Wales Referendum 2011: I was there… kind of

I’m very pleased about the yes result in the Referendum on further powers for the National Assembly. These powers will ultimately benefit Wales. This post is only partly about that, it’s certainly not an attempt to sum up the total of my views on the subject – or give you a general picture. I think various blogs and commenters have done that very well.

I blog when I want to put a page or thought on the web that I don’t see from anywhere else. So this time I want to talk about my experience yesterday and jot down a thought about the “public space”.

As I was going through the coverage today, in particular Syniadau’s full videos from the leaders’ speeches in the Assembly building, it struck me today how removed from the event I was. Even though yesterday I was only about fifty yards away from the Assembly building.

Yesterday afternoon, before any of the counts, I made the short journey to Cardiff Bay. I already knew my chances of going in were small, my companion had official clearance and I didn’t. But I also knew that the yes campaign was the clear favourite in the opinion polls and was backed by all the main parties. Regardless of the outcome I considered it to be a historically significant event so I figured I wanted to be at the source. That’s not so much from a blogger’s point of view as just a citizen. If sneaking into the Assembly building wasn’t an option, perhaps I could be part of the fringe.

Cardiff Bay was about as busy as it ever is on any ordinary afternoon.

There was nothing unusual except the BBC and their twin portable offices. Maybe a few other journalists were roaming, but it was a small presence.

We walked up the steps, passing a police officer and assorted Assembly staff. We walked past the airport-style scanners to a desk. It was all very spacious, a lot of light through glass on every side, no bustling crowd in the reception. Staff representing the Electoral Commission were behind the desk with one greeter, wearing an orange Iaith Gwaith badge, standing in front. My companion had her name checked off one of the lists on the desk. “I think you’re on this list here.”

They turned to me: “Do you have accreditation?” and I replied no. In my peripheral vision I sensed a twitch of security staff on standby. Rather than stop to glean any insights from a hopeless situation I made plans for a reunion with my companion and I walked out. It was a pity not to be allowed in.

Plan B: now at least I could hurry home and check the online bustle. I could read some stats and binge on data rolling into multiple windows, radio and TV signals.

Except it didn’t feel like that kind of event.

Minutes later on the way home it was encouraging to bump into my old tutor on his bike, heading Bay-ward to sample the action. I did a u-turn. Soon after we absorbed a stray yes campaigner (who I’d only recently met on the streets last weekend). The three of us gathered round a transistor radio in the sun, discussing the results as they came in, watching the Bay. So much for the fringe though. We were the fringe.

It was a good afternoon. Someone mentioned that the news screen in The Hayes in the centre of town had assembled a modest number of passers-by. Where was our screen? I also thought of the people at the various counts around Wales, people at home in clusters cracking open a lager with friends, office staff gathering around monitors. We heard the cheering on the radio but I felt pretty atomised from all that.

There were other strays. Later in the Millennium Centre, waiting for the last two results, we spotted a well known Welsh historian strolling around in hiking boots, sampling the mood from passers-by, doing what historians presumably do on a historical day.

I’m trying to give you an image here of how quiet it was in the Bay. I guess events sometimes happen like that. It wasn’t a Berlin Wall moment or an Obama moment or a crowning of Hywel Dda moment.

What was public about the event was that it was broadcast in the media. The glass-walled conference with the leaders was designed for the media. But what struck me is how exclusive this conference was, when it probably didn’t need to be. I wanted a GATHERING. Political events of historical importance should be public events. You know, with speeches to the plebs, cheering, maybe a rogue boo.

What about that huge space in front of the Assembly? Or maybe inside the red Pierhead Building? Crowds are not organised as such, they appear as a congregation around the announcements – when citizens are given access. This should be the default. Of course security is an issue but if you’re a politician you should accept the small risk as you do frequently anyway. Just get out there. Stand on a platform and talk to us.

The party members gradually trickled out eventually, to pose for photos.

I should also mention that I’d arrived wearing a Yes For Wales / Ie Dros Gymru t-shirt, holding an afro wig and some oversized sunglasses. I came prepared. Thing is, you never know when a Wales political carnival will spontaneously break out and you might need to blend in with – say – fire eaters, stilt walkers and vuvuzela orchestras. This BBC photo montage captures “scenes” from the results day, including the lone figure, me. I don’t want to diminish the importance of Wales’ decision or the change but on the day there was very little that could be called a scene.

Blogging about Welsh politics

I’m going to be writing more about politics on this blog.

My interest is how politics might relate to technology, business and “ordinary” people in the UK – with a particular emphasis on Wales.

As a personal rule I try and stay away from the various personalities and day-to-day machinations, allegiances, squabblings, who wore what clothes and so on.

More generally, I’m not even a party political blogger.

Some of those things can be important (and entertaining), but they’re not what I specialise in. If you want to read that stuff it is available online.

I’ll carry on writing about the stuff I otherwise write about. Quixotic Quisling is deliberately an “anti-brand” which can contain anything I want for the next x years. Sometimes things converge into sense as you go along, if you know what I mean.

Don’t hold me to ANY of these things either. Any or all of them might change at some point. It’s my blog.

Now I’ve got the disclaimers out the way, on with the next post!

Bilingual people with monolingual blogs. Give people a Make It Large option.

I’ve tried to avoid talking about blogging itself too much here. As in, I don’t do blogging about blogging. That’s not because there’s no value in that exercise nor because I have any particular aversion to meta (in fact quite the reverse). It’s just that I didn’t think I had anything new to say or contribute to the discussions. There are some great resources and conversations out there relating to blogging which are easy to find. This blog isn’t one.

Blogging has outlasted any forecast of its demise. Not a fad after all then. It’s been absorbed into our minds and society and new technologies. But some of those crazy myths still remain.

So let’s just shoot these down first. Some of the myths have re-emerged again around newer forms of blogging.

The general guideline is, if you find something of ultra-niche interest online – however boring or trivial – then maybe it’s not intended for you.

That includes somebody talking about their breakfast. I defend the right of people to “babble” and talk about their breakfast. It’s what people talk about.

As well as that, because of this kind of online sharing somebody can retroactively compile a pie chart of how many people had porridge this morning and so on, or rather talked about it. If they want to. There’s a cumulative set of data which might become interesting even if you don’t find the individual posts interesting. (Thanks to Mandy Rose for this observation.)

That said a blog doesn’t have to be merely a personal diary, again a common misconception.

My first blog was nothing like a personal diary anyway. It was and is named Sleeveface. It had a specific format, which has remained as I’ve continued to maintain it to the present day. It actually gets better and better because it has a “community” of amazing contributors. It clearly wasn’t really a place for my writings about anything.

One blog is rarely ever enough for one person. So last year I started this blog which has become a handy place for thoughts, sometimes of an experimental nature. If I just want to add a page to the web, I do it here. I have a couple of sekrit projects which will arrive here when I get around to them.

Starting was difficult because I didn’t want to repeat anything that people had done online. On the web there is always somebody else who is more expert than you. That is initially intimidating. What is the point of writing about ANYTHING? (Eventually you chill out with your status as an expert at just being yourself.) In time the activity becomes its own reward and sometimes I hardly think about who might or might not be reading. Then to get a little comment or to have someone mention it when I see them, those are bonuses.

But initially, thinking I could actually risk rehashing what other people might have said elsewhere, except in my own words was quite liberating. Originality is over-rated!

It’s all in the words. Which I why I sometimes love to use indulgent prose, long words and also refuse to kill my darlings.

From the start I knew what it wasn’t. “What not to blog?” is a useful exercise. Let’s just say that Twitter revenue speculation, cats and advice sheets for aspiring “thought leaders” were not on the agenda. Again, those interests are more than adequately served on the web if you look.

The fact it’s called Quixotic Quisling of all things should tell you I wasn’t aiming to be a “pro-blogger”. Likewise it’s not intended as a cross-section of my life. There are big bits of my life that haven’t made it to this blog.

Now that in 2009 the all-conquering domination of the mighty Welsh language continues apace, at least in my world, I’ve been looking online for things in that language. I’ve been banging on about how I’d like to see more Welsh language blogs in existence. Eventually I resorted to offering to set up some WordPress installations and otherwise help a few individuals who I thought would be interesting – out of the epic kindness of my heart. But people were too busy. And all the usual crap.

🙂

The most obvious partial solution was staring me in the face – just start your own. In line with the carefully constructed house brand for this blog (blobby at best), I have decided just to insert the Welsh language posts in arbitrarily.

There is actually a nice number of multilingual bloggers (in various countries), from which I’ve taken inspiration here, when it comes to the practice and conventions and so on.

I won’t be doing anything bilingually like writing something then carefully attempting to translate it. Pfft! The Welsh posts will have unique things. Each will have a quick summary paragraph in English so you can decide if you want to use machine translation to check it out.

Obviously if you understand Welsh, you can just look. And laugh at the mistakes.

If you’re something in between, i.e. a Welsh learner, you can do something in between.

I was chatting to nwdls about all this and also Daniel Cunliffe who does Datblogu. Often Welsh speakers choose 100% English for their blogs and maybe it’s because people buy into the idea of the big worldwide audience and the pro-blogger thing. Obviously there’s a bigger potential worldwide audience for an English language blog. Conceivably, at least. But it all depends which world you think you live in. If we really cared about maximising raw potential numbers, we’d all learn Mandarin right?*

When I went to Barcelona earlier this year I chatted to a German lady who pointed out “Ah, you speak Welsh. Well done. That will really help you in the world.”. This isn’t a general point about German people, it’s quite a common attitude.

One reason I originally decided to learn Welsh was because it’s the second most used language in My World. So it is helping me in the world, thanks very much for the insight lady. As much as it has been useful for work, it’s not just about utility.

It is actually bringing a tremendous amount of joy to my world.

So the actual reasons for blogging in the medium of Welsh are related to this point. It’s the bespoke, personal world within the web which I see. And would like to see. After the chat with nwdls, I realised there was no need to make a big choice. I’ll do both languages in one. And Google Translate could help non-Welsh language** readers to access the extra stuff.

So, thanks Google Translate.

Google Translate is not the first attempt at machine translation for Welsh (see also: Apertium project) and is also a bit wonky. But as with any machine translation, you’ll get the gist and it may not be long before we can truly link cyber-arms and skip to a better tomorrow.

If you’d like to read some proper research on Welsh language use in blogging and other social media then Datblogu is good.

Are you in a similar position? As in, you’re not monolingual but your blog is? Consider reconsidering.

* By the way, I would like to know Mandarin. But for different reasons.

** Incidentally don’t say “English speakers” if you mean “non-Welsh speakers”. The Venn diagram resembles a fried egg and Welsh speakers are the yellow bit. When you say “English speakers” you are ignoring the fact that it’s one of those bulbous fried eggs where the yellow bit actually includes the white directly beneath it. Heh heh. Enjoy white and yellow if you can.

Reaching for a better email tomorrow (my white inbox resolution six months in)

Happy new half-year!

Back in January I made a resolution to leave my inbox empty every night. I have partially succeeded. It’s forcing me to make those little decisions. It’s a lot more manageable. Hooray!

At times I’ve let it slip. But there’s no use feeling any guilt over it. Guilt won’t motivate me, it won’t fix anything and it’s never the right response to ANYTHING. It’s probably better to feel total, utter freedom. FREEDOM. Try it.

The overall point is I CARE about my work and the promises I make. The act of giving out an email address carries responsibilities. If the inbox were to flood to a river of unanswered messages, bacn and spam, it would be time to rethink my involvement. Merlin Mann wrote a good piece about the high cost of pretending. It’s well worth a read. For instance, if you’re going on holiday why make a weak promise about your email backlog if you just can’t keep it?

I also like Donald Knuth’s stance on email (total abstention so he can have the time to write huge books about algorithms).

I am continuing with email but those guys have taught me it should be a deliberate decision, not a default. Most of it is up to me because on a positive note, I am totally at one with my Thunderbird email software. I have customised every square millimetre to my little foibles. (We all have little foibles.) It runs locally so there is a minimum lag between my commands and its obedience. It will always be quicker than Gmail’s web interface, for instance. Thunderbird engenders super slick sensations of being highly-effective which I then transmute into reality.

By contrast, I dislike these pseudo-email systems that are creeping in. By that I mean direct messaging on any social site which is a bit like email but doesn’t let you DO STUFF to it. Facebook messages are pretty awful. The interface is clunky. I need to archive things out of sight and it’s not possible. I’m left with a river of everything. I think it probably reinforces bad habits for people. Don’t even mention auto-filtering, that’s nowhere. As for the volume of messages, if you don’t respond to an event you’ll get every single mass broadcast related to that event.

I can’t turn off Facebook direct messages but I do want people to be able to contact me. So next to my face I’ve written “If you are thinking of sending me a private message, I will respond far more quickly to proper email. Just saying.”. Let’s hope it doesn’t sound too arsey. I just want my every action to be gilded with quality feelings for all involved.

Twitter direct messages are OK I guess. You can’t DO STUFF with them. (Scoble listed the stuff.) But at least they’re 140 characters long or less – you can express anything with that! Well, nearly.

Anything more interactive deserves a wiki or a Google Doc. (Or a Wave but that isn’t available yet.)

Or a good old phone chat.

Maybe even a face-to-face meet-up.

Six Decades of the 7″ Record

A matter of record: vinyl magic - soulful 45's

The 7″ record is 60 years old today!

Several have been manufactured since then. I have quite a few.

It is a wonderful format, bigger than a CD and rounder and blacker than a digital audio file.

Actually the very first one was not black, but green.

Thanks to Disgraceland for bringing this anniversary to my attention.

All my trivial status updates in one big list

There is a lot of trivial information on the web. You know the sort – status updates about the minutiae which make up life.

It’s all fine I guess. I could pick an example, but then I would probably try to find something noteworthy about the event, its ramifications for society, etc. which would make the update seem less trivial. It’s not my job to judge another person for writing something which was only meant for a few of their friends. That would be mean of me. Imagine trying to compare that to a great work of literature when it was never intended as such!

Why all the trivia now? The web has lowered the hurdles of cost and effort in getting your message out there. Messages which would never get through to you can now get through. All kinds of important and worthwhile examples abound. Creative ideas and works which previously lacked the funds or force to emerge. News from brave dissidents in oppressive regimes. Forgotten, sidelined or hard-to-find historical documents, files and recordings. Current dispatches from remote places far away from big city journalists, news agencies and PR companies. That sort of thing. Maybe I can talk about this stuff next time. Today I’m here to give you the trivia.

Before you cry “hyperbole!”, my title above is incorrect. It’s not “all” my possible trivial status updates. It’s just a selection. But I’m sure you’ll agree it gives a diverse range of magnolia shades – numerous daily activities in all their unsurprising, inconsequential and marginal glory. Actually there’s not much glory, just indifference. May the vastness of its triviality yawn before you.

Does a big list of all this stuff become, by virtue of its existence, any less trivial? I don’t know. It’s probably more trivial for all I know.

What I’m mainly trying to do is collect them somewhere for those that might care. If nobody reads them here then I don’t particularly care either. I have used this to fully purge my system of triviality sharing. From now on, if you are wondering what trivial things are happening to me or being occasioned by me, you have the option of referring to this list. One or more will have applied to me in, say, the last hour (if I’m still on this planet when you read it).

After this moment, everything that I put or publish online will have some wilful intent to provide relevance and value to finite groups of other people. The urge to detrivialise is the only change. I mean, I might fail to do this and put something really trivial on the web by accident. Or something which you would consider trivial. You could earnestly point it out – but only if you feel you have the time and energy.

OK then. What don’t I mean by “trivia”? Last summer I went to a gig and saw a grey-haired man, a band member, swooshing a live chainsaw through the crowd, augmenting the music with its ferocious buzzing sound. It was supposed to be a pleasant evening of vintage German experimental rock music but in that moment, seeing and hearing the thrashing chainsaw, I actually feared for my life. It was then that I realised I must send a short text to the world to announce this. You might have wanted to do this too if you’d been there. Fearing for your life. Or, if not your life, then the integrity of your limb attachments. Obviously I didn’t succeed in texting the whole world, but a little section of my tiny world may have taken note. I sent something to Twitter and that’s when Twitter began to make sense to me. Myspace made sense to me when I used it to listen to some music by a band I’d never heard before. Facebook made sense to me when I saw a photo of somebody with a funny facial expression which made me feel somewhat cheery. The items in these examples don’t count as trivia, neither are they all that notable. Nevertheless these kinds of activities will probably continue.

Obviously I can’t promise ever to succeed in actually being “profound”, but I can at least clear away the reports of the everyday and the banal. To be sure, there are people who’d be well advised NEVER to attempt to be profound – or even allow themselves to consider the possibility. I’m mainly thinking back to ex-footballer Eric Cantona and the seagull metaphor he once used, tenuously, in a press conference. Maybe he should have stuck to what the French call the quotidian.

Other than that last unprompted and – might I add – uncharacteristic slight, I’m not talking about other people. This is the web and what they or you do here is not my business. This is MY trivia!

Usually you can comment on my blog but I’ve disabled the comment function this time. It would be cruel to tease you with the opportunity to attempt a response when you can only but salvage a meagre something from this litany of the nondescript. So let’s hear no more of it.

This post may leave you feeling somewhat beige. Feel free to read in any order, or not at all.

  • eating breakfast
  • putting the rubbish out
  • putting the recycling out
  • washing a few dishes
  • buying sponges and detergent to accomplish previous chore
  • trimming my nails
  • shaving
  • going to the toilet
  • flushing
  • shuffling some papers
  • deciding what to eat
  • putting on socks
  • choosing colour of socks as prerequisite to previous task
  • double-checking the oven is on (or off)
  • deleting a text message
  • doodling
  • posting a tax form
  • standing and waiting in a queue
  • picking up a leaflet while waiting in a queue
  • making tea or coffee
  • querying a bill
  • sniffing the milk to discern its fitness for consumption
  • buying a bag of frozen peas
  • deciding whether or not to “call it a day”
  • eating some cake (a pre-packaged, shop-bought variety)
  • invoicing
  • deleting an exclamation mark
  • setting mobile phone to silent
  • using the computer cursor to idly highlight some text in an article
  • reviewing bank statement
  • trimming nasal hair
  • cleaning a kitchen worktop (or inside walls of microwave oven)
  • checking a spelling
  • using cling film to cover a plate of food
  • placing food in fridge
  • using a hole punch to punch two holes in a piece of paper
  • being on hold
  • checking the small amount of change that has just been handed to me
  • reading food packaging
  • sleeping normally
  • remembering a dream which happened during the previous activity
  • hanging clothes
  • peeling aluminium seal from the spout of a new tube of toothpaste
  • waiting for a bus
  • stretching an elastic band for no good reason
  • deleting my spam email
  • reviewing a miscellany of stationery items which have accumulated in drawer
  • operating a light switch
  • gathering pens from the four corners of the desk
  • breaking wind
  • opening a jar
  • closing the windows
  • crossing off a task which I previously wrote on a list
  • adjusting a shoe
  • ironing
  • going into another room to fetch something
  • eating an apple (or banana)
  • scribbling on a piece of waste paper to coax an old ballpoint pen into a working state
  • washing my hands
  • placing wallet and keys in their rightful household place
  • scratching my leg
  • making minor adjustments to items on a shelf
  • picking my nose
  • buying a postage stamp
  • crumpling receipt into a ball
  • plucking crumbs and other specks from a garment

The Day I Knocked Out A Really Awesome Web App

I’m currently nursing a desire to create a

  • really useful
  • game-changing
  • paradigm-shifting
  • enormously successful web app.

Bear with me because I know exactly how it will all pan out.

In true web 2 fashion my app would get better as more people joined, harvesting their many billions of click patterns to form the ultimate dataset. So, ideally it would suffer from early scalability problems that I would of course cunningly find a way to overcome.

All this would be topped off by a default graphical front-end of such jaw dropping beauty and simplicity, that usability gurus would gush literal torrents of saltwater into their keyboards (in a good way) – impairing their collective ability to appraise its feature set.

We’re not talking about some mere lunchtime mash-up here. (As if auto-marking, say, actual canine poo dollop locations on Google Maps is ever going to secure your status in the geek stratosphere.) Rather than try to content myself with teasing out piecemeal insights from someone else’s API, I would be the one bestowing access to my extensive library of database query functions. Just when those nerds are reeling in gratitude from their last RSS hit, I would smack them with another announcement – yet another tantalising update detailing a few choice procedure calls they will be skipping class and otherwise putting off normal life in order to try.

In time, I could expect a series of approving blog posts from industry veteran Tim O’Reilly, in which he would insightfully re-align everyone’s perception of my thing not merely as an app: but as a platform. And also encourage governments to embrace it for the good of humanity. And also change his mind about a blog post title, as evidenced by the URL (in a good way).

I won’t go deeply into the whole money aspect right now, but in 24-carat contrast to many before me I would obviously earn cash along the way rather than rely on some upcoming flip-over event involving an established key player.

Clay Shirky (the socio-techno-analyst) would adopt that wry smile of his – while itching to reference it in his numerous speeches and writings. Such would be its awesomeness. It’s collaborative, it’s social, it’s got news in it somehow. Make no mistake, if you’ll liken “traditional media” players to the dinosaurs then this is surely the asteroid.

Now, the only thing I need is an idea.

I am also writing at Native blog

Quick intro to my working situation.

Native is a business that helps you with online media, based in Cardiff, Wales. It’s a two-headed partnership, of which the heads are me and Tom Beardshaw.

At the moment we are meeting loads of people for coffee: old friends, new friends, clients, potential clients, people who create stuff, suppliers, “competitors”…

Never did I drink so much coffee as these past few weeks.

During our chats it has emerged that we’d like to have somewhere to round up interesting articles – for our clients, people we’re training and people who’d like to find out what we’re thinking. These are often curious yet busy people who want inspiration but don’t have time to subscribe to an imperial tonne of blogs.

So as well as the personal blog you’re currently reading, I am also writing regular posts at the Native blog.

I’m covering online media and how it affects business, particularly creative business and business based in Wales.

It has a different tone to Quixotic Quisling. The Native blog has fewer ramblings and more news. It is more frequent and more linky. Actually often it will be a set of recommended links with assorted commentary, open-ended questioning and provocation. I’m following Jeff Jarvis’ guideline – cover what you do best and link to the rest.

We’ll also be posting info on Native web projects. Tom and I are retaining our autonomy as freelancers but have set up Native for bigger projects where we complement each other.

Recently we have been working out what we do and don’t do. “Cover what you do best and link to the rest” may apply to more than just URLs.