I had written a critical column (in the SBP, last Sunday) about how junior ministers are appointed to their jobs. In this vein, I criticised Lenihan's appointment, claiming that he had no grounding in technology issues.
I thought long and hard about writing a follow-up column this Sunday. But I decided not to, as it might seem, in the context, that I was unduly victimising an easy target (damned journalistic ethics).
However, I do think that the issues he raised are of public interest. So here is the conversation we had.
Lenihan: "I would like to tell you that you have gotten your facts and research wrong. I am probably the best qualified around here for this post. If you'd researched it, you'd know I was a journalist. And I worked with Denis O'Brien for 10 years. I know about technology."
Me: "I don't see how that qualifies someone to be a technology boss. In any case, the article pointed out some specific issues that a law-making executive should be aware of, such as fibre-to-the-home and next generation mobile standards. Do you have views on these things?"
L: "Yes of course I have views."
Me: "What are they?"
L: "When I settle into the brief, maybe I'll come back to you with those views."
Me: "But why not tell me now?"
L: "I'm not answerable to you. I do have views."
Me: "But what are your views?"
L: "I'm not answerable to you. I may or may or may not come back to you with my views. But you have not researched your piece properly. It smacks of lazy journalism."
Me: "But do you not think the system of appointing executive ministers to briefs based on considerations other than their expertise is flawed?"
L: "I think if you ask anyone in the overseas development area, they'll tell you that I settled into that brief very well."
Me: "But do you not think that it's a fair criticism?"
L: "But you've gotten that wrong. I am qualified. I worked in the media and with Denis O'Brien."
Me: "But with respect, how do any of those things bear on the current issues that face the technology brief?"
L: "Are you saying that I am not qualified?"
Me: "I'm saying that someone who is appointed to an executive position in a department should have a solid grounding in the area they are being asked to regulate."
L: "I do have a grounding, I have told you. You didn't research your piece properly. You obviously didn't know that I worked with Denis O'Brien for 10 years."
Me: "Everyone knows that, it's even on Wikipedia."
L: "Wikipedia? Sure that's not source. You could go in and write that yourself. That's no source."
Me: "No I can't just go in and write that myself."
L: "You can."
Me: "No I can't."
L: "You can."
Me: "No I can't."
[Brief argument over this. Back to the main point a minute later.]
L: "You should have called me before you wrote that article."
[This is a fair point. As a journalist, I should have called, even though the piece appeared as a column.]
Me: "Can we get back to what your views are on the technology issues?"
L: "I'm not answerable to you. So we'll leave it there, okay? Good luck."
Take a look at the front page of the Independent today. Now go to Google and enter the woman's name (Una Hardester). Click on 'Images'. Voila! The Indo picture editor's secret photo source!
Someone whose image was ripped from Facebook for use in a tabloid paper has asked me about the legitimacy of doing this. There are two issues: copyright and privacy.
In terms of privacy, in Ireland you are not allowed to display or use a photo of someone on a public forum without their consent. (Sounds strange, but it's true.) The exception, however, is for the legitimate gathering or publication of news or legitimate media. (And in case you're wondering what constitutes legitimate media, the Data Privacy Commissioner decides, should you make a complaint: it is unlikely to include blogs.)
In this case, the Indo's use of the image passes the privacy test.
Copyright is a different issue. The image used was taken from a chat/social networking site. It is an image that the woman uses as an avatar (helpfully uploaded by her in high resolution, a gift for the photo editor). On the face of it, she or the website is entitled to something for the use of that image. Neither of them is likely to pursue it, however.
Here's what the Chicago Tribune -- one of the great US newspapers -- publishes each day now as part of its editorial masthead. Sign of the times. And another blow for the (older generation of) traditionalists in the Irish media.
Fine Gael's new website is actually quite decent-looking (even with regard to the controversy it provoked). But some of its content is awful. Take the 'Values' section (link unavailable). And take this paragraph:
"Fine Gael wants to build an Ireland of excellence and ambition. We hope to do this by promoting a shared vision of a confident and sustainable future for Ireland, both at home and abroad. Fine Gael stands for a climate of hope. To achieve this, we believe in enhancing Ireland's international reputation through our support for the European Union, protecting communities through balanced regional development and safeguarding our children's future through protection of the environment."
Is there anything there that could not be included in Hitler's National Socialists or George Bush's Republican Party? I don't think so.
And it goes on in a similar insulting fashion...
"Fine Gael believes in being truthful and courageous in what we do, and in promoting and upholding both the rights and the responsibilities of people. Fine Gael stands for integrity in public life. We believe in ensuring all of us live up to our responsibilities as well as enjoying our rights as Irish men and women."
(Lest anyone think this is some sort of opposition-bashing, I've already had a right go at Fianna Fail's website.)
These secret ideas are set to make me a millionaire.
1. Top 100 Pubs of Dublin
The location, highlights and completely made-up history of pubs in the city area. Aimed at tourists.
An app that scans Facebook photos for the best-looking men or women and checks for locational information, creating an interactive map of where the hotties in Dublin live/work/hang out.
3. Roy Keane Walkout Meter
Connects to feeds from all major bookie websites, collating latest odds on when Keane will storm out of his latest managerial role (at Ipswich Town).
4. Dictionary of Irish political waffle
The top 250 phrases used by Irish politicians and their likely meaning.
5. Family financial doom
How much your family is contributing to the national debt, every hour, through services received and state subsidies.
It's because they don't have to keep up with the Joneses anymore.
Of those people who have not lost their jobs or who are not in immediate danger of doing so, most I know are more at peace with their economic circumstances now than they were two years ago.
The reason is that they feel relatively well off again. When the Celtic Tiger was in flow, they felt like underachievers: they all knew someone who was making loads of money from the economy. And they felt like losers.
Now, they see those rich people having to sell holiday homes to survive. They see some people they know in danger of losing their jobs. And they feel good about themselves again. Because they have a job. And there's no pressure to make loads of money anymore.
It is a proven scientific fact that while money of itself usually does not bring happiness, being better off than one's neighbour often does bring happiness.
That's why this recession has made a lot of people breathe a lot easier.
It's a surprising choice, as Lenihan has no connection to anything relating to technology or innovation. (Google searches on the theme come up blank, too.)
But then again, neither did Sean Power. Or Tony Killeen before him.
But I'm being silly, aren't I? The main thing is Lenihan's constituency and his loyalty to Fianna Fail. Not high faluting concepts such as competency in his brief or a solid grounding in the sector he will direct. Sure that's what the civil service is there for, isn't it?
Naturally, the department's website has not yet been fully updated.
There is a certain breed of journalist -- typically older, established, set in their ways -- who dismisses Twitter and Facebook. I come across lots of them.
Most are polite, saying "well, it's not really for me". Some are ignorant, loudly proclaiming it all to be a waste of time and implying that those who use such sites are fairly "sad".
I had a chat recently with a veteran broadcaster who was of the dismissive "sad" school of thought. He opined that those on Twitter are "saddos" whose views count for little or nothing. This is how the next part of the conversation went.
Me: "Oh do you think so? There was actually a lot of discussion about you on Twitter yesterday…"
Him: "What do you mean? What was being said?"
Me: "Ah. So you are interested?"
Him: "Not really… But what was said?"
Me: "Ah you know, the usual. Mixed comment about a few things."
Him: [Looking more serious] "What things?"
Me: "Just a few bits and pieces."
Him: "Can you forward me on the links?"
See how the process works? From being a bunch of "saddos" whose views don't count, all of a sudden the Tweeters' views are of particular interest.
This is a metamorphosis I've encountered a few times. So the next time you come across someone who likes to opine on the sadness and irrelevance of Twitter or Facebook, tell them they're being discussed on it. Watch how quickly their attitude changes.
So Boxer's improbable DTT bid has finally run out of steam. This was always a tall order for this consortium (this blog has said so repeatedly). But it put on a slick bid with some fancy promises and soundbytes when the public tenders were being heard. And now (courtesy of a BCI press release)...
"The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) has today (April 20th) confirmed the decision of Boxer DTT Limited (‘Boxer’) to withdraw its applications for the three DTT Multiplex Contracts. Boxer has cited prevailing and anticipated economic circumstances, in addition to challenges in successfully concluding a contract with RTÉ Networks Limited, to the satisfaction of both parties, for the provision of transmission services."
Prevailing economic circumstances. Right. Just roll out the old reliable excuse du jour, eh?
"The BCI is now seeking confirmation from One Vision [Eircom, Setanta, TV3], the second placed applicant in the DTT licensing competition, that it is interested in pursuing contract negotiations with the BCI and is in a position to do so, in the event that the BCI were to award, in principle, the contracts to One Vision."
In other words, please bail us out of this mess: we got the award wrong.
According to BCI chairman, Conor Maguire: “Obviously the Commission is disappointed that this most recent development in relation to the commercial DTT multiplex contracts has occurred, and we are cognisant of the significant endeavours of all the parties involved to date. However the BCI is committed to pursuing its policy objectives with regard to digital terrestrial television and will continue its work in this regard...”
Yeah yeah, blah blah blah.
You can't help but welcome this development...
"BT has announced that from today all new BT broadband customers living in the 22 locations on BT’s own next generation network will automatically avail of speeds of up to 24Mb.
"This means that instead of signing up for the company's original broadband packages of up to 1Mb and 6Mb, new customers in these areas will be automatically provided with broadband speeds of up to 24Mb at no additional cost. Download limits are the defining characteristic of the BT BB packages on offer. It means that they will be able to download their favourite music, video, games and movies faster, without interruption or delay. BT will provide the maximum speed that the new customer's phone line can support up to a maximum of 24Mb.
"The move will allow new customers, who sign up for Option 1 and Option 2 broadband packages, to immediately experience the benefits of optimum broadband speeds on BT’s own network for just €39.16 (incl. VAT) per month and €46.19 (incl. VAT) per month respectively.* This contrasts with eircom’s equivalent up to 1Mb and up to 3Mb broadband packages which are available for €50.56 (inc. VAT) per month and €55.58 (incl. VAT) per month respectively.**
"This offer applies to all new customers in the following BT exchange areas: Tallaght, Dun Laoghaire, Dolphins Barn, Dublin North Main, Terenure, Merrion, Crown Alley, Beggars Bush, Swords, Clondalkin, Summerhill, Blanchardstown, Whitehall, Belcamp, Foxrock, Naas, Dooradoyle (Limerick), Navan, Kilkenny City, Douglas (Cork), Ballincollig (Cork) and Greystones (Wicklow)."
Someone I know died yesterday. He was 41. Amid all the sadness, the usual arrangements would have been made: put the death notice in the Independent, contact his close friends, cancel his bills, wind up his affairs.
This got me thinking: what happens to a person's digital existence?
If I died today, it'd be some task trying to cancel all of my digital stuff. I have blogs, photo accounts, video accounts, social networking accounts, all manner of things online. How in hell would my next of kin wind those up?
I'll give you an actual example. Two and a half years ago, a respected Irish IT journalist called David Stewart died of cancer. He maintained a blog called Science Friction. That blog is still up there. In fact, the last entry was posted two weeks before his death, starting: "Not all good I'm afraid." It's a little macabre, to say the least.
In my own life, half of my friends (and especially those overseas) now keep in touch mainly through e-mail or social networking sites. If they heard nothing back, they may not assume anything had happened to me. And many would not know how to contact any of my family to find out whether anything had happened.
I suspect that as people pass away, the internet will become more and more littered with ghostly websites created by people who are no longer on this earth.
Samsung seems to think so. Its Digimax range of digital cameras have a feature called 'Beauty Shot'. According to Samsung: "It automatically identifies imperfections such as blemishes and dark spots on the face, and retouches them so that faces appear brighter and smooth."
Which do you think is prettier, the 'normal' or 'Beauty shot' picture?
For now, anyway.
I'm returning Nokia's 5800 Xpress Music today. Overall, I'd rate it among the best of the touchscreen models out there. But there is not one touchscreen model that doesn't frequently annoy with incorrect responses to touches. And there isn't a single model that doesn't take an age to do one thing or another (in the 5800's case, it's the slow accelerometer and the occasionally unresponsive screen).
So I'm back to using Samsung's (touchscreen) Pixon. But that's mainly because of its superb 8 megapixel camera. If my touchscreen phobia continues, I'm off back to a nice Sony Ericsson or the Nokia N95.
This could, of course, be age-related: at 35, I'm at the tipping point of people who "just can't be bothered" with new-fangled gadgets. I hope I have a few years left, however, or I'll be out of a job.