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

I think every road user in the whole of London needs a remedial class on how box junctions work.

Hint: if you are sitting in the middle of one, you don’t know how they work.

Gay marriage: strengthening straight marriage?

One of the frequently heard refrains from the opponents of same-sex marriage is that it will weaken the institution of (straight) marriage. Opposite sex couples are going to look at marriage and conclude “bloody queers have destroyed it, count me out”.

This has always been a pretty absurd suggestion: why would whether gay and lesbian couples being able to get married change the attitudes of a straight couple seeking to get married?

Based on some informal surveys of friends, it might. But not in the way the opponents of same-sex marriage believe.

I have now had a number of conversations with friends who have said that they delayed getting married until same-sex marriage was legal. They didn’t feel comfortable getting married in an institution that was segregated and they felt it might be rather insulting to invite their LGBT friends to celebrate their marriage when they are not afforded the same access.

Removing the discrimination against gays and lesbians may actually help the institution of marriage: detoxifying it of its heterosexism and thus making it acceptable to those who are rightly concerned about the well-being and equality of their LGBT friends, families and colleagues.

I voted, reluctantly.

I voted. That doesn’t mean I support the result, the system or the current party infrastructure.

I voted, but I don’t think first past the post is a legitimate or fair way of counting votes, and virtually any method that has been conceived since is an improvement. The fact that a small handful of swing seats decide the fate of the country is ludicrous.

I voted, but I didn’t do it with relish. Everything from the expenses scandal to the cover-up of paedophilia by powerful elites in this country shows the system to be rotten. Politicians routinely lie, manipulate the truth, ignore evidence, fail to act in a logical and compassionate manner when dealing with important public issues.

I voted, but I don’t really like any of the choices. Authoritarian nutters, vague handwavers, peddlers of old rope and phony promises. The epistemic environment in which voters go to the polls is as toxic as the Fukushima car park—newspapers pushing parties rather than reporting news, moronic press junkets, no discernible shared vision of the future of the country. And so much focus on the “leaders”, when only the voters in a small handful of constituencies get to vote for those leaders. The rest of us have to vote for an MP, and there’s close to fuck all engagement from local candidates on issues that matter. Despite a whole internet to engage us with, I’ve had three poxy leaflets: from Conservative, from Labour and from UKIP. And that’s it. They don’t give us comprehensive visions because they can’t, just because they don’t want to or have nothing to say.

I voted, but I don’t think the party system works. The complete mass exodus from membership of political parties shows exactly the popular distrust of the system.

I voted, but I perfectly understand the reasons why people wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t condemn them for not voting. It’s about as pleasant an experience as root canal surgery.

I voted, because if people my age don’t vote, it’ll only be old people who vote. If young people vote, our interests can’t be ignored. If young people voted like old people voted, putting up tuition fees or cutting housing benefits for twenty-somethings or continuing the never-changing abysmal fucking mess that is drugs policy will hopefully be as unthinkable as touching the pensions of the generation that got us into all these economic and ecological crises.

I voted, but I don’t believe in democracy. Choosing to make gay people second class citizens was something people voted for, everywhere from Section 28 in Britain to Proposition 8 in California. Tyrants have been politically elected. A popular vote doesn’t make a bad decision okay. Many advances in human rights and civil liberties in recent years have been achieved by carving out an area of law and justice beyond the reach of the voters, by saying “these things are too precious for the mob to decide to take away”.

I voted, because as much as I am frustrated and despairing about almost everything about our political system, voting is still slightly preferable to not voting. Even though it would have been immensely satisfying to draw a giant penis on the ballot paper and then write “you are all useless shitbags, please go choke on barbed wire dipped in ebola-drizzled hummus”, even voting in one of the safest constituencies in the country is still worth doing, if only because it might at least show how absurd our electoral system is.

If you don’t want to vote, I get it. I voted in spite of how broken and awful the system is, not as an endorsement of said system.

Apple Watch: not for me, thanks

I popped into the Apple Store in Regent Street a day or so back to buy a replacement Bluetooth keyboard (you know, for my actual computer). While there, I got a chance to look at the new shiny, the Apple Watch.

Every one I looked at was covered in fingerprints. I know that technology usually gets covered in greasy fingerprints, but not usually this bad when it is still in the shop—Apple seemingly has special magic pixie dust in the shop (or just an army of people with microfibre cloths going round cleaning) that prevents their devices from looking like they end up looking like in use. In spite of this, Apple’s display of the Watch is otherwise pretty impressive. They’ve certainly worked out how to market shiny things pretty damn well in the last few years.

And as a watch, Apple have got the physical object right: the wristbands for the non-Sport versions look good in the shop—supple leathers, well-constructed metal, elegant buckles. They’ve done their homework better than anybody else as you’d expect from a design-led company like Apple. And I don’t want to downplay the technological wizardy of a smartwatch: a tiny watch-sized computer you can strap to your wrist all day is a pretty impressive technological achievement in both material design and hardware implementation, even with the limitations of all of the current models.

Still, I left the store thinking “I still don’t have any burning desire for any smartwatch product”, not Apple’s, not Motorola’s, not Samsung’s, not anybody’s. If even Apple’s ability to make shiny things sell can’t stir desire or interest for such a product in someone who works with technology all day, that’s rather telling. It still strikes me as a profoundly strange and ridiculous product category that we’ll look back on as a complete gimmick in a few years. I am perhaps unimaginative but I cannot think of anything I currently do with any technology that would be better displayed in the form of a watch.

I played with the built-in apps. Mail? Meh. I hate email when it isn’t the size of a postage stamp; I hate it more when it is. Photos? Too small to properly enjoy. Sending animated emojis to friends? Christ, I’m not a teenager, and I expect the market for a £500 watch mostly isn’t either. It’s not bad for telling the time with, but if you are going to use it just for that, there are better choices on the market. I don’t get it. And I realise that in a few years time, when it is massively successful, I’ll be like the guy saying that the iPod was lame compared to the Nomad. Oh well.

In the interests of disclosure, I do wear a ‘watch’, only it’s a fitness tracker—the Fitbit Charge. It tracks my activity, it tells me the time with a quick tap of a button, it vibrates when people are calling my phone—and it lasts for ten days of use on one charge, which is nice. That does the job and for a third of the price of the entry-level Apple Watch Sport. Unlike the Apple Watch, it doesn’t nag me with tweets and Facebook and SMSes and all sorts of other digital clutter. I also hate wearing it, because I hate wearing watches generally: I always have and I always will. They are horrible, nasty, sweat-trapping gadgets and in an ideal world they’d disappear. The first thing I do when I get to my desk in the morning, or get back home in the evening, is take the fucking thing off and set it aside next to my keys, only to put it back on when I leave the house.

Visiting Bletchley Park

Yesterday, I visited Bletchley Park properly. I’d previously been there for Over the Air but didn’t get to go and look at the estate properly. It’s well done although the entrance fee is pretty steep (£16.75 each). We only had an afternoon there: you really need a full day to be able to take in the whole of Bletchley Park, not to mention the National Radio Centre and The National Museum of Computing, which we didn’t get to visit.

Turing tribute at Bletchley Park

The tribute to Turing was well done and didn’t downplay either his intellectual contributions to mathematics and computer science (his papers building computability theory on the work of Bertrand Russell and Alonzo Church are displayed and contextualised in such a way that someone who doesn’t have a Ph.D in category theory can grasp what he’s doing) and the tragic cruelty of the homophobic persecution Turing faced—along with so many others—after the war.

I heartily recommend visiting Bletchley Park. I’ll certainly be going back at some point to see what I didn’t get to see, along with visiting TNMOC.

I got a leaflet through the post this morning from the UKIP candidate in my area (so far: one Tory leaflet, one UKIP, zilch from anybody else) going on about how they’d like to massively cut Britain’s foreign aid budget. Because why would a country need the power of soft diplomacy in an era where standing armies representing nation states fighting one another have been replaced with dispersed terrorist groups that subdivide faster than any intelligence agency can keep track of them, fighting over the subcultural identification of disenfranchised teenagers off Twitter? Pure unadulterated stupidity.

Telegram is everything I like about iMessage (but it works on Android), is open source and (unlike WhatsApp) has a desktop version (the WhatsApp desktop version is a nasty hack that only works with Android).

Using WhatsApp a lot recently has made me how aware I rely on my computer: having to use my phone rather than my laptop feels like having one hand tied behind my back. The whole mobile-only thing really needs to die. Desktops and laptops rock too.