Monday, December 08, 2008

Woolworths today: 20% off your planet

On the day that the Guardian headline went with the notion that people power is key to achieving climate change, activists shut down Stansted airport to protest the expansion of Stansted to a second runway.

Asked by the BBC, most delayed passengers seem naturally quite fecked off. "They needed to be frog-marched out" said one. "They have achieved nothing other than messing up our day." said another.

The same also said this: "I can understand why the protesters took action. There has to be limits to airport expansion but we are stuck in the middle. There are other, more positive ways of doing it."

This takes me back to something I asked all the way back in 2004: what is the best way to get a point across in our society? Let's face it, voting achieves nothing. Facebook just brings back nostalgia. Protesting gets you classed as a terrorist or, worse, student hippy scum. And not buying stuff to cut down on all that energy usage cripples the damned economy. Crap.

So let's face it - where are these "more positive" methods of dealing with climate change? What truly inspirational ideas for coming to terms with this (that is - not even solving, just realising what's going on in our world), as it affects all of us, are left to us?

The Guardian link above quotes another person as noting that "in the modern world we live in, people want to travel. Cheap flights allow us to have homes elsewhere." And therein is the "spirit" of the 21st century. We must do stuff because it is "cheap". We will buy our atmosphere at Woolworths, for there we may get 20% off.

NOW GO. BUY SOME NATURE TODAY.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

We are all 2

Following up on a previous post, Reality Sandwich has an article on the value of solitude, partly as a way of reconnecting with both ourselves and the world.

"We treat the Earth as a stranger we should protect for pragmatic or ethical reasons, but until we begin to actually experience nonhuman creatures as family and the Earth as our home, we are unlikely to make the changes necessary for our survival."

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Financey Stuff

Interesting to compare the FTSE (100) to the FTMC (250) over the last year - note the relative beating that the FTMC has started taking since mid-October.

What's that mean then? Dunno. Recession stuff.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I, he, you, he, you, me, we, are all together.

Originally tweeted about this, but I'm sufficiently, um, riled up (?) to turn it into a blog post. The Guardian, purveyor of all things hideously hypocritical and doublethinkish (although their crosswords rock, and I don't mean the namby-pamby Quick Crossword for people with girly hangovers), pick up on a debate at the Earthwatch institute, along with accompanying poll in which you get to vote for the most invaluable species.

Now, I like bees, but I also like mushrooms, and I also like monkeys and shit, AND THIS IS WHY THE WHOLE THING IS SILLY LOOK HOW ANGRY I AM I'M USING CAPS (but not caps lock, you'll notice).

This is not a game. This is not a TV show where you get to choose whichever crap singer of the week has the most heart-wrenching sob-story-cum-background-music. (Yes, Newsround, I'm looking at you.) This is nature, this is an eco-system. This is not eco-bits-and-bobs that happen to share the same eco-space. This is not a fancy of choosing, by way of strange analogy, which bodily organ would you like to not remove thank you?

We cannot just save the cute things and leave the ugly and the terrifying to die. We cannot pick and choose the world we want because we do not exist outside the world. We cannot survive if continue seeing species as separate, isolated "miracles" in constant competition against each other and against the "environment". Animals are the environment. The environment are animal.

What can we do, though?

For starters, we can stop pretending that we can fix the world by ourselves; that all the "poor, suffering creatures" without brains need is our protection from a world they no longer understand, a world "created" by us.

We can get over our giant societal ego. We can stop pretending the world's fate is in our hands like the end of some CGI-infested Hollywoord trilogy epic. We can understand that humility, not profit, is key to understanding what it is we need to do to become sustainable. We can choose NOT to act - not to consume, not to buy, not to waste - as a viable alternative. We can take what we need and leave plenty behind. We can stop being afraid that if we stop for a moment, we ourselves will be left behind.

For once, we can look around us. We can see the world with our eyes and sense it with our instinct, instead of trying to grapple with it through those gloves of 'evidence' and 'analysis' that really need little holes in the end of the fingers to stop us being cut off from all useful sensitivity.

We can see the world - life, our bodies, our thoughts, our emotions - as inter-dependent, as one big relationship that has no beginning and no end, no cause and no effect. Only simple, perfect cauffect.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Using Twitter? You're probably a Terrorist.

Eh, brilliant - Twitter is for activists terrorists! GPS is also to be suspected as dangerous.

"Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives," the report said.

"Extremist and terrorist use of Twitter could evolve over time to reflect tactics that are already evolving in use by hacktivists and activists for surveillance," it said. "This could theoretically be combined with targeting."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Music to Rise to

Wasn't expecting much from the Official UK Top 40 on telly this morning, but the video for 'Handlebars' by (The) Flobots really grabbed my attention. No embedding for it (nor for the Youtube version, so follow the link and check it out. Watching it the second time, I got a lot more out of it in fact (mostly as I had no idea who this lot were, and assumed they were as vacuous as the rest of the top 40).

The Flobots battle against the trend for banal pap that litters the charts (update: they even have a manifesto). Their video for "Rise" (also worth checking out) links to AmericaWillBe.org and FightWithTools.org, both entrances into community-led, non-violent activism that we probably need more of.

Here's their official site, UK site, and Wikipedia page.

Also, I thought I'd blogged it before, but can't find it now, but the recent video of Rage Against the Machine going acoustic after being stopped from playing outside the Republic National Convention back in September. 10 minutes, but a great watch. Embedded below.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Small Conspiracies #1: Deodorant

Noses, eh?

Those TV adverts where you smell so much like the best chocolate in the world that you BECOME A CHOCOLATE at the expense of all else. And as if losing all sense of ego to a Cadbury-based life-form ain't enough for you, you can look forward to being Eaten Alive by attractive women who would rather digest you than sleep with you. (Fortunately, according to the ads, fat and ugly woman just don't care about chocolate, forming a paradoxically attractive-yet-cannibalistic horde of women around you. Or maybe that's just Milton Keynes for you. Who Can Say?)

It's come to my attention not-so-recently that under-arm deodorant is a small yet major player in the global conspiracy to keep us from realising Our True Selves. In terse terms, it is a scam, and a sham, and should be exposed for the snake oil it truly is. Moreover, it strikes at the very heart of our very hearts. For, through those insidious forms of advertising that seek to stigmatise our own bodily functions, we are trained into becoming prisoners of sweat-tastic guilt of Epic Proportions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is nothing wrong with a good bit of sweat. Sweat is all around us, it denotes and delights those that have the pleasure of manual labour, of physical challenge, and of feats that engage the mind-body complex so such a degree that the stress is made tangible.

Covering up that sweat, on the other hand, is akin to wearing a happy-clown mask even whilst we sob profusely in gin-soaked sobriety. It is to hide our physical pride, and pretend that we go out of our way to avoid the work of the body. In other words, deodorant is a facsimile of the bourgeoisie, a symbol of escaping both the drudgery and the joy of bodily work, a faux retraction into the dwindling of the human form.

Cast off your deodorant, I say, and let your armpits sing! Go out, enjoy chopping wood, indulge in lifting large items, play intense sports until your lungs break! Take back your smell!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The upgrade treadmill is wearing us out

This Greemonk post by monkchips really makes a point that should be made more often.

I want to buy "the" quintessential Apple product and cherish it for years, like people would cherish a vintage car.
Replace "quintessential Apple product" with pretty much "any product" (use your imagination) and you start to get at a shift in both attitude and culture that would solve a lot of problems.

Get off the upgrade treadmill. There are already too many others.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

More on the Lewes Pound

Tab clear-out... According to the Argus a few weeks ago, "[the] currency has shot up in value by 3,000% only days after its launch because collectors are selling it on the internet."

I'm wondering about this. Is it better to leave this to happen and accept that x% of the currency will "leave" circulation? Or could you somehow "auto-expire" physical notes after a certain period, and maybe renew the expiration date once they're used to buy something?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Imagination Trap

Oops, forgot to blog this last week, as my brain has deserted me to sing in a 5-brain boy band somewhere out in the Middle East. The best quote in the news recently came at the very bottom of a relatively minor article. Hear me out on this one, cos it's all to do with The Matrix, really.

Why was it good? Because it cuts through the crap and continuing delusion present in our economy, and in our perception of the economy - what we're spun, what we want to believe like in some boringest X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully have to investigate a spooky ISA.

That it's from the French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, probably says something. Talking about the French economy being in relatively decent shape, she points her laser eyes straight at the problem, and gives it a megawatt dosage of cold truth:

"I think we have let this world of fantasy and virtuality overcome reality... There have to be more principles, more discipline and a bit more reality," the minister says.

Rock on. And you see where the Matrix comes in yet? Here in the UK, we jump on the bandwagon and go blaming house price crashes, credit squeezes and giant supernatural entities. These are all just effects. House prices went up because cash was made available and everyone started buying houses.

Why did everyone buy houses? Because everything else has lost value. We saw the .com bubble get pricked at the turn of the millennium and went "oh, better get back to something physical". A re-direction of financial energy from the simulated to the "real", only the value of that reality was still "simulated", because it was driven by Returns, not by Actual Worth.

And why did everyone dive into the .com bubble, like a big swimming pool made of bitty custard? Because it was easy to inflate the value of it. It was new, exciting, and resources were unlimited - in economic terms, it offered unlimited growth. (Paradoxically, this also meant infinite supply too. Which means zero value. Aha.) And that omnidirectional growth was important when we pretty much have what we need. Even if what we have is badly-grown supermarket food and crap ad-riddled television.

So this is where we are. We make our cash from making cash, and we've sold off everything else. Business is the business, feedback is the feedback, and as Baudrillard points out, the more we lack/destroy something, the more we try to re-create (and profit from) those re-creations. Facebook re-creates community. "Web 2.0" re-creates creativity and production. Housing bubbles re-create a sense of worth.

If we're to get out of this trap, then pumping more imaginary numbers into the system won't fix anything in the long term, because we're still dealing with life on the imaginary level, and unlike South Park, imaginary things do not leap out and become real when terrorists say so. Christine Lagarde is right. We need to escape the Matrix. We need to start re-asking: "What is real value?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Science's Name, get over it.

Yesterday Professor Michael Reiss quit as director of education at the Royal Society following the suggestion that creationism should be "taught" in science lessons. No wait, not "taught" - "discussed". Unfortunately, a fervent bunch of disciplinary fanatics jumped on this, and twisted into the idea that scientists should approve creationism as some kind plausible alternative canon. The fanatics? Other scientists.

Look, science, I don't know who you are, but some of us don't actually have the time of inkling to trail through a quadzillion papers a year to work out just what we should believe. If you want to do that, that's fine with me. But don't start waving fists at other people - including other scientists (because "scientist" is actually a practitioner role, not a spiritual dedication) - just because they might have their own understanding of the world, right? It's a big floating vessel called a censorship, and it's what you have a go at the rest of the world/history for, so you'd probably better just Watch Out unless you want the rest of the world/future to laugh at you like they all did in secondary school.

The Royal Society, to their fearful credit, re-iterated (in the 9th paragraph) that: "if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

Discussion is good. Ideas are good. Science is not art. Science is argument. Belief is individual. How we got here is nowhere near as important as how we behave. Including seeing things from another person's point of view.

P.S. There's a hugely interesting discussion to be had about free debate vs the reputation of a society, but I can't be bothered to have it right now. To the pub!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricanes from Space

The Big Picture has some fantastic photos of hurricanes from orbit, prompting 2 questions:

1. What's with personifying Big Weather by giving them names? Does anthropomorphising them help us come to terms with the sheer amount of power present in them or something?

2. Can we stop going head-to-head with nature now please? I get that steady feeling that we'd lose.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Following the Lewes Pound

It'll be interesting to see how the new Lewes Pound currency does. Lewes residents will be able to get 10% off at its launch over the next 2 weeks, i.e. get 22-pounds-worth of Lewes cash for just £20.

The main advantage of local currency is that the local economy is tied more closely to the population; the Lewes Pound unites Lewes business and survival with a local shop culture. In other words, sustenance, trading, ambience and sociality are all linked together. Compare that to the fleets of clone towns around the UK, where the "shop culture" or "ambience" is totally un-unique (or "ique"). Money given to the hydra-head of any chain store flows directly out of the local community - in other words, away from you, and from the people you know. The chances of getting it back in are not necessarily low, but the opportunities to control those chances are completely out of your hands.

What'd be really interesting is if you could get prices down as a result of setting up those local links - effectively being able to give people a discount if they were using local currency, because it costs businesses less. Economists will see this as the opposite of Economies of Scale, and so it wouldn't make sense from that point of view. But with the Costs of Scale rising sharply (namely transport costs), maybe the advantages of a satisfied community get closer to the advantages of Economies of Scale.

Of course, currently that's like comparing cabbages and cows - chain stores don't do community or happiness, and community satisfaction doesn't measure well numerically. Places like Lewes and Totnes - places that value their community while it still exists - are well placed to take advantage of their local attitude in the face of rising global costs.

Philosophy vs Profit. FIGHT.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rule #1: You do not talk about Knife Club

The latest response to knife crime is to censor pupils from talking about it:

"The exam board is writing to schools to advise them to destroy the copies of the anthology - and says it will send replacements not containing this poem."
Get that? Our own fear of encouraging The Bad Things is actively preventing us from thinking about how to get rid of them. In other words, We Are Scared of Trying To Solve The Problem.

In a way, this isn't new - governments have taken the same stance on hacking tools, for example; tools are dual-use, and can be put to defensive and offensive objectives. A risk-and-fear-driven culture has meant that these tools have generally tended towards being banned, or controlled to the point of being effectively banned.

The difference here is that we're not talking about tools. We're talking about talking. Words, therefore, are seen to have the same power as artifacts, and the pen is just as mighty as the sword.

Both pen and sword are nothing but temptation, and therefore must be removed from sight.

Of course, the irony is that not talking about something just makes it all the more inspiring, tempting, arcane and curious. Hushing up talk of violence will lead to more actual violence, in the same way that a culture that represses talk of sex leads to more sex-based marketing, and more teenage pregnancies. We have elected not politicians, but an attitude, and that attitude is driving us underground more and more every day.

To be honest, I'm getting to the point where I can't be arsed to rant about this crap any more. Britain England needs a serious makeover if anyone with half a brain is going to take it seriously. We are bankrupt fiscally, emotionally, and philosophically, and this void has been filled with notions of material gain and covering your own arse. That the FTSE 100 is still hovering around the 5500 mark shows just how much we've come to rely on optimism and delusion rather than pragmatism.

Is it worth getting angry about a class of people that just spit in the face of good advice? I can't help but think that good energy is being wasted arguing and ranting, when it could be spent on coming up with a more solid, more satisfying way of life.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Getting the Bigger Picture

From Olympic ceremonies that look like Magic Eye pictures, to the realities of war (especially the "hospitals" people have to resort to), The Big Picture is still one of my two most-favourite things in my RSS feed at the moment.

(The other is Dinosaur Comics. Of course.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Photowalk, Saturday Afternoon: Tactic Talk

Seeing as what how I managed to miss the last Brighton Flickr Meet by being Swiss, I thought I might head along to the Photowalk this Saturday (see also this thread). It's part of Scott Kelby's worldwide photo walk day and there are 33 people signed up for the Brighton walk, so it should be interestingly hectic.

As with all things, decision must be made. Should I take a film camera, for something a little different, but risk not getting photos back in time for the Tuesday upload deadline? Or go with digital like everyone else and risk getting outclassed? ;) After some thought, I thought a thought that it might be worth getting creative with the digital again. So I'm going to try splitting my time between seeing the world through black-and-white eyes, and seeing it through highly saturated fat. That should at least get something a little different in the flickr group. Unless, that is, someone reads this and decides to copy me. In which case I'll just cry. Like a child in the snow.

That's not to say that I won't be taking other cameras with me for fun, of course. So, back to the same decision, I guess...

Oh. We're meeting at Brighton train station, 2.30 for a 3pm start. Yell if you're thinking of coming along...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Safety First

If you haven't seen the 'STOP sign by committee design' video yet, then it's a good way to waste a couple of minutes of your life. Alternatively, go out and look at the trees, sing for a bit, or read one page of a book. All are good, although only one of these pokes fun at the complexity of modern day design of every-damned-thing.

In obviously totally unrelated observations, it's great to see an extra crossing going in at the bottom of North Street in Brighton, so that you only have 1 red man to taunt rather than 3 (or 4, or 6, I get fuzzy after 2). This follows in the footsteps of the long-fought-for crossings up outside BHASVIC, so credit where credit is no doubt due. The giant safety posters still continue to bemuse me though, succumbing as they do to my in-built, real-world 'pop-up' blockers. (Wait, that could sound rude. Oh, IT JUST DID.)

Checklist for Campaign to Stop People Getting Run Over by Buses: 1. 50 x person-sized banners saying LOOK to hang from lamp-posts like festivalia. 2. Olympic-swimming-pool-sized poster for people to look at instead of what's coming up North Road like ooh could it be a bus.

There is no number 3: Signs actually on pedestrian crossings warning "A BUS WILL RUN YOU OVER NOW IF YOU DO NOT STOP RUNNING AROUND" because that is too obvious.

Unless it is so obvious that I missed it. (This happens with alarming regularity.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Geeks need to Grow Up

Dave Barry's Python script for identi.ca includes a "--public" option. Evan, the main guy behind identi.ca, has said he'd like a way to treat posts as private, and/or allow different licenses. (Currently all posts are public, and people are free to share and remix content, giving attribution.)

Meanwhile, Tim Berners-Lee is advocating an open web.

Think back. Dissolve yourself in time. June 1999, RFC 2616: Hypertext Transfer Protocol 1.1. Anyone got any comments for us?

Point is this: The evolution of the internet has fundamentally moved on. Where before we had RFCs, now we have competition. Where we had comments, now we have privatised ideas versus open source communities. Functionality is segregated; fragmented into shards; embedded in competitive tribes whether they be for profit, or for principle. Not only do we have myriad new APIs spawning all over the web now, we have imitator APIs, chameleon APIs, and APIs to talk to the APIS.

And we flock to them. We, as geeks, are intent upon "collecting the set", flagging down every passing service with its own "novel" idea for communication. We are delighting in shards, gawping at the tiny rainbows venturing out of them for the blink of an eyelid. We praise the rainbow-makers. But we have forgotten about the Sun.

At OpenTech on Saturday, David Birch gave a talk on Digital Money, and berated the audience for having done "bugger all" for it in the last 10 years. And he's right - cypherpunk is dead, and we're left to play with our toys. Left scrabbling after the latest, privatest, faddiest service. What has Facebook got us? The Wispa bar. Again. The Grand Confectionary Revolution in full swing.

Unfortunately, there's more than one definition of "open". We are moving towards a definition that defines it in terms of freeness, but freeness-of-beer. "Private" openness, with control of access ultimately being an individual thing. (And not just "private" as in "for profit" - open sourcers forking both ideas from closed sourcers, and code from open sourcers, also leads to fragmentation and individualism.)

Nor does "freeness of speech" cut it either. We have freeness of speech, and it's not that different to freeness of beer: realise that code is both speech and functionality, and observe that code is given away for nothing. So we have free beer and free speech. But we are still more fragmented than ever. Geeks cope with fragments by building tools - tools to collate all the rainbows. (Non-geeks, however, just get confused by all the colours.)

Is this hallucinatory polemic? Hasn't there always been "competition" even amongst standards? (Think Gopher, FTP, BBSes...) Maybe. But then again, maybe not. MySpace and Facebook are still way bigger than Twitter or Identi.ca or any of the rest. And they're very, very private. They own you, pwn you - even qwn you.

Individualism - Fragmentation - Liberalism - Squabbling. Whatever you want to call it. The fact is that the "open" web is now playing catch up with the "closed" one. But there's so much bickering about how the "open" web" should work, that all the people that it should matter to - all the "ordinary" people - are far better off just going to whichever company has the most bucks to buy up a start-up or 2, and advertise their 2.0 socks off.

Here's the final, turn-it-around question then: What will the web look like in 10 years' time? Where will we keep our data, our identity? Who will control the communications? And who will we be able to talk to without being legally blackmailed over what we say, and whether someone else owns it?

We have to ask this. 'Cos right now, I'm just hearing a whole bunch of bickering.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

In Praise of Bees

"Bees don't like the rain", said Police spokesman Derek Strong after a lorry carrying 330 crates of bees overturned in Canada.

I have it on good authority (a beekeeper whom I met the other week) that bees don't like being overworked too much, either. Like humans, they get tired (and probably a bit ratty) when they get moved from one to place to another in order to pollinate a new realm of plants and flowers for farmers' frivolities. I'm not sure how long they take to settle into a new home either but I suspect that, like humans, that takes time and energy as well.

In amongst everything else that bees have to suffer, it's amazing they haven't just thrown up their tiny human-like hands, and gone "sod this, I'm off to Belgium die in a corner". Or maybe they have. Maybe that explains Colony Collapse which - despite intensive bee-moving gestures, intensive pesticide-based farming, and possibly MoD-funded fertilising initiatives - is apparently still an "unanswered" oddity.

It's easy-beesy to equate the little furry stingers with honey, hives, and heck else. apart from pain. But, as with everything, bees get around and have a generally-useful impact on the environment and society in general. Bees visit flowers and collect pollen, and in doing so, pollinate the flowers which makes them grow. Additionally, birds like to eat bees. So without bees, much less plants and birds emerge.

I like bees. I'd even go so far to say "I LOVE BEES" (Arg!). You should love them too.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Numeric-Rolling"

Scene: Sun rise over Polaris World. Andy Burnham is practising his tai chi alongside Fatboy Slim in a lush, green expanse of overly-cultivated field. Somewhere in the hidden distance, an Islamic call to prayer serves as the alarm clock of the masses.

Fatboy Slim: I made all my money from th' 303. Are you interested?

Andy Burnham: Does it come with go-faster bytes? Is it in standard XML? Does Bjorn Borg have one? I only need one if Bjorn Borg has one.

Fatboy Slim: Bjorn Borg has three.

Andy Burnham: 909? That's a lot.

A flock of Daffy Ducks take to the air from a nearby tree, the sound of their wings ocsillating back and forth with laughter and caution.

Andy Burnham: If I screw my eyes up real tight, no-one can tell it's not a 404.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No blokes kissing please, we're British.

Somewhere deep in Google HQ, the pagerank monster stirred ceaselessly in its nest, broken from its dreams by yet another jolt of electrical lucidity. Judgment time. Like a seven-headed apocalypse the monster emitted a half roar, and half bellied-laughter that shook the server room's cables. Another day, another link to the Daily Mail.

Still.

A mayonnaise advert showing two men kissing has been withdrawn after it led to more than 200 complaints.

"...some parents were angry that they had been forced to explain same-sex relationships to their youngsters who asked them about the ad."

Great British Blinkers go Bonkers, more like.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Houses aren't an Investment. They're a Relationship.

Light and dark. Good and evil. Balance exists. But unlike abstract notions and universal physical properties, there are some balances that we lie right in the middle of, that we attach ourselves to like the teddy we left behind as children.

Economic perspectives is one of these balances. A New Statesman article on the future of the British Housing Market (link via yezzer) is gloomy. Overly gloomy almost. But gloom comes from nowhere. And the gloom for this is extra dark because, on balance, it is needed to counter the over-optimistic and unsustainable glee/naivety that's pervaded throughout British culture for the past 5 years.

The reasons behind the swing are, of course, complex (and fascinating, from a systemic point of view). As the NS points out, prices are high for some obvious reasons: Firstly, there's been a lot of influx and immigration. Alongside an ever-increasing trend towards individuals owning properties and less people per property, this has seen demand shoot up. Secondly, I still think we're seeing a "pop" of inflation arising from suddenly-spare capital after the Baby-Boom generation retire, finish paying off their mortgages, and look to giving their cash to up and coming family members.

The crash is going to be hard, and is going to be different this time, for further reasons: Firstly, the demand is not necessarily a sustained one. Migrants are not in sure supply - there is no reason they should stay in the UK, and no reason why more should continue to flow in. This amplifies economic downturn. Secondly, the Baby Boom population is a temporary demographic "blip".

Between these two, we are caught between a pincer movement of globalisation. The past - a war that united countries, but split up families. And the future - increasing competition, not just for jobs, but for food and energy as well. Yup, maybe we'd be better off spending all that sudden release of cash on food, rather than roofs. or on skills and training. Something to keep us alive, to maintain us, rather than something we need to maintain instead. After all that, maybe investing in houses is actually just an oxymoron.

Thinking back, this idea of a house as an "investment" is something which appears to have been overlooked. After the markets crashed a few times, people were no longer sure what to cling to. Housing was seen as a "safe bet", because house prices "always go up". People started flocking to property as the most secure form of asset. Even if they weren't secure, people maybe subconsciously figured, at least if they crashed we'd be in it together, and then once the crash stopped (like, 6 months later), then we'd be back on the way up, together. Hurray.

As we're finding out, a house isn't just something you nip out to the shops to buy. A house is an ongoing effort rather than an investment. It's a relationship, not an ownership. And if you're going to maintain that relationship, you need inputs. Cash. Knowledge. Skills. Perhaps this is where all those property programmes sprang up from - a desire to know how to own a house.

Set against the UK attitude for skills and industry, the future looks increasingly bleak. When companies are complaining about new employees not having basic skills - as well as not being trained for a job or run our infrastructure - then we have to wonder what the hell our education and training systems (or cultures) are playing at.

In short, we face a shoddy future because companies are happy to employ people from countries with better education systems, and our education system is more intent on getting us to follow protocol than to learn anything useful. Houses became our life-rafts once we realised this, and the British government don't really care, so long as it's the companies making profits. (Profits - GDP - look fine on the balance sheet.) Now it turns out we had just no idea what kind of neurotic high-level son-of-a-bitch patient the life-raft actually is.

And we've certainly never been taught how to steer one.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

State (Control) of the Economy

There's something peculiar about China telling the West how to run their markets. But then, maybe they've got a point?

Thanks to China’s lack of integration with global financial markets as well as the cautious regulatory approach of the CBRC, Chinese banks have emerged relatively unscathed from the global credit crisis, which so far has caused nearly $380bn of losses at western financial institutions.
Are we in the West just lazy/greedy?

Update: Pascal Lamy, WTO director-general, agrees. Also, "Pascal Lamy" is the coolest name, like, evah.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do playlists sate our lust for "New" music?

Originally music was "free" in the truest sense. Then we captured it, recorded it, wrapped it up and sold it. Then we digitalised it, ripped it, caged it in bits and shouted about its freedom. Full circle, only this time the circle is made of metal.

This Reg article on how the music industry doesn't get digital reminded me of a thought from the other day. Our relationship with music in a digital age is often thought of as "disruptive" in 1 of 2 ways: either the ability to copy music freely once it's been turned binary, or the ability to reach out to new, unsigned/unheard of artists and to ignore the idea of "mainstream promotion". Unlimitations of the physical, and of the social.

But that doesn't explain why I've stopped buying so much music. I used to go and buy random discs. I used to browse music channels and find interesting, bizarre tracks. I used to pick up discount CDs in the hope that every 1 in 10 might actually be good (and often, 1 in 9 was...)

Here's what I've noticed - I don't think I buy so much music any more because it's easier to listen to what I already have. This harks back to the "physicality" perspective, of course. But I think the "playlist", or the mp3 collection, defines a very real and very new relationship with musical zeitgeist. The fact is that we haev instant access to all of the music we've ever bought now. No more scrabbling for CDs. No more scratched surfaces. Given enough time, and enough tracks, the first item on my playlist becomes new again, unforgotten and re-discovered.

So maybe I don't need to buy new music so much, because I have my old music still. And I have better access to it. And it's still good. Still uplifting. Still a classic. I can focus my purchasing energies on what I really like, in an incremental attempt to expand and increase the mean quality of my shufflerised playlist.

Is the digital back catalogue the music industry's greatest enemy?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brighton sell-offs

Market Diner being sold off, possibly Banksy too? Hoom.

Update: Barnoid went and had a shufty at the Banksy and noticed it's still there... but not.

Cunning. Does it still need the perspex then?

Tradespace: Missing My Little Boxes

Three figures from BT - 1 x PR lass, 1 x senior tech/sales guy, 1 x background lurker - swanned into the office, down from the big city, crashed with energy, free pens. Turns out they're recruiting sign-ups for BT's latest venture, a business-community-directory-social-network-service called Tradespace that for all the world looks like a BT'd up version of Etsy. At least they "get" that it's not just what a site does, it's who's using it.

Not sure if it's a site for customers to shop from, or for businesses to network via ("B2B", he said, falteringly knowingly). Obviously less focus on "handmade", more on "small business". Communities are in there, in beta. Shops can feature products, leave blog posts, even "fave" other businesses by the look of it.

Something about it feels creepy. Maybe it's just the BT branding - years of learned behaviour kicking that cautious quarter of the cortex into gear. Maybe free pens have jealously betrayed me in the past. Maybe "we" have got used to seeing "social networking" as something that the big guys just don't "do", or "get" - an association of a new class with new technology, a re-kindling of the cyberpunk fire through APIs and KISS. But then we worship Google and Yahoo, so maybe it's not that.

Actually, you know what it is? What makes me edgy?

Lack of avatar pictures.

Isn't that weird? Why do I miss those tiny little squares? Is that why I don't get on so well with FriendFeed? And has anyone done any research into this? What do they mean? Why do they matter?

And can one exist just as an image, discard the whole crazy idea of a string of letters as who, or what we are? Maybe it's time to go anonymous. No, wait.

Graphonymous.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pound taking a bit of a Pounding?

Today I am mostly a/be-mused by what the Pound is doing against the Euro, not the Dollar, in recent times:


Hello? Are we so distracted by how cheap things are in the US now that we've forgotten we have our own currency? If anyone can explain to me why, amid this and everything else, the FTSE100 is at 6,300 and still going up, I'd be most glad. Ta, like.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On the Road Again - Nomadic Thoughts

I heard a joke recently: There's this family - Dad, Mum, 2 Kids, that kind of thing - walking through the desert. It's hot and it's dusty, but the progress is good. "Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet?" the kids start asking, insisting. "Course we're not," replies the father, "we're bloody nomads."

Things have settled a little over the last few months. The novelty of 2008 has faded a little, and my thoughts are back with 2007 again. Death is still on my mind, but not in a particularly morbid way - instead, I'm finding that asking "well, what is death?" has led to a similar question: "what is life?" I don't think you can ask one without asking the other, or "confront" one without "confronting" the other.

Thinking about what it is to live raises all kinds of questions. What is "work-life balance", for instance? (Another rhetorical trap, but that's one for another post.) What does "feeling alive" mean? In a way, I feel more alive, and yet more sleepy at the same time, than I ever have. I don't think there's a particularly absolute definition of what it is to feel "alive" in that case. Maybe it's something you can only say in reflection.

Amongst the lows and the highs of the last few months, some form of reality - or connection with reality -has emerged. This sounds fancy, but isn't that difficult to explain. And yet, I think the simplicity holds the key to "feeling alive". It's simple in terms of what we feel, and often it's so simple that we're afraid that that's all there is to it, and so we go off and invent new forms of "feeling" to keep ourselves relieved that we're still looking for an answer. Or, at least, we set ourselves a different answer - one that's unattainable. Humans are weird like this.

In other words, the simple things are the important things. And the simple things are the things which come naturally to us. Love and grieving might be two ends (but also the same end) of this simplicity. We don't learn to do either, but we do learn to resist doing them. How odd is that?

So you could say my philosophy, for want of a better word, is shifting. I'm actually very excited by a single blog - probably more excited than any other blog I've found. I'm not sure why - maybe it's the ideas, maybe it's the style of writing, who can say - but zerocurrency.blogspot.com is lining up with a lot of my thoughts at the moment. About money, about life, and about spirit. It's a reminder that "religion", philosophy, attitude, personality, work and desires are all tied up in the same big bundle. A reminder that spirit is on the same axis as physicality and consumerism. That all things come from the mindbody mind-body (the "mindy").

I'd recommend having a look at the very start of the blogif you're intrigued about money, and how much we "depend" on it. In a way, the idea of living without money is an alternative to alternative economies (such as non-state-funded currency, or even bartering). I think maybe one (living moneyless) is a personal thing, while one (economics generally) is a social thing and it's difficult to prescribe either as being right for the other. But then, I think the same thing could be said of religion/spirituality, or of work, or of social ties generally as well. In the end, it's all about what you do, though.

This thing we call "reality" is at the same time both fragile and utterly stable, because it exists on so many different levels. "Man-made" reality is perhaps the fragile part, whereas the reality that pre-empted us as a race is our foundation. "Reality Hacking" is an attempt to distinguish between the two, but so too is academia, photography, poetry, and that time when you just sit in a chair, staring into space while your mind dances off into whirlpools.

In reality, I think perhaps there is no "end" that we get to. When we arrive, we die. That is the end. Otherwise, we're all far more nomadic than we think.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Reno Riddled with Repetitive Rumbles

What the bananas is going on in Reno? As AP reports, a string of Earthquakes has started appearing over the last week, with over 500 of the little rumbly blighters cropping up in that time. Check out the map of the area on this page, but also be sure to scroll down to see the cumulative counts, which go something like this:





A little odd, no? Let's hope it's not a portent for things to come. Hopefully the Mother Earth just needs her morning shreddies as a bright new dawn* awakens.

* That's Web 2.0, that is.

(Original link via exador23.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brighton New London Tesco Road

Every time something changes in Brighton, I get a little more annoyed. I guess I've been naive in confusing "culture" (what us as people do) with "planning" (what them the powers do), but every large development in recent years has been about selling out promises of "community" and "sustainability" to more and bigger stores which we (and/or everyone else in the country) have already got.

So imagine my genuine pleasure upon reading that Tesco are #1 for taking over the old London Road Co-Op. Hurrah and biscuits, popdoodles and zipples. Their "exciting combination of food and comparison goods under one roof" (listed here) fill me with a TescoJoy [tm] to my TescoTeeth[tm].

Some might say this is the perfect antidote to the new Sainsbury's graveyard campus opposite, or to the forthcoming Aldi store just down the lane. More competition! More parking spaces! More coleslaw!

I say this is what's known as "selling Brighton up the duff". Ignore ideas of community on the ground that there's not enough funds to organise it. Get funding from those with too much cash anyway. Bend over. Drop pants.

Some others seem to feel the same way though. Maybe there's something we can do. But what can we do? Object? Protest? Move? (Away from Tesco? How?)

Look, powers-that-be. We don't need that much funding. We do need innovation. Creative ideas. Brave ideas. Ideas that aren't afraid of failure so long as they stuck to some notion of making people happy.

Ideas that aren't just peddled from yet another shopping behemoth.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Live Mesh: You are We, as We are We

Ah, Microsoft. What a strange beast you truly are. Yesterday morning, I checked out your lovely Live Mesh site, and it all looked very interesting. I even installed Silverlight for you. I even cooed a little, eyebrows raised. I thought you were back in the game, so to speak. (And it is all so very, very much a game.)

But what happened while I was sleep? Did that nagging doubt at the back of your mind kick in? You know, the one that means you just can't do something without worrying that someone will steal all your profits away, and show you how you should have done it all along? The one that unites justified parade with the rich kid spirit of showing off what you and your friends (and no one else) have access to?

Why did you have to turn the milk so sour?

And to be honest, I'm a little confused when you come out with things such as:

"We hope people will look at the platform and the capabilities and think about new imaginative ways of building applications that will benefit our customers." (emphasis is mine)
Is that a typo? Do you need an extra 'Y' to add to that oh-so-little "our"? Or do you need it to ask "Y, O Y are we so afraid of interacting with other people, of sharing our balding heads and aging development processes?"

It's not too late to turn this around, you know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Imagery Magic

Some things I just get too excited about - they pop something open in my mind, like a Grecian Gateway to a whole another world of fun and experience, and so I have to have to have to share them with the world in case anyone else understands. This evening, the gateway is being blown open by two photostreams on Flickr. (Click on photos to go to their Flickr page.)

Jochen Hartmann has been playing with 4x5inch bellows to produce some dreamlike work that takes my breath away, especially this one, this one and this little number (so far).





Elsewhere, but similarly in B&W, forgottenpittsburgh has been doing some fine experimenting with homemade contraptions to come up with some equally amazing images.




This one was created by leaving some photographic paper in a pinhole cam, and waiting for it to track the Sun's path over a couple of days...





The more I think about it, the real problem with digital convenience is not the ease of deletion, nor the USB connectivity, but the genericism of the sensor array. It's too easy to make digital film "too good", giving things a bland, uniform look because all the imperfection around the edges have been removed. It's in the production process, is photographic character. It's in the way the film slides, shuffles, dances. It's in the all-too-human fallibility of something tangible.

Yes, film has a good future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Socialist Rant

Rock on. The sooner we reward the really useful people in society rather than the people who just want control/money/fame/etc, the better. The depressing thing about all this is that there are probably plenty of people (not all of whom are uninvolved in coming to a negotiation) who see "Striking = Slacking". Bollocks to them. Taking cash away from those who are already under-appreciated is not a good way of controlling a FUBAR economy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What? - Not Who?

LS: We Have Become Content

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

WiiBiiCii: Televisual Future?

As far as I'm concerned, the news that Flickr now does video is dwarfed by the announcement that the BBC iPlayer will appear on the Wii. Sure, that's a UK-centric perspective, but the forces at play here are gigantic, especially when placed next to Flickr's news.

To compare: Flickr has always done a fairly decent job of integrating photos with social networks (alongside others such as Deviant Art, I'd argue). Introducing videos - or rather, "long photos" as the Flickr blog puts it - is only big compared to what Flickr already does. (Personally, I love the idea of a 90-second limit. Others have likened this to the deliberate terseness of Twitter. And I think it makes sense. I'll be intrigued to see how my contacts list in Flickr changes as videos get rolled in.

But let's look at what the Beeb are doing. Their iPlayer is gathering momentum, and following the recent publicity around flying penguins, now seems a fantastic time to make the Wii-hookup announcement. People know what Wiis are (they've played one, or they've seen those adverts that do a great job of showing you how they work). People know what the BBC is. People don't necessarily know what Flickr is - it's one of those things that you have to experience, really, to understand what it might mean to you.

So the iPlayer is doing OK. But people are still really not into watching TV on their PCs (or their mobiles, but that's another thread). So we buy recorders, HDMI-capable devices, and ever-larger TV screens instead. The TV, take note, is still King.

Which is where the Wii comes in. It ties together the above two themes nicely - internet access on the one hand, and TV playback on the other. It bridges the 2 without knowing it, plus it throws in the most important bit here - user-friendliness. Not only is it aimed at all the family, no matter what the age, but the Wii also introduces possibly the only hardware interface that makes more sense than ever-more-complex remote-controls: true point-and-click. (And this is what sets it apart from the other consoles, which are still stuck with their "button" metaphors.)

The holy trinity. Connectivity, Content, Usability.

Whether others follow the Beeb's line is the crux point, the thing to watch. Either the BBC are going to be stuck out on their own again (although doing something, I imagine, that's still very successful - but not game-changing), or we can expect to see a swarm to the Wii by other similar content providers. Nintendo must be grinning like Mario at this point - even cheap imitators would need to do what Apple hope to do, and tie together hardware, social awareness and content deals.

It's a nice day here, but the geek in me is about to hook a borrowed Wii up to the net to work out just what else is going on here.

Addendum: The Register reports that a PS3 Hack is out. That's 2 out of 3.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Looking Back

I tend to just tag things up if I think they're cool, rather than blog them, but there's something about this Rocketboom video that makes me want to flag it higher.



(via Laughing Squid)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Musica Robotica Yellowa

Totally loving the Yellow Drum Machine robot.

(Is it wrong to use Twitter refs in blog posts? If not, then @interstar will love this...)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Steampunk for the (Locked-Up) Masses

Steampunk Magazine are "celebrating" the USA's 1% prison population by offering free subscriptions to the incarcerated.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Economics: Chaos and Optimism?

I had the post below drafted out, but I don't think I've got the time or energy to put more thought into it. I'll throw it out as an "open draft" for perusal/comments, while at the same time linking to this rather nice write-up of the financial mess we're in. What strikes me most is just how much of a chaotic system this is. What seems like a small move has had (or is having) gigantic repercussions. But is this embedded in the philosophy of investments? Check out these two paragraphs from the article:

They made $100 million bets with only $1 million of their own money and $99 million in debt. If the value of the investment rose to just $101 million, the investors would double their money.
And:
Many of these bets were not huge, but were so highly leveraged that any losses became magnified. If that $100 million investment I described above were to lose just $1 million of its value, the investor who put up only $1 million would lose everything. (emphasis = mine)

Question is, why were people making those kinds of gamble anyway? Greed? False sense of security? Necessity? Probably a bit of everything, from what I can gather.

Markets still seems based largely around optimism from what I can see. In that sense, they're not too far away from faith-based religious institutions. Maybe Richard Dawkins should write a book about them.




Us Bank Bear Sterns has been sold at a huge "discount" - think Primark now, but for investments. The FTSE 100 has finally dropped below 5500 as a result and could be set to go lower if this paragraph is anything to go by:
Sterling was the only leading currency not to rise against the dollar as investors feared problems in the UK’s own financial sector.
The Euro, the Swiss Franc and the Yen all "rose" (or, rather, stayed the same while the Dollar jumped off the nearest skyscraper).

What does this mean? It means there's most uncertainty in the UK about what lies ahead. After selling off our all own industry, it means (as I see it) we're generally a lot more dependent on the choices made by other countries - including the US.

What intrigues me is the difference between market prices as "actual price", and market prices as an indicator of just how jittery everyone. Knowing things are going to go bad is very different from fearing things are going to go bad. If you know things are going to be bad, then you can make strategic decisions - the question is not should you spend the cash, but how you spend it. Sure, you may spend less, but there's more certainty, more unexpected shocks.

On the other hand, fear goes hand-in-hand with uncertainty. Instability means that people keep cash back in case of those unexpected tremors. Cash becomes a reaction rather than a strategy.

What stage are we at? Are we afraid of a recession? Or are we knowingly headed towards one?

Whither Twitter? : The Culture of Chat Mediums

[This post turned into a thesis, so for your reading "pleasure" I've split it up into 4 parts of roughly unequal sizes to aid navigation... Good luck, soldier.]

Just been catching up with the latest AOL and Facebook strategy shifts via Joshua March. Can Instant Messaging really be making a comeback? Like Joshua, my IM "buddies" list (always hated that term) is generally on the decline - I probably use it to talk regularly to less than half a dozen people now, and I can't remember the last time I actually added anyone to the list.

The form that "chat" comes in is hugely important to who we are (and something I really want to link in to over on Sphereless at some point). What makes for a successful chat medium? What different opportunities and possibilities emerge from each medium? How do these mediums affect who we talk to, and what groups we form? In an oddly-technologically-determinist kind of way, I think all these questions have gargantuan impacts on the economy of Internet Comms, modern day politics, and what is it to be someone with friends.

Over on Twitter, Luke asks "Do we know that twitter won't find a mass market as email and search did, tho? It shares their simplicity..." Sure, the simplicity is important but not, I think, the be-all-and-end-all of the success of a medium (and, I guess, few people say otherwise). Here are some Other Things that need to be taken into consideration when thinking about innovation of this type of thing (and which hopefully dispel any rumours that I'm a technological determinist...)

Part 1: Spheres of Influence

1. "Cultural" determinism - or, to be more useful, Usage Environment (in the sense that our Culture determines where and when we use our Technology).

What makes Facebook and MySpace so popular? Simple - they're timewasters. And we, as a race, have far too much time on our hands. Except it's not free time, it's work time. All those students, all those people in office jobs - all effectively tethered to a desk for 8 or 9 hours a day, with only the web for comfort. You need something you can switch on and off at the flick of switch or a Refresh Button.

E-mail used to do the job, but it turned out to be too free-form (not enough structured comms), too limited (no functionality or apps) and too antisocial (no group-forming). IM had a go at replacing it for a while, and fulfilled some of the first, none of the second, and a lot of the third. Now Facebook is filling in the gaps. Now you can hang out in groups and play games instead of working.

On the other hand, Twitter has very little functionality and basically zero group-forming. It's similar, in terms of the amount of "investment" or "engagement" needed (relatively little), but the twittersphere is an infinite sphere, with every Twitterer their own centre of that sphere. It's an individualistic technology for individualistic, busy people. A melting pot where the main game is conversation, not Scrabble. And, as such, it's (currently) attractive to a very different cultural set.

2. "Practical" determinism. Or "functional"? "Positivist"? In other (more) words, the extent to which people engage with a particular medium depends on their relationship to the issue being discussed, or the action being prepared/taken, via that medium.

Thus, Twitter is great for answering "What are you doing?", but not so good for "How can we make a car?" or "Should we build a new football stadium?" (unless you're into One-Click Politics and StrawPolls). It's not a way to share photos. It's not a way to order or filter conversations. It's not a CMS or a Wiki. It has archives, but you tend not to search through them. It's temporary, dynamic, continuous. "What are you doing?" implies "Now". But conversations aren't always about "Now".

Nor are they always about text, or about links. Sometimes you want or need a "richer" conversation, or an accountable one, or a formal one, and different media permit or discourage these in varying quantities. Hence the comments here about Flickr doing Video are generally conservative - Flickr does photos, and many of the more active members want/need a place that concentrates on photos exclusively. To diversify is to lose focus, which is good for a site built on top of connections, but not one where connections are built on top of functionality.

From this, then, we can say that any services offering a diversity of functionality (i.e. those based on social links rather than a core functionality idea, such as Facebook or AOL or Mash or Tribe) will need to offer a correspondingly diverse set of mediums to take this into account. (This also highlights problems with, say, fitting political engagement to certain "trendy" mediums such as chatrooms or video logs etc.) The key question for a service then becomes: "How does functionality get split across these mediums?" How does one do this without detracting from the usability or the allure of the service?

Part 2: Find the Gap

The flip side of this weird aggregation movement (that is, sites that try to do everything) is also fascinating. Given a set of usage contexts, conversational mediums and technological possibilities, not only are there the combinations addressed by services which bring them all together, but there are also holes between them. These holes are places which no combination of existing contexts and mediums currently fills.

Places which try to replicate something from the "off-line" world (in the same way that instant messaging replicates a face-to-face chat), but which are limited to certain contexts or mediums. The key challenge here is: how can one set of functionality or of context be "ported" to another?

I see these holes as "conflicts" - places where an acceptable solution doesn't yet exist, and so everything that tries to fit into such a hole is still experimental, still looking for a good fit. These holes are the places where niches exist, where small companies operate, and where PR is everything, because if you didn't even know the hole existed, there's no way you'd know you needed something to plug it up. Holes are created on a daily basis, so competition is fierce around them.

This is the realm where culture and functionality do not naturally integrate, given the tools we're already using. Some examples from off the top of my head include:


  • Video on hand-held devices - because we like to both use our eyes while moving and because we're used to watching things on bigger displays. (Hmmm, in which case... Are large screen TVs killing the mobile video market?)

  • Handheld book readers - because books and papers are cultural and personal things - the feel, the turn of a page, the weight, the slightly-worn edges... Replacing tactility in technology is light years off yet.

  • Electronic Paper - similarly, because paper is generally disposable while electronics generally aren't, and because pens are analogue and freeform while computing generally isn't. Disposability - of ideas - is a cultural thing, and one which bit-based tech is gradually drifting away from.


Everything fits into a hole, really. It's just that some holes are bigger and a lot easier to fill. The interesting holes are the ones that start out small or difficult to fill, but end up being large and filled just-the-right-amount.

I don't have too much else to say about these holes at the moment, although I think they are an interesting way to look at the world. If you're looking for the Next Big Thing, I think there's mileage in the idea of conflicting contexts. Too many people wonder "How can we use technology X to fill hole Y?" But the important question is really "Which hole does technology X best fit?"

Part 3: Whither Twitter?

But let's bring this back to chat. When, where, and why do we chat, and can we use this to predict the success of a particular medium or service? Why is Twitter doing well but videophones aren't? Does anyone actually use Skype to make video calls?

In my eyes, Twitter does a job that nothing else does: it brings together SMS messaging (as a cultural action as well as a technology) with the web and, by extension, Desktop apps. Both are hugely popular, but for different reasons - SMS is quick, simple, and efficient while the web is rich, complex, and "functional". Twitter works because, unlike other services, it goes from SMS up to web, rather than trying to cram the web down to a mobile. This goes back to something I was saying before. (And maybe there's a hierarchy of availability to be explored here?)

But if we take into account the cultural context, maybe it's not enough for Twitter to just "work". To become bigger, it must become attractive to where people spend 8 hours a day, or people that are intent upon procrastinating. Maybe the problem with Twitter is that it lets you get on with your work too well!

Stepping away from Twitter, and in spite of the above paragraph, I think the real losers here are the mobile phone carriers. Their insistence on seeing everything in terms of voice damns them to a hellish world of working out just where their next quick buck is going to come from. Certainly in the UK, for mainstream users, functionality is limited to voice and SMS. There is generally no integration at all with anything else - I still can't forward an e-mail address to an SMS on my Vodafone account. I have an on-line bill, but that's about it. The Mobile Carriers are sitting right on top of a KISS Comms Goldmine, but their insistence on getting a) "big" content to drive business and b) customers to pay for anything they do on top of free minutes/texts is doing NOTHING for them. And, as there's no way Apple's iPhone or Google's Android are going to be anything but the reserve of businessmen and geeks, we're in stalemate.

Part 4: Predictive Text

So to return, what does my chat list do nowadays, and where is it heading? Would I use it more if all the people on my Twitter list were added to it, or if all the people stored on my mobile were on there? I suspect this would just be an intermediate stage (although a big one). Contact books are the important thing here. How you chat to someone depends on where you are and what you want to talk about. It makes sense then to synchronise lists across mediums - it makes sense that people would say "This isn't working on this medium - the topic has changed. We need to move to Medium X instead." Just like you switch to a big whiteboard when you need to hammer out an idea with someone.

Here's a prediction to end with: The iPhone will succeed in opening up the rift between mobiles and the web.... for iPhone users. Nothing will change for the rest of us. All-encompassing sites like Facebook will tie in text messages - probably as some kind of premium plan. Mobile operators (in the UK, at least) will make some moves towards integrating the rest of into the Twitter-like-verse, but in a half-hearted way which means it's still not economically viable. Something much akin to Twitter will come along, but aimed at non-geeks (e.g. all messages go to "your group" only, which need to be set up on the web via OpenID), and will probably do fairly well.

And Bill Gates will be banging on about voice recognition.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Poverty: Cash and/or Status?

Posting about Status Poverty over at Into the Machine, but thought I'd cross-post here as I feel it's an important and useful concept. In summary, John Hutton has done me a favour by confusing cash poverty with status "poverty". In doing so, he's brought up an interesting and far-too-overlooked field. Just how is happiness related to both status and money?

The classical economic perspective assumes that happiness = getting most for your money (partially because turning things into numbers makes it easier to measure and calculate). More "modern" approaches feed off psychology/psychiatry and the now-"blossoming" fields of happiness science and positive psychology. But IMHO, these are overly-scientific and concentrate far too much on both the positive side and the individual side - something which classical economics also suffers from. Such a focused view will only ever account for half (or maybe a third) of "contentment", because humans are inherently both individualistic and social. (I'd say that we are also intrinsically linked to the nature of experience/the universe, adding another half again. Something reminiscent of this post.)

Hutton's comments open up the idea of happiness as being informed by society as well. I'd need to go back and check, but perhaps this relates to Leary's second circuit of consciousness, the emotion circuit, linked to walking, height, position and status. Of course, Hutton tends to ignore such links between status and happiness altogether. He seems to be rather "classical", in this sense.

What's intriguing me now, as mentioned above, is the link between cash poverty and status poverty. What you want, what you need, and what you can afford are clearly all wrapped up into one somehow, and feed into what makes us content, but for now this identification is all that's ready to be written down.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

You Lose the (Happiness) Game

Hum, I was going to blog something about the foolish approach we have to "happiness", but it made me all depressed so I can't be bothered. Maybe if I ignore it, it'll all go away.

See also: Happiness as a mental disorder

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Screens are not Zen

This 43 folders article about unplugging yourself really points towards a lot of what I'm thinking at the moment. I spend far too much time "defaulting" to a PC screen, just as some people "default" to a television screen.

I'm slowly getting out of the habit. But a whole new perspective involves a very different lifestyle.

I'm trying to do more of my job on paper, for example, so that I don't get distracted by the multitude of twitter/news feed sidebars that a widescreen monitor seems to just make happen. I'm thinking more about pen and paper, in fact - free from distraction, but freedom to doodle. That's what I call convergence.

Does it bother anyone else that 90% of what we do is just to distract ourselves from doing nothing?

Mobile Silverlight: Eh? (More Mobile Ranting)

There's some news and Twitter chat around the/a hook-up between Nokia and Microsoft's Silverlight technology.

First up for those who live in the real world, what is Silverlight? According to the Silverlight site, it's nothing less than "a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web". Hell yeah!

What does that mean? Who the feck knows. As I understand it (which is not to say what it actually is), it's a way of designing interfaces that let you access something (e.g. an on-line service) from wherever-you've-installed-Silverlight: your Windows PC, your Mac, etc... and now your Nokia mobile phone.

Darren Water's article at the BBC blog notes that Silverlight has been dubbed a "flash killer". I'm guessing that doesn't mean it hunts down college jocks out to save the Planet Earth, nor that it murders your computer with a particular panache and flair. (In fact, that should probably be a pedantically-phrased "Flash[tm] killer".)

More interestingly, further down, Darren says:

It could mean that the latest cool web 2.0 application that you've been playing with on your Mac or PC will run just as well on your mobile phone.
This, for me, holds some interest, because - well, because so far I'm quite dismayed that the "latest" services haven't been accessible via my mobile. At least, not without the usual stupendous mobile rates.

Take ebay, for example. I'd love to get alerts and bid via text message, but looking at how to go about it, I get a charge of 12p per "item" (is that auction item, or SMS item?). Bugger that, then. SMS alerts are a "premium service", I'm told.

And maybe this is the crux of it. "Cross-device" technology, especially in the UK, is doomed to be a "premium service". Silverlight is coming out on "Nokia's high end smart phones" we're told. But will I ever get it on my bog standard Nokia? Will I be able to afford ridiculously-priced data charges, or want the risk of a stupidly large phone bill as a result of installing Silverlight? Not really.

I get far too many free texts on my mobile. I want to use them. Twitter is good, but getting messages as texts only really works for certain people, and I'm not one of them.

There's a reason Silverlight will have problems, and it's the same reason why Mobile Video on demand has problems: too much complexity, for too much money, on too small a device. Silverlight runs the risk of trying to blur the lines between PC and Mobile, just as Mobile Video tries to blur the lines between TV and Mobiles. Mobiles are not TV or a Desktop. Get over it. Mobiles have limited input and limited output - that's their restriction, but also their beauty. That's why they're popular.

Hey, here's an idea - why not make Desktop/Palmtop interfaces based on mobile interfaces? The scaling up of simplicity (rather than the scaling down of complexity) might even make navigation easier to detach from keyboards and mice, and more amenable to gestures or other input devices. We might expect our PCs to do "less", but do more with what they do do. (Hint: I really don't use or need desktop widgets all that much.)

In fact, the more I think about this, the angrier I get. Time to go and look at a picture of kittens in a barrel.

Friday, February 29, 2008

"Dear Economy", or "How to Win with Supply and Demand"

Dear Economy,

I must admit I don't really understand concerns over falling house prices, or why slowth in growth is referred to as "weakness". It's almost as if you are of the persuasion that unaffordability is better for your good self.

If this is, in fact, the case, then I suggest a couple of easy steps that will help buoy your bizarre and rather perverted sense of "success":


  1. Impersonate natural disasters through a variety of man-made means, such as the hiring of schoolchildren to throw endless numbers of large buckets of water through "vulnerable" (or "despised", if you like) towns and fields. The resulting damage will force prices of food and transport up (again better for your Good Self, if attitudes towards house prices are anything to go by), as well as result in increased spending through clear-up services and replacement goods. You may like to replace schoolchildren with qualified destroyers if this means more money is being spent.

  2. Clamp down on this thing called "innovation" (or, alternatively, "progress"). The problem is not that progress exists, but rather that there's just too much of it, and as such everyone is able to afford their own level of personalised futurism. (For example, little Timmy can spend less and have a great time with a Nintendo [tm] DS Lite [tm], while young, "prosperous" Ursula can splash out on a rip-roaring Sony [tm] Playstation [tm] 3 [tm].) Cutting back on innovation means cutting back on choice which, as we all know, leads to greater competition in the short term. As a result of this squabbling, people will generally be prepared to pay more - simple supply and demand.

  3. Gain governmental kudos by installing new on-shore wind farms, and new high-speed rail links between everywhere-that's-not-London. Of course, in order to do this, large numbers of houses will have to be knocked down in semi-urban areas, driving prices up in nearby urban centres. (Increase which will, of course, be reinforced by these locations' proximity to both high speed rail and sweet, green energy.) Environment, transport, and social cohesion, all boosted by one simple act of changing land use! I should be getting paid for this.

In short, Economy, the future is bright for you, no matter how much you screw it up. This is a moment to sit back and be proud of.

Yours sincerely,

Scribe.

P.S. It works for the art world, too. Are you sure your Good Self is actually in some kind of "danger", or is it just that the people at the bottom have run out of cash and stupidity simultaneously?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Iran's Gazeuros, rather than Oileuros

Anyone following the ongoing fuel/economy struggle should read this article at the Asia Times.

Executive Summary:


  • Iran has access to a lot of gas that it wants to extract quickly. (Exaggerated figures claim Iran will grow from providing 1% of the world's gas to 10% in the next 20 years.)

  • Washington pressure (annoyingly, the article is light on details here - I guess it mainly means sanctions) prevents European gas companies and banks from hooking up with Iran. This just leaves Russia's Gazprom, who are already supplying 25% of Western Europe's gas.

  • Russia and Iran want the gassy equivalent of OPEC to be formed.

  • Thus, oil in non-dollars isn't an urgency (although could be the second of a double whammy). Gas in non-dollars is the current focus.


The whole thing reminds me of Naked Lunch, for some reason. Lucid nightmares, strange bed-time practices, monstrous systems of psychopathic control and, most of all, addiction as a necessity for survival. But not for the addicted.

Where's My E-Haggling E-Market?

Ever feel like something's missing, even though the Internet has every combination known to iqmonkeykind? I think I realised what it is this morning.

Somewhere in between the great god eBay and the new hippy wave of paying what you want lies what, for me, really defines a marketplace: Haggling.

Head to one of these marketplaces of authenticity (that is, one without any gaudy seals of authenticity) - from overnight, sprawling Cairo labyrinths, to grey, Sunday-morning car boot sales - and you'll find the fastest, most personalised price negotiation system in existence. Get the right crowd, put on a friendly forehead, and you can even lubricate the haggling activity (or "ritual", as it is in many places) with tea, cakes, or some other vaguely cheap ingestible that still manages to let more social-ness creep into the transaction than could be wrung from the bodies of a thousand Disney Greeters.

In fact, I've always wondered what the economist's fascination with market forces was - the over-reliance on competition to bring prices down, Pareto's Equilibrium and, ultimately, an industry addicted to the psychology of marketing like a Big Issue seller taking opera lessons to sell his wares and secure his place in the big bad Profit Warnings Hostel. Surely haggling is altogether more efficient?

Think about it: individual consumers pay what they want to pay. This makes sense because everyone's idea of "affordability" is different. Three-and-a-half quid to the Queen is very different to three-and-a-half quid to a student at the end of the month, but a Double mushroom and blue cheese burger really doesn't stop and take this into account. By being able to offer goods to different people at relative prices, not only do more people buy the goods because affordability becomes relative, but also prices are more "elastic" (I think that's the right word - I mean, "react less to other changes") compared to inflation (which can be skewed by one bunch of people being very rich). So, in general, the poor can "afford" more, and sellers sell more as a result.

So where's my E-Haggle then? (Tea and cake aside.) A quick google throws up Mr. Haggle (clearly a pre-cursor - or post-cursor - to the greatest '80s7 film ever made), but good luck if you can find anything for offer on it, let alone worth a frenzied barter over.

Maybe this is where eBay was going when it gorged itself on Skype-cookies. Or maybe it's where they should be going. Skype is interesting here, as it forms the bridge (or jumps the shark, maybe) between automated selling, and community-driven marketplaces.

Yes, being able to sell stuff without being there is handy. But haggling is fun as well as profitable. Interaction with a Real Person (if such a thing exists these days) can be a good thing - not just from a la-de-da web2.0 social thing, but also in terms of the feedback it provides to sellers and buyers alike. Communication carries trust. Communication carries response, judgement, and suggestion. Communication is not just about numbers.

Personally, I think Etsy would be a great place to try out something like this. The tangible, individualised, and often unique nature of the items on offer would dovetail well with some form of haggling mechanism.

There are some intriguing issues that arise, of course. Do you let consumers know what other buyers paid, for instance? Could you integrate individualised haggling with more of an auction-house chatroom method? I suspect people would get accused of not offering people the lowest price, and the whole thing might implode under notions of equality. But I'm also surprised no-one has even attempted to see what can be done about these issues, or to see if a new form of haggling can emerge from an e-era of e-obscurity.

Come on Internet, don't fail me know.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Encounter

9am.

"Have you got 20p for a phone call? I'm drunk and I'm Russian. I must call my ship and tell them that I'm still alive."

The orange juice in the cup in his hand might or might not have had vodka in.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Putting the "Warn" into "Warner Bros"

Some phrases strike fear into the hearts and souls of the Gods' Gods themselves. Personally, any phrase that manages to link the words "Warner Bros", "live action", "fast-tracked" and "Akira" is clearly destined to beat Thor's Mum to death with her own rolling pin.

So oh goody yay hurrah and whizz.

Addendum: Fortunately, Hollywood seems to be moving away from comics and into board games. Following the success of Tim Curry in Clue, I can only hope that The Twisted Adventures of Monopoly is as madcap and alternative. Matt Damon dressed as a Giant Boot, stamping on everyone he meets while singing "These boots are made for walking" is instant screen gold. Similarly, a penniless Leonardo diCaprio, reduced to the states of a bum after visiting hotels far too often, would also delight the whole family.

One can only hope that Mousetrap, Scrabble and long forgotten Games Workshop game Oi, Dat's My Leg! are up for treatment too.

Anyone got any better ideas/photoshop skillz?

Update: Wired has some answers.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The "Great" Literature Purge, '08

Of the three aspirations made at the start of the year, the second - clearing out some books - is probably the easiest.

I had visions of a Fahrenheit 451 style purge, but realised we have working fire alarms, so probably wouldn't get too far. (It might have helped with aspiration #3, too.) Similarly, "Richard and Judy's Book Denouncement Club" would probably take too long to a) form, and b) get round to the books I want to get rid of. So, being a geek, I decided the next best thing would be to write a site that combined Freecycle with eBay. A kind of alternate-economy-donation-auctioneering place where all those with a love of eclectic paperyness could, you know, hang out and stuff. I had a sitemap and everything.

Then I found chanceXchange, and kind of decided it was silly to reinvent the wheel. So I'm using that now.

It feels like it's in "beta" a little - navigation could be improved a bit, and there's not much "churn" on there - but the basics work. You sign up, choose your country, then list your stuff you don't want. When someone claims it, you send it off to them, and in exchange for postage costs, you get a credit when it arrives. Then you can use your credits to claim stuff off other people.

You can see my current list of things I'm giving away, or check out my profile here. There's a handy faq, too. Of course, you can always ask me to bring stuff to the pub, or sidestep the site but, uh, I liked the idea of spreading the Xchange word.

Of course, that doesn't do much to stop me buying more books. So far this year, I think I'm about even: one in, one out. 2 quid for coats. Got ID?

On to the fire-making.

Realisation

A slow vibration.
E equals m times C squared.
There is no danger.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Conspiracies and Nuclear Struggle

A third undersea cable break means that Iran is currently out for the count, cut off like Luke Skywalker's light-saber-wielding hand. If you're following this, then you'll recall that Iran is currently both partying, and deploying a new Oil Marketplace.

Now, I'm not a conspiracy nut, but 3 cables being cut in less than a week? C'mon. Conflicting reports over how it happened? C'mon. Politics is everywhere. Politics Owns You. The Victorians built their politics on cables.

On the pro-paranoia horn-tooting front, it's good to see that my own theories about the attraction of nuclear power are backed up by national press. Namely, that nuclear energy is not a warfare threat, but a commodity, and therefore an economic threat. In short, creating nuclear fuel is a centralised process (as opposed to, say, wind or solar energy), which means it can be controlled more easily and, from there, sold more easily. Wars on nuclear powers are more akin to copy-protected music than to fighting the Bad Guys.

To tie all this together then, we have a) a falling, flailing dollar as the US's self-sufficiency comes to a rapid (but foretold) end, and b) a new marketplace opportunity, a re-discovery of an energy paradigm. The two are completely related, so chuck out those notions of coincidence. There is, in other words, a power gap.

Unfortunately, my sense of history is poor. I couldn't say whether the last Great War* was caused by a similar power gap, or whether it created one. Either way, political nature abhors a power vacuum, and so we stand on the edge of a New Struggle*. "A New Hope", if you're looking for a "positive" spin to put on it... The search for the new "fuelgold standard" is beginning. (Which fits nicely into other thoughts from this week, but I'll come back to them some time later.)

Whether a few scissor snips just delays the inevitable, or actively cancels it somehow, will be a matter of interest. (If I wanted Iran out of the way, I'd have made sure that "submarine" hit that cable quite a few times. Reversing and going over it again should work.)

* I hate talking about the world in terms of war, especially "great" ones. But to understand the way the People In Charge think, this is the rhetoric we need to use. Depressing, isn't it?

Addendum: See also Mike Whitney's article over at Global Research.