Monday, 15 September 2014

In praise of the clunk

The future's bright; the future's Apple. And it's all about the interface.

To judge from the obiter dicta of Tim Cook (born 1960, reputed 'net worth' 400 million dollars - net of what, one wonders in such cases*) the mission of Apple is to drag us out of the 1970s. Some of us are still stuck in the 1960s and have but a dim awareness of just what it was that gave the following decade, in which Mr Cook must have spent his formative years, any claim to distinctiveness. 

But Tim Cook knows and has just pronounced that the problem with television, in which Apple still maintains a keen interest though it has yet to make its carefully planned takeover, is that it has 'not changed since the 1970s'. The thing is it is 'too clunky for the modern world'.

The 'modern world', the world of Apple, is the 'seamless' interface. Some of us think that is the problem, and that the 'clunk', as a quality of experience - the perceived otherness of things - is a something to be valued and even striven for. 

Is the epiphany a clunk or a seamlessness?

*It would of course have been a pertinent question in many other cases: Bernie Madoff perhaps, or, in an earlier decade Robert Maxwell, who was hitting the headlines in the 1970s and knew how to clunk, or his nineteenth-century precursor, in death as in life, Augustus Melmotte. The nature of finance has moved on since the nineteenth century and even since the 1970s: those who now wish to become seriously rich quick need not suffer the worries and aspersions that drove Mr Melmotte to his death. Ask any number of modern CEOs. Inebriation in the House of Commons may still be with us but it is seldom followed by recourse to the prussic acid bottle.The rich, it seems, as well as the poor, are always with us; it is just those in between who seem to be going away.

No contact

Apple Inc., it seems, is moving into sweeping up the way we, or at least the smart and affluent we, pay for our goods and services.

Apple HQ

Soon the mobile phone - the 'device' - will become not just the all-pervading tool for communicating, for gathering factual information, for publishing our doings to the world, for finding out where we are and where we are going, but for buying everything from coffee to cars. We need take nothing else with us, but we need to have our mobile with us wherever our mobile lives take us, from Iceland's frozen mountains to Afrique's sunny shores.

No more cards: just the phone.

Which sets me wondering - what about those other cards, so far repelled in this country (whatever that means after 18th September) but still lurking in the background? The identity card.


Are not our mobile phones making an an increasingly fair bid to becoming our de facto identity cards? Increasingly they contain a vast bulk of our personal information, our personal history and our communications. Our governments already have pretty comprehensive access to them. In their Apple apotheosis they are linked to our persona by our fingerprints and now they are set to become, perhaps, essential to our acquiring our daily bread. What more could our governments ask for?

Galactic HQ

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Anatomy of intervention

Whatever happened to hearts and minds, which used to seem to be the major item in our military arsenals?

These days it is all 'no boots on the ground'.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Swingbridge on the Ouze

Swingbridge on the River Ouze at Southease, below Lewes, East Sussex

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Sheep in England

Sheep on the Ouse embankment at Southease, East Sussex

South Downs

Downs above Alfriston, East Sussex

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Mulberry at Rodmell

Hastings shore

Weep for England

'He came upon pale and graceful stone gates leading to some lost great estate with the National Trust's acorn on a road sign. He turned in and drove two miles down an avenue of limes. Families shrieked about him. He found a Gents and then returned stiffly to the Mercedes in the car park. People ran about taking plants from a garden shop to their cars to plant on their patios. If I had ever loved England, he thought, I would now weep for her. Sherwood forest watch him from every side, dense and black.'

from Jane Gardam's Old Filth (2004)

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

England made me

'I'll walk to Bantry Street, thought Betty; his taxi might overtake me. And she struck out into the crowds. In her Agatha Christie country clothes and pearls and polished shoes, she strode among an elbowing, slovenly riff-raff who looked at her as if she were someone out of a play. Pain and dislike, bewilderment and fear, she thought in every face. Nobody at peace except the corpses in the doorways, the bundles with rags and bottles, and you can't call that peace. She dropped money into hats and boxes as she would never have done in Dacca or Shanghai, and would have been prosecuted for doing in Singapore. Beggars again in the streets of London, she thought. My world is over.'

from Jane Gardam's Old Filth (2004)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Stiffen IMF sinews?

In the past the International Monetary Fund was consistently criticised by some for always imposing impoverishing austerity on the economies it supported for the sake of preserving the interests of foreign (mostly developed world) investors. More recently, under Christine Lagarde, it has sometimes called for a moderation of austerity to avoid driving 'rescued' or recovering economies deeper into recession. There was a famous little muted spat between the IMF and the UK Chancellor George Osborne on this subject. However, with the improving economic data from the UK, Osborne has been able to announce that his government has 'fixed the economy' - his phrase.Well, it's obvious, isn't it? The Labour government 'wrecked' the economies; the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition (but you can forget the secondary partners now) 'fixed' it. These things don't happen unless the people in control will them.

But now, as the federal reserve in the US, flirts nervously with the famous and long looming 'tapering' to withdraw the massive financial stimulus to the economy, rippling signs of dependency and withdrawal symptoms begin to appear. Christine Lagarde is on the case and has warned the World Economic Forum at Davos.

'This is clearly a new risk on the horizon and it needs to be closely watched ... How tapering takes place, at what speed, how it is communicated and what spillover effects it has, particularly in emerging markets.'

Larry Fink, chairman of fund manager BlackRock, saw it rather differently. He told the WEF that one of his concerns was the large positions held by investors in various emerging markets. However, he claimed that tapering was not the main problem. 'It's going to require much better domestic policy in these emerging markets.'

In other words the IMF needs to get a grip = like it used to have.

Oracles of our time

'But sources close to Blair insist that he is not in any way indulging in a mea culpa over past interventions by the west, including in Iraq. In the future, he writes, "the purpose should be to change the policy of governments; to start to treat this issue of religious extremism as an issue that is about religion as well as politics, to go to the roots of where a false view of religion is being promulgated and to make it a major item on the agenda of world leaders to combine effectively to combat it. This is a struggle that is only just beginning.'

The Gods have always used oracles and prophets. madmen and women hearing voices, to communicate their message to earth. The Greek Gods got a lot of fun about it; the God of the Jews, for all the famous Jewish sense of humour, was usually more serious and direct. His message was often Blair's: forsake a 'false sense of religion'.

Our Gods on earth, inhabiting their modern versions of Olympus - often located in the more expensive residential areas of London, can be recognised by their need, or privilege, to have their more gnomic utterances clarified, not by their own direct statements, but by hints and nuances by 'sources close to' or 'members of their inner circle'. (Rupert Murdoch famously has a 'representative on earth'. Of course we poor worshippers cannot be sure that the modern priesthood have always got things quite right or clear.

Tony Blair, like his erstwhile co-deity, George W Bush, clearly knows a thing or two about religion - and truth and falsehood.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Return of the Circassians

The capital of Circassia is Sochi.

Data is fear, fear data

'It was all going well until about 18 months ago. That, to me, was when everything changed in education. It went crazy. Free periods were no longer about spending time on my classes and the future of our department. After school time stopped being about giving children extra help and running extra-curricular clubs that would nourish their passion for my subject.
'Suddenly, those things were no longer important. What was important now was data. Six times a year we were required to fill out little boxes about every single child we taught. Not meaningful comments designed to help children progress, just grades and numbers in boxes.
'The columns swam in front of my tired, admin-hating eyes. Instead of being trusted to manage our departments' assessment programme, we had to do "work sampling" every half term, as though our colleagues were not trusted professionals. It felt like sneaking. And worst of all, we were expected to produce formal exams for every single year group at the end of every term. Every term! That's seven meaningful exam papers every term in a practical subject that gets one period per week of teaching.
'You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned Gove yet. Well, that's mainly because I actually think that it's not just about him. It's about the way that schools have reacted to his changes. From what I can see, the main way is with knee-jerk panic. No pedagogical thought and intelligent debate went into the decisions at my school. It was fear. Education has become a horror film in which senior leadership teams are just trying to keep the wolves from the door by any means possible, and it's happening everywhere.'
Footnote: I know if it should be 'data are...' but the is data the glomerate beast, not intelligible bits of information.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Reality - it depends how we look at it

It is reported that the Associated Press news agency has severed all ties with a freelance photographer and removed all his images from their archive because it has transpired he digitally manipulated one recent picture of a Syrian rebel fighter to remove from the corner of the image his colleague's video camera.

photo Narciso Contreras

It is something the Pulitzer prize winning photographer claims never to have done before. It is accepted that the removal had 'little news importance'. The photographer thought it might 'distract viewers', but  he 'now regretted' his decision. The alteration breached AP's requirements for truth and accuracy.

According to a spokesman, "AP's reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions in violation of our ethics code ... Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable."

"He said while the AP and other news organisations approve photographers' use of software to lighten or darken photos to replicate scenes as they witnessed them, the news service could not countenance Contreras's manipulation of a scene that was not true to reality."

Would it have been acceptable for the photographer to have cropped the photograph to remove the camera, had that been possible? Or to have simply framed it to exclude the camera? What lies beyond the frame of 'truth and accuracy'?

"That revelation led editors to examine all the 494 photos by Contreras that AP had transmitted during his tenure and, when possible, to compare them to the original data file held by the photographer."

Reality is data; data reality. That is all you know on earth and all you need to know.