The only thing funnier than the bonkers Daily Mail is its equally over-the-top readers. Take a look at this report on how M&S’s £10 Meal Deal – which includes a bottle of plonk – is apparently unwise because it encourages couples to share a bottle of wine a night.

This “British Liver Trust”, whatever that is, is doing itself a disservice – by attacking people who drink a little more than clinically advisable (which is itself sensible given we have to live in Brown’s Britain) it’s ignoring the far bigger problems of cheap booze and girls-drink-free that start the problem in motion among teenagers.

Four or five units a night “unwise” for men? Perhaps – but not by much. And the side benefits of regular drinking – optimism, joie de vivre, the way the world looks better through the bottom of a wine glass when your house is worth less than your mortgage, your taxes go unthanked into countless New Labour schemes, and a raft of services from rubbish collection to road repair now have to be paid for direct from your pocket – make the tiny additional risk to your digestive system worthwhile. In fact, they make living worthwhile.

Besides, most middle-class couples I know would regard the offer as giving them an EXTRA bottle to drink in addition to the one they’ve already got out of the garage…

Did ANYONE actually throw a Windows 7 party?

My word. I’ve only just seen the actual video Microsoft made to promote its “Windows 7 Launch Party” campaign, and I’m utterly flabbergasted at just how excruciatingly awful it is. It’s destined to be a true cult classic, even if the spoof versions are almost as funny.

We have a term for this in the marketing biz: “Adland”. Adland is that strange place agency people go where the reality distortion field around the product is so vast you think people will actually behave as you want them too. Whose idea was it? Who at Redmond actually thought people would think it cool to sit around each others’ kitchens and use Windows 7??!! They’re in Adland.

First off – the over-obvious nods to “diversity”. Yes, white folks, Windows 7 is so cool that black people will enjoy partying with your elderly relatives! And what’s great, too, is that everything’s so “informal“! In fact, the younger woman is so certain of this she uses the word “informal” at least seven times during the video.

But the best part – the most self-consciously, toe-curlingly, mood-strainingly terrible part – is the dialogue and the forced actions of the actors trying to pretend their laughter is a natural occurence.

These lines are actually spoken:

“It’s best to install Windows 7 several days in advance of your party”, with approving nods around the kitchen table.

“Of course, you don’t actually have to do all the party activities to use Windows 7.” – and the astonished gasps when the geeky white guy says he did THREE activities… holding up three fingers to demonstrate his counting ability. Whoa!

And how about that unintentional slip by the older woman:

“Of course, it’s all up to us (correction) you.” As if the embrace-and-engulf strategy had accidentally been put in the script and she corrected herself.

And how about this for data security policy: “It’s best to just leave your computer on and let people mess around with it!” Remember, it’s INFORMAL.

Then near the end:

“Of course, the serious part. Decide what you’re going to do a few days in advance, watch the videos, read the handouts” – oh, this sounds a bit FORMAL!

And the black guy: “It’d help me to remember I’m not a salesman at this party.” Bet he is in real life though; he’s not going to get rich for his acting ability.

Anyway, as they say in the video, “Have fun out there!”

Taking the blows

There’s nothing like having your own punchbag. I’ve just bought a “man-shaped” one, “man-shaped” here having the expanded definition of men with no arms, legs, or head and whose bodies resemble an upturned skittle. (And who are capable of levitation.)

The fundamental skills common to most boxing-derived fighting styles – stances, striking, and keeping your guard up – can be practiced with any weighty object. You can even have a go on a wall if you think you’re ‘ard enough. But the one I’ve just installed in my garage is the best kind for Krav, because it swings around: it’s a moving target.

Set it swinging, and you’ve got something marginally resembling the kind of big drunken bloke you’re most likely to be randomly attacked by, allowing you to practice all the basic blows against its marked targets.

The jab. The uppercut. The roundhouse. The hammer. The sucker. The open fist. The closed fist. You can headbutt it, elbow it, block it with your forearm; this guy just hangs there and takes it.

But because it’s suspended, you can practice kicks too. (My weak point; I’m so inflexible at the moment I can’t form a right angle with my legs.) The forward kick. The back kick. The roundhouse kick. The kick and spin. Even blocks. You can set it spinning and fight around it, a basic Krav technique. You can even go down on the floor, spinning on the small of your back, fighting upwards.

It’s been a long six months of injuring ankle then shoulder; this thing will help me get back to a strength and speed that approach something respectable before I return to Krav class.

There are only two things you can’t practice with it: escaping from locks and holds, and taking on multiple attackers. Wonder if I should install two?

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle

I’m now a third of the way through Neal Stephenson’s grand cycle of Europe (and America too if you include Cryptonomicon as the fourth book after the trilogy) and enjoying it.

I don’t read much fiction these days, sci-fi even more rarely. But Stephenson’s moved on from his Snow Crash and Diamond Age phase of pure sci-fi – and anyway, he always transcended the author (wrongly) credited with kicking off cyberpunk*, William Gibson, in the same way Gibson was eclipsed by Bruce Sterling. Stephenson is roughly the same height above Sterling as Sterling was above Gibson.

For Gibson was, ultimately, a bullshitter. Brilliant with language, fantastic with storytelling (his short stories, written when he was a young man in his 30s, remain terrific twenty years later) but he was making stuff up: knock it, and it didn’t sound solid. Gibson never used the Internet, had no mathematical smarts or engineering training. His work, while poetic and artistic, never had technological rigour. You could feel the electrodes on your forehead, smell the ozone burning off the batteries, but you’d never learn how any of it worked.

Stephenson, by contrast, is a true Geek. An expert Linux user before it was cool, you can finish a Stephenson feeling confident that, if sucked through a wormhole to WWII-era Philippines or the court of Louis XIV, you’d actually know what to do and how to behave. Anyone who publishes an entire book about booting up a Unix desktop (OK, so it was a Wired article first) knows a thing or two about technology.

Stephenson’s got faults – as he slyly admits, calling his eight-book sequence “The Baroque Cycle”. This is not minimalist writing. Vast chapters are devoted to exchanges of letters, diarist musings, extended descriptions of places and people, while nothing much happens as narrative: this is literature for the pleasure of reading, rather than the excitement of storytelling. You’re not experiencing a narrative, you’re experiencing a world. It’s less reading a novel, more playing Second Life.

But that world he creates – by meandering around in a vast forest of verbiage, never quite getting to the point – is absorbing. You don’t just smell the shit in 17-century London streets; it flies off the page and hits you in the eye. Unexpected outcomes, like a heroic figure spending years as a galley slave, happen with regularity, constantly keeping you off guard; events you thought had happened turn out to have been cyphers for the events that really happened. And so on. In short, it’s a lot like real life.

The fourth book, Cryptonomicon, was published years before the trilogy (and I read it around ’99 I think) but Stephenson keeps the nods to the future non-obvious most of the time, maintaining a distinct non-McGuffin-ness that most Hollywood producers could learn from. There is a lack of depth to characters, their personae being defined by their circumstances of birth and world events they get caught up in, rather than innate characteristics. But perhaps that’s how it really happens. Most great events happen to other people. Few Englishmen even noticed the French annexation of Britain, or the Norsemen some centuries prior, or … in the same way, the Great Fire of London and the Revolution of 1688 are presented as canvas, not oils. London, after all, was then just a sizeable village; there was nothing in Britain to match Venice, or even Madrid, still less Versailles.

And Stephenson makes it real. I think I’ll plunge into Book II (Confusion), but I warn you Neal: I expect a bit more narrative this time, or I won’t make it to System of the World.

* Gibson the founder of cyberpunk? Yeah? Ever readJohn Brunner’s “Shockwave Rider”? That was where it started.

Whatever you do, don’t feed starving Africans

Excellent article on why giving food aid to Africa simply distorts the incentives that’d let them help themselves. It’s rare today to see journalists actually saying the difficult things – thanks to Britain’s newfound culture of yob speak and mob rule – but perhaps this represents a turning point.

Spirit of ’79

It’s deja vu all over again! I can’t help but feel heartened by the tsunami of strike action about to hit the UK. Because just like the Winter of Discontent of my childhood, a Labour government – nominally Socialist and in support of a unionised workforce – is getting the crap kicked out of it by unions. Strikes, strikes, ballots, and more strikes, every place you look.

And once again – as if anyone seriously needed further proof – the myth of New Labour, and the lies of Socialism in general, are in steaming bloody chunks on the beaches. Strike, you trumped-up over-indulged public sector posturers, and together let’s make Brown’s defeat next year a truly crushing one.

Police State Britain: cops tool up

Hmmm. Armed police patrols in London’s residential areas are to become routine, for the first time. And the unit concerned apparently didn’t feel this was the sort of thing it should have told its chief (or the mayor) about.

It’s driven by a “rise in gun crime”. But this isn’t about gun crime; it’s about drug crime, drug dealers killing each other, not threatening the mainstream population. These guys aren’t getting into gun battles with the cops, or waving guns around on the High St.

And if you are in a gun battle with innocent bystanders around, what the hell use is a bloody spray’n’pray submachine gun?

So tooling up for routine patrols is just yet another example of the Met – one of Britain’s poorest-performing police forces – thinking uncritically. The force, using New Labour’s culture of dependency and authoritarianism as its excuse, is truly out of control.

Being a moderate Muslim must be really hard

I was sitting on my rooftop in the early hours thinking just how hard it must be to be a moderate male Muslim in Britain today.

Strange to be thinking this. (And a strange place to be thinking it in, but that’s just me.) Atheists like me resent religionistas in general, with some justification. Let’s face it, their cries for “equality” usually translate as “give me special treatment”. Every week brings a fresh parable of some random book-basher’s indignant posturing that she should be allowed to violate well-trodden statutes because some particular imaginary friend demands it. And I’m sick and tired of pandering to their endless whining. Religionistas, we’re all just folks. You. Are. Not. Special.

But I’ve travelled a bit in the Muslim world. Spent hours gazing at beautiful friezes, smiling at friendly faces and well-disciplined children. (The food’s terrific too.) And felt totally safe, even at dusk in neighbourhoods wracked by poverty and pain. (I couldn’t say the same in the chavster estates of London or Manchester.) “Real” Islam is a tolerant and rewarding way of life, and if people choose to believe in ancient stories to soothe the pain of real life, then I’ve no reason to stop them.

However, if your community – your family, your mentors, your whole life – is a pinched-off bubble separated culturally and geographically from the British mainstream, being moderate is difficult… because radicalism is a constant bubbling undercurrent among your peers, driven by the usual factors of poverty, education, limited opportunities and frustrated ambitions.

Most British Muslims crowd into the lowest-income 25% of the population. Rates of employment for women are dismal, as are rates of pay. 80% of Imams (the robed guys who conduct the sermons in mosques) are from outside the UK; most speak no English and have no intention of learning. Every Friday is a hours-long diatribe about the wrongness of Western ways and the superiority of a prophet’s ancient blog. (It’s a cracking piece of literature, admittedly.)

Consequently, any practicing Muslim who just wants to live-and-let-live as a UK citizen is caught up in an undertow of insinuation, intimidation, and outright threats for being “un-Islamic”. It’s there in aggressive looks whenever you visit the Mosque. It’s there in the street from groups of bearded young men with nothing better to do, in the fearful glances from shopkeepers under pressure to shun you.

This attack stance is straight out of the Karl Rove Operations Manual: hit your opponent where he should be strongest, so he spends his energy defending where he shouldn’t have to. For British Islamism, that chapter runs: We are better Muslims than you. There is a correct way to sit, a correct position to sleep in, a correct way to drink a glass of water. (These are actual examples related to me by a moderate Muslim.) All spoken with an undertone of menace: if you don’t do it this way, you’re not a proper Muslim. “This way”, of course, meaning “Our way.”

It’s a clever strategy, because you can do a great deal with relatively few resources. All you need is a few angry young men with a grudge, a charismatic preacher or two who’ll become a major part of their lives, and you’ve got the small platform from which you can exert leverage. Even if – as with Islamism – what you teach them deviates from the script big-time. (The Koran, beyond argument and in all circumstances, absolutely forbids suicide, for fuck’s sake.)

But for a lot of young men with the wrong type of education (many Muslim kids go straight to the madrassa after school) and not much hope of a decent job, that undercurrent – you can “right” these “wrongs” – is very powerful. Most young men will find it attractive. The feeble-minded ones will sink into its maw. A few – the angry ones – end up doing something silly. And the key factor – that it’s easier to pander to the extremists than fight them – gets stronger.

One well-known French school, known for its tolerance, had hundreds of students from various ethnicities happily practicing Islam at home. Yet it took just fifteen fundamentalist families, using their daughters as proxies to force other young women into headscarves and burqas, to practically shut the place down. Now of course its headteacher is being accused of ‘intolerance’ for banning such behaviour.

One recent UK story was celebrated as a victory of community engagement: an Imam, worried about the activities of a young male mosquegoer, had called in the police, who’d found bombmaking evidence. Great, said the press. But the extremist turns out to have been… a Western convert to Islam without extended family in the mosque. Puts a different slant on the story, doesn’t it?

There are stories of how recent immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan are shocked, shocked at how fundamentalist their British-born cousins can be.

This is how these people work. Take advantage of tolerance, show no tolerance yourself, and raise a hullabooloo if anyone tries to stop you.

These young people live in Britain and are expected to abide by British rules, yet they’re unequipped for doing so. Cloistered and corralled into a social scene that involves few people outside the family and mosque, they’ve got little stake in the nation that surrounds their ethnic ghettoes. And why should they follow the rules, when those rules seem so distant and irrelevant to their everyday lives?

And those are just the problems a moderate Muslim faces within his own community. Outside, the pressures forcing you back in are even stronger.

Just try being a spokesman for moderate Islam. The British public tends to conflate “Islamism” (a political philosophy) with Islam (a religious way of life). So if you dare to be a spokesman for moderate (i.e. real) Islam, the Daily Mail will villify you as an appeaser and your cobelievers will shun you as an apologist. By speaking up you’ve basically painted a big circular target on your chest.

And yet, despite the pressures, a fair few manage it, and are capable of living their lives as “real” Muslims: kind and gentle with a live-and-let-live attitude. The same attitude, perhaps, that let Salah-al-Din allow Jerusalem residents safe passage back to Europe, when those same residents had left the Muslim population in small bloody chunks just a few years before.

But such moderation is in real danger from the enemies within, and I see no way of stopping them.

Hmmm, lousy 3G internet access today. And furthermore I know the reason.

Google Maps on my phone can show me my location even without GPS, by triangulating between nearby mobile masts. Previously it’s put me a few streets away: not bad, within half a km or so. But last night, I noticed it put me several klicks downriver – and the position kept changing, flickering between two sets triangulated co-ordinates a number of postal districts apart.

What this means is that whatever mobile mast used to be closest to my house has been out of commission – either under repair, or taken away altogether. Which is kicking my mobile access down to GPRS speeds; the web feels like the mid-nineties. If it’s the latter, I need a new phone provider.

With free texts for life I’d SAVE LESS THAN £5 A MONTH, so stop making such a big deal out of it

It’s not getting worse, it’s just not getting any better. I’ve just seen the latest ad in a mobile phone company’s excruciating attempts to be down with the kids.

“I’d text everyone I’ve ever met and throw a big party”? What the FUCK? “People I didn’t like enough to even spend the 5p or so on a text message before are going to come to a party thrown by me because I’m so fucking special“.

Like the “Superbands” one before it, it’s painful to read: a demographic-obsessed marketing department executive (I’d bet money this is client, not agency) ends up sounding like a parody of the self-obsessed teenager she imagines her audience to be. And once again, an ad ends up sounding quite mind-numbingly awful. At least the choice of media is appropriate, although ideally this ad would be pasted on the inside.

It takes nine of us: the (lack of) value of a public servant

My three Big Problems with New Labour’s Britain – its nannynagging Police State, its increase in red tape, and public sector bloat – became even sharper when I ran a few numbers about just how under-delivering our public sector is.

For centuries, we who create wealth (business and taxpayers) had a deal with civil servants: work diligently for a living wage, and we’ll forget about your immense job security and gold-plated pension arrangements. New Labour broke that agreement: Britain’s public servants are now among the world’s best-paid – now earning more than an equivalent private sector role.

(Some senior civil servants are on record as thinking they should be paid as much as a FTSE-100 CEO, simply because the same number of people work for them.)

At income parity, that means it takes three private sector workers to support one public sector worker. (There are about 20m private sector workers in the UK and over six million public sector workers, an 800K increase under Blair and Brown.)

So far, just about sustainable – over three privates for one public. But let’s think about this for a second.

All of the civil servants get paid directly from the public purse – i.e. from the taxes of others. Meaning they contribute nothing to the Exchequer at all. So the ‘employers contribution’ of NI taxes, for public servants, means nothing – it’s just making these people 11% more expensive. So a public servant has to be 11% more productive just to justify his job.

But there’s more. Public servants enjoy final-salary pensions – something very rare in the private sector. (And even where they exist, they’re subject to risks, like the providing company going bankrupt, that don’t exist in the public sector.) So a public sector pension, even compared to a final salary private one, is massively more advantageous – a discount factor of zero.

Now, a man retiring today spends on average a decade in retirement, and often much more. With a final salary pension, say a third of his total lifetime costs are taken up by his pension. But public sector pensions can often be passed on to spouses – and women marry younger and live longer, about 7-9 years’ difference on average. So overall his lifetime costs will be about twice as high as a private sector worker, who have to contribute to (and live within) their own pensions.

But wait. Public sector workers retire younger – often very much younger. (Why? Because they can.) 55 is common; 50 is not rare. And for certain sectors – like policemen – it’s normal to then take second jobs, again in the public sector, without forgoing the pension from the first. That effect is small but significant – let’s say 10%. A public servant now has to be 2.1 times as effective as a private sector worker to be worth the money. (Unrealistic to say the least.)

However, we’ve not yet dialed in the difference in salary it’d take to bring private sector pensions up to high public sector standards. A reasonably senior civil servant – say, someone equivalent to me but in the public sector, perhaps leading a small team and handling a local departmental budget by his late 30s or early 40s – gets a rock-solid, gilt-edged final salary pension equivalent to a pot of over £1m on the day he retires.

To get the same, I have to contribute approximately £3000 a month to much riskier private schemes from age 30 or so to have a reasonable chance of the same outcome – not far off having to earn another salary on top of my own.

To normalise this data, we’ve got to increase the civil servant’s costs again, to about 2.9 or so. A public sector worker has to be almost three times as productive as a private sector worker to add equivalent value.

On top of this we’ve got to apply a discount factor, because of the increased risk a market-based pension carries. (Bad times are not balanced out by good times in the world of corporate pensions – companies prefer to take ‘contribution holidays’ when the funds are growing strongly, without the necessity of catching up when growth slows.) Let’s say 15% or so discounted to the present day. Not far off a quarter million pounds, so we have to add that quarter mil to the public servant’s costs to be consistent. Another 10% or so on total lifetime costs. 3x.

So in Britain today, a public servant costs three times as much as a private sector one.

With taxes at a third of income, that means it takes nine private sector workers to employ just one in public sector.

And in Britain today there are a lot of public servants.

(All this, of course, is without mentioning the source of those funds. In the private sector, workers are paid from profits made; public servants are paid directly from state coffers and make no contribution in tax themselves. They’re wealth consumers, not wealth creators.)


Look in the dictionary under “unsustainable” and there’s a photo of Gordon Brown.

The twist in healthcare marketing

At first glance, healthcare marketing contains a conundrum: you’re marketing a dream of perfect health, yet you don’t want your customers to have it.

After all, doctors and hospitals make money by seeing patients, conducting diagnoses, and performing treatments. Healthy people don’t spend much time in hospitals. Healthy people are unprofitable people.

Based on this premise, healthcare marketing should be all about the fun things in life. Your local hospital would run campaigns exhorting the thrills of dangerous driving and how great it is to end your day with a dose of the dragon and a borrowed needle. (That’s your orthopaedics and liver disease clinics filled right there.)

You’d have surgeries hosting the All-Britain Binge Drinking Championships and offering free rotgut to all comers. Hospitals would have unfussy street prostitutes on standby for whenever the STD clinics looked a bit barren. Savvy young marketers would ‘accidentally’ ensure well-off residential streets were well strewn with broken glass and strange chemicals.

And the greatest campaign of all would involve a containerload of sharp rusty objects, a spraycan of Ebola, and a crowded High Street.

Hey, it’s ultimately no different to bars offering free nuts. To keep ‘em consuming, you’ve got to keep ‘em thirsty.

However, there’s a flaw in the above, related to second-order effects: the healthiest people are also the most likely to go in for the treatments with the highest profit margin.

The ideal patients at the small private hospitals that insurers use are affluent ABC1s who visit their doctors regularly, squeeze their soft parts anxiously for signs of lumps, research every tabloid health finding on the web, and don’t stay out in the sun too long. They’ll detox for a week after every night out and have every funny mole excised.

These people will be up for any treatment a doctor recommends, whether it’s vital, useful, or merely precautionary, as long as they know about it.

Owning this demographic is basically a license to stick a vacuum pump in their pockets and suck until all you get is lint.

So the real goal of healthcare marketing is, conversely, to keep people neither well nor unwell, but better-informed.

A marketing programme that put together the right triumvarate of information – medical research, statistical demographic analysis, and trends over time – might pick up ten million customers in its first five years, because it’d be free. Call it “The Hundred-Year Plan” for living a long and healthy life, little treatments and surgical procedures every year or two instead of a couple of big ones whammoing into your calendar and changing the course of your life.

Maybe it’d be a CRM programme, based on some concept like “The Ideal Man” and showing you quarterly how close you are to the ideal. It’d be informed by data like the average mortality rate and disease profile for people of your social background in your geographic area. Your life would become a game of getting close to the ideal. Healthcare would be seen as a lifestyle, not an intervention.

You could even tie things up with a major supermarket chain. A line of fresh veg and fruity Ready Meals made fresh that day, maybe with extra vitamins and minerals mixed in instead of sauces and salt sachets, selling consistently because the supermarket knows exactly how many people will buy them.

Your phone pings one Monday. “It’s 8am. Shove a slice of watermelon up your ass for ten minutes. This will reduce your chances of rectal whateveritis by 50% (click here for statistics). Next reminder: 4 weeks. To book a consultation on rectal whateveritis for just £150, click here.”

And: “Click here to buy a watermelon.

I can’t see a single insurer playing this game effectively. (I mean the game of turning healthcare into a managed relationship, not the game of shoving melons up your ass – fun as that might be to some.) And very few hospital chains.

Market health in the right way, and you end up with the most profitable customers of all: the “worried well” who are keen to maintain health and who are most likely to seek genuine information and preventive/elective treatments at their hospitals. Preventive/elective surgery is the most profitable, and insurers are happy to pay for it, since such work makes their customers less in need of major (unprofitable) treatments later.

Seen in this way, healthcare marketing’s about the best form of marketing you can do: genuinely trying to do the right thing for your customers. Hmmm, I wonder who’s going to do it?

Aaargh! They’re going to lose us the election!

Stop, Conservative Conference attendees, you’re getting it all wrong!!!

The speeches yesterday were truly aaarghworthy.

1. New jobs not attracting National Insurance costs. First, what exactly is a ‘newly created job?’ One that becomes empty and you have to fill, or a new job role? This will be ‘gamed’ by companies renaming empty roles to take advantage of the NI cut. And of course this whole thing creates additional complexity and administration costs across the board. AAAAARGH.

2. Tearing up the Human Rights Act. It’s far from perfect, but it’s far too late for a ‘British Bill of Rights'; life’s a lot more complex these days and it doesn’t allow simple constitutions or declarations any more. (A flaw of democracy.) And this’d give more mettle to the Tory anti-Europe, who are going to be Cameron’s biggest problem anyway. AAAARGHH.

3. Getting tough on benefits. This absolutely needs to be done, but not DURING THE PARTY CONFERENCE, idiots! I mean, the weak and the workshy are PRECISELY the group mostly strongly attached to Labour; if only a small percentage of them swing at the election, we’ve won. Everyone knows the public finances are going to be savagely trammelled due to a decade of New Labour profligacy. But don’t fucking talk about it on stage! DOUBLE AAAARGHHH.

Or is this a tactic? – fed up with a century of cleaning up Labour messes when in government, have the Tories just given up?

Hand squidgers: a worthwhile investment

Probably the best £7.95 I’ve spent this summer has been on a hand squidger* from my local Decathlon.

It’s a spring-loaded grip thing that you squeeze with one hand, to strengthen your grip and exercise fingers. I’ve got it set on 30kg and do 3 sets of 11 with each hand on the way to work. After four months of injury-enforced lack of exercise – during which I softened into a bulging fleshy sack of butter, a shadow of my former self – this one little exercise alone has brought a perceptible increase in hand strength and a noticeable definition to the arms, in just a month of doing a daily five minutes. Awesome.

* Yeah, I know there’s another word for it. But they should call it a hand squidger.

Mechanical evolution

I lost my old Leatherman Wave years back, and recently found it again in the box of nuts and nails and strangely-shaped flange brackets that lurks in the garage of every household. In the meantime I’d re-equipped with a new Charge. And it’s interesting to see how a decade of listening to customers has evolved the Oregon company’s designs.

Looking at the Wave first. It was the first multitool to use outside-edge blades that folded out on the opposite side to the pliers; at the time this was exotic, but it’s now become standard across many Leatherman tools and a fair few other brands. It worked for customers, so they rolled it out. But the original Wave had an issue: all those hinges made it flex too much when using the pliers, so the hinge end on my new Charge is much beefier. All four main blades are slightly wider, longer, and more strongly anchored in the frame, too.

Locking the four big blades in place while open was a useful part of the Wave; on the Charge, they’ve applied this to pretty much everything, with all the bits and pieces needing a solid click or press to fold them back in. The blades have evolved in subtle ways, too: there’s a hook on the bonesaw and the smooth edge has a much bigger nailnick for one-handed opening. Little useful bits that make it better.

The scissors – probably the most common tool I use: I travel with this thing a lot – are stronger on the Charge; perhaps other people use them a lot, too.

The big innovation has been in screwdrivers. Instead of five separate screwdriver tips on the Wave, the Charge has two drillbit-style slots into which a range of bits can be inserted – and you can close the tool with bits in place, so you can always carry around a basic foursome of eyeglass tools, crosshead and flathead. (There’s a box of bits available.)

Lastly, the silly little lanyard (a ‘blade’ that’s a small metal loop for attaching the Wave to stuff) has been dumped, and a gap on the frame used for connecting a separate, larger ring. This is more useful, because I can keep that ring hooked to my keyring all the time, and just connect the tool to the ring when travelling so I’ve got a single bunch of ‘metal stuff’ to stow away from laptops and phone. Sensible and functional.

Of course, my only complaint about Leatherman persists: no corkscrew. But I can live without being able to open corked bottles, as long as it’s not for too many days.