Spectrum Policy in an Independent Scotland

Telecommunications researcher Ewan Sutherland has written an interesting post on the LSE media Policy Blog about communications policy and regulation in an Independent Scotland, and in particular how this far the Scottish Government has failed to address many of the key spectrum regulation issues necessary for the communications industry to operate in the case of a Yes vote later this month. In particular he highlights the lack of any clear explanation of the agencies and authorities that, from March 2016, would regulate:

• Advertising
• Broadcast content
• Gambling (including the present National Lottery)
• Newspapers
• Spectrum

Worth a read.


Unless you’ve been living on the moon this past few weeks you will be aware of the Ice Bucket Challenge [ #Icebucketchallenge ] . Its purpose is to raise awareness and money for motor neuron disease. It started in the US with raising money for the the ALS and quickly expanded to other charities globally targeting the disease including MNDA in the UK.

You’re probably already fed up with you social media timelines being clogged up with people doing the challenge, I know I am. Do I Really need to see another person pour a bucket of water over their head and nominate three more people?

But. It’s caught on, and I doth my cap to any charities that can come up with new, fun, and (in this case HIGHLY successful) ways to raise awareness and money for their causes.

As some people started to get weary of the challenge, a new thing occurred, the, I’m going to give my money to a different charity response. I’ll be honest, those doing this annoy me. If you don’t want to do the challenge, don’t do it, and don’t do it at all. If you feel that strongly about, show some conviction. But also explain why.

If your favourite charity is X, then surely you already give your money and / or time to it regularly – monthly Standing Orders/Direct Debits etc? I Have five set up which I listed in my Icebucket video. Could some of those charities do with a bit more coverage? Absolutely, especially SENSE – deaf/blind charity http://www.sense.org.uk/ and Myasthenia Gravis (Myaware) http://www.myaware.org/ – a charity dealing with a muscle wasting disease.

But, should I then say, I can’t possibly afford to give money to any other charity, particularly one that has been spectacularly successful through a challenge, just because that challenge annoys me?

You need to ask yourself just what about organisations trying to raise money and awareness about a degenerative disease with no cure upsets you so much that the idea of donating a couple of quid offends you so much?

Let me remind you what we are talking about here:

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a progressive disease that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. This means messages gradually stop reaching muscles, which leads to weakness and wasting.
MND can affect how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe. There is currently no cure for MND

‘But I feel bullied/guilt tripped into doing it’ … blah blah blah


I’m still not sure I see the issue, other than wanting to make the issue all about you. Look at me, I’m going to give my money to someone else instead. Seriously, if you don’t think ALS / MND is a cause worth contributing to, fine. Don’t donate money, don’t do the #Icebucket challenge but also don’t moan about it, as if you’ve suddenly been put upon. But also remember you can give money to more than one organisation. If this challange reminds you that another charity you hold dear could do with an extra fiver, brilliant, but don’t make it an either or question.

For me, I think about the regular requests for sponsorship from friends and colleague running marathons and the like. Do those who are giving money to different charities over the ice bucket challange also go to their freinds, ‘I see your raising money for Cancer UK. Sorry, not one of my Charities. I’ll tell you what i’ll donate a fiver to the PDSA instead. ok’ ??

I chose to do the challenge. It’s silly, it amused my daughter, and I’m happy to give money to a worthwhile cause.

Booker 2014: The History of Rain by Niall Williams

Goodness is a tidy bow you just can’t help wanting to pull loose.

‘The History of Rain’ is narrated by 19-year-old Ruth Swain, who we learn is confined to bed with an unidentified, but debilitating, blood disorder. Living her existence from her bedroom and an occasional hospital bed, and no longer able to actively participate in life in the community, she instead becomes its chronicler. Or, at least, the chronicler of her own convoluted family history: ” In families it’s hard to trace the story. If you’re in it the Plot Points aren’t clearly marked.”

Ruth’s world is a world of books and literature, and as a result all her points of reference are held within the things she has read (or seen in films) so, for example, when talking about chronology and storytelling she says:

“Think of any of your favourite characters, and then picture them in the time before they entered the story. They existed somewhere, in a World Before. Hamlet as a small boy. (Hamlet Begins in the Warner Brothers version.) Macbeth as a teenager. (Out of his pimples The Dark Prince Rises. Sorry, fecund.)

And anyway the story wasn’t ready for us yet. There are precedents. It’s ten chapters before Sam Weller appears in The Pickwick Papers (Book 124, Penguin Classics, London), nineteen before Sarah Gamp arrives in Martin Chuzzlewit (Book 800, Penguin Classics, London). “

It is through her father’s books that we come to know Ruth and through them how we then learn about four generations of her family: In particular we learn about the men – her great-grandfather, Reverend Swain, grandfather Abraham, and her father, Virgil, as well as the age long pursuit of the Swains’ Impossible Standard.

Religion, poetry, storytelling, fishing, potatoes, loss? It’s all here.

And I have to admit there were periods reading this book where it all seemed a bit too twee and sentimental and a bit too Irish cliché for me, but overall it manages to rise above these traits. Key to this is the engaging narrator that Williams has created in Ruth, and the humour he has instilled her with (the line about Hamlet and MacBeth above are perfect examples of this). It is because we like bookish Ruth that we allow ourselves to be submerged in her family story, and smile as she comments on Virgil Swain and Mary MacCarroll falling in love: ” So the truth is he didn’t fall in love either, he fell into Faith, which was onetime maybe the Champions League of Love until the sponsors pulled out and now it doesn’t get coverage anymore.” Or as she posits one of the best arguments against the existence of heaven, or at least why you wouldn’t want to be there, in modern fiction (using classic literature as an illustration): ‘There is no Heaven. How can there be? Think about it. For starters, if all the good people there have ever been are already there, how big would it have to be? Second, what a social nightmare. It’d be like all the good characters in all the books in the ultimate library of the world left their books, stepped out of their stories and were told just mingle. Anne Archer and Jim Hawkins, Ishmael and Emma Woodhouse. How mad would that be? Dorothea, say hello to Mr Dedalus. What could they possibly say to one another? It’d be excruciating.’

The further you progress the more your heart warms to the lives of the people in the small village of Faha on the banks of the Shannon river, and a narrator every bit as engaging as some of those classic heroine’s she references. But I’ll end this review with one final quote, which hopefully will also convey the lyrical skill that Williams’ also possesses as an author.

“I know what the river is like at night. I know how it tongues the dark and swallows the rain and how it never ever sleeps. I know how it sings in its chains, how steadily it backstrokes into eternity, how if you stand beside it in the deeps of its throat it seems to be saying, saying, saying, only what you cannot tell.”

Booker 2014: The Dog by Joseph O’Neil

‘The Dog’ is the tale of an American lawyer who, following the break-up of his long term relationship, and a chance encounter with an old college friend, re-locates to Dubai to manage the wealth of a rich Lebanese family – The Batros’s.

His job the newly created role of “family officer”. Its purpose to stop them from getting ripped off by anybody. In practice it means watching various family members shifting their wealth about and overseeing the ever growing number of companies within the family empire, ok-ing payments on their behalf, and also becoming treasurer of a charitable foundation he suggest the Batros’ set up. In reality the job mostly involves shuffling paper, monitoring emails, and frustration at various family members ignoring of his own emails to them.

So his life becomes ever more distracted by the minutia of daily life and custom in Dubai – both for exPats, locals, the one up-manship of Apartment block improvements, the building on ever larger apartment blocks, the plight and treatment of foreign workers.

There isn’t really much of a plot.

His chief pastimes seem to be diving (although this hobby seems to have stopped when diving buddy Ollie decides to stop) getting pedicures (from Ollie and his ever expanding employee base), using his massage chair, and visiting prostitutes. These and engaging in various forms of self justifying arguments for his lifestyle and job, and the lifestyle and jobs of others too. These take the form of imaginary emails not sent and lengthy passages philosophising, often in the form of legal argument, often about his ex Jenn and the reasons for the breakdown of their relationship.

He is a man who when he runs out of things to analyse, starts to analyses whether he is analysing too much.

Into this we also get a few events to hang these rambling around – the disappearance of a well know local diver (The man from Atlantis), and some bay-sitting duties for the 15 year old son of the Eddie’s brother Sandros.

This is a fun read. Working for an international law firm for many years and knowing many lawyers who have moved or spent time in Dubai, a lot of the experiences and views of life in the UAE rang true, as did description of various type of people to be found in the nouveau riche there. I’m sure the self obsessed and absorbed central character, who is never named (beyond being told his given name begins with X), and the sheer number of passages devoted to his endless (and perhaps pointless) powers of reasoning may not sit well with some readers, but for me it worked and also gives the book a nice undercurrent of humour. I smiled often reading this book.

“(The record! I’ve always found it a hoot, this mythic tabula on which our deeds are inscribed and preserved. Where is this record? Who is the recorder? Who are the readers of the record? Egocentricity! Superstition! Anthropocentricity! (One understands the metaphysical origins of the error, of course, it being an almost unacceptable and unbelievable proposition that we exist in an adjudicatory emptiness, and arguably a definition of the human must refer to our distinguishing if babyish sense of (and/or need for) being kept under observation or lorded over. (The fantasy of the record is closely preceded, surely, by the fantasy of the forum – the ideal if invisible fact-finding or listening body to which one mutters one’s arguments, sometimes audibly. I do it all the time. It’s consternating, really.))”

It also served to remind me that I’d always meant to read his previous novel Netherland, and that post booker I should probably, and belatedly, do so.

Music review podcast

So me and a friend do a album review podcast – you should listen and if you like subscribe

So in the latest podcast we discuss the following albums:

Meat maybe murder, but is listening to the new Morrissey album tasty or tasteless?

Morrissey – World Peace is None of your Business

5 Seconds of Summer – 5 Seconds of Summer

Yes – Heaven & Earth

La Roux – Trouble in Paradise

Cut/Copy – Free Your Mind

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager 

Check out this episode!

Booker 2014: Orfeo by Richard Powers

Given that he’s been nominated for the Pulizer Prize you’d have thought I’d have read more Powers’ books then I have , but my only previous experience of his work came with ‘Gain’, which whilst I found beautifully written in places, a bit of a chore to read.

If I’m honest there were times reading Orfeo where some of that feeling was coming back to me, but in the end it was a book I enjoyed.

On the face of it the story is loosely about a College music professor who ends up on the run when the government decides he’s become a biotech terrorist. What is actually about is the choices we make in life about our ‘calling’ and centrally about music , and classical music in particular. For a long time he refuses to see any merit in any other. And Power writes exquisitely about music. He write about the notes, the tones the rise and falls and of course the sounds. I could pick hundreds of examples from the book but, he also just write generally about it: –

“Music, he’ll tell anyone who asks over the next fifty years, doesn’t mean things. It is things.”

“Music wasn’t about learning how to love. It was about learning what to disown and when to disown it. Even the most magnificent piece would end up as collateral damage in the endless war over taste.”

“The way he’d remembered it, everything happened in that shared glance. On that downbeat, he left a wife who’d given him a decade of unearned patience, abandoned a daughter who wanted only to make things with him, and stepped out into free fall. For nothing, for music, for a chance to make a little noise in this world. A noise that no one needed to hear.”

“Music and viruses both trick their hosts into copying them.”

“All my life I thought I knew what music was. But I was like a kid who confuses his grandfather with God.”

Here is a central character – Richard Els – who believes music should be difficult and hard and that obvious melody are a failure. Or at least he does through passages of his life. He devotes his life to finding the perfect sounds that will change the world, but not in popularist way. He is a man with few loves and even fewer friends. He reminded me of a less likable Anne Tyler central character. And indeed it is these few other characters, Maddy, Clara, Sarah, Bonner who help to flesh out this man whose life’s priorities cause his undoing.

It is an engaging book, but one that I may have abandoned had it not been for my own love of music and my own fascination with the links between music and science and the regular quotable lines relating to music of all kinds:

“At his click, the room filled with a vivacious, pitchcorrected, and jaw-droppingly sunny little song. On Els’s screen, a thirteen-year-old singer woke up, went to the bus stop, joined her friends in a convertible, and visited a suburban house where an upper-middle-class teen party was in full swing”
“Air raid announcing the end of the world. A driving motor rhythm in the drums propelled virtuosic parallel passages in the guitars and bass. The song came on like a felon released from multiple life sentences. The melodic machete went straight through Els’s skin. The song was one long, joyous jackhammer assertion of tonic. Surprise was not its goal, and the pattern laid down in the first four measures drove the tune on in a storm surge. But after two minutes, it sprouted a hallucination in the relative minor floating above the thrash, and for several notes Els thought the band, in a fit of real anarchy, had thrown Chopin’s E Minor Prelude—the “Vision”—into the cement mixer …” describing an Anthrax song.

I ended this book marveling at some of the writing but ultimately not loving Els or the book.


Booker 2014: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This is the first novel by Karen Joy Fowler I have read. If I’m honest I’d never really been tempted by any of her previous works, which includes The Jane Austen Book Club. I also went into this one blind and read it not knowing what the book was about – one advantage of reading on my Kindle, rather than having the physical book – so I had the surprise at the ‘reveal’ that happened early on in the novel, if not early in the story.

As it is difficult to discuss the book without giving away that ‘reveal’, stop reading now if you don’t want to know.

Fowler’s book is the story of the Cooke family, as told by narrator, Rosemary. We start in the middle of the story and are introduced to Mom and Dad, brother Lowell, and sister Fern. Nothing seems out of the ordinary as we learn who loves whom more within the family set up and about events in the past, including Lowell going missing and Fern being taken away. It is then our preconceptions about the family unit at torn down as it is revealed that Rosemary’s sister Fern is, in fact, a chimpanzee. You see, Dad is a psychology professor , the type that “didn’t leave their work at the office. They brought it home.” And the family had become an experiment on raising a human and a chimpanzee at the same time as ‘sisters’.

What follows is a book about sibling love and kinship and establishing that bond of sistership. It highlights what commonalities are present in the family relations before stepping back to look at the differences. Mixed up in this it manages to address issues of nature v nurture, animal rights, sibling rivalry and jealousy and identity and perhaps most importantly, communication. More than anything this book seemed to be about communication, and how and why we choose to communicate. This is demonstrated most glaringly in the ways Rosemary communicates with those around her when Fern is living with them, and afterwards. Also Rosemary asks her long standing flat mate at one point if they are friends – because she is not sure how and if she’s made any. The fact that she ends up with a suitcase containing a ventriloquist’s dummy of Madame Defarge from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, instead of her Mother’s journals at one point also seems like a communication joke.

There are also difficult and serious questions at the heart of the novel about animal rights and science and medical research. It is a book that – including as it does a lot of facts about Chimpanzee studies/experiments – makes you think about where we draw the lines. Indeed, Rosemary herself is conflicted about where that line should be, and conflicted about where the blame lies for Fern being taken away from the family and Lowell leaving home.

If all this sounds a bit too serious, I should add that due to the skill of Fowler’s writing, this is a surprisingly ‘light’ and fun read. Fowler has included a number of quirky fun characters for some comic relief who appear at just the right moments to lighten the load. An enjoyable read that would be a good gift to most book lovers.

Prediction: Shortlist