Archive for July 2011

Share and Enjoy!

Recently, via the Register, I came across Oxfam’s list of the most donated and most sold books at their charity stores .

To be honest the list doesn’t contain any real surprises and (thankfully) I can only put my hand up to having read works by two of the mentioned authors – Stephen King and Terry Pratchett – and certainly nothing by Dan Brown who tops the most donated list and is at number 3 on the sellers list.

The presence of his Vatican bothering-ness however reminded me of a particularly wonderful blog post a former colleague showed me many years back that pointed out, for the uninitiated, just how bad the multimillionaire’s writing really is.

Being a kindly soul I thought I would pass it on.

I am still trying to come up with a fully convincing account of just what it was about his very first sentence, indeed the very first word, that told me instantly that I was in for a very bad time stylistically.

Enjoy! :)

Facts? We don’t need ‘em!

In the Telegraph on Wednesday, filed under their weird news section, was the story of an Austrian gentleman who apparently won the right to have a picture of him with a colander on his head on his driving licence.

Niko Alm announced the decision on his blog saying that after three years of struggle a psychologist had passed him fit drive and so he could wear the kitchen implement for the official picture.

A self-styled “pastafarian”, Mr Alm said he belonged to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which lampooned religion. “Today I was able to get my new driving licence, and in it you can clearly see that I’m wearing a colander on my head to demonstrate my allegiance to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” Mr Alm wrote in his blog.

“My headwear has now been recognised by the Republic of Austria.”

On the face of it this is one of those stories that shows up equality legislation for the farce that it is and allows the British to indulge in one of their favourite pastimes, viz mocking Johnny Foreigner… and indeed the comments below the line are generally quite funny.

Sadly, and as to be expected, the true story is apparently slightly different. According to religion.orf.at (German language; quote below a product Google Translate):

“This photo was not approved for religious reasons,” says Manfred Reinthaler, spokesman for the Vienna Police Department, in an interview with religion.ORF.at. “With photographs of the license is the only criterion is that the entire face must be recognizable.” Indeed, in the driver’s license law implementation regulation is no mention of those criteria apply as for the European passport. There is indeed an exception that reads: “The wearing of headwear is permitted only for medical or religious reasons.” When you license it says in the photo only, “a photograph, with a height of 36-45 mm and a width 28-35 mm, the head must be mapped and completely recognizable.”

The strainer on the driver’s license photo was only approved because there is no part of Alms face obscured. Even the rumored three-year waiting period is, according to the Vienna Police Department is not correct. “The license is completed since October 2009. He was not only picked up, “says Reinthaler.

The Telegraph though was not alone in running this without apparently checking. A quick bit of googling reveals that the story ran in the Mail, the Sun, the BBC and plenty of other news organisations in many countries.

Copy and paste journalism is, it seems, a global disease.

Blame the user, not the tool

We’ve all read newspaper stories about various unfortunate saps who have thrown parties whilst their parents have been away, only to find out that the quiet (in comparision to the outcome) gathering turns into a fairly hefty insurance claim and an indefinite grounding because word of mouth meant that lots of other people turned up as well.

When that word of mouth is the internet the number of uninvited guests can go up by at least one order of magnitude – and perhaps even two or three. But how does news of a social gathering for a smallish group of friends end up on the internet in the first place?

Because it was set up on Facebook of course. As ZDNet reports:

In March 2011, an Australian schoolgirl named Jess had to cancel her sweet 16 birthday party after her Facebook invitation went viral and over 200,000 people said they would show up at her house in Chatswood, New South Wales. She was lucky because Facebook made a point to help her out.

Last month, a young girl made the same mistake by posting a public invitation to her 16th birthday party. Around 1,500 to 1,600 uninvited guests turned up to her party in Hamburg, Germany. 100 police officers had to be deployed, and they detained 11 attendees on charges of aggravated battery and property damage. One police officer was injured, as were dozens of people who wore flip-flops and accidentally stepped on shards of glass from broken bottles. Two small fires had to be extinguished.

Shortly after, a spontaneous party in Wuppertal, Germany attracted some 800 guests, 41 of whom were taken into police custody and 16 of whom were injured. Hamburg authorities are currently preparing for a Facebook party planned for September 30 and are expecting an influx of up to 19,000 partygoers.

However rather than blame the social media behemoth – after all it is all about keeping people in contact – why not look at the person who set the event up in the first place?

Yes, Facebook does display the event creation page with the ‘Anyone can view and RSVP (public event)’ box checked by default but that is hardly a difficult thing to turn off, is it now? Indeed the author, in a spot of quick research (approximate duration one second), learnt that when that that box is unchecked a further, this time unchecked box, ‘Guests can invite friends’ is displayed. Now I realise that inherent laziness and unthinking stupidity doubtedly played a part in all of the incidences mentioned above but is unchecking a box on the internet really that difficult*?

Sadly, in isolated cases it seems so. However bar suggesting that Facebook doesn’t enable the ‘Anyone can view and RSVP (public event)’ box by default I can’t see any way to stop such acts of silliness.

Clearly then I am not cut out for elected office, at least not in Germany anyway:

“If public safety and order are endangered, then Facebook parties will have to be banned beforehand,” Lower Saxony’s Interior Minister Uwe Schünemann told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, according to Deutsche Welle.

He is not an isolated case of stupidity either:

North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Ralf Jäger agreed. “If, in advance of an announced Facebook party, there are concrete indications of a danger to the participants or third parties, then it is the duty of the local authorities to ban the party.”

Whilst yet another apparently wishes to put the cost of any post-party clear-up on to the person whose event it was:

Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann warned that a harmless birthday invitation can quickly turn into a “massive security problem.” For the host that can sometimes lead to “immense costs,” as many simply want to go on a rampage, he claimed. “If there is an investigation into criminal offenses, the initiator should if possible pay for the costs of the police operation,” he told the same newspaper, according to The Local.

Thankfully there does seem to be at least one politician with some common sense:

“The simple fact that excesses happen on the sidelines of such events does not justify a general ban,” Wolfgang Bosbach, the chairman of the domestic affairs committee in parliament, told the daily Kölner Stadt Anzeiger, according to Spiegel. “There are also riots on the sidelines of football games and demonstrations but that does not mean that we should completely ban them.”

Still, if he can’t ban them then Herr Schünemann has a back-up plan: recommending the introduction of an “Internet Driving License” in schools that would explain the dangers of Facebook as he says that “Young people often don’t realize what they are getting into”.

That youngsters often don’t consider consequences of actions is hardly an earth shattering revelation but, unless they are terminally stupid, lessons, such as those taught by self-inflicted stupidity, tend to be learnt.

As one commentator on Slashdot summed it up:

This is all part of the German silly season (“Sommerloch”) – a period in summer when many political institutions are on vacation, so politicians which would normally be ignored can make it into the news – just because nobody important is active.

The statements in the article were all by conservatives in Germany (CDU + CSU). Given that it’s interesting that Dorothee Baer – secretary general of the CSU – has asked that “comments about the Internet should be made only by those who are familiar with it”. Sound advice.

And no, Germany is not considering banning facebook parties, this is just an attempt by some politicians to get noticed.

Seems strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

* I have no idea what Facebook’s accessibility is like so the visual-impaired will have to confirm if it is any more difficult for them than the average sighted user.

On Manoeuvres in Stony Stratford

As many will no doubt be aware Paul Bartlett, a somewhat puritanical councillor in Stony Stratford, has come up with a quite ridiculous wheeze, viz a proposal to ban smoking in public within the town.

This idea will be debated at a council meeting on Wednesday 19th July.

Ahead of that meeting Dick Puddlecote is organising a protest in the town on Saturday 16th July, the details of which can be found on Facebook and on his blog.

This non-smoker is planning on being there – public transport permitting.

Hope to see you there.

And the winner is…

… Rupert Murdoch.

The scandal engulfing the News of the Screws has finally claimed a scalp… that of the paper itself.

Does this in any way harm Murdoch and News Corporation? Not that I can see. Rather I would posit that it has strengthened his financial position.

With the closure of the Screws as a title, News Corp no longer needs to maintain two identities in the UK red top market and can thus streamline its operations. They no longer need a separate website, employment structure or any of the other paraphernalia which goes with a business.

Make no mistake, this kerfuffle means that the Screws and the Sun can be merged. Jobs will be lost, dead weight trimmed and the News Corporation media empire will emerge from the whole business bloodied but very much unbowed and be better off financially.

The advertisers who have quit or who are considering their positions can slink back satisfied that the brand which they rejected is no longer there whilst probably renegotiating their contracts with the Sun. Who knows, they might even end up speaking to the same account manager…

Yes, the News of the World may no longer darken the newsagents shelves after this Sunday but I would be somewhat surprised if there wasn’t a Sunday tabloid paper from the Murdoch stable on the shelves on the morning of 17th July.

All that remains to be seen is whether it goes by the Sun, the Sunday Sun or the Sun on Sunday.

When is a public place not a public place?

When it is in Orlando apparently.

On Tuesday Ambush Predator shreded, in her usual inimitable manner, a Comment is Free article about a charity called Food Not Bombs who have discovered that laws, no matter how crap, still apply to them.

Obviously the sight of a such an obviously lefty organisation finding themselves in hot water with the State – a construct it appears most of them appear to support – over a matter of obeying silly laws which they and their fellow travellers are all to happy to foist onto the rest of us is obviously a matter of general hilarity. What I do not find so funny however is the underlying law.

In 2006 the City of Orlando amended Chapter 18A of its City Code to add the following section:

Except for activities of a governmental agency within the scope of its governmental authority, or unless specifically permitted to do so by a permit or approval issued pursuant to this Chapter or by City Council:

(a) It is unlawful to knowingly sponsor, conduct, or participate in the distribution or service of food at a large group feeding at a park or park facility owned or controlled by the City of Orlando within the boundary of the Greater Downtown Park District without a Large Group Feeding Permit issued by the City Director of Families, Parks and Recreation or his/her designee.

(b) It is unlawful to fail to produce and display the Large Group Feeding Permit during or after a large group feeding, while still on site, to a law enforcement officer upon demand. It is an affirmative defense to this violation if the offender can later produce, to the City Prosecutor or the Court, a Large Group Feeding Permit issued to him/her, or the group, which was valid at the time of the event.

(c) The Director of Families, Parks and Recreation or his/her designee shall issue a Large Group Feeding Permit upon application and payment of the application fee as established by the City. Not more than two (2) Large Group Feeding Permits shall be issued to the same person, group, or organization for large group feedings for the same park in the GDPD in a twelve (12) consecutive month period.

(d) Any applicant shall have the right to appeal the denial of a Large Group Feeding Permit pursuant to appeal procedure in Section 18A.15 with written notice to the Director of Families, Parks and Recreation and with a copy to the City Clerk.

To me a park is a public space, generally maintained by the local authority which is paid for by local taxation, and is available for all to use without fear or favour. Heck, even Wikipedia agrees. Given this I consider any government body restricting what can and can’t happen in such a free space to be overstepping its authority.

Free space is free space, no matter whether the person using it be the lowliest beggar or the Queen of England. It is for the use of all persons and none. Thus imposing restrictions on an activity in a public space simply because you have issues with the people who might turn up violates the basic operating principle of free access.

The only time the government should consider interfering is if the organised activity actively interferes with the enjoyment of others using the park to the extent that the park is unusable. And yes, before anyone says it, the organisers of any event should (of course) be responsible for policing the area that they were operating in so as to ensure that it is left in a usable condition for the next person(s). If they don’t then the authority would be justified in going after them for the clean-up costs.

Until then they should just stay out of the way.