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Posts from the ‘Technology’ Category

The CCDP: the many ways in which it is mistaken

When I heard fellow Reading Lib Dem Jenny Woods was making a trip into Gt George Street to talk about the Communications Capability Development Programme PR snafu, I used my morning commute to send a few suggestions her way. It had been bothering me that the reaction to the leak over the weekend was strong, but perhaps not precise enough on the substance to make a full case against the CCDP proposals. She said it was useful (hopefully not just to soothe my ego).

So with a bit of tweaking for readability in my afternoon coffee break, here’s the email in all its sleep deprived glory:

First of all, let’s come right out and say that the messaging makes us look stupid, and leaves us open to all sorts of criticism. Whoever is advising Lynne Featherstone has just taken a huge whack out of her credibility; her email reads like the run-of-the-mill political parrot speak of an MP repeating lines fed to them by a dissembling back office advisor.

Second, I’d point out what a disservice they are doing to their loyal supporters. Stephen Tall’s post perfectly illustrates what was making me uncomfortable yesterday. Because the first wave of protest was mostly emotional and instinctive, it is far too easy to respond to it by saying, “I’m not going to get emotional, I’m going to stay rational – so here’s a nicely written rationalisation of the policy being handed to me”. By feeding loyal Lib Dems bad lines, they’re really just making it easy for good activists to dig themselves a hole.

(Edit: OK, I’m grumpy first thing in the morning. A bit harsh on Stephen there. But the whole “being rational” thing often annoys me; anger and rationality are not always mutually exclusive.)

With regards to the substance of the matter at hand, three points spring to mind that I’m not sure are being talked about:

1. Law is about principles, not technical implementation

2. INFORMATION Technology vs. Information TECHNOLOGY

3. Culture and confidence Read more

Misogynist Technologist

Next week, I dive back in to the world of Information Technology. It’s a great job I’ve got, and anyone who has seen me bouncing around recently knows I’m very happy about it all. One thing that I’m not particularly looking forward to, though, is the casual and unthinking misogyny that abounds in the tech sector. It is waaay too prevalent for a field that should rely on brain power rather than testosterone. Usually I think it’s not really that bad, and maybe it’s no worse than exists elsewhere. Sometimes though it really leaps out at me.

Here’s a good example, from a CIO.com article on 12 Types of Cell Phones Users That Drive Us Nuts:

Cell Phone Rhoda comes in all shapes and sizes, but more often than not, she’ll be larger than you are.

A “Cell Phone Rhoda” is a woman who has “people to talk to—even if she’s got nothing to say.” Can’t say I’ve ever associated that personality type with a gender, let alone any particular size thereof. It’s the only annoying type where the author thinks to mention physical attributes. So what’s the bet that the reason he hasn’t noticed the smaller Cell Phone Rhodas and Rodneys is because if it’s a petite or attractive woman, then their presence  just doesn’t bother him so much?

The implication is that the larger the woman, the more annoying and less interesting. Men who are loud and boring? Just doesn’t happen, it would seem. Cute little women with bad phone habits? They’re not so bad, because hey, at least we get to look at them! And they don’t take up too much room, either.

I do seem to work in fields where too many experts in the tools of the trade indulge in run-of-the-mill sexism. Once upon a time I sold musical instruments. My shop didn’t have what you’re about to see, but it wasn’t unusual to hear teenage girls express their frustration at being first pointed at this kind of thing:

(note: artists do fine things ranging from genuinely cute through faux naiveté to subversive juxtaposition to just having fun with kitsch. Women really can have a lot of fun with all that; when I was younger it could be quite intimidating to have a woman obviously daring you to compliment her on something blatantly cute or sexy. But even if she does actually want a Daisy Rock guitar, there’s almost no chance whatsoever that same teenage girl entering a guitar shop wants the men inside to assume that. And yes, more often than not it’ll be men. Incidentally – kudos to Paula of Strung Out Guitars, who I once worked alongside, and who likes spiky guitars played LOUD and FAST.)

The author does point out that his list of annoying mobile phone types is mainly male, so it’s not as if he doesn’t like women. It just that it doesn’t occur to him that women also find jobs in the City and develop an attachment to their Blackberries.

So good for you, ladies, for your superior ability to be less annoying (we’ll call it being “demure”, for brevity’s sake). Especially the slim ones who don’t bother us all so much.

Will Facebook decline just like Yahoo! ?

So asks Mike Elgan in an excellent article at Datamation.com, 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

Don’t mind me, just checking the Twitter plugin

Why is it documentation always leaves out the important bits? All I wanted to know was whether the plug-in sends the tweet about the post at the time I write it, or the time I schedule it for publication.

Every once in a while, spam sounds almost human

If information were soccer, this would be a goooaool!

As with every blog, my spam filter catches a lot of nonsense. But I’ve rescued a few genuine comments in the past, so I wade through it occasionally. Very rarely, some spam reads as if somebody did actually write it. I’m quite fond of the spam quoted above for some reason. I think it’s because I can hear it. The idea of a post worthy of exuberant live commentary is surely the blogger’s dream.

Paper’s evolutionary leap

Ever since I installed a simple word processor called WriteRoom on my laptop, I’ve been a huge fan of full screen interfaces. That was WriteRoom’s sole selling point – it took up the whole screen, getting rid of all distractions. There are situations where I want several windows or panels at once – writing software, for instance. Editing photos and composing music. But when it comes to reading and writing, I like to focus on nothing but the words.

Here’s my interface for writing blog posts:

Read more

Extremely sincere flattery

China’s ability to get things done when they’re ripping off somebody else’s work is quite impressive. They’re almost as good as the Huffington Post.

Here’s an excellent blog post – great photos – on a knock-off store in an obscure Chinese town by a Bird Abroad. The interesting detail is that the staff have no idea who they’re really working for.

Reasons to join Google+

I’ll be playing around with Google+ over the next few days. I doubt its primary appeal can be summed up any better than xkcd’s take:

On becoming a twat

As a techie, I signed up for Twitter when it first came out. Couldn’t be bothered with it, though. It was only after I’d settled into a blogging habit that my ego was sufficiently engaged with the idea, I guess.

Having been using it for just a week, however, my view is transformed. When you’re staring at a computer screen all day, having a ticker tape of comments and links in the corner of the screen is fantastic for tea breaks.

I particularly liked the tweet from BBC Politics that a debate of interest to me (the suspension of David Laws) was being webcast live. I was able to tune in for a few minutes and get a feel for the substance of the debate, and it really is quite different to what gets reported.

Maybe that’s the partisan in me talking. Still, a great way to keep on top of current affairs. It’s less time consuming than my old method of reading multiple columns to get a balanced view – this way I get quickly to the source and arrive at my own, personal unbalanced view much faster.

So there you go. I’m on my way on becoming a Twitter twat.

Screw the artists

I know the tech sector loves Google, automated curation, and algorithm-driven content aggregation. But essentially, the message to artists is: screw you. This is said in rather more appealing terms, of course. Witness Google’s launch of its music service:

We are open to discussion, as long as those discussions are aimed at creating a product and service for end-users that is on a sustainable set of business terms which represents a good value for users

- Jamie Rosenberg, director of digital content for Android

My uncharitable translation would be this: Our business is the automated aggregation of huge volumes of small advertising fees. So screw you, artists. We need your content for peanuts, because the creative process is too inefficient for our highly optimised, number crunching machine. With a market cap of only $178bn, Larry feels a bit tight for cash. We need to make every cent we can.

There’s a lot of people caught up in the excitement of the internet and fighting the big bad record labels. I don’t think they realise that the new business models they are infatuated with reduce artists to merchandisers and advertising agencies. They will be valued not by the quality and effort of their composition, but by their ability to sell T-shirts, hot dogs and sugary drinks.

A lot of young artists without financial commitments think the idea of free music and online exposure is great. A young audience tells itself that it’s all OK. Artists can make money from live performance, so recorded music should be just marketing material. Meanwhile, anyone that aspires to a normal life and family will give up. A profession where simply being talented and creative and hard-working isn’t enough holds no future for them.

The likes of the Open Rights Group will slice and dice industry data to prove to you that despite the wailing of big corporations about piracy, the music business is doing fine. Curiously, the advocates of new digital freedoms talk a lot about supporting creators .. but don’t bother themselves with including more than a few token artists on their boards and panels.

That might be why they don’t tell you is that it’s only fine for established acts like U2 and Radiohead. It’s cool for new bands like Two Door Cinema Club: good looking young guys, flush with the excitement of breaking into the scene. But it’s dying for the artists and artisans who just want to make a living from their art. If you’re not young, beautiful, or already rich – don’t expect to make a living from music. It will be a business for the privileged and for the safe, good looking X-Factor winner.

Unique voices like a Tom Waits or a Nick Cave might never have made it under the idea that you’re only worth what you can physically force the customer to pay. Early electronica composers such as Wendy Carlos might never have tried to break new ground. New art forms, unable to get people to travel a distance and buy a £50 ticket, might never happen.

With the odd cult exception known only to the technophiles – think Jonathan Coulton – there simply aren’t any stories of artists doing better with the new model. And let’s face it, part of his success is not because of his music but because his business model appeals to the new digital cults.

The age of digital media is reducing art to mere bits. It has no intrinsic value as the precious output of a human being expressing something meaningful, just the cost of transmission and storage. It costs a few pennies to store an album, and no marginal cost to download one over broadband. As far as the stereotypical technophile goes, artists who struggled to get a quid out of a monopolistic corporation should now settle for pennies at most from the larger, even more faceless, even less forgiving internet crowd.

Artists are caught in a perfect storm: corporate monoliths; a self-serving notion that technological might makes right; the Ayn Rand loving, free market fundamentalism of Silicon Valley. Will the left wing’s determination to destroy the notion of intellectual property (under the guise of fighting the establishment) prove to be the perfect Trojan Horse for the most remorseless market system ever devised by man?

I hope I’m wrong. But I believe the purpose of civilisation to rise above the hard maths and cruel biology of raw, physical law. Google sees them instead as a negotiation stance. Don’t Be Evil does not necessarily mean Be Good - it could just mean pure amorality.

Still, expect to see much discussion about how righteous advertising broker Google (market cap $178bn) is standing up to the likes of the evil entertainment company Warner Brothers (whose parent Time Warner is worth “only” $38bn).