There’s an election in four months

cameron-lol

There’s an election in four months.

Those are the only words you need to remember. Whenever a politician drivels before an invited audience of heart-eyed acolytes or assembly line workers glazing over on company time for half an hour, just remember: there’s an election in four months (or three, or two, or one…).

Yesterday renowned cryptographer David Cameron said there should be no “means of communication” which “we cannot read”. This has been interpreted by technically literate commentators, mostly through the medium of boggle-eyed laughter, as expressing a desire to ban encryption or enforce the addition of backdoors. I’ve seen many, many tweets setting out the stupidity of such a move, and I have no desire or need to rehash them here.

Because the only thing you need to know is: there’s an election in four months.

Cameron is talking about monitoring the internet because there is an election in four months. He wants people to vote for him. He understands — better, sadly, than those tweeting about protocols and key escrow and men-in-the-middle and laptops left in taxis — that none of all that matters. He’s not talking to that audience, the tiny audience that groks the detail and the implications. He’s talking to the other 99%, who saw the attacks in Paris last week and think (thanks to Be Vigilant And Report Darkies posters) that we’re next.

Let’s imagine Cameron is elected in May with a majority. What would he actually do? We have no idea. There’s no manifesto yet, and manifestos can’t be trusted anyway. On past experience — we have almost five years of it now — his words don’t much match his deeds. I expect there’d be a series of meetings, possibly involving token techies invited as a sop to industry, and the End Terrorism Forever Bill 2017 (probably) that would emerge would contain no clauses capable of achieving any such thing.

There’s an election in four months. That’s all Cameron is worried about.

The opposition parties (I include the Lib Dems in that category for election purposes) have the same phrase in their heads. If they want to oppose Cameron on this issue — and I’m not entirely sure the Labour party does, for fear of being labelled soft on terrorism — then there is absolutely no point in talking technology. That’s preaching to the choir.

To oppose this policy they need to do two things: pursue, with great vigour and purpose, the support of younger people (beneficial side-effect: these are least likely to be slack-jawed kippers); and tell them in specific terms which apps and services Cameron thinks they shouldn’t be permitted to use without being snooped on.

Snapchat, WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime, Yik Yak, Rooms, Skype, etc, etc — and also Facebook and Twitter and plain old email, of course, but with less emphasis since younger people don’t use those so much. Ignore the likes of HTTPS, Tor, and all that: too confusing for the audience you’re trying to reach.

Keep it simple. Non-technical. Personal.

Avoid greyfaces and clumping hooves of rhetoric: all an utter turn-off for the audience. Don’t make it an official party video at all. You want Cassetteboy, not Saatchi, and if you don’t know who Cassetteboy is, fire yourself.

Here’s an idea off the top of my head: take one (or more) of those ubiquitous thirty-second promo videos from an app vendor’s website — you know the ones, with the indie guitar solos and the Californian hipster voiceovers — and every time a toothy blond communicates with another toothy blond, intercut video of Cameron sitting at a computer screen.

It doesn’t matter that it’s inaccurate or simplistic: so is what he’s claiming to propose.

There’s an election in four months.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Random

Avaragado’s 2015 predictions

And here they are: a list of things almost certainly not going to happen in 2015. Feel free to pop down the betting shop as soon as it opens to chuck your savings at the opposite of everything below. Don’t forget to return this time next year to gloat with your millions.

News

  1. There is more than one UK general election.
  2. After one of the general elections, speaker John Bercow is deposed.
  3. The royal child-beast is of the girl persuasion, and called Elizabeth.
  4. Hillary Clinton confirms she will run for US President.
  5. Kim Jong Un is deposed as leader of North Korea.
  6. The record for the highest temperature in the UK is broken.

Sport

  1. Sepp Blatter is not re-elected as president of FIFA.
  2. Chelsea win the English Premier League.
  3. Australia retain the Ashes.
  4. Germany win the women’s football World Cup in Canada.
  5. Oxford wins the University Boat Race, again.
  6. Cyprus comes top of the medal table in the keenly anticipated Games of the Small States of Europe in Reykjavik.

Science and technology

  1. Apple releases a MacBook Air with a retina display.
  2. The Dawn spacecraft discovers ice volcanoes on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres.
  3. The probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P emerges from hibernation sufficiently to send useful scientific data.
  4. Microsoft buys Fitbit.
  5. Dick Costolo leaves his position as CEO of Twitter.
  6. YouTube users upload over 500 hours of video per minute on average.

Entertainment

  1. Best Actor Oscar: Michael Keaton, Birdman.
  2. Best Actress Oscar: Julianne Moore, Still Alice.
  3. Best Picture Oscar: Birdman.
  4. Best Director Oscar: Richard Linklater, Boyhood.
  5. Best Visual Effects Oscar: Interstellar.
  6. The BBC says BBC 4 will follow BBC 3 and move online.

Celebrity deathwatch

  1. Dodgy FIFA boss before the other dodgy FIFA boss, João Havelange (98)
  2. Avenger before the other Avengers, actor Patrick Macnee (92)
  3. Dracula, Scaramanga, Saruman, Dooku, actor Christopher Lee (92)
  4. I’ve met him you know, comics elder Stan Lee (92)
  5. President Bush before the other President Bush, George HW Bush (90)
  6. Spock before the other Spock, actor Leonard Nimoy (82)
  7. Run out, umpire Dickie Bird (81)
  8. War criminal, ex-veep Dick Cheney (73)
  9. Floating like an ex-butterfly, stinging like an ex-bee, boxer Muhammad Ali (72)

Happy New Year!

Leave a comment

Filed under Random

Avaragado’s 2014 predictions – results

Good grief, is it that time again? I’ve barely posted anything on my blog this year. Still, at today’s regular New Year’s Eve lunch official adjudicator Chris Walsh revealed just how appallingly inaccurate my 2014 predictions were. Here are the gory details – commentary etc in square brackets.

News

  1. ✓ In the referendum on independence, Scotland votes No. [Correct!]
  2. ✗ Brazil grants asylum to Edward Snowden. [Nope: still in Russia.]
  3. ✗ The Lib Dems replace Nick Clegg as leader. [Nope.]
  4. ✓ UKIP wins more MEPs in the European Parliamentary Elections than the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems. [Yes, considering the parties separately, not the combined total of the other parties.]
  5. ✗ An iconic building or monument is damaged in a freak/climate change weather event. [Couldn’t find anything.]
  6. ✗ Paul Dacre leaves his position as chief bigot/editor at the Daily Mail. [Nope.]
  7. ✗ More than 50% of Daily Express front page main headlines are about the weather. [Thought expressbingo.org.uk would have the answer, but it seems to stop on 5th Feb 2014. www.thepaperboy.com has front pages going back to September 2014. Taking all front pages from those sites, 22 out of 96 have weather-related headlines, which is 23%. Extrapolating: nope.]

[Score: 2/7]

Sport

  1. ½ Brazil win the World Cup. England don’t qualify from the group stage. [Chris ignored the bit about England and awarded no points. David thinks he deserves half a point.]
  2. ✗ Liverpool win the FA Premier League. [Manchester City.]
  3. ✗ Team GB win exactly one medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. [1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze.]
  4. ✗ Andy Murray loses in the semi-final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. [Lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-final.]
  5. ✗ Wales win the rugby union Six Nations tournament. [Ireland.]
  6. ✗ Johnny Brownlee wins the ITU World Triathlon Series. [Third, behind Javier Gomez and Mario Mola.]

[Score: 0.5/6]

Science and technology

  1. ✓ Steve Ballmer is replaced as CEO of Microsoft by Satya Nadella. [Yes, on February 4.]
  2. ✗ The crew of the International Space Station is evacuated because of orbital debris. [Nope.]
  3. ✗ Apple announces a “revolutionary” (in their words) new TV device. [Nope.]
  4. ✗ The Nobel prize for physics is won by someone in the field of quantum computing/communication. [Nope: Blue LEDs]
  5. ✗ Google buys Oculus VR. [In March, Facebook agreed to acquire Oculus VR.]
  6. ✗ Webcam video of a celebrity, obtained covertly by an intelligence agency, leaks on the internet. [Don’t think so.]

[Score: 1/6]

Entertainment

  1. ✓ Best picture at the Oscars: 12 Years a Slave. [Yes.]
  2. ✗ Best actor at the Oscars: Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave. [Nope: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club]
  3. ✗ Best actress at the Oscars: Emma Thompson for Saving Mr Banks. [Nope: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine. Emma Thompson wasn’t even nominated.]
  4. ✓ Bruce Forsyth stops presenting Strictly Come Dancing. [Yep.]
  5. ✓ The BBC reboots a classic 1970s sitcom (eg Dad’s Army). [A film of Dad’s Army is in production, unrelated to the BBC, but the BBC has broadcast Still Open All Hours, based on the old sitcom Open All Hours.]
  6. ½ In one of those “celebrities doing stuff” shows (Splash, Strictly, Dancing on Wolves, etc) a celebrity does stuff that results in a nasty injury on live TV. [Some TOWIE woman received various bruises. Stretching the definitions of both “celebrity” and “nasty”: half a point.]

[Score: 3.5/6]

Celebrity deathwatch

  1. ✗ His Racist Highness Prince Philip, 92
  2. ✗ Nobel Peace Prize winner and war criminal Henry Kissinger, 90
  3. ✗ Thatcher defenestrator Lord (Geoffrey) Howe, 87
  4. ✓ Swivel-eyed Ulster firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, 87 [Died September 12th]
  5. ✗ Oh no, it’s Yoko Ono, 80
  6. ✗ Fifties teen idol and Half a Sixpence crooner Tommy Steele, 77
  7. ✗ Much better than the last one Pope Francis, 77
  8. ✗ Founder of CNN and all-round not-Murdoch Ted Turner, 75
  9. ✗ Nobody did it better than Carly Simon, 68
  10. ✗ Free software evangelist and beardy gnu-lover Richard Stallman, 60
  11. ✗ Wayward ex-gurner and Gazza Paul Gascoigne, 46
  12. ✗ Apprentice self-firing rent-a-gob Katie Hopkins, 38

[Score: 1/12]

[Total score: 8/37]

Not as good as previous years: a dismal 22%. Overall, the predictions were far too bold. But some of them were very close, in particular the Oculus VR purchase. Ah well.

Coming soon: 2015. And also, by coincidence, my predictions for 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under Random

Anecdata on media, science and society

Anecdata!

Data Point: On Newsnight recently Cambridge’s Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, David Spiegelhalter, stunned Jeremy Paxman by informing him that unemployment figures are an estimate, not a count, and they’re only accurate to ±100,000.

Do you remember ever seeing an error bar when unemployment figures are announced? Or hearing any journalist correct a politician crowing that unemployment has dropped by a number like 27,000, well within the margin of error?

Data Point: Barely any mainstream publications or news shows have covered the Edward Snowden/NSA/GCHQ revelations properly. Even “GCHQ is watching you and your children on webcams and storing images, including sexual content” didn’t make the TV news that day. I asked the Channel 4 News editor why not: he didn’t reply. One of the presenters did, though:

That edition did find room, however, for an interview about the Daily Mail’s attempt to smear various Labour politicians for events of almost 40 years ago. And they also ran a report on the decline of the barn owl population.

As far as I’m aware only the Guardian covered that story on the front page the next day. Not even a single “Big Brother is watching you” headline.

Data Point: Channel 4 News ignored the Guardian’s report that PA Consulting uploaded 27 DVDs of NHS England hospital data to Google. That’s the entire NHS hospital database for England, tens of millions of patient records, uploaded to servers outside the UK, by management consultants, without patient consent.

While I wouldn’t expect it to have led the news during the Ukraine/Russia standoff the same day, I certainly expected a report before a story about an athlete on trial for murder, or about the previous night’s Oscars. Instead, Channel 4 News made no mention of it at all. Again, I tweeted the editor. Again, no response.

Data Point: Broadcasters including the BBC often insist on a false balance when covering climate change. Nigel Lawson is not a climate scientist, and can only bluster and assert when debating an actual climate scientist presenting actual evidence, but still their positions are presented as equally valid by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, as if climate change is a matter of political opinion rather than scientific observation and method. At least the BBC isn’t as bad as some other media organisations, which have an editorial policy of man-made climate change denial.

Nigel Says Relax

Data Point: By my countQuestion Time has included only three scientist panellists for the entirety of the parliament so far — Colin Blakemore once and Robert Winston twice (I’m not counting tech-related entrepreneurs like Jimmy Wales). That’s three scientists from 147 editions at time of writing, or 0.004% of all 743 panellists.

(In the same period, Question Time has featured two singers, four poets, seventeen comedians, twenty actors, thirty-five businesspeople and over 120 journalists. Yes, I’ve counted. Nigel Farage has appeared ten times — the same number as Kenneth Clarke. Farage does well belonging to a party with no MPs, doesn’t he?)

End of anecdata!

What to make from all that? Gell-Mann Amnesia applies, as it always does. Journalists misrepresent everything, yet we only seem to think they misrepresent subjects we’re familiar with. The chances are the reporters overlooking the City of London and outside the Old Bailey are bluffing their way through to hit a deadline just as much as the Technology Correspondent is.

But I have to say: I think mainstream media’s lack of understanding of science and technology is actively harming society.

Leave a comment

Filed under Random

Avaragado’s 2014 predictions

Here they are: the 2014 predictions literally everyone hasn’t been waiting for. Please return regularly to check my progress and coincidentally bump the readership stats on my blog to make me feel better.

News

  1. In the referendum on independence, Scotland votes No.
  2. Brazil grants asylum to Edward Snowden.
  3. The Lib Dems replace Nick Clegg as leader.
  4. UKIP wins more MEPs in the European Parliamentary Elections than the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems.
  5. An iconic building or monument is damaged in a freak/climate change weather event.
  6. Paul Dacre leaves his position as chief bigot/editor at the Daily Mail.
  7. More than 50% of Daily Express front page main headlines are about the weather.

Sport

  1. Brazil win the World Cup. England don’t qualify from the group stage.
  2. Liverpool win the FA Premier League.
  3. Team GB win exactly one medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
  4. Andy Murray loses in the semi-final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon.
  5. Wales win the rugby union Six Nations tournament.
  6. Johnny Brownlee wins the ITU World Triathlon Series.

Science and technology

  1. Steve Ballmer is replaced as CEO of Microsoft by Satya Nadella.
  2. The crew of the International Space Station is evacuated because of orbital debris.
  3. Apple announces a “revolutionary” (in their words) new TV device.
  4. The Nobel prize for physics is won by someone in the field of quantum computing/communication.
  5. Google buys Oculus VR.
  6. Webcam video of a celebrity, obtained covertly by an intelligence agency, leaks on the internet.

Entertainment

  1. Best picture at the Oscars: 12 Years a Slave.
  2. Best actor at the Oscars: Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave.
  3. Best actress at the Oscars: Emma Thompson for Saving Mr Banks.
  4. Bruce Forsyth stops presenting Strictly Come Dancing.
  5. The BBC reboots a classic 1970s sitcom (eg Dad’s Army).
  6. In one of those “celebrities doing stuff” shows (Splash, Strictly, Dancing on Wolves, etc) a celebrity does stuff that results in a nasty injury on live TV.

Celebrity deathwatch

  1. His Racist Highness Prince Philip, 92
  2. Nobel Peace Prize winner and war criminal Henry Kissinger, 90
  3. Thatcher defenestrator Lord (Geoffrey) Howe, 87
  4. Swivel-eyed Ulster firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, 87
  5. Oh no, it’s Yoko Ono, 80
  6. Fifties teen idol and Half a Sixpence crooner Tommy Steele, 77
  7. Much better than the last one Pope Francis, 77
  8. Founder of CNN and all-round not-Murdoch Ted Turner, 75
  9. Nobody did it better than Carly Simon, 68
  10. Free software evangelist and beardy gnu-lover Richard Stallman, 60
  11. Wayward ex-gurner and Gazza Paul Gascoigne, 46
  12. Apprentice self-firing rent-a-gob Katie Hopkins, 38

Based on the pattern of previous years I’m expecting to get about 40% right. Join me this time next year to find out whether I’ve got that prediction wrong too.

5 Comments

Filed under Random

Avaragado’s 2013 predictions – results

Here we are again. New Year’s Eve, fireworks, and celebrations filmed several weeks ago presented as if live TV. And most importantly, the results of my fabulous 2013 predictions – as marked by Chris Walsh, as usual. Commentary etc in square brackets.

News

  1. ✗ The Assad regime in Syria will fall. [Bashar al-Assad still President of Syria]
  2. ✓ There will be no changes in US federal gun-control laws. [Obama has called for tighter gun control, but no actual laws yet]
  3. ✓ The Duchess of Cambridge will give birth to a human boy. [21-Jul: Duchess of Cambridge gives birth to the future king]
  4. ✗ At least one Tory MP will defect to UKIP. [Plenty of councillors defected, and one UKIP MEP defected to the Conservatives, but this specific prediction proved false]
  5. ✗ The equal marriage bill for England and Wales will pass in the Commons but not the Lords. [15-Jul: Equal marriage bill for England and Wales has passed its Third Reading in the House of Lords]
  6. ✓ Dangerous idiot Michael Gove will be involved in a scandal over the exam board selection process for the new EBacc exams. [07-Feb: Education Secretary to announce dramatic climbdown over plans to scrap GCSEs]

[Score: 3/6]

Sport

  1. ✓ Manchester United will win the FA Premier League. [22-Apr: Manchester United won their 13th Premier League title by defeating Aston Villa 3-0 at Old Trafford]
  2. ✗ Chelsea FC will change manager at least twice. [Only one change of manager in 2013: Benitez -> Mourinho]
  3. ✓ At least one British person will win a Wimbledon title. [08-Jul: Andy Murray wins Wimbledon 2013 men’s singles final with straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic]
  4. ✓ Mo Farah will win at least one gold medal at the World Athletics Championships. [10-Aug: Won the 10,000m. Also 16-Aug: Won 5,000m]
  5. ✗ Rory McIlroy will win at least two majors in golf. [Wikipedia: “McIlroy began 2013 with high aspirations, but mostly did not fare well in early tournaments… 25th place at the 2013 Masters Tournament… won the 2013 Emirates Australian Open]
  6. ✗ At least one footballer playing in the UK will come out as gay or bisexual. [Robbie Rogers, but he plays in the USA]

[Score: 3/6]

Science and technology

  1. ✓ Microsoft will buy Nokia. [03-Sep: Microsoft to buy Nokia’s mobile phone unit]
  2. ✗ Scientists will announce the synthesis of one or more atoms of element 119 or higher. [Ununseptium remains the most recently synthesised transuranic element, in 2010. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned]
  3. ✓ NASA will declare that Voyager 1 has left the solar system and entered interstellar space. [12-Sep: Voyager 1 departs to interstellar space]
  4. ✗ Scientists will announce the discovery of an ‘Earth twin’ – an Earth-sized exoplanet within the habitable zone of its star. [Kepler 78b is the same size as Earth, and has same proportions of iron and rock, but is so close to the sun that its year lasts 8.5 hours, rendering it a little too toasty to be habitable]
  5. ✓ The year will be one of the ten warmest years in the global record, and warmer than 2012, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. [13-Nov: “The year 2013 is currently on course to be among the top ten warmest years since modern records began. January-September 2013 was warmer than the same period in both 2011 and 2012.” We’re catching up with Kepler 78b!]
  6. ✓ Archaeologists will confirm that the bones dug up in a Leicester car park are those of Richard III. [04-Feb: DNA confirms bones are king’s]

[Score: 4/6]

Entertainment

  1. ✗ Lincoln will receive the Oscar for Best Picture. [Feb-24: Argo]
  2. ✓ Daniel Day-Lewis will receive the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln.
  3. ✓ Jennifer Lawrence will receive the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
  4. ✓ The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who will involve appearances (in newly filmed scenes) from at least one former Doctor. [23-Nov: Tennant and Baker T, plus future Doctor!]
  5. ✗ The BBC will cancel The Sky at Night (probably while pretending not to). [Still running – Maggie Aderin-Pocock announced in December 2013 as a new presenter]
  6. ✓ The UK entry will finish in the third quarter of the rankings (ie, top half of the bottom half) in the Eurovision Song Contest. [1pt. 18-May: 19th out of 26 puts us 73% of the way down the leader board]

[Score: 4/6]

Celebrity Deathwatch

[We decided to award half a point per death to make the scores more compatible with predictions from previous years, since I included double the usual number of names in this section. We also abandoned the idea to score based on ages.]

  1. ✗ Denis Healey (95)
  2. ✓ Nelson Mandela (94) [Died 5-Dec aged 95]
  3. ✗ Mickey Rooney (92)
  4. ✗ Nancy Reagan (91)
  5. ✗ Richard Attenborough (89)
  6. ✗ Robert Mugabe (88)
  7. ✗ George H. W. Bush (88)
  8. ✓ Richard Briers (78) [Died 17-Feb aged 79]
  9. ✗ Barry Humphries (78)
  10. ✗ Shirley MacLaine (78)
  11. ✗ Bill Murray (62)
  12. ✗ Piers Morgan (47)

[Score: 1/6]

[Total score: 15/30]

A staggering score of 50%! This makes 2013 officially my most successful year ever for predictions. And if the trend of alternating better-worse but generally rising is anything to go by, my predictions for 2014 are on course for 40%. Though I can reveal that’s not one of my official 2014 predictions, otherwise we’re adrift in a glittering sea of meta.

Anyway, return soon for the 2014 predictions in all their 40%-likely glory.

Leave a comment

Filed under Random

Wind’s in the east

Another film about a film, another sign of Hollywood zombification: unable to come up with an original idea, it feasts on the still-warm corpse of a past glory. The “making of” concept is just the sequel/prequel trick on a perpendicular axis, the mark of a desperate industry scrambling for relevance in the internet age. Jebus help us when tinseltown discovers the third dimension.

Oh.

But despite all that, from its trailer Saving Mr Banks looked different, deeper than expected. Sure, it’s a Disney film, and Walt Disney’s a major character, and he’s played by serial schmaltzer Tom Hanks. And yet it’s not a film I instinctively wanted to sprint away from at light speed while vomiting from every orifice.

This is partly down to Emma Thompson, who’s perfect as Poppins creator P L “Mrs” Travers and has all the best, desert-dry gags in the film. (Although compared to the bustled biddy of reality she’s a few years too young.)

It’s also related to the comic moments, showing the true-to-life tension between Mrs Travers and the writers trying to craft a film we all know so well. She’s desperate to find a reason to walk away from the deal, and the Disneyites are desperate to keep her happy while making something people might want to actually watch. The truth is, she doesn’t want Disney — or anyone — to make the picture. Even though she’s pretty much skint, she’s very protective and doesn’t want a skipful of sugar dumped all over her story, her characters, her family. Walt tries to convince her this won’t happen — he’s been trying to convince her for twenty years — and we know he’ll win eventually. But that’s not what the film’s truly about.

It’s all in the backstory. This isn’t a film about the making of Mary Poppins: it’s a film about the making of P L Travers. Throughout the two hours we flash back from present-day 1961 LA to the Australian outback in the nineteen-oughts and the experiences of a young girl in a struggling family. This girl’s relationship with her father (Colin Farrell) is the core of the backstory, and the core of the film. The girl is, of course, Mrs Travers herself.

That’s what transforms this film from a will-this-do Hanks vehicle into something more special. You certainly won’t watch Mary Poppins the same way again the next time it’s on TV, in about fifteen microseconds.

Expect an Oscar nomination for Emma Thompson. And maybe one for Hanks too, because Disney.

Tremendous movie. Stay through the credits for a special treat.

Oh, yes. In Brazil this film is called “Walt Behind the Scenes of Mary Poppins”. I can’t even.

Avaragado’s rating: no pears.

2 Comments

Filed under Random