Quote from article on AOL/Time Warner merger

UPDATE: On 20 October 2010, Emmanuel Nimley’s sentence was reduced on appeal to 120 hours of community service. I’m still unconvinced that criminal charges are appropriate to deal with this type of infringement, but this is at least a much more proportionate response.

Emmanuel Nimley is a 22-year-old from Harrow, in northwest London. Although we often hear how black males do less well than average in British schools and are under-represented in higher education, Emmanuel Nimley went to university and graduated with a 2:1.

I’ve never met Emmanuel Nimley. But I teach students sometimes, and mark their papers, and I know what it takes to get from nothing to a third, from a third to a 2:2, from a 2:2 to a 2:1. Lazy, feckless people don’t get 2:1s.

So we know Emmanuel Nimley studied hard to get a good education. Despite this, a year later, like tens of thousands of other graduates since the financial crisis, he was still looking for a job.

And then he did a silly thing. Something he shouldn’t have done, but was easy to do with a gadget he already had in his pocket. After paying for a cinema ticket and taking his seat in the auditorium, Emmanuel Nimley held up his mobile phone and videoed the movie.

Nobody stopped him. continue

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By Jonty Quilf, Electrical Correspondent

I’ve just come back from the newsagent’s with a copy of the Daily Telegraph, a publication so expensive and impossible to read that it’s rapidly become the most popular newspaper. It’s a triumph of marketing over functionality. And it’s so ubiquitous that writing anything about it – even hopelessly inaccurate nonsense that I invented – is guaranteed to drive massive traffic to any blog post.

When Colonel B Limp launched the Telegraph in 1855, it was leaps and bounds ahead of its nearest rivals. Now – as other newspapers announce websites, apps and virtual HML cascades – it remains available only as a single papyrus 18 feet long, printed in cuneiform and encased in a jewelled tabernacle weighing 150lb. How utterly ridiculous.

Here are 14 reasons why, even if the Telegraph continues to print at least one random photograph of a blonde posh girl every day with the calculated regularity of the Sun’s Page 3 and no more connection with an actual news story, I will not be buying it any more, except if I do. continue

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Thoughts on censorship

Blogged on 14 September 2010

Apple has published, for the first time, the guidelines according to which it approves or rejects apps submitted to be made available to users of its iOS devices (the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch). The document is still accessible only to registered developers, but copies are already proliferating on the web, so everyone can get a look. Which is nice, because when you buy a device at least partly for its ability to run apps, you have a legitimate interest in knowing what kinds of apps are and aren’t likely to be released.

Some clauses appeal to rather vague notions of quality, which is OK with me. As a user, I expect Apple to reject apps that simply aren’t very good, whether or not they infringe any preset prohibition, because I don’t want an App Store full of crap. And as a publisher, I’m not too worried about getting apps rejected for quality, because I don’t plan to submit any rubbish.

I was worried about the refusal to approve apps created using Adobe’s Flash Packager, because that’s potentially a good way for people like me to produce magazine-style apps without having to become programmers just to add simple bits of user interface that could easily be done within Adobe’s design tools; but in the new guidelines, that overly precious decision has been reversed.

What does concern me, no less now than before, is Apple’s attitude to controversial content, which is at best muddled and at worst a threat to the freedom of the media.

Real freedom means being able to publish in the prevailing forms of mass communication

Before you make a face and wonder rhetorically whether preventing something from being published on the iPad is really the same as burning the presses and stringing up the proprietor, think harder. You could argue that we have freedom of expression as long as we can freely write our thoughts on a piece of paper, seal it in an envelope and pass it to our neighbour under cover of darkness. But that’s a pretty poor kind of freedom. Real freedom means being able to publish whatever we want, within reason, in the prevailing forms of mass communication.

And, in case you hadn’t noticed, printed newspapers and magazines aren’t prevailing quite like they used to. continue

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Steve has new thoughts on Flash

Blogged on 9 September 2010

In a development absolutely nobody had predicted (counter-examples welcome in the comments, but I’ll believe it when I see it), Apple has reversed its decision to ban apps based on Flash from the iOS App Store. In a statement released a few minutes ago, the company sounds as near to contrite as anything I’ve ever heard from within the Jobs compound:

We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 to relax some restrictions we put in place earlier this year.

In particular, we are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code. This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need.

It would be childish to describe this as a “climb-down” or “cave-in” (yes, you, every tech site), but it does appear to be a complete removal of the restriction on apps created using Adobe’s Flash Packager, as well as other tools that work in a similar way.

On the other hand, the timing makes “We have listened to our developers” seem disingenuous. continue

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Apple’s annual iPod event was held on Wednesday at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, one of the company’s regular venues, and livecast to press gatherings in locations including London, where my fellow hacks reported a less than stampede-like turnout. (I’m 250 miles away and it wasn’t worth the trip. Oh, and they didn’t invite me.)

For the first time in a while, the event was also publicly webcast live, though this wasn’t announced until the night before, and by using its own HTTP Live Streaming technology Apple effectively restricted access to users of recent Macs and iOS devices, thus making a few people happy while needlessly pissing off the rest of the world. Come to think of it, that would make quite an apt mission statement.

Steve Jobs presenting Special Event, 1 September 2010

Anyway, I watched it on my iPad, and the quality was great, except that in the last half-hour the video rewound itself to the beginning of the event and had to be cajoled back to the correct point, and just before the end it dropped out altogether for several minutes, although, for reasons which will become clear, that was fine with me.

Steve Jobs kicked off by pointing out his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in the audience. Woz, though still on the payroll, has a fractious relationship with the company these days, so it was nice to see some chumminess.

And then we were into the usual round of stats about how many people had been shopping in Apple Stores (up to a million a day around the world) and how many iPods and things Apple had sold (275 million iOS devices so far). All very impressive if you like numbers, and a reminder that this is an area where Apple isn’t just a respected niche player but a city-destroying industry Godzilla.

iOS updates

Then Steve kicked off the announcements proper by introducing iOS 4.1, available ‘next week’. This update, apparently, will fix the proximity sensor bug that sometimes makes the iPhone 4 respond to your ear as if it was your finger, a Bluetooth bug that I wasn’t aware of because I long since gave up faffing around with Bluetooth headsets, and the utter failure of iOS 4 to work properly on 3G iPhones, with which, frankly, it should never have been advertised as compatible. There was no mention of magic aerial fixes.

More exciting was news of iOS 4.2, the update that will bring iOS 4 functionality like multitasking to the iPad for the first time; Steve confirmed the widely predicted launch date of November, and insisted on demoing some of the features, causing a shuffling of feet among audience members who were already thoroughly familiar with them from the iPhone 4. Still, at least we know it works. continue

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Don’t be afraid of Them

Off topic on 31 August 2010

Dennis Baron, Professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois, is the latest grammar pundit to write about the lack of English singular pronouns that don’t have to be selected according to the sex* of the person referred to. The difficulty is evident in formulations such as

From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.

People likely to quote this (from Marx) are unlikely to be intentionally sexist, but

From each according to his or her ability; to each according to his or her needs

just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Setting the problem in a more everyday context, Baron quotes the Guardian’s grammar-obsessive Lucy Mangan:

You can’t say, “Somebody left their cheese in the fridge”, so you say, “Somebody left his/her cheese in the fridge”, but then you need to refer to his/her cheese several times thereafter and your writing ends up looking like an explosion in a pedants’ factory.

Quite. But hang on: if it’s so wrong, why did the idea of saying “Somebody left their cheese in the fridge” strike Lucy in the first place?

There are all sorts of things you really can’t say. You can’t say

Somebody left its cheese in the fridge

because this is turning a human being into an inanimate object, which is rude (and ungrammatical, since ‘its’ doesn’t agree with ‘somebody’). Nor can you say

Somebody left hiser cheese in the fridge

because nobody will have a clue what you’re on about. But you can say

Somebody left their cheese in the fridge

without either sexism or risk of confusion. So why not just do it?

Baron quotes an astonishing number of other unisex pronouns proposed at various times, including thon, hi, le, ip, ne, nis, nir, ir, hizer, ons, e, ith, heer, hie, ha, hesh, thir, himorher, se, heesh, hse, kin, ve, ta, tey, fm, shem, se, jee, ey, ho, po, ae, et, heshe, hann, herm, ala, de, ghach, han, mef, ws and ze. These are all clearly the work of cloth-eared fools. But, he concludes,

Despite this wealth of coinage, there is still no widely-accepted gender-neutral pronoun.

Like Lucy Mangan, Baron appears to be in a sort of pedantry-induced state of denial. Does he read nothing but subedited copy? Has he never overheard a conversation outside his own faculty’s corridors? Of course there’s an accepted unisex pronoun. It’s they/them/their. Most people use it without thinking twice – even grammar pedants like Lucy (until they force themselves to think twice and reject it).

And there’s absolutely no problem with it. It leads us into no grammatical blind alleys. All we have to do is treat the noun as plural, and everything else follows. OK, maybe it feels odd to say

Whoever left their cheese in the fridge needs to ask themselves why.

Unlike ‘their’, ‘themselves’ is so in-your-face plural that we might stumble over its disagreement with a singular verb form (needs). Maybe we need to coin ‘themself’ (again, something I’ve already heard people say). This will need to shake out over time. But it’s hardly a reason to dismiss the whole idea.

Is it particularly awkward to take a pronoun we traditionally think of as plural and start using it as singular too? Nope. We’ve already done it once. A couple of hundred years ago, if I wanted to address a single individual, I would use the pronoun ‘thou’. (It’s still used in some places in the north of England.) Today, I use ‘you’, which originally referred only to more than one person. Baron even mentions this in passing. Yet, according to his research,

the rule books now opt for he or she and not an invented word to replace the generic he.

These rule books are crazy. We don’t want clumsy workarounds like ‘he or she’; nor do we need to make words up, much as it would please the editors of dictionaries. A perfectly good solution has emerged naturally.

And if the writers of the rule books can’t accept it, frankly they need hises or herses heads examining.

*It’s confusing that linguists use ‘gender’ in reference to male/female sexual classification, commonly and properly referred to as ‘sex’, as well as to grammatical gender. Whether a word’s gender is masculine or feminine has no necessary correlation with the sex of the thing it refers to. (In German, for example, a girl – das Mädchen – is neuter.) In this sense, nobody would bother trying to come up with a ‘gender-neutral’ pronoun, because there’s no politics in grammatical gender. What we need to satisfy our political requirement to avoid sex bias is a pronoun that can refer to people of both sexes. So it seems clearer to talk about ‘sex-neutral’ or ‘unisex’ pronouns.

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Spread from Dell education supplement

Aimed at the back-to-school market, this supplement was sponsored by Dell to run in the summer editions of Dennis Publishing’s consumer tech magazines. Coordinated by PC Pro editor Tim Danton, Stuart Andrews wrote the copy and I subedited, picture researched and designed the 16-page mini-mag, creating a look and feel that fitted Dell’s branding while remaining distinct. The fonts are Museo Slab, from the wonderful exljbris, and Gotham.

Dell was, as ever, a model client, and Stephen and Lukas at the Republic of Ireland HQ cheerfully fielded our endless requests for product shots and info. More sample pages below. continue

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Victorian attitudes

Portfolio on 22 July 2010

Victorian poster for MacFormat

MacFormat asked me for a pastiche of a Victorian advertising poster for a feature on essential Mac applications. Deputy editor Chris Phin featured as the impresario, and a brief from art editor Alex Thomas called for allegorical illustration and typographical over-ornamentation. Copywriting was a joint effort by me and Mr Phin; reference material was drawn from a variety of 19th Century sources; and I produced the finished artwork in Adobe Photoshop CS5, using the new brush functions for the colour inking.

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How to buy an old Mac

In print on 21 July 2010

Thanks to Apple’s build quality, old Macs rarely die – they just end up on eBay. You can get a usable machine from under £100.

To cope with modern life it’ll need a G4 or higher processor and Mac OS X. Check the system requirements for any apps you want to run. Macs with PowerPC processors can’t run Intel-based software, such as Windows under Boot Camp.

You can look up Mac specs at Apple’s site; if a part number such as M8950LL/A is given, type it into the search box.

Wikipedia and LowEndMac.com are good for unofficial info such as known problems. Confirm with the seller that the OS X discs are included, as you’ll need them in emergencies.

It’s good if the OS has been upgraded to the highest compatible version – Mac OS X editions cost £25 to £75 on eBay – but do ensure the discs are supplied, and the same goes for any installed apps.
All non-prehistoric Macs have USB ports, but if they are USB 1.1 your iPhone, iPad or recent iPod may fail to connect: officially they require USB 2.

Check if Wi-Fi is installed: AirPort means 802.11b, and AirPort Extreme will be 802.11g; if not, search eBay for the appropriate AirPort card, or try a USB adaptor. Alternatively, all Macs have Ethernet ports to cable directly to your router or to an AirPort Express (£81), which then connects wirelessly.

Here’s our pick of the sensible buys. Prices are for eBay; dealers will charge more but should offer some warranty and support. continue reading at TechRadar

First published in MacFormat issue 224, July 2010.

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Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 6

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer is the new name for Xara Xtreme, the drawing and image editing package. To go with the more explanatory title, this version gets a clearer user interface, adopting a fashionable dark grey look. Although some of the icons and buttons still feel a little dated, it’s a great improvement.

We’ve always liked two things about Xara: it’s fast, and it puts most of the controls you need right up front. The one remaining requirement for ease of use was a straightforward way to access the elements in your artwork, since drawings can quickly get too complex to edit just by clicking on items. This was addressed by Xara Xtreme 5’s Object Gallery, which has now developed into the Page & Layer Gallery, listing every object and its attributes in an easily navigable tree. You can now easily select individual objects to edit it independently.continue reading at Expert Reviews

Published in Computer Shopper issue 272

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