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July 22, 2003

Pet Trouble

The mice in the study are fighting. "Get them neutered," said Dr Plokta helpfully; but neither of them have balls in any case.

They're both Microsoft Optical Wireless Mice, one blue, one iMac white. Now. This is a two-channel mouse. But for some reason, whenever you try to change channels, it ends up back on channel 1, and movements and mouse clicks on the PC/Linux box are applied to my iMac.

Advice welcome, not counting 'don't buy this mouse', which I've gathered in any case from reading the web. I was absolutely perfectly happy with the first of these, and I'm perfectly happy with the new one when using my computer alone. But it's certainly true that lots of other people have trouble with this mouse; my guess now is that many of these problems boil down to radio interference issues.

Posted by Alison at 09:39 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2003

Subtitling Life

Jo Walton asked whether it would be possible to have real-time speech recognition at panels, linked to wirelessly networked palmtops. This would allow the many deaf, or partially deaf, fans to participate more fully.

Thinking about it, I realised a much lower-tech solution is being spun around us now, in the form of the collaborative Hydras appearing wherever two or more Mac OS X users are gathered together. Here's the Hydra transcript of the VoxPolitics seminar I went to the other night, and here's a review of Hydra live.

Hydras require no configuration beyond having the program on your wireless-equipped Mac laptop. Participating in a Hydra is fun; it enhances your experience of the panel rather than being a chore. The product isn't just an aid for the deaf; it can include comments that reflect what people thought of what was being said, and provides a permanent record of the panel.

If you have a data projector (and these are so startlingly useful at conventions that they'll be commonplace soon) you can hook one laptop up to the data projector, zoom the text, and broadcast the Hydra to the entire room.

Oh, this is all such a fun idea. And, incidentally, it will provide more ambient information to a deaf congoer than even a top-flight personal lipspeaker would.

Posted by Alison at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2003

Early Days of a Better Nation?

I enjoyed the VoxPolitics blogging seminar, though I think it fair to say that more heat than light was generated.

I didn't take my powerbook, and regretted it hugely when I saw a Hydra springing up around me. Hydra is the perfect application for an event like this; everyone in the room with Hydra could automatically see the document, and it meant that people could comment on the seminar as it was going on.

Speakers were Stephen Pollard, Tom Watson, Steven Clift, and Pernille Rudlin.

All very good and thought-provoking, with the exception of Pernille Rudlin, whose text appeared to be "Isn't moblogging exciting! Of course, it was invented in Japan, you know. It's much more important than computer blogging because so many more people are enfranchised. Not that you can blog anything of consequence from a phone anyway; and in fact, it turns out that most people use their phones for networking."

Tom Watson and Richard Allan were there; and promised us a third MP blogger shortly in the form of Sion Simon. Tom Watson explained that he'd taken up blogging because his website was dreadful and nobody visited it. He started websurfing and came across Bloggerheads; suddenly realised what weblogs were and that he could do it himself. He struck me as being a very typical, salt-of-the-earth, back bench labour MP; not at all the technophile I'd been expecting. He sees blogs as a tool for political participation, and is encouraging people to discuss political themes as part of Blogathon on 26 July.
He pointed out that about three members of the public, on average, come to a committee session, but the room was full for this seminar. (The commentator in me points out that this is because nobody realises that the public are welcome at nearly all sessions of standing and select committees. You don't have to queue; find out from the House of Commons site when the session you want to hear is on, turn up at St Steven's gate and explain to the policeman what you're here to see.)

Stephen Pollard initially used his site to collate his writings; after a while he realised he could write pieces for the website even when nobody was paying him. Although MPs are excited by the potential when they learn about blogs, journalists always say "but why would anyone write for free?"
He sees a clear link between blogging and political journalism. Believes that blogs are very influential in the US now, and this will spill over into the UK; that posting to a blog means that unlike writing for a newspaper, the debate continues, and the quality of intellectual argument is moved forward. Although he's not paid for blogging, he often gets ideas from his blog that he can then write paid articles about. He mentioned the possibility of fomenting grassroots involvement through websites and blogs. Quote: "People who don't see what's going on are living in the 20th century".

Steven Clift saw the power of blogging not as a democratising tool, but as a politicising one; that a few bloggers can influence policy in the US, and increasingly in the UK. He felt that the power of the web had been ignored for a while after the dotcom bust; the prevailing atmosphere was "if it doesn't make money, what possible good is it?" He spoke a little about Dean, and asked "If you have a blog and nobody reads it, do you really have a blog?" (Yes.) He points out that bloggers are overwhelmingly on broadband, feels it isn't connecting as many people as it could yet. He spoke about the Minnesota state legislature, now online all the time; legislators have desks with computers in the chamber, can get emails during debates, or correct facts, and be influenced by them. He was the one person who didn't automatically assume 'America is ahead of us'; he said a couple of times that no US representative or senator has a blog -- something I knew but that most people neither knew nor picked up on. Tom Watson is a real trend-setter. He sees blogs as a tool for local people to get involved with local politicians.

The quality of the Q&A was varied. Some discussion of whether the party machine would prevent free speech in blogs (the prevailing view was that MPs who were on message would stay on message in their blogs, and the Awkward Squad will be awkward in any case.) A worry that this technology really only supports people who are articulate, literate and informed, and who's looking out for the lumpen proletariat? (Blogs are hardly the guilty party here.) "Green ink is invisible in cyberspace"; but in fact, blogging provides a means for less extreme constituents to get in touch with their MP informally. Most people have no idea how to do this.

No serious discussion of aggregators, where next (apart from a brief mention of wikis), how to help people become politically active, issues of propriety and privacy, or the many other uses of blogs that are not political. Nor yet the notion that this may provide a way to make the political process more transparent to a huge swathe of people who believe that they currently have no power to change anything. This last is the point that really excites me; that if by blogging, Tom and others can help ordinary people understand how you use politics and politicians to make things happen that you want, people can begin to pursue their aims more effectively.

Posted by Alison at 08:58 AM | Comments (5)

July 08, 2003


With the help of Patrick's instructions, this blog has now spawned two sweet bloglets, Trinkets and Latte Free Zone. You can still read them in the sidebar, of course. But if you're using an aggregator, they come complete with a full set of tiny fingers and toes RSS feeds, which can be found in the normal places.

Posted by Alison at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2003

Something For the Weekend

I am resolved to add a sidebar, like Patrick's, for all those links which are interesting but don't make a full post. But I haven't quite worked out how to code it, yet. It would include things like this obviously true (and spoiler-ridden) explanation of Fight Club, and the first female Iraqi blogger.

Posted by Alison at 10:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 01, 2003

The Road Less Travelled

Not that we had tickets for Glastonbury anyway. But at any rate, it's the Worldcon of festivals, and so not our sort of thing at all. Instead we were at the altogether more cosy Crawley Folk Festival, set in and around the Hawth theatre in Crawley. Weekend tickets were a wallet-crunching £14, and allowed us to camp "wherever you can find a spare bit of grass". As we arrived late, we pitched our tent in a far corner, meaning it took us almost two minutes to walk from there to the main stage.

And the music was fine. We were drawn to this particular festival because the very wonderful Jim Moray played on Saturday, on the smallest of the four stages. His new album, Sweet England is released today, and this concert was free to all comers.

Jim Moray playing electric guitar and PowerBook

Can you spot the PowerBook in this picture?

There was lots else to enjoy, though. We particularly liked Carreg Lafar, who are a Welsh version of lively Celtic bands like Runrig. Steven managed to follow most of the songs; I let it all wash over me, but my fannish training came in handy for songs like Ceiliog Ddu.

Billy Bragg headlined Saturday night, with a blistering set that mixed up his own songs with his settings of Woody Guthrie's lyrics, and plenty of entertaining patter. He was supported by Alasdair Roberts and Gareth Eggie, who were startlingly good but appeared not to have CDs with them. Also recording-free were Dr Faustus, who I'd read about after hearing Benji Kirkpatrick with the Oysterband earlier in the year. They played in blistering heat on Sunday afternoon, while we drank the last of the beer and rested in the shade.

I was sad to miss The Boxhedge Clippers, who specialise in singing one song in the style of another, and have an album called Topiary in the UK. (mp3s of "Anarchy in the UK" and "Hit Me Baby One More Time" on the website should give you the idea, though the latter reminds me of a less edgy version of The Ukrainians. Who, interestingly, also have part of an mp3 of "Anarchy in the UK" on their site.)

We also heard a little of supergroup Blue Murder, who finished the festival; sadly, delicate vocal harmonies proved too much for my indelicate children, who were strung out and whiny by this point.

All this was glued together with plenty of other bands, a real ale tent with twenty different beers, craft workshops for the kids, and glorious sunshine.

Posted by Alison at 12:33 AM | Comments (1)