Don’t believe the “wearable tech” hype

Detail of a Google Glass prototype, showing an ear-and-nose-mounted headset with a camera and screen mounted over the right eye.SwiftKey: Top 10 tech predictions for the future

Last week SwiftKey (or rather TouchType Ltd), the company behind a sophisticated predictive keypad for Android devices (which I used for several years before switching to Swype and several of my family and friends still use) published the above article on the things mobile users had mentioned in a survey of 20,000 smartphone users. Responses included better batteries, voice recognition and cross-device integration, but the thing that they put first, and said came up again and again, was wearable technology, with one respondent writing: “Devices which are wearable, always on and are continuously learning about the owner”. Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything worse.

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Taj Hargey is wrong: there is no ‘British Islam’

Yesterday (Boxing Day), there was a letter in the Guardian from Taj Hargey, the self-appointed leader of the so-called Muslim Education Centre of Oxford and a regular go-to figure for media wanting someone to tell them that most Muslims were doing Islam wrong, praising Marks & Spencer, the British department store chain, for backtracking on a supposed policy of allowing staff with religious beliefs to refuse to serve goods such as alcoholic drinks and directing customers buying them to other tills. Naturallly, despite this policy applying to people of all religions, the story was spun as being primarily about Muslims (it seems to have stemmed from a single incident involving a Muslim woman, as the JC article explains). More recently, the chain apologised, and said that what they actually did was try to assign staff to roles that did not infringe their religious beliefs.

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Not the ‘ally’ Muslims need

In today’s Guardian, there’s an article by Laurie Penny attacking those who have been campaigning against the supposed gender segregation on British university campuses (meaning, the separate seating arrangements at some Islamic society gatherings), claiming that they are mostly white men who disguise their Islamophobia under a guise of feminism while saying nothing about sexism in mainstream culture, including on campus (the guest speaker and the three who staged the protest at UCL by invading the women’s area were all men). She edited the piece to mention that there were “Asian women’s groups and individual Muslim feminists” protesting as well, “sometimes taking personal risks to do so”, and it includes an aside supporting those protests:

I have spent weary weeks being asked to condemn this “policy of gender segregation” by “Islamic extremists”, despite the fact that no such policy exists. Of course, I condemn all sexism within the academy. I condemn segregated drinking societies and the under-representation of women at the top levels of academia. I condemn rape culture on campus, traditions like “seal clubbing” and “slut dropping” where male students are encouraged to sexually humiliate their female classmates. If I’ve enough breath left, I’ll condemn the suggestion that guest lecturers be allowed a segregated audience for religious reasons.

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Woolwich murder was perverse, not merely extreme

Picture of Michael Adebolajo, a young black man with a plain white cap, standing next to Anjum Choudary, a South Asian bearded man who is holding a megaphone, with part of a banner behind themLast Thursday, the two men who murdered the soldier Lee Rigby in the street outside an army barracks in Woolwich and then paraded on camera with bloodied hands and a meat cleaver, were found guilty of murder. They face life in prison, although the judge delayed sentence until a separate case on the legality of whole-life terms is settled (indicating that the judge is minded to impose one). An interesting revelation was that the two men, who were found not guilty of charges of conspiracy to murder a police officer, had carried unloaded firearms so as to point them at police, to provoke them to shoot them dead so as to achieve ‘martyrdom’. This clearly indicates the perversity of their thinking, which places it well outside the realm of any Islamic movement, however radical or extremist, something that eludes commentators of both left and right who have placed the crime in entirely the wrong context, attaching it to an “Islamic movement” which would never have done something like this.

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The danger of knee-jerk closures of NHS units

Picture of John Sharich House, a brick one-storey building with flowerpots outside, with an NHS name plate to the leftA couple of weeks ago, a Care Quality Commission report was published that revealed that two NHS units for people with learning disabilities on the same site in Oxford were dreadful — they failed on every area of assessment, including the maintenance and quality of equipment and safeguarding of patients from danger and abuse (the full PDF is here) and “selected lowlights” can be read on a blog run by the mother of an autistic man who died there last July here. The young man, known as LB, was 18, was autistic and had epilepsy, and drowned in the bath while unsupervised, which people with epilepsy, let alone learning disabilities too, should never be (see earlier entry); the tragedy is mentioned briefly in the report. The unit has already been closed to new admissions and there are now rumours that the unit where LB died (the Short Term Assessment and Treatment Team [STATT] unit, but not neighbouring John Sharich House) is going to close, much as Winterbourne View did after their dreadful abuse of patients was revealed on national TV. (Update: the unit did close on 16th December.)

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More on “segregation” pseudo-controversy

Following my entry on the fake controversy over “segregation” (i.e. separate seating for men and women) at Islamic society events in London, Channel 4 News covered the issue this evening, featuring interviews with Maryam Namazie, who they called a “human rights activist”, footage of a demonstration by “One Law for All” and an interview with both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Omar Ali from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). I have also seen people peddling falsehoods on both social media and on mainstream media websites. Also, Andrew Browne on the Guardian’s blogs has tried to re-ignite the controversy about creationism and the expulsion of Usama Hasan from the Leyton mosque, in which he blamed the whole thing on “Wahhabi Islam”. That is an entirely misplaced assumption.

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Separate seating is not segregation

The last couple of years various groups have stirred up a controversy out of nowhere about the tendency of some Muslim groups to separate men and women at lectures on university campuses. This has been going on for years and reflects the practice in almost every mosque, except for some major showpiece mosques such as Regent’s Park, which have a common entrance although washing and prayer areas are separate. The stirring has come from the usual sources: secularist “liberal” commentators and blogs who have been objecting to one thing or another the Muslims have been doing since 2001 and their allies among the Muslims, such as the shadowy “Student Rights” group and the so-called British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Two examples are this piece on the Spectator website by Nick Cohen, and this by Sara Khan of “Inspire” on the Independent’s website.

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What’s so great about TomTom?

Picture of a TomTom sat-nav showing truck specifications, next to its box.Last week I bought a new sat-nav, a TomTom Pro 5150 Truck Live, which is a specialist one for truck drivers which has information about vehicle size limits and truck speed limits (normal sat-navs do not, as they are made for car drivers and cars are not affected by any of these issues). I have been using a Garmin Nüvi 200 for about a year, which was the cheapest “decent” unit I could get at the time, and I had been getting frustrated with some of its shortcomings, including occasional misleading directions and mispronunciations of place names. I had heard that TomTom was the name in sat-navs and there was a good reason for this: that they were just better. This unit cost £30 more than the entry-level Garmin truck sat-nav (£300 rather than £270, although from an online supplier through Amazon rather than Halford’s), although the Garmin appears to have been reduced to clear because the cheapest Garmin is now £375.

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Mehdi Hasan’s phoney apologetics

Picture of Mehdi Hasan, a light-skinned Asian man, wearing a suit with a black jacket, white shirt and cream tie.British Muslims should stand up and say it: there is nothing Islamic about child marriage (at the New Statesman and also the Huffington Post)

Mehdi Hasan argues that it is British Muslims’ responsibility to stand up and say that “child marriage” is against Islam because “child, or underage, marriage is very much a part of British society” and it is usually Muslims doing it. The evidence consists of the fact that some spies looking to make a TV programme contacted 56 imams around the UK and that “imams at 18 of those 56 mosques – or one in three – agreed to do so”, in one case despite being told explicitly that the girl did not want to get married. He makes a number of spurious claims about Islamic scholarship and its positions on these issues, which is foolish because both Muslims and hostile non-Muslims know that they have no basis to them, while they reinforce the politics of suspicion, i.e., demanding condemnation for things most Muslims in the UK are not doing.

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Renewed harassment of McDougalls is indefensible

Picture of Kerry McDougallOn Sunday I read, via Sarah Ismail, that the McDougall family (Mark and Kerry McDougall, née Robertson, and their sons Ben and Lochlan) have faced renewed “investigation” since they have returned to Dunfermline, their home town, from nearly four years of exile in Ireland (see previous entry, and also this for another example of that department’s incompetence). They moved there in 2009 after local social services intervened to stop them marrying, and then threatened to take their first son into care, on the grounds of Kerry’s (mild) learning difficulties. In the event, Irish social services did take Ben into care, but returned him after nine months and allowed them to marry. The story was reported as the woman “too dumb” to understand her marriage vows, although Kerry had taken a childcare course and had worked caring for children and had other explanations for her lack of academic achievement, such as missing school because of surgery for a cleft palate.

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Maajid Nawaz plays to groundless fears over niqaab

Picture of a woman wearing a black head and face coveringWhy I, as a Muslim, believe the veil must be barred in our schools: A provocative view from Islamic thinker fighting for Glenda Jackson’s seat

Maajid Nawaz, the former member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir who was “turned” by Ed Husain and his friends about five years ago, tells the housewives of Middle England and the wives of Tory MPs what he thinks of “the veil”. In doing so he slips in a few inaccurate assertions about Islam itself (which he assumes his readers will not notice, although every Muslim reader will) and justifies needless, media-driven fears about Muslim women, throwing in some irrelevant details about how his friends and relatives dress so as to deflect Muslim criticism.

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CyanogenMod and ungrateful users

The CyanogenMod logo, featuring a turquoise Android symbol on a skateboard on a black background, inside a turquoise circular arrowRecently, as I posted here last week, I upgraded my main phone (a Nexus 4) to run CyanogenMod 10.2 which is based on Android 4.3 — they are starting work on the next version (11) which is based on Android 4.4, but this is likely to take months if the time this version took is anything to go by (Android 4.3 was released in late July 2013). As soon as the pre-release (which has proven to be more than stable enough for my purposes) was put out, people on the Google Plus page started asking why the CM team wouldn’t just stop working on this version and start on getting a CyanogenMod version of Android KitKat put out, and demanding to know if their particular device was going to be supported — this despite the repeated requests not to demand support for other devices as there are often reasons why they can’t be supported.

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Taking care of business

The last few weeks I’ve not been blogging as much as I used to, and there’s one important reason for this: I’ve been working on getting my HGV (truck) licence. You have to do this in two or three stages: the first is to pass the theory and hazard perception tests, the second is to pass the driving test for a single large vehicle, and the third is to pass the driving test for an articulated truck, i.e. one with a large trailer. I passed the first of these last month and the second this past week, which should open up a much larger range of agency work and I’ve already had one suggestion of a permanent job with a company I’ve done van and small truck driving work with (though they wanted a CV, and my CV doesn’t emphasise my driving work as I had been wanting to get other work).

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CyanogenMod 10.2 and the Nexus 4

Screenshot of a Nexus 4 Android phone's home screenI bought a Nexus 4 a couple of months ago when it was reduced to clear, having previously been using a Galaxy Nexus which ran CyanogenMod 10.1, which was based on Android 4.2. This past week, Google released the new version of Android (4.4 Kitkat) and a new Nexus 5 phone to run it. Other devices are going to get upgraded to Kitkat “soon”, which means weeks. In the meanwhile, CyanogenMod have just released the first “milestone” version of their version of Android 4.3, which I had been waiting for eagerly as I had seriously missed some of its features which are lacking in stock Android. Google have also announced that they’re not making Kitkat available on the Galaxy Nexus, a major disappointment to those of us who bought that phone more recently.

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A fortnight of upgrades

A man in a yellow top and tight black trousers on a surfboard with his arms outstretched on a large waveThe past couple of weeks, I’ve upgraded the operating systems on all three of the computers I own (not including my mobile phone and tablet). I’ve a Mac, a desktop PC and a laptop PC, all of which run Linux as well as their usual OS’s. Apple released OS X Mavericks last week, Microsoft released Windows 8.1 (actually 6 point something) the week before, Canonical released Ubuntu 13.10 “Saucy Salamander” and SuSE put out a release candidate of their new system, version 13.1. Of these, the Linux upgrades were by far the least troublesome, the Mac upgrade interfered with my Linux install on that machine, and Windows 8.1 simply wouldn’t install.

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Obama urged to show more clemency than we do

Barack Obama urged to show clemency to Briton deported from US | World news | The Guardian

Philip Hartley-Wall is a 42-year-old man born in the UK whose family moved him to the USA when he was nine, and he lived there until 2009 when he got into trouble for wrongly answering a question about his nationality at the US/Mexico border. For that, he served seven months and was deported on release. His family, namely his wife and a 12-year-old daughter who has a learning disability, still live in California and only got to see him for the first time last week; the family have had to move house because of the collapse of Hartley-Wall’s business:

Philip says he never particularly wanted to make the 5,700-mile trip to the land of his birth. Like many Americans, he never even bothered applying for a passport, having originally entered the US on his mother’s.

He had a green card, giving him “permanent alien residency status”. He had a driving licence and had built up a small tiling business, and claims to have paid taxes for years. “Despite being born in England, I do not feel remotely British. I’ve never thought of myself as being anything other than American,” he said this week …

However, because he had never actually gained US citizenship, he landed in hot water on a brief trip to Mexico when he mistakenly told an immigration officer on the way back that he was indeed from the land of the brave.

What followed was a punishment which, as Burnham argued in his letter to Obama, was “totally disproportionate to the original offence”. Philip had originally been arrested on suspicion of drug and firearm offences after border police found drug paraphernalia and a disassembled gun in the back of the car in which he was a passenger. But he was eventually only charged with “making a false statement to a federal officer” – a felony – by wrongly claiming to be American.

He pleaded guilty and served seven months in a federal prison.

On his release date he expected to be sent home but instead claims he was handcuffed, shackled and chained to another prisoner and put on a bus to an immigration detention centre in Haskell, Texas. Under US law, any green card holder found guilty of a felony can be deported.

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“Either HS2 or more motorways!”

Map of the route of the High Speed 2 railway line, showing a main branch from London to the Midlands, branching north-west for Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester and north-east for Leicester, Sheffield and LeedsWe must invest in high-speed rail or new motorways, warns HS2 chairman (from the Guardian)

The Guardian reported yesterday that Douglas Oakervee, the chairman of the HS2 project (the new high-speed railway line from London to Birmingham and several northern cities) has said that if his line is not built, Britain will need to build more motorways “if we do not wish our standards of living to deteriorate and our world status eroded”. He also told an audience of civil engineers that their predecessors “would be turning in their graves if they knew how much we had allowed their infrastructure to decay”.

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Rachel Reeves’s “toughness” will strengthen apathy

Picture of Rachel Reeves, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a purple jacketLabour will be tougher than Tories on benefits, promises new welfare chief (from the Guardian)

Rachel Reeves, “Labour” MP for Leeds West, former economist at the Bank of England and now Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, has promised that a future Labour government would be “tougher than the Tories” in cutting the “benefits bill”, claiming that the long-term unemployed (one year in the case of under-25s, two in the case of older people) would be offered a job and would lose their benefits if they refused. The ‘job guarantee’ part of the scheme would supposedly be paid for by a re-introduced tax on bankers’ bonuses; she also hinted that a Labour government would use procurement to drive wages up (and thus benefit costs down) by preferring companies that pay a living wage for government contracts. Paul Bernal wrote a letter to Reeves, and the Conservative Home website responded to the announcement by claiming that it meant Labour recognised that they could not fight the next election as “the party of the status quo ante; the party of the slob on the sofa”.

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Quilliam out of their depth with Tommy Robinson

Picture of Tommy Robinson, a clean-shaven white man with an aggressive look on his face, being arrested by a London police officerThis week Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the erstwhile leader of the English Defence League, announced that he was leaving the organisation he helped found to start some kind of new anti-extremism organisation which wasn’t “street-based”. Lennon was helped in this by the Quilliam Foundation, which portrays itself as an anti-extremism think tank and which includes a number of figures from the “former extremists” circus of a few years ago, including Muhammad Mahbub “Ed” Husain and Maajid Nawaz, a former British Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist who was jailed in Egypt under Mubarak for HT activity. Quilliam claimed that Lennon and Kevin Carroll left because “they feel they can no longer keep extremist elements at bay”, and according to him:

I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive. I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.

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We don’t need another Crystal Palace

Drawing of the Crystal Palace, a glass and iron building with a flag flying above it, with a group of people, some on horseback, in front of it, with a tree to the left.Last week I read that a Chinese businessman has presented plans to rebuild the old Crystal Palace on its old site at the top of Crystal Palace Park in south-east London. Ni Zhaoxing, chairman of ZhongRong Holdings, intends that the new building will house his art collection as well as a hotel, conference centre and “other commercial space”, according to the Daily Mail last Thursday, at a cost of £500m to him; the plan is supported by Bromley Council and the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and is said to include a redevelopment of the surrounding Crystal Palace Park. The original building burned down in 1936.

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