Tuesday, July 24. 2012
Banksy says it all....
I have been away from London for a few weeks, on client work and holidays, and on returning I don't even feel like a citizen in my own city. It seems we have have had a Putsch and London has been taken over by a Brave New Olympic State.
I left London soon after London Bridge Station had an "Olympics Practice day", when officious people herded all the commuters like cattle and made us walk along endless, long and complicated mazes to ensure we could not get where we were going. In rush hour. It wasted a lot of people's time with no recompense, redress or even any apology. That was bad, but I have not been prepared for what I see on my return - we are seemingly now in the Olympic State of LondonGrad
I mean, what else explains these Iron Curtainesque symptoms:
How the heck did these laws get passed without us noticing, commenting -or, god forbid, having a say- one has to ask?
And of course, in true GOSplan form, the original estimated budget (a ludicrously low £2.9m) has been blown hugely, to £9bn and counting, while our Glorious Leader claims we will make £13bn "profit". And of course its the poor old citizens who will fund the losses. Private get-rich-quick gains for the few, public debts for years for the many - where have we seen that before recently?
But the biggest disgrace by far of all has been the Olympic-State-Sponsored commercial monopolies and draconian branding restrictions laws (As noted above, I apparently am breaching Oympic (TM) rules if I write "The Golden Summer of 2012") in what was once supposed to be a competitive country that stood for free speech. Even if the Olympics being an amateur ideal was a pipe dream, allowing an effective Olympic-Brand-One-Party State to take over is a bit extreme by any ordinary capitalist democracy standards. Especially as the Olympic-State-Sponsors have put in c £1.5bn to the (mainly London) taxpayers £9 bn+. And yet despite being the "majority funders" here, its the citizens who are getting shafted left right and centre?
The only saving graces are the security inefficiency exhibited by Olympic-State Champions G4S (Given 5 years to get enough security guards, finally admit to being 3000 or so short with just a few days left) - no decent Politburo would have allowed that to happen! It would be priceless, except the taxpayer is having to foot the bill yet again, though. Also the Official Olympic-State Logo is so crap* that no one is going to be putting it on their berets, flags or student radical publications anytime soon.
But to me, the really worrying thing has been the whole mindset of the public and private bodies doing all this - they have exhibited such an incredible lack of respect and consideration for London's citizens (that's
the people who are really paying for this by the way) - that it makes me really wonder what they think of us, and will they think they can get away with some far nastier restrictions on public freedoms than before?
You can just see Orwell and Kafka looking over and saying "told you....." and Gandhi saying "If I may make a suggestion here..."
(PS - yes, I got some tickets - but that was a scam too...)
*It's not just me that sees Liza Simpson gettin' on down in that Logo - and as for that fine upstanding one eyed mascot thingy, have they never heard the term "dead eye dick?
Friday, January 6. 2012
I have been somewhat fascinated by the whole Diane Abbott affaire over the last 24 hours or so. A brief history - Diane is a black, female UK MP whose roots are in the Old Left Labour party of the 1980's, and she was having a debate over Twitter with Grauniad journo Bim Adewunmi, who has summed it up as follows:
In the course of tweeting the events around the trial, conviction and sentencing of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, I wrote: "I do wish everyone would stop saying 'the black community' though." I expanded in a followup: "Clarifying my 'black community' tweet: I hate the generally lazy thinking behind the use of the term. Same for 'black community leaders'. This led to a reply from my local MP Diane Abbott, in which she said: "I understand the cultural point you are making. But you are playing into a "divide and rule" agenda."
I had a look at what she actually said on Twitter (given that it was clear that opinions on what she said were polarising along various party lines) and it was:
@bimadew I understand the cultural point you are making. But you are playing into a "divide and rule" agenda.
The racist accusation was when she used the term "white people", or rather when it was taken (expurgated of the #tacticasoldascolonialism) out of context by her opponents. As you can see from the overall context, the discussion is more nuanced, and its fairly clear what she is getting at. But it has caused a massive hue and cry, and sadly for Diane, as she has pulled exactly this sort of trick before herself, so her opponents have been queueing up to take revenge shots at her. IMO the best summary as to the "why" is the New Statesman:
Let's call this what it is. It's pretending. It's not genuinely being offended. It's artifice, completely made up in order to get a bit of publicity for people's vexatiously contrarian columns and to get their godawful faces on television. If you're genuinely wounded by Diane Abbott's comments, I pity you. You're beyond saving. It's a wonder we white people manage to stay in control of everything in the world ever if we're so bloody sensitive -- we should be sitting in a cupboard crying all day about what the nasty lady said about us. But it's not genuine hurt; it's the sensing of a mistake by a political rival, and the careful depiction of a representation of what these woeful human beings think being offended actually is, in order to capitalise on that.
That one's political opponents should be so cynical as to pull one down and then kick while one is down is so upsetting....in calmer momenets Diane may reflect on this being a karma moment
Labour Party boss Ed Milliband made her apologise, but then stepped on a landmine himself when he tweeted
"Sad to hear that Bob Holness has died. A generation will remember him fondly from Blackbusters."
The message was hastily deleted, and re-written to correctly refer to the 1980s trivia quiz as "Blockbusters", but there is now a #blackbusters hashtagfussfest deriding poor Mr Milliband.
To me, the lessons here are 4-fold:
There is no doubt that Twitter is a great tool for a politician to reach their audience, but the lesson here is that it has asymmetric risks (ie a small slip can cause a huge fall) when dealing with anything nuanced or sensitive, and Twitter - in my opinion - is better used as a means to point to something more nuanced elsewhere' like on a blog post, Facebook page or similar.
I am reminded of Nicholas Taleb's term Black Swan - the disproportionate role of high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance and technology - in this case. The downside of one unfortunate slip like this undoes a lot of good work. And when a Black swan falls, the vultures will always circle.....
Friday, November 11. 2011
The 1930's Jarrow march. Early stages of WW2
Today is a day that comes round once a century - 11/11/11 (And the US and UK calendars actually are in line too). It is also the day when the the Great War ended, and we choose to remember the dead on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, which was when the guns stopped shooting and it was all quiet on the Western Front.
For a while.
George Santayana noted that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". As well as remembering those who fell, its also worth also rembering why another war started on the Western Front, especially in 2011. After World War One there was a time of conspicuous consumption, and then a Great Depression. During the Great Depression, the Ordinary Man was essentially mugged financially by the bankers and capitalists of that era while the state stood by or colluded. The net effect was to push the desperate Ordinary Man to vote for autocratic, populist regimes in many countries, even in the USA the New Deal was a major swing towards the Powerful State. It is now in danger of happening again.
After WW2 a new social compact was formed in the West, with State tax and spending forcing a trickle down from rich to poor to reduce wealth disparity. That compact has largely disappeared, the wealth gap has been in reverse for about 20 years (back to pre WW1 / WW2 levels worryingly), and the rump is now being increasingly rapidly rescinded. Despite being bailed out by taxpayers in 2008, the banks have not changed their behaviour at all - if anything it has got worse as they now know they won't be asked to pick up any mess they create. At least in the 1930's the US Government had the fortitude to bring in the Glas Steagal Act to separate "normal" banking from casino banking. In 2011 no government has had the balls. So 2008 will likely happen again, soon.
Unelected governments are now in power in Greece and Italy, Europe is now essentially being run by a cadre of unelected Technocrats, democratic process is being flouted left right and centre. In the UK the tax burden on the Ordinary Man is being ramped up, as subsidies are cut, in parallel with reducing tax burdens on the rich and corporate sectors.The tent cities in St Paul's and elsewhere are little different to the early protests of the 1930's, and mark the phase when most citizens still trusted their governments to act in their interests. The next steps, when people stopped trusting their Governments, are far worse - in the 1930's that directly led to the guns opening up on the Western Front again. We have been here before, the tragedy is if we don't remember it now, we will repeat it.
One of the big differences between now and then is modern comms technology that returns power to people - as the Arab Spring has shown, electronic comms can greatly empower the weak people vs the strong vested interests. Little surprise therefore that the strong are now arguing hard to restrict access to technology in tough times (eg shut down the Internet when there are riots). Hitler silenced his opposition by burning the Reichstag and blaming it on the Communists. Our role, in the Tech community, is to be very wary of useful public and democratic assets and rights being removed, and the removal being blamed on phantom "enemies of the state" or "economic necessities" - muslim fundamentalists, evil rioters, big bailout bazookas etc etc. And to speak out for these digital freedoms, because pressure to give them up is only going to intensify, and will come from all sorts of seemingly innocent and worthy angles.
So, while we remember the dead this year, it's not just 1918 and 1945 we must not forget, Its 1930 - 39 we also must remember now.
Friday, October 7. 2011
I remember seeing the first Apple microcomputer, and realising the guys who built it were a step ahead of anyone else. What is amazing is how Apple has kept that step ahead for 40 years, and that is no accident. Many people claim to "change the world", Steve Jobs was one of the select band who did - and in a positive way.
What is astounding is that he has been making technology easy to use for all those 40 years, and many of his competitors still don't "get" it!
(Update ...this does not mean Mr Jobs - like any genius - did not have flaws, or was not difficult to work with, of course)
Saturday, May 7. 2011
Decline in UK voter turnout since World War 2 (UK Political Info)
Now the UK new voting mechanism referendum is over, and the triumphant crowing (and dejected defensiveness likewise) has begun, I couldn't help but be struck by the role of the c 33% number in the 2 elections - in one, c33% is triumphant victory and in the other c 33% is total defeat.
What do you need to put a party in power?:
Tories got 47% of the seats in Parliament from 36% of the votes, from a 65% voter turnout.
This Tory win on 36% of the total vote is called "The Will of the people"
What do you need to "comprehensively defeat" a proposal to reform the above system
This Massive AV defeat on 32% of the vote is called "The Will Of The People"
See the problem?
Then look at the reducing voter turnout since 1945 (chart above), couple that with the increasing feeling that "my vote doesn't count, so why bother* " ( partly a reason for increasing Welsh and Scottish desires for autonomy ) and that the areas of the UK that voted for voting reform are Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and many of the Inner London boroughs - the "Creative Class" capitals of England - and you start to see why the representational vote issue won't go away anytime soon.
*For example Tories on 54% of vote capture 83% of seats in Central Bedfordshire region
Sunday, May 1. 2011
Via various friends and nefarious means I met Carrie this afternoon, having heard her EP (especially the song "Me Oh My" above) I felt she could be the next Regina Spektor (whom I adore from afar, but have also met at TED...though my suggestion she look at a Tom Lehrer song or two did not go down well ).
Cue interesting discussion on how music is made and marketed these days....anyway, by the power of the Internetz you can listen to Carrie too.
Friday, April 29. 2011
Household Cavalry - a better class of crowd control - and their hats upstage all others at Wedding
This is the obligatory Royal Wedding linkbait post - but watching my Twitterstream has been most entertaining this morning, as people from across the globe either settle down for a good ogle, a good snark, or pretend to feign indifference (it's really OK to watch it you know - so long as you do it ironically .
It is definitely The Biggest "Social Object" I have ever seen on my Twitterstream (even though many posters are objectors...). This is the only social object i have seen so far that allows all parties to party happily. And you don't even have to turn your avatar purple....let's face it, no one does pomp and ceremony like the British Royals.
I, of course am writing a blog post instead - bah humbug* - but I think every republican (in the general sense) is thinking that there may be something in a bit of gloss**
The one thing I will watch is the Household Cavalry, there is something magnificent in masses of well trained men and horses in the gear of a bygone era (picture above).
*OK, OK I admit I checked the Prediction Markets to see when the divorce was. Nothing as yet....
**That's where Cromwell got it wrong.
Wednesday, April 27. 2011
It was once a rite of passage for a wannabee geek to have the SETI screensaver running on your PC, so you too could contribute to the communal greater good and play Spot The Alien (see above) but now itts closing, due to lack of funding and results - S F Mercury:
Lacking the money to pay its operating expenses, Mountain View's SETI Institute has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen Telescope Array, a field of radio dishes that scan the skies for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. In an April 22 letter to donors, SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson said that last week the array was put into "hibernation," safe but nonfunctioning, because of inadequate government support.
Of course, they wail, this is awful timing as there is most certainly going to be Jam Tomorrow:
A large reason for the drop off is simply funding cuts, both state and private donors. Apparently it only needs $5m or so a year to run, so let's see if any other of the Silicon Valley super-rch step up. However, one of the commenters probably has the correct answer:
I'm glad they finally realize that aliens have a right to privacy, too!
Broadstuff can reveal a deeper secret - the Aliens themselves have asked the Illuminati to influence the US Government to stop it owing to their privacy worries
Thursday, April 21. 2011
Welcome to the Web 2.0 Mall! My name is Doc Pangloss, and this little tour guide is to help you find your way around - smile for the camera as it takes your photo and posts it on YouTube - thank you. Now, here we are at the entrance, you can see the helpful TV screens that show you where everything is. Of course, Web 2.0 TV is a bit different - it watches you back.
Now, like all malls we have a few signature shops - over there is Yahoo, its a venerable department store, has lots of stuff in it but despite the continual revamps it's all a bit old fashioned and the cool kids don't really go there anymore.
The other signature shop is Facebook, you just have to fill in all your personal data to enter - there you go - and in we go. I know it feels a bit odd with all your friends always popping up telling you what they've bought but you'll get used to it. What's that you say - you don't like how it's telling everyone what you're putting in your basket? Hey, it's the future, get used to it! Anyway, here is the gaming arena, . No you don't put coins in, you buy credits by handing over more personal data. And the games are designed to make you really enjoy handing the data over. Cool hey! Anyway, time to leave, more to see. What, get your data back when you leave? No, they don't give it back, you agreed it was theirs when you signed in. Oh, you didn't read the T&C. Well, more fool you.
Now over here is the budget store, it's called Groupon, its a coupon store. Pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap and cheerful, that's the idea. It's just the hottest new thing here, worth billions they say. Yah, I know all the brick and mortar coupon stores downtown are only worth a pittance, but hey, this is Web 2.0 man. It's all different here.
OK, now this is the food hall. What's that - you can't see any food? Of course not, they don't actually make and deliver food, the operators in this food hall all want to facilitate your food experience by telling your friends what you ate, telling you what they all liked most, and the shops here add value (to themselves) by interposing as middlemen between you and the actual food makers. Yes, you could just order the stuff yourself from the actual food makers but that's anti-progress, baby, and no banker is gonna give millions of dollars to anyone who actually makes stuff..
Moving on, here is the bookstore - Amazon - got a great reputation by stocking all those hard to find books when it opened, now it wants you to buy electronic books to read on its own book reading device. No, of course you own the book, its just you can't copy it onto any of your other readers and they get to take the book back again anytime they want. You want to lend the book to your friends? Boy are you old fashioned, get your friend to buy her own reading device and book! They also run a lot of the other shops down this here Cloud Hall. Yes, they can shut them down if they don't like them, we had these guys called Wikileaks here last year but we don't like to talk about them.....
(Oh cr*p - the power has shut down again, we better ask Quora about the problems with basing your business on someone else's infrastructure - when Quora comes back up again....)
And OK, there used to be other book and news stores here, but they've all gone now, and I know that store just full of classified ads and this one full of PR releases is not telling you what's going on in the world, but hey we have to fill the retail space somehow y'know. Besides, most people don't gove a F8ck about what's going on in the world so long as you can show them pictures of cute kittens and let them tell their friends what they ate for lunch. And listen, over there is a little kiosk that has a list of causes you can support, to help you it shows you which celebrity supports each one, and a coloured band you can wear to show solidarity while you shop - ain't it great!
Now, up the escalators to the next level - here is Apple, and yes there is always a queue to buy some new thing or another. But it's a great place, look at all these cool devices. Ok, they are a bit expensive compared to that grungy geek store down the road, but think of the experience you're having here! Now here is this real kewl device, its called an iPhone - it's so smart and seems to know you so well you'd think it was recording everything you do all the time. And you can buy all this cool music at Apple too. No, of course you can't share it with your friends, get with the Program 2.0! When we say "share with your friends" in Web 2.0 we mean your personal data, not the actual stuff you buy! When we say we "sell" the content we actually mean "loan" you see.
OK, so here we are in the main court - and as you can see, the Mall is very big and there are lots of stores, to find the thing you want we use the system on the information consoles here, its called Google. You type in what you want, and it shows you lots of people that will pretend to point you to where you want to go, and fill the page you see with advertising. Why don't Google just tell you where to get the stuff, you said? Well, that's just plain dumb, because that way no one would make any money from the Ads and then where would we all be? It's all part of the New Eco-System you see. Hey listen, smartass, Google have got lots of smart people who tell us its not a problem, so just STFU OK?
Sheesh, some people, they just don't Get It, y'know.
Right, just along here is the Banking Court. No, there are no actual banks. We have these ones here that lend micro-loans at very high interest rates. No, we don't call them loan sharks, we cal them "exctiting and entrepreneurial new initiatives in digital finance". And those payment facilitation guys - no, they are not covered by the banking consumer protection codes, yes they want far more data than is necessary for making a payment, and no you are not protected if things go wrong - jeez, what d'you want next - ability to pay anonymously with e-cash? No, I don't think there is a conflict of interest with a payment provider being owned by the guy who owns the open air market. All is for the best in this best of all worlds 2.0!
OK, so thats the intro - now y'all have got an hour to wander around and get what you want, we're going to give you these tablets while you go - don't worry, you won't get lost, they are telling us where you are all the time, and besides the mall are so full of cameras tracking the way your eyeballs move and so on, believe me we know you better than you know yourself - we can guess where you are before you get there. If you want to talk to each other just use this button, its called a Tweeter. It's lke SMS only everyone gets the message not just one person. Oh, just ignore his tweets, everyone else does but he pays Tweeter lots of money to get his stuff promoted. Need cash? Of course not, everything is free here, all you have to do is deposit some more personal data into the databank for our dataminers to work on. Busy, busy, busy - you know.
Look buster, I'm not going to argue business with you - it just works OK. Lots of cleverer people than you think these shops will all make money from your data, or at least they think other dumb guys will think they can, so they give the shops money to buy stuff to give away to you for free. All you gotta do is hand over your data and watch the popup Ads while you buy. MySpace? No, they closed down. Sold to some rich dude and he just didn't get it - kept on asking why the money wasn't in the tills at the end of the day. Fool!
Oh, ignore that dude there wandering up and down carrying the "Do Things that Matter" placard - that's just Old Man O'Reilly, he's been picketing the Mall since 2008......
Well, that concludes the tour, folks- and to send you on your way here is a little bag of cookies for each of you......and remember our catch phrase here in the Web 2.0 Mall - It's a Brave New World !
Have a Nice Day!
Post inspired by a one liner from this Bloomberg Businessweek article:
"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks."
Monday, April 11. 2011
Went to the RSA session at lunch time today, Nico McDonald interviewed James Gleick about his latest book "Information". I haven't read it yet by the way, but was curious to see if he would add anything new to a subject much trawled over with a book the NYT reviewed as:
“The Information” is so ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it. Don’t make the mistake of reading it quickly. Imagine luxuriating on a Wi-Fi-equipped desert island with Mr. Gleick’s book, a search engine and no distractions. “The Information” is to the nature, history and significance of data what the beach is to sand.
Anyway, a few grains from the talk - I got more from his answers to the questions than anything else:
Firstly, where is the value in Information?
- Attention and my data is what is valuable not just data
Secondly, the risk of untramelled commercial interest:
Also, there was a rather interesting discussion over whether all this information is leading to a rise in order or disorder - entropy or enthalpy. No real conclusion, but it did bring me round to thinking about Claude Shannon. Gleick kicked off with Shannon (as any decent book on information should) and Shannon's "Noisy CHannel Coding Theorem" - which essentially establishes that "for any given degree of noise contamination of a communication channel, it is possible to communicate discrete data (digital information) nearly error-free up to a computable maximum rate through the channel." (Wikipedia - but it leaves out the "so long as the system has redundancy" rider ). In otherw ords, given a particular channel, Shannon allows you to predict how much true information can you get reliably, and what has to change to increase this.
Given the continual reversion to the issues of all forms "noise" in modern digital channels, I'd bet that today Shannon would be looking at how to filter search and social media data flows.
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