#ImWikileaks

It seems that the Wikileaks.org domain has been broken, due to thousands of distributed DDOS (Denial of Service) attacks by patriotic Americans.  This is when you subject a site to repeated communication requests, and eventually it cannot keep up.  EveryDNS, the organisation which passes on these requests, was forced to remove the link between wikileaks.org and its servers – They made a neutral statement explaining their reasons for doing this.

As a result, Wikileaks can only be reached via its IP address:  http://213.251.145.96/.

Ebenezer and The Case of the Election Night Tweeter

Its is not often that you see one of the country’s top opinion-formers picking his nose. As I rounded the corner opposite the pub, I was greeted by the sight of Ebenezer, the celebrated blogger, raising his stubby finger towards his nostril. As it entered the nose, he gave his whole hand an expert twist, as if he were operating a corkscrew. He grimaced as something was levered loose, which he pulled out and began rolling between his thumb and his forefinger.

Meanwhile, his other hand was perched over the keyboard of his laptop, his fingers furiously typing.

His eyes were distracted from the screen as I approached, which put an end to his trowelling. He let his non-keyboard hand flop down below his thigh, and I percieved him flick something out onto the pavement by his tiny table. Then he stood up, and offered the hand in greeting.

I may have paused for a spit-second before I shook it, but I don’t think he noticed.

Ebenezer sighed in mock exasperation. “At last!”

I smiled, and protested. “Not my fault, I left the flat an hour ago. They’re working on the Northern line so I had to get a bus.”

He played along. “Well, you should have known. There’s an app for that, yeah?” He waved his nose-picking hand at the metal chair opposite his, and sat down.

There was half a free-sheet newspaper splayed across the seat. Upside down, the new Prime Minister’s gurning face looked back at me. I picked it up and chucked it onto the ground, somewhere near where the bogey had probably landed.

Then I sat down and placed my iPhone carefully on the table. Ebenezer rolled his eyes at me. “What are you drinking?” he said. I could see he had a half-finished pint of some kind of dark ale on the go, leaned up against his laptop.

“I’ll probably just have a coffee for the moment,” I said. I stood up with the idea of ordering, but a waitress had clocked me and was already striding over. She was bursting out of a tight white shirt and had one of those black ties with a huge knot sitting over the centre of her chest.

When I ordered myself a decaf latte, Ebenezer let out an audible snort, and shook his head. The girl bit her lip to suppress a smile, then disappeared inside.

“That knot must have been, like, a quadruple windsor or something” he said when she was out of view.

I decided to change the subject. “What are you working on?”

“Just a blog. But not for the main blog, though. Just my blog. Its about Dave.”

I nodded solemnly. Dave was dead.
Continue reading “Ebenezer and The Case of the Election Night Tweeter”

Nowness

Here I am, writing on my blog at 2:45am.

I’ve just read an interesting short blog post by Nicholas Carr on ‘Nowness’:

The Net’s bias, Gelernter explains, is toward the fresh, the new, the now. Nothing is left to ripen. History gets lost in the chatter. But, he suggests, we can correct that bias. We can turn the realtime stream into a “lifestream,” tended by historians, along which the past will crystallize into rich, digital deposits of knowledge.

I think this is why James Bridle’s Tweetbook appeals to me.  By pulling a large set of data into book form, James imposes a permanence on something that was previously transient.  I plan to recreate the project for my own tweets one day soon – Not to publish to the world, but a single copy for myself.  Twitter is a diary and it is upon diaries that some of the best history is derived.

I’ve found myself doing that with other creations too.  I have hundreds of digital photos sitting on my hard-drive, but I busied myself last weekend by printing out about five of them as 8″x5″ and putting them in nice frames.  I think that act of printing and fixing is an act of stepping out of the stream.  An act of stopping.  Only then can you look back, look forward, and perhaps, look properly inward, too.

Stephenson on Spam

One of the presents in my stocking from Santa was The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. I’ve long thought that his epics, The Baroque Cycle and especially Cryptonomicon address some of the fundamental issues of our age, especially the impact of technology on culture. This passage from The Diamond Age, published in the mid-1990s, seems prescient of our computer culture, our obsession with gagetry (“guilty, your honour”) and the vogue for cosmetic surgery. It also made me laugh:

You could get a phantascopic system planted directly on your retinas, just as Bud’s sound system lived in his eardrums. You toild even get telaesthetics patched into your spinal column at various key vertebrae. But this was said to have its drawbacks: some concerns about long-term nerve damage, plus it was rumoured that hackers for big companies had figured out a way to get through the dedenses that were built into such systems, and run junk advertisements in your peripheral vision (or even spang in the fucking middle) all the time – even when your eyes were closed. Bud knew a guy like that who’d somehow gotten infected with a meme that ran advertisements for roach motels, in Hindi, superimposed on the bottom right-hand corner of his visual field, twenty-four hours a day, until the guy whacked himself.

(Hat-tip to Roger M for the book recommendation).

Blocking Facebook

From a Primary Care Trust, to an associate of mine:

Recent monitoring of internet usage by staff has shown that there has been an excessive use of social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace and FriendsReunited, resulting in high bandwidth usage … Staff are reminded that internet access for personal purposes is only permitted during their break times

Leaving aside the sinister concept of “monitoring” internet usage, I think this sort of thing betrays a poor understanding of how people are using the Internet these days.  For many people, Facebook is now the communication tool of choice.  It has a straight-forward e-mail function, which many people seem to prefer to more traditional solutions like Hotmail or Outlook (or Mac OS X Mail).  But most of the other features on the site are messaging services of some form or another, for example on the ‘Wall’, or comments on pictures or status updates.  Just because they occur in semi-public, its not clear to me why this sort of personal communication is considered time-wasting, while simple vanilla e-mailing is still acceptable.  I bet that if they check the stats for Hotmail, Yahoo and GMail, the usage would also be very high.  Moreover, these sites are incorporating more and more social networking features too.  So it looks like this sort of prohibition is made rather inconsistently, a decision made by people who are behind the curve in their understanding of the online world.

There are wider points to make here too.  The first is about the way an organisation treats its staff:  Do you monitor and nanny their usage, or do you ask them to self-regulate in the hope that they will use it sensibly?

The second point is about the way in which people communicate these days.  Instead of writing letters or having long phone conversations, we interact more frequently, in smaller packets (journalism is changing because of this too).  Why should this be stifled?  Will it create a more efficient organisation, or, indeed, a happy one?

British Commentators

British sports commentators are known for their idiosyncratic turn of phrase. Both radio and TV pundits have become celebrated for their ability to paste the metaphor on thickly.

Interestingly, this tradition looks like it is even being continued in the field of flash mobile text commentary. As I’ve said previously, Orange’s service seems to me to be a very good example of a new form of chatty micro-journalism, perfect for sporting occasions. This gem, seems to be very British in style. The analogies could be made nowhere else:

Murray is trudging along the baseline like Kevin the Teenager. And in the 60 seconds it’s taken me to write that, it’s 0-5.0-3: Man v Boy, Tiger v Gerbil, Man Utd v Torquay. All these match-ups are now comparable to what we’re seeing on Arthur Ashe court as Federer consolidates his break.

He also continues that very British tradition of wallowing in British sporting defeat. The old customs don’t die with the new technology.

Live by the Web…

Further to the previous chat about Obama’s use of the web, let’s hope it can also be used to more effectively hold him to account if/when he gains power?

If (as many cynics expect, and many supporters suspect) he begins to tweak and backtrack on election pledges, the very same network upon which his campaign is based, could coalesce quite effectively, to force him in to keeping his promises.

The danger of course, for democracy and this new feeling of empowerment that many Americans feel, is when the will of the “base” and what is prudent Presidential policy collide. Let us hope Obama can summon the right rhetoric in those circumstances too.

Brewster Rocket

I’ve been thinking for a while that some of the trends on interactive web in general, and blogging in particular, should be addressed in a creative way. I think there are some frustrations and absurdities that could be expressed in a fictionalized manner. I even started writing something before my laptop was stolen.

However, Brewster Rocket, Space Guy, has stolen the march.

Brewster Rocket: A blog war has broken out... (by Tim Rickard)
Brewster Rocket: A blog war has broken out… (by Tim Rickard)

Your Voice?

There is a section on Harriet Harman’s Commons Leader website called ‘Your Voice‘, where citizens are invited to submit their thoughts on the Government’s Draft Legislative Programme (a.k.a. Draft Queen’s Speech).

The speech was launched yesterday in the House of Commons, with an event immediately afterwards in which Gordon Brown and other Cabinet Ministers went to Bermondsey to meet local people. This concentrated use of ministers was similar to what Hazel Blears had suggested on Tuesday, in a speech to the SMF:

why shouldn’t the Cabinet meet in locations other than the Cabinet Room at Number Ten Downing Street?

Just imagine if the Cabinet meeting took place at the British Legion, Swindon, the Town Hall, Grimsby, or the Victoria Community Centre in Crewe.

Regardless of whether you think this is a cynical publicity stunt or a genuine attempt to listen to the people, it is clearly an example of direct democracy. People are being invited to converse with Ministers directly, without mediation. Via the Commons Leader website, they are now being asked to write to Government directly.

Surely this undermines representative democracy (see my earlier worries about citizen juries). Rather than provide new ways for the Government (which even the most committed statist would admit is a sprawling bureaucracy) to interact with sixty-five million people, why not strengthen the channels by which citizens can already speak to the state, via their MPs? Why not award Members of Parliament a larger office budget, say, so they can maintain more staff in constituency surgeries, so that problems could be dealt with in more detail, and quicker?

Why not budget for MPs or Councillors to convene some kind of constituency convention, or panel, at which citizens could feedback thoughts on the DLP? Individual MPs could compile a summary of local feeling, in much the same way as select committees and independent commissions summarize the testimony of their witnesses. Do it over the summer recess, say, just before party conferences, and you would have a pretty comprehensive snap-shot of what the country thinks… but without the tiresome bother of an undersubscribed yet expensive web-tool which has no visible method of actually engaging the citizen in dialogue.

Websites are a fantastic way for individuals in relatively small networks to communicate with each other. But I’m not sure it is the most efficient way for the Government to enter into a conversation with its citizenry. A basic online form definitely falls short.

Sharing information with the government

Things are not going so well for the HMRC website, which is still experiencing problems. If it is not up and running soon, perhaps we citizens should invoice the tax-man £100 each for the hassle this will cause us.

It is admirable, I suppose, that the government at least attempts to engage with new technology. However, its approach is too ‘twentieth century’ for my liking. The kind of services it provides are what web developers would call Web 1.0 – that is, they resemble the very first generation of web services. Such services were (and in the HMRC case, still are) simply a direct electronic metaphors for other forms of communication. In the case of the tax return, you fill in the boxes in exactly the same way in which you would do so with a pen and paper… only it takes longer to do it online. You cannot make links with information from other places. Even if you have written or typed or calculated your figures elsewhere, you will still have to retype them into the governments forms.

This is quite inefficient. One great benefit of IT, is that one should never, ever have to type anything twice. Once an address exists in an electronic format somewhere, it should be possible to send that information elsewhere, without having to retype it. It is a measure of how small our technological steps are, that many people I know (and, dear reader, many people you know) still retype data, from one programme to another, and from one device to another. Even copying-and-pasting should be redundant by now (in favour of, say, drag-and-drop or even import/export), but still we persist with these old methods.

All that is required is a common format for data, that different types of computer (be it a PC, a laptop, a mobile phone, or a departmental number-cruncher) can read and understand. Sadly, this standardisation process is not yet complete. In the meantime, governments and companies each have to ask you for your data separately, so they can put it in their format and store it on their database. Continue reading “Sharing information with the government”