Things about the Mac

There are two great reasons to buy a Mac right now this minute – if you could get one to the spec that you want (which you probably won’t be able to. Since Steve J came back to town, Apple has delivered the most consistently innovative products but has underestimated demand for everything except the transparent cube version which noone wanted at all).

The first reason is the beautiful screen saver that lets you put your favourite photos in a folder and have the Mac skip through them, panning across and zooming in and out . It’s just relaxing beyond belief and it’s the first time I’ve used a screen saver since After Dark and the flying toasters.

The second reason is the easy integration of wireless and bluetooth. Anyone who wants to know what bluetooth is for should go and get the “Salling Clicker”, as long as you’ve got a T610 phone from Ericsson. Phil Windley talked about this months and months ago and although I got it then – I really get it now.

But if those are two great, instant reasons, there are hordes of reasons to hold off. Browser inconsistency for instance. I haven’t found one browser that works for all sites yet. I also haven’t found one that remembers cookies properly or that handles windows correctly. I would have thought that this would be the first thing that would have got sorted. It could be me. But I now have 5 (bet you didn’t know that there were that many!) installed on the Mac. Good job it comes with an 80gb hard drive.

ican and they will

This is a bit of a week for online democracy. The Beeb have launched ican, a pitch to get people to contribute more to the issues of the day and help shape coverage in the media. More than a week after it launched it’s still pretty empty, but it’s slowly filling up. Will it get used? Well, it’s not really live yet (not for another week or so I think) and there’s been little coverage so far. There’s also little track record of much use being made of such sites, but maybe this is the first one that will work. Such a usage trend would be dramatically accelerated if there was a clear example of weight of opinion shifting coverage markedly. I don’t know what that would be, but will be watching out.

I was debating the other day the issue of TV licences and why we pay an annual fee for something over which we have so little control. I say “we”, I don’t include me – I haven’t had a TV for years. But in these days of increased focus on corporate governance and a focus from such shareholders as Fidelity on who is in charge of what and why, I think there’s an interesting chance here to make a similar change to media coverage. Corporate governance though is limited to a small number of people with “access”. This could be a lot of people with no such access.

On TV licences more generally, I wondered if we should maybe have a model closer to the software licence model. Today there is little or no incentive to upgrade your TV. You buy it, it works and it stays working for 20 years maybe. Little hope of course of a PC doing the same thing. But PCs add features every few months – wireless, bluetooth, more memory, faster processors etc and software arrives to take advantage of that. What if TVs were the same – if they added features regularly and broadcasters took advantage of that to offer better programmes – ones with digital sound, high definition pictures etc. Would that drive a change in the upgrade cycle? Could it also give a different model for TV licences where the fee is based on buying a TV? Programme makers would have to introduce new innovative features to get revenue for the next set of programmes. They’d have to put things out that people wanted. Who knows, such a change might even encourage more TVs to be made in the UK because there was a more regular upgrade market. Or it might encourage add ons. Or, it could just be another daft idea because TVs are fine right now and we shouldn’t mess with them.

Another bit of democracy is Tom Steinberg’s MySociety. Tom’s been busy with this for a couple of months or so, aided and abetted by James (no intro needed) Crabtree. I’ve read two or three iterations of the business case during that time, adding little value I imagine. Tom and James are onto something with this. What they need is to narrow down the vast number of ideas that they’re bound to receive into a couple that will really fly, raise the funding to get them done and then show the world that such a “civic approach” can, indeed, work. I think it’s touch and go, but it deserves to work – services like FaxyourMP and upmystreet don’t happen by themselves, they take serious passion and commitment and can only be done by people operating outside the usual processes. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out and hopefully putting my support and energy in too. You can also check out Tom’s own weblog. And, bizarrely, having done just that to make sure I had the link right, I see Tom has been writing about the licence fee too although I suspect his thinking is clearer and more relevant than mine.

The ican thing made me think back to the “888” number idea I floated back in March or so of this year. Finding the issues that on people’s minds – given enough minds in one place – is difficult and there is an absence of tools to help. ican might be it, the 888 idea might be it too. ican is there though and 888 is not. I thought I’d have a go at lifting that idea again to see if it could gain traction – perhaps in the context of mysociety, or maybe as part of the evolution of ukonline.

On the flip of online democracy has been all the noise about Diebold and how secure (or not) their e-voting tools are. In a slightly related way, Louise Ferguson pointed me at one of her recent posts, putting out the idea of “verified voting“.

Fat Pipes and Connected People

The iSociety folks (principally James Crabtree of VoxPolitics) have published their latest think-piece, Fat Pipes and Connected People (it could perhaps be “Fat People and Connected Pipes” given the weight of the UK population these days).

The report’s focus is how we cross the “broadband chasm”, i.e. move from a world of early adopters to a mainstream market. Every product goes through this stage or dies in infancy – and the big thing about the Internet so far, as everyone knows, has been how fast it has got to mass penetration. The UK has accelerated in broadband usage from a slowstart thanks, I think, to a lot of focus from government in opening up the market – but there are still steps to be taken. Nearly three years ago when I first got ADSL I used to joke at conferences that its main use was keeping me up to date with operating system patches but now I couldn’t imagine going back to a slow connection – coupled with the wireless network at home (which is now stable and working very well), it’s a huge boost to productivity.

The authors have coined a new word “microbarriers” to reflect the impediments to getting mass penetration, as opposed to the macrobarriers that have been worked so far (availability, understanding, cost and customer service). I like this concept – it’s not dissimilar to the work that we’ve done on central infrastructure where the initial reasons for non-adoption are at a very high level and then as those are resolved the issues get smaller and smaller and along pareto lines, harder to dislodge.

With today’s news from Oftel that 50% of the UK is online (12.5 million households), 750,000 households connecting in the last three months and a forecast of 1 million new broadband users in the next 12 months, this is a timely report. Go read.

Firebird

The browser mystery is resolved. The nice people at Blogger pointed me at Firebird last night. It looks good so far and comes with the strong recommendations of luminaries such as Jon Udell and Joel Spolsky, so it must be ok.

Mac Mysteries

As I struggle to get used to a whole new interface design, I’m finding some odd things – not perhaps “Mac” problems but problems with “Mac”. For instance, blogger.com no longer provides me a “make link” button so I can’t link to any other sites when I post from the Mac. There must be a radio button somehow somewhere that fixes this but until I find it, there’s not a lot of point in posting.

There’re a bunch of things I want to point to, including some things on open source in the USA from Dan Bricklin, some other open source stuff from the EU, the new ican release on the BBC website … but I can’t!

Oysters everywhere

From this weekend, anyone getting a new monthly or longer travelcard in London will get an Oystercard. There should be an awful lot of them around soon which should mean speedier passage through the gates and less fiddling around with and for tickets. I have to say, first impressions, I like it. It’s sitting in a card holder with my other smartcards for access now and works fine.

The downside is I now have an oystercard, a card for getting into the front door of the office, a card for getting in any other door in the office, a card for logging onto the office PC …. so many cards.

So, what I need is a “universal smart card” – one that intelligently receives the config of any one smart card and does what it does. I’ve been looking at those intelligent remote controls recently – the ones that subsume any other remote that you have in the household and let you do it from one box only. That’s what I want for smartcards. I just point any card at my uni-smart and it copies its function directly. I don’t know if that’s hard or not – I’m guessing that remote controls don’t have standards yet, so it must be a similar kind of problem. I’m going to go and see how hard it is – there’s a killer app working there that could resolve all the conflicts that we are *bound* to have in the next 3-5 years as more and more cards are issued.