Extra shots

[Dave Birch] The number of times I’ve found myself enraged by the expense of wifi — in a hotel, at a train station, wherever — is huge, but I think becoming slightly rarer. Apart from hotels, where the wifi charges are absolutely ridiculous, the situation is improving. I’m still curious, though, why free wifi isn’t more widespread.

I usually go to Starbucks because the company offers free, unlimited Wi-Fi

[From Tech Leaders: Google, Apple, and…Starbucks? — Datamation.com]

I tend to do this too. I think I prefer Caffe Nero coffee at the moment, and they have contactless payment terminals too (which ought to work faster than cash, but don’t, because of the way they are configured), but because I have a Starbucks card I can sit and get some work done using the free wifi. I really don’t understand why all coffee shops don’t just provide free wifi and be done with it and then get back to competing on coffee. Although I suppose there are other things to compete on still.

At my own local Starbucks, they’ve recently remodeled the store to add more and bigger desks, and dozens of outlets. Rather than encourage people to pay and leave, as have many big chains, Starbucks clearly encourages loitering

[From Tech Leaders: Google, Apple, and…Starbucks? — Datamation.com]

The theory, presumably, is that other than at peak times there is always room to sell another cup, a piece of cake, a biscuit for people who want to stop and work/read/relax. The next logical step would be to have iPads built in to the tables for people who want to read the news and browse around. Presumably it would be cheaper to negotiate a global deal with News International instead of messing about printing, delivering and returning copies of the The Times. (Like many people, I’m sure, I pick up my copy to read in the queue and while I’m waiting for my coffee, but I never buy it and leave it at the pick-up point.).

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Bost Office?

[Dave Birch] I hate the stupid “captcha” codes that some web sites use to determine whether you are person or a spam bot when logging in to a web site. Earlier todsy I had to create yet another Windows Live ID because I’d forgotten what my old one was. Why Windows Live can’t use OpenID I don’t know, but instead it forces you to mess about entering the same old data over again. Stupid. What’s more, because I couldn’t figure out what the captcha code actually was, I took me four attempts to finally log in correctly. I mean what on Earth does this say???

Screen shot 2011-01-23 at 09.14.20

This provides no security at all, of course, because the spammers already have software that can read captcha codes better than I can, so what’s the point? Surely it would be easier for Windows to accept OpenID log ins from sites that have already made people jump through hoops to prove that they are actually people.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Music and business

[Dave Birch] Here’s an example. I just paid £17.38 for “Bernie Plays Rory” by Bernie Marsden. Why? Because I wanted it and couldn’t find it on iTunes. There was no need to try and find a pirate version to see if I played it a few times because I already knew that I wanted it. Why? Because there’s a track on there that I love and often play in the car. Why? Because I have it on a recording of the Paul Jones show on BBC Radio 2 that I downloaded. Why? Because I often listen to Paul Jones to find new music, but I listen to him when I’m cycling to work or in the car. If you subscribe to the BBC podcast of the show, it doesn’t have the music in (hilariously). I assume this is something to do with Big Content. So instead I found a piece of shareware that lets you download from iPlayer instead of having to listen on the computer. For months I have been using this to download the Paul Jones show to my iPhone. But now it doesn’t work any more, presumably because the BBC have changed iPlayer in some way.

Well, there we are. I won’t be buying any more CDs from musicians like Bernie because I can’t listen to the Paul Jones show any more. Who does this benefit, exactly?

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

A bunch of bankers

[Dave Birch] A fascinating research paper shows that

male chess players choose significantly riskier strategies when playing against an attractive female opponent, even though this does not improve their performance. Women’s strategies are not affected by the attractiveness of the opponent.

This seems to me to be as reasonable explanation as any as to why the banksters (bankster = banker who works for a privately-held bank that is “too big to fail”) took such absurd risks with other people’s money. As soon as women began appearing on trading floors, the male bankers were unable to control themselves and began putting ever-larger bets on ever-more absurd propositions that they didn’t really understand, confident in the knowledge that they had no downside. In the old days, when bankers were generally rather dull (but rather rich) men, the risks they took were proportionate. Now that bankers include attractive women, it’s all gone pear-shaped. I suggest that it is only a matter of time before the first lawsuit is filed by an out-of-pocket customer against a bank for employing women who are too attractive: perhaps this is what UBS has in mind with its new dress code that prohibits tight blouses, short skirts and black underwear.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Twansparency

[Dave Birch] There’s an interesting post over at Virtual Economics. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit about it since I read it. It’s about adding a new convention to Twittering to help when people tweet about companies:

There’s already an agreed taxonomy for doing so – you take the ticker of the company, and precede it with a dollar sign. Thus Google is $GOOG, Apple is $AAPL, Microsoft is $MSFT. Search for postings about Google by sticking $GOOG into the search box and you get a page like this… So we need a way to add disclosures to tweets about companies, preferably one that doesn’t take up too much space and allows for some nuance.

[From virtualeconomics: Proposing a disclosure taxonomy for Twitter]

The post is asking for a similarly simple taxonomy for letting readers know if you are posting about a company that you have an interest in and it proposes a logical, but too complicated set.

I commented: Actually, I think you’re probably right, although we need something simpler. I’ve got two ideas. There certainly ought to be a common mark for “my company provides paid services or products to the company that is the subject of this tweet”. Perhaps “@$”? So I might write “I see that @$VISA has announced their in2Pay product today” as distinct from “I see that $VISA has announced…”. There also needs to be a simple taxonomy for “I have a financial interest in the company that is the subject of this tweet. So perhaps “%” followed by the twitter name of the company. Thus I might write that %@chyppings is doing some ground-breaking work on mass-market NFC services, instead of the more neural @chyppings.

This seems like a simple and desirable element of transparency that would add to the twitter experience.

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

You’ve got fail

[Dave Birch] Yes, I know you’re not supposed to substitute anecdotes about your kids for real research, knowledge and insight into the future of society, but I’ve been reflecting on an exchange with my own Generation W (as in W for “whatever”) earlier in the day, and thought it was something worth sharing. It’s a small window into the near-term future of online communications.

My eldest son was walking into Waitrose with me when he took out his iPhone and said “Wow! amazing – Andy wasn’t lying! – He sent me some iPhone wallpaper he designed”. I thought his slur on Andy’s design skills was harsh, and told him so. “No,” he said, “I mean that he said he was going to e-mail them to me, and I thought he was just saying that, because no-one uses e-mail.”

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

11″

[Dave Birch] Well, I’ve got to say that I absolutely lurve my new MacBook Air. I got the small one, the 11-incher, and I just bought the entry level version with 2Gb RAM and 64Gb Flash. The MacBook Pro will remain my main machine, but it will only travel from my desk at home to my desk at the office. The rest of the time I’ll be carrying around a Kg of Air instead of 3Kg of Pro.

It’s an absolute joy to use. It’s a full-sized keyboard, which I need, in a not-much-more than keyboard-size package. The screen is bright and clear. If 1366×768 sounds small to you, well it isn’t. I’ve been writing blog posts, editing documents and even working on presentations on it, all with no problem at all.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Let’s ask BT where the next Skype is coming from

[Dave Birch] Some years ago, I wandered into work one morning to find the client I was working for absolutely furious. The client was an American, and he was reading about a presidential “power breakfast” or some such. It was to bring business leaders together with the White House to do something about unemployment, as I recall. My client pointed out that the people invited to the breakfast (the usual suspects: General Motors, Citi etc) employed a small number of people, in subsectors that had very special drivers, and that the single largest employer in the US at the time was Manpower, who were not at the breakfast. But, as he pointed out, since almost all employment in the US in small businesses and that (I can’t remember the exact statistic, but it was something like) 90% of all new jobs were being created in companies that employed less than 20 people, the President should have thrown out GM and Citi and invited in a few small businesses instead: a shopkeeper, someone starting a new company in his basement, a VC-funded started with less than 20 people, and so on.

Government is big, and backward looking, so it finds itself most comfortable dealing with big companies that have been successful in the recent past. As far as I can tell, this provides absolutely no help at all looking forward. If Google didn’t invent Facebook, how will talking to the government about it help to see what’s next? And Microsoft didn’t invent Google, and BT didn’t invent Skype, and Electronic Arts didn’t invent Zynga, and so it goes.

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