Twitter is a better Facebook than Facebook

I received a message from Facebook today: a close family member wondered why I hadn’t acted on her Friend request.  The truth is I don’t visit my Facebook account any more.

Superficially Facebook would seem to be ideal for families and friends to stay in contact.  You can create a closed profile to which only friends have access.  To be registered as somebody’s friend you have to be confirmed by that person.

The privacy model breaks down in ways that have been widely discussed elsewhere.  See for instance the article Criticism of Facebook on Wikipedia.  But my problems with Facebook go beyond that.  Even if I trusted Facebook to respect my confidentiality, it’s an intrusive environment.

As I’m an aquaintance of several very popular Facebook members, every time I logged in the list of suggested friends would be full of people I didn’t know very well, sometimes didn’t know at all, and certainly didn’t want to be Facebook friends with, simply because those people and I shared a common acquaintance, so there was one potentially useful group-building function very broken from the start.

I’d become resigned to this, and used my status line to keep people up to date on what I was doing.  That worked okay for a while.  Then came the deluge of nonsense in the Facebook history.

I don’t recall exactly when my logins to Facebook started being net wastes of time.  It crept on slowly, but one day I noticed that the majority of stuff on the area of the page which was supposed to update me on what my friends and family were doing no longer contained much useful information.  Instead it was full of inane and meaningless interactions–people giving one another virtual gifts, challenging one another to play online games and so on, none of which are of any conceivable interest to anyone except the participants and (to be cynical, that is to say, to hit the nail on the head) to whoever Facebook had charged with the task of increasing Facebook traffic.

So here I was using a busted tool.  One very valuable method of making links with acquaintances was busted because of an unsophisticated algorithm  that fed me useless leads.  And the main reason I’d joined up–the promise that I would keep in closer touch with friends and family–was spoiled by the fact that my friends and family were all engaged in artificially generated, noise-making activities that drowned out all information about what they were actually up to.

Around that time I experimented with a Twitter account.  The first thing that struck me about it was how lightweight the thing is, in several ways.   Firstly it is just a status line–exactly the thing I like about Facebook: an answer to the question “What are you up to?”  Secondly the site itself has a light feel because it is relatively unencumbered by bloated scripts and needless graphics.  And there are no distracting flash animations.

Twitter accounts can be private but the vast majority are public.  Because of the lightness of the site most Twitter users update their status more often than is the case on Facebook, and you don’t have to get permission to see somebody’s status.  This makes for a far more open and interactive environment.

So to friends and family who wonder why I don’t respond to their requests, this is the explanation.  Facebook doesn’t work for me.  If you want to see what I’m up to, look at my Twitter account or send an email.

In praise of: Shiny Happy People

Click to see video (Youtube) 

Michael Stipe has sometimes been rather apologetic about his 1991 pop pastiche, Shiny Happy People.  I’m not an R.E.M. fan but I admire the few works I’ve heard, so until comparatively recently, when I spoke to my sister who is a great fan of theirs, I didn’t even realise there was any controversy over this beautiful song.

I probably first heard it on The Chart Show one Saturday in 1991, when I was working in North East England and raising a young family.  I’ve always loved intelligent, satirical writing so the idea of having a fundamentally sad song with upbeat lyrics and music attracted me.  As a sixties pastiche it works well, and Stipe’s delicious, tortured voice gives the performance the vital edge that explodes the myth of the words and music.

I’ll admit that I still don’t understand why it is regarded by so many fans as a mistake of any kind.  It’s a song that works as pop and as satire, finely judged and perfect.

What a change in forty years: homosexuality

Time Magazine, February 12, 1965 carried an article “Homosexuals Can Be Cured” in which a Doctor Samuel B. Hadden argued that the influence of Freud and the number of homosexuals who believed themselves to be happy that way meant that few cures were attempted.  He worked mainly with men because he had never had enough lesbian “patients”.  At that time the opinion of the psychiatric and psychological establishments was still that homosexual orientation was pathological.

Time Magazine, October 31, 1969 carried another article, “Are Homosexuals Sick?”  The magazine asked eight experts, two of whom were described as “admitted homosexuals”, to a symposium in New York City where they discussed the question.

This debate was very different in tone.  I am struck by the attitude of Rev. Robert Weeks, who spoke of two men of his acquaintance who had been together for many years: ” Both of them are very happy and very much in love. They asked me to bless their marriage, and I am going to do it.”

Which brings us right up to date, really!

China Arnold and the gulf between Ohio and the UK

Last month I wrote about the tragic case of China Arnold.  As I remarked, in UK law the mother in such a tragic case would probably not even be charged with murder.  It is not humane or realistic to charge mothers with capital crimes for killing their infant so soon after the birth of the infant, and UK law provides a specific partial defence against such a charge, effectively translating it to a manslaughter charge.  I think this is a very humane and sensible law.

Infanticide is an especially emotive crime, and this case because of the manner of killing was especially emotive.  Nevertheless the jury could not agree to the death penalty, though the state prosecutor pressed hard for it.  The judge sentenced China Arnold to 25 years without parole on Wednesday, September 3, 2008.

As fate would have it, the UK is currently reassessing partial defences to murder, including infanticide.  It’s illustrative of the gulf that exists between the two English-speaking states, Ohio and the UK, that the review recommends the retention of, and strengthening of, the defence of infanticide.  It is a recognized problem that sometimes the mother’s condition leads her to deny the offence, resulting in a murder conviction despite the availability of the infanticide defence.  A shortened appeal process is recommended, as well as  powers granted to the trial judge to order a mental assessment after the murder conviction with a view to reviewing the case.  But in Ohio, a mother whose case would have been a textbook manslaughter case under the UK infanticide law narrowly escaped execution.

The night they stole the internet

The Register is reporting that on Wednesday night thieves broke into a BT exchange in London’s posh Mayfair district and made off with “routers, networking cards and fibre”.  Businesses the next day were left without internet services.  Reporters for the sister newspapers, Daily Mail and London Evening Standard, speculate that the thieves may have used the opportunity of commotion caused by Guy Richie‘s 40th birthday party in the building next door as cover for the operation.

JK Rowling wins Harry Potter Lexicon case, Steve Vander Ark to publish new book

The Guardian is reporting that Steve Vander Ark, who yesterday lost a key copyright case brought against him in Manhattan by JK Rowling, plans to write another Harry Potter-based book.  “Obviously I do a lot of research on Harry Potter, And the more research I did the more I realised that the places in the books were places in the world, particularly those in the west country, because she went to university in Exeter.”  He plans to publish In Search of Harry Potter, a book based on this research, next month.

I wish him well, though I agree that his Lexicon was a blatant breach of Rowling’s copyright.  The Potter books will enter the public domain sooner or later.  Until then the author and her estate have a right to protect a rich capital resource, to which Vander Ark has as yet contributed nothing of lasting value.

Snake oil degrees abandoned

Good news from David Colquhoun‘s blog DC’s Improbable Science.  Thanks in part to David’s relentless poking around, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) has abandoned its homeopathic “medicine” degree.  The university blames “low recruitment.”


A warning: this is not my usual content.  Some of this will disturb you.
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Sheep on London Bridge

It’s not just an urban legend: freemen of the City of London really do have the right to drive sheep across London Bridge, and on Sunday, August 31st, 2008, that is exactly what four freemen did.  Seven Romney rams were driven across the bridge to raise awareness of a campaign to raise funds to preserve Canterbury Cathedral.

If you were given 30 seconds on television to address everyone in the world, what would you say?

(Hold up card giving name, home address, email address and website URL)

Hi, I’m (name), please get paper and a pen or pencil.  This is the first ever attempt to carry out a simultaneous experiment involving everybody in the world.  If you want to participate, quickly write down this information (indicate card) and listen carefully.  I have only 15 more seconds.

Please write down your name, address, sex, and age in years.  Then, write down the earliest childhood experience you remember. Describe your earliest memory in no more than ten words, and write down how old you were in years or months, and send it to me at my address, in email or on the web.

Thank you.