Archive for February, 2011

Tab-clearing link fart

Mike Konczal and the snark:

We are perpetually in a spiritual crisis that can only be fixed by a woman in the kitchen. It’s a huge win for the second half of the 20th century that this argument has been moved from leading political figures addressing graduating classes to the shadier alleyways of the Wall Street Journal opinion page.

Robert Fisk fisks Gaddafi.

Brilliant, awe-inspiring Borderland Beat piece on the rise of the Sinaloa drug cartel, based on anthropology, history, economics, and Mexican/US counterinsurgency strategies as far back as the early 70s.

Where do these wanktanks keep coming from, education edition?

The lobbyist for brothels.

Python Module of the Week as a book.

Mulcaire must answer.

Oyster cards – they work perfectly simply inside the sensible public-service world of Transport for London, but everything changes when they cross the line into the twisted libertarian fantasy of the privatised rail network. Funny that.

Trying to fix the mortgage fiasco.

Dissolving a corpse in sulphuric acid – it’s harder than you think.

Who’s Lobbying now knows which lobbies use which lobbyists, although there’s still no API.


A case study

This Realclimate thread provides some interesting insight into how Nigel Lawson and sports scientist Benny Peiser’s wanktank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the dodgy journal Energy & Environment, and the little gang of rightwing nutters at the University of Buckingham are being progressively integrated into a single meta-wanktank. They’re all sitting on each other’s boards – presumably, someone at Bucks writes a paper, their mates at E&E Googleberg it through the review committee, and then Peiser and his dog push it out to the frothing churnalists over the wires.

Here’s something interesting, from a post at Owen Jones‘s. Has Donal Blaney’s “Young Britons’ Foundation”, the Tory wanktank that was too wanky for the Tories, been reactivated?

I will not distance myself from the right wing spin machine which attempts to bring down NUS’ credibility, but tackle it head on. Both of those occasions have taken NUS’ communications outrageously out of context and have been blatant attempts to weaken NUS. I also think these kinds of attacks will appear in the same kinds of newspapers consistently over the coming months in the run up to a report which is being published soon by the right wing “Young Britons Foundation” which will call NUS and Students’ Unions ‘dangerous organisations’ and attempt (again) to discredit and shut us down.

Over at the YBF website, it looks increasingly like they’re being absorbed into the whole ex-Decent industry. Speakers from the Henry Jackson Society, projects on “Students’ Rights” and “radicalisation”. I suspect part of the reason for this is that the Department for Communities & Local Government budget is relatively big compared to your average wanktank and therefore wanktanks are irresistibly drawn towards it, by a sort of financial gravity. I presume the planned “report” is going to be an effort to accuse anti-cuts protestors of secretly being jihadis, perhaps with a side effort to get on the DCLG counter-radicalisation gravy train.

Also, here’s the rundown for their next event:

Confirmed speakers:

Andrew Stephenson MP, Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party

Steve Baker MP,Wycombe

Jonathan Isaby, ConservativeHome

Robert Halfon MP, Harlow

Shane Greer, Executive Editor, Total Politics

Eamonn Butler, Adam Smith Institute

Iain Dale, Broadcaster & Publisher

Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director, Henry Jackson Society

Raheem Kassam, Henry Jackson Society

Douglas Murray, Center for Social Cohesion

Simon Richards, The Freedom Association

Michael Fallon MP, Sevenoaks

Matthew Sinclair, Director TaxPayers‘ Alliance

Sajid Javid MP, Bromsgrove

Daniel Hamilton, Big Brother Watch

Lord Flight

Nigel Evans MP, Deputy Speaker

Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP, Hitchin & Harpenden

James Delingpole, Polemicist

Chris Kelly MP, Dudley South

Tim Evans, Director, Libertarian Alliance

Andrew Rosindell MP, Romford

Douglas Carswell MP, Clacton

Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Minister for Transport

Mark Wallace, Senior Fellow TaxPayers’ Alliance

Conor Burns MP, Bournemouth West

Now there’s a party even I wouldn’t try to get into. What a bunch. For an organisation that was publicly disavowed as barking extremists during the last election campaign by the current prime minister, it’s not a bad turn-out. There’s a fair amount of filler, but even so. It also looks like I was right about “Big Brother Watch”, the anti-ID card campaign that suddenly appeared five minutes before the repeal bill got Royal assent to claim the credit for six years of NO2ID – it’s yet another Tory wanktank.

I was also amused by this:

Raheem has served on the National Executive for Conservative Future and began his political life running the blog ‘KeepRightOnline’, which swiftly became one of the best read political blogs in the country (now closed).

Yeah. One of the best read blogs in the country. Now closed. (Alexa can’t find any scoreboard data on it at all.) It’s apparently become a twitter feed.

Hey fat chicks; colouring and straightening your hair doesn’t make you attractive. It makes you a fat chick with straight, coloured hair.

That’s “quintessentially British commentary”, apparently. It actually sounds more like a poor effort at pretending to be one of the crappier US trolls – Jeff Goldstein or Adam Yoshida – but then, crappy fake American trolling is Blaney’s MO down to the ground. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they try to pull some sort of cod James O’Keefe trick in the run up to the 26th March demo.

a patron, Sir?

Sensible piece about US State Department funding for mobile anonymity projects, and some interesting stuff. The crack about looking with disfavour on the drowning man and then encumbering him with help once he reaches ground is relevant.

The real prize (as alluded to here) would be a mesh network application that works either instead of the PLMN or alongside it. The only way to avoid leaving traces in the enormous billing/rating/charging infrastructure of your average cellular network is not to use it. According to Comptel, the Finnish OSS/BSS software house, operators spend about €32bn a year on software, of which €11.5bn is in the revenue management segment, another €5.5bn in business analytics, and another €4bn in CRM – €21bn worth of data-mangling kit that could theoretically be repurposed. It’s probably better to just leave a GPRS datacall than a phone call to the person you want to speak to in there, though.

On the other hand, there’s an API for the US Army.

OK, so I’ve been getting referrals from The Social Media Library, which describes itself as follows:

Social Media Library contains the first ever regionally-focused directory of influential blogs read in the UK. Social Media Library’s proprietary BlogScore™ ranks each blog in terms of its influence and its visibility in search engines – providing you with all the necessary information to determine which bloggers to engage with online. Full contact details for each blog are also provided.

Tens of millions of blogs exist online, with only a relatively small percentage holding any influence. Social Media Library allows you to cut through the noise and quickly find the online influencers that carry most sway. Social Media Library’s research team uses a proprietary ‘social media spider’ to scan the Web for the most influential blogs, across all major topics of interest. Each blog is manually checked before being added to the directory. Only the most influential and well-read blogs are included.

BlogScore! Not only is it a trademark, it’s InterCapped as well – must be good. And then I started seeing referrers from CisionPoint, which seems to be some sort of cloud-based PR application. A DMS – Drivel-Management System – perhaps. Here’s their blurb:

CisionPoint brings together – in one integrated customised dashboard – the on-demand tools you need to create, execute and evaluate superior campaigns from start to finish, building on the world’s largest media databases, Mediadisk and PR Planner.

Log in to plan your campaign, connect with the media directly, monitor news coverage and analyze campaign results

More here. I can just see Saif Gaddafi peering at his troll-penetration Gantts. Looking at the full URI:

I would think that whoever’s using it is trying to monitor either who’s commented on some news item, or else who’s commented on a blog post that’s been scraped into their database. We seem to have a unique identifier for the news item – which is also used in a database somewhere as a row primary key – and another for the project or user (the WorkspaceId field). A quick check shows that this particular system is being used by InterPublic Group in New York City. Cision is UK based and I presume the data centre is too, but the browser referral puts it on an AS174(Cogent) block whose referral whois identifies it as a /29 route assigned to them.

…And I feel fine. These two columns appeared on the same page of today’s Obscurer. I believe this is probably the most incoherent single page to ever appear in a British national newspaper.

For a start, there’s Nick Cohen with a piece that accuses essentially everybody of being obsessed with Israel, because of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and then goes on to say that Israel’s supporters are as bad for the same reasons. Further, it’s because of this obsession that the media failed to report on the Tunisian revolution. And Peter Mandelson is bad. The impression I got was that if zombies wrote opinion editorial, this is what it would be like. Staggering, blundering…are they actually conscious? Sapient? Surely not. But they clearly have a restricted survival kit of dim perceptions and knee-jerk responses. They stagger about, crave brains, flock together with other zombies.

And that’s what we get here. This isn’t a document of the Decent movement – it’s just a salad of disconnected stylistic tropes. Teh media. Protocols. One of either Auden or Orwell, from the sticky pages in the quotations dictionary. New Labour is evil (but not Tony Blair). What it reminded me of was a US right-wing comments thread around Obama’s inauguration – a sense of absolute disorientation and futility, relieved by going through the reflex drill movements. And, well, the revolutions have surely rendered the Decent project as irrelevant as they have Al-Qa’ida. Cohen’s hackery is best described by the fact he wrote a piece for a British newspaper about Libya that doesn’t mention either Tony Blair or that there is oil there.

On the same page, we have a truly odd piece of work from Catherine Bennett that purports to say…something…about age restrictions, but seems to have been accidentally mixed up with another decrying the sexualisation of the young, yadda yadda, reality TV, the screen generation, you know, that stuff. As far as I can make out she’s against age restrictions but only because our culture is so repellent that the kids are past saving, or perhaps she’s putting it on. She also imagines that “tots” learn to swear from listening to Today on BBC Radio 4, which if true might explain a lot, and that your children might be watching porn on “iPlayer”. Really? The BBC’s Internet streaming service?

Also, there’s a lot of tiresome in-joke stuff about various important people in the theatrical world. I’m not posh enough to know whether most of it is meant as a joke or not, and if so, what’s meant to be funny about it. And there are paragraphs like this:

If the director-general of the BBC could be made to grovel for a baby-swap plotline borrowed from the Old Testament, there would be no difficulty in embarrassing a publicly subsidised production such as Frankenstein which, as well as naked adults, also features a stylised rape that may be slightly more graphic than the Forsyte grapple watched by 8 million people, although notably less disturbing and self-indulgent than the sexual imagery and violence that, in the absence of any comprehensible dialogue, captivated so many of the family audiences of Tim Supple’s celebrated Midsummer Night’s Dream.

You may find it helps to read this aloud. Pro tip: when you get to a comma, take a breath. That’s some 93 words, a whole generous editorial page par, in one enormous run-on sentence. It is terrible stuff. It is absolutely no fun to read. It took me three runs through to work out what on earth the point was meant to be, and I’m still a little fuzzy. Does she mean that it would be easy to embarrass the makers of Frankenstein because of etc etc, or something about the BBC, or something about someone’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

I honestly don’t know how I’d start trying to edit this into sense. I’d be tempted to spike the whole thing and suggest that Bennett comes back when she’s decided what the column is going to be about. Or perhaps hand the half-page over to the cartoonists.

Actually, this idea is surprisingly tempting. Why not put the cartoonists in charge? Why not draw the entire opinion section? It would be reliably more informative than Martin Kettle or Andrew Rawnsley, more offensive and in a better way than Cohen, and better written than Bennett.

Churnalism is a brilliant idea – no surprise that it was originally one of Chris Lightfoot’s. Basically, it allows you to determine how much of a given newspaper article was copied from which press release. There’s a nice graphic visualisation, and a diff, so you can see precisely what was altered and what taken over in its entirety. It’s right up there with Piggipedia and SukeyDating as a brilliant piece of geek activism.

However, here’s something amusing. There’s a basic API here; I chucked the text of the GSMA final press release from this year’s MWC at it, and I was quite surprised at the results. The first article it extracted from Journalisted was none other than this piece in the Guardian from…February 2008. One consequence of churnalism is that your newspaper is likely to get repetitive.

As far as I can see, if there’s anything missing here it’s that the comparison is mostly the wrong way – having a newspaper article and wanting to know what vacuous NIB-fodder got regurgitated into it is a much more common use-case than having a press release and wanting to know which newspaper articles it got into. Actually, the latter use-case is far more likely if you’re a PR and you’re trying to measure how the talking-points are spreading. But once it has more press releases on file, it’ll work better in that sense. And that’s just a question of hoovering Businesswire, PRNewsWire etc up.

Sultan al-Qassemi kicks in a data point to the ArseDex. Apparently Libyan agents are distributing flyers in Guinea and Nigeria calling for mercenaries to fight for $2,000 a day. Yesterday, loyalist thugs cost $500 a day in Libya. Even with the huge supply of potential thugs in sub-Saharan Africa’s demobilised militias being available, the ArseDex has gone non-linear – it’s risen by a factor of four in 24 hours. Arseholes now command a premium of four hundred times the average wage. Surely Gadhafi must be doomed now.

The data’s pretty sparse, but here’s a spreadsheet. The edit link is here.

from the MWC gossip column

You can consider MWC as being a giant augmented-reality computer game. You run frantically in and out of different constructed environments, very varied but actually deeply conventionalised, trying to score points. You get points for collecting gossip, useful information, sales leads, and shiny gadgets; you lose them for queuing, being publicly humiliated, or getting stuck in a vacuous keynote session you have to listen to because the guy burbling away is too important to walk out on. If you collect too many shinies in a day you may be robbed. You have various resources to manage – you can’t go too long without checking into a WLAN hotspot, and at some point you must eat and sleep or at least drink more coffee. Progress is measured by winning a higher-status badge for next time.

The ruling emotion is, as always, that horrible sensation that it’s all happening somewhere else. Something really fascinating is being said, in the next conference session or the other party. If you were somewhere else, you’d meet the bloke who can sign that interconnect agreement or uncork this or that barrel of money. So-and-so was at the Dilbertco stand and they were giving away Dilbertphones! Of course, this emotion is a lie. Lester Bangs nailed it in a piece about living in New York and being tormented by the feeling that everyone else must at that moment be doing something more interesting and cooler than he was. Shouldn’t he be out there, getting on with it? But really, he came to understand, everyone else he knew was feeling exactly the same thing.

I grew up in the Yorkshire Dales, so for years it was literally true for me that everything was indeed happening somewhere else, and I’ve never been able to resist it. Which was probably why I went to the awards after-party – I was sort-of invited, which can be the same thing as not being invited at all or even better than being invited, and it’s technique that makes the difference. Having changed out of my suit and donned something with horizontal stripes – literally every time you saw a horizontal stripe at MWC it was wrapped around a software developer, it was quite uncanny – I appeared comfortably after kick-off and climbed up the hill to the Palau Nacional by a back route, smiled politely at the outer layer of goons, asked one of them directions I didn’t need, passed through the doors and made for the rope.

I wasn’t on the list, which I knew, but I was able to muddy the waters sufficiently that they went off to talk to some authority-figure within. I considered a dart up the unguarded stairs but felt confident enough to leave it. And I was in – the usual scene, x hundred immobile suits, a depressed-looking DJ, and about three people dancing, a group of American short film-makers IIRC. Eventually we managed to get the gig going to the extent that others broke off the herd, including an expert dancer wearing (of all things, it’s not usually correlated) a GSMA gold speaker pass* who was eventually hauled to the ground by a drunken, boorish Colombian (I think – the identification is hearsay). The official photographer broke out of his Douglas Adams alert crouch to document the mess – God knows why, but it reminded me of the exhibition in The Kindness of Women (“How do you feel?”)

After he finally took the hint, I found a pair of sunglasses on the floor and handed them to his victim – for want of anyone else to hand them to, but she immediately put them on, before asking if they were mine. She apparently thought this had been some sort of dramatic gesture, but actually I just didn’t want anything smashed underfoot. I think they belonged to the Colombian. Not long after that, as they say, I made an excuse and left.

*not quite as exclusive as all that, I’ve had one in the past

So I had the opportunity to take part in an Augmented Reality standardisation meeting on the fringe of this year’s 3GSM Mobile World Congress. First of all, it was the year the heavens opened (someone on twitter said it was as if the show had turned into Glastonbury) and I got drenched and my shoes went bad, and my cab didn’t take me to the Telefonica R&D building in Via Augusta but instead to the main switching centre, this amazingly domineering building…

2011-02-17 13.07.09 Telcos – they live in places like this, they know where your dog goes to school, but can they tell you if it’s really your bank on the line?

So I got soaked again, and eventually arrived, and spent the first session listening to my shoes rotting. I acted as scribe for the session on AR browser implementations, markup language vs. JSON, native application vs. browser plugin and the like. I hope I contributed something of value. I have a Flickr set of the annotated flip charts here; I’ve been asked to help prepare the final report. Which just goes to show the enduring truth that if you want to influence something, wait until the very end and sum up with a balanced account. Supposedly this used to be the way to pass the Diplomatic Service exams – buy a pipe, puff on it occasionally during the team exercise, then “sum up with a balanced account”. But you’re not allowed to smoke these days.

2011-02-17 19.16.26