Threats of more extreme policing prove that they still don’t get it

I read in The Guardian today that Prospect Magazine (Subscribers only) had interviewed Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I remind you that the ACPO is a private for-profit company that seems to have a say in the way that we are policed, without being subject to the Freedom of Information Act or any democratic oversight. The interview was very revealing about police perception of social media as a method of organising protests and about their attitude to protesters’ rights.

Behind the police line

Orde is of the opinion that “hyper kettling” (containment followed up by crushing the crowd) is acceptable even though it infringes on human rights. “I can understand the need for it, [It is done] for the greater good, and that’s the really complex part of policing.” On charging at protesters with horses, he commented that it is a “very useful, effective tactic.” Kettling is currently working its way through the court system after various victims of it launched legal challenges on human rights grounds.

Orde also equated protesting on private property with theft, demonstrating an amazing ability to confuse things in his head. Perhaps he is the one telling people that photography in public places is illegal too?

“Walking into Topshop with an intent to cause damage, [means] you’re actually a burglar. If you walk into Boots and do nothing then you are simply a trespasser and the role of the police is to stand by to prevent a breach of the peace.”

His statement implies that UK Uncut protesters intend to cause damage. As a senior policeman he will probably get away with such ludicrous defamation. I believe that he is wrong about the trespassing too. As shops are normally open to the public, it is my understanding that any member of the public is free to enter until such time as a representative of the shop asks that person to leave. It is trespassing if protesters have been asked to leave and refuse, but it is shocking that a high-ranking police officer does not understand the difference.

Where Orde’s understanding fails completely is on the nature of the current anti-cuts protests.

“It is not good enough to throw our hands up in the air and say ‘Oh, we can’t negotiate because there is no one to negotiate with. There are lots of people we can talk to, but they need to stand up and lead their people too. If they don’t, we must be clear that the people who wish to demonstrate won’t engage, communicate or share what they intend to do with us, and so our policing tactics will have to be different … slightly more extreme.”

This idiot has no right to tell any of the protesters that it is “not good enough” to have no leader. These people are not docile little sheep, and they don’t have to follow anyone to object to the government conducting a slash-and-burn campaign on our benefits and our public services. They do not have to follow a leader just because some policeman is out of his depth in dealing with the internet. If the police want to engage with protesters then they can easily talk to them through twitter and facebook. If protests can be organised through a consensus via social networks then there is no conceivable reason why the police can’t have their say on the same social networks. When I was talking to a friend about this interview earlier she said something which I think sums up nicely what the protesters think about the situation.

Anonymoosh said “The police find a way to engage , when they want to, this time they don’t, they want people to be too scared to demo. They only want to know what we are doing , so that they can plan to stop it, they don’t want to engage. They know full well when the meetings are, we arrange them on the net. The truth is , as a movement, we have no need of leaders, it’s the police that need us to, I don’t see why we should oblige.”

Does Orde really think that people are refusing to engage, or does he prefer to have a nice ready-made excuse to kettle the little people?

Facebook page

This is just a quick mention; this blog now has a Facebook page of its own. It would make me really happy if you all went there and clicked Like. You get timely updates when I write something new, and I get the fuzzy warmth of knowing that people read my crazy ranting. I will no longer post announcements of new blog posts on my personal Facebook account. Please note that anyone is free to like the Facebook page, but I have a policy of only adding someone as a friend on Facebook if I know them in real life.

Life with ME: My technology lifeline

I have M.E. It’s a crippling disease that robs people of their capabilities and their independence. Here’s a good video about it on Youtube. I am not as badly affected as some people with ME. I am able to leave the house, ride my motorbike (sometimes) and generally don’t need constant care. I even spend part of my time running a business. Other people that I know are not always so lucky. Even with my relatively minor disabilities, I would have quite a miserable existence if it were not for one thing.

Technology

Technology provides a massive help to me in all aspects of my life. Technology helps me sleep, wake up, eat, communicate and rest. Here are some of the things that help me.

Communications

I often get so tired that I cannot speak. I also find that when I am that tired, my brain trips up even thinking of sentences to say. When I am in this state, I have found that I can still type on a keyboard or on a touch screen phone. Not only that, but I can type coherent sentences, partly because I can edit them before sending them.

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook allow me to talk to people about anything I want, at nearly any time of the day. When I can’t sleep at 4am, I can talk to people with the same problem. When I am stuck in the house for days on end and see no one except my wife, I can talk to people on the internet.

ME includes constant muscle pain which gets worse after any activity. This applies even to the small muscles in my hand. As a result I am unable to hold a pen for very long, and activities such as filling in long forms leave me in agonising pain within minutes. I am able to type where I cannot write with a pen.

Food

In a similar vein, I cannot prepare food or cook without severe pain. Carrying a saucepan is tricky. Carrying a kettle when I don’t have the strength could be highly dangerous. Stirring food hurts. Chopping food can make me cry out in pain. I avoid food preparation wherever possible but there are frequent occasions when I have no choice in the matter. This is where frozen meals and microwave ovens are lifesavers for me. If I didn’t have access to pre-prepared meals, (Often cooked and frozen by my wife) a freezer and a microwave oven, I would need much more care than I do.

Memory

ME can affect my memory quite badly. I also have a general problem of getting so into one task that I forget to take my medicine at the correct time, forget to take one of my regular rests, and even forget to sleep. I rely on Google Calendar and on my phone to help me there. Any event or task that I have to do goes in to my calendar, which will sound an alert on my phone at the right time. I have my all too frequent rests and my multiple times-per-day medicines set as alarms on my phone. The only thing I need to do now is actually pay attention when it beeps!

Bad memory also causes a number of other problems for me. I make extensive use of Springpad to help me out. A Springpad app on my Android phone lets me write quick notes and also take photographs when I am away from my computer. It all gets synchronised with their website, and when I need to remember something I can look up the photo and the note to help me. Sometimes I really can’t remember the words that I need, or what I was about to do. I frequently refer to Google search to look for keywords related to the concept I am after, and it usually provides the word or task that I needed to remember!

Sleeping

I struggle to go to sleep, and I struggle to wake up again. (You can read about the waking up bit in my earlier blog post, A Morning With ME.) One very useful aid to sleeping and waking is my Sunrise/Sunset lamp from Lumie. It has an alarm clock and a lamp in it. At night, I can set the alarm, then press the button to get a simulated sunset which isn’t that effective for me as it doesn’t stop my brain from whirling with thoughts, but it is sometimes helpful. In the morning, it simulates a sunrise over about half an hour and provides a much easier wake up than a straightforward alarm clock.

I also struggle to rest. A big problem with ME is having too many thoughts and being unable to stop thinking about things and relax. I have to spend 20 minutes resting several times a day in order to function well, and staying there to rest is very difficult to me because I tend to think of things like this blog post, then get up to do them! The solution is that I download podcasts of radio shows, put them on my phone, and play them when I am resting.

Computing

With all my use of the computer, being sometimes physically unable to use it can be devastating. I use a few tools to help me keep using it.

f.lux is an excellent bit of software that adjusts the colour temperature of my screen based on the time of day. This isn’t the same as adjusting brightness, it actually changes the mix of colours to suit the lighting that I am using and the level of daylight available. Using a lower colour temperature at night helps reduce eye strain and makes it more comfortable to use the computer, as well as making use of the computer just before sleep less of a factor in insomnia. You can download f.lux for free here.

Web pages often have small text, clashing colours, backgrounds that are too bright and worse. There are two ways that I cope with this problem. The first is Readability. Readability is installed as a bookmark button in the toolbar. When I find a long web page that is difficult to read, I only have to click the bookmark and the page transforms into large, good contrast text with a much darker background. Brilliant! Or, err, less brilliant. Cool. (Install Readability here.)

Sometimes I can’t physically sit at the computer. This is where a Kindle ebook reader is useful. The Kindle has an electronic ink screen which is designed to look like paper. It is not backlit like an LCD computer monitor is. It is equiped with WiFi and documents can be emailed to it. I use a tool called RekindleIT which again, is installed as a bookmark button. When I click the button, the web page that I am reading is emailed to the Kindle ready for me to read in bed or on the sofa. (Install RekindleIT here. I have written more about putting documents and website on the Kindle at my business website.) I should also mention that the Kindle allows me to read large, heavy books that would otherwise hurt me to hold and read for very long.

Working

Having all these things wrong with me makes it hard to work for a living. With incapacity benefit and disability living allowance disappearing, I don’t have much choice. For the last year I have worked as hard as I can (even at the expense of any remaining health) to set up a computer repair and web development business along with my Dad and other family members and friends. I’m rapidly heading in to one of the worse parts of my illness though, and I expect to spend a few weeks, even months, in bed starting any day now.  Mobile technology will allow me to keep working to some extent. I can answer technical support queries and direct my business through email and chat. I can setup websites for my customers using my laptop from my bed. It won’t be pleasant, but unlike the last time I was imprisoned in my own bed, this time I don’t have to go insane, and I might even still do some work.

In summary, then, technology allows me to:

  • Keep communicating when I can’t speak
  • Chat to people when I can’t get out
  • Write long texts and fill in forms when I can’t write with a pen without pain
  • Heat my own food instead of requiring someone to do it for me
  • Remember to take medicine and rest at the correct times
  • Keep notes and photo notes to help me remember information
  • Remember words, concepts and tasks by searching the internet for related things
  • Wake up in the morning
  • Rest without getting too distracted
  • Keep using my computer by adjusting it to prevent eyestrain
  • Keep reading when I can’t physically use my computer
  • Undertake paid work when I can’t even get out of bed

ME has tried its best to rob me of a decent life. Technology has given me a way to fight back. I don’t have to accept my quality of life being taken from me. Technology can help others to say the same.

Marketing on Twitter: Don’t spam me!

In this article I will discuss various different ways of using Twitter and how to make use of it as a small business. The advice contained here is aimed at the very small business, as well as individuals who are their own brand such as authors, journalists and artists. Continue reading “Marketing on Twitter: Don’t spam me!”

The Twitter news frenzy

The news media has been telling people that recent protests have been organised via twitter. That was spot on, but their attempts at explaining how have not been so accurate. For the people that don’t know, here is my explanation.

Twitter lets its users post a public message (tweet) of 140 characters in length. Those messages are automatically seen by their followers. Anyone can follow any other Twitter user and their tweets will be displayed in their “Twitter stream.” A tweet can also be aimed at or mention a person by including their name prefixed with an @ symbol. For example “@latentexistence Hello Steve!”

In addition, tweets can contain a subject prefixed with a # (a hash) and that is called a hashtag. Clicking on a hashtag brings up a list of all the other tweets containing the same hashtag. In this way it is possible to see a stream of tweets on a given topic. The most popular hashtags at any one time are called Trending Topics. Twitter shows a list of these on the front page. Finally, if a person likes a tweet they can “retweet” it which will send it out to all of their followers.

While most tweets are just inane chatter, many complete rubbish, a tweet that contains concise, well-written information, a link, a picture or a video, and that has the right hashtag is likely to be retweeted by a good percentage of people that see it. In turn it can be retweeted by their followers too. There are some people that have much more influence than others often because of the speed of their information or the quality of presentation, and these people tend to have more followers than average, and achieve far more retweets then others.

When a good tweet with a hashtag appears,  it can be retweeted over and over again because the tweet appears in the search for a given hashtag. Someone sees it, likes it and retweets it. Since the retweet also has the hashtag, the tweet appears in the twitter stream again and the whole process repeats. A really popular tweet can appear over and over again for hours.

This whole process goes in to overdrive when it comes to protests. It starts with getting the people there. Many people in search of a protest to attend ask about it on twitter. They are usually directed to the relevant hashtag such as #dayx3 or #ukuncut, and from there to the relevant website or facebook event. On the day of the protests, people start tweeting with those hashtags and anyone watching will see a steady stream of people announcing that they are on their way and how they have prepared.

Later on as the protests start people that are their take photos, videos, and send them to twitter along with their observations, in 140 character form. Other people watching at home will then retweet a lot of it to their followers and of course with the appropriate hashtag. That loop of tweet – hashtag – retweet becomes the main driver of the important information. In many cases people at the protest are sending out information about where they are, where they are going and what the police are doing is picked up by other protesters and acted upon.

During yesterdays protests the police announced that protesters were free to leave the crowd if they left via Whitehall. This information was given to the crowd through loud hailers, but also announced by the police via twitter. It was of course picked up by many people watching and retweeted. Unfortunately for the people that trusted the police and wanted to leave, they were met with batons and charging horses. Word quickly spread through twitter that in fact many people could not leave.

There are dangers to this system though, as I myself found last night. A photo was taken some time before midnight, of the thousands kettled on Westminster bridge. That photo was sent out on twitter with the message that although the police were still holding those people in freezing conditions, without toilet facilities or food and water, the tv news channels were completely ignoring it. The message was of course retweeted. Unfortunately there was no timestamp on anything, and so the message was also retweeted at about 12:45, by which point the protesters had been allowed to leave. I commented on the cruelty and legality of this containment at 12:50, and my own comment was picked up and started to be retweeted in that feedback loop of hashtags, eventually reaching 34 retweets and a cascade of other comments. Some time later although I commented that we had no up to date information, people were still convinced that the crowd was being held and it was only when someone tweeted that they had been able to cross the bridge that twitter calmed down and believed that the kettle was over.

Twitter is a wonderful tool for coordination through crowdsourcing, an incredibly fast way of getting news hours before the BBC or Sky news catches up, and fantastic for sharing information. It’s downfall is the way in which information is given too much trust, and fact checking is poor, sometimes even on my part.