Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I have been using Google+ (G+) for a couple of days now. I have to say I like it. It is clean, simple and gives you a lot of control. These are all things that Facebook fails at. Some years ago Facebook trialled a system called Facebook Lite. It was basically just your news feed and photos and events. I loved it. The normal Facebook is a distracting mess of a million clickable links, confusing menus and overlapping sections. It is not as bad as Myspace but it is certainly not the best way making a social network easy to interact with. G+ doesn’t suffer from this UI overload and I hope that as it develops it keeps things clean and simple.  

So why do I like it so much? Well:
  • I like that I can control who my posts go to (Facebook groups lets you do the same but it is a pain to set up), the circles feature is a joy to use. Some people I invited have been confused by the circles concept; I think this is mainly because Facebook’s equivalent is so complex.
  • I like that is it just like twitter where I can follow people without having to friend them and can make public posts for all the world to see.
  • I like that it integrates so well with Picasa (soon to be Google Photo).
  • I really like that it has such a great mobile app, the instant photo upload is a good idea well implemented  and Huddle (group chat) will be really useful when all my friends are on the network.
  • But most of all I love the potential it has. G+ in its current form is the first step in Google’s wider social agenda. Project Emerald Sea will be introducing social aspects into almost all of Google’s products (read this in-depth Wired article for more background). Soon you will be scheduling events with Google calendar and inviting your G+ friends. Your Gmail and Android contacts will be your G+ friend list. Maps and Google Latitude will be integrated to let you know when your G+ friends are nearby (if their privacy options allow it). Collaborating on Google Documents will be so much more streamlined and many more features I can’t even think up. I think the future is bright for G+.

However I do not think it will be plain sailing for Google. G+ has a mountain to climb, it may have gained 10-20 million users in a month, but Facebook has 750 million and climbing. Social networks sink or swim on the number of friends each user has on there. There is no point posting things if no one you know will see them. Also for me the big thing is integration with other networks. I am not going to abandon Facebook (nearly everyone I know is on there) or Twitter (I get most of my news from there). I want to be able to use G+ alongside these two. Google needs to get the G+ API out there ASAP so that developers can integrate it into their apps. I rarely ever use the Android Facebook App because Tweetdeck lets me check and post to Twitter and Facebook in one go. I currently have to repeat my Tweetdeck posts in the G+ mobile app which is a barrier to me using it. I am sure this feature is on the way but it can’t come soon enough for me.

I really hope G+ makes it. The integration with the rest of Google’s products makes it a killer proposition for me and not having all my data sealed inside the Facebook walled garden really appeals. The public release is rumoured to be at the start of August which will be the real test. Can G+ scale to 100+million users? Will that many sign up? Will it suffer the same fate as the Wave? 

While we wait for the answer to those questions here is a Google + tips document for those people already in the +

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

AV for the win!

On the 5th May we have a real chance to change our voting system for the better! The first past the post system is a hobbled version of democracy. If  Party A gets 4001 votes, Party B gets 4000 votes and Party C gets 2000 votes and party D gets 1000 votes, party A wins even though they only have 36% of the vote (7000 people out of a constituency of 11001 don't want them in power) and a majority of 1! This is crazy. Under the current system a handful of voters in marginal seats dictate who wins elections, that is not democracy, it is a joke!

Under AV, the party that wins would have to have an actual majority, more than 50% of the vote. Half the people in a constituency would have to state a preference for the winning party. I know that people in the No camp think this is a stupid, undemocratic system but frankly it make perfect sense to me. How can we live with a system where just having a 1/3 of the votes lets you rule the country!

There are many blatant untruths fielded by the No campaign to scare people into not voting for AV (don't get me started on how babies and soldiers are apparently going to die if we vote for AV). I would go through them but Mr Gower has already gone through them all and shown how if you actually do the maths the No campaigns claims do not stand up. I urge to read his (admittedly long and detailed) blog post and come out still thinking our current system makes any sense:

Long detailed version:
Short(er) version:

And here is the really short summary:

1. FPTP is unfair because it is very far from proportional.
2. AV is probably no more proportional than FPTP.
3. However, FPTP is also unfair because it puts pressure on large numbers of people not to vote for their favourite party. Under AV you don’t have to worry about wasting your vote. The right voting strategy is almost always to put the candidates you like in order of preference.
4. Under AV, everyone gets one ballot paper, just as under FPTP.
5. In each round of an AV count, everybody gets exactly one vote. It goes to their highest ranked candidate out of the candidates still left.
6. Under AV, if you vote for unpopular parties you don’t get more votes — you get more disappointments.
7. Under First Past The Post, there is no post. (FWIW, under AV there is.)
8. Under AV, the person who would have come second or third under FPTP sometimes wins.
9. Under FPTP, the person who would have come second or third under AV sometimes wins.
10. In so far as AV helps the BNP, it also helps everyone else. (The same could be said of women’s suffrage and votes for 18-year-olds.)
11. Anomalies can occur under AV.
12. There is no anomaly-free voting system.
13. Anomalies in a very small number of constituencies are very unlikely to affect who gets the power nationally.
14. AV doesn’t make your MP any more bland and inoffensive than FPTP.
15. AV won’t make your MP work harder.
16. AV wouldn’t have made any difference to the expenses scandal, which is in any case yesterday’s news.
17. AV might possibly lead to more coalitions but will not lead to a state of permanent coalition.
18. AV makes it easier to get rid of unpopular governments.
19. You think FPTP makes it easy to get rid of unpopular governments? Just look at the figures for 1987 and (especially) 2005.
20. Whatever system is in place, the Lib Dems will get a kicking at the next general election.
21. The Conservatives like FPTP so they can exploit the split on the left and often get a majority of seats with a minority of votes.
22. It is hard to predict what will happen in the future, but in the past AV would mostly have benefited the Lib Dems and Labour at the expense of the Tories.
23. It’s not true that bringing in AV would cost £250 million. The correct figure is more like £25 million (which is needed to explain to people that when the ballot paper asks them to put the candidates they like in order of preference, then they have nothing to gain by not doing so).
24. The outcome of the referendum will affect us for decades. Whichever way the vote goes, Nick Clegg will be forgotten about after five years. David Cameron and George Osborne want you to vote no and Ed Miliband wants you to vote yes.

AV may not be the perfect system, but it is better than the excuse for democracy we have now! I hope that if anyone reads this you will consider Mr Gowers' arguments and vote yes to AV to bring a real change to this country!

Now a final word from Uncle Stephen:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spotihalf........makes sense to me!

Spotify is halving the amount of music free subscribers can listen to in a month from 20 hours to 10 hours and will only let you listen to a track 5 times in total. Personally I think this is a good move!

Quite predictably there is loads of bellyaching in the comments of the official announcement page. This appears to be from people who think an award winning music service can be run for their own personal benefit with no suggestion of reimbursement and that all the artists in the world work hard to make music for the fun of it without needing to eat or buy cloths?

Spotify is an amazing service! For the price of 1 CD a month you can access all the music in its multi-million track catalogue, save it for offline listening on your PC and phone and even manage all your own music files and sync them wirelessly to you mobile.

So if they want to give all the millions of people using the service for free a bit of nudge towards supporting them I say fair play. Without services like Spotify we would be stuck in the gray hell of Apple iTunes!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jodrell Bank

Just got back from sound testing at the new Jodrell Bank visitors centre. It was great to see the place looking so good, the old 60's sheds are gone, replaced with shiney new metal ones. Last time I went was 4 years ago when they turned the dish into the worlds largest cinema screen and showed the trippyest, mind altering collection of space images I have ever seen. I still think it might have been some form of subliminal programming.... I highly recommend going to the new visitors centre when it opens in April....wait what did I just say?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

My god Myspace...where the hell have you been......

Myspace is going to be sold! I had forgotten it existed! After reading this story I looked up my profile and my god it was blast from the past (I last logged on to it over 3 years ago). That stupid photo I took of myself trying to be ironically moody hit me like a rusty spade.

Myspace defined most of 2006 for me (before Facebook came along and blew it out of the water). It was pretty crap at sharing stuff other than text but the music discovery was great (until came along and blew the other half Facebook had left out of the water). Having the option of putting your favourite song on your profile was great, now you could show off just how individual you were by hunting down a track that no one had heard of and forcing everyone who went on your page to listen to WEATHER THEY LIKED IT OR NOT! Now it seems the auto play option has been disabled and you actually get the choice of weather to listen to someone profile song. This is a bit disappointing. No longer will I suffer the surprise of finding out someone I vaguely know has a half decent taste in music. Or be afflicted by a mild heart attack due to logging onto your friend Iain's page, which he has equipped with a delightful ditty by Agraphobia Nosebleed, only to forget you had the speakers on full blast. Ahhh happy times!

Well now it is to be sold, after News Corp. sprayed countless millions at it, it will no doubt slide even further into obscurity (just like Friends Reunited - yes that still exists - just). It is a shame to see Myspace fading. It may have been a bit garish and hyper-narcissistic, but unlike Facebook's uniform white and blue which renders us all same (just with slightly different drunken pictures) Myspace let you stamp your mark on the web in poorly coordinated technicolor, with a giant flashing neon sign over your head.

Monday, January 31, 2011

This just got real!

I sorely wish I had understood the maths enough when were sat in Maths for Physics for me to be able to shout this out. Alas I was too befuddled at the time and it shall never come again.........