Just a nudge?

I recently read the phrase “Some days, it’s just not worth chewing through the straps” on someone’s online signature.  With a wry smile I came to the conclusion that, Yes, some days it’s just too much like hard work out there, and that many of the basic paradigms of civic behaviour and politeness that I was brought up with seem to have become an increasingly rare commodity in modern life.

Now, before you dismiss this post as the ravings of a fortysomething craving for his lost youth, let me direct you to this Blog entry from the BBC’s Mark Easton – Do We All Need a Nudge?.

To which I think the answer is yes.

This article pulled together a few themes that I’m very interested in.  The issues of civic responsibility, duties and rights has always been important to me.  Many people who know me will be sorely tired at my usual rant of ‘Too many people who know all their rights and undertake none of their responsibilities’.  The one aspect of Gordon Brown’s premiership that has encouraged me in any way, shape or form was reflected in a quote from the PM in Easton’s piece – “people themselves adopting the work ethic, the learning ethic and aiming high”.  It may be rare for me to agree with ‘Wee Gordon’, but he’s right on the money here.

People need to adopt the habit and attitude of learning, working and aiming high; I’m hoping to encourage this in the social and community project field by a new project of mine (still under construction, but feel free to take a look) – CommunityNet – which I’ll be formally launching in the near future.  I have a great belief in communities and individuals helping themselves, and shaking off the ‘nanny state’ and ‘dependency culture’ that seems to have grown up in the UK in recent years.

A ‘nudge in the right direction’ is perhaps the best thing we can all do to help this happen.

Catch people doing things right, set a personal example in all that you do, dedicate some time or resources to community projects that matter to you, be a good friend and neighbour, and show genuine respect to those you deal with.  All good things that have become almost platitudes in the last decade or so; perhaps it’s time for us all to be nudged to making small changes that will make the world a more pleasant place to live in.

Mao Tse Tung said ‘The long march starts with a single step.’; what long march will your small step start off?




`Viva la Vida` – `All Along The Watchtower` for 2008?

The perennial question of ‘What the heck is that all about?’ with regard to the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ was kicked off last year when a haunting version of the song by Bear McCreary was used in the season finale of ‘Battlestar Galactica’.  The brooding, beat-driven, almost trancelike music provided a stunningly effective counterpoint to the unfolding action of the last 15 minutes of the episode.

The dense, occasionally apocalyptic imagery of the lyrics of the song, drawing as they do on at least two archetypes – the Trickster and the King – provide a Rorschach Test for the listener; to a great degree you can project in to the song whatever floats your subconcious boat. 

And so to Coldplay, and Viva La Vida.  I wasn’t a great Coldplay fan – I actually admitted to my wife that I got them mixed up with Radiohead.  For me, hipness is simply where my legs pivot. 🙂  But I caught a snatch of the song on an iTunes advert and thought – that sounds interesting….if weird….  One swift trip to HMV later – sorry guys, I’m not techie enough to manage this downloading tomfoolery – I like polycarbonate! – and I had a good listen to the album…which I enjoyed greatly.

And so to this song…it clearly seems to have triggered a lot of thought and analysis in people.  There are a number of versions of the lyrics on the lyric sites online – most of them (to my 47 year old ears) seem reasonably accurate.  Google is your friend here…anyway:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
Once you go there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Again – a lot of imagery of which a great deal is religious and obviously historical.  A few theories propounded on the Internet have suggested that it’s an allegorical reference to the Bush Whitehouse, or the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon.

My immediate thoughts on this song were that it was pretty much something to do with Roman period Jerusalem (nothing complicated there!), and I started contemplating events that would fit.  Now, as regular readers will have realised, I’m very interested in Pontius Pilate (see my short review of ‘The Master and Margarita’), and after a few minutes thinking I got quite convinced that the song was referring to Pilate.

I felt rather smug at this point, did a Google and found this link –http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080604143507AADrMnN&show=7 – which indicated that a chap from London had come to the same conclusion a couple of weeks previously. Anyway – in addition to the comments that are made in the link, here are a few more thoughts.

One thing about Pilate is that he’s a very anonymous person in historical terms; there’s a great deal of speculation and mythology around him, and so my analysis here draws on that.

“Viva la Vida” – a VERY loose translation might be ‘Live Forever’, reflecting one version of the myth that states that Pilate, like the Wandering Jew, was damned to live forever as punishment for his act of cowardice.

“Roman Cavalry…” – Pilate was a member of the Equestrian class of Roman Society – a sort of lower rank Patrician – and in his duties in Jerusalem he would have commanded only a few hundred troops – probably light cavalry and auxilliaries, akin to a police force.  Bulgakov, in his novel, certainly took the view that Pilate would have had light horsemen available to him that were deployed at the Crucifixion.

“See fear in my enemies eyes…” – Pilate’s military career isn’t clear; it’s likely he spent at least some time as a soldier.  Again, in fiction Pilate is regarded as having been a military officer.

“Rolled the dice…” – this may refer to the Biblical reference where soldiers played dice at the crucifixion for Christ’s belongings.  However, I think it’s more likely that it refers to the game of ‘Basileus’ – a dice game something like Ludo which was popular amongst the troops AND was played by the troops in Jerusalem – there is evidence in the form of a game board cut in to stone in the vicinity of the palace.  The aim of the game was to become king, and the winner might easily be dressed as a mock king as part of the game – this could refer to the ritual humiliation of Christ at his hearing with Pilate as described in Matthew 27.

“held the key…” – Pilate did indeed hold the key to what happened to Christ; Bulgakov hints in his novel that Pilate was tempted to try and free Christ and have him accompany him to his own home. 

“Seas rose at my command”… OK…a bit of a stretch but…Pilate carried out civil engineering projects in his reign, one of which was a viaduct project to improve the water supply of Jerusalem by carrying water from elsewhere.  Another possible hint is again part of the eternal fate of Pilate according to myth – that after his death the waters and land of the Earth would not hold his body – the seas could be regarded as having risen and rejected him.

“castles built on pillars of salt and sand” – someone with a viewpoint of eternity would regard the things that were important during his life to be ephemeral in the great scheme of things.  Again, another Biblical reference here is to the Sermon on the Mount.

“puppet on a lonely string” – Pilate was a Governing official of limited real power – not quite a puppet, but restrained in his ability to do his job by the Empire and local Jerusalem politics.  However, it could also be read as him being a puppet of fate; the Crucifixion is the defining moment in Christianity – Pilate’s actions might therefore be regarded as pre-ordained and out of his control.  A true puppet of destiny.

So….my personal interpretation!

I wonder if discussions will be taking place about it in 40 years time like with ‘All Along The Watchtower’?


Attrition vs Shock and Awe in the Online World

Anyone who’s spent time in any online communities will be aware of the feuds and fights that take place between users of those communities.  Whilst some degree of conflict is inevitable, there always seems to be a few people who move it form debate and discourse in to abuse and harassment.  I’ve concluded that there are two forms that this takes – attrition and ‘Shock and Awe’. 

What’s motivated me to raise this at this time?  Firstly – personal experiences and observations, secondly the return of Channel 4’s Big Brother to the TV screens and finally a piece of legislation from Scotland, which, although aimed primarily at sexual harassment, may have implications for anyone running an online community.

So…let us begin…

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Facebook – fool if you think it’s over?

I came across two articles today which are related – one informing us that Facebook had finally made it to number 1 in a league of social networking sites:


 and the other telling us that minining the social netspace for business is a waste of time and energy.


Like many things in life I was a late comer to Facebook and within a few weeks of me joining was being told by all and sundry that Facebook was a spent force and that all the cool kids were probably going elsewhere.  My first thought was ‘Thank God – no more being poked by a dead sheep’ or whatever, followed by a quick examination of how many contacts I had in Facebook overlapped with contacts in my E-Mail directory.

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The Bus Book – 5th to 17th May – Wikinomics

Wikinomics is something of a phenomena – it has a website as well as being a book.  The book is about the concept of ‘peer production’ – think of the way in which Open Source sofwtare and Wikipedia is put together.  Lots of people collaboratingfor the greater good to produce something that is valuable to all – and then making it free.

The phenomena reminded me of two similar ‘paradigm busting’ management theories of recent decades; ‘Excellence‘ and ‘Re-engineering’.  Both of these approaches were sold to the world like the second coming of the Messiah, and both ultimately had what can best, in my opinion, be described as less than paradigm-breaking impact.  I have a little admission to make here; in my youth I was a fan of the Excellence management theories of Tom Peters.  Two things kicked me off the wagon; the first was that TP was getting WAY too far out there, even for me, and the second was that it was just oversold.

Now, before I embark in what will sound like heresy to some, I’ll say it clearly:

“I’m a great believer in Wikipedia, Open Source, Creative Commons and any other collaborative project you care to mention.  Heck, when it starts to move my own CommunityNet project will be using wikis, forums and other Web 2.0 tools.  This is an excellent way for things to happen, and long may it survive and flourish.”

But I found parts of this book a nightmare.  Why? 

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Upgrading to WordPress 2.5.1 – some notes for the nervous

There’s a few basic rules that we can all follow and learn from in life.

You know the stuff:

  • Never play cards with a man called Mississipi Slim
  • Always walk a mile in the other mans shoes – you have his shoes, and you’re a mile away from him.
  • Don’t eat the yellow snow.

To that I might add – Be wary of upgrading software when you don’t need to do it!

I’ve just upgraded ‘Joe’s Jottings’ to the most recent version of WordPress and whilst it only took me an hour or so, it could easily cause some serious pain for folks less happy with a little database hacking.

I followed the basic upgrade instructions given here – and on completion attempted to log in to the system.  Now, this is soemthing I do every day, so it’s reasonable to assume that I can remember my password.  And, just in case, I have it noted down soemwhere…so…I was rather peeved when WordPress rather politely told me I’d got it wrong.  Never mind…I can order up a new password.

Following the instructions, I received a mail containing a link that included a URL containg a ‘key’, and on clicking on this was told that the key was invalid.  A closer look at the key indicated why; it contained a couple of ‘&’ characters, which would be treated as splitting the key in to multiple fields when entered in to a browser!

Guys…this is REALLY naff!

Anyway – as I needed to get the blog sorted and checked I opened up the database, went to the relevant user record in the database and changed the value of the ‘user_activation_key’ field in the record to a word that didn’t contain any nasty characters.  I then took that word, pasted it over the value of the old key in the URL I’d been sent, and posted that in my browser window.  The result was I soon received the new password.

There is a proper fix – http://trac.wordpress.org/changeset/7837?format=zip&new=7837

Note that if you’ve already requested a password change you’ll have to blank out the user_activation_key field before you can make use of this fix. 

Anyway – apart from that, it now works fine.  But by ‘eck, it was a hairy 30 minutes sorting this out.