Leaving Twitter

When I joined Twitter in 2009, it was a place to find interesting people sharing interesting ideas and learning from one another.  You could ask questions on very technical topics, and people would take the time to reply in detailed and thoughtful ways.

Over time, more and more people joined and the conversations grew. Twitter became my default source of news. I could get answers to problems and queries of a far better quality than I ever could with an algorithmic search engine. I was also able to help out other people by replying to their queries too. It was a place of learning, sharing and growing together.

Sadly as with everything in the modern world, capitalism takes over. Nobody sees the value in something unless it makes money, and while I long for the day when we realise as a species that this love of wealth creation doesn’t do us any good in the long run, Twitter decided to jump in with both feet. And so it was that I started seeing ‘promoted’ tweets. I called them adverts.

Businesses rushed into the space. At first as a communications channel with their customers, but it wasn’t long before they too fell into the capitalist trap and started pretend conversations talking about their products and services and employing people to tweet and re-tweet their messages.

Early on in the life of Twitter, you could ‘favourite’ a tweet. A way of bookmarking tweets which you wanted to come back to later.  Maybe they were ones which contained a useful tip, or a link to another article somewhere that you would read later. Twitter killed this by renaming a favourite to a ‘like’ (complete with new childish animations), and users from other social networks where likes were common brought their own bad habits with them. Proper conversation suffered, and the atmosphere changed. Things were now stuck in a  rut. Tweet -> like -> dead-end.

As recent years have passed I’ve witnessed a gradual decline in the quality of conversations. There has also been a real polarisation of opinions (regardless of subject) and many Twitter users seem incapable of independent thought now. They just follow their own tribes in terms of political or social views and vehemently attack anyone who dares to suggest an alternative world view.

The nail in the coffin for me was Twitter’s change to its privacy policy, which meant that they would no longer honour the ‘do not track’ setting in my browser and would begin to track my movements across the internet on other sites outside of Twitter. That’s not the attitude of a company that cares about its customers or values their privacy.

So, I’m out. I don’t think I’ll miss it at all.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Losing yourself…

About once every year, I like to log in to Ofcom’s website and re-validate my amateur radio licence. I do this so that it becomes a sort of habit, and so that I’ve no risk of going beyond the statutory five year limit.

This year, my login details didn’t work. It turns out that Ofcom have upgraded their online systems and I need to re-register. Provided that I use the same email address, they’ll match up all of my details.

Or so the theory goes. Sure enough, the system found my name and my address without issue, but sadly not my amateur radio licence. Instead, I’m now the holder of an old club callsign which I used to use when running a radio club at a school in England about 16 years ago. My actual licence and callsign is nowhere to be seen.

This matters, and not just for the legal reasons of needing to have a licence to transmit. To radio amateurs, your callsign is your name. It’s your identity. It’s how people recognise you. It matters when it’s gone. That’s why the right to personal identity is recognised in international law through a range of declarations and conventions.

Anyway, I’ve spoken to Ofcom on the phone today. Twice. They’re very polite and helpful people, but they can’t fix it for me. I’m waiting for a call back at some point today.

I don’t like being an unnamed, stateless individual. I want my identity back!

Reconnecting with Nature

During a recent holiday in England, I spent a few days in a location without any links to the internet at all. No mobile phone signal, no WiFi hotspots. Nothing.

It was interesting to see the impact this had. There were countless times when I wanted to check something on a map. Or the opening times of a shop. Or get the latest news or weather forecast. Without realising it, I have become an autonomous and habitual user of Google and suddenly found myself disconnected.

At some point during those few days the frustration of not having instant answers to questions was replaced with a sense of calm. A distant remnant in my brain remembered a time when this was normality. When there was no internet, no smartphone.

I began to feel more aware of my surroundings. The birdsong. The vivid green of the grass, the blue of the sky. You don’t need a weather forecast when you remember that you have eyes and can look up at the clouds to judge their size, speed and direction and make an educated guess. Who needs a map when you’ve got the sun and the stars?

Being offline for so long has been good for me. Maybe I should do it more often.

The Things are coming…

Recently, I attended #offcamp – a barcamp style discussion around open data which was organised by @bcs_isleofman and free to attend.

The morning sessions were OK and it was good to see that some thought is being given to making data open and available, especially data that has been collected by governments and already paid for by the public.

However, what really caught my attention was the crowd sourcing of data using sensors and the Internet of Things. I hadn’t realised that the problem of expensive telecoms links for remote IoT devices is beginning to be solved by new RF chipsets based on spread spectrum techniques similar to those used in QRP amateur radio experiments.

Sadly most of these RF technologies are proprietary, but that doesn’t mean that the infrastructure built with them has to be. A group of people from Amsterdam have built The Things Network which is an open movement with the aim of providing free and open communications for IoT devices around the world.

Given my interest in radio and electronics, together with the open philosophy of building something free for community use, I knew that I wanted to get involved with this. So, I’ve established an Isle of Man community with the aim of getting our very own Things Network established here.

Guerrilla Wifi?

This week, I tried some different firmware on the ESP8266 modules that I have. I flashed a version of NodeMCU which allows Lua scripts (and other files) to be uploaded.

By using this software: https://github.com/reischle/CaptiveIntraweb I was able to turn the ESP8266 into a wifi access point which serves a static site, regardless of what web address the end user tries to reach.

Given the small size and modest power requirements, this would be great for announcing things to a wide audience by placing an ESP8266 in a busy area, and choosing an ‘inviting’ SSID for people to connect to.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to use this for marketing, advertising or political activism…