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Three Thursdays

29 Jun

Two weeks ago, I was sat in Amsterdam’s Schipol airport working on an article of some description on my way back from a conference on cyber security. Browsing Twitter, reports started coming in that MP Jo Cox had been killed in the street – gunned down and stabbed. The man accused of killing her has since appeared in court, declaring his name to be “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.

I got up and walked, dazed and aimless. I couldn’t quite believe it had happened, not in my country. Politicians just don’t get murdered in cold blood at the side of the road. Not in the UK.

But it did. It did happen.

Then, just one week later, we as a nation decided to “take our country back” and leave the EU. Something else that, until recently, I would have considered unthinkable.

The people who voted to leave – the ones who actually meant it, anyway – thought that they were going to get something in return. They were openly promised investment in the NHS, the overturning of fisheries policies to favour UK fishermen, money brought back into the country that was being wasted elsewhere while we endured hardships. Implicit was also the offer of jobs, housing and stability – that when we put a stop to immigration by cutting ties with Europe, there would be a new prosperity for all.

But they were lied to. A cruel deception that was immediately retracted once the egos this was all really about had got their way – something that even appeared to shock them.

And now the reality sets in. The fisheries will stay the same. Cornish councils pleading for the same protections they had under the EU will almost certainly be disappointed. The NFU has already begun lobbying for protection and funding for farmers, but I feel pessimistic about their chances, too.

The only concrete thing that seems to have happened is an outpouring of hatred and racism. A new feeling that telling people to get out of the country because of the colour of their skin or because of their accent is acceptable. That you can fire bomb people’s shops.

The UK was never some utopia where no violence or racism ever happened, but somehow a new, bigger wave of this behaviour has come. And when people find out just how thoroughly hey have been lied to, I can only see it getting worse.As a friend of mine said to me in the spitting rain this afternoon, “I think this might be the new normal. Permanent autumn and violence in the streets”.

And so to this Thursday. Will the greatest ego of all the Briexiteers, Boris Johnson, who sold lies to the people and helped tear this country apart for his own personal gain, finally make an appearance? Because he is increasingly conspicuous by his absence – perhaps because winning wasn’t part of his great plan. Perhaps because now, as it is becoming apparent, there actually is no plan for the reality we all find ourselves in.

But I would urge him not to be shy.

Come forth, Mr Johnson and take your prize, this poison chalice that you have poured out for yourself. I hope you choke on it.

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Why I’m taking the EU Referendum so personally

6 Jun

6755068753_df8fc7a41d_oThe EU Referendum is probably the most significant political event there will ever be in my life. Bigger than any general election I have ever voted in, bigger than the electoral reform referendum a few years ago. It is also the one that will have the greatest impact on my life personally and I say that as a true believer in voting in every election I can.

I think that, for most people, the way they will vote is a gut reaction, not a rational one. In many ways I guess I am not different when I say that this is an emotional vote for me.

But to say it is emotional doesn’t even really cover how I feel – it is a personal vote. In all honesty, I feel like the leave argument is a personal slight against my family and my community. To reject membership of the EU is also to reject many of the things that have benefited my life.

Let me explain.

I was born in England to British parents and have lived most of my life here. Nevertheless, as someone who grew up in the 90s and came of age in the 2000s, I have personally benefited from open borders, educational grants and money given by the EU to projects and communities around me. It goes even beyond that, though. There is a significant amount of EU-originated legislation that also benefits me (and you) imperceptibly – the ECHR, strong consumer protection, strong privacy protection and, for all its alleged neoliberal faults, the tendency to come down in favour of the people, not corporations or wayward elites.

But this is still the rational argument – a good argument, in my opinion, but one that has been discussed thoroughly elsewhere in words better than I can put forward. Like I said, for me this is personal.

In the mid-2000s, I went to Europe to study – visa free and with an Erasmus grant, courtesy of the EU. After the 12 months were up, I returned with a French boyfriend (now husband), who was (is) intelligent and hardworking, but had few qualifications and no job prospects. He came here not just because he loves me, charming as I am, but also better employment opportunities and the chance of career progression with less red tape. He was an economic migrant, if you will.

After a couple of low skilled positions, he got a job in the accountancy department of a UK firm and has moved up to a more skilled IT job. He was employed, though, because he is bilingual – the organisation was unable to find a Brit with the requisite skills. He is a net job creator as, had he not already been here, the job he is now in, which contributes taxes to the treasury and money into the economy as a consumer, would not exist in the UK. It would have gone to a French person in France.

Then there is the community I live and work in.

“Multicultural” has become a dirty word, for reasons I can’t quite fathom. I see no problem in having many cultures living side-by-side and that is how my community is. My neighbours are German, Russian, American and British. In the wider neighbourhood, they are Portuguese, Polish, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Romanian, African (not sure which countries, I’m afraid) and, I’m sure, other nationalities.

At church, when I teach Sunday School, the children are Polish, British, Franco-Irish, Anglo-Japanese, and East Timorese. The last group fled the country seeking refuge and asylum here from the terrors of their home country.

At work, we have a significant number of EU citizens, who all contribute to our economy. And on and on it goes.

When I hear people say that foreigners are taking our jobs, that they are ruining our communities and changing our country, what I hear is that you hate, or at the very least resent, the people who I know and love. My friends, my family, my colleagues.

When I hear people say that people speaking languages other than English in public makes them feel like they are no longer in England, what I hear is that you are suspicious of my neighbours, of the kids at church, of me.

And when I hear them say that we must leave the EU to take back control or our country and stop mass migration, what I hear is that you want to tear my community and my home apart.

For me, these are real people who are a huge part of my life. They are not figments summoned as bogey men who push up house prices, take jobs and steal benefits.

Reassurances that Europeans living here won’t have to get visas or won’t be deported – and that we won’t suddenly be inundated with angry expatriate retirees now forced to return from the costas – do not wash with me, because, frankly, we don’t know. We do not know what will happen to people who have enjoyed the freedom of movement offered under the EU, should we leave it, in the same way that we don’t know whether  we will need visas to travel, whether we will face trade barriers, how we will negotiate with the US, China, India, or whether all the people who work at the Mini factory (which I live just by) will lose their jobs.

I support our membership of the EU, because I have seen the benefits personally in my life and I acknowledged their influence in a wider sense too. But even if I hadn’t and didn’t, I at least know that this leap into the dark is a huge risk. A terrifying risk.

The EU is not perfect, but I do not believe that we will be better off outside it. I will certainly be worse off if we leave, personally, and I think you probably will be too.

 

(main image: MPD01605 on Flickr)

Who cares about female emojis?

11 May

My colleague Caroline Preece has written an op-ed about Google’s “feminist” emojis over on IT Pro today – I thoroughly recommend you check it out but, in short, her argument is that while it is nice for emojis to reflect reality, there’s more important problems for women in traditionally male-dominated workplaces than whether or not there is a gender-appropriate emoji to reflect them in their job.

In many ways, I’m on her side – in fact, there was so much eye-rolling when I first heard about the story this morning I’m surprised they stayed in their sockets.

But reading over her story this afternoon made me think of something that came up when doing my dissertation*, of all things, about gender representation in children’s literature.

While literature does reflect reality, it also offers us a chance to explore potential new realities – new “normals” – in which women can run a business or invent new technologies, where men can be house husbands and boys can dream of being ballet dancers. In short, realities in which gender stereotyping, as least in the context of work, employment and aspirations, no longer exist.

It has quieted my cynicism a bit. I’m still not sure how often these emojis will be used if they are accepted by the Unicode Consortium, and it does still seem like a bit of a women in tech fluffball – all PR, little substance. It also seems a bit of a stretch to describe emojis as literature. But they do reflect our everyday lives and emotions – that is their whole intention – so in the end, I guess, why not have them reflect a potential new normal as well?

(*check out my LinkedIn education profile for details of what I was actually researching and writing about)

2015

1 Jan

2015. It was a strange, mixed year.

I returned to B2B journalism, went back to Austin of the first time in three years and met Michael Dell while there, which was cool (so I’m a nerd, what did you expect #Storage4eva). I also went to China for the first time, which was amazing, and I very much want to return.

For the first time since finishing uni I started learning a new language. I’d forgotten how hard this is.

I cooked Christmas dinner for the first time, for 10 people. I was surprised how well this went.

I also went to two memorials within nine months of each other and sung La Marseilles in sorrow rather than in anticipation (or hope) of sporting triumph. It was so, so sad. It still is.

What, then, for 2016?

It’s hard to anticipate, really other than the obvious (iPhone 7, Apple Watch 2, check IT Pro for more details. Yes, I am shameless). I don’t think the spectre of terrorism will leave us, nor do I think we should succumb to terror. I don’t think the spectre of the far right and terrorism will leave us either, but nor should we succumb to that.

So, here’s to a better year, perhaps a more stable year.

Oh, and remember to follow my professional writing, yeah?

Jane

It’s Friday again

20 Nov

It’s Friday again.

This time last week I was, I think, enjoying a pint with my colleagues and looking forward to two weeks off work during which I would prepare for Christmas.

I met with a friend for dinner that evening and, coming home in a happy mood, informed my husband I was probably going to get an early night. Not long after making that statement, he came down and, silently, handed me his iPad, which was open on the BBC news app. Paris was, once again, under attack.

Nearly five hours later, I turned off the rolling TV coverage and went to bed with over a hundred people who had been enjoying an evening not unlike my own now dead.

I have seen, read and heard expressions of fear and pain, but also great bravery and solidarity, both from people I don’t know and from people I do.

But I have also seen, read and heard some of the most stupid, backward and opportunistic comments, both from people I don’t know and from people I thought I did.

I feel that everything and nothing has changed in the past week. The sun has still risen in the east and set in the west, the sun stars and moon continue to shine, the Daily Mail has continued to be a disgrace, and I have been preparing, little by little, for Christmas. But solidarity has soured into one-upmanship, compassion has turned into suspicion and fear, and the question of “what next?” hangs thick in the air. For my own part, I sit wondering if some of my most important relationships have been irrevocably changed.

What I have puzzled together from this fog is that we stand at a fork in the road. To the left is the wide, straight road built on hatred, mistrust and fear – the road easily travelled but which ultimately leads to ruin. To the right is the long, difficult and rough road of reconciliation and togetherness that is pockmarked with attempts to tear us apart, such as those that took place on Friday and, as I type, are now underway in Mali.

I don’t know which way we, as a society, are going to go. I hope that we reject the easy option, that we refuse to let the hatred shown by these attackers, these mad ideologues, get the better of our most base instincts. In many ways, I’m hopeful for the better outcome, because the alternative is that so many of the most hateful people around win.

Ada Lovelace Day

13 Oct

Today is Ada Lovelace day. Ada Lovelace has been described as the first programmer thanks to the work she did with Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine – you can read more about her life and work here. On the occurrence of her recognition day, much has been written about the problems faced by women in tech. My colleague Caroline Preece has written an excellent article about this for IT Pro, which you can read here.

But the problems raised extend beyond the world of tech, and start well before women enter the workplace, or university, or school, because this is a problem of gender stereotyping, and gender stereotyping is an endemic part of our society.

Gender stereotyping dictates, through tiny, almost imperceptible pressures, to behave one way or another, to conform, across life. These tell us that, in medicine, women are nurses and men are surgeons. In automotive, women drive little hatchbacks while men drive powerful sports cars. It is men who design and build vehicles, we are told, not women.

In tech, this manifests as women being simple consumers of technology, who are confused and confounded by innovation. Men, on the other had, are the pioneers – they create, they command, and they dominate the sector.

Women, these stereotypes tell us, are passive, while men are active.

We are fed this story every day, from cradle to grave, through received wisdom, advertising, literature, music and expectations. And this is to the detriment of everyone – men suffer equally when they are forced into these compartments.

The expectations placed on both men and women, little by little, build the glass ceiling, the roles that constrain us and the belief that someone breaking these rules is not a pioneer, but is naturally not as good as someone stereotyped into them. And, for women in particular it seems, are therefore worth less.

Challenging these stereotypes is an act of subversion, but a necessary one. Breaking down walls benefits everyone – everyone.

The women’s fight is also the men’s fight, it’s the country’s fight.

So, happy Ada Lovelace Day and let’s all take up the struggle, not just in tech, but everywhere.

What is cloud?

27 Oct

So about four months ago I started a new job as a staff writer at Cloud Pro and have since been inundated with LITERALLY 10 requests to explain what on earth it is I do each day. Or more specifically, what I write about.

Cloud computing. You’ve possibly heard of it, you almost certainly use it, either at work or, more likely, in your personal life. But what is it?

That, dear reader is harder to pin down than you might think. But we can start somewhere easy – What does The Cloud look like?

Well it’s not quite as fluffy, light or moist as the name may have led you to believe.

A cloud, but not THE cloud

 

In fact, it looks a lot more like this:

this is more like it

 

That is a picture of a data centre, and it is data centres that power the cloud. Big ones. In fact their size and energy consumption is a big bone of contention.

 

So that’s grand but what do they do? And why should you care?

Well I’m glad you asked. Generally, NIST’s definition is accepted as the industry standard, and you can read that here. But I’m more interested, and I’m sure you’re more interested, in what it means for you in your day-to-day life.

I said at the beginning of this post that you almost certainly use cloud and it’s true – you just might not have heard it called that before. But I’m sure you recognise these guys:

 

 

 

 

 
And maybe also these:

 

 

 

 

 

And probably some of these guys too:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s right friend, you’re already one of us.

 

A nebulous banquet

As a consumer, you only consume part of the cloud buffet. The tasty little morsels that make your online and computer facing life better, easier and more fun – not the hulking great slabs that are used in business. You’re sampling the cloud vol au vents, they’ve gone straight for the beef wellington.

In technical terms, your little canapés form part of the SaaS and light IaaS parts of what the cloud has to offer.

SaaS, or ‘software-as-a-service’, are effectively online applications like Gmail, Steam or Facebook. They provide some kind of service for a thing you want to do (email, gaming, sharing pictures of cats with lolspeak captions) and they store all the data for you.

Think about it. You’ve uploaded your pictures, thoughts, lols and lunch to Facebook and you can now access all those things from any computer/phone/tablet with an internet connection. They’re not stored on your computer, so where are they?

That’s right, baby

 

IaaS, or ‘infrastructure-as-a-service’, is more towards the beef wellington end of the spectrum and is a big thing for companies looking to reduce overheads and streamline efficiencies and shift paradigms etc. What does it have to do with you then? Well, you see, if you have an account with Dropbox or iCloud or Skydrive, to name but three examples, where you store your data and use an application downloaded onto your ‘device’ to access it, you are using IaaS cloud storage.

Mad, yeah? But it doesn’t stop there. If you have a website, you could well be using IaaS cloud hosting to, well, host it. Collaborating on documents online, with something like Google Docs? Also cloud.

The key thing about cloud is that all that data you generate is held remotely, to be accessed by a (normally) secure internet connection. It isn’t stored on your computer – or in the case of things like Dropbox it isn’t *just* stored on your computer, it’s stored in somebody else’s data centre – probably in America.

So, what is it that I do then? Well I guess it could be summed up like this: I write about the different ways in which people and businesses interact with their data when it’s not physically in their possession. The challenges they face, the new products they are being offered and the way this technology, or group of technologies, is influencing the how we interact with our documents and each other, without most of us even realising what is going on.

(copyright XKCD)

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