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Facebook – inspired by Sting?

The stalker-ish nature of Facebook is nicely sent up by this cartoon:

Zuckerberg is watching you

See the rest of it at AllThingsD.

Who woulda thunk it – political conferences are fun

I joined a political party last year with some trepidation. This is only right and proper – growing up in a culture of cynicism and disengagement, it’s easy to be suspicious of the entire political process and it’s inhabitants.

However joining the Lib Dems has proven to be an extremely positive thing for me. The Birmingham conference is nicely rounding out my first year (and a bit). I’ve delivered two short speeches supporting things I care about, both being accepted by the conference. The feeling of acceptance warms my cold heart.

The funny thing is how, having spoken, people start asking what your intentions are. It’s meant in a positive sense, of course. I still feel like I’ve been caught leering at somebody’s daughter :)

Anyway, I’ve learnt about any number of things to do after conference, from rolling out software for the party, to participating in neighbourhood planning, to helping the refugee situation. I think my intention is just get on with doing it all with all these wonderful people I keep meeting.

Being a night owl, it’s not often I’m cheerily eating my breakfast this time of the morning. Something about this conference seems to be agreeing with me :)

Will Facebook decline just like Yahoo! ?

So asks Mike Elgan in an excellent article at, an IT trade publication.

I do wonder about Facebook’s long term future. I can see how it will have a long-lasting revenue stream, but a healthy and growing one? What do they really offer?

I know some people go for the games such as FarmVille,  but as far as I’m aware most people are like me – we use it because it is free, and our friends use it. None of that suggests we’re willing to pay money for the privilege of talking to our friends. I won’t be the only one who ignores any and all adverts when I’m doing a spot of cyber-socialising, either.

Social networking is really no more than a more sophisticated form of email. Most everybody pays for an email service which is accessible through a web interface, effectively joining a massively distributed system (a.k.a. the internet). Distributed systems are a more natural fit for social than the massive centralisation of Facebook and Google+. Eventually we can expect that fast, reliable protocols for social networking will be built into the average broadband offering.

This is not new thinking – check out Diaspora. It’s already happening, and there are other related open source projects. These will get baked into mail servers, or some new standard will evolve in the cloud. There may be little need for massive Facebook data centres in  the future. Read more

Conference Ahoy!

Lib Dem logo

It’s my first full strength, week long autumn political conference, where I shall be amongst my fellow Liberal Democrats, free to talk politics without fear of bring the conversation to a grinding halt.

I’m looking forward to it. The anticipation has already had me blogging fairly extensively as I try to internalise all the thoughts I’ve had since I joined just over a year ago. It’s a slippery slope, it seems, from suspicion of politics to addiction. Lean into the curves and make a splash, I say!

Curries and lunches and video shoots have been arranged. Efforts to improve the NHS reforms will be supported. I’m even lined up to speak in favour of an amendment or two.

The earth will not be shattered. But a little bit of world changing will be going on; it’s good to be a part of it.

Sorry, friends

I approve of lifting the restrictions on pubs playing live music. Live music is an important part of both our culture and economy.

On the other hand, I am grateful for every friend of mine who, after coming to see me play, has never made me face up to the awful truth.

When intellectual property rights go bad

Seeing as I’m speaking (briefly) in favour of intellectual property rights next week, I’m pleased to see Bob Stanley’s excellent article in The Guardian that helps balance the argument. I support IP, but I also support its reform. The recent EU copyright extensions were unfortunate.

Copyright should serve as a temporary incentive for any given work of art. When it serves as a permanent restriction or corporate lockdown, it then becomes an obstacle to culture, innovation and growth.

The only artists who really benefit from these extensions are the Paul McCartneys and Cliff Richards, people long past the point of needing the incentive. The letter of the law has become contradictory to its spirit.

Another interesting thing about this article is that it has what might be the best set of comments I’ve ever seen. Look at PristineAudio’s contributions in particular.

Four minutes of peace and simple beauty

OK, that last post was a bit of a rant. To restore balance, this is a lovely animation of a little boat. Treat yourself, watch it full screen and coffee in hand:

Little Boat from nelson boles on Vimeo.

“The National Illness Service”?!

Here’s one Lib Dem politician’s view on the Health and Social Care Bill 2011:

“We need to .. replace the National Illness Service that we currently have”

You can read my many other posts and note that I don’t quickly resort to expletives and such. But that kind of comment deserves a blunt response: [I disagree with you], Mr Kemp, [for being so smug]. No wonder the public doesn’t trust politicians with the NHS.

The UK has an efficient health care system that largely delivers high quality outcomes, considered by the World Health Organisation to superior to such countries as Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Finland, Australia, Denmark and the United States (and FAR more cost efficient than the US). I’m embarrassed to find I’m in a party with a muppet who even thinks to use such a phrase as “the National Illness Service”, let alone write it down and publish it online.

(Note: that WHO survey is quite old, although they do track the individual measures. However, there’s no reason to believe things have changed significantly since 2000, particularly with the heavy investment under Labour in that time. The other countries aren’t perfect, either.) 

Then again, it was no surprise to find Mr Kemp is the Leader of Lib Dems in Local Government. I’m from Glasgow, where Labour’s stronghold on the council (they used to have 94 out of 97 seats before STV) was an excellent introduction to how local government can be just as condescending, closed to public input, and in hock to private or personal interests as central government. A pandering, self-aggrandising statement about how wonderful things will be with “local decisions will be made by locally accountable people based on local priorities and local opportunities” would be par for the course.

(Another note: I do believe in local government, subsidiarity, and so forth. But it’s not a blind faith.)

This is a long, complicated bill affecting a huge, complex organisation. Both the detailed letter of the law and the spirit of the legislators are important. Mr Kemp’s piece is light on detail and utterly lacking in good spirit; it’s depressing to have such pieces being written by a senior party figure.

The outcomes in a major change often come down to the soft factors: the weight given to executive sponsorship, the emphasis on risk management, the clarity of language detailing lines of responsibility. The Bill strikes me as weak on these counts. The Health Secretary is eager to hand off all these issues to a mix of quangos, consortia, local government and community representatives. If the reforms work as currently, it will be as much by luck as by design.

(Yet another note: it is possible, for instance as seen in France, to have a more hands off approach to the health service. However, success would depend on culture, and does anyone honestly believe the Tories are seeking the same culture as found in France? The Bill is transparently written to allow as much taxpayer money as possible to be channeled to the private sector. That doesn’t bode well for long term cost control, which is a fundamental goal of the reforms. Mr Kemp’s piece suggests governance by naïveté. It’s not reassuring.)

This is a bit of an incoherent rant, I know. But seriously, “the National Illness Service”? [How dare you].

Update 27/09/11: I really should hold my temper better, and have edited this article to make it more suitable for pre-watershed viewing. It reads funnier, too.

Johann Hari’s legacy may be to bolster the right wing

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of Johann Hari’s fall from grace is that it serves to undermine the causes he cares about. At least, I hope he cares about them, and isn’t just exploiting them for financial reward.

See that? That’s the problem. Once you read about how he produced his material, and consider how much better off he is than the people he writes for, the doubts creep in. Which part of me resents, because I don’t like agreeing with Toby Young columns in The Telegraph.

In the grand scheme of things, Hari’s lack of basic ethics is easily matched on the other side, so perhaps it all balances out. But here’s the thing. The liberal cause is far more dependent on people rising above their instincts than the conservative one. The virtue of self-reliance clearly and directly benefits the individual; empathy and compassion are not so easily appraised.

Therefore liberals really do have to try that bit harder to make their case. Being equal isn’t enough.

Which by a convoluted path could bring me round to what I don’t like about the Toby Young piece. Toby “How To Lose Friends” Young accusing someone else of galloping careerism?! Takes one to know one, I guess. But it’s still kind of like a man calling an assertive woman a bitch.

Signs of sanity

These are no more than headlines you’d expect to see in a sane world. Which is why it’s nice to see them. From

Record-High 86% Approve of Black-White Marriages

Religion Does Not Color Views About Violence

(OK, 86% is less than 100%, but progress is progress.)