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Saturday 26 July 2008

The Process

What if there were no stop signs, and some marketeers were charged with inventing one?

Made me think of this story from last week: 'Blackburn's new £60,000 logo almost same as Barrow ‘branding’'. (Er, the logo isn't on the council website ;[ Neither is Barrow's).

Have neither heard of 'brand continuity'? Then again, the story includes this hysterical line: 'The two PR companies involved say they have no idea why the two images are so similar.'

Because logos are invariably drawn from a fairly limited pool! Just like there are only 12 master formats of advertising! How many times have you seen a 'swirl' logo or a heart? Being original is very hard work.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Obama is not the messiah, he's just a very safe man

Impeach Bush? Nah. Too much possible retribution. (n.b. 'boy' omitted in post title for obvious reasons).

Tech note: MSNBC's video implementation is the best - here's Olbermann, here's Newsnight.

Never - once - had this with Olbermann.

Sigh, better than iPlayer methinks. Dissident? Moi? Though the blog promotion is in the Beeb's plus column.

'Below the fold'.


Tuesday 22 July 2008

myid innit

Both ElReg and PSF have covered the comically noteworthy MyID (youth ID - tell us what yah thinking, yah, for when one is questioned about one's age, innit) site launch by - note, remember this name - an outfit called virtualsurveys (that's a link to their inept 'yofftube' page) for the Home Office. (Webshite, they do 'research 2.0', innit. Also they have a link to a 'accessible site').

PSF flavour (a firewall beckons):
However little did the Home Secretary know that this carefully-scripted PR 'quick win' was about to mutate at internet speed into a horrendous, humiliating and increasingly out-of-control PR catastrophe ...

We contacted Mr Comley [VirtualSurveys man-o-the-moment] for comment and put to him that as access to the site is restricted to 16-25 year-olds only, whether it was not slightly disingenuous for him to be using 'yoof-speak' and posing as a 'buddy' to other users, not to mention his comments about being encumbered with a student card. His response on that later ...

Within hours of the Home Secretary's fanfare launch, word had got out among anti-ID card campaigners who then flocked in large numbers to the site. By lunchtime a horde of protesters had effectively taken over the site, with the MyLifeMyID forums now consisting – to huge embarrassment for the Home Office - almost entirely of comments criticising, denouncing and condemning the ID scheme in no uncertain terms.
For some reason I find the accompanying video cringe-worthy hysterical (yas thinkin' 'David Brent'?). Jacqui looks like she's talking to five year olds, 'now children'. Not. A. Natural @YouTube (unlike Mike Gravel). Plus the filming is way far from flattering. Where were the minders demanding the lighting be, er, altered?

Couple of points which skipped the, natural, opprobrium:

They broke the ethical code - you should say what use information supplied on sign-up will be put to (why it says elsewhere 'we won't resell your email address')

This from an outfit which self-describes thus:

"Virtual Surveys, founded in 1998, was the first full service agency in Europe to specialise in online research. As well as recognised experts in website research, Virtual Surveys are one of the leading exponents of conventional research online.

The company has grown by 45+% per annum for the past 3 years. Our success can be attributed to our experienced research team, providing high quality online research and website expertise to a range of the UK's leading organisations."

The Home office is mugs, thinkest thou.

Oh g*d, how much did this cost?

Seriously, how much did this this cost?

Secondly, last week I was getting a 'you must register' message on clicking on 'more information on ID cards'.

Now I'm getting 'The following information has been copied from the Home Office Immigration & Passport Service website'. Literally. It sez this. Innit.

And youse has to register to click onda poll.

And is asking 'To which ethic group do you consider yourself to belong'?

Inept? Comedy? Where doth one start? We have so many options. Press attention, where ist thou?

I'm sure some bean-counter will attempt to spin this as a sucess but - pa-lease - do us all a favour and document where you went wrong. Seriously. It would help. But I really don't expect this to happen and, I guess, that's the problem.

And on the right side, you will see ....

I've added a few things to the right-side column and the latest has prompted me to note this.

Dave Briggs aka davepress gets enough praise from everyone else around the egov network (deflate! deflate!) but has made a good start to sainthood with 'one site to rule them all ... ' in PublicSectorBloggers, which I'm running the feed from. It's "Lots of UK Public Sector Blogging in One Place!"

Two points:
  1. I am not defined by my job! Do not append my workplace after my name (I think this holds for most of the others too)! Not just for reasons of 'oh, shit', but also because we range far beyond and do not want to be pigeonholed. I think I speak for all ;]
  2. Why is everyone not pushing full post feeds? It's embarrassing to see mine, cartoons and pictures 'n'all, in there like a flasher where everyone else is being a little tease.
David Osimo made a good point in a comment about tag clouds for public sector blog interest (thinking globally, mind) - I've shown some practical, useful tag cloud usage in this post about their use in the US primaries.

I seem to have removed other feeds. I actually don't remember (no jokes please). But nobody's seemingly noticed and, but, the only one which actually got clicks was the egov victoria one.

As well as PSB, I've got a few buttons.

Donate to Myanmar cyclone appeal is still running. This is the 'official appeal', Milliband favorite's appeal came without a button! There's two Zim buttons: one for methods of support, which are not pointless, as moans from the regime have made clear; another for donations to relief. The last is a button for Global Voices, which I wanted to highlight. This brings local blog voices from all corners of the world together and promotes them and is inspiring and fascinating. Go look.

I've also added but not noted my own button to encourage signatures to the petition to Gordon Brown about not deporting gay + lesbian refugees. Go look at the site for harrowing story after harrowing story. Support please by signing the petition. Tell your friends. Think about adding the button. Please.

Last point. 'Video' is now my top tag. This must mean something. What is it.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Seulement en France

A group in France has taken to defacing billboards protesting against 'intrusive advertising'. And they're egging the police on to arrest them.

The "Collectif des Déboulonneurs" is a French group created in Paris in 2005 to protest, through non-violent actions, against the excess of public advertising. Its objective is to obtain a new law limiting the size of billboards to a maximum of 50x70cm.

Present in various French cities, the "Déboulonneurs" organize monthly actions of civil desobedience, tagging large advertising billboards. These actions are well coordinated, previously announced and non-violent. Members of the "Déboulonneurs" act without masks, and do not resist arrests by the police. The whole action lasts about 30' and the crowd is quietly dispersed afterwards. [Flickr]


Wednesday 16 July 2008

iPhonic madness

50 reasons not to buy an iPhone!

2. Compare these prices with say T-mobile’s Flext 35 Web n Walk max tariff. For £32.50 a month, you get 450 free calls and 900 texts a month as well as “unlimited” internet surfing. You also get the feature rich Nokia N95 handset for free – costing you a total of £610.98 over 18 months. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out the analysis here by the technology website Cnet.
# 35. Celebs with iPhones 3: Paris Hilton has one.
# 47. If something goes wrong with your iPhone, you'll be sent an Official iPhone Tool, otherwise known as a paperclip.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

The satire returns

Drought's over, Jon's back. Ah! That's better.

Here's McCain's squirming: viagra? naaarghhh ... erectile dysfunction? naaurggh-hh .... birth control? ah-narrrrug no! hsghha ...

Catholicism's victims

The Pope is in Sydney at the moment and one man has flown out from London to greet him.

Anthony Foster is an amazing man and father whose daughters were raped by a Catholic Priest, Kevin O'Donnell, when they were in primary school. Australian Cardinal George Pell stalled the family's compensation claim against the Church when he was archbishop of Melbourne. It's part of a pattern of abuse which the Church is being forced by some very heroic people to deal with.

Foster's eldest daughter, Emma, committed suicide after a long battle with drug addiction. His second daughter, Katherine, developed a heavy drinking habit, and was hit by a drunk driver in 1999 and left physically and mentally disabled and requiring 24-hour care.

They were raped over five years by O'Donnell when they attended Sacred Heart Primary School in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh between 1988 and 1993.

In 1996 O'Donnell was convicted of abusing 11 boys and one girl, aged between 8 and 14, between 1946 and 1977, and sentenced to 15 months in prison. He died after his release in 1997.

Initially offered A$50,000 (£24,000) by Cardinal Pell under his "Towards Healing" program, the Fosters pursued their case via the legal system for eight years, culminating in a six-figure settlement with the church in 2006 - one of the largest of its kind in Australia. Money which will be used for Katherine's care.

In 1998, when Emma was 16, Cardinal Pell wrote to her, saying: "It is my hope that my offer will be accepted by you as a preferable alternative to legal proceedings and that it too will assist you with your future."

"On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Kevin O'Donnell. I offer you my prayers."

Foster says that this apology was removed by lawyers for the church in 2002 during the court case over compensation.

"Emma carried the pain of her abuse for all her life until it ended recently," he told the ABC. "We really want to make sure that in her name and her memory something is done for other victims."

Pell, like other Catholic bureaucrats around the world, has a history of obstructing sexual abuse cases, presumably on the advice of lawyers.

"I want them to set up a system that provides a life-time help to victims, that begs forgiveness to victims," Foster says.

"An apology is not enough unless it is backed up with action, unless he removes all obstacles to continuing support for victims."

"They should come to us and beg for forgiveness."

Last week I posted a video about the role of the church in the genocide of Canada's indigenous peoples. The same thing happened in Australia, and so this is another part of their history which the Pope will apparently be apologising for in Sydney. As this very brave man Anthony Foster is trying to explain, apologies are not enough.
Postscript: The Pope did not meet with Anthony Foster. Instead he held a meeting with six carefully selected victims at the last minute in Sydney and press were told about it on the plane going home. That's media management!

'Interference' + Zimbabwe

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, was quoted as justifying their veto of the recent UN Resolution on these grounds: “This draft is nothing but the council’s attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state.”

Now although I know there are strong arguments against sanctions (Simon Jenkins made some excellent points in the Guardian), 'interference' is already happening, only it's not being reported.

Quite apart from the opinion of (and attempts at securing 'interference of) a number of neighboring states, primarily Zambia and Botswana, today's Independent reports that foreign mercenaries are part of the terror campaign - the most ruthless part. Someone is allowing this or turning blind eyes.

Mugabe already hosts another dictator (Ethiopia's Mengistu). Now comes news that some of the Hutus who engaged in the Rwanda genocide are there too, such as Protais Mpiranya, the former head of the presidential guard during the 1994 genocide. He is on the wanted list of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, but is suspected to have strong business links with senior Zimbabwe army officers.

[The mercenaries] dress in army fatigues, carry Russian-made guns and are accompanied by interpreters when out with the militias.

Patrick Chitaka, the MDC chairman in Manicaland province in the east of the country, said the foreigners had been identified in the past two to three weeks supporting government-backed men.

Mr Chitaka said: "We have observed that some of the people leading the violence are foreigners because they speak a different language and they do not understand our local languages.

"Also the tactics they are using are not peculiar with Zimbabweans because they are cutting out the tongue, removing eyes and genital parts. We are not sure where they come from."

"There are between six and 10 foreigners in each base, and there are 20 Zanu bases in the two constituencies. They wear military uniform, carry guns especially shotguns which we think are Russian. They are cruel and brutal. Each unit has an interpreter who tells them what to do. People here live close to several borders and they know Portuguese from Mozambique and languages from Malawi and Zambia. [These people] don't speak any of those or English.
There have previously been reports of Chinese soldiers:

The Chinese, together with about 70 Zimbabwean senior army officers are staying at the Holiday Inn, in the city’s central business district.

There are about 10 Chinese soldiers. “We were shocked to see Chinese soldiers in their full military regalia and armed with pistols checking at the hotel,” said one worker.

“When they signed checking-in forms they did not indicate the nature of the business that they are doing and even their addresses.”

And news as well that in order to boost its jamming operations against the UK based SW Radio Africa and Voice of America's Studio 7, Mugabe's regime recently received another shipment of the latest in radio wave jamming equipment from China.
Landing records, shown to us at the Harare International Airport by port authorities, confirmed that the government received the equipment on May 17. The equipment was among several other items the Chinese delivered, including an assortment of sophisticated military surveillance hardware.
They are also looking to 'block' web news sources, whether they are using the Chinese expertise for that the article doesn't say.
“The independent media, has made our lives difficult,” one official, working in the ZANU-PF information department, said. “The strategic leaks into the independent media of our plans by enemies within ZANU-PF, has meant that the world knows everything we about to do, hours before we do it.”

"With the list at hand, the task of the CIO, with intelligence officials from the military, will indentify, and eliminate all journalists working for these pirate news organizations," officials privy to the details said.

More Zapiro

Meanwhile the Zimbabwean economy is hitting another technical brick wall:
The bigger problem is the mess in the banking computer systems, which can only handle a maximum payment of Z$999 999 999 999.00 per transaction.
'Interference' is already happening, China and Russia and South Africa and all the others who shout about it. Only it's on Mugabe's side. This is hardly surprising. The BBC has uncovered hard evidence that China is militarily backing Sudan in Darfur.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Never too old

The oldest blogger in the world, Olive Riley has died. She was born in 1899 and was 108 years old. She lived in a retirement home on the New South Wales Central Coast

Before she died, she'd made 70 posts since February last year about her life and musings on what she jokingly labelled, her "blob". She wrote for "you 21st century people " about raising three children on her own, living through two world wars and the Depression, her work as a station cook in rural Queensland and as an egg sorter and barmaid in Sydney.

In her final post, dated June 26, she couldn't "shake off that bad cough".

She'd also "read a whole swag of email messages and comments from my internet friends today, and I was so pleased to hear from you. Thank you, one and all."

"It was mind blowing to her," said her great grandson Darren Stone, of Brisbane.

"She had people communicating with her from as far away as Russia and America on a continual basis, not just once in a while."

"She enjoyed the notoriety - it kept her mind fresh," Mr Stone said.

"What kept her going was the memories she had, and being able to recall those memories so strongly."

The blog moved and is currently down but the cache of early posts is here. It was then moved to

There's also lots of video clips, here's two about bushwalking:

IT rules? No, no Mister Steel

[Presentation reproduced with permission]

At the PSF event in June to discuss Better Connected, SOCITM's president Richard Steel presented 'Why we should no longer distinguish web from ICT'.

Some of this made me applaud madly, some made me inwardly groan.

It was deliberately provocative and Richard comes from a strong base with his argument; his borough, Newham, is doing some great, ground-breaking stuff (including free wireless, no fixed desks including Chief Exec.) for this deprived part of London. In his presentation he laid a lot of that out, but what I completely disagreed with was his conclusion: that web must be 'run' by IT, they are 'indistinguishable'.

What made me applaud was his line that, basically, senior managers who don't understand the basics with IT no longer have the requisite skills to do the job, they should go. He, like me, is sick of senior people who wear their ignorance 'like a badge of honour'. I also liked that he was arguing that services must take more day-to-day responsibility for what they do online and that government gains from being subject to the same forces as business.

He was looking to the future convergence of technology and especially the coming growth of web access through mobiles or other devices: a 'network of networks'. Government is about services and information and as web access becomes more ubiquitous what matters is that we provide information in a way that can be easily pushed through these channels and found. What he cited as key technologies were identification and data integration.

Here's part of his presentation about his vision of this from three years ago:
By 2012 (Olympics) mobiles morphed into ‘personal communicators’

Technologies like ‘smart chip’, biometrics and GPS, will enable:
  • authenticated ‘e’ order & payment
  • e-tickets for chosen events delivered to your device.
  • e-directions to venue/your seat
  • your ID and ticket electronically checked,.
  • commentary provided in your own language
  • option to follow a particular team or athlete
  • view instant playbacks of exciting moments
  • personal calls/messages delivered plus appointment reminders.
  • remote control of home environment also likely
Device selects the most appropriate combination of fixed and wireless networks - balancing task, cost and performance.
A couple of quotes he used talked about 2018, ten years from now, when this convergence should be in full throttle.

Let's look back ten years and see what's changed: yes, everyone has a website and yes, services are 'online'. But as I've noted in other posts on my blog, there are still many things we, government, don't do and as a sector we are walled off from influences from wider web development - a primary driver for change - or any sense that we are in a competitive environment, online.

I don't see anything suggesting that in another ten years either of these factors will change, that we will be doing the things we don't or that we will be absorbing the right influences. However we will probably be in a more competitive environment simply because many more businesses will be in our territory - people selling recycling bins, people promising to better handle your passport enquiries, people trying to make money from your health enquiry, other services like charities. When this is happening, how do customers find you and steer past the commercial providers?

Richard's ideas come entirely from one part of what makes a web presence and it's not surprising: all websites have come from a few sectors other than IT but that's, largely, where government websites have grown out from.

Take 'content' for one other source of websites - newspaper websites are built on content and the IT development entirely revolves around servicing the editor's needs, rather than the other way around. There it has to be a partnership but you couldn't argue 'Why we should no longer distinguish web from ICT' because there it's understood that 'web' largely means content - which needs it own skill base - supported by IT. Richard's proposition doesn't make sense. Same goes for websites which have grown out of marketing and sales departments, there it's a partnership but there's another primary skill base than the IT one.

Why do we think we are different from other websites, especially when there's little evidence customers behave radically differently with us? I would say this is because we live in our own world without the sort of influences which would shake us out of it. Other sectors largely don't; they absolutely have to understand their customers and hire the right skill base to create a web presence which will meet needs in a rapidly evolving and competitive environment. Doesn't sound like us does it?

Another difference is that the web is becoming more central to businesses, meaning that all aspects of the business have to take it seriously and skill up. Here, this does connect with one of Richard's points about the vital need for engagement by government services - the pointy end - rather than being disempowered (although that's not how he puts it).

The problem with Richard's proposal is not just where it's coming from - as I commented to him, he and the analysis come from IT as opposed to, say, sales - but the impact.

Web skills are very specific, you need to be across a lot of terrain. You need to understand SEO, usability, web content, have good people skills, be across various and ever changing IT, visual design, accessibility, marketing, PR ... Even the very best IT managers don't have this skill range so they can't make informed decisions or informed choices across the range of issues which constitute good and most importantly successful web. In his presentation Richard alludes to this when he talks about the problems in benchmarking, take-up and engagement.

I understand that Richard's forward focus is 'non-web', or 'post-web', thinking of mobile devices for example, but I see no future in which all the other skills involved won't be any the less vital in making a successful, used and useful service/product for government online.

What we need is exactly the opposite of Richard's argument: ICT needs to be in its place and web needs to be raised. It needs to be properly understood as a new profession, a unique skill set and assume its place at the table in government. Because at the moment it doesn't have one.

Saturday 12 July 2008

Welsh Assemby sacks blogger

I wonder if the new social media code for civil servants has any effect and or meaning in a devolved authority? His blog is now 'by invitation only'.

Sacked blogger’s taking case to tribunal

Jul 9 2008 by Martin Shipton, Western Mail

AN Assembly Government civil servant who was sacked for running a political blog is taking his case to an Employment Tribunal.

Last night a former AM who himself is a regular blogger said he found the decision to dismiss the civil servant “heavy handed”.

The former Assembly Government employee, whose real name has not been disclosed but who ran a blog called Christopher Glamorganshire, provided what readers saw as a neutral running commentary on last year’s coalition negotiations involving Labour and Plaid Cymru.

An Assembly Government spokesman said: “This issue regards a former Welsh Assembly Government employee who was dismissed for activities related to the Glamorganshire Blog that contravened the Civil Service Code. The case went to the Civil Service Appeals Board, which we won, and it is listed for Employment Tribunal in Cardiff later this year.”

It is understood the elements of the Civil Service Code regarded by the Assembly Government as relevant to the case come under sections headed “integrity” and “rights and responsibilities”.

Under integrity, the relevant clauses read: “You must always act in a way that is professional and that deserves and retains the confidence of all those with whom you have dealings,” and: “You must not misuse your official position, for example by using information acquired in the course of your official duties to further your private interests or those of others.”

Under rights and responsibilities, the clause considered to have been broken states: “This Code is part of the contractual relationship between you and your employer. It sets out the high standards of behaviour expected of you which follow from your position in public and national life as a civil servant. You can take pride in living up to these values.”

Last night former Conservative AM Glyn Davies, a regular blogger, said: “The Christopher Glamorganshire blog was on my list of ‘my favourites’. It seemed to me to be written in a sensible and rational manner.

“Clearly, if his contract of employment said he was not allowed to blog, he doesn’t have much of a case.

“But if it is simply a question of supposedly contravening the code, I think sacking him is very harsh and heavy handed.”

He added: “This all smacks of the heavy hand of the state.”

Postscript: Matt Wardman has an extensive report and backgrounder. He says:
The approach is slightly out of kilter in a country where only this week Hazel Blears was talking about giving more leeway for Council Officers to participate in the political process.
He also has a comment from Christopher Glamorgan:

A thousand apologies!

It is very kind of you to notice, but I am afraid that the blog has had to be taken ‘offline’ for the time being. I am still an avid reader of other blogs and am chomping at the bit as I type.

Hopefully normal service will resume very soon ;>D

And the reaction from a leading Welsh political blogger, Miss Wagstaff (whose blog is apparently blocked on Assembly government computers).
This all seems unfair to me, but best of luck to you 'Christopher'. Like any large organisation, the Assembly Government will - without a shadow of doubt - put their whole legal team behind the case, and solicitors are costly, so I fear that you'll need more than fair play, luck, and common sense on your side.
Is there a witchhunt? There's a story here saying that he is the fourth blogger sacked by the Assembly government. And this comment:
I can't remember a post by Christopher that was either reveling or controversial, certainly nothing that would appear to justify his dismissal from public service.
As well as this one:
The Welsh Assembly Government recently allowed a member of staff to resign after being found guilty in court of sexually harrassing a colleague.

The man in question was even allowed to stay in the workplace while an investigation was underway.
This post give a further suggestion of a witchhunt, saying that he was a Conservative. Conservative Welsh MP David Jones weighs in here.

What the new social media code for civil servants does not cover is if civil servants have any right to an opinion and how this tallies with 'freedom of expression' rights. Perhaps that is too big a can of worms to open but since 'civil servants' is sometimes taken to mean all public servants (and not just employees of parliaments or ministers) of which there are millions, perhaps this case should be taken up as a chance to add some more definition here?

Postscript: Are the Mail trawling for another blogging civilserf story? Matt Wardman notes the Christopher Glamorganshire sacking story cut and paste Promotional Tour

Postscript: Ian Cuddy at PSF noticed something I managed to miss (ahem) - that blogcatalog has the first lines archived of Christopher's posts. An example:
"I'm off early as I am the boss even though there is a big "issue" developing. You will stay here and work late as you are not senior enough to enjoy a work-life balance. Also used by senior managers as a way of sounding PC..."
The description Christopher offered of his blog is:
"Wales, the Welsh, politics, humour, general philosophical commentary, and gossip... Oh! and the professional bloggers down the Bay (but spare a thought for the Kingdom that is United for we are joined at the hip and rightly so)"
Ian also discovered his Blogger profile which reads: "Will today be a nine-to-five lunch break interrupted by an hour of work or will something substantial fall on my desk?"

As well as according to Wikipedia (which must be true), Christopher is "currently a philosophy student of the University of Wales, Lampeter" and trying to create a Wikipedia entry for Assembly Members and other Welsh politicians.

Yet more searching uncovers Christopher commenting and linking to his blog on the BBC Wales political blog, a flavour of who he may have pissed off

Scrapbook clips catch up

Wait a while and the clips pile up ...

The Berlin gay holocaust memorial is unveiled and among the participants was 95-year-old Rudolf Brazda, who survived incarceration in Buchenwald concentration camp from 1941 to 1945. "It was a terrible time," Brazda said. Asked how he felt now, he responded: "I must say that I feel as though I were in paradise in this democratic society."

What is happening in the Italian blogosphere? I check viral videos regularly and a lot are suddenly Italian. And this is in a list previously 100% dominated by America with occasional Sarkozy interruptions.

Viral, political video on the whole is becoming more international. I've seen (as well as French) some Malaysian and Canadian video pop up with serious numbers of blog postings.

Another, positive, view of the impact of the internet on China:
The Chinese public sphere has become a more freewheeling, interesting and chaotic arena for expressions of opinion than it was. This isn't all due to the Internet (crusading print journalists and activists have also done their part), but bloggers calling attention to official corruption or mocking government policies have definitely helped alter the political landscape.

The politically significant things happening online involve forms of communication, such as efforts to call attention to corrupt acts by local officials, that dovetail with policies that are promoted or at least given lip service by the central authorities.
After racist hiring, another negative against Google Inc: their Daycare arrangements.

The Itch: Its mysterious power may be a clue to a new theory about brains and bodies.

Really recommended science feature from the New Yorker:
The images in our mind are extraordinarily rich. We can tell if something is liquid or solid, heavy or light, dead or alive. But the information we work from is poor—a distorted, two-dimensional transmission with entire spots missing. So the mind fills in most of the picture. You can get a sense of this from brain-anatomy studies. If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibres going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory. Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals.


Researchers at the University of Manchester, in England, have gone a step beyond mirrors and fashioned an immersive virtual-reality system for treating patients with phantom-limb pain. Detectors transpose movement of real limbs into a virtual world where patients feel they are actually moving, stretching, even playing a ballgame. So far, five patients have tried the system, and they have all experienced a reduction in pain. Whether those results will last has yet to be established. But the approach raises the possibility of designing similar systems to help patients with other sensor syndromes. How, one wonders, would someone with chronic back pain fare in a virtual world? The Manchester study suggests that there may be many ways to fight our phantoms.
How social networking saved New Orleans: Powered by community, New Orleans residents exposed city hall and the power of social software
Using blogs with names like Fix the Pumps and Squandered Heritage, citizens took up "beats," lending their professional expertise, ingenuity and gumshoe efforts to create a citizens' voice to counter city government rhetoric.
Via David Wilcox: Community networking to tackle climate change
That’s not all, though - I have also been drafted in by Tracey Todhunter to help develop her ideas for a ‘communiversity’ for low carbon communities. She writes about it here. We’re going to start off in my session, so Tracey and her colleagues can develop a strategy using the game; and then take the results into her session to drum up support and refine things.
All about the CivilSerf project:

A global virtual community for teenagers has teamed up with the Matthew Shepard Foundation to educate young online users about dignity and respect.

From next Monday foundation staff will lead discussions twice a week in's InfoBus, which is a virtual room designed to look like the inside of a high-end bus.

Good new resource: The Social Web Analytics eBook 2008

Zugby's blog post about being forced to the ground by armed police in Bournemouth.
I oblige. I'm shocked, confused, scared and embarrassed all at the same time. Most of the bystanders have vacated the platform by now, by police order. And I'm not talking about normal police either. This is the Specialist Firearms Unit, about 8 of them, machine guns, bulletproof vests, police dogs and all. And they're here to arrest ME!
AP feature on Web 2.0 - censoring the right to rant

With online services becoming greater conduits than shopping malls for public communications, however, some advocacy groups believe the federal government needs to guarantee open access to speech. That, of course, could also invite meddling by the government, the way broadcasters now face indecency and other restrictions that are criticised as vague.

Others believe companies shouldn't police content at all, and if they do, they should at least make clearer the rules and the mechanisms for appeal.

Where's Web 2.0 at in the US government?
Local government officials had mixed views about how they see Web 2.0 meshing with their needs, however. Mary Benner, CIO of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, called it "something that we need to pursue, but it is not an immediate priority".

While Web 2.0 can help residents communicate better with their governments, she says, offering those kinds of features is becoming a key way to lure younger IT workers to take jobs in government where they can build innovative Web 2.0 applications.
Dave Briggs' review of Communities in Control, the new white paper by the Department for Communities and Local Government. It's pretty radical but I commented that if you want to address the 'digital divide', which it references, you could start by ramping up funding for UK Online Centres whose CEO has been screaming about underfunding. Not sexy and seemingly not on anyone's agenda.

Craig Tomley offers (tongue in cheek) 10 reasons government agencies should not advertise online
7) Because our senior executives haven't gotten the hang of email yet, and we know that our executives (who approve our ad design and spend) think and act exactly in the same way as our customers, even though they earn more, are degree-qualified, much older and live in Canberra.

Comment from Belgium about the YouTube/Viacon decision:
Obviously, European Youtube users didn’t ask for their youtube usage to be handed over to Viacom Inc.. Who knows what Viacom will do with this highly private data (which contains highly detailed information about people’s interests such as the videos they watch, the various topics they are interested in, and so on)?

I only hope that enough Europeans will formally protest at their country’s privacy agencies and/or at the European institutions. Although, I fear it won’t matter anymore as privacy nowadays has become far less important than Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.

Anyway, please find the contact details for Belgium here.

In the US, the right-wing Xstian preacher Hagee has through take-down been attempting to get off the viral video circuit, but it's backfired.

More on 'The War On Tourism' @ America's borders from Peter Tatchell:
After being held in custody in appalling conditions for over 26 hours by the department of homeland security, Mengal was refused entry to the US and deported. No reasons given. No right of appeal. This is Bush-style democracy in action.
Patricia Hewitt is Nigerian?
Before my retirement, I personally made an over estimation, and stacked the sum of Six Million Three Hundred Thousand Great Britain Pounds which I totally intend for the purpose of charity and none other which will be supervised Attorney as he will also be the one in charge of securing these funds into your custody.
The historic victory for UK bloggers of Alan Murray in Northern Ireland.
'During my testimony in court I said I was only trying to criticise those in power or those that would speak for us. That right has been upheld by the judge's decision. If the judge had ruled against me, then every blogger would have been vulnerable to charges of intimidation because those at the end of their criticism could claim they were being picked upon. A very bad precedent would have been set,' he said.
Revealed: The ten members of Web’s ‘500 million club’ - Via NetImperative: Only 10 websites and applications - led by MSN Messenger, eBay and Facebook – have averaged at least 500 million UK minutes per month over the last year, according to new research. Facebook, YouTube and Second Life are the fastest growing sites in terms of total UK minutes.

AP: Uncertainty aplenty as Web, media leaders convene
Both media and online leaders are grappling with the Internet's increasing fragmentation. And they're all looking for more advertising revenue online, where media companies have recouped only a small fraction of what they lost in print and where Web companies want to maximize their investments.
Bill Thompson on the reaction to copyright infringement by big corps:
EMI, Warner, V2, Sony BMG and the other four hundred or so members of the BPI want to cut people off from that network for copyright infringement.

Imagine if you had a child who was excluded from school for cheating in an exam, and you were told that they weren't allowed to watch TV, listen to music, read books, talk to their friends or go into any shop during the exclusion.

Oh, and you and your entire family were subject to the same restrictions.

Wal-Mart: Ethical retailing? Hmmm.
The company has been churning out dozens of white papers on sustainability, publicly available on its website, addressing everything from how to change eating and exercise habits to green charities; holding state-of-the art conferences on greening the supply chain; building environmentally efficient stores with open sky lighting and motion sensors to reduce energy consumption; rolling out green products in almost every department; and basing its promotion structure of its own employees, including senior staff, on how successful they are in convincing vendors to adopt measurable environmental standards.
Monbiot: Trawlermen cling on as oceans empty of fish - and the ecosystem is gasping

From PSF, this story made me think of numerous Fairy Tale analogies:, largely involving wolves
Ministers have declared another major sweeping 'new' pan-government efficiency drive aiming to cut down IT spending and slash back-office costs.

The 'Operational' Efficiency Programme kicked off last week with the launch of a series of 'cross-cutting' reviews headed up by a veritable host of business leaders. Each review will report back in March with news of where £££ billions of savings can be made across the public sector.

The first review, led by Martin Jay, chairman of technology and engineering group and former stock market darling Invensys.
Talk about desperation ... in Slate: the movie I'm rushing out to see, Wall-E, is allegedly fattist:
This stereotype of the "obese lifestyle" is simply false. How fat you are has a lot more to do with your genes than with your behavior. As much as 80 percent of the variation in human body weight can be explained by differences in our DNA.
Genius take on all those stories about science's quest to find the cause of gayness by David Ehrensten, merging a “feminized brain” with Plan 9 From Outer Space:
That’s because, Lord Saletan, we know full well who WILL be doing the controlling — Eros from Plan 9 !
Can’t you see him now explaining it all to us? Why is this happening, O Visitors From Another World?
“Because of death. Because all you of Earth are idiots! You see! You see! Your stupid female brains! Stupid! Stupid!”


If ever anything summed up that British "stiff upper lip", this Keep Calm And Carry On poster is it. During the early spring of 1939 and the war with Germany almost inevitable the British Government commissioned this poster to be displayed throughout the country upon the out-break of war. The plan for the poster was to relay a message from the King to his people that all capable measures to defend the country were being taken. This original World War II poster lay undiscovered and forgotten until a copy turned up over 50 years later within a pile of dusty old books bought from an auction, it's soothing message is still relevant today - it understands that you are a little bit stressed but knows you'll be ok. You can purchase heaps of great products that feature the Keep Calm and Carry On logo from this fab site.
The Onion has been celebrating Gay Pride march month (for want of a better word) by pulling together past posts, including this: New Dad Thinks Baby Might Be Gay.

The great Yossi Alpher falls for Sasha Baron-Cohen's latest creation:
"Vait, vait. Vat’s zee connection between a political movement and food. Vy hummus?”
Quote of the week
John Harris on Any Questions?, about the Islington Registrar being allowed to discriminate against gay couples:
It's about privileged beliefs. I'm a vegetarian. If I worked at Tesco and said I'm not going to put meat through the checkout they'd be quite justified in saying 'you're not right for the job'.

Friday 11 July 2008

Cars cause allergies

We already know that car and lorry driven pollution cause thousands of premature deaths amongst asthmatics, the elderly and others. Now German scientists have established a link between car-pollution and allergies. Y'know, those conditions which our grandparents didn't seem to suffer from but our children do.
Allergic diseases appear more often in children who grow up near busy roads. This is the result of a study of several thousand children, now published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Under the direction of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, a German research group studied in a longitudinal study, over six years, whether associations are identifiable between the onset of atopic diseases and exposure to air pollutants originating from traffic. The scientists based their analysis, on the one hand, on the corresponding distance of the parental home to streets busy with traffic, and on the other hand, modeled values, for the respective residencial addresses of the children, of air pollution with fine dust, diesel soot and nitrogen dioxide.

The research team led by Dr. Joachim Heinrich of the Institute of Epidemiology of the Helmholtz Zentrum München compared, with this, the data of 3,061 six-year old children from Munich and its surroundings. From birth, their development has been tracked within the scope of the so-called GINI and LISA studies. The studies are led by Prof. Dr. H.-Erich Wichmann of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, and, among other things, are aimed at the study of behavioral and environmental risk factors for allergic diseases. In the current analysis, the results of medical research and regular parental interviews were considered. Moreover, the appearance of the specific IgE antibodies against common allergens in blood serum was tested in children at the age of 6.

Joachim Heinrich and his colleagues consider the results of their research to be clear evidence of the disadvantageous effects of air pollution from traffic on the causes of allergies and atopic diseases. In the past, epidemiological studies on this subject failed to supply a clear picture, although the effects of laboratory experiments and inhalation studies are well-known.
Is this science? Yes. Is this also common sense? Yes. Is our continuing to pollute our children's air a classic example of collective displacement behavior? Yes.

McCain's week

And no, you won't hear any of this via the BBC's Washington 'reporters'. This is just the last week!

The sole thing going for him is the US media's absence of coverage which, given the increasing news sourcing from the web, isn't what it used to be. If there are any favorable odds left for Obama bets, take them.
  1. McCain unambiguously called Social Security [pensions] "an absolute disgrace."
  2. McCain's top economic policy adviser calls Americans a bunch of "whiners" for being worried about the slumping economy.
  3. Iraqi leaders call for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, McCain gets caught in a bizarre denial and flip flop.
  4. McCain's economic plan to cut the deficit has no details and is simply not believable.
  5. McCain's deficit plan includes bringing the troops home represents a major Iraq flip-flop.
  6. McCain campaign misled about economists support.
  7. McCain makes a joke about killing Iranians.
  8. McCain denies, flatly, that he ever said that he is not an expert in economics.
  9. McCain distorts his record on veterans benefits in response to a question from Vietnam Veteran, who then proceeds to call McCain out on it.
  10. McCain demonstrates he knows nothing about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Music: Ain't no mountain high enough

Both Marvin Gaye (one of the sexiest men of all time) and Tammi Terrell are tragic figures.

Gaye, famoulsy, shot by his dad. Terrell died of a brain tumour at 24.

Channel Four News: embedded

This is the story of today's protests about Zimbabwean asylum seekers being allowed to work.

Channel Four is ahead of the game, ahead of the BBC.

This is:
  1. a public service
  2. great promotion for Channel Four
  3. greatly increasing the viewership for these reports
I am not just promoting this story, I am (through embedding) promoting Channel Four.

Postscript: Demonstrating my point, Sokwanele are now carrying this C4 News clip.

Thursday 10 July 2008

egov bloggers and news sources

Dave Briggs has started, (and included me, thanks ;] ) and had a lot of suggestions to add to the site.

These are the feeds I've got in my Reader - and Dave's post + comments following mean I have a number of others to add. (There are some sources without feeds - shock - which are in my links list in the right column).

Getting very hard to keep up ;{ I certainly have ones I make a point to check (hey Dave!) but some mechanism to float more interesting stuff to the surface is definitely needed. I can't really see a way of automating this, it needs a human editor.

This is kindof what egov Victoria does, maybe somewhere like Public Sector Forums (only not just accessible?) could do it sustainably? Would be terribly useful!

Our shame: official, imposed destitution

Protest by Zimbabwean refugees - the banner reads 'you take our nurses but not our wounded'

In a story buried in almost all the media, Gordon Brown has misled people on his government's attitude to Zimbabwean refugees.

According to the Press Association:
The deportation of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe has now been halted, Gordon Brown said.

The Prime Minister told MPs that while officials continued to deal with the issue on a case-by-case basis, no returns were currently taking place.

“No-one is being forced to return to Zimbabwe from the United Kingdom at this time,” he said.

Mr Brown, who has been under pressure to stop the deportations in the wake of the violence surrounding the disputed presidential election, said that ministers were also looking to help failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers who were unable to work.
It is noticeable that the story fails to quote press statements such as by the Refugee Council's Donna Covey.

They were not deporting anyway because of a legal challenge - it’s not news, it's not some great act of charity, source G.Brown, which might please his Minister father.

What’s desperately needed is that the Zimbabweans in the UK are granted ‘leave to remain’ so they can work.

At the moment 11,000 are officially destitute. Many are homeless and begging. All are reliant on charity. This is intolerable.

What Brown said was, frankly, a lie.

This is what the Refugee Council said:
The Refugee Council will tomorrow accuse the government of “utter hypocrisy” as its Chief Executive, Donna Covey, addresses a rally outside Parliament calling on the government to give Zimbabwean asylum seekers leave to stay in the UK and allow them to work.

Thousands of Zimbabweans have been refused asylum in the UK, yet the government admits it is not safe to send them back. They are left homeless and destitute, with no entitlement to any support or the ability to work and support themselves.

It comes close to a charade for the Foreign Secretary to applaud the courage of refugees from Zimbabwe in South Africa, while in this country Zimbabwean refugees are being left to rot.

“The current situation amounts to a policy of saying to Zimbabweans, we won’t return you but our protection will amount to you being allowed to stay and beg on our streets.

“If the government had a shred of decency it would act now, to give Zimbabweans some temporary status in this country, allowing them to work and indeed to reskill so that they are better placed to help rebuild their country when the Mugabe regime falls.”
Unfortunately we have a strong anti-refugee movement led by the media outlets which aren't covering this or quoting the Refugee Council, and this is why it's so difficult to get pressure on G. Brown to do something about the situation of the Zimbabweans.

The government hides behind blatant falsehoods about their system's supposed 'fairness' but the reality is as I explained: official destitution.

They have merely suspended deportations to Harare but only after being forced to by being taken to court.

I and many Brits find this shameful. We live in the fifth biggest economy and most other European countries - or for that matter African countries - do not behave this way. At least they let people work.

And it's not just Zimbabweans. We are now sending refugees back to Darfur. And because the system which creates this is getting no media coverage, British people haven't a clue about what's being done in our name.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Union misses a trick online: surprised?

Next week over a million UNISON members will be on strike. It's about a low pay offer, the rising cost of living and the - still - low pay of many people working in the public sector.

So what is UNISON's suggestion about how you can support them online?
Add your support for the strike to Google Earth
I'm not kidding.
Spread the word among your members and get them to ask a friend, relative, or workmate to pin their support on Google Earth.
As a UNISON member I'm annoyed. No banner I can stick on my blog. No petition I can sign + link to. No video I can help go viral.

None of the tried'n'tested basics for online campaigning.

It's irrelevant, disconnected and - laughably - useless.

Canada's genocide

Canada's "dirty secret" - the planned genocide of aboriginal people in church-run Indian Residential Schools - and a clergyman's efforts to document and make public these crimes. An excellent, extremely moving and educative film.

Web power: From the Zimbabwe underground to the G8

Two days ago the Zimbabwean civic organisation Sokwanele published this photo on their blog.

It is of the mutilated and burnt corpse of Joshua Bakacheza, MDC driver for Mashonaland West and discovered late on Saturday. Many people apart from the 103 confirmed dead are also missing. It had taken his family two weeks to find it.

Joshua and another MDC supporter, Tendai Chidziwo, had been assisting murdered MDC activist Tonderai Ndira’s wife to move her furniture and personal belongings as she no longer felt safe at her home in Mabvuku, a sprawling township on the outskirts of Harare.

Their truck was ambushed by 16 Zanu-PF thugs, leaving Tonderai’s widow and her two children standing by the roadside, trembling from fright and crying.

Joshua and Tendai was taken to a torture centre and tortured and then shot. Tendai miraculously survived, he directed the family to where the corpse might be found.

Sokwanele have a Flickr page which hosts this photo and many others, and a Google Map, as well as the blog, where they are documenting the terror campaign.

Yesterday Gordon Brown used this photo at the G8 summit to convince his fellow leaders of the need for action against Mugabe's murderous regime.

The meme is that he was producing it from his back pocket. (It was also mentioned on his Twitter feed).

From determined family to Sokwanele to the G8 - this is an amazing moment in web history.

I have read many comments on Sokwanele's blog about whether their documentation is worthwhile, whether people elsewhere can make any real impact. Today showed that they could and the web is enabling this; this is worth noting and I am amazed that none of the news reporting about Brown's actions have sourced the photo back to the web and the heroic people behind Sokwanele.

Postscript: What is more, well, amazing is that in my correspondence with Sokwanele they do not care if credit is given.

These people are my heroes.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Music: Shoot the dog

George Michael - Shoot the dog - kewego
George Michael - Shoot the dog - kewego

Great politics, great bassline. Fabulous.
"I have strong opinions on Britain's current situation & I feel that in a time when public debate is being suppressed even something as trivial as a pop song can be a good thing. Shoot The Dog is intended as a piece of political satire, no more no less, & I hope that it will make people laugh & dance, & then think."
He was crucified for this in the US. You go, girlfriend.

Animation by 2DTV.


We're doomed I say, doomed ...
"[Pringles] has a shape not found in nature, being designed and manufactured for stacking, and giving a pleasing and regular undulating appearance which permits comfortable eating."
Potato based content = 42%

Less taxes for us them!

... I draw attention to various George Monbiot columns about the DOOMED nature of us westerners carrying on like this ... as well as the results of eating their 'low-fat' variety (think Olestra, think "anal leakage") ...

Monday 7 July 2008

Zimbabwean exiles abandoned, left destitute

One image from the terror campaign: More

Cross-posted from LGBT asylum news also on Wardman Wire

The UK Prime Minister is currently in Japan lecturing people about doing more to oust Robert Mugabe.

At the same time his government is doing everything it can to oust the opposition to Mugabe from the UK.

This week 11,000 Zimbabwean refugees received letters asking them to return to a country described by the same government as undergoing a campaign of terror orchestrated by a military cabal. No opposition is brokered and activists are being hunted down and killed.

These refugees are being denied a right to work or any official support (because they are 'refused' to return because they are terrified and do not have 'leave to remain') so they are - officially - destitute and many are homeless and some beg to survive. This is the practice adopted by the UK government to force people to return.

It is hypocrisy of the highest order. Many poor African countries have accepted thousands more Zimbabwean refugees, in South Africa millions. Yet the fifth richest country in the world refuses basic support to the very same people it is praising in Zimbabwe - Mugabe's opposition.

The sole reason is because the UK government is beholden to a few media proprietors who propagate lies about asylum seekers to make money from populist fears.

The government has been trying for some time to forcibly send people back to Zimbabwe - there was a court case which highlighted the unreported issue this week.

Donna Covey, Chief executive of the Refugee Council said:

“The legal ping pong over the removal of Zimbabweans is now becoming farcical. The Judges in explaining their decision today said as much, making the point that the test case going through the courts is more than a year old, and based on even older evidence, while the situation in Zimbabwe is clearly deteriorating day by day.

“It’s now time for the government to drop the legal action and do the decent and sensible thing. It should give all Zimbabweans a temporary right to stay in the UK until the situation in their country improves markedly. This would allow the Zimbabweans, many of whom are well qualified, to work to support themselves and to carry on making plans for rebuilding their shattered country once the Mugabe regime falls.

“The current situation, where brave Zimbabweans who have stood up for democracy and human rights are left homeless and destitute in the UK, having been refused any protection, is a disgrace.”

Sir John Waite, co-chairman of the Independent Asylum Commission, which has just published a report on the asylum system in the UK, described the situation as a source of shame.

He said: "We heard testimony from many Zimbabwean asylum seekers and we were shocked by what we found - Zimbabweans sleeping on sofas, in parks and launderettes, reliant on charity and prevented from working."

He added: "Our nation's leaders have loudly condemned the Mugabe regime, but perhaps we should also look a little closer to home, to the thousands of Zimbabwean asylum seekers who have been left in a harsh legal limbo - unable to work, deprived of welfare and unable to return home. If the British people had heard what we have heard from destitute Zimbabweans, they would be troubled and perhaps even ashamed."

A march and rally is due to be held in Westminster on Friday, to ask for asylum seekers from Zimbabwe to be given status and the right to work. It will begin in Parliament Square, outside Westminster Abbey, at 1.30pm.

It will be preceded by a special service at St Margaret’s Church Westminster Abbey, led by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.

  • The Still Human Still Here Campaign
    Dedicated to highlighting the plight of tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers who are being forced into abject poverty in an attempt to drive them out of the country.