Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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28 March 2013

Like many a tech-savvy parent I am trying to divert my kid’s gaming attention towards Minecraft – and with some success. There’s a ‘legacy’ iBook G4 he can use but getting the program to run at all was difficult and now that it is running, I have found it runs unusably slowly, even with all the graphical options I could find turned down (and with non-working sound). This to run a game that is deliberately designed to look ‘retro’ and which I imagine could have worked on a Mac LC c. 1990 if suitably coded! Since it’s a very popular game with a hyperactive development community I thought there was bound to be a way to make things work better. Alas, nothing I tried (Magic Launcher launching Optifine Light mainly) seemed to work and it took me several hours of forum reading, installation and tweaking to get this far.

It’s not a new observation but what makes older machines like my nine-year-old macbook obsolete does not actually seem to be the speed or capability of the underlying hardware but the steady ratcheting up of the assumptions that software makes. Somewhere (presumably in Java, which is Minecraft’s ‘environment’) I’m guessing there’s a whole load of un-necessary code that has been added in the last nine years which has dragged what should be a perfectly usable game down to a useless speed.

Just to drag this back to academic relevance for a moment, this is to my mind a good example of how the structure of the computer industry aggravates digital divides by gradually demanding users ‘upgrade’ their software to the point that their machines stop working, well before the end of their ‘natural’ lives.

PS If anyone has managed to get Minecraft working adequately on a Mac of similar vintage please share any tips…

25 March 2013
Filed under:e-books,Personal at10:56 pm

I just bought a (paper) copy of Cannery Row and caught myself thinking “£9 for 148 pages? For a book published in 1945 (which I would prefer to be in the public domain by now)?” And yet why not? It’s a work of well-established literary value, attractively produced with a 16 page introduction (thanks Penguin Classics). I’m a fast reader but even so this will likely give me several hours of reading pleasure – more if I reread it later or lend it to a friend.

Alas, years of immersion in free or cheap digital content (plus access to academic libraries for free and exam copies of the texts I think relevant to the courses I run) seem to have undermined my willingness to shell out for content – even though I frequently remind my journalism students that if they won’t pay for content they can hardly expect others to pay for their content when they get out into the working world!

Makes me feel like going and shelling out £27.95 for some Hemingway short stories just to balance out my stinginess…

12 December 2012

Picture from Jeremy Selwyn via The Evening Standard

I set out last night on a five-mile cycle journey to meet a friend which turned into an hour and a half odyssey thanks to freezing fog but also technological dependency. It was late in the day so my Galaxy Nexus was already low on charge but I thought had enough to use to navigate. Intermittent use of the GPS was enough to make it go flat but not enough to help me to navigate successfully. I then realised without my phone I didn’t even have a map. I would have called my friend to tell him I was running late but of course my phone didn’t work and because “everyone has mobiles these days” the few remaining phone booths on my journey didn’t work. For a moment I thought of working out my laptop from my bag and Skyping my friend but, of course, my mobile broadband is dependent on (you guessed it) my phone.

Fortunately, I did manage to get to him in time to see Argo together (very good) but our dinner was extremely brief (sorry John!). On the upside cycling around the back streets of Hampstead in the fog was extremely atmospheric. I’d show you some pictures but I don’t carry a camera any more because I have one always with me… in my phone!

12 January 2012

I’ve just been listening to a segment on TV and TVOD on the BBC’s Media Show and it has reminded me just how far outside the mainstream my media consumption practices are. The average British household apparently ‘watches’ four hours of TV a day – a record high figure. This probably includes ambient sporadically viewed ‘TV on in the corner’ but still how on earth do they find the time? I probably watch an average of an hour of TV a week. X Factor has been an extraordinary success for ITV – I have never watched it (and probably haven’t watched ITV at all in a year). The channel I view programmes from most is probably (you guessed it) BBC4. Even with the proliferation of DVRs, TVoD etc, people still watch 88% of their television ‘live’. I watch or listen to almost nothing in that way any more. By far the bulk of my audiovisual media consumption comes in (audio) podcast form – about 1.5 hours a day – because I can do it while doing other things eg cycling to and from work.
It’s really odd to realise just how far outside of the media consumption mainstream I am (and it’s hard for me to imagine myself into the heads of more typical media consumers).

26 February 2011
Filed under:Call for help,Personal at3:29 pm

Having lived quite successfully without a car for more than 40 years in a variety of cities well supplied with public transport, a short but particularly transport–unfriendly commute is starting to make us think of getting one. But there are so many decisions to consider. Can someone point us to some resources which can help? Better still– if a friend reads this who can advise us could you get in touch?

The rough parameters are these:


  • should be unglamorous but practical and seat four (5 door)
  • would be used for a daily commute of 7.6mi (12.2km) each way in city traffic plus a limited amount of weekend use (long-distance highway use is unlikely)
  • should be as green as possible, though of course that gets us into a thicket of considerations– electric versus hybrid versus economical diesel and then a life-cycle analysis for the components etc
  • Purchase method:
    Ideally, we would like a method that did not commit us too much as we are not sure we will actually want to keep a car and/or might not like the one we get. Hence we might consider leasing instead of buying or getting a cheapo used car we can dispose of easily (though choosing a used car is such a minefield again we aren’t sure where to begin).

    Any suggestions? Now I know how technophobes feel when purchasing their first computer…

    4 February 2011

    1) I started my new job as Senior Lecturer in the Division of Journalism and Communication at the University of Bedfordshire this week and have enjoyed meeting my new colleagues (and collecting my new Macbook Pro).
    2) I just met my editor at Palgrave and agreed to write a book (my first full-length academic one) provisionally titled “Sharing Our Lives Online: Risks and Exposure in Social Media” – likely to be delivered in 2013. I plan to blog about it as I write using the “Sharing Our Lives Online” category, so keep an eye on that…
    3) On my way back from that meeting I discovered that my wife has also just found a position for when her current one finishes, which given the turbulent situation in the NHS where she works is a big relief.

    Of course I would be open to receiving further good news but these three bits of news are certainly enough to be starting with!

    12 October 2010
    Filed under:Personal at11:04 am

    Pictures and video clips (P/V) taken in August > 200
    P/V uploaded to computer and not subsequently deleted = 194 (1.1Gb)
    P/V uploaded to Picasa Web Albums = 84 (max views of these friends-only pics 29, average c. 15)
    P/V “favourited” in Picasa = 22
    P/V from that month included in annual family roundup video = 6

    (My public picture galleries are here (Picasa, recent) and here (Flickr, last updated 3 years ago)

    Random public photo

    From Things observed
    27 September 2010
    Filed under:Academia,Personal,Privacy,Weblogs at11:37 am

    I have argued in my thesis (and hope to argue at greater length in book form) that protection of online privacy in practice is not simply a matter of offering the right controls but for users is a complicated balancing of different priorities and values. I would like to chronicle my children’s lives online for a select audience of friends and family but it’s not clear where and how I should do it.

    Livejournal offers good privacy controls so I tried using that but I couldn’t get enough of the people I wanted to be able to read it to sign up and remember their passwords and visit.

    Facebook now has enough of my desired audience on it to make it worthwhile to publish there and it does allow me to make sophisticated choices about who can read any status update I post, which makes it convenient, but it is also more or less transient (one can read updates well into the past but getting to them is not easy). I would like what I write to remain private but easily accessible and archived.

    For me the best security solution so far for pictures and video has been Picasa’s which provides ‘good enough’ security through obscurity (non-search-indexed and un-guessable URLs but doesn’t require visitors to register to view.

    What would probably be ideal for me is if there were a blog platform that to enable me to blog semi-securely Picasa-style and more securely (on a post by post basis) to friends who are registered using Facebook Connect or Google Accounts (which most of my would-be viewers have). Any free solutions like that out there?

    17 December 2009

    If you get a lot of email (and who doesn’t?) may I suggest my book, Dealing with Email? It was recently re-released in epub ebook form and for the Kindle via Amazon US (you can preview pages from it from Amazon’s page.

    For the academics among you, how about a copy of Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories: Self-representations in New Media (also previewable on Amazon) featuring a chapter by yours truly about MySpace users? The paperbook is $30 – cheap for an academic work…

    2 September 2009
    Filed under:Personal at5:50 pm

    I’m just back from holiday in Brittany where I learned to windsurf – something I didn’t expect to be able to do and indeed something it’s rather un-like me to even want to learn but it makes a contrast to my sedentary recreations during the rest of the year. No pictures, alas – you’ll just have to take my word for it that not only did I figure out how to get up and stay up on the thing but I even figured out how to turn it around which was all the harder for me because I had to un-learn how I expected it to work from when I used to sail in boats.

    Current tasks (in no particular order)

    • Figure out what order I should be doing these tasks in 😉
    • Finish tinkering with my book proposal from my thesis and send it to publishers
    • Finish thesis revisions and return to examiners so I can call myself Dr Brake without embarrassment
    • Prepare for hopefully minor struggle to enable me to release my thesis under Creative Commons instead of copyright (if I manage this I hope it might help push others to do the same)
    • Finish the latest three job applications (getting repetitive strain injury from copying and pasting details from my CV onto application forms has been absorbing much of the last few months)
    • Put together postdoc applications
    • Figure out ways to make Google Apps work in some way approximating an integrated system instead of a grab-bag of miscellaneous services to help the administration of the EU Kids Online project.

    Notwithstanding the mini-mountain of tasks described there things are good. I’m rested from the holidays, really enjoying being back on the conference circuit again (Transforming Audiences 2), about to have a job interview, unexpectedly may get funding to go to ICA 2010 in Singapore (I love travel, climate crisis notwithstanding)…

    Love to talk more but I’m off to dinner at Les Trois Garcons (paid for by someone else!)

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