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. 

You Might Not Like This

If it wasn’t for Jared, I’d never have listened to Sneaker Pimps or Ingrid Schroeder. I’d be stuck in a much smaller musical bubble and my life would have been the poorer. He knew what I liked, but suggested music that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Once I was out, there was a whole new world of music he could recommend and my life was richer for it.

The most valuable algorithm to Netflix, Amazon and just about every retailer on the planet is the recommendation engine. What they’re after is your money, but also, your attention.

Amazon’s recommendation engine is staggeringly profitable. Netflix offered a huge prize recently to anyone who could improve their recommendation engine’s performance by just 10%. Despite thousands of entries, only one entry managed to hit the required target.

The subscription model is becoming pervasive, and to keep you as a subscriber, you, the customer, must be fed with satisfying content.

Social media is not exempt. Your attention is the valuable resource and it is commonly sold to advertisers. The downside is that you get trapped in social bubbles and your taste doesn’t evolve except as part of the loosely affiliated tribe you become part of.

The flood of user-generated content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, amongst others is now so unmanageable that Facebook doesn’t even show you every post from your friends. Your feed is filtered, the objective of which is to keep you Facebook for longer, so that you see more ads.

I propose that somebody creates a “You might not like” algorithm that occasionally interrupts your cosy bubble with something provocative, but of high quality. Initially, the recommendations would be curated, but would require a powerful sales pitch as to why you should give your attention to the suggested item. An algorithm like this, with the initial support of human curators might broaden your tastes, help you to see with greater perspective and enrich your life. Growth comes when you push against your comfort zone. It’s high time we had algorithms that did more than just trap you in ever decreasing circles of self-gratification. I think Jared would be happy.

Getting Real Work Done on an iPad Pro

shahidkamal.com didn't get off to a great start. I broke all the rules, like not launching on a Friday night, but worse, the permalink to my first prompt was broken and two people had already mentioned it to me on Twitter, even though I had very quickly removed my announcement tweet. Damn. Now at this point, I'd reflexively turn to a Mac and go into full troubleshooter mode, but I decided to stick with the iPad Pro and fight off the urge to to what I know.

I opened up a Prompt session to my server with a StackOverflow page in Safari open on the right hand side. I managed to fix my server configuration quickly enough, allowing the rewriting of permalinks so that my individual posts would no longer give a 404 error. Yes, I'm old school and I like to use a shell and SSH. Prompt 2 on the iPad Pro actually seems a lot better than the standard Terminal app on the Mac.

In the Safari window, I had my WordPress settings open for my blog and was able to change the permalink settings without any issues, it was nice just to have everything I needed neatly lined up without having a ton of other stuff to distract me.

I wrote my post in Ulysses, which for some reason feels nicest to use on iPad Pro. I prefer it to Ulysses on my Mac, which surprises me. In fact, the writing experience on an iPad Pro just feels more robust in general. I can't explain it, but perhaps it's the feeling that there is no SSD to write to, that there is nothing making any noise, that no fan will ever kick in, that nothing else is in the way; who knows, it just feels nicer to write English text on an iPad Pro than it does the Mac.

I'm typing on an Apple Magic Keyboard1 with the iPad Pro propped up on a Canopy stand, by Studio Neat, you know, the folks who make other amazingly useful stuff like the Glif.

How far I can push the iPad Pro remains to be seen, I certainly don't see myself coding on it, but who knows? Since reading Federico's widely shared piece, I've been emboldened to make the iPad Pro my go to device and let's face it, I probably wouldn't have started my new blog without it.

  1. Why is it "magic", Apple? If you're going to use metaphors, then just about every keyboard I use is more magical than this one. It's a good keyboard, certainly better than the iPad Smart Keyboard, but it's certainly not magic.

My Indecision is Final

Why Choice is Painful

If everybody stopped making things now, we would still have access to more art than existed in all previous generations of humanity combined. When we want to read, watch, listen or play, we face choice that was unimaginable to our predecessors. Far too often, we find the choice stifling and so don’t choose at all.

The pain of choice is not in deciding what we want. It is knowing that in choosing, we reject the cornucopia which within it might contain the jewel we always wanted, or needed.

Our search for the best is impossible. We have to learn to live with the idea that we will never be able to take in all the world has to offer, but that the beauty we do take in will still enrich us more than any previous generation could dare dream. In doing so, we have to tolerate a sense of loss, a fear of missing out, to a degree that nobody ever prepared us for, because how could they?

Just two centuries ago, nobody had photos, never mind videos. Today, in every moment, thousands of hours of video are being created and shared, never mind the tens of thousands of photos. Most people had few, if any books, but today, we waste our time talking about fake news, when the entire library of humanity is available to us at the tap of a screen. Movies were beyond even the wildest science fiction and as for virtual reality games, the mind boggles at how shocked our ancestors would have been; that we can take this in our stride is almost perplexing.

Choice is hard because of the idea of “opportunity cost”. What is the cost of saying “yes” to this thing? It’s not just the cost of purchase or investment, it’s the cost of loss of all other opportunities that we might have pursued, some of which might take us down a “better” or more enriching path. That’s why decision is painful, but it’s also why, given the infinity of “opportunity” before us today, it’s also more painful than ever.

If we can only switch our attention away from the knowledge that we will never enjoy everything, to the knowledge that we will still enjoy more than anyone dared to dream, we will be rich beyond measure. We are rich beyond measure, but we find it so hard to see that.