New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Thursday, July 17

Seulement en France

A group in France has taken to defacing billboards protesting against 'intrusive advertising'. And they're egging the police on to arrest them.

The "Collectif des Déboulonneurs" is a French group created in Paris in 2005 to protest, through non-violent actions, against the excess of public advertising. Its objective is to obtain a new law limiting the size of billboards to a maximum of 50x70cm.

Present in various French cities, the "Déboulonneurs" organize monthly actions of civil desobedience, tagging large advertising billboards. These actions are well coordinated, previously announced and non-violent. Members of the "Déboulonneurs" act without masks, and do not resist arrests by the police. The whole action lasts about 30' and the crowd is quietly dispersed afterwards. [Flickr]


Wednesday, July 16

iPhonic madness

50 reasons not to buy an iPhone!

2. Compare these prices with say T-mobile’s Flext 35 Web n Walk max tariff. For £32.50 a month, you get 450 free calls and 900 texts a month as well as “unlimited” internet surfing. You also get the feature rich Nokia N95 handset for free – costing you a total of £610.98 over 18 months. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out the analysis here by the technology website Cnet.
# 35. Celebs with iPhones 3: Paris Hilton has one.
# 47. If something goes wrong with your iPhone, you'll be sent an Official iPhone Tool, otherwise known as a paperclip.

Tuesday, July 15

The satire returns

Drought's over, Jon's back. Ah! That's better.

Here's McCain's squirming: viagra? naaarghhh ... erectile dysfunction? naaurggh-hh .... birth control? ah-narrrrug no! hsghha ...

Catholicism's victims

The Pope is in Sydney at the moment and one man has flown out from London to greet him.

Anthony Foster is an amazing man and father whose daughters were raped by a Catholic Priest, Kevin O'Donnell, when they were in primary school. Australian Cardinal George Pell stalled the family's compensation claim against the Church when he was archbishop of Melbourne. It's part of a pattern of abuse which the Church is being forced by some very heroic people to deal with.

Foster's eldest daughter, Emma, committed suicide after a long battle with drug addiction. His second daughter, Katherine, developed a heavy drinking habit, and was hit by a drunk driver in 1999 and left physically and mentally disabled and requiring 24-hour care.

They were raped over five years by O'Donnell when they attended Sacred Heart Primary School in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh between 1988 and 1993.

In 1996 O'Donnell was convicted of abusing 11 boys and one girl, aged between 8 and 14, between 1946 and 1977, and sentenced to 15 months in prison. He died after his release in 1997.

Initially offered A$50,000 (£24,000) by Cardinal Pell under his "Towards Healing" program, the Fosters pursued their case via the legal system for eight years, culminating in a six-figure settlement with the church in 2006 - one of the largest of its kind in Australia. Money which will be used for Katherine's care.

In 1998, when Emma was 16, Cardinal Pell wrote to her, saying: "It is my hope that my offer will be accepted by you as a preferable alternative to legal proceedings and that it too will assist you with your future."

"On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Kevin O'Donnell. I offer you my prayers."

Foster says that this apology was removed by lawyers for the church in 2002 during the court case over compensation.

"Emma carried the pain of her abuse for all her life until it ended recently," he told the ABC. "We really want to make sure that in her name and her memory something is done for other victims."

Pell, like other Catholic bureaucrats around the world, has a history of obstructing sexual abuse cases, presumably on the advice of lawyers.

"I want them to set up a system that provides a life-time help to victims, that begs forgiveness to victims," Foster says.

"An apology is not enough unless it is backed up with action, unless he removes all obstacles to continuing support for victims."

"They should come to us and beg for forgiveness."

Last week I posted a video about the role of the church in the genocide of Canada's indigenous peoples. The same thing happened in Australia, and so this is another part of their history which the Pope will apparently be apologising for in Sydney. As this very brave man Anthony Foster is trying to explain, apologies are not enough.

Postscript: The Pope did not meet with Anthony Foster. Instead he held a meeting with six carefully selected victims at the last minute in Sydney and press were told about it on the plane going home. That's media management!

'Interference' + Zimbabwe

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, was quoted as justifying their veto of the recent UN Resolution on these grounds: “This draft is nothing but the council’s attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state.”

Now although I know there are strong arguments against sanctions (Simon Jenkins made some excellent points in the Guardian), 'interference' is already happening, only it's not being reported.

Quite apart from the opinion of (and attempts at securing 'interference of) a number of neighboring states, primarily Zambia and Botswana, today's Independent reports that foreign mercenaries are part of the terror campaign - the most ruthless part. Someone is allowing this or turning blind eyes.

Mugabe already hosts another dictator (Ethiopia's Mengistu). Now comes news that some of the Hutus who engaged in the Rwanda genocide are there too, such as Protais Mpiranya, the former head of the presidential guard during the 1994 genocide. He is on the wanted list of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, but is suspected to have strong business links with senior Zimbabwe army officers.

[The mercenaries] dress in army fatigues, carry Russian-made guns and are accompanied by interpreters when out with the militias.

Patrick Chitaka, the MDC chairman in Manicaland province in the east of the country, said the foreigners had been identified in the past two to three weeks supporting government-backed men.

Mr Chitaka said: "We have observed that some of the people leading the violence are foreigners because they speak a different language and they do not understand our local languages.

"Also the tactics they are using are not peculiar with Zimbabweans because they are cutting out the tongue, removing eyes and genital parts. We are not sure where they come from."

"There are between six and 10 foreigners in each base, and there are 20 Zanu bases in the two constituencies. They wear military uniform, carry guns especially shotguns which we think are Russian. They are cruel and brutal. Each unit has an interpreter who tells them what to do. People here live close to several borders and they know Portuguese from Mozambique and languages from Malawi and Zambia. [These people] don't speak any of those or English.
There have previously been reports of Chinese soldiers:

The Chinese, together with about 70 Zimbabwean senior army officers are staying at the Holiday Inn, in the city’s central business district.

There are about 10 Chinese soldiers. “We were shocked to see Chinese soldiers in their full military regalia and armed with pistols checking at the hotel,” said one worker.

“When they signed checking-in forms they did not indicate the nature of the business that they are doing and even their addresses.”

And news as well that in order to boost its jamming operations against the UK based SW Radio Africa and Voice of America's Studio 7, Mugabe's regime recently received another shipment of the latest in radio wave jamming equipment from China.
Landing records, shown to us at the Harare International Airport by port authorities, confirmed that the government received the equipment on May 17. The equipment was among several other items the Chinese delivered, including an assortment of sophisticated military surveillance hardware.
They are also looking to 'block' web news sources, whether they are using the Chinese expertise for that the article doesn't say.
“The independent media, has made our lives difficult,” one official, working in the ZANU-PF information department, said. “The strategic leaks into the independent media of our plans by enemies within ZANU-PF, has meant that the world knows everything we about to do, hours before we do it.”

"With the list at hand, the task of the CIO, with intelligence officials from the military, will indentify, and eliminate all journalists working for these pirate news organizations," officials privy to the details said.

More Zapiro

Meanwhile the Zimbabwean economy is hitting another technical brick wall:
The bigger problem is the mess in the banking computer systems, which can only handle a maximum payment of Z$999 999 999 999.00 per transaction.
'Interference' is already happening, China and Russia and South Africa and all the others who shout about it. Only it's on Mugabe's side. This is hardly surprising. The BBC has uncovered hard evidence that China is militarily backing Sudan in Darfur.

Sunday, July 13

Never too old

The oldest blogger in the world, Olive Riley has died. She was born in 1899 and was 108 years old. She lived in a retirement home on the New South Wales Central Coast

Before she died, she'd made 70 posts since February last year about her life and musings on what she jokingly labelled, her "blob". She wrote for "you 21st century people " about raising three children on her own, living through two world wars and the Depression, her work as a station cook in rural Queensland and as an egg sorter and barmaid in Sydney.

In her final post, dated June 26, she couldn't "shake off that bad cough".

She'd also "read a whole swag of email messages and comments from my internet friends today, and I was so pleased to hear from you. Thank you, one and all."

"It was mind blowing to her," said her great grandson Darren Stone, of Brisbane.

"She had people communicating with her from as far away as Russia and America on a continual basis, not just once in a while."

"She enjoyed the notoriety - it kept her mind fresh," Mr Stone said.

"What kept her going was the memories she had, and being able to recall those memories so strongly."

The blog moved and is currently down but the cache of early posts is here. It was then moved to

There's also lots of video clips, here's two about bushwalking:

IT rules? No, no Mister Steel

[Presentation reproduced with permission]

At the PSF event in June to discuss Better Connected, SOCITM's president Richard Steel presented 'Why we should no longer distinguish web from ICT'.

Some of this made me applaud madly, some made me inwardly groan.

It was deliberately provocative and Richard comes from a strong base with his argument; his borough, Newham, is doing some great, ground-breaking stuff (including free wireless, no fixed desks including Chief Exec.) for this deprived part of London. In his presentation he laid a lot of that out, but what I completely disagreed with was his conclusion: that web must be 'run' by IT, they are 'indistinguishable'.

What made me applaud was his line that, basically, senior managers who don't understand the basics with IT no longer have the requisite skills to do the job, they should go. He, like me, is sick of senior people who wear their ignorance 'like a badge of honour'. I also liked that he was arguing that services must take more day-to-day responsibility for what they do online and that government gains from being subject to the same forces as business.

He was looking to the future convergence of technology and especially the coming growth of web access through mobiles or other devices: a 'network of networks'. Government is about services and information and as web access becomes more ubiquitous what matters is that we provide information in a way that can be easily pushed through these channels and found. What he cited as key technologies were identification and data integration.

Here's part of his presentation about his vision of this from three years ago:
By 2012 (Olympics) mobiles morphed into ‘personal communicators’

Technologies like ‘smart chip’, biometrics and GPS, will enable:
  • authenticated ‘e’ order & payment
  • e-tickets for chosen events delivered to your device.
  • e-directions to venue/your seat
  • your ID and ticket electronically checked,.
  • commentary provided in your own language
  • option to follow a particular team or athlete
  • view instant playbacks of exciting moments
  • personal calls/messages delivered plus appointment reminders.
  • remote control of home environment also likely
Device selects the most appropriate combination of fixed and wireless networks - balancing task, cost and performance.
A couple of quotes he used talked about 2018, ten years from now, when this convergence should be in full throttle.

Let's look back ten years and see what's changed: yes, everyone has a website and yes, services are 'online'. But as I've noted in other posts on my blog, there are still many things we, government, don't do and as a sector we are walled off from influences from wider web development - a primary driver for change - or any sense that we are in a competitive environment, online.

I don't see anything suggesting that in another ten years either of these factors will change, that we will be doing the things we don't or that we will be absorbing the right influences. However we will probably be in a more competitive environment simply because many more businesses will be in our territory - people selling recycling bins, people promising to better handle your passport enquiries, people trying to make money from your health enquiry, other services like charities. When this is happening, how do customers find you and steer past the commercial providers?

Richard's ideas come entirely from one part of what makes a web presence and it's not surprising: all websites have come from a few sectors other than IT but that's, largely, where government websites have grown out from.

Take 'content' for one other source of websites - newspaper websites are built on content and the IT development entirely revolves around servicing the editor's needs, rather than the other way around. There it has to be a partnership but you couldn't argue 'Why we should no longer distinguish web from ICT' because there it's understood that 'web' largely means content - which needs it own skill base - supported by IT. Richard's proposition doesn't make sense. Same goes for websites which have grown out of marketing and sales departments, there it's a partnership but there's another primary skill base than the IT one.

Why do we think we are different from other websites, especially when there's little evidence customers behave radically differently with us? I would say this is because we live in our own world without the sort of influences which would shake us out of it. Other sectors largely don't; they absolutely have to understand their customers and hire the right skill base to create a web presence which will meet needs in a rapidly evolving and competitive environment. Doesn't sound like us does it?

Another difference is that the web is becoming more central to businesses, meaning that all aspects of the business have to take it seriously and skill up. Here, this does connect with one of Richard's points about the vital need for engagement by government services - the pointy end - rather than being disempowered (although that's not how he puts it).

The problem with Richard's proposal is not just where it's coming from - as I commented to him, he and the analysis come from IT as opposed to, say, sales - but the impact.

Web skills are very specific, you need to be across a lot of terrain. You need to understand SEO, usability, web content, have good people skills, be across various and ever changing IT, visual design, accessibility, marketing, PR ... Even the very best IT managers don't have this skill range so they can't make informed decisions or informed choices across the range of issues which constitute good and most importantly successful web. In his presentation Richard alludes to this when he talks about the problems in benchmarking, take-up and engagement.

I understand that Richard's forward focus is 'non-web', or 'post-web', thinking of mobile devices for example, but I see no future in which all the other skills involved won't be any the less vital in making a successful, used and useful service/product for government online.

What we need is exactly the opposite of Richard's argument: ICT needs to be in its place and web needs to be raised. It needs to be properly understood as a new profession, a unique skill set and assume its place at the table in government. Because at the moment it doesn't have one.