Archive for November, 2011

How to get a wife

[link] Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Put this on your website:

“Unbankable film director Ken Russell seeks soulmate. Must be mad about music, movies and Moët & Chandon champagne.”

It worked! Elise Tribble married him.

From a lovely Guardian obit by Derek Malcolm.

Zuck says: email’s end is nigh. I say: LOL

[link] Monday, November 28th, 2011

From a piece I wrote for Comment is free.

The only thing that’s surprising about this [news that teenagers don't use email] is that people are surprised by it. Most teenagers use technology to communicate with their friends and for that purpose email is, well, too formal. (Apart from anything else, because it’s an asynchronous medium, you don’t know whether someone has read your message.) So kids use synchronous messaging systems such as SMS and social networking tools that provide the required level of immediacy.

But the main reason young people don’t use email is that they haven’t yet joined the world of work. When (or if) they do, a nasty shock awaits them, because organisations are addicted to email. The average employee nowadays receives something like 100 email messages a day and coping with that deluge has become one of the challenges of a working life.

Organisational addiction to email has long since passed the point of dysfunctionality and now borders on the pathological, with employees sending messages to colleagues in nearby cubicles, people covering their backs by cc-ing everyone else and managers carpet-bombing subordinates with attachments. The real problem, in other words, is not that email is dying but that it’s out of control.

Phone hacking was just a symptom of a deeper problem

[link] Monday, November 28th, 2011

Steve Hewlett has a perceptive pieceabout the Leveson inquiry in today’s Guardian.

Leaving aside questions about tabloid techniques and intrusion – which are plainly serious enough in their own right – so much of what we heard last week had rather more to do with fiction than fact. The picture that emerges is of legions of tabloid foot soldiers – reporters, paparazzi and private detectives – prepared to do almost anything to get the “story”. In other words, to gather material to illustrate and support something the desk – the editors back at base – had already decided is true.

Again, there won’t be anyone who has ever worked in journalism who won’t instinctively understand this phenomenon – which, incidentally, is far from being restricted to the tabloids or even to newspapers.

For the working journalist, the world is full of editors and proprietors (not to mention channel controllers and commissioning editors) prepared to settle for nothing less than proof of the correctness of what they thought all along. Journalists also know that the price of failure to deliver what the boss demands can be very high indeed.

Spot on. Which explains why calls for ‘ethical’ standards in British journalism are doomed to fail. Such calls assume that journalism in Britain is a profession (with all that implies in terms of professional standards, etc.) It’s not a profession at all — just a trade grafted onto a ruthlessly competitive industry. In a way the miracle is not that UK tabloid standards are so low, but that the country still has some good journalists who still have some ethical standards.

Movies vs books

[link] Monday, November 28th, 2011

From a Guardian interview with Umberto Eco:

It is claimed that he called the film of The Name of the Rose a travesty, but that seems unlikely. He says only that a film cannot do everything a book can. “A book like this is a club sandwich, with turkey, salami, tomato, cheese, lettuce. And the movie is obliged to choose only the lettuce or the cheese, eliminating everything else – the theological side, the political side. It’s a nice movie. I was told that a girl entered a bookstore and seeing the books said: ‘Oh, they have already made a book out of it.’” More laughter.

The 200mph local area network

[link] Sunday, November 27th, 2011

This morning’s Observer column.

I am not what you might call a petrolhead. I got that out of my system decades ago by owning a 3.8-litre Mk II Jaguar – until the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 cured me of the habit. As a result, Top Gear and similar TV programmes tend to pass me by. So it was just idle curiosity that led me to tune into How to Build a Super Car on BBC2. Since McLaren is a Formula One racing team, I assumed that the show would be about how it designs and builds motorised chariots for the likes of Jenson Button.

How wrong can you be?

The bubble we’re in

[link] Saturday, November 26th, 2011

The NYT had good, sober piece about the bubble we’re in, using as a peg what’s happened to Groupon shares since that company’s stock market debut. The piece also includes this useful table:

Here’s a look at some of the notable technology I.P.O.’s this year :

Demand Media

Offering price: $17

Tuesday’s closing price: $6.85

Current market value: $574 million

Groupon

Offering price: $20

Wednesday’s closing price: $16.96

Current market value: $10.82 billion

LinkedIn

Offering price: $45

Wednesday’s closing price: $66.00

Current market value: $6.36 billion

Pandora

Offering price: $16

Wednesday’s closing price: $10.51

Current market value: $1.69 billion

Renren

Offering price: $14

Wednesday’s closing price: $3.75

Current market value: $1.47 billion

Yandex

Offering price: $25

Wednesday’s closing price: $20.05

Current market value: $6.48 billion

FOOTNOTE: But why, oh why, can’t the NYT understand apostrophes? Personal computers in the plural are always PC’s in the paper. And so, it turns out, are IPOs.

The ‘Internet of Things’ for ordinary folks

[link] Saturday, November 26th, 2011

From Supermechanical.com.

Twine is the simplest possible way to get the objects in your life texting, tweeting or emailing. Get an email when the basement floods while you're on vacation, a text when someone's knocking at the front door, or a tweet when your laundry's done. A durable 2.5" square provides WiFi connectivity, internal and external sensors, and two AAA batteries that keep it running for months. A simple web app allows to you quickly set up your Twine with human-friendly rules — no programming needed. And if you're more adventurous, you can connect your own sensors and use HTTP to have Twine send data to your own app.

Hugh Grant’s Ten Myths of tabloid journalism

[link] Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Nicely expanded on in this New Statesman piece.

In summary, they are:

Myth 1: That it is only celebrities and politicians who suffer at the hands of popular papers.

Myth 2: That egregious abuses of privacy happened only at the News of the World.

Myth 3: That in attempting to deal with the abuses of some sections of the press you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Myth 4: That any attempt to regulate the press means we are heading for Zimbabwe.

Myth 5: That current privacy law under the Human Rights Act muzzles the press.

Myth 6: That judges always find against the press.

Myth 7: Privacy can only ever be a rich man’s toy.

Myth 8: That most sex exposes carry a public interest defence.

Myth 9: That people like me want to be in the papers, and need them, and therefore our objections to privacy intrusions are hypocritical.

Myth 10: That the tabloid press hacks are just loveable rogues.

Why the medium really is the message now

[link] Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Yesterday and today mark the annual visit of the University Library’s Visiting Committee.

I was the after-dinner speaker last night and decided to talk about a Cambridge graduate who was born 100 years ago this year — Marshall McLuhan. Text here.

The iPhone 4S comprehensively reviewed

[link] Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

An astonishingly thorough review by Anand Lai Shimpl and Brian Klug.