Category Archives: Technology

Facebook & FourSquare.

I’ve been using foursquare for ages: most of you unless we’re friends on foursquare or facebook won’t have noticed as I don’t publish it here or via Twitter – not because I’m fussy about sharing my data – just that I don’t really mind cluttering my facebook wall with checkins, but I think that they’d probably irritate my twitter followers.

I’ve noticed an odd thing though about the connection between FourSquare and Facebook: you see I’ve given FourSquare permission to post updates to my facebook wall. That’s it, at least – as far as I was aware – just to post, but today logging onto facebook I was confronted by a Facebook Places sidebar on my homepage filled with checkins showing two entirely unconnected places, showing all my friends who had checked in there using Facebook places and showing messages and events relating to those places…

These are places that could only reasonably be connected together, and to me by the fact that I’d checked into these totally disparate places within the last week on FourSquare. So does this now mean that Facebook is now specifically capturing incoming FourSquare requests to post on your wall;  parsing them and storing the location data separately?

In a way it’s cool if it is, but my problem is I can’t actually remember giving Facebook the right to do this? I don’t doubt that buried in page 45 of the terms is a clause saying I’ve sold my soul and first born to them, and to be honest it’s not the end of the world if they are parsing my data – I just think there needs to be a little more transparency from Facebook about how data you submit to your wall via third party apps is used, stored, distributed and re-applied by Facebook. I can certainly imagine that if they continue it’s only a matter of time before there’s a clash between what someone thought they were privately posting to their wall (which may only be visible to a select group of contacts) and what Facebook may (or may not) be parsing/scraping then displaying using Facebook Places to all and sundry.

iPhone fault.

In a post that’s guaranteed to get a least a few comments asking me to buy a proper alarm clock (which I own but is presently in storage). I must add my voice to the growing number of people complaining about the iPhone alarm bug.  I have many recurring alarms on my iPhone, the idea being that it slowly wakes me up with increasingly irritating sounds groups closer and closer together to guarantee that at least one alarm with irritate me sufficiently to get out of bed… so to have them all fail this morning and yesterday morning wasn’t ideal – both days I’ve overslept massively and I’ve had to have late nights to make up for the late start – just compounding the problem.

So please Apple: some of us have spent a lot of money with you over the years, we’ve stuck by bad products and poor customer services for the times when you get it really properly right, there are many issues with the iPhone that I can overlook for the wider benefits of what’s generally quite a good platform, but for crying out loud, an alarm clock isn’t cutting edge, I think every phone I’ve ever owned has had one, and oddly – failing battery failure – none, NONE, have ever failed me. You’ve promised a fix – but then you’ve done that before. So please sort it out.

All change in the political blogging world.

So Tory Bear is no longer so Tory, he’ll be going about his business as plain old Harry Cole from now on – whether that’s going to make much of a difference to his media profile who knows, his editorship of Order-Order surely won’t hurt his continued presence in the media even if he is losing the cutesy website filled with reasonably inconsqeuential gossip and ranting.

The bigger news in the blogging world is Iain Dale – who after much umming and arring, and a frankly miserable year of half-hearted blogging has decided to quit his blog to concentrate on his radio presentation and Biteback publishing. I’ll miss Iain: I hope he reconsiders his position as he’s often been a centrist voice and that’ll be what’s needed as the coalition rumbles along toward the next election.

ConHome’s comments go behind a Moderation Wall

Conservative Home has never been my favourite political site: I’ve always considered it to be a mixture of useful news and solid, well researched opinion; mixed schizophrenically with overtly biased tosh that the Daily Mail would be ashamed of. This often results in ConHome feeling like a throwback to the “nasty party” of 20 years ago, a party that didn’t give a toss about liberalism, the future, international cooperation (beyond America) or society – preferring instead to champion the cause of ‘I’m alright Jack’. In part because of that ConHome does seem to have become somewhat of a rallying point for the exact people that made the ‘Tories’ unelectable for a generation.

This slant in direction, is of course, defended by a vocal group who take over the comments with disparaging comments about ‘Cameroons’ and ‘Europhiles’ – all seemingly intent on dragging the party back to ‘values’ that won it so many elections in the last 15 years. Online they portray themselves as the political majority, the screaming cry of the great ignored – offline this group are virtually silent in all the political debates I’ve ever attended; quite often I’ve mused that this might be because the views expressed by some commentators are of the sort that you’d have to be quite brave (or quite stupid) to try and defend face to face.

Whatever you thought about it though, the ferocity of the debate did often prove that the party is in flux; that there are more sides to the argument than the actual editorial often portrayed and that there are plenty of Conservatives out there that aren’t swivel-eyed crackpots stereotyped so often in the wider media, all harking back to a bygone age of Empire, Imperialism and Britain as a global economic force to be feared. This is great. Conservatives should be a split bunch, that’s the point of freedom of thought, and love it or loath it ConHome has given some of these debates a place to flourish.

Those days however might now be over.

Today ConHome published a statement that from now on, all comments will be moderated. And whilst the statement is filled with semi-reasonable excuses as to why they’re beginning to moderate. Not once does it adequately answer my question about why moderation couldn’t be done post rather than pre publication, at least that way the users views are always transparent. They promise to maintain ‘fair’ comment – whether that remains the case we’ll wait and see. I’m not sure that ConHome will be able to resist shaping the conversation to their agenda; it’s certainly been my experience that debate in the comments is often stifled by inconsistent moderation.

My biggest problem though is that a pre-comment moderation will inevitably slow the pace of discussion – politics can move fast, sometimes blisteringly so… one of the joys of ConHome is that this pace has always been reflected in the user comments: now it looks like those days might be over. I personally think that’s a sad day for the Right’s online community – I know I’m a hypocrite in having pre-comment moderation on my own site, but I’ve never claimed that this is a voice of a group, nor have I made a media career out of it. I think Tim and friends will find that this is a step backwards for ConHome, and I hope they will reconsider the distinctly retrograde step of moderating all comment pre-publication, and I hope they do this before it becomes a ghost site with all the good stuff hidden behind a wall of moderation or payment.

*Thought Crime Klaxon*

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any sillier on twitter with the conviction of Paul Chambers for “menace” after he tweeted about blowing up an airport with the clearly jocular:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!

Yet more ludicrous charges for thought crime have been dragged up by the Police against a Conservative councillor. It seems that Gareth Compton a councillor for Birmingham has been arrested by the police after posting a series of reactions to a broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live by controversial columnist and all-round-irritant Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Mr Compton would appear to have said:

Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really. #R5L

Now, let me just make quite clear before I go any further that what follows is commentary: Yasmin Alibhai Brown is, in my eyes, a first class irritant. A commentator so pointless and facile that I’d rather hurl myself out of a second story window than sit through her rants on Any Questions or whatever else she might pop up on; but I don’t wish that Ms. Alibhai-Brown be stoned to death – nor would I encourage others to act on the tweet. Ok? There, that should cover off the thought-crime police, now we can continue…

So. It was a stupid thing to say: imbecilic indeed – especially if you’re a posting in a public broadcast space, doubly so if you’re a politician, and absolutely if you’re on the right talking about a high profile minority woman on the left with a set of lungs on her.

But, really – it clearly wasn’t calling for her to be actually stoned to death, she’s a public figure – she should have a thicker skin: believe me, as someone that’s dealt with cases of prolonged stalking and threatening behavior, there is a time and a place to call the police, but this clearly wasn’t it… It wasn’t even close.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that we’re talking about Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a woman who holds some pretty polarized views herself, she’s certainly not been afraid to dole out tongue-lashings for individuals and institutions over the years, so surely she must know that she’ll occasionally be a target of vicious language herself?

It’s simply a common expression of speech that sees people wishing “death” on each other, most often said in an entirely flippant throw-away fashion. Whether it be the surly teenage ‘drop dead’ or the theatrical sighs of exasperation willing the lord to smite whoever is gracing the One Show’s sofa with lightning, pestilence and locusts that almost everyone I know has performed to one degree or another from time to time. It’s flippant, it’s forgotten almost as soon as it’s said and all it’s doing is acting as a micro-valve to express dissatisfaction, disagreement or disillusionment.

I’m very concerned that the long arm of the law is insidiously extending into people’s opinions online. It’s a dangerous precedent: just think how long it might be before any joke or satire is considered threatening, just where would you draw the line? If he’d said he wished an asteroid to land on her head, would that have still had the police rushing to his door? Let’s face it Mr Compton’s stones, baying mob, and yasmin in a hole awaiting her fate are deadly but, just like my asteroid, clearly imaginary and highly unlikely.

This is a matter of thick vs thin skin – it feels awfully like short term political point scoring – how many times has Mrs Thatcher been ‘killed’ in commentaries ranging from TV satire to bloggers young enough to have not even been sparkles in their fathers’ eyes online? It must be hundreds, and if we add in posts on message boards, IRC, twitter, facebook, social websites and political forums it’ll add up to hundreds of thousands. Did the police swoop in on all of them? Is Maggie furiously calling the police demanding they round up the culprits with all the lightness of touch of a falling anvil? No. Of course she isn’t.

There is a time and a place for involving the authorities – when your safety is genuinely threatened yes, when you’re a little hurt by a comment online… No. I hope the complaint against Gareth Compton will be dropped – I hope he learns from this that Twitter is a public forum, but I have a horrible feeling this will end in resignations and more wasting of taxpayers money while the CPS drag someone in front of a judge for what amounts to thought crime.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops, in the meantime I’ll be awaiting my asteroid with glee.

The big green con?

Tonight Channel 4 are showing a programming and having a studio debate about what the Greens have got wrong – it’ll make uncomfortable viewing for many I’m sure but perhaps not for the reasons that are most immediately obvious to many.

In my view we’ve moved from Global warming to Climate Change as Scientists could no longer account for the some of the most miserable summers and some of the coldest european winters in living memory. We’ve now got theories claiming that heating in some parts will plunge europe into a mini-ice-age, the consequences of which are unthinkable.

Then we have the farce of Nuclear power, proved clean – proved safe – proved as a viable option to fill generating capacity as renewables are developed and come online, yet time and time again Nuclear projects have been delayed and now it’s too late – we’re facing the choice of building more coal units to fill gaps in the renewable net, and all of this because of groups of people that made it political suicide to be pro-nuclear.

We’ve plunged trillions of euros worldwide into climate change research, global warming projects and renewable energy research, some of it very worthwhile – some so scientifically questionable that leading lights in the field like Harold Lewis, the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara slammed the whole climate change community in his utterly damning and very public resignation last month, he wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last.

I’m not a climate denier, I firmly believe that we should reduce the impact of humanity on the planet, that many things the green lobby have done are very worthwhile in reducing pollutants in our water, food and atmosphere – but we have to admit that if green science is to remain credible, not just scientifically but publicly – then we’re going to have to be honest. We need to accept that we don’t understand the weather or the climate of this planet in as comprehensive a detail, until everyone does that – well, we’re just all screwed: more money will be wasted, more conspiracies will be found and the public, the most important element of winning the scientific debate – will be lost.

The science cannot be driven by grant access, it now needs to be led at a supranational level; taking into account not just the environmental, but the social, economic, realistic, pragmatic issues that need to be faced so that we can all live in a more sustainable world.

Apple out of tune with the European single market?

Back in the heady days of the dot com boom we were endlessly told that we were witnessing a revolution, e-commerce sites and services would make international borders a thing of the past; the old worries of buying and importing goods and services would be a thing of the past; interestingly politics beat e-commerce to this in the European single market – a good thing I think we can all agree, but it seems that the more borders we break down the more artificial ones corporations with vested interests and their dedicated corporate lawyers seem to put up

Take for instance the iTunes store, an example of a digital company taking a traditional industry and dragging it kicking and screaming into the digital age: the music industry is practically luddite in it’s views, but iTunes, at least on the face of it would seem to have made it an open e-commerce industry allowing the users to buy anywhere in the world, but it’s not quite that simple. Try buying a track in Europe however and you might find that something you can buy in the UK isn’t quite so available 23 miles across the channel in France, or literally a hop skip and a jump across a border from Italy to Austria, making an utter mockery of the European Single Market, and making life frustrating in our ever more connected world.

It’s a true sign of the luddite nature of the music industry that the combined bureaucracy of the European Union is having to be brought to bear to strong-arm music licensing and distribution companies to sell their products to consumers in accordance with the laws of the lands they’re selling in. But for anyone that travels, or sits as an ex-pat or just happens to be based across borders it’s really great news that The European Commission competition commissioner Nellie Kroes is going to be bringing together industry executives with Apple’s Steve Jobs, Mick Jagger – presumably representing the musicians union/combined interest and the CEO of eBay, a firm which really has cracked pan-european trading to work toward bringing the true goal of a single market to the digital world, no matter what the excuses may be from companies still intent on keeping artificial borders alive in order to buck the market in their favour.

DAB

I must admit that I’ve just watched Matthew Paris destroying a DAB radio with a sledgehammer with a wry smile – he complains that as a platform it’s restrictive, poor quality and desperately under-supported: and I must say I agree. DAB has for many years been ‘the next big thing‘ and it’s just not… our ‘standard’ is UK specific, it’s already out of date and the DAB set they want you to buy will cease to function the second you take it out of the UK – and even when you’re in the UK you’re lucky even in the largest conurbations if you can find a strong signal.

Of course that’s not even the half of it: the biggest problem with DAB in the UK is the people that run it, DAB is to quote a good friend of mine, the same shit in a different bucket. Other than the ludicrously over-priced-per-listener BBC6 what’s new on DAB? A couple of awful automated stations, and ummm.

Yeah. Nothing else – no strong return to localism and specialism, just the continuation of creeping blandness. What we need is a new approach to radio; radio is in a world now where it’s competing with people who can stream personalised playlists direct to their work computers, where they can carry 50 or 60 thousand  songs with little no worries in their iPod will thousands of playlists and genius suggestions ready to fulfil their every entertainment need. OFCOM seem to think that a bland bowl of crap will fight this change in listening habits – they couldn’t be more wrong. There needs to be a complete, radical overhaul of digital radio, it needs to be upgraded and then given hundreds of strands of new content delivered not by mega-conglomerates interested only in ad-revenue, but my real radio people able to balance the financial realities of running a radio station with the passion of local and specialist programming if radio in the UK is going to survive the full transition to digital.

Taking Twitter too Seriously.

There are one or two political bloggers in the UK that I find truely objectionable – everything is taken as deadly serious, stories become campaigns, and campaigns become vendettas: and one of those bloggers I recently had the misfortune of having a run in with on Twitter. Now as most of you will know, my twitter isn’t a single stream feed: you’re just as likely to hear what’s going on in the office as my kitchen, and I intersperse that personal niff naff and triv with a little political commentary, some overheard rumours and the occassional scoop from my many spies in PR and Politics.

The one thing that could never be said, is that it’s a serious stream of journalistic integrity – it’s not. What is more, is that it’s not supposed to be: I genuinely don’t take myself quite that seriously…  So it came as a bit of a shock when I tweeted about an overheard conversation on my way back from lunch from a couple of likely looking grungy hippies who were discussing going along to Parliament Square at the 4pm eviction time of the peace camp – ‘tooled up’. Now to me, that means just one thing – and with many friends and associates down that way I thought I’d broadcast it just to flag it up that there might be trouble brewing.

Unfortunately, it was leapt on as a completely serious source of information by one notable blogger with a history of taking things just a little too seriously, and that’s led to a bit of a fight with him accusing me of being a hypocrite after I replied to a post to a regular twitter co-conspirator that they should bring out the water cannons and tasers – Now as anyone that’s bothered to follow me for any particular length of time will know – that couldn’t have been said with my tongue any further in my cheek: my coverage of police action during the G20 or indeed my several run in’s with the police on my own being stopped and searched without reason should be a guide enough that aggresive police action is seriously uncool.

Now I’m not taking this seriously – with a history as colourful as this blogger has, I’m not going to lose sleep about what he might think about me: but I thought I’d blow off a bit of steam by reminding people that not everyone cares what they say on Twitter, I don’t care if my views are taken seriously or not, I don’t care whether rumours are believed or not, and I don’t give a toss if you’re going to leap into my life accusing me of hypocrisy when you’ve never bothered to engage me in any form of personal conversation to gauge where sarcasm and couldn’t give a flying fuck tongue in cheek comment blur into ‘reporting’ the world around me. Twitter really can’t be taken that seriously when you’re dealing with people that don’t have a single deadly serious focus, so don’t even try – because if you do, you’ll end up looking like a tit – and that just spoils the fun.

A sitting MP and Grindr…

Yesterday, Guido published a story and publicised it on twitter about a sitting MP he ‘found’ on grindr (a gay cruising application for iphone and blackberry), the story was up for about 20 minutes, people commented on it – and yet, suddenly it’s existence isn’t being acknowledged: it’s been wiped from various blogs, wiped from archives, totally unacknowledged. I don’t particular care for the story, it was a bit of a non-starter, people after all do have private lives; but the point remains that bloggers who talk about transparency in politics should be prepared to be so themselves, especially the more high-profile commentators who make the leap from blogging to broadcast media. If you’re going to publish a story stick by it, or officially retract it with reasons for doing so – don’t just wipe stuff from the public arena as all that does is damage the trust between your reader and you.