tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:/posts Self Deluded Cranium Dump 2018-01-15T11:10:31Z Chris Nicholson tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/633985 2013-12-23T20:14:50Z 2013-12-23T20:14:50Z 2013 music compilation I did a music compilation of 2013. I imagine you'll be wanting to ask the following questions.

1) Why's it start with a track from the Doctor Who soundtrack?
Because it was a lovely swooshy bit of incidental music, which became extra poignant at the point that Patrick Troughton's digitally created Doctor came running out of the mist and it always makes me emotional for that very reason.

2) Why's Miley Cyrus on this list? I hate you.
Well, because it's quite a good song. I listened to it before I saw the video too and liked it when I first heard it.

3) Why's <INSERT QUESTIONER'S FAVOURITE BAND> not on this list? I hate you.
Well, because it's my compilation, not yours. I'm perfectly willing to add extra tracks if you've reminded me of a song I liked this year that isn't on this compilation.

4) There's an awful lot of "dad music" (David Bowie, Wire, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode) on this. Where's the dubstep, granddad?
There are a few tracks from artists from "my era". It so happens that the songs also happen to be cracking. Anyway, Lady Gaga and James Blake are on there, so shut yer face, son.

5) Why's it in that order?
Deliberately. The songs kind of melt into one another, so I recommend you listen to it from start to finish (yes, even the Miley track, haterz gonna hate).


6) Robin Thicke's not on there. Why not?
Because he's a sexist fuckmelon, that's why. Watch this instead, as it's got better lyrics, the video is sexier and the women are better singers than Thicke.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/595141 2013-08-15T14:00:03Z 2013-10-08T17:28:36Z Dacre disapproval of damsels in distress

Brentwood Borough Council are considering, amongst other things, the rather practical idea of making women safe, after coming home from a night out during the weekend. One suggestion they've come up with is a taxi service that prioritises women, particularly if they're on their own at night. I imagine in the grand scheme of things, it would be rather efficient, as it would mean the police would have less of their time dealing with women being stalked, harrassed, assaulted and raped during a busy weekend. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, it's a moral thing to do - you know, to look after the vulnerable. I realise that must seem rather old-fashioned of me to think that these days.

How did everyone's favourite wanking Victorian Uncle of a newspaper, The Daily Mail, report it today then?

Why, with characteristic sympathetic coverage, of course. By digging out the beloved Drunk Girl stock photo so beloved of the Mail.

There's also a gratuitous mention of "The Only Way Is Essex" which is basically an excuse to stick up some photos of TOWIE cast members, complete with requisite short skirts.

And there's a quote stuck in at the end, almost as an afterthought, from Victim Support.

Cheers, Dacre. I would've thought you would approve of saving damsels in distress? It's very old-fashioned.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479608 2012-10-04T21:53:00Z 2014-07-29T09:25:52Z How do you drive this thing? The way out of Twitter...

Not everyone will have this memory, but bear with me. At some point, during the final goodbyes of awkward schooldays, a friend within an immediate circle of friends will pass their driving test and get regular access to a car. It will be exciting for many, not least the person who now has a spanking new driving license. The novelty will be there, coupled with the genuine excitement of travelling to places you don't normally get to travel to. There's also a brand new boisterous litter of eager faces, loitering at each new destination. Suddenly, geography is no longer binding frustrated gregarious gaggles to one tiny location.

One by one, more friends get cars. All of them have different ideas about where they want to go. But because each and every one of them is a friend of yours, you're happy to go along for the ride with them. It's about the journey, isn't it? It's about exploration and extending possibilities and endless landscapes, right? Then, one day, an amazing friend, someone who you've seen through thick and thin, someone who you've seen sit stressful exams and suffer break-ups, someone who you've seen grounded by immediate family, shows a whole new dimension to their personality.

"Get off the fucking road, dickhead!" screams that relaxed, amiable, laid-back friend of yours. The transformation is as quick as the conversion back. "Anyway," says Mr Laid-Back, "how are you? What was that book you're reading again?".

It's a shock. This friend of yours is still undeniably a great friend and one with a great deal of wisdom. Get that friend behind a steering wheel, however, and they turn into a Grade A, Class 1, 100% asshole with distinction. It gets worse though. You now realise that, after a while, everyone is driving around shouting obscenities at each other. In fact, the bigger the vehicle and the more numerous the passengers within it, the bigger the boldness of each driver. There seems to be less recognition that each bland vehicle might contain human beings in there. Everyone is blind to each other. It's almost as if everyone is now just a darkened windscreen and treating each other that way.

I'm in my car now. I'm following a small selection of people. They don't behave like egotists behind a steering wheel, surely? I recognise their driving license plates, because I've been following them for ages and they've always guided me down dark lanes and around unfathomable spaghetti junctions. In the last fortnight, however, the identifying license plates might as well belong to any car driven by a random road hog . All those cars that I follow appear to be being driven angrily, or aggressively, or patronising other drivers who don't know the route as well as them.

I'm remembering when I passed my driving test. The feeling was immense. All those small corners of the peninsula to explore. The sweet baked bread smell of a Summer, getting in another friend's car to just enjoy the journey they took you on. Before they began to get angrier and shouting abuse at other drivers. It's now got to the point where someone will bawl at a stranger for not moving off quickly enough within the split second that a traffic light changes colour.

I've slowed down now and decided to just get out the car. I've also realised, through a muggy embarrassed memory, that I've rolled down the passenger window on a number of occasions and shouted at the odd person. The novelty has worn off. It's time to just mothball the vehicle and park it in a side street. Forget it for a while. I'll head home and enjoy walking in the last rays of an Autumn sunshine for the next few weeks. Until I have to start using the car again and have to scratch the frost off the windscreen.

I'm home now. Alone. I switch the computer on.

What's this Twitter that everyone is on about?

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479610 2012-07-23T21:24:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:10Z Reblogged: How To Blog Anonymously (and how not to)

I'm re-blogging this from Dr Brooke Magnanti's website, as she rather startingly received a threatening take-down DMCA notice for a particular blog post. As someone who is a member of ORG, I have become increasingly suspicious of the seemingly arbitrary distribution of these threatening notices. Without being a conspiracy theorist (as I am a keen skeptic too), I wouldn't be at all surprised if Brooke's mention of Tor was what got the DMCA going. Anyway, I'm happy to re-blog Brooke's article here.

How To Blog Anonymously (and how not to)

Further to yesterday's post, this is a list of thoughts prompted by a request from Linkmachinego on the topic of being an anonymous writer and blogger. Maybe not exactly a how-to (since the outcome is not guaranteed) as a post on things I did, things I should have done, and things I learned.

It's not up to me to decide if you "deserve" to be anonymous. My feeling is, if you're starting out as a writer and do not yet feel comfortable writing under your own name, that is your business and not mine. I also think sex workers should consider starting from a position of anonymity and decide later if they want to be out, please don't be naive. Statistics I made up right now show 99 out of 100 people who claim 'if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear' are talking out of their arses.

The items in the list fall into three general categories: internet-based, legal and real-world tips, and interpersonal. Many straddle more than one of these categories. All three are important.

This is written for a general audience because most people who blog now do not have extensive technical knowledge, they just want to write and be read. That's a good thing by the way. If you already know all of this, then great, but many people won't. Don't be sneery about their lack of prior knowledge. Bringing everyone up to speed on the technology is not the goal: clear steps you can use to help protect your identity from being discovered are.

Disclaimer: I'm no longer anonymous so these steps are clearly not airtight. Also there are other sources of information on the Web, some of which are more comprehensive and more current than my advice. I accept no responsibility for any outcome of following this advice. Please don't use it to do illegal or highly sensitive things. Also please don't use pseudonyms to be a dick. This is also a work in progress. As I remember things or particular details, I'll amend this post. If you have suggestions of things that should be added, let me know.

1. Don't use Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail et al. for your mail.

You will need an email address to do things like register for blog accounts, Facebook, Twitter, and more. This email will have to be something entirely separate from your "real" email addresses. There are a lot of free options out there, but be aware that sending an email from many of them also sends information in the headers that could help identify you.

When I started blogging, I set up an email address for the blog with Hotmail. Don't do this. Someone quickly pointed out the headers revealed where I worked (a very large place with lots of people and even more computers, but still more information than I was comfortable with). They suggested I use Hushmail instead, which I still use. Hushmail has a free option (though the inbox allocation is modest), strips out headers, and worked for me.

A caveat with this: if you are, say, a sex worker working in a place where that is not legal and using Hushmail, you could be vulnerable to them handing over your details to a third party investigating crimes. If you're handling information some governments might consider embarrassing or sensitive, same. Google some alternatives: you're looking for something secure and encrypted.

There are a few common-sense tips you can follow to make it even safer. If you have to bring people you know in real life in on the secret, don't use this email address for communicating with them even if only about matters related to your secret (and don't use your existing addresses for that either). Example: I have one address for press and general interactions, one for things related to my accountant and money, and one for communicating with my agent, publisher, and solicitor. I've also closed and opened new accounts over the years when it seems "too many" people are getting hold of a particular address. Use different passwords for each, don't make these passwords related to your personal information, and so on.

I unwisely left the Hotmail address going, and while I did not use it to send mail, I continued to read things that arrived there. That led to this failed attempt by the Sunday Times to out me. It was an easily dodged attempt but something I would have preferred to avoid.

Over the years I have had about two email account changes every year and have changed my mobile number five times (eventually, I just stopped having one). If you change email addresses it's a good idea to send people you need to stay in contact with a mail from the old and the new address so they know it's not someone else trying to impersonate you. And to have a password so you know the response is from the right person - a password you did not exchange via an email conversation, of course. Example: you might send an email to your editor from old_address@somedomain.com and from new_address@somedomain.com at the same time, and the one from new_address contains Codeword1. They respond with Codeword2, indicating they acknowledge the change.

It sounds silly, but people can and do scam personal info all the time. Often they do so by pretending to be in on a secret so someone reveals something they did not mean to say. Play it safe. It can feel a stupidly cloak-and-dagger at first, but you soon get over it.

You can register internet domains while staying anonymous but I never did. Some people registered domains for me (people I didn't know in person). This led to a couple of instances of them receiving harassment when the press suspected they were me. In particular Ian Shircore got a bit of unwanted attention this way. 

Because all I was ever doing was a straight-up blog, not having a registered domain that I had control over was fine. Your needs may be different. I am not a good source for advice on how to do that. But just in case you might be thinking "who would bother looking there?" read about how faux escort Alexa DiCarlo was unmasked. This is what happens when you don't cover your tracks.

2. Don't use a home internet connection, work internet connection, etc.

Email won't be the only way you might want to communicate with people. You may also want to leave comments on other blogs and so forth. Doing this and other ways of using the Web potentially exposes your IP address, which could be unique and be used to locate you.

Even if you don't leave comments just visiting a site can leave traces behind. Tim Ireland recently used a simple method to confirm his suspicion of who the "Tabloid Troll" twitter account belonged to. By comparing the IP address of someone who clicked on to a link going to the Bloggerheads site with the IP address of an email Dennis Rice sent, a link was made. If you go to the trouble of not using your own connection, also make sure you're not using the same connection for different identities just minutes apart. Don't mix the streams.

The timing of everything as it happened was key to why the papers did not immediately find out who I was. The old blog started in 2003, when most press still had to explain to their audience what a blog actually was. It took a while for people to notice the writing, so the mistakes I made early on (blogging from home and work, using Hotmail) had long been corrected by the time the press became interested.

Today, no writer who aims to stay anonymous should ever assume a grace period like that. It also helped that once the press did become interested, they were so convinced not only that Belle was not really a hooker but also that she was one of their own - a previously published author or even journalist - that they never looked in the right place. If they'd just gone to a London blogmeet and asked a few questions about who had pissed off a lot of people and was fairly promiscuous, they'd have had a plausible shortlist in minutes.

After I moved from Kilburn to Putney, I was no longer using a home internet connection - something I should have done right from the beginning. I started to use internet cafes for posting and other activities as Belle. This offers some security... but be wary of using these places too often if there is a reason to think someone is actively looking for you. It's not perfect.

Also be wary if you are using a laptop or other machine provided by your workplace, or use your own laptop to log in to work servers ("work remotely"). I've not been in that situation and am not in any way an expert on VPNs, but you may want to start reading about it here and do some googling for starters. As a general principle, it's probably wise not to do anything on a work laptop that could get you fired, and don't do anything that could get you fired while also connected to work remotely on your own machine.

3. There is software available that can mask your IP address. There are helpful add-ons that can block tracking software.

I didn't use this when I was anonymous, but if I was starting as an anonymous blogger now, I would download Tor and browse the Web and check email through their tools.

If you do use Tor or other software to mask your IP address, don't then go on tweeting about where your IP address is coming from today! I've seen people do this. Discretion fail.

I also use Ghostery now to block certain tracking scripts from web pages. You will want to look into something similar. Also useful are Adblocker, pop-up blockers, things like that. They are simple to download and use and you might like to use them anyway even if you're not an anonymous blogger. A lot of sites track your movements and you clearly don't want that.

4. Take the usual at-home precautions.

Is your computer password-protected with a password only you know? Do you clear your browser history regularly? Use different passwords for different accounts? Threats to anonymity can come from people close to you. Log out of your blog and email accounts when you're finished using them, every time. Have a secure and remote backup of your writing. Buy a shredder and use it. Standard stuff.

Sometimes the files you send can reveal things about yourself, your computer, and so on. When sending manuscripts to my agent and editor, they were usually sent chapter by chapter as flat text files - not Word documents - with identifying data stripped. The usual method I used to get things to them was to upload to a free service that didn't require a login, such asSendspace. When writing articles for magaznes and papers, the text was typically appended straight into the body of the email, again avoiding attachments with potentially identifying information. This can be a little irritating... having to archive your writing separately, not altogether convenient to work on. But for the way I worked, usually not sharing content with editors until it was close to the final draft, it was fine.

When exchanging emails with my agent and editor, we never talked about actual meeting times and locations and threw a few decoy statements in, just in case. Since it has been recently revealed that Times journalists were trying to hack bloggers' email addresses after all, in retrospect, this seems to have been a good thing.

Another thing I would do is install a keystroke logger on your own machine. By doing this I found out in 2004 that someone close to me was spying on me when they were left alone with my computer. In retrospect what I did about it was not the right approach. See also item 7.

5. Be careful what you post. 

Are you posting photos? Exif data can tell people, among other things, where and when a picture was taken, what it was taken with, and more. I never had call to use it because I never posted photos or sound, but am told there are loads of tools that can wipe this Exif data from your pictures (here's one).

The content of what you post can be a giveaway as well. Are you linking to people you know in real life? Are you making in-jokes or references to things only a small group of people will know about? Don't do that.

If possible, cover your tracks. Do you have a previous blog under a known name? Are you a contributor to forums where your preferred content and writing style are well-known? Can you edit or delete these things? Good, do that.

Personally, I did not delete everything. Partly this was because the world of British weblogging was so small at the time - a few hundred popular users, maybe a couple thousand people blogging tops? - that I thought the sudden disappearance of my old blog coinciding with the appearance of an unrelated new one might be too much of a coincidence. But I did let the old site go quiet for a bit before deleting it, and edited archived entries.

Keep in mind however that The Wayback Machine means everything you have written on the web that has been indexed still exists. And it's searchable. Someone who already has half an idea where to start looking for you won't have too much trouble finding your writing history. (UPDATE: someone alerted me that it's possible to get your own sites off Wayback by altering the robots.txt file - and even prevent them appearing there in the first place - and to make a formal request for removal using reasons listed here. This does not seem to apply to sites you personally have no control over unless copyright issues are involved.) If you can put one more step between them and you... do it.

6. Resist temptation to let too many people in.

If your writing goes well, people may want to meet you. They could want to buy you drinks, give you free tickets to an opening. Don't say yes. While most people are honest in their intentions, some are not. And even the ones who are may not have taken the security you have to keep your details safe. Remember, no one is as interested in protecting your anonymity as you will be.

Friends and family were almost all unaware of my secret - both the sex work and the writing. Even my best friend (A4 from the books) didn't know.  

I met very few people "as" Belle. There were some who had to meet me: agent, accountant, editor. I never went to the Orion offices until after my identity became known. I met Billie Piper, Lucy Prebble, and a couple of writers during the pre-production ofSecret Diary at someone's house, but met almost no one else involved with the show. Paul Duane and Avril MacRory met me and were absolutely discreet. I went to the agent's office a few times but never made an appointment as Belle or in my real name. Most of the staff there had no idea who I was. Of these people who did meet me almost none knew my real name, where I lived, where I was from, my occupation. Only one (the accountant) knew all of that - explained below under point 9. And if I could have gotten away with him never seeing a copy of my passport, I damn well would have done.

The idea was that if people don't know anything they can't inadvertently give it away. I know that all of the people listed above were absolutely trustworthy. I still didn't tell them anything a journalist would have considered useful.

When I started blogging someone once commented that my blog was a "missed opportunity" because it didn't link to an agency website or any way of booking my services. Well, duh. I didn't want clients to meet me through the blog! If you are a sex worker who wants to preserve a level of pseudonymity and link your public profile to your work, Amanda Brooks has the advice you need. Not me.

Other sources like JJ Luna write about how to do things like get and use credit cards not tied to your name and address. I've heard Entropay offer 'virtual' credit cards that are not tied to your credit history, although they can't be used with any system that requires address verification. This could be useful even for people who are not involved in sex work.

Resisting temptation sometimes means turning down something you'd really like to do. The short-term gain of giving up details for a writing prize or some immediate work may not be worth the long-term loss of privacy. I heard about one formerly anonymous blogger who was outed after giving their full name and address to a journalist who asked for it when they entered a competition. File under: how not to stay anonymous.

7. Trust your intuition.

I have to be careful what I say here. In short, my identity became known to a tabloid paper and someone whom I had good reason not to trust (see item 4) gave them a lot of information about me. 

When your intuition tells you not to trust someone, LISTEN TO IT. The best security in the world fails if someone props open a door, leaves a letter on the table, or mentally overrides the concern that someone who betrayed you before could do so again. People you don't trust should be ejected from your life firmly and without compromise. A "let them down easy" approach only prolongs any revenge they might carry out and probably makes it worse. The irony is that as a call girl I relied on intuition and having strong personal boundaries all the time... but failed to carry that ability over into my private life. If there is one thing in my life I regret, the failure to act on my intuition is it. 

As an aside if you have not read The Gift of Fear already, get it and read it.

See also point 9: if and when you need people to help you keep the secret don't make it people already involved in your private life. Relationships can cloud good judgement in business decisions.

There is a very droll saying "Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead." It's not wrong. I know, I know. Paranoid. Hard not to be when journos a few years later are digging through the rubbish of folks who met you exactly once when you were sixteen. Them's the breaks.

8. Consider the consequences of success.

If you find yourself being offered book deals or similar, think it through. Simply by publishing anonymously you will become a target. Some people assume all anonymous writers "want" to be found, and the media in particular will jump through some very interesting hurdles to "prove" anything they write about you is in the public interest.

In particular, if you are a sex worker, and especially if you are a sex worker who is visible/bookable through your site, please give careful consideration to moving out of that sphere. Even where sex for money is legal it is still a very stigmatised activity. There are a number of people who do not seem to have realised this, and the loss of a career when they left the "sex-pos" bubble was probably something of a shock. I'm not saying don't do it - but please think long and hard about the potential this has to change your life and whether you are fully prepared to be identified this way forever. For every Diablo Cody there are probably dozens ofMelissa Petros. For every Melissa Petro there are probably hundreds more people with a sex industry past who get quietly fired and we don't ever hear from them.

If I knew going in to the first book deal what would happen, I probably would have said no. I'm glad I didn't by the way - but realistically, my life was stressful enough at that point and I did not fully understand what publishing would add to that. Not many bloggers had mainstream books at that point (arguably none in the UK) so I didn't have anyone else's experience to rely on. I really had no idea about what was going to happen. The things people wrote about me then were mainly untrue and usually horrendous. Not a lot has changed even now. I'd be lying if I said that didn't have an emotional effect.

Writing anonymously and being outed has happened often enough that people going into it should consider the consequences. I'm not saying don't do it if you risk something, but be honest with yourself about the worst possible outcome and whether you would be okay with that.

9.  Enlist professional help to get paid and sign contracts.

Having decided to write a book, I needed an agent. The irony of being anonymous was that while I let as few people in on it as possible, at some point I was going to have to take a leap of faith and let in more. Mil Millington emailed me to recommendPatrick Walsh, saying he was one of the few people in London who can be trusted. Mil was right.

Patrick put me on to my accountant (who had experience of clients with, shall we say, unusual sources of income). From there we cooked up a plan so that contracts could be signed without my name ever gracing a piece of paper. Asking someone to keep a secret when there's a paper trail sounds like it should be possible but rarely is. Don't kid yourself, there is no such thing as a unbreakable confidentiality agreement. Asking journalists and reviewers to sign one about your book is like waving a red rag to a bull. What we needed was a few buffers between me and the press.

With Patrick and Michael acting as directors, a company was set up - Bizrealm. I was not on the paperwork as a director so my name never went on file with Companies House. Rather, with the others acting as directors, signing necessary paperwork, etc., Patrick held a share in trust for me off of which dividends were drawn and this is how I got paid. I may have got some of these details wrong, by the way - keep in mind, I don't deal with Bizrealm's day-to-day at all.

There are drawbacks to doing things this way: you pay for someone's time, in this case the accountant, to create and administer the company. You can not avoid tax and lots of it. (Granted, drawing dividends is more tax-efficient, but still.) You have to trust a couple of people ABSOLUTELY. I'd underline this a thousand times if I could. Michael for instance is the one person who always knew, and continues to know, everything about my financial and personal affairs. Even Patrick doesn't know everything.

There are benefits though, as well. Because the money stays mainly in the company and is not paid to me, it gets eked out over time, making tax bills manageable, investment more constant, and keeping me from the temptation to go mad and spend it.

I can't stress enough that you might trust your friends and family to the ends of the earth, but they should not be the people who do this for you. Firstly, because they can be traced to you (they know you in a non-professional way). Secondly, because this is a very stressful setup and you need the people handling it to be on the ball. As great as friends and family are that is probably not the kind of stress you want to add to your relationship. I have heard far too many stories of sex workers and others being betrayed by ex-partners who knew the details of their business dealings to ever think that's a good idea.

So how do you know you can trust these people? We've all heard stories of musicians and other artists getting ripped off by management, right? All I can say is instinct. It would not have been in Patrick's interest to grass me, since as my agent he took a portion of my earnings anyway, and therefore had financial as well as personal interest in protecting that. If he betrayed me he would also have suffered a loss of reputation that potentially outweighed any gain. Also, as most people who know him will agree, he's a really nice and sane human being. Same with Michael.

If this setup sounds weirdly paranoid, let me assure you that journalists absolutely did go to Michael's office and ask to see the Bizrealm paperwork, and Patrick absolutely did have people going through his bins, trying to infiltrate his office as interns, and so on. Without the protection of being a silent partner in the company those attempts to uncover me might have worked.

I communicate with some writers and would-be writers who do not seem to have agents. If you are serious about writing, and if you are serious about staying anonymous, get an agent. Shop around, follow your instinct, and make sure it's someone you can trust. Don't be afraid to dump an agent, lawyer, or anyone else if you don't trust them utterly. They're professionals and shouldn't take it personally.

10. Don't break the (tax) law.

Journalists being interested in your identity is one thing. What you really don't want is the police or worse, the tax man, after you. Pay your taxes and try not to break the law if it can be helped. If you're a sex worker blogging about it, get an accountant who has worked with sex workers before - this is applicable even if you live somewhere sex work is not strictly legal. Remember, Al Capone went down for tax evasion. Don't be like Al. If you are a non-sex-work blogger who is earning money from clickthroughs and affiliates on your site, declare this income.

In summer 2010 the HMRC started a serious fraud investigation of me. It has been almost two years and is only just wrapping up, with the Revenue finally satisfied that not only did I declare (and possibly overdeclare) my income as a call girl, but that there were no other sources of income hidden from them. They have turned my life and financial history upside down to discover next to nothing new about me. This has been an expensive and tedious process. I can't even imagine what it would have been like had I not filed the relevant forms, paid the appropriate taxes, and most of all had an accountant to deal with them!

Bottom line, you may be smart - I'm pretty good with numbers myself - but people whose job it is to know about tax law, negotiating contracts, and so on will be better at that than you are. Let them do it. They are worth every penny.

11. Do interviews with care.

Early interviews were all conducted one of two ways: over email (encrypted) or over an IRC chatroom from an anonymising server (I used xs4all). This was not ideal from their point of view, and I had to coach a lot of people in IRC which most of them had never heard of. But again, it's worth it, since no one in the press will be as interested in protecting your identity as you are. I hope it goes without saying, don't give out your phone number. 

12. Know when les jeux sont faits.

In November 2009 - 6 years after I first started blogging anonymously - my identity was revealed. 

As has been documented elsewhere, I had a few heads-ups that something was coming, that it was not going to be nice, and that it was not going to go away. We did what we could to put off the inevitable but it became clear I only had one of two choices: let the Mail on Sunday have first crack at running their sordid little tales, or pre-empt them. 

While going to the Sunday Times - the same paper that had forcibly outed Zoe Margolis a few years earlier, tried to get my details through that old Hotmail address, and incorrectly fingered Sarah Champion as me - was perhaps not the most sensitive choice, it was for me the right move. Patrick recommended that we contact an interviewer who had not been a Belle-believer: if things were going to be hard, best get that out of the way up front.

So that is that. It's a bit odd how quickly things have changed. When I started blogging I little imagined I would be writing books, much less something like this. Being a kind of elder statesman of blogging (or cantankerous old grump if you prefer) is not an entirely comfortable position and one that is still new to me. But it is also interesting to note how little has changed: things that worked in the early 2000s have value today. The field expanded rapidly but the technology has not yet changed all that much.

As before, these ideas do not constitute a foolproof way to protect your identity. All writers - whether writing under their own names or not - should be aware of the risks they may incur by hitting 'publish'. I hope this post at least goes some way to making people think about how they might be identified, and starts them on a path of taking necessary (and in many cases straightforward) precautions, should they choose to be anonymous.]]>
Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479613 2012-04-26T19:47:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:10Z Rupert Murdoch - "I am not a technologist. I can't write computer code or anything like that"

After attempting to evade the questioning of the judge and lawyers, Rupert Murdoch announced to the Leveson Inquiry the following.

"I am not a technologist. I can't write computer code or anything like that".

No shit, Rupert.

This was then followed by a rather embarrassing and rambling rant about "the internet", "smart telephones", "stealing" and "enormous disruptive technologies". In a nutshell, he wants "the internet" regulated. This is after lobbying extensively for a vastly unregulated free market for... well, I was going to say newspapers, but pretty much everything.

Except the internet. I wonder why?

I'm taking a bit of a punt here, but I'm guessing because it gives a free democratic voice to pretty much anyone who would like to self-publish or be creative in their own right. In other words, the polar opposite of the business model that Murdoch operates on.

Anyway, here's the Murdoch internet rant in two lukewarm episodes that I've uploaded. Sorry, actually, in Murdoch terminology, that should read "here's the Murdoch internet rant in two lukewarm episodes that I've stolen". Enjoy.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479617 2012-02-19T17:32:00Z 2015-08-26T02:34:52Z Application Letter To Unilad Magazine

It was a fairly quiet Sunday until this tweet appeared.

Suddenly, I realised that my life could change dramatically. My mates down the pub all say I've got awesome banter. Imagine... just imagine. I could be paid for putting pen to paper my innermost banterous thoughts and even become famous. However, I noticed competition for these enviable writer vacancies has already become fierce, as both Chris Coltrane and Stavvers have sent in applications. How was I ever going to beat such talented writers to the hallowed Unilad Magazine writer's job? Then I worked out how to do it. I'm confident that this is the "killer blow" letter that will destroy all the competition, particularly from Chris and Stavvers.

Here's my application letter to Unilad Magazine. I think the job's in the bag, frankly.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479622 2011-07-06T15:32:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z This just in - a statement from Rupert Murdoch

http://www.innovationsinnewspapers.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/murdoch.jpgJust in - a statement from Rupert Murdoch: "Recent allegations of phone hacking and making payments to police with respect to the News of the World are deplorable and unacceptable. I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively cooperate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks' leadership. We are committed to addressing these issues fully and have taken a number of important steps to prevent them from happening again."

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479633 2011-07-06T00:18:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z Channel 4 News probes the News Of The World hacking

This is a follow-up to yesterday's blog post, as well as a convenient reminder of my blog entry that embedded Peter Oborne's documentary last year on News International's routine use of phone hacking. These are clips of Channel 4 News incisive probing of all the issues that have cropped up in the last 48 hours over the phone hacking revelations.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479642 2011-07-04T19:27:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z The right-wing press is evil

In 2008, the BBC held an enlightening quick-fire five minute interview with former Conservative MP Michael Portillo. "I do think the right-wing press is evil", answered Portillo to one question, after a ponderous pause. I remember sitting up bolt upright and cocking an ear in surprise at that. Unlike a lot of people, the word "evil" is not something I like to hear bandied about. It's used with alarming regularity about people and organisations. Often the word "evil" can be safely substiituted with a word that has less value-laden connotations. "Crass", "sadistic", "maladaptive", "misunderstood", "vengeful" and "ignorant" are a few words that are often a better description for many of the things that people in life are quick to label "evil". However, after this piece of news broke today on Milly Dowler's mobile phone being hacked (in the ongoing investigation into the News International Hackgate scandal), Portillo's words on the right-wing press now seem weirdly measured.

The Hackgate story has only really been covered with any detail in a small pocket of publications. Leaving aside the BBC, who appear to only reluctantly cover the story, the main organisations that appear to be devoting any coverage to the investigation are The Guardian, the New Statesman and Private Eye. A frequent criticism from other sections of the Wapping press is that it's only of interest to media wonks. The same critics also point that it's celebrities or public figures that are being hacked and that they gave up their right to privacy. This is obfuscation, as Peter Oborne's "Dispatches" documentary from 2010 was quick to point out, since many ordinary members of the public have had their phones hacked too (normally as collateral damage in another "public figure" story). The Milly Dowler phone hack is the nadir of the phone hacking investigation, if true. Did no-one in the News Of The World offices (from the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who initiated the hacking, right up to the editors who ordered the hacking) pause to think "This might be wrong?". It's alleged that the distressed parents' messages were listened to and that there was also a deletion of messages, so that the voicemail service didn't run out of space. If this is true, then David Allen Green is right to point out that this is a straightforward perversion of justice, since evidence in an ongoing murder investigation was effectively being removed.

I guess it's an aggregate of those behaviours that makes me stop to think. It's the complete absence of morality. It's the premeditated nature of deleting the messages. It's the two-faced complicit nature of NoTW journalists talking to the Dowler family. It's the obvious belief that they are above the law. It's all those factors that make me think the NoTW organisation, out of all news outlets, could be rightly labelled "evil". If the Milly Dowler allegations are true, Michael Portillo's hyperbole was shockingly correct.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479654 2011-06-04T16:53:07Z 2018-01-15T11:10:31Z After Atos Gets a Cease-And-Desist

After Atos is a website that attempts to help disabled people, after
they've received an erroneous work capability assessment. They've just
received this letter, however, which is a cease-and-desist order. As a
result, the After Atos website has had to shut down (hopefully
temporarily). This is the reason I haven't provided a link, but the
work that After Atos do is a brilliant service to vulnerable people.
Hopefully they'll be back. In the meantime, here's the letter in PDF

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479664 2011-04-17T18:48:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z Twitter Joke Trial Comedy Gig

The first thing to note about the Twitter Joke Trial comedy gig was that it was almost the background music to the mother of all "tweet-ups", which had occurred beforehand at the Northumberland Arms pub. This is exactly as it should've been. Up and down the country, people organise these on a regular basis and meet up in pubs and restaurants, to literally find likeminded new friends that they never knew were around the corner if it hadn't been for Twitter. This "tweet-up" was probably bigger than the usual "tweet-up", for two reasons. Firstly, the focus was on the service itself, that many use as a form of free expression which helps them find similar souls in similar tweets. Secondly, Paul Chambers and his girlfriend, Sarah (am I allowed to say her name, it feels like I should keep calling her @crazycolours?) were both to be present. They could drink with their virtual friends and supporters in real life. Paul Chambers, of course, is the man that paid the price of free expression on Twitter, when the police arrested him for his humorous tweet about Robin Hood airport. It was for him, in the first instance, that the comedy gig had been organised. After this pub foray, the crowd moved to the Bloomsbury Theatre, for the comedy gig itself.

Stephen Fry began proceedings in a reflective manner. It set the rest of the night up, because he was keen to point out that it was in everyone's interest to support this campaign for allowing freedom of speech in the digital medium. He got several cheers, particularly when he made his (now widely reported) statement about going to jail for it. This bitterly humourous, languid and sombre start threw Al Murray's entrance into even sharper relief, as he was not just the next act, but the compere for the entire night. It's difficult not to hand Al Murray the entire night on a plate, but as well as his Barman being the blustering engine underneath the entire night and being the connecting force between each act, his own comedy routine was rousing and got a real feeling of audience participation going. This was perhaps the most important thing. Being as Twitter's main appeal is all about everyone being in the mix and anyone getting a chance to shine in the light, Al Murray ended up being an important anchor to the whole show. Al Murray introduced Susan Calman, who kicked off the event in context by mentioning her own legal training. Her icily Glaswegian demeanour foreshadowed David Allen Green’s speech; namely, that lawyers and the legal profession just don’t know what they’re talking about sometimes and get it dreadfully wrong.

For the rest of the night, we then got punched several times in the laughter bones, with no letting up. I make no secret of the fact I was retching with laughter at times. My own personal King of the night was easily Gary Delaney. He went about delivering a series of one-liner puns, laced with cyanide, like a dark Tim Vine or a hyperactive Steve Wright. Jack Whitehall came across at his best in this environment too. By that, I mean he came across as the sullen posh kid who discovered he’s funny and decided to leave the public school dormitory and entertain a wider audience with ascerbic and uncensored observations. Stephen Grant, like his colourful shirt and bright white suit, projected his sunny demeanour into the Bloomsbury Theatre and elevated life into a hazily amusing and warm memory. In sharp contrast, Katy Brand practically assaulted the stage, as she emerged from the audience in army camouflage fatigues and with bomb sirens whirring around her. She then played the role of a genuinely unsettling army soldier who harangued the audience and unwittingly showed what would’ve happened if Lynndie England had branched out into comedy (and had been funny).

With more playful japes to go, Rufus Hound provided one of the first genuine highlights of the night. A slightly bogged-down routine about men liking their cocks sucked was kick-started into hyperdrive as he played his radio show rant at Edwina Currie. Hound's audio clip boiled down the arguments of cynical Twitter Joke Trial campaign commentators, by pointing out the inaccuracies, ignorances and misperceptions of observers like Currie. It was also howlingly hilarious to hear Rufus Hound repeatedly (and correctly) telling her that she was wrong. Most people who are aware of Currie's contributions to discussion shows knows she talks frequently in a misinformed and rude manner anyway.

Robert Popper popped up (sorry, he's probably had that before) and his gentle comic musings were another way of reminding us that free expression involves funny stuff beyond the stage and traditional media outlets. He played a video clip of a phone-in show, where his alter ego Robin Cooper called up and bizarrely complimented a man's singing, before attempting to sing his own self-written ridiculous melody and lyrics. I wasn't certain how the audience were going to react to Popper's routine, as I knew it'd be 'oddball' compared to the more traditional stand-up that had occurred. However, the laughter was loud, particularly at the reactions of the hosts of the radio show (i.e. totally baffled and non-plussed). David Schneider's performance disgraced all of us who have hit a certain age by being disgustingly full of energy and left us with two highlights of the evening. Firstly, he gave his demonstration of premature ejaculation with an audience member (@krunchie_frog, who also very nearly upstaged him). Secondly, he followed this up with his multiple-dance-routines-morphed-into-one. It really needed to be seen to be believed, but it astounded and amused the crowd in equal measures.

The night closed with Graham Linehan, the man who can be credited with organising a fair chunk of the evening. He guides us through a pile of rubbish. By that, I mean his routine is literally about rubbish. It's about the delightful detritus, debris and random odds-and-sods that litter the web. It's the comedy and stream-of-consciousness funniness that can't fit into a television sitcom, sketch show or stand-up comedy and it's no poorer for being the oddball in the room. The D.I.Y. approach of these little internet demigods also underlines what Graham was excited about, namely that the comedy is generated from people sitting at home and they are not necessarily from the pens of professional comedy writers like him (one of my favourites was the "ugly furniture" advert, that someone threw together by gleefully re-editing a real commercial). It was a fitting end and tribute to what the gig was all about, which is the creative freedom to mix, match and marvel within the magnificent digital revolution that social networking is all about.

Graham's act perfectly bookended the night with Stephen Fry's at the beginning. It also acted as a balancing act with the core of seriousness provided by Paul Chambers' lawyer, David Allen Green. David is best known for his "Jack Of Kent" blog, where he disseminates British law in a rigorous and skeptical fashion. The blog has attracted a big following and it's easy to see why, as David spoke to the Twitter Joke Trial audience. His softly-spoken delivery had the crowd entranced, as he gave the reasons for Paul Chambers predicament and why he disagreed with them vehemently. His quote that the Twitter Joke Trial "does not make me proud to be an officer of the court" spoke volumes. If David Allen Green hadn't left the stage so quickly, the standing ovation that had started rippling out throughout the audience (that had eluded all the other talented comedians) would've been allowed to have hit a deserving crescendo. It is to him and Paul Chambers that this gig was ultimately for. The gig, and its attending "tweet up", was a glorious occasion.

Photographs by @gingernuts at his Flicker stream. Please visit it here.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479680 2011-03-05T12:01:42Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z Gary Busey needs more cats

 Here's a picture of Gary Busey.

What he could really do with is more cats.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479683 2011-02-20T11:43:02Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z Why I Love "Limmy's Show!"

Well, this is one reason, just for starters. Embedded clip courtesy of the BBC. Check out the making of the show.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479689 2011-01-14T13:08:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z Johann Hari's interviews with Kenneth Tong

I cleaned up the audio for Johann Hari of "The Independent", when he interviewed former Big Brother contestant (and mystical seller of Size Zero pills), Kenneth Tong.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479693 2010-12-27T13:29:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:12Z WONGA!

One small incident occurred today. It confirmed a suspicion that I've had about the glorious world of television advertising. In the grand scheme of things, it's not likely to impact on anyone's life that seriously. To me, it's just another sign that it'll be crassness and stupidity that will cause the end of the world, rather than a natural disaster. It's one of the reasons I wrote my last blog post about giving up on anyone over the age of about 40 and now look to the smart thinkers in their teens and twenties for inspiration. You can almost bet it was someone above the age of 40 that came up with my current upset.

Anyway, back to the small incident that I'm talking about. It's this bloke.


It was really easy to find a picture of him on Google. All I needed to write was "wonga bloke". In fact, I didn't even have to write that. I started typing "wonga" and "wonga bloke" was one of the first autocomplete suggestions. Why did I need a picture of him to illustrate this? Well, about eight months ago, I made the following observation on social networking. "Is it possible to hate someone on the basis of him saying 'WONGA' on a television advert?". It was one of those throwaway status updates or tweets that I didn't think much about. I was then greeted with a chorus of approval/disapproval/amusement from a lot of my friends. This was clearly something that a lot of other people had thought about. This unfortunately led me to my next thought.

If such a one-second clip can cause so much reflection (mostly of annoyance), what's the betting that this "wonga bloke" isn't made centrepiece of the advertising campaign in future? After all, a one-second clip of a man with a really irritating cockney accent had successfully upstaged the rest of the advertisement cast members. Sure enough, I found out today that "wonga bloke" has been made the mascot of the company, with "WONGA!" being the catchphrase.

We live in a world where much of advertising has given up trying to be creative and attractive. The days of British Telecom's technological sophistication and irreverant humour from last century or the marvellous Boddingtons ads of the late 1990s are no longer with us. Instead, we have the GoCompare, webuyanycar and the Halifax Radio ads. That last one has attracted the most derision, perhaps because it's symbolic of the way that finance company men are so utterly disconnected from the general populous, they don't even understand how humour works. However, after the hatred aimed at the original commercial launches, something interesting has occurred. Rather than just ditch the theme, companies like GoCompare, webuyanycar and Halifax Radio have realised they're reprehensible and have decided to pursue the irritating aspects of the original marketing campaign. If they can't make them attractively memorable, they figure, they can make them irritatingly memorable. It sometimes works. For example, the recent ads from webuyanycar are wilfully shite now, so they're now quite amusing. But Halifax Radio is still an abomination to me.

I tend to channel surf away from commercial breaks anyway, or just mute the sound, so I'm guessing that these adverts aren't supposed to appeal to me anyway. I'm assuming they're aimed at people who are too drunk or too lazy to run away from them, even though it's just a light touch to their remote control that will save them. Plus, I guess the irritating adverts aren't as bad as ones that are plain offensive (e.g. take a look at Tracy King's take on the Pepsi Max "rapey" adverts on the Skepchick website). I guess I also have more respect for the irritating adverts over the bland palatial commercials, such as every single car commercial you can think of. In fact, the only car adverts that stick in my head are the Renault Clio "Papa, Nicole" ones and that's only because they fall into the firm irritant camp again.

Modern day advertising is copying the very worst excesses of cheap throwaway pop music. I remember walking around an HMV on Edinburgh's Princes Street in the mid-1990s. One of the staff had a preview copy of something called "Barbie Girl" by a little-known group called Aqua and they proceeded to put it on the store stereo player. What came out of the loudspeakers was simultaneously the most annoying thing I'd ever heard, as well as the largest earworm in existence. It immediately squirmed itself inside my cerebellum. Maybe it was the helium hamster vocals, or the deep-throated sexual predator speech, but "Barbie Girl" savagely knocked aside the rather pleasant Travis song that had been resident in my brain at that point. It didn't stop me from leaving the store, but "Barbie Girl" never left me after that day. I made a bet that once it was officially released, "Barbie Girl" would race straight to the top of the charts, like an angry screaming baby booting the other toddlers out of the way. I was not wrong.

That's exactly what the "wonga bloke" is. It's marketing companies giving up on accessing the sophisticated frontal lobes, because that would involve proper research and work. Never mind trying to use surveys and careful methodical research to access peoples' multifacetted personalities. We're reaching the primeval aspects of someone's brain, the "fight or flight" parts of infantile development. "Wonga bloke" is the angry screaming baby we tried to run away from when we were in the cot. We were severely annoyed by the irritant, but we never forgot them.

Update 01/09/2011: Staggeringly, the advertisers are doing it again. This time, they've actually gone further and stopped me from buying a product that I used to buy on a fairly semi-regular basis. The Haribo commercial has succeeded in out-arseholing the Wonga advert and putting the GoCompare, webuyanycar and Halifax Radio adverts in the shade. Here's the Drum's take on the Haribo commercial.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479698 2010-12-23T16:21:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:12Z The Generation Game

This is a Christmas post. It's all about hope and faith for the future, then. It's about all that soppy stuff, in other words. But, as per usual, there's a bit of polemic chucked in by me, because it's me.

I've been close to abandoning the conservative and liberal values of the baby boomer generation. They go around in circles and ultimately end up just talking about the importance of their house prices anyway and how best to maintain their property. It's reached a point where anyone over the age of 45 has all the rights and privileges unfairly top-ended in their direction. So, I've abandoned looking up to them and am quite happy to throw my weight in with the next generation, rather than constantly demonising them as the 'yoof of today' or "the X Factor generation' or "Lady Gaga louts" or whatever shite the dead-tree press have cooked up this week.

Besides, this lovely lot have influenced me.

Sophie Burge, a 17-year-old student, condemning the Coalition government in betraying a generation with tuition fee rises on Channel 4 News, where she totally wrongfoots Norman Baker MP.

An unnamed 15-year-old school pupil gives an impassioned speech at the Coalition Of Resistance National Conference this year.

Courageous teen Graeme Taylor defending Jay McDowell's teaching career at Howell Public school's board meeting on the 11th August 2010. If you support Graeme Taylor, please join the "We support Graeme Taylor" Facebook page. If you support Jay McDowell, please join the "Support Jay McDowell" Facebook page.

Last, but not least, there's Rhys Morgan. I was completely humbled to see him accept the grassrooms skepticism award at TAM London in October this year. This was due to his rigourous investigation of the bogus Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), as well as his wider campaign against assorted quackery. Please read about Rhys Morgan's achievements, as they are awesome.

Anyway, after a year where the older generation in government and mass media are seeking to bring us back to the Dark Ages, I guess it's far more fitting to look to a potentially sparkly future of serious thinkers in the young. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Decade.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479699 2010-12-15T17:14:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:12Z Being A Geek And Being A Paid Liar Is Often Incompatible

Friends say US Army hacker Bradley Manning, allegedly behind the Wikileaks data leak, set up a Facebook-style social networking site while at school in Wales

This is Bradley Manning. He worked for the army and, specifically, military intelligence in the US. His background and biography are described in beautiful detail by the Channel 4 News website. Suffice to say, he ticks most of the boxes for being a prototypical geek. He was bullied at school, he felt like an outsider, he was awkwardly emotional, he worked in software development and he even produced an earlier prototype for social networking websites. As you can see from these logs, in his chats with former hacker Adrian Lamo, here was a man painfully aware of how the world worked and how information was suppressed to make it work for an elite minority. It was Lamo, incidentally, that tipped the FBI off to get Manning arrested. This was after Manning admitted to releasing the US embassy cables to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. It is said that the US military authorities want to lock him up for fifty-two years, even though they have him detained in appalling conditions with no formal conviction yet.

Adrian Lamo.png

This is Adrian Lamo. Unlike Manning, he was probably more of a joyful joker, although as usual, personalities as complex as his deserve more than a two word synopsis. His background, however, is of a loner geek and of a wandering nomad and couch-surfer. There's two things that these chaps have in common. The first is that the US authorities wanted them punished severely, to the point of it being seriously disproportional to the original crime. The second is that they're both geeks, albeit of differing personalities. Lamo is now in danger of being seen as the devil in this, with Bradley Manning seen as his victim. Perhaps that's the point. Lamo had always seen himself as curiously dispensable. When Lamo himself was asked if he was afraid of going to jail over hacking the New York Times in 2004, Lamo said simply, "I'm sure it would be educational. The beautiful thing about the universe is that nothing goes to waste". Maybe that's just as well. If it hadn't been for Lamo, Manning could've been forgotten about. Maybe Lamo remembered the plea bargain over his own hack and hoped Manning would've been treated similarly. Or maybe, since we now know he's been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, he viewed the world as a simple game of trade-offs, rather like a Prisoner's Dilemma conundrum.


Someone who definitely wasn't forgotten about by the US authorities is this man. This is Gary McKinnon. I don't have to carry on the recurring theme here, but, hey, here we go again. He's a computer programmer. He has also been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is a condition that makes him a geek par excellence, rather like Lamo. He was a security hacker that found unprotected information on military machines, several years before Bradley Manning did the same thing. Since 2001, the US government have done everything but forget about him, while the Bin Laden "issue" has been shunted away into the background. But they've pursued McKinnon relentlessly and, similar to Lamo, they scrabbled around for ages for a law that they could prosecute him for until they retrospectively used the UK 2003 Extradition Act to do it. Gary found a bit of information hidden behind an opened safe door that some meathead had forgotten to lock and that was just the worst embarrassment.

The American authorities have form for this sort of thing, as you can see. It's all about the stunted adolescence they've been stuck in since the American teenage dream. Bin Laden can best be described as the hypothetical Hell's Angel friend that the American football jock drank with at the same college bar. It suited them both to be seen drinking together. Once they'd both knocked others' heads together a few times, the Hell's Angel friend got inebriated one night and ended up beating up some of the jock's friends. For a while, the jock made a pretence at going after the Hells Angel biker, but slowly decided he wasn't worth it. He'd got enough out of the friendship and was quite happy to see the back of him and to forget about him. The hypothetical nerd character is a more difficult thing for this hypothetical football jock to get his head around. This was the kid that the jock picked on at school. It's more world-shattering to be humiliated by the nerd, than to be occasionally pummelled by the Hell's Angel. This geek did something more taxing to the US jock than the Hell's Angel; this geek found the jock's diary carelessly unguarded in his desk. Worse than that, the diary contained all the details about the jock cheating at exams, bullying other children, stealing pocket money off other kids and so on. What's an information-obsessed geek to do?

I'm a software developer. I'm currently building a couple of web projects around something called RESTful architecture. From a purely technological view, it's an architecture that suits the social web (as it currently stands). Such an architecture makes every web address a proper repository of data that can be shared by humans, browsers, devices and mobile phones. Every web address is an information resource and this is the original way I was taught about how the embryo World Wide Web worked as a student. Such an architecture has no sense of ideology behind it. It is there to share information openly and that's it. It's the most efficient solution and my next major (non-political) web projects will be built like this. The only difference between now, and when I was a student, is how easy I can make that information flow, with the sheer amount of reusable open source components available. For many web developers, this is an extremely exciting time, as we like to build and make things that share information.

There were constructive reasons why computer science metamorphosed into software engineering. There were networking reasons why software engineering turned into information technology. There were sociological and economic reasons why information technology became communications technology. In most places on this planet, information and communication are available at the touch of a button on a neutral net that doesn't have a political agenda. Instead of bullying and intimidating geeks, the bar-hogging American ex-jock is going to have to get used to the fact that this isn't his world anymore.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479704 2010-12-09T15:46:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:12Z Amazon, Your Latest Bestseller Is An Absolute Page Turner!

This is due to this travesty too.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479710 2010-11-19T21:09:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:12Z "Doctor Who" Christmas Carol trailer - donate to Children In Need

Please donate to Children In Need, if you enjoyed this trailer.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479713 2010-11-11T11:52:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:12Z The Right To Complain


Earlier yesterday, Conservative councillor Gareth Compton made a rather unfortunate and bad taste joke about the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. All of us recognised it as an unfortunate and bad taste joke. In fact, superficially, it's rather similar to a joke cracked by Paul Chambers. This is eerily prescient, since Mr Chambers is due to stand in court today for all the problems that his Twitter joke has caused. I've been following the Paul Chambers trial carefully and really think the man shouldn't be being put through this. But I was accused of hypocrisy about this, seeing as I'd given Gareth Compton a bit of a grilling on Twitter for his earlier tweet on Ms Alibhai-Brown, while giving Chambers my support.

Let's get this straight. Whether I'm a liberal, a lefty or occasionally display right-wing opinions on things like welfare dependency, I'm foremost a rationalist, as well as a believer in free speech. If I'd been around when he'd originally wrote it, then Paul Chambers would've got the same querying from me as Mr Compton did with his ill-advised joke ("Um, are you sure you want to tweet that, in these sensitive times?"). However, there are a few clear differences between these cases.

The first difference is that Gareth Compton isn't on trial and hasn't lost two jobs, while Paul has suffered both of those fates. The over-reaction and subsequent mishandling by the CPS is better described by Paul Chambers' lawyer, David Allen Green, in his blog. In future, I certainly don't expect Gareth Compton to be hauled into court for daring to blurt out something on an online social networking tool, as stupid as it was. I'm happy for other people to seriously complain about him though. The reason?

Well, the other difference is that Gareth Compton is a councillor in Birmingham City Council, while Paul Chambers was a lovesick student (and can be validated as such by his Twitter followers). Paul's hyperbole can be compared to a heartaching declaration, while Mr Compton statements in public life can wield considerable power, as he supposedly represents many people in his city, including Muslims. If he'd tweeted, "I hope someone gaffer-tapes Yasmin's mouth shut on Radio 5 live and locks her away, don't call Amnesty", I wouldn't have pulled him up for it (even though the joke and sentiment is still poor). However, his singling out of a Muslim name said on radio and his quick connection with a contentious practice of torture utilised by extremist Muslim regimes calls his judgement into question. Such an association has a murky undercurrent. It has a direct impact on any Birmingham citizen who is seeking his judgement on the treatment of minority groups in his council.

If you still think I'm a liberal in sheeps' clothing, let me bring the rationalist and free speech arguments to bear on something else. There was another councillor called John Dixon, who made a similar joke tweet that offended a minority in his neighbourhood, namely the Church of Scientology. As anyone who knows me, I hold Scientologists with a degree of dislike in the same league as out-of-date lasagne; such a pity and such a waste of creativity. However, in the same case, I support the right of Dixon to crack a stupid joke, but hold him to the same caveat that someone somewhere might find that offensive, particularly considering his position as a city councillor. I support the right of Scientologists to make a complaint about Dixon, as ludicrous as I find Scientology's beliefs, and the Church duly did. As it stood, John Dixon went through the normal channels of having his superiors question him in disciplinary procedures which he happily won. But my initial worry about the case was the anxiety about Scientology's varied use of archaic libel laws to either financially bankrupt someone or silence them with their wealth powerhouse. In all cases, free speech and silly jokes should be allowed and not be bludgeoned by the vast fortunes of vested interests.

I stand by the right to free speech, the right to complain about that free speech, but not the right to silence either.

UPDATE: As of 14.36 today, it turns out that Gareth Compton has been arrested for his (now deleted) tweet. I am not remotely happy about this. Again, this is an over-reaction as to exactly what Twitter is used for. The guy made a (pretty unfunny) joke. He didn't mean it as a threat. Any complaints to the council should lead to an internal investigation about his views of minorities, not a money-wasting exercise in police procedure.

UPDATE: As of 16.04 today, Paul Chambers has had his appeal rejected. In other words, he's been charged with a terrorist threat for the real-world equivalent of a fit of hyperbole in the pub with his mates. A shocking indictment of how illiberal British society has become.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479714 2010-11-01T11:51:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:12Z Remember November

For the next 30 days, I will be concentrating on three personal projects and three only. The first will be a Ruby project called The Collective. I'm not revealing any more about it, but I'm hoping it'll be pretty big if I get a sizeable chunk of it done by the end of this month. The second is a little bit of musical amateurism, namely to record some stuff with Cubase and Garageband on my MacBook. This is to keep me sane (if nothing else) and keep my creative brain ticking over. And on the subject of creativity, the third project is writing a novel. That last bit is particularly scary, but I'm giving it a go. It won't be as stressful as it sounds, as the main idea behind it is to just get a first draft out of the door without fear of beating one's self up over it being perfect.

To aid the three projects, I'm stripping back on a lot of things that are cluttering life up a little at the moment. I'll be avoiding alcohol. I'll be shunning social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter - any contact with those social tools will be entirely via this blog. Any personal messages can be sent to me via email or phone (particularly stuff about news items that I might be interested in, as that's the biggest drain on my time using social networking). The television will be turned off; programmes will be stored on hard drive for watching in December. Only the wonder that is BBC Radio 4 will keep me company. This means that stuff like The Collective will be functioning a lot like a skunkworks in November, as I'll be attempting to architect it without the use of overt technology (apart from Ruby itself and GitHub).

Any proper socialising will be done over a bite to eat (arranged by people emailing, texting or calling me) or at gigs (such as seeing The Indelicates play at The 13th Note), which is slightly related to The Collective project I'm working on. I'm hoping that all my friends and colleagues who read this blog article will keep me on the straight and narrow by giving me a bollocking if it looks like I'm procrastinating online, watching telly or drinking wine.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479605 2010-10-26T22:16:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:10Z An Appeal For 'Twin Peaks'

This year sees the 20th anniversary of David Lynch's masterpiece 'Twin Peaks'. And what better way to celebrate than to bring a little bit of the magic to London! On November 27th 2010, Riverside Studios in Hammersmith will host the first 'Twin Peaks' UK Festival. I love 'Twin Peaks'. In the early 90s, it pretty much shaped my worldview and personality, as the confused and dreamlike world perfectly mirrored my teenage life at that point. It also made me feel bulletproof as my favourite character (and someone who influenced me) was Albert Rosenfield, played by Miguel Ferrer. Here he is in full-flow.

You see? He's a total bastard, but also a pacifist and skeptic - rather like me.

Anyway, for those reasons (and many others), I was genuinely thrilled to find out that a friend of mine was organising the 'Twin Peaks' Festival in Hammersmith. Cherry pie, coffee, owls and red drapes was enough to convince me, along with the entrancing prospect of being surrounded by fellow Peakies. However, I know at this late stage that the 'Twin Peaks' UK Festival organisers are still desperately trying to raise the last funds they need for the festival to be a roaring success. Obviously, they're pulling out all the stops but the word needs spread to as many people as possible, so maybe there's a potentially new (and thoroughly lovely) sponsor that could help out. If people are interested in sponsorship, the festival can offer plenty of advertising (the website has had 300,000 hits in five weeks and Riverside Studios gets 40,000 hits a week) and branding at the festival and tickets. If they are magazine/media sponsors, it's perfectly possible that interviews with the actors can be sorted out as well. In fact, any profit is being split between Cancer Research and the Rowan's Hospice in Portsmouth. Have a little visit here, by clicking on the picture.

Or alternatively, if they can get 1000 people to donate £12 then the fun 'n' games will commence in earnest, plus the charities the festival supports will get money from any profits. People can donate safely through the festival support page. Again, for further reminder (and to save time by talking backwards like a character in the Black Lodge), any profit from the festival is being split between cancer research and the Rowans Hospice, Portsmouth.

I'm away now to get some cherry pie at the Double R Diner, where pies go when they die.]]>
Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479606 2010-10-14T18:46:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:10Z The Goth Hoover Dance


I'm glad Summer is over. There I've said it. I even started a Facebook group about two years ago about how rubbish Summer is and only ten people joined. I'm disappointed in all of you. More of you should sign up. Why be mindless servants of the sun, I ask you? You can check the reasons there as to why I don't like it. The beginning of this Summer was pretty much the same as every other one. Miserable, alone, dressed in black and feeling witlessly superior to the photosynthesised plants outside. I was sitting indoors, trying to hack together a bunch of code before a deadline and listening to a load of Goth on Spotify. As I hurled abuse at my screen, while trying to get my fingers to jab out clumsy letters, those yelping humans outside got steadily louder, blindly running into the sunlight like the sheep that they always are. They were doubtlessly jumping up and down and yelping, "Summer's here!". "Shut up," I growled, while my collection of deep-throated dark anthems bleared out of the computer speakers. The only consolation was one singular tweet that had been quacked into the Twitter void by noted Guardian columnist Grace Dent, who was going through a similar agony while listening to Bauhaus. Well, misery loves company, as they say and I tweeted back at her, sharing with her my Spotify playlist. Briefly cheered by the dashing Ms Dent's eager subscription to my terror-filled tracklisting, I still couldn't disguise the dread feeling I had of being back at square one, rather like a terrible repetitive dance that I often found myself doing. Yes, a dance.

Let me tell you about this little-known dance. I know that's a surprise, as you already know me as the man who can't dance and couldn't if his life depended on it. So, it might seem surprising that I'm an expert in a slightly obscure dance move that not many people know about. It's so obscure, the people who regularly participate in this specially-named dance aren't even aware that they themselves are doing it. It's not as low-brow as "The Agadoo Dance" or as depressingly culture-defining as the "Whigfield Saturday Night" dance, nor is it as universal and crowd-pleasing as the "YMCA" move. No, it's the "Goth Hoover Dance". The "Goth Hoover Dance" is deeply symbolic of this entire blog article, as it typifies the sub-culture I was (still am?) a member of. Here's me doing it here, on this video.

As you can see, it consists of a simple three steps forward, three steps backward, gaze aimed firmly at the floor, rather as if one is hoovering the carpet. There's a variation where the said Goth clasps his hands behind his back while performing this move, so if the hypothetical hoover ever existed, the Goth would be moving it around with his nose. The frightening thing about this dance is how closely it parallels the life of the person doing it. It's like a physical and mental cul de sac. You keep thinking you've made the three-point turn to get out, but the stupid steep kerb just refuses to get out of the way.

I was doomed from the outset. The first word I learned as a child was "Dracula". Honestly. Well, to be more accurate, the baby version of me grappled with the syllables and pronounced it phonetically as "Drakla". My brother was buying horror comics at this point and used to regularly alude to Bram Stoker's creation. By the repetition of vampire verse and the power of imprinting, the neurons rewired in my infant brain and made "Drakla" the first word I pronounced. When I hit my teens, the first album that really turned my hormonal head and made an impact on my life was "Peepshow" by Siouxsie and The Banshees. It was lent to me by my mate, Spiderboz. I'd already started listening to punk, from the Pistols to the Dead Kennedys - with a passing sideshow interest in the whacky surrealism of Half Man Half Biscuit. However, the first infant word that had passed my lips had marked my future grave already and "Peepshow" was my first musical love. It helps that the lead singer regularly wore tight black PVC too. Sweet heck, I loved Siouxisie Sioux.

I realised how far this self-flaggelation had advanced, when I was asked a profound and poignant question a few years ago. "Did you ever create something from your own mind that physically manifested in the real world and you thought was genuinely beautiful? Something that you were proud to leave as a legacy once you departed this world, no matter how large or small that legacy was?". To my surprise, there was. I wrote a very perfect love song called "Butterfly" in my early 20s. It was simplicity and it was pure. It wasn't even written about a particular girlfriend or partner; it was just a pitch-perfect paen to unconditional love. However, as I was ruminating my gift to Planet Earth, I got asked the inevitable follow-up. "Is there anything you regret thrusting onto this world in the shape of a perceived creative gift?". Sadly, the answer to this was in plural and also belonged to the category of poetry and songwriting. Loosely. When I declared that the name of this piece of Goth gas was pretentiously entitled "The Scars of Yesterday", I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised at the raucous laugh I was greeted with.

"The Scars Of Yesterday". Fuck's sake. I don't even have to tell you how bad that self-pitying rubbish was, formed as it was on the basis of that title. I'll give you one sample line from it. "If I had a mirror on my shoulder, I'd watch my back every day". I've read that line back and I feel proud and appalled by it, in equal measure. There were other classics from when I stamped around campus with a scowl on my face. "Immaculate In Black" might seem like a parody of a title, but I unironically called a poem that once. "Disposable Friend" explained to a cruel world exactly how I felt, but a colleague felt moved to say that the title made it sound like a chorus about a condom. "I'm Dreaming Of A Black Christmas" doesn't really need an explanation. The only thing that makes me feel slightly less ashamed of this period of my life? Others behaved worse. After one laughably mediocre night in the nearby Goth club and observing a phalanx of darklings doing the hoover dance, I was astonished to see them all suddenly clear off the floor and all retreat to their gloomy corners. Like a black sheep following a load of other black sheep, I said that I "quite liked that song Disintegration" and queried why everyone had buggered off. The Cure had "sold out", came the spat words. I guess that meant Robert Smith was wiping his tears away with diamond-encrusted sequins.

It wasn't all bad. With the benefit of hindsight, the mid-80s to early 90s was a pretty miserable time to be a student, so it wasn't surprising that gangs used to float about like aimless stretch hearses. I'll admit to finding the whole current premise of Emos laughable, although I'm sure some of this superiority is everything to do with just hating youth in general. But, look - in my day, we were properly miserable. We were "4 REAL". Emos look too clean and bourgeois. Emo idols are too shiny and beautiful. They've got clothes from the Hellfire chain, iPhone Evanescence apps and the dude from Twilight. We had bin liners, Christian Death and Peter Murphy having his cock strangled by his trousers.

I also realise that in our twilight (not Twilight) Goth years, my group of friends were taking it less seriously anyway. For starters, my colleague Cryotec started doing the "Whigfield Saturday Night" dance to the "Temple Of Love". The hordes in black would stand back appalled at the obvious irreverance until they realised collectively (and with horror) that he was mouthing along with the words and knew all the lyrics. Another evening, Cryotec clapped his hands together during "Bela Legosi's Dead" and announced loudly, "Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the Dashing Black Seargant!". Me and my friend Kat felt like we'd been gassed with nitrous oxide when he said that. The final curtain on those mega-serious years was observing an Uber-Goth, clad head-to-toe in black leather, with a flashing LED crucifix on his crotch. It was upside-down, of course. Presumably, if he'd got lucky later on and ended up in a 69 dry-hump scenario, he would've faced it the "right" way up and ended with one leg in Heaven and a head in Hell. After regarding the Uber Goth flapping around in his variation of a hoover dance, Cryotec announced, "Fuck, we all look like dicks".

And after the carthartic chuckling, our little gang headed back home, laughed at the Tamagothi on the internet, went to bed and woke up the following morning as happy, balanced individuals. Our long mid-20s crisis that had lasted roughly the whole decade was over. Except it hadn't. It was merely the forward-most step of the Hoover dance. Being a Goth is rather like smoking, you think you've kicked the habit. Day-by-day, you sink back into the 'odd' social cigarette at the weekend and think nothing of it, until you're retching your lungs up. Similarly, you know you're back to 'square one' of the dance every now and again, such as the time I was in a club, weeping into a pint of cider and blackcurrant. It wasn't the drink that was the warning bell, it was being practically blinded by the diluted black mascara that had poured into my iris. It was exactly the same at the beginning of this Summer, now mercifully at an end. I realised I was still on the Moebius strip of the dance, sitting furiously in the gloom in front of my computer and glaring out of the side of my eye at the brainless lambs gallivanting outside. In the background, the only non-black item of clothing I've got in my wardobe is a pink and yellow garment that also happens to be a Sisters Of Mercy T-shirt. Forever and forever, first and last and always, three steps forward and then three steps backward and never leaving the Summer of misery. Roll on the Autumn and Halloween.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479609 2010-10-05T21:53:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:10Z Dispatches - Tabloids, Tories and Phone Tapping

Peter Oborne outside the Houses of Parliament

On Monday night, an episode of Channel 4's "Dispatches" was screened. It was about the unfolding saga of "News Of The World" journalists and their utilisation of phone tapping. A lot of people are interested in this ongoing story. Some of them are interested in it because they can have a bit of a potshot at the former editor, Andy Coulson, who is now the current Prime Minister's right-hand man and communications manager. This is fair enough, but I'm a lot more worried at the relationship being nurtured between News International and the Metropolitan Police force. So, it seems, is John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister. Not to mention Brian Paddick who was a frickin' member of the fecking Metropolitan Police force. Also, I shed a tear for the poor girl who didn't have the label of a 'celebrity', but had her phone hacked by the "News Of The World" anyway. The police grudgingly sent her an unhelpful reply email three months after she'd made an initial allegation.

Anyway, my political paranoia started causing my neck hairs to prickle, as I realised 4oD and Channel 4's Youtube channel had pulled the documentary from Catch-Up. So, I decided to upload it myself. It'll probably be taken down, but Catch it while you can. By the time I'd uploaded the first part, it'd already got 200 hits within 20 minutes. Admittedly, this was probably aided and abetted by my colleague Graham Linehan tweeting it. Another online acquaintance, Mr Chris Coltrane, has also kindly pointed to a torrent site hosting the documentary - which, as I understand, has leapt up in the number of peers sharing it, thus proving you can't keep a good story down if people want to share it. If you can't torrent a video, you can also watch another streaming copy on Vimeo courtesy of Derfen, particularly since Youtube is rather more vulnerable to contentious material being blocked. But while it's not being blocked, you also have the option of a streaming HD (High Definition) copy embedded in this blog (or follow the link below each embedded video to go direct to Youtube). In fact, just for really good measure, if you suspect this newly-uploaded video will be pulled from Youtube, then use Keepvid to keep a copy of it yourself.

Since writing this blog entry, 4oD have since put the documentary back up, so you could watch it there too (although only for the next month). You might also be thinking that I (and a fair number of other social media chatterers) might have over-reacted. It wasn't pulled by mysterious Powers-That-Be, surely? You may well be right. But we've been here before, many times before. One great illustration was the crude super-injunction that was issued to stop coverage of Trafigura in newspapers, legitimate broadasting outlets and Parliament itself. In that instance, a lot of very alert social media users ended up being the watchdog, when our more traditional protectors and representatives (such as the CPS, journalists, PCC and even our MPs) were circumnavigated by big business. Frankly, it's happened before; it's happened since; and it'll happen again.

A lot of the old media brigade pour scorn on things like bloggers and the new technology. They may well have a point. I guess there'll be some of us that laughably think we're digital revolutionaries or internet anarchists. But if the professionals in Whitehall and Fleet Street are wandering around with black gaffer tape on their gobs, then why not let a few of us shout, tweet, share and upload? I think it's rather heartening that a load of "amateurs" can quickly spread the word of a must-see documentary, when the usual establishment bodies seemed anxious to draw attention away from it.

By the way, if anyone is interested, I also have Peter Oborne's fantastic 2008 "Dispatches" documentary entitled "It Shouldn't Happen To A Muslim" (July 2008, Channel 4), where he expertly skewers the anti-Muslim narratives that the newspapers have been peddling. He also shows how most of the stories are blatant made-up bollocks as well. Yes, a fair number of us knew all this already, but it's great seeing Oborne embarass the national press with such surgical precision. Give me a holler if you want me to upload that too.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479615 2010-09-10T14:27:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z Who Lives In A House Like This? Davina, It's Over To You! Davina?

At the start of this century, "Big Brother" seemed like a novelty and audiences grew and grew. Before 2000 and "Big Brother's" first series, nobody could engage their voyeuristic instincts without punitive action. Even professional psychologists had to validate observational studies, after ethics committees deemed 1950s/1960s psychological experiments (by the likes of Zimbardo and Milgram) too invasive and dehumanising. Now we live in times where it's commonplace to announce your activities to all your friends and strangers via Twitter; the whole world is now a reality show. Whether it realised the need to compete, "Big Brother" producers made the crass decision that it needed to engage our interests by attracting more extreme exhibitionists. In doing so, it had it's wings clipped (perhaps rightly) by OFCOM and its ilk, mirroring what happened with the ethics committees in the 1960s. As a psychology graduate myself, this strikes me as perfectly reasonable; if you can't dignify a social experiment with the advancement of science, you certainly can't dignify it with the advancement of an entertainment circus. Meanwhile, as social networking becomes more universal, voyeurism seems so much more pervasive. We can interactively create our own reality shows where we have the choice of "following" who we want, be that a bedsit musician, amateur blogger or 50 Cent. At the same time, television producers have their hands tied by OFCOM's tougher regulations and, paradoxically, they are left with the very thing that caused those regulations to be put in place; extreme personalities in an artificial house that audiences can no longer identify with. It's little wonder "Big Brother" now seems out-dated.

There are two threads in this blog article as to why "Big Brother" drifted inevitably away from it's roots. Firstly, as a reality TV gameshow in it's dying days, it bears little similarity to the simplicity of the social experiment it had in it's earlier years. Secondly, like most evolving systems of democracy (from phone-in vote shows all the way to party politics) a media-machine will grow around it as time goes by. This machine will attempt to influence a winner and a runner-up. As an added opinion with no basis (but one of personal preference), there will be a third place taken by a participant who would normally be the most deserving winner*; someone who is overlooked by the voting system's media-machine and are often rewarded by votes from a more dedicated populous who ignore external manipulation. Is there any basis to my preposterous theory or leap of imagination? Well, I know who will win the last series of "Big Brother" (or "Ultimate Big Brother"). Steep claim**? Well, read on…

Let's deal with the original point. "Big Brother" is often argued to be both a social experiment and a gameshow, as well as holding up a mirror to society. In the former case, I've already argued that "Big Brother" is a "jack-of-all-trades" which quickly became a "master-of-none"; the show's biggest strengths became the biggest weaknesses as the series went on. It can't be a proper reality show, because most people in the United Kingdom don't end up in a strange sci-fi house with funny tasks, accompanied by a skewed sample of the population (while something like "The Verdict" is a more analogous artifice of an enclosed social situation). As a gameshow too, I've argued that a level playing-field for all contestants became less and less fair as producers and media became involved and interfered.

In that sense, "Big Brother" was never "a mirror to society"; it was "a mirror to media and democracy". If you think about it, any landscape that supports opponents trying to get to the top of a hierarchy by using other peoples' votes starts off relatively fair. However, after a voting system is recognised and establishes itself, it becomes obligatory that vested interests will get involved. In the "Big Brother" series, just chuck in the phrase "producers" instead of "spin doctors" and replace "newspapers" with "companion shows". Plus, throw in the newspapers themselves, who are adept at giving their wholly compartmentalised views of society. You've now got a potent mix of inbuilt biases and cultural norms. I'm not saying that there's a conspiracy to ensure a particular person is crowned  winner in a frothy television series (I'll leave that to obsessed online fan forum groups). It would be more accurate to say that any perception of a television reality is going to be, at the very least, unconsciously shaped by past experiences and biases of the producers themselves without them meaning to. As the connection between the voting public and the producers' vision becomes more disparate, the audience drifts away and their interests go toward... well, social networking and following other ordinary people; or other artistic projects that represent real people.

Certainly, after the seventh series of "Big Brother", the show began to fizzle out. The winner of the eighth series, for example, was Brian Belo, someone who had absorbed the BB phenomenon via osmosis, having watched every episode on video over and over again. In that sense, he was inadvertently the living embodiment of a winner that encapsulated the media part of BB, as opposed to the ordinary person on the street. The mega-fan, either consciously or unconsciously, had absorbed exactly what was needed to be the media representation of the perfect BB competitor. This was living proof that "Big Brother" had embraced the media fully and it was another death blow. As lovely as Mr Belo is, he's the "Big Brother" series version of Tony Blair***.

To conclude, it started off as a minority channel social experiment, with a little bit of viewer interaction in the form of phone-in votes. It was seized upon by the tabloids and new gossip mags. Spin-off shows were quickly created to catch up with the new "Heat"-style titles that had appeared. Due to this engorged media, the gameshow element became a sideshow. Voting by telephone or betting slip wouldn't work, because there was no level-playing field anymore; the image was of a distorted playing field created by harsher editing and extreme personalities. As a result, the highlights programme showed insane stereotypes, rather than gentle archetypes. The aggressiveness of the editing can lead to people potentially being misrepresented harmfully, particularly as the final day of the show has been sadly affected by Nadia's suicide attempt. It's time for the show to be given to an over-delayed rest. As for it being a reality show, who really lives in a house like this? The seeds had already been sown slowly for it to die.

* Disclosure One. Yes, I voted Lib Dem. I feel a bit foolish now. Disclosure Two. I have two friends who are both Bronze medallists from "Big Brother" (and both of them follow my demented tweets). Read Dan Bryan's article from last week on this blog, while check out Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace's contribution to the BBC News this morning. Oh, and here's a few more Bronze medallists who all deserved to win. Three's the magic number.
  • Alex Sibley (BB3)
  • Dan Bryan (BB5)
  • Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace (BB7)
  • Liam McGough (BB8)
  • Maggot (CBB4)
  • Dirk Benedict (CBB5)

** For those not in the know, Ultimate Big Brother is a belated last throw of the dice of the dying BB franchise, which reunites a whole bunch of previous contestants of past series. And I already know who will win Ultimate Big Brother. Seriously. In my minds eye, I can see it as clearly as crystal shard. Davina McCall will start off almost palpably uneasy and foreboding, reading the name off the card "And the winner of Big Brother, the Ultimate Winner of all time, is... is... IS". This is her last chance, Davina is reaching the crescendos of all crescendos. Believe me, a Davina crescendo is like a sunspot radiation flare. They're always big, but not as big as this. "IS... "

In order of votes counted (and predicted):

1) Brian Dowling
2) Nikki Grahame
3) Victor Ebuwa
4) Chantelle Houghton
5) Nick Bateman
6) Ulrika Jonsson
7) Samuel Preston

*** Not really. Belo's lovely and doesn't know his Shakespeare from his George Miller. Blair's a cunt and doesn't know his Iraq from his Afghanistan.

Next blog entry, things on this blog will become normal again, when I'll witter on about Goths. Yes, I know I used to be one - it'll be slightly autobiographical.]]>
Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479619 2010-08-31T01:10:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z In Reality, I'm Stereotypically Yours

This is a guest post by Dan Bryan, songwriter and vocalist for Icehouse Project, critically appraising the casting of stereotypes in reality television. An edited version of this was originally printed in Gay Times, September issue of 2009. By his kind (and timely) permission, the article is now published here. Photo by Icehouse Project collaborator Paul Dakeyne.

One of the main problems with reality television stereotypes is the producers.

In a notoriously young profession you have producers and assistant producers in their early twenties. This is not a bad thing in itself but we are now entering a generation where new, young producers have been brought up and spoon-fed on a vapid celebrity culture. They themselves cannot wait to get a tabloid rag and thumb the pages for the gossip in breaks during filming. This means that the type of people they are picking for their shows tend to be the two dimensional cartoon cut-out characters that we see. When they pick a gay for their show they are picking them for being larger than life, with more front than Brighton and enough mince to feed the Russian navy for a year, for being just gay in fact.


Because the producers think that is what the public think of when they see a gay. So by pandering to what they THINK the public wants and by giving them what they THINK they want to see it all ends up being stereotypes and pigeon-holed characters. What they have forgotten over the years of saturating us with images of cartoon ‘people’ is that as humans we actually pick up on the subtleties of someone’s character and TV is the perfect medium for platforming these traits in anyone. We are far more likely to find a gorgeous, stubbly, bit-rough-round-the-edges mechanic (who happens to be gay) interesting if he has a sense of humour and a caring, warm personality and crucially; vulnerability. The shows doing well at the moment are the ones where people are chosen to learn a skill or for their strengths and weaknesses rather than what they act like or which pigeon-hole they fit.

As an openly gay male I find it insulting and annoying when we are constantly represented by the mincing, effeminate, bitchy, two-faced phoney twirlies that reality TV keeps parading before us. As if they are doing us proud. Patronising us with the old “here we have a gay so the gays feel represented” when in actual fact it’s not about sexuality at all. I’m not the butchest guy ever and I do possess one of the sharpest tongues seen on television, but on the whole I’m just a regular guy. I was chosen to enter the "Big Brother" house for my strength of character and abilities to deal with any given situation with the kind of leadership skills that you would expect from a 30-year-old alpha male. I was picked for my intelligence and acerbic wit and my abilities to make people feel safe in unpleasant situations and NOT because I have a high pitched squeal and clap my hands at every given opportunity; not for my tan and manicure; nor for my high-lighted hair; and I know this because I have none of those things.

Our producers realised in me that sexuality makes up less than 2% of a persons personality and it is because of this ignorance, and willingness to exploit the obvious that other reality producers are destroying their own work. People simply switch off when they are presented with characters who are not only really blatant and have the depth of a puddle, but continue to show themselves to be just as shallow. And why? Because it’s insulting to think we are that much of a push over.

Reality TV clearly thinks we are stupid.

We are not.

Next blog post will be my own contribution on the wrapping up of Channel 4's "Big Brother" televison series.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479621 2010-08-20T17:36:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z L'Ancien Regime - Crumbling And Analogue

This is Part 2 of an article. Part 1 is here, just before the Digital Economy Bill was about to be passed. Now it's an Act. Why was it passed?

I've started looking backwards. I'm so baffled by the absolutist positions of old content distributors lobbying for the Digital Economy Act and denying the truth staring them in the face. I've decided that it can't be the future these people are interested in. To understand them better, I reasoned, I'd have to dig around in history and philosophy, even though I thought such subjects might be irrelevant to the bright shiny internet. So, I started digging around the philosophies of Marxism and Adam Smith with all their talk about free markets, the proletariat, and so on. I originally thought the concepts seemed so quaint. The Marxist proletariat I normally associate with workers in smoking-chimney factories or coal-mines, while Smith's 'invisible hand' used to be seen as a corrective benign guide for market forces. Now those factories or coal-mines don't really exist in that form anymore, while the 'invisible hand' is now no longer seen as benign or neutral, but seen as vicious and connected to Thatcherism. Neither of those philosophies could have dreamt of the the large, amazing force of the internet or the widespread availability of software tools for everyone to democratically create content (whether that be music, Youtube movies or citizen journalism in the form of blogs). The 'invisible hand' in the internet age means that supply always meets demand, as there are no 'scarce resources' as everything is just copied. Plus, for every niche interest, there will be someone else that can cater for it, be it Mongolian folk covers of Radiohead songs or very obscure sexual fetishes.

Why have I started thinking like this? Why have I been looking at dusty Marxist tomes? Before anyone thinks that I'm a Communist planning a downfall of the state, please note that I mentioned also reading Adam Smith and I haven't turned into a raving Thatcherite either. In fact, if you're taking that logical stand, I've read L Ron Hubbard and I haven't turned into a Scientologist or started watching loads of Tom Cruise films. It's just rather neat to re-examine old economic philosophy, particularly those based around machinery exploitation, and then turn it on its head. The big leap on my part is that most of us are now the proletariat and not the middle class. Hey, well, David Cameron did say he was middle-class the other day. Maybe he was right? Because of the way wealth and gadget affordability is within the grasp of most, that doesn't mean everyone in society is now bourgeois and the working-class have ceased to exist; it's the opposite. According to Marxist philosophy in the digital age, this proletariat have expanded to be the biggest in society and their tools are no longer pick-axes or mining equipment, but computers. It's getting dangerous for a dramatically-depleted leisure class and a new ancien régime (I know, an oxymoron, deliberately so), because the internet connects these proletariat tools and might finally cause that deeply-unfashionable Marxist revolution that so many capitalists had deemed dead. It just won't come in the form of a quaint burning of a Reichstag by some cute overalled working-class types from the 1920s. It is emerging from genuine craftsmen doing creative stuff in their bedrooms.

Engels defines Marx's proletariat look like this.

"[The machines] introduction completely altered the existing method of production and displaced the existing workers. This was due to the fact that machinery could produce cheaper and better commodities than could the handicraftsmen with their imperfect spinning wheels and hand looms. Thus, these machines handed over industry entirely to the big capitalists and rendered the little property the workers possessed (tools, hand looms, etc.) entirely worthless. Soon the capitalists got all in their hands and nothing remained for the workers".

An aim of Engels is the abolition of private property - this isn't just flats or houses we're talking about, but the proceeds of a labourer's works now owned privately by someone else. So a modern day example would be copyright owners. "Private property will be abolished only when the means of production have become available in sufficient quantities". Did you read that, folks? I think we've just reached that stage, don't you? Cheap affordable machines that everyone uses (iPhones, computers, music and movie-making software etc) and the world-wide web (given away for free by Mr Berners-Lee) means the communication between a vast, creatively-aware populous is possible.

At ORGCON,the music industry panel pointed out that the word processor came along and suddenly a whole load of typists were made redundant during the 1980s and 1990s. This was seen as a perfectly valid thing to happen at the time, despite a load of upset unemployed typists. In that situation, the government didn't go and ban Microsoft Word to prop up typist jobs. Yet, old distribution models are being shown as inefficient when placed next to internet distribution, but the government is propping up the old industry with the Digital Economy Act (incidentally, as an aside, I know Adam Smith is barely getting coverage in this blog entry, but Elmyra did it so much better in her blog article covering classic economics and the internet - it seems appropriate to plug that here, since I sat a few seats behind her and Cory Doctorow at an ORGCON event and annoyingly didn't realise it was her at the time). Despite widespread puzzlement as to why this perceived symmetry didn't apply to distributors, but did apply to typists, we can check this Marx quote from 1844, about 140 years before Microsoft Word started crashing routinely in it's earliest incarnations.

"[T]he alienation of the worker is expressed thus: the more he produces, the less he can consume; the more value he creates, the less value he has. [L]abour produces things for the rich, but misery is for the poor. Machines replace labour, and jobs diminish, while other workers turn into machines." - Manuscripts of 1844, Marx.

Furthermore, "[I]t not only degrades man, but also depersonalises him". The boss imposes the kind of work, the method and the rhythm, but he never bothers if the worker ends up as a "mere appendage of flesh on a machine of iron".

Nowadays, we come to the odd situation that Marx, normally a man of foresight, could never have seen; the machine starts becoming the appendage to the human and is used for societal change from below. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, I give you a potential real revolution. Rather than typists being kicked out of a job, distributors and money-men are starting to feel that they could be dispensable, while the new l'ancien regime is getting nervous. Three questions for you, then. Question One. Who are good examples of distributors? Why, step forward, Mr Simon Cowell! Mr Paul McGuinness, speak your tune from GQ! Question Two. Who could be members of the l'ancien regime? Aye, aye, it's the BPI. Hello, newspaper proprietors, such as Mr Rupert Murdoch (a man who really hates the internet). In short, anyone defending rapidly-aging copyright laws from centuries ago. Question Three. Which people are chiefly responsible for the Digital Economy Act? Okay, okay, that's almost a rhetorical question - yes, it's the previous two groups. And neither of those two groups want to go the way of the typist. To explain that, let's read this letter to Weydemyer from Marx, dated March 5th, 1852.

"What's important, is to grasp that each social class has its own interests and each holds views about the government of the state consistent with the defence of those interests. Social harmony which certain 'beautiful souls' preach, CANNOT exist. It can't, because so long as any one class lives by exploiting another, a struggle will exist against such exploitation. And this class struggle is NECESSARY for human progress."

We can go back further into the past, just in case you all think I really am a Rampant Red. Hegel's "Philosophy Of History" argued that humanity advances and progresses only because of conflicts, wars, revolutions; that is, through the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors. Peace and harmony don't make for progress. Despite Hegel mainly meaning a religious struggle, he still described it very much as a spiritual conflict; or a struggle between ideas. While not particularly associated with the spiritual, most proponents of the digital revolution are certainly full of ideas as to how the new business model might operate. Most of the supporters of the Digital Economy Act choose either not to understand or ignore the ideas espoused by the individual craftsmen releasing their individual craft online via technology. It's not bafflement or bewilderment; very simply, it's safeguarding their own private property as laid down by copyright in the analogue economy. Never mind the fact that just by opening a browser and accessing any website means you don't own that website, you own a copy that now sits in your machine - so strictly speaking, old copyright law never fitted into the digital model in the first place. Plus, here's where I kill off any suggestion that I'm a raging Marxist. Anyone with a red beret on their head during the 1970s claiming "[A]ll property is theft" ceases to have any meaning in a digital world, since all web properties are copies that are downloaded anyway. Music and video is only a small part of the way the internet works. It's where Adam Smith and Karl Marx end up in the digital afterlife, where there is a perfect virtual free market and all property is copied.

This blog entry is going to ensure I'm never employed ever again, isn't it? Oh well. Next week, I talk about Big Brother. Despite all my high falutin' philosophising here, you'd think I was talking about the Marx-inspired groundbreaking novel of George Orwell. Sadly, nothing as profound as that. I'm returning to the slightly more ridiculous terrain of previous blog entries and talking about the Channel 4 television series that's coming crashing to an end (and getting flooded in the process).

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479626 2010-05-25T05:43:32Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z Facebook Be Damned

By the time May 31st arrives, my Facebook account will be a minimalist name and a hyperlink to this Posterous page or/and my Typepad blog. All my pictures, status updates, et al will no longer exist on my Facebook profile. I will NOT be removing any friends, as Facebook is (annoyingly) indispensible as a self-updating address book. But I don't like Facebook's casual ownership and cavalier attitude toward all my info on there. So, I'm taking it away from our Facebook masters.

Posted via email from Chris Nicholson's posterous

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479639 2010-03-17T14:28:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z The DEB Star Will Be Completed On Schedule


When the Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced to the British public, there were a lot of very worried people and some, such as photographers, even felt it might impact their careers. With the current Digital Economy Bill (DEB) going through a final review in the Commons, after being passed by the Lords, a helpless sense of deja vu is being felt again.

I remember at the turn of the century, gentle hippy acquaintances frequently protested in the streets (often fruitlessly) against the perils of globalisation or against a park getting bricked over by a building developer. They seemed a bit narked off with various Terrorism Acts during the Noughties, frequently assailing the senses with stories of being cordoned off by the police, who could round them up for daring to hang around a public place with about a dozen other like-minded hippies. Overlapping with this good-willed group, there was another group of people that weren't happy with it, namely photographers. They argued that the Terrorism Act could theoretically have a negative effect on their career. When the initial readings for the Terrorism Bill were first being passed through the Commons, professional and amateur photographers were trying to make their voices heard. This was in a time without Facebook or Twitter either, so they had to do that old-fashioned thing of traipsing around the streets with billboards. Not without irony, a fair few of them realised that by demonstrating in this way, they'd already landed themselves into the same category as the gentle hippies being kettled under the incoming new Terrorism Act.

Ah, nodded those supposedly in-the-know at the time of the Terrorism Act's gestation, but that's all theoretical. Due dilligence and discretion will be used in the application of these new powers to combat terrorism. More to the point, they probably secretly thought; who cares about a bunch of amateur/professional photographers? That's not a proper career, like those banker friends of ours that keep society properly ticking over.

Down through the years of various Terrorism and Criminal Justice Acts, it's now practically a weekly (if not daily) occurrence that police harrass photographers. Here's a few recent examples, just to show the commonality of harrassment; a famous architectural photographer is arrested by the real-life equivalent of Gene Hunt; a man taking photos in Elephant & Castle is arrested and jailed; a BBC photographer is accused of being an "Al Quaeda operative"; and, brilliantly, an Italian student secretly filmed the Met cops harrassing her. This isn't even taking into account the many, many cases from 2001 onwards. All the theoretical talk photographers had "indulged" in at the start of the century seems to have become a reality. Foreign tourists are feeling the warm welcome of Britain when they go out to snap UK landmarks. It took almost a decade for one senior police officer to realise that this was giving the boys-in-blue a rather ugly veneer and he sent a circular around, suggesting clause 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was being abused. The circular didn't appear to work. The next few weeks threw up new police harrassment cases, including a man being arrested in a shopping mall for taking photos of his children and, the punchline to this paragraph, a retired police officer being harrassed for photographing some buskers.

When viewed in the historical context of the Terrorism Act legislation, any law that doesn't bear close scrutiny needs scrapped when you keep in mind what those poor photographers had to deal with. As the people most likely to be professionally hit by such draconian measures, they knew that badly-worded law could land them into frequent trouble. It is similar with the Lord Mandelson's Digital Economy Bill (DEB). Practically every major digital economy representative opposes the UK legislation, including those from the security services. One of the alarming measures introduced by Lib Dem and Tory Lords was the straightforward blocking of websites suspected of infringing copyright. Superficially, to anyone that doesn't know much about how the web operates, this seems reasonable. Dig a little further and you're banning blogs, small business startups and even Youtube channels, with the presumption of guilt in the first instance. These are the cottage industry areas of the internet, often staffed by people who have to dig into their empty pockets against multinationals armed with unlimited resources, wanting to snuff them out. The onus is still on the little person trying prove their innocence, rather like a shocking electronic version of current British libel law. Most of the time, they'll have no choice but to board up shop. A further amendment to the DEB was outlawing the use of "web lockers". Again, this doesn't bear close scrutiny when you ponder a real-world equivalent. Try telling people in the non-virtual world equivalent that they're no longer allowed to use briefcases, safes or padlocked office drawers, because terrorists and criminals use such facilities to hide stuff. Most people would be picking up the phone to call the men in white coats for you.

To take the real-world analogy further, maybe we should ban all the locks on the windows and doors to our homes, because criminals live in houses as well and that'll make them easier to catch. Does that sound like I'm being unreasonably sarcastic? Well, no actually. Part of the DEB involves tying a single IP address to a person's account. To put it crudely, ill-informed legislation suggests that IP address equals person's account equals physical home address. Dynamic IP address allocation is just one feature of how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) attempt to make our internet connections more secure and make them more impervious to cyber attacks. The DEB legislation is worded ambiguously and it's not entirely clear how dynamic IP address allocation is going to be utilised successfully in this post-DEB world, so they could just be removed as a natural defence against common viruses. IP "address" (dynamic or not) is maybe a misnomer in the wireless age anyway, as it could never be realistically linked to a physical address of one person's account. It's ambiguous as to who could be rightfully termed a subscriber or who could be termed an ISP, particularly as even the government appear unsure at this point. This is why cafes, libraries and museums are understandably upset, while Universities are extremely perturbed at the way their current federated internet structure could be impacted. We're also talking about a future where nearly any notable public area could conceivably have Wi Fi, including public toilets. Surfing the net for the latest James Blunt MP3 while you take a deeply symbolic shit is only a matter of time.

Thus, the biggest damage that the DEB will do is to the digital industry itself. Many small IT firms and cottage industry projects use legal filesharing more than your average user, but the DEB will automatically target those that do the most filesharing. In other words, web developers (particularly those that use legitimate Linux filesharing) are going to start feeling like our old photographer friends. Too far-fetched? On Twitter, I suggested web engineers could be permanent criminal suspects under the new DEB regime and, through the power of the retweet by the blogosphere, I got that suggestion sent out to about 20000 people. Out of those many people, only one tweet came back suggesting I could be wrong. After some discussion, they eventually conceded and suggested "But all you have to do if asked, and we don't think the question will be asked, is disclose the content and author of files". Sorry, I don't want to do that. I've already worked on a system for clinical patient reports, an intranet for schoolkids aged between 4-16 and a CV (Curriculum Vitae) management web application. All of those contain sensitive data files, none of which a befuddled ISP or a Whitehall mandarin should have access to. More to the point, a small business needs to survive on its wits and minnow-like ability to swim quickly amongst the giant behemoth corporations. If a small digital business had a great idea, a new 'business model', a world-shifting 'paradigm' or a 'killer app" that could potentially threaten old corporation interests, then the last thing they want to do is hand files out to ISPs or Lord Mandelson's minions. The Lord of Darkness has already indicated which side he's on by introducing this ill-advised BIll. Just like the photographers were hit by the legal crossfire of the Terrorism Act, any worker in the digital economy will be subject to wandering around a DEB minefield that Mandelson, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the record companies inflicted on us for daring to think outside the analogue box.

This is the first part of an article. The second part will deal more specifically with WHY Mandelson and others seek to attack the digital economy and this has it's roots firmly at the start of New Labour, if not the roots of British society. It's wrapped up in the timely and symbolic act from last week when Facebook threatened The Daily Mail  with legal action. This isn't a case of just "new media vs old media", this is a case of "new money vs old establishment money".

Thanks to the Broccoli Man for the references on photographer arrests.

Chris Nicholson
tag:www.chris-nicholson.com,2013:Post/479648 2010-03-04T16:49:00Z 2013-10-08T17:04:11Z The Riddler

Do you remember that scene in "Batman Forever" when Jim Carrey's "The Riddler" plugged most of Gotham City into his head? Big swirly green brainwaves were sucked from the populous sitting befuddled in front of their TV screens and sucked straight into The Riddler's big swollen conk. Well, that's sometimes how I feel Twitter operates. It's sometimes too much, because my brain constantly expands uncomfortably at the swelter of mental projections swirling in the virtual vacuum. Having said that, it can sometimes feel like a fantastic angel-decorated Wim Wenders movie, where you can drift in between a constantly scrolling narrative of peoples' thoughts. It can occasionally resemble the shock horror realisation of the Buffy episode "Earshot", where the drifting between thoughts can reveal an innermost turmoil and shock decision. Or, on a really bad night, Twitter can reveal a bunch of trolls all running out from underneath their bridge and shouting spite.

But overall, it's more like the Wim Wenders "Wings Of Desire" movie. Big brilliant brave thoughts, all jostling with each other, formed from the collective niceness of the whole network, born out of new human-made Twitter customs like Follow Friday and Music Monday. You either share friends thoughts ("Hey, check this guy out, he's funny! Check this girl out, she's building a hovercraft on solar power and blogging about it") or share music ("Hey, just found this harpsichord cover from a 90s band of a 70s classic on Spotify!"). You can saunter between all these peoples' undiscovered blogs and scrappy thoughts, but not feel like an unpleasant voyeur, because they're all wanting to share stuff too.

How come I wasn't born into all this? Six degrees of separation was five too many for me. I lived in a location where 50 miles due East seemed too far, an exhausting struggle to get to meet a few friends for a snatched couple of hours or a strained phone call where only one person was listening (albeit, a great friend on the other end of the wire). But brilliantly, there's a generation just behind me who are growing up with all this. I feel privileged that I'm involved in the Glow project, an intranet that extends all over Scotland's schools and shares knowledge between kids and teachers, which removes those six degrees. It means that children in urban Glasgow and Dundee can share knowledge about the Highland Clearances with... hey, get this... youngsters that grew up in the Highlands. Plus, not to get too parochial about this, it means those kids can talk to other children on other Continents. What's next? Could the Glow intranet start talking to people up in Space, like Soichi Noguchi, and let the children have a literally out-of-this-world experience? No wonder George Lucas has given his seal of approval to Glow on an occasion. I'm even playing with developing a Twitter for schoolchildren that will enable kids to talk, uninterrupted by those pesky adults, to that aforementioned spaceman.

However, a couple of caveats are in order.

Firstly, I sometimes feel like The Riddler, with the big bloated head. I can't keep up with everyone sometimes. I'm busy, developing Glow's search engine, while moonlighting on extremely silly web projects with comedy writers. Or I spend time worrying, just after 5pm, about stupid things like mortgages or the airbrushed forehead of David Cameron. Let's just leave the currently rapid expanding virtual world, free of geographical boundaries, to the kids with their developing dendrites and naughty neurons.

Secondly, this isn't the sort of state education intranet that needs to have money cut by torrid Tories or limping Labourites. In this new world, elitists need not apply and they should allow education (oh, and meaningless babble and gossip) to course through the new digital veins of the world.

For those reasons alone, don't let the digital world grind to a halt. Vested interests in the UK analogue world would be quite happy to let it happen. They've all got bloated heads full of undersigned lobbyist interests, advertising deals and poorly written Digital Economy Bills (DEB) of a world they no longer understand. Younger generations are now already born into this and ready to learn as much as possible. Is it jealousy of those generations that governments and older generations wish to quash, I wonder?

That's the true riddle, isn't it?

And to think. You regular readers thought I could only write cynical posts. Shame on you.

Chris Nicholson