The story of a RT

Yesterday I made a joke, for which I am deeply, deeply sorry.

It was sparked by a tweet from Sally Bercow.

Break from #eurovision tweets (a girl’s gotta eat) & I see UK is bombing. Hate to say I told you so but… I did

My response:

Politicians’ wives should never use the phrase “UK is bombing” in tweets.

It was, arguably, a funny. A jest. You see, “UK is bombing” has two meanings. In the context written, it meant that the UK, specifically Engelbert Humperdinck, was doing badly in said Eurovision competition. But in another context, it might mean that the UK is invading another nation.

Couple with this the closeness of Sally to the people who make decisions like going to war, it was comedy gold. To get the joke across, I referenced her being the wife of a politician, a key element, I felt.

Now I admit, it wasn’t the funniest joke ever. But it was mildly amusing. It was retweeted by Sally herself, and by around 25 other people. But then there was the odd twerp who didn’t see the funny side.

Take @spangletart, aka M Phillips.

Get a life eh Dan! A Woman is not defined by her husbands career! We don’t live in Saudi! #sexistmuppetry

Or @soundscapes.

Er … @SallyBercow is a person first … and a politician’s wife second. She can say what she likes.

It seems that no matter how clearly in jest a tweet is, it will always be misinterpreted, either knowingly or unknowingly, by a special few.

Almost exactly a week earlier, I made another joke.

George Osborne told the BBC he would “focus 100%” on the economy and not get “distracted” by other issues. ‪#UCL‬

The quote was direct from the BBC website. The #UCL hashtag was a reference to the Uefa Champions League, Osborne featuring in the crowd. At the time of the quote (6 May), I thought it was a ludicrous statement. I thought that other government priorities would be sure to at least partially compromise this ideal. But when presented with such a fabulous circumstance, I couldn’t help but call him on it.

It was retweeted well over 100 times (a personal record by a long shot), most notably by Alastair Campbell, but also drew a few annoyed responses.

Brian Fairclough:

@danosirra so he has given less than 100% so far?

Sun Dance McKid:

so he cannae go to a football match? 🙂 is he allowed to eat/do crosswords/play table tennis?

And Nick Reid:

He was sitting next to the German finance minister for the entire match. Don’t you think that might be useful ?

My tweet wasn’t an evaluation of his performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a cheap, amusing dig at his very bold statement not two weeks prior. (That said, if I’d made such a statement and was in the public eye, I’d probably have chosen to watch the Champions League final in my living room.)

Jokes on Twitter are fun, particularly when they pick up some momentum like the two examples above. And part of the fun is watching the joke fall flat for the special few.

Government finances should be reported in GBP per household

With immediate effect, all government expenditure and savings should be quoted in GBP per British household. With 23.54 million households in the UK, all financial amounts should simply be divided by this figure for reporting purposes.

Today’s news:

Suddenly, the news becomes more accessible, more intelligible, more relevant and more open to meaningful discourse.

Using hashtags for metadata

Throughout my time working with the civil service, people have bemoaned the problem of metadata. Metadata simply isn’t captured in documents. Users don’t have the inclination to do so. And a centralised resource to do the same would be both expensive and, likely, ill-placed to tag documents appropriately.

In Twitter, we use metadata despite only having 140 characters within which to do so. Hashtags are themselves pieces of metadata.

So what if hashtags were used in documents. Not as tags at the beginning or end of a document, because that requires a specific effort beyond the creation of the document. Instead, hashtags littering the body of the document itself. CamelCase would again take off like it was the mid-90s, given the need for spaceless tags, but that’s a small price to pay.

Document viewing software could repurpose hashtags as regular text, both for reading and for printing. But critically, the tags would be there to categorise documents and to give glee to librarians the world over.

My view is that if people take the effort in tweets, then they’re equally likely to do so in documents if the effort is minimal (one key-press) and the reward is clear.

Or in this technologically advanced world, is metadata a thing of the past?

The change in the jobs market

In the olden days, furniture was handcrafted by carpenters. Now, a large proportion of it is mass-produced by robots. In many cases, such as with Ikea, even its assembly has been outsourced to the end user.

Other homewares have gone a similar way: carpets, flooring, white goods.

When shopping for those goods, the shop assistant has often been taken out of the loop. The days of shop assistants being well-versed in the products that they are selling are, in the main, long gone. And so we buy from Amazon, looking to its reviews and our peers to guide us in the process.

When we venture into supermarkets, we scan our own items, no longer needing a swathe of till-workers.

Instead of talking to someone about a mortgage, a loan, a holiday or an insurance policy, we go online. Websites allow us to survey the market to find the deal most appropriate for our needs. And many such transactions can be completed without needing to interact with a human, either in person or over the phone. We can pay our bills an transfer money without going into a bank, go on holiday without meeting a single travel expert, and buy our car insurance and car tax entirely online.

Manufacturing has been automated. And increasingly, service is being automated. More and more functions are being performed by the end user, on an unpaid basis.

This is not exclusively the case. The building trade still has high demand, although with prefabricated three-storey buildings being erected in nine days, you have to wonder where even that trade will go.

The result of this is that an increasing proportion of our jobs are being pushed to the knowledge economy. And in so doing, I have two questions.

Is the number of jobs in this new world the same as it was before automation? And even with the appropriate education, is our available workforce able to fulfil them?

The trouble with Flickr

I made a couple of comments on Twitter last week about Flickr’s snail-like evolution.

That #Flickr is advertising as “New” the newly introduced “Upload” button in their primary nav. is what makes #Yahoo! doomed.

That Upload button is the most significant software upgrade in the last 24 months. #Flickr #Yahoo!

Reading Gizmodo’s article on a similar subject just now, I was quite close to the mark.

Since Flickr was bought by Yahoo!, there have been few technological developments that are visible to the end user. The odd screen may have received a makeover, and I think I can now see other people’s photos on maps. But beyond that, there’s little.

In fact, the main difference to me is that I was forced to start paying for the service (on 30 July 2008), as I needed to upload more pictures than the free account allowed. I don’t resent this. All services should be paid for.

What I resent is the lack of focus on me as a user by Yahoo!

I’d love to be able to log in with other systems’ credentials.

I’d love to be able to allow my Facebook followers automatic access to my protected photos.

I’d like a much richer interface for seeing my friends’ photos.

I’d like to be able to upload videos more than 90 seconds in length.

I’d like all photos taken on my smart phone to automatically upload to Flickr when in WiFi range, and for these only to be accessible by myself.

I’d like a much improved interface into my own photostream—timelines, montages, albums.

I’d like my geotagging of my own photos to have a positive impact on me, rather than merely fuelling other people’s views of the world.

Instead, I have none of these features. Instead, I have the privilege of losing access to all bar 200 of my photos if I ever stop paying.

Flickr will not die. Certainly not for a long time. Instead it will live a long dull life. Its user base will remain uninspired and unimpressed. And its functionality will creep forward while those around it bound past it. I wonder whether I’ll be a part of it.

Are electric cars really good for the environment?

I’ve long wondered whether electric cars are more fuel efficient than petrol cars. Below is my analysis.

The G-Wiz is probably the best-known of our all-electric vehicles. Its maximum range is 48 miles, requiring 9.66kWh of electricity, or 4.96 miles per kWh. This, I’m guessing, is in its most fuel efficient mode.

Coal-based energy production emits 950g of CO2 per kWh. So at maximum efficiency, a G-Wiz powered by coal-produced electricity emits 191g of CO2 for each mile driven.

Now take my Mazda 3, offering roughly 39 miles per gallon of petrol. Under the ‘perfect’ fuel/air mixture, petrol burning produces 2.36kg of CO2 per litre, or 10.73kg per gallon. This equates to 275g of CO2 for each mile driven, 44% less carbon efficient than a coal-sourced electric car.

A petrol car that can achieve 56mpg will have the same carbon production as a G-Wiz, assuming the G-Wiz’s energy is sourced from coal.

Electric cars are not in themselves environmentally friendly. But they give us options for fuel production that petrol cars don’t afford us. Once you have a petrol car, driving it will result in a pretty constant impact on the environment. With electric cars, we have the future choice, policy allowing, of sourcing our energy cleanly, therefore reducing the emissions for which an electric car is responsible.

But don’t assume that driving an electric car makes your journey environmentally friendly by default. Because it doesn’t.

Grammatical standards by medium

For me, each written communication medium comes with its own grammatical rules of engagement. Here are those that I employ, in descending order of formality:

What are your rules?

Our rubbish bank holidays

British bank holidays are oh so very rubbish. Beyond not going to work, there’s little to differentiate one from the next, and we’re left to talk about the weather which, by all accounts is always rubbish.

America’s public holidays are inspired.

In the UK, we have much more bland holidays.

I’m not bothered about having two fewer than they do (although their spacing throughout the year could do with some work. What bothers me is that they have little concept of character. Two of them (Boxing Day and Easter Monday) are simply extensions of other significant holidays. While the three dates in May and August might as well be celebrating my birthday.

The landing of MV Empire Windrush (22 June), Shakespeare’s birthday/deathday (23 April), a local celebration of our respective countries’ saints (various), VE Day (8 May), Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s birthday (9 April). These would all be worthy holidays.

Or how about Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday: 25 December. Oh, wait.