Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mixed Bag.

This is going to be on of my more meandering posts, as I'm in a meandering sort of mood , something that's fairly typical of me late in the evening. I rarely get as much done as I expect to do, especially when faced by a computer screen. It never ceases to amaze me that I have in front of me a machine that is perfectly capable of launching and running a space mission, or crunching huge amounts of data, or accessing virtually all the knowledge that has been amassed by mankind, and I end up playing Angry Birds or watching a video of a cat falling off something.
In a way, home computing has become far too easy, and with that it makes it too easy to use a computer as just another way of entertaining us. I remember my first computer - a VIC-20, back in 1981. It had an enormous memory of 3kb, which I enlarged to a staggering 16kb by way of a plug in module in the back. It had a tape recorder for storing and downloading programs, and you could download a program in the incredibly fast time of five minutes. And it had 8 colours! Yes, it was limited, and as for the very notion of the internet....well, there was the possibility of dial-up modems, but they were a) bloody expensive and b) nowhere near what computer nerd movies like War Games suggested you could do with them. Yet I learned more from that machine about what computers could and couldn't do than I have from years of being logged on, surfing and blogging and generally playing with the net. The most important lesson was this: You Get Out What You Put In, or, more succinctly, GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). If you dick around on a computer, you just get dross in the end - good outcomes very much depend on remembering that a PC is a subtle, highly flexible tool that can enhance the work you do or open worlds of opportunities, provided that you're willing to work with it.
Talking of garbage, I won't be weeping any time soon for News International's problems. I feel sorry for the journalists who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own, but in the end the revelation of who had had their phones hacked was too disgusting to be ignored. It's been actually quite interesting to see Parliament actually stand up to Rupert Murdoch - it makes you realise that, by and large, the British Parliament is a remarkably feeble and supine creature much of the time. They've only moved in for a decisive kill because they saw that NI was wounded and they could smell blood. I also suspect that our brave and noble MPs had a bit of a schadenfreude moment, and decided it was payback time for all the bollocks they've had to put up with from Rupert Murdoch's stable of media outlets.
However, NI should not be blamed alone. As has been pointed out by several newpapers, the Guardian in particular, the media and politicians have enjoyed, or possibly endured, a weird symbiotic relationship over the last few years. The journalists know that the MPs are spouting arrant guff most of the time, the MPs know they are spouting arrant guff most of the time, but beacuse of their relationship they carry on with this daft gavotte, one side bleating out sundbites and the other side not just writing it down, but positively encouraging it. In some ways, it was inevitable that newspapers would end up deploying the same kind of espionage tactics traditionally associated with spies - get the story, after all, and you have something that will sell your paper.
And let's not forget that someone buys papers or watches satellite tv - the consumers, who see their media as something to entertain, not to inform, as something to keep them amused and tittivated rather than make them think. Of course, it's entirely human nature to watch, listen to, or read about something shocking, amazing, astonishing or whatever - such things take us out the mundane grind of life. Yet there's entertaining someone and doing actions that are clearly morally reprehensible, to put it mildly.
If you look for garbage from your papers, you'll get garbage. If you want to be informed, ignore papers that just produce sensationalism.
well, seems we're back to the start of this entry in a way.
In other news: my cycling is kind of back on track -  I did a somewhat tedious fifty-mile ride down to Basingstoke and back, which served to confirm that I'm pretty much at the necessary fitness levels for the ride to Paris. I was hoping to do a few 1-hour lunchtime rides during the week, but various bits and pieces have prevented me from doing so. And the fundraising seems to be doing OK, as you can probably see from the chart on the right - on which I would ask you to click and sponsor  me!

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