Wednesday 27 April 2011

A slow hand clap for Sony...


Good news. No one has called me a pussy since that fateful day on the 88, what now seems an age ago! Huzzah!

Today I write to express my dismay about the big Sony personal data debacle. If you've not seen anything about it then the story is here: - and the basics are that Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN) was hacked and the personal details of 77 million people were taken. Details including: Name, Address, Postcode, PSN sign in, PSN PASSWORD, Date of Birth, and, 'maybe' credit card details.

The media is giving this quite a lot of coverage, as it should, but no-one really seems to be making a big deal about the fact it took Sony a WEEK to tell users of the service that their personal details may have been compromised. That's a week where people had access to one of my Internet passwords, my address, my DOB and (perhaps) my credit card details.

I have spent two hours this morning calling my credit card company (that took five minutes, well done AMEX, you were, as ever, truly splendid) and changing every online password I have that might be the same as the PSN one (yes I know I should have a different password for everything, but how many people can really manage that many different passwords?).

I guess the main issue I have is that there is literally no come back or consequence to Sony for this incident. Can you imagine the scandal if this was the government losing personal data (again!)? The only comeback for users of the service is not to use it at all, or to stop using Sony products - which in both cases is cutting off your nose to spite your face... it just means that you stop using an expensive piece of hardware... and stop buying Blu-Rays?

I suppose what I am getting at is that we don't live in a marketplace where you can always vote with your wallet. Companies like Sony are so big and powerful that there is really no way to stop using all their products/services as a form of protest. Let's just look at what Sony actually do these days: as well as Play Station and Blu-Ray, they do the Vaio computer range, a host of consumer electronics (TVs, stereo, MP3 players, etc), they make movies through Sony Pictures Entertainment, and publish/release around a quarter of all commercial music through the Sony BMG label.

To vote with your wallet, you'd have to stop watching a lot of films, stop listening to a lot of music, and stop buying Blu-Ray, etc. It's pretty impossible. So what's left for the consumer to do? Nothing, really... express their disapproval... and... erm... that's it. So in many ways it is the same as when the government lost data in the past, you just have to live with an apology. That's it. Frustrating eh... Especially considering the way these huge, powerful companies make you agree to terms of service documents running into tens of thousands of words, and when you accept these terms of service you do so from a position on absolute impotence. (Who actually reads those things? And could you return a product if you didn't agree to terms of service? What when the terms of service change?)

I guess that above all, the thing to remember is that the hackers caused the problem, and they are the people we should be angriest with, however... Sony controls how it manages and communicates the problem... and this could have been done a hell of a lot better. Personally, I think users of the PSN should get more than an apology (some credit in lieu of the time spent changing security details, etc?), but I really can't see 77 million people being given a £5 credit, can you?

- - - - -

Media Fail:

As an aside, I love the way the BBC felt that a journalist for a computer gaming website was the best person to include in the story to advise on what PSN account holders should do. He basically said 'well, if nothing dodgy has happened in the last week, don't worry'.

Now, I'm sorry, but that's just moronic. If you hacked 77 million sets of personal data would you be able to use each set of data for fraudulent activity within 7 days? Processing 11 million attempts a day? No. This could run for bloody years... and the data is likely to be sold on creating wave after wave of potential problems for people who had PSN accounts.

The right person for advice on what to do about credit card data going missing is not a computer games journalist. It's a security expert at a bank or credit card company. This was very sloppy lazy journalism by the BBC. Tut tut.

- - - - -

That's all from me - the earth shatteringly exciting 'principles for music buying' post I know you are desperate to read will have to wait until I can be arsed thinking about it properly. Now I have to go pot some tomatoes! LIVING THE DREAM MY FRIENDS! WIN!



Friday 8 April 2011

The trip home from work...

Hi All,

Afraid I shall be leaving you on tenterhooks as regards whether I bought the Rival Schools LP on CD or digital for a little bit longer. I have something quite strange and not all that pleasant to write about: my trip home from work...

I got on the 88 from outside work at about 1730 and noticed that there was a chap talking to a young woman I assumed he didn't know. He asked her 'so where are you from', and they were talking in what seemed a pretty normal way. In short, it was all seemingly pleasant and nice enough. I thought to myself at the time that it was an interesting approach to flirtation or meeting new people, but hey, fair play, no harm in talking to someone, is there. So the bus gets onto Parliament Square and Dare by the Gorillaz comes on shuffle and I'm catching up on Twitter as is my normal routine on the way home, so far, so ordinary... and then...

Gradually louder voices from in front of me... and it sounds very much like the young lady is not appreciating the attention she is getting from the bloke who was talking to her earlier. So I turn my music down and start to listen in, by which point she is saying 'I don't even know you', 'get off of me' and 'I can't even understand you'... not good, eh... Now at this point I may have been being a bit slow, and shamefully the question 'should I do anything' comes into my head and I am weighing this all up, before the woman to my left says to the lady in front: "Are you alright?" and her reply is "I think I am being harassed", and another woman says "You can come and sit down here". But the woman can't go anywhere... I'm taking my headphones out at this point and putting my phone away, and I look more closely and this chap is talking to her in a low voice, and seems to have her hand or wrist in one of his hands, with the other hand, somewhere near her right knee. He's been propositioning and perhaps intimately touching a woman he doesn't know. He is basically sexually harassing her, keeping her trapped in a window seat and not letting her get away or move.

Now I reacted as quickly as I could when it was clear he wasn't going to move, I tried to play it all calm, and I put my hand on his shoulder (fairly firmly, I guess) and said 'excuse me mate, can you let the lady up to go and sit somewhere else?' Polite, but firm, yeah? Nothing too strong, he has a simple out and can save a bit of face. If he lets her out, calls me a wanker and shuts up, things have been resolved in a just-about bearable way. Does he do that? No.... the next few seconds went something like this (contains swearing!):

Chap: "Sit down you fucking pussy. Sit down before I smash your fucking glasses into your fucking face. Fucking pussy."

We're evidently dealing with one of London's most refined and charming gentlemen, aren't we...
I am in the back right corner of the bus, one of the other young female passengers is in the back left corner, and the chap in question is now blocking both of our exits, as well as keeping the lady next to the window. What's more, it's at this point I realise that sum total of the other people on the bottom floor of the bus are two other young women (I guess mid thirties) and two other ladies in their late 50's/ early 60's. I'm dealing with this on my own, clearly.

Levin: "Just let the lady go and sit somewhere else and there's no problem, is there mate?"
Chap: "Fuck you. Sit down. Sit down. Last Chance. Sit down you fucking pussy. I smash your face. Sit down."

I stay stood up (#MACHO MACHO MAN, #I NEED A HERO, etc...). Arms by my sides, palms flat and open. Very clear body language saying that I don't want a fight; your move, buddy. Chappy moves towards me, jolts his torso forward as if to swing at me and stops (a good couple of feet away from me). "You pussy. Sit down. I smash your face. Sit down". My heart is pumping, big adrenaline hit. This is the scary bit. Ancient and hard-wired biological reactions are at play.

I stay stood up. More eye contact. The woman he had never met who he was feeling up on a bus at 1735 on a Friday evening manages to get past him and walk towards the driver.

Levin: "Driver! Driver!"
Chap: "Driver, driver, whats the going to do you fucking pussy!?!?"

We reach a bus stop. The lady starts talking to the driver. He's bound to stop the bus, right? The last thing he'll do is just let her get off and leave what looks (and sounds) very much like a just-about-to-occur punch-up to occur, yeah? No. That's exactly what he does. Chappy is giving it more lip, but now he has moved towards the middle of the bus and there is a chance for the other women on the bus to get away from him, and for me to move near an exit. But I'm not stupid. I'm not turning my back to him. He fronts up to me and starts giving it all the verbals again, mixed in with the jolt-towards-me-as-if-he's-about-to-hit-me malarkey. Nice, eh.

Chap: "You fucking acne face. Sit down you fuck. Fuck you. Pussy"
(For the record. I don't have and never have had acne. I pride myself on my skincare regime. Anyhow, this chap is clearly not only a first class dick, he's also not very observant.)
Levin: "Can you just let me past, mate?"
Chap: "Fat fuck. Fuck you. Pussy. Give me something. Now."
(He's gesturing to my iPhone)
Levin: Fuck off.

At this point, after basically five minutes of this, by which point I have four women lined up behind me so they are out of his way (none of them spoke to the driver though, thanks ladies) and I am just about to come to my stop. I stare at him, the bus stops. Two of the ladies get off behind me, and I back away... and step off the bus.

Right now, not even three hours after it, it just seems so surreal. I am being sarcastic about it and adding a few (half-arsed) jokes into this blog, all of which completely betrays the fact that it was scary as hell. I really, genuinely, thought I was going to end up in a fist fight on a bus. The last fight I had was when I was 8. This guy was fucking mental. He was half my size, and (not trying to be a dick about it or brag) I would have fancied my chances... but bloody hell... what in Dawkins' name was that all about. What an insane, deranged, sick, disjointed guy.

I have all sorts of feelings going on after the event. I have been having to manage my breathing on and off since it happened to control the effects of the adrenaline. It was scary. I know I did the right thing. What else could I do. As a big brother to a little sister, I still remember having to elbow and shoulder barge men with wandering hands at gigs when my sister and her friends were young and in the mosh pit. Men can be fucking idiots.

I had to get involved and stop him, he wasn't going to leave her alone. When I got home and relayed the story to my wife this evening, she said that because of me there is one woman who got home tonight with more faith in human nature. That's a result in anyone's book, I guess. But I am feeling a bit shaken and stressed and angry. Angry that other people didn't talk to the driver. Angry that the driver didn't stop or call the Transport Police. Angry that, after I got off that bus, there were other people in that space with him. Angry that he might well hit on or start touching up the next young woman who got on the bus a few stops down the line.

This kind of experience brings out the Daily Mail in you, the fear, the anger, the frustration and all sorts of other unpleasant feelings you normal never deal with in a day. I can't remember ever feeling like I would smack someone in the mouth given the chance... right now, part of me kinda wishes I could have a free swing our idiotic protagonist. But I am a (relatively) rational person, I've been commuting to London for about ten years now, so lets call that a total of 4,000 journeys, on average in enclosed spaces with 20 people, so that's 80,000 people - only one of them has been an absolute idiot. In other words. This sort of thing doesn't happen every day. It's just all a bit raw and odd and, well.. what would you have done... answers below!

Enough for now while I process this a bit more and have another shot of bourbon ;-)



PS - I bought Rival Schools and Elbow on CD. I will put a post on my 'Principles for CD/ Digital purchasing' in a future post that I can guarantee will feature less of me describing how someone spent an age calling me a pussy.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Ramblelicious Randomness

So, not too good, is it! Last time I posted was October. Its not as if there hasn't been plenty to write about. Problem is, as ever, finding the time. I did write a list of things I might get around to writing about a little while ago, but it is not that long and is hyperpolitcalgeekery at its best. For example, would you, Dearest Reader (there might be one of you!) be interested in my musings on the basic political dichotomies (left/ right; liberal/ conservative; statist/ market-based) and how they relate to modern British and American politics? Well?

I'm motivated to write about it as I am forever fascinated by the fact that people (i.e. the voting public) don't seem to (and why should they be expected to) know what, generally, the parties stand for. Knowing that, for example, the Tories are naturally inclined to shrink the state and are essentially ideologically opposed to state provision of things 'the market' can provide would help people realise that they should take any Tory promise about the safety of the NHS with a big pinch of salt. Last time I blogged (October 2010. I apologise.) about how many of the ongoing cuts were all about ideology, and not really about saving money, and the evidence for that just keeps coming. Tuition fees are a great example, as in the short term, they front-load more debt on to the public purse than simply leaving things alone would have done.

I guess the crux of this is that people are always saying "they [the parties] are all the same as each other", which is of course complete nonsense. There are fundamental, almost religious differences between what the parties stand for and the ideology that informs that. There are places where they will agree, and those areas may have grown since the removal of Clause 4, etc, but it is just plain wrong to think that the same decisions would have been made since last May if we had a Labour government. There are important, fundamental differences, and lots of people never really learn what they are, or get a chance to think about them (they have better things to do, right!)

I guess, the point of all of this is 'think'. There are important philosophical and moral questions in politics, and just because most media coverage is all about simple sloganeering, and the media looking for the *smallest* of differences between people in the same party, doesn't mean there is something deeper to actually consider.

- - - - -

On another note entirely, I found out today that the first Rival Schools album in 10 years came out on Monday. I love Rival Schools. I love Rival Schools so much that I bought a Rival Schools t-shirt at University and when it was so badly worn it was no longer wearable (after, like 8 years), I had my wonderful Mum make it into a Rival Schools cushion. It is *still* on the lounge sofa, despite my awesome wife's attempts to have me move it somewhere else!

Still, I raise this point 'cos 1. I am muchos kinder bueno excited about it and 2. It puts to the test my ability to be rational about things. I have explained (1), but (2) requires some further fact based exposition. For this I am going to use the wonderful mechanic of the LIST:

1. I am obvioulsy going to buy this new record.
2. I am 75% through digitizing my (stupidly large big) CD collection
3. I should just download the new album. I could then listen to it STRAIGHT AWAY!
4. But I am unsure about downloading it as I kinda still prefer CDs (Artwork! Inlay cards! These are some of life's simplest pleasures, no?)
5. However, point 4 holds even though when the CD arrives I will just upload it to my computer and my iPhone and hardly ever look at the physical copy.
6. Logically, I should simply download the new Rival Schools album RIGHT NOW!
7. It's also more eco-friendly to download it. If I keep buying physical copies of music, I am WILLFULLY DESTROYING OUR BEAUTIFUL PLANET. (This is bad, FYI).
8. But I remain unsure that I might well be happier buying the CD.
9. The same argument is currently going through my head about the new Elbow album as well (I have all the others on CD, see...)
10. At some point I accept that I will have to stop buying physical copies of music.

Anyhow. That's enough of a list. I will not make a decision now as I have, I feel, left you on the edge of your seat wondering what decision I will make. Also, I now need to post in the next few days with the EXCITING news of my decison!




Sunday 17 October 2010

It's not just the economy, stupid...


So, not too great not to have written stuff for basically two months, is it! This posting shall therefore be a fascinating thought splurge about the first thing to occur to me about what has been going on in the world since my last post:

It's not just the economy, stupid...
It is becoming increasingly apparent that many of the recent decisions the government has made are more about ideology than anything else. While we are being told time after time after time that cutting the deficit is the main aim, there are decisions being made that actually make little sense financially. One such contradiction was rather eloquently explained in an article by Polly Toynbee last week(1), and concerns the so called 'bonfire of the quangos' which was announced only a few days after Sir Phillip Green finished his report into government waste.

Green reported that increased centralisation of government spending and procurement would be the best way to save money. How do you best centralise government procurement and spending? Either within departments or (all together) in quangos.

So there's a bit of an inconsistency with the government toasting all these quangos when they are in fact very likely to save money. For the uninitiated, they tend to exist as a way of centralising functions across a service (e.g. education, health, policing) and that these central functions tend to be more economical than individual schools, hospitals or police forces doing things individually. They also tend to help set national or professional standards, and they tend to mean that something approaching 'best practice', or 'best value' is achieved nationally.

Scrapping Becta (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency), who procure the best computers and programmes for schools as effectively and cheaply as possible,leaves the alternative now that "all headteachers will be on their own, thumbing through brochures, subjected to marketing calls from sales reps trying to bamboozle them with gizmos and super-new electronic teaching aids that may be the best or the worst. Even if teachers succeed in choosing the best, they will get the worst prices without mass purchasing"(1).

A frequent cry from Tories is 'let teachers teach' and 'cut red tape' - getting rid of quangos like Becta means less time for teachers to teach. It moves 'red tape' into the teachers' in tray, and asks teachers in each school to make decisions they may not have been trained for, rather than leaving these decisions in the hands of other professionals who can make a decision for schools nationally.

On top of this, reports have suggested that the cost of the current round of quango cuts will equal the savings they make, and that the same agencies we have now could run for 10 years before there is a financial benefit from getting rid of them (newsflash, if you sack people, they need redundancy pay, and you'll still have leases you are obligated to pay, and... etc).

So these cuts are not about reducing the deficit, or saving money, they are part of a small state agenda that the public are far less enthusiastic about than the government (who knew what the Tories stood for before the election, they never said). So what is the result of cutting quangos like Becta? Lots of people out of work, with less money to spend to help avoid a double dip recession (and we need to be spending, according the deputy of the Bank of England (3)), and who may eventually need state benefits since the chances of getting a job in the current economy are awful...

Call me naive, but aren't we better off with people in decent jobs so they can support their families? Aren't we better off with professionals in place to help drive best practice and best value? Aren't we better off when professionals like head teachers and doctors are supported by organisations that aim to make their lives easier? Aren't we better off with headteachers spending their time running schools and teaching children, rather than deciding whether the next lot of PCs are coming from Dell or not?

That's enough from me. This has been a bit of a heavy one, eh!



References: (1)
(2) (3)

Sunday 15 August 2010

Marketing tips...

I am a bona fide atheist. Nothing could make me interested in joining a church, or an organised religion. That's not to say that I don't have a set of beliefs, etc. It's just to say I don't believe in any kind of creator or a guiding hand. I try to be Alan McRational, and I like me some of that thing called 'evidence' - give me a randomised control trial over one of the gospels any day... (that pretty much comes with the territory when you are a researcher).

Anyhow, loads and loads and loads of arguments about the whole religion/ atheism debate abound, and I don't really want to get into them here. People have largely made their minds up, and I'm not trying to make anyone change what they believe (which is why I get so annoyed at religious door knockers coming to my home and trying to change my mind). In any case, (a) the God Delusion and (b) the Origin of the Species make the arguments for atheism/ evolution (and anti organised religion/ creationism) better then I ever could. But anyhow. I have some marketing advice for religions and the religious. Hummus.

Yep. Hummus.

Don't look so surprised! Everyone *knows* hummus is *amazing*. In fact, I was thinking just the other day that hummus may well be the greatest thing ever invented. Sod fire, sod the wheel and sod sliced bread[see note 1 below], hummus beats it all. Hummus is indescribably *brilliant*.

So how does this relate to the better marketing of religion? It's simple really; in heaven, don't promise 72 virgins, don't promise ambrosia, don't promise angels on white clouds, promise this. A sea of hummus with warm-toasted-pitta-bread-islands. Easy.

*** Note 1: The saying "the best thing since sliced bread" is perhaps the most stupid sentence in the history of humankind. Why? Well if someone says "get some *nice bread* in for tea/ supper" (delete according to socio-economic class ;-) ) they don't mean for you to get a loaf of Mighty White, they mean a nice big crusty *uncut* loaf that you can carve huge wedges out of. So, "the best thing since sliced bread" actually means "the best thing since someone went and cocked up something that used to be awesome and replaced it with something decidedly average". Sliced bread is to food what Fonzy jumping the shark is to TV, in other words.




Monday 2 August 2010

Inherited stupidity...

Some of the really stupid things prior owners of my house have done:

1. Removed the period features in some - but not all - of the rooms.

It wasn't enough to remove the nice period features, no... this act of idiotic cultural barbarism had to be done in an inconsistent and basically random manner...

2. Putting patterned and textured wallpaper - on the ceiling.

In what universe could that ever make sense? Oh, the 1970s? Well it seems to me the 1970s has some apologising to do... if only for making the 1980s possible...

3. Fitting the kitchen sink so low it blocks the stop tap.

Yep. If you want to turn the water supply to the washing machine off, then you need to take the sink out of the kitchen worktop. Brilliant.

4. Building a fake 'wall' out of relatively flimsy wood in the bathroom. Next to the shower head. Then tiling over it and - one can only assume - hoping the magic water-vapour-fairies* stop the wood ever getting damp.


5. Putting big slabs of asbestos on the shed roof. Correction: on two-thirds of the shed roof...

The inconsistency is what drives me mad! If you're going to put/ leave asbestos on something, why put/ leave it on two-thirds of it?!?!

Any tales of inherited stupidity you care to share?**



*There's no such thing as magic water-vapour-fairies. Sorry to disappoint.
**You lose points for the answer "The Presidency of George W Bush". Too obvious.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Musical Musings

I love me some music, yes indeedlydoo. I don’t listen to new stuff anywhere near as much as I should though. This is largely due to shoddy updating of my digital music (I am old school, and still buy CDs – so sue me (NB this is not an actual invitation to actually sue me. I also would imagine your grounds for doing so would be more than a little dubious)). So it was pretty good a week or so ago when I got hold of (and subsequently placed in my CD player (and pressed play, you bloody pedant)) the ‘new’ albums by Broken Bells and The XX. Both of them are much goodness. In fact, I would say The XX album is the best d├ębut I’ve heard since the Strokes’ ‘Is This It’ back in 2001.

Broken Bells are Dangermouse (not the cartoon character, the renowned producer) and the singer from The Shins. The Shins are good, by the way, as are actual, real, physical shins. Physical shins are sometimes underrated, I feel. Celebrate your shins. They are now officially body part of the day. Well done, shins. We will celebrate with a concert by The Shins (NB – we won’t).

The XX (or is it ‘the xx’, or ‘The xx’? It really is far from clear, and frankly, not exactly important (I have now just checked on Wikipedia, and it appears to be ‘The xx’, which I must admit somehow offends my slightly anal sense of order. I think it should be ‘The XX’. Capitals are innately more satisfying. (Oops, I’ve done the brackets-in-brackets thing again, bad me))). (Returning to the point) ThE xX (hell, lets go upper-or-lower-case-crazy!) are concerned, I feel like I am coming to the party a bit late, with my first listens to the album (imaginatively titled, ‘xx’ (yes, actually ‘xx’, though it should of course be ‘Xx’ – capitals, dear boy) being a few days before they got a Mercury nomination. I will now be shunned by all the cool indie kids (I am 30 years old and should not be hanging with the kids – further proof of this being that I just used the phrase ‘hanging with the kids’. Twice).

I remember before I went to University how important music was to me, and how every spare penny would go on the latest CD by whoever (yeah, well done the younger me, getting much use out of the second ‘Space’ album these days, are you? (N.B. The first one is, I maintain, still a slice of quirky-pop gold)). Point is, those days when you would argue about someone’s music taste and who was good and ‘rubbish’ seem so long ago. I can’t keep up anymore. It’s a young man/ woman's game. And I’m only 30. But then, I don’t want to be one of those people who are old enough to know better still reading the NME, do I?

In summary: Broken Bells and The xx are goodness. I should listen to more new music. I also need to spend a weekend digitising loads of my more recent CD purchases (but then I would have to use iTunes - urgh...).