I don’t know about “intellectual”, but someone has to think this through

Our Communications Commissar, Mr. Ed Vaizey, has been having some more meetings with key stakeholders (other than, for example, the public) about copyright and such like. The people consulted about this are, naturally, the vested interests who would benefit from stricter copyright enforcement (provided the costs can be offloaded onto the taxpayer) rather than the diffuse and disparate interests who would benefit an environment more supportive of innovation. But there’s more at work here than Bastiat’s candlemakers, and I suspect something pernicious. As John Naughton picked out of the Hargreaves report on Intellectual Property:

In the case of IP policy and specifically copyright policy, however, there is no doubt that the persuasive powers of celebrities and important UK creative companies have distorted policy outcomes.

[From The stupidity of our copyright laws is finally laid bare | Technology | The Observer]

The economist John Kay is absolutely spot on about this in his comments on the Hargreaves report.

Mr Hargreaves deplores the way government policy has been led by business interests and not evidence of its effects. The Carter report, unintentionally, illustrated his point in every chapter.

[From FT.com / Comment / Op-Ed Columnists – Publishers badly need a new Sir Thomas Bodley]

If the debate were led by rational business interests, maximising the value of the industry for UK plc, that would be one thing. But it isn’t. It’s led by pop stars egged on by record companies, misguided authors and the owners of rights. I put this point to none other than Fearghal Sharkey, once upon a time the lead singer of the Undertones, but now the CEO of lobby group UK Music.

Photo0017

Fun. We had an honest to and fro with Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC in the middle and it made for an enjoyable end to a long day listening to people discussing the future of consumer electronics. I said, essentially, that I thought that copyright should be reduced to a welfare-maximising level of around 15 years in return for more effective enforcement of unauthorised copying of the material because the legal and regulatory environment should be constructed to the benefit of society as a whole and not be co-opted by the economic interests of particular sectors and he said, essentially, fuck off.

 

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes… [posted with ecto]

What a treasure

My natural suspicion of politicians talking about technology — I automatically assume that they are talking complete rubbish unless presented with sound evidence to the contrary — was aroused today when I read that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had turned up at some Google event to go on about cyberattack.

Foreign intelligence agencies are carrying out sustained cyberattacks on the UK Treasury, targeting it with malicious emails and programs designed to steal information, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has revealed… He said that government systems are the target of up to 20,000 malicious emails every month

[From Osborne: Treasury under sustained cyberattack | Technology | guardian.co.uk]

This is a very unimpressive figure. I’m the target of 20,000 malicious e-mails every month – I’ve just looked in my junk folder and there are hundreds of them in there right now. I suppose they might not all be malicious, because many of them are in Russian so I have no idea what they say. But you get my point. The log from my internet router at home shows intrusions attempts every few minutes – surely international cyber terrorists would be more interested in the Treasury than me? If anything, the Chancellor’s figures show sustained disinterest in the Treasury from malicious e-mailers the world over.

What really puzzled me about the historian Baronet Osborne’s remarks were that he thought that there might be anything in the Treasury computers worth stealing. What on Earth would these Johnny Foreigners.com want with an always-wrong economic forecasting model and Gordon Brown’s plan to borrow the UK into permanent penury? I doubt they’re after the credit card number, because that was maxed out by the Scottish solicitor Alastair Darling some time ago. If anything, I would have thought that the Treasury’s activities over the last few years are evidence that it has already been penetrated by Asian wizards dedicated to the UK’s demise, inscrutable IT mountebanks who have planted a virus rendering the British government incapable of sound financial management. This theory would explain an awful lot of recent activity: aircraft carriers with no aircraft on them, for example.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

My first choice

[Dave Birch] As some of you may know, there was a referendum on voting in the UK, asking the British public (a fifth of whom are functionally illiterate) what the best system for electing a Parliament is. Why anyone thought that the public might be qualified to make this kind of decision is unclear to me — I’m with Polly Toynbee on this in thinking that the level of ignorance in our once-great nation is so high as to call the universal franchise into question — but they were being asked to choose between the current “first past the post” system and a proposed “alternative vote” (AV) system whereby second, third, fourth and, indeed, Nth choices. Natural conservatism won out and we voted to keep things exactly the same as they are. But other more innovative people are exploring alternatives.

Having worked with Facebook and various broadcasters over recent months, MIG has successfully integrated the IBP with Facebook, giving fans of some of the world’s most popular participation TV shows the ability to place real-time votes, and enter polls and sweepstake competitions using their Facebook Credits virtual currency.

[From MIG Completes Facebook Credits Integration |]

Never mind AV, or whatever it’s called, here’s a way to improve the participation in the political process in the UK. Since 1 in 6 web page views in the UK are currently Facebook, then why not simply use this open and transparent mechanism. We could simply elect the MP with the most Facebook friends in the constituency, or the one with the most “likes”. The kids could understand that. But I propose using the mechanism in the best way possible.

To use the system, fans of a participation TV show access the show’s Facebook Page, where they can buy votes using Facebook Credits,

[From MIG Completes Facebook Credits Integration |]

Aha! There’s an honesty to this. If you care a lot about something, then you’ll buy some more votes. Alternatively, pressure groups could stockpile Facebook credits and then use them to support candidates. Everything would be above board and instead of a system of hidden bribes and promises, the public could see who exactly had bought the rotten boroughs.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

How is it they know so little about technology?

[Dave Birch] The government, generally, is made up from lawyers and PPEs, not people who really understand how anything actually works. Hence they periodically come up with technologically-enhanced versions of the Dangerous Dogs Act (or, I suppose the Dangerous DNS Act).

The UK government plans to legislate to make households “opt in” to be able to access porn on the internet. ISPs are expected to put some kind of registration, age-related classification and/or filtering mechanisms in place.

[From Racingsnake – Robin Wilton’s Esoterica: UK Govt plans to “turn off” internet porn]

Well, this is excellent news: someone, presumably one of the management consultants advising a government departments, has discovered how to read and interpret the contents of internet traffic. Let’s hope none of the subversive out there discover how to set up an SSL VPN. But I’m curious as to why porn is the only category for blocking: what about Islamist hate sites and anything to do with the X-Factor? Surely the government’s commitment to protecting the children should extend to bomb-making instructions, Facebook pages connected to gang crime in South London and political parties espousing demonstrably harmful philosophies, such as socialism.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Hello? Hello?

[Dave Birch] I was writing something about mobile payments when I began to think that the way that we use phones for things like payments is still pretty new, and that we probably don’t envisage how they will be used in the future, in the sense that while I can see how the technology might work, I’m still not sure how it will be used. Will people be tapping their phones together? Will we want to? Will it seem odd to meet someone new and not touch your phone to their phone?

The etiquette may be evolving, but the technology is moving faster than our social practices can adapt

[From The Many Faces of You – NYTimes.com]

We’ve been here before, of course. When the telephone originally reached the mass market, people had to learn how to use it. No-one knew what do or how to behave on the line, so helpful guides were designed for them, containing useful tips such as

If you get a busy signal, it does not mean that the person you are trying to reach does not wish to speak to you, or that the operator is being rude or lazy.

[From Early Telephone Etiquette | Teachinghistory.org]

Indeed.

There was also advice on how to answer this tricky piece of technology. The 1934 phone book warned against confusion. “Don’t say Hullo! Announce your identity.”

[From BBC NEWS | Magazine | Dial H for history]

The key resource in this field is Claude Fisher’s “America calling: a social history of the telephone to 1940“. He gives a fascinating tour through the evolution of telephone etiquette. It strikes me that people felt about the telephone then they way they feel about Facebook now: allowing strangers to call your wife, servants and children without you at “gatekeeper” would inevitably lead to social breakdown. People wondered what was acceptable, and what wasn’t. In 1914, one Florence Hall wrote about telephone etiquette and advised strongly against inviting people to anything over the phone because “the person invited, being suddenly held up and the point of a gun, as it were, is likely to forgot some other engagement”. In the 19th century, arguments about whether the telephone was the friend of the criminal or the friend of the policeman adumbrate exactly the same debates about the internet a decade ago and social networking today.

Another factor was that the telephone companies saw their business as linking businesses, or as linking businessmen to their homes, they did not see the potential for domestic interconnection and, specifically, the use of the phone by women in that context. In “Hello Central?: Gender, Technology, and Culture in the Formation of Telephone Systems, Michele Martin says that the early structure of the domestic telephone networks shows that they were primarily used within friendship circles, which expanded as new exchanges were opened. We probably don’t see the telephone as social media, but it was.

The point is that the social impact of the communications technology was not something planned by the developers. It takes time for new communications technology to really become part of the fabric of society, and I don’t believe we’re there yet when it comes to social media, mobile phones, games consoles or, for that matter, the internet itself.

Presumably someone is writing a book a Facebook etiquette?

.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Life and art

[Dave Birch] I think I’ve accidentally invented a new art form: “reality twitter”. It’s cheap, entertaining and infinitely better than reality TV.

It happened by accident. I was on the Eurostar from Brussels and because I was really busy and trying to get a lot of work done, I was really annoyed that the guy behind me, who I couldn’t see, was yelling into his mobile phone. After a few minutes, though, I realised that what the guy was saying was actually quite interesting. I know it seems wrong to take advantage of another’s tragedy, but the story that was unfolding from the seat behind me had everything: excitement, suspense, drama and a little humour to. For a moment I thought idly that it was saving me the trouble of reading a novel and that gave me an idea – I started to listen to what he was saying, précis it and then post and anonymised version out on twitter. I did this every 10 or 15 minutes and in entirely unpredicted way it turned into a compelling read!

That evening I was genuinely surprised to get messages from people, not just in the UK, asking me what had happened at the end of the story. I had to explain to them I didn’t know because I’ve been telling the truth: I had actually been reporting what was going on in the seat behind me on the train and when the train got to London that was the end of the story!

So why was it compelling? Because it was real: he didn’t know that I was eavesdropping and (since we know that truth is stranger than fiction) most people reading knew that there was a real person behind it. So-called reality TV isn’t real at all: The Apprentice, I’m a Celebrity, those nauseating cooking shows, they are all a kind of theatre: the “contestants” know that they are being filmed and they are playing a game to “win”. That’s why the shows are so uninteresting (I know that some of my friends really like The Apprentice, so I’m sorry!).

By the way, for posterity, here is the story…

  • Fascinating. On the Eurostar. Guy behind me in national sales manager for a company that makes “palletisers” (??) he is arguing on phone… #
  • I think one of his key customers has been approached by sales manager from another country, he’s calling colleagues to find out truth… #
  • This is really exciting, seems that the rival sales manager lied about what the customer said! Your man is angry, but can’t go to boss yet! #
  • Nailbiting. He may not be able to attend the meeting with customer on Tuesday – if he is outflanked this way it will be curtains. #
  • I’m going to cry if he doesn’t get to Tuesday meeting. Come on! Who knows more about the fruit for goodness sake. Boss is going to call back #
  • Boss hasn’t called back, and deputy (I think) isn’t answering his mobile. He’s told someone else that he’s prepping a new quote, but why? #
  • No! He’s going with the high-risk strategy – he’s going to send his own new quote back to customer to get him to sign before Tuesday! #
  • No, no, no, we’re almost at St.Pancras, I don’t want to be left hanging! He was just talking to someone new, a colleague, about the gamble! #
  • Nooooooooooo! We’re getting off the train, now we’ll never know (except I’ve set a google alert because I know company names) #

See my point! As tweets it worked, but as a conventional narrative it doesn’t. William Heath just start another story from his train and asked for a hashtag, so I suggested #realitytw as the twitterati’s alternative to reality TV!

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Agoraphobic

[Dave Birch] So I watched the movie Agora on a plane, and it really annoyed me. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s set in 4th century Alexandria and it’s about Hypatia, She was a famous philosopher, murdered by a Christian mob. In the movie she is a pagan, although no-one knows whether this is true or not and she may even have been Christian herself.

The Christian monks stripped her naked and dragged her through the streets to the newly Christianised Caesareum church, where she was brutally killed. Some reports suggest she was flayed with ostraca (pot shards) and set ablaze while still alive, though other accounts suggest those actions happened after her death:

[From Hypatia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Whew! Those Christians, huh? Anyway, I was curious about the story, and a cursory google reveals that it contains numerous errors (such as the fact that one of the key characters, a bishop, actually died two years before the events depicted). One comment on a movie site I saw pointed out that Hypatia was an older woman when these events took place and that she should have been played by Hellen Mirren instead of Rachel Weiss.

I suppose the movie did at least get me to go and find out more about her and the central battle between the religious (Bishop Cyril) and secular (Prefect Orestes) with, as usual, the Jews caught in the middle (although to be fair, the Bishop appeared to hate other Christians as much as he hated the Jews).

Orestes and Cyril soon came into conflict over Cyril’s hard-line actions against smaller Christian factions like the Novatians and his violence against Alexandria’s large Jewish community.

[From Agora, a Film on the Life of Philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria | Heritage Key]

This bit appear to be true: Psycho Cyril really did start a pogrom against the Jews, driving them out of Alexandria in 415 (Jews were an eighth of the population of Egypt at the time and Alexandria had the largest community) and he also killed Orestes.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Identity — A Story

[Dave Birch] Here’s a story about identity, just to show you how identity infrastructure works in the “real world” and how we aren’t wise to use what is alarmingly known as common sense in order to import this infrastructure across the virtual world boundary into our online future.

My son and I were out in the car one evening and we decided that since we had the lounge to ourselves that evening that we’d watch a movie together. Normally, we either buying movies through Apple TV, rummage around in the badly organised pile of DVDs in the living room, or go on Pirate Bay if we can’t find what we want through the preceding two mechanisms. But since we were out and about, we thought we go to Blockbuster. They were having a special offer whereby you could rent three DVDs for £10 for the weekend, so we decided to take advantage of it. After having spent the obligatory half an hour wandering aimlessly around the store and arguing about every single potential movie choice, we settled land on DVDs. When we got to the counter I realised that I’d forgotten my wallet but luckily we scraped up £10 between us in cash.

The actual Blockbuster video card that I was given when I opened the account, something like 15 or 20 years ago, has been long lost. For the last several years, on the odd occasion when we ventured in for a DVD, I’ve just given my surname and address and then paid using a credit card in that same name. This has served as adequate identification infrastructure for tens, if not hundreds, of visits. But this time I didn’t have my wallet, so when a guy asked me for my card and told him that I didn’t know where it was, he then asked for a credit card in the usual fashion and I told him that we didn’t have one of those either. So he said we couldn’t rent the DVDs. I was a bit annoyed because I couldn’t be bothered to drive all the way home, so I was just going to give up. But then the guy said have you got anything in the car that could be identification, like an insurer’s document or something, or even a letter addressed to you from someone official? I frankly doubted that I did, my son grasped at the straw and we went back to the car. Just as I’d imagined, there were no identification documents of any kind. They’re in the back of the car were half a dozen copies of the Digital Identity Reader 2010, the indispensable volume for all concerned with the topic of identity.

Over my son’s protestations, I went back into the shop with a copy of my book. I showed it to the guy and said “there you go, that’s me”. “Hold on”, he said, “have you got something with a picture on it, or is there a picture of you in the book?” I was forced to admit I didn’t, and there wasn’t. But son to the rescue with his raised-on-the-inter-web sensibilities. He held out an iPhone, and said “just googled him”. Fortunately under that search term, under Google images, the third picture along was me. We had our DVDs.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes