Cosmography Technology

The Last Paper Column

This will read a little strangely. It’s unedited from the version as it appears in the paper.

Alas This is Fake
The Paper Gives Me A Decent Send-Off

This is the last Micro Cosmopolitan in the City Tribune. I’m leaving the paper. After sixteen years – can you believe it? So much has changed over that time. Why back then there was a Fine Gael/Labour government.

I’m going to miss it badly; in particular, being able to say “I write for a paper”. There was something grand about that. But the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of being a columnist, I’ll be a blogger. Instead of it appearing once a week it will be several times a day. Instead of writing on Wednesday for you to read on Friday, it’ll be instant comment on events as they happen. There will be cartoons too, and you’ll be able to have your own say.

I gave you the address before, but now there’s a new and much shorter one – “I doubt it”. Simply type and you go straight there. Neat, no? Just dots between the words, no W’s or nothin’. And if you don’t like going to websites you can receive it by email for free. Those of you without computers may find that you can read it perfectly well on your phone.

Otherwise though, you’re stuck. This is the sad fact about the way things are going. You won’t have to buy a daily paper, but you’ll need a machine. In the time I’ve been at the Tribune, the publishing industry has changed out of all recognition. I am fortunate perhaps to have started back when we were still something you might recognise as a “classic” newspaper. I actually brought my column in on a piece of paper, held in my fist. Someone had to type it out again. That almost seems crazy now.

1995 wasn’t quite back in the age of typewriters though. The paper had Macs, and I had a primitive sort of word processor you would point and laugh at now. There was just no way these two computers could communicate with each other. Two years later, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, I started e-mailing my stories. I soon had a computer of my own, and though I couldn’t yet afford an Internet connection – and certainly, not a Mac – I was bringing my stories in on floppy disk. And now… Well, we’ve cut out the paper altogether.

I mean, the whole newspaper.

The business is going through a crisis. On one hand it’s being squeezed by new media; I get a large proportion of my news from blogs, from upstart online-only papers, even from Twitter. Now it’s the papers that can’t afford to buy Macs. The oldest mass medium can and will adapt, they have the core skills that are essential for gathering and recounting the news. But they have to find new ways to make it pay, and they need to do that now – right in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

You support those skills when you read the print version of the Tribune, so I hope you will continue to get it – even without me. And do tell all your friends who stopped buying it while I was here. – Think of me whenever you hear a politician speak.

Love and out,

Richard Chapman


Why l Won’t Buy an iPad 2

iPad2 CartoonBecause Apple censor. All right, I don’t care much either way if they want to reject apps with sexual content, but when they disallowed political satire it became both personal and a matter of principle. They may have relented in the most celebrated case, but until the policy is changed explicitly they can insert the iPad 2 in landscape orientation.

Otherwise, it’s a fine device. In particular I like the cover. Seriously. It protects the screen in transit, then it converts to a stand. Apple design cuteness at its best.

The original was not at all feature-rich, the better to focus attention on the core concept. Now, again in typical Apple fashion, they add just a well-chosen few at a time so that each seems a choice delicacy. It finally has cameras and a gyroscope. Not the rather decent camera of the iPhone 4 though, and nor does it get its high-resolution display. There are real if fairly small improvements to its thickness and weight, but the only truly substantial change is a faster, dual-core processor.

So this is, if you like, the iPad 3GS; most of what the last version lacked is fixed, but cool cover aside (which is an accessory anyway) there are no show-stopping innovations. This is the iPad released just to keep up with the burgeoning crop of Android competitors. It doesn’t blow them away – that will have to wait for the next release – but it undermines their most obvious advantages.

So you want to wait for that next release, or go with one of these rivals? To answer this question, you must ask yourself why you need a tablet.

And the answer of course is that you don’t need a tablet. Don’t be ridiculous. These iPad things are computers with all the parts you might do real work with actually removed. Get a grip, it’s a leisure device. A media consumption appliance. A toy.

The question is, which is the best toy?

Right now, I’d say the rivals are well in the lead. And it’s not about hardware (though we’ll get back to that). It’s more about freedom. Though Apple stuff is beautifully done, it is done with rather controlling ends in mind. Some say they are reinventing the publishing industry, and that may be true. I’m just not so happy about them wanting a 30% cut of it.


Interactive Television

Interactive TV CartoonI wish we had Al Jazeera here. I mean we get it of course – I’ve been watching it for hours every day recently – but I wish we had an Al Jazeera of our own. In the West, TV stations can be accused of having a liberal bias if they don’t actively advocate shooting Mexicans. Al Jazeera – now that’s a liberal bias. While they try to keep up the traditional detached tone with neutral headlines like “Overnight Disturbances in Tripoli”, occasionally a “March of Freedom” slips through.

They’re perfectly aware, and proud, of the active role they are playing in bringing down dictatorship in the Middle East. “There we are!” said a news reporter, as footage from celebrations in Benghazi showed that they were projecting Al Jazeera onto a wall of the square. This is the most important TV news channel in the world today, the only international broadcaster that could effectively advocate democracy in the Middle East.

Of course Friday was a good day for democracy here too. Saturday may be better, may be worse, as we discover how people actually voted. Join me here through the day as I watch them prise open the boxes.

Politics Technology

Fine Gael to Tax Freedom

Barring a miracle of the ballot boxes, it looks like Fine Gael are going to be our masters for the next few years. So I guess some people will have to actually drag their eyes through the bloody manifesto and see what may be in store. Friend and fellow cartoonist Allan Cavanagh alerted me to this gem:

TV Licence: We will change the TV Licence into a household-based Public Broadcasting Charge applied to all households and applicable businesses regardless of the device they use to access content.

Do they really mean to charge all households for RTɹ, whether they watch TV or not? That would be a new general tax, just one that’s collected through its own separate – and therefore ridiculously wasteful – system. Further, it forces me to pay for something I don’t want. I do not own a TV, and one of the reasons for this is that I don’t think what RTÉ broadcasts is worth paying for. If you saw it, you wouldn’t too.

RTE ThumbnailBut perhaps they mean you will be charged if you have any device in your home capable of viewing RTÉ ‘content’. (Do you get nervous whenever anyone uses that word?) They’re hardly going to come round and check what sort of phone you have, so unless they go the unthinkable² route of tracking all internet activity to make sure no one secretly watches television, the logical and simple way to do this will be to charge a tax on every broadband connection or data tariff.

So in the guise of a TV licence, they introduce a tax on freedom of information and of expression. No way, Fine Gael.

  1. RTÉ is the publicly owned broadcasting service, funded in part by a television license fee in a similar fashion to the BBC. In a highly dissimilar fashion, it also has commercials.
  2. Please God they do realise this is unthinkable, don’t they?
Cosmography Humour

The List

Commercial CartoonIf you want to loudly use the word Fact! in your advert, you can’t also say that your product kills 99.x% of “all known bacteria including the flu virus”. Bullshit like that brings you awfully close to… The List.

The list? My unshopping list. Like a shopping list, except of the things I don’t want to buy. The saying is that one half of all money spent on advertising is wasted – only nobody knows which half it is. Well, I intend to show them. The wasted half, is the half that annoys me.

Advertisers you see know that if you remember the product, you are more likely to buy the product. It’s true. All other things being equal, we’ll prefer the brand we’ve actually heard of before. Why wouldn’t we?

Advertisers also know that if an advert annoys you, you’ll remember the product. And that is true too, obviously.

So some of them come to the conclusion that if an advert annoys you, you will remember the product, and so be more likely to buy the product. It’s just logical, no?

No. Because what they forget is, I will also remember that it annoyed me.

I reason that the purchase price of the product pays the advertising agency. If I bought it therefore I would actually be paying a team of professionals to irritate me – indeed, to keep coming up with inventive new ways to irritate me, actually do research into finding what really gets right up my nose. What rational person wants to pay for that? Hence the list.

It’s not a real list of course, I don’t write them down. I don’t have to because – hey – I remember them.

And I will boycott products that I actually like. You’ve got to be firm here. They stay on the list not merely until they stop broadcasting the offending commercial, but for as long as I feel they deserve. There’s a brand of low-fat spread I didn’t purchase for ten years because in 1988 they promoted it with a white man rapping badly. Really, that’s at least a decade’s worth. Some – a certain Australian retail shouting chain for example, an online operation that is not fussy about what cars it buys – will be on the list until one of us dies.

What products are on your list?


Clash of the Titanic Brains

Quiz CartoonWas in a table quiz the other night. Four from Galway¹ up against the finest of the Dublin media. A great turnout, we had quiz teams hanging from the rafters, all in support of a service for troubled teenagers called Reach Out and the Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people. But I wasn’t there for human kindness and Christian charity (dammit), I was there to be cleverer than other people!

So much for that. Came third.

But we wuz robbed – Definitely we should have had one more point in the first round. Though I suppose in fairness we made up for that when we traded an answer with some people from the Irish Times on the next table. Under house rules that meant we really should have paid €50 and left naked.

The questions didn’t suit us I guess. But, compiled by media celebrities, they were an interesting sample of questions that media celebrities compile. News priorities in catechismic form. A round of TV, a round of pop, a round of film, a round of sport², a special round for celebrity bollocks too trivial even for the other rounds.

No round on literature, or any cultural form less popular than cinema. Nothing on science. Not even the sort of science that actually gets on the news, like… well, medicine. No technology. Knowing who won the first X-Factor would stand you in much better stead than knowing, say, how TV actually works. But that’s how TV actually works. And the rest of the mainstream media³ these days.

I reject any inference that I’m a sore loser.

  1. Well one of us was only from near Galway. OK, Spain.
  2. Bizarrely, it was entirely on rugby. Compiled by George Hook
  3. Interestingly, there was only one question on the new media. (Unless you count the one on who wrote the screen of The Social Network. And no, I don’t think you do.) Who founded Storyful? And I got it wrong… I thought it was Gavin Sheridan, but I was confusing it with his own It was of course Mark Little.
Politics Technology

Wikileaks Is Innocent

Some people dismiss the allegations against Julian Assange as trivial. I find that hard to stomach. Making someone do something sexual that they don’t want to do is never trivial. The idea that he is wanted over a breaking condom exists only in the minds of commentators who have waded too deep into rhetoric.

On the other hand, we should be clear that he has not been charged with rape. He has not been charged, in fact, with anything. He was wanted for questioning. There is some confusion about what this is in relation to, but this is partly because Swedish law doesn’t map neatly onto ours, partly because it is not so forthcoming with details of sexual crime allegations.

This has led to confusion and unfortunate speculation, because while on one hand it is pretty clear that the allegations do not amount to rape in Swedish law, on the other it seems that rape in Swedish law is defined exclusively as sexual assault with violence. If rumours are to be believed – and I should emphasise the ‘if’ – the main allegation concerns him continuing to have sex even though he knew a condom had broken. To my mind, yes, that is morally a form of rape. A lesser form perhaps than sex obtained by threats or by drugging someone or taking advantage of their being too drunk to know what they are doing, but unquestionably a case of making someone do something sexual that they didn’t want to do.

Whether it is something you could ever conceivably get a criminal conviction for, that is another question. So it’s true that some circumstances of this investigation look peculiar. But if the Swedish authorities seem to be pursuing him with an unusual level of diligence, one can hope this is because it’s unusual to have such allegations made against someone so in the public eye.

One must hope that.

Because whatever you think of the decisions Wikileaks has made about what to release to the media, it must be remembered that it does nothing illegal itself. If anyone is committing any crime – and again, that is another very big if and another difficult moral question – it is the insiders who leaked the material. Oh, and any American who reads it even after it’s been published – technically that is illegal. So the US Air Force has blocked the website of The Guardian, Columbia students have been warned that discussing the information could damage their careers. It seems to me that if Wikileaks is bringing about this sort of imbecilic institutional reaction, it is definitely doing something right.

Wikileaks is innocent. But I hope that Assange is guilty, or at least under well-founded suspicion. Why? Because the alternative – that sexual crime charges have been falsified against him in order to suppress a threat to US interests – would mean that Western civilisation is on fire and what’s left is not worth pissing on to save.