Thursday, 28 October 2010

Proud of the BBC

The BBC is a brilliant, diverse, and vital organisation.  I can’t imagine life in Britain without it.  It isn’t just a broadcaster, it’s an institution, part of our national fabric – there’s a reason we call it Auntie Beeb.  I’m not even going to attempt to list some of the amazing programmes, both on television and radio, that it’s produced over the years, we all have our favourites.  What constantly amazes me is the breadth of its ambition.  This is an organisation whose remit spreads from Strictly Come Dancing to the World Service, from Eastenders to Radio 4.  It can encompass tastes from the opera-going Radio 3 listener to the soap and reality TV watching viewer.

It doesn’t just have a glorious history, but it’s still making innovative television and radio today, and its enthusiastic embracing of new media has led to it producing one of the best websites in the world (although I’m not exactly convinced by their enthusiasm for DAB radio).  Its news gathering is the first place I turn to when I want both factual descriptions of what’s going on and decent analysis.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m proud of the BBC.  And I’m not the only one.  Mitch Benn is so proud of it that his next single is about shouting that very fact to the rooftops.  It expresses the same sentiments I would like to, but more eloquently and with a degree more panache.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

RIP Benoît Mandelbrot

It seems that Benoît Mandelbrot passed away on Thursday.  This hasn’t had a lot of attention in the media, but I think it deserves a moment to remember the man who coined the term ‘fractal’.  And I can’t think of a better tribute than Jonathan Coulton’s song Mandelbrot Set.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Electronic snooping by HR departments

This post on Bruce Schneier’s blog led me to this rather disturbing article.  I don’t know about anyone else but I find it rather creepy that what you said years ago, or an embarrassing picture, possibly put up by someone else, could be used to determine whether or not you get (or keep!) a job.  The use of fear to sell it is also insidious, suggesting that if companies don’t do it, they may be held liable.

Although I’m not on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other popular social networking sites, I do keep a public blog and I appreciate that I have to be careful what I write on it.  I avoid talking about my employer, except in the most general terms and these days I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t be able to defend.  But I’ve had this blog for a long time, and I can’t guarantee that I was always so circumspect.  And I’m certainly not adverse to putting political opinions here either.  If something like this became widespread, and I was in the job market, I’d give serious consideration to going through and removing possibly damaging posts (i.e. anything vaguely contentious) or even taking the blog down entirely and moving it behind a friend-wall.  In this way, the public sphere is weakened, and (self-)censorship gains another victory.

Another example: when IoWiki was first established, there was a debate about how we handle entries for members, something that led to a policy stating that inclusion is opt-in, and the whole wiki blocked to spiders to make it harder for companies like the one mentioned in the article to collect this sort of information.  I originally thought that some of the precautions we took were somewhat OTT, but with technology and companies like this emerging, I’m glad that some people back then had the foresight to insist that we did take those precautions.

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