Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Meanwhile, in the other blog...

Telling Tales over at Into The Machine.

What, you want more? Bah, bloodsuckers. OK, go and watch more of those excellent Japanese live "bullet time" effects. They'll, uh, change your life, or something.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Google Launch UK Politics Channel + YouTube + iGoogle = Google Politics.

Interestingly (and, I assume, as a result of getting the TWFY team on board), you can customise it down to Ward level. Seems like a fairly nice mix of local and national levels, although it'd be nice to focus more on the former. Maybe even integrate it with local councils - now that would be a kick from Google in the right direction.

More on this later, I think.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Johnny Lee does Wiimote VR

Every time I see one of Johnny Chung Lee's videos, I get a) excited because someone's not just talking about how we could develop new interfaces but also making them work, and b) scared because I'm sure he could come up with something that proves all the tech I thought is a dead-end can actually be really useful.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Who Owns Your Culture?

Perhaps it's better that I save my thoughtless ranting for comments, in order to avoid breaking 2 of my New Year aspirations in as many days. (I'm afraid the second-hand bookshop is just, well, Too Much Fun Really.)

Either way, I couldn't help but leave a comment over on the FT's notes on getting ISPs to monitor illegal music downloading. The phrase that ultimately sealed my responsive doom was where head of IFPI, John Kennedy, mentions the idea of "protecting our culture" - inferring that we need to stop piracy of music.

But what is culture, exactly? Often (maybe too often), we assume that our "culture" is our art, our music, our films, our plays, our street performances. Our creativity. The Brighton Festival is "cultural" perhaps. A diverse set of "things to see".

How British! How Doublethink! Culture is this, yes, but it's also so much more. Think of the "Parisian Culture", and not only do you conjure up images of galleries, but also bistros, patisseries and dogs. Think of "New York Culture" and you think of Hot Dogs, Skyscrapers, and people yelling at each other in the street (but in a "scary-friendly stranger" way).

Culture is what we do and who we are. Culture is your underlying mindset that guides your actions and your outputs. And it's not hard to see, then, why we try and squeeze our own definition of "culture" into the limited "Things to go and see" category. If we try to define our culture in a more "traditional" manner, then we quickly discover that our real culture is this: Working late hours, Commuting on packed trains, Eating over-priced sandwiches at desks, and getting "comedically" drunk to make up for it all.

In this sense, indeed, piracy is part of our culture.

So you'll excuse me if I find John Kennedy's idea a little patronizing - that we should protect who we are by being forced to pay for it. If music is our culture, then let ushave it back. Let us have songs that we can sing without fear of breaking the law, and that we can pass on from soul to soul. Let us have a world where "Happy Birthday" is free from copyright, and where my own thoughts aren't treated as a commodity.

Alas, we failed to protect our culture a long time ago. That's why we love going abroad and stealing other people's all the time.

There's a nice comment over at the Register that pertains to ID cards, but is quite relevant here I think. As "mark" says:

"Once we had craftsmen. Now we've got marketing."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Where's Scribe? An Egospective.

A retrospective. Finally. What's a few weeks between friends?

I don't usually write too much personal stuff here on The Blog - life's not interesting enough to fill hard drive caches with yet more irrelevant info. Still, the last half-year has been something of a roller-coaster ride, so I thought maybe just one post... Just One Post. If you hate egocentric posts, then skip ahead to the next one, or go look at pretty pictures instead.

The short version goes something like this: No more PhD. Cancer and 2 too many deaths. New job. Seems kind of easy when you put it like that.

So, in that order then... Well, one of the largest decisions I think I ever made was to cast aside the PhD, and to try my luck back outside the walls of University. The reasons for this are many - some personal and practical, some more "principled", but ultimately, I felt there was more to gain from actually working "in the field" so to speak, than from going through the academic process. PhDs are great in an "academic training" kind of way, but there's nothing like real experience (and, I'm not ashamed to admit, real cash) to get you on the path to actually Getting Things Done. A lecturer I am not.

To jump ahead a little, I seem to have landed on my feet a little in terms of jobs, so the decision seems to have been a fruitful one. But more on that later. For now, it's enough to note that I'm still interested in the same area - policy, society, use of technology - and still have a lot of respect for academic processes. They're just not necessarily for everyone, including me. (To digress for a moment, nor does it help that these academic processes are under fire in the UK now. But the death and re-birth of the University is for another post.) But my 2-year stint taught me that there are arts still to learn (such as research being a way of constructing an argument more than anything else) and put me in touch with some hugely interesting (and ultimately self-destructive?) new ideas. Hopefully I'll update my Uni Writing page with the fruits of my studies soon.

While I was mulling the decision over, we found out about Joe's cancer. In a strange way, news of Cancer is worse than news of Death. And that's All I have to Say about That.

Then, some months later, people died. Everything happened over the course of a few weeks, but it could just as well have been a few hours. Chopping out a few years, decades, of the future also appears to truncate the past. Reaching some form of singularity?

Time goes strange around death. There's so much to do. Memories to re-invoke. Gatherings to gather. Words to write. Emotions to feel. The book I'm reading likes to describe death as a hole in the Universe, which would fit. A hole abhorred by nature, throwing feelings and meetings and organisation together into a spiraling tailspin. Throw in a dash of Christmas and New Year festivities, and time does Funny Things Indeed.

The day after we heard about Lawrence, I also heard about a job I'd applied for. A few days after we heard about Joe, I started at Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion, as Technical Analyst/Developer/Researcher/Guy. Social Inclusion isn't something I've necessarily had much experience with, but the job's very exciting, in that it brings together policy, research (mostly statistics-based) and technology. I'll be looking at developing new ways to assemble information, and to present it in a Happy Nice Fun way. Also it gives me something to get my Teeth into, which is a great change after a year of Reading Literature.

I'm hoping some of that will carry over into this blog in 2008. The experience is hugely multi-dimensional, feeding into that strange fascination for both how people use technology, and how policy is formed. In a way (and from my new standpoint), both now come down to Numbers, with a capital N. Telling the Numbers story is hugely interesting challenge, but something increasingly "important" in the 21st century. Whether that's a good or bad thing is another discussion ;)

So that's far an away enough retrospect for this year. I'll finish with 3 resolutions aspirations for the year ahead, just to avoid a second post:

  1. Inspired by Joe's admission that he took hours over his, I'm determined to spend more time on each of my blog posts rather than just spurting out a quick rant. (That doesn't necessarily include this one.) Besides, Twitter is partially taking over my need to vent rapidly.

  2. Bookprune. Too many books I'll never read, so they should go. I have an idea for doing this "socially" though, so it may take some time.

  3. Make fire.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Image Meme: Common Courtesy Rant

Kind of amused but also annoyed by the Random CD Cover doing the Flickr rounds. The idea is great, the results are oft impressive, but there's also a general lack of attribution to the original image.

In this thread there's an appeal to use CC-License photos only, although there's also the point made there that, as this is a "game", copyright isn't "a real concern".

There are, of course, 2 issues there. First, permission to use a photo, and second, courtesy of using a photo.

Now, the former I have no idea about. It's a legal thing. But the latter stands, even if you're choosing a Creative Commons photo. It's just a "nice" thing, y'know, to point to the original artefact. Credit where credit's due, n all that. Some people get this, and attribution is appropriately attributed. Others just seem to eager to jump on th' memetic bandwagon and seem to see interestingness as a Public Good. (Which is an interesting idea/theme in its own right.)

Meh, I'm obviously getting too old and rickety for this Intenet malarkey. Time to go and water the Chevy.

(Oh, and people with group-psychology-economy interests might enjoy the new post at Into The Machine.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is it a bird? A plane? No. It's a fecking Carrot.

E'en the BBC is turning against poor Mother Nature now, as it appears to put people's fears to rest in an article on "supercarrots. Personally, such a name can only conjure up images of spotted cactus-looking aliens (that's the innocent's version) swooping down into carrot factories to "sprinkle their magic dust" everywhere. Perhaps that explains things when the BBC notes...

"It is not the first time the carrot has been tampered with."
Fortunately, like Superted (SuperTed? sUpErTeD?), nature is dull and useless - it turns out - at actually keeping us healthy. Can you imagine a children's cartoon all about... well, a stuffed, rejected and lifeless bear? No you can't, and neither can I.

So afore-mentioned spotty extra-terrestrial cacti (or "scientists") are generally Our Only Hope, which is pretty much just as depressing as having Luke Skywhiner as your saviour.

In an attempt to redress Nature's unwieldy and untenable PR position, I'm off to rub organic dead hamsters in my face and drink some thatchweaved mud.

Friday, January 11, 2008

KDE 4.0: Unexciting.

I was going to start this post with a question. When did KDE become a bizarre mash-up of Windows and OSX? But now that I've admitted that's what I was going to do, I can no longer do it. So I won't. But the question will hang in the air like butterfly ghosts.

Instead, this is an attempt to reconcile a glass that's half full with one that's half empty. After looking through screenshots for the recently release of KDE 4.0, that may or may not be possible.

A hand-written scrawl in the half-empty glass says "Hmm, a pale imitator of OSX. Is this really going to re-endear Linux to me?"

An equally illegible note in the half-full glass says "Hey, a decent imitation of OSX - for free!"

Both are true. In reality, there is only one glass. (In the matrix, of course, the glass is neither broken nor unbroken.) It is simply The Way of Things.

It is both impressive - that one can run such software legally, without paying a seashell - and depressing - that such software, set somewhat "free" of economics and corporations, fails to push any real boundaries. Anything in the modern, politico-capitalist world, inherently contains both these facets: Consumerism is a social statement. Usage is a personal practicality. Both - neither - are ultimately more important than the other.

But if that's the case, why am I still disappointed? Because I still cling to the idea of a "hacker" as an experimenter, perhaps. Because the pioneering spirit of giving things away free often went hand-in-hand with new ideas; money means value, value often precludes taking risk, and risk... well, new ideas are always risky. But lately I'm converted to Apple. Not simply because they come up with "risky" (as in new) ideas, but because a) their "risky" ideas are well researched before release, and b) the implementation of these ideas is generally well-rounded. In other words, open, distributed codebases may engender a modular, relatively solid codebase. But perhaps usability innovation requires something more than this.

What's interesting is the way the dynamics - the balance between technical sturdiness and usability innovation - shift as the context shifts. Economics obviously affect what people can afford to pay for: let's face it, there's no point in advocating the idea that schoolchildren in developing countries should all have Macs. But the role(s) of - and possibilities for - Linux et al also changes as more people have access to computing generally. An alternative to Windows for the masses is needed, but Linux isn't in a position to fulfil that.

Alternatively, many markets for embedded OSes are springing up, and all of the large players are obviously trying to get in on them. Here, Linux faces a tough task. Why? Because not only do Apple have a solid technical grounding (much more solid than MS), Apple also have the structure to think about both usability and design. There's a lot to be said for owning the code, the interface and the thing-in-the-box.

So ultimately, and to get back on topic (was there one?), I'm disappointed that KDE 4.0 seems to be more of the same, that most of the changes seem to be technical, under-the-hood improvements. There are some huge opportunities to make technology really applicable to everyday lives, opportunities which are still being pecked at around the edges.I guess the cyberpunk anarchist in me still just wishes these were being explored by people not in it for the cash.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Dollar Who Now?

There have been numerous announcements rumours before, but Google alerts have been springing up today from the Iranian press, so maybe it's serious this time... The Iranian Non-Dollar Oil Bourse might well open some time in early February. Is this tactically timed to coincide with the Iranian festivities? Or the American presidential race? Or is the Dollar now just to FUBAR for it to make any difference?

I don't know, but 2008 could hold more surprises yet.

Retrospective still to come.