An image of a green fedora hat, which serves as the logo for this site.Gordy's Discourse

Tim Berners-Lee aims to give people more control of their personal data, possibly External link icon.

Tim Berners-Lee has developed something called Solid, which is meant to act as sort of a silo for all your personal data. The intention appears to be that you can then allow companies to access your data only as you choose.

Mr Berners-Lee said:

With Solid, you will have far more personal agency over data — you decide which apps can access it.

I read Solid’s own introduction to what it’s about and still wasn’t clear on how this will help me. I mean I can see that it’s a bit of online storage with permissions that I can control and allocate as necessary, but there are lots of online repositories where I could store my data and control who accesses it.

Solid’s documentation says:

Store anything you want in your own Solid POD. PODs are like secure USB sticks for the Web, that you can access from anywhere. When you give others access to parts of your POD, they can react to your photos and share their memories with you. You decide which things apps and people can see.

Think of your Solid POD as your own private website, except that your data interoperates with all your apps, which means you have your own personal API to go along with it. When you post comments or videos online, your friends can view them with whatever app they like, such as an album viewer or a social feed. It’s your data, that can be shaped in any way or form.

Presumably, then, this relies on companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and such ‘signing up’ to the idea of grabbing your personal data from solid instead of asking you to store it on their own servers.

If I’ve understood this correctly I can see how that might be useful. If I wanted to stop sharing an item of personal data, I’d go into Solid and tell it to stop sharing it and all the apps that used that item of personal data would lose access. I don’t have to go into each app individually.

But it will rely on other companies signing up to the idea and I don’t think they will. Why would they? I suppose they could be forced to if everyone moved to Solid en bloc, but I think that’s unlikely.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood something.

Either way, it doesn’t go far enough for my liking. I want to get paid to give over my personal data. Big Tech profits massively from our data and it’s time we got our cut of the profits. We have the power here, we just aren’t organised enough to wield it effectively.

Apple's 12 September 2018 event External link icon.

Personally, I couldn’t be less interested in what was announced. It’s all phones and watches, neither of which I use in any high-tech manner. I have an iPhone 6 I completely forget about unless it rings, which is once a fortnight on average, and I just want my watch to tell me the time.

I do however appreciate that phones and watches float the boats of a lot of people and if you want a decent summary of what went on at Apple’s 12 September event, Recode’s article is pretty good (because it’s mercifully brief).

Phone addiction External link icon.

The Huffington Post asked some of its staff to see if they could do without their phone whilst watching television in the evening. It wasn’t easy for some of them.

Connor Parker, an intern, concluded:

I might have managed a few hours without my phone – but it was so unenjoyable that doing so affected my whole viewing experience.

Ashley Percival, the Entertainment Editor concluded:

Abandoning it for those big ‘event TV’ moments would also be hard. For me, the thought of watching something like ‘Strictly’ or ‘Love Island’ without commentary from Twitter is unthinkable - it adds so much value and enjoyment in a way we couldn’t have anticipated 10 years ago.

Not everyone completely hated it. Sophie Gallagher, a reporter, concluded:

The unexpected benefit of this is that by the end I actually feel like I’m winding down for bed rather than gearing up for a Twitter debate. This alone is good enough reason to try this again (despite my initial frustrations).

Am I the only person who’s worried about this?

I think the title of my article is probably a misnomer. The phone is just a tool and it’s the social media on the other end of it that people are addicted to.

But it’s completely inconceivable to me that a phone and the social media it connects to would be so addictive, and an addiction it clearly is. I struggle to remember to take a phone out with me and I only notice it in the house if it rings. You could take my phone away for a month and I’d barely notice.

I see this inability to concentrate on one thing as a serious problem. Life must just be a series of distractions for some people.

I suppose I should consider all sides here. Maybe this is just what society is now. When televisions themselves were invented, I'm sure a lot of people thought they were the distractions and couldn’t understand why people struggle to get through an evening without staring at an electric box in the corner of the room.

I can’t help thinking the addiction to phones and social media robs us of some things, though: our ability to simply concentrate on one thing and to live in the moment.

Dark Sky Weather review

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I downloaded the Dark Sky Weather app for iOS, which I tested for seven days and review in this article. It has been said that Dark Sky is pretty good at predicting US weather but I wanted to see how it copes with the festering cauldron of weather we get in the UK. It didn't do a bad job, as it happens, although I did notice one or two interface problems.

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Corbyn's plans for Big Tech External link icon.

Picture of Jeremy CorbynI don’t know if Corbyn’s speech is just an eye-catcher or whether it intends to have substance if he should get into power, but it’s not simple to apply a windfall tax to ‘Big Tech’.

James O Malley at Gizmodo writes:

What Corbyn is pitching here is a “windfall tax” — a tax on companies that post excessive profits. This isn’t completely unheard of — such a tax was introduced on the companies running privatised utilities by the evil, neoliberal Tony Blair, in 1997. Since the 2008 financial crisis, it has been regularly proposed as a solution to what to do about the bankers’ bonuses.

But can this translate to Big Tech? The immediate problem as far as I can tell is… it isn’t actually very easy to define which companies count as a “digital monopoly”.

And therein lies a big problem, which James illustrates further with:

Amazon is a tech company… but it is also a retailer. Facebook is a tech company, but is also a communications company. Twitter is a tech company, but it is also a pit of despair.

To really illustrate the definitions problem, think of a traditional company like, say, Argos. Argos is a traditional retailer, but over the past decade has clearly digitised much of its business, from the ordering process (go into a store today and you’ll find iPads instead of tiny pens), to the supply chain (same day delivery). Because it bought some computers… does Argos count as a tech company now?

I don’t think Corbyn’s idea is as easy to implement as he thinks.

As a related aside, I can’t see how adding more tax laws creates anything but opportunities for the tax avoiders. Tax laws are ludicrously long-winded and complicated and thus offer many loopholes. Somebody needs to throw it all away, start again and create simple, explicitly-defined tax laws and then give the courts clear direction about how to interpret them (although if the laws are simple enough that should be self evident).

Alas, like the long-overdue overhaul of the NHS that’s needed, I can’t imagine many governments having the stomach to tackle tax laws from the ground up.

Ironmaster Super Bench Leg Attachment review

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In general I love Ironmaster kit. I have an IM2000 and a Super Bench and I rate both highly. I am however a little disappointed with the Ironmaster Super Bench Leg Attachment, which I review here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s comparable to most leg attachments from other companies, it’s just that I expect more from Ironmaster and there are a few deficiencies with the product that I wouldn’t expect from this company.

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Please telly, have mercy on me

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I positively despise talent shows and reality TV. I simply do not understand how enough people watch this drivel to keep justifying the new series’ the television networks constantly inflict on us. What specific ‘hook’ — the one that draws everyone in — am I missing here?

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Facebook’s ’trustworthiness’ score comes under fire External link icon.

Facebook has started scoring some of its users based on ‘trustworthiness’. This score is allegedly used by Facebook’s misinformation team to try and stem some of the fake news the platform sufferers from.

However, the trustworthiness score has its critics. Dr Bernie Hogan from the Oxford Internet Institute:

But consider the analogy of one’s credit score.

You can check your credit score for free in many countries - by contrast, Facebook’s trustworthiness is unregulated and we have no way to know either what our score is or how to dispute it.

Facebook is not a neutral actor and despite any diplomatic press materials to the contrary, it is intent on managing a population for profit.

And Ailidh Callander, a solicitor at Privacy International:

This is yet another example of Facebook using people’s data in ways they would not expect their data to be used, which further undermines people’s trust in Facebook.

This may only be an issue for non-EU users because Facebook’s secrecy about it might violate GDPR’s requirements in the EU, although I’m only speculating here.

Instagram face and the quest for perfection External link icon.

I don’t have an Instagram account and I’m not a huge fan of social media in general, but I found Alexandra Jones’ article on the BBC fascinating. And when I say fascinating, I mean in the way it reflects on society and how superficial everything seems to be these days.

But is it really just ‘these days’?

Celebrities — actors, pop singers, film stars, models etc. — have always provided a look that people have tried to emulate.

In fact, Alexandra says:

Photo-perfect skin and sculpted, contoured cheekbones, wide almond-shaped eyes which taper up into a feline point, and that full, inescapable mouth. This look is what Twiggy’s lashes were to the 1960s and what Kate Moss’ dewy skin was to the 1990s.

Popularised by the Kardashians (who else?) and copied by everyone from Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson to myriad beauty influencers such as NikkieTutorials (10.6m subscribers on YouTube), Patrick Starrr (4.5m followers on Instagram) and Sonjdra Deluxe (1.1m followers on Instagram). Increasingly, it’s also appearing on the faces and social feeds of regular people like (for a week), me (about 850 followers on Instagram).

Now I’ve heard of Twiggy, Kate Moss and, unfortunately, the Kardashians, but I have no idea who the other people she mentions are. But it’s possible that what’s going on today is no different to what went on in the 70s. Indeed, as a mid-teen I wanted a leather jacket because The Fonz wore one and he was cool.

My inkling is that things are different now, though. Social media provides further reach than we’ve ever had before and it influences the young a lot more. I’m prepared to accept there may be an element of old-fogeyism in my views, but I think the quest for bodily perfection and other superficial goals is more obsessive now. And I think that’s deeply unhealthy.

But what do I know? It’s certainly not up to me to tell people what to do with their faces (although I feel as justified as anyone else to make social commentary about it).

My own face is less ‘Instagram face’ and more ‘Ben & Jerry’s face’.

What's the point of Launchpad? External link icon.

I must admit I usually only activate the macOS Launchpad when I accidentally click its icon instead of the one next to it.

Zac Hall at 9To5Mac says:

Launchpad doesn’t get much love from Mac power users (there are plenty of other efficient ways to launch Mac apps) and Apple really hasn’t touched the feature in years. But it’s a feature I use regularly on my Mac — after making a few adjustments.

And his article goes on to describe how he makes Launchpad slightly more useful.

So will I use it more in the future? Probably not, but I have a soft spot for articles that find uses for unloved apps and maybe there are people out there who’ve just been dying to get to grips with Launchpad.

Playing around with Launchpad did at least remind me to delete some long-unused apps I had sitting around on my machine.

Twitter flips API, cripples many third-party apps External link icon.

Twitter is transitioning to a new API today. It announced the changes in April 2018 but today’s the day it’s supposed to be flipping the switch.

The trouble is, this will cripple some of Twitter’s third-party apps. John Voorhees at MacStories reports the following as being amongst the effects:

Timeline streaming has been removed, replaced with automatic refreshes every couple of minutes.

Retweet, quote tweet, like, and follow notifications are gone.

Mention and direct message push notifications have been reworked, which can delay them several minutes.

Tweetbot’s Stats and Activity view that displayed aggregate like, retweet, and follower data along with chronological like, mention, reply, and follow information has been removed.

The Tweetbot Apple Watch app has been discontinued.

I’ve never understood why API producers deliberately crock third party apps because a rich developer ecosystem benefits them in 99% of cases. Presumably the people who make the decisions to do these sorts of things have control issues.

Twitter finally takes some (minimal) action against Infowars External link icon.

Further to my previous post on this issue, Twitter is taking some action against Infowars, although it only amounts to seven days in the sin bin.

Jon Russell at TechCrunch writes:

Twitter is punishing Jones for a tweet that violates its community standards but it isn’t locking him out forever. Instead, a spokesperson for the company confirmed that Jones’ account is in “read-only mode” for up to seven days.

Apparently Infowars fell foul of a targeted harassment clause in Twitter’s Ts & Cs.

This is what Twitter claim, anyway. Or could it be that they’re just finally giving in to user pressure?

The Infowars debate and a website's whims

Infowars is complete nonsense in my opinion but it raises a bigger question: the rights a privately-owned website has to determine what content they allow. I argue that their right to choose what content they show and who they allow to post on their site is absolute, as long as it's legal.

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Five good books I’ve read in 2018

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Five fiction books I've read in 2018 and would recommend, along with very brief reviews. 'The Good Daughter' by Karin Slaughter, 'The Outsider' by Stephen King, 'Norse Mythology' by Neil Gaiman, 'How To Stop Time' by Matt Haig and 'Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine' by Gail Honeyman.

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Why reading beats video for information and instruction

I like to read and I firmly believe that, most of the time, written articles are better than videos or podcasts for imparting information and instruction. This article represents my dubious attempt to justify that position. I'm not against video and audio per se - indeed I love watching films or listening to music - I'm talking about things like help texts, how-to articles and similar.

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Advertising accurate broadband speeds in the UK External link icon.

I'd missed that a regulation had been introduced to force ISPs in the UK to advertise more accurate broadband speeds. It seems "up to" speeds must now be accurate at least 50% of the time.

The article reports:

BT, EE, John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Sky, Zen Internet, Post Office, SSE, TalkTalk, and Utility Warehouse previously advertised their standard (ADSL) broadband deals as up to 17Mbps.

The new advertised speed is now more than a third lower at 10Mbps or 11Mbps.

TalkTalk has completely dropped advertising speed claims from most of its deals.

Vodafone has also changed the name of some of its deals: Fibre 38 and Fibre 76 are now Superfast 1 and Superfast 2.

I can’t say I’m surprised as I think most of us will have often seen speeds lower than the ones advertised for the packages we bought.

Whilst they’re at it, they could take a look at the so-called ‘unlimited’ data packages. These invariably come with small-print limitations that are along the lines of: “It’s unlimited until we decide it isn’t.

OmniFocus review

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There are many list taking and mild project management apps for Apple products. I've tried a few of them but OmniFocus remains my favourite. In this article I review OmniFocus 2 for macOS and 3 for iOS, the latter of which finally brings proper support to the iPad platform. I really like this app and it would have a five star rating if it wasn't for a couple of features in the iOS app that particularly bother me.

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Google plans to comply with Chinese censorship External link icon.

There isn’t a lot of meat on the bones of this story yet but Google said:

We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com.

But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.

If this story turns out to be true then it essentially means:

  • 2010: Google shuts down China search engine because they believe in free speech.
  • 2016: Google realises it’s leaving lots of money on the table and CEO Sundar Pichai says “Google is for everyone - we want to be in China serving Chinese users.
  • 2018: Google decides financial gain trumps free speech and plans the release of an app conforming to Chinese censorship.

Just a reminder that Google’s 2004 IPO prospectus said:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.

Hmm. I’m looking forward to seeing how they justify this one (if, indeed, there’s any truth in the story).

Controlling your own creative content and IndieWeb

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I've long bleated on about why you should have your own website rather than use the so-called 'corporate web' and I bleat on about some more here. I do feel this is a really important issue and it's the only way to protect your own words, photos and videos, immune to the whims of the likes of Facebook, Google, Tumblr, Blogger and similar. I also point to IndieWeb in this article as they provide an excellent blueprint for doing just this.

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Clamp down on fake news, says MP External link icon.

Whilst I quite agree that genuine fake news probably needs some sort of regulating, we have to be careful. There’s a trend for politicians (and others) to simply brand anything they dislike or disagree with as ‘fake news’.

The lines are very blurry with this sort of thing and one has to be careful to separate something written as opinion from something written as fact.

Social media — and Facebook in particular (once again) — gets it in the neck a lot in the above article. Normally I’m quite happy to blame social media for many of society’s ills but some of the ‘spin’ from the regular press could also be seen as fake news and maybe that’s a consideration too.

Although the irony of politicians berating others for lying is not lost on me.