Archive for February, 2010

You’ve got the Power

February 23rd, 2010

One of the things that really frustrates me about the new technologies which we’re acquiring, is that we’re not acquiring new technologies. Put simply, what we’ve now got access to isn’t necessarily because it’s new, but because it has become accessible to the masses. Twitter, for example, was technically possible way back when – but it’s only now that people have been given access to the idea to use RSS feeds to send out 140 character messages, that people use it to send out 140 character messages.

There’s a similar story with facebook. I was watching my local news bulletin, North West Tonight, when a big bloke was being filmed walking around a trashed house with a full camera crew, and lamenting the fact that facebook had trashed his house – and assigning them responsible.

Unfortunately, the blame does lie with his 16 year old daughter – who arranged a house party whilst her parents were away. News of the party got onto facebook – apparently from a post that she authored – and thus more than the ‘gathering’ of friends anticipated turned up – and some opportunist vandals trashed the place. However, that’s not facebook’s fault – necessarily.

Now, the one thing that facebook probably needs to do is start to set default privacy settings which are in favour of privacy, rather than it’s advertising customers. Sure, facebook is free because of the absolutely unrivalled profiling that it can achieve as compared to any other medium – but once that information is on the servers, then it should be up to facebook to parse it – rather than leaving it open for the world and his wife to have a go at processing. It suprised me when I first sat down to write a facebook program just how easy it was to “spider” information, that is, if you can access a friend of a friends information, assuming each person has 100 friends, then if you access 1 person, you can access 10,000 profiles of information. That’s quite a few from just one person adding your application.

So yeah, perhaps facebook has some housekeeping to do – but the end user also has to take responsibility. Facebook is not a ring-fenced safe place where you can communicate in privacy with your friends – it’s a worldwide noticeboard that allows millions of people to interconnect.

The techology provides us with the ability to do things that were limited to the few people who had the resources and finances to kick things off. Some of the technology though is getting abused. As Rory Cellan-Jones put in his dot.Blog this week regarding 4 Square. Though in itself it’s an innocent enough application (it tells people you’re location realtime via GPS) – it also notifies people that you’re not at home. Unfortunately the technologies are moving too fast for the end user to think “actually, what information have I just reliquished to the masses?” On the flip side, used thoughtfully and the technology can open up some incredible opportunities.

As Uncle Ben says in Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility.” The average Jo(ann)e now has more power at their fingertips that ever before. In just a few clicks, we can reach millions of people with our messages, and new opportunities are springing up like never before. As an example, just this week a band called “Die Antwoord” have taken over the internet. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to some of their stuff a few years back – the mother of ‘Waddy’ is an absolute legend, as she nursed my mothers grandparents during their final years.

The internet is providing us with fantastic broadcasting opportunities – it’s up to us to use them creatively and responsibly.

General Election Year – 2010

February 19th, 2010

The percentage of people voting has decreased massively since 2000, with Labour holding a firm grip on the UK parliament since their landslide election in 1997. They’ve guided us through the dot.Com boom, 9/11, 7/7, Iraq, Afghanistan, BNP MEPs, a recent depression and many more economic and political landmarks. However, it’s been the Expenses Furore of 2009 which is most likely to affect the turnout to the 2010 polls.

2010 brings with it plenty of opportunities for people to get back involved with Politics. As a wise man once said – “Bad things happen when Good People do nothing.” Though there are many who would go along with the ‘popular campaign’ to invalidate their ballot, rather than vote – all that’s going to achieve is to exaggerate the influence of the peripheral parties.

Knowledge ahead of Ignorance

A bit like Tiger Woods, we need to start to learn to live our lives with integrity. This means that the discrepancy between what we say, and what we do – is kept to a minimum. Ideally the two should be water tight, but no one is a saint – as well the politicians proved.

One of the ways we can act with integrity is to beat a party of ignorance, like the BNP, by means of knowledge. The BNP make claims and slander based upon an ignorance – both of historical fact and public opinion. However, this ignorance has crept into Parliament. When a politician can state that the whole Expenses ‘scandal’ was because the Newspapers used the word ‘Expense’ rather than ‘Allowance’ – then there’s something wrong. On the flip side, a politician’s wage is not comparable to the wages of those in the private sector. Whilst I wouldn’t want to be paying millions to the guys running the country, I’d rather pay more for them than I do to a man driving up and down the M6 trailing a giant billboard. Nor would I like to see the Institutional Profligacy of some politicians continue with the need for budget cuts and a decrease in spending.

Unfortunately, the system we have in the UK means that too many people are “patting each others backs,” rather than providing decent and usable solutions for the taxpayer. The British Government is being held down by out of date practises, that need to be dealt with in a manner. One such manner is budgeting in the education sector. When a teacher fails to use up their budget in year 1, then the budget in year 2 gets decreased. This practise fails to encourage thrift in our public sector – but waste. It was only 18 months ago that I was driving up to Manchester, and the ‘Digita TV’ Quango (or whatever their name) was lamenting the fact that they had a budget of £250 million to help the British people switch to Digital TV, and had only used £42.5 million – with most of that on leaflets and paying people to distribute them. Their claims that “people weren’t aware of the (dare I say it) FREE training” they were offering had led them to look for new ways of spending their money – as it was money that needed spending. It’s just the wrong attitude.

So how can we help?


MySociety have done a brilliant job of opening up Hansard and increasing the transparency of British Governance at all levels. From Fix My Street to They Work for You MySociety are developing more and more web-based tools to enable you to get involved. Want to know what issues your politicians are voting on? – you can find out, using only your postcode if you’re new to the game.

There’s plenty of opportunities to find out what’s going on in your area, and to get together with people to make sure that your local issues are heard. If you want to know more on how to use the tools, please contact MySociety, or myself – and I’ll be happy to guide you on the way to using your vote responsibly.

The Democracy Club

This is another group with whom I’ve just started taking an interest. I’ll be following the progress of both my home constituency, Meriden – and the one where I’m currently living and working- Manchester, Central. I’d be interested to hear from other people working with the Democracy Club – and ideas and tips they might have for me to increase my productivity.

A little poem wot I wrote.

February 19th, 2010

I contemplated writing a poem.

I tried to make it rhyme – it didn’t.

I tried to make it be something clever – it wasn’t.

I tried to make it say something profound – it failed.

I tried to make it so that other people would want to read it – they wouldn’t.

I wrote to fulfil my need to write – it didn’t.

I don’t think I’m good at poetry.

Do you?

BBC Future Media & Technology

February 18th, 2010

The iPlayer is a concept which should “just work.” The BBC are a massive corporation in the UK, and once led the way in both content and technological developments in television entertainment. There were the BBC cameras, Dr Who, and all sorts of wonderful programmes coming out of Television Centre. Since then bits and pieces have been sold off, and more content was being bought from independent studios.

Then, BBC Future Media & Technology started to take off. In the digital world they created Dirac, the open and royalty-free codec, designed for transmitting HD content without encryption. They also started the development of the iPlayer which enables anyone in the UK to access BBC programmes to “watch again.” This is subject to a fair-use policy, and a 30 day download limitation.

The flash-based implementation of the BBC iPlayer was fairly well received, as it allowed the iPlayer to be used on both Windows, *NIX, Linux and Apple based devices – anything that was supported by Adobe Flash. The BBC later dropped their Desktop version (which was implemented for Windows and Macs, but not Linux) in favour of the flash-based one – as it meant it required programming to only one interface – flash.

Good decision BBC.

Unfortunately, now they are developing applications for all sorts of devices. Where they saved themselves from having to program for three separate interfaces by no longer coding Desktop clients for Windows/Macs/Linux – they are now creating lots of more work to be ‘cool and trendy’ and ‘Web 3.0′ as they program for specialist devices like the iPhone platform, or Android.

If there were only a platform-agnostic way of delivering the content to all these devices, without having to program for each one individually.

Well there is, it’s called HTML5 – I sure hope that out of all this mess the BBC at least spend some time coding for that interface. In terms of target markets, HTML5 should be supported of 100% of the devices accessing the iPlayer. I’m not saying the BBC shouldn’t develop for these platforms – but there are better ways to do it. The writers of get_iplayer wrote a brilliant wrapper for linux – so why not allow freelance developers to put the iPlayer on the iPhone, Android .etc – rather than doing it all in house. That’s more Web 2.0.

A History of Tux

February 9th, 2010

I was on facebook this evening and managed to find myself perusing a friend’s photos, when I came across a very random one indeed. It was then I realised that it was not my friend’s album, but a friend of theirs, as I was unable to comment directly.

However, it’s probably for the best as it would have revealed my geekdom, therefore beneath this writing I publish “This History of Tux” (according to Canberra Zoo).

Birmingham Rugby Round-Up

February 4th, 2010

This week Brian Dick and the Birmingham Post released their first ‘Rugby Round-up.’ Though the quality of the recording is obviously lacking, it’s a great format and it’s nice to see Birmingham Post experimenting with more online media for keeping Rugby fans updated.

If you’re watching this on my site, the Video should be seen under this text, if not click here for a bit of Brummie Rugby News.