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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Ok not revenge. Justice. Maddow nailing Pelosi (ahem) on how the Dems will prosecute the Bush admin's crimes. And she does. Go Rachel!

Get a grip people!

I'm with this guy. Comedian Louis CK on Conan.

"Everything is amazing, nobody is happy... "

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Sir Ben Goldacre

As seen on Newsnight (thanks Rory!) destroying Greenfield and Sigman over 'Facebook causes cancer'.

Goldacre's considered post-Newsnight response

To quote Ben quoting Vaughan:
You know that awkward feeling you get when you stop laughing because you realise the person you're talking to isn't actually joking?
Er, yes. Single jabs vs MMR?

Dr Aric Sigman looks respectable but is in reality a scary idiot. Goldacre looks the opposite but is entirely respectable.

Gawd help us when we can't tell the difference.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Novotel bulldoze rainforest

In the Malaysian rainforest at the moment, recession et al, Novotel are building a hotel. And they are building it at the expense of the local indigenous peoples.

The Malaysian Interhill Group in collaboration with the French ACCOR Group are the corporations working on what's called the Novotel Interhill Kuching project. Interhill has a track record of destroying tropical rainforests in Sarawak and violating the native customary rights of the local indigenous communities.

The Penan of the middle Baram region, in particular, are accusing Interhill of using gangsters to intimidate them and to break their resistance to the depletion of their natural resources.

Blockades have been set up by the Penan of Sarawak (Borneo, East Malaysia) since the late 1980s as a means of protesting against the logging of their rainforests and as a tool for negotiating with logging companies and government officials.

For twenty years, the Malaysian Interhill logging company has been destroying the Penan's rainforest in Borneo and thus threatening the habitat and culture of these indigenous people. The French ACCOR Group is now helping Interhill to further boost the profits obtained from destroying the rainforest through a big hotel project.

Please help the Penan highlight their struggle against Interhill and sign the online petition.

Is your furniture certified? Find out.

Carnival In Rio 1955

Just fab. Sydney has nothing on this :{

Monday, 23 February 2009

Watch Sean Penn tear up

And me. Big time.

Finally, help for the terminally exuberant

HT: Elizabeth Pisani

Downing Street's website circle of hell

Sad to report but the blogging platform I'm using appears to be letting down disabled readers.

I was emailed by one that they'd attempted to comment on a post but were unable to because the alternative to the spam-preventing 'captcha' word verification wasn't working.

Well, I just logged out and tried it and it wasn't working for me either. It just 'hiccuped'

So I've complained to Blogger but in the process noticed that they don't seem to respond at all to accessibility issues. Have a look around the Google Group.

Other things about Blogger in this regard have irritated me for a while, such as not adding a simple field to add Alt tags to images (you have to rawcode). Hardly rocket science.

Wordpress does have this simple field, and link titling - are they the better option if you are serious, but lazy, with accessibility? Or something else?

Captcha seems to be a particular pain in the rear for those using text-to-speech.

Robin Christopherson, head of accessibility at technology access charity AbilityNet, recently examined the Number 10 Downing Street website. While he found it comparatively accessible (in a 'low-bar' field) it still had:
  • 'click here' links, and - the horror!
  • auto-start videos, with unlabelled control buttons
What the latter means is that blind users are confronted with Gordon Brown drowning out their own audio controls and cannot work out how to turn it off. Sounds like one circle of hell.

What my correspondent complained about in Blogger with captcha is also happening elsewhere, says Christopherson. He says that the sounds created in order to confuse audio recognition software are so distorted that they cannot be recognised by humans either.

Even more patronisingly, when testing Google he saw that it has a third option - contact the site's owners directly for assistance. When Christopherson was eventually contacted two days after applying for this option he was informed that everyone had to register online!

My correspondent also finds the whole accessibility attempt somewhat patronisingly unuseful:
I can't pass the eyetest and I think the wheelchair (what does wheelchair use have to do with poor eyesight anyway?) is meant to link to a hearing test, which is also a problem for me because I damaged my hearing doing factory work when I was young.

Anyway, that's irrelevant because the wheelchair actually links to a page that says "Not Found Error 404" for me. I can't even try a hearing test.

What's the point of the IWF?

Rory Cellan-Jones reports on a small ISP which is challenging the Internet Watch Foundation's anti-paedophiles methods.

This is their idea of a black list, compiled from reports by the public, which ISPs are asked to use, somehow 'protecting children online'. The blacklist onto which a Wikipedia page found itself and was then withdraw after a justified uproar.

Zen Internet, a small Rochdale-based ISP, Rory reports, "has not yet implemented IWF's recommended system because we have concerns over its effectiveness. Our Managing Director, Richard Tang, is going to meet Peter Robbins the Chief Executive of the IWF to discuss these concerns."

Rory also says that children's charities are pressuring for the few ISPs who don't automatically follow the IWF's line to be forced to do so.

He quotes an IWF critic, Dr Richard Clayton:
"Everybody thinks they've done something by blocking this stuff but in practice it makes very little difference to who sees it and it's quite expensive."
The Wikipedia episode just highlighted what webbies already know - the blacklist is just a waste of time.
Why? Because most of this material is held abroad and the IWF is ineffective about getting it removed.
But it would obviously suit government to give into the children's charities and pressure ISPs because they would be 'seen to be doing something'. But the material and the pedophile networks exist on the 'dark net', a place you're unlikely to inadvertently stumble on. Those distributing it aren't going to have it in places where law enforcement might easily find it.

So this beggars the question which I made during the Wikipedia episode: 'what is the proven value of the IWF?'

What - exactly - are they achieving?

If you're trying to stop criminality and the exploitation of children, why aren't the police funded to do the job? Where else do you see amateurs, like the IWF, being presented - and being funded - as our best hope to 'protect children' ?

I think it's time for webbies to really step up and demand the government stops faffing about and that the IWF funding spent on this pointless blacklist goes to specialist police who can really challenge the distributors of material that exploits children.


Comment from another small ISP on Rory's blog, nailing the IWF's dodgy business interest:
1) They only provide a list of Child abuse Images hosted outside the UK. They issue takedown notices to anyone hosting this content in the UK but this has an interesting side effect, see later.

2) This list contains only a few thousand http urls - nothing more and an insignificant fraction of the amount of website urls in the world.

3) They don't provide any technology to enable this filtering, they leave the technical implementation to the ISP

4) They refuse to allow an open source implementation of the filtering because of concerns that it would allow the list to become public.

5) They charge a minimum of 5000 pounds per year for access to the list (going up to 20k+ for people who want to use the IWF approved branding etc).

6) There is no oversight on what goes on to this list, we only have the word of the IWF that it contains Child Abuse Images that infringe the appropriate laws. No ISP is going to risk looking at the sites on the list to check. There is nothing to stop them from adding sites critical of the IWF to the list, or for the scope of the list to be increased to block other types of sites.

7) The preferred method of blocking is to pretend the file could not be found and not to draw attention to the IWF list.

From this you can see that you are paying a significant sum for the list plus have to then spend additional cash and resources on a filtering system which then only blocks a tiny fraction of sites and adds overhead to every single page request.


* If you don't block these images you are supporting Child Abuse - How would your boss feel if we told him you supported Child Abuse (Direct quote from an IWF "saleswomen")

Sunday, 22 February 2009

"The unemployed builders of Europe should be insulating all the houses of Europe"

Climate change is real, as anyone who has been to the Arctic knows. But we live in a world which is a little distracted at the moment by, er, global economic meltdown.

In this situation, the coming disaster of climate change has disappeared as ordinary people worry about now (rather than, say, their children's future). Short-tern profit, which is a big part of the banking disaster, also applies to the way the oil corporations operate, and they are the ones fueling climate change denial.

So it's a little difficult, given the usual politics, which we're still in, to get any buy-in to the sort of real meltdown which we face.

Waiting for a trip to Antarctica, to view the pools of melted water accumulating on the glaciers, Baron Nicolas Stern could have been speaking to the four winds in saying that if we don't deal with climate change decisively, "what we're talking about then is extended world war."

Later, at dinner, the heavyweights heard from smaller or poorer nations about the trials they face as warming disrupts climate, turns some regions drier, threatens food production in poor African nations.

Jose Endundo, environment minister of Congo, said he recently visited huge Lake Victoria in nearby Uganda, at 80,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles) a vital source for the Nile River, and learned the lake level had dropped 3 meters (10 feet) in the past six years _ a loss blamed in part on warmer temperatures and diminishing rains.

In the face of such threats, "the rich countries have to give us a helping hand," the African minister said.

It's not happening. And western electorates just aren't interested (except in drought-ridden Australia), therefore their politicians aren't either.

Stern, drawing on the accumulated evidence, says:
"People would move on a massive scale. Hundreds of millions, probably billions of people would have to move if you talk about 4-, 5-, 6-degree increases" _ 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. And that would mean extended global conflict, "because there's no way the world can handle that kind of population move in the time period in which it would take place."

And this won't affect the UK? Our elderly future and the future of our kids?

So why aren't the various economic 'bailouts' focused on, as Stern puts it, getting "The unemployed builders of Europe insulating all the houses of Europe"?

Parochial and pedestrian Britain

Just published elsewhere a couple of long articles about new visa restrictions which are stifling - if not stamping out - cultural exchange with artists outside the EU and Commonwealth.

The new regulations enacted by the Home Office impose large fees and monitoring requirements on arts bodies regarding artists they invite. This has led already to a restriction on vists and cases of visas being denied, such as one by the virtuoso Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, who cancelled what was to be his second performance in this country at the Southbank Centre in London when he could not provide the excessive amount of documents required for his weekend visit in April.

When a small regional body wanted to invite a group of Kurdish artists the Home Office told them they must travel 900 miles to Beirut and stay for three weeks and only then could they apply for the correct documents.

The entire regime is predicated on what must be a very few cases of people either over-staying or claiming asylum (though, as usual, the cost-benefit analysis is no part of their argument). What the Director of the National Portrait Gallery is quoted in the Observer saying is the new regime's "unintended effect" is actually, I think, more like what the actress Janet Suzman describes thus:
This country has always been a hub, an airy place where people from all over the world could come and express themselves in art. This legislation stamps on all that with a clunking, hobnail boot.
This 'stamping boot' attitude is totally confirmed in a statement from the Home Office:
It is only right that those that benefit from the great cultural contribution migrants bring with them play their part through our system of sponsorship in ensuring that the system is not being abused.
Excuse me but it is not just the 'arty' who benefit, it is everyone. The idea that art in its many different varieties - think of the explosion of interest in 'world music' - is only of value to a few British people and not to all - in fact, not to what this 'airy place' country should be all about - strikes me as the very definition of a nationalistic, parochial, commercialised and in the end pedestrian stance.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The school for bastards

Apparently both Derek Draper and 'Mandy' are now following me on Twitter. Although which possible username 'Mandy' is using might lead to a libel case ...

More on Draperesque blogosphere situations - We can't stop! Youse a blogging star babe! Someone should greenlight a sitcom based on your antics! Jazz hands, Derek! - courtesy Matt Wardman: Muggings in the Blogosphere.
Following an extended attempt by the "management of Labour List", to bully various people to behave as instructed, including a campaign intended to discredit Guido Fawkes and by extension the Message Space political advertising network, fire was then directed by "persons never firmly identified in public" at the Labour Home website and the editor Alex Hilton reported receiving threatening phone calls.

Has Labour been hiring former bouncers à la Avigdor Lieberman? Or are they just lawyers?
The alleged threats to close down websites, whoever they came from (!), and to undermine the livelihoods of targeted people, were on a par with the dodgiest manoeuvres I have seen in the blogosphere since I started this site - which are a small number of attempts to get people into trouble with their employers; taking political arguments offline to do personal damage is beyond the pale.
In 1999 I set up a website for some Aborigines who wanted to protest the building of a bridge over their sacred site (imagine a proposal to convert Ely Cathedral into a hotel). Some developers, who obviously went to the same school for bastards as monsieur Draper, closed two sites down via legal threats before I finally found a home which would not be intimidated. Needless to say they were Greenies.

It never ends.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Where to find good cheap images

I posted a question a while back as I was using the ultra-cheap Fotolia as a stock photo source but noticed how limited - and American - its model range was.

Thanks to Jean Thornhill for this great list of alternatives:
One note from me was:
Here's a local enthusiast's site for local buildings ... which we negotiated an arrangement with, just adding a simple credit and link. Actually has some aerial shots as well which have proved very useful.
Other respondees found similar local websites.

And other sources include and

From behind the curtain...

Wizard-of-Oz stylee (and who's the monkees? anyone?) ...

S'about the new Director of Digital Engagement (salary £81,000 – £160,000) and changing their job description.
Job descr talks about depts 'switching' to digital engagement, surely this should complement not replace traditional engagement?
Tom Watson MP.

Oh, and PSF is behind-the-firewall - but influential :} (Obviously) Oh, and surprised (not really) to see no comment whatsoever from political blogosphere, Tories or LibDems.

Oh and why isn't Tom pushing to get John Suffolk sacked?



Just started with this Firefox plugin and already finding it extremely useful. For anyone spending most of their day infront of a browser it looks like an essential.

When egov is glacial

Never mind the joys of social media, egov still has numerous extreme basics to get right ...

GC Weekly has another telling tale about the state of Whitehall run IT:
The Department for Work and Pensions is covertly supporting Royal Mail and the Northern Irish economy, Loose Wires can reveal.

A colleague's brother recently signed on for Jobseeker's Allowance for the first time. Attending Jobcentre Plus as instructed, he was asked to fill in forms to apply for the allowance, housing benefits and help with council tax.

He surprised the staff by asking if he could fill out forms on the spot - the expectation was that he would post them back. He was then told the forms would be posted to Belfast. Someone there might contact him - by post - for further information. That office would then contact his local authority - by post - regarding benefits.

The council concerned has since written, referring throughout the letter to the jobseeker's brother as Mr Dave (colleague's first name changed to protect the innocent). As the Jobcentre staffer misspelt the applicant's occupation after having checked how it was spelt - and he is not a xylophonist - this was not a big surprise.

Tomorrow, our brave jobseeker will return (after more than a fortnight) to find out what progress they have made. This news will have presumably been chiselled on a stone tablet by someone in the Falkland Islands.
And this is the same department doing interesting and good innovation via DirectGov (which they're responsible for).

I've been in a jobcentre and they've got touchscreens with jobs on, had them for years. Why in 2009 aren't applicants filling out forms on computers in jobcentres? ... for example ...

Music: It's like that

Another genius mash-up

HT: Andy Sullivan

This is why I often dislike middle-class animal rightists

Some very telling comments attached to this like Americans who give charity to animals but not humans. I've seen these sort of people locally .....

Designing out racism

One of the issues which I wrote about during the US election campaign was the meme, constantly repeated in the BBC's reporting, of the 'Bradley effect'. This is when people say they will but actually don't vote for the black candidate.

One of the odd issues with this is that in the campaign for California Governor in 1982, which this 'effect' is named after, race wasn't a factor (or at least a trivial one). The reason black candidate Tom Bradley lost was because a supposedly 'anti-gun' proposition turned out larger numbers than expected of rural and small town voters.

That sort of 'wedge' issue has been used elsewhere to bring out the vote, most notably the Republicans who used gay marriage propositions in this way in 2000 and 2004.

In a presentation at the TED conference, the baseball statistician cum political pollster guru Nate Silver of, who most accurately predicted the US election result, elaborated on the question of race in the elections using the presidential outcomes to draw out social and design implications.

He started off by talking about quite how big of a win Obama had.

Electoral maps between 2004 and 2008 show a profound shift towards blue, or liberal, voting. But there’s a block of states - centered on Arkansas, and roughly following the Appalachians - which voted more strongly against Obama than they did against Clinton. And in Louisiana, roughly 1 in 5 white voters told pollsters that race had been a factor in choosing not to vote for Obama - that compares to roughly 4% in states like New York and California.

This made no difference overall because these are less populated states with less national electoral weight.

There's little evidence of race deciding US elections recently and Silver has statistically dismantled its role.

But Silver turns these stats inside out to ask if racism is predictable.

He looked for relationships between independent variables and racism as an electoral factor and found a strong correlation - low education levels correlate closely with racial-based voting. Highly rural states also showed this pattern, though it’s less dramatic than the educational pattern.

The General Social Survey, asks “Does anyone of the opposite race live in your neighborhood?” And, the answers to this are stratified upon density: In the city, yes. In the suburbs, mainly yes. In rural areas, not nearly as much.

He looked at political affiliation - there are more Republicans in monoracial neighborhoods, but it’s not a dramatic difference. Similarly, there’s not much difference in opinion regarding affirmative action. But a question about interracial marriage gets dramatically different results in monoracial neighborhoods - people in these neighborhoods are twice as likely to support a law banning interracial marriage.

What he gleans from this is that if something is predictable then it is designable.

The goal is to facilitate interaction with people of other races. For example a university-based mixing program, sending students from NYU to the University of Arkansas as a form of cultural exchange.

More dramatically Silver suggested that you need to try to create interracial neighborhoods, to reengineer cities.

Cities designed in the 1970s and 80s might actually have helped America become more conservative under Reagan, he suggested.

He thinks that urban design is hugely important to achieving integration: grids vs the windy streets in many parts of suburbia, where grids are better. At the end of the day, he said cul de sacs lead to conservatives.

This idea also relates to a point made by the new black Attorney General, Eric Holder:
In a speech to Justice Department employees marking Black History Month, Holder said the workplace is largely integrated but Americans still self-segregate on the weekends and in their private lives.

Even when people mix at the workplace or afterwork social events, Holder argued, many Americans in their free time are still segregated inside what he called "race-protected cocoons."

"Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not in some ways differ significantly from the country that existed almost 50 years ago. This is truly sad," said Holder.
Although racism in the UK has a very different history I wonder if mapping answers to “does anyone of the opposite race live in your neighborhood?” correlates to BNP voting?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Music: Joaquin Phoenix: The Letterman Remix

Damn. This is sooo funk-eee.

Music: R'n'B does climate change

I love this.

Actually has decent lyrics. Lots to laugh at but lots to admire too.

'Sucessful online politics needs community organisers'

So much 'stuff' in the Guardian's interview with Thomas Gensemer of Blue State Digital (Obama campaign) that it's virtually a transcription.

Nothing new on the ideas front (for there - for here there are stacks) but all put extremely well (Gensemer's a great salesman). Such as his criticism of the way British parties are currently approaching new media.
"They have focused too much on gimmicks and what they can sell to the press," he says. "Now Labour MPs are using Twitter, but the political capital that went into getting a couple of MPs to Twitter probably wasn't worth it. Prescott's petition on the bankers has 15,000 signatures, but what are they asking people to do? You could have asked for different things that would create a greater sense of engagement. None of this is a technology challenge; it's an organisational challenge, being willing to communicate with people."
And this point, about whether it woz the web wot won it, which continually gets lost:
"It comes back to the fact that we elected a president who used to be a community organiser, and that's a very different mentality from other campaigns".

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Finally, a UK blogosphere political viral

Unfortunately (IMO) it's this one:

'Downfall'? Yawn. Done. To. Death.

The one I posted earlier addressing the subject is much funnier.

In case you're wondering what this is about (and who'd blame you), this is about Derek 'Dolly' Draper, noted NuLabour guru, attempting to 'do' blogging and failing. Despite the Guardian comparing his efforts to the USA's #1 blog, Huffington Post.

And, most notably, Draper being (humiliatingly) out-classed online by John Prescott. Which is saying something. (Prescott has more entertainment value and, as I noted, for one thing, the required humility).

Hence, 'Draper's Downfall' — this rather 'inhouse', pedestrian viral — 'tis all over the UK political blogosphere, as there's nothing like the storm in the proverbial teacup. However it's a very rare UK sourced viral — which says volumes about the actual weakness of said blogosphere.

If you want to see just how laughably weak UK viral vid is check LabourList's excruciating attempts at spoofing the Camerooons.

Transparency. Leadership.

Much talk in the UK about how government can be made more 'transparent'. Frankly? I'm yet to be convinced of much real follow through on this subject with new fangled digital techniques, exciting as they may be.

But if you want an example of how to lead in this, here it is:

When have you ever heard a UK politician talk like this?

Family Guy Spoofs Christian Bale

Oh my. That was quick.

Sortof safe for work.

NSFW: Cursebird

One more thing you can do with Twitter.

HT: Ingrid

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The effect of Jacqui Smith on 'Fitna' views

This is the increase in blogs posting Geert Wilders' film after Jacqui Smith gave it the 'oxygen of publicity'.

Now at 1,279,896 views.

Serious point. This film contains images which are filtered from 'western eyes' but circulate widely in the rest of the world. This doesn't just mean images of terrorist aftermaths but images of wars we support. Images which turned public opinion against the Vietnam war. Images which allow us to judge wars.

Fitna attacks a religion but all religions have ancient texts which can be misinterpreted. Wilder's problem is in attacking a people rather than an ideology. He critiques Muslims rather than just Islamists. But he does not advocate violence.

Smith, in banning him, is a hypocrite. Not least because she allows violent homophobes entry. And the 'bounce' he enjoys from her actions demolishes her stated purpose.

Cute animals: kingsford the pig

Kingsford Goes to the Beach - Watch more amazing videos here

What's not to like?

This way madness lies ....

Another Thatcher legacy? Or Gordon's?

From a post to the PSF Noticeboard:
Can Local Government accounting be simplified to make day-to-day management of services more businesslike and easier? Do we really need to employ accountants in order to have the IT department charging the HR department for the PC that is sitting on someone's desk in a corner of a room? If someone takes an air freshener to a different building is it really a cost to the organisation?
The poster asks: 'Does it make analysis of the true cost of services difficult?' Er, doh.

Gawd, I hate bureaucracy ...

The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women

Indians outraged at an attack on women for drinking in a bar have gathered together to send a provocative gift of underwear to right-wing activists.

More than 5,000 people, including men, have joined the Facebook group, which calls itself the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women.

The group says it will give the pink underwear to Sri Ram Sena (Army of Lord Ram) on Valentine's Day on Saturday.

It was blamed for the bar attack in the southern city of Mangalore last month.

Pramod Mutalik, who heads the little known Ram Sena and is now on bail after he was held following the attack, has said it is "not acceptable" for women to go to bars in India.

He has also said his men will protest against Valentine's Day on Saturday.

The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women, which was formed on Facebook last Thursday, has also exhorted women to "walk to the nearest pub and buy a drink" on Valentine's Day.

A spokeswoman for the group, Nisha Susan, told the BBC it was giving chaddis (Hindi colloquial for underwear) as they alluded to a prominent Hindu right-wing group whose khaki-shorts-wearing cadres were often derisively called "chaddi wallahs" (chaddi wearers).

"We chose the colour pink because it is a frivolous colour," she said.


Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Pegah Emambakhsh has asylum!

Oh this is fantastic news. Just been informed that the Iranian lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh, after YEARS, detention and one heck of a fight, has finally won asylum status from the b+++++d UK Home Office.

This is fantastic news and very significant.

Her case has 'gone quiet' over the past year, after a lot of activism which extended to pleas from the Italian Prime Minister. Usually this means the worst - 'go 'home' and stay in the closet' is the message from the Home Office. Including to Iranians lesbians who don't exist according to the Iranian President but in reality face stoning and 'honour' killing.

But here, her lawyers must have out-maneuvered the lawyers in the 'chuck 'em out' section of the Home Office.

Bouncing around the room. This is one in the eye for Jacqui Smith.

Streep on sexism

'Oscars: 26 men and one women = normal. 26 women and one man = what the f**k'

You go girlfriend. Love her.

NSFW: Sony releases new piece of shit machine that doesn't f#&*ing work

Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

NSFW: Every swear word ever uttered on The Sopranos in chronological order

the sopranos, uncensored. from victor solomon on Vimeo.

27 minutes of f*****g.

Priceless. And somewhat, er, dedicated.

For the, er, 'socio-political' context of f**k, looking forward to this doco.

Robot killers of doooom!

How TV should do user contribution

Australia's ABC (their BBC) has a fantastic 'contribute' channel which is packed full of photos and video of the bushfires. Much better content showing you what it's like as fire comes over the mountain and of the aftermath than what's to be found on YouTube.

And they're truly shareable! Very impressive, why can't the Beeb do something like this?

This one especially shows you what the wind speed's like.

Sky blocked out and smoke everywhere at Buln Buln

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

"I want to live without fear"

My friend, the artist Babi Badalov was deported back to to Azerbaijan by Jacqui Smith a few months back. After going into hiding in Baku for a while, Babi fled to St Petersburg.

As Russia is still a deeply homophobic country, he feared for his safety and entered the EU, making it to Paris where he now lives. Quickly finding support he made this video - activists all around Europe are aware of him and his case.

He has again applied for asylum and I really just hope that France will be more civilised towards him that the UK was.

Babi posts on LGBT asylum news

Who knew?

Great idea from the LibDems. A meme of '25 random things' is going their rounds, post Facebook. Politicians are answering. Read around to get a real flavour of various personalities (i.e. Iain Dale). Hope it catches on.

From well-known slag Nick Clegg we learn:
  • he's eaten fried bees
  • he rides a moped
  • he is a bad ski instructor
  • he did daily transcendental meditation
  • he's a bird killer
  • he worked for Christopher Hitchens
  • he likes mangoes
Good idea (especially the mangoes). Camerooon? How about the Aussie Chaser's War On Everything meme: 'who would you go gay for?'

Result for the future Aussie PM?
Kevin Rudd did make an appearance on the show, and clearly planned his response well in advance. The Rudd man considered Dame Edna for a moment - perhaps not realising she’s a classy country housewife and far too modest for such shenanigans.

He then pondered the possibility of coupling with Kath & Kim’s Kjell Knight, for his “style, sophistication and unique power walk.” I’m not sure whether or not that was Fraud’s way of alluding to Rudd’s secret attraction to his power-walking nemesis, John Howard.

In the end, it appeared that Kjell Knight was already taken by fellow Rove guest, Jason Donovan. Given that, Rudd resigned to the safe answer by claiming that his wife, Terese, was the only one for him. Of course, Rove latched on to the awkward mystery created by that statement, by asking Kevin if that meant his wife was a man. In typically embarrassed fashion, Rudd only chuckled his non-response to that dig.
Owh ... where's slag Cleggy on that meme :} Or trussed up Brown. Or monsieur closet Mandleson ...

Moi? ('25 random things', not 'gay for' ... )

What don't you know from my blog posts?

Beware! Malicious valentine's e-cards

HT: Jack

Barbie's all grown up

.. and a slag.

HT: Toby

Monday, 9 February 2009


Beaten into submission (you know who you are!), I'm on it.

Too late to be Paul, I have to be Paolo ('your request, señor?').

Who are we

Strangely proud of Iain Dale today.

Strangely? Because he's a Tory and I'm not. We may both be gay but so what.

What we agree on is that the treatment of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown MBE tells us something is wrong in the UK. (Maybe the gay thing isn't so irrelevant after all.)

Alibhai-Brown is an Independent columist and commentator.

In a highly personal and moving video on the Guardian's site (fix this Guardian, put in ads like the US networks, embedding makes monetisation sense!) she describes her treatment as a Muslim attempting to travel to Scotland.

Tell me you aren't ashamed at what our country has become when a middle aged muslim woman of Asian descent can be treated like this. She was questioned at length by plain clothes police officers who never once told her who they were or why she was being questioned. They frightened her so much she wet herself.

Draper's crowd should be proud of themselves. They rail against imagined racism, yet introduce laws which allow muslim women to be traduced like this. In the video, Yasmin says she loves this country. Hearing how this country treated her, I could forgive her if she had had other thoughts.

Yasmin and I agree on virtually nothing. Where she is right wing (and on some social issues she is) I am not, and where she is left wing I am not. So whatever your opinions of her writings and opinions, I hope you will agree with me, that when this sort of thing happens, for no apparent reason, it is grounds for us all to be concerned about what is happening to our liberties.
I was under the impression that we fought wars so British citizens weren't treated like this.

But to Dale's commentators Alibhai-Brown is NuLabor, someone who deserves this treatment, someone who invited it, someone who does not deserve sympathy. To them, those wars were fought for purely 'British' people, not her.

To them I say that sympathy is a British value. The same value which should be extended to gay men or lesbians fleeing Iran or Iraq — otherwise what are we but just another country? Or just the imperialist country everyone else thinks we are that behaved like thugs, racists and vandals down the years?

Strangely proud to be British in finding this agreement with Iain Dale.

NSFW! Buy Your Own Damn Fries

MashUp. MashUp. MashUp.

+ why has it taken this long? ... the audio book's been out for motherf**king ages!

[Crap techno version that the Daily Mail is talkin' up as it has naughty words innit.]

Obama Tells Beyonce He Likes "Single Ladies," Does Hand Flip. NB: +6'40". Filmed by the great John Legend.

Lifted comment of the moment:
I am a 51 year old white pro life evangelical Chrisitan and I have a crush on him!!!!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Need an accessibility advocate?

I can't think of a better accessibility champion, exponent, evangelist and spokesperson than Stevie Wonder.

From an interview with Popular Science:
Though blind, Wonder has mastered the visually-oriented personal computer—both PCs and Macs. He edits all his music using sophisticated programs such as Steinberg Cubase and Apple Logic Pro. When a program presents a roadblock (for example, not providing audio feedback to direct him), he uses third-party accessibility software or asks [Lamar Mitchell, one of his technology assistants] to write macros that automate complex tasks.

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Wonder presented his Vision Free awards to 19 companies and organizations for making products that the blind can use. Some were deliberate efforts, such as a news reading service for the blind created by National Public Radio, iBiquity Digital and radio manufacturer DICE Electronics. Others made accessible products "without even realizing that they were doing it," said Wonder. BlueAnt's V1 Voice Control Headset was designed because even sighted people can't see the buttons or LCD of a device on the side of their heads. But those features also make the Bluetooth headset useable for blind people.

POPSCI: Do you think the blind and visually impaired, and perhaps also deaf and hearing impaired, are more tech savvy because technology helps them in some ways?

WONDER: Well I think obviously it is important for them to gravitate to what can possibly give them some ways into the things that they have to do…For a blind person, if you hear about a thing like a camera that can take a picture of a page and speak it out to you, of course you want to use that.

So the key is for the government to subsidize such things so they are, cost-wise, what a normal person can afford.

POPSCI: Do you think the huge advances in technology in the past ten, twenty years have made life easier or harder for people who have any impairment? Or has it been a mixed bag?

WONDER: I think it's definitely made life easier. But if you're going to make products easier for a person who can see, to have this more convenient, then make it accessible for the person who is blind or deaf. I hear manufacturers say, "Oh, we forgot about that," or "Oh, that's interesting." Well, think! Make your products a convenience for everyone. Be an all-inclusive company.

[Pet peeves?] A lot of the things with a touch screen. It's impossible to use. So if you're going to do that, then maybe provide some kind of overlay that will allow accessibility to the product for users who are blind…

I think the more that people understand and are able to have information, then the more possibility that someone will find a key to peace.

I have this song that I wrote which is called All About the Love Again… And it says:

What if someone made a soda that caused everyone to love each other.

Ummm, oh yeah, sounds good, so good to me

And if just a tiny pill would make us see that we're all truly sisters and brothers

Ummm, oh yeah that sounds so nice to me


You know, GPS is an incredible thing…When I have it on and I'm riding around, I notice the different signs. And I see that the spelling of what they are saying for those names isn't anything like how I thought they would be spelled.

And what I've learned is that because sighted people are able to read all the time and see things, it becomes like second nature…So I understand now why a person who's sighted can really read more fluently—because they are always seeing these letters, seeing these words in some form or another.

And then it allows you to understand the ways and the habits of a sighted world.

HT: Chris


MJ Ray has emailed me to point to an interview on BBC News 24's Click with Stevie.

"We're surrounded by fire ... please send help"

My heart sank today on reading of the death toll in Australia's bushfires. Hundreds of houses burnt to the ground and no end in sight.

I was never close to a bushfire in my time in Sydney but during one year fires raged in both the national parks to the north and south. In the north they spread into the ravines which divide the suburbs, coming within maybe ten kilometres of the city centre.

They were so big that in central Sydney the entire sky at night was red, everywhere you looked except east. And in the air was smoke, embers and bits of burnt vegetation.

Sydney is a huge city, maybe seven times the size of London. And across the whole area people could see and feel these bushfires. This gives you some idea of the scale.

It's the same in Melbourne now, many kilometers from the fires.

To give you some idea of just how terrifying it is to be in the middle of this listen to this call to a Melbourne radio station made by a woman trapped in a house with eight others surrounded by flames. Fortunately this has a happy ending as her young brother manages to drive a tractor through to save them.

There's also a lot of social media reports: Google organised map; Twitter; Flickr; Facebook group.

"One thing about Mother Nature. When she gives you a kick in the guts, she gives you a kick in the guts."
CFA bloke speaking to a community in Victoria
Bushfires in Australia are completely natural. Many plants require them to reproduce and it's amazing to see ravaged eucalyptus forest relatively quickly coming back to life.

But there is real reason to suspect that the combination of a severe lack of rain, incredible temperatures plus very strong winds which have worsened these fires are not entirely natural. Studies have shown an increased risk across south-east Australia due to climate change.

Australia Greens Senator, Bob Brown said:
Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25 per cent, 50 per cent more.

It's a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

How to drive 'take-up'?

Joke, end of e-newsletter story from Government Computing, but there's a grain in there ...
Public sector IT is often about making government more convenient. In Venice, it's about making conveniences more governable.

The city, which is perpetually battling to save itself from rising seas, has launched an online service allowing visitors to buy discounted access to toilets, if they pay in advance.

Outsiders can buy 10 visits over five days for seven euros in high season online, compared with nine euros for a card bought in person, or the one euro pay as you go tariff.

Locals get a preferential rate, of 25 euro cents for each comfort break.

The city has added the facility to its Venice Connected visitor card, which provides services and online reservations, in an attempt to reduce the number of tourists who use the Unesco world heritage site as an open air urinal. Many restaurants and cafes have "no toilet" signs.

You might call it wee-government.
It's called 'incentivisation'.

New add-ons

Did a tidy of my Firefox add-ons list. Lots just don't seem to be keeping up with Firefox updates, so I've switched to something else.

New ones are:
  • text/plain - converts plain text links to real links
  • Tab Mix Plus - previous tab add-on flunked so switched
  • ReminderFox - neat ping for when you get lost in time online etc
  • gTranslate - as I often check foreign stories, this is very useful
Some more on my list are doomed to deletion if they don't catch up soon ...

Another shameful expulsion by UK Home Office

A gay Iraqi man due for deportation tomorrow has been told by the UK Border Agency to conduct his relationships "in private" on his return to Iraq, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

Campaign group Iraqi LGBT says the asylum seeker will become the seventh gay Iraqi to be returned to the country by the UK, despite the country being one of only nine in the world where homosexual people are executed.

Though a ruling was made in September 2007 allowing two gay Iraqis to remain in the UK, campaigners working on behalf of the man facing deportation tomorrow say his case was held too long ago to benefit from the change in case law achieved in 2007.

Keith Best, the director of the Immigration Advisory Service, told the Guardian that the government ought to give the asylum seeker a fresh hearing.

The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) has said that the man's homosexuality did not form the basis of his original asylum application in 2001 and that his subsequent conviction for seeking to stay in the country illegally makes him an untrustworthy defendant, undermining his claim to be gay.

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrats' housing spokeswoman, who is the Iraqi's MP, is perplexed by a recommendation from the UKBA that the Iraqi conduct his relationships in private.

The document says: "Even if your client's homosexuality were to be established it is viewed that it would be possible for your client to conduct such relationships in private on his return to Iraq. This would allow your client to express his sexuality, albeit in a more limited way than he could do elsewhere."

Teather, the MP for Brent East, said: "Immigration ministers need to show some humanity. If this deportation goes ahead there is a terrible risk that this man will be killed. How can we possibly claim to be a country that values human rights if we are willing to endanger a life in this way?"

Best said: "This is an incredible position. They [the UKBA] cannot say that on the one hand they do not believe him to be homosexual and then recommend ways in which he can cover up his homosexuality."

In September 2007 two gay victims of attempted assassination attempts by Shia Islamist death squads in Iraq were granted asylum in the UK after having their initial applications turned down by the Home Office despite compelling evidence of homophobic persecution.

That case overturned the claim that national governments did not recognise homophobic persecution as a legitimate ground for asylum under the 1951 refugee convention.

Homosexuality has been punishable by death in Iraq since 2001, when Saddam Hussein's government amended the country's penal code. The move was thought to be an overture to the country's Islamic conservatives, whose support Saddam latterly tried to win.
Iraqi LGBT says that more than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003. Safe houses are reported to operate in Baghdad in which some 40 young gay men hide.

The asylum seeker is scheduled to leave the UK tomorrow on an 8.30am flight but this may be delayed since the government has yet to reply to the representations made on his behalf and he cannot be deported until that point.



Email Jacqui Smith.

Support Iraqi-LGBT

The immediate urgent priority is to Support and Donate Money to LGBT activists in Iraq in order to assist their efforts to communicate information about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world.

Funds raised will also help provide LGBTs under threat of honour killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses and food), and assist efforts help them seek asylum abroad. Donations to Iraqi LGBT are not tax-deductible for income tax purposes.

See more about the situation of LGBT in Iraq - watch The Sexual Cleansing of Iraq.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Old Jews telling jokes

That's what it's called!

Police vs Hoodies

From deepest Surrey. The white stuff brings out the kid in the most surprising people.

The Anti-Mac

Nielsen — In an anniversary review of the Mac ("usability is the only reason Mac survived") comes back to:

The basic Anti-Mac principles [that] focus on:

  • The central role of language
  • A richer internal representation of objects
  • A more expressive interface
  • Expert users
  • Shared control
Certainly, with today's heavily search-dominant users, the central role of language has started to happen. Indeed, the mobile usability studies we're running right now seem to indicate even more search dominance when users access websites through their phones.
As he points out, we're not at the "richer internal representations [which] might be a dream of the semantic Web movement" yet, "in fact, the Web has strengthened the importance of the initial user experience, since most people visit any given Web page only once."

The Anti-Mac ideas "will have their day".

History is now repeating itself. Just as Apple popularized the GUI on the desktop through the Mac, it's popularizing the GUI on mobile devices through the iPhone.

The mouse let users own the cursor and thus gave them direct influence over the UI by acting as their personal on-screen representative. Similarly, the touch screen lets users directly manipulate UI elements on the mobile. Our current testing of how mobile users access websites shows how unpleasant it is for people to repeatedly press buttons to move around the screen. Featurephones — and even otherwise nice smartphones that are operated through buttons — offer an indirect user experience that feels less empowering than touchphones.

I just hope we won't repeat all of history: Let's not wait 11 years to embrace better usability for mobile the way we did for PCs. And you shouldn't just copy the Apple design's surface manifestation (the touch screen now, the mouse then). You should also offer:
  • a smooth GUI,
  • an integrated user experience (including a clipboard or other cut/copy/paste mechanism, which Apple paradoxically doesn't offer on the iPhone even though it was one of the Mac's most important features),
  • a platform that uses direct manipulation to give users ubiquitous control, and
  • compliance with usability guidelines.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Salman Rushdie and Irshad Manji

Two of my heroes on stage together. Fabulous.

Irshad Manji: 'Osama bin Ladens worst nightmare'

This women and this stuff is really important.

Barcamp rocks

The BarcampUKGovweb09 event was, first and foremost, fun.

The format of everyone contributing and the 'controlled anarchy' contributed to this feeling.

Barcamp = user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants.

I had two ideas. Tying together blog posts I've done on 'How Obama does it' and 'How Labour isn't'. I ended up sticking this with a 'politics 2.0' workshop idea which was far more prepared (and mostly went over/past my head) and just checking in my 2p worth.

  • Yes, UK politics is different but American developments has a wicked way of making their way across the pond. There is definitely nothing but value in looking'n'learning at the mechanics and politics of how this experiment is panning out.
  • Much if not most of the participants were focussing on how social media feeds back to decision making, organising and policy. But if new tools allow decision makers to get metrics from how the UK-wide social media discussion is playing doesn't that trump how certain interests and players attempt to intervene?
  • Yes, we do need a UK version of the Huffington Post.
My second contribution was my old chestnut: discount aka guerilla usability testing. I first presented on this back in 2006 and used the exact same presentation!

It went somewhat against the tide of contributions and, as a mate said, 'ow, something about the web!'

It wasn't a big crowd (grand total, seven) but consisted of some VIPs in this small egov world. It was also almost a collaborative presentation as people chipped in with their ideas and experience. Which was great!

As well, a guy from the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator, Philip McAllister, attached his presentation idea to mine (this is how Barcamps work) so we got some fascinating stuff at the end of the hour about his work on qualitative analysis of his site. This fitted well as it was, again, not a 'black art' but simple to do, with vital results generated for understanding how your website (aka brand) comes across.

  • One thing I've learnt from doing this in practice is the importance of social skills by people trying it.
As I said, the day was lotsa fun. But there are a coupla issues.
  • This format doesn't work so well for the less confident, unless this is managed. I can think of a few people I know with much to contribute (I'm thinking of you, GoogleMaps genius man) but far less skills to allow them to do it.
  • Boystown. Male, male male. Summed up by the changing of the notice above the feeding area from 'Would you expect your mum to clean this up?' to 'Dad'.
  • The great mix of inside/outside/across government was welcomed by everyone I spoke with. Therin lies a nerve to work.
And this note:
And this to-do:
  • Join Twitter. Sigh.

Simon Dickson has a good round up here. (And it was lovely to finally meet you too :} )

He talks about this stuff from DirectGov, which very much interested me. I haven't posted this before, but they have widgets on the way — something I've been carping on about for, owh, two years? Though more from a marketing angle than from the angle BarCamp would take.

Here's all the tagged content.