Sid Vicious couldn’t play bass, and only recorded parts of a single bass track on Never Mind the Bollocks.

Sandy Miranda can play bass, and in 2006 released a studio album, nine 7″s, three cassettes, and a CD.

Omar Rodríguez-López got bored of playing bass at 12, started playing everything you can imagine, and has written, released, and/or produced more music than I can possibly imagine.

Actually, that award goes to Buckethead.

Even so, the Sex Pistols are generally considered as one of the most influential British bands. Causing the formation of The Damned and The Clash (Paul Simonon also couldn’t play bass, at first) with both bands playing their first gigs as openers for the Sex Pistols. Then, as the apocryphal story goes, a gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976 had attendees who would end up founding Joy Division, The Fall, and The Smiths.

How does a band with a bassist who can’t play bass have an influence like that?

Or, a better question – how do have the confidence to join, or even start, a band when you can’t play an instrument?

Sid’s snarled expression helps, you just fucking do it. Because who’s stopping you?

A more restrained statement may be that everyone must start somewhere. Edin Blyton didn’t wake up one day and decide that she was going to write 762 (slightly problematic) books. $FamousFootballer wasn’t born being good at SportsBall. The chef’s on in the Michelin Guide didn’t go from microwave mini-pizzas to whatever it is Heston is doing right now I mean come on.

You may have a vague notion or hope that, some day, you’ll fill a room with your creations, but thinking that success is only that – and nothing else will do – will destroy you.

It is a rather trite statement, but you must see how perfect is the enemy of good, and that it’s actually much more important that you do the thing, rather than obsess over it.

That’s how you learnt every skill you have, and that’s how you’ll continue to improve. Oh, and you’re probably not destined for greatness, and that’s ok! Literally no one is! Again, something doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be worthwhile, or the right thing for you to do.

Even Sid Vicious got better overtime, and by the time he died was…alright? I guess. I mean, he wasn’t John Entwistle – but who is?

Don’t let perfection stop you. Don’t spend more energy talking yourself out of doing something than it would take to just do it.

Print that 7″, and move on.

Release, repeat.

Foolish is he who builds his house on an outdated tech stack

This was originally scribbled, in haste, in April 2015, where it has sat, to be published now without change.

Production works.

Production pays your wage.

Don’t fuck with Production.

In recent months I’ve been noticing that what I thought to be true is not necessarily the case. There is a certain belief within our industry that while ‘new is awesome’ new should also be feared, new is unknown, new is untested, whereas Live is – that – Live. We know what it does, we know its problems and its limitations, and more importantly it’s been proven and is currently responsible for everything that is going on.

Burning it all and starting again is simple when you have no vested interests, when you’re not making money, when you’re still looking for that breakthrough. But, once that has happened, you can’t be scared to re-write, to re-build, to retread old ground, and potentially kill the goose.

We work in an industry that proclaims desires to fail-fast, to pivot, to constantly improve, but is also terrified of bucking the tread due to our continual reliance, nay – obsession, with hockey sticks. We tweak, we change, we iterate, and we lurch based on hunches and hopes, on superstitions and gut-instincts towards what we believe will work, and if we’re fortunate enough to get the right thing at the right time we end up being one of the ten percent that ‘succeed’ we probably didn’t get there by a single plan, an single vision, and a single tech view that took us from launch to exit in 19 months.

Most of us have changed; most of us have had bad ideas; have wasted time, effort, and development resource; we’ve wasted money, hardware, Clouds, and careers on foolish notions and frankly terrible thoughts (I’d in fact put a serious amount of cash on the claim that virtually no one has ever got it right first time) and if, when, we do finally gain traction, we need to – eventually – undo all the errors we made.

A tech stack is exactly that, a stack.

Stacks are inherently disorganised, messy,

Fuck Your Good Idea

This was originally scribbled, in haste, in May 2015, where it has sat, to be published now without change.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, or so the saying goes, and never has this been truer than in software development. Everyone knows best, everyone fights their corner, and everyone stops anything actually being achieved. The irony of this post is not lost on me, my intent is something different, I’ll concede judgement to the reader, but I’m likely to fail.

Clarity in vision, with the supporting determination and stubbornness, is what is required to inform people that their idea is not just misinformed, it’s actually detrimental to the continuation of the company.

Everyone champions ‘fail fast’ and in the very next breath caveat its rules, instead of really trying and failing, we continually tinker and delay for months until we have a perfect test and so we have too much invested to allow ourselves to objectively fail. We lose our vision, we lose our sense, we don’t want to watch our baby suffer. We shield ourselves from our possible failure, only to fail even harder.

We are human, we think emotionally – and that is why we are ineffective.

If only we could burn it all and start again.

Baggage is a part of life, it’s a part of love, and it’s part of creation – you will be bias to your own opinions, dismissive of others, and, well, we’ve all heard of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”.

Kiva – Year 2 Report

Another year older, another year wiser – or so the saying goes – and while 2014 has been eventual I’m glad that I’ve continued playing with Kiva. I did stop adding new credit about half way through the year, but I have continued to fully re-lend all existing credit, which with repayments of ~$100 means I can fund 4 new loans a month; which is enough to make myself feel good / do something positive (delete as appropriate). When I wrote the Year 1 Report I can remember being surprised at the total value of deposits I’d managed in 2013, so I’m not surprised that re-lending, over continuing to add more credit, became more desirable this last year.

So, what do the figures look like now?

  • Total Loans = 132
    • 2013 = 58
  • Total Deposits = $1,209
    • 2013 = $829
  • Total Lent = $3,450
    • 2013 = $1,600
  • Total Repaid = $2,148.72
    • 2013 = $751.82
  • Number of Fully Repaid Loans = 52
    • 2013 = 10
  • Total Value of Fully Repaid Loans = $1,600
    • 2013 = $375
  • Total Outstanding = $1,148.36
    • 2013 = $797.18
  • Total Amount Lost = $27.92
    • 2013 = $1.00
  • Amount Lost due to Default = $16.23
    • 2013 = $0
  • Amount Lost due to Exchange Rate Changes = $11.69
    • 2013 = $1
  • Countries = 49 / 85
    • 2013 = 45 / 73
  • Total Refunded and Expired = $125.00
    • 2013 = $50
  • Number of Loans Delinquent = 6
    • 2013 = 5
  • Amount In Arrears = $30.09
    • 2013 = $8.96
  • Delinquency Rate = 2.62% (arrears / total outstanding)
    • 2013 = 1.12%

There are a few interesting points, especially around losses, that I’ll take a few seconds to briefly explain.

Firstly, losses caused by the exchange rate fluctuating are something to be expected as part of lending on Kiva – I mention this briefly in the Year 1 Report – and these loans were located in Liberia, Ghana (x2), Columbia, and Mongolia with durations of between 8-20 months, each loss averaging to ~$2.40, or a cheap cup of coffee. I admit that as a percentage of $25 it’s more than you’d like to see, but contrast those 5 losses totalling less than $12 to the $2,148.72 in total repayments and that percentage is no longer a concern, a minuscule 0.5% of the total value of repaid loans since I started this two years ago.

The other loan, the default, is a bit more concerning – but not for the reasons you’d think.

You see, I mentioned a few loans I’d made in the Year 1 Report to give an impression of the different types of loans you are able to make on Kiva, and this defaulted loan just so happens to be one of the those that I listed. It was the one to the watermelon farmer, that lives in Ukraine. Now, Kiva don’t tell you what part of a country someone is located, but occasionally loan descriptions do contain this information, Pavel’s didn’t, but, Agro Capital Management LLC – the Field Partner the loan was made with – do state that the majority of their loans are based in Crimea.

I hope that Putin enjoys my watermelons.

Kiva – Year 1 Report

Pin-pointing the first time I was told that “the purpose of life is to pull people up rather than to hold them under” is a difficult one, but if I was pushed to pass on one piece of advice to another, that would be it. While this is, more or less, a restatement that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, with the implication that if you are one of the first to reach the new height then you (to risk of further straining the metaphor) help others to climb and to see in to the distance with you, it doesn’t necessarily make it redundant.

I appreciate that this is a fairly pretentious way to frame the sentiment that we should be good to each other, and never purposefully inhibit those that have done us no harm. However – and even the most ardent adherers to doctrine must agree – that “the game” at present is framed towards taking from others to further yourself, with the aim to amass greater and greater quantities of wealth, rather than collectively pushing forward with the interests of all.

Oh how simple it all sounds…

For me, charity has always seemed to be a partial solution to this problem (in fact it’s probably one of the better ways we’ll ever have), and exactly a year ago today, after a few months consideration, I decided to do something positive and created an account on Kiva.

Kiva is a micro-credit service facilitated by users lending money to entrepreneurs and students in 73 countries via a network of field partners. People sign up to Kiva, add funds via a Paypal account, and then use these funds to facilitate loans in multiples of $25 (up to a maximum of $500) to any available loan listed here. Once a loan is made, and fully funded, the money will be started being paid back – exactly like a typical loan – but while the field-partners charge interest on the loans that are made, neither Kiva or its users receive any additional payments (a point must be made here, if I were to put the money in to a flexible savings account, I would be earning a rate of interest probably not much better than 0%).

This means that for every $25 I deposit in to my Kiva account, the maximum I will ever receive back (bar extremely unlikely positive shifts in the exchange rate) is that ‘same’ $25, and much like any typical loan the lenders can miss payments or under pay (delinquency), or even over pay, or simply never pay the money back (default).

In the past 12 months these are my headline stats:

  • Total Loans = 58
  • Total Deposits = $829 (as to why this isn’t a multiple of $25 I’m not sure)
  • Total Lent = $1600
  • Total Repaid = $751.82
  • Number of Fully Repaid Loans = 10
  • Total Value of Fully Repaid Loans = $375
  • Total Outstanding = $797.18
  • Total Amount Lost = $1.00
  • Amount Lost due to Default = $0
  • Amount Lost due to Exchange Rate Changes = $1
  • Countries = 45 / 73
  • Total Refunded and Expired = $50 (this occurs when a loan is not fully funded within the time limit)
  • Number of Loans Delinquent = 5
  • Amount In Arrears = $8.96
  • Delinquency Rate = 1.12% (arrears / total outstanding)

So far this means that I’ve made loans to numerous people, with virtually all having a perfect repayment record. This spans from watermelon farmers in Ukraine, to a taxi driver in AzerbaijanChild Care in Iraq and a fruit and veg stall in Timor-Leste. It needs to be mentioned that delinquency rates are actually quite volatile, and typically the lenders will correct these within 1 month, indeed only 1 of the 5 currently delinquent loans has been delinquent before, and this gives me a high confidence that these loans will correct themselves over the next 12 months and/or the end of the specific loan period. To give context, in January ’14 I am expecting repayment on 40 loans ($100.23), with 43 in February ($99.83) and another 43 in March ($97.29) with the vast majority paying back on time (if not slightly sooner). This ~$300 can be immediately relent and used to fund up to 12 new loans, and this experience over the last 12 months has given me the feeling that – while I am admittedly not making any money – I’m not losing any, and as I can withdraw the funds whenever I wish, or choose to re-lend them, I haven’t felt that I’m being “cheated” at all.

But when it comes to choosing loans, and as it is ultimately my money, I have two rules I stick by:

  1. A 50/50 overall gender-split on loans.
  2. All Field Partners must be secular in nature.

As it happens, neither of these two rules are hard to accomplish using the extensive options available as part of the built-in search functionality, and also those materials provided by the “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious” Lending Team who’s goal is to promote secular values (by helping loans from secular Field Partners, especially in theocratic countries) and show that “we care about the suffering of human beings”. This team alone has so far made over $13.5 million of loans since August 2008, making them the single largest loaning team on Kiva – an impressive achievement in anyone’s books.

If you’ve made it this far, and are possibly interested in “having a play” with Kiva, and seeing just what you can do, it’s simply and all you need to do is click here…


and Sign Up – even better, if you do, both you and me will get $25 of free loan credit to go towards funding a loan.

Go on – do something different in 2014.


We all try, in our own ways, to be perfect. But everyone makes mistakes.

The past couple of months have been an interesting time at Palringo. A few times a year the offices converge on Newcastle for a “reset meeting” where we discuss our plans for the next 3-6 months, re-evaluate our current commitments, and scrap anything we no longer believe in.

The “Invite Centre” was originally conceived by Martin Rosinski approx. 6 months ago and presented at one of these meetings. I was tasked with making the largest user-facing project of 2013 (so far) a reality. The “Invite Centre” is how we plan to grow the Palringo community – and is heavily related to the Reputation and Achievements system I have detailed before. The “Invite Centre” would be the “big ticket item” for Palringo iOS v6.4 and Palringo Android v5.10.

Palringo iOS v6.4 was released on Monday 2nd Sept, 2013, our previous major release, Palringo iOS v6.2, was released on Monday 22nd July, 2013 – with a follow up bug-fix release, v6.2.1, on Monday 29th July.

Some background; all major releases will have up to 2 big ticket items – these are tasks that require a lot of development and testing time, and may not be apparent to the user. For v6.2 this was a transition to CoreData. A change of this scale will always result in bugs; the simple mantra of “the bigger the change, the more bugs there will be” always holds true. You can never test every combination, or find every bug – this is part and parcel of software development, and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone reading this – our game is to minimise issues, and begrudgingly accept that you’ll never eradicate every idiosyncrasy, and celebrate when you do finally manage to terminate that one little bastard that has been haunting you for months.

The need for v6.2.1 was apparent early on, both from the reports we were getting back from TestFlight – an iOS crash reporting system – and our in-app Support team. The scope for the bug-fix was defined, fixes found and made, and the update released 7 days later – an impressive feat, especially when taking in to account the Apple Review Process, and the time it takes to get an app reviewed.

For all parties, v6.2.1 was an improvement – but still had more issues than pre-6.2 releases. This is another issue with updating any core functionality for a piece of software. Once you get the big bugs out of the way, you spend years continually polishing the code, ensuring it is running as best as it can. This level of polish is not possible to replicate in a month, or two, when you have to change something significant.

The “Invite Centre” is getting closer, so we barrel on through, deciding not to make another bug-fix release.

Feedback from our Support Dept is that the users are living with the current issues that still arise in v6.2.1, which I incorrectly assume means they are happy. They are not.

This was my first mistake.

We continue, and as the week becomes two, and then three, the complaints from our Support Dept increase. It is already the 20th August, with v6.4 meant to be our “August Release”, there are minimal signs of submission soon.

A meeting is called and we – myself, the devs, and QA – detail the situation, explaining that we aren’t happy with the current state of v6.4 and the fixes we have included. We don’t believe the experience will be any better (“We’ve not so much fixed the bugs, as just moved them to other places.”) and that there are a number of known bugs. One of our external testers continually experiences this bug, but cannot find a way to reproduce, and neither can we when plugged in to the debugger. We diagnose this bug as being “severe but infrequent”, and decide that we can live with it. We agree, in part due to the ever increasingly vocal complaints from our users, that we would fix the high priority bugs, and submit the app in close to its current state, acknowledging it isn’t perfect, but will be better when make these fixes.

This was my second mistake.

Once we have made all the agreed fixes, we submit to Apple.

We spend the week between submission and release attempting to reproduce the “blank messages” bug (as it is now known), to no avail. The App is approved over the weekend – Apple didn’t find it either – and I wait for Support to confirm that nothing has happened over the weekend for them to insist on a delay.

While I’m waiting, we finally reproduce the bug. It only occurs under very specific conditions. Firstly, you had to have minimal memory available – which in Palringo happens if you are in many, many groups, receiving hundreds of messages a minute – and secondly you receive a message (group or PM) when not viewing the messages tab.

My choice is simple;

  • Pull the approved app, which we know is an improvement for most, and hope we can find a fix in a short enough window of time to please the community that are increasingly vocal in their complaints about v6.2.1, or,
  • We release, and bug fix if required.

It is my decision – and the fact we can now reproduce the bug does not matter. The submission passed our locks with us knowing the bug existed, without a caveat of “if we can reproduce, we’ll pull”. This is different to a bug you suddenly find before a release – that would cause a delay for at least as long as it took to triage. Fixing bugs is an on going aspect of software development, when you find out how to fix them is irrelevant, if you’ve decided that you are happy with said bug being present.

I release the app.

This was my third mistake.

It would ultimately transpire that 99% of our user base would not be affected by this bug, and that v6.4 is a noticeable improvement – but the 1% it does, it is a continually reoccurring nightmare.

We get reports of users experiencing the bug every 4 minutes, that the app is unusable, that they need to downgrade. We cannot roll back the app – Apple don’t let you – and we can’t re-submit v6.2.1 due to the approval delay. We add text to the “What’s New” section of the App Store Description, telling high-usage users to not upgrade to this version of the app, as well as passing out the message in-app.

We start frantically fixing the bug. Either there is a problem in the locks, or, we made a mistake.

Release early, release often” is how we manage QA, nightly builds are increasingly common as we progress through the release cycle. Our bug-fix process barely differs from a standard cycle, and within a few hours we have a proposed fix and have pushed a beta release to our testers, with steps to re-create the situation. “Negative Testing” is some of the most time consuming software testing you can do – and is strongly related to the concept of proving a negative – and so all you can do is state that “these steps no longer seem to cause the problem(s)”. You can never really explicitly state the bug has be fixed.

I call a meeting Tuesday morning for Technical and QA, for 30 minutes we discuss just how we got here, why we are in the situation, have a full debrief, and discuss what we need to change. We have faith in our process, we admit, understand, and accept that the bug was misdiagnosed – we agree that, if we had to do it again, we would. We get back to work.

Our testers report back, things seem better…but different. We have new bugs. We apply yet more plasters, but it becomes clear that this is a fundamental issue with the framework.

The Technical Lead consults with me, and expresses his desire to rip out the back end, and completely re-implement the view. We decide that this is the best way forward.

A “functional but not pretty” beta is released with the old framework ripped out, and the stability improvements are apparent from the get go. A by product is that, because we removed the view completely, that specific bug can no longer exist.

Many more interim releases are made, and late Friday we make a final RC release to our beta team, and agree to submit to Apple in parallel. At the time of writing, we are awaiting approval.

So, what have I learnt?

  1. The balance between fixing bugs vs. new features is even more delicate that previously imagined; and it must be a balance, you cannot sacrifice one for the other.
  2. It is always better to delay something slightly, than make an action you cannot undo.
  3. Confirm your diagnosis of bugs is still true if presented with new evidence or data.
  4. If a bug is frequently encountered by one person, it will definitely be encountered by the many.
  5.  Everyone makes mistakes – but it is unforgivable to not learn from them.


Earlier this year, ‘Grandad’, my maternal grandfather, died at the age of 82.

His death leaves my Nana as the only surviving grandparent. The funeral, and wake, gave my small family time to be together, and after talking at length, I volunteered to research our family history.

Whilst I go by ‘Mac’, my full last name is actually ‘Macdonald’. My Father’s side is largely from Aberdeenshire, and my Mother’s side a mix of Cornish and Welsh. While I never met my paternal Grandfather (another William) due to his death 3 years before my birth, ‘Nan’ (his wife, my Father’s Mother, Pamela) is a woman I respected a great deal growing up. She lived in an annex in my parent’s house and her continual presence will forever be a big part of my childhood. The 10 years I knew my Nan were happy ones; but her death is one of the most painful and enduring memories of my childhood.

‘Nana and Grandad’ – my mother’s parents – lived about 30 minutes drive away while I was growing up and while I was still in primary school, we’d see each other every other week. Grandad would pick me up from school and give me sweets that I wasn’t supposed to tell my mum about, this and his truly terrible jokes, and love of cricket are what I will choose to remember him by, rather than the shell that was left once his Alzheimer’s had forced us to watch him lose himself.

Nana’s lunches, ‘the garden of moss’ and red pie; that – and so much more – is what they as people will always be to me.

But what that doesn’t answer how they got here, and for that, what follows is what I’ve found so far.

Dad is an only child, and Mum is one of two, so the first few layers of the tree were simple. My Nan…well…this is where it gets complicated.

Nan was a bastard child, born in rural Aberdeenshire in 1925 to a 20 year old ‘Lillias Williamina Philip Craig Ironside’ – which has to be one of the most impressive farmer’s daughter’s names I have ever heard. Nan’s birth certificate lists her father as a ‘George Peter Horne’, however he has been impossible to find anywhere. Nan never spoke about her family, and what she knew about them, or otherwise, went with her to the grave. We do know that she was adopted by her Grandparents – ‘William Mitchell Ironside’ (one of two) and ‘Lillias Davidson Craig’ (one of ten) – and had friends (and probable relations, including possible Uncles James and Adam) in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, and would visit annually. Lillias W.P.C. Ironside died in 1999, at the age of 94, a year and 6 days before, and 523 miles away from, her daughter.

I believe I have been able to trace Lillias’ side approximately 4 additional generations to her Mother’s Father’s, Father’s, Father (my Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather) ‘David Craig’, born in Arbroath, Forfarshire, in approx 1779, death unknown, and his wife ‘Elizabeth Middleton’ born 3rd September, 1774 in Brechin, Angus – and dying there on 29th May 1862.

Paternally, we have her Grandfather, ‘James Ironside’, (b. 31.07.1851, d. 10.03.1923, New Deer), the youngest of 5, his parents were ‘William Ironside’ (b. approx. 1810, d. 15.10.1886, New Deer) and ‘Jane Milne’ (b. 27.1.1807, d. 23.05.1869, New Deer). He married ‘Jane Mitchell’  (b. 25.04.1847, d. 02.12.1933, New Deer) – the 5th of 7, and eldest of two girls, her parents being ‘William Mitchell’ (b. 08.09.1814, d. 07.03.1877, New Deer) and ‘Jane Murray’ (b. approx. 1813, Tyrie, Aberdeenshire, d. 28.01.1882 Monquhitter Parish, Aberdeenshire (near what is now Ellon)).

My Paternal Grandfather, ‘William Macdonald’, (b. 1923, d.1986) was the elder of two – however his Father, yet another ‘William Macdonald’ (b. 27.08.1880, Aberdeen, d. 1962, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire) was one of nine, and his Mother, ‘Annabella Barclay’ (b. 10.12.1903, Slains, Aberdeenshire, d. 1987), was one of five. This ‘William Macdonald’s parents were ‘John Macdonald’ (b. 1845, d.1923) and ‘Jane Gerrard Forbes’ (b. 1852, d. 1926), I mention Jane (my Father’s, Father’s, Father’s, Mother) here for reference later.

The Macdonald line would appear to begin with a ‘George Macdonald’ (exact dates unknown, but approx 1780-1790, born in Dunvegan, Isle of Skye), who married an unknown ‘Stewart’ (dates also unknown) – they are parents to another ‘George Macdonald’ (b. 22.02.1813, d. 17.04.1887, Glenrinnes, Banffshire). If this is correct, then it would seemingly align with my Grandfather’s belief that we are ‘Clan Macdonald of Sleat‘ and the reason for George’s relocation from Dunvegan to Glenrinnes would most likely be due to the Highland Clearances.

While not directly down the Macdonald line, the furthest I’ve been able to trace Dad’s ancestry is to ‘John Forbes’ and ‘Mary Tulloch’ (exact dates unknown, approx mid-1700’s). They are the aforementioned Jane’s Father’s, Father’s, Father’s, Parents – and/or My Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents.

My Mum’s side has a similar progression, one of two born to John (b. 1930, Dawlish, Devon, d. 2013) and Margaret (b. 1930), the family members quickly stack up once John is the youngest of four born to ‘Cecil Harry Downing’ (b. 12.03.1897, Dawlish, d. 1987, Slough) and ‘Florance Honor Trewin’ (b. 08.09.1898, Launceston, Cornwall, d. 1970) and Margaret is the middle of five born to ‘Maurice George Jefferis’ (b. 1899, Wareham, Dorset, d. 1958, Portsmouth) and ‘Fanny Lydia Cooper’ (b. 07.09.1899, Pontypridd, d. 1981, Basingstoke).

It is unknown how many siblings John’s father Cecil had – little is known about his parents ‘Henry Downing’ and ‘Elizabeth’ (maiden name unknown), except that they were born approx. 1876 and approx. 1874 respectively. John’s mother Florance was 7th of 9, but again little is known of her parents ‘Thomas H. Trewin’ and ‘Mary Ann’ (again, maiden name unknown), and again born approx. 1858 and approx. 1859 respectively.

Sadly, this is where the Downing ancestry appears to end.

The Jefferis side still has some interest. While my Nana may ‘only’ have been the middle of five, and her father Maurice the middle of three born to ‘Thomas James Jefferis’ (b. 1849, Ellingham, Hampshire, d. unknown) and ‘Caroline Mary King’ (b. 1863, Whiteparish, Whitshire, d. unknown). Thomas was the youngest of 6 to ‘John Jefferis’ (b. approx. 1806, d. approx. 1891, Ellingham) and ‘Catherine’ (b. approx 1811, d. approx. 1887) (again, maiden name unknown), while Caroline was also the youngest, but of 5, born to ‘George King’ (b. approx. 1829, d. unknown) and ‘Rachel’ (b. approx. 1827, d. unknown) (and yet again, maiden name also unknown). This would mean that, as well as John and Catherine, and George and Rachel being my Great-Great-Great-Grand Parents, they were also alive at approximately the same time as the aforementioned George Macdonald (b. 1813, etc) and only a mere 550 miles apart.

Nana’s mother Fanny was the eldest of 12 – yes, twelve – to be born to ‘Walter James Cooper’ (b. approx. 1874, Cardiff, d. 1951, Talywain) and ‘Lousia  Kate Summers’ (b. 1881, d.1961), but little of their ancestry is known to me at this time, beyond Walter being one of five, and his parents name’s being ‘John Cooper’ (b. approx 1829, d. unknown) and ‘Maria’ (b. 1837, d. unknown).

Gamification: Game Playing and Fiero

This is part two of the series, to start from the beginning, click here.

Humans have enjoyed playing games for thousands of years; archaeologists have found extensive evidence of dice-like games being played in region of South Eastern Iran approximately 3,000 years ago, and board games – like senet – being enjoyed by the Ancient Egyptians some 5,000 years ago.

Considered by some to be an early form of escapism, and a simple way of coping with the harsh realities of life, games such as Jacks (or Knucklebones) were invented by the Lydians and theorised to have been utilised to cope during times of famine.

But games are not limited to this simplistic, traditional view. Most human interaction within any society involves many aspects of game playing. Eric Berne‘s 1964 book “Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships” extensively details many different types of human interaction from a variety of perspectives, such as how differing power dynamics, or roles such as adult to adult, or adult to child, affect each players strategy in the game. Gamification seems to stand to confirm Kurt Vonnegut’s review of Games People Play, where he stated that; “…the good Doctor has provided story lines that hacks will not exhaust in the next 10,000 years”. The identification of these games provided an early insight in to what would eventually become the basis for Palringo’s Reputation and Achievements System, and how a competitive system based on these principles can be a very powerful engine for growth.

In the introduction I briefly mention the concept of fiero. Fiero is a defined by Jane McGonigal in her book “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” as a word to:

“…describe an emotional high we don’t have a good word for in English [Fiero being Italian for ‘Pride’]. Fiero is what we feel when we triumph over adversity. You know when you feel it – and when you feel it […] we all express fiero in exactly the same way: we throw our arms over our head and yell.”

Fiero is the basis for all game systems. You win, you feel good, you lose, you feel bad…and then you’re annoyed by the obvious display of fiero by the victor, and you try even harder to win – after all, everybody loves to win.

Simply put, fiero breads competition and powers our innate urge to win.

A key consideration that must be made when designing any game system is the difficulty to achieve fiero. While no-one actually likes losing, always winning also quickly becomes bland – after the initial hits of fiero dissipate.

Casino Poker has a number of variables, but to simplify this example we will focus on two factors;

  1. Skill of the Player
  2. Disposable Cash

Casinos spend significant time and resources to ensure their players are sitting at tables where they all have a similar level of skill and cash to ensure the best game experience for everyone. There is little fun when there is no challenge, and easily winning (or always losing) causes the same level of disenfranchisement as never having any risk. A multi-millionaire winning a $100 bet feels much less fiero than a student on minimum wage winning the same bet. This is also true for the other players, if you are at a table with a person that simply doesn’t care about the wagers that are being made, then the fiero you experience when winning is massively reduced.

These systems require the players to “buy-in”, much like the social contract that exists stating that participants should not lie when playing ‘Truth or Dare”. Managing this belief in the system – in the poker example, promoting good player to higher tables – is important to ensure continued competition.

Foursquare operates a system that distributes points to users when they check-in to bars, clubs, restaurants, and so on. These check-ins are also supported by a series of achievements: checking in to a bar on a week day evening, or going to the gym 10 times in a month. Xbox LIVE (XBL) Gamerscore – often considered to be the first and best video game meta-scoring system – has a similar system of points and achievements.

The big difference between the two however is that a player’s XBL Gamerscore is counted forever, where Achievements you unlocked in 2007 are still counted towards your score in 2013, and can never reduce. In contrast, Foursquare only counts points for a rolling 7 days, where points I earn today will be counted towards my score until next Monday. In this regard Palringo Reputation is closer to Gamerscore, where points are counted forever, but with the added complexity of being able to lose reputation by losing achievements.

Foursquare is tailored to be much more competitive, constantly informing you of your friends activity – with notifications when they check in – as well as any new achievements they unlock. You can always see how you rate against your friends, in a simple leaderboard system where having the most points means you’re #1. Competing on a 7 days basis, where simply being inactive takes you out of the running, means that the challenge is always fresh, in an ever changing landscape, where victory is only temporary, and must be continually fought for.

The Palringo Reputation and Achievements system primarily serves two types of fiero. The first (bigger, and rarer) via Reputation, and the second (smaller and more frequent) via Achievements. To build on the previous two examples, Reputation is a meta-score to provide a quick, clean, and cross-culture mechanic to compare two or more users. Our users use their Reputation as their primary means to compare, compete and brag about their standing within the Palringo Community. Achievements are used as guides to inform users on how to increase their Reputation, as well as encourage behaviour that we deem is suitable for Palringo – for example, running multiple groups, with a high number of users, as detailed by our “Crowd Sorcerer” achievement.

In the next part of this series, I will expand on just how Palringo uses gamification, and fiero, to guide user behaviour and cement our place as the de-facto massive Group Messaging Application in the world.

Gamification: An Introduction

Gamification is a buzzword for the application of various aspects of positive psychology in conjunction with game-like elements used to guide people’s behaviours when performing tasks. While this is by no means solely utilised by software, many modern software applications have utilised its theories extensively, especially video games such as World of Warcraft.

We have an entire generation that grew up playing video games, being born in 1989 I have played games my entire life, and have seen first hand their progression from side-scrollers like Super Mario to the insanely complex high-end graphics of series such as Half Life. Even with the massive increases in processing power, memory and storage, gameplay has same stayed roughly the same. Most games follow the same pattern, you start a level, you play, you fail, you try again, you fail, you try again, you fail, you try again, and again, and again, and then you succeed. Then you start the next level.

This wash-rinse-repeat style of gameplay coupled with regular praise creates a very tight feedback loop and is even in some of the oldest video games.

Jane McGonigal in her book “Reality is Broken” frequently states that praise (or fiero), coupled with an increasing difficulty and frequent testing, creates a quickly addictive environment. It is the sense of accomplishment, traceable progression, and an attainable next step that keeps people coming back for more.

Tetris has a very simple premise. You score points by completing a row of blocks using various shapes that are generated (fall) in a pseudo-random order to progress. Every time you complete a row you are awarded points, the row flashes and then disappears (your small-reward), allowing you to use the re-claimed space to complete more rows. When you have scored enough points by removing enough rows you advance to the next level (traceable progression), which clears the whole screen (your big reward), and increases the difficulty (genuine testing). Tetris is perhaps one of the most obviously repetitive games in existence but Tetris combats this with two further sub-systems. A high-score leaderboard displaying the number of points you have earnt, allowing you to track your progress between sessions, and increasing the number of points you earn for each successful clearance of a line on the harder levels (genuine accomplishment), making a clearance much more satisfying on Level 9, than on Level 1.

It is the supply of praise – specifically the management of craving vs. frequency of genuine accomplishments – that must be utilised if you wish to create a system that truly works.

B. F. Skinner, an Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University devised the “Operant Conditioning Chamber” – commonly, and for the rest of this series, referred to as the “Skinner Box” – whilst a Masters student at Harvard in 1930. An extremely simplified example of this could be a rat in a box, with only a red light and a button. When the red light flashes, the rat has a few seconds to press the button and be dispensed food. If the light has not flashed, then pressing the button does nothing. Over time, the rat learns to associate the feedback loop of Light => Press Button => Food and will act accordingly, and it is this basic premise that fuels most gamified systems.

User performs desired action -> User gains reward
User performs undesired action -> User receives nothing, or is punished.

Using this premise within a video game environment is simple – games as a whole are by their very nature built around similar constructs which most are familiar with, be it from playing Tag in the playground at school as a child, to card games like Poker – and so polishing these functions requires less relative effort.

Applying these theories to a software application is considerably harder and requires the application to be suitable. A word processor, for example, is unlikely to benefit – although one could argue that even Word has many of these elements. It is my belief that the more social an application is, the more suitable and powerful gamification mechanisms are.

Palringo utilises two complementary systems. A points-based scoring system referred to as “Reputation” or “Rep” which is displayed to all as a Level (for example, “Level 1”) and a goal-based system called “Achievements“; these are badges that you earn, and again are displayed to everyone. At a conceptual level, users receive points based on behaviour that we deem appropriate, and are deducted points for behaviour we do not. Various achievements are used as both long and short term goals to give users a guide as to what to aim for next, thus further helping shape their behaviour.

I will go in to more detail about how Palringo has continues to successfully operate and expand this system as this series progresses but before I continue I feel I must explicitly state what this series is not, and will not cover. It will not cover any detail of the Palringo system that is contained within a black-box – i.e. it does not describe all factors of our Reputation system. Some factors however will be mentioned explicitly, many may be alluded to, lots will be omitted in their entirety, and there may be the occasional false flag. This is to protect the integrity of our system, and reduce the possibilities for exploitation. This series will also not contain any detailed technical descriptions, or examples of code.

What this series will cover are the themes, behaviours, and insights that are required to create a successfully gamified system – one that can, if required, save a company.

Part Two of this series: Game Playing and Fiero.

Bookshelf I – Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think

After months of trying to finish off my Christmas Reading List – success eventually arriving in late February – I finally read “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” by Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis. For those that haven’t yet read it, ‘Abundance’ extols – to a manifestoesque degree – a new hybrid of ‘Philanthrocapitalism’ and ‘Technophilantropy’, promoting – and in many cases, providing convincing proof – that using technology a rising tide really can lift all boats.

Health Care (23andMe), Energy (Elon Musk’s SolarCity, et al), Food (Vertical Farms and hydroponics), Freedom of Speech and Association (Twitter, Facebook, etc – Palringo being a noted absence), and Micro-finance (Kiva.org) being just a few of the wide range of topics covered; ‘Abundance’ makes the claim that with a new way of thinking, with a focus on global rather than local solutions, and providing technology that stands to save us all, we may have the ability to not just provide food, water, and shelter to 9 billion people – but to provide these at a standard that would befit the average European today. This can be accomplished, ‘Abundance’ claims, by utilising the rate of growth associated with exponential technologies.

‘Abundance’ proposes a new model, based heavily on Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs‘ named – cunningly – the ‘Abundance Pyramid’. Each part of the book relates to each of the levels in the Pyramid and how existing companies are working towards providing each of the requirements. I won’t replicate the Pyramid in full here, however ‘Part 3: Building the Base of the Pyramid’ is focused on how to provide: Communication (via smartphones, and unfiltered universally accessible internet access); clean, reliable, and accessible water; and a sustainable food supply, with a heavy focus on GMOs.

While ‘Abundance’ does pay lip service to the potential problems that may arise with smarter technology, it is written – like any manifesto – from an optimistic view point, and largely downplays any of the potential problems. This is in stark contrast to ‘The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World‘, by Evgeny Morozov that extols the view that smarter technology, whilst providing many positives, also gives corrupt regimes access to very highly targeted data and that it is only a matter of time before these regimes utilise technology similar to that which runs Google’s AdSense platform for less-than-good purposes.

As the book progresses, Peter Diamandis’ influence becomes more prevalent, with many mentions of both his ‘Singularity University‘ and the ‘X-Prize‘ culminating in his belief that incentive prizes, like the X-Prize, are the only way to accelerate the progress that we are currently making. He very may well be correct, however the proof provided – there have, so far, only been 3 completed X-Prizes – seemed to be lacking for a statement of that calibre. However, given Dr Diamandis’ track record, I don’t expect him to be far off the mark.

Overall, the book is a very interesting read, highlighting some key areas, and has definitely challenged – and indeed changed – some of my previously held perceptions, and for that reason alone, I’d highly recommend it.