Use a Thinkpad Instead of a Hammer

David Hill wrote recently on a Lenovo Blog about the design qualities that make Thinkpads great. Whilst some of these are shared by other laptop manufacturers, I have to say I largely agree - even if mine is supplied ‘free’ for use on company business. After dropping it again the other day (yes, I’m clumsy, sorry boss), it took a huge chunk out of my wooden floor. But after the battery had been popped back in, it spun back up and back to life. Truly amazing.

I would buy one myself.

R.I.P. Colin McRae

Spam Comments

I’ve been getting a lot of spam comments on my blog recently, which even Akismet isn’t catching.

So I was amused to get this comment today:

hello , my name is Richard and I know you get a lot of spammy comments , I can help you with this problem . I know a lot of spammers and I will ask them not to post on your site. It will reduce the volume of spam by 30-50% .In return Id like to ask you to put a link to my site on the index page of your site....

I think you can see where it’s going. One can’t help but feel that just maybe he knows a lot of spammers and knows I get a lot of spammy comments because he is a [fill in the obvious blank]. How frustrating.

Oh yes: is this legally blackmail?

How to Spell

I’ve been interested in languages for a few years (despite only being able to speak one with any fluency) and consider myself a bit of an amateur linguist. It’s long been a standing question as to how to determine ‘correct’ English. Linguists divide grammar into two competing factions: descriptive (30% people speak like this, 70% people speak like that) and prescriptive (thou shalt speak in this way, as others have since time immemorial). It’s not hard to see that this concept could be - and probably has been - extended to spelling.

I’ve found it hard to have sympathy with the prescriptive camp. Of course there is a place for clear writing, and I strongly believe that well-studied punctuation, spelling, and grammar makes communication clearer at best, and even a good impression at worst. Nevertheless, prescriptive diktat is everywhere, and often with little justification. As an example, despite being British, I’m a big fan of American English - which is often ridiculed and misunderstood by many British people.

As such, I’m going to propose Ferrier’s Rule of Common Language Usage, #1:

Any describable linguistic construction used by a majority of the population should be prescribed where relevant.

(by ‘where relevant’, I’m talking about language education in schools, etc.)

I think this would greatly help language develop - it ain’t static; get over it - and make language richer and more interesting. What do you think?

Flickr Disrupts the Rich?

I’ve been interested in photography since I was small, progressing through a simple fixed-focal-length compact camera to a basic 35mm SLR, playing with many cameras, including SLRs and compacts, and now back just to a digital compact camera I quite like. I’ve found digital sufficiently liberating that it has re-invigorated my interest in photography: primarily because it makes everything easier and cheaper. (Maybe one day I’ll invest in a 35mm digital SLR but I still want something smaller). Even my new phone has a camera that’s worth a second look.

Flickr, of course, has been a great success story of recent years, providing a simple and cheap way for anyone to upload and share photos. They have got the balance just right between the man-in-the-street and the enthusiastic amateur, so much so that many professionals now inhabit Flickr (don’t be fooled by the ‘pro’ logo, though; it means nothing more than that a subscriber is paying for more space - which is what I do). They’ve also spent a considerable amount of time getting the social aspects right, so much so that it’s easy to spend hours browsing Flickr for funky photos and talking with other keen photographers. Many of my friends are also into photography and most of them have Flickr accounts.

At the same time, Flickr makes it trivial to access mountains of excellent content that most photographers would be rightly jealous of. I’m proud of some of my best photos, but it doesn’t take long on Flickr to find stuff that’s miles ahead.

Despite the legal, moral, and practical issues involved in copying a photo (see the Creative Commons page for an indication of how unnecessarily complicated it can be to understand), I can’t help but think that all of this will reduce the average cost of a saleable photo for a professional photographer - whether they choose to participate online or not. In fact, it’s easy to see that this is true, simply by observing the rush of online stock photography websites selling stuff for pennies. Put in other terms, it makes it easier to become a professional photographer, whilst making it harder to make money from it. It’s a good substitution argument - if I don’t like the price you’re charging for your pretty picture, I’ll find another one (and Flickr and the web makes it easy). It’s no coincidence that the consequences of this digital enablement roughly mirror the struggles and increased opportunity that many music artists are going through with the rise of online music, file-sharing, etc.

None of this is designed to discourage anyone. It’s got to be more satisfying to beat the world than just those lucky few who can afford a camera. But like much of economic progress, the commoditisation of good photography is going to be easier for the consumer (viewer) than the producer (photographer).

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