The Needs for Bees

bee eating

bee eating (Photo credit: acidpix)

It is said that if you ask the question “where does our food come from?” today you’ll get the answer “the supermarket” more often than not and it’s true that many people are increasingly further along the supply chain from the raw produce than ever before – I am guilty of this myself, for convenience’s sake I eat much frozen and processed foods and it would be easy to not realise which animal beef comes from or that potatoes are grown in the ground or peas are pulled from one natural packet before being shoved into an artificial one.

The thing is that so much of our food still relies on nature to help in its production, despite irrigation systems, spray-on pesticides and nutrients.  Sometimes an apparently insignificant change in nature can have catastrophic implications that science can’t (yet) get round effectively – the most extreme example of this effect on our food being the novel The Death of Grass by John Christopher in which a devastating plant virus wipes out all species of grasses – including wheat leaving us without cereal crops for either us or our livestock to eat with the result of a rapid breakdown of society to a barbarous state of desperation for survival.

But it’s just science fiction isn’t it, we’re ok.  Aren’t we?  Well, to a point.  Bees are one of the main pollinators of plants, we need them in order to grow our food crops as well as gardens full of pretty flowers but they have been, across the world, in decline in recent years and scientists don’t fully know why.  It is thought that if we lost the bees the knock on effect would be the loss of up to a third of our regular diet. 

Various theories have been put forward such as mites like the tracheal mites that killed off all native British bees during World War I – which needed to be replaced by imported Dutch and Italian bees.   It is also theorised that, ironically, pesticides and other chemicals used to protect the crops the bees are pollinating are responsible.

So what can be done?  Well another possible contributing factor is that people are either removing wild flower areas that supported the bees or concreting over gardens and having low-maintenance patios and so on that have no flowers at all or only plants that are no use to bees whatsoever.  So while science tries to find out why the decline is happening and the debate over pesticides rumbles on consider how that humble bee sitting on your windowsill ultimately affects your life, it’s not as insignificant as it may seem.  There are lots of posts on Facebook at the moment advising helping out struggling bees with drops of sugar-water and more importantly the planting of bee-friendly plants.

At the front of our factory is an area that hadn’t been cleared of wild plants and flowers for some time and as I was making a mug of tea the other day I noticed it was a hive of bee activity, so to speak, so we’re doing our bit, in a tiny way.

Be Careful What You Search For

Watching

Watching (Photo credit: Laddir)

You are being watched.  No, calm down, I didn’t mean in the real world, sit back down and stop looking behind your sofa.

For many years people have simultaneously worried about how their browsing habits were being tracked and perhaps used to monitor their activities while marvelled at how Amazon suggests new products for them based on their previous choices  – online data collection really is a double-edged sword.  In the UK we have a law where websites have to visibly inform you about browser cookie use and give you either a choice or instructions on how to enable them or otherwise.

The data collected by browsers is not always sent to advertisers, much is used today to improve services, make useful suggestions for stuff to buy, places to visit, people to friend on Facebook etc.  The data collected when you’re logged into Google’s many and varied services, for example, can be used by their Google Now service to provide real-time information relevant to you.  I was impressed when without being told my Nexus 7 knew where I worked and how long it would take to get there, giving me weather and travel information too.  My first reaction was “how did it know?”  I don’t take it to work, has it been talking to my phone?  Well, in a way, it used my contacts information, I think, I hope.  These computerised personal assistants like Google Now and Apple’s Siri are a wonder of our time, intelligently finding, collating and presenting information in truly intuitive ways, I’m still impressed whenever I ask my Nexus 7 what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow.

But the other day I discovered something about Google Now that could, in the right, or wrong circumstances be interesting or awkward.  I searched for Cromwell Weir on Google Maps on my laptop and later that evening noticed that my Nexus 7 was giving me, like the helpful little soul it is, travel information to Cromwell.  Later still I searched for a shop in Lincoln and again it was there saying “are you wanting to go there now?  I can show you where to go.”

Which is all very helpful until you’re searching for a hotel for a surprise weekend away for you and your other half on your PC while your tablet, in the hands of your beloved in the room next door is happily giving the game away.

So if you don’t want Google, or for that matter Siri if Apple’s assistant has similar abilities blabbing about your plans remember to log out before browsing.

Copyright Wrongs

Copyright Symbols

Copyright Symbols (Photo credit: MikeBlogs)

Copyright law has protected creative people for hundreds of years but is often misunderstood as it can be a complicated area.  Generally if you’ve created something original you have the copyright on it, you don’t have to put a (C) symbol on it, or register it, it’s automatic (in the UK at least).

The internet though has muddied the waters somewhat and numerous myths have popped up and as the recent kerfuffle about online service terms and conditions and what sites can do with your images showed there is still much confusion over the issue.

Recently I heard someone saying that images uploaded onto Facebook are copyright free, that if someone uploads something you can download it and do what you like with it.  Big no-no there – even Instagrammed pictures of someone’s dog in the park are covered by copyright and belong to the person who took the photo, not Facebook, not even the person whose Facebook account they were uploaded to, unless the copyright is assigned to that person.

Where an online service says, in their terms and conditions, that they can use your images typically you’ve granted them a perpetual licence not the copyright to the image.  When I signed up to Olympus’ Flickr group I granted them such a licence though as my images aren’t taken with a Pen camera they’re unlikely to use my images – the licence is that specific.  This is why the recent flurry of people posting copyright notices on their Timelines was pointless.

The images I use on this blog are carefully selected from either a library of royalty-free images I have, sites which curate the millions of high-quality royalty-free images on the internet, and mostly via the content suggestion engine built into wordpress.com provided by Zemanta.  The term royalty-free and the Creative Commons licence are important as they give you the right to use the creators work but not to claim that it’s your creation, even if you modify it.  Lifehacker has a good article outlining how to avoid breaking the law here.

Whether we write blogs, books, Facebook statuses or tweets we need to respect the creativity of others and their wishes as to how their work is used, copyright law sometimes struggles to keep up with how technology is changing as we move further into the digital century but it’s still important.

I’m Just Not a Twitterer

Chick (image courtesy of Serif)

Chick (image courtesy of Serif)

It seems like everything’s “social” these days, no marketing campaign is complete without “find us on Facebook”, follow us on Twitter for exclusive news, competitions and stuff, and to make sure all your friends know what products you like.  I remember competitions including the line “put your answer on a postcard” but more and more the only method of entering is by tweeting your answer to @most-social-media-aware-company-evar.   Email isn’t an option, Facebook’s sooo last year.

I have Google+ because it was there, with my Gmail, I did enter a competition via that and Facebook today because it only involved clicking two buttons.  The third one was to enter via Twitter.  I didn’t because I can’t.  I don’t use Twitter, don’t even have an account, I have enough information coming at me as it is and I don’t want to have to remember another password.

It is, however, becoming unavoidable.  Presenters on radio shows say “is it snowing where you are?  Let us know.”  You think, yes it is, I’ll be part of this.  Then he says “tweet me to let me know.”  And a feeling of being left out makes you start to type twitter into your browser.  It’s not just unfair to those of us who don’t want to tweet but to those who don’t have the technology or the knowledge to sign up to these services.  Competitions and surveys should be open to anyone.

I haven’t given in yet, but it feels like it’s only a matter of time before I have to.

[Edit – March 2016]

Ok, I have given in, I was bored last week and decided to see what the fuss is about, also I thought I’d grab the same twitter name as my Flickr account.  @AndyByTheTrent.  I’ve followed a couple of people but not really done much with it.  #stillcantseethepointyet.

Everybody’s Talking (Or Not)

texting from the bar :P

texting from the bar 😛 (Photo credit: tray)

I’m not a huge fan of texting apart from the sort of messages it was intended for – quick hellos, arrangements to meet someone, thank-yous and so on.  The short, non-verbal nature of it combined with the feeling that you need to reply quickly means that some nuances of what you’re trying to say can be lost, leading to misinterpretation and who knows what consequences.  Well that’s how I see it sometimes, as opposed to the old days of writing long, carefully composed letters or actual speech where you at least have tone of voice to convey meaning.

It seems though that I’m in a minority, if recent research by Vodafone is correct.  They’ve found that average phone call lengths have halved in five years, to one minute forty seconds, with people seemingly preferring other methods of communication.

Surely people aren’t that worried about their inclusive minutes, or battery life, are they?

[Gizmodo UK]

An Automated Happy New Year

Happy new year

Happy new year (Photo credit: Amodiovalerio Verde)

Two years ago I wanted to send a “Happy New Year” message to someone I’d started seeing at Christmas but couldn’t be with at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  This was important to me, I felt she was someone special.  I sat on a sofa in a local pub away from the other revellers counting down to zero.  I hit send on my phone with a few seconds to spare.

Nothing.  The message just sat there in my outbox.  It hadn’t gone by the time I got home.  By one o’clock in the morning it was still there.  “She’s going to think I don’t care” my mind kept saying over and over, pacing up and down the length of my apartment.  I wrote on Facebook that the network were crap, a friend agreed and that she was having the same problem texting her parents.  Since then me and my friend vowed to never be “lulled into a false sense of security” by said network *cough* Orange *cough* ever again.

Sorry, that should be EE.  Ahem.  Everything Everywhere – that night it was Nothing Anywhere.

Thing is that it wasn’t just Orange.  It was the first time I’d encountered the fact that everyone tries to text the same message at the same time and most networks just collapse.

I’ve been prepared since, if I send greetings the recipients get them at half-past ten and they can like it.  Just don’t open it til midnight.

Now though Facebook have the answer – though it wouldn’t have helped me, the object of my undying love wasn’t on Facebook – in their Facebook Stories app and it’s ability to automatically send a message to all your friends on the first dong of Big Ben, or when the ball drops depending on your continent.  This has since been found to be less than private so be careful what you say.

So there, problem solved and it shows you care, it’s not like you’re sending some kind of automated new year spam is it?

Tweeting 999 – No Laughing Matter

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently in both the USA and UK emergency services have announced plans to allow people to inform them of an emergency via other modern communication methods like texting, Facebook and Twitter.

Cue howls of laughter and derision from writers about how it’s typical of our lazy society that people can’t be bothered to look up from their phones for thirty seconds to phone 999 or 911.  For once I partly disagree.

Normally I too would think it’s another example of people’s disconnection from others, that they wouldn’t want to actually speak to someone, they’d be happier texting etc.  And for some that may be true.  It could also be open to abuse by those who already troll the existing services using fake accounts, names and addresses.

But consider someone who can’t use a voice service – someone in peril and hiding; someone unable to speak or hear whose only form of communication at that moment is a mobile or a computer; someone who has no phone available but does have, for example, a 3G tablet; even someone who for perhaps psychological reasons can’t talk to someone on the phone.  Any communication would be better than none.

The emergency services have said that this is an attempt to enable communication with them through modern technology – this forward thinking should be admired not laughed at.  Or maybe we should abandon the new-fangled phone too and go back to bells and whistles.

Let’s Talk About Stats, Baby

The Runner.

The Runner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people are willingly having their lives tallied and quantified via their mobiles.  The stats are everywhere, how many Facebook friends have you got?  How many Twitter followers, how many likes on that post, how many retweets?  Fitness trackers like Endomondo, Nike+ and Strava let you post your times for the walk to work or that bike ride and compete with your friends, the site Fitocracy even lets you directly battle against others for who gets fittest first by completing challenges against each other.  Where have you checked in on Foursquare?  When and where you have you used a condom? (the latter could be open to exaggeration).

Almost every part of your life can be tracked, logged, rated and compared with friends and strangers, your whole life becoming a competition without a prize other than feeling that you’ve achieved more than someone else, the bragging rights rather than the rewards of the enjoyment of the exercise, the outdoors or just feeling better in yourself (exercise has been shown many times to improve peoples’ mood).  On the other hand studies have shown that such competitive apps can also encourage people to exercise, and of course it can be useful to keep track of your fitness.

The other side of the coin are the stats that tell you whether you’re reaching people with what you want to say.

Once you start blogging, or sharing your pictures on Flickr or videos on YouTube something strange often happens.  You start out thinking “I’m not bothered if nobody reads it, well, I’m happy if just one person sees it.”  Soon though you see the stats page and out of curiosity you look at it.  The first time you see a blip on the line your heart jumps a little as the thought that you’ve made a connection with someone, then comes the wonder of the fact that the person who looked at what you’d posted isn’t your mum or dad, your friend down the road or anyone else on Facebook but someone on the other side of the world.

Then there’s the first “Like” or first follower which gives you the knowledge that you’re doing something right.  You naturally value what you’ve created but now someone else does too.  Once you have followers you start to feel the need to give them something in return, to create something they’ll appreciate.  You could experience the rollercoaster of emotions; maybe anxiety that you haven’t posted in a while, doubts about what you’ve created when you don’t get any views but then your next post receives a flurry of likes and comments and that warm feeling of contributing to the world in your own way returns.

There’s no escaping the stats, they’re everywhere.

57 Channels and Nothing On

WATCH TV

WATCH TV (Photo credit: Martin Ritter)

Today’s talk is about 21st century distraction, and repeats on tv – two for the price of one.  Ok, settle down, stop checking your notifications.  Oh, for goodness sake.  Thank you, now…

Ooh, an email…

It’s too easy today, you get home, put on some food, put on the tv for some background noise while you eat and bang, before you know it you’re laid on the sofa watching a repeat of Top Gear, Man vs Food, Mock The Week, Letterman (your country/mileage may vary).  You start to feel a bit tired because of the meal you’ve eaten and think I don’t have time to do what I’d intended to do.  The thing is though that when the UK first got digital terrestrial tv it seemed to offer so much, so many new channels, so much choice for everyone.  What we’ve got is occasional new content but mostly repeats and we watch them anyway.  How right Bruce was.

I don’t read or listen to music as much as I used to and for me the reason is that with only five channels there were large chunks of time when there was nothing remotely interesting to me on, so I had to go and find something else to do.  Now there’s always something I can watch even if it’s a repeat, and that’s the lazy, easy option.  Often the tired feeling vanishes when I start something more interesting.

But it doesn’t end with dragging yourself away from Mountain Pies and Aston Martins, I sit down here to write a post and there’s other enticing options – my mouse drifts towards Hot UK Deals, the National Lottery, shopping sites, other blogs, for you it may be Twitter or Facebook, iPlayer or YouTube, comics or news sites.

So think “am I really tired or is it boredom, how much more satisfied will I feel if I get on with a bit of that project, how will I feel if I just sit here for the next three hours?”  Sometimes the answer will be “I’ll feel fine with that, thankyou for asking” in which case grab a cuppa and stay put, else just get up and do something, you’ll feel better for it.

Pay Attention People

Heads up

Heads up (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

A couple of years ago I was on my way home from work, it was December, raining, cold and I’d just walked two miles.  I was just approaching my street when a loud group of youths came walking the other way down the narrow path which was separated from the road by a railing.  Most of the group passed by me except one lad who was busy texting on his phone, not looking where he was going.  I walked as close to the wall as I could and he passed by.

The next thing I know this lad is shouting at me about how I should look where I’m going and that I nearly knocked his phone out of his hand, I carried on walking while he continued to rant, apparently about how important and the centre of the universe he was and that I should have moved for his lordship.

Having had a really lousy day I turned, walked back and firmly told him that it was him not looking where he was going and was only looking at his phone – “yeah, cos I’m busy” he replied – working on a multi-million pound equity deal no doubt – while his friend held on to him and his girlfriend crowed “it’s not wurf it mate” to me.

I agreed with that at least so turned and carried on walking.

It turns out that this condition afflicts many people these days – the inability to move from one place to another without tweeting or updating facebook – so much so that in New York signs have been put up to try to prevent collisions in future.

The signs are actually the work of street artist Jay Shells who campaigns for better social etiquette and whose previous works have included signs about not flicking cigarette butts on the ground.  Of course it’s not just pedestrian collisions that happen because of people not watching where they’re going, people have actually been hit by vehicles too so the message is serious.

So mind where you’re walking out there and if you’re reading this on the move for goodness sake LOOK UP!

[Metro]