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starwarstvtimesIt’s been a long time since I was a Star Wars fanboi, counting down the years (as it was when I were a lad) from when it appeared in the theatres to when it appeared on TV.

I remember my  Dad taking my cousin and me to see Jungle Book and me looking longingly at the queues to see Star Wars as we went inside. That would have been somewhere around 1978, the film having hit UK cinemas on December 27th 1977. I remember being mesmerised by the trailer – and having to wait until I was ten, on Sunday 24th October 1982, to see it on TV for the first time (it aired on ITV from 7.15pm to 9.30pm). That was back before the existence of Channel 4 and you needed two magazines to see what was on three channels!

I was never an aficionado of Star Wars LEGO® or played any of the Star Wars computer games and my Star Wars mania waned as I became hooked on Star Trek and its successors. Still, Star Wars held a quiet affection for me as the original and best space epic, even if my geek tendencies took me away from film and into home computers and gaming.

When the three Star Wars prequels appeared, I saw Phantom Menace, but it didn’t capture me in the way that the original had so many years before.

And then this.

Step forward a global army of Star Wars geeks to take on a challenge that is only really possible in the Internet age and which has reminded me why I loved the original three films so much.

Casey Pugh’s Star Wars Uncut has been around for years and I have no idea how I missed it. If you did, too, then take a look. Fans from all over the world have lovingly recreated the original in 15 second segments. Just about every form of amateur film-making can be found in its two hours. I’ve not watched it all yet, but the bits I have seen reveal that Star Wars retains its appeal to people of all ages.

A long time ago…

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Free-Psychology-Cartoons-by-Mental-Health-Humor-clip-art-1So I’ve always liked my cats.

Cool, aloof, ego-centric, vicious, schizophrenic. There’s something dangerous and unpredictable about a cat.

They also have an uncanny knack for mind-control. Mine currently exercises this by opening the inside door and then staring at me in a manner worthy of a dodgy 50s B-Movie until I open the front door and let him out. This is, of course, simply sheer bloody-mindedness on his part as he is still perfectly capable of using the cat flap and jumping over the wall. Owner-control is simply more fun and it is often an engaging battle of wits. When I get bored of that, he loses the battle of the boots.

However, despite my fondness for four-legged feline fiends, even I can’t resist this wonderful short video which shows you a side to dogs that you’ll never see in cats.

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There are plenty of ways to get your opinion out there on the ‘net in this day and age. This generally means throwing your opinions out there for the world to see on Twitter, blogs and Facebook. However, some cunning folks have realised the potential for making more targeted, localised statements, by renaming their WiFi.

I am not sure how I missed this phenomena, but it seems there are even sites given over to helping you name your wifi.

Some of the best can be found on WiFi LOL. My favourite is probably this one. Who knew that flamingos could cause such neighbour strife?

For my part, I think my own network, currently – and poetically – named ‘Requiem’ is about to become ‘getyoursoddingkidsoffmylawnok’.

 

 

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I’m not in the business of promoting random apps or plug-ins. Anyway, I rarely come across anything that warrants sharing with others. This is a bit different.

I often want to make notes on the fly when I am browsing, but I don’t want anything as sophisticated (or fiddly!) as Evernote. I usually just want to put down a word or two (e.g. song titles, books to read or keywords for blogs), have them all in one place and have them accessible whether I am at work or at home or on the move.

Step up Chrome Notepad which does exactly that. It is an extension that gives you a clickable button next to the address bar which opens a very basic text editor.

Definitely worth it for all those who blog, write and use Chrome as their principal browser.

chromenote

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I imagine that many of you are familiar with this one.

The phone line clicks, there is a long pause and then an individual with a very strong accent, usually from the Indian sub-continent, checks your name and then announces that he is called “Frank” and is calling you from Microsoft (!) because their servers (!!) have detected that your computer has a very bad problem (!!!).

A quick scan on the ‘net reveals that it is a tried and tested scam, with commentators as varied as Mumsnet, the Nuisance Call police and the tech geeks of the anti-virus forums at AVG all reporting this particular con.

It basically involves trading on a combination of fear and people’s ignorance about the way the Internet and their computers work. You receive a patient explanation that “they” have detected unusual activity on your computer which is probably a serious virus. They then offer to remove it for a fee and, if you are doubtful and not yet persuaded, they offer to set up remote-control of your machine to show you exactly what they are talking about. All of which  looks mightily impressive if you don’t know what you are being shown, but which is invariably misleading, inaccurate or irrelevant.

I guess their hope is that, by this time, the expectation is that you are suitably terrified that your computer could be remotely hacking the Pentagon or running a zombie network. You will be panicking so much that you will hand over your hard-earned shekels to “Frank”, probably in the form of your credit card details (you numpty!), eternally grateful that at least someone is looking out for you. (And, of course, impressed by Microsoft’s unmatched level of customer engagement.)

I suppose I have received this call on  thirty or so occasions over the years and have had varying amounts of fun responding to it. The other day, however, I received a novel variation which left me unsure whether to be impressed at the sheer chutzpah of our man “Frank”, or in despair at the general level of ignorance that means this scam has any viability whatsoever.

As on previous occasions, there was the familiar pause, the familiar accent (I actually think I might quite like “Frank” in other circumstances and could envisage sitting down to dinner and a cold beverage to discuss life, the universe and the finer points of telephone harassment), the confirmatory introduction and then…

“Mr Williams… I am calling you from the technical department of the World Wide Web.”

Think about that for the moment and the cultural implications of such a statement. It suggests that the World Wide Web, that we all use daily, has taken on a transcendental state of existence as a unified, identifiable entity that we all simply accept (and clearly accept without question in considerable numbers). It conjures a vision of Willy Wonka-esque workers, striving tirelessly to ensure that the World Wide Web is kept running 24/7/365.

It was the strangest experience – a little like being called by the plumbing department of Heaven.

I decided that, as this was a Significant Call, the only thing to do was to explore the issue in tones of grateful incredulity. At last, after a lengthy explanation of what had been detected, I asked “Frank” earnestly for the password. I didn’t explain what the password was for. I had no idea what it was for, either. I simply stated that I could see how serious it was and that as it definitely needed addressing it was now time for him to give me the password.

“Frank” was confused. He was definitely not amused.

I don’t blame him particularly. I don’t suppose I would be too amused if I was working that sort of scam on a phone farm and came up against a smug smart arse who clearly new something about how his computer works and wasn’t going to be taken for a ride. It will not surprise you to learn that we parted on less than happy terms and so I don’t suppose we will be sharing that drink any time soon.

So are we so gullible in our unquestioning embrace of technology that we could believe that we might get a call from the web’s technical department? Or is “Frank” actually a quiet revolutionary, out to subvert this scam by making random calls in such nonsense terms that the whole conceit collapses under the weight of its own absurdity?

Perhaps “Frank” is merely as bored with the script as the rest of us and so tried a little improvisation.

Kudos, “Frank”, if so.

And “Frank”, next time you call, don’t be surprised if you are greeted by a very excitable me:

“Oh, Wow! This is such a coincidence! You’re calling from the technical department of the World Wide Web! And you’ve just called the technical department of the Internet!”

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I’ve always been a techno-junky, at least as long as I can remember. It’s taken the rest of the world a long time to catch up, but thankfully Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Rajesh are showing the world just how cool us über-nerds are. (That’s The Big Bang Theory for anyone who spent 2012 living on Mars.)

It was Star Trek that did it, I think. Between the communicator, the tricorder and the universal translator there was never much chance for an inquisitive sort like me, who was convinced that aliens were waiting to land, if not here already. (I never bought the theory that the planet was being run by giant lizards. That seemed a little silly. Like David Icke – who I foggily remember for his sports commentary on Grandstand, not the Illuminati.) And for interest, How Stuff Works has a a fascinating article on the 100 Star Trek technologies that have come into being

I remember the first mobile phone I had.

It was Dad’s phone that he passed over to me when I started work. It was a Nokia, a 2140 on the Orange network – the only phone available on Orange when the network launched in 1994. Those of you who had one may remember the retractable antenna. I remember how cool it felt when several  people, a lot older than me, and a lot more important, needed to make phone calls whilst we were stuck in a meeting. Their surprise when I pulled out a cell phone (!) was very gratifying in a geeky, nerdy kind of way.

After that there was no stopping me. Mobile phones and mini-computing became technological areas of fascination and over the years I acquired a series of mobile phones, mini-computers and tablets.

This morning, in the cab on the way to church, a guy on Radio 5 was talking about wearable computers the size of a stud earring that he thinks will be the norm by 2040, which will contain more computing power than every device in the average home today. He was saying, quite straight-forwardly, than in 15-20 years we will have electronic circuitry printed directly onto our skin and that transaction by reading this circuitry will be quite normal. The stud earrings will create local networks to allow off-grid information exchange, ostensibly to protect privacy.

If that sounds insane, you should know that the EES (Electrical Epidermal System) is already here, designed two years ago by engineers John Rogers  and Todd Coleman to collect information on your vital organs and transmit it back wirelessly to a computer.

I wonder if the sense of incredulity I felt was anything like that of those who shook their heads and wondered why on earth I thought I needed a phone in my pocket? Perhaps such imprints and implants will indeed be the norm, even in my lifetime, and we will dispense with our mobiles and games consoles.

In the meantime, here is a gallery of the phones and associated gizmos that, over the years, have led to technology becoming hard-wired into my social and professional life.

Oh… And a small legacy of one of my favourite phones, the Nokia N70 – the picture of Portreath at the top of the blog was taken on it, a good few years ago now.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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Lego was always a favourite toy.

Spaceships, towns, castles… But I never got quite as creative as the Russian who has mixed Lego with the online game Team Fortress 2 and stop-motion animation to create an ultra-violent tribute to one of gaming’s most popular online shooters.

As a gamer, a film enthusiast and a Lego lover of old, this is great. Complete with menacing Russian narration.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

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This is an election that analysts, experts and historians will pore over for decades.

The confluence of mobile technology, media influence, information democracy on the web and voter alienation has created a serendipitous moment for the Liberal Democrats as a voice for fundamental change of a political system that is rotten to its core. From the way we pay for our politics and politicians, to the way government agencies manage information about us, to the way politics is run by two old parties who, as gigantic corporate spin operations, have lost their connection with real people and their every day concerns, people are bewildered and angry.

Paxman’s interview with Nick Clegg was telling in one particular regard: he sought to dismiss the value of £700, the average benefit of the Liberal Democrats’ income tax policy of raising the threshold to £10,000.  Even the BBC, in the person  of Jeremy Paxman, fail to understand that £700 is a colossal amount of money.

I was talking to a family friend at the weekend who, as someone who struggled to keep his small gardening business going, told me that £700 was a fortune. For BBC board member Ashley Highfield, that is less than the £773 he claimed for a single dinner on 4th February 2008 (see BBC expenses). It is difficult to imagine that such expenses are not available to their star presenters, so it is no wonder that Paxman is so out of touch with how hard it is in the real world.

But nowhere is this anti-politics more evident than on the Facebook Group Rage Against the Election. To the astonishment of new media watchers and seasoned party hacks alike, people are taking back their politics and using the democratic nature of the web to make their anger known. Elizabeth Eisenstein’s exhaustive work  The Printing Press as an Agent of Change documents the extraordinary impact of the a technical revolution on the democratisation of information. Academics and lofty historians might scoff, but their should be no doubting the impact of the likes of Facebook on the way people want to take ownership of information and use corporate tools for non-corporate purposes.

The Rage Against the Election Facebook Group is a phenomenon.

Set-up entirely independently of the Liberal Democrats, it has a single objective: to secure one million members in support of the Liberal Democrats and propel them into office.

Read that again: it has been set-up entirely independently of the Liberal Democrats. People out there, angry at their politicians, see the Liberal Democrats as a vehicle for change.

Checking in at 8.20am its membership stood at a staggering 110,847.

That is 110,847 individuals who are confident enough to attach their name to a public statement saying that they want to see the Liberal Democrats in office.

If you wonder what that means, try these figures for comparison, each checked just after 8.30am:

  • Official Conservative Facebook page 50,794
  • Official Lib Dem Facebook page 45,189
  • Official Labour Facebook page 25,658

There is nothing quite so rewarding as seeing people speaking up and refusing to be told what to think and what to believe. With 16 days until polling day, who knows how many will end up joining the Rage Against the Election?

http://www.libdem2010.com/

What is certain is that you would need to be very naive indeed to underestimate the role played by new media and internet technology in this election.

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Bit like when I blogged about Ukrainian sand artist Kseniya Simonova, I am way behind the popular curve on this one. (Not surprising really as I have never been trendy exactly!)

However, like all good things it deserves a reprise…

British Design and Art Direction was founded in 1962 by artists including David Bailey and Terence Donovan. These days it is known simply as D&AD. Since 1963 it has made annual awards, its purpose “dedicated to celebrating creative communication, rewarding its practitioners, and raising standards across the industry”.

Last year, two students responded to a D&AD design brief from Hewlett Packard, the company that makes printers: “Present an idea which promotes HP Workstations ability to bring to life anything the creative mind can conceive.”

This is how Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth of Kingston University responded:

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“He is as Autumn shadows, stealing soundlessly beneath the vaulted arches of the Moon-burnt sky, the deadly promise of a winter’s blade in the dark watches of the night. Relentlessly he pursues Her. Defiantly he loves Her.”

Keredh Windryder, Ranger

Gaming is either something you get or something you don’t.

For some of us, the prospect of immersing ourselves in the LCD glow of a world constructed from bits and bytes sets our pulses racing. Our imaginations can spend all day rehearsing the moment we turn the lights off and sit down to lead our friends and guild-mates into battle.

For the rest, the prospect leaves them cold. The world of the geek gamer is a dark and alien place, strewn with the detritus of a life lived online:  cans of coke, empty coffee mugs with a crusted sediment deep inside, discarded crisp packets and sweet wrappers – and the musty – occasionally rancid – smell of immobile, sleepless concentration.

I suspect most of my family, friends and colleagues fall into this latter category, bemused at the hours of life that Em and I can spend in these virtual worlds, each with its own lexicon, politics and social mores.

Computer gaming, though, has been a huge part of my life for almost thirty years.

As technology has developed, so the boundaries between real life and virtual life have shifted and blurred. Sometimes this has had catastrophic personal consequences – and on other occasions it has resulted in moments of sheer serendipity. I can honestly say that gaming, specifically the two incarnations of Everquest, has impacted my life in far more significant ways than I could have ever envisaged.

More on that another time, perhaps.

So it was today, sitting at work, that I felt a familiar ache. A longing for a place I know better than the back of my hand. A place that most script kiddies and World of Warcraft fanbois have never known – but a place that makes Azeroth look as exciting as Tellytubby land.

Norrath.

Sony’s Everquest is the Great Granddaddy of Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs). Everquest 2 is its electrifying reinvention.

On and off for the last seven years, Everquest (Everquest 2 for me these days) has been a way of escaping from the stresses and strains of an exhausting day. But how did I reach a point in life where I can see a point to investing hours in the development, customisation and manipulation of a virtual avatar, a wood-elf ranger that specialises in striking down his enemies with a blow from the shadows or a bow-strike inflicting massive damage from afar? (And believe me,  I can!)

That is a story that takes me from Mazogs on the ZX-81 in 1982, to Sentinel of Fate, the latest EQ2 expansion, in 2010. In an occasional series of pieces in the coming weeks I will explore that story. I want to reflect on the friendships forged in huddled hours around the screen – and remember the computers and the games that have given me so many fond memories.

In the meantime, take a look at where it started in 1982:

And see where that story is now in 2010:

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