This is my offering for Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is Human Rights, so a post about surveillance and my ongoing notes on ‘Everday Human Rights’ seems appropriate (if obvious).
Snowcrash is Neal Stephenson’s break-out novel. It was published in 1992, when the World Wide Web was still a nascent and obscure technology. Nevertheless, it is a remarkably prescient book that predicts the ‘always on’ internet we have today, especially the Massive Multiplayer Online Games like Second Life and World of Warcraft. It also predicts the rise of cyber-attacks and the need for security in this area.
However, the passage that has stuck in my mind since I read the book a few years ago is an amusing piece of ‘world building’ that Stephenson constructs around one of his minor characters. Through the morning of ‘Y.T.’s Mom’ he describes the oppressive atmosphere of having to live and work under constant surveillance. Continue reading
Strike one item off the bucket list: I’ve written a WordPress plugin.
Paragraph Level IDs is available now from the WordPress plugin directory, and I’ve created a static page on this site to explain the detail. But in essence, the plugin adds lots of little anchors into the HTML of your blog posts, before each paragraph.
This means that the author and users can link to specific paragraphs in a piece of online text.
This functionality is extremely useful when dealing with long screeds of text. Someone may quote a bon mot, but if you follow the link to where the writer says the quote came from, you often have to trawl through many paragraphs to find the quote and check the context. If a site has anchors, or id attributes embedded in the HTML, the person creating the link can send the reader to the exact paragraph in the text.
This is a very old technique, one that has been present in HTML since its earliest incarnations. But few people use it routinely on their webpages. This plugin offers an easy way to alleviate that inefficiency! Continue reading
Yesternight I went looking for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) apps.
For the jargon wary and the jargon weary, OCR is the process by which a computer converts a scanned image of some text to actual editable, malleable computer text. It’s a useful tool to have on hand, especially if your work (or play) deals with anything literary or historical. Like speech recognition software, its also a bit magical.
I wanted to transcribe a few noteworthy pages of a novel, to paste into my Commonplace Book. Rather that wait a few hours until I could use my office facilities to scan and convert the text, I sought recommendations online and did a search of Apple’s App Store.
Following the hideous trolling and abuse piled on people like Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy last week, there has been much debate over how Twitter as a company could solve the problem.1
Much of the chat has centred around the idea of a ‘Report Abuse’ button… but I have my misgivings. The risk of such a feature, is that mobs of idealogues will co-ordinate to report as ‘abuse’ those Tweeters with whom they disagree. And celebrities with a large following will be able to ask their fans to report genuine critics as ‘abuse’. This Flashboy post critiques the proposal in more detail.
Here’s an alternative: Twitter should re-open its API. Continue reading
Over on Medium, I have posted a short satire on the PRISM programme:
When he arrived, my agency source was out of breath. He had clearly been running to make our appointment.
“Busy day at the office?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the river.
“You have no idea,” he panted, as he slumped onto the other end of the bench.
I dropped the newspaper into the space between us, and slid it towards him. Edward Snowden’s righteous face blinked out from the front page.
“He looks like something out of one of those vampire movies for girls” said my contact.
I ignored the diversion and got straight to the point.“Why didn’t you tell me?”
You can read the whole thing on Medium.
My virtual meeting with Sam has prompted a meandering journey through a few websites dedicated to the stylish presentation of text. I thought I would note the links in one place: first, merely to note the trend; and second because it will aid discussions with colleagues over how to present our own literary content on the fantastic PEN Atlas.
First: Medium is a relatively new site created by Twitter founder Evan Williams. Writers can create beautiful looking stories and essays very quickly. The site has the clean and spacious aesthetic that has become fashionable recently. Design led by the need for readbility and usability on tablets, mobile phones, while also providing a reading experience on desktop and laptop monitors that is easy on the eye. I was delighted that my request for an early-bird account was granted by Medium’s Director of Content, Kate Lee, and I have just uploaded a story to the site to try out the composition features.
You can read ‘Northern Line Lovers‘ on Medium (and if you like the story, please hit the ‘recommend’ button below the text). I think I will post my other ‘Ficciones‘ there at some point. Continue reading
The Alan Turing Statutory Pardon Bill has been published on the Houses of Parliament website.
Turing was a mathematician and philosopher who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and invented electronic computing. He was also a homosexual, and was convicted of ‘Gross indecency between men’ in 1952. As a result he lost his security clearance, was subjected to chemical castration, and committed suicide when he was only 42.
This statutory pardon seeks to atone for the Government’s appalling treatment of a national hero.
Nevertheless, the idea of such a narrow pardon worries me a little. The implication seems to be that Turing gets a pardon because he achieved so much. But that should not be how the law and justice works. What about all those under-achievers and ordinary men who were convicted under the same iilliberal and unjust law? Why do they not get a pardon too?
I had not read the term ‘fauxtroversy’ before now, but I think Dorian Lynskey uses it perfectly in his New Statesman article about the Kent Youth Commissioner Paris Brown. 17 year-old Paris has been forced to resign from her appointment, following ‘exposure’ of inappropriate tweets… Some written years ago. The views expressed would be surprising coming from the feed of, ooh, let us say, a thirty-something blogger and campaigner for PEN. But not from a young teenager. Outbursts, inarticulacy, immature, ill-thought-out and prejudiced views are as much a part of adolescence as spots, puberty, resentment of your parents, and fancying inappropriate, unattainable people.
The great thing about voicing ridiculous and ill-considered political views, is that people challenge them. There is nothing like being scrutinised on a stupid, unsophisticated political position to realise that life and politics are nuanced and complex.
I enjoyed this short essay promoting Lauren Leto’s book. It’s honest and (I assume) true to the book it seeks to promote.
It’s also presented in an interesting manner, native to the digital world. I wonder if would be as engaging if it were on a couple of pages (either printed or HTML). Probably not.
This type of presentation is not new. Last year Robin Sloane created a ‘tap essay’ called Fish that was published as an iPhone app. Like Leto’s essay, there is no back button, which (according to this Wired review by David Dobbs) provokes the reader to read more closely.
I would say this is another type of native Internet art… although the tap essay format is analogous to picture books that have few words to a page, or stylised essays like Marshall Mcluhan’s The Medium is the Massage. Continue reading
Take a look at this image.
Smart Phones in St Peter’s Square
It is St Peter’s Square, Rome, on a Wednesday evening in March, as Pope Francis was introduced to the Faithful. I think perfectly captures our time and obsessions and it should be the definitive image of this particular event.
I continue to be obsessed with this sort of thing: A mass of people all taking a photograph, simultaneously, of the same historical moment. It seems people (myself included) have an obsession with recording their own version of a shared moment… Even if their version of the sight (in this case, a pope) is grainy, tiny, and out of focus… And even if we can guarantee without a shadow of doubt that a better, professionally captured image, will be available.
People would rather watch the special moment through their viewfinder, than with their own eyes.
(I said I included myself among those who indulge in this weird practice, and I meant it. My closest even encounter with the Queen, at an opening of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, was experienced entirely through the view-finder of a Super-8mm cine camera).
I think the image above (which, ironically, I had to re-photograph from the Metro free newspaper because I could not find it online) has extra resonance, however. The glowing screens look a little like candles. In years past, I’m sure the Catholic faithful would have indeed held vigil by candle-light as they waited for the ‘Habemus Papum’ announcement. So the constellation of smart-phones here provides a sort of visual pun, the twenty-first century intruding on a centuries-old ritual.