The End Of The World (As We Know It)

Rupert Murdoch is a media mogul in the original sense of the word. He’s not a proprietor so much as he’s an emperor. In order to protect his bid to control the extremely lucrative BSkyB he has simply destroyed the jobs of 200 people, the vast majority of whom are of course innocent. Well, innocent of everything except working for the News of the World. They have been sacrificed to protect his image, to make him seem more clean and innocent. It is the act of a despotic autocrat. And surely it is also a titanic misjudgment. Does it really indicate that he should be in control of even more of the UK’s media?

An unfortunate unintended effect of his decision is that we will never get to see what would have happened. Would the readers of the NOTW have rejected their paper, or are they actually happy enough with that sort of behaviour? Would the advertisers have stayed away, or come back after a suitable interval? We’ll never know.

And so I wonder if it was unintended. Perhaps Murdoch pulled the plug before he was pushed. The public didn’t get to see how easy it would be to bring an offending newspaper down these days. In my estimation, how startlingly easy. He probably doesn’t want them to pick that idea up.

Star Stories – 5

Liveblogging from a show. Not sure about the etiquette of this, but I’m being dreadfully discreet.

Órla McGovern is not an elderly working class Dublin widow with a naughty sense of humour, but she plays one perfectly on stage. Niceol Blue – whom I’ve mentioned before – really is a singer-songwriter born in one of those Bible-belt US States you only run away from. They make an eclectic partnership, and form the core of The Spontaneous Theatre People, a company that devises plays.

The show is about stories. About stories about stories. The actors play storytellers, playing characters. One enchanting tale, told by Zita Monahan, is of a woman who was hairdresser to an international spy. Another was about an unhappy wife who went into space, launched by… But that would give it away.

I’d tell you to come and see it, but it’s a run of one performance. You can catch it though at the Electric Picnic.

In space there’s a spaceship chip shop, that sells spaceship-shaped chips.

Facebook and Microsoft?

May I be the first to run around the room with my arms flailing? Facebook may merely be working with Skype to introduce video calling, and Skype may have only been recently bought by Microsoft, but it immediately makes you fear that Microsoft are on the point of buying Facebook. And that would be almost unthinkable. The lumbering old PC monopolist, owning the nimble new social network. The folks at Redmond, with their hands on our personal profiles. Shiver.

Yet… It seems a compelling match. Though not officially on sale yet, the estimated asking price of Facebook is The Largest Number You Can Think Of – a sum which Microsoft just happens to have.

Will they? Would they? They may have to. If Google actually begins to rival Facebook with its Google+ network, it is going to have a fantastically powerful strategic position. And remember, as the main way that the world interacts with the Web and the maker of what is going to become the world’s most popular phone OS, Google has a strategic position already far in advance of anyone.

It’s clear already what they’re planning to do with Google+. They’re going to blend social networking in. They want a person’s online activities, their socializing and their Web searching, to merge casually and seamlessly together. Search for an air fare to Italy, let your friends (or a certain group of friends) see that you’re searching, get their comments and tips. It’s amusing that just after all the browser-makers introduced an “In Private” feature so that you could explicitly search without being seen, Google realised that an “In Public” option would be even better.

This will work. People will like their social networking being blended into their general online activities. It will make using the Web as a whole a much more social thing, a lot more like being with people. It will be great and Google will become even more fantastically powerful.

So if Microsoft want to stay in the game, they need Facebook. The chances of them successfully introducing their own social network system seem poor. There’s really just one question. If Facebook becomes a property of Microsoft, will it instantly become uncool? It seems likely that being owned by Mr. Fox contributed to the demise of MySpace, possibly a similar effect could strike down Facebook. Especially if Google are successful in selling Google+ as the cooler alternative. I’m not sure. Facebook is so big now that it seems almost unimaginable that it could falter. And yet, anything can happen on the Web.

Then again, Microsoft could actually improve Facebook’s image. MS is not exactly the world’s most trusted and loved company, but it is at least known to be businesslike. Facebook is so good at giving the impression of being fundamentally unreliable that Microsoft could actually make it seem a lot more trustworthy.

What’s more, if MS keeps blundering around with the sense of direction it’s displaying right now, if Apple and Google keep running rings around them like this, it’ll soon be able to portray itself as the loveable underdog.

As I say, anything.

Galway’s Other Arts Festival

There’s a TV ad running for the Galway Arts Festival. I don’t recall its wording exactly, but I’d almost swear it was something like “for all your arts and culture needs”. I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again, the Festival has become too commercial.

There have been a number of attempts to get back to its roots, though generally they come from outside the organisation. Project ’06 showed that the community spirit was still there, but it was never intended to compete. More has been achieved perhaps by starting other, more focused festivals at less coveted points on the calendar. Most successful of these would probably be the Galway Theatre Festival, but we are certainly not short of small interesting celebrations.

Some though still go for the big one. The Colours Fringe Festival is attempting the whole shooting match – a festival of theatre and film and music and literature and the visual arts. Yes it’s small and maybe a little disorganised, most of the acts involved are local, some aren’t even professionals. But that’s exactly what the Galway Arts Festival was like, back when it was cute and loveable.

I should have written about this sooner, it’s running right now. In particular I’m going to blatantly plug some friends of mine, the Spontaneous Theatre People, who are doing an hour-long show called “Star Stories – 5” at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon in Kelly’s on Bridge Street, but there’s a full calendar of events over the next two days.

Details at: http://coloursfringe.blogspot.com/

Don’t Call It Hacking

News of the World (album)
I'm Seeing A Whole New Meaning In This Now

Calling it “hacking” makes it sound difficult and technical, when basically what the News Of The World did was phone voicemail boxes that, like most, had easily-guessed PINs. It was spying. It was intrusion. It was burglary. It invaded the lives of innocent people every bit as violently and recklessly as breaking into into their homes and ransacking their bedrooms. Where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, they find a stranger there, manipulating their lives for money.

‘Hacking’ once meant something very different; it was a morally neutral or actually positive word, simply meaning skilled use of computers. Ironically there was even a hacker code of ethics – a concept these debased editors would have to look up.

This has added a great deal more fuel to an already raging debate over libel and privacy law. That reform is desperately needed is, as the “superinjunction” debacle showed, beyond question, but such difficult decisions would be better not made in the context of newspapers carrying out criminal acts. Laws made in anger and haste are likely to be bad for all journalism and all freedom of speech, not just Murdoch’s papers and their like.

And it should be remarked that other British tabloids are quite capable of doing breathtaking violence to basic moral concepts. Look at today’s Daily Express. In the light of a study that failed to find a link between salt and early death, they label all people who discouraged eating salt as ‘fascist’.

That’s what the Daily Express thinks fascists are. Not people who overthrow democracy, who rule by fear, who murder all opposition. People who say you shouldn’t eat too much salt.

Evil is infantile.

(Updated 22:00)

Mac Fixin’ Again

Circuit City

Some laptops are a lot easier to fix than others. My Toughbook can basically be maintained with a bicycle spanner. At the opposite end, I once had such a hard time taking apart an Acer that I didn’t bother to put it back together again.

Apple’s are in the middle, though some are better than others. The last couple of MacBooks are far better than past models – they actually let you take your own hard drive out, without needing power tools! The Intel iBooks are fairly OK, except that all the connectors inside seem to snake into one bizarre nexus. The iBook G3 on the other hand, though actually my favourite from the outside (it’s the weird curvy one from about 2000), has about 650 screws – no two of which are the same.

But the iBook G4 (1.33GHz) is my poorly-designed nemesis. It’s notorious because the Wi-Fi card has a tendency to come loose, crashing the thing. I fixed one almost exactly a year ago, for my musician friend Niceol. And guess what? It came loose again. As I said at the time:

To help prevent the Wi-Fi card working loose again I needed something to pad out the clamp holding it, make the grip tighter. So I found a nice pale grey piece of card, cut neatly rounded corners, got a pen and wrote “iPad”.

Because Apple design is all about attention to detail.

Seems my design was underpowered. So I replaced the soft card with a thicker piece of plastic. On which, naturally, I scrawled “iPad 2”.

Now There’s An Idea…

I came across this while looking for a copyright-free illustration for the last post. It’s from the July 1934 issue of Popular Mechanics, and shows a camera that can be attached to a gun, and “worked by the gun’s trigger”.

Wait. Does that mean if you want to take a photograph, you have to fire the gun? Because that sounds… kinda risky.

“Smile! Oh damn sorry I forgot damn damn damn someone call an ambulance.”

And since when could you identify someone from a picture of them running away from you and your gun? This is really only useful if you want a lot of pictures of people who look very, very surprised.

But you’ve got to love the 1930s. So many more things were possible, because they hadn’t figured out what a bad idea they were yet. Camera guns, aqua-cars, fascism.

Who Deserves To Die?

One of the most indefensible consequences of the property orgy and subsequent bailout deal is that innocent people will be made to pay with their lives. It’s one example among very many, but from today people in Roscommon who are severely injured are going to be sent to Galway.

Those of us who live in Galway know that emergency services here are already overwhelmed. We also know that we have some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.

Let’s state this in as simple a way as possible, so that even our elected representatives can understand it. Because of the closure of Roscommon accident and emergency, someone is going to die.

But it will not be a member of a bank’s board of directors, to take a random example. They have an alternative. While all this is happening, a commercial organisation calling itself Beacon Hospitals thinks it timely to advertise that they offer an emergency service. Their slogan?

“Because You Deserve Better.”

Independence Is Overrated Anyway

It would also be a unique opportunity to design the busiest flag in world history

Today the USA celebrates the anniversary of independence from Britain. Though I wonder would they have bothered if they’d known that, 235 years later, Britain would be pretty much dependent on them. It’s funny to watch that pair, singing together at the UN, fighting their wars hand-in-hand. You know I think those two should make up. They’re obviously right for each other.

Just one or two tricky details to sort out. The UK couldn’t just become the 51st state. It may be small in area, but at 62 million it would make up one sixth of the combined population. As the House of Representatives allocates seats proportionally it would inevitably form a huge voting bloc there, while at the same time being ludicrously under-represented in the Senate.

It would be far better for the constituent countries of the UK to join individually, with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland becoming the 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th states of the USA respectively. This still leaves England as the largest state by far though – 52 million people as opposed to California’s 37 – so perhaps it could be further divided. North and South England maybe, like the Dakotas and Carolinas. Or separate it into Greater London, and Little England.

But then there’s another issue – the United States is a republic, whereas the United Kingdom is anything but. This is a rather fundamental constitutional difference; it’s not a Union unless the whole thing is governed by a single Head of State. Let’s begin though by ruling out the option of Americans voting to become a monarchy. Not because they wouldn’t consider it, but because I’m worried they might. For the UK to finally be converted into a full democracy, its royal family will need to be deposed. That doesn’t mean they have to be rounded up and executed of course. Though it does seem like the ideal opportunity.

Announcing I.Doubt.It

T-shirts available. Seriously

How’d you like the new masthead? From now on it’s “I.Doubt.It” all the way. Micro Cosmopolitan – the name of my old newspaper column – is done with.

This comes as some relief. What was I thinking? To make it worse, it was originally written as one word – Microcosmopolitan. How did I expect anyone to remember a seven-syllable word I’d made up?

It was that way until the City Tribune had a redesign, and put my column into a single, well, column. They had to break up my title because it didn’t fit! I admit that did make it easier to read, but then I worried that as I wrote about information technology, people would think I was under the impression that “Micro” was still a hip and cool word for a personal computer. Ouch.

I suppose I was fond of it, the word I’d originally coined to describe Galway City. But as the column became more about global issues it grew less and less relevant. I kept it for a transitional period to help readers of the newspaper version find their way here. They will have by now I guess, six months and 200 posts on.

Yep, I just noticed. By sheer coincidence, the last post was number 200. Wow.