The short road to activism

This weekend, I was part of a large anti-austerity protest in London. You probably won’t have heard about it because it wasn’t covered by any mainstream media.

50,000 people turned up. Almost everyone had whistles, were chanting, holding banners and placards and flags, and filled Parliament Square. Comedians and politicians like Russell Brand and Caroline Lucas addressed the crowd. The march started outside BBC News offices, so they sure couldn’t have missed it.

Yet this weekend, news outlets such as the BBC decided that there were far more important things going on - like a few thousand people at Stonehenge for the summer solstice. Like Kate and Will being given a new helicopter and a house makeover worth £8m at the taxpayer’s expense. Like Rooney’s sulking face.

I may be biased, but I think 50,000 turning up outside Parliament is significant. And now I’m starting to understand why people turn to extreme action to be heard by their governments.

The media either chose not to report this, or they decided against it. I took a hard-earned day out to travel to London and let the government know that I am dissatisfied with their performance. The BBC is owned by the public and should represent the views of the public and in my opinion, they failed in this duty - and together with the lack of response from the government now I feel angry, disillusioned and ineffective. It’s exactly the sort of feeling that I imagine drives people to start throwing things and behaving naughty - they want to *be heard*.

I’m not the sort of person that incites riot, I abhor violence, but now I at least understand why others turn to it.

The government has turned me into an activist. By ignoring our pleas for an ear, they have strengthened our resolve and next time we march, our numbers will double.

And they brought it on themselves.

Don’t be the last child of liberty

Considering the revelations last year by Snowden, the increasing pressure by our Government on ISPs to filter our internet traffic, the steady and stealthy removal of our rights to free speech online (and in real life) and the overarching surveillance programs the reach of which is unprecedented, I’m still concerned that the wider public seem to be relatively nonchalant about the whole affair.

Yes, there are the odd outspoken individuals who oppose these steps and are fighting for our rights, and I joined the Open Rights Group to be one of these people - but many people I speak to either have the opinion that we can never be free, that the Government will never stop spying on the population, or that in the grand scheme of things, surveillance isn’t a big problem because it keeps us safe and they can’t imagine a time when all our freedoms are removed.

The problem I see - and my working theory - is that as a generation, we have grown up in a time of relative freedom. I’m in my late twenties and so the Internet is like my brother. I grew up with it, played with it and learned with it. I also knew a time when Governments had no such surveillance programs, where CCTV cameras were purely for safety and security (and were few and far between) and where our every movement wasn’t tracked, stored and analysed.

Our children will not have that luxury. They are born into a time of tablets, mobile phones and wearable technology, where they see their privacy as a commodity to be traded for commercial benefit or Governmental security. They’ll never know a time where they could be anonymous or untraced.

That’s why I believe only our generation can turn this around. We have to stop the Governments of the world from spying on their citizens, put in place safeguards and legislations to protect our liberties, ensure that our kids can enjoy the privacy and freedom that we used to, and educate them as to what’s happening - because if we don’t, they won’t know that they’re allowed to fight for something better. They will have no idea that privacy isn’t a privilege, it’s a fundamental right.

We must not be the last children of liberty.

If you’re interested to know more about how we fight for our digital rights, please do come along to the Forum on the 26th of April at 5.45 to meet three awesome speakers:

http://www.meetup.com/open-rights-group-norwich/events/171314372/

Why I love Joomla

I’ll admit, I don’t like writing backend code. I only really know PHP, and people have tried to get me to learn Ruby and Python and others, but in all honesty, I’m not all that interested to learn them.

My real passions lie in making things work, and making them work beautifully and brilliantly. I like to design clever and usable experiences, and I like to write code that makes that happen.

As a web developer for a small agency - similar to a freelancer - we don’t have the luxury of specialising in one language. To be truly effective, a developer should know everything about what they’re building. If you’re designing a UI you also need to know what data you have access to, how it’s returned - and you’ll likely be developing that interface too.

That’s why my favourite thing to build in is SilverStripe. It’s a brilliant MVC framework with a modular structure and bundled CMS. The reason I like to use it, is that when I want to build something, it lets me do it, and it gets the fuck out of my way. I can do what I want, how I want, without ever having to touch the core of the framework.

The mark of a good tool is one that you feel completely comfortable with - but it’s one that you don’t even notice you’re using when you’re using it. It’s an extension of yourself, of your senses. This is how good drivers, pilots, football players and surgeons work - their tools are just part of them.

Then there’s the bad tools. They impose restrictions, make it difficult to do what you want to do.

I’m currently working on a project that requires me to build a site into the popular CMS, Joomla. I haven’t used Joomla for a few years, and when I did it wasn’t for anything too advanced. This project though, is a bit more involved. And that’s where I’ve had problems.

Joomla is entirely extension- and plugin-based, and makes it very difficult to do your own thing. There are stupid naming conventions; massive amounts of repeated, bloated code; no discernable relations between objects; and no templating system other than echoing values.

The documentation is dreadful, and searching for help on Google just throws up suggestions for extensions and plugins to download.

On top of all this, the CMS itself is confusing to a front end user, and the extension-based system makes the entire thing incredibly insecure. In all honesty, if you call yourself a developer and you use Joomla, you need to learn more about PHP and you need to try something better.

So why do I love Joomla?

As long as it is around, and other developers blindly continue to use it, I’ll be able to develop better data-driven sites in frameworks like SilverStripe far quicker than they ever could, and actually customise sites to the way my clients want them - rather than the way third party extensions allow me to build them. I don’t use Joomla, and that makes me a better developer.

My latest Kickstarter backing reward has arrived…

The Auris Skye is an Airplay/DLNA receiver that you can plug into any iPhone dock. Will have to give it a little try this evening!

My latest Kickstarter backing reward has arrived…

The Auris Skye is an Airplay/DLNA receiver that you can plug into any iPhone dock. Will have to give it a little try this evening!

The left cursor key on Jay’s keyboard (silver) has stopped working - so he’s now using another keyboard JUST for the left key. It is the most convoluted solution to a simple problem I think I’ve ever seen

The left cursor key on Jay’s keyboard (silver) has stopped working - so he’s now using another keyboard JUST for the left key. It is the most convoluted solution to a simple problem I think I’ve ever seen

Windows is getting on my tits

Now I’m a frequent user of OSX and to a lesser extent, some flavours of Linux, I have realised how dreadful some of the UX is in Windows - especially Windows 8.

No operating system is perfect, that’s for sure - but there’s so much Microsoft could do to improve the general experience of Windows without even having to do much work.

Here’s a great example - I work across 3 screens. When I alt+tab, the alt+tab selector always appears on the first, ‘primary’ monitor. Why? That’s the one I tend to have my non-essential stuff on. I’m coding/designing on the other two. Those are the ones with my attention. If it can’t be clever and work out which screen I’m looking at, which is an almost-fair point, why not allow me to choose which screen to show it on - or better still, show it on all three?

Anyone got anything else they hate about their operating system?

Content ID for gaming is stupid

There’s an article on Develop today about the legality of uploading ‘Let’s Play’ videos to YouTube, considering the ContentID system that YouTube uses to search videos for copyrighted content. I read it with interest, and then realised how stupid the whole thing is.

ContentID might be a great idea to implement for video and audio. Checking video uploads for movies and music is an effective way to ensure the content rights holders get their fair share of ad revenues - and whilst we might not agree with the way that works, it still appears to make sense.

When it comes to games though, it seems a bit stupid.

Copyright for a game lies in its content, not in its experience. You can legally protect the files, textures, assets, sounds and so on, within a game. And that makes sense, you wouldn’t want some arsehole making a COD clone, would you? As if they’d want to.

But the point of a game is to experience said game. Watching someone else play a game is not the same as playing that game. Unless you’re playing the aforementioned COD, in which it might as well be - the ‘you’re about to be stabbed, MASH B AS HARD AS YOU CAN’ lazy gameplay is as shitty an experience for the gamer as an observer.

You experience the game by playing it. Leaning into the turns on your Moto GP bike as you round a corner, hiding as a creature in the dungeon hunts you, or shooting your friends in the face.

When a gamer records his session and adds some funny commentary (or in the case of most gamers - boring, monotonous and droning commentary, Birgirpall aside), trying to send the ad revenue gained from that video seems to me as silly as sending the profits a musician makes to the manufacturer of the violin that he’s playing.

If you copied his violin, then fair enough.

To be fair, if you’re good enough to copy a violin, then just make your own fucking violins.

Mobile is mainstream, stop saying it isn’t

I’m still surprised when clients/businesses/developers don’t talk about or ask for mobile websites, or don’t seem to feel like it applies to them. Cameron Moll of Authentic Jobs even tweeted the other day that they once thought “No one would EVER post a job with their phone”, obviously wrong. Regardless of what you might  think, users will always visit your site from a mobile or desktop computer. Or a read-aloud assistive browser, or an Internet-enabled TV, or a games console. The key is to decide how much importance you give these different types of users, and how accessible you make your site to these various devices to give them a great experience. And how you plan for the future.

Aunty Beeb recently announced that on Christmas day, iPlayer viewings on a tablet overtook desktop and whilst there was a dip after the festivities starting dying off, it’s a continuing upward trend. Tablets are often used as a companion device - used while watching television or doing other activities - and so they’re bound to be used to a greater extent, and more often, than an often cumbersome laptop.

Plus, I bet a lot of people got a new iPad for Christmas. Fuckers.

I myself used my tablet on Christmas Day. While the rest of the family watched the gargantuan shitfest of soaps parading themselves through the afternoon, I sat in a corner with my Nexus 7 and read a book, or watched a video.

Anyway, I think that as developers if we ever hear anyone else say “But our users won’t use/buy from/interact with our site on a mobile/tablet/TV/watch” then we should all be calling bullshit and punching them collectively in their stupid naive faces. Of course they are. Analyse your traffic, and make a decision based on fact.

Which is what you should be doing with most of your website decisions, to be honest, but let’s not go there today, this post is quite long enough.

Filtering != Educating

Setting aside the argument as to whether or not the Government’s filtration is really about suppression of free speech (or filtering out what they don’t want us to see), the biggest problem I have with it all is that filtration of content does not solve the core issue, which is education.

Regardless what you think of pornography, and how much you try to stop your children from seeing it, it is absolutely inevitable that they will come into contact with sexually explicit imagery eventually. No system can prevent that. Would you rather your children discover this content with an intelligent and curious mind, or one full of fear and uncertainty fuelled by uncertain and fearful parenting?

Open Rights Group

Late last year I joined the Open Rights Group. If you’re involved in the UK web community you have probably heard of it - it’s an organisation dedicated to promoting freedom of expression, consumer rights, free speech and privacy on the Internet.

I’ve been in touch with them since I joined about setting up a local group, as our nearest is in Cambridge. We have a thriving and vibrant tech community in Norwich who consistently show their interest in new ideas and thought, relish the opportunity to develop with cutting edge technology, and have varying opinions on the state of today’s web.

I’m aiming to hold an event in early February to kick off the Norwich ORG Group and I’d love for you to join in. I’ll post more details as soon as they’re ready, but I’m hoping to host a speaker or two who could give you the lowdown on what the ORG does, and why getting involved and interested in privacy, data protection and free speech is so important in a system that’s under constant threat. 

Follow me on Twitter or keep your eyes on this blog, and I’ll let you know as soon as there’s more information about the event. Equally if you’d like to get involved, or you know of a good venue that could be suitable, then I’d love to hear from you.

Over the last few weeks I’ve really gotten into some quite synthpop type stuff, which is a weird mix of pop and 80s-style synth. Almost like a future-80s blend. I have no idea why, but most of it is very catchy.

My favourite at the mo is Spirit of the Night by Tesla Boy, seen above, which illustrates exactly what I mean. Another good one to try is Faces by Electric Youth, actually a remix of an 80s song by Clio.

I stumbled across these while listening to Nightcall by Kavinsky used beautifully in the iconic opening scene to the 2011 movie Drive (and later in the opening scene to Poonikins the Magic Warrior Driver) and these were some of the tunes Pandora thought I’d like. PANDORA WAS RIGHT.

Resolution

I’ve decided on my one resolution for next year. Resolutions are generally bollocks - nobody sticks to them and they’re normally ludicrously vague aspirations of losing weight, learning things or whatnot - and without any kind of real drive, they soon fizzle out once the humdrum of daily life ses itself back in.

2014 is going to be my year of feeling better.

This year I’ve been ill more than usual, I’m pretty sure I’ve gained in weight and I’ve definitely become less fit. I don’t like that I don’t feel comfortable in myself, nor confident in my appearance. And it’s not to say that I care what others think of what I look like. That really doesn’t matter to me at all, but it does affect your confidence when you know that you could lose a couple of stone.

I’ve enjoyed my time off more this year than any other time. My trip to Poland was the first time off I’ve had in several weeks, and I’ve been so busy this Christmas that I’ve hardly been at home - and I can honestly say it’s been the nicest time for years. I’ve met some lovely people and had memorable experiences, and I have come to realise that taking that time to do other things (and rest!) is really important. More than I think I was willing to acknowledge. I might not go abroad again, but I’ll at least take some time off.

Don’t tell my landlord, but I’ll be looking to move this year too. I’ve been in Bunwell for 6 years next year, and I remember moving out here and loving everything about it - now, I feel nothing but irritation and frustration. It’s very cold and damp (and my patronising letting agent has done fuck all about either of these), the place is in dire need of some investment of which there’s been zero, and it’s just too far away from everything. The nearest pub isn’t in walking distance (a massive oversight on my part), the nearest supermarket is a 15-20 minute drive, and it can take an hour to get to work on a bad traffic day. Add to that the inability to nip home, walk the dog, then go out on the town (or get a taxi home without having to take out a personal loan) means I haven’t been out on a good drinking session for a long time. I’m not one for getting bladdered, but having the option would be nice.

So there we go. I’ll be doing more things for me. I’ll spend time with nice people, do nice things, and try to be nicer to others too. And hopefully, this time next year, I’ll feel better.