Two rants and a wry smile

In a distinctly un-Friday 13th Feeling, the @Podnosticators Three gathered for the 78th time to pick through the familiar themes of politics and social media, separately and intermingled. Spoiler alert: this episode may contain rants.

The rest is politics

Sam started by reviewing the remnants and the impact of the recent U.K. party political conference season. Least said about the Liberal Democrats’ opening event the better – not least because it didn’t touch the sides, of either our or the media’s consciousness. Though as Sam pointed out, several commentators have noted that the LibDems’ decision to try to occupy the centre left when disastrous Jeremy Corbyn was dragging Labour further left has come back to haunt them.

With Starmer reclaiming the centre left and the Tories lurching ever further right, there’s clear space – in terms of ideology and electorate – to occupy, and nobody’s making a play for this traditional kingmaker zone of British politics.

We then consider the Tories’ week in Manchester. Comic writer Armando Iannucci – creator of the legendary Thick of It and In the Loop – declared satire to be dead, and that he’d have never dreamt of setting a Tory party conference in the very city where a flagship policy designed to benefit that city was axed in a keynote, leader’s speech.

But sure enough, Lame Duck PM Sunak cancelled the Birmingham to Manchester link of the £100bn-plus HS2 rail project … from the lectern in Manchester. He came over as the modern day Beeching anti-matter – announcing £30bn on branch lines – but as many had already been budgeted and spent, it all rang a little hollow from the Thin (and Short) Controller.

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The old rules don’t apply

For once, it appears, the Small Data Forum three are ahead of the news.

So often in recent months and years, we’ve recorded an episode on a Friday morning and by the Sunday night before publication we’ve had to make rapid edits to the show notes because … a president has been impeached, a special adviser been sacked, or a new lockdown announced.

But today – today feels different. Is it because we were recording first thing on a Monday for next-day publication? Or is it because so much news had happened of late that we had the timing right for once? Time – of course – will tell.

On day 110 of Russia’s war on Ukraine – a topic that doesn’t delay us beyond a heartfelt appeal for the nonsense to stop – Thomas opens proceedings by reflecting on Prime Minister Johnson’s “victory” in his vote of (no) confidence handed to him by his own members of parliament.

Well, 211 MPs (59%) voted for the bloated bloviator, while 148 (41%) wanted to see the back of him. A smaller majority than that recorded by Johnson’s lame duck predecessor, Theresa May (a 63%-37% split), who was history less than six months on.

Indeed, according to fashion and style bible Tatler – a hapax legomenon in the annals of these show notes if ever there was one – it was May who was ‘the real winner’ of the vote, by virtue of turning up to the vote in a ball gown.

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Metaverse, Omniverse, diverse, averse, perverse? 

Tired of partygate, the SmallDataForum takes measure of the mess surrounding Meta, where user numbers declined for the first time ever, followed by a rather dramatic share price dip, and Peter Thiel announcing that he would be leaving the Facebook board “to pursue Trump agenda”.

Oh well.

However, news of Meta’s impending demise would be awfully premature, as Sam reminds us.

Meta’s Valentine’s share price.

For all our Schadenfreude at Meta losing several hundred billion (!) $$$ in market value – at present, their share price is down a cool 35% from the beginning of the year, suffering the ignominy to temporarily drop behind Nvidia on the list of largest US companies – the attention capitalist behemoths Alphabet, Amazon, and Meta now hold a share of 46% of global ad spend, as opposed to 33% pre-pandemic in figures released by the World Advertising Research Center (WARC).

And yes, that’s total as in everything, not just digital…

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This is the end of the year, as we know it

“It’s been a funny old year,” muses Thomas as we three kings of the Small Data Forum podcast begin our last ramblechat of 2021, with Thomas sounding like a football manager trying to sum up the most bizarre of seasons.

His erudite pun quotient – talking of Johnson’s wretched government of 24-hour party peoplePfeffelling along – is a treat for podcast fans old and new.

Sam believes that Thomas’ question as to whether we should see this oddest of odd years as “Plus ça change …” (and so “… plus ç’est la même chose”) is spot on.

Accusations of a series of catered parties at Number 10 are becoming more tangible and less tittle-tattle by the day – parties hosted when London was under Tier 3 restrictions and “mingerlin’” was definitely verboten. Screenshots and grainy footage of canapés and revellers crawl out of the digital woodwork to add the fire of verity to the smoke of accusations.

Spokesperson after government PR flack is being hung out to dry, resign, and spend more time with their families. The lies are mounting up like yet another set of Covid mortality statistics, and the mud sticks to everyone but the leader himself.

For Neville, the PM is deploying Steve Jobs’ notorious “reality distortion field”, and if Johnson declares black is white or up is down, everyone around him is required either to agree or get out … preferably by the back door so that no waiting media can spot and snap them, adding to the evidence pile.

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From metaverse to pyroverse. Caution: this episode contains strong language

Recorded just a week after Facebook’s rebranding announcement, this latest episode of the SmallDataForum podcast is less about “Greeks bearing gifts”, and more about the Greek and other connotations of Meta, the new company brand bringing together all of Facebook’s apps and technologies for the leap into the metaverse – although this wouldn’t be the first time Facebook’s commercial strategy is being likened to a Trojan Horse.

In keeping with the Classic Greek theme, and the various meanings of meta – some of which appeared to have been overlooked by the rebranding strategists, such as the word meaning death in Hebrew – I share my thoughts on Facebook’s After/Underworld cast, with Mark Zuckerberg as Hades, Nick Clegg as Cerberus, and Sheryl Sandberg – well I’m undecided between Hecate and Persephone. Much to the amusement of classicist Sam, whose knowledge of the Odyssey and the Book of the Dead is a lot more profound, than mine.

Mark Zuckerberg as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, courtesy of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Walt Disney, and Ingram Pinn in the Financial Times

For Sam, this is less about mythology, and more about good old crookery: a classic misdirection strategy by “pound shop table magician” Mark Zuckerberg to make Facebook’s manifold legacy problems disappear down the magician’s hat. Kevin Roose at the New York Times calls it Mark Zuckerberg’s Escape Hatch, to rebrand himself as “above-it-all-futurist … a visionary technologist rather than a destroyer of democracy.”

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