Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Rant for Sure

Further exciting news about MSN starting up their own music store to integrate all lovely like with Windows. The interesting link is that they're also releasing a propaganda^W marketing drive based on players that have been marked as being able to "Play For Sure", to imply that other players will be more hassle than they're worth.

So is this true? *Is* selecting technical productry actually quite difficult? Take one extreme, for example - building your own PC. To do so, you need to ensure that your motherboard speaks to your CPU, and to your memory, and for those who don't have a head for obscure naming conventions such as "C2370A" and "256MHz DDR", this is a pain in the head. So perhaps, on a large scale, it makes sense for people to let others do the work for them.

Now think of music technology. We have, for all intents, a variety of standards - tape, CD, minidisc - and appropriate boundaries when it comes to devices to play them too. Nobody has ever needed much guidance beyond "CD-player" or "MiniDisc" player before. Sure, they may want advice on what the advantages each platform has to offer are, but it's pretty damn difficult to buy a CD player if you want to play minidiscs.

But what do we have now? Now, we have competing technical products merging with a consumer marketplace - the former tending to be a mix of acronyms and brandnames (Real vs iTunes vs mp3 vs Ogg vs WMF) and the latter usually avoiding such diversity as much as can be. And so perhaps the mass consumistry are justified in getting a little confused over what's what. And, as our poor little consuming brains have been trained to think as little as possible, perhaps we have reached the point where we'll buy what we know to work, rather than wishing to do just a tiny bit of investigation for our own good once in a while.

So is this a successful MS ploy? Maybe - but only so long as *perceived* confusion reigns, i.e. so long as the consumer is dumbed down but constantly bombarded with "choice". Yup, the sad truth. Our system of competition is maybe at complete loggerheads with our pursuit of simplicity. Monopoly is freedom - freedom from thinking, freedom from anguish over decisions, freedom from responsibility.

So once again, we can see that it's in MS' best interests to actively divide the marketplace and maintain a level of confusion amongst buyers, so long as they know that their chief tactic in the marketplace - simplicity - will work because people are afraid of technology, afraid of learning. Dumb down the public, then dumb down the gizmos. Given this established technique, is it any wonder they're pulling out of standards groups?

So what's to be done? MS have no intention nor reason for playing on the same standards-populated playing field as the disparate - those who must come together and agree on something for their own survival. I see some possible avenues:

1. Establish an infrastructure that encourages education within the consuming public. This doesn't have to be a technical education, merely a guide to technology that allows people to make informed decisions. Naming conventions and other traditional PR psych-devices should be employed to make the process as easy as possible - no more of this "RSS vs RDF vs RTFM" nonsense. Proper names. This could also allow the public to discover the benefits and advantages of each format more easily, in a currently-confusing world.

2. Establish more channels to simplify the communication between the technical guys and the public - this is similar to point #1 above, but is to be thought of more as an industrial effort rather than a decentralised drive, which I kind of see #1 as being. Release technical information with the consumer in mind, i.e. not just stats and bandwidth figures, but what it will mean to them and the impact it may have. More PR. I'm feeling dirty.

3. Encourage governments to see that the proliferation of (free) standards is of huge importance to small and medium sized companies, as well as public organisations. As we progress, it seems that various public authorities are acting more and more like private corporations anyway, so just as standards must currently be promoted by those implementing them in a business sense to take off, so it makes sense to have them "promoted" by public organisations. Some may say that public organisations shouldn't necessarily promote either proprietary or open standards over the other merely because of the politics involved, and that the decision should be made on functionality and efficiency. Personally, I'm coming round to the view that when the decision is being made on behalf of the public, the politics may actually be more important than the functionality - open standards are for all, just as political bodies are designed for all.

In short, I suspect that, under a free market, forcing companies to adhere to standards when they obviously don't need to is out of the question. But I also think that if open standards, for the reasons above, are to become accepted, a lot of thought has to be put into the best way to do this, against the might of some extremely large companies, whose interests are not best served by such schemes. "Playing for Sure" should be something that we all strive for in all things.

Travel for n00bs

Does this BBC picture, taken from "Asylum error judge demands answer", amuse anyone else?

Because I couldn't work out what a round-trip to India might entail.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Visual opiate

In the Guardian today, John Humphrys turns on a TV after 5 years and finds out how shit it is. In his commentary, he touches upon many points, most of which I heartily agree with. For instance, he raises the question (in my mind) of whether free markets can maintain social values, or if there's a race-to-the-bottom effect that emerges from doing things only for financial reasons.

He also makes the point... "Reality implies authenticity and honesty. And whatever some of this stuff may be, it is not authentic and it is not honest." Precisely. "Reality" TV these days is no more "real" than the performers on street corners ad-libbing bizarrities for the whims of the passing public.

Television has become more than either information or entertainment. It has reached the point where it has become the thoughts of a nation. It provides us with sensory stimulation in the first place, followed by conversational material merely by its popularity and ability to shock us, Without it we feel uneasy, like there's a void that needs filling but that we have forgotten how to fill. People have realised the problem of sitting babies in front of televisions, as though they're some sort of surrogate nanny, but they have yet to truly wake up to the problem of an entire population being nursed into vapid amusement by some constant feed of fake emotion. Childhood itself is simply an attitude, an approach to learning about the world, and just because we have reached an arbitrary age doesn't make a constant feed of brainless "excitement" any less of a destructive power.

One thing I've noticedis the decline in Channel 4's programming quality. Once the culty, driving, very non-mainstream flip-side of television, now consigned to showing hour-after-hour domesticated shows concerning gardens, DIY and hoovering. Visible maturation. Why is there this strange trend in capital-driven systems to conglomerate and converge on "popular" formats, and then lose any ambition and risk-taking that "competition" is supposed to lead to? Look towards the mainstream film, music and computer game industries for irrefutable, ongoing evidence of such "internal attraction" in progress.

Some people decry the obligatory public license fee for the BBC, claiming that people shouldn't be forced to pay, and that the BBC should run privately. I'd be inclined to agree, if only it weren't for the sheer amount of pap and advertising that is generated by the private companies. Is this a clearcut highlighting of what I've been trying to figure out recently - namely, just what does get lost in the transition from public organisations to private capitalism? How exactly o we price up the things we value most?

I'll sign off with another quote from the piece, which sums up the fact that someone, somewhere, will probably always be trying to control the masses for some reason.

"In the bad old days we had paternalists trying to capture the masses for what they believed in their patrician way to be good. Now we have businessmen calculating how much they can get away with to titillate or to outrage the masses and deliver the profits. Which is worse?"

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Price of Power

Some light reading for the weekend? The price of power: Poverty, climate change, the coming energy crisis and the renewable revolution.

From the Press Release:

"Around the world control of fossil fuels is linked to corruption and violence. Burning them causes climate change which in turn puts an impossible obstacle in the way of ending poverty. Reshaping our energy supply holds the secret to ending poverty and preventing global warming. Small-scale renewables remain the best answer for communities and the environment." -- Andrew Simms.

Hyperlink Policy

I wish people would stop doing really dumb things "for my protection". Take, for example, the Olympic Games 2004 hyperlink policy, which asks me to register with them (giving a description of my site and a reason for linking - does recursive pointing out of link policies count?). But obviously.

An article with more comment, and states that the "organizers use software [?] that searches for links and checks if permission was requested". Let's see if Google take down this blog now, then. (Or maybe it's only those who link to the main Olympics page.)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

World == crazy

Hmm, I'm in an amused mood today. Amused by human beings in general, I think. Some BBC stories to laugh at...

"Burn 'im! Burn 'im!" I say. The funniest thing about the Blair impeachment campaign is the surrounding quotes. Keith Vaz says "This is a silly story for the end of the silly season." - surely he means a silly story for a silly state of affairs? Meanwhile Donald Anderson calls it a ""no-hoper in legal terms", which amuses me as that's what I'd usually claim for most of the Home Office's stunts. Ah well, pudding and pie.

Also, maybe cleaning products cause asthma, not dust. I suspect the BBC are pimping for a headline-grabbing story, and the cleaning products mentioned probably take up a small part of a giant list in the original research, but hey. It doth amuseth me.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Home Ec

Whizzy super pop fun alternate economics day today:

The Guardian has a story about a possible national online marketplace. You can tell it's a government initiative as it begins with an "e-".

Also found an old BBC article by the proponent mentioned in the article above - Wingham Rowan on "Guaranteed Electronic Markets".

They also have something on Obi Obi creek in Australia, and its struggles against the march of Woolworths.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Language vs thought

Cool - possible evidence that language shapes what we can think. This makes sense to me, and I kind of worry about a homogenisation of language, and our progress towards a single global language for this reason. English is ok, but it lacks so *much* too. Whenever I hear about words in other languages that it would take us a whole sentence to get across, still without getting the real "meaning" behind it, I always want to learn more languages... :)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Ho hum

3G peeps screw it up again

You know what I'd really like from a 3G phone? Consider the fact that I have several gigabytes of music on my PC at home, that's already hooked up to broadband. Now, wouldn't it be cool if I could select from and listen to the music served from my own PC on my phone? Yeah. However:

1. Upstream broadband is still crap, although i could probably get some AM-radio quality stream coming off it.
2. The record companies seem intent on controlling the path from record store to wherever I listen to it. Theoretically, they could legally induce a DRM society such that when I buy some music, I get the CD, and the ability to listen to it via a 3G stream. Will they? No. Would I still be able to listen to my old music/the 99% of music not avilable for download currently? No. Would they let me do it under Linux? Ha.

Similarly, I love the idea of being able to tune into net radio streams - imagine being able to get FIP wherever I go!

Maybe the problem with this new "corporate broadband vision" is that it's all very one-way. The supposed demand is pushed as the ability to download or stream content from services, when really what the killer app is, is being able to shunt things from yourself to yourself, or between friends. What peer-to-peer tech has really proved is that the combined forces of millions of people is a much better "market", with much wider choice of content than established chains. I can now listen to and watch things I've downloaded that I can never get on DVD/CD/whatever. Consumers are publishers.

We all need to stop thinking in these terms of "the corporates sell, we buy". It limits us. We need to think of it in terms of "people produce, people buy, people trade." As "consumers", we've never had it so good. Even legally, there's more content being put out there that's free to consume than ever before, to the point where we no longer have to pay for content.

As consumers, we can realise that we don't have to buy things because people say we have to buy things. This is choice.

As producers, we can realise that we can now produce, and disseminate, with minimal investment.

The established need to realise that this is what people want.

The comms tech people need to realise the sheer power the technology holds, without kow-towwing to the established moneymakers.

Empower me, you bastards.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Is that your terror document, sir?

Anti-terror police charge eight. Among the charges against the eight is the crime of:

"Possessing a reconnaissance plan of the Prudential Building in New Jersey."

Yup, expect all architects' offices to be under military guard soon, and anyone who wants plans from the local council to be locked up immediately. Our buildings are now the territory, and are to be used and viewed in much the same way as a battle commander would survey the natural habitat before a fight. As such, only outlaws need to know how buildings are made, once construction has been reclassified entirely as an MoD task.

Do you see where this is going?

Another 3 years...

The FT reports that the UK govt are to sign up with Microsoft for another 3 years, yay.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

What's going on out there?

BBC News is claiming the Iraq government are calling for coalition forces to stand down, but that the US insist otherwise:

""I call for multinational forces to leave Najaf and for only Iraqi forces to remain there," [Ibrahim Jaafari] said in remarks broadcast by [now defunct?] Arabic TV channel al-Jazeera.

... But the US military - whose intervention was requested by the Najaf governor last week - has said it plans to press on with its offensive in the city.

Left hand? RIght hand? Power political vs power military?

Meanwhile, there's a decent analysis of the political side of the battle at Time.com:

"By inviting the U.S. military to invade the spiritual epicenter of Iraqi Shiism, the new government risks fatally undermining its prospects for establishing legitimacy among Iraq's majority community. Even though the Sadrists have provoked the confrontation, the prevailing animosity towards the U.S. forces among ordinary Shiites will likely play to Moqtada's advantage in his political challenge to the Allawi government."

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Some via BoingBoing.

Mobile phone-based "dialler" (or "texter", perhaps) trojan horse

Flickr allows you to search for keywords that people have tagged to their photos, add notes to your photos, etc. Looks kind of interesting, as in it may have some use :)

A simple Hello Kitty Doom III mod...

And, most exciting, Lewis Carroll's scrapbook is completely on-line, as in they've scanned in all the pages and referenced all the works in it. Impressive.

Monday, August 09, 2004


Love Mark Simpkin's "suggestion for an edemocracy, geo, mobile, social software hackathon/workshop" and reminds me that I should really make the effort to code more...

In the public eye

My attention is drawn to the TellParliament.net website - an online forum for "Parliamentary Select Committee consultation online" - now this is promising, and a step in a good direction. There seems to be a real willingness to connect with the public behind it, and a decent effort at letting public debate take place somwhere where it feels like you may actually be read. Alas, I found it too late to comment in the house of Commons modernisation thread...

The Value of Blogs

The revolution will not be blogged

Bill Thompson looks at the results from the Hansard Society's "MPs and Blogging" report, which he attended.

Haven't read the report yet - will print it out and look over it later. Bill's article seems to put a downer on blogs, saying that they're generally not going to achieve anything, but the report summary seems to suggest that there is potential, in terms of communication, for them. And politicians.

My initial thought is that perhaps political blogs are merely a fuel, rather than an outcome. By allowing people to publish, they get people thinking about what they're writing, and encourage people to become more involved in something they wouldn't normally have got as involved in. This is re-inforced by the peered, reputational nature of the "blogosphere" (ick, that's a horrid word. How about, um... blog + net = "blognette", pronounced "blon-yet"?) that can amplify the dissemination of enthusiasm from blog to blog.

What we need is a study that looks at the amount that certain people read and write blogs, and the amount to which they get actively involved in more "traditional" political adventures.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


Well, duh. Expect worse to come. Will we see another, more prolonged World War develop in about 50 years' time? What if we leave the necessary investment in alternative power so late that economies crash and we can't afford to develop it to the levels sufficient to maintain society as we think we know it today? Or at least to make the transition smoothly...

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The 60s: Cause or Effect?

Frank Furedi explores the relationship between Western establishment and the liberalness of the 60s, with good conclusion: "The authoritarian imagination confuses permissiveness with the prevailing climate of non-judgementalism. Permissiveness is a precondition for a truly tolerant society, but tolerance should not mean a reluctance to make moral judgments or to take strong stands against forms of behaviour deemed wrong."

He particularly highlights the difference between the claim that the government makes - that the 60s' cultural landscape and permissiveness caused much of today's problems - and the social environment that led to much of the 60s' cultural shift, and that has also led to the problems of today.

I think this is a very important difference to draw, as it shows the government seeking to justify their own ideologies, and to cast aspersions on apparent historical goofs, when in reality we should be questioning just how the government came to its conclusions, and whether they're indeed justified.

Ho hum, even more reason to keep a close eye on those we elect. Are we having fun yet?

A threat to democracy

I'd usually skip over George Monbiot's stuff, but will link to his op-ed in today's Guardian merely because I was thinking along the same lines not 10 minutes ago. He doesn't state much new in it, but as time goes on, the sentiments expressed in it do bear closer and closer scrutiny.

My thoughts today are something like the following. Again, nothing new, but re-asserting statements is a good way, IMHO, to nudge the brain into (subconsciously) thinking about a way forward.

  • Voting accomplishes very little these days, in comparison to what it could achieve. How can we re-unite the electorate with the voting process, to make it more relevant?

  • How can we integrate the quantitative voting process with a qualitative assessment of the issues within a particular matter?

  • Is the best to progress to go through the established systems, or work around them using new methods, with the idea being they'll eventually find their way into the establishment?

More thought is needed... perhaps some medi(t|c)ation on the matter...

More about that Terror Booklet

CCW makes an acute observation on the forthcoming emergencies-planning booklet. Where's mine, eh?

Monday, August 02, 2004

The RSS Effect

Another scale-emergent infrastructure problem?

RSS Traffic Burdens Publisher's Servers:

Infoworld.com experiences a "massive surge of RSS newsreader activity at the top of every hour," according to Chad Dickerson, the CTO of Infoworld. "If I didn’t know how RSS worked, I would think we were being slammed by a bunch of zombies sitting on compromised home PCs"

I remember at my old job, actually syncing all of the PCs' clocks to be accurate would have meant that they would all have tried to update their virus definition files at the same time, so actually them having different times saved network load. Perhaps their are similarities and analogies here to monocultures and normalisation dangers. (With wild abandon, what if everyone in society did think and act the same? Would we eventually self-combust through lack of free thinkers?)

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Exmosis rant: Language to Control Fears
(Gah, getting confused, this went to the wrong blog before, so re-posting here...)

Lots of activity over at David Blunkett is an Arse, what with the release of the Commons Home Affairs Commision report on ID cards (with BBC coverage), parodies of the emergency plan and the Privacy International Big Brother 2004 awards.