Booker time again

And so it begins

The Book long list came out yesterday. An important list as this year is the first when the doors were thrown open to the American’s too. How many would make the cut? Would Donna Tartt’s – Goldfinch be one of them? Would perennial favourites and/or ex winners such as Self and McEwan, Smith, Jacobsen or Waters be listed again?

Wonder no more.

The Booker longlist

Joshua Ferris (US) – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Richard Flanagan (Australia) – The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Karen Joy Fowler (US) – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Siri Hustvedt (US) – The Blazing World

Howard Jacobson (Britain) – J

Paul Kingsnorth (Britain) – The Wake

David Mitchell (Britain) – The Bone Clocks

Neel Mukherjee (Britain) – The Lives of Others

David Nicholls (Britain) – Us

Joseph O’Neill (Ireland) – The Dog

Richard Powers (US) – Orfeo

Ali Smith (Britain) – How to Be Both

Niall Williams (Ireland) – History of the Rain

The Americans are coming … ??

It turns out that they accounted for just a third of the list: Ferris, Fowler, Power and Hustvedt

At first glance, an interesting list, though one I have not yet read any off. Diving in at the deep end I have decided to start with Paul Kingsnorth’s – The Wake. Set in the 11th century, the author has decided to write it in an invented blend of Old English. A nice easy read then. It is also a booker first in that it was crowd-funded. (via Unbound website)

Let the fun begin.

Ofcom looks at ISP’s implementation of network filtering

Ofcom has published a report for Government outlining measures the UK’s largest internet service providers have put in place to help parents protect children from harmful content online. This follows an agreement between the Government and BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, the four largest fixed line internet service providers (ISPs), announced in July 2013. Each ISP committed to offer new customers ‘family-friendly network-level filtering’ by the end of December 2013. The ISPs have all introduced family friendly network level filtering to new customers, although Virgin Media failed to do so by the date agreed with Government (Dec 2013) and continues to encounter issues both with coverage of all new customers (due to majority of new Virgin Media installations involving an engineer visit, whom in most cases runs the broadband activation process and bypasses or ignores the filtering choice) and with the email verification of the set-up and settings changes.

According to the report:

• All the ISPs confirmed that their filter would cover all devices in the home using the home’s internet connection.
• All the ISPs confirmed that websites and any other internet services using standard HTTP protocols and ports were covered by the filters.
• Drugs, Porn, Suicide and Self Harm , Hacking and File Sharing are the only five categories offered by all the ISPs filters.
• BT’s filtering service covers a number of unique categories, alongside its “Nudity” and “Sex Education” categories. They are: “Obscene and Tasteless”, “Fashion and Beauty”, “Media Streaming” and “Search Engines and Portals”.
• All the ISPs except Virgin Media allow customisation of the content categories operated by the filter.
• All of the ISPs have commissioned third parties to perform the categorisation of internet content and services: BT and Virgin employ Nominum; Sky uses Symantec, and TalkTalk uses Huawei, although Symantec was also initially involved.
• Sky’s system will always block whole domains, while BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk can target specific parts of a domain.
• None of the ISPs’ filtering services feature a process by which identified mis-categorisations are shared with other ISPs, even if these are identified within common categories shared by all ISPs. However the ISPs are all members of a UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) working party on over-blocking, which is a possible arena for harmonisation.
• The ISPs’ outcomes and decision making processes are therefore not centralised through one final arbiter or otherwise shared. This approach differs from that taken by those major mobile networks which have signed up to the “UK code of practice for the self-regulation of new forms of content on mobiles. These mobile service operators share a classification framework7 used to calibrate the filters they use to restrict access to internet content via mobile networks by those under 18. The operators use the services of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) as the final arbiter on appeals made by website providers against categorisation decisions made under that framework. The outcomes of such appeals are shared with all mobile service operators who are party to the code of practice. The BBFC publishes on its website quarterly reports on all the appeals it has considered, along with the outcome of each appeal.
• None of the ISPs offered a dedicated route or mechanism to allow site providers to directly check the current categorisation of their site against the ISP’s filter, although email requests could be made to each ISP to ascertain if a certain site was being intentionally blocked. We also noted the length of the stated turnaround times for dealing with reports of mis-categorisation could be problematic for sites whose access by the public is crucial to their business model,

I’m always interested in the mis-categorisation issue and the fun that can throw up when something is deemed to be correctly classified. The website covering news and developments in copyright and p2p issues for example is one that is blocked by my own work provider, who when questioned claimed can’t be recategorized because it is appropriately classified under the category Peer-to-Peer File Sharing. Based on the following criteria: Peer-to-Peer File Sharing – Sites that provide client software to enable peer-to-peer file sharing and transfer, this also includes sites that provide information related to Peer-to-Peer File Sharing. By information it includes ‘site that REPORT on issues ABOUT file sharing – so news reports about file sharing cases for example. I work in a law firm. You can see why I don’t hold much faith with how things are categorised by Filter operators. If this logic is applied to, for example, as it is the thing we are obsessing about currently – child abuse, it would mean that news stories about child abuse, information about dealing with child abuse and support for victims would no doubt fall foul to a ‘ includes sites that provide information related to’ approach to filtering.

Response times are almost always a joke too. According to the report: BT said that it aimed to respond to mis-categorisation cases within 72 hours and would not take longer than seven days. Sky said it did not have targets for processing mis-categorisation reports but that they were usually completed within 24 to 48 hours. TalkTalk offers customers a guide of five days to deal with reports said that in practice the majority of reports were resolved in 24 to 48 hours. Virgin Media said its maximum response time was one week, but that change could be effected almost immediately.

What compounds this stupidy is the final bullet point. If you run a website, there is currently nothing you can do to discover if your website is being blocked by any services web filters, or under what categories they are blocked. This is because far from existing to help you the ensd user, thse are businesses competingfor money and advertising bucks. They don’t want you to know what their black list and white list sites are.

So what has been the take up so far of those new customers offered family friendly filters at a network level?

BT – 5%
SKY – 8%
TalkTalk – 36%
Virgin Media – 4%

Clearly, the fact that Talktalk has been offering some form of their filter for three years is one reason that their numbers are substantially higher. Also as Ofcom points out, the figures do not break down to give a percentage related to those with families choosing the filters.

The report also does not address how effective (or not) the filters have been, and does not identify the levels of under and over blocking identified.

Whilst you can clearly tell I have serious issues with filtering and particularly at a network level, I am not totally against a concerned parent taking advantage of them. I am against parents who see enabling network filters as a ‘washing their hands of responsibility’ option – either intentionally or because they genuinely believe that the filters do what they say on the tin – which endless research over the past 15 years has shown, they don’t. I think a parent should be the one in control and they should first educate. Then, if they still feel a filter is needed enable one at a computer/device level and be there to disable the filter when it blocks content that it should not be blocking.

Kindle (Verymuch)Limited

So expect some frothing at the mouth but Amazon has launched their eBook lending service (just in the US for now). Kindle Unlimited. For $9.99 per month ($120 per year) you can download and read as many book from their ‘unlimited’ library and read them. So an Amazon Prime/Netflix for books then. ?

Now I do read quite a few books a year and mostly now on my Kindle.

So let’s think. How good a deal would $120 (or thinking ahead to a UK version, £120) a year be? If I look at my personal Kindle purchases for this year so far. I have bought 21 eBooks via Amazon at a cost of £126.77. At the same rate it means I’ll probably spend in the vicinity of £250 on eBooks during the year, or around £20 a month.

Suddenly £120 a year looks a good deal. Yes?

Well, no, actually. Whilst the service launched with a catalogue of boasting 600,000 e-books, what you get for that is access to lots of classics – which you can already download for free or next to nothing elsewhere – a few famous series such as Harry Potter and lots of self-published books. If you want most of the latest blockbusters or new literary gems you’re not going to get much luck at the moment. Suddenly, that makes £120 a year seem like a LOT of money. None of the 21 books I have bought this year are available in the launch catalogue for Kindle Unlimited.

You’re a librarian use your local library some of you are no doubt screaming. I do, of course, but not for eBooks.

The initial reason for that was that my local library service – Lewisham – didn’t really seem to have it sorted out (they do now). So much so I am planning on trying out borrowing an eBook from them and reading via my Nexus 7 (using OverDrive Media Console – which seems to be the library’s choice of ‘reader’ software)

The problem – as with Amazon – is that none of the books I have bought are currently available in the library’s eBook collection. Clearly I could attempt to order them – as I would do with a traditional book – but I guess I have become impatient. Actually, this isn’t true, in truth I have never (as an adult) really used any library to read brand new releases (except in my days in public libraries when I would read things before they hit our shelves), so doing so for eBooks would actually be a change in my behaviour. I’ve usually bought new releases I wanted and used the library for older books – catching up with an author’s back catalogue or just things that I missed when they came out. This week is actually a perfect example of my behaviour. Wednesday will see the Booker Prize long list named. I always try to read all 13 longlisted books before the prize is handed out – I usually fail , although last year I started the 13th on the day of the prize. It is unlikely either Amazon’s new service or my local library would enable me to get hold of all 13 ebooks and read them before the prize is announced. But, that’s fine.

Amazon are, of course, partly evil (tax dodgers etc) but in that they are also not alone amongst big global companies. They do provide good services though (on the whole) so, I don’t mind the idea of a paid for ‘all you can read’ ebook service. However, from a personal point of view I can’t see it being something I’d sign up to any time soon – even if they launch in the UK – as it doesn’t currently fit how or what I read.

Swift Music Analysis

It’s always nice to read someone who is passionate about music, the ‘album’, and about the future of the music ‘industry’ – becoming a bit of a dying breed, but Taylor Swift has written an engaging opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) where she sees a bright future for all of these things.

It is appropriate that one of her best songs is called Love Story, because as she says that is often what music is about – connecting with a song and/or an artist. As she says:
“The way I see it, fans view music the way they view their relationships. Some music is just for fun, a passing fling … Some songs and albums represent seasons of our lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past. However, some artists will be like finding “the one.” We will cherish every album they put out until they retire and we will play their music for our children and grandchildren.”

I have to say I agree.

Gambling with scheduling

It’s been a while since I blogged about the ASA [OK, it's been a while since I blogged about anything] but this adjudication was so head slapping that I had to do so.

It seems Channel 5 broadcast a programme entitled “My Spiral into Debt Hell” which focused on a number of people who had suffered from debt problems. One person featured in the programme had accrued a debt of £70,000 from online gambling and had lost their home, family and job as a result. Given that fact you’d probably be surprised to learn that Channel 5 decided to schedule ads for either Rush Poker Mobile or Supercasino.com during the three ad breaks in the programme and the one following it.

Channel 5 defended the approach by arguing the ad was shown after 21:00 and was aimed at an adult audience with an interest in contemporary issues, and that the online gambling story was that gambling did not solve financial problems, rather than implying gambling could be used as a solution to financial problems. A fair enough argument, and one accepted by the ASA who ruled ” We acknowledged that the ads for online gambling were incongruous with the programme content, but considered the scheduling of those ads around the programme was not irresponsible, or an unsuitable juxtaposition that was likely to cause distress or offence to viewers.”

BUT

I think the ASA were wrong in this case.

Yes, context is important, but we are still talking about a broadcaster who thought the most appropriate advertisers around a programme about debt were gambling websites. Are Channel 5 really so short of people buying ad space that thought these were the best ads for this programme? They might have been. Let’s be honest between them and payday loan ads there aren’t many others I can remember seeing that often.

Still, if I had known the person who had accrued a debt of £70,000 from online gambling and had lost their home, family and job, I think I’d have thought it a bit callous to have gambling ads in the middle of the programme which included his story.

Nigel makes me feel slightly awkward

It seems that a few weeks ago I missed the fact that Nigel Farage had spoken out about the South East of London to journalists at the UKIP party Conference. For those reading this not aware of who UKIP are, they are party who generally think that immigrates are both ‘stealing all our jobs’ and at the same time coming to the Uk to ‘live off our Benefit system’. Very clever some of these foreigners. The Party are pro British business and interests and want to see the UK come out of the European Union – a view, to be fair, held by many people who don’t share their anti-immigration stance.

Anyway, It seems as part of his argument that parts of the UK had become “unrecognisable”, Nige got on a train at London Charing Cross and headed to the south east. Over to Nige:

“Do I think parts of Britain are a foreign land? I got the train the other night, it was rush hour, from Charing Cross. “It was a stopper going out and we stopped at London Bridge, New Cross, Hither Green, it was not til we got past Grove Park that I could hear English being audibly spoken in the carriage. “Does that make me feel slightly awkward? Yes it does. I wonder what is really going on. I am saying that and I am sure that is a view that will be reflected by three quarters of the population, perhaps even more.”

Oh, how I laughed.

I’ve been on that train, and indeed, as I live in Hither Green, I’ve done that journey out of Charing Cross at many different times of the day, and yet I can’t ever remember being sat there thinking ‘ well, this makes me feel slightly awkward ‘ – well, ok, there was that one time, but that was just because the toilets were broken, and I’d been drinking and, well. But seriously, what IS he on about? For starters the biggest percentage of people travelling at that time are commuters, so travelling solo, so are most likely to be reading The Standard, a Book, their Kindle, and/or listening to their iPod or using their mobile device – not talking. Only a small percentage will be talking and a lot of those will be doing so on their phones. They also, like most people I know may not feel the need to speak at 100 decibels to make themselves heard down the other end of the carriage – though some certainly do seem to think it necessary.

As a result, when I’m travelling I can probably ‘hear’ the handful of people that are sat /standing near me in the carriage (unless it is post pub chucking out time). So, maybe a dozen or so people on a carriage that at capacity will hold 150+ seated and at rush hour, inc those standing, 200+.

So even if we take Nige’s story at face value what he is essentially saying is that on one carriage on a packed commuter train where he would not have been able to move, or hear more than a few rows/back forward – if he got a seat –  there were a few non English speakers stood/sat next to him for a few stops. Quick, close the Borders, we’re being over-run, it’s an invasion of foreigners … or, it’s being on public transport in any major city in the world, where in those non- English speaking countries the sound of ‘English speaking’ voices would not doubt be the invading foreigners.  If this makes Nige feel slightly awkward, I wonder how he copes having a German wife and relatives? I can only guess they’ve never gotten on a train with him and lapsed into German? If they did, the poor man must have been scared shitless.

BUT, Nige makes it clear that “I’m not saying that people on trains should be forced to speak English. That’s a bloody stupid question.” Phew, that’s a relief.

But, don’t worry because Nige is sure that his view – that clearly doesn’t actually stand up to even the most basic scrutiny – “is a view that will be reflected by three quarters of the population, perhaps even more.”

Nigel’s politics are the politics of fear. They’re the politics of blame (although, again to be fair, you could argue that covers most politics). Why look at yourself when there is someone else you can blame for whatever situation you find yourself in.

As a wise departed soul once said we have a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors … close yourselves off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. It is clear through which set of eyes Mr Farage sees the world.

Reaction not Regulation?

I enjoyed reading this blog post on Radio Today by John Myers, the former GMG Radio Chief Executive. It takes as its starting point a decision by Ofcom to uphold a complaint that Global Radio has failed to comply with the requirements of its published format since re-launching as Heart Cornwall in 2012. In particular Ofcom has found that Heart Cornwall was not delivering some important aspects of the Character of Service of its current published format, in particular the requirements that the station should be “A full service local station for Cornwall, with speech an important part of the content”, and that it should feature “locally-focused….speech content.” Ofcom found that the output examined demonstrated an overall lack of speech on the station and very little “locally-focused…speech content”. Ofcom warned Global Radio that, should similar issues arise in future, it may consider taking further regulatory action.

According to Myers this decsion sums up the current state of radio regulation in the UK, and Ofcom’s flawed approach to it. I agree. Ofcom relies on someone making a complaint. If it did a spot check of radio station across the country next week it would no doubt find that a lot of them are in breach of their Format, and that most are fully aware that they are and are doing so on purpose. The stations owned by the main players just want to offer defacto ‘national’ services, and the smaller players are having to compete for listeners so often go the popularist route to do so. But, Ofcom have neither the time, inclination nor resources to discover this. This is not likely to change.

The ASA, to a degree, sufers from the same issue. It needs to rely on complaints and the majority of these come from competitors playing a tit-for-tat game. I see ads every week that are in clear breach of the rules, but I have better things to do with my time than spend my life writing to the ASA. Beside for most advertisers it is a game. If you’re short on advertsing budget then an ad that breaks the rules will generate lots of free press for your slapped wrist. More importantly the ad run will almsot certainly have ended and have its desired effect way before the ASA tells you not to run it again. You need to be a BAD repeat offender to get referred to Ofcom. For example, Sit-Up Ltd [ Bid TV / Price Drop TV] were on the end of 30 rulings in the last year – 28 upheld.

In May last year the ASA referred Sit-Up Ltd, to Ofcom for consideration of statutory sanctions following repeated breaches of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising by its channels Bid and Price Drop. At that point there had been 27 rulings against Sit-Up Ltd relating to misleading pricing claims and misleading product descriptions since January 2012. Of the 30 I mentioned in the past year, 10 came AFTER the referal to Ofcom.

As far as I’m aware Ofcom has yet to make any ruling on any sanctions. Uk regulation is a slow beast.