No More Pencils, No More Books

iPad showing OpenStreetMap content
Homework never looked more attractive

Giving iPads to kids in school. How lovely. St Kevin’s in Crumlin is the most recent of something like seven around the country, starting with St Colman’s in Mayo, to join this revolution.

What the hell are they thinking?

I guess it tells you a lot about the world some people live in, that this idea wasn’t shot down on the grounds that the iPads would be stolen by children from other, less well-equipped schools. We assume all these kids are being delivered to the gates by car. It’s even more charming to realise that the kids themselves are being trusted not to break, lose, or ‘lose’ such valuable devices. Of course there’s one advantage – right now, most children who had the cash price of an iPad would probably use it to buy an iPad.

What I find either more touching still, or just hopelessly naïve, is the idea that kids will be able to use iPads, in class or for study, without becoming terminally distracted. They’re being encouraged to do their homework in an amusement arcade. Schools say the tablets will be blocked from things like Facebook and Twitter, but it doesn’t take a child to figure out that there are about a billion other available distractions on the Web, and it’s quite impossible to block them on an individual basis. And remember, this is in school – the only place in the world where it’s legal to enforce hours of brain-crushing inaction on innocent children. I spent thirteen of my most impressionable years being bored to tears, I would have killed for such distraction.

On the other hand, I am distracted every day by the fact that I work on devices I can use to access the Internet. Raised from the very start with the temptation, maybe these kids will develop the iron discipline necessary to keep their concentration in this all-singing, all-dancing world.

Maybe.

One thing that isn’t a problem though – you may be wondering how the hell it makes economic sense to give such expensive tools to every child in a school. To understand, you just need to know about the cost of schoolbooks in Ireland. School teaching is free here, yes. But school books are basically a massive scheme to ream hapless parents until their eyes pop. Compared to that, the cost of an iPad over a few years is almost trivial.

Merry-Go-Roundup

Week 100 - Photoshop Contest Party
Image by oddsock via Flickr

Let’s start the week with a recap of the last one – a momentary break from the nausea helps one better appreciate the carousel, I find.

All hell broke loose in England, with the young indulging in a strange mixture of wanton violence and want-one theft. The more repulsive commentators, in Ireland especially it seemed, were keen to blame it on the feminist-socialist conspiracy to raise children without fathers, completely unconscious it seemed of the fact that this made them sound disturbingly like Anders Breivik. Those who wanted to blame black people had to make do in the end with blaming white people who just talk like black people.

The British government reacted in many ways at once, most of them useless, but the one that got my attention was when David Cameron began a sentence “Free flow of information can be used for good, but…” betraying the fact that he is not at heart a democrat. This view was supported by no one, except of course China.

On a related note, surprise hit of the week was an article on the decline of the meme. What I’d thought of as a throwaway remark was later bandied about Twitter as “Chapman’s Law”: If you hear about an internet meme via any medium except the Internet, it is already over.

I also discovered that I can say what I like about gay Presidents and right-wing politicians, but if I really want to get an argument going here, the thing I need to do is criticise Apple.

Back home then, and off our coasts new dives were being made on the wreck of the Lusitania. What seemed like the last nail was knocked into David Norris’s Presidential campaign when it was revealed that, in an unguarded moment in 1975, he admitted that his adolescent fantasies had been homosexual in nature. This was taken up by some in the press to mean that he represented a paedophile threat to himself.

Attention switched to veteran TV personality Gay Byrne, and he was even approached with an offer of support by the once-great Fianna Fáil party, who until now have only lost one Presidential election in the whole history of the State. But fortunately everyone suddenly realised that this was a completely mad idea.

And at home home, my mother received a call from a phone scammer. My rage was not a nice thing to behold, but the lesson I took away was that if I stayed calm when talking to the scammer next time, I’d be able to scare even more shit out of them.

Still closer to home, I was bitten by a mosquito and had a bad allergic reaction. Having tried about everything available in the pharmacy and found it wanting, if not utterly useless, I discovered an instant, effective cure: Water.

I hasten to point out that that doesn’t make it homoeopathy.

Another Google+ Bug

Nude Sea Sirens
I can't find any relevant image for this article, so here is a completely irrelevant Russian mercouple

I didn’t speak too soon anyway. The Dow just fell off. Well, had its worst plunge since the crash of 2008. Double-dip recession then? I think that’s far too complacent – why the hell should it stop at two? All we’ve seen since 2008 is an economic system trying to get up off the canvas. It’s not getting up.

But sorry, back to Google+. It’s a bit unfair of me to call it a bug, but “An Aspect Of Google+ Which Users Coming From Facebook May Find Misleading” just doesn’t cut it as a headline. Blame the sub-editors. This isn’t entirely Google’s fault, but I think they need to do something about it.

A lot of people coming to Google+ have prior experience of social networking on Facebook. And when I say “a lot”, I mean “all of them, basically”. So there is a natural tendency to think of someone adding you to their circles as analogous to a friend request. If you have reason to think they’re kosher, you’ll probably add them back. But what if you don’t immediately recognise the name? Speaking for myself it could still easily be someone whose name I’ve forgotten, someone I know by an online name, a friend of a friend. So what I do is see what friends they have in common with me; that almost always makes the relationship obvious.

When someone adds you on Google+ you can see the “People in common” they have with you. If there are a lot, your automatic assumption might be that you should know this person. But unlike FB where relationships are agreed by both parties, being in a circle in G+ is of course only one-way, much like being followed on Twitter. So when someone has a lot of “People in common” with you, all it could mean is that they first added one person you know, and then added all their friends.

It happened yesterday among my peer group – people started asking each other “Does anyone actually know X?” We eventually figured out that X was a fake friend. (Oh and Google? He had a perfectly realistic name and profile.) I would guess people are doing this exactly so that they might be mistaken for friends and added – whereupon they can find out more about you, spam you perhaps, misrepresent themselves even. It’s a new type of insidious social network penetration – we could call it “encircling”.

How can Google make this less likely to succeed? I think “People in common” is a misleading label – indeed, a misleading categorisation. It’s really only “People X has in circles who are in your circles”. There should also be a category “People in your circles who have X in circles.” If the latter group is far smaller than the former, you’ll know immediately that something is up.

And Now For Some Random Facts

Huge ocean sunfish (mola mola) at Outer Bay ex...
In German, the sunfish is sometimes known as Schwimmender Kopf, or "swimming head"

Jell-O is the official state snack of Utah. This is the sort of thing you could make up and people would believe it, but in this case it happens to be true.

Vegetables and fruit served in savoury jelly is sometimes called “congealed salad“, possibly the worst name ever given to something you expect another human being to eat.

Jell-O and other brands of jelly are made of collagen extracted from the boiled bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as cattle and horses. Though contrary to popular belief, there are no hooves in it.

So that’s a relief then.

The Origin Of Landfish

Lilith (1892) by John Collier in Southport Atk...
Nude With Fish

That’s enough frigging Murdoch, let’s get back to reality. I finished repacking all the stuff in the attic! Or almost anyway. The boxes are upstairs, they’re just in the way of where I sleep. Which is not helpful, because I need sleep quite badly now. That’s probably why I’m having all these realisations. I finally realise the truth about snakes for example. Haven’t you? Snakes are land animals that evolved from fish… back into fish. Develop legs, climb out of water, lose legs again. Crazy. So from now on, I’m going to refer to all snakes as “landfish”. People will know what I mean.

Another thing. We have words for societies that are ruled by the rich, that are ruled by the best, by the mob, even a word for societies that are ruled by the worst. But there isn’t a word for rule by the most ruthless. How come?

And then I realised. There used to be, but all copies of that dictionary were burned and the lexicographers and their families shot.

This next story has the virtue of being true. A friend of mine came across the bizarre case of someone who was arrested for burning his own underwear. She wondered if that was arson.

Of course it is, I said. He set his arse on fire.

All right, I think I’m tired enough to sleep on the boxes now.

The Murdoch Show – A Review

Banana cream pie.
Critical Notice

The end of an extraordinary day, says the TV man. Did anyone else think so? To me it seemed a let-down; predictable, unchallenging, frequently tedious.

What we were watching was, as reader jonolan put it, theatre. And not even good theatre, unless you count the intervention by the pieman – that at least was unpredictable. Otherwise its sole moment of flair was Assistant Commissioner John Yates’ surrealistic claim to be a postbox.

The prince came across more like a villain, and it was the king who vacillated. He wanted to apologise as profusely and humbly as possible – yet he wouldn’t accept the blame. Such inconsistency in a character strains credulity.

The best you can say for the production is that it was well rehearsed. The Murdochs delivered their lines effectively enough: News Corp is a highly ethical organisation, the News Of The World a completely inexplicable and isolated aberration. It was at least a daring conceit. And memorable – though mainly because they kept saying it at every opportunity.

Then in the last act a whole new theme was introduced. The News Of The World was revealed by Rebekah Brooks to be a crusading journal, focused only on protecting children and the rights of soldiers, a paragon of what newspapers should be. But the transformation hadn’t been justified by anything that had gone before, so it lacked conviction.

That’s what this show needs more of. Conviction. Preferably several.

That Pie In Full

Who owns this? No idea

First LulzSec last night, now a comedian attacking an old man with a pie, making the Murdochs at least 10% more sympathetic. Anarchists not helping.

Though James did help undo it a little with “The terrible, terrible incidence of voicemail interception around… whatshername.”

Nicola Blackwood is fairly impressive, but her cuteness makes me feel like we’re only looking at her larval stage.

That Pie In Full

Who owns this? No idea

First LulzSec last night, now a comedian attacking an old man with a pie, making the Murdochs at least 10% more sympathetic. Anarchists not helping.

Though James did help undo it a little with “The terrible, terrible incidence of voicemail interception around… whatshername.”

Nicola Blackwood is fairly impressive, but her cuteness makes me feel like we’re only looking at her larval stage.

Trying To Split The Murdochs

But perhaps the weak questioning is a clever tactic. Once he’s off the back foot and feeling confident again, James Murdoch sounds like a supervillain.

Now the questioner is thanking Rupert for being more helpful than James, which is surely going to make Rupert less helpful again. But it does appear that Rupert knows quite a deal about the workings of News International, making it seem like his vagueness on detail earlier was really reticence.

But now James has the helm again, and has another opening to explain how sorry they are, and how nice they will be to their former employees who didn’t get caught.

Hmm. They’ve actually gotten a commitment out of Rupert to cease paying the legal fees of Mulcaire (the investigator they paid to hack) – if they’re not obliged to do so by contract. It will be interesting to see where that goes.

Now That’s More Like Hacking

The controversial front page of the Sun.
The Sun - Not Famous For Truth

Funny how it doesn’t seem to be in the news this morning, but last night all the websites of Murdoch’s UK newspapers were brought down. The Sun’s by LulzSec, the fun-loving hacker network – they switched it to a fake version that announced Rupert Murdoch’s death – the rest probably pulled by News International itself in a somewhat desperate effort to protect them.

I like the humorous anarchy of LulzSec and their ilk, but I fear an organisation as media-canny as News Corporation will be able to turn this to their own advantage. You want to make Rupert Murdoch look like a victim, you attack him with something even more feared and poorly-understood than himself. Interweb hackers, that can do all sorts of mysterious and dangerous things. Things that are – sharp intake of breath – bad for business. Bring down a Murdoch website, and you give him a chance to portray himself as a champion of free speech. Which would be ironic in any number of ways, not least because most of Murdoch’s websites were not free.

Meanwhile, rumours fly that Murdoch is about to be deposed as head of News Corporation.

Meanwhile, perhaps even as you’re reading this (video feed), Murdoch and other heads of News International will be giving evidence before an investigating committee of the UK parliament. They didn’t want to much.

Meanwhile, the next domino in the Metropolitan Police has fallen: Assistant commissioner John Yates, the UK’s leading terrorism officer.

Meanwhile, the whistleblower who originally broke the phone hacking story has been found dead. The police say it’s not suspicious, but… The police say it’s not suspicious.

So thanks for the lulz, LulzSec. But it looks like things are already way beyond that.