Category Archives: Musing

I’m writing this on my lunch break from a duller than usual  project. Not being one to get bored with work, I’ve been struggling to understand what’s wrong.

This morning I was passing that difficult time between coffee entering the mouth and caffeine reaching the brain by glancing over some StackOverflow questions. (I find it’s a good way to get in the mood before the fog has lifted). Then as I contemplated these poor souls wrestling with their work, I realised – the project is dull because it’s going too well.

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I spend most of my working life striving to automate things, but in other parts of my life (what remains of it aside from work) I’m getting increasingly annoyed with the automation of everyday life.

Supermarket self-checkout machines, “live chat” customer service… I could pick from any number of modern irritants made worse by the removal of humans, but today I’m going to pick on TfL‘s ticketing system.

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It used to be simple.

The VHS player you just bought from Dixons doesn’t work, so you take it back to the shop and say “Oi, this doesn’t work”. They plug it into a TV, slot in a tape and either say “Oh, sorry” and give you a new one, or “Nope, it’s fine. Must be your TV or your tape”.

There were only so many parties that could be accountable for a product not working, and it was pretty easy to place the blame and get it sorted. It’s not so simple any more.

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You have until March 4th 2013 to watch this excellent BBC4 documentary called “Google and the World Brain“.

If you live on Earth I recommend that you watch it. (Although you probably have to be in the UK to watch iPlayer)

Starting off with the problems of copyright in the digital age, it goes much further – it prompts you to think about everything from corporate responsibility to AI and the direction of human civilisation.

There’s too much to cover, but here’s a quick write-up with links to some of my favourite moments.

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This post is about whether we’re sufficiently educated in computer technology to live in a world that increasingly depends on it. I’m going to argue that although we may be doomed, perhaps we’re no more doomed than we’ve ever been.

Allow me to set the scene with a [possibly paraphrased] quote from astrophysicist Carl Sagan, circa 1995:

“We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. 

This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.” 

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So far this year I’ve coughed up quite a bit of money for services that I reluctantly admit I am helpless without. One chunk of cash went to my accountant and another to a plumber. Not interesting, but true.

I don’t do analogue 

These were expensive reminders that not everything in my life can be controlled by plugging in a keyboard and hacking up some code. It seems we are not – as it would appear in the pages of Wired magazine – living in a Cyberpunk novel.
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I can’t blog about every pukesome tabloid news article that comes my way, but this is sort of related to online security and stuff, so that’s my excuse.

Sky News published a story yesterday about a man who retrieved his stolen phone by way of a vigilante sting operation. The trap he laid involved impersonating a woman online without her permission and arming himself with hammer. Everybody LOLs. Continue reading…