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February 11, 2014

Today we fight back against mass surveillance

Many of you will have seen something like this when you visit my blog today:

EFF take-over on my blogAnd I'm far from alone. Here's Antony Mayfield's blog:

fight-back-3.pngAnd here's Christian Payne's:

fight-back.pngIt's not often that I use my blog for political purposes, but this is something I feel strongly about. I've heard from people on both sides of the issue, and while I can appreciate the effectiveness of mass surveillance in proventing terrorist attacks, I still can't find it in myself to condone mass surveillance of people who have no reasonable suspicion of involvement hanging over them. Just because the nature of the internet makes this easier does not mean this is an acceptable or reasonable way for democratic societies to behave.

So, I've signed the petition against it, and I urge you to consider doing the same - or writing to your congress respresentative if you're in the US

Sign the petition.

November 10, 2013

Labour goes all broadcast on Twitter

It might be a good time to start culling the politicians you follow on Twitter. Buzzfeed's Jim Waterson explains why Labour spammed its followers' Twitter feeds:

It's an attempt to recreate blanket broadcast-style coverage on Twitter. And if 4.5m people really did see this one tweet about energy bills then it would be an equivalent reach to the BBC's Six O'Clock News.

I suspect we're about to find out if people are prepared to accept politicians treating Twitter as a primarily broadcast medium. I have to say, if any group if people I followed did that, I'd unfollow the lot of them.

Nice piece of reporting by Buzzfeed.

July 23, 2013

Cameron's porn policy problem

Good piece by Martin Bryant on the problems with Cameron's default porn filtering plan:

This post you're reading right now isn't pornographic, but it's probably been blocked by lots of filters in libraries, cafés and workplaces, simply for using certain keywords. It's almost enough to put people off criticizing these government plans for fear of losing traffic.

5 reasons the government's anti-porn proposals are a joke

July 17, 2013

How well does Twitter track political sentiment?

Do all those fine folks on Twitter represent a good cross-section of the general public?

Overall, the reaction to political events on Twitter reflects a combination of the unique profile of active Twitter users and the extent to which events engage different communities and draw the comments of active users. While this provides an interesting look into how communities of interest respond to different circumstances, it does not reliably correlate with the overall reaction of adults nationwide.

tl;dr: Not so much:

At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative. Often it is the overall negativity that stands out. Much of the difference may have to do with both the narrow sliver of the public represented on Twitter as well as who among that slice chose to take part in any one conversation.

The Pew Research Centre report on Twitter reaction to events makes for fascinating reading.

July 5, 2013

Belam's Twitter ghost exposes misogyny

Martin Belam pretended to be a ghost on twitter - and discovered the misogyny lurking in our political debate:

Then I announced that the next guest was going to be Emmeline Pankhurst, the first time it had featured a woman. Within a couple of minutes I got the first negative tweet I’d ever received directed at the account. And then a few minutes after that, without yet having tweeted in character, I got someone complaining that it was all going to be about feminism. And during the show people tweeted things like “Why are there no men on Woman’s hour?” at me.

It's a pretty disturbing read, rendered more so by the fact that these feelings are rendered in low level humour rather than outright abuse.

May 13, 2013

#RSAcommunity - Zachary Neal and the problem of diverse communities

Zachary Neal

Liveblogged notes of Zachary Neal's talk on community integration and cohesion at the RSA.

In this talk he's going to focus on micro networks. Are diverse communities possible? Tha answer's grim: no. But there is a bright side...

He's been thinking about community policy in the US; it's fragmented and piecemeal. It's more clearly articulated in the UK. In 2001 the Home Office came out with a report on community cohesion, which lead to the Commission on Integration & Cohesion. In 2010, the Cabinet Office made it clear it was important as part of the Big Society rubric. 

This is the right direction - but there's a hidden problem, a policy paradox. It's not clear how integration and cohesion interlock. Are more integrated communities more cohesive? Or are more integrated communities less cohesive?


In segregated communities, similar people live near one another.  In integrated communities, different sorts of people are more evenly mixed through the neighbourhood. 

Social networks

In fragmented communities, people have disconnected social networks. In cohesive communities, people have dense special networks. 

Continue reading #RSAcommunity - Zachary Neal and the problem of diverse communities.

April 8, 2013

Thatcher: social media, tribes and hatred

Margaret Thatcher has rather annoyed me this evening, and that's not something I've been able to say for decades. 

I hate feeling obligated to write about something on my blog, you see, and by having the sheer, stark lack of consideration to die, she's created a prevailing mood that leaves me to feel I need to put finger to keyboard before I hit the sack, far later than I should have done. Like most British children of the early 70s, my formative years politically were dominated by her. The 1980s were her decade of British politics  When she finally left office in the 90s, it was the first time I could remember living in a Britain that wasn't ruled by her. I held on to the Evening Standard front cover from the day she resigned for the next decade or so. 

She was a divisive, polarising, but hugely successful and productive figure, who can inspire pieces like this positive spin from Andrew Sullivan and this more negative take from The Guardian, both of which are probably true. But it has split social media into nasty little tribal factions that have been warring away all day, reminding me why I much prefer the the long-form response represented by the two posts I just linked. 

In fact, the factions broke down in a way perfectly predicted by Martin Belam back at the tail end of last year:

It's un-edifying, and something I pretty much avoided other than to throw the occasional piece of satire in from the sidelines:

In the end, though, I pretty much agree with this piece from Glen Greenwald which argued that people should be free to say what they like about a public figure when they die. She was a huge part of the UK's public life and some debate on what her legacy is is not just to be expected, it's actually healthy.

But there is one response that I do think is unhealthy: "I hated her and I'm glad she's dead". That's not because it makes any difference to her - she's beyond that now, one way or another - or her family, who will never see the majority of it. It simply diminishes the people who feel that way. To devote so much energy to hating someone who left power nearly a quarter of a century ago to the point where you want to celebrate the death of an elderly, sick grandmother and widow just seems to me to lack a sense of proportion and of human empathy. 

The reason so many different media warn us against hate - from George Orwell to Doctor Who to umpteen world religions - is that it damages the person feeling the emotion more than the person to whom it is directed most of the time.

This may be, in fact, meta-piety, but it's my blog and I'll be pious if I want to. 

February 6, 2013

Presidential social media

Something I wrote about the uses of social media in modern political campaigning a few months back.

November 6, 2012

Tuesday night's fine for electin'

Four years ago, on US election night, I was at The Frontline Club, enjoying their election party. Tonight? Keeping up via the interwebs from my mother-in-law's front room. Oh, and it's my birthday, too. I know how to live.

I'm pulling in information from a variety of sources, but one which is consistently throwing up quirky stories - like the sudden outbreak of Brits Googling "electoral college" -  is Maarten's Trendolizer:

The TrendolizerNot quite sure how he's doing it, as it involves Perl jiggery-pokery, but it's surfacing interesting, timely stuff, and what more can you ask for? 

In my case, "a raid on my mother-in-law's whisky supply" might be the answer...

November 2, 2012

Post-Sandy Silence

Kottke is suspending posting for the time being:

The situation in New York and New Jersey is still dire** so posting stupid crap seems frivolous and posting about the Sandy aftermath seems exploitive. Information is not what people need right now; people need flashlights, candles, drinking water, safety, food, access to emergency medical care, a warm place to sleep, etc.

The message of how bad things are in parts of the hurricane-hit area does not seem to be making much of the mainstream news. I feel powerless - I'm not even sure who I should donate to that will actually help. 

October 9, 2012

Meaning: Vinay Gupta on the perils and possibilities of the future

Vinay Gupta

Catching up on my liveblogged notes from last week's Meaning Conference - I ran out of laptop battery, so couldn't post them at the time. 

The second act of the afternoon session is kicked off by a man who doesn't get out of bed for less than 1% mortality...

The rise in computing power between 1990 and 2020 will be insignificant compared to the rise in the thirty years thereafter. Solar panels will be cheaper than coal by 2020. If you're under 30, you've never really seen change, because it take those 30 or 40 years to really become visible.

What does that have to do with Hexayurts?  They're built from standard industrial manufacturing sizes of materials - sheets and half sheets. If the hippies had had these things they would have won. Burning Man is covered with them. In year 10, it's starting to acquire exponential momentum.

Our houses are three things: accommodation, storage of wealth and investment. Right now - accommodation is well met, storage of wealth and investment are ruined, because prices are going down. If we build millions of new homes, you can drive prices down so far that everything changes. Mortgages go away. Ireland has 200,000 empty units. The over-build is gigantic and we won't let the housing prices drop, because no-one wants to admit that the houses aren't worth what they once were. The market is totally illiquid. Abundance breaks the financial system.

Economists get a bad rep, but there are some good new ones. The new economists:

  • Coase - companies are efficient pockets of command-and-control within market chaos. But that only holds for some costs of decision making.
  • Nash - it's possible that everyone can get stuck in a situation which will destroy all of them, because the costs to the individual of changing the situation are too high - you need co-ordinated action from all - the goat rodeo.
  • Benkler - new kinds of value creation exist in an abundant information, cheap communioncatin world. It appears commons based per production works bett than capitalism.

Valve is apparently the most profitable company per employee in the world. They mythology is that you pick and choose your projects in the company. It has no internal coercive structure. If you drive out fear, you get good quality communication. Hierarchy create fear which reduces productivity. The boss of Valve can't get his own games made - but the people who work for him make him $300,000 a year. The pyramid doesn't work in this environment. It's an internal anarchy.

Hexayurt is not a business. There's no bank account. There's just a domain name. Yet, it's the most efficient shelter in the world, and its growing exponentially.

Windows is a corporate ecosystem, and is full of evil midgets - the crapware. Apple is a benign dictatorship - unles you're the app developer who gets kicked out of the store. Linux is structured like the Goth tribes that sacked Rome. The secret to Open Source success is looking like you can finish it on your own. They've sacked the server market and haven't quite done the same with desktop. Apple has put a thin level of dictatorship on top of Open Source BSD and sacked Microsoft, but you can't contain the anarchy.

The three futures:

  • Cheap energy, cheap information
  • Resource scarcity and war - the classic bleak future
  • Decentralise (Naxalites) - a machete version of capitalism

Fear of the nuclear bomb stopped us thinking rationally. It might all work as long as we can get the nanotechnology or biotech risk under control. Stop anyone making an open source 3D printer for genes...

We could end up in a world where the largest functional organisation is 24 people for 4.5 months. Could happen. To survive, we need one planet consumption and no apocalypse technology.

They did a book: The Future We Deserve. Sourced on Twitter, two weeks to edit. Go.

Margaret Elliott wants Mutuality Forever!

Margaret Elliott

Catching up on my liveblogged notes from last week's Meaning Conference - I ran out of laptop battery, so couldn't post them at the time. 

In 1976, Margaret and friends set up a workers co-operative called the Little Women Shop. They learnt new skills, that changed people's lives. Everyone learned all aspects of running the business from each other. They sold up in 1980, because the economic climate was terrible, and they wanted to pay back their startup loan.

Once you've worked in a co-operative, you get the bug. They moved on to setting up a home care co-operative, based on the system for granting additional payments on benefits for home care. Those additional requirements payments were withdrawn, and the business petered out. She went to work for the Prince's Trust.

But the co-operative bug was still in her system. Next up: Sunderland Home Care Associates. They're serious both about the co-operative ownership - and about business success. They started in 1994 with 20 people, now it's 440. They have £170,000 profit on £5.5m turnover. They help older, disabled and vulnerable people remain in their homes as long as possible. They provide academic support for students with disabilities.

Independent Futures - helping people with learning disabilities live on their own, and use micro enterprise to give them meaningful lives.

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