Nonstarters: app-happy gardeners

Worst kickstarter video of the week.

A broad school of thought on Kickstarter, and in the business world at large, holds that the key to making a runaway fortune is to turn everything, everywhere, into apps.

This bandwagoning brings to mind fictional mathematician Ian Malcolm, who quips that Jurassic Park’s reckless geneticists are “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should”.

Of course, he was talking about making a theme park full of reptilian murder titans, but I think the sentiment applies equally well to the modern entrepreneur’s quest to augment every human activity with mobile technology.

In this case, gardening. Smart Gardener Goes Mobile is an app that syncs with a person’s account on garden planning site, allowing them to take their garden plans out into the garden itself.

I’m certainly not criticising the website, which provides an admirable set of resources for clueless optimists with dreams of beetroot husbandry. It’s the “Goes Mobile” part that irritates me.

Are people’s gardens so far from their computers or their minds so atrophied that they need to take a smaller computer outside with them just to remind them of the plan?

Plus, gardening is an intrinsically physical activity. Unless you plan on stirring worm turds with your Samsung, there’s only so far you can garden with an app before you have to pocket your phone and pick up a trowel.

Perhaps, I might suggest gently, if you need your gardening to involve a smartphone in hand, it might just not be the hobby for you.

Furthermore, why a company promoting back-to-the-land ideals should talk about “leveraging custom technology to deliver completely personalized online solutions” is beyond me. This sort of insidious boardroom waft is irritating even in the context of tech startups, but seems totally alien to the world of smallscale horticulture.

Maybe it’s just because watching my tomato plants is one of the few things in my life that doesn’t require a login and password, but I just can’t feel the need for this product. Evidently, the kickstart crowd felt the same.


By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.