Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Disapora - I've Had Enough

No, I have not (yet) had enough of being (in) diaspora. It's just that seeing Vreme does not plan to give me a chance for a final response to Mr Kreculj's lies, fabrications, and general ignorance, I have decided to publish what I have prepared as my final contribution to what Vreme generously tried to label as a polemic. Again, it is only available in Serbian. And why not. It really only concerns people of Serbia. Hopefully they will not be swayed by the power hungry members of diaspora

Monday, 26 April 2010

Victim's Victim - UPDATED (AGAIN!)

Latest: And there's again an apparent case of malicious (especially since the defendant is a fairly public figure), or at least misguided rape accusations in which the only one granted anonymity is the accuser. The fact that they will now almost certainly be outed does nothing to repair the damage they've already done, and which is likely to last a lifetime.

This is now three times in less than a month! It really is high time something is done about this.
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Update: They're coming in thick and fast. When it's not (apparently) just out of spite and immaturity, then it's the (possibly) peer or family pressure. This has to stop!

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What do you think: what, and how long does it take to ruin someone's life? Judging by this latest case in the United Kingdom, a false accusation, four days, and seventy five minutes. This is what did it for the unfortunate trainee teacher, Hannah McIntyre.

She may have been foolish to invite two pupils of hers to her house, and even more foolish to buy or give them alcohol. The latter could be illegal and also wrong on many other levels, but the former is not even remotely wrong, morally, ethically, and especially not legally. Pretty much to the contrary, in fact.

Sadly, what Hannah got for her attempt at being friendly is wrack and ruin to her life, and especially to her career as a teacher. Why? Because apparently one of her young charges found it necessary, and probably funny at the time to falsely accuse her of having sex with him.

Hopefully there will be a follow-on trial to determine this exactly, and also try to exact a punishment at least approximately commensurate to the crime. As it stands now, after a short trial of only four days, and an even shorter jury deliberation of 75 minutes, the only justice we have is a young lady no longer destined for long imprisonment.

Sadly, this is probably the only bright side to her ordeal. Her name and face have been dragged through the media in connection with one of the most horrible crimes there is. She has also found herself in various archives and records. Will everyone in the future take it for granted she is indeed innocent, or will many take that - as understandable as it is wrong - stance of "there's no smoke without fire"?

And that is the main aim of this post (thanks for bearing with me) - to call for full anonymity of anyone accused - just accused, not found guilty - of various crimes for which even acquittal in a fair trial doesn't end the misery for the defendant, for which even those proven innocent still carry (at least a threat of) a stigma all their lives - a stigma that can easily take away their livelihoods.

Once, an if, they are found guilty, by all means plaster their faces on all walls, and shout their names from all rooftops. If they're mean and evil enough do lock them up and throw away the key. But until then, let's please afford them the full presumption of innocence - and that should include, even start with, making sure that, should they be found innocent, they will still have a life to go back to. One worth living, and that means not even a hint that they might have committed a crime.

This will be as fair as all we do to protect the victims of crimes that may falling the above category. This also does not mean that victims will somehow be shortchanged. One would hope they'd be the first after proper justice, and also sensitive to pain and stigma of crime committed on them.

True victims should be champions of defendant anonymity! Their suffering is, after all, diminished, cheapened, even ridiculed by those who make false accusations. They are true victims' enemies almost as much as their attackers.

Lastly, let us not go too far in trying to bend over backwards for past failings in prosecuting, and treating victims of these heinous crimes, by opening innocent people to as heinous attacks through false accusations. The falsely accused's life is always much more ruined than that of the false accuser's.

Think, who would you rather have spend time with your children: an acquitted paedophile or someone who spent a few years behind bars for perjury? And no, you do not get Mother Theresa as your third choice. Ah. I thought so.

And what was your gut reaction?

I see! And I rest my case...

Going The Way Of The MP3

What costs more to produce, a paper or an e-book? Surely it must be the former. Laying out the text is required for both, and once done, the resultant layout is almost certainly good to be used for both. Paper book, of course, require paper (and felling of trees), printing ink, glue, and finally a printing shop. Then, the paper books need to be stocked, distributed, etc, etc. With an e-book, once laid out and a "master" copy is produced, the duplication and distribution cost pretty much nothing, at least per copy, and compared to the paper books.

So, how to explain and justify the following discrepancy:

A current best-seller, "61 Hours", by Lee Child e-book will set you back £12.99 (RRP £19.40), while the same title in hard-cover(!), from the same on-line shop will cost you £9.59 (RRP £18.99), and that is with free delivery! Similarly, "The Goof Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ", by Philip Pullman, in the same shop retails as follows: e-book for £10.49 (RRP £14.99), hard-cover for £7.59 (RRP £14.99) again with free delivery. At least for the second book they had the decency not to make e-book RRP higher! All prices as of 9:30am, 26 April 2010.

As you can see the retailer are the Waterstones, but similar pricing structure can be found elsewhere, too (e.g. WH Smith). And all this after you have also spent £150 or more on an e-book reader. If you thought it would be much different for out of copyright works, you'd be surprised. "The Great Expectations" paperbacks at Waterstones range from £1.99 to £5.99, the same as the equivalent e-books (e.g. this one and this one). OK, at least here the e-book is not actually more expensive. Still, this pricing structure can only be described as: preposterous! The consolation is - provided you can read the language of the original - that out of copyright books can be had for free (as in beer) from places like The Gutenberg Project, and increasingly in the formats easily transferable to modern e-book readers.

Let's do a quick recap: you are paying more for a product that is cheaper to produce (not to mention more environmentally friendly), and also requires an expensive device in order to be used at all. This would be wrong even if bookshops were to give each customer one basic e-book reader.

It seems to me that the publishers are setting themselves up for the same kind of failure that music industry encountered when faced with the world in which people wanted their music in a simple electronic format. Yes, the music industry finally got to its senses and you can now buy single tracks for very little money - but it took them almost a decade. A decade in which the themselves lost momentum, as well as a fortune, and in which several generations grew firmly believing not that music should be free, but that the music is free. And who could blame them, even if they disagreed with the principle?

And now, exactly the same thing can start happening to the publishers (and this may easily apply to newspapers and magazines - it's just I haven't looked into it, yet). Overprice something which everyone knows is cheaper and you are literally pushing your own customers into piracy (and piracy is theft as music industry never fails to remind us). This is even worse seeing as the best book industry customers tend to be from the affluent, slightly more mature segment of the population (i.e. not your average spotty teenager who devours music 24/7).

The move towards e-books and other alternatives to print is inevitable, just as the motor-car inevitably had to replace horse-and-carriage. The way to preserve one's place in the industry is to embrace change, not to stifle it with prohibitive pricing structures. Not embracing the new and finding ways to profit from it can easily spell the end of a good few, currently profitable, enterprises. Failing, they'll eventually have to make way for the new, cleverer ones. But then, on other hand, would that be such a bad thing?

PS
In case a publisher reads this and wants to point out that e-book readers currently being as dear as they are the people who buy them are affluent enough to be able, and maybe even happy, to shell out extra for their e-books. To this, I say: were e-books cheaper, it may encourage more people to consider buying an e-book reader and save on the books in the long run (remember, a voracious reader now is a voracious reader forever). This will increase sales of e-book readers, and the economies of scale will inevitably make their prices go down. In the worst case, keeping a healthy interest in this segment (i.e. not chasing the customers away or into habitual piracy), will give the technological advancements time to come on-line and make the readers cheaper even if the volumes don't. Don't fall into a trap of shortsightedness and/or misunderstanding the new industry segment when you see one. After all, it is not really new at all. Music industry has been here before. Learn from their mistakes - not yours. Mistakes are there to be learned from, but only a fool learns only from their own...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Diaspora - The Saga Continues (UPDATED)

UPDATE (23 April 2010)

As expected Mr Kreculj replied to my last letter. Interestingly, this time he chose to tone down his language, even if he also chose not to up his other debating skills (if any are to be found there at all). More importantly, Vreme have chosen to close the debate at this point. While I could probably call on the Serbian law governing printed publications with respect to right to response I have no intention of doing so. Mr Kreculj is hardly worth it, and, in his latest missive, he also really got out of his way to present himself as uneducated at best, and ignorant at worst (one cannot claim any expertise in parliamentarism if one doesn't even know when American revolution took place). I can only hope that most, if not all, readers of Vreme will notice this, and see Mr Kreculj for what he really is - at least with respect to his views on how parliaments should be set up in modern democracies.

Sadly, I managed to miss the footnote in which Vreme announced the closing of the debate, and have spent considerable time and effort crafting a reply (and crafting it was!). Since I will not press Vreme to publish it I am yet to decide what to do with it. I will give it some time, but I am leaning towards publishing it in its entirety on my personal web pages (i.e. not here). I will keep you posted, but I can reveal that in my reply I solemnly, and publicly promise that I will not further engage with Mr Kreculj in Vreme. Shame that Vreme got there before me...
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Just a quick update on the "diaspora" saga and polemic.

Vreme has now published my response to Mr Kreculj I told you about last week. While the published text certainly does justice to my point of view and the tone I wanted to assume I must also note that it has been shortened (quite considerably, in fact - only 1331 out of 2073 words I sent have been published). The whole of my last numbered point (yes, I mistakenly labelled it 7 rather than 6) is missing, as is the closing paragraph or two. You can, of course, still read the whole text (still only in Serbian). 

There is another (minor?) mistake that the editors made. For reasons completely beyond me, Vreme found it necessary to guess the town of my residence. Of course, they got it wrong, stating it's London. I do not live in London. I have never lived in London. It is simple enough to find out where I do live provided one tries. As it is, Vreme joins the club of all those who seem to believe that all places in United Kingdom (or at least Great Britain - if they knew the difference) are called London. They are not. London might be really big, but it's not that big.

Anyway, now I just have to sit still and wait to see what (if anything? if only!) Mr Kreculj comes up next. I may even dignify him with an(other) reply. Bigger miracles have happened...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

NO2ID

NO2ID — Stop ID cards and the database stateAs witnessed by the latest debate between the current and prospective Home Secretaries on the BBC, Labour is still pushing with its misguided ID cards plan. The debate itself did not really tackle the real and best reasons for this plan being wrong, if not positively harmful. The Lib Dem and Tory hopefuls mostly talked about the cost. Of course, the cost is one of the reasons to oppose a new ID card scheme. There's so many more useful things that could be done with the money. But, it is neither the only, nor the most important one, and I propose to say a few words on others.

(I couldn't find a link to the televised Home Secretary debate, so here's one to the BBC coverage of the general civil liberties issue in this year's parliamentary elections. Oh, and I'm not linking to Tories - ever.)

There's one thing I need to clarify before I continue. The issue here is introduction of compulsory (and to an extent even voluntary) ID cards for British citizens. I do not think I entirely disagree with non-EU foreign nationals with residence rights in the UK requiring some form of registration, and an ID card seems to be a good way to go about it. In any case, I haven't given this particular use case enough thought to be able to give a reasoned opinion on it. Please keep this in mind when reading the remainder of this post.

OK. We should now be ready to have a look at the cons of introducing ID cards to United Kingdom (and possibly elsewhere - the issues I have in mind are quite universal). I'll also try to fairly present any pros I may feel exist, but I don't think there'll be that many, and certainly not enough for me to want to support concept of ID cards.

Let's first see what ID card proponents think are the benefits of such a system...
  1. Simplifying various checks required for access to products services.

    These are usually listed as: age checks to buy tobacco, alcohol, and lottery tickets; identity check for access to healthcare, banking, and similar. The argument goes that today, you already need to provide a form of identification, and sometimes (e.g. banking) more than one. Carrying an ID that is recognised nationwide would be very much simpler. While this is true, it is also true that the current system seems to be working just fine, with no calls from any of the stakeholders for it to be renewed or even improved. Compulsory ID cards will simplify things, but the cost of the system cannot be justified by the alleged benefit. Furthermore, the use cases where more than one form of ID is required (e.g. banking, legal transactions) are in fact quite sensitive and replying on just one, potentially forged (and certainly forgeable) form of ID, has the potential to seriously undermine the stated goals. So, a huge amount of money needed for ID cards system (and its maintenance) is hardly justified for "fixing" a system that's not in fact broken. Not to mention that it may actually make things worse (see below).

  2. With an ID card only you can be you

    We've heard this one before. It was used to promote chip-and-pin credit cards. This claim is equally false for ID cards. At least for chip-and-pin it is easily shown that, armed with your card, anyone who also knows your PIN code can quite effectively be "you" when it comes to over-the-counter purchases. But let's see what ID card proponents mean by this...

    ID cards store some personal biometric information about the owner (or whoever manages to get a forged one) - photo, fingerprints, iris scan... that sort. At the point of use, this embedded information is compared with the fresh set taken from the bearer. If they match the person is considered identity verified, i.e. the are now believed to be the person whose data is recorded on the card. It should be fairly obvious that this is in fact not the case at all! The only thing we verified is that the bearer matches what was recorded on the card, and not necessarily that they are the person whose identity is the same as the one's whose details are on the card. Obvious examples are name and address. These may be completely false or at least somebody else's.

    So, if you have the intention and the resources to forge an ID card, and the system becomes ubiquitous, it just means that the person with a forged card will have a much easier time gaining access to whatever they wanted illegal access to in the first place. And this brings us to the most dangerous aspect of a ubiquitous ID card system that is widely believed to be "working"...

  3. ID cards cannot be forged, or are at least too difficult to forge, and hence can be trusted

    Let us not waste time on the "cannot be forged" part. Everything can be forged given enough time and sufficient resources. It may be expensive, but it is always possible. Also, you do not even need to forge a card. It is quite sufficient if you can bribe or threaten your way to a perfectly kosher one, but with details of your choice on it and, importantly, the database behind it. This usually takes just one weak human link in the system. Again, this may be expensive, but it is not impossible.
    OK, you may say, but this can surely be made prohibitively expensive, so not many people will actually do it. And therein lies the biggest danger of an ID card system that is trusted implicitly, so no or little further checks are made. While expensive forgeries will surely provide benefits in fighting problems in some identification areas, these also tend to be the ones that, while hugely emotional - especially in an election campaign - are far from the most important thing we need to worry about.

    Yes, kids should be prevented from buying booze and fags, and it may be just barely right to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining access to free healthcare. But expensive forgeries, create a much more dangerous system in which those with resources gain easy access to any number of things they should not have access to. They become "invisible" to the system, and join the ranks of law-abiding citizenry. Think organised crime. Think terrorists. All the very people ID card system is supposed to stop. Ridiculous!
There's certainly more points on which an ID card scheme can be attacked, most notably the sheer size of the database making it error prone, and also potential linking to other government databases of such an erroneous source creating all sorts of problems for innocent people. I won't go into these for several reasons: I do not feel qualified enough to discuss these areas of possible misuse, I want to keep this post short (well, shortish - I know it already isn't), and last but not least, this has been extensively covered on The Register - just hop on there and have a look. They did a far better job of it than I ever could.

Last thing I want to say is that I have very close and personal experience of ID cards. They are, and have always been, compulsory in Serbia (and previously all incarnations of the post WW2 Yugoslavia). Have they stopped anyone there from committing crimes and falsely identifying themselves? Of course not! I can confidently say that in terms of all the issues listed above the situation in the UK is already very much better. Of course, I am not saying that this is because of ID cards (not) being used. That'd be silly, and in all likelihood completely untrue. But what can be seen for sure is that having ID cards did not help. At all.

QED

Monday, 19 April 2010

SatNav - A User's Guide

No, I am not going to tell you how to operate your latest gadget. You have that nice little booklet that came with it, after all - even if we both know you haven't read it (you should, it can sometimes be an eye-opening exercise). Also, how on Earth would I know which brand you have (mine's a Nokia, so it does so much more, too)? No, what I propose to do is tell you what I found works well (and not so well) for me. This was inspired by an interesting entry about traffic updates and their real utility. I know the article was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it set me thinking (it doesn't take much), and here's what the result was.

I'll first tell you why I never let SatNav automatically re-route depending on traffic updates it receives. Yes, in the final analysis, it is for the same end reason the author of the inspirational piece above got annoyed with this "feature". I propose to tell you why it can be annoying, and why you'll, more often than not, be better off without it. I outlined the argument very briefly in the comments section for The Economist piece, but here's some more details.

By their very nature traffic updates can never be "live". Data in them takes some time to collect, even if this is a running exercise. It also takes at least some time to compile into usable report, send it out, and then for it to be processed by your SatNav. While most of the time traffic conditions do not change suddenly, it is precisely when they do that you'd want your traffic updates enabled SatNav to be able to help, and that's precisely when it will most likely fail you.

Imagine a rush hour (yes, I know it's not very nice even thinking about it, but just for a moment). It is true that any current congestion is unlikely to clear up quickly. However, a new congested spot gets created in an instant, and as much as your SatNav was good at directing you away and around the old ones, you'll still find yourself driving straight into a new one, with your SatNav blissfully unaware of it for some time. And then, when the "live" traffic update finally arrives, it will re-route you again, maybe still unaware of some spots that cleared by now. In all likelihood it will make you zigzag in a seemingly random fashion, with your bonnet rarely pointing in the general direction you wanted to go in the first place. In the end you may find you spent longer trying to avoid delays than if you stuck to your guns and plodded on regardless.

Do understand (I do) that the above is not saying anyone in the SatNav R&D department has got anything wrong. They are simply doing the best with what they have. It's just that this is sometimes not good enough. And when it fails it annoys you so much that you forget all the other benefits of the technology. I also do not propose I have a solution to make this particular SatNav function better. Even if I think there's precious little that can be done here, this is so far from my area(s) of "expertise" that it would be almost rude to wade there. Instead what I propose to do is to point out how to get the best out of an imperfect technology (mostly by relying on another, ancient one). 

So, first, do turn off re-routing based on traffic updates. There's no reason to turn off traffic updates themselves, especially if your SatNav has a way of notifying you of them that is unobtrusive yet informative. For example, I'd love them to make congested stretches of roads "glow" softly red or something like that. A voice warning if congestion is some miles ahead on the road you're on is also of great help. Even offering to re-route around congestion at a press of a button would be OK. It's just that I think that you should be in control of the route at all times.

And this brings us to what a lot of people are forgetting these days: paper maps, and general awareness of where one should be heading (and the available options). Yes, most of the time you can just jump into your car, punch in an address into your SatNav, and find yourself at your chosen point B without any hassle. But that's exactly one of my points. When everything is running smoothly (or close enough not to matter) even traffic updates are fine. It's just that when things start getting seriously wrong you'll be well advised to a) have a paper map with you, and b) be able to use it. Of course, the best policy would be to survey the map before you leave, and memorise a few alternative routes and rough points where they can be taken. That way you don't need to break your journey to study the map in the cramped car. Or get out of it to buy one from your friendly (and extortionately expensive) local garage.

Lastly, just like computers are really much better at being an eraser than a pencil, the SatNav main strength for me is it's ability to route you out of a wrong turn, even if it takes you into a totally unknown part of wherever you are. So, if, in trying to avoid a traffic jam in front of you, you make dog's breakfast of the alternative route, at least you can rest assured that you will eventually be extricated from it without the need to stop, study the map, or - shock! horror! - as some innocent bystander. 

In short, a SatNav is good from taking you from your intended A to B. There is no doubt about that (provided you use it wisely, i.e. not relying on re-routing due to traffic updates). However, where SatNavs excel is getting you to your intended B, once you have hopelessly lost yourself, with no idea where your current A is.

My conclusion and advice: do use SatNavs - they're great gadgets. You just need to use them wisely, aware of their limitations even more than their other "features". Also, do not throw away that paper map, but make sure it's in your car. And use it, too. Your neck-top computer is still way more powerful than anything else humankind came up with. Yet.

I've (Not!) Come Of Age

Seeing as I missed out on my short hop to Belgrade this weekend, I thought I'd put pen to paper again and announce to world+dog that this year marks an impressive 25 years since my high school matriculation. Since my high school class seems to have dispersed far and wide, any sort of major reunion party seems almost as far fetched. But hey, stranger things have happened and we still have three quarters of this year left to organise something worthy of marking a quarter century of that momentous occasion when we set out to see if anything they taught us actually makes any sense at all in The Real World(tm). Let us see then, very briefly, how I remember some of that lovely period...

I firmly believe, and I am sure a lot of my class mates may (dis)agree, that one of the defining moments of the end of our childhood was that it managed to straddle almost three most important decades in music, art, and (modern) culture in general: The Sixties, The Seventies, and last, but most certainly not least The Eighties. It is important to note here, that due to what sort of country Yugoslavia was in those thirty-odd years, despite we were all born when The Sixties were on the way out, we still got almost a full dose. Little was missing in Yugoslavia of those years with respect to what happened culturally, and most importantly musically, elsewhere. It was just that some of it arrived a bit later (but never late!), and sometimes not in the "right" order. As we neared The Eighties and beyond this improved considerably, to finally fully catch up towards the  beginning of (much less important) Nineties.

So, in our early years, towards the end of primary school when music starts to play a very important part in one's life (and not just because back then inviting a girl to "listen to some records" had a very different, albeit probably even more pleasurable meaning). In my case, the foundation was laid firmly by The Beatles, and some light exposure to (in no particular order) Doors, Led Zeppelin, and a very light sprinkling of Pink Floyd and even Jimi Hendrix. For some reasons that has never been very clear even to me, I have never really warmed towards The Rolling Stones (apart from a handful of all time classics, of course - and that genius cover of Sympathy For The Devil by Laibach), and I somehow completely missed (but happily rediscovered in the Nineties) The Kinks.

Of course, the same period saw some lighter notes, too, mostly coming from the likes of Bee Gees, Dianna Ross, and some other less well known (or at least remembered by me) purveyors of the seventies style disco music. I warmed to that particular genre (again) only very recently. It was heavily represented in Belgrade at the time, with quite a few discotheques attracting a huge following, but I somehow got into more "serious" kind of music (and The Beatles), and was then fully sucked into the eighties Punk, Post Punk, New Wave, New Romantics, and Electronica (yes, my definition is different). I am still finding it hard to get sucked out of those fabulous five. I don't even think I'd want to if I could.

It was a really strange mix of music we went for high school. On the face of it it is quite difficult to see how one can appreciate, at the same time, all those five fairly different genres. It went as far as certain people (you know who you are!) sporting a spiky hair, a few safety pins, and a few badges - all on top of otherwise strongly New Romantics outfit. On some of my favourite mix tapes (remember those!) there use to me a hodge-podge of Sex Pistols, Duran Duran, Jam, Kraftwerk, and Visage

Most importantly, the period was a true Golden Age of (ex)Yugoslav music, punk, pop, and otherwise. A beautiful sense of optimism abounded, the like of which I am yet to see, feel, or even hear about. The future looked bright at home and abroad, and we were not so much making plans how to conquer it as we revelled in the sure knowledge of how it will pan out, diplomas, jobs, families, kids, and last but certainly not the least the fun that was there to be had. 

Sadly, nothing turned out nearly as smoothly as we naively thought. Luckily, as far as I am aware, none (bar one - but I cannot talk about that here) of my class had anything truly horrible happen to them. Struggled we all (or at least most of us) did - just like the rest of ex-Yugoslavs in the past 25 years. A lot, if not most of us ended up (too) far away from where we thought we'd enjoy the rest of our lives. Some of us (me, me, me!) landed in the place where most of the music that defined them was born.

Would I go back and enjoy the same music where I originally set out from? Sure, provided it could be even remotely similar to what it was or what it was promising to become 25 years ago. Sadly, while it moves in the right direction, it does so with a truly glacial pace. Also, we all know very well that, even if it miraculously changed overnight, going back would never be the same. What has happened in the past quarter of a century cannot be undone. We are not the ones we were then, either. 

Don't get me wrong. I am not moaning or pining after any of the milk that was spilt over the last 25 years (and I will freely admit I may be responsible for some of it, too). It could have been better, yes, but overall it turned out alright - for me at least. I also still have the music to make me happy and also smile when I remember the old times. If we manage to get together this year after all I promise to bring a nice sampling of it - even if we have to play it from the new Walkman replacement!

PS
If you thought I shortchanged you here talking about just me-me-me while seeming to promise a bit more expansive treatise - you'd be wrong. I have not shortchanged you at all. This is not a memoir, and if you weren't there you probably wouldn't appreciate the story very much (or at all). If you were there, then you already know, and I have no need to tell you again. In either case, this is my blog, and it's mostly about how I feel about things. You should try it yourself - it's cathartic...

PPS
If you think I put too much emphasis on music as a background, even as a foreground, to my life - well, you'd be wrong, again. I do not put too much emphasis on it. I put just the right amount of emphasis on it. If you can't see how music can be that important, well, then I can't help you. We're just different. I'm sure I'd struggle to understand whatever makes you tick....

Monday, 12 April 2010

Apple Shoots Foot, Steve Weighs In, Fruitlessly

If you are (un)fortunate enough to be developing for any of the later Apple handheld platforms (plus the iPad) you have just been shot and wounded by the bullet Apple sent through its own foot. I cannot do this subject half the justice guys at Ars Technica did, so I'll direct you there for the very good analysis of the silly decision even Jesus, er... Steve Jobs found necessary to weigh in on - of course on the wrong, fruit(cake) side of. 

What I can add to this whole sorry mess (OK, not necessarily sorry from my point of view) is that if you even pretend to be offering public a computing platform, or even a platform (product) that purports to be able to run third party software, unless you ban that same, third party, software outright (and even then you can only ever just try to make it hard to write and/or install) it is silly to the point of stupidity and self-destruction to mandate how exactly said third parties are to come up with it. 

Banning tools for writing software that (is the major thing that) makes your product desirable is much worse than shooting yourself in the foot - it may mean you really don't care being shot in the head whilst aiming for the next guy. The fact you still breathe then has much more to do with the next guy being slow, and your user being dazzled by the bling of your original platform much more than by what it may (or more likely may not) offer them in the long run.

What's In A Language

If you paid attention, you surely know by now that English is not my native language (for the really slow, Serbian is - or more correctly Serbo-Croatian). So why do I have a blog in English? Can it be that I don't like my native language for some reason? Well, unlike some may think (and those will be difficult to dissuade) I have absolutely no problem with either my native language, or the country (or countries) it comes from. What gives then?

One really important thing, of course, and I can't deny it is that these days (well, almost a decade now) I live my life mostly in English - even if not necessarily in England. Most part of it is due to me living in the United Kingdom, of course. But, even if I didn't, but still worked for any of the companies I have worked for in the past decade, and even most of which I worked with in the same period, I'd have to use English on a daily basis, and certainly for all official internal communication. This is because, for what it's worth, pretty much any multinational company has adopted English as their "official" language, and even for smaller ones, all communication outside their little patch is bound to be in English.

So, on the face of it, English seems to be our destiny (it might have been some other language, but through various twists and turns of history, English seems to have won). Or is it? Well, I actually don't think it necessarily is. Have a look at that very long parenthetic remark above. It might have been some other language, and for all I know it still may be in the future.

In fact, I don't really think it matters what language one expresses themselves in. Any language you're comfortable with is good. And, believe me, I am equally as comfortable with Serbian as I am with English, and probably even more so. I surely make much less grammatical, and a few less stylistic mistakes in Serbian.

But still I write almost all I do in English. Why?

Mostly it is for reasons stated above. I live my daily life in English - at work, and in pretty much all else but the most private familial conversations. Most of what I read is in English as well. Sorry Serbian authors - I've read most of the classics, and I've tried newcomers. Unfortunately (for them) the latter have disappointed - time after time after time. Then, I actually hope (against hope) to reach a really wide audience. Yes, around 10 million Serbian speakers is not to be sniffed at, but do please compare this to the lot that can read English. There is really no comparison.

Oh, I also can see the criticism coming, accusing me of not caring enough for the fatherland (motherland, whatever). To that I can only reply: humankind is my nation. There may be a (good) few people back home who I'd love to see prosper beyond all expectations, but most of all I care about the Man, the Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Whatever I write may be drivel and irrelevant, even stupid, but I do not write it for Serbians, Croatians, English, German, even Welsh! I write it for All, and All (even the most numerous of all - Chinese) currently have only one common language, and that is English - whether we like it or not.

So, I intend to continue writing in whichever language I know and can reach furthest. Right now, it is English. If I manage to learn yours, and it becomes ubiquitous, I'll write in it instead. OK? Now, what are you waiting for - go and fight for it!

Mobbing Considered Dangerous

But of course it is! you will rightfully exclaim. And of course you'll be right - it always is, and can never be anything else. Period.

Maybe I should explain myself then...

First, for non-Americans and non-ex-Yugoslavs among you, "mobbing" is what "workplace bullying" is to you and me. Do things now sound a bit clearer? No? OK, I shall explain.

Have a look in a dictionary. What is a mob? Good. Now, doesn't now "mobbing" sound very much like a group activity? It does to me. It surely can't be the case that mob in "mobbing" is being abused (and bullying is abuse). But this implication is (almost always) wrong! When was the last time you've heard of a whole office ganging up on someone? I am deliberately not asking if you've seen it. Sadly, most often we do not see workplace bullying even if it's happening right in front of our eyes.

The term "bullying" sounds suspiciously like an attempt at diluting the responsibility for one person's wrongdoing, and spreading it across the group of (usually) innocent bystanders. It's not just the boss! it whispers to us and winks. It's all of us. Well, yes, we are all probably guilty of doing nothing to stop it, but that does not mean we're all bullies. Mob we may be, and a cowardly one at that, but that's all and no more. 

This is why I believe "mobbing" is the wrong word to use for what is bullying. It is a one-to-one activity, where the bad person is nothing more, and nothing less than a bully. And we all know what a bully is: a mean spirited weakling, most likely covering up their own weakness and deficiency. Yes, more often than not a bully has to thank his own upbringing for what he became, but that's never an excuse - it's a mere explanation. And, by using a word "bully" suddenly the horrible acts perpetrated suddenly have a face, and a name - the name of a person who is a bully. A mob is always faceless, and practically never faces the consequences of its actions. A bully can be singled out, contained, and eventually driven out.

So, in the name of all the unfortunate ones who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves on the wrong side of a bully, let us call spade a spade, and make it easier to fight back. Of course, not by becoming bullies ourselves, but by pushing back at the ones amongst us until they leave, or at least leave us alone. 

I have never been bullied (statistically I was lucky, apparently!), and, as statistically improbable it may be, I'd like to believe that I have never even witnessed someone else being bullied. Regardless, and especially if I have failed on either count above, I owe it to myself to call for the term "mobbing" to be abandoned for something much more appropriate and accurate: workplace bullying.

Note for non-English speakers

Please try and find an appropriate word in your language that exposes bullying for what it is. I know for a fact that at least in Serbia and Croatia, the term "mobbing" has been adopted without translating, making its failing so much the worse! Now, neither the word used correctly describes bullying, nor is its meaning, weak and not quite right as it is, freely available to those who do not speak English, or at least not very well. To them, this becomes just a sound to which they can ascribe whatever meaning they like. And knowing how easy it is to turn your gaze to the other side when bullying is happening, not even calling it anything meaningful must make it so much easier to ignore. Not only we're inclined not to see it, but the language we use to describe it is foreign at best, and nonsensical at worst. This is clearly a recipe for going through the motions while achieving precisely nothing. 

This is inexcusable!

I may not be a language expert, but I must say I see nothing wrong with going the whole hog and using the word "siledžija" for a bully. We all know what it means, and it has absolutely no positive connotations. The phrase "siledžijstvo na radnom mestu" may sound a little bit strong, but I think it conveys just the right meaning and level of seriousness "workplace bullying" deserves.

I know this will not happen. But at least I've tried. 

PS
Oh, and as soon as I find the right platform and the opportunity, I will make this suggestion in my native language, too. But then, why not learn English, and see for yourself what I mean by the treatise above.

And yes, this post was mostly for the benefit of non-English speakers...

PPS
If you think the photo is disingenuous to women, who (truly) are mostly the targets of bullying - think again. Statistics seem to show that a lot of women are bullies themselves, and also that they tend to pick on their own.