Just a quick note to wish you a Merry Christmas! (Don't worry, I'm not writing blog entries at 9am on Christmas Day, this comes via the wonder of delayed posting)
Normal irregular posting will resume in a couple of days, so it won't be noticeable that I've been away...
Over at the London Review of Books there's a rather interesting essay - The Destruction of the Public Sphere - about the political landscape of the UK.
I think Ross McKibbin, the author, is particularly insightful in his comments about the NHS and education - "Few ask why the educational and health systems seem now so subject to (failed) permanent revolution, given how stable their regimes were before the late 1970s. One answer is that ideological utopias can never be achieved precisely because they are utopian. The other is that the competitive market simply does not work in such systems."
It's rather depressing reading though, for there's no clear solution to re-connect the electorate with the politicians, and none of the major parties look they might be capable of sorting out the NHS or the education system, and make it somewhere where the actual people staffing the services don't have their enthusiasm and drive ground out of them with bureaucracy, league tables, and performance targets.
Maybe now it's time for some leaders who actually acknowledge that the world isn't perfect, and that it won't be possible to make it so. Then we can stop this futile pursuit of a world where nobody dies, no mistakes are made, and every child is a genius mathematician who can write better prose than Shakespear...
Last night I made the sixth beta release of PeerBackup, which will (fingers crossed) be the final release of the beta testing.
With the software itself almost finished, I'm spending more time now looking into the marketing side of things; revamping the website; sorting out the payment system... that sort of thing. So there's still plenty to do, but the big release edges ever closer.
"And to those of you who moan your lives through one day to the next
Well let them take you next
Can't you live and be thankful you're here
See it could be you tomorrow or next year"
"In essence, he didn’t want to annoy me with praise. Annoy me with praise! Is there a more absurd phrase in the English language?
It made me think how many times I’d seen or read things that mattered to me and how rare it was I’d offered any praise in return."
Offer more praise. Now that might be a good resolution for the new year.
(Thanks go to Tom Smith for pointing out this essay.)
Presumably all you long-time readers of McFilter will have been suitably bragging about how you've known about Nizlopi for ages now, given that I've been following them ever since seeing them live at the Jesus College May Ball. And you must have seen and heard the JCB Song when the video did the rounds a while back.
Given the amount of press and media coverage (they were even on Top of The Pops on Sunday!) they've had of late, I'm sure everyone knows that JCB is finally available as a single, and they're being tipped for the Christmas number one; but just in case it had passed you by...
JCB, the excellent song by the superb Nizlopi is now available in the shops, so you should all rush out and buy a copy. If nothing else, surely it's your moral responsibility to help keep Westlife from getting another Christmas chart topper?
Last week, the BBC published an article about a new licensing deal available for podcasts (for my non-techie readers, here's the Wikipedia entry explaining podcasts). I'm surprised it hasn't been more widely reported and commented upon, as it seems to be one of the few times that the "music industry" tries to embrace the Internet and new technologies.
The Association of Independent Music is a trade organization of independent UK music labels, and whose members represent artists such as Bloc Party, Stereophonics, The White Stripes, The Strokes, Basement Jaxx, Paul Weller and Arctic Monkeys. The licence, details of which can be found in the press release (pdf), will have a tiered approach based on the nature of the podcaster and looks like it will involve a fixed fee for non-commercial podcasters, with commercial podcasters having to also pay a percentage of revenues. The podcaster will have to provide statistics on the number of downloads, and also ensure there is a certain amount of talking or station ID at the start or end of each track.
The success of this initiative will depend on how much of their catalogue the labels make availalble to podcasters, and the cost of the licences. The BBC's high profile use of podcasting (and the fact that the podcasts currently available don't include any music) should help encourage the opening up of the catalogue, so lets hope that the costs aren't prohibitive for the "proper" individual podcasters.
In a much quicker turnaround than a professional photographer, and with equivalent quality, James has got the official photographs from Martin & Karen's Wedding up on the web.
This Tuesday evening I made it along to my first CHASE meeting. CHASE is the Cambridge Hi-tech Association of Small Enterprise, a local networking group for, well, people like me I guess.
Since meeting Jeff, who runs CHASE, through my helping out at OurSocialWorld I had decided that being able to recognise when I'd found the right people was the final push I needed to start attending some of the CHASE events.
The first event I made it to was one of the pubmeets. Held on the third Thursday of each month at The Free Press Pub, they seem a pretty relaxed and friendly affair. There wasn't too much to report, but it was good to chat to some other people who've been through or are going through the same experiences setting up and running a business.
On the first Tuesday of the month there's a slightly more formal event in the form of a talk. They are on a wide variety of topics and this month's was about microfabrication. The CHASE website described it thus:
"TTP is a technology development company active across a wide range of technology sectors. As part of these developments, TTP has direct experience of setting up small-scale manufacturing facilities to deliver high-value products. These include high-spec clean rooms, laser-machining facilities and traditional assembly manufacture.
Fred Hussain is a microfabrication expert at TTP. He has been involved in commissioning and operating a number of these facilities for TTP and other organisations and his background covers all aspects of the microfabrication production cycle.
Fred will be discussing the details and practicalities of setting up small-scale fabrication facilities, what to spend when, and how to get the most for your money."
I still wasn't quite sure what it was about, but was curious enough (and the free wine and nibbles always help sway things...). So I now have some level of understanding as to what a clean-room is (it's a humidity, temperature and particulate [dust, etc.] controlled environment where you can do research or small-ish scale production of things like computer chips or nanotech components); how much they can cost (around £0.5million for a small one, up into the millions for larger ones like Intel have); and what sort of processes you might perform in them (casting, electroplating, metal evaporation, etching... all at the microscopic scale).
Not at all applicable to what I do at work, but interesting to hear about, and I had some interesting (and more relevant) conversations in the break and after the talk.
East Anglia is too flat! Luckily, given that it's where I live, I tend to forget that fact when I'm here, but I am reminded just how much I miss hills and how far I am from any proper hills whenever I head back up North. So it was great to spend a long weekend up in the Lake District.
We were up in Cumbria for the wedding of my mate Martin. The whole event was held in the superb Leeming House Hotel; possibly the best hotel I've ever stayed in, with lovely views over Ullswater. We had the hotel to ourselves, which worked really well, it was almost like having it at a private country house - the large restaurant room for the ceremony, meal and dancing; and a few other rooms where guests could sit around on comfy sofas with a tumbler of whisky and a good cuban cigar in front of a log fire.
On Sunday a group of us headed over to Tarn Hows, just south-west of Ambleside. Luckily the rain mostly held off, and the fresh air and gentle walk helped to clear our hangovers. Then it was back into Ambleside for a much appreciated late lunch at the Apple Pie Eating House and Bakery.
From there we said our goodbyes, Rebecca and I leaving the others to make their way home as we had a superb blatt over the Kirkstone Pass and up the A592 to Penrith where we were staying for an extra night. In the morning we called over to Keswick for a wander down to the river, and around the shops. And after a hearty lunch at the Keswick Lodge pub we made the surprisingly hold-up free trek back down South.
I'm sure James, who did a sterling job in his role as official photographer, will have much better photos, but the few that Rebecca took are in the photo album.
It was an interesting evening. As the group is very new, it is still finding its direction, and choosing its battles; so as a result the meeting was a collection of concurrent group brainstorming sessions. I'm surprised there hasn't been more discussion of the event on peoples blogs, but maybe that will come when ORG wiki is in place and the notes from the meeting are collated there.
Rather than summarize and provide all the links to the speakers, some of the attendees, etc., I'll just point you at this write-up over on Preoccupations.
I still haven't worked out what I'll take from the meeting. These non-technical - political? moral? ethical? - computing issues are important. If nothing else, there'll probably be greater coverage of them in this blog.