Press release found from the future


Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a truly accurate figure for the numbers of people demonstrating outside your facility or threatening law and order – or even automated gathering of their identities?

Now you can, with CrowdCount™ and other products from the Freedom2Control™ range which have taken the US by storm and have just been launched in Great Britain.*

CrowdCount™ uses a patented combination of thermal imaging technology and specially developed software to provide the licensee with completely precise information about the number of people in a group. The technology has already been licensed to the British Police and is now available to businesses.

Rory Ferguson, CEO of Freedom2Control™ (UK) explained the advantages: “Studies have shown that protest groups overestimate the volume of their support by an average of 14%, but their figures nonetheless get promoted in the media. With CrowdCount™ your business can restore the balance of truth. Imagine misguided activists are targeting your chemical plant and attracting unwanted media interest – now you can disempower these people and prevent the spread of their misinformation.”

The technology has already benefited many businesses and private law enforcement organisations in the United States. Suzette Wilkins, COO of Biotic Reassignment Services in Wichita, KA offered this glowing testimonial: “We had a few disturbances from extremists who don’t understand the good our company is doing for both humans and animals, but with CrowdControl™ and the beta of CrowdRoll™, we were able to neutralize the threat to our operability.”

CrowdRoll™ – to be launched as CrowdLister® in the UK – is a partner package which uses the latest DNA fingerprinting technology to provide details of the individual participants in unwanted civil action. CrowdLister® is undergoing trials in Scotland and is expected to be available by this fall.

1. Rory Ferguson, CEO of Freedom2Control™ (UK), is available for interview by arrangement with Toni or Jak at Plangent Media on 020 30 4918 2320 or SkypeBayMS™ plangent01.
2. Freedom2Control™ ( provides security and asset positioning services to business and government agencies in the United States and is based in Bennington, MI. Freedom2Control™ (UK) is a wholly owned subsidiary operating from Milton Keynes II.

* Not available in the United Republic of Ireland due to legal restrictions.

Stuck in the middle with you

It’s always fun dandling binary oppositions on the knee. I submit to you that much of modern cultural history is permeated with a dialectic. First, there was religion vs science – where the former was the leviathan trying to defend its territory ruthlessly; second the ‘two cultures’ of art vs science, with the latter partly adopting religion’s role. Now, I suggest, the two cultures are copyright vs copyleft. This latter pairing is something I’m obsessed with.

Margaret Atwood has become a persistent advocate for a book called The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, and thanks to her it has been issued for the first time in Britain only this year (it was originally published in 1979). She’s certainly done more good this way than through her fatuous and insulting LongPen, that’s for sure.

It’s a stunningly thoughtful book, and provides an anthropology of the ‘gift economy’. The first half looks at the history of gift economies around the world; the second, at the specific artistic careers of Whitman and Pound. Most interesting of all perhaps are the conclusion and new afterword. The central question is: how can the artist (and for this read anyone who is creative – scientific endeavour is part of it, too) relate to the marketplace? How can ‘gift’ and ‘commodity’ coexist without one destroying the other in some way?

We’re trapped between the Scylla of Disneyfied, Hollywoodized, DRM-bound copyright, with owners of mass-market artistic output obsessed with controlling its consumption, and the Charybdis of the freeform, open-source, Creative Commons world of copyleft where it’s hard to make more than a few groats. Perhaps this penury doesn’t matter. But to someone like me, a freelancer who relies on selling time and output for money, it’s hard not to think about it. I’m not being paid to pontificate here (and rightly so, no doubt!), but people who write their blogs in work time are being paid, you know.

There are so many interesting gift economies at work. A random sample:
– open-source software
– blogging. writes here that: “I can be fairly confident that three figures of people read anything I choose to write. That’s better than a lot of plays… Sure, I don’t make any money from this, but I do get paid in kind, when I read the journals that all my interesting friends write…” (My emphasis.)
(Though he chooses to overlook that a huge amount of the blogosphere consists of maundering self-pity and passing on memic dreck, neither of which I’m immune to myself, I confess.)
– Wikipedia
– BitTorrent
– artistic output of all kinds – it was lovely to receive ‘s gift of Wasted Epiphanies
– recycling, for that matter
– and countless more, such as the advice we share with friends. uses his training as a commodity for his employer, but as a kindly gift when we raise a legal issue in our blogs.

Sometimes I feel lost in the middle: I run two commercially disastrous (or at least unremarkable) businesses with a friend, for example – though our lack of wholesale commitment to them probably explains a lot. Realistically, both Reverb and Thoughtplay belong more in the gift economy realm. For the first, we have tried to support new authors, pumping in our own money to little gain, though some good things have come out of it all for some of them. For the latter, What Should I Read Next? makes a trickle of cash, which means we’re only half-way to breaking even after a year – but it has also provided at least passing entertainment for hundreds of thousands of people, tens of thousands of them loyally returning again and again. It’s a good feeling. The problem for us commercially is that we lack the technical skills to do stuff like this without paying people to do the coding – which means we either seek funding, or we don’t do it. Our speciality is ‘ideas’, which are more copyleft than copyright. All these things take time, which has to be funded somehow.

Lewis Hyde’s only answer to how “modern artists have resolved the problem of their livelihood” is threefold, and holds no magic surprises:
– take a second job
– find patronage
– sell your work.

For all my hopes that Paul and I could have supported new authors on to success, and in the context of the zillions of manuscripts we had to reject, I can’t help but think authors expect too much: they all think they have a divine right to commercial support, just because that’s happened for a mere 200 years (they certainly don’t realise that even most successful authors have to work all the time to eke a living, and only a tiny number of soaraway bestsellers buck this). But there’s so much crap out there. It makes me wonder sometimes whether the much-demonised ‘vanity publishing’ isn’t actually a damned good idea – or Lulu is the best model, and traditional publishers with deep enough pockets should look there for the few rising stars and then snap ’em up.

In the course of vomiting all this out, it occurs that maybe Google is evil after all. Its business model seems to rely almost exclusively on commodifying copyleft, whether it’s selling advertising on the back of search results, themselves an amalgamation of other people’s content, or putting up the world’s books, or getting users to improve its image indexing. True, it ‘gives back’ by letting us all search for free. But who’s to say that won’t one day change? On the other side of the coin, Google has enabled us humble oiks to monetise our websites – but AdSense has become so utterly ubiquitous that maybe its days are numbered. I do find it surprising that enough people click on the ads to sustain this economy in the first place – but then again this is the same world where supposedly 10% of spam is clicked on. Go figure.

What the hell am I venting all this for? Ach, I dunno, I’m just interested. And I’m maybe at a crossroads in life. Having spent eight years freelancing, I wonder at my age how long I can get away with my random sort of life. But also: it’s great, and I love all the different tangents that I’m free to explore. So, if I can continue to blunder some sort of living as I’ve done so far, there’s much to celebrate. Here’s hoping I can.

(Actually, all this is probably me arguing myself round to offering to do ‘s dad’s murder mystery for free!)

Copyright vs copyleft. I want to know what you think. You read books and watch films and devour story arcs. Are you always happy to pay for them? Under what conditions? Is it your right to watch series three of Lost when it suits you? Who pays the piper? Do creators expect too much? Should they abandon the world of copyright and go left, seeking remuneration in other ways? If so, what ways? And how do you catch a squirrel?

This is far and away my longest post ever, and doesn’t have the point I thought it might have done when it started. Ah well. So it goes.

George Monbiot’s programme for tackling climate change

Based on his talk at the Sheldonian in Oxford on 20th October 2006, here is a summary of George Monbiot’s arguments for achieving the necessary turnaround in otherwise disastrous climate change within our lifetimes, put here to spread the message and encourage debate.

1. Carbon rationing. Don’t use taxation, use rationing to give everyone a quota and make it fairer across rich and poor; in fact, it would help redistribute energy wealth, as the rich can buy the extra carbon credits they need from people who don’t use as much energy as they do or want to. (One person in the audience argued for caps at the source of energy production instead, but GM sensibly said that this wouldn’t give people a motive in their daily lives (a) to campaign for more energy efficient products in the marketplace (b) to reduce their own energy use in creative ways – personally, I think both routes might be needed.)
2. Efficient homes. Come on, you know this stuff: loft and cavity wall insulation, low-energy light bulbs, etc.
3. Energy transport. Use DC rather than AC to transfer power as its more efficient over long distances.
4. Look to yourselves. Yes, yes, China has a huge, growing and increasingly demanding population – but we in Western Europe and the US are still far and away the cause of the problems at the moment.

1. Offshore wind power on the continental shelf on a massive scale. Monbiot controversially (to environmentalists) dismisses micro-scale wind and solar power, on the basis that, well, it’s overall impact on the problem is going to be diddly squat, unless we have wind turbines on our homes that are dangerously massive. (Though he did concede to the greenies in the audience that of course there’s no harm in people doing it to some extent.)
2. Solar power in the Sahara – the east-to-west axis of the desert provides sun at some point all day long. (He was less clear on the issue about who gets this power – Africa? Or us? – except to suggest…)
3. A global electricity grid to distribute this stuff.
4. Use hydrogen for heat – domestic boilers can burn hydrogen rather than oil or gas. Much of the technology is there, and it is already transported across huge distances for some industries.

1. Drive electric cars. The technology is there, and the battery problem is easily oversome: he cleverly proposes that the existing network of filling stations becomes a network of battery-charging stations instead, where your battery is swapped out for a charged one, and on you go. Charge the batteries at night. (Nice – though he doesn’t explain how you could bootstrap such a system without wholesale, dramatic change in government policy…) Oh, biofuels are a disaster: to use them on a large scale takes crucial food-producing land away.
2. Coach networks. We have motorways already, so let’s use them intelligently. Move coach stations from town centres to motorway junctions, and have express services running up and down the Mways all the time; then use local networks to connect to the coach stations. (A statistic: the M25, at full capacity with current average car occupancy, and traffic flowing at 60mph – clearly impossible on the M25! – can accommodate 19,000 people; a coach system would manage 250,000.)
3. Stop flying. The Monbiot headline: we need to stop flying by 90%. He began his talk in awareness of ‘love miles’ – the long-distance journeys we feel morally obliged to take to visit friends and family. His argument is basically that we have to wake up to a ‘new morality’: where our right to travel like this is seen as inferior to our right to survive and not be destroyed by climate change. If we want to fly, we need to save up our carbon credits over a long time.

He’s a convincing speaker, though it’s hard to see how these suggestions can all be begun to be implemented within the 10-year timescale that he says is urgently upon us, given the intransigence of governments, and large corporations’ enthusiasm for clinging to their current profit streams. He throws it at us to motivate political change.

But can we? How, realistically? What do you think?


Hot on the heels of last week’s news about alcohol bearing health warning labels, I’ve come with a system for fast food.

Naturally, labelling is impractical because the packaging isn’t always suitable and is often (a) discarded (b) eaten in confusion or by preference to the moose meat beneath.

So, what we need to do is enforce name changes for the products themselves. Permit me to demonstrate:

– ‘a double cheeseburger and medium fries, please’ becomes ‘a double by-pass and medium angina, please’
– ‘would you like to go large?’ becomes ‘would you like to die young?’

and so on.

This system might well be then applied to cigarettes, too: ‘a packet of Mild Emphysema’, say.

Alcohol is more tricky. Ideally, for example, ‘cider’ would become ‘Students’ Blood’, ‘Fosters’ – ‘Vomit’, ‘Old Peculiar’ – ‘Beardy Huge-Gut’, or some such. The trouble is, these all sound like real ales anyway.

Right, I really must log off the SadDweebyBastard and get on with some work.

Stamp here

I think one of the many good things about cycling is that it allows you to wander around the countryside alone without being regarded as suspicious.

I love to walk accompanied, and generally prefer it, but I love to walk anywhere anyway, so will happily walk alone too. In cities this is easy, and I have enjoyed hundreds of solitary city wanders. But these days I think it’s harder in the countryside: there’s always the lingering paranoia that people regard you with suspicion, unless you have a dog with you, which is the necessary passport. Oh for a dog (and currently, oh for a wire fox terrier, having idly researched my dog-of-choice, though I still love spaniels and Airedales).

So if a dog is a passport to the country, a bike is at least a visitor’s visa: you can’t quite always get so far, in the sense of wandering along obscure little paths, but you can at least zip along the lanes and appreciate your surroundings.

Dodgy types

OK, here’s something for *you*, typography and copyright fans (though obviously it applies analogously to things like music downloads)…

I bought a font today for $40 which I needed for work – in this instance I can invoice my client for it, but in other instances in the past I have just coughed up myself. Not often at this price, but occasionally. And perhaps only when, let’s say ‘other channels’, have failed to provide the font I need.

Now, technically the law of course protects the copyright of fonts and, unless you are licensed for more than one computer, you’re not supposed to share them across an office network even, let alone send them to pre-press bureau, clients, printers or whoever. But, of course, every damn advertising, design or publishing firm in the country sends them glibly around anyway: expediency demands it. (Though PDFs have rather reduced the need for this, it’s true.)

In all honesty I resent the charge of $40 just for one individual weight of a typeface (to have the whole family in this case was nearly $500, supposedly a generous discount from $720…). I’m not a big firm with big budgets. I’m just a Me.

The font foundries no doubt justify this – as software firms do (we’re thinking Quark here as the ultimate corporate bastard) – by saying that so many people nick their products that they *have* to charge this much. (There’s also the entirely valid point that the actual designers of these typefaces, like us designers pissing around with them to produce other things, deserve to be paid for their work.)

I admit that if people can get away with copying fonts or software or music, however cheap they are, they probably always will. But.

Surely if the foundries charged a subscription of, let’s stab at $100-$200 a year or something, for which one could have access for that year (and maybe the technology could permit the files to expire after that?) to *any* of their fonts, wouldn’t this be small enough a cost for most firms or freelancers to bear without much of a wince to the wallet, given the advantages it would offer?

And surely 100000 people paying $100 is as good as 10000 paying $1000 – not just in terms of revenue, but also because of the *good will* it would generate.

When I was younger, poorer and less mature, I gladly downloaded shareware all over the place and never even considered registering it. But now I find there are numerous really useful apps out there, often costing only about twenty quid, and I think it’s worth registering them – they’re helpful, and have shown ‘good will’ in producing something I want cheaply, so I’m willing to do the same by paying for them if I genuinely use them regularly.

I think I read recently that the type foundries have been getting together to consider what to do about all this, and in the meantime are cracking down more on the ‘thieves’ – but I earnestly hope they might have the vision to look at the situation from a different perspective.

What would your payment or subscription thresholds for things like fonts, software and music be? (Please don’t say ‘nothing’, because it really doesn’t address the economics of the issue…)

Haro Krishna Haro Rama

If anyone doubts the wonders of Sark, let them read this – it’s not some quaint bit of history (well, it is), but pertains to this very day:

Clameur de Haro: Under Norman custom a person can obtain immediate cessation of any action he considers to be an infringement of his rights. At the scene he must, in front of witnesses, recite the Lord’s prayer in French and cry out “Haro, Haro, Haro! A mon aide mon Prince, on me fait tort!” The Clameur must be registered at the Greffe Office, and a deposit (£7.50) made. All actions must cease until the matter is heard by the Court and if, after investigation, the complaint is disallowed, the deposit is forfeited, and the complainant can be liable to a claim for damages.

Or, if that’s not enough for you, how about:

Pigeons: The Seigneur’s right to be the sole keeper of pigeons (Droit de Colombier) is still enforced and a colombier is maintained at La Seigneurie.

I LOVE Sark!