Notes on media, politics & technology, by Adam Wilcox.

On Children


From The Guardian:

As a GP, (Pippa) Hayes feels strongly that medical professionals should encourage people to have smaller families. “Doctors should be promoting replacement number of children; two per couple, one per single parent,” she says. “We don’t need to do this by coercion, we just need to talk about it.”

Being in sight of my 30th birthday, a number of my friends are now parents, and I’m finding my views on having children moving from ‘if’ to ‘when’. My girlfriend and I have discussed having children, and we are in agreement that — yes — we would like children, but not immediately.

Smaller families consume less resources than larger families, (obvious I know), and the Guardian article is mostly about population growth and sustainability. However, the BBC reports, research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that even if one-child policies were imposed worldwide and Earth suffered catastrophic mortality events, the worldwide population would still likely result in 5–10 billion people by 2100.

Population control is tricky subject to talk about, politically and ethically it raises some issues. Scrolling through the comments on the Guardian article, it doesn’t take long to descend into discussion of concentration camps, forcible euthanasia and racist mutters about ‘the muslims’ having too many children.

My concerns about having any more than the average number of children, (1 or 2 children), is frankly the cost; children are expensive.

Daily Mail headlines, and ugly television spectacles like Benefits Street, makes the image of a poor woman with six children “living on benefits,” come to mind when the issue of child benefit is raised.

As a tax payer currently without children, I have no problem with child benefit payments. Children are a massive financial hit to parents, and currently a family with two children under 16 (or under 20 if they stay in approved education or training), receives £34 a week. But personally I think child benefit should be capped at two children; why should your large family be at the expense of a childless or average family? Partially when a family earns more than the national average.

Take Joseph Harker in the Guardian complaining that, “I have five children, and I know just how difficult it is to make ends meet with a larger family”. Yep, exactly Joseph- and you are the Guardian’s assistant comment editor… you are not badly paid. Sorry, but you didn’t need to have five children. Your financial problems are entirely of your own making.

Now I realise the elephant in the room. I support of the Government saying, “we will assist you if you have two children maximum,” but if a poor family contains five children, I’m not that comfortably with the idea that the Government could turn round and say, “well here is enough support for two children… best of luck folks!”

The UK average salary is £26,500. Once you take out tax, basics like food, power, clothing, rent or mortgage, that doesn’t go that far. Now under normal circumstances I consider it highly rude to get involved with other people’s reproductive choices, but financially unless you are in the top chunk of UK earners, having more than two children makes no sense.

A Former Web Designer


For fifteen years, I’ve worked as a website designer for hire, as a freelancer and a contractor. And now I’ve quit.

It was much easier when I started out in the mid 90s, mostly because all you really needed was a computer and the conviction you knew better than most other people. Which, was generally true 15 years ago when the guys who ran companies had no idea what a website was, except that they didn’t have one.

Web design was ludicrously easy industry to enter, a basic understanding of HTML would get you most of the way. Plenty of demand for cheap work to get you started, and you can up your price as you get better. Today, web design is considerably more complicated. Responsive design, retina images, CSS, jQuery, mobile apps, tying into social networks, backend databases. And frankly there are a lot of keen young chaps in India or Vietnam who can do the job for a lot less than I can.

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy using the tools we have to play with now, but I do not have the patience to corral these features into a unified thing that pleases someone who’s main concern is flogging overpriced driving lessons.

It wasn’t one specific client, but I’ve lost almost all interest in being a web designer for anything other than my own projects. Too many clients seem to want to sabotage their own projects with terrible design sense. I’ve had my share of clients from hell, and some commissions have been through the Oatmeal experience.

As a sideline I was never very partially happy with the responsibility of other people’s businesses relying on my hobby in my spare time. It wasn’t helped by having to support obscure browsers, and frequently receiving Word documents full of pictures and poorly spelt text, with the expectation I would be able to magic it into something acceptable. I refused to play dumb SEO games, create ugly “call to action” buttons and otherwise cock around with social media unnecessarily; you’re a care home- the core demographic are not going to to “Like” you on Facebook.

So I’ve quit. My full time job takes up more than enough of my time, and new pastimes are now my focus when I’m not working. Frankly it feels good to only be making websites that I am truly proud of.

Gunpoint - A Case of Crossed Wires


Gunpoint is a great little noir stealth puzzle game. Here’s the trailer. Best £6 I’ve spent in a while, with a wonderful soundtrack. You can get the game on Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux.


Apple Encryption and Washington Post Criticism


iOS 8 comes with updated encryption of user data, both locally on the iPhone or iPad device and stored remotely via iCloud. Whereas previously only some of the data was encrypted, now much more of it is- specifically photos and text messages which tend to be of interest to the Police and Law Enforcement.

Apple’s updated privacy statement goes into more detail, but essentially data is now encrypted with a user set key and Apple does not have a way of unlocking the data without that key. So even when law enforcement obtain a search warrant, Apple cannot be compelled to turn over the data, only the user can. 1

The Washington Post reported on this in an editorial, noting that:

FBI Director James B. Comey said he could not understand why the tech companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”

The problem here, is that the FBI, (and the other Five Eyes, have shown that they repeatedly place themselves beyond the law. Edward Snowden exposed the mass surveillance of phone and internet communications by our governments.

They have been actively working to degrade international standards to promote vulnerable cryptography, sweeping up huge quantities of private data and information on private citizens across the world. They have also found ways to break SSL connections; that’s the foundation of how you and I do any kind of banking and shopping securely online.

The Washington Post editorial went onto say that:

This is not about mass surveillance. Law enforcement authorities are not asking for the ability to surveil everyone’s smartphone, only those relatively few cases where there is a court-approved search warrant. This seems reasonable and not excessively intrusive.

The Washington Post said that. The paper in which Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal. No, “law enforcement authorities are not asking for the ability to surveil everyone’s smartphone”… they already are, and have been for years, with breath-taking arrogance. This is everything about mass surveillance, and the Washington Post is losing any credibility to stand for independent, robust reporting.

The Washington Post editorial board went on to say:

How to resolve this? A police “back door” for all smartphones is undesirable — a back door can and will be exploited by bad guys, too. However, with all their wizardry, perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key they would retain and use only when a court has approved a search warrant.

John Gruber’s response:

Just use their magic to help the good guys. Maybe if Apple and Google can’t figure this out, they can get help from the computer science department at Hogwarts.

The Washington Post states that “smartphone users must accept that they cannot be above the law if there is a valid search warrant.” However, Apple has not deliberately designed a system that prevents law enforcement from executing legitimate warrants. Apple have built a system that prevents anyone from getting hold of your data, be they hackers, disgruntled Apple employees, criminals, hostile foreign governments and your own government.

You can choose not to use many of the security features available on your iPhone, and you can choose more generally not to be careful about the data you provide to third parties. This is about customers being responsible for the security of their data; not Apple.

  1. That is an oversimplification, and there are caveats which cryptographer Matthew Green explains.

Antisocial - Ello and Facebook


There is a new social networking site,, which is “simple, beautiful & ad-free.”

Ello has been bubbling under the surface since March this year, but over the last week a number of articles have inflated its profile and non-tech people have become aware of its existence. It’s an attractive new service pitching itself under the banner of “Facebook is rubbish these days, vive la révolution!”

I’m not that old - within shambling distance of 30 - but I’ve been online for long enough to see various social networks come and go. The dominant social network currently is Facebook, with 71% of the internet using the site, and despite predictions that the site will lose up to 80% of its users within the next three years, it remains a seemingly unstoppable beast.

Ello isn’t the first anti-Facebook; I had an account on and backed Diaspora on Kickstarter, but neither have gained any traction other than with the first wave nerds.

I deleted my Facebook account in November 2012, and in the almost two years since then I’ve hardly missed it. I realise I’m not normal in this regard, along with Facebook my Google account is gone. LinkedIn never sat well with me. I guess I’m just not a social network kinda guy.

I’ve stuck with Twitter, even though I’ve assumed for ages now that eventually Twitter will become unusable. I don’t know what replaces it though, if it wasn’t for the various forms of Tweetbot I’d struggle to use Twitter’s own product as it is.

Ello promises to be the new Facebook, a Facebook without adverts and selling out your data. That promise already seems questionable, as Ello has taken a $435,000 round of seed funding in January from FreshTracks Capital, a Vermont-based VC firm. VCs expect a return on investment. Ello says that it’s going to monetise by selling features. It might work, but enough to be sustainable and keep VCs happy? Not likely Andy Baio:

VCs don’t give money out of goodwill, and taking VC funding — even seed funding — creates outside pressures that shape the inevitable direction of a company.

Every social network I’ve used has either failed to gain enough traction to encapsulate the full range of people that make up ones nearest and dearest, or been forced to pivot from social utility to corporate advertising media platform.

Social Networks are “YOUR FRIENDSHIPS! (Sponsored by Subway)”. Two incompatible forces of social connectedness and corporate interests.

I can’t work up any enthusiasm for Ello. I certainly don’t intend to use Ello. Maybe I am just getting old. Or maybe social networks have had their day. Facebook is 10 years old this year, and the internet has changed so much in 10 years.

When Facebook started, communication online wasn’t particularly easy. It was message boards and forums. You could contact friends online via email and instant message. Both required a desktop computer, and often only after checking no one else needed to use the phone-line. Today email and instant message have been replaced by… email and iMessage.

My iPhone can contact anyone, anywhere, anytime. I don’t need a social network to facilitate my interactions with friends and family.