Downtime


July 3, 2019  3:47 PM

Buffer load stance

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Neneh Cherry’s Glastonbury performance gained some unexpected attention from the tech world at this year’s festival, after the laptop playing the evergreen singer’s backing visuals crashed and rebooted mid-set.

The main point of interest came from the fact the laptop was running Windows XP, an operating system right on the cusp of retro status, but not quite there yet. It’s like football shirts. If it had been Windows 98, for example, everyone there would have probably celebrated the throwback aesthetic as a knowing nod to the past. But XP? It just looks like you don’t look after yourself.

It gives us an early taste of the future of entertainment. The last generation’s insatiable thirst for being reminded about the days before we had any computers at all will pass the baton to a generation that in a few years will sell out Peter Kay’s Windows Vista-inspired comeback tour. “Who remembers opening Windows Sidebar and finding gadgets?” he’ll ask a hysterical audience in front of a Sony Vaio projecting its own disk defragmentation.

“That Neneh Cherry’s been at it again at Glastonbury,” he’ll go on. “She brought t’CD-ROM with her, you remember t’CD-ROM? She tried to give her laptop a last-minute upgrade this time, but needed to get on stage with Windows 7 seconds away…”

June 26, 2019  2:01 PM

Toronto adapters

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Toronto residents are grappling with a quandary posed by the plans of Google sister company Sidewalk Labs to build a smart city on its eastern waterfront.

It’s always fun to learn about Google’s various madcap capers, typically carried out under cheerful, ungainly named subsidiaries supposedly living it up independently from its legal guardian. When a corporate restructuring saw Google give itself a Sesame Street-evoking parent company called Alphabet in 2015, it was like watching a six-year-old billionaire orphan enlisting a clown to build them a benevolent new mum out of balloons.

Google, after all, wasn’t nominally responsible for its boisterous brother Boston Dynamics, provider of those butt-clenching robots. It was Alphabet that cut it loose from the family for damaging its reputation in, to be fair, the most apocalyptic fashion imaginable.

But it’s tempting to only see the positives of a futuristic city, with streets that “blur the line between indoors and outdoors”, some nice shops and highly reliable Wi-Fi. It’s also reasonable, however, to relate to locals who worry they’re being treated like lab rats. This city would be the first of its kind, and if the wrong person hacks into it, the whole place could transform into a Saw film based in Westfield.


June 19, 2019  2:52 PM

Puss in briefs

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A Pakistani politician has played down the embarrassment of one of his briefings being streamed live to Facebook with the cat filter on.

“The cat filter was turned on by mistake,” said Shaukat Yousafzai. “Let’s not take everything so seriously.”

But it’s our job to take everything seriously, and we have some questions. Can it just be accepted as a coincidence, for a start, that his first name sounds a bit like “show cat”? And who accidentally streams themselves as a cat? We’ve never heard of that before. Generally speaking, these filters take some seeking out. It’s not like they’re the default setting.

Is it not more likely that Yousafzai actually is a cat? Not an ordinary one, but one that relies on a team of experts to activate a human filter from which he can sustain a credible political career. Groundbreaking technology that briefly crashed that day in Peshawar to expose him and his peers in their true feline forms. If so, they needn’t have worried, because people generally like cats.

But imagine how that technology could have humanised the Tory leadership race in the UK; a contest that recently forced Emily Maitlis to chair a hubristic five-way squabble between a lizard, a toad, a pig, a rat and a ginormous, self-gratifying blobfish in full Donald Trump fancy dress.


June 13, 2019  11:37 AM

Some reflections on Black Mirror

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The fifth series of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror landed on Netflix this month, and we were surprised to find it’s moved away from making terrifying technology predictions to become an unwitting homage to the Not a cell phone in sight meme.

The second episode, Smithereens, is gripping drama, but it hardly evokes the show’s trademark dystopian dread of yore. Its main insight, that everyone’s addicted to their phones, is the same one your dad started making 10 years ago – and no one cared then!

It’s calming, though, to know that in a world of supposedly uncontrollable exponential technology, one of the country’s most vivid creative minds can currently only come up with an Uber driver-type demanding to speak to a Twitter CEO-type about the trappings of his ruefully engaging social media platform.

That got us thinking; technology’s often used as a scapegoat for human confusion and fear, isn’t it? The antagonist’s angry with the Jack Dorsey figure for creating something that once fatally distracted him, but what if instead he’d been spirited away by a bucket of KFC? Would he have gone on a mission to give Colonel Sanders a dressing down for his irresponsible fusion of 11 herbs and spices?

The answer is “no”, because the Colonel is dead, and no trope works quite like “technology is bad” to absolve us of our own scattiness.


June 7, 2019  2:05 PM

No tunes left to buy

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The absorption of iTunes as we know it into three new entertainment apps – Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple TV – has sent us down yet another nostalgic rabbit hole.

It’s the app we’ve come to associate with banishing the moment it starts bouncing up and down when we charge our iPhone on a MacBook, but iTunes once swore in our first digital music libraries (once it overcame early competition from Windows Media Player and those dazzling visualisations).

Some, we’re reliably informed, turned to peer-to-peer file sharing clients such as LimeWire to bolster their newly digitised CD collections. AOL routers would more often than not find the strain of downloading albums too much to bear – and the process of obtaining a new release would invariably cost an amount of time and effort that came to outweigh any financial hit a trip to Zavvi involved – but that was, we can only imagine, all part of the experience.

When the download was finally complete, these pirate music pioneers would then return to iTunes with their illegal sonic acorns, squirrelling them away via painstaking in-app edits to all-lowercase filenames to make them look legit. We wouldn’t need to do that now, of course, with the likes of Ariana Grande titling her songs like a lazy child anyway, but dear God, those were the days. Apparently.


May 29, 2019  1:09 PM

The Psyduck of sleep

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The Pokémon Company has revealed its development of Pokémon Sleep, an app that will track players’ sleeping time and incorporate the data into its gameplay.

In his quest to make sleep entertaining, chief executive Tsunekazu Ishihara is entering a realm where many have fallen short. Celebrated French director Michel Gondry, for example, once thought it would be a good idea to make The science of sleep, which turned out to be a really bad film.

Key to promoting sleep to a marquee event for Pokémon trainers, then, will surely be preserving it as a personal experience.

Someone sharing the dream they had last night is often a boring ordeal – one topped only by someone making that observation as if it’s new – but to the individual, sleep can be a spiritual journey around their own psyche. That’s what tempts us into putting it into words or art and turning people off us for life.

That’s also what enables Pokémon to gatecrash the mundane prospect of going to bed by adding some meaning to our sleeping patterns and tapping into our boundless self-obsession.

Judging by how it’s already repurposed our churches into Mewtwo’s local Fitness Firsts, making bedtime fun should be a walk in the park. We’ll probably have our first Pokémon Poo by 2022.


May 22, 2019  2:22 PM

Amazon vs Amazon

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What happens when the Amazon rainforest, globally cherished as the lungs of the planet, asks a company that named itself after it not to enjoy exclusive use of the .amazon domain extension?

Where do we turn for arbitrary rulings like this? Where can we find a fair and moral guide in this conceptual quandary born of a pretend digital world we’ve built around the physical one that gives us things like oxygen? Los Angeles, baby!

And thus, as the one remaining undecided board member drove to their job at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – cruising down the vast, dusty roads past WeWorks and converted aeroplane hangars while their organisation’s anthem, Shalamar’s I can make you feel good, blasted from their Tesla’s stereo system – they had a decision to make.

Pulling into their parking space, the board member considered how Amazon.com had actually been quite unreasonable throughout this dispute, refusing to even share the domain extension and arrogantly offering to pay countries off with Kindles.

“How can it be right that something so sacred, so essential to our existence, is overridden by an e-commerce firm that stole its name?” the board member thought, before cramming shut their car full of boxed Kindles and voting in favour of Amazon.com.


May 15, 2019  3:47 PM

Clout drought

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When Anna Wintour failed to extend a single Met Gala invite to anyone from Computer Weekly this year, she sent out a clear message to the entire world: tech is out.

We were left to only imagine what our resident influencers might have done with this year’s “camp” theme while these pretenders who’ve never even made the front page of The Observer stole their style.

Kim Kardashian’s wet-look silicon Mugler number was as obvious a nod to the WannaCry ransomware attack as it gets; Katy Perry represented the internet of things by dressing up as a sentient chandelier; and Billy Porter played with the concept of cloud storage by putting on a pair of wings and being lugged about in the air by a collection of reliable servers.

Our schadenfreude is real, then, over James Charles’ downfall, which occurred not long after he took up a place at the glitzy ball at the expense of, say, our very own Brian McKenna.

The beleaguered beauty vlogger lost considerable “clout” when Tati Westbrook, another titan of YouTube’s make-up guru ecosystem, officially “dragged” him for his undesirable conduct.

Millions have since unsubscribed from his channel, and we invite those former fans in search of less problematic retail gossip and Lady Gaga chat to subscribe to our Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast.


May 2, 2019  1:43 PM

Death of a fireplace salesman

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Theresa May has wielded the axe on her notoriously slapdash defence secretary after deeming him responsible for leaking National Security Council confab about the use of Huawei networking equipment.

Gavin Williamson continues to deny any wrongdoing, but as a former managing director of a fireplace firm should know only too damn well, there’s no smoke without fire. This is the guy who’ll mainly be remembered for telling Russia to “go away” and “shut up”, not long before experiencing similar treatment from Richard Madeley for evading his questioning in the company of an elephant.

A degree of childishness defined Williamson’s tenure in his latest job, which happened to be a very important one. The Official Secrets Act, surprisingly not a Jacqueline Wilson book but actually a serious, government-level agreement, surely only exists to spell out the importance of basic confidentiality to cretins who aren’t in the room on merit, but apparently it wasn’t clear enough.

Whatever his next job, his boss will need to come up with more of these acts and stick them on Post-its around his office to remind him how to function in the most fundamental of ways. The Official Honesty Act. The Official Being Normal Act. The Official Not Snogging Everyone Act. He’s going to be prime minister, isn’t he.


April 23, 2019  11:44 PM

Sorry Cadwalladr, I misunderstood

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Carole Cadwalladr has used her TED talk to highlight Facebook’s obfuscation regarding political adverts on its site, calling for Mark Zuckerberg to hold a TED talk of his own or risk finding himself on the wrong side of history.

If you don’t know who Carole Cadwalladr is, by the way, you’re probably rolling your eyes at this liberal elite Guardian-lite waffle already. Think Greek mythology’s Cassandra reimagined for the digital age. If you don’t know who Greek mythology’s Cassandra is, seriously: what makes you think you even deserve the right to vote?

The question is, why would Zuckerberg, someone who only grants the UK’s scurrying culture secretary half-hour of his time, worry about history not being kind to him?

Cadwalladr pushes against a world of people who history won’t be kind to (see Fat Bastard from Austin Powers), but of all the things that might not be kind to these pantomime villains, a metaphysical concept like history feels quite innocuous. We need people to start being unkind to them now, and that’s why Jeremy Wright failed the nation when he didn’t glue himself to Zuckerberg in that meeting. Thanks for coming to our TED talk.

Oh, and we only know about Cassandra because Margaret compared a candidate to her on The Apprentice once, but that’s just media studies graduates for you.


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