Archive for December, 2007

Facebook’s Beacon ate my lunch

December 21, 2007

I don’t know if any of you have come across – it’s a website for the more ‘adventurous’ foodie. But if you’re in the habit of rummaging through their recipe collection or perusing their videos and you also have a Facebook account, you may want to think twice about what you choose to download.

Facebook’s recently unveiled Beacon system sucks in data about your online purchases and visits to various websites, chews it over, and then spits some of it back out as a news item, which it publishes to your Facebook page. This means some of your online purchasing habits are published as ‘content’, and your friends will be alerted to your activity and invited to come and have a look at what you’ve been up to.

This isn’t particularly new news, and Facebook has been taking a lot of flak about this feature for the last month or so. However, news of the addition of Epicurious to the list of sites included in Beacon has me worried. Personally, I think this is bad news for those of us who would perhaps like to keep our visits to the site to view videos like ‘Frolicking with Chocolate’ and ‘Brett & Dan’s Party tricks’ strictly private.

James Grimmelmann, an American lawyer, reckons that the Beacon process may well be illegal under US law. This is due to the highly obscure Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) of 1988, which, for US citizens, protects the privacy of the videos that you rent.

So all may not be lost for us Epicurians. Who’s up for a Lunch Privacy Protection Act?

Merry Christmas!


Web 2.0 – All that glisters is not gold

December 20, 2007

Just in case you’re interested my editorial for the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science has just appeared in their December issue. It is called “All That Glisters Is Not Gold – Web 2.0 and the Librarian” and is also available as a pdf from the  Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).  A lot of it is based on my recent Web 2.0 report but I have aimed this more squarely at librarians and information science professionals.

Web Mug

December 19, 2007

A while ago I blogged about Pantone mugs. At Web safe mugthe time I cracked a cheesy joke about having a mug that was Web- and dishwasher-safe and, guess what, my dream has come true. Nottingham-based Good for Geeks have waved their magic wand and created a mug with all the Web safe colours on it. To say thank you for giving them the idea they have even given me my own complimentary mug (pictured). If you want one, though, I’m afraid you’ll have to pay for it.

Dangerously Lunched

December 18, 2007

One of my early morning peccadilloes is to wake up slowly with Radio 4’s Today programme and a pair of headphones. This morning they were discussing the comings and goings in Whitehall, as usual, along with various lunch dates the Chancellor had had with the head of the Bank of England. My bleary ears picked up when the reporter, Nick Robinson, said a Whitehall source had told him: “He needs to learn that lunch can be a very dangerous occupation”. 

Is this a comment on the quality of the seafood served in London restaurants? Or the risk of being flattened by a renegade desert trolley? And what is the career where lunch is an ‘occupation’ – my CV is ready.

Ray Mears: slow technology and wild lunches

December 11, 2007

If there’s one man who knows how to get his hands, quite literally, on a lunch it is Ray Mears. Arctic chard, monitor lizards, bison, witchetty grubs: the TV survivalist expert has tracked, trapped, skinned, picked and eaten a glutton’s list of wild foods using the tools and methods of indigenous tribespeople across the world.

In a throwback to the old-fashioned public lectures given by explorers, Ray visited Derby recently. And in the hope of getting a few tips for my own lunchtime forays, I headed over there to hear what he had to say. There were many interesting and amusing anecdotes about his times in the wilderness but one thread stood out for me.

Wild hunting and food gathering is incredibly slow and deliberate. It utilises an enormous amount of inherited local knowledge and the use of appropriate tools—what we would call technologies. As an example of this, Ray described how it takes 14 hours to prepare ice holes and a net in order to catch an Arctic chard (a type of fish).

Sadly, Ray made it clear that in his twenty-year career he could already see many examples of how these skills were being lost, largely because of how the modern world is rapidly encroaching on the last of the truly wild areas.

In essence we are ‘forgetting’ how to get our lunch. Puts a different complexion on popping out to the shop for a sandwich, doesn’t it?

It’s a BERR’s life: Second Life in the public sector

December 6, 2007

You know when an innovation is really taking off when parts of the public sector start to make use of it. This now seems to be happening with the virtual world Second Life.

At the European Union’s Privacy Conference (which I mentioned last week) I was involved – for the first time – in a roundtable discussion which was also featured ‘live’ within Second Life. The physical discussion took place in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s (BERR) new Futurefocus centre, deep in the bowels of the department’s Victoria Street offices. At the same time, a group of 20 or so avatars gathered in a virtual version of Futurefocus. Indeed, one of the presenters (Paul Ledack of IBM) was not physically present, but was, in fact, one of the avatars. Everything we said within the physical room was also being streamed out to the gathered avatars who could post questions by in-world text. We could see the avatars via several large screens within the room and a moderator handled the interface between the real and virtual discussions.

This kind of mixed reality meeting seems to slowly becoming more commonplace. On the same day a NHS event was taking place elsewhere in London with several hundred clinicians and this was also online in SL (through the weblink And I gather that the Climate Change gathering in Bali will also have a parallel, Second Life, event hosted at Nature magazine’s SecondNature virtual island.

All this public, indeed governmental, use of SL raises questions. Second Life is a private space owned by Linden Labs and the privacy experts in London had a number of concerns over the clarity of exactly who owns what and how data privacy was being handled within the various islands within Second Life.

Tech Bubble 2.0 – the anthem

December 5, 2007

Here is a laugh out loud, satirical YouTube video by Richter Scales on the dawning Web 2.0 technology stock bubble that has come via Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal.

I suggest that you are not eating lunch or sipping hot coffee from a mug when you hit play. It could get messy!