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

Just saw a sign saying “bus stop not in use”—on a Tube platform. Someone ought to explain the concept of a category mistake to Transport for London.

Pope Francis: “You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit.”

I think I prefer John Stuart Mill’s version of free speech to the Pope’s. Will this shake Frankie’s PR? Nope. Pope Francis could eat a kitten on live television and there would be idiots proclaiming him a valiant defender of animal rights.

Whenever I hear tech industry douchebags going on about how amazing the Internet of Things will be, I just think of this clip and quietly mutter “would you like any toast?” to myself.

Your daily reminder that politicians don’t understand technology or the modern world. In Parliament yesterday, Andrew George MP (Lib Dem, St Ives) said: “It’s run from a call centre in Newport 200 miles away, and also it uses logarithms which actually involve them asking a patient in my constituency, ‘Um, are you conscious?’.”

Hansard corrected it from “logarithm” to “algorithm”. It may just be an instance of “mis-speaking”, but I’m genuinely worried that the people who run our country mostly don’t know the difference between a logarithm and an algorithm. And worse, they probably don’t know even care why not knowing that is a problem in a society based so heavily on science and technology. Scary.

Gross ignorance of science and technology would also explain David Cameron’s suggestion to ban messaging services that use encryption, and why such a suggestion would prompt security experts to say that he is “living in cloud cuckoo land”.

Why can't I easily find out what Parliament is up to?

I was out on a long walk this morning and catching up on news podcasts while doing so. One topic of discussion on a number of the podcasts covering Westminster politics was Tony Blair’s appearance yesterday at the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee to discuss the handling of the “on the runs” during the Northern Ireland peace process while he was in office.

That sounds pretty interesting, I though. As a citizen, a Wikipedian and a Wikinews contributor, I’d rather like to see what this country’s former prime minister has to say about this controversial issue. And I currently can’t easily get a transcript of what was said. Hansard does not seem to report the oral evidence presented to select committees. There is a video I can watch and it requires I install Microsoft Silverlight for some reason that should have been redundant since the introduction of the HTML 5 video tag and the availability of free, open source video codecs. And I don’t want to watch video: I can read a lot quicker than I’m sure either Blair or the members of the select committee can speak.

Even though select committees play an increasingly important role in political life in Westminster (think of Margaret Hodge’s fearsome chairing of the Public Accounts Committee or the role of the Backbench Business Committee in Parliament), Hansard do not provide transcription of oral evidence presented to select committees. Quite how deaf people are supposed to be able to engage with this, I am not sure. I’m also wondering how Parliament get away with this given that they have voluntarily agreed to conform to WCAG 2 as well as having legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 to not discriminate against people with disabilities (which includes deaf people).

This aside, there is a wider issue: I’d like to know what Parliament is up to. What business is scheduled for the Commons and the Lords? Who is going to be giving evidence to select committees? The media do an okay job of covering Parliament, but the problem is usually it is too late. It is after-the-fact, it focusses on the dog and pony show that is PMQs and what party leaders are up to, and often doesn’t dig into the detail of how the institution is running.

Parliament has a Twitter feed. Which is great if you want to know what Parliament is doing right now. It’s not so useful if you want to know what Parliament is going to be discussing next week. Then there’s the Facebook feed—because what I really want is Facebook to not just filter content my friends post but also decide which bits of the already curated feed of stuff Parliament post on Facebook is “relevant” to me. No, I want to decide that. And there’s a Google+ feed but nobody who doesn’t work for Google gives a fuck about Google+, least of all me.

Then I look a bit further and find a list of RSS feeds. Okay, that looks more promising. I subscribe to the Commons Select Committees feed and despite the fact that the feed is formatted in a very bizarre way in terms of date and timestamps, it does the job.

For instance, for the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee oral evidence session with Tony Blair, I get this:

And if I click through on this, it takes me to the homepage of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee. The same feed also tells me that yesterday a select committee would be hearing evidence regarding High Speed 2. So I click on that link… and I go to a calendar page listing all the select committee hearings for yesterday. Why do these two feed items take me to different places? I have no idea.

What would be nice is if each debate, each particular item of business—whether that’s a Commons debate on a bill, a ten minute rule bill, an adjournment debate, a questions session like PMQs, a select committee oral hearing—would have one permanent URL which had on it all the details. If the debate hasn’t happened yet, the same details that appear in the upcoming business listings. When the debate has happened, it should contain video (and not in bloody Silverlight—as I said, HTML 5 video exists) as well as audio and full text transcripts. Hansard should be expanded to include oral evidence to ensure select committee hearings are covered. This would help researchers, it’d help journalists, but most of all it’d help citizens better follow (and share and debate etc.) the proceedings that matter to them in Parliament.

I’ve heard lots of hot air around the subject of digital democracy: it is something that John Bercow, Speaker of the House seems keen on doing. Making it so that the Parliament website actually lets us as citizens meaningfully track the business of Parliament would be a good start.

The smoke detector in my flat has an excellent feature: when the battery is getting close to empty, it lets out a short chirp about every 30 seconds. This is a particularly good feature when it activates just after 2am.

I think I may be in love with Panti Bliss for this TEDx talk. Panti says what every openly gay person is forced to think, every single day.

Key quotes I loved:

  • “We try to be normal and carefree, just like everybody else. But we’re not. We’re constantly scanning the pavement ahead, just in case. If we see a group of blokes coming towards us, maybe we decide silently to continue holding hands, defiantly. But now, our small intimate gesture between two people in love is no longer a small intimate gesture—it is a political act of defiance. And it has been ruined.”
  • Homophobia is the “background of our lives”.
  • “I’m fed up of putting up.”
  • “They are afraid of what the world will look like when it treats gay and lesbian and bisexual people with the same respect as everybody else. They are afraid that they won’t fit in this brave new world of equality.”

If a style guide suggests doing something that causes confusion for the reader, ignore the style guide. As a writer you have a nearly sacred duty of care towards your reader: to not confuse them. This duty is higher than any style guide—if the style guide gets in the way of you doing the right thing for the reader, toss the style guide away. Your reader is your highest priority.

This is something I have learned by experience far too often.

Looking at a Flickr stream on my phone. A banner appears at the top advertising the app. If has a link that says “Open in App”. I have the Flickr app installed so I tap it. Instead of taking me to the app and showing me the photos I want to see, it takes me to the App Store so I can download the app I already have installed.

Fabulous usability, guys. This is why Yahoo! isn’t a sinking ship…

I’m still trying to understand why people build mobile only apps. I have a 15” laptop with a beautiful screen and a full keyboard in front of me. Why do you want me to have to experience your service only on my phone screen with the limited input of a touch keyboard? This trend is the stupidest thing ever.

Another UKIP candidate has been forced to stand down due to the revelation of homophobic and racist remarks. I’m so glad they got rid of this bad apple, like they have for all the previous bad apples.

UKIP PR will undoubtedly now be arguing that the media are persecuting UKIP by accurately reporting what their candidates say. This game has become so predictable, it is now banal.

Strangely enough, updating to iOS 8.1.2 fixed issues I was having with Spotlight search (specifically, it not working at all).

Somewhere deep in the guts of WordPress is a non-awful blogging tool. Alas, because everyone decided they wanted a bloated CMS with gallery and shopping cart and discussion forum bolted on the side in badly written, insecure PHP, it has now become a complete mess. And the bolted on shit tends to be utterly unusable too.