Thursday, 5 April 2012

While I wait for the Timeline Borg to assimilate me

You will be assimilated
While I wait for the facebook Borg to assimilate me into the Timeline upgrade, I can hear the muffled cries from the corridor as mates of mine are taken over one by one or in waves. For the few days from the 31st of March I checked every hour or two, half expecting the FB police to have broken in and dragged my profile away. But still nothing.  Well past caring at this point, I'm just waiting for them to come and get me. It's not so bad once you know what to do, it's even frustrating waiting for them to come. The fact is that once it happens, I'll be hiding most of posts from the first day to about a month of posts before the top of the month. I've got the software that allows me to not see Timeline on my or anybody else's wall, and Facebook won't be able to have fun with my facts. ( see below)

It's bad enough as a writer that no one wants to pay us to produce content, I'm not going to allow some corporate Nestene Conciousness make money off my whimsy, pics, personal life or serious threads. Unlike some, while I'm not enthused by the lay out and find the look confusing, I'm not objecting to the imposition of Timeline on those grounds, no I have more serious reasons. Reasons that if you think about them, are perfectly rational. First of all, the old wall was a huge mass of difficult to search information of everything we'd ever done or said in Facebook, and that was fine.... but now you get a handy search tool that allows any of your old or new friends to find out what was happening on the 17th of March 2004. I don't remember what happened on March 17th 2004, so why should Reg from Luton know? Am I the subject of some in depth academic study for a graduate student trying to tie in my musings to  political events? Is The Sun doing a fluff piece about me on my choice of toast spread over the last 5 years? If I was, they'd have to ask me first and it would be ME telling them , not some bit of intrusive software.

There are things that happened 3 months ago that want forgetting, let alone what petty or serious trouble I might have got into trouble over in 2006. Today I'm happy, my cat is happy, my wife is happy and my father is happy. None of us need to be reminded about some insanity that occurred so long ago our brains have blotted them out. I don't want to be reminded or let all my mates know about my mother dying last year or how dear departed cat Buzu was run over by a car 6 years ago. Yet Facebook has already started doing the "Keith said: I could kill a cupa about now" or Louise said: "That was the best Doctor Who ever!". Where when???? Doctor Who isn't on now? Oh ... in Dec 2009 they said these things. Do I care? I don't want to know, will I comment all over again???. Wait till my mates get a load of 6 years of my match day highlights.

Here is a sampling
Fuckity Fuck Fuck...... damn
Shoooooollaaaaa Yesssssssssssss
Who hates Howard Webb
1-0 Get in!
Typical Toon
Halftime, off for a slash and some food.

Are you addressing your comments to me?
And as these things are randomly posted, the original posts taken utterly out of context, will seem all the more bizarre and inexplicable. I'm not 12 years old, I'm a mature male with a family, bills to pay and a varied set of interests. Even if I wrote a diary of the events in my life, I wouldn't let  most of my closest friends read it, and Facebook want us to share with all and sundry? I am not a product nor am I source of entertainment to others when they have run out of other things to do. Facebook seems to think that all people want to share their lives and photos and utterances from time immemorial as if we will always be teenagers. Most people and that includes most teens don't want that much info about them that easily found. Why else not friend your parents and your in-laws. What we do and say in Facebook is what we used to do and say in MSN Chat or private e-mails. But Timeline is designed to make it so easy for others to pry,  we've been admonished by Facebook to make sure there's nothing we don't want others to see before OUR Timeline profile goes public.

How badly do you want this job?
Speaking of who's asking.... prospective employers are asking for passwords and looking at Timelines even now. For this there is now a lawsuit in California pending.  Surely Facebook lawyers aren't so stupid as to not have anticipated this? As well, all you need is one false friend to read your deep personal history and you can kiss your identity goodbye. Forget about getting hacked, you can do plenty with less than Timeline offers, get into most credit card accounts and e-mails. Why make it even easier??? Simply saying greed is not an answer, it can't be.

Why are we being forced in the first place? What, other than being more fodder for advertisers, is in it for us? Why are we being treated like naughty children who should appreciate what's being done for us? Why when they are clearly covering their arse , they still adopt a paternalistic tone that makes any person over the age of  15 feel like Nana is forcing you to wear a scarf as it's cold and you're too stupid to figure it yourself? Well I never asked for it. In fact most people asked for the right NOT to have it. Where do these people get off forcing such things on us? They own the site and it's free to use? Not an excuse. It's an abuse of power and at worse an abuse of the information they themselves profess not to own and that we can allegedly control. It's gotten so that to enjoy Facebook, I've had to resort to no fewer than three separate bits of software in Firefox to hide the unwanted, but forced on, news feed that circumvented several privacy settings and caused us to spend a day resetting them. ( while I'm on about this, just how often have we had to reset our privacy settings?),I've yet to make any sense of the private messages I used to have that are now just a jumbled collection of long conversations with people about everything we ever IM'd each other about AND chatted about in chat. I must have  accumulated, at least a week of constant clicking blocking every poxy game and app I've ever been invited to use. And now a  new bit of kit is already installed ready to hide Timeline as and when they assimilate me.

All this work and effort to make it look like it did BEFORE they fixed it. Surely there must be a message in there somewhere. Perhaps it's "Leave it alone already, it works fine" or "NO we won't let you use our information that way", alternatively "If I wanted to have a news feed that twitched and wobbled like that, I would have asked my 12 year old cousin  to design a web page for me.". Any way you slice it, Facebook has taken the piss so often in the name of monetization that they have gone out their way to make sure we know they don't give a flying fuck what we think. I want my friends, they hang out at the park, if want to see them , I have to go to the park. One day when the police have beaten them, intimidated them and abused them enough, they will move on to a new place. But for now the search parties have come up empty and unhappy. With luck, the European Union will pass laws that protect users from such abuse and identity infringements and actions that are illegal and punishable by the courts.

I doubt the Hive mind that runs Facebook will take any notice of this, but if they are  reading, the law will catch up to you and apply to you. We wish you were as concerned about racism, bullying and organization of looting parties or riots as you are concerned with the imposition of a feature very clearly many millions of people don't want. If we accept that Facebook is a business, than we can assume reasonably that like any business that exceeds it's authority with users, it will face the double consequence of investigation and regulation. What will follow will be no more pleasant to Facebook bosses than the current and continued user abuse wherein Facebook rams down throats, change after change, most designed to make money off our information regardless of how complicated what should otherwise be a pleasant experience becomes.

And let's talk about business. Hundreds of thousands of businesses, political parties and media outlets  have invested money and time to use Facebook as a marketing tool. They have paid Facebook for special apps that work and are appreciated even by most users. But with Timeline as with every other improvement, Facebook have yet again thrown the baby out with the bath water. Companies have seen  potential clients  stop using facebook pages that have gone Timeline in droves, with an immediate and tangible drop off in business for the companies so affected.  Some might call this "loss of revenue", some might call it "breach of contract". In fact some could sue. Facebook, just how much more of this before we all leave or you figure out being a pushy orang-utan with no respect for others is bad for business?

The last time a social media got this out of hand, it went from giant killer money making phenom of the century, to beggar bowl web site wondering what went wrong. In case you're wondering...I mean you Myspace. The only reason Facebook hasn't yet collapsed, is because a viable alternative that respects people's privacy and normal social patterns hasn't turned up.

When I was boy, there was lovely Jewish bakery I used to go to. The nice old man behind the counter could ask me in at least 10 languages "if I wanted anything else and btw , how was my Mother doing?  Here's an extra bagel for her." He knew that being nice to his clients and making them want to come back even if it was a little cheaper somewhere else, was what was going to keep his daughter's child in braces and food. He knew that by being like this to his best clients, even the least of them would come back, even yet, they would tell others about him. That's called goodwill in retail, something Facebook clearly has no concept of. If he'd have chased off his best clients in favour of selling wata ( vata: wonderbread ) so he could live off the trade of toothless morons, he would  have fast gone out of business. Like I said before, soon as we find a friendly place that sells a nice rye or kimmel or maybe those nice kaiser buns or a knish, we'll be gone so fast you won't know to tell a tell the diffrence between a Newcastle Street on a Saturday at 3pm and a deli where the cheesecake has run out. 

I'm going to go back to waiting with deep suspicion for the Timeline storm troopers to take me down, till then remember the wise words of my grandmother, "Always wear clean underwear; if you get hurt and go to the hospital, I don't want the doctors thinking I raised a szwinia" .... So maybe not appropriate for this situation, but still words to live by.

PS: Quick primer on how to prepare for Timeline if God forbid they get you.

1- when you are assimilated, you will be offered the chance to "clean up" or edit your information. DO IT. Start by hiding from Timeline any information older than the last three months.

2- Delete all superfluous posts about games you have played, one line oddness that made no sense even a half hour after it was posted.

3- Insure that if you have a blog or other such public url you are promoting, to keep it open to see.

4- Insure that deeply personal or intimate events that occurred a long time ago stay in the past. Even new friends can read these .

5- Lastly, install the following software. I works on all browsers but IE. (If you're on IE , really still?, get off it, you won't miss it ) It's called TimeLineRemove . What it does is like Feed Filter,  it's got one job only, it hides Timeline. You're still on it, but you can't see it. Your wall and every other wall will be like it was pre Timeline. There will be an icon that allows you enter or exit Timeline block.


Don't forget to purge your  wall of stories to keep up with the blocking of stories you don't want seen. Every person who hasn't bothered to do the above will see your Timeline, you need to be sure only what you want seen remains.  I will be keeping a 30 day buffer that I'll clear out on the last weekend of every month. Yet more work I know, but it's only way to beat them.

Clear as mud? Tell me what isn't.  Happy Easter to my Christian family & mates and Good Passover to my Jewish family and friends. As for the rest of you, you know who you are, eat the chocolate and be nice.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Kony 2012 aftermath or All I got was this lousy bracelet for $30

It's been  17 days since the viral fraud known as Kony 2012 hit us. What have we learned since then. Well for one, I learned a new word, fapping. Until a certain repressed right wing nutter who wanted to scam impressionable young people got rumbled, I had never heard it. I suppose it was G-d's way of  getting Jason Russell, Invisible children co-founder Jason Russell to stop any more suckers from parting with their money so unwisely. My greatest disappointment is the apparent popular culture in the West that allows people with lots of money or fame to take any cause completely out of context, over simplify it and even lie if they have to get a few million people to have a flash in the pan moment that will at most raise a few eyebrows or at worst divert millions of dollars from deserving charities into the hands of those who's agendas are less than transparent or all that well intentioned. 

Slacktivism or clicktivism: lazy activism, leads to many millions of people feeling they have done something, but have in fact done nothing at all. Once the excitement had settled down to a dull rumble of vaguely embarrassed teens and keyboard warriors, the Guardian interviewed three young people who had genuinely believed they were doing good at first. In the piece, all three sum up their feelings as having "been cheated" and even angry at being deceived. Kony is no closer or father from being caught by the campaign, the money raised was destined to be spent yet again on films and wages with only 20% going to the affected country, in this cast the Government of Uganda. That's 80-20 split to the charity with the rest going to a government at least as corrupt and deadly as the supposed root of all evil Kony who hasn't been in Uganda since 2006. Oh and the money went to bullets in case you were wondering. As it happens, since the meltdown of Jason Russell, which has itself gone viral, I strongly suspect many donations have been rescinded or the money handed over will at last have to be used for something good. I'd like to think this vast farce will force Invisible Children to be more open about their finances, but I doubt even this level of scandal will be enough to open the books. 

Now not to long ago, activism meant you marched in the street, went to meetings and were somewhat more questioning of the causes you subscribed to. Today it's far too easy to LIKE something or retweet it and feel somehow, you too have changed the world in a deep and meaningful way. Now if you mean simply to get people to be aware of an issue and make them vote, maybe facebook helps, but those people still have to get out the door to vote. Frankly the truth is far harder. Back then and still now, real decisions and concrete actions only happen when people mobilize and make a real noise. You could join a party and work in it to make your point, you could join an NGO and affect real change in a real place with real effort, you could even , shock!, do something locally with mates in a place you know about. 

Which neatly brings me to the nub of the matter. Local activism is the only real way to make any change anywhere. If you support a charity in Britain or or some other Western state that wishes to help people in Uganda or South Sudan or East Timor, you need local connections with local NGOs that will insure all your good intentions aren't wasted. Local people understand the issues and the complexity of said issues. NOTHING is ever as cut and dried as it seems in the advert or the well meaning protesting actor ( George Clooney) Actress ( Angelina Jolie) tells you it is. These people wade in with half the info for 5 minutes and pull out. They distract from the experts who should have been listened to in the first place and they displace millions in donations away from legitimate charities to flashy ones who were able to con Justin Bieber or Madonna into a photo op. I was particularly offended a few years back when Angie Joly, UN ambassador, was airlifted by helicopter in the middle of a Pakistani village under several feet of water armed with a sari on her head and no food or information or medicine. After a few video clips, she disappeared about as quickly as she had arrived. One US network chose to pre-empt a live UN meeting with the Pakistani Emergencies minister going out at the time, to talk about Angie Joly and her harrowing trip. Poor old minister and his boring laundry list of what they needed and where to send it and where to make money donations never stood a chance. More recently George Clooney has militated in favour of the Nuba people in border region abutting South Sudan. While I agree in principle with his stand, he like the Kony people, though for far less devious reasons, simplified and trivialized the issues at the core of the problem. 

As with the Kony man hunt issue, the plight of the Nuba people is complex and has a deeply rooted historical reasons for being a massive pain in the backside of Egypt, Sudan, America and other states. Can we support the legitimate demands of the Nuba and not harm our access to oil from the frontier region the North ( Sudan) has done all it could to steal from the South. Were it down to people only, Sudan would have kicked the lot of them into South Sudan, but the rich mineral and oil deposits in the Nuba Mountains mean Khartoum has to defend the sovereign right of it poor deprived citizens to stay in a dictatorship. I'm sure left to their own devices, the Governments of the region and IGAD can come up with a solution that will please at least some and this without the misguided ill informed star powered slacktivism. To be clear, if any of you reading this had paid the least bit of attention to the news on BBC or other reputable networks for the last 20 years, you too would be aware of what's happening. All without the aid of Justin fecking Bieber or the dramatic but otherwise ineffectual Madame Joli, or the ill-informed ego maniac Sean Penn, you would  know, just like all the NGO types, civil servants, diplomats, and generally unheralded unsexy people doing the actual grunt work on the ground all these years, who will in the end, be the ones to resolve the issues. 

Speaking of locals and the issues as seen from the perspective of those in the middle of the palaver, I invite you watch this short video from AlJazeera English.  Seems no one from Invisible Children had bothered to ask the victims of Kony what they thought, wanted or if they were even in favour of the effort being done allegedly for them.  You'll notice that at first it's all very calm , then confusion turns to disbelief, then to anger, then to chaos. I suspect they were not best pleased and would have done far worse to the Invisible Children folk if they had tried to run that past them in the first place. What this proves is that films like this and other such top down campaigns are nearly never ever concerned with facts, needs or complexity of those they are allegedly helping.  The end user is in fact NOT the most important person. many of these self appointed White Man ego trip organizations are in fact fronts for wider political agendas or a simple creation of work by dint of claiming that locals cannot be trusted to do any of this by themselves or to even advise. I remember one particularly galling effort that wished to collect as many teddy bears as possible for the children, along with baseballs, bibles and other such things. First of all, what the children in the affected area wanted wasn't bears but clothes, their religion wasn't Christian and if they played a sport it was football ( the real round one. Such basic lack of information and ignorance lead to the collecting of many useless ( tho well intentioned) gifts that on the ground were discarded or sold on for money. How many more years will be forced to endure celebtivism and the new scourge slactivism?  How much money and time will be wasted while real people suffer from real problems that aren't making the radar due to a total lack of cuteness or saleable quasi famous bored person with a twitter account. 

I admire  Comic Relief, and Sports Relief day and such other campaigns at least for the reason that it's one day, lots of filler content where you find out precisely what the money is for, where it's going and who is getting it. Those  who's lives will be affected are directly involved in the begging and will tell you pretty damn quick if you're havin a laugh at their expense for a few quid. If  the charity you like has open books and spends between 30% and 10% on itself and the rest on the stated aims, give. If some celeb sets up separate fund for the Great Ormond Street Hospital... give to the hospital directly. Don't buy stupid bracelets and t shirts or records ( showing my age ),find a more direct way to help. If you want to help breast cancer, don't buy the special eggs or the shampoo with the pink ribbon, give directly to the charity. It's not that hard, they all accept cheques or have paypal. If some prepubescent starlet with the information depth of a puddle asks you to do something, ask yourself if it's not all it seems to be, particularly if they all suddenly get swept up in a frenzy. I was frankly insulted when a reporter on Canadian television chased down the Minister of foreign affairs and asked if he'd "mention something to his boss", like he might not have had a full and complete briefing on Uganda many times over the years, much to my surprise, former president Jimmy Carter was taken in, but not for long I suspect. 

When I was first introduced to politics and activism I was told the following...
1- Question, always question
2- Do your research
3- Seek more than one source
4- Be prepared to change your mind if  you are proven wrong
5- Do not waste your time, use it wisely.
6- No truly good result can ever be achieved in an instant, it takes time.
7- Build your case
8- Be honest, even if it means exposing flaws. 
9- Working outside of the system is fun and very trendy, but getting things done means you join the system.  ( political parties, NGOs, charities and think tanks ) Banners will only get you so far. 

Years ago in school, my wife got to question a lady from Amnesty International who came to the school to raise awareness and money. She arrived in  a silver Porshe 911, had on enough couture to buy a house, a hand bag worth $4,000 and a pair of Italian shoes that started at $900 a pair.  When pressed why she was so well kitted out, she said "My salary allows me this lifestyle". I bet it did. So that's where your donations go. The next question was even better, "How much money do you make and how much are you embezzling?" For her efforts, my wife got detention.  To their credit , most of her mates and some teachers agreed with her.

Kony2012, Sean Penn, Justin Beiber, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and other such people are guilty of  laziness at best and in the case of Kony2012, self serving lies that were uncovered as quickly as the viral thing took to get going. The victims weren't just the gullible teens who texted their brains out and gave millions, it was the syphoning of attention , energy and money from valid causes and charities that struggle day in day out to get any traction. 
Do yourself a favour today and find a cause you care about, find the best most direct route to help, get of your ass and do something about it.  Don't wait for some washed up star or barely legal flash in the pan to tell you what to do. Seek out those who know, they labour quietly for years and in anonymity to make things better, make their life worth it. You know it wasn't Lady Diana who discovered land mines, but she made them sexy. If you really cared, if you really paid attention, you would have known long before she spoke up. 

Watch Ranczo and other Polish telly online

This won't be one of my normally long posts, as it's about getting a simple message out simply. If you like Poland's most popular comedy/soap Ranczo, you want to watch it even if you don't live in Poland. If you live in the European Union, you can watch direct from the station's website TVP.PL. That means for example, if you live in the UK, you too can log into the page and watch Ranczo and an entire range of other Polish television programmes and news from Poland.

Are you living in the Polish diaspora  in Canada or the USA or maybe Australia? By getting a VPNUK account and setting it to Great Britain, you to can watch all 6 series of Ranczo. As well you'll be able to access hundreds of hours or other top quality historic and comedic programmes.

You get an easy, reliable, stable and safe access to hundred of hours Polish telly you mostly have to hunt for anywhere else. Plug back into your heritage, get a fix of home anytime you want and as a bonus, watch UK telly ( BBC, ITV, 4od, 5 )

Use this simple link to sign up. If you need help, the team at VPNUK will guide with a live chat. Start watching Poland's highest rated soap Ranczo from the beginning, then move on to other shows like Czas Honoru. I've tried other Eurozone countries and in short, if you can read the language you can use the telly web site. Good luck, let us know how it goes, it works for me.

Monday, 5 March 2012

You can't say feckin on Coronation Street

Every couple of months it gets too much and I have to stop watching Corrie. This last Corriecation has been triggered by the appalling rape story line that has dragged like cat sick on the floor  that  even Phil Collinson speaking at the St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre's annual conference, could not clean up. Standing behind the story  despite admitting procedural errors in the trail and the post trial depiction that allowed the victim and the acquitted rapist to be alone with each other. Initially rape reports increased when it appeared that something was going to be done. What happened was exactly less than nothing. Frank the rapist was found not guilty and the Chinese whispers leading up to the trial were enough to cause a crash in rape reports. The further use of the current relationship between Carla Connors and Peter Barlow as an excuse to dismiss evidence was further proof that Collinson was more interested in ott drama than realism or thinking of the repercussions of the story. If a woman is raped, it doesn't matter who she is sleeping with today, even if and I stress this strongly, if she is having an affair. The only question that should have been discussed was if a rape occurred, if it did, GUILTY.  It's hard enough for sex abuse victims to come forward, but to have arguably the most popular show on telly scare off genuine victims of actual real rapes, is a crime. So what if the actress involved publicly let producers off the hook, so what if the Sexual assault centre let the show off the hook, the end result was butt clenchingly uncomfortable maddening telly that told people only one thing. If you're going to rape, make sure you rape a woman who is troubled, having an affair, and what ever you do, don't have any witnesses, that way it's your word against hers. I'm all for justice, I'm all for fairness, but this story line wasn't about a man unfairly accused, it wasn't about some slag throwing herself at some man and regretting it later, it was about a violent attack that a rapist got away with.

If you're watching this week, the aforementioned dastardly Frank is at it again, he gasp, threatens Carla again, very likely also the gormless Sally Webster and is, we're promised, going to be found in a pool of his own blood. If it gets rid of him, fine and good, but I'm thoroughly sick and tired of the over the top drama. A few months ago when Phil ( I used to do Doctor Who) Collinson did the great Tram Crash, I asked myself if it would get back to a more normal Corrie, would they have the more realistic stories that are just as compelling as well as returning the humour to the street. The short answer is no. Corrie has only gotten sillier, opting for the far vistas of American soap where small children are witches, couples on the rocks prefer to torture each other in increasingly bizarre displays of  ratings grab theatrics and the last time anybody did anything remotely nice to another person, they were punished for it. Corrie hasn't just missed it big style on rape, but teen pregnancy as well. In a story ripped straight out of the hysterical Daily Scum Mail, Corrie are banging on about the epidemic of teen births and hopelessly unfit young mothers with no help. The only problem with the plot is that the teen birth rate is at it's lowest in years, and the young girls who have been unwise enough to sprog at such a young age do have and know about a wide range of services they can access. The Daily Mail OMG look at that freshly imagined horror agenda is only part of the problem. There is a Tory tone in the air since at least the last two years. On a street in a town devastated by Her Meanness Margaret ( phtoo) Thatcher, characters old enough to remember what it was like are heard to say things that hint at how the country was better when her nastiness ran the place. My wife having read the omnibus book of Corrie from the start to about 2000 assures me that Audrey Roberts, during the worst of the Thatcher years, had not a kind word about her. If this was properly written , she'd be heard wondering where the death party was going to happen. Sadly, Corrie has taken the opposite view of great writers and is allowing crazy ratings grabbing stories to guide character development. For every realistic story such as Roy's mother being a nasty stick in the mud and all that means for Croppers, we are accosted by fires, murders, rapes, utterly unrealistic Steve and the even more reprehensible Tracy Barlow (herself out of jail on some invented special deal) finding new ways to make us want the segment to end faster than an Adele song.

So why do I watch?  Why does anybody watch?  Well the truth is, if you take the the viewing numbers of BBC 4's Road to Coronation Street, and subtract the proportion of casual curiosity, you are still left with a whopping 15 to 20 million viewers who have abandoned the show.  Phil Collinson admits "We are not broadcasting to people who are very educated and knowledgeable about this subject. We are broadcasting to young people, and it's very important that we draw attention to these things." So it's young people who aren't that bright and otherwise watching X factor? I am part of the vast army of those who have dropped Coronation Street from TV time. When there is so much better out there, why should I and others bother watching. I'd love to get back into it, but the trend is going the wrong way, too many stupid stories, repellent characters and Tory arse licking.

I am however still madly in love with my alternative Manchester based soap, Shameless. Yes they swear. Yes you see ugly naked people doing things we might not want to see all the time, but they are, unlike the folk over in Weatherfield, real. The violence is real, the relationships are real, the jeopardy people are placed in is real. And yet the humour that courses through the entire narrative is so strong that there is not a single plot in the last few years I would have used to sort my pants or clean the cat litter. Frank Gallagher while no longer the centre of attention, still is the one fixed point on the Chatswoth estate that brings plot twists even as late as two week ago. Shameless does in spades, what Coronation Street used to do till about 8 years ago. Paul Abbot's vision continues to fuel top quality telly at C4 while Phil Collinson is driving the original Northern drama into insignificance. While Corrie takes liberties in the name of drama, Shameless looks at unvarnished life in the Estate and translates it into entertaining television without cheapening the experience or soft selling the issues people involved are embroiled in. I won't lie, it hurts to see Corrie go down the shitter like, but I won't miss it if dies from this. Intelligent continuing drama need not jump the shark to stay relevant, they need only to stick to basics, likeable characters, stories that don't make an episode of Doctor Who seem realistic, and most importantly, remember your cast and characters know where they've been. If you take a life long sport hater into a sudden football fanatic for the purpose of a haphazard story, or you make somebody irrationally turn gay or perhaps make a man stab his best mate in the back so the show can have a controversial affair that wrecks a long standing street family, they will let you know. Actors are not programmable drones that will say and do anything that pops into your head. Fans are not going to stick around if you pretend they don't exist, worse yet, established fans won't be happy when you tell them they aren't important. If you ask ans actress who's been playing a role for years to do something her character would never do, you're not just insulting the viewers, but the actress as well. On Shameless when a character runs it's course, he or she leaves, they sometimes come back if the chance exists to get a few eps out of them, but as a rule, the useful life of an actor or actress are measured by the persona dramatis' to sustain themselves in the role. When the stories ran out for the Gallagher children, even if we liked them, they were sent away. Neighbours have come and gone, power brokers and circumstances have changed the estate but never once has anybody been forced to be anything other than what they are. The other way to look at Shameless is to look at it as art. In one scene the Lilian the madame and Kelly the prostitute have a perfectly rational near mother daughter talk about business, all the while this Feliniesque circus of freaks and oddly dressed people parade past busily doing what could only be described as performance art. In another scene, Frank descends into his own mind and channels Pinter or Shakespeare while he jousts with himself.

So while you can't say feckin on Corrie and Jamie Maguire will never suddenly become police inspector, I know which show is the one that's an insult to my intelligence and values. I also know which show will accurately reflect, warts and all the Condemn Nation and the effects of it on poorest of the poor.

Staying on the subject of drama and jumping the shark, Upstairs Downstairs is back and save a bit of lezzing up that was so tame last night I could honestly admit to have done more to my cat,  has stayed the course with well written sub plots that play well into the main theme of the phony war and the decline of the big houses. I must admit to having bizarre fantasies regarding Alex Kingston. I fully expect her to draw a gun or pick up her blue Tardis shaped diary. Tho only one hour long once a week  for only a few weeks, the quality of the cast, the sets and the scripts means I will glued to seat for the foreseeable couple of Sunday nights.Upstairs Downstairs does one thing well that Downton Abbey fails to do, it respects costumes, morals, ideology, facts, chronology, and still manages to be entertaining. Hair and clothing, especially for the women, is based on the fashions of the time and actresses that will not wear the full kit soon learn they can't do costume drama at the BBC unless they are prepared to wear the clothes too. Chronology is also pretty basic and obvious, but clearly not a important enough for Downtown to pay it any heed. Lastly, to give you an idea of how the two shows rate, when my father who lived in those houses down to the silverware in the 1930's, watched both, he muttered constantly about how the Downtown help and family would never have behaved like that, even reaching crescendos of indignation for wasting his time,  but during Upstairs, he quietly does a running commentary confirming the best and the worst of all the behaviour and taste on display be it the family or the servants. It's just a play you say, but when doing these things, especially in the literary classics, you have to be reminded that these films will be going into schools. People will be learning from them. Why, if you can, do you not then make the effort to be as precise as is possible? It's not like it's a stripped down Hamlet with one light, one chair, one skull and a hand puppet. These dramas cost vast sums of money and getting it right is as important as having a fun script.

Another treat you cannot afford miss is the brilliant Inspector Montalbano on BBC4. This adult drama in Italian, is rich in humour and reflects an albeit stylised representation of life in Silvio Berlusconi's Italy.  Salvo Montalbano is a 40 something man married to his work but trying hard to satisfy his  matrimonially itchy girlfriend of 8 years. The relationship plays out in the background as the team led by Salvo tries to get to core of matters all the while not upsetting too many apple carts. Comic relief is provided by the inept desk officer who has a hard time remembering important messages and cannot pronounce names to save his life. As detective fiction, it works best if the viewer understands that by 60 minutes, you likely know all you need to solve the crime of the evening.  If you missed any, BBC iPlayer will be holding onto the films for two months after broadcast AND there will be 10 in total with more to come we hope. Fingers crossed, the axe poised to drop on the jewel that is BBC 4 will not stop the buying of wonderful foreign language productions like Montalbano, The Killing, Spirale or Borgen. Watch it while you can, you know before the powers that be dumb it all down to about the level of BBC 3 or ITV 2.  

If you have a moment, please send a strongly worded message to the BBC that they should leave BBC 4 alone. I mean, if a bunch of people who didn't listen to a load of pretentious twadle on radio 6 saved it, why not the actual lorry loads of actual people who watch the actually well rated science, history and drama on BBC 4.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

10 things to make your computer safer, more efficient and practical

Luddite, experienced or one who goes where weeping angels fear to tread, on any given day of the week when you turn your computer on, you wonder, is there any way I can do this better, faster, safer. Can I get my personal slave be more cooperative and less of an accident waiting to happen. Well of course there is, but you have to be ever vigilant and ever so likely to spend more time at tech sites than most people are prepared to do. Over the last few months a few things have come along into this blogger's life to make his online life that much more pleasant.  Through dint of spending too much time googling, watching the interesting bits of BBC's Click and having too many computer engineers on my friends list, I have, I think, got the laptop down to the essential bits of kit any rational person should have if they are like me.

I'll get to the specifics in a bit, but it's important you understand the why of it all.

In no particular order, let's start with safe.  Safety is of paramount importance. While you can never have absolute perfection, you can come pretty close to it if you accept that some nasty little troll who really wants to get into your machine, will at some point, at least make your life difficult. In some cases, certain web sites and software, in the name if safety will make your basic browsing experience pure hell.  What you need is a set of software and services that will insure that your data, and financial transactions are safe secure and easy to do, even, EVEN.....EEEEVENNN if you aren't at home or even in another country. If you are careful and don't seek trouble, what trouble that will seek you out will be effectively stopped, sometimes despite  even yourself. Any combination of browser, add ons and antivirus  has to work seamlessly in order to keep us from loosing our cool or purpose when browsing, without ever forgetting that the one thing we want most from the software or service is that it do all the boring stuff quietly and efficiently in the back ground.

 The next thing you need to insure is that your browser isn't going to get all sticky with add ons or be an infected old tart who's been on the game for far too long. Crashes and freezes are annoying, but it's even worse if the browser is like a magnet to viruses. Avoid Internet Explorer.... use your brain, open your eyes, DO NOT DEPEND on what the pre packed stuff the computer seems to insist you use. Norton hasn't been THE BEST in a decade. The deadly combination of bad browser and lazy anti virus means you'll be behind the eight ball before you type in  Women of Star Trek. And on the subject of search engines, Google, as good as it used to be, has committed the crime of being so commerce driven, that any really useful results to "History of Doctor Who" are hidden away on page 3, behind, anything they can flog, Doctors who do surgery and assorted pills and creams. If that's not enough, Google now has joined it's privacy policy up to insure that they give you the best browsing experience by mining your e-mail, google searches and you tube history, all in aid of getting you to the stuff you want to buy faster. What? you didn't want to buy anything, you just wanted  some info? Too bad, because they are now assuming your information and activities belong to them and they could sell them on in some form or other.  I'd love to suggest a great, perfect search engine, but both Yahoo and Bing have their drawbacks and their good points, but if you wish to avoid the triple whamy of letting Google know your every move, you need to pick one of those two OR  Clear and disable your Google search history.

Lastly, your computer is also your telly, your radio and your telephone, if you aren't streaming, talking, listening and watching on the laptop, you are missing the best bit. 

So how do you avoid getting wrong in this minefield of competing risks and drains on your credulity? What is is the magic bullet that works for me?

Beginning with the browser most likely to satisfy me, Mozilla Firefox ( current version) will almost always be better than Chrome, if like me you enjoy fiddling with your settings and being master of your domain ( apologies to Seinfeld).  Firefox allows you to tailor your browsing with a number of add ons that insure your safety and ease  of use. The best are Adblock plus, it does what it says on the tin. Stopping most adds on ITV, 4oD, and forums and streaming sites that would normally get your browser to crawl to a stand still.  While Adblock can seem a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes, remember when that streaming site insists you disable Adblock, it's most likely just angry you've stopped it's cookies and viruses from entering your machine. If it seems to good to be true, if you just let the ads on, it is. Better Privacy does for you what most antivirus will do only in the paid version, and that's stop the cookies that track you and your locations. If like me, you can write in a few languages, Firefox has a number of dictionaries you can  install as well. Lastly and most  cool, Firefox has a wide variety of skins to dress your browser in. One is in Tardis blue with stars and the other is all Newcastle United.  You just try that in IE or Chrome. Now if you aren't that bothered with a lot of useful bits you can control with ease, then Chrome, aka Firefox light, is the browser for you. Still does a lot, still better than IE, but beware, the best add ons are written for the open source Firefox and will always be fixed long before Chrome notices there was ever anything wrong.

Give us your password
Antivirus software is the most important choice you'll ever make with your computer. The package is your personal security guard checking to see if some yobo looking to steal your passwords and overdraft is lurking in your junk mail and dodgier sites. While a good number of free antivirus programmes exist, they are not nearly as good as the one you pay for, and even then, you need to be careful. Recently, BBC's Click ( see Man in the Browser story )wrote a custom made Zeus file designed to trick you into giving up all manner of confidential banking information. Only three antivirus packs detected the new, previously unflagged virus, Bullguard, Kaspersky and another who's name now escapes me. That's three out of over 20 major choices, leaving old Norton and it's mates floundering in the gutter, mugged, bleeding and penniless. I however went with Kaspersky for a few reasons. 1- It's main office is just down the street where the biggest and the baddest hackers on Earth work. Surely the best choice. 2- Importantly, unlike Bullguard, Kaspersky has a world wide online presence that provides a quality assurance customer service second to none. 3 Lastly, the price was hard to beat. Kaspersky Internet Security 2012, for the price, did what all the other premium versions did, plus more, and for less. The more you buy online, the more you explore for Classic Doctor Who online, the more you will need to protect your money and your pass words. Bottom line, what ever you do, Kaspersky is probably the best at catching the new viruses, worms or malware the baddies have cooked up long before anybody else will.

Now here comes the cool stuff.....

VPN ( virtual private network) v Proxy:  That's easy, but let's see why. Proxy does what VPN does, it allows you to be in another country, even if you're in a different country. But unlike the VPN, Proxy services tend to be used by more than just revolutionaries, people just trying to watch a bit of BBC iPlayer away from home, or some CBS show they missed that month  while away on business. Proxy is dangerous, if only because it's a known tool used by people who are trying to counter security measures in illegal commercial transactions. So what! you say, you just wanted to catch up on Corrie or Match of the Day? Oh and if a load of people are all on the same server at the same time, you won't be getting anywhere near the bandwidth they promised you. No big deal? try and access your paypal account or do a bank transaction, it won't work, every bell and whistle and alarm will go off, and rightly so, because criminals are doing the same as you on IP addresses that change as often as babies change nappies. Using a VPN will insure a near uniform access, secure private and reliable connection that isn't being shared by a 1000 other people, including some pretty dodgy people up to no good. This also means you can access your accounts without having to worry. In proxy, doing so  resets all your cookies, and in the case of paypal, blocks your access till you reset your password. There is one other pretty compelling reason to go VPN, unlike proxy settings that are fiddly even for most nerds and need setting up on every browser and every application you use, VPN installs once, and connects to your server efficiently and quickly. My choice is VPNUK. A company that has not let us down yet. A brilliant service group that will with live help, get you set up, and if you need assistance later, sort you out promptly.  VPNUK charges about the same as others for a month, but affiliated with a multiplicity of online payment systems, is dead easy to get onto at £5.99. With VPNUK you bypass the hassle of international banking and you can still catch up with telly from home, and should anything happen, the live help is there most of the day.

What about BBC podcasts? I used to miss my favourite programmes or just get to listen just the once, but now with the deceptively easy Radio Downloader, I can select my favourite shows, leave it running and presto, I have the broadcast for as long as I want it. Yes you're right, just how many times can you listen to Jilted John or Oh Bondage up yours?  Well ... as often as I can some days, but for most people it's a wonderful way to record a unique event off the full spectrum of BBC radio. I'm particularly proud of the time I got a request read on the air, and now I can hear it again and again. Ok that's sad, but I also have the time Nicola Bryant was interviewed, that time him off the Rezillos talked about the formative years of the band or when The Happy Cats played live.

Are you on Facebook all the time, Facebook doing your head in with all the sidebars and tickers and other wee multi legged beasties they unleash on us?  feedfilter from Firefox  lets you customize just how much of the content you want to hide. Oh of course you can do that now without it, but only because Feedfilter came first, and it's still working beyond the call of duty hiding ads and other elements Mark Zuckerberg seems to think I need.

Now not withstanding the bollocking I gave Google before, G-mail has unleashed a cool bit of kit  for the entire year of 2012.... If you live in North America ( but not Mexico) you can ring people for free from G mail.  It doesn't matter if it's a mobile number or a land line, it's free. Before they wake up and realize what they've done, use it. Free phone calls anywhere in Canada or the United states from within Canada or the United States, assuming you have the people to talk to,  Get in !  Pity they didn't do it for the EU and GB, but hey, if you can use, you'd be a daft cnut not to.

I know most of my readers are Doctor Who fans, what with the incredible shrinking streaming universe, we need to appreciate the online services we have. Ideally you should buy the DVD of any Doctor Who ep, but what if you don't have access, what if the BBC still haven't released the tape to DVD, what if your local video shop is not Who friendly?  This web site is the best bar none collection of links to Doctor Who online.  It's nowhere near as good as owning the stories, but it's better than nothing and sometimes , nothing is all we have.  Crossing the WHOniverse is one stop for every era. You'll have to navigate a few places that  seem to think there were ever only 6 series, silly people, but if it's online, you'll find it here.

What about that collection of region one DVDs, maybe your mate from England gifted you an entire collection of BBC DVDs, or worse that collection of lush Jackie Chan stuff that just won't play on your machine.  And if you've changed your region more then the 6 times allowed, it stuck on whatever you were last watching.  VLC Media player comes to the rescue, after much searching and trying , it's the only one that works for sure without spending money and as good as any as the ones that cost. Install it, it's safe, it's easy and uncomplicated. I'd pay, but frankly the firms out there offering the software demand far too much information and will mostly try to get you to buy a load of stuff you don't need along with some tricky viruses.

Oh and feotus boy, why are you still paying to talk to people long distance????? Any of these are great, MSN, SKYPE, and now the GMail phone for North America. All allow you to talk for free on your comp, with or without video. You giant mentalist, paying long distance is insane if you can do it for free on this many platforms. All that texting, rofling ,  and chatting is killing the art of conversation and the ability of an entire generation to express themselves with words out loud or to converse AND pay attention to what the other person is saying. While I have your attention, don't use the ISP e-mail address they gave you, don't ever get tied down to your provider for e-mail services. Choose one , any one, I have always liked GMail, not least for it's ease of use and it's massive capacity for storage. If you ever leave your provider, you don't have to migrate yet again to another new e-mail address. Sounds logical doesn't it, but far too many are still too afraid to try any of the secure, free and reliable web based e-mails out there.

Clouds...... clouds are stupid, they are cumbersome and accomplish little, get a detachable data storage unit, a stick, a big external drive, it's faster and more secure.

For the nerds and anoraks who love canny open source stuff that works, Filzip for compressing files, CCleaner for cookies and other essential bits of cleaning and for the ones too skint to pay for Windows office Suite.. Open office is free to use and does the exact same thing.

Follow my advice and you'll be happy, safe and mostly trouble free. You could do this the hard way and try all sort of other things, but I hope you'll save yourself the palaver.

Last bit of advice if you're running a business, if you don't have an online presence, get one, if you have one but haven't optimized your site, do it, if you're thinking of doing it, don't let your 14 year old nephew  do it. Trust a professional and pay the price, Like all things on the net that require the slightest bit of talent, people want it for free. Be it writing, music or computer services.

I would have loved to do a review of the best paypal type services, but that will be for another time. I hope this has helped. Surf safe, surf happy and be aware that sometimes you need to pay to get something in return.