Navel gazing

Wow, wait, I’ve been writing on this blog for nearly 11 years now… 

The thought came to me while fiddling with the sidebar images. If you’ve not noticed, there’s a rotating roster of images that changes with each refresh. Some are more readable than others. Some are my own images, some are from Unsplash, which is a pretty neat resource for royalty-free imagery that also happens to contain some amazing photos to boot.

The rotating imagery was from an idea I’d had for a new design for this site back in 2007, shortly after I’d moved to London, back when the site still had a splash page and a forum. Back when I had more time for these things. It had been a couple of years after graduating – a couple of years since I’d been committed to changing the design/theme every 3 months. The irony of going from a hand-built blog where I changed design regularly to one on a dynamic platform with built in theme support where I ceased to change the design is not lost on me.

Looking back at that idea from November 2007 (9 years!), I still like the mockups and prototypes I’ve got. It still feels basically fresh – I should be congratulating myself on being so forward looking, but the truth is that while I was able to make the mockups, it never panned out because I didn’t know enough HTML/CSS/JS to make it work, and I didn’t have the time or effort to put into following through, as a hobby slowly fell by the wayside.

And now, years later, I’m pulling it off, mostly. I’ve still got this site – indeed I just renewed the domain for another little while, the site hosting costs for another little bit… and I’m really not sure why. But it’s important to me to have this space – this space that’s my own, as opposed to a Twitter or Facebook or Medium or other platform where I’m a subdomain at best. Pushing the Sky is mine, for better or for worse.

So – point of the story – while scrolling and realising how long it’s been, I also realised where the monthly post counts slowed to the woeful rate we have today… and while 2007 happened to be the last time I put significant effort into attempting to redesign this site, and 2008 apparently was the year where I went from writing something here every day and a half to every 3 days, and then 2009 became the year I slowed that even further – even though it’s been 6 or 7 years since I put any concerted effort into this, I still find myself appreciating the space, and appreciating that I have an outlet that’s my own.

And now I need to restore it; I need to revert from using those other platforms as my primary outlets to write something, or share a photograph, or a review of a movie, and return to the source. I need to post here more, and I’ll make a concerted effort to do so. Keep me honest, will you?

The Role of Shame in Politics

And so at long last, we reach US Election Day 2016, when a reckoning has finally come for the American political system – the candidates perfectly set up as the establishment facing the insurgents, the know-nothing Donald Trump squaring off against the know-it-all Hillary Clinton.

How did we get like this?

How did we get from the point where once upon a time, a candidate that was even threatened with being revealed to be cheating on his wife, would step back, stand down, or resign altogether than face the music, to the point where we’re seeing a candidate standing despite those accusations and worse being thrown around, and still he appears to be as close as a 3% gap?

What changed to allow this to happen?

Shame. Or the lack thereof.

It is the nature of public shame more than anything in democracies to operate as the public conscience of the politicians. It is not the law that forces a resignation in the face of allegations of adultery, for instance; it is shame that pushes a politician to resign when word comes to light of legitimate but morally dubious donations; it is shame that forces departures that allegations of falsehoods bring to light, no matter how legal it may have been at the time.

It is shame, a somewhat quaint notion intrinsically linked with the quainter notions of honor and propriety. It is with shame that we have driven much of the better behavior without needing to codify it.

It was a key component that drove the first parliaments in England – honor and shame being what for years was enough to bring glory and to end careers. So much of parliament’s rules are mere conventions, and adherence to these is driven by the honor of doing the right thing. Where a parliamentarian would cross a line of honor, the sheer shame of doing so was in it self enough to force change.

Now? Who would bother with feeling shame, if the penalty isn’t there? Where’s the big stick as a result?

Let’s take the concrete example in Australia most recently of George Brandis, Attorney General. Ignoring the Solicitor-General’s advice should be grounds for dismissal due to ministerial dereliction of duty; misleading Parliament should have been sufficient for the shame of those deceitful actions to force Brandis to walk, as apparently it’s not an offence to do so.

Brandis didn’t walk, he didn’t fall on his sword, and Turnbull didn’t dismiss him.

Instead, these days, there’s no shame in it. It’s being able to go to the extremes of previously tolerated behavior, and then keep going, because what’s the penalty?

And thus we have Trump. A man with no shame so much that he keeps getting away with so very much and reaping the reward. We don’t hold Trump to a higher standard; we understand this man is poor and devoid of character in many ways, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on the side that uses shame when convenient and brushes it away. It’s not illegal, why should he apologize?

The outright denial of facts and truth is entirely possible if there’s no shame in doing so. If there’s nothing to say “You lied and you ought not have done that,” then where are we left to go?

Where is the shame in treating humans the way we’ve done in Nauru and Manus Island? Political expediency rules.

Truly, we will need to restore shame to its rightful place amongst the emotions that govern those who would governs us, because without it, Trump isn’t the last on this band-wagon, and that’s a truly terrifying thought.

Google now tracking more personally

Google’s relaxing a previous barrier between DoubleClick, their online ad division that controls 75% of the market, and the rest of Google’s data that can track you directly tied to your Google account, as reported by ProPublica.

What does this mean? Well, up until now, you could have a DoubleClick tracking cookie and it would make ads follow you around the web – those creepy ads on random sites that somehow knew what you searched for on eBay 15 minutes ago – but it wouldn’t necessarily be tied into browsing activity elsewhere.

Now, if you’ve got a Google account that you’ve signed into, Google reserves the right to tie those two together – and not just on the same browser or device, because hell, Google knows who you are on your phone as well as your PC or iPad.

So: Google knows who you are, they know who you get in touch with, they know what you’re searching for, and they know where you’re touching the web because any page with ads by Google or their DoubleClick subsidiary are now tied in together.

How long until any page with Google Analytics is tied into the same thing?

This is the price we’re paying for everything being “free” on the web – increasingly trading privacy, increasingly exposing ourselves to more and more specific advertising. Some might say good, irrelevant ads are useless, but at what point does it get to the “creepy” side of the coin?

The importance of context

This post on Stratechery is focused on the emergence of wearables, particularly with the new Snapchat Spectacles, but its opening makes a brilliant point about why the iPhone defined the modern smartphone – it was all about timing it right:

Think about everything that happened between 1992 and 2007 that, at least at first glance, didn’t seem to have anything to do with smartphones:

  • The personal computer moved out of the office and into the home
  • The world wide web was invented and an entire ecosystem was built from scratch
  • Personal electronics proliferated: while by 1992 most people had or used calculators and Walkmans, the 90s saw the introduction of PDAs and digital cameras; the 00s brought handheld GPS devices and digital music players

The reason why we consider 2007 as the start of the smartphone era is that while there were plenty of smartphones released before then… it was the iPhone that, thanks to its breakthrough user interface and ahead-of-its-time hardware, was able to take advantage of all these developments.

Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone missed the camera – phone cameras were already a thing even in “feature phones”, albeit terrible – but that was on par with the “iPod, Phone, Internet”, and arguably still remains the key pillars for smartphones today. However, all of these wouldn’t even have been possible if not for the context of the industry – illustrated by a phone from 1992 that had a touch screen and apps… but sent faxes, because it didn’t have the ability to do much else.

Wearables like the Apple Watch or Fitbit (or even my favoured Pebble) have two tentpoles – health (pumped up pedometers), and notifications (“I’d like to use my phone less.”). Wearables like Google Glass or these new “Spectacles” offer different propositions, but no-one’s quite yet cracked the “must have” tentpole that makes them the New New Thing. Maybe we haven’t seen it yet, maybe wearables is too diffuse or personal a field to be barking up, but until it cracks the “makes my life easier” list, I’m not sure we’ll see quite the space we saw 8-10 years ago emerging in the smartphone space.

Predictions from the turn of the 20th century

This page of predictions from 1901 about what the world will look like in 2001 is remarkably prescient in some ways, and highly amusing in others.

Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there is a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in newspapers one hour later.

Store Purchases by tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages & bundles.

Makes you wonder which of the futurists today are getting things right and which they’re getting wildly wrong.

Douglas Adams lays out the roadmap for technology

I’m an avowed Douglas Adams fan, and this is just pure evidence that he died way, way too soon – written in 1989:

All I want to do is print from my portable. (Poor baby). That isn’t all I want in fact. I want to be able regularly to transfer my address book and diary stacks backwards and forwards between my portable and my IIx. And all my current half-finished chapters. And anything else I’m tinkering with which is the reason why my half-finished chapters are half-finished. In other words I want my portable to appear on the desktop of my IIx. I don’t want to have to do battle with cupboard monsters and then mess about with TOPS every time I want that to happen. I’ll tell you all I want to have to do in order to get my portable to appear on the Desktop of my IIx.

I just want to carry it into the same room.

Bang. There it is. It’s on the Desktop.

And when someone asks why Apple’s “Continuity” feature and seamless “it just works” stuff is exciting when you could do it yourself, this is why.

(The whole piece is brilliant, just the lovely Adams ramble that brings so many wonderful images to the fore and yet is really a rant about Adams not being able to find the right cable for his laptop (back before there were such things as “laptops”))

Taylor Swift: Master Manipulator

When did you first realise Taylor Swift was lying to you?

Bill Simmons: I knew Taylor Swift was lying to me once she established that she didn’t have a type. Everyone has a type. Everyone. Every single person who ever lived. Maybe you drift away from that type once or twice over eight years, but not consistently. Taylor Swift has dated older guys, MUCH older guys, younger guys, masculine guys, not so masculine guys, damaged guys, innocent guys, rich guys, struggling actors, famous actors, virginal guys, lotharios … there’s just no rhyme or reason to these picks (well, except they’re all white). She picks boyfriends like someone would fill positions on their fantasy team.

Well, colour me naive, but this has been a bit of an eye-opener. Goddammit Tay.

Did George Lucas predict the current political environment?

A bit more US-centric, but this gives me the shivers:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.

As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order — and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.

Think we’ve already got Senator Jar Jar Bernadi here in Australia…