Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

PEBKAC is so much worse when you are the user

I go out and take a bunch of photos. Get home, put SD card in computer, import into Aperture. As the pictures are importing, I start pruning, cropping and uploading.

Then like an idiot I just pop the SD card out of the slot. This leaves the import process in limbo. I force quit, then start reimporting again. But the initial import and the modifications I made are lost. And because the pictures aren’t in the library any more, Aperture instructs Flickr to delete the copies I’ve posted.

Thanks to high-speed networks, my stupidity can be meticulously synced to the cloud.

Also, I managed to set my camera to the wrong AM/PM setting. So pictures I take at 8am are marked as being taken at 8pm the previous day. Even though I’ve heard Tantek repeatedly explain this stuff.

This is one of the reasons I think on-camera GPS should become industry standard sooner rather than later: not because GPS tagged photos are tremendously useful (although that is neat)—it’s because military location satellites are better at keeping track of time than humans.

The worrying thing is I get paid to write software and I fail at this stuff.


England… brought to you by Samsung.

English patriotism is so much better when it is sponsored by South Korean electronics manufacturers.

Highway Code (Supplementary London Rules)

  1. Cyclists and pedestrians are not road users, they are targets. If you can run down three in a day, you get a special bonus.
  2. Within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, four wheel drive vehicles are given priority over other vehicles and road users, especially if driven by someone with a daughter named Tarquin.
  3. You may go on amber if the crossing is clear of pedestrians or you are late for work. Pedestrians killed in this manner contribute to your slaughter count and are eligible for Air Miles or Nectar points.
  4. Indicators are not necessary if there are no cars visible. Pedestrians and cyclists do not make decisions based on your indicator signals.
  5. Traffic lights apply to cyclists except when the cyclist decides that the traffic light does not apply to him or her.
  6. Buses now serve a dual function as a mobile tourist information centre. Not sure how to get back to Leicester Square or Oxford Circus? Board a bus and spend the next 10-15 minutes asking the driver for instructions while the bus sits at the bus stop. The glares and teeth grinding from the passengers on the bus is a sign of affection and thanks.
  7. Pavements are an excellent place to have long conversations with your friends. Be sure to take up the entire pavement’s width and act oblivious and aggrieved when someone wishes to walk along the pavement. For maximum effect, try roads near busy train and tube stations during rush hour.
  8. The best place to show off your new Ferrari is on a cramped street in the centre of Soho.
  9. Honking your horn repeatedly will solve all problems. Especially after 11pm next to a housing estate.
  10. If you need to buy a newspaper, stopping in the middle of the road and leaving the car running is just fine. Sure, it causes traffic problems but you getting the Sunday Express is important.
  11. When parking, if a temporary road sign is in the way, just move it off the road and onto the pavement. It’s not as if it is in the road to give information to road users.
  12. You have a right to cause as much congestion as possible inside the Congestion Charge Zone. You have paid for the privilege, you may as well use it.

CoffinScript: a new compiler that automatically administers a powerful lethal injection into people who voluntarily use CoffeeScript.

Crisis Pregnancy Centres in the UK are telling women that they’ll become child abusers and have an increased risk of breast cancer if they have an abortion.

This is completely and totally predictable to anyone who knows anything. You know who we will hear complete silence from? Nadine Dorries and Frank Field, the two MPs who pushed an amendment back in 2011 that would have required women seeking an abortion to go to the sort of Crisis Pregnancy Centres which the Telegraph reports today to be pushing anti-scientific hokum in the name of counselling.

End Sexual Violence in Conflict Hack, solutionism and political engagement for hackers

Today, I listened to an activist talking about the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict which is taking place this week in London. An impassioned plea for political solutions to a global problem—the use of rape and sexual violence against both men and women as a weapon in war and conflicts. Nobody can object to that, surely.

What I heard in the discussion about this conference is the same as what I hear when a wide variety of political campaigns are discussed: to make an effective change, we need to understand the cultural, social, religious and political contexts of the places where this takes place. This is not moral relativism: it’s not to excuse rape or sexual violence. But to formulate an adequate response in terms of policy, one must understand the politics, the society, the culture, the religion, and work in a sustained and committed way with local activists and civic society. Otherwise, you’ll go in, enforce some ham-handed solution that’ll smell like imperialist meddling, of the White Saviour coming to save the impoverished natives.

To change a society, you need to understand it, or your efforts won’t connect with the people in that society. You’ll just end up sounding like a big, clueless phony. That kind of political engagement is hard work.

At the same time activists realise this more and more, we see it being applied less and less in the technology industry.

Running alongside the Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict event is a hackathon. As hack days/hackathons go, this has a laudable goal. I don’t think anyone thinks more sexual violence in conflict is desirable.

But the use of hack days to try and solve social problems itself seems like a bad hack. I hope I’m wrong: it’d be great if tools get developed at the EndSVCHack event that serve the important social goal of the activists trying to fight against rape and sexual violence.

I just don’t buy it though. If you sat me down and asked me to build tools to support those trying to help the victims of sexual violence in conflict zones, there’s a lot of issues one would face. Okay, first of all: linguistic. I speak English and I know enough French that I can get by in a restaurant. I had a quick Google to find out where the chief problem zones are with sexual violence in conflict.

The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict lists four countries with significant issues—Burma, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kenya. I know very little about the context of what is going on in any of those countries, and I have a funny feeling most programmers living and working in London probably don’t know much about these countries beyond what they can glean from Wikipedia.

If the sort of activism and political campaigning that needs doing needs to be smart, culturally-aware and so on, hackers are going to fail to appreciate that context in a two day process.

Next problem: institutional. Let’s say something gets built during that two days that is actually suitable for use by governments and/or NGOs that are trying to reduce sexual violence in conflict zones. How is that going to be used by the organisations working in the field? How is it going to be maintained? Who is going to train people working in the country? Plenty of hacks get built at hack days and then disappear. The hackers have jobs and lives they need to get back to. They may be able to crank out an app prototype, but the time to polish it, release it, maintain it and adapt it to the needs of the different societies in which this is trying to run—well, unless there’s some plan there, most of the hacks won’t be there a month later.

I’ve written about this before with regards to FloodHack: I’m not opposed to these kinds of thing, but I’m just very sceptical that they will have any results. If you wished to produce hacks to support NGOs trying to eradicate sexual violence in conflict zones, a hack day might not be the best way of doing it. Imagine instead if we had a fund which NGOs could apply to in order to get a couple of programmers for a few months. If you’ve got them there for a few months, then the programmers can actually understand the context of the problems they are solving—maybe go out into the society where the issues are. When they build things, they can do so knowing that there’s some institutional context—an NGO, a government etc.—that will maintain what they build.

The trend to think “oh, big social problem, let’s run a hack day!” seems to be a clear example of what Morozov calls “solutionism”. Apps don’t solve all social problems. Technical efforts to help solve difficult, very culturally-specific social problems seem a poor fit for the hack day format.

But I wish them luck and I hope my scepticism doesn’t discourage people from trying.

Big Data: anything where processing it takes long enough that you can go and make a cup of tea.

Homeopaths seem to want official recognition by the government. Government ought to provide such recognition by convicting them for fraud.

There’s a recurring trope in politics that one ought to avoid “politicizing a tragedy”. Don’t get on your hobby horse and don’t turn a terrible event into partisan moment.

There needs to be a similar but opposed trope condemning those who “apoliticize” a tragedy. Who say that it is inappropriate to suggest any kind of policy change to fix a problem faced in the world. Who explain away recurring patterns. Who print the raw bloody red of the event in bland, desaturated greyscale.

It’s fine to want a moment to grieve and then to breathe and think, but apoliticism wants that moment of reflection to go on forever and to never turn into action. It’s fine to want to see the issue in its complexity, but apoliticism demands that the difficulty of multivariate analysis ought to prevent any action from occurring ever.

This kind of apoliticism reduces all negative events in the world to “oh, that’s sad, now let’s go watch TV”.

The John Deakin exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery is fantastic. I particularly enjoyed seeing photographs of Lucian Freud and Humphrey Lyttleton as young men—we are accustomed to seeing only images of them much older. It is especially worth visiting if you spend any time in Soho today and want to see a slice of its history as a home for immigrants, a gathering place for artists and intellectuals as well as prostitutes and sex shops, a gay village, and it’s current rather more gentrified state: with young mum’s feeling safe enough to roll baby buggies up and down Dean Street.

Deakin covers a little bit of all of this: there are images of high fashion for Vogue, as well as of slightly tawdry tattoo parlours, of men of letters and of drag queens.

Well worth going to, it is free and on until .

Some minor site changes

A couple of nice little changes on my site.

Imprima has been replaced with a Helvetica-based font stack including Helvetica Neue, Helvetica and (as a very poor compromise) Arial. I’m still using Google Web Fonts for Montserrat, but may switch that out at some point.

The reasoning behind the switch away from using Imprima? Some people really don’t like Imprima. It’s a bit “fiddly”. Also, I want to cut out external dependencies that slow page loading. Google Web Fonts do that. There’s some JavaScript that will be going on a serious diet soon. I’m also looking into hosting the very small number of graphics on something like CloudFront for speed.

Pages on my site take less than two seconds to load in Chrome. I want to reduce that as much as possible. My vision of the web is defined by what I want to avoid: fussy, irritating and over-engineered. To that end, slicing down external assets as much as possible is something I’d like to do.

(I’ll be looking into a Google Analytics replacement soon. Possibly self-hosted.)

Somewhat in contradiction to the above: I’ve temporarily replaced the search box with a redirect to DuckDuckGo site search. My site search hasn’t been working and I’ve been too lazy/busy to fix it. So, it’s pointing to DuckDuckGo until I get the time to fix it.

Don’t trust visionaries until they show you the documentation. Or better, the implementation.