A bit of blogosphere and web news

Tim O’Reilly has a new report out on Web 2.0 Principles and Best Practices. The downside? It costs US$ 375 for a PDF (but only an extra $20 for a printed copy). From the blurb: "Web 2.0 is here today—and yet its vast, disruptive impact is just beginning. More than just the latest technology buzzword, it’s a transformative force that’s propelling companies across all industries towards a new way of doing business characterized by user participation, openness, and network effects."

Google has announced the winner of its "My Britain" logo competition– run in conjunction with the Science Museum in London. The winning design is by 13-year-old Katherine Chisnall. See it at the link.

While on Google, Blogger Beta is now "feature complete", so they say. Based on the trouble everyone has been reporting over the past days and weeks, I think it is worth taking the minute or so necessary to migrate your Blogger blog over to Beta as soon as you can get access. Or you can switch to WordPress, which offers a free blogging service that I’ve used for a while for Librarian’s Place and Web Writer, and which seems pretty stable. Or you can just take Sand Storm (Steve Clackson)’s advice.

David Sifry of Technorati posts his quarterly report on the blogosphere – as usual, very accessibly written with lots of graphs and charts. Yes, it is still growing — Technorati is tracking more than 57 million blogs. Says Sifry: "There is a strong correlation between the aging and post frequency of blogs and their authority and Technorati ranking." Oh, and Farsi has moved into the top ten languages of the blogosphere.

I am not going to get sucked into linking to many Problogger posts as so many of them are useful food for thought and follow-up, but here are a couple of highlights: Blog Credibility (where does it come from?) ; and Give Brian 5 Minutes and He’ll Give you a Killer Headline for Your Next Blog Post.

The Book Magazine issue 3

A couple of weeks ago now, the third issue (my second) of The Book Magazine arrived. I’ve been meaning to write about the magazine but haven’t found the time — it is actually very good!

The magazine is well written, edited and produced. I imagined I would flick through it when I picked it up, yet the articles are readable and stimulating. I found myself wanting to read books that I could not imagine considering if I saw them in a bookshop or on Amazon.

Here are some examples:

Gordon Kerr reviews Michael Palin’s diaries (vol 1). I never read celebrity autobiographies, but this one sounds as if it is actually written by Palin and as if it has some highly amusing content in it (helped I am sure by the fact that Palin isn’t 22 and already on volume 3).

Mark Binns writes about four new biographies of writers: Hardy, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Leonard Woolf and B S Johnson. I certainly won’t read some or all of these books, but Binns’ article is an informative round-up.

Perhaps the star article in this issue for me is Gordon Kerr (again) on "The Joke’s Over", a review of Ralph Steadman’s book about Hunter S. Thompson. Steadman has been a relatively constant yet shadowy figure in Gonzo’s books over many years, but the story of the relationship between the two men is delightfully unsentimental — and Steadman sounds as if he’s fully as dry as the master (dry in the humorous sense rather than any other, of course).

There are other articles which, somewhat to my own surprise, I read to the end — Fiammetta Rocco on what it was like being a judge of the 2004 Man Booker prize; Mark Lee reviewing "A Spot of Bother", Mark Haddon’s second novel; an interview with Lian Hearn (who I now realise is a woman!); round up of lots of children’s books including "Into the Woods"; and a review of "100 must-read crime novels" — which I am definitely going to try to avoid but will probably fail in that regard. 

That is by no means all — I highly recommend subscribing to this magazine via this link. Or you can apparently get hold of it at 250 independent booksellers throughout the UK, although I haven’t seen it. I don’t know if they distribute outside the UK, but their email address is here if you want to ask them.

Why is it important to vote?

On my usual travels round the blogosphere tonight, I must have read twenty or thirty exhortations to vote in today’s US election. Many such posts state that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, just so long as you vote. Why is this?

When I was too young to vote, I was very keen to do so. We had debates and mock elections at school, and were pretty opinionated and (naively, maybe) informed about which party we supported and what they all stood for. For many years, every time there was a general or local election, I voted (not always for the same party). I used postal votes when necessary, and always made sure to get to the polling station if I was based at home at the time. But in recent years, I have stopped. I still vote in general elections, true, but without any enthusiasm for the menu of candidates I am offered. In local elections, I do not vote any more. I have lived in this town for 15 years and have seen all parties either in control or in coalition form — none of them is the slightest bit different in the event. I have become a cynic — engendered by their horrible nasty election leaflets that come through the door blaming everyone but themselves for every wrong in the world and making unrealistic, blanket promises they have no intention of fulfilling.

On the national level, too, politicians are employing an ever-increasing number of unelected special advisers, press officers, PA people, minders, gurus, hairdressers, fortune-tellers and assorted hangers-on. We have seen our main political parties jettison any pretence of conviction politics in favour of appealing to a narrow set of swing voters who can tip some constituency if they are satisfied on a single issue. We’ve seen spin, media management, honours given to newspaper editors while the editors are still in-post, focus groups, opinion polls, etc.

I am not mentioning greed, corruption, hypocrisy and delusions of grandeur, because politicians have always been like that — it was always par for the course. If they were unlucky enough to get caught (eg Profumo) they resigned. Now they just cling on shamelessly for as long as they can persuade their political agents and parties not to sack them — and if they are sacked or if they quit, it is because of votes, not principles. Everything seems to be acceptable.

Politicians in power are tinkering at the edges, sacrificing their election manifestos and failing to represent the interests of the people who voted for them. The media is pathetic, preferring to focus on trivia, gossip and hysteria than in providing decent investigative journalism.

So tell me again, why is it so important to use your vote? Not voting isn’t opening the door to fascism or communism or any other horror. It is a small, inoffensive way to indicate one’s inability to make a positive choice from the depressing options on offer.

Let me know where my argument is flawed.

Autumn books: the hero of Gombe

The next in the Nature Autumn books series is "Jane Goodall: the Woman who Redefined Man" by Dale Petersen, reviewed by Bill McGrew. From the review:

"But what of the subtitle’s claim, that she has redefined our species, Homo sapiens? This originates in the response of Louis Leakey, the flamboyant archaeologist and mentor of Goodall, to her unexpected finding that the apes not only used tools but also made them, as part of their extractive foraging. He stated, with characteristic panache, that now we must redefine ‘tool’, redefine ‘man’, or accept chimpanzees as humans. This blurring of long-established boundaries was further advanced by Goodall’s observations of chimpanzees doing other human-like things, such as hunting, cannibalism, warfare, adoption and ritual-like displays.

The book is comprehensive, following Goodall from her childhood interest in animals through her somewhat chequered young adulthood as debutante and waitress. The breakthrough came with a self-financed trip to Kenya, where she met Leakey, who set her on the route to primatology, although she had no prior training nor higher education. Her aptitude showed quickly as she met chimpanzees on her first day in the field and discovered tool use and meat eating within the first few months. These successes led to her acceptance at the University of Cambridge, UK, to do a doctorate in ethology, despite not having a first degree. From that point onwards, she never looked back.

Peterson writes vividly. Descriptions of early days at Gombe, based on excerpts from Goodall’s field notes and letters home, come alive. Days in the forest or on the savanna capture the downs (ill health, frustrations with sparse resources) as well as the ups (discovery of totally new phenomena, fast friendships) of field work."

As before, if you do not have a subscription or site licence to Nature and would like to read the whole review, please drop me a line in the comments and I’ll let you know how.

Meaning of life

Two articles on the unfashionable but essential characteristic of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

First, from a post on "The Life and Times of Rennie D", by Father Mark Long, on the Adam and Eve story:

"It is tempting to assign the consequential curse and humanity’s exclusion from Eden to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in seeking wisdom (a gift God did not yet believe them ready to receive). However, having gained wisdom, they are cursed and excluded for failing to accept responsibility for their choice and subsequent action. Rather than a punishment dictated by God, this is a consequence brought about by humanity’s unwillingness to accept responsibility.
Much of humanity’s suffering is due not to wrong choice, but to our failure to accept responsibility for those choices … there are neither rewards or punishments, only consequences!"

Second, from today’s Times, in which Richard Morrison writes with insight and truth on one of his regular themes, the disjunct in society on either side of the class divide. Today’s peg is a report on the breakdown of family life, specifically disaffection among teenagers, and how the "media class" just doesn’t get it. Please read the whole article. Here’s the nub, but it is even stronger if you’ve read what comes before:

"All this can be summed up in three words: abdication of responsibility. That applies not only to parents who don’t nurture their children, but also to the influential and powerful middle class that doesn’t want to accept responsibility for sorting out the gross social squalor afflicting those lower down the pile. Such selfishness is so short-sighted. Donne said that no man is an island. Equally, no sink estate is an island. The seeds of bitterness being sown there will tear apart our country if we don’t wake up. The future is not measurably bright; it’s potentially appalling."