Monday, May 29, 2006

Privacy? Wossat?

I remember watching Enemy of the State way back in the day, at the Trafford Centre in Manchester. I came out the cinema looking for CCTV cameras all around me. The feeling of paranoia soon wore off, however, and I went back to my confortable state of ignorance.

Fast forward eight years, and the paranoia is back. Sadly, I don’t see it leaving me quite so easily this time. I watched BBC 2’s awesome ‘The Money Programme’ [] the other night, which was all about how we’re increasingly watched and tracked by both business and the state.

Essentially, the argument boils down to this: there are good, solid business cases for the vast majority of surveillance that is conducted by companies. However, problems arise when staff no longer feel trusted, when that information can be obtained by the state, and when many seemingly disparate and innocuous pieces of information can be pulled together to paint a picture and track the movements of individuals.

I think I’m going to carry this theme forward a bit over the next few posts. To give a flavour of what’s in place today, think about the following. We receive itemised phone bills for our landlines and mobile phones. It’s handy for us to know who we’ve called, and to check that our bills are accurate. Phone companies are required to keep these logs of who, when and for how long we’ve called for several years. Mobile phone companies also record all the text messages we send and receive – and that includes the actual text content. On the internet, ISPs keep a record of all the emails we send and receive – including their content. They can also keep a log of all the websites we’ve visited. Then of course there’s Echelon, the shadowy electronic surveillance super-machine that intercepts and analyses hundreds of millions of digital communications (including voice) every hour of every single day.

But it’s not just our communications that are recorded. All our credit card and banking transactions are recorded electronically, too. ‘Loyalty cards’ record our buying habits, telling stores what we bought and when. Our movements are tracked by the UK’s network of an estimated 5 million-plus CCTV cameras. Some of these are capable of automatic number plate recognition. Automatic facial recognition isn’t far away. There are CCTV cameras on busses and trains. The London underground is expanding its current network of 6,000 cameras to 12,000 over the next five years. The Oyster card (a handy smartcard for public transport use in London) keeps a record of all the journeys you have made. Last year, the police requested these details for over 200 separate individuals. In the UK, we are caught on camera approximately 300 times every day.

And all that’s just for starters…

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Drivers of Change

As I've mentioned before, I'll be moving to London to join an engineering firm called Arup this September. I've also mentioned before that I'm really quite fascinated with the future and what it might bring. What does the surveillance society mean for us? When will building have to generate all of the energy they use? How will the Earth sustain you and nine billion other people?

Well, whaddya know... a few weeks ago, Arup released a set of 50 cards called 'Drivers of Change'. These cards are the result of Arup's Foresight & Innovation team's research in to the forces that are shaping our world. They're themed around five main areas; social, economic, political, environment, and technology, with ten cards under each area. Each card has a picture on the front and some text and a graphic on the back.

Unfortunately the set of cards costs £20 to buy, but from what I've managed to dig up on the internet, they make for some interesting reading. The cards cover everything from atomic engineering to fear to food legislation to urbanization. It's a comprehensive look at the world around us and how it's changing. I might even splash out and buy myself a set.

I can't wait to get started working for them. Be sure to check out the Drivers of Change website.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Need... to... know...

I want to know far too much about far too many things - and the problem with the Internet is that it's perfectly suited to feeding my crazed addiction to information.

Luckily, a bunch of crazy librarians have finally come up with what they claim is a cure for information overload. Check it out - I'm sure hoping it helps me!

Hopefully, a fuller post will be coming soon. :-)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


You know when you’re just going about your daily life as normal, and then something small, but out of the ordinary, happens? The sort of thing that makes you stop for a second and puts a smile on your face? I love those moments.

They can happen for all sorts of reasons… deja vous, coincidences, anything. Well, I remembered one such moment today, and it brought a smile to my face. So I thought I’d share.

A few weeks ago my sister was flying up from London to come home for the weekend, and I was to go and pick her up from the airport. Now, our house is under the flight path out of/in to Glasgow Airport, but the thought that something like this could ever possibly happen had never crossed my mind before.

As is usual for me, I was cutting it pretty fine to get there in time to pick her up. As I closed the back door and turned round to lock it, I heard a plane passing over head. I looked up to see the BA flight my sister was on (it could only be hers; there are no other BA flights at that time of night) pass above my head, just as I was setting out collect her. I think that’s pretty cool!

That brought a real smile to my face. For me, it’s wee moments like this that make life fun.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Powerful Stuff

So the other night I was procrastinating (clearly, this was shortly before our Masters project was due a couple of weeks ago). And, as I’m sure every student knows, among the most Fundamental Laws of the Universe is, “If you have something to do, you will definitely find alternative things to do to keep yourself otherwise occupied, no matter how menial. If you have nothing to do, you will not find anything interesting enough to keep you occupied, no matter how fascinating”. I hate that Law.

Turns out, though, that it’s not all bad. Because on this particular night, it led me to Google Video. Which is generally quite cool. I ended up watching a 30-minute lecture entitled “All Marketers are Liars”, given by author Seth Godin (a Stanford MBA and business writer/speaker). The lecture was given at Google HQ, as part of some mad speaker series they have for their staff.

Now, me being as sad as I am, a bit of a business geek, AND having cause to procrastinate, I ended up watching it. T’was quite interesting, but I’ll spare you the details (though they do involve purple cows and a short man with a bald head [no, I don’t mean me]). My point is, that from this video I followed a link to Godin’s blog, from whence I followed another link to another page, which was entitled “10 Steps to Creating a Successful Web2.0 Company”. Again, I’m sad enough to find something like this somewhat interesting (remember also, that one is subject to the Fundamental Law of Procrastination, just as Gravity keeps one’s ass inescapably on the ground).

Having read this article, I thought of my Canadian friend who is currently starting up his own Web2.0 company (well whaddyano), and so double-clicked his name in MSN Messenger and sent him the link to the article. In an instant I’ve got a reply from him thanking me for the article, and we end up discussing the lecture I’d just seen, because it turned out he’d seen it too.

Bearing in mind how sad I am, I think that’s pretty cool, and a powerful demonstration of ‘The Power of the Internet’. I got educated, passed it on to friend thousands of miles away in an instant, and then discussed the material and our thoughts on it together. And that’s not to consider the fact that the Internet facilitated the sharing of the content in the first place, not just my accessing it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

That was close...

Woomf. Our trolley fell apart four times in the two days before our final presentation for the Masters project. Instead of spending the last day taking pictures and videos of the completed trolley for the website, we spent it scraping adhesive off and them reapplying it - twice. Such a downer. Crap day all round - we ended up staying in until about 8.30 to practice our presentation for the following morning.

But then, on Friday, the presentation came off without a hitch. It was beautiful, and a real feeling of achievement for everyone in the team. The culmination of months of hard work and some very, very stressful days towards the end there! We had biscuits, tea and coffee for our assessors/project supervisors, a display of the adhesive technologies and testing we'd done, some samples of the shoddy technician work we'd had to find workarounds for, the old trolley and a spectacular unveiling of our new prototype, not to mention the slick presentation itself! The feedback at the end was very positive, and we all went out for a celebratory lunch afterwards. Good times.

The heartstopping moment was when one of the assessors picked the trolley up at the end and started shaking it about, asking us, "Have you tested this joint for fatigue? I'd really like to see how it holds up under some abuse." Our hearts were in our mouths - it was truly terrifying! Thankfully, the trolley held together and didn't fall apart!

I was going to write about some cool stuff (well, I think it's cool) I did on t'internet the other day, but I think I'll save that for another post.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Tardy. What a great word. I'm getting rather tardy with my blog posts, and it's unacceptable. Fortunately, it's not my fault. It's all Uni's fault. All of it. And until I get my life back at the end of the month, it's likely blog posts will continue to be rather thin on the ground. Which is sad.

My Masters project final report was due on Friday, and we managed (just) to get it in on time. We need to have the website finished by this Friday, and the final presentation is due on Friday as well. At the same time, I have a CFD (computational fluid dynamics)coursework to hand in by next week and a helluva lot of work to do on a business plan project for my entrepreneurship class.

But there's always time for TV! I watched Bremner, Bird & Fortune the other night. I've never really sat and watched a whole episode of it before, butI have to say they were pretty damn good at pointing out the unbelievableness (yes, I know that's not a word) of some of the stuff that goes on in our country.

I'm also loving The Apprentice, although last week's episode really didn't inspire me with confidence in the contestants. Three people broke down in tears and neither team deserved to win - they were both crap.

God - I've really gone downhill. From discussing the world's economic future and global politics to boring people with my uni assignments and thoughts on TV. Pretty sad!

Let me make it up to you. :-)