Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Modular smartphones are definitely not the future

In 2013, a tech start-up called Phonebloks teased the concept of a modular smartphone. The idea was, when you want an improved camera, longer battery life, more memory, or to upgrade any feature on your smartphone, you simply replace a compartment rather than go out and buy a whole new device. This would allow smartphone users to prioritise features. For example, amateur photographers could sacrifice speakers for a larger camera or if a longer lasting battery was developed, they could easily swap out their old one.

Project Ara
Google even toyed with the idea of bringing a modular phone to market for a while. They called it ‘Project Ara'. Google proved with prototypes that it was technically possible to make but on 2nd September 2016, rumours emerged that Google had shelved the project. This may have been with good cause.

Modular smartphones would never have been commercially viable. Forcing the customer to prioritise features when they could buy the latest Samsung, iPhone, HTC, or Google phone and get the best of everything would never have worked. Admittedly, I imagine many would be drawn to the personalisation aspect of owning a smartphone that they basically custom build. However, moto maker and quirky phone cases offer enough personalisation for many.

Furthermore, modular smartphones may have caused customers to be more hesitant before upgrading their phones which would ultimately cost the manufacturers in the long run. If consumers could simply buy a higher quality camera module every few years, they would think twice before splashing out on a whole brand new smartphone.

Although modular phones appear to have been scrapped, I hope that the technology developed for them is put to use on other products as it would be fascinating to see where modular technology might actually come in useful.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Olympic aftermath: Stratford four years on

The Olympic stadium
On 6 July 2005, the International Olympic Committee announced that Great Britain would be hosting the 2012 Olympics. Although London had hosted the games twice before, the last time was over half a century ago so suffice facilities were non-existent. Therefore, it wasn’t long until development on a 490-acre Olympic park began. Stratford, in East London, was designated to be the place for the development.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games were a success. The organisation leading up to and during the games were highly acclaimed thanks to multiple ‘London Prepares’ events to test the organisers’ abilities, the opening and closing ceremonies were fantastic entertainment for the whole country, and the games themselves ran smoothly - with only a minor hiccup involving empty seats at events. But what about the legacy?

As well as the immediate benefits (such as tourism, facilities for aspiring athletes, etc.), the games in the Borough of Newham have had long term effects on the local area. Residents and businesses in Stratford now benefit from London Overground’s vastly improved East London Line. Additionally, the new Westfield Stratford City shopping centre led to jobs being created and means locals don’t need to travel all the way to Oxford Street for luxury brands. This is where the advantages mostly end though.

The negatives of hosting the games largely outweigh the positives. For one, before the games, businesses in the industrial area that the Olympic park was built on faced eviction and were forced to relocate which caused many businesses to suffer due to the high cost of office space in London. The Evening Standard’s Simon Jenkins wrote “The Stratford site ... lost 300 businesses and 14,000 jobs in its cluster of factories, warehouses and canal-side businesses."

The entrance to the Stratford Centre
Secondly, the flocks of tourists lasted as long as the games did. The small amounts of tourism that do still exist are concentrated exclusively in the Olympic park and Westfield Stratford City shopping centre; nowhere near Stratford High Street and the Stratford Centre. Locals hoped that the £8.77bn, which was the final cost of London 2012, would improve the area in which the author Charles Booth once described the people as “lowest class; vicious, semi-criminal”. However, walking from Westfield to the Stratford Centre feels like walking from one world to another. The A118 divides the old and the new areas thus highlights the stark differences. Westfield and the Olympic Park are spacious, luxurious, and well-maintained areas whereas the Stratford Centre and high street are aged, rundown, and cramped. The Guardian’s Tom Wilkinson writes "the old shopping centre clearly didn’t fit with the image Newham council wanted to project to the world. As the Games approached, the council tried to hide the building behind a particularly egregious piece of public art”.

Westfield Stratford City shopping centre opened in 2011
When I visited, residents in Stratford High Street revealed that they were dishearten with the Olympic legacy. Instead of opportunity and prosperity, the lack of new houses has forced many out of the area and small companies struggle to make business. One market stall owner said that Westfield had forced him to reduce his prices in fear that he would lose customers.

Moreover, there was a promise of new housing following the Olympic games; 31% of which is supposed to be affordable housing. Lots of the construction work is still underway however experts say this 31% figure is extremely optimistic because of large amounts of attention the area is getting from private foreign investors.

Building the Olympic stadium allegedly cost the taxpayer around £537m and a further £272m to convert into a Premier League football stadium. West Ham, the football team who won the bid to play in the stadium, currently only pay rent of £2.5m per annum (with a £15m up-front fee) meaning they would need to be in the stadium for the next 318 years for the public money to be replenished. Some justify this ‘steal’ of a deal by looking at Greece’s Olympic stadium from 2004 which has been abandoned and is sat gathering dust.

As for the future of Stratford, experts predict large growth in the area with the creation of new office space and new housing. However, I suspect that growth is likely to go unnoticed by the current residents who are still suffering from the Olympic and Westfield developments. The mostly unused Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (as it is now called) appears to be the consequence of incompetent legacy planning by the organisers of London 2012 and now it is the local working class people and small business owners who are paying the price.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Donald Trump probably won the second presidential debate

The second Presidential debate between the Republican candidate Donald Trump and the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton took place on 9th October 2016. The two candidates didn’t stray far from their tried and tested styles: Trump with his simplistic answers shadowed by his aggressive passion, and Clinton with her calm technique and reserved responses which sound overly-rehearsed. The debate covered a wide range of issues varying from healthcare to foreign policy but answers from both candidates were frequently unfocused. As for the ‘winner’ of the debate, that depends on what your definition of winning is.

If the criteria for winning the debate is making the most evidence-backed, compelling arguments to deal with the questions, then Clinton won hands down. She kept her cool throughout the debate, even when put under pressure by Trump. However, if the definition of winning the debate is persuading undecided voters to vote for you, then I suspect that Trump won. Here’s why:

Often, when Trump was regurgitating his nonsensical rhetoric, Clinton would smile - probably highly amused by how easy Trump was making it for her. However, for Americans who are not politically educated and don’t fact check, Clinton’s grins could be perceived as her not taking the issues seriously or making light of them.

Clinton’s smiles were biggest when Trump came out with statements which she knew were lies and, when she got a chance to speak, Clinton would encourage viewers to visit her website to ‘fact-check’ Trump and find out the truth. However, it is becoming more and more evident that we live in a post-fact world and even the most politically uneducated among us know that candidate’s websites are not the ideal source for correct information. Clinton gives off a shifty impression to many and Trump has dubbed her ‘crooked Hilary’ numerous times so when Trump presents his false version of reality and Clinton just refers to her website, it is not a suffice response. Clinton's inability to outright deny lies individual lies with evidence proving it makes her look guilty. Ultimately, I think in those situations, it means Trump has come out on top.

TRUMP: So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it, because you know what? People have been — their lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. 
CLINTON: In the first debate... I told people that it would be impossible to be fact-checking Donald all the time. I’d never get to talk about anything I want to do and how we’re going to really make lives better for people. 
So, once again, go to We have literally Trump — you can fact check him in real time. Last time at the first debate, we had millions of people fact checking, so I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking, because, you know, it is — it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country. 
TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

It is clear from social media that many Trump supporters are highly suspicious of the media and think that there is an anti-Trump media conspiracy. During the debate there were a number of occasions when Trump argued that Clinton had spoken for too long or that Clinton was allowed to respond but he wasn’t. For those sceptical of the media, this only throws fuel on the fire.

One of the notable examples of this is when Trump brings up the issue of Clinton’s private email server to deflect from the questions he had regarding inflammatory comments he made about women. The issue of Clinton’s emails was talked about excessively at the last debate, has had days’ worth of airtime over the past year, and thousands of articles can be found about the ‘scandal’ online. Nevertheless, Trump was infuriated by the chairs of the debate when they pushed for him to address the question given to him rather than diverge back on to the issue of Clinton’s email. I think many who don’t read the news as much as they should might perceive this as the media attempting to protect Clinton and attack Trump. In reality, the subject of Clinton’s emails has just been exhausted. Regardless, the chairs snubbing of the issue that Trump raised will work in his favour as it made Trump look like the victim being ignored by the biased pro-Clinton media.  

Despite criticism following the first debate for interrupting Clinton, Trump still did it a total of 15 times (whereas Clinton only did it five times). I think many undecided voters will not see this as a negative, rather as Trump simply wanting his views to be heard - and isn’t that what America wants when they’re doing dealings on the world stage? Clinton’s passive method of waiting her turn, although customary, respectful, and polite, could be perceived as her lacking passion. Some might think, if she disagrees so profoundly with Trump, why wouldn’t she try and stop him in his tracks?

Finally, Trump frequently ignored the question and instead attacked Clinton. The attacks were so frequent and on such a breadth of subjects, it made Clinton look like a dangerously flawed candidate. If you don’t focus on the discourse of the debate, you forget there was a question and instead are just left with the two candidates trying to get one-up.

In conclusion, it is a matter of political education and knowledge. If undecided voters don’t digest news (possibly because they don’t trust it), I think Donald Trump will have emerged from this debate appearing to be the strongest candidate: ruthless, straight-talking, and passionate. For Americans who are more politically educated though, and do consume news regularly, they will be able to see through Trump’s blatant dismissal of important issues, his oversimplified rhetoric, and be extremely concerned about the prospect of him becoming present. With election day in only 4 weeks, we will soon know what significance, if any, the debates had and who in fact won.

Debate Transcript: