Category Archives: Opinion

Blaming tech entrepreneurs for political failings is a form of prejudicial demonisation that helps no-one

A colleague recently shared this essay by Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel. It’s main point is that Elon Musk is morally corrupt for pursuing a dream of putting humanity on Mars instead of helping solve social issues like poverty and inequality.

Russell and Vinsel suggest that anyone with wealth is morally obligated to engage in selfless humanitarianism. They also suggest that outlandish endeavours, like space travel, should be abandoned while poverty and other socio-political problems persist.

Such a stance is divisive – blaming wealthy tech entrepreneurs for societal ills to make ‘the rest of us’ look on them (Musk, specifically) unfavourably. It’s also naive – expecting that humanity can somehow solve all it’s problems before making progress.

“What happens when the rich and powerful isolate themselves from everyday concerns?” the authors ask rhetorically, immediately putting forward the entirely baseless assumption that any wealthy person not overtly dedicating themselves to social justice is deliberately shunning humanity.

They go so far as to launch insults at Musk as if he’s some sort of comic book villain who just personally condemned the earth to oblivion, holds the only route of escape and is auctioning it off to the highest bidders.

It’s enough to make one wonder what led Musk to develop such contempt for the billions of humans who could never escape Earth.

The authors continue, saying “Musk’s concept of humanity excludes most living and breathing humans” and state that his estimate of 1 million people required for a self-sustaining civilisation is “0.014035087719298244 per cent” of the population in a deliberate invocation of the “1% vs the world” mantra. That the estimate is a practical estimate of what size a Mars colony would need to be to survive is completely ignored over the imperative to demonise Musk personally.

All of this serves to make the reader despise Musk, and any other tech entrepreneur, so that arguments put forward can be done with very little validity and still be accepted as truth. Let’s look at those arguments.

At the root is a belief that people like Musk should focus on problems such as climate change, poverty, infrastructure or other ‘more earthly’ concerns before a trip to Mars. While they declare Musk to be a “utopian” and “repulsed by the world we all share”, Russell and Vinsel themselves are painting a vision where there are no problems. To match up to their standards, Musk (and anyone with a decent bit of cash) would have to build a utopia where the world is free from economic or social strife before it would be morally acceptable to pursue technological advancements. Their utopia is even more immature a concept when they deride Musk’s goals as “adolescent space fantasies.”

In a fantastic display of cognitive dissonance the authors acknowledge the benefits of grandiose technological advancements;

Up to 80 per cent of the technologies created for NASA programs might have ended up in the domestic economy.

Yet then they argue “We don’t need trickle-down science” and make the completely unevidenced (read: made up) claim that “A public research agenda aimed squarely at solving real problems… would easily produce useful technologies that exceed the 80 per cent mark.”

Not once is the role of government and politicians discussed. Big issues like poverty are put forward as the priorities and the apparent solution amounts to ‘rich people should fix this’. Nowhere do they ask, after referencing the world’s huge wealth divide, why it exists and what governments are doing about it. Instead, they attack the financial beneficiaries of decades of failed government policy. Want to end the wealth divide and put more money into health and infrastructure? Then point the finger at the state. Demand a living wage, a fair tax regime, universal healthcare, public ownership of public services and a ban on poverty profiteering like the subprime mortgages that caused the 2008 economic collapse.

What if Musk did abandon SpaceX and spend his wealth on societal issues? Fantastic! I’m sure lots of good would come of it. What happens when the money runs out? What happens to all the people that were being helped? Do they slip back into poverty, isolation, precarity? Those problems the authors are so keen to see banished aren’t going to be solved by a short term injection of cash by a philanthropist. Real solutions need to come from systemic change instigated and legislated into being for the long term by a courageous state.

Playing this blame game does nothing except demonise and divide, to set the haves against the have-nots, when all of humanity is equally morally responsible for holding governments – those with the actual power to affect change – to account for their actions. To turn Russell and Vinsel’s argument back at them, why aren’t they using the power they have, as publishers with an audience, to encourage all people – regardless of their economic status – to join together and demand better of their governments. Why aren’t they using their megaphone to encourage people to join equality movements or protest budget cuts? What is morally right about writing insulting tirades against fellow human beings?

Fitbit Surge – one month in

In December I started wearing a Fitbit surge (a work perk) and wanted to share my thoughts/experience.

  • Steps seem largely accurate, although as you might expect it’s not so great at counting them when you’re pushing a pushchair! However, I have managed to achieve my steps target (7k per day) whilst;
    • walking up to bed
    • driving my car
    • cooking Christmas dinner
    • stirring my pasta
  • Heart rate is *not* very accurate. Given this is something the Fitbit Surge is supposed to be very good at, and Fitbit advertise it as being accurate, it’s disappointing. I noticed it was reporting well below my actual bpm whilst on an excercise bike at the gym. It turns out, I’m not the only one – Fitbit are facing a class action lawsuit over it.
  • Floors seems like a lot of nonsense to me. I don’t see how it’s accurate or useful.
  • Battery life is woeful, compared to what Fitbit claim. It lasts about two days for me.
  • I love that I can connect to my phone while playing music to see what’s playing, pause or skip tracks. However, I’ve had to stop using it because it massively drains the power.
  • Tracking cycling works, for the most part, and the GPS seems accurate. GPS does drain the battery quickly though.
  • Through the app you can choose from a number of different types of exercise to make available on the Fitbit Surge. However, it’s unclear what some of these are, or the difference between them and there is *no* documentation to explain it. I’ve read in forums, for example, that “spinning” and “workout” do the same thing.
  • The vibrating alarm is nice at first but I find it all to easy to just ignore. If you ignore it, it stops and doesn’t do anything else other than leave the alarm display on. I’d expect it to, like my phone does, automatically snooze and keep on going until I turn it off.
  • The app isn’t terrible intuitive. There’s a lot in it, and it’s kind of hard to know where to go. You get used to it, and once you do there’s a ton of info there. It’s the primary way to look at what you’ve been up to, and it gives you all the info you need.
  • Being a cyclist I like to link it up to Strava and that works really well.
  • I like that you can set a goal other than steps. Calories, for example.
  • When I’m in my car, my phone connects to it via Bluetooth. But if I have the Fitbit connected to my phone the car can’t connect. It’s probably the car’s fault because the Bluetooth on that is crap, but it’s frustrating none the less.
  • From the start I’ve had call and text notifications on so I can see from the Fitbit Surge who is calling or texting me. It’s never worked, but I just got it working a couple of days ago… :shrug:
  • I’ve tracked exercise bike workouts as “spinning” and while the calories seems right, the steps don’t. For example, a 40 minute workout that burned 334 calories only added 25 steps and was classed as 32 active minutes. My heart rate was pretty accurate during that too.

Banning the Niqab is not secularism and the NSS should know better

Just as I said about the French ban on face coverings, an English school banning the niqab is equally divisive. It’s disappointing to see the National Secular Society supporting the policy.

Religious Freedom

Banning the niqab is restricting the religious freedom of the individual. Why does a school have the right to decide what children can and can’t wear? Especially when attire is part of religious observance.

Facial Expressions

Teachers need to see a student’s whole face in order to read the visual cues it provides.

Every day I work, converse, collaborate, make decisions and develop friendships with people without seeing their faces. I do so with people in the same town or on the other side of the world. We learn from each other, too.

This notion that a niqab diminishes the ability of teachers and other pupils to interact with a student is nonsense. Yes, a large proportion of human communication comes down to body language, but removing that does not erect an impassible brick wall. Come on, do you really think the telephone would have taken off if that were the case?!

“Decency”

The school’s appearance policy states that “inappropriate dress that offends public decency or which does not allow teacher student interactions will be challenged”.

I beg your fucking pardon – offends public decency?!

1. What is indecent about covering your face? Walking around naked in public is indecent. Abusive behaviour is indecent. Not showing your face affects no-one. If I don’t want you to see part of me, that’s my right. It is categorically not indecent of me to choose who I show myself to.

2. An organisation that campaigned against the ridiculous provisions of Section 5 of the Public Order Act which effectively criminalised insult should be ashamed of using “offence” as an excuse to support curtailing a person’s individual liberty.

Islamophobic

The ban is not Islamophobic. It is not an attack on the religion of Islam. However, the decision, and the NSS’ support of it, does fuel the perception of ‘Islamophobia’.

Supporting a ban that does nothing to address real community division only serves to anger groups in the community and further divide them.

It’s also a little galling to see the NSS invoke Conservatives who are big supporters of the free schools agenda which the NSS knows full well further promote religious privilege and division.

Secularism harmed

The National Secular Society, by supporting a ban on religious dress are harming the cause of secularism in the UK.

They are further dividing communities, limiting individual religious freedoms and sending out the message that secularists are here to shut down religious expression.

Secularists believe in freedom from religion and freedom of religion. The NSS ought to remember that.

Image: By User:Shaleiha guldam (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Open source rules, and it’ll kill Apple

“Both [Microsoft’s] C# and [Apple’s] Objective-C are unsurprisingly almost invisible [on GitHub], because they’re both ecosystems that either don’t encourage or actively discourage open-source code.”

From ReadWrite

Most people who know me know that I’m not exactly an Apple fan.

I am a big open source fan though, and the two are connected. As a believer in free software principles I despise the restrictive, closed systems of Apple (not to mention it’s overpriced, locked down hardware).

I’m constantly surprised that so many of the free software advocates I know or come across are Apple fans.

But Apple will, in my opinion, fall based on this. People don’t like to be restricted, they like their freedom to use their tech in the way they wish. Actively discouraging open source is putting Apple at odds with the vast and growing number of developers committing to free software principles.

Update: This view on the dramatic fall of Unix and rise of Linux illustrates my point entirely. You can’t beat a good open source community.

Why I backed App.net

Given the choice I’d prefer to pay for a product than be the product.

I want ownership of my own data, my own mutterings, musing, incoherent rants and drivvle.

My own words and creations should be available to me in the format I want them in, not subject to someone else’s corporate branding guidelines and platform stifling despotism.

Being in a walled garden feels anathema to the world wide web that was envisaged by TBL and that I fell in love with so many years ago.

So many people whinge about being delivered ads on Facebook, in their Gmail, or promoted tweets on Twitter. Yet often (not always!) those same people don’t seem to get that they are the product.

App.net lays the foundation (important: Alpha does not equal App.net) for that relationship to fundamentally change, in their favour.

Spotify are digging their own grave by not going social

There’s a phrase I picked up from somewhere a while ago and now use it quite a lot. It’s;

No involvement, no commitment.

The basic premise is that if you don’t feel involved in something then you’re less likely to be committed to it. Take work, for example. If you don’t feel as if you’re an integral part of the place you’re less likely to give two hoots about getting in on time, meeting deadlines etc.

This basic idea seems to be behind so many things, including social media.

For me, Facebook works because it makes it so easy for friends to involve each other in what they’re doing. Earlier this year, Neilsen released some stats showing the amount of time people spend on top sites. Facebook, the 4th most popular site and most popular social network, pushed passed the 7 hour mark. That’s over 7 hours a month that the average user spends on the site.

Spotify. I love it. I have a premium subscription allowing me to listen at a higher bit rate than most users and, with the app on my 32GB Nokia N97 I have an incredible MP3 player at my fingertips.

But Spotify is in trouble. It’s not reaching enough subscribers in the UK – it’s biggest market – putting the whole business model in doubt.

I’ve been saying for ages that Spotify needs to get social. It needs to add that element of involvement that keeps people so glued to Facebook. I ‘scrobble‘ what I’m listening too so that my habits are recorded by Last.fm, but I never use the service because it involves the effort of opening up another service, but if those features were built into Spotify… wow. Then I could interact with my friends, just like I do on Facebook, but focused around our shared music tastes.

Nothing provides that in one place. It takes two apps and some manual copy/paste to share stuff.

So as exciting as mflow looks, it’s a bit too much like Last.fm but on the desktop. Sure it’s great that I can share songs I’m listening to and like, but I have to switch from Spotify to mflow and search for the track that’s already right in front of me in Spotify. Again, ball-ache and I can’t see myself using mflow long term because of the extra effort involved.

What Spotify needs to do is add mflow-like features. Let me “favourite/like/love” a track/album/artist. Show this on my friend’s start pages, as part of a timeline of activity including what I’m listening too. Show me a chart of my compatibility with my friends.

Give me a profile which shows what I’m listening to, charts of what I listen to most. Let me share tracks, albums and playlists with friends easily from within the application.

Let me involve my friends in my Spotify experience and let them do likewise. We’ll all be more committed to using Spotify – and with the added benefits, far more likely to pay that £10 per month for the privilege.

Update: What I’m proposing is nothing new, it’s human nature. Check out Dan Slee’s post on mix tapes as the pre-internet social media.

Update #2: Spotify made a u-turn; they’re going social! This article on Music Ally describes the Facebook integration features which will allow easy sharing of playlists and tracks between friends. Not only that but they’re sorting out my second bug-bear: existing music libraries. No longer will I have to suffer the embarrassment of using Windows Media Player as Spotify will now incorporate music already stored on your PC. Fantastic! Well done, Spotify.

There is no web 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0

This is deliberately similar to my first Posterous post, “There is no new vs. old media“…

There is no web 1.0 or web 2.0 or even web 3.0. There is only the evolving web. I despise the use of the phrase “web 2.0” when it relates to web design, for example – it implies that it needs to have cool jQuery and Ajax stuff going on. You know what, if you’re building a site figure out your user need and build it using the right technologies. Don’t just build a “web 2.0” site ’cause it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Okay, rant over. But who’s to say I’m right. Disagree at will using the comments.

This was posted via web from Philip’s posterous