Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fat Photographer

> I'm at a seminar in Eindhoven. The photographer is you when you were fat.

I lurk
neath your conscious,
waiting to subvert
your unwitting context.

Fat, I live forever.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

One more standard page widget: short URL to permalink

Most pieces of content on the net from flickr photos to blog articles have a row of widgets somewhere near the item, inviting the reader to Digg it, Reddit it, Slashdot it, email it to their friend or make it their "it's complicated" on Facebook.

So, here was my suggestion: If you have a favoured URL shortener, or you have your own, provide one more link at the bottom called ShortURL.


Well, it turned out this thing is already baked in the 'Tweet This' link, coming soon to a blog near you. So we see another item added to the growing list of these widgets. I quite like the way a few people modify the 'standard' content interface on their blog and the change becomes viral.

Generalise: personalised widget lists

This widget list is growing in length, and will suffer scaling problems: I am a user of slashdot and Twitter, but not Reddit. And I don't email my friends with links. So I'd prefer to have a custom list of items. Perhaps, then, we could add a tag or special container to the blog so that a browser addon could replace it with my preferred set, using the links provided. If it could pick up this list from a website that stores my preferences, so much the better.

Semantic web

This brings us closer to the semantic web, where the stuff on the page is interpreted rather than simply displayed. Incidentally, this is where browsers can deviate from being PDF readers - they become more than merely a delivery mechanism.

The content interface

I can see a normal interface being slowly generated for content on the web, with each item having its own permalink and registered short URL, and some associated way of commenting on it. I expect it will also be possible soon to get a summary of its ranking or quality measure on various sites like Digg or Facebook. All this metadata, despite being available with the content via the browser, is actually maintained in many silos, and aggregated repeatedly. This is a sparse object, a distributed dataset.

At last, integration of platforms and services is possible at the point of consumption, rather than needing repeated changes to the website by the producer.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How could Labour win the next general election?

A disclaimer: this is an issue I don't have real depth of knowledge on. I'd love to see Nick Robinson, Ian Hislop, Johnathan Dimbleby, Martha Kearney and a non-BBC commentator as a panel facing a public audience to thrash it out, absent any party lines and attention-seeking from politicians.

What could Labour do to win it, then? The public reviles politicians, particularly Labour, and particularly the incumbent leader. Even impressionables like me have finally got tired of Brown and the various expensive schemes like ID cards that have proven foolish.

Reading Ian Hislop's page on wikipedia, he has apparently expressed support for Vince Cable as potential treasurer, which made me wonder. What if the Lib Dems joined up with Labour? They could give Cable the treasurer spot, put in a smoother operator like David Milliband to run the show and set a fixed date 6 months away to have an election. This should give the country time to get used to the idea, push through some high-profile Lib Dem policies (needed to demonstrate that it wasn't just a gimmick) and get some battles fought against the Conservatives in the Commons. They would do well to field Cable nearly as often as Milliband in the Commons if the PMQs rules allow it, because although Cameron might rate higher in public minds than Milliband, Cable must thoroughly trounce Osborne.

They would need, inevitably, to keep a few less well-liked faces around - Mandelson for his astute manoeuvring, perhaps a real surprise like Blair as foreign secretary for his experience and respect beyond the borders.

Policy-wise, having the Lib Dems on board would be a fantastic excuse for rewriting the policy book - they could drop ID cards, 42 days, clarify Iraq and Afghanistan, commit to cutting spending (which was always inevitable, but now acceptable), and so on.

It would be an utterly catastrophic result for the Tories, whose position is currently so defined by New Labour that they would struggle to find a footing, perhaps long enough for some memorable moments like Michael Howard's Paxman interview. Taking a solid devolutionary line would pacify the Old Labour North with the prospect of more local rule, and the lower taxes would be a step squarely into the Tory sweet spot.

The only Conservative defense would be that they are merely rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, or the derision of having to resort to joining up with the Lib Dems. But the flaw here is that these are political arguments. The public cares about policy arguments at the moment - what will you do to the NHS? What will you do for the economy? How will I know you are a good politician, not a typical, dodgy one?

But they wouldn't do it, would they? Either they'd rather lose this election and pick up after a Tory term, or they are too shortsighted to try something really radical.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Could Markov chains be useful cryptanalysis?

The Enigma code-breaking relied on the discovery of common pairs of letters. Markov chains are a way of analysing common sequences of symbols. Could Markov chains be useful as a cryptanalysis tool?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Apple, tethering and ARPU

Girtby blogged on Apple allowing carriers to detect and block tethering, affronted that Apple would act so unfairly to its users, because the carriers are all 'Apple's bitches', right?

Unfortunately the carriers are not all Apple's bitches, as you put it. As per the normal business negotiation, each side brings their cards to the table. Apple had the iPhone, for which it wanted moolah. The carriers had moolah, for which they wanted the iPhone and as many restrictions they could get. For each restriction they will be willing to offer more money, so if Apple want to be nice to a small group of users that want to use tethering they have to be willing to give up some revenue for that.

In creating restrictions, carriers push a larger proportion of users into buying addons to their contracts or into using the expensive bit of the tariff (international calls by banning net phone apps, etc), so driving up their Average Revenue Per User. Remember, the better the iPhone, the more Apple can squeeze out of the carrier and the more the carrier has to raise the ARPU to get their profit margin back. So Apple leverage the hype they can build to get a better deal from the carrier. And the carrier know that if you're spending $40/m on a contract, you probably won't mind another $5 for tethering.

Yes, they are all there to take your money. That's Big Business at work. The terms of the deal to prevent tethering, to quietly throttle certain apps, were all written into the contracts at the negotiating table. This was a done deal a long time ago. As time goes on, and more apps and uses are prevented, the terms of that deal will be slowly revealed, clause by clause. Apple has not just turned on its loving fans, it has already sold them. Did you expect anything else?