Saturday, April 24, 2010


When men were originally figuring out civilisation, democracy was as much an experiment as a process. In Athens, males who had earned the right to vote were citizens, and all citizens were expected to participate in the governance of the people. Important posts were filled from the pool of citizens by lot - effectively removing all of the ridiculous expensive machinations that we see in our political machinery in the UK today. Anyone who was interested could be involved, but being interested didn't start you on the road to overwhelming power or control over your fellow man - it simply meant that your voice was relevant.

We've lost many aspects of true democracy in our current electoral system. Most British citizens have a vague understanding who represents them. Most British citizens probably don't know what their representative stands for, or if indeed they actually represent their views. Most laws are discussed by some minority of the total Representatives. Most Representatives vote along the lines their party dictates, rather than with the majority view of the people they represent. Most laws are aggregates of confusing, and potentially totally orthogonal, legislation - often bundles of smaller rulings to one end with something unrelated slipped in there that goes under the radar.

Given the way they vote, given that there is absolutely no demand of accountability (i.e. checking that when they vote they vote for you) - is it any wonder that our political system is mostly steered and fought for by moneyed interests and the media? Do you have the time and effort to put into trying, single handled, to steer a political agenda?

I think there are better ways to run a society. Technology has the potential to be an enabler of a true direct democratic process. It has the ability to inform and corral results with no bias, and it has the ability to provide a platform where any relevant voice can be both heard and counted.

I'll be putting some effort into establishing my vision of that platform over the coming year. If you're interested in helping, please get in touch.

(Addendum - the gender bias in this post is pretty evident on second reading, which is both of historic interest and something I find disagreeable. rest assured I believe that men and women should have an equal voice in society.)

Stepping away from the surf and setting up on the beach towel

My wife and myself are taking a break from Facebook - partly because it's a vampyric timesuck nightmare with very little payoff, and partly because it has all of the drawbacks of being at a large party and none of the benefits. Of the various time sinks I've "invested" in (recognising that something to which you devote time for no tangible reward can hardly be termed an investment) it's probably the worst - at least with WoW I was levelling up.

The weather here is about as fantastic as one could hope, and we have an adorable son who is becoming more interactive and vocal day by day. Spending time with him really is an investment. I'm hopeful we can do more of that and less of the internet trawling.

Monday, April 5, 2010

War is not a game

Wikileaks today released unedited footage from a gun camera of what is described as an Apache helicopter.

The craft opened fire on a group of 8 men, killing all but one. That man attempted to crawl away, and was very nearly removed from the scene by a black van. Before his rescuers could get him in the van, the helicopter opens fire again, destroying the van and killing some of the occupants.

Listening to the comms chatter reminds me of some of the more gory games of Modern Warfare or Planetside I've played, and were it a game, I could empathise with the testosterone, fury and hatred that's evident in the video.

It's not a game. It's footage of an event that occured in 2007. Two Reuters journalists were killed by the american forces captured in the footage, and children in the van were injured (and were incredibly lucky not to be killed). The other civilians in the footage were not so lucky.

To see this kind of footage live is disturbing - not so much because of the actual video content, I've seen that and worse many times before in virtual environments. No, the most disturbing content is that these are people - real people - and those responsible for killing them are treating them as much less than that - they are treating them as targets, as some "unknown enemy". They talk about the victims, before during and after the shooting, with a complete lack of respect. They glory in the murders they commit.

Regardless of the justifications and motivations for this invasion, one has to watch this footage and appreciate that this is, ultimately, the end result of paying people to kill each other and giving them guns and bullets to do it with. People die. Real people die. there will always be collateral damage. There will always be mistakes. There will always be bloodthirsty angry men willing to direct harm and anger at people they don't know, to justify that act later as "the right thing to do".

One has to also wonder - why was this event covered up, and blatantly lied about by the forces in charge? If they lied about this, how can you ever trust them when they describe all of the other events in Iraq; or indeed every other war they have engaged in? This is not a new event - covering up mistakes and process is just about standard practice with most militaries these days. 

Here's some links for posterity - I suggest you only watch if you have a strong constitution.

Wikileaks has been persuing this video for a while now (weeks at least, but most likely months) - why has no other newspaper, reporting service or reputable mainstream media provider not been trying to uncover the same information? What has stopped them from digging?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Other Operating System

I own a PS3, which on balance is a fantastic piece of kit. I really don't watch BluRay movies much, but I play a lot of games and I watch a hell of a lot of TV, mostly streamed off the network from my PC (and shortly from my media server once I get one set up).

For anyone who still watches broadcast telly - you have no idea how fantastic on-demand TV is. Watching a season of something to catchup is just bloody brilliant, and movies on demand just can't be beat either. Of course, this being the UK, it's virtually impossible for me to legitimately pay for a service that provides the experience I currently enjoy (either streamed via my PC, or directly to my PS3). I'm sure it'll arrive in the next couple of years (most likely in some form similar to Hulu and Netflix ).

I also enjoy listening to Spotify - i'm incredibly close to being a paid-up subscriber. If I could get it on my PS3, then I'd pay tomorrow. (and by PS3, really all I mean here is "on my telly box what lives downstairs").

Fundamentally then, I have a supercomputer acting as an audio and visual media server connected to my lovely big plasma, and all is (very nearly) good.

All i'm really missing is a VNC connection back to my PC, and a few other nice web utilities. I should be able to do most of this via the PS3 browser, but in daily use it's great for - well, browsing, and not much else. It's certainly not functional as a web platform - crappy flash support, no HTML5, etc. What it does have (for the next day or two!) is the ability to install another operating system (basically, some flavour of linux).

Finally biting the bullet last week, I prepped my PS3 for installing Linux so I could use a decent browser, get VNC support, and all the other pleasures of a proper operating system on my tellybox. I forked out 50 quid for a nice mini bluetooth keyboard/trackpad combo. I really was super-looking-forward to this.

And then just before April Fool's day, Sony decide to remove support for Other OS.

If only this was an April Fool story. It might even have been mildly amusing.

The justification appears to be that Sony are worried about piracy on their console, and consider the ability to launch another operating system a security risk. What they seem to have missed is that although there is an outside chance that this could be used to break the security on their platform, there is a very large installed base of users who actively run Linux on their machines for a variety of reasons, pretty much all of which are perfectly legal and reasonable (for example, academic research).

So, I've gone ahead and installed Linux before I take the plunge and remove the ability forever from my system, just to see what I'll be missing. Shame on you, Sony. Most definitely not shiny.