Tax discs, books, interviews, money – where paper beats digital

Neophilia is a condition where the sufferer believes that newer things beat older ones. It’s quite common among technologists who make their livings introducing new things. This can bias them against older technologies – such as that miracle of resilience, portability and usability, paper.

For Computer Weekly, I looked at some specific areas where paper can outperform digital. George Osborne’s cancellation of paper tax discs appears to be costing the country tens of millions of pounds a year. Take-up of e-books has stalled, with the proportion of Americans reading paper books actually rising. Oxfam deliberately uses paper for some sensitive interviews and in places where people are worried about government surveillance. Continue reading “Tax discs, books, interviews, money – where paper beats digital”

The Christmas gift you deserve: freedom from Facebook

If you want to get yourself a present for Christmas, then how about extra free time with a side-order of serenity? Follow Jaron Lanier’s advice and cut down on social media. I’d add, start with Facebook.

Facebook has unappealing aspects common to many tech companies, such as aggressively (and legally) avoiding taxes. But when it comes to disrupting politics, by allowing who knows who to target voters with ads saying (until recently) who knows what, it has no equal. Continue reading “The Christmas gift you deserve: freedom from Facebook”

Aid organisations dodge cloud for technology that works

There were two reasons I wanted to write about software used by international aid organisations. The first reason was that there were lots of great projects to write about. Where commercial mappers failed, Missing Maps volunteers using OpenStreetMap and aerial images had 23,500 square kilometres of the Democratic Republic of the Congo hit by Ebola mapped in a fortnight, helping Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to tackle the outbreak.

The second reason was that aid organisations need technology that works in all environments. Among other things, this often means avoiding cloud computing. MSF physically flew its new maps to the Congo, first on paper then on a small server, to save bandwidth to its facilities there. Those with staff working mainly in the field, such as Oxfam and World Vision, make sure their software works offline. It demonstrates why cloud is not the answer everywhere, even if mobile coverage in Britain are usually better than in central Africa. Continue reading “Aid organisations dodge cloud for technology that works”

Blockchain: cut the cryptocurrencies and taste the tuna

Cryptocurrencies based on blockchain technology, such as bitcoin and ethereum, get a lot of hype. Some believe they are the future of finance, while other including savvy MPs on the Commons Treasury Committee and the Financial Times’ Alphaville blog (free registration required) take a more cynical view. Recent drops in the price of bitcoin suggest the latter have a point.

Like many technologies, blockchain – which creates a permanent, unalterable record of transactions – may prove to be of greater use in areas other than its original one. I have previously looked at its uses outside finance for Computer Weekly, but have now focused on how it can support food and drink supply chains. Continue reading “Blockchain: cut the cryptocurrencies and taste the tuna”

New NUJ training dates on freelancing and data journalism

All three of my NUJ training courses are due to run this autumn, all at the union’s London headquarters, Headland House. Winning and negotiating freelance work is on Friday 21 September, costing NUJ members £70, NUJ student members £60 and non-members £130. Details and booking here.

First steps in freelancing, which does what it says on the tin, is on Friday 5 October, at the same prices. Details and booking here.

And my Introduction to data in journalism course, organised by the NUJ’s London Freelance Branch, is on Friday 19 October, at a cost to NUJ members of £55, student members £45 and non-members £110. Book here.