I’m showing my age (and my geekiness) a bit here, but I’ve been thinking about cassette tapes quite a bit recently. No, seriously, I have.
I loved cassettes. In fact, I still have two large boxes full of them taking up valuable CD and DVD storage space in my room, but I’m strangely reluctant to get rid of them. And, somewhere or other, I still have a Sony Walkman (of the cassette variety) in full working order. It’s a cute little thing too; matte silver and about the size of a tape case, and still the best personal stereo I’ve ever owned.
I guess it might end up being a collectors item now that Sony have finally discontinued the cassette Walkman after thirty years on the market, but I won’t be putting it up for sale on eBay, despite this slightly disconcerting little snippet of information:
There is a bloke currently selling blank cassettes on eBay: unopened TDK MA-R C60s, to be exact. Before you take this as further proof that eBay is the great car-boot sale of cyberspace, it is worth mentioning that unopened TDK MA-R C60s don’t reside in the sad hinterland of 0 bids and 0 watchers. They are going for £75. Each.
Oh Thierry Henry, what did you have to go and do that for? You, of all people. Despite being a life-long Spurs supporter, I have always been a great fan of yours; you were one of those rare and special footballers it was always such a pleasure to watch, no matter which team you played for. One of those players who, despite all the greed and arrogance in modern football, made me remember why I fell in love with the Beautiful Game in the first place.
But then, in a crucial World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland last week, you did a Maradona, and the poor old Republic unfairly went crashing out after neither referee nor linesmen spotted your blatant handball. And blatant it was too. Quite ridiculously so. You even compounded the offence with your comments after the game: “It was necessary to exploit what was exploitable”, you said, as if that somehow justified what was, without question, cheating. How could you?
However, Henry’s out-of-character double handball is not the first instance of blatant cheating in sport this year. In some cases, this cheating has just been childishly sad, as with the deliberate F1 crashes, while in others it has veered towards out-and-out fraud, as with the outrageous and notorious Harlequins ‘Bloodgate’ incident (and what with Quins being the rugby union side I support, this scandal made me particularly angry), and the recent Champions League match fixing arrests.
It is difficult to know how to remedy such examples of dishonesty, because if sportsmen and women – as with pretty much anyone else in any walk of life, unfortunately – think that there is the slightest possibility they might get away with it, they’ll try to do just that.
A good day to bury bad news again?
The saga of Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, The Guardian, Twitter Power and an indignant government, which broke messily all over the internet yesterday morning – well, that quite neatly eclipsed the latest installment in the MP’s expenses scandal, which had been rumbling on apace for most of Monday, and looked to be building up a good head of steam towards another day of revelations and unseemly bickering in Westminster.
We certainly got the revelations, and plenty of unseemly bickering at Westminster and beyond, just not on the subject of expenses; which slightly annoyed me, considering that I had started Tuesday morning with the aim of writing another ranty blog on MP’s expenses high on my ever-expanding To Do list for the day.
Yeah, I know I said that I wouldn’t be blogging again until after my submission date, but what are rules there for if not to be broken? I’ve spent much of the evening following the events at the Pittsburgh G20 protests online, unable to drag myself away from multiple Twitter feeds. Finally, Twitter is really making sense to me, after a long time being very dubious of why I would need to use something that was basically a Facebook status update – but without the other fun and stupid things you can do on the Book of Face (as my sister calls it).
The importance of technology in protest was actually very fiercely brought home to me at the London G20 demos back in April. Stuck in the huge police kettle by the Bank of England on April 1st, the Media Activist and I had no idea what was going on – and the Met police goons surrounding us weren’t exactly communicative. Enter the humble mobile phone, and text updates from people elsewhere (in my case, Leicester!), who were a damn sight closer to a computer and those informative Twitter feeds/news sites than we were. In fact, my mobile was a godsend during those two days; it got me a load of useful photos and it kept me in touch with my friends when we got separated in the chaos of April 2nd. And I wasn’t the only one: the vast majority of the overwhelming evidence for the police brutality inflicted on protesters over that 48-hour period came not from professional media photographers and cameramen, but from the phones and digital cameras of protesters and bystanders. In the days following the London G20 protests, more and more amateur photos and footage were being uploaded onto the internet, shared by individuals and groups, and forwarded to the mainstream television and print media. Indeed, if it wasn’t for such footage, the truth about the death of Ian Tomlinson would have probably never come out – the police had, in fact, been publicly lying about Tomlinson’s tragic death almost from the moment it happened.
The subsequent scandals surrounding the police behaviour at G20 seems to have made them rethink their protest tactics – I’ve been on a number of demos in London since G20, the most recent being an impassioned Disarm DSEi anti-arms trade protest in the City of London earlier this month, and the police have, without exception, very ostentatiously been distinctly hands-off in their approach. Despite the continued presence of the FIT (cops with cameras who seem to enjoy photographing and harassing known activists), and the distinct impression amongst many groups that these new softly-softly police tactics won’t last, I suspect that the Met has been quite severely shaken up by the fact that they’re not the ones in control of the technology any more….
And that’s true in other parts of the world too. The mobile phone footage and pictures that emerged during the protests over the result of the Iranian election earlier this year (and the fact that ‘IranElection’ has been a trending topic on Twitter as recently as this week) showed a face of the Iranian people that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t want the rest of the world to see, for example. The demonstrations in Pittsburgh today were all over Twitter (and you know things have got truly international when you re-tweet a link from London, only to find it being re-re-tweeted by a Pittsburgh TV station a few minutes later, as happened to me earlier!), which gave the protests far more solid coverage than the vague paragraph or so they seem to be getting on the mainstream news websites. Tales of tear gas, rubber bullets and ‘military sound weapons’ being used against the Pittsburgh protesters hit Twitter long before the mainstream media picked up on them, showing just how central citizen journalism can be to the newsgathering process these days.
The power of such technology in the struggle to hold the authorities to account for abuses of position is only growing in strength. The police still have the ability to record and track the movements of activists (although why they bother half the time is a bit beyond me – they’re more of a threat to public order than we are…), but they are beginning to realise that we are fighting back with the same weapons. And they really don’t like that. They can no longer hide behind the anonymity of removing their numbers, or the illusory strength of photographing demonstrators to be put ‘on file’. The files are now on them, as organisations like FITWatch amply prove – and these files grow thicker and thicker with every demonstration, with every cameraphone wielded in anger, with every image or video uploaded to the internet…..
Ye gods and goddesses, this sort of thing appears to be designed to drive the likes of me up the bloody wall. I really don’t understand how (and why) people can be so… well, gullible is the first word that springs to mind. Swiftly followed, in the case of some people, by the word dumb. If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about – yep, I’ve spent a large (and wasted) chunk of this week getting annoyed by the hysterical reaction to the so-called Fancheck virus.
For those who don’t know, this is the deal. Fancheck is a dubious Facebook app that appears to violate FB’s privacy rules (and which, it seems, should have been got rid of by FB long before this point was reached), which somehow got very popular over the last few weeks. Seemingly because of the fact that the app functions so badly (and because FB has been so glitchy recently), a rumour got started that Fancheck was actually a virus of some kind (it’s not, but when has that ever stopped the hysterical momentum of such Chinese whispers-type rumours?).
However, it is possible that the rumour started (or was at least played on) as part of a nasty ruse by the kind of spammers and malicious hackers who populate the darker corners of teh interwebs, because when the hysterical sheeple masses did a Google search for the Fancheck ‘virus’ and then clicked on the seemingly helpful links that promised to get rid of said ‘virus’, they were actually installing malware and spyware onto their computers. And as more and more people, thinking they were being alert and helpful, informed their FB friends of this ‘virus’, more and more people were searching for the solution and thus infecting their computers with the kind of crap that is genuinely an absolute pig to remove. Oh dear.
I get a lot of emails and messages purporting to be virus warnings from well-meaning but not-thinking friends (like most people, I suspect), which gets right up my nose, because there are easy and quick ways of checking whether or not you’ve been sold a pup when you receive one of these messages. PLEASE think twice before you forward these things; I check them when they arrive in my inbox and, believe me, 99.9% of them end up being dumped in the spam file or deleted. I consider myself to be relatively tech-savvy (and I am, admittedly, lucky in that I have a number of friends who are knowledgeable IT professionals), but I also freely admit that I don’t understand half of what goes on with my computer! However, even if you don’t have a friendly computer geek at the end of the phone line, there is no excuse for not educating yourself in how to stay safe online – it is easy to prevent viruses and malware etc getting onto your computer. Here’s how I do it (and – touch wood – I’ve yet to have a problem with malicious software or viruses on either this laptop or my old PC, despite the fact that no security system can ever be 100% effective):
– Install and keep up-to-date decent anti-virus and other security software. Shell out the cash and buy it. I use McAfee, but there are loads of other choices out there. This catches most of the nasty crap that might infect your computer.
– STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER! Seriously. It is FULL of bugs and security holes which are happily exploited by malicious hackers – and it slows your computer right down to a crawl. Most websites these days are just not designed to be seen at their best with IE, whichever version you have. So what do you replace it with? I’m a recent and very happy convert to Mozilla Firefox (in fact, I wish I’d installed it years ago!), which is recommended by a lot of IT professionals. It’s much faster, MUCH more secure and allows you to see websites in all their glory too.
– THINK!!!! Honestly, do. Think before you click on a link, think when you’re visiting a website you don’t know. If it asks you to download something before you can continue, ask yourself why. Check the URL. Is it the correct one for the site you think you are visiting? Be aware and be cautious. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
– Don’t pass on virus warnings until and unless you’ve checked them with a reputable source (and run a scan of your own computer too – if there is a problem, your anti-virus software should pick up on it). A good site to visit to check the validity of virus warnings is the excellent www.snopes.com. Snopes is also a fun read if you want to debunk a few urban myths (I used it a lot while researching for my old blog). If the problem is concerning a social networking site (FB/MySpace/Twitter etc), check mashable.com. There are, I am sure, other sites that do the same job – if anyone knows of any good ones, please feel free to leave a comment here.
I’m aware that this sounds like I’m trying to teach grandmother to suck eggs here, but it’s amazing how many people go into hysterical headless chicken mode when they’re confronted with what they think is a problem with something they don’t understand (like computers). I’m not a computer expert, but I’ve easily educated myself to be aware online – and so can you.