me three attempts to work out how to actually start boiling the kettle. You know, kettle on/off, which is kind of important, is next to impossible to figure out. WTF?
– It has weird lights that light up for no obvious reason. They look cool, but I can’t figure out how to use the kettle half the time, which is the bit I wish they’d focussed on.
– It feels cheap AF. Our last kettle was half the price of this one, and felt more solid. I feel the guilt of Fitzgerald when he realises he’s been found out. I feel the urge to run, because now there is no turning back.

But what about the Bosch before the Von Shef? What was wrong with the Bosch?
– It felt cheap and tacky. If you’re going to spend £70 on a kettle, it should feel solid. By making it plasticky and cheap looking, you, Bosch, I’m talking to you, all of you, have crushed my childhood dreams
– The fill indicator is almost impossible to read and stupidly placed
– It has temperature control, but the UI took me five botched attempts to work out. It doesn’t make sense. No matter how many times I use it, I’ll never understand it.

The Von Shef is going back, it’s too cheap, it’s UI too perplexing.

The Bosch is no longer a Bosch. At a glance, it still looks cool, but the brand has lost its soul, its heft, its appeal and turned me into a cynic about everything else I aspired to in that St. John’s Wood melting pot. Even McDonalds didn’t misplace Pret A Manger’s soul when they bought a 25% stake. McDonalds did better than you Bosch. How low have you sunk?

Our search for a kettle goes on. We had hoped that Global Capitalism would be able to deliver on this most basic appliance, but we’ve found it strangely lacking.

We want:
– Quality
– Solidity
– Temperature Control
– Energy Efficiency
– Totally transparent UI
– Decent looks

If you’ve seen something like this, let me know. Meanwhile, I’m off to burn my childhood vision boards.

  1. Also from Amazon, our distiller was the single best thing we ever did for the quality of our tea and coffee. 

Why You Should Turn Down a Great Job Offer

You’ve had an interview. You hit it off with the company. They love you and they want to make you an offer. It arrives. It’s good; really good.

Here’s why you should say “No!”

Almost without exception, they want the value they think you can add to their company. They don’t actually want what makes you special and unique, the way you do things, the way you work, the boundaries you set, the tools you use; they want the results and as for the way those results are delivered? Well, you’d better fit in. They have their own culture thank you very much.

A good professional is adaptable, but this is 2018. The thing that makes you special is what you’ve practiced and how you’ve practiced. If you can’t use that, you’re no longer going to get the same results. If you’ve ever experienced this, well, now you know why.

The same is true of some relationships. Remember that term “marriage of convenience”? Same principle. Often, both parties would know what they were going to get from the other, and it wasn’t intrinsic to the other, it was almost always extrinsic — status, wealth, beauty.

If you don’t feel valued, if you don’t feel loved, say “No!”

Unless you’re broke. Then be a mercenary for a while. You’ve got to eat. Just don’t make it your life because life will pass very quickly and mercenaries don’t have a long life expectancy.

Why VR Matters

An array of hammers strike taut metal wires. A series of sounds are emitted that are unusually pleasing. The audience bursts into rapturous applause as the last of the notes decay into silence.

I’ve described, in somewhat mechanical terms the live performance of one of Chopin’s Etudes. If you’d never heard piano played before, never mind so exquisitely, no amount of words could prepare you for the artistry and emotional power conveyed by a live performance. Similarly, the biggest problem faced by VR proponents is conveying what it feels like to enjoy a finely tuned experience inside a Rift, Vive or PSVR head-mounted display. The only way for you to know what a beautiful instrument sounds like when played by a virtuoso is to experience it for yourself. The only way for you to make any judgment about VR is to put on a headset and experience something. I would hope that you would get to experience something crafted by someone who is really skilful with the medium, otherwise it’s going to be more painful than listening to a tyro bashing on a badly tuned piano while drunk.

Have you ever had a vivid dream? One that is so powerful that you can almost reach out and touch it when you wake up before its gossamer-like threads dissolve and reality barges in coldly? Or perhaps you’re one of those rare individuals who is capable of lucid dreaming? Well VR gives each and every one of those willing to don a VR headset that rare ability to lucid dream, to be in any reality we choose, and to fashion it while conscious.

For this fashioning to work, the experience will have to be “composed” if you will, by someone who understands the medium, or at the very least, respects it. It will be some considerable time before this new medium yields a language, a grammar, a set of conventions and best practices. Right know, it’s all up for grabs, it’s a precious time, pregnant with enormous potential.

The early days of a medium are often filled with naked attempts to translate old media to the new, some might call this skeuomorphism of sorts, perhaps there is a better word for it. Early TV shows were just radio shows with a camera, for example, but look at some of the best TV shows today and you’ll see just how far we’ve come.

We won’t know what VR is capable of until the old paradigms are shed and a new form, butterfly-like, totally at home in VR and importantly, impossible anywhere else emerges in all its impactful glory.

Video games have traditionally sacrificed emotional nuance for intensity. There is a danger that VR could host even greater emotional coarseness, with porn, horror and violence being given a unique and highly intimate platform in which to launch their assault on the senses of those after such extremes of experience. Without wishing to judge such content, my hope is that a new medium gives us as an industry the rare opportunity of introducing more nuance, more artistry, a more graduated emotional palette that could enrich and enlarge our lives in a way that has not been possible thus far. Novels after all, have yielded Jilly Cooper, but also Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

One of the reasons I left PlayStation was because I recognised this time as pivotal. I couldn’t stand by and not at least attempt to help shape the new medium in some way with my own limited contribution. If you knew there was going to be a total solar eclipse in your neighbourhood, a once in a lifetime opportunity, wouldn’t you at least try to take the day off work to witness it?

Chances like these just don’t come along often. There are some observers who suggest that VR could be the last medium. In its current form, that’s obviously risible, but this is just the beginning. I was there at the dawn of the video games industry in the early ’80s and yet this period feels even more exciting, even more groundbreaking and those of us lucky enough to be able to help define the early days have a huge burden of responsibility to future generations, not just of developers, but of players too. Will we choose the easy route or will we go for the harder, but ultimately more rewarding and enriching route?

MacBook Pro? No

Let me count the way my latest MacBook Pro is not suitable for professional use, but before I do that, you should know that I’ve been buying and recommending Macs since 2001. I’ve spent a fortune on them. I love them, but I only like my latest MacBook Pro (a 2016 model with the Radeon Pro 460). I write this with a heavy heart and a malfunctioning keyboard.  This is a story about unrequited hardware love.


The keyboard on my MBP has begun to fail, with the ‘b’ key sometimes giving me doubled characters and sometimes none.

The cursor keys are in that awful cluster configuration where the up and down arrow keys, the ones I use the most, have half the space they should have and consequently make it next to impossible to navigate using them. Not so much cluster as clusterfuck.

They also feel different to the other keys, less responsive, if that were possible.

This £2800 laptop has a distinctly unprofessional keyboard. It’s not a whole lot better than the membrane keyboard on the first computer I owned, the Atari 400 back in 1982. I wouldn’t be surprised if the travel was shorter than that on the rubber keyboard of the ZX Spectrum. I don’t mind the feel, but that’s not good enough for a £2800 laptop. I should adore the keyboard. It doesn’t need much more travel, but it does need it. I don’t expect a Matias Tactile Pro, but I could do with a Magic Keyboard and I’ll take the extra thickness in return for a usable primary input method.

Finally, where’s my damned Esc key? I go for that so often, and miss. Putting it on the Touch Bar was a stupid idea.

Touch Bar

Why? The only thing of any use is the TouchID sensor, but you don’t need a whole keyboard-level touch screen for that!

For a touch typist, if you’re going to have a touchable surface, it might as well be the screen. I don’t want to look at the keyboard, ever; I want to look at the screen. Looking down at that pointless strip that offers me no feedback when I interact with it and which has no delineated edges is an extra cognitive burden that I just don’t need and therefore, as a professional, never use, unless I’m forced to. You know that a design has failed when you’re forced into using it. The Touch Bar is Apple’s Clippy. An embarrassment.

Track Pad

It’s too big. I never use all of that space, and I keep accidentally triggering it with my wrists when I don’t want to. Why not give the keyboard some extra height so I can have some proper cursor keys and while you’re at it, make those keys tactile and replaceable? It’s not a Wacom for crying out loud.


I like USB Type C, I really do, but like many people with a MacBook Pro, I have a camera and like most decent cameras, it has an SD card slot, except that Apple saw fit to remove this slot. Professional photographers have used the MacBook Pro for as long as they’ve been made. Only now, they need an accursed dongle.

I’d understand and forgive this on a lesser machine, like one without the “Pro” moniker, but not having an SD card on this £2800 machine strikes me as totally stupid. Rather than use another expensive adapter, I just use the iMac, which makes that the professional machine, and this one just a designer’s wet dream.

Power supply

I have a professional laptop, but I can’t tell it’s charging unless I open the lid, gain entry and look at the tiny power indicator in the menu bar. Which genius thought this would be a Pro touch? I know it makes a sound when you plug it in; fine, genius, but what if I didn’t hear the sound? How do I tell when it’s fully charged? You took off the MagSafe, which was a genuinely useful innovation and gave us USB C charging — fine, but add a little adapter that has a charge indicator, and yes, if you must, charge for it, though you really shouldn’t if you want to call this a “Pro”.

While we’re on the subject of lights, I miss the glowing Apple logo at the back of the machine. Bring that back please. Why are you cutting costs on a £2800 machine?

Also, why don’t we get a power extension cable like we used to? Don’t know about you, but I find it hard to find power sockets near me all the time and this is just another tight move.

Battery Life

You claim five hours. I can offer you some more realistic benchmarks. Not five. Sometimes not four. It’s a Pro machine, right? Don’t go backwards then. Give me 8 hours or give me death.


If Apple wants to make a MacBook Pro, they should quit with the design fundamentalism on a machine costing £2800 (£2800 is a ton of money for an ordinary laptop, which apart from the display, this is) and quit with what seem like cost-cutting measures in the name of power efficiency. This machine is no doubt powerful. It never struggles with software, everything runs at a decent clip (when the power is plugged in) and it’s stable, but it’s not a Pro machine — just about any decent PC laptop at not much more than half the price of my MacBook Pro will give me “Pro” functionality.

I say make it faster, make the battery bigger, make the laptop slightly thicker, make the keyboard decent (heck just make it like the Magic Keyboard), get rid of the Touch Bar, make the display a 16” 4K HDR OLED, bring back some kind of MagSafe, bring the lit Apple logo back, bring back the SD card slot, add three USB 3 slots, make the trackpad smaller, beef up the GPU so that it can handle VR and games, and make it £4000. I’ll buy it. In the meantime, drop the price on this experiment and stop calling it a Pro. It doesn’t feel any more Pro than the standard MacBook.