Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Film review: The Deaths of Ian Stone

Gor, DVDs are frightfully cheap on Amazon, compared to going out to the cinema, and there's the wonderful "Customers who bought this item also bought..." section, so much in the same way as wikipedia, its possible to get lost wading through pages and pages.

Anyhoo, so I've added loads of cheap horror DVDs, and they look awesome.

The first to arrive was The Deaths of Ian Stone. Some chap called Ian Stone keeps getting killed by scary floaty misty spike monsters, and at the moment of death he comes back in a new life with the same girlfriend, not remembering much of the previous life.
Its filmed in and around that London, with bits on the platform at Charing Cross and on the streets of the City of London, which is kind of neat, and its got the hot bird from Hussle in it, dressed in tight red PVC much like the fit bird from the Matrix, but in red.
Her two mates, though, in black PVC, they seem a bit corny, like they've been ripped out of League of Gentlemen or a Little Britain sketch, they lower the vibe a wee bit.
The executive producer was Stan Winston, who designed the monsters and special effects in films like Aliens, Predator, Avatar, Jurassic Park, Terminator and many many more, we're in safe hands. You can see that they're well imagined monsters.

The film comes across a little like those Underworld movies with Kate Beckinsale, where these some kind of monsters living amongst us. But its less satisfying cos Ian Stone isn't quite who he seems to be.
And actually, it gets really unsatisfying at the end, as Ian Stone embarks on what appears to be a genocidal rampage against the floaty misty monstery chappies. I mean during the course of the movie two of the monsters redeem themselves and stop being evil, but no no, Ian Stone decides that all the rest of the monstery chaps have to die. Its kind of like the autobots hunting down the decepticons at the start of Transformers 2 Revenge of the Fallen, or the Nazis hunting down the Jews in real life.

Anyhoo, its an entertaining enough movie, if you've got a spare £2.99 I'd recommend it.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Phone Hacking scandal Venn Diagram

Kristin off of the the internet asked me to creat a some kind of Venn Diagram showing how all the people involved in the News of the World phone hacking scandal are linked, so I had a go.

It shows who works for News Corp/News International, who are journalists, who are police or politicians, and who had their phone hacked.

It doesn't show who wined and dined whom, and it only shows which police commissioners have resigned rather than anyone who's resigned.

And it is only up to date for eighteen hours before something new happens and I need to change it.

I did it using PowerPoint as that was the only tool to hand, if only I had Illustrator or a computer of my own...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Plants and stuff: Potato harvest

Crikey, its been ages since I blogged about my garden, I bet you're wanting to know how all those there plants are getting on. Well, crazy excitement today as I brought in the first potato harvest of the year.

It was back in May when I last put up photies of my potatos, back then they were just poking their sprouty goodness above the surface and I named them all Ian. Ian's a good name for a potato. And crikey, in just two months, look how they've grown.
Until last week, Ian was a great sprawling mass of six potatos plants, but I tied all his stalks up to canes and he's looking a lot better for it.

But you know, the marvellous thing about potatoes is that you can get a quite a few harvests out of them each year, so this afternoon I thought I'd have go at this season's harvest. I used my trusty fork to dig up the first three plants.

The soil was pretty loose already, after a bit of forking you can just pick up the plant by its stem, give it a wee shake and all these potatoes come tumbling off.
Aye, some were huge and some were small. And they all looked great, apart from the green one which must have been too near the surface, if they get sunlight they generate chlorophyl and go a little poisonous, back to the garden with that one.

Anyhoo, once all the tubers have been harvested, I forked the soil a bit more, mixed in some compost, and replanted the plants.
I reckon I could dig them up again in September for another harvest. If and when the revolution comes, I'm ready to be self-sufficient on the spud front. Truly potatoes are a wonder plant.

This first batch of spuds we cooked by means of roasting and they were yum, see:-

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bloggers, Google+ Circles, Socialism and Kropotkin

Last night I finished reading Peter Kropotkin's Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, a book I chose to read purely so I could throw late-nineteenth century communist-libertarianism into discussions and blog posts. Last night I also attended a London Bloggers meetup, fifty or so people gathered in a central London pub basement to network, discuss social media, google+ and almost win a new Dell laptop.

London meetup bloggers
I'm not that good at networking events, last night I racked up chatting to eleven people and nodding or otherwise acknowledging the existance of six other people.
One topic of discussion was Google+, google's recently launched competitor to Facebook. Its fertile new territory where right now, lush prairies with early adoptors and cool people grazing freely. Its going to take a while to find old-school friends on there and months before your parents will be signing up.

Its probably the future, just like Facebook was once when we were all still on MySpace, and FriendsReunited and Friendster before that.

One rather neat thing Google+ has going for it right now is that I can access it at work, rather than it being blocked like other social networks are. Like back when BeBo was the only social network site that local council workers could access.

In a similar way, Google+ isn't blocked in Iran like Facebook is. There are a lot of Iranian folk on those lush prairies.

Keeping friends in tupperware
Google+ uses the concept of circles rather than a friendslists, and borrows the same sort of broadcasting/following thing as twitter. You start off with default empty circles which you can populate with 'friends' 'family' 'acquaintances' 'following', you can also have people in more than one circle. And then when you post status update like things you can decide which circles of people can see them. Then on the other side people only see they updates that you're put up if they've selected you to be in their circles. Also people can't see which of your circles you've put them in, only that they are in a circle.

Its still hard for me to get my head around, but essentially, you only broadcast things to people and groups you select, and they only receive it if they're listening.

When I first starting populating my circles it was using the default titles 'friends' 'family' 'acquaintances' 'following'. It just didn't feel satisfying, one size didn't fits all, so I tried sorting friends and acquaintances into different circles, 'music people' and 'internet people'. I tried having a circles for 'ex-girlfriends', 'potentials' and 'bargepole'.

That kind of worked, but looking at who was side by side in the each circle was just, unrealistic. Circles can be anything, so I tried again with more granularity 'London music people', 'Glasgow scenester of the noughties', 'London bloggers'. This felt better, cos it was a closer map of reality, circles were more like people who'd be stood together in the pub.

You could just recreate your facebook experience, with a bit of faffing about you can export your entire Facebook friendslist to Google+ and just have them all one default 'friends' circle.

Do you want you social network to accurately map reality, or some fiction putting round pegs in square holes?

Invoking Kropotkin
I didn't even realise it was a weakness of Facebook that you only had one friendslist, and although you could tinker with privacy settings for individual people, blocking those you don't like, it was still just one broadcast channel.

Same with Twitter I guess, its just one broadcast channel, all your followers get your updates.

But with Google+ circles its almost like every status update requires mutual consent, so you don't have random strangers (or the ghost of socialism) monitoring your every comment, unless you want that. So there's less risk of getting spammed every time you mention iPad or Kropotkin.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Library in a Phone Box #20 Cowlinge, Suffolk

Continuing on the ttopic of phone boxes which have been turned into libraries as mentioned previously in this blog...
There's something special about this one, all the other phone box libraries I found by searching google, but this one, this has a black swan-like magic.

A colleague at work who had previously taken the piss about me going on about phone box libraries, he got lost the other night in the wilds of Newmarket, and pulling up at a pub, found at the phone box there was actually Cowlinge Public Library. This one isn't in google's search results.

Cowlinge is a sleepy village in rural Suffolk with a population of around 280. The centre of the village is The Three Tuns pub, outside which their library can be found.

A bit of research finds that in 2008 BT disconnected the kiosk as it was getting about one phone call a year, and after a bit of wrangling over electricity bills with EDF, it was sold to the parish council earlier this year.

There's no other information about when or how the library came about, so I guess its some kind of spontaneous community thing, in the absense of other council library provision.

The layout is slightly different to the usual design, with two four-shelf bookcases on either side of the box, the side facing the door has a small 'no smoking' notice.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Fitness Regime: Summer begins

The other weekend I was at a cousin's wedding in Dumfries, the weather was glorious, the family were in fine form and the bride look beautiful, but looking through various photies online, someone seems to have replaced all the photos of me with some kind of freakish photoshopped version where I'm all fat and double-chinned, kind of like my collar is the neck of a toothpaste tube, and my head is oozing out.

I used to be slender, you remember that, I blogged about it and everything.

So, its back onto the crosstrainer for me, as soon as I got back from Dumfries in fact.

So as is my wont, I've graphed my progress so far.
After one week, well, I'm doing better than my winter and spring fitness regimes. Usually I ease myself into the regime, just doing short distances for the first day or two, then taking another day or two off, to let my body adjust, but this time, I'm not allowing myself that luxury, and I'm going full-on, 10.5km every night.

Hopefully by the time I finish this tranche of cross-training in thirty days time, I'll have covered twice the distance of my previous attempts. I'll be so buff, I'll have single-handedly defused the UK's obesity timebomb.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Pitying News of the World

I think its a pity that the New of the World newspaper is closing down. In this piece I’m going to be quite selective about facts, and biased, this is a torrent of poorly argued and ill-informed bullshit, but please, read on.

I’ve never bought a copy of News of the World. I might buy the last ever edition tomorrow for posterity, but other than that, its just not really the sort of paper I read, I’m more of a Sunday Telegraph sort of chap, or The Observer or Sunday Times, you know, pretentious like. NOTW was a bit to sensationalist and celebrity-orientated for me, not intellectual enough, but I am in the minority.

The main reason I think its a shame that the News of the World is shutting down is because I really like the idea of companies and institutions over a hundred years old still being in business doing the same sort of thing for vast periods of time. Like IBM or Western Union or ICIor The Guardian newspaper. There’s something reassuring about companies having survived the initial blip of a ‘good idea’, then out living the people who started the organisation, and then having almost always been there.

Sure, companies have to adapt and change in order to stay in business, IBM changed from mechanical counting machines and calculators, to computers and and then IT infrastructure services, but they’ve been broadly successful and are still doing the same thing.

I mourn the passing of Woolworths and Borders and Rumbelows from our high streets. They just couldn’t keep up and adapt and keep the customers and money flowing, and so they didn’t survive. Tis the nature of things.

But the passing of the News of the World, I think its unfair. It didn’t close down because people stopped buying it, it was very popular, the most popular of the Sunday newspapers according to wikipedia. Here’s this is the circulation figures for the top UK Sunday papers:-
           News of the World - 2,789,560
           Mail on Sunday - 1,958,083
           Sunday Mirror - 1,092,816
           Sunday Times - 1,039,371
           Sunday Express - 550,269
           People - 500,866
           Sunday Telegraph - 496,128
           Sunday Mail - 366,325
           Sunday Post - 317,896
           Daily Star Sunday - 316,712
           Observer - 314,164
           Independent on Sunday - 152,561
I tried to use google’s visualisation API to generate a treemap showing circulation, but couldn’t figure out how to embed it into a blog, so here’s a static image:-

News of the World sells about the same number of copies as the bottom eight Sunday papers put together. Some people really like buying it.

If it closed down because people stopped buying it and it wasn’t profitable or popular, then that’s fair enough, but that’s not the case.

The case is that less popular newspapers, and people who didn’t support the paper’s viewpoints, rather than trying to be more popular and sell more copies, or persuade the majority of the virtues of their views, they took out News of the World by other means, on a technicality.

Almost like trying to win a football match by killing all the other team’s players.
A small minority decided that a majority is wrong, and now the majority are not permitted to have that newspaper any more.

Murdoch or News International pulled the plug, not the Guardian, not twitter, not the BBC nor Vince Cable, they merely forced the decision.

Another thing that bugs me about this is that as well as not reading the News of the World myself, I don’t think any of my friends do, and all the blogs that I subscribe to online, they almost never link to articles in the News of the World, its always the Guardian, The Observer, The Independent or The Telegraph. Based on my view of the world, I’d reckon that News of the World has the smallest circulation. But we’ve seen how this is wrong, whoever it is that reads it, there’s a whole lot more of them than I can see, they are huge, hidden and silent.

There are almost ten times as many of them than Observer readers. So whenever the Observer or Guardian clamour for anything, there are ten times as many Sun and NOTW readers who don’t.

The other day I read this piece on Charles Crawford’s blogoir, and at the time I took it to mean that human’s are overwealmingly traditional and conservative, and that secular liberalism is a minority view which
since the French Revolution and then the Russian Revolution, a systemic attempt has been made by supposedly progressive tendencies to downplay certain essentially human ‘traditional’ values and to ‘relativise’ the way issues are looked at.
The readers of The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent are very good at downplaying the popular majority who read the News of the World. The righteous may very well be right, and good, but they are a minority. The majority clearly prefer the bullying, the thuggery and commercialisation, and rank criminality.

There’s another thing that troubles me, I’m not an investigative journalist, I’m not a journalist at all, I don’t know many of the tools they have to find and investigate stories. Off the top of my head I guess they can:-
  • Get a ‘tip-off’ from an ‘inside source’
  • Freedom of Information requests
  • Waiting outside a classy nightclub
  • Raiding celebrity’s rubbish bins
There are dozen’s more of course, apart from now there is one less:-
  • Hacking subject’s voice mail
Use that one and you will lose your job, and all you colleagues will lose their jobs and the whole institution will get shut down, the building burned to the ground and the ashes scattered with salt.

From Devil’s Kitchen:-
Others have made this point, but I think it’s important to remember, amidst all of the furore and moral outrage, that the state doesn’t need to hack your phone—they can simply demand that your supplier hand over all of their records.

And your mobile supplier, and your Internet service provider (ISP), keep extensive records of everything that you do—because the state demands that they do so.

So, if some tabloid arsehole wanted to get details of your conversations, or your browsing habits, or your emails they would be far better off simply paying a public servant to get them instead.

And with over 900 police officers and staff were disciplined for breaching the Data Protection Act between 2007 and 2010, I wouldn’t imagine that such a person would be so terribly hard to find…
But I’m thinking there are dozens, maybe hundreds of other tricks that investigative journalists can use, and some of them are probably just as bad as phone-hacking, but the public just don’t know about them.

There’s two ways to call it:-
  • We, the public, want our investigative journalists to have whatever legal, illegal, or immoral tools at their disposal in order to get the stories to hold those in power to account, to get us, the public, as complete and truthful information as possible to make our own personal judgement
  • We, the public, want to know and then limit the tools available to journalists for them to do all the stuff in the previous option
Actually the reality is somewhere between those two options, we like to think that our chosen Sunday newspaper has decent morals, ethics and journalist practises, but its probably best if we didn’t know everything about how they do their work. For example, remember all that business the other week with Johann Hari, those who thought he was a dick previously now still think he’s a dick, and those who agreed with his politics before probably still believe in his politics, and completely ignore his faults.

One final point…

Would it have been a more satisfactory if News International had sold News of the World to Guardian Media Group Plc for a pound, and let them change the editorial line and investigative journalism tools to whatever they want? At least then a 168 year old institution would keep on going, having adapted to “the modern way of doing business”.