Sunday, 31 July 2011

Developer reading The Shipping News

A Sunday the same as any other. Walk to shops. Reward myself with large latte and a very berry muffin. Exercise the guilt. Then watching Inception, at least think I did. Poor joke that. And reading The Shipping News. Good book; how to impart flavour? Present tense. Choppy sentences. Missing pronouns. Sparse. Don’t get that, not at first. Clever though, has a reason. Unlike this. This is poor. Embarrassing. Worse than a joke. Worse than that joke. Sound like HULK. HULK HUNGRY. MUFFIN NOT ENOUGH. HULK WANT MORE.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Applied imagination

Brainstorming, whether via a formal group or with thoughts collated electronically, is one of the valid methods to problem solving. It does however require an environment that encourages unusual ideas and one that (crucially) reserves criticism; it’s to be expected that the majority will be dismissed. New and successful ideas will only be created in a setting where common assumptions can be freely challenged, even when those assumptions usually turn out to be correct.

Where it is less successful therefore, is in the public domain; when, for example, you’re Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister’s strategy director. That’s not to say it’s any less valid an approach, more that you’re unlikely to find a mature audience (you’ll certainly not find a grown-up press or opposition party) willing to hold back criticism until the later stage of the process. Perhaps that’s the way it should be, we are a democracy, though the danger will be evaluation apprehension, which is to nobody’s benefit.

Steve Hilton’s offence was to address a perceived problem - that maternity leave hurts women by discouraging employers from hiring them - by suggesting the scrapping of such leave. It’s not even close to being government policy, nor will it ever be, it’s the “challenge common assumption” role; Hilton challenged, the group dismissed, everything worked as it should. What’s depressing - or should that be predictable - is the response when this iteration of the process was made public.

I’ve read several comments inferring he devalued women (he didn’t) and/or pointing out the valuable contribution women have made and continue to make; well, you don’t say. The problem with such statements is they brush over the problem at hand; they don’t even trouble themselves by addressing whether there is a problem, though the long list of female achievements that usually follows implies there is.

Let’s assume as much; some employers are dissuaded from hiring women. What then is the answer? Clearly not scrapping maternity leave, but then constant references to an untapped ‘pool of female talent’ haven’t appeared to work either. Put simply, we have an employer choosing between prospective employee A and prospective employee B; if employee B has more rights (or is more likely to exercise those rights) than employee A, and the employer identifies the exercise of those rights as carrying an administrative cost, it doesn’t take much to figure out what might happen next.

One suggestion is to ensure not only equal rights, but the real possibility of those rights being used equally. A shared paternity allowance available to either partner would make discrimination on the basis of sex, patently pointless. Of course I’m only brainstorming, this hasn’t been thought through and anyway... it’s only an idea.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Reading and writing and the other thing

I’m in a bit of a post-happy mood on WWGCA, as those in the know like to call this blog. Admittedly the subject isn’t always too cheerful, but I am pleased - probably too pleased - at my ability to string a few words together; into what those in the know like to call a sentence. I’ve also been reading a lot, or more than usual, and the catalyst has been my Kindle. Those books I can’t find for my new friend, I read the old fashioned way. After watching Brokeback Mountain last Friday and discovering it’s based on a short story by Annie Proulx, I’ve started on The Shipping News, which already feels like a favourite. I remember liking the film too, though my image of Quoyle is now somewhat distant from that of Kevin Spacey. It’s so good I even found myself reading in the evening, imagine! That’s when I’m not distracted by the collaborative writing exercises of daughter and friends (hopefully) some years ago, now pinned to the board:
Exercise one
Exercise two

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

To entertain a thought

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle
I too was impressed with the Norwegian Prime Minister’s response of “more democracy, more openness”, in answer to the bombing and shooting in his country that cost so many lives. Yet I also find it instructive that following an objection from the police, the perpetrator was denied a public statement; which was no doubt to the relief of the court. I can certainly understand - and suspect - the reason this action was taken, but I note a wider sympathy for denying him any opportunity to speak.

Democracy isn’t the freedom we are given, it is the freedom we give to others; even to those who commit the most terrible acts. It gains strength not through brushing repellent types under the carpet, but by having the courage to confront those more unpleasant elements. It is a willingness to be challenged. If we really are to shut down debate on some subjects - as a recent Guardian article seemingly suggests we should - then whatever the argument, we’ve already lost.

Monday, 25 July 2011

They can see no reasons, ‘cos there are no reasons

I am culpable to a reflex defensive response to the idiot Norwegian who murdered so many of his own countrymen last Friday. I only caught the news late on Saturday, suddenly finding myself in the middle of a stream of Twitter bollocks already well under way. I was, to say the least, less than enthused with comments expressing “solidarity” with “Norwegian socialists”, which with some reflection I recognise as wrong. “Solidarity” has acquired an overtly political intention which in this context I find insensitive, however it’s difficult to argue with identifying the victims by their political beliefs, when it’s those beliefs that caused them to be targeted by that inadequate human being.

But I remain irritated with the grasping appropriation of victimhood by and for those who share a political outlook. Likewise the seemingly inevitable conflation that results when said murderer cites various authors, journalists and other celebrities in his mad manifesto. Is Prince Charles to be lauded as a result of Brevik's displeasure? Or if I might put it another way, Jeremy Clarkson isn’t stupid as a result of being quoted by a stupid man...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The run-down

My reviews being suspect, I shall resort to lists; of the seven, only those at either end were new to me. The damp squib was Saturday’s conclusion, Empire of the Sun; one of Spielberg’s early ‘serious’ films and of interest because in addition to not having seen it before, it featured child actor Christian Bale. Wednesday began with I’ve Loved You So Long and ended with The Luzhin Defence. Thursday was restricted to Downfall whereas Friday was glorious; Lost In Translation and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind were joined in the evening by Brokeback Mountain - I’m not sure I can say which I thought best.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Each wish resigned

I’d forgotten it had a soul, and I made the same mistake as before. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is a clever film, but the world is awash with such. It’s a film I’ve seen three times now and whilst its cleverness will always impress, it has a point; about making the most of the time we have, reminding me that the good memories aren’t cancelled out by the bad. It was the second-half to a double-bill, though in retrospect I wonder if subject might have been best served by reversing the order.

My morning was taken with another favourite, Lost In Translation. It’s not nearly as technically accomplished and its faults are many; it’s voyeuristic, the depiction of the Japanese is at times caricature (accusations of being racist are simplistic), Scarlett Johansson’s character wanders and wonders, and her husband is such an asshole I wonder why she married him. I even thought all that walking around in her underwear unnecessary; suggesting either my new found maturity or - more likely - a cry for help. Yet it too is a film with heart; two people of different backgrounds, brought together by virtue of being lost and alone. I’m at a time where I can remember being adrift at either age.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wine into water

...our age is not willing to stop with faith, with its miracle of turning water into wine, it goes further, it turns wine into water.
I am 92% of the way through Fear and Trembling which, if I am to believe Amazon, is only 160 pages. Surely this is a miss-print, it feels more... substantial. Since a Kindle supports multiple font sizes, it deals not with page numbers but percentages; you always know exactly how much there is left to enjoy, or endure. Kierkegaard is not boring in any sense (though he is repetitive) but since it is a religious stance on the absurd, a philosophy I read previously in Camus, I find myself constantly having to walk in another’s shoes; which is no bad thing, but with Camus I could - at least in part - walk in my own.

Hence try as I might, I can never see Abraham as he does - though Kierkegaard does not claim to understand him - but I do admire his determination to question Abraham’s willing sacrifice of his son, to posit that without faith he is no more than a murderer; interestingly, for Kierkegaard, faith requires the absurd.
Faith ... is not an immediate instinct of the heart, but is the paradox of life and existence.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Plus one

I continue to tinker. I still find myself posting more on Twitter, and possibly even Facebook, but I think this because I did so using ChromeDeck (TweetDeck) rather than the sites themselves. In other words it’s via their respective API, and I’d imagine Google+ will have its own soon enough. Then it will become interesting as, for example, currently on the blog I show my last Tweet; will I switch to showing my last Google+ post - or rather the first 140 characters (or however many I choose) of my last post?

“Share” (when it becomes externally available) and “+1” from Google+ are analogous to “Share” and “Like” from Facebook, though I’m still getting confused as the two social networks handle the data differently. Facebook “Share” and “Like” are added to the single activity ‘stream’ shown for that user, whereas Google separates the “+1” information into a separate tab; my own “+1”s don’t get shown in my stream, I don’t yet know if they show in the streams of those who have me in their ‘circle’. If not it seems a bit odd - I think I must be missing something. Semantically though, “+1” works much better than “Like”, having a broader scope for use; I liked it enough to put the button on my blog.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Getting social

Two good things happened yesterday; the problem with the house alarm was sorted, and courtesy of Mickey I received a Google+ invite. I should probably take a thorough look first, but whilst I’ve got the urge I may as well post now, haphazard though the result may be. At first sight it looks cleaner, though this is in part the ‘lick of paint’ affect, more space and less clutter; placed on another tab I flicked between Google+ and Facebook and not surprisingly they’re somewhat similar. In functional terms however, Google+ wins hands down.

Privacy on Facebook has always been a bugbear. My own concern is less with how much is public (it is a social network after all) but their strange inability to match privacy settings with the layout; the sections on the configuration page are as if for a different version of the UI, it’s that bad. Google+ on the other hand, allows me to configure the privacy in-line with the layout, and combined with Circles it becomes not only easier but more flexible. For example, my telephone details are only visible to people in my “Family” circle.

Circles are how you organise your contacts; Google+ defaults with “Friends”, “Family”, “Acquaintances” and “Following”, but you can create your own. It’s intuitive, you can tell they’ve spent a lot of time on the UI and it’s at the core of everything; who I share to and what I look at, the default is ‘Public’ but it’s very easy to change. I also like that the share function is plumbed into the Google toolbar at the top; Gmail, Documents and Picasa (soon to be re-branded Google Photos), to name a few, have got it so far.

Hangouts look like fun, though I'm not sure how I'll use them, and I can’t quite see how Sparks fits. With Google Buzz... at the moment my Buzz is a Twitter reader; once Google+ is fully featured I expect it to disappear. And one of those features not yet (but surely soon) available will be some kind of search function, combined with the possible use of hash tags, though with tags I’m not so convinced; of course I'm basing this on how I personally use Twitter.

What I’d really like is a level of integration - or shared functionality - with my blog, which given it’s hosted on Blogger (soon to be re-branded Google Blogs) may one day be possible. I read a post where one brave soul had decided to move their blog to Google+, and if you’re only concerned with content I can see how that might work; but blogs aren’t only content, they provide a personalised look and feel, your own brand as it were. Essentially I’d like to be able to share my blog content on Google+, and to share the Google+ comments within my blog; Google+ and my blog would thus become different frameworks for the same blog data, and my blog data one source to my Google+ stream. I wonder how long I’ll have to wait.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Leave yourselves on the righteousness of the sun

News International is currently reeling from righteous anger over its mismanagement of the now defunct News of The World newspaper; an anger threatening to engulf its other titles, The Sun (itself not averse to righteous indignation) and The Times, as well as obstruct the attempted takeover of BSkyB by its parent company. However, like the MPs expenses scandal, I worry it may reach the point (if it hasn’t already) of criticising from a general animosity rather than over any illegal activity. For example, the tail-end of the expenses scandal saw criticism of claims for biscuits which, given how many offices across the country can claim for milk and sugar, hardly seemed a valid complaint. The result was IPSA; a ludicrously over-the-top, ineffective and inefficient waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers money. And journalism is a more difficult profession to regulate if (and I used to think this a safe assumption) we also believe in the freedom of the press.

Therefore if we’re considering travelling down this dangerous path, let’s not distract ourselves with a personal dislike for this newspaper or that, this political party or that; let’s concentrate on the specific issue of phone hacking and who (if anyone) is at fault. Much as we may want to question David Cameron’s judgement in appointing Andy Coulson, the relevant question is whether Andy Coulson did anything illegal in his previous position as editor of that paper. Likewise we may be tempted to query the cosy relationship between News International and the Conservative party, and before them Labour who were in government at the time of these events. We might be upset to find that when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, The Sun newspaper obtained details relating to his son's medical condition - which he understandably wished to keep private. These are worthy concerns, and the speed with which politicians are distancing themselves suggests a long overdue adjustment is already taking place. They are however distractions from the question we ask; who is responsible for the phone hacking and why wasn’t it stopped?

In answer we find not a failure of regulation, but people who engaged in unlawful activity and others who didn’t do their job. It is not the fault of the Press Complaints Commission when journalists break the law and the police - for whatever reason - fail to uphold it. It is this failure of the police - who knew what was happening yet took no action, some of whom were themselves corrupt - which should be our greatest concern. Tighter regulation of the press would have made no difference. We should also remember, though unpleasant, the actions of The Sun in obtaining private medical records may be no worse than those of The Telegraph in obtaining details on MPs expenses, or The Guardian in scooping this latest story. It’s mucky stuff, the truth; do we really want to stop it?

Monday, 11 July 2011


Saturday afternoon, despite being switched off the house alarm malfunctioned, and has been sounding off ever since; every few hours to keep me on my toes. I’d remain on my toes if I weren’t so tired; so tired I can’t even write a lucid sentence. Thanks to the internet I know the problem is a rechargeable battery, or a faulty control panel, or... I do know that it will cost at least £75 to fix. After being woken up at around 6am on Sunday morning and disturbed throughout the day, the ‘rechargeable battery’ hint prompted me to part-set the alarm last night, which seemed to work though by then it was too late. Not knowing when (or if) you’re going to be troubled by a sudden loud klaxon puts you on edge for those quiet moments in between. I’m so tired I even gave up on Michael Clayton, which was shaping up to be a great film; so tired I’ve started to repeat myself.

Friday, 8 July 2011


Yesterday James Murdoch blind-sided everyone with a contrite apology, announcing the closure of The News of The World in the process, and was grudgingly - and temporarily - declared a genius. Immediate joy was soon tempered with the realisation that hundreds of presumably innocent people were being made redundant for the actions of those who had worked there before. One of whom, Rebekah Brooks, is now chief executive of News International, which in addition to owning the defunct newspaper also owns The Times and The Sun. Earlier this week Rebekah was tasked with, or gave herself the task of, leading the internal inquiry into the dodgy activity that went on at the time when she was editor… insert your own sarcastic comment here. The rest, as The News of The World can no longer say, is history. But she must be really good at her job.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The barbarian horde

What do you think of someone who would mug a man wearing a pacemaker?
It's not the dumbest question I’ve heard from a reporter, it’s a personal favourite; and as you can imagine that’s up against some stiff competition. However I’m a believer that our press is a reflection of its readership, and you’re an ugly bunch. I’m not even sure where to start; the soon to be defunct News of The World newspaper in hacking the voicemail of missing (and subsequently it was discovered, murdered) schoolgirl Milly Dowler, or the public’s failure to react until presented with this more sympathetic victim. Our munificence is not measured by the protection we give to our own, but to those whose values and lifestyle we do not share.

It’d also help if people could refrain from dodgy moral relativism such as “Hari doesn’t look so bad now” or even (and I’m not kidding here) a comparison I saw for the Ross/Brand nonsense of yesteryear. It’s what appears to be a systemic bribing of the Police that should worry us most, but there are millions who should share responsibility for these nefarious activities. Breaking into something digitally should be no different to breaking into something physical; yet such action is effectively green-lit by an insatiable appetite for gossip. Tut-tutting when they overstep the mark, and then paying for the product, means it’s inevitable that something or someone we do care for will one day be targeted.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The mob, the opportunist and the thief

The other day I ate a Tesco Cauliflower Cheese containing 41% cauliflower and 11% cheese; as a friend commented, this meant “48% slop”. Presumably a little more would have required its inclusion in the title of this tasteless side dish. “Slop” would be an accurate description for the last seven days too; it’s not been a good week.

After a proposed sentence reduction for guilty pleas is defeated, we have announcements for a wider rollout of a scheme to “name and shame” offenders, followed by a promised clarification of a householder’s right to maim and kill those transgressing on their property; the “hang ‘em high” mob must be in seventh heaven. I am not immune to thoughts of vengeance, but I fail to see who benefits, and lest this be mistaken for wishy-washy liberalism (though it’s true I also object on moral grounds), it makes little economic sense. The reality is that most who injure will at some point be released and such measures will have no effect on whether they re-offend; more worryingly, that doesn’t seem to be the intention. If you treat people like animals, then they’re more likely to behave as such; rehabilitate, and even if successful in only a small minority of cases, that’s a small minority that won’t be breaking into other people’s property, or worse. That’s a number who instead of draining the public finance will be making their contribution.

Not one to be outdone, Ed Miliband decided that as leader of the opposition he would oppose the public sector strikes. I don’t support them either, but then I’m not sure anyone regards the Labour leader’s stance as genuine; in supporting he gains nothing, by opposing he hopes for the votes of the undecided. It’s an understanding that those who stick to the middle ground win elections. It’s the smart move, but I'm not convinced.

Yet despite these contenders - the appeal to the thug inside, Ed Miliband’s appeal to anyone who will have him - the prize goes to journalist Johann Hari of The Independent newspaper. Johann, we discover, has a rather unique interview style, as he does definition of plagiarism, and some interesting variations on the concept of truth. There is apparently the truth, and then there is a broader “intellectual truth”; one that doesn’t let minor details such as what happened get in the way of a story that needs telling. His excuse for stealing - sorry, copying - comments from other interviews or even the subject’s own writing, is to enable us to understand what the interviewee was trying to say, rather than what was said. Thank goodness for Hari; though I’d suggest his employers add their own version of the following to any existing and future “interviews”:
Some events have been deliberately changed or left out for dramatic purposes.
If Hollywood is able, you’d think The Independent could do the same.