Monthly Archives: February 2011

#oneaday 34: One nation, one society?

I am never really sure what I thought of Margaret Thatcher. Some of her values worked for me, others simply did not. But she certainly changed the way Britain was run and how all of us lived our lives.  I came across this clip of her being interviewed (check dictionary for the definition of interview) by the inimitable Robin Day on Panorama in 1987 (that was when Panorama was a serious current affairs programme). Check the incredibly patronising comment to Mr Day, but also note the passion and the anger in her eyes. You will also hear her discussing the right of everyone to own their own property, by their own efforts. Sadly, we have seen that concept evapourate somewhat, given the fact that young people cannot actually afford property right now. Building one nation? That theory seems to have gone off the edge of the map right now. Let’s hope we can get it back for the benefit of all of us.

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#oneaday 33: 3D’s fatal attraction?

I finally got my hands on a Nintendo 3DS this week and boy, what an impressive piece of kit it is. I had the good fortune to play Pro Evolution Soccer and it was magical. Immediate thoughts were simple. I want one of those machines and I want it as soon as I can get my hands on it. Playing PES in 3D on a handheld is a dream come true. It’s like having your own little game of Lilliputian football in the palms of your hands. As I have said before, I think Nintendo will sell millions of these machines and publishers who get titles out at launch could see great sales.

But I have always been worried by the price. Not the price of  hardware though. At around £200, yes it is more expensive than the DS or DSi, but the 3DS is a different ball game and worth the money. My concern has been the content and the pricing and availability of it to consumers who are now used to having massive choice of great handheld content at low, low prices. The unique selling point of the 3DS  is 3D, but at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona  this week, it seems that 3D for Smart Phones is not far away. Like less than 12 months away. LG have a handset which displays and films in 3D. If that is not enough, the common complaint about 3D is that content is simply not available freely. Well a chip manufacturer, Movidius, claim to be able to transform all your 2D content into 3D very easily. Whilst that does not neccessarily mean that 3D gaming content will be a flick of a switch away, it does rather suggest that the mobile world will be delivering 3D devices and content some time pretty soon and prices for that content could be aggressive.

As a consumer you have to love the developments in technology that drive both our leisure and working lives into more interesting places. In a world which has always celebrated miniaturisation, faster speed and more storage space one does wonder if the old fashioned models that some hardware manufacturers insist on persisting with will survive.

It is often said that your competition comes from places you least expect. My take is that the Blue Ocean of 3D in handhelds is already full of clever technology companies swimming around in it. Let’s hope that companies with a great record of content production but who may not be aware of the new methods of distribution don’t find themselves bathing in a Red Ocean.

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#oneaday 32: Big Joe – age will not weary him

I have praised the power of Twitter more than once recently, but on Tuesday night, I read a whole load of Tweets to do with a game of football in Milan, between AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur in the so called Champions League (so called because the league is not actually full of champions). Far from informing me about Spurs’s magnificent victory against the odds, Twitter was full of  Tweets centred around the behaviour of Gennaro Gattuso and Joe Jordan. There had been some disagreements between the 2 firebrands. Football is a physical game and tempers can fly as testosterone and adrenaline strut in equal measure. But this was a little more spicy than usual.

So, it was with some incredulity that I sought out and watched the said incidents. First up, the tough pocket battleship that is Gattuso  decided to push Joe Jordan in the face during the match. Allegedly Big Joe, who actually played for Milan and can speak Italian, had been berating him throughout, probably in language Gattuso would comprehend. Clearly young  Gennaro does not know who he is taking on, probably assuming the bespectacled sexagenarian Scot was just some insignificant and weak member of Harry Redknapp’s Spurs backroom team.

Well I remember Joe Jordan playing professional football for Leeds, Manchester United and of course Scotland. He really did come from the hard school of knocks, the only forward of recent times that would come close to his combative style would be Alan Shearer. Jordan’s nickname later in his career was ‘Jaws’ on account of his missing front teeth and likeness to the principle henchman in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. Needless to say Joe was the archetypal target man.  Any ball in the air, in and around the penalty box would be fair game for Joe. He would put his head and his elbows in where it hurt. Given also that this was the age of the bustling centre half put on the pitch to ‘stop’  the centre forwards, literally with anything they could get away with, footballers were a lot more used to physical battery as opposed to athletic exertion.

Joe Jordan was an icon for many of us as kids in the 70’s. He played hard, honest and with passion. He also possessed a pretty unitelligible accent (or at least unintelligible to us sassenachs) and thus when he gave post match interviews, you really needed subtitles. ‘Manchester United’ was pronounced ‘Man Chstr Neetah’ and every sentence was peppered with liberal use of ‘aye’. Just like players such as Billy Bremner, Dave Mackay, Norman Hunter, Jackie Charlton, Ronnie Harris, Billy Bonds and Tommy Smith,  there were some footballers that you just did not argue with. Add in the fact that he was the only Scot to score in 3 successive World Cups – ’74, ’78 and ’82 and you know you have a great player. I think it must have been something to do with England not qualifying for the World Cups in ’74 and ’78 that meant when we watched the tournaments on TV, BBC and ITV naturally followed Scotland and Joe Jordan, Kenny Dalglish and Archie Gemmil got increased air time.

Joe was also one of the few British players to find his fortune outside of the Football League when he joined AC Milan. Although he was part of the squad that got demoted from Serie A, he was on hand to bang and knock the goals in the following season when they came straight back up again. He loved his time in Italy and I remember seeing him on Channel 4’s Football Italia  speaking gently,  looking lean and above all talking sense about the game. Clearly his spell in Italy taught him valuable lessons in diet and physical conditioning, something pretty absent in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s in British football. Above all Joe appeared very Zen like, as if he had decided that all the aggression had evapourated and life was about enjoying the good things. His specs helped cultivate that image.

 At the final whistle on Tuesday, you therefore have to think that Gattuso really did not know who he was taking on.  As Mark Lawrenson said on Football Focus yesterday, ‘Joe had taken his glasses off, and I though aye aye, here we go’. It is a real pity that the little Italian stopper is now banned from the return fixture. It would have added some extra spice to epic that will take place at White Hart Lane in two and a half weeks time.  Harry Brown, aka Michael Caine would be proud.

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#oneaday 31: A Free Press?

Last weekend we had a trip to the wonderful town of Southwold on the Suffolk coast. I actually intend to blog about the wonders of this beautiful place later in the #oneaday series, but after dinner at The Swan on Sunday night, we retired to the sitting room to have a nightcap and read the newspapers in front of a roaring fire.  It was a chance to read the physical papers, something I am doing less and less nowadays given the presence of my iPhone and the Apps that help me keep up to date with the news, whether it is via the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph or indeed The Onion. All these Apps offer a free daily service(although The Guardian did cost a one off £2.49 – incredible value all things considered), but the prospect of actually reading old fashioned newsprint was mildly exciting. I almost felt wistful.

Thumbing through a copy of The Daily Mail is always fun, provided someone else has paid for it. I always liked The Sunday Times even if I did pay for it, and part 1 of their ‘Top 500 Apps in the World’ immediately caught my eye. I always love these advertising slogans that claim to be ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’ or ‘The Greatest Place in the World’. British Airways used that approach for years, I am not sure if they still do us it, but after pissing off their customers and staff with a series of strikes, I assume that they have quietly buried that slogan along the way.

Back to The Sunday Times,  it turns out that this headline ‘Top 500 Apps in the World’ referred to the fact that The Sunday Times has according to their copy ‘ found the 500 apps (sic) that will make your life easier, better and much more fun’. The guide broke Apps down into a number of categories – social networking, news, business, sport, cars, games, fashion & beauty, shopping & weddings, food, drink, reference, personal finance and babies & families. It also points out for readers to look out for Sunday Times ‘star’ Apps, presumably the star indicating  the better ones, in the opinion of the writer.

It has to be said many of the Apps I love are in the 1st part of the guide. I presume many more will be in part 2, due out today, which I will not bother with having seen part 1.  Facebok, Instagram, Skype, Tweetdeck, BBC News (although very buggy is great for content), LinkedIN, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Redlaser, Wikipedia, World Factbook are all there. No Guardian, or Telegraph and Daily Mail for that matter  though (not that I am a Mail fan). Which is a shame. But we do have The Sunday Times, unsurprisingly and deservedly as the content is amazing, and The Times both starred and wait for it, wait for it…..

The Sun and The News of the World. Yep, they are in there – amongst 12 other peers in the NEWS section.  Here’s the write up:-

iPad – The Sun – free for he 1st month or trial edition for NoW

‘The iPad edition of The Sun is a brisk read that serves up the best of the print and digital worlds; a faithful reproduction of the paper, neatly navigated by scrolling thumbnails of pages, with a iEdition that breaks stories into categories and displays them as plain text, like a website. Innovations include a 360-degree pictures of Page 3 girls every Monday. The NoW plays to its strengths: agenda- setting exclusives and glamorous photography. The primary draw is likely to be video clips of celebs and politicians doing things they shouldn’t. Subsequent editions are £1.19 each.’

The writer at least has a sense of humour and I assume that he or she is under company orders. Given that News of the World, The Sun, The Times & The Sunday Times (as well as The Wall Street Journal) are all owned by the same group, headed by Rupert Murdoch, he or she probably did not have any choice as to whether these Apps should or should not be included. No one ever said the press is free,  until the internet came along that is. Many media Apps are free, but for some companies and publishers, Apps will be paid for. Time will judge if all of us readers have a free press or not.

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#oneaday 30: People write and have a right to do so

We have had 2 examples of courts, one in the UK (The Supreme Court)  and one from Europe (The European Court of Human Rights) , who have allegedly  ‘pushed’ the UK around and made ‘us’ do things that ‘we’ don’t want to do. The first was given convicted and serving prisoners the right to vote and the second was demanding that all those on the sex offenders register, which has been portrayed in some of the media as  the ‘paedophile regsiter’, be allowed to appeal against their inclusion on it.

There are a couple of obvious things here.

First and foremost, the European Court of Human Rights stands up for human rights, very much as a last resort for the indivdual. It has been established since 1959, 14 years after the end of the Second World War, and hopefully the last world war. It is nothing at all to do with the European Court of Justice, the highest court of the European Union and therefore nothing to do with ‘Europe’ as has been suggested by some of the media and some of the politicians who are naturally Euro sceptic. If we decide to defy the rulings, and on the issue of giving prisoners voting rights I have to say I disagree with the ruling, but that is not the point. The point is, that this court has made a decision and we may be bound to follow it. Surely, rather than simply defy this rule/law, we should do what everyone who follows the law does, namely appeal? Just to defy the ruling, smacks of selective law breaking. A democracy surely needs to work within the law to change it?

Secondly, let’s not confuse the rights of individuals to appeal against legal  rulings, least of all from courts based in our own land. Thus if a sex offender (an not just a paedophile) is put on a register, for life, without the right to appeal, it does rather seem somewhat unfair. But so much is in the reporting. We have seen howls of derision from the ‘anti European’ brigade that our rights are being infringed upon, specifically the rights of Parliament to create laws. There have also been many claims from many parties (not political) who have said that sex offenders should not be allowed to come off the register and ‘who are a court to tell us otherwise’, this court often being  quoted as European! Why are these people given rights anyway? All the Supreme Court have said is that these offenders have the right to appeal. That is all. The right to appeal. Take a look at how Sky News report the whole episode. Note the narrative, starting off the feature with a victim. Eventually the report gets around to the actual issue, but the contextual framing  is at best disingenuous and at worst completely irrelevant. 

I didn’t bother seeing what the the likes of the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Star and The Daily Express had to say about this. I think I could guess. Sticking to the issue and the facts seems difficult to some of these publication. Indeed, it is always about emphasis and spin.  Just have a look at what The Daily Mail online said about the issue on the 17th of February.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1357472/Sex-offenders-register-Paedophiles-rapists-apply-remove-name.html

It takes all sorts to make a world, and ultimately people write and should have the right to say what they feel, provided it is within the law. Indeed long may we have a Media that if all of their views are put on the scales at once, in a sort of coalition, we would probably see an overall balanced and thus neutral approach. There may well be a lesson in there somewhere.

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#oneaday 29: Hugging trees as well as Hoodies in a Big Society

Things are looking up. The Coalition Government are showing that they are prepared to listen to the citizens, after all we do live in a democracy, don’t we? This new approach of listening is more than Labour ever seemed to do,  indeed Mr Blair and Mr Brown seemed pretty incapable of listening, or even looking before they acted. Maybe our leaders have taken their cue to this new approach from the activity and turbulence currently taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, fearing that the peaceful protest of ordinary people in the UK  could escalate. Or may be they have decided to stop wasting time on policies that are not absolutely ‘in the national interest’ ?

Thus, despite the protestations of my local MP and his personal letter to me which assured me that the consultation would be ‘comprehensive’ and that he had voted ‘against the Labour motion’, as if I care if it is a Labour motion or not, the proposed Act has been kicked well and truly into touch. I think we are in week 3 of a 12 week process, so one can tell that this proposed policy has not reallly had any poplar support amongst Coalition MPs, let alone opposition MPs. Take a look at The Politics Show from 8th Feb, you will see despite some pretty hard questions, the Minister who made these proposals  Ms Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs,  did her best to tell us that ‘the lady’s not for turning, yet.’ But we all knew it was not terribly convincing at all.

So it really was  rather nice to see and hear a poltician actually say sorry this week. Sorry for wasting time and thus money. That is new. Politicians saying sorry is pretty rare not just nowadays but any days! Indeed, it was refreshing to see Mr Cameron telling the House of Commons that he really was not that impressed with the policy at all. He even said it with a sense of humour. Hats off to him. It is worth seeing how both politicians dealt with this climb down, may be a sign of a little more humility on the part of all politicians and a sign that debating the issues ahead of us is not just the domain of Parliamentarians, but in this day and age where access to the old media via new media, means that citizens can make their opinions heard, seen and read. Indeed, peaceful and intelligent protest must be the way forward for a democracy.  Have a quick look here courtesy of ITN News.

Mr Cameron has proved that he is prepared to hug more than just Hoodies. He has hugged the Trees, a vital mainstay of any environment, and long overdue for some love from our leaders. Labour sold off  parts of our forests, but we did not notice! Let’s hope Mr Cameron gives Ms Spelman a big hug, she has had a rough few weeks and seems like a decent enough lady and no one likes to be made to look stupid, especially in public.

One final thought. Every cloud has a silver lining. Mr Cameron has struggled to get his concept of the ‘Big Society’ through to all of us. Actually it is us that have struggled to understand the principle, if the truth be told. For my part, I think the ‘Big Society’ is something positive that comes from a number of citizens working together, without pay, collaborating, sharing and helping others. It is cross cultural and cross class. It sees positive action and costs the state ie the tax payer absolutely nothing at all and above all fosters a sense of belonging, purpose and identity.

 The campaign against the sell off of our forests has been organised by a the action group 38 Degrees. 38 Degrees is a not for profit organisation who say that they campaign for fairness, defend rights, promote peace preserve the planet and deepen democracy in the UK.  I must say they seem to do exactly that. They explained the issue, broadcast it to anyone who was interested via the internet, engaged with social media, asked for donations and allowed ordinary citizens to write to their MPs. And they ran a petition. It was completely free to take part, and over 500,000 UK voters signed the petition.  For me, this is an example of the ‘Big Society’ in action. Let’s hope we can all take part in campaigns to deliver fairer taxes, democratic voting reforms, key climate change issues and protection of our NHS, from privatisation and the pursuit of corporate profit over national health. That will help us all live in a bigger society.

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#oneaday 28: Carpe Diem and other coded languages

I have had a really interesting couple of days. On Tuesday I visited my friends Railsim.com who make Railworks and Rail Simulator and are an example of a wondeful British technology company. They are based in the Historic Naval Dockyard at Chatham and are very much at the cutting edge of computerised train and railway simulation. The Dockyard is a little bit rough round the edges nowadays, but no one can doubt its provenance and the part it played in Britain’s technological past and now, hopefully present. Surrounded by history and with access to talent from the University of the Creative Arts which is part of the University of Kent, these guys will hopefully be contributing to our creative digital industries not of the future, but of now.

Yesterday, I attended a really interesting presentation yesterday at Portcullis House, the place near The House of Commons that MPs use to conduct day to day business, about Creative Clusters, titled ‘Critical Mass – growing creative clusters’ . It was a report produced by the uber clever people at NESTA ( those who worked tirelessly with Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope on the Livingstone Hope Review) and looked at the data that supported the establishment of clusters of creative businesses and creative people throughout the UK. It was supposed to be chaired by Louise Bagshawe MP, but she could not make it. It was  supported by MPs who represent the creative industries via the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Comittee. Don Foster, Damian Collins and Ivan Lewis.

They conducted a reasonably structured debate once they had each got their speeches made and out of the way. I use the word reasonably for one simple reason, namely politicians cannot help themselves from being party political. Instead of debating the subject and suggesting creative ways of helping foster our wonderful creative industries, they insist on political point scoring. The debate masquerades as a robust and comprehensive piece, but actually ends up as a crescendo of mainly red and blue noise, with a hint of yellow. You just end up with a murky brown almost a rusty effect.

Clustering is not an unusual concept in life, indeed humans love clustering in their work life and within their social life. Think pub, office, sports stadia, gigs, restaurants, demonstrations, Singstar, the internet. But clusters become places where the action is, where ideas are exchanged and ultimately where money or other commodities pass from one place to another. Indeed Parliament is a massively important cluster for us all as it is where the real business of government takes place.

 The role of the State in the evolution or development of clusters is a tricky one. Like most things in life we all need balance. Our eyes and our ears help up balance ourselves. Our voices should reflect what we see and what we hear and what we think as  a result of those stimuli. Free markets and a bit of chaos theory, if left unchecked end up with Big Business at the helm. Equally top down State control ends up with the so called Big State and that can be equally extreme. For me neither work because they do not actually represent everyone and thus cannot be democratic, they cede power over many into the hands of few. But if the State exercised no control or intervention then Parliament would not be so vital and knowledge share and debate would become far more polarised.

 The point I am trying to make is that sometimes the State needs to decide to stand up to other Sovereign Nations, who are the ultimate self interest groups and look after it’s people. Britain has proud history of democracy, of Sovereign and State working together via the people. A mix of State intervention and free market principles came together in an almost perfect way to build the Royal Navy over a number of years. This was the ultimate fighting machine, multi cultural and multi faceted. Well led in comparison to The Army, it was the ultimate meritocracy. It was both a tool for trade, protection and sometimes national aggression. It saw the development of so much hi-tech during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that arguably it both fuelled and led the Industrial Revolution. And it stood undefeated for 200 years. The point was, it was an example of almost perfect balance, yet the State was always carrying  a debt which in turn put pressure on growth (colonialism) and taxation of the people. This is how life works. Sovereign powers have been replaced by multi national globalised businesses and tax is still tax. The new colonies are run by the multinationals and that is life, our job as citizens to figure out how to work within a system and effect change if the will of the majority is there.

Back to yesterday. Two of the politicans had conducted a mini political debate,  using the English language in a wonderful way. It was most enjoyable, even if it was actually unproductive. The gathered audience was asked for questions, so I put my hand up. I cannot actually remember exactly what I asked, but it went along these lines:-

I really enjoyed your verbal jousting,  something built on the wonders of the English language. Indeed do politicians realise that the traditional bulwark of our creative industries is the English language – think music with lyrics, TV, film and publishing of books – grounded in Britain and the USA. Do you realise that in the creative industries and especially in video games and interactive entertainment, where art meets science, the key driver is not English words, but code. It comes in several different languages of course, but code is fundamental. Yet we have a Department for Education which is headed by people who do not believe that computers should be anywheer near schools, let alone computer science being part of the National Curriculum and espouse the introduction of Latin as a language of the future (see recommendation 1 in the Livingstone Hope Review that states ‘Bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline – see http://www.nesta.org.uk/home1/assets/features/next_gen ). How can the you agree with this, and importantly how can you influence the nation’s need for better skilled citizens?

Needless to say, the answers were political. I made the point, let’s see if we can all influence the outcome. The English language is becoming a universal language. Let’s hope that our nation can keep abreast of the languages of the future. Not only do we need to think different, we need to speak different. Carpe Diem and all that.

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