4 Nov 2012

How should schools deal with social media?

In this post I use 'social media' and 'social networking' pretty much interchangeably, I understand that this isn't entirely accurate, but I really am not quite sure of the distinction and for the purposes of this post I don't think it really matters.I also state that I'm paranoid, but that's because I
In hindsight, I think I may have jumped the gun with my last post, with that gun quite possibly being wielded by the shark, although I could've sworn I jumped that years ago (well, whenever I discovered The Activists Publication). Time will tell if I metaphorically got shot in the arse because of it. I probably need to nip the leaping to conclusions/ slight paranoia thing in the bud*, but I guess I included that disclaimer for a reason.

I realise now that I might not have been clear about what exactly I was for or against. Just so we're clear, I'm not saying that it's all hunky dory for students to actively bully teachers, or to make a pattern of it, but I am saying that it's pretty creepy for schools to trawl through social networking profiles to find this stuff. In either case any teachers who are on the receiving end do have the right to respond how they wish. I also happen to think I don't really deserve to be expelled, and haven't (to my knowledge, someone else will probably be able to give me examples) really posted anything that objectionable about my teachers, it's the trawling our feeds thing which scares me. I understand that Twitter's public, but it's sort of compartmentalised separately to reality for me.

With that out of the way, this all does raises the question of how schools should deal with social media in general. It's pretty clear that we need clear guidelines about what's acceptable (and what isn't), and these guidelines need to be openly available, but at the same time we aren't total idiots. My school has technically engaged a bit with a twitter feed, which makes it a bit odd that it wasn't mentioned at all in the assembly (I don't follow it as LissyNumber, but it's there), and I reckon that as far as this is concerned that's enough. Maybe the principal should get an 'official' account but that's it. Obviously, there may also be issues with tweeting teachers, but I don't actually go round actively looking for their accounts since as far as I'm concerned it's none of my beeswax.

Back on to the guidelines thing (stellar idea organisation, as always, going on here), I have to agree with @Puffles2010's Best Friend's suggestion that the guidelines be formed (at least in part) by the school council, probably working in conjunction with teachers.That said, I have a hunch that any suggestions would end up boiling down to Wheaton's law (i.e. 'don't be a dick'), 'don't post nudes' and probably 'be careful'. Chances are it might also be worth including a note about not constantly saying where you're going, but that might just be my slight paranoia.

Other than that, it's a pity that the school has a censored internet (which is also being switched over and is pretty eratic - at one point it actually briefly blocked a Google search for anything. ) since chances are it would be interesting to get us to search for our own names and see what comes up. I'm not sure where we'd find time to do that though, and maybe a lesson isn't the place to do it.

Another option may be lessons on how public profiles could be used to our own benefit (if employers can spot the bad stuff we post, surely it could be possible to put the good stuff out there too, right?**), but this is rather cynical as it will probably involve encouraging the formation of alter egos which strikes me slightly as deception, as will cynically trying to boost online reputation (I'd prefer to look good by actually being good). Not that it's stopped me from creating an alt very recently though, albeit more because I recognise that being a libertarian socialist might not go down to well. You can't be too careful anymore, I guess. Maybe there could be some sort of 'a students' guide to twitter' or something as well, but I really can't see that being received well (admittedly, I am also considering making it). I think there is a problem that we're growing up with social media, but it's growing up with us too, this means that until it becomes established it can be hard to react to stuff.

Basically though, the whole thing is this huge dilemma. on the one hand, abusing teachers is obviously wrong (occasionally understandable, but wrong), but at the same time can it be argued that it's morally right to trawl through student's feeds. Social networking and the like is pretty much unprecedented, maybe being around for a decade, tops (before there was still internet, but it was far less tied in with your real identity this had both benefits and costs), which is an added complication - I'm a 'digital native' (hate that phrase), and relatively early in my adoption of twitter, but it's only really exploded in usage amongst my peers (for want of a better word - it makes me sound like one of those 30 something social media experts or something) in the past year or so - how do you prepare?

Anyway, I'm rambling so I'd best wrap this thing up.
  • I'm probably over-reacting to that assembly
  • Being a dick is still, well, being a dick
  • Abusing teachers is bad, but so's trawling through twitter feeds
  • Schools clearly need some sort of social networking policy (actually, props to @missnfrancised for making this point), and there does need to be some education outside of slightly scary assemblies.
  • But, to use a Facebook turn of phrase, it's complicated. (any ideas?)
  • Also, I'm apparently turning into one of those 'social media expert' types. Admittedly I should have known this the moment I started referring to it as 'social media'. Also, I'm a hypocrite, but you knew that one already.

*Actually, the paranoia has improved a bit. I'm fairly certain at one stage I was terrified that the government would arrest anyone who disagreed even once in dawn raids a-la the Shock Doctrine  (which, as an aside, I really need to do a retrospective on. Hmm...) any day now. I no longer think the government wants to kill me, I just think that they don't care. This is both a relief and slightly soul destroying at the same time.

** I am aware that this may slightly contradict part of the point of my last post. Oops.

2 Nov 2012

"You never know when a future employer might read it..."

 Disclaimer: I may very well be reading too much into things here. In fact, I hope I am.

My school may or may not be reading my twitter feed. At least according to an assembly we've had today. Whilst I'm not going to lie and say that I wasn't slightly crapping myself at the prospect of them publicly bringing up my personal feed (a prospect they considered, apparently), and the idea of my school directly connecting my feed with me. Which also means I've Orwelled information in blogs that will probably identify me to them and pretty much no one else. This is actually one of the only (if not the only) time I've actively retracted stuff without a notice edited into the blog post at the very least, but the posts themselves are still up.

This is weird, considering that I use a pseudonym and I'm pictorially represented by my pet dog, so chances are I'm not the target audience of an assembly which seemed to partially revolve around the impact of having stuff tied to your real identity (even if a Google for my real name brings up my Twitter followed by a ton of petitions. I intend to partially resolve this by actually getting another twitter with my real name attached) - not to mention that, whilst I very much doubt they'll approve of my politics (and the guy giving the assembly made a point of bringing up the twitter joke that I probably Spartacused back when), unless they happen to be a member of The Activists I don't think I've actually posted much of the stuff they intend to block. Well, um, until this blog post. More on this a bit later.

I guess this in a way is for the best in terms of my future, even if a part of me feels like just posting xkcd 137 instead of writing this*, it is where the title came from after all. In a way perhaps it is better to hide behind a veil of anonymity when saying something controversial, and having that option available is good. Being aware of what, exactly, people can find out from your name alone is probably a Good Thing. Heck, I managed to write two blogs on the subject of "why don't I write (more)?" literally yesterday (as of writing this), and I never mentioned this in them.

Admittedly I know for a fact I took completely the wrong message from this, the right message being "if you wouldn't say something in public (IRL public, to someone's face) don't say it all", but maybe freedom has to include the freedom to be a dick? Of course, it also includes the freedom to call out dick headery. Freedom is freedom to say 2 + 2 = 5, but it's also the freedom to point out that no, 2 + 2 = 4.

Of course, mathematical mistakes are not in the same league as being an arse and posting disparaging, possibly nasty things about people (and also bigotry, but it's my understanding that the former is what the issue amounts to - I may be wrong there (I don't think anyone in my school is that stupid though)). Including teachers. I don't really know what the tweet was which actually set it off (or tweets plural), and chances are tweeting it was at the very least a dick move. Plus, maybe bringing up issues with the school is the best move, and not, say, writing a rant about it and posting it online. In addition to this, y'know the stuff I mentioned about knowing that your name is attached to something? It is possible that the tweets, in addition to being hurtful, could be attached to someone, and that could bring up issues later on.

At the same time, this really raises a number of concerns for me - admittedly in part from the libertarianism which seems to be almost instinctual to me (at the same time as socialism, I really need to get round to writing that post one of these days).

For starters, the school has to actively seek this stuff out. Going off stuff in the assembly, it's certainly implied that whatever they found objectionable they found by searching for information on twitter posted by students - not about teachers (this distinction is pretty important in my eye, it's the difference between finding out what everyone's saying about you, and finding it out by finding out everything that everyone's said recently). In addition to this, quite often I don't think it's possible for anyone not connected with whoever's being tweeted about to figure out anything really, and you will probably have to actively try to figure out what's being referred to. Unless it's sustained, which is admittedly it's own set of issues. Any such attacks are likely to be brief too - and most importantly not premeditated. I get the sense that when someone posts a mean tweet it's fundamentally different to, say, setting up a hate group on Facebook (this is the closest analogy I can think of, and I can certainly understand some sort of disciplinary action if it's brought to the attention of the school (these groups are often private, so actively looking for them strikes me as a fundamental violation of privacy)), since the latter requires active effort whereas the former requires about 10 seconds max. In a way, the best analogy I can come up with is gossip, but gossip to a few hundred people (which, actually, if you only post personal stuff, will probably be predominantly the sorts who would be Facebook friends. Sure, it's publicly available, but chances are no one gives a crap about what some random teenager tweets as long as they have the wisdom not to send nasty stuff to, say, an Olympic diver). It's not pleasant, and if you're the subject of it I can't say I could really argue against calling out whoever does it, but it's hardly the criminal matter that the school is presenting it as.

There's also the presumption of 'if you have an issue you can bring it up to us' . It excludes the possibility that people just want to vent. Again, see my point about it being almost gossip. The intent was almost certainly dickish, but it was to vent it wasn't to cause harassment, distress or alarm.It's a way of yelling into a void that occassionally yells back. I know that's what I sometimes use twitter for.

Furthermore, this means that there's an implicit intent to shut down criticism of the school and/or teachers. Criticism which cannot be directly connected to the school in all likelyhood. I have honestly never been so nervous about posting something just because it's critical of something my school (which I have never named because Jesus Christ that's web security 101 stuff) has done, and I have a vague bit of anonymity. It could prevent discussion of legitimate grievances that we might not feel comfortable with taking to the school about yet, or maybe we feel like they might not listen which, logical or not, I reckon we are well within our rights to do. Also 'ugh, I hate <subject>. <teacher> is such a dick' is blatantly not an active criticism meriting actual action (unless it's endemic across all pupils), it's a comment. An inane comment, which fundamentally wouldn't have much of an effect after about 20 minutes. I'm not even talking in the figurative sense meaning 'a really short time'. I mean literally 20 minutes (okay, sometimes up to around an hour or so). It'll still be on record, but it'll already have expired. And maybe people care enough to comment, but not enough to want to change things? Or they're scared for other reasons. I've definitely vented stuff on twitter that I couldn't talk about elsewhere, and I don't really like this option being closed to me.

The plans that I think that assembly implied (the message was basically "now this has been brought to our attention, this is our only warning and if you've tweeted anything dodgy...") also fundamentally misunderstand the nature of social networking and media. People made a massive shift from Facebook to Twitter over the past year (interestingly the Facebook assembly was much more geared towards potential employers and less worried about complaints about teachers), and chances the sort of comments my school wants to shut down? they're gonna be moved to some other platform. The cycle repeats again, and they can't keep an eye on everything we post on social networking sites. Except that's what they're trying to do. Also, considering they know about the #TwitterJokeTrial, have they really also never heard of #IAmSpartacus?

Anyway, whilst posting dickish tweets about teachers is, well, dickish, stalking us is not the answer. Trying to censor it won't work. The warning that makes up the title of this post is valid (although frankly I find the idea of employers spying on their employees at least as scary, and dodgy ethically), and maybe we do need to be more privacy aware, but conflating that with not moaning isn't the way to do it.

I can't say I know how my school will react to this. Maybe they won't know? Maybe they actually won't care? Maybe I'll get kicked out? It's pretty ironic that I'm mainly hoping for the first one, but to be frank I can't see the use in hiding away, although it occurs to me that at the very least I will have to get my school council rep to ask about what our school's social media policy actually is. I don't want to hold back because I'm scared of shaking things up.

Fuck. That. Shit."
Yeah, I am so getting excluded for this. Life, it was nice having you in a relatively non-ruined state.

See also:
Basker's World: Sticks and Stones - this one is especially interesting given that Baskers was publicly hounded by the Mail for her tweets. I find it odd that she wasn't brought up as an example, but it perhaps goes to show that there is still a bit of ephemerality to the response to twitter.
A Latent Existence: 
A Shiny World: 
Jack of Kent (this guy was the lawyer in the Twitter Joke trial case which was cited):
Cracked: 5 Wacky Internet Pranks That Can Get You Jail Time

And a metric ton of other sites that I really am too tired to look for now.

There was also a lot of discussion about internet trolls about a year ago (which I actually find unbelievable no way has it really been that long?!), this post (and this section) is getting pretty bloated, and I think there is a bit of difference between what I'm talking about and actively sending stuff to whoever, but this New Statesman piece is probably a good start.

*I have to say I've read that one so much I actually remembered what number it was. Even if I sometimes thing it's 173, which is a cross reference from something completely different (and not actually a Weeping Angel rip off - it came out around the same time as the first ep with them in, EDIT: but slightly before, if I recall correctly).

1 Nov 2012

Why don't I write (more)? Part 2

So, earlier this evening I finally broke the four-month long hiatus that this blog has been mired in, and naturally it was a self-indulgent meta-blog (i.e. a blog about blogging). I never actually take the 'like ripping off a band aid'* attitude to things, but let's pretend I do since, whilst I do want to write about this sort of thing (otherwise I, er, wouldn't. Unless I somehow had to for school, but I can't see that ever happening), I want to make this pain as short lasting for you as possible.

Especially since, whilst I will at least try to relate things to the hiatus (well, gap in updates; 'hiatus' is really overstating things and implies that I had half-decent reasons for it (spoiler warning: I didn't)), a better name for this may very well turn out to be 'Why do I write?'.

At the same time, maybe analysing the reasons to write might be a better answer to the question of why I don't/didn't write more than my previous post, which is slightly on the descriptive, rather than the explanatory, side.

 Back on the meta discussion (rather than the meta meta), I suppose I'd best get the obligatory George Orwell link out of the way.

It's not a terrible essay. Actually, rereading it, it's pretty good (if amusingly borderline objectivist in places), and I can see why it's the go to reference for this sort of thing.

In addition to this, the four reasons Orwell listed pretty much sum up the reasons why I write. Welp, I guess this entire thing was stupid. Show's over guys.

Yeah, that was a pretty crappy fake out. Anyway, it sort of strikes me that the biggest reasons why I don't write more are much the same as the reasons cited as reasons to write (which are also the reasons I do write beyond school and getting my thought down somewhere):
  • Sheer egoism: Well, whilst the "desire to seem clever, to be talked about [for the right reasons], to be remembered after death [for good things], to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc" is pretty damn powerful, the desire not to seem stupid, not be talked about/remembered for the wrong things and not to prove those adults right can be at least as powerful. It all comes down to whether your main motivation in life is  desire for success or fear of failure and, whilst I have my own personal speculation as to the reasons for this, I definitely have come down on the latter side of the fence far too often. This is certainly a major factor in the large gaps between posts, and also the clustering of them (if I post 2 posts in a month, they're probably within a few days of each other, since I tend to get phases where my ego runs on high). I'd also reason that, whilst the political purpose is an element in this, there is also a duality between the desire to be agreed with and to be not disagreed with, both with regards to the propagation of your views.
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm: Actually, I'd say for most people (i.e. me) this is a major deterrent to writing - people (read: I) have a distinct fear that it won't turn out just right according to their (my) internal style guide, which may or may not be ever changing to 'not this'. I assume I must've turned it off or something. This also ties into why I decided to time these posts with NaNoWriMo starting - I figured it would get me into the right mindset (I'm not even taking part properly but, ironically, I'm more ahead than when I have taken part) - and it's certainly about turning off the 'inner editor' (i.e. aesthetic enthusiasm) which appears to act as a kill or cure type dealy. I'd say it's not even really a reason for writing, as much as a deterrent. But maybe I'm not really a writer.
  • Historical impulse: The desire to store the facts for posterity, for me at least, also leads to a bit of fear of getting them wrong and this mistake getting into the books as fact. 
  • Political purpose: This is a pretty strong reason for writing, and the hardest to fit into my 'also reasons not to write' thing, but when you consider how many things, even explicitly political, are taken out of context (see: the absurd amount of merch of a certain famous Maoist revolutionary for starters), maybe the fear of being misinterpreted will stop people speaking in the first place? (read: I am actually afraid of this happening despite me thinking of you guys as not being idiots). 
Ultimately, I have to say that all of these boil down to sheer egoism - in having a political purpose, one generally assumes that one is right and will be remembered, the historical impulse assumes a high profile either way, having an aesthetic enthusiasm also generally involves ensuring that you're remembered for the right reasons, and that when you finally pop up and say 'hello world' you will be remembered and therefore want everything to be perfect**. And by 'you' there, I obviously mean me.

Both of these things amount to having a massive ego, the only question being whether it's big enough to avoid collapsing into a black hole (or even a neutron star) and sucking everything in. More elegantly put (and therefore to quote someone else) "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure".

At the same time, and having written all these words about writing, I don't really view myself as a writer. I do enjoy writing, and I am blatantly writing something here (also, I do certainly slide into that sort of selfish 'I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will not live for the sake of another man, or ask him to live for me' attitude (which is definitely partially there) from time to time ("all writers are vain, selfish, and lazy"? Well, I can't claim to be an exception), but, at the same time, I lack the certainty at making it my life that Orwell hints at*** and the patience for long form work (I'd blame this on the Internet, but I get the sense that if I had sufficient determination it wouldn't be an issue. See: how much I've written today alone). In addition to this, the label is one of those which is connected with being as pretentious as hell, but, if that forms a part of my reason for my rejection of the label, there is certainly an element of non-hipster irony to it (speaking of hipsters, it's like how you can spot them by the person dissing hipsters (guess who that describes! (I even wear the bloody glasses!)). Furthermore, have I really written enough? I ain't so sure (although me even entertaining the notion of being called as such certainly shows that I have the massive ego Orwell describes.

Of course, maybe the biggest reason I don't write more is that I simply got into the habit of not writing? Actually, that is probably it, but I'm not going to let 2000 odd words of navel-gazing and introspection go down the crapper, especially since 1000 odd words of it are already here, online, and published. Plus, y'know, sheer egoism. Also, it's another crappy fakeout, but at the same time, I have to say it is a factor I really should have considered before.

PS. they appear to be down at the minute, but I've had a blog over on the tumblrs for longer than I've actually had this one (this started off basically as a place to put longer form posts that I didn't mind sticking around/want to lose track of, since tumblr can get really frickin' ephemeral in places, but this aim was swiftly lost in favour of wanting to be a Blogger (capitalisation for emphasis, not because it's the platform I use)), and I think I might start actual blogging on there too (most likely short form 'look at this Thing' ones, but with actual discussion), rather than just periodically posting/reblogging links. Also,  (EDIT 13/02/2013 HA HA HA HA nope. didn't happen) I actually fiddled around with my theme on here a few weeks back, and I have now fixed the issue of visited links looking identical to normal text.

*yes, 'band aid'. I know it should be 'plaster' since I'm British, but I spent/ wasted a large number of my formative years watching Friends (I think it may also be the only television series I've watched every episode of) and, well, here we are.
** Actually, writing that makes me wonder how common these traits are amongst programmers as well. I'm not the first to note the similarity between code and writing thoughA piece by the same author called Fear of Writing has also probably been an influence on these posts.
*** Well, at least I thought I did until writing that sentence and realising that holy crap I'm really enjoying this and huh, where'd that hour go?!

Why don't I write (more)?

As you may or, more likely, may not have noticed I haven't posted here for about 4 months. Not going to lie, I was actually pretty surprised that it's been that long. I literally only did the maths about 10 seconds ago as of writing this sentence (it'll be considerably longer by the time you read this, obviously. It'll be considerably longer as of the time this is published for starters).

This hasn't entirely been due to lack of ideas for blog posts. I have about 4 drafts in the working that were started after this date, and there are more than a few drafts before that (I have '108 posts' (well, probably 109 now) according to the old dashboard). Of course, I'm pretty sure there are a few duplicates and out dated posts in there (like a sequel to my royal wedding piece for the Jubilee - I figured it got beyond the point of parody when I noticed that a few official Things actually used a capitalised Her and they were organising a prayer of thanks (I'm not really sure where you go from that)), and many of these 'drafts' exist purely in the form of titles and/or paragraphs. I've not looked, but I'm fairly certain some of those aren't even opening paragraphs, and to be honest I'm guessing I forgot about them for a reason.

There have also been ideas for blog posts that I've not even considered starting. The biggest of these that I can think of is a defence of the police = drunken family member analogy that featured in this piece about the Andrew Mitchell thing. That one actually turned out to be just as well - it turns out I'd actually misread it and I'm confused at the lack of nuance in the article (like, really, we can dislike cops and Tories at the same time, we can side against both of them if we really want to). Furthermore the article seems to be stating that the police are not like drunken family members at all. Even though they totally are (I mean, people apologise for them regardless of how bad they are, they can be pretty damn abusive (and violent, but I've never experienced this part personally), can be openly bigoted (and loud about it), are slightly terrifying to be around and, frankly, are total dicks).

Leaving aside inspiration (and my actual non-lack thereof), I can't even cite lack of time as an excuse, well, I suppose now I've started A-levels . I probably can get away with it, but I had 2 months with pretty much nothing to do before that (ah the joys of study leave followed by school holidays), so yeah. Also, none of them are coursework based; I'm not suffering too much. Even if I'm supposed to do, like, 5 hours out of school work a week per subject*. Admittedly I think the having nothing to do basically caused low-level brain rot (I would suck in some conceptions of the socialist utopia), but whatever.

I think ultimately, my reasons come from a degree of all-or-nothing perfectionism, coupled with an anxiety over how things might be received - if nothing else I'm really self conscious about my lack of understanding of political theory (for starters I still don't know what the hell 'dialectics' means, beyond the definition of 'debate except with both sides trying to get to the truth', and I haven't even read the Communist Manifesto), and from what I can gather people are really big on that now?

 I'm also vaguely aware that I may end up expressing a Wrong Opinion (like how I don't think abortion at 36 weeks is okay (and I can't come up with a method which won't have impacts on the body similar to actually giving birth, so I don't think choice in that sense comes into it, even if it should arguably come above the rights of the baby) I think you can chose to have the baby before that point anyway)) and getting hounded out by people who I like. there's also the issue of me maybe possibly writing complete and utter horse shite - for starters, from what I can gather TV Tropes has declared my use of parentheses to be official Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma (even though they're brackets (go figure)), not that that's actually a major issue - which is also a definite factor, even though a few of my posts are honestly not that bad (I say a 'few' because I like to pretend a few don't exist, even if I won't go full Activists Publication and straight up delete them)

So those are the reasons for 4 months of the delay. There's been 4 days since that mark came and passed though, and that's actually for a whole other reason. I actually have been meaning to get back into the 'groove' as such as writing these things, and I figure doing it on the first day of an event dedicated to something pretty similar - i.e. National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo, even though it really is more IntNoWriMo), which basically has the aim of getting potential novellists to actually write, even if it's shite**, - is fitting.

I was thinking of adding a bit on the reasons why I decided to start, probably with a liberal number of links to pieces by other writers on the topic (okay, fine, a link to That Bloody George Orwell Piece), but this is running a bit long for my liking, so keep your eyes peeled for it (I will get it done, promise). Or don't. It's up to you really. What kind of libertarian would I be if I forced you into it, anyway?
EDIT: Here's part 2.

*Maybe be expecting a blog on this later. It might just be speaking as an outsider, but whoever calls Art and Design soft subjects (as in easy) must be on some other planet or something. I can't 100% rule out the possibility that my school's design department forces pupils to do extra, but why the hell would they do that? As for the 5 hours thing, I can't exactly figure out how to stretch doing maths exercises from the textbook to 5 hours, so I don't think that'll work (definitely not until we do calculus).

**I won when I was 13 and I still cringe at the memory of what I wrote (yes, past!me, having a Miley Cyrus song as your villain makes perfect sense </sarcasm>). That's all I ever intend to tell you, so don't bother asking for more (that preview makes it sound better than it was, although it probably speaks volumes about my self esteem that I actually hated my self-insert protagonist for being a whiny git). Also, note my wonderful (</sarcasm>) structure now? I actually think my sentence structuring and thought organisation skills were worse in that.

28 Jun 2012

Turns out @AntiCensorship_ is so opposed to censorship that they won't let this comment through...

I posted the following under a pseunodym (I'm not posting it here because I also used it when I decided to email A4E the lyrics to "Never Gonna Give You Up", also, I might use it again for another reason), whilst there is a possibility that the comment was rejected due to the e-mail address ending in "Mailinator.net", I'd like to point out that this is The Activists I'm talking about here. Whilst I did chastise them in the comment for jumping to conclusions, I have to conclude that they probably think that any comment criticising them is counterrevolutionary and should be blocked. Even though that's censorship. Oh the irony. (note: I posted this at 10:06pm, another comment has gone up since, so chances are they saw it, and one comment asked if we'd rather be the Allies or the "Gestabo" so my spelling mistake isn't an issue).

"Look, stop jumping to conclusions. I’ve seen those accounts, and I know they tweeted the link to the place where you’re meant to buy the books (which, having had some preview of the content, I know I won’t be doing) roughly every 10 tweets at the most conservative estimate (based on the still extant AntiStockMarket).
This, coupled with the probable relatively low follower counts of the specific accounts in question, may have led to them being mistaken for spambots, and in turn led to them being blocked and reported. If this has happened a few times (say, if someone’s warned their friends), chances are it will have in sum set twitter’s anti-spam algorithm off, leading to the suspension. At the very least, I’d give them a week or so to investigate.
There is, of course, the possibility that there was an en masse reporting done maliciously, due to the content of the accounts (although I would like to point out that many of those who dislike them prefer to instead have the accounts present to laugh at them).
In either case, I would not be so quick as to point the finger.
Furthermore, if twitter is, in fact, performing censorship, I would suggest that you look into any evidence of this occuring[sic] long-term elsewhere. At the very least, the variation in content could help save AntiCensorship_ from a similar (albeit highly ironic, and slightly unjustified) fate, and exposure of other cases would help establish if this is a long term trend."

Yeah, I'm actually meant to be writing a thing about tax, but I couldn't resist calling out their BS. Also, I'd read some pretty upsetting stuff (I'm reluctant to say "triggering" since I don't think any possible trauma I've been through will have been enough to give me triggers), and needed a mental break.

But, anyway, "Anti Censorship" my arse...

(This is the post the comment was went to be on, as you can tell, I don't actually think the accounts should have been suspended, even if they are by The Activists, but I also reckon it was a mistake rather than malice on twitter's part).

21 Jun 2012

So glad to see the last two years were a waste...

Note: I swear a bit in here. This isn't indicative of GCSEs being dumbed down somehow or 'yoofs' being inarticulate. It's more indicative of me being absolutely pissed off with this crap. 
So, Gove's decided to scrap 'dumbed down' GCSEs and revive O-levels (Mail-link), the qualification so out-dated that the Conservatives decided to scrap them in the 1980's (I am aware that this is arguably ad-hominem, but still, my point is that they were scrapped for a frickin' reason). Or possibly because Gove simply doesn't get GCSEs.

I've blogged about that aspect before.

I have to say I wasn't pleased about this news. At all. It's fucking bullshit. While, okay, a few of my exams have been a bit easy (well, basically maths, but (to humble brag) I pwn at maths, so yeah), these claims that they're 'dumbed down' are just wrong. 69.8% of GCSEs are passes at the baseline level of A*-C (the idea is that everyone gets 5A*-C, somewhere down the line we've forgotten this), but that's because people who are more likely to get good GCSEs are entered into more subjects. I'm taking 11, whereas most people at my college take 10, some might take less than that. I'm predicted straight As and A*s (edit: I didn't quite get that, but still did really well). People like me (to be a humblebragging-humblebragger again) tend also to be entered for more, hence the apparently obscene A/A* pass rate.

Of course, I can see this only having negative effects. You know the good thing about modular assessment (which I'm in the last year to experience)? It means you get a better understanding of individual topics, and it tests your ability to work in a sustained manner (if you're into that "education is for jobs" stuff,), or, alternatively, it means that it isn't all or nothing. Final exams (which I finished literally 2 days ago (well, yesterday as of writing this sentence, but I'm looking at an all nighter)) were stressful enough without that bullshit to be frank. To the point where I ended up having a random panic attack (as in, one entirely removed from the situations where they normally happen).

That aside, this pretty much consigns anyone who has old-style GCSEs (like, for full disclosure purposes, I'll have in just over a couple of months, in case you haven't guessed) to the scrap heap. Who the fuck would want to pick the kid with the 'dumbed down' qualification? And, heck, I'm doing well in them, but that's because they're worthless. They're dumbed down. All GCSEs are piss easy, and everyone can pass them, and we're all a bunch of fucking layabouts. At least that's what Gove's saying with this, as far as I can see (not intentionally, but still). It makes me feel like shit.Unless it goes the other way, and O-levels are considered to be a load of crap, in which case Gove can still go fuck himself over this bullshit.

EDIT: Oh yeah, this not even getting into the inherent segregation. O-levels are for the 'top 75%' only. This means that either way this turns out, 25% of kids are going to lose out mega style, being consigned to a scrap heap, all to fit some ridiculous agenda (props to @SzeitBlom for pointing this out (I got distracted by the crap which personally affected me)). Also, the unfairness inherent in the splits? Too much for Thatcher's Government (GCSEs were created in 1984) the first time round.

Of course, GCSEs are already ignored once you get A-levels. Guess what else Gove's mucking around with!  [Mail Links; I think they might be getting the best scoops here, for some reason] Yeah, the Mail actually says it best
"The new-style tests would be given a different set of grades to enable tutors and employers to tell them apart from existing exams.

The reforms would effectively create a two-tier system; old-style A-levels and new versions with beefed-up content, a greater emphasis on essay-writing and a strict limit on exam resits." (emphasis mine. At least the Mail's being honest about the impacts; check out the quotes on this Guardian article on the same topic which state that the use of a different grading system will actually somehow prevent a two-tier system coming to fruition)
These reforms? Start coming into place... well, it doesn't say when, but I dare say that it they won't be happening in time for September. Even Michael "Cultural Revolution for our schools" Gove  (no, I am not going to ever let that one go, especially since I actually did my History controlled assessment on the Cultural Revolution) isn't likely to make things move that quickly. So I guess that's another 'dumbed down' qualification that'll be regarded as shit that I'll have to spend 2 years on. Oh joy. I mean, school's okay and all, but I'd like to think that the slip of paper at the end is only semi-worthless.

Not to mention that they're making everything based off how well you do exams. Again. I suppose actually analysing stuff is no-longer a useful skill then, but regurgitating knowledge? Coolio by Gove, apparently...

This even outdoes Gove's other shit to do with education which happened in this month alone. I know that the state will always try to twist education to its own ends (heck, one of my courses was pretty much Keynsian propaganda, and don't get me started on the pro-FDR bias of History...), but they're moving towards some bastardised blend of Steiner schools and stock right-wing educational policy. Basically, taking the (shit) stance on science of the Steiner schools, replacing teaching of the Scientific method with a focus on nature, statistics with algebra (I love algebra, and learning it in primary school (well, early secondary school, since Leicestershire is dead weird like that) would have been a dream come true, but come on), and then deciding that forcing kids to recite poetry and memorise spellings is a good idea (although the choices of words the Graun chose to represent is a bit amusing: "bruise, destroy, ridiculous and tyrant". Also, languages, which I suppose is less rubbish (assuming that anyone actually speaks said languages and they aren't, like,
Latin). As is teaching kids how to debate, if such a thing is actually a thing you can teach, it's okay. But it's mostly crap, possibly as a way to get schools to become Academies (/speculation)...

Back to the main topic though, I'm actually thinking of maybe following up with a response to what I'd do, and you know what? I'm skeptical that Labour, populist shitbags that they are, will be any better. Actually, I'm sick to death of education being used as the ball in the political ping-pong of education between the two parties. I'll be willing to bet quite a lot of my peers (God that sounds pretentious) are as well.  We're all human beings, not political capital. I swear, the sooner this entire system is trashed so we can do away with qualifications, the better,

tl;dr? Gove's planned qualifications reforms are crap, as is quite a lot of the curriculum stuff, and kids in my year are screwed (or possibly the kids coming up in 2013.. Also, I'm really frickin' petty and pathetic.

PS I have come to the conclusion that the Daily Mail can go fuck itself. Although it appears that it already is in the process of fucking itself over this, given how excited it is about this crap.

EDIT: I'd just like to add. I'm lucky that I'm still doing 'academic' courses. Vocational courses are being increasingly devalued, and are basically the favourite punching bag of the educational Right. Even more so than 'dumbed down' GCSEs. This is a massive load of horseshit too.I've never really done BTECs, but just because there's less of a focus on exams (from what I can gather exams are involved now or something) doesn't make them any less valid. As for equivalency, maybe we should be taking our cues from Finland (best in the world in a lot of areas to do with education) and scrap league tables altogether.

10 May 2012

Making revision 'fun' part 3: Static Electricity - Sparks = 'splosions

 So, this is another one of those revision posts I meant to do a lot more of. I don't think you missed much, but whatever. This one covers the stuff in GCSE Physics/Additional Science (I'm doing Physics, but the content should be the same (as of 2011-12)) about static electricity. As with my Geography post about the drought (and the rain, and why the drought is still a thing), there are a metric ton of caveats regarding my personal knowledge. That aside, let's get this thing started.

Static electricity, as the name would imply, is basically a build up of charge which is pretty still (I.e. isn't being conducted throughout the charged object), and we generally experience it through either making our hair stand on end for shits and giggles* or those annoying electric shocks. This build up of charge comes through a transfer of electrons. If the charged object gains electrons, it gains negative charge. If an object loses electrons, it gains positive charge. Polythene's an example of the former, acetate the latter. Fairly simple, right? Well, yeah, it is. That is, assuming the standard of 'lies (well, simplifications) to teenagers' which typically comes into play in these situations doesn't actually apply here. I'll know for certain in a year or 2 when I'm done with my A-levels.

Generally speaking, the transfer of electrons comes from friction - for instance when walking across a carpet or taking a jumper off or rubbing a balloon against a curtain/person's hair.

Of course, the hair standing up on end thing is caused by like charges repelling and unlike charges attracting, which is due to some stuff which I'm going to have to explain using personification. To wit, the positively charged object wants more electrons, whilst the negatively charged object wants to lose electrons. Also, electrons don't like each other for some reason (since they're all negatively charged, so repel each other).

The attraction created by static electricity has uses other than shenanigans (for a given value of 'shenanigans', of course. The attraction has uses in stuff like printers, photocopiers, those smoke scrubber chimney things and spray-painting cars. I'll use those last 2 as an example, since I know them off the top of my head and they strike me as most likely to come up in the exam.

The SSCTs consist of two either earthed (connected to ground) or positively charged collection plates up the side of the chimney, with a negatively charged grid in the middle of said chimney. Smoke particles in the, er, smoke float up through the grid, gain negative charge, and then get attracted to/stuck to the collection plates, for later scrubbing off. This means less smoke particles get into the air proper, which is cool, I guess.

The car thing is even simpler -  the body of the car is given negative charge, whilst the friction of paint droplets being forced through the narrow funnel of the paint sprayer gives them positive charge. This makes them stick onto the body of the car at least for long enough for them to be made to stick permanently.

Right, now to get to the explosion stuff. I mentioned earlier about those annoying little electric shocks, well, that's a spark. There are quite a few environments where sparks are a bit of an issue, probably the most obvious one being petrol stations - where there's loads of highly flammable gas floating around. More obscurely, surgeons apparently have to be earthed with a wire lest (the also highly flammable) anaesthetic gases catch light due to a spark. Sparks, in situations like these, equal explosions (or "'splosions" if I'm in the mood for forced alliteration). Obviously, a hospital is probably the very last place anyone wants an explosion, so preventing the static build up using the aforementioned earthing techniques is kind of important.

Not all of the undesirable effects of static are as explosiony though - if you're fixing a computer (which I've never done) you also need to prevent static since it can damage the delicate internal circuitry of them (or something like that).

Okay, that concludes this (probably incoherent) amble about a random topic that one of my GCSEs covers. Come back if/when there's a next time and see what dumb idea I decide to do then!

*sorry for the crudeness - I really couldn't come up with a funnier way of phrasing this.

MRF Part 2: English Essay: "How is Jack presented in Lord of the Flies?

Just figured I'll use this as an excuse to share an essay I did for homework a while back in the hope someone will find it useful. I don't really like the book, and I reckon I get a bit nonsensical in places, but whatever. It got pretty much full marks, so I must have done something right. You'll note I use the term 'anarchy' at the end. Whilst I'll bet my English teacher thought I was using it to meant "chaos" (despite the redundancy), I actually did mean it as in an ideal non-hierarchal society. It's an Eng Lit essay, and Golding hardly strikes me as having anarchist sympathies. And it's an Eng Lit essay ('Death of the author" means I can read Ayn bloody Rand as a socialist if I look hard enough - mild BS like that is barely an issue).

Anyway, how is Jack presented in Lord of the Flies?

Jack is probably the main antagonist (besides human nature) in William Golding’s 1957 novel Lord of the Flies, whose plot centers around a group of boys stranded on an island, and their descent into savagery. 

Right from his presentation he is presented as something of an antithesis to the book’s main protagonist, Ralph. He insists on being known by his last name in (going off his “kids’ names” remark) what is clearly meant to present him as having a superiority complex, although he soon relents. He is also presented as being markedly different in physique to Ralph, their faces in particular: Ralph had “a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil”, yet Jack’s face “was ugly, without silliness” (immediately presenting him in a negative light), and his “light blue eyes” were “turning, or ready to turn, to anger”. At this stage, it is also worth noting that the choir is “wearily obedient” and he seems to wield total control over them. He, as “the most obvious leader”, also attempts to seize control undemocratically (“I ought to be leader”), presenting him as a possible dictator at even this early stage. He also shows a strong dislike of Piggy (who is intended to be a symbol of civilization, and is essentially golding’s mouthpiece character). Despite this, the violence (not to be confused with his cruelty towards the weak shown in his actions towards Piggy) that marks him out particularly is only exhibited after his earlier inability to face “the unbearable blood” and the enormity of killing, and when exploring with Ralph and Simon he seems to act like a protagonist in books like The Coral Island (from which he takes his name, the book is also referred to by name on a few occasions - Lord of the Flies was in part a response to it) - “This is proper exploring”.

By chapter 3, Jack is already shown to be succumbing to the allure of savagery, with a “compulsion to track down and kill” “swallowing him up”, and him being reduced to “running, dog-like, on all fours” by this. Golding presents this as “madness”, outright stating it to be such in the narrative (which appears to be not from any character’s perspective). This aspect is furthered by him becoming “the mask” in Chapter 4, which ‘liberates’ him “from shame and self consciousness”, fully confirming his conversion towards a focus on the “brilliant world of hunting exhilaration and tactics” as opposed to “the world of longing and baffled commonsense”. This presentation is furthered by him letting “the bloody fire out” through his desire, showing how his savagery is getting the better of civilization due to the lack of a true authority beyond the symbol of the conch. His violent, dictatorial, side is shown once more in his use of the chant (“Kill the pig! Cut her throat! Spill her blood!”) and him whacking Piggy, breaking one lense in his glasses. A degree of cruelty, but cunning, is shown in his ‘apology’ (a “verbal trick”), and the very fact it’s directed at Ralph shows that he’s already starting to see his leadership as invalid.

This strain is later shown in him disparaging the conch in chapter 6, instead suggesting that the bigguns form a sort of cabal to decide things “We don’t need the conch any more... it’s time some people knew they’ve got to keep quiet and leave deciding things to the rest of us”, and earlier showing that he doesn’t care about the littluns at all (“Sucks to the littluns”), also showing a lack of compassion. Yet, at the same time, his own childishness shows up but a few pages later, his immediate response to Castle Rock being “What a place for a fort”, although the nature of this observation is also an early sign of the warmongering tendencies which would become so major later on.
Jack’s desire to gain control, and hypocritical tendencies in his attempts to do this, come to a head in Chapter 8 in which he tries to take control of the group (“Hands up... whoever wants Ralph not to be chief”) after disparaging Ralph for being “ a coward” in the face of the Beast (which, at this moment, he is presented as believing in, and responded to in the same way), only to fail humiliatingly, his childishness showing once again in his declaration that he isn’t “going to play any longer” and him outright crying in humiliation. This leads to the split and the clear presentation of the difference between his and Ralph’s leadership styles, the savagery of his becoming evident in the spearing of the sow, and desecration of Simon’s eden in order to put the eponymous Lord of the Flies (the pig’s head) in place. 

By chapter 9, he has become “decorated and garlanded like an idol”, similar to the cult of personality that many dictators around the time Golding wrote the book had had (and still do have). He also seems to be the catalyst for the descent of all those present at the feast into savagery through forcing them to do the “dance”, leading directly to Simon’s death (although he later maintains (probably knowingly falsely (albeit possibly hidden to himself through some form of doublethink)) that the Simon they killed was in fact a guise of the beast). 

Come Chapter 10, he is the Chief, and is hinted to be something of a fascist bully, having one kid beat up for nothing. His desire for control extends to stealing the fire (rather than asking, in part to show that “we’re strong, we hunt”), and ultimately forcing everyone but Ralph and Piggy (who he doesn’t like (since he’s the bad guy and they’re Golding’s mouthpieces mostly, although Piggy’s outsiderness is something else as well) and the littluns (who he simply doesn’t count) to join his tribe, using implied torture. His “full intent” to kill Ralph is presented, he is a “terror” (“but Roger” is implied to be worse), and his tribe are presented as nothing but “painted savages”, in contrast to the nice britishness of Ralph and Piggy (“Is it better...”).

In conclusion, Jack is presented wholly as Ralph's antithesis and is a representative of savagery, dictatorship and anarchy (these are all contradictory ideas, but he still somehow manages to be all 3). However, this said, perhaps the last time he is referred to is meant to be what he really is being presented as, nothing more than “a little boy” (mainly because it appears Golding thinks little boys are, in fact, naturally “terrors” and would regress to being such if left alone for too long). 

23 Apr 2012

Making Revision 'Fun' Part 1: Geography and the Drought

Okay, I've been debating whether or not to use my blog as a place to post stuff related to my GCSEs (provided I find it remotely interesting), and this Guardian article tipped me over the edge into "sure why not". Note that, since this is a revision post, the bolding is mostly for my benefit, and (aside from highlighting the note at the end) is just the keywords.

As you might have guessed by the URL at the very least, it's about how the recent bout of heavy rain and why, although it is capable of causing flash floods in some areas of the country, it isn't magically going to undo the drought we've been in for nearly 2 years now. I've decided to dedicate this post, then, to writing about the stuff I need to know about rain for my Geography course. Any misleadingness in this is all my fault though (this doesn't need saying, but I'm a GCSE student, not a meteorologist.).

First of all, theres 3 main 'types' of rain formation: convectional, relief and frontal (or, to use their Wikipedia Names, convection, orographic and stratiform).

Relief/orographic rainfall generally occurs on the side of mountains opposite to the prevailing wind (making a lot of the drought/ hit areas in the 'rain shadow' (where there's less rainfall)) and is relatively constant compared with the other types. Obviously, this is probable where there's mountains.

Convectional is the stuff which causes thunderstorms: when there's enough of a difference in temperature witha moist/unstable atmosphere for a whole ton of water to evaporate (well, several tons of water, in all likelyhood), form clouds, and fall to the ground as rain hard and fast (all that energy has to go somewhere, and warmer air can 'hold' more water). The Wikipedia's description is more accurate that the GCSE stuff obviously - for it we're mainly shown the model of it happening in tropical rainforests, but judging by the presence of hail in some of the rain we've had over here, it looks like we're getting a bit of convectional rainfall at least (won't go as far as to say how much or anything like that; not a meteorologist (I can't even spell "meteorologist" without the help of a spell checker)).

Finally, frontal/stratiform rainfall is the stuff we associate with the black lines that occassionally appear on the weather map - weather fronts - you can probably see an example here. There's an entire page on the Wikipedia dedicated to them, if you're interested. The lines with the blue triangles on are the cold fronts, the red semicircles the warm fronts and where there's a mix of both occluded fronts, or possibly stationary fronts according to the Wikipedia (a purple mix being an occluded front, although I'm fairly certain the BBC uses the first notation I mentioned).  Behind the cold front it's colder, behind the warm front it's warmer ("warm sector"), and the occluded front depends on whether it's caused by the warm overtaking the cold, or vice versa. The fronts themselves cause rain as the difference in temperature means the less dense (but possibly a bit damp) warmer air rises, the water vapour contained within condenses into clouds, and then there's rain. I'll be willing to bet there's a bit of frontal rainfall in the mix.

Types of rain and wanton weather speculation aside, the main issue is that the ground water stocks are being depleted and river levels will remain low once the run-off runs out. This is in part caused by urbanisation, but it's aggravated by the fact that the ground was dry from the drought (making it less absorbent). The reason that we can be in drought and have flood warnings is that there's a ton of run-off which results from this (plus the fact that the rain was pretty heavy and antecedent; it was falling where the ground was saturated, so it could only run-off into the rivers).

These issues are in part due to stuff in the water cycle. The idea is, water hits the ground (some being intercepted by trees), some runs off, but some infiltrates the soil. Eventually, the soil becomes saturated, and (if the rock below it is permeable (let's say limestone for now)) some of the water percolates through the rock, replenishing the groundwater flow and raising the water table (which is low ATM due to the lack of rain). At the same time, some may run through the soil (a process which I swear is slightly different to groundwater flow, but which I can't find the name for).

In addition to this, plants do 'suck up' (for want of a less inaccurate word) water and release it out/transpirate it (for evaporation) which also obviously reduces the amount of water in the soil but reduces surface run off (trees also help to stop the soil washing away and 'intercept' the water, making it reach the ground less quickly).

This does mean that, aside from the obvious issue of climate change, human action has had another (but obviously not total) hand in this present situation: urban areas (which pretty much have to be in a river's catchment area, and there's now also the issue of building in the flood plain) are paved, and necessitate the cutting down of trees. Deforestation obviously stops trees from doing the tree things (/Buffy speak) mentioned before, but the paving of areas in a drainage basin presents a two-fold problem aside from this: water can't intercept waterproof concrete, so it runs off into rivers at a faster rate, which helps to cause flooding (in combination with unusual amounts of rainfall within the drainage basin). In addition to this, it's impossible for water to percolate down and replenish the groundwater stocks. I'm guessing the main reason why this is only becoming a mega problem now is that groundwater flow is slow, it can take weeks, months, years (millenia in some cases) for it to reach the river, so whilst this means a steadier supply of water, the effects might only have become an issue more recently than the start of the drought.

Note on the definition of "drought": There are about a number of different definitions used to define drought in the UK, even just sticking with meteorological droughts. The first, within the shortest term and the one I was taught, is at least 15 consecutive days with less than 0.2mm of rain (in total), whereas longer term definitions are 3 months with a "50% deficit" in rainfall or 2 years with a 15% shortfall.[1] This drought is in one of the latter categories, probably (due to the reference in the Graun article to the rainfall over next winter determining if we stay in drought) the last one.

There's also hydrological drought and agricultural drought.

[1] Phillip Eden: Water Shortage Coming?-Weather UK (2007, link retrieved April 2012).

14 Apr 2012

Paul Littlepole and the painfully obvious political analogy

So, Pottermore launched today (14/04/2012). In order to celebrate I've decided to, er, write a (probably crappy) fanfic. Okay then...

Paul Littlepole, star of the writing staff of The Daily Prophet, slid into his chair with a sigh. Things were, he mused, different than they were. He didn't, as he would loudly state at every opportunity, want a return to the bad old days when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named reigned, but he also didn't like the blood-equality legislation that was at present being passed through by a recently appointed high-up in the Department for Magical Law Enforcement - Hermione Granger. This was, of course, on top of her earlier work in the Department of Magical  that left him forever in fear that his House Elf, Flippy, would demand pay. He could afford it, being the top-paid collumnist in Wizarding Britain, but a part of him resented the implication that the species were destined to be anything other than slaves to wizards (although obviously not in those words).

He had no doubt why Granger would act that way - it was almost certain that, as a mudblo-muggle born witch, she would want to force Muggle values on Wizarding Britain. He wasn't a blood-supremacist (or at least that's what he told himself), but it was plain to him that, although they had powers, muggle-born wizards weren't really wizards. Not for at least a couple of generations of wizarding children.

The same would go even if the Statute of Secrecy were to be abolished, something distinctly unlikely anyway - even if, going off reports from Muggle newspapers (which Littlepole would glimpse on his rare excursions into the Muggle world) of something called "Elf n safety", Muggles had discovered House Elves (something which also confirmed his suspicions concerning Granger's motives).

This train of thought led him straight to the topic of today's article. Those same excursions had introduced him to the Muggle concept of 'Political Correctness', and he was determined to expose it, and the influence it wielded over certain ministers, to his wizarding compatriots.

Carefully setting his (enchanted, of course, to prevent hand cramps) quill to the paper, Paul Littlepole begain to write furiously.

"Political correctness: an A-Z guide to the Muggle fad that's ruining wizarding Britain..."

Obvious disclaimer: I don't own the Harry Potter series, universe or any of the characters here except arguably Paul Littlepole. The stuff about Hermione's future is based off stuff Rowling has said, which will be linked to as soon as Accio Quote gets back up (at the minute it's also on the Harry Potter Wiki).

13 Apr 2012

Why I'm deleting my Facebook account (Soon)

UPDATE: Facebook has released a statement on why it supports CISPA. I still disagree with its support, and I'm still probably going to go ahead with this.

Facebook supports CISPA. In conjunction with the title of this post, it could probably be my shortest one yet, but I suppose I should explain why it's bad.

CISPA, or the Cyber-Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, to give it its full name, is the latest in a long line of acts - such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP, also known as PIPA) - which, if passed, will basically screw over internet users in the US and, due to the US-centric nature of a lot of websites, internationally as well. The sponsor claims that it's nothing like SOPA, but there are definite parallels, and it doesn't change the fact that CISPA is bad news for a second.

Whilst that link goes in to more detail, in short, CISPA is bad because it's so vaguely worded it can cause exactly the same stuff that SOPA could have, and enables greater corporate complicity in handing over our information, should they choose. This circumvents other protections, from what I can gather.

This is, of course, in addition to all the privacy dodginess Facebook has already.

To this end, I've set up a page on, er, Facebook for a 'delete your account day' in protest (not sure on the date though: any ideas? (I'm thinking maybe the 28th or just over a fortnight from now)). I've also created a blogspot for this (mainly so there was a website for the facebook page which wasn't totally self-promoting).

See also:
Techdirt: CISPA Is A Really Bad Bill, And Here's Why
CNET News: Say 'hello' to CISPA, it will remind you of SOPA
Digital trends: CISPA supporters list: 800+ companies that could help Uncle Sam snag your data
And, for some semblance of balance:
It's imperfect, but CISPA isn't the devil in disguise.

This was written before CISPA, but it still has a few interesting points re: reasons to delete your Facebook account:
Mandrake's Blog: Eleven Reasons Why I Want To Quit Facebook (And One Reason Why I Can't)

You'll notice the link to my anti-CISPA blog isn't stopcispa.blogspot.com. That's because there's already one.

There's also, of course, an Avaaz petition.

EDIT: put the wrong ending on the other stop CISPA blogspot, now fixed. 

11 Apr 2012

Political Broadcasts in 'spin' shocker!

On the off chance you were watching ITV news yesterday (10.04.2012), you probably saw this Conservative Election Broadcast (rage warning; it's a Conservative election broadcast), which is the first of two I've decided to look at today because I'm a total masochist. Apparently, ALL the Labour councils are trying to get a ton of money, whereas no Tory council would ever do that. It's an election broadcast, so of course they're going to lie. And if Labour aren't crap in comparison to the Tories, then its because the Tories are truly exceptionally crap - and even then Labour suck. However I'm already narked at my own (Tory) council for probably cutting my school transport subsidy*. And they're also cutting the hours elderly and disabled people will be able to use their bus passes as well.

And, since Pickles and Cameron express such ire for council barons, I'd like to introduce you to David Parsons, the Tory leader of Leicestershire County Council who's spent £210,000 on the council car since April 2006, or, rounding it to 6 years, roughly £35,000 per year. His office in general cost more than £1 million in the past 5 years. Or £200,000 per year on average (peaking at £384,000). Admittedly, some of that is hiring people, but it's still ungood to say the least. His salary, admittedly, at 'only' £56,000 isn't obscene, but it's also thought he might have hired a personal PR guy back in 2010, you know, when they were deciding the cuts.  There's probably a reason he's facing a vote of no confidence.

That aside, the Telegraph has found that Chief Executive pay was functionally rising as of August 2011, despite the video claiming the exact inverse to be the case. In fact, the top paid chief executive is head of Essex and Brentwood councils, on £260,000 a year. They're both, to my knowledge, Conservative. In fact, Brentwood is none other than Eric Pickle's own constituency! Things are slightly better than the worst of 2007/8, but Pickles' claims are still laughable.  Especially considering that, her aside, the top five has a lot of Tory council Chief Execs. Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council? Conservative. Buckinghamshire County Council? Conservative. Norfolk County Council? Probably Conservative.  Surrey Country Council? Guess what? Actually every single one of the top 5 council executives in terms of pay work for Tory councils, as did the chief executive of Kent county council (excepted from the Telegraph's top 5 due to special circumstances (explained in a note there)). So yeah. Unless there was a revision (which there could have been), the Tories are massive hypocrites.Which actually isn't a shock, come to think of it.

In addition to this stuff, the £186,877 Camden spent on 7 Trade Union activists? £186,877/7= roughly £26,700 per person, or roughly £500 above average salary in 2011 (Telegraph link). And just over 1/10th of the aforementioned head of Essex and Brentwood councils's pay.

Of course, egregious spin is a feature of Party Election broadcasts. Case in point, this post's other sporkee: last month's (March 2012's) "Delivering on our promises".  I'm not going into depth, but after 20 seconds of wooly stuff about what they've done, there's this real gem from Cameron: "the most important part of accountability is politicians being judged on whether they keep their promises". A few seconds later there's a shot of him signing a pledge to stop Labour's 'tax on jobs' (a boost in National Insurance). Which is of course, precisely what the Tories did. Or not (scroll down to the bottom). I could use now to pick on Nick Clegg, but it's just too easy an opportunity to do more than this.  The rest is just Cameron boasting about how he's going to force his values onto us, wrecking people's lives with the benefits cap, repeating Mail-rhetoric on immigration, and lying about the NHS. It's probably fairly standard fare.

There's this glurge as well, but that's enough for today and it's not as recent. Althought here is some definite irony in them declaring that Labour ruled during peak youth unemployment.

Of course, like I said before, if Labour doesn't look crap in comparison, it's because the Tories are ridiculously bad. The main reasons why my examples are all Tory is because it's their broadcasts I'm focussing on. And they did preside over the start of the recession, although I doubt they inherently caused it (like the broadcasts imply) and the post-war Labour government was in surplus from 1948-51 (contrary to Tory claims that every Labour government hasn't done that, it was also when the NHS was first set up, funnily enough). Plus, they're utterly ineffective as opposition. And we all know about the Lib Dems.

It's a good thing I can't vote, cause I'd have to pick revolution (which comes under 'spoiling the ballot', but whatever)**.

* Full disclosure: I'll be in 16+ if/when it comes into effect, and, whilst not having access to the school bus is merely inconvenient for me (I'm a twin, there's no way my family can afford £980 (£490 each)), I can't imagine it'd do much good for others' prospects at attending 16+.

**Well, maybe the Greens. I have little faith in the electoral process as it is though.

15 Feb 2012

Wanted: Free Labour for Tesco

Edit: It would appear that the "permanent" part was some sort of error on Tesco's or the JobCentre's part. They aren't forcing us into permanent posts yet. The whole thing is still bullshit though.

Edit 2: Tesco have pulled out and started their own scheme.Tesco still suck, but at least they're paying their work experience bods. And pissing off the Torygraph to boot (it "undermine[s] the Coalitions own efforts", apparently).
Tesco, and anyone complicit in this, should go fuck themselves. There are several more articulate ways that I could have phrased that sentence, but none of them would have quite had the impact appropriate for a response to a call for someone to work in a permanent post 6 week stint for their Job Seekers' Allowance (back up link in case the actual advert has since been removed, (credit to @latentexistence for the screenshot)) The title of this post was only mildly hyperbolic, if that.

Did I mention that the post was permanent? (it turns out it isn't, it was just a mistake)

Of course, this is only a particularly egregious development (although probably not a unique one) in the ongoing attacks on what Tory rhetoric calls a "something for nothing culture" on the part of people. meanwhile, they're sweeping the fact that "something for nothing" probably applies more to companies under the metaphorical rug.

For instance, from May to November 2011, 24,010 people were forced into unpaid placements for a month. On pain of losing benefits for 1/4 of a year. Because, y'know, it's not like the placements at, say, "high-street chains" would have been suitable for anything other than government-subsidised unpaid labour or anything like that. (charity work is also an option (still a rather dodgy one considering it's forced), but charities aren't the ones getting the contracts).

In addition to this, there are cases such as the one of Cait Rielley, who ended up on a two week placement at Poundland stacking shelves (for 'training'). Of course, Poundland could have really needed the help, for example their Christmas sales went up by 25% last year. You can't expect them to actually pay their workers, can you? Anyway, why's she moaning when some people have placements of six months. That was sarcasm in case you haven't guessed.

It might be worth making a note of the 'logic' behind forcing people to work for well below minimum wage. The idea is that paying companies to take on free labour will get the people forced to work into the habit of working again, as "a sanction" for 'sabotaging' attempts to get them jobs (warning: Mail link, and it's one of their really dodgy ones as well). Sometime down the line, this will magically get them an actual paid job (of which there are, of course, no shortages). 

Actually, the point the 'Coalition source' made to the Mail about workfare being a "sanction" ("But is it meant as a sanction? Yes – and we are convinced it will have an effect") may well be hitting straight to the point about why the Government is doing this. The idea of people getting jobs at the ends of it is secondary to a vindictive rage at those who have the misfortune to be unable to find a job (when there are 6 people looking for every vacancy, it's not exactly fair to ay that unemployment's down to being 'workshy'). There's this twisted logic that trying hard enough will cause a job to materialise.

The really ironic thing being that, if anyone's sabotaging people's attempts to find work, it's the Government giving companies free workers. Why the hell would a company hire someone (even for under a living wage), when they can get someone to work for them for free? I'm not some sort of economics expert (my knowledge runs to Freakonomics and intuition for the most part), but I don't think you have to be one to realise that - if workfare was ever really intended to get people into work without a great deal of doublethink being applied - something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong. Unless there's some fancy counter-intuitive economics thing I don't know about (which I'll concede as being a possibility).

Of course, to answer my rhetorical question, public outcry could force companies to at least vastly reduce their 'employment' of people on workfare (it worked on Sainsbury's and Waterstones), and there's a day of action on the 3rd of March. Because, seriously, this whole thing is bullshit.

See also:
Boycott Workfare
A Latent Existence: Who benefits from the Work Programme
A Latent Existence: Government work placement schemes little more than slave labour
Edingburgh Eye: The ideology of workfare

22 Jan 2012

A History of Science: By @The_Activists

I really should be more aware of what I'm like, sometimes. I came on the internet a few days ago intending to do my Humanities and design homeworks, and ended up checking on The Activist Socialist Party to make sure they hadn't done anything too ridiculous and/or similar to The Party recently.

It was a bad idea.

As you know, a while ago they wrote something that, functionally speaking, denounced Relativity as a capitalist plot. I wish I was making that up.

Remember that? Well somehow they've done it again. But worse.

I present to you my analysis of "Theoretical Physics: The Mythology of Materialistic Capitalism" by the Activists Science Collective. Warning: side effects of reading the article itself may include: rage, confusion and a complete and utter loss of coherence.

The central conceit is given as it being "no accident that Newtonian mechanics and capitalism arose at the same period in history" (in the 17th century/1600s. I want you to hold that figure in your heads). This is similar to the protestant reformation for some reason, and thus follows a short, extremely Mind Screwy, history of capitalism and the Lutherian movement. I think. Anyway, this brings us up to the present day with sweatshops in Asia. This bit is actually slightly less bad than it sounds (but only because of me making it seem extremely bad - that it took me 3 reads to get my head round is still somewhat telling), but it isn't really the point of this article. Although the bit about "the individual entrepreneur, the industrialist and the secular scientist bent on taking apart and controlling the world" who were apparently created by the Reformation was a nice touch (never mind that newton was a devout Christian. And that secular scientists would have no interest in a religious ideal).

What is the point, is the sheer utter mind melting shit that follows.


Here goes...

"Every age requires a myth. With the rise of the industrial age came the myth of the ‘detached, disinterested’ scientist, the cold objective observer who sees the universe exactly as it is. Strange considering that classical mechanics grew out of the very heart of ‘enlightened self-interest’, that they had a very *interested* view of the universe. With the onset of modernity we see yet another transformation of the physical sciences. The first is the *democratisation* of science with Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1905. Now everything, including even time and space, is dependent upon an observers particular point of view. What’s true for Jack might not be for Jill, very expedient as a political force. And is it merely coincidence that quantum mechanics, with its inherent strangeness, followed hard on the heels of surrealism and dada in the 1920′s?"

I honestly can't say about the industrialist era, since I wasn't there and don't know much about it, nonetheless, I don't recall that ever being the main myth. And "myths" can change. They actually vaguely half got it right on the whole "God helps those who help themselves" thing being the biggie. At any rate, how society views scientists isn't necessarily their conscious fault.

As for classical mechanics growing from the "very heart of 'enlightened self interest'". Um, how? I don't get how that works.

And, um, do they know what "democratisation" means? Because I don't think it means the concept of subjectivity. Furthermore, relativity doesn't work that way. It isn't a political concept. yes, the passing of time is relative, and there are small scale distortions in mechanics caused by gravity. But in ordinary life these things aren't exactly noticeable (notable exception: GPSes, but that's related to how they do their navigatey thing). At any rate, there are far many other things which have an effect on perception to a greater extent than physics. As for the quantum mechanics thing, yes, probably. Plus, what was that their last article was called*? Oh yeah "fact is stranger than science fiction". Furthermore, from what I can gather (admittedly based on about.com), Dada started out as a protest against the sort of stuff those guys hate. Talk about irony.

This said, you think that's bad? It gets worse.

"The truth of the matter is that science did not begin in Europe in the 17th century but began about 1500 years earlier in Greece. For it was Pythagoras (570 B. C) who discovered that the natural harmonies of a stretched string correspond to the series of whole-numbers. Before this, the Greeks believed that number and nature (for harmony was considered as being a natural product) where separate. By discovering their connection, mathematics and experience became intertwined and science was born. After this discovery, Pythagoras was reported to exclaim “everything is number”"

Using the definition of "science" to refer to "bad stuff", everything started to go to hell 1500 years earlier than the 1600s, in 570BCwhen Pythagoras invented numbers and science. Right. That makes perfect sense.

If you don't mind me I'm going to go bash my head against the wall. Repeatedly.

And there's more. Christ... This is going to suck...

"And with a strange twist of fate, all of the evidence of modern science points to the fact that the universe *is* wave-like, not particle-like, in character and that the harmonia of Pythagoras was correct after all. Believe it or not, the fundamental principles of the maths is essentially the same."

Right person was right? Yeah, how very strange. Never would have guessed that. Although the universe is both wave and particle-like. In addition to this, in stuff like string theory, the basic mathematics isn't necessarily the same, since it relies on extra dimensions not covered under Euclidean Geometry (the exact number of dimensions varies between 10 and 11 in what I've read, even though apparently the maths can only ever be 100% consistent in 10 and 26 dimensions [1]). I think. But I suppose this is the stuff there's evidence for, and the whole thing is very timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly. But still, the universe is both wave like and particle like in nature. It's just that sometimes those waves are extra-dimensional and those particles are infinitesimal.

"However, theory has not caught up with practice. Theoretical physicists still proclaim that the universe is composed of well-defined particles."

As in, the standard model? Well yes, the particles wave. So of course theoretical physicists say that (well at least concerning the 4 dimensional one (3 spatial dimensions + time) which we inhabit).Hell, the wavey stuff is actually the more theoretical one from what I can gather (officially speaking I'm a high-level GCSE student, so there's always the caveat that I may be very wrong). So this is wrong. And we haven't defined all the particles yet! Also, the technical term is quanta (which are discrete packets of energy, e=mc^2 and all that).

"In other words, it is still essentially based in mechanics. "

 Uh, sure. Not sure how wave-particle duality contradicts that, when one considers that mechanics can be explained as interactions of stuff.

"In Einstein we read that “If we wish to describe the motion of a material point, we give the values of its co-ordinates as functions of the time”. From this he goes on to  prove his famous time dilation effect. However, according to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, such an operation is impossible. It is not possible to know both the motion and the time of a particle simultaneously." 

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle doesn't work that way. <takes deep breath>. It's actually <looks up on Wikipedia> a "fundamental limit on the accuracy", i.e. "the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be controlled, determined, or known". Specifically, the properties in question are the location (not just in time) of a particle, and it's wave function. Which is actually somewhat different to "motion and time". Plus, the main issue is with accuracy.

"Then why do scientists still teach Einstein’s relativity if it is no longer correct? How is it that scientists are given millions to build ‘particle accelerators’ at CERN when this would seemingly violate uncertainty?"

We still learn relativity in the Einsteinian sense because, on all levels above the sub-atomic, it's still correct. And particle accelerators do not violate uncertainty, because uncertainty, as I've mentioned before, doesn't work that way. We can never be 100% certain, sure, but we can get so certain that it probably isn't worth checking any more.

"....If we admit that the universe is wavelike in character, then all of the myths of time travel and so on are debunked, as are the cliches of the lone genius or the absurd belief that science could somehow control time and change *history*."
Because mechanics enables those claims? And how exactly does it debunk "the cliche of the lone genius"? I know the ASP is opposed to the idea of individualism, but come on. At least have some good arguments. At any rate, wasn't it Newton who said that "we stand on the shoulders of giants". No one who claims that they can change history is treated seriously any more (AFAIK).

Space-time itself becomes identified with wave motion and theoretical mechanics, with all of its materialistic undertones, is now revealed for what it is; the myth of industrialists. In contrast, waves suggest an underlying interconnectedness in everything, even a spiritual connection since our very thought processes are dependent upon them."
 Mechanics is not a myth. Mechanics is not some sort of bizzare concept directly opposed to the notion of a wave like universe. Mechanics is the observation of the interaction of those waves. At any rate, why would industrialists seek to promote it? The underlying interconnectedness of the whole wave thing (hold up... isn't that theoretical?) is probably a part of mechanics (I can't say I'm 100% certain, but I think it works that way). 

And that's that. And it also took way too much effort. To the Science Collective, on the off chance that you're reading this, just stop. Please.

[1] I think this is in Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, but don't hold me to that.
*It's pretty clear that this is the same person, xe may be writing under the name of a different collective, but there are stylistic quirks it shares with the earlier piece (for example *this* kind of emphasis and the use of British English for the most part), and there is a thematic continuation.

(NB: As before, the proviso that I may have made some mistakes still stands, feel free to point them out.)