Speed-reading day

The Leveson Report on the “culture, practice and ethics” of the British press is being published today at 1.30pm — the time when Lord Justice Leveson is giving a press conference in the QE Conference Centre in Whitehall. The report is apparently 2000 pages long and so even as I write (at 9am) all over London hacks who have signed a non-disclosure agreement in blood are locked in rooms frantically trying to speed-read it. The rest of us can see it for ourselves — it will be downloadable from the Leveson Inquiry site this afternoon.

Augmenting the iPad

As some readers of this blog may remember, I was sceptical about the iPad when it first appeared, mainly because it didn’t have the software ecosystem that I needed. I could see that it was a terrific device for media consumption, but initially it was hopeless for anyone who, like me, spends most of their time creating stuff. Over time, however, the software ecosystem materialised and — rather to my astonishment — I found that the device had become an almost-indispensable working tool. Apart from the software (terrific stuff like DropBox, SoundNote and iThoughtsHD, iAWriter and Day One) the key factors were the instant-on feature, the ten-hour battery life and a 3G SIM card — which meant that I could, for example, do a whole working day away from base and never have to look for either a power socket or an Internet connection. Bliss!

But one snag remained — the on-screen keyboard, which I found ok for short messages and notes, but a real pain for long-form typing (partly because I’ve never been able to stop myself hitting ‘m’ instead of the spacebar, which meansmthatmmanymofmmymmessagesmcome outmlooking likemthis). So of course I looked round for a bluetooth keyboard — and remembered that I had a neat little Apple one, which works fine with the iPad but means that I wound up lugging two devices around and wondering if it would have made more sense to bring a MacBook Air instead.

Then the Microsoft Surface appeared, and many of the reviewers remarked on the fact that the covers for the device include a keyboard. It seemed such a good idea, so I started looking for an equivalent for the iPad. Last week I found one. It’s the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. It clips magnetically to the iPad — just as the original covers for the iPad2 do — but contains a real keyboard with moving keys.

Logitech claims that one will get six months of normal usage from the (USB-rechargeable) battery. It does add slightly to the weight of the iPad, and in tactile terms is slightly inferior to, and more more cramped than, the Apple bluetooth keyboard.

But it has a really neat groove with holds the iPad securely at an angle and overall is a really clever solution to a design problem. Recommended.


From the you-couldn’t-make-it-up department, a report in today’s Irish Times.

It was first used to enable Pope John Paul II to safely navigate the throngs who turned out for his historic visit to Ireland in 1979 – but from tomorrow the iconic Popemobile will be available for hire for stag and hen parties and corporate gigs.

The venture is the brainchild of businessman Paddy Dunning, who came into ownership of the Popemobile when he acquired the Wax Museum some years ago from former politician Donie Cassidy.

Mr Dunning has given the Popemobile a €60,000 makeover and added a Mercedes chassis. It will hit the road again tomorrow, when it will be showcased along with wax statues of Jedward at the Wax Museum in Dublin.

According to a promotional pack, the vehicle has 15 seats, including the original “pope’s chair”. Mr Dunning plans to charge up to €300 an hour plus VAT for use of it .

He said the chair used by the pope was kept in his mother’s home in Greenhills, Dublin, while the vehicle’s makeover was completed.

“Nuns over from Rome were in my mother’s house to see it,” he said.

The promotional pack lists a number of possible uses, including “hen and stag [nights], Debs and photo calls”.

On not giving the clock to the monkey

This morning’s Observer column.

Given that WCIT-12 is being seen by some as a conspiracy in which Russia, China, Iran and other repressive regimes use the ITU as a Trojan horse to begin the process of bringing the internet under adult supervision, you can see why people are becoming agitated about it. Secretive horse-trading between governments is not what created the internet. Cue Google’s efforts to launch a global campaign involving internet users. “A free and open world depends on a free and open internet” declares the front page of the campaign website. Which is true, and the fact that Google’s prosperity likewise depends on that selfsame net doesn’t undermine its veracity. “But not all governments support the free and open internet,” it continues. And “some of these governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting in December to regulate the internet. Add your voice in support of the free and open internet.”

Right on! As we ageing hippies say. The basic complaint is that while an outfit like the ITU, whose voting members are all nation states, might be OK for deciding the allocation of international dialling codes, it’s completely inappropriate to allow it to regulate the internet. The argument is that entrusting the governance of the network to an organisation in which Robert Mugabe’s vote counts for as much as the UK’s would be like giving a delicate clock to a monkey.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a serious problem here. The old adage — if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it — isn’t entirely helpful. The difficulty is that the present system of Internet governance — which, for largely historical reasons, gives the US an unduly large role in Internet governance — works pretty well. But now that the Net is a genuinely global system, then it’s getting harder and harder to justify. Given that the main system for international governance that states recognise is the UN, then it’s understandable that they would turn to a UN agency — the ITU — to take on the governance task. But that’s misguided for several reasons, only one of which I had room for in the column: that UN agencies are states-dominated and therefore top-down decision-making institutions. Other good reasons are that: the ITU is essentially a technical-standards organisation, not a governance one — and governance is about freedom, human rights and politics; government-dominated organisations tend to be secretive rather than open; and the RFC-IETF method for discussing and deciding on Internet technical issues has an impressive track record.

So whatever the question is, the ITU is not the answer. The problem is that those who dislike — or are rightly fearful of — it need to come up with a more imaginative solution that meets some demanding criteria. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Respect, preserve and enhance the openness of the Net
  • Protect the network’s integrity and technical effectiveness
  • Prevent the Balkanisation of the network
  • Ensure that technical decisions about the network are made on technological and not political or ideological grounds
  • Increase the availability of the Internet to the poor people of the world
  • Embody governance principles which do not privilege any one country or bloc
  • And they’re just for starters.

    Barclays buys 8,500 iPads

    From The Next Web citing The Register.

    In what is believed to be one of the biggest rollouts of the iPad in the UK, Barclays Bank is to outfit its staff with more than 8,500 units of the Apple tablet in an effort to improve service levels, The Register reveals.

    A Barclays spokesperson confirmed that it was bank employees that demanded the iPad, allowing them “to assist our branch colleagues to interact with customers, improving the customer experience”.

    “We investigated a number of different tablet options and in this instance, we concluded that iPads were the best solution for their specific needs. We are now starting to use these across Barclays branches in the UK,” she added.

    This is interesting because up to now some observers assumed that one reason the iPad was selling into companies for corporate work was that Microsoft didn’t have a tablet. But now it does, so perhaps this decision by Barclays is actually very significant?

    Fifty shades of Khaki

    Lovely piece by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker about l’affaire Petraeus. Samples:

    The Fox News right, still recuperating from its electoral setbacks of the previous week, tried frantically to connect some part of this roundelay to what had happened at the American consulate in Benghazi, in September, but nothing stuck. Benghazi is a tragedy in search of a scandal; the Petraeus affair is a scandal in search of a tragedy. It is proof only that what Roth called the human stain spreads, and sooner or later stains us all. Any bit of schadenfreude it might provoke rises only from the way in which the by now too automatic American soldier worship—which is not always shared by actual soldiers—had, for once, to pause in the midst of its moralizing. There was something truly entertaining about seeing the usual officer-lauding pundits reaching a finger for stop A on the organ of indignation (the moral collapse of everything, owing to the promiscuity of everybody) and then, while longing to land on the usual stop B (the moral superiority of the men of the military and national-security services) having to pause, trembling, in midair.


    Petraeus, and his defenders and attackers alike, referred to his “poor judgment,” but if the affair had had anything to do with judgment it never would have happened. Desire is not subject to the language of judicious choice, or it would not be desire, with a language all its own. The point of lust, not to put too fine a point on it, is that it lures us to do dumb stuff, and the fact that the dumb stuff gets done is continuing proof of its power. As [Philip] Roth’s Alexander Portnoy tells us, “Ven der putz shteht, ligt der sechel in drerd”—a Yiddish saying that means, more or less, that when desire comes in the door judgment jumps out the window and cracks its skull on the pavement.

    Lovely stuff.

    A little bird told me

    Sharp piece in the Economist.

    A PALTRY 140 characters can certainly stir up trouble. A BBC report earlier this month did not identify the Tory it wrongly suggested had molested a child, but Twitter users did. Some 1,000 individuals implicated Lord McAlpine, and a further 9,000 retweeted those messages to a wider audience. The former Conservative Party treasurer called it “trial by Twitter”. On November 20th lawyers for the peer informed people with fewer than 500 followers that they can make amends with a donation to charity (the BBC’s Children in Need). Tweeters with larger followings may face legal action.

    Applying classic legal remedies to online information is hardly new. But threatening a libel claim against thousands of people at once is novel. Libel law has typically held to account large, centralised institutions that enjoy broad reach, like newspapers. It has not been used to check the discrete actions of a huge number of individuals, which together have a broad effect.

    This invites a host of hard questions.

    It does indeed.

    Opening gambits

    Sitting in the shelter on Platform 7 this morning waiting for the London train when a young woman came in and sat next to me. “Excuse me”, she said, “but can I ask you a question? What do you think of when you think of Jesus?” She seemed like a nice person, so I replied politely that I didn’t think of him at all. “What about God, then?” “Ditto”, I replied. “Are you a scientist?” she asked. I replied that I was an engineer. “Same thing”, she said, knowledgeably, “and the same cop-out”. I said, mildly, that some people might regard a belief in God as a cop-out. She gave me a pitying smile and then my train arrived.

    Strange what people believe. But it’s not the strangest conversational opener I’ve experienced. Once, many years ago, I was seated at a magazine lunch next to the late Russell Harty, a very camp but charming TV chat-show host. His opening gambit was to say “What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Do you pee or brush your teeth?” Slightly miffed, I replied that sometimes I did one and sometimes the other but generally I started the day by reading the works of St Thomas Aquinas”. “Oooooh!” He exclaimed delightedly. “An intellectual!”

    (Full Disclosure: I’ve never read the works of the aforementioned Aquinas. But I thought Harty’s impertinence ought not to go unpunished.)