Internet and Social Media

Tony Blair, the Honeywell Bubble Count, and the political struggle to understand the Internet’s rage machine

Tony Blair (yes, that Tony Blair) has been desperately trying to understand the outrage and energy that will see Jeremy Corbyn, a desperate Cold War-era hard-left throwback, become head of his precious UK Labour Party.

There is a politics of parallel reality going on, in which reason is an irritation, evidence a distraction, emotional impact is king and the only thing that counts is feeling good about it all.

Continue reading

Mourning the passing of online friends

“We are who we are because of who we love,” said my wife, “and it will always be so.”

We were discussing life, and its transience, off of two years in which far too many of those close to us have stopped.

There are a few people who I met via my Livejournal blog, now more than 15 years ago, who became online friends. One of those people happens to have been Sam, who introduced me into a small group that went on to start Scholars and Rogues. The Rogues are similarly part of the fabric of my friendships. Continue reading

greece-flag

Greece votes “No,” leaving us where?

When Yanis Varoufakis left academia to take up his position as Greece’s finance minister after the far-left electoral victory which brought Syriza to power, he said words to the effect that – if things didn’t work out – he could always go back to university.

“I mean, I really don’t want to be in this office … I will go back to my book about Europe, which is half-finished. It’s very difficult to find an ending when I am still in this job.”

I took away from that soundbite that he, akin with many of his ivory-tower colleagues, is unsuited for the real world and would abandon the consequences of his actions as soon as he got bored.

Today, he did just that, saying, “I wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.” Continue reading

Separate and not equal

Israel’s emphatic election result embraces the Apartheid state

Separate and not equal

Separate and not equal

Israel’s new Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, now has a mandate from Israelis to implement his policy: no Palestinian state, and preferential rights for Jewish Israelis.

Let’s be quite clear where that takes you: Apartheid South Africa.

75% of Israel’s population is of Jewish descent; a little over 6 million people. But the overall population of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is 14 million.

In a unified state, without any prospect for Palestinian independence, Jewish Israelis are instantly a minority group. Netanyahu has to ensure that Jewish Israelis continue to “rule” and so, just as importantly to his manifesto, is that Jewish Israelis must have more rights to protect them from that majority. Continue reading

atlas-shrugged

Rereading Atlas Shrugged as South Africa becomes a dictatorship

atlas-shruggedKarl Marx was a brilliant diagnostician. His analysis of the way in which unregulated capitalism can drive inequality was incisive, especially considering the lack of data available to him to prove his point. His solution, on the other hand, was appallingly destructive.

That seems to happen fairly often. People notice a social or economic problem, assess and diagnose its cause with astonishing aplomb, and then suggest a solution of startling naiveté based on cartoonish assumptions about the way people behave.

Sometimes the cartoon solution reflects the cartoon in real life. Continue reading

Tartarus Falls Cover

Novel Journey 9: In which the author figures out his pricing so he can publish

Tartarus Falls Cover

Tartarus Falls

“Father, tell me a story?” asks Isaiah, moments before an alien craft smashes into the jungle near his isolated Nigerian village. Inside is the shattered body of a man.

With his orbital city hiding in the rubble of a devastating war, Samara falls 35,000km to escape from the space-based prison of Tartarus. Struggling to heal, and hunted by a brutal warlord in a ruthless land, Samara searches for a way home to the woman he loves.

And, in the darkness, waits the simmering fury at the heart of Tartarus.

I read a very good argument as to why we do need elite publishers and celebrity writers.

Publishers, like Hachette, serve to keep ebook prices high; $10 or more per book. Self-publishers aim low; 99c to $2.99 with another cluster at about $4.50. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

Microsoft’s HoloLens corporate communications are the reason the world is a better place today

I was shaking and weeping by the end of the advert for Microsoft’s new HoloLens technology.

Maybe you don’t like Microsoft? Or galloping consumerism? Or corporatism, or the wealth of the elite, or whatever. You’re a jaded cynic and such things serve to feed your rage.

I understand.

Put that aside for two minutes and twelve seconds and remember what it was like being five years old, when the world was new, and watch this:

Continue reading

Jeremy Paxman vs Richard Nixon: the alternative reality that never was (S&R Honors)

In an alternative universe Jeremy Paxman, not David Frost, interviewed Richard Nixon in 1977.

David Frost became an extremely successful comedian. His tours with Monty Python are celebrated to this day. Jeremy Paxman was newly-arrived in the US from Beirut where his explosive interview style had led to tension within the BBC.

His now infamous interrogation, in 1976, of Étienne Saqr of the Gardiens des Cèdres, whose militia massacred hundreds in Karantina in East Beirut, included 20 minutes of Paxman demanding, “Are you a genocidal maniac?” while Saqr threatened him with a machine gun. Continue reading

Michele-Obama-Nigerian-Girls

Understanding Nigeria: Boko Haram, joy, corruption, Egusi soup and the racism of #BringBackOurGirls

When Kim Kardashian takes up your cause, you know  you’ve hit rock bottom.

“Hmmm, the website is, excuse me, my Oga at the top knows the website.”

Mr Shem Obafaye, by the grace of political favour, Lagos State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps — the paramilitary NSCDC — was on the spot on Channels Television’s live breakfast show, Sunrise.

The probing, penetrating, unforgiving investigative journalism continued in the full light of the public gaze. “What is the official website of the NSCDC?”

“My Oga at the top is working on the website and I don’t have them.” Continue reading

orestes-pursued-by-furries

What if Russia’s invasion of Crimea is really a post-democracy problem?

The Crimea crisis may feel like a throwback to the Cold War, but it’s actually reflective of 21st century democracy.

ImageDemocracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Despotism is “the exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.”

A child denied any access to sweeties, despite abject pleas to the contrary, is experiencing despotism. A child offered a choice of two sweeties, but not one of the fifty they actually wanted, is experiencing democracy.

History is messy. Continue reading

Africa

Tackling poverty means that there will be more KFCs in Africa

Photo credit: CIMMYT.

Smallholder farmer prepares maize plot for planting with CIMMYT improved varieties, Embu, Kenya

Gates Foundation and KFC initiatives are better news than many understand.

Rural villages in Africa are not just poor, their demography is hollowed out. Continue reading

Remembering Nelson Mandela: the origins of hope and despair

Nelson Mandela emerging from Victor Verster Prison, 11 February 1990, Reuters

Nelson Mandela emerging from Victor Verster Prison, 11 February 1990, Reuters

Sunday afternoon in 1990. 11 February in Port Elizabeth. The height of summer, just after schools have returned for the start of the year. The wind howls as the air tears down South Africa’s long coast.

That day was calm. The country held its breath.

Thousands gathered at Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, about an hour outside Cape Town. They were waiting for the unhoped-for release of one man: Nelson Mandela.

I, 16 years old, poised in front of the television with my camera on a tripod. I knew it was probably futile trying to catch an image, but I wanted somehow to hang on to this moment. Continue reading

Sunset, Dacozy Beach Resort, Moalboal, Philippines

Novel Journey 8: In which the author submits

Sunset, Dacozy Beach Resort, Moalboal, Philippines

Sunset, Dacozy Beach Resort, Moalboal, Philippines

Eventually there comes the moment when any author has to submit what they have written to the jaded palate of agencies. Friends have enjoyed what I’ve written, but one always receives a bit of a free pass from that quarter. Today I started the process of seeking representation. Continue reading

Feral dog and motorbike, Moalboal, Philippines

Novel Journey 5: In which the author fails to buy a pig

Feral dog and motorbike, Moalboal, Philippines

Feral dog and motorbike, Moalboal, Philippines

The small child was perched under a shelter, upon the wall of a square enclosure. “You want buy pig?” he inquired.

The author, being as he was on his way back from diving, demurred.

I can see why folks dive at Pescador Island – a small atoll only a few minutes boat ride from Panagsama Beach – it is simply beautiful. I was, for reasons known only to itself, adopted by a remora which became the surreal highlight of my dive. Oh sure, there were all sorts of colourful fish, nudibranches, sea horses, soft and hard corals, and snotty-looking things, but every time I reached for my pressure gauge, I would grab a handful of Romy (that was her name).

The giggling probably reduced my downtime a bit, but I still got an hour in. Continue reading

Village shop, Moalboal, Philippines

Novel Journey 4: In which the author gets back to work

Village shop, Moalboal, Philippines

Village shop, Moalboal, Philippines

The only way to take a month off is not to take a month off. Today was a work day. Tomorrow is a diving day. So writing resumes on Saturday.

Still, the ocean is just over the lawn and I saw a ray leap out of the water a few metres out.

Words completed: 20,969 and 5,482 written on Wednesday, including a re-edit of work to date.

Some influences for this work include Italo Calvino (If on a winter’s night a traveller), Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) and Alan Paton (Cry, The Beloved Country). They’re an odd mix for a near-future science fiction story. I love the tone of Paton’s book, the timbre of the conversation. I love the gentleness of McCall Smith’s work, the care people have for each other. I love the post-modern exuberance of Calvino, the patchwork-quilt that is a story.

I don’t have any books with me. I haven’t read a fictional work in months. Clearing my head. That doesn’t mean I’m not reading, but I’m taking care to keep an aesthete’s approach to fitness.

The clearing is important because only a week ago I was doing this: Open Knowledge Conference – Gavin Chait

Suit-to-surf in three days and then leaving the complex world of open data, metadata standards and such behind is a culture shock.

Tomorrow I go diving. That should help.

Bonsai Farm, Moalboal, Philippines

Novel Journey 3: In which the author goes snorkeling

Bonsai Farm, Moalboal, Philippines

Bonsai Farm, Moalboal, Philippines

It is a 20 minute walk from Dacozy to Panagsama village through the village where the folks who support the tourist industry actually live.

There is one cluster of small houses where everyone seems to have gone made for bonsai trees. I’m not sure if it is a very enthusiastic hobby or something raised to sell elsewhere. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

Novel Journey 2: In which the author commences

House Beach, Dacozy Resort, Moalboal
I have spent years trying to come up with the first sentence and following paragraphs for the novel. I have tried every voice, even an idea of letting a group of animals sit around a camp-fire and tell the story of my human protagonists.

This morning I deleted about 2,000 words of an introduction written six months ago in favour of rewriting the second chapter. This works and captures the narrative feel I want from the beginning. Continue reading

Panagsama Beach, Moalboal

Novel Journey 1: In which the author goes forth

Panagsama Beach, Moalboal

Panagsama Beach, Moalboal

My father passed away three weeks ago.

His cancer returned in May and I flew home for a few weeks to spend time with him and my mom. He had just completed a round of radiation therapy and was recovering his fitness. My mom was retiring early and they were hoping to go travelling together, bringing forward plans originally slated for my mom’s 70th birthday, still two years away.

When I left, only two months ago, all seemed well. But it hangs over everything. Every conversation. Each moment.

My dad’s sister visited from Australia six weeks ago and, again, everything seemed fine. Then the phone call and the hasty trip to South Africa.

I started writing my first novel, Tartarus One, when I was 12 years old on my father’s first computer. It was an IBM clone with a tiny green cathode ray screen. I wrote about 10,000 words before stopping. The story then was about a man who was unjustly imprisoned in a jail in space, who escaped by building a small craft, and crashed in central Africa before returning to exact vengeance.

It was a clever story but I realised quite quickly that the voice and approach I was writing in wasn’t my own. It was Stephen King’s. And I knew that wouldn’t do.

I tried off and on over the years but, unless one has a trust fund or a supportive, wealthy and understanding spouse, writing full-time is too expensive and the returns too insecure. I have always worked and never earned sufficient to give it a go.

Over the years Tartarus One became Tartarus Falls. The story evolved, became more complex, then simpler, then honed. But I never wrote it.

I arrived on Monday afternoon. He was in bed and hadn’t moved for a few days. He was thrilled to see me and my normally physically reserved father held my hand tightly as we spoke that afternoon. Him in short, exhausted bursts. Every word leaving him panting from the effort.

He didn’t look well. His face swollen and blotchy, pale. His skin cold, even though he said he felt warm. He couldn’t lift his arms, so I helped feed him, change him, drop water into his mouth with a syringe.

But he was cheerful. Chatty, even. He wasn’t in pain, except when we moved him.

He seemed to think that he could recover even from this. The nurse who arrived left me in no doubt how serious things were. He hadn’t urinated in days, his kidneys had stopped.

I’ve always worked hard and have taken tremendous risks with my ideas, ambitions and choices. Sometimes that worked, sometimes that didn’t. My life hasn’t been dull.

A year ago, with an awareness that life is shorter than one may hope but still long enough, I contacted a writer mate of mine. Jon Evans has written a few novels and even sold sufficient of them to pay for an expanded life-style, although he does keep a regular software job as well. He travels and writes and works.

Let’s go somewhere with a beach, sufficiently low-cost to keep us there a while, good internet access, and good diving, and let us each write a novel, I suggested. He thought it a good idea and we began hunting though island nations.

Cuba meets most criteria, except for being an evil Stalinist dictatorship. So the internet is crap. Papua New Guinea is just fucking expensive. Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand … either of us have already been.

That left the Philippines. Which consists of several hundred islands. Next question, which one?

My brother arrived on Tuesday. By then, my father could only speak a word or two before losing consciousness. I called the UK and let my wife speak to him.

They’ve always had a very special relationship, going to see cricket together at Lord’s in the UK. Could it be only a year ago that my wife made my dad run for a bus to get to the grounds?

“I love you dad,” she said.

My mom, my brother and I sat around the bed, playing music, telling stories, laughing, sometimes crying. We remembered.

My story, while being science fiction, happens to be set in Nigeria. Why? Well, when my hero escapes from an orbital jail which uses a space elevator to transfer goods and people, it has to be sited over the equator.

I was fortunate to have spent a month in Nigeria over this year, working on a local data transparency project for the Edo State government. I also took a few days to visit some of the places where the story happens. I found books on Efik culture and cuisine. I did my research, discovering I could make my villains much more terrifying than I had originally imagined.

I worked out the structure of the story, the set-pieces, the characters.

My sister-in-law and nephews arrived on Wednesday. He wasn’t able to speak anymore although, at least in the morning, he was able to acknowledge that he was still listening.

When I helped move him, or dress him, or feed him, I could see the dark splotches under his skin that must be part of the cancer spreading throughout his body. If a thing could be said to be evil, they looked it.

“Wait,” he would gasp. Short, stubby words. Every time we needed to move him.

Through the day, he got weaker.

Even as I booked my plane tickets and reserved accommodation, I was worried. What happens with my dad’s cancer? Would he live long enough for the book to be published? He was never much of a reader and the cancer meant that he couldn’t see very well, but he could know that it was written. That it was done.

I never expected the call to come so soon.

At 16h00 he asked me for peanuts. I put a little peanut butter on a teaspoon and he sucked it. Then he asked for cheese and onion chips. I couldn’t give him that. I placed some water in his mouth with the syringe.

He refused food at 17h00. Clamped his jaws shut and wouldn’t take anything. Then he slept, his mouth open, gasping.

I was already exhausted when I packed for Moalboal. I had just returned from South Africa, spending the night before working through my dad’s documents with my mom, helping her prepare for the accountants so they could settle his estate.

There had been no space to mourn yet and it would be another two weeks before I would get any rest. I still had a conference to prepare for in Geneva, several projects to close out, a number of proposals to write and submit, and a report to finish.

I stayed with him till 23h50. It had been three days since I last snatched more than a few hours of sleep and I left my mom alone with him.

She woke me at 00h28 on Thursday morning. I checked that he was no longer breathing, that his heart had stopped, and I covered him with a sheet.

We called the Chevra Kadisha and we sat quietly together. My brother, my mother, and me.

This morning I woke up with the sound of the ocean against the shore. Two-and-a-half days of travel behind me.

For the next four weeks, a novelist’s journey ahead.