Thursday, 30 October 2014

Trying out Samaritans Radar

I've (temporarily) signed up for the Samaritans Radar app. I thought this would be a smartphone app, but it's not. It's a little twitter app that reads posts looking for keywords and sends an email if it sees anything it thinks might be alarming.

I've got two notifications so far. The first one comes from a tweet from before I added the app:

Oh, irony is not dead.

The other notification was for this tweet:

It sent me an email about 20 minutes after that was first posted, which is a bit late for a 'I'm going to kill myself ... right now', but possibly ok for people building up more slowly. (A later notification for a different tweet arrived after only 7 minutes.) Gmail autofiltered the email to my Updates tab, which means it did not generate an alert on my phone. All of the updates I got have been in a single thread, so I could move it to the primary inbox if I were concerned.

The email told me:

Dear @celesteh,

Radar has spotted a tweet from someone you follow who may be going through a tough time.

Read the tweet here and find out how you can offer support.

View Tweet Now

If you need more information on how to help your friend or if you need some support yourself, please visit

Clicking through on the 'View tweet now' takes me to a web page.

My Radar

Hi @celesteh

This is the tweet that Radar has spotted

Are you worried about this Tweet?

[yes] [no]

Clicking yes gets a small pop up window overlaying the tweet in question:

What to do:

You’ve indicated that the tweet might be worrying. Here are some tips on what to do next:

  • Have a look at their tweets, is this a one off? Out of character? Has it been going on for long?
  • Try sending them a tweet (or perhaps a DM, Email, Text?) gently asking how they’re doing.
  • Could a mutual friend have the same worries and help approach them together?

You might want to try and meet up with your friend, or arrange a time to chat on the phone?

  • Offer Samaritans contact details and suggest they call if they want to speak to someone anonymously : 08457 90 90 90
  • For more information and help with knowing what to say visit

And that's it. None of the pages had any queries or information relating to the nature of different relationships I might have with the potentially troubled tweeter. For example, if I got a tweet like that about an underling that I line-manage or have power over at work, that is not addressed. Nor is any mention made of the equalities act.

This tool does not give me access to any information I did not already have access to. It only shows me tweets already visible in my timeline. Therefore, concerns that it could out somebody as trans or LGB do seem misplaced, as it only shows me what people have already decided I should be able to see. I don't know, but I suspect it will also work with protected tweets, so it will send me alerts about tweets that aren't public, but, again, the person decided I could already see them. (This does raise larger concerns about how twitter apps run by big data companies are a way of circumventing privacy controls set by individual users.)

Again, this app draws my attention to tweets that would have been in my timeline anyway, but that I may have missed because of the massive volume of tweets that go by, or I may have scrolled past it without noticing. I can see why the Samaritans were surprised by people getting upset about privacy concerns, as this is much less invasive than is all of facebook or a lot of other twitter-based data gathering.

Previously on this topic: Posting to the Internet

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Posting to the internet

I'm seeing a lot of people upset over an app made by the Samaritans. This is a twitter app that listens for some keywords and phrases that might indicate if one of your contacts is having a hard time. If they are, it gives you some nudges to reach out to offer them some support. This is obviously well-intentioned, but many are concerned about potential misuse, for example, by employers who want to discriminate against people, or bullies.

I would think the vast majority of people installing an app like this have good intentions. If your manager sees that you're having a rough time via this app, well, they're already following you on twitter and could very easily stumble across your unhappy posts by accident. Having this app indicates that they at least like the idea of supporting people, but, yeah, they could very well make poor decisions about what to do with a struggling underling. It's not clear whether this app makes that any more likely. It does call attention to possibly unhappy tweets by the employee, but hopefully a well-intentioned manager is aware of the Equalities Act (and hopefully this scenario occurred to the programmers, in the user interaction between the app and the concerned person).

The bully argument is a bit more troubling, as, alas, it's all too easy to imagine someone installing this just to keep tabs on varied target lists. This linked post is concerned about transphobic abuse, which is all too common, but its also easy to imagine this being exploited by GamerGate. In the hands of sociopath, this use is, indeed, troubling. However, it is merely automatic a task that they're possibly already doing manually.

I think people's major concern is the inherent creepiness of a piece of software following you and attempting to diagnose your mood and mental health problems via your public posts. This concern is not misplaced, but the targeting the Samaritans probably is. The truth is, untold numbers of apps do this already. We don't know how many, because they're under no obligation to tell us. Twitter makes available via their API a raw stream of everything posted to twitter. Every single post in real time. You or I cannot make use of so many tweets blasting out at us, but Big Data can.

Right now, there are programs running, looking at twitter, scanning every single tweet. They are looking for patterns. Some of this is completely benign. In the relatively recent earthquake in Napa, California, analysts were able to use tweet times and geolocation to figure out where the quake was big enough to wake people up. A lot of people, after making sure they were safe, reached for their smart devices and tweeted they'd felt the earthquake. Researchers were able to make a very nifty map, showing where it woke up the most people to where it seemed to waken virtually no one. That's nifty, right? But it does require doing a lot of looking at where people are and whether they would normally be tweeting at that time of night. It's not an invasion of privacy, because it's public and maybe it doesn't seem squeamish at all, but this is an unusual example.

Many twitter applications are looking for mentions of brands and what emotive words are used next to them. Many years ago, I tried to get a job blogging for a brand and they mailed me in the information pack every single public live journal post that mentioned their brand. All of them were public, but many of them were kind of embarrassingly personal. The authors never imagined them being disseminated to corporate types. This same thing still goes on, but a much more massive scale.

And its not unheard of to try to trace individuals. Target's datamining certainly includes twitter.

We're fine with giant corporations, security agencies and, yes, our bosses knowing everything we tweet. How do I know we're fine with it? We all use twitter and nobody objects. Until some well-meaning do-gooder tries to make an accessible, helpful version of this.

Twitter's entire business model relies on sharing this kind of information. This is not a case where they could be reformed into better behaviour. If you don't want to be mined and you don't want to tweet anonymously, consider using a privacy aware service to make posts like this - one that will share your tweets only with the people you say you want them shared with. So if you're having a really really rubbish day and post, 'I feel so down today, I'm at a loss and just don't know how long I can carry on' it will be seen by the people you want it to be seen by and not everyone on the entire internet and not a corporation out to sell your moods and data to anyone who will buy it.

If you want privacy control for posts, use Disapora for them. If you want the world and everyone to know what you're thinking, use Twitter. There are times were it makes sense to use either. But even if this app gets withdrawn with muttered apologies, don't assume you know who is reading your tweets. They're public and anybody could be - and certainly is - gathering them.

Monday, 20 October 2014


The following was submitted to the SuperCollider-london email list. I can only assume that it's meant to be raw material for creativity:

Fitzgerald, when will you learn t

Ing in every family, if one only inquires. Your nerves are over-strained. I wish you'd go to bed, and let me have some one to see you. You are looking like a ghost. Mrs. Denham. I feel like one. But I am not going to haunt the scene of my crimes any longer. I am going away--going away! Denham. Well, I'm going with you, then, to take care of you. We'll send Undine somewhere, and go abroad for a while. Mrs. Denham. Oh yes. You can be kind enough, if that were all. Denham. Will you never make peace? Mrs. Denham. The only peace I _can_ make. Denham. What do you mean? Mrs. Denham. I shall trouble you no longer. Denham. My dear girl, don't talk like that. It is ghastly. Constance, I must go to Fitzgerald with this wretched drawing. I have to give some directions about the reproduction. I sha'n't be long. Promise me that you won't do anything foolish--that I shall find you here when I come back Mrs. Denham. Yes--you shall find me here. Denham. That's right. (_Goes to settee, and takes up shawl._) And now lie down here, and let me cover you with this shawl. Mrs. Denham. Very well. (_She lies down._) Arthur! Denham. Yes, dear. Mrs. Denham. Kiss me once before you go. Denham. Oh, if I may! (_Kisses her._) My poor Constance! I would give my heart's blood to comfort you. And meanwhile I'll send you a better thing--tea. Mrs. Denham. Thank you, dear. You have always tried to be good to me. You could not help being cruel, I suppose. Denham. I want to be good to you always. Well, good-bye, and God bless you! (_Kisses her._) Mrs. Denham. God bless you! (_Exit Denham._) Mrs. Denham. (_listens for a while, then starts up_) He had tears in his eyes when he kissed me. Poor Arthur! he thinks we are going to patch it up, I suppose. I am to live on pity--a man's pity, more akin to contempt than to love. Why _should_ he love me? I was not born to be loved, not made to be loved. And yet I wanted love so much. I wanted all or nothing, and I have got pity--pity that puts you in a madhouse, and comfortably leaves you to rot! Oh, my God! is this madness--this horror of darkness that seems pressing on my brain? (_A knock at the d<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">

/* and sees a sk */
/* hat yo */
/* re's alw */
/* olitics. The b */
/* ght, I t */
/* y arms? To me it */
/* e? Den */
/* solace myself with */

Fitzgerald, when will you learn t

And another one:

the whiteness of her

Hink she could have got hardened in that little while to do what she's done." "I know--I know that," said Adam. "I thought she was loving and tender-hearted, and wouldn't tell a lie, or act deceitful. How could I think any other way? And if he'd never come near her, and I'd married her, and been loving to her, and took care of her, she might never ha' done anything bad. What would it ha' signified--my having a bit o' trouble with her? It 'ud ha' been nothing to this." "There's no knowing, my lad--there's no knowing what might have come. The smart's bad for you to bear now: you must have time--you must have time. But I've that opinion of you, that you'll rise above it all and be a man again, and there may good come out of this that we don't see." "Good come out of it!" said Adam passionately. "That doesn't alter th' evil: HER ruin can't be undone. I hate that talk o' people, as if there was a way o' making amends for everything. They'd more need be brought to see as the wrong they do can never be altered. When a man's spoiled his fellow-creatur's life, he's no right to comfort himself with thinking good may come out of it. Somebody else's good doesn't alter her shame and misery." "Well, lad, well," said Bartle, in a gentle tone, strangely in contrast with his usual peremptoriness and impatience of contradiction, "it's likely enough I talk foolishness. I'm an old fellow, and it's a good many years since I was in trouble myself. It's easy finding reasons why other folks should be patient." "Mr. Massey," said Adam penitently, "I'm very hot and hasty. I owe you something different; but you mustn't take it ill of me." "Not I, lad-


Este mensaje no contiene virus ni malware porque la protecci?n de avast! Antivirus est? activa.

/* re as well as u */
/* and ditching, and showed but */
/* ef. A grin of delig */

/* in the chimney-corner a */
/* lf-engrossed l */
/* rs wherei */
/* more of her than o */
/* ng to buy and sell more s */

span.jaundicing /* ck lest they s */
span.overstride /* little uns */
/* ' been */
/* d not d */
span.subverting /* must have Meg sad */
/* Irwine's feeling, */
/* Coat, with a face a shade re */

a.speeding, span.truing /* . He was ready to pitch */
/* d the vision was that in his dr */
/* y the pale mother, a */

a.synchronize, span.toddlers /* e o' what she did." Set */

/* master's mental sta */

/* ty landl */

/* longest and q */
a.fingerer, span.gullibly

/* ..I thou */
a.stound, span.snakes

a.reitemises:hover { color: #0000ff; }
/* bibliopegist saprozoic homelike */
p,ul,ol /* man t' urge you against y */

/* ch a g */
/* gold and pearls and */
/* done it all herself, wit */
.strumpet /* s. For we */

the whiteness of her

<p class=strumpet>


I've done some editing, removing bits of HTML and the spam links, but there may be masterpieces in your spam trap, awaiting discovery

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Moving to Diaspora*

For many reasons, I've decided to drastically curtail my involvement with Facebook and move my social networking efforts towards Diaspora. If this name sounds vaguely familiar, it's because they were briefly famous a few years ago when they launched the site before it was ready. However, despite a troubled start, developers have kept working on it and it has gotten to be pretty good. This post explains a bit about disapora and turns into a short tutorial.


Diaspora is not one site but many. If you think about email: I use email through my university, my wife uses hotmail, many of my friends use gmail. We have different providers, but we can all email each other. And if next week, google decides to close gmail or do something awful with it, everyone on gmail can migrate to another mail server and still send and receive emails. Because there's a standard for how email works, we have lots of choices about where we get our email. This is somewhat annoying, but also good - we're not tied to any particular company and if our host gets annoying we can leave.

Diaspora is somewhat like that. Every email user has some email server/provider. Every Diaspora user has a pod. It's decentralised, like email. However, all the pods look almost identical when you log in, so there's only one user interface to learn.

Picking a pod

I've just signed up for a handful of pods and have recommendations! People in North America or who are into the arts should join shreckislove. (Loving Shreck is optional.) People in the EU should join

If you want to do your own research or try out a few pods on your own, there is a resource, which gives statistics about various pods.

You can join as many pods as you would like or have as many identities as you would like. Make an account for yourself and one for your drag persona and one for your band.

Signing Up

Those links above take you straight to the sign up pages for the pods. That should be pretty straight forward. For the username, you need to pick something like you might pick for your email address or twitter @username. Remember your username, because you'll use it to log back in later.

Signing up will take you to a welcome screen. Ignore the part that asks for your name and click on the button that says, 'Upload a new profile photo!'. It will pop up a window to pick an image from your hard drive. Pick one you like. A little yellow banner will appear at the top of the screen saying 'OMG you look awesome' and the user icon will update to your image. When this is done, scroll down. There's a box that asks for hastags. Type in a few words that you're interested in, starting them with #. So if you like puppies, type #puppies. This will not effect your profile right now, because of a bug, but will effect what public posts you see in your stream. After you type as many or as few topics you want to see posts on, click the button that says 'Awesome! Take me to Diaspora.' If you decide to skip putting in any hastags, it will ask you if you're sure. Click ok.

When you first log in, they give you some help text and your screen looks something like this next image.

Edit your Profile

As nice as that is, let's start by modifying our profile. In the upper right hand corner, you'll notice your username@your_pod. Click on that and you'll get a little menu. Click on profile. Then, on the next screen, click on the button that says 'edit my profile'.

Everything on your profile is optional. Give as much or as little information as you want.

The top part is your public profile. This is stuff that is visible to random people. Fill in what first and last name you want to use in the name boxes.

For the box that says 'describe yourself in 5 words, it wants hashtags. If you like puppies, zimba, bicycling, pizza, and anarchism, you would type all of those words starting with #. It will try to do some auto-fill magic for you and a menu will pop up as you type. If you see what you want to type, you can click on it, or else just keep tying your word until its all typed and the hit space. Your word, #puppies, will have a blue box around it. You can put as many or as few hashtags as you want for your interests.

Below that is your private profile. This will only be viewable to people you add as contacts. You can type whatever you want for your bio, your location, and your gender. (Mine is set to 'manly'. It's completely open.) Then is your birthday, which you can fill in or not. Below that, you can select if you want to let people search for you. And then below that, you can set your profile as NSFW, is you plan to have a lot of content that might perplex people's prudish line managers.

Click 'update profile'. This will take you back to the first screen you saw after making your account. The one that says 'Well, Hello there.' At the top left of that screen, you'll see some words on the top bar. One of them says 'stream.' Click on that.

Add a contact

We're now back at the stream page. At the top right, you'll see a search box. Click on that and type: . A drop down menu will appear. Type in the whole term and then wait a moment. Hit enter. You will see my profile.

Near the top, to the right of my name, you'll see a pull down menu that says, 'Add contact'. When you click on that, you'll get a list of 'aspects.' The default opens are friends, family, work, or acquaintances. Aspects are a way of categorising your contacts. then, when you post stuff, you can control which aspects see your posts. Let's say all your poker buddies join diaspora too. You could make an aspect called 'poker' and select it when you're posting about upcoming games or inside jokes from previous games. Any contact can be in as many aspects as you want. So your sister-in-law Eva who you play poker with and who is also your coworker could be listed as 'friends,', 'family, 'work', and 'poker'.

right now, though, you're looking at my profile. Click on 'add contact' and then select 'make a new aspect'. A window will come up asking you what to call this aspect. Nobody but you will see the name, so type in there 'pedantic tubists'. Click create. Now you have an aspect for slightly boring tuba players. However, the box will stick around, in case you feel like making lots of aspects. Just click cancel to get it to go away. Then hit reload on the page. Now you will see 'pedantic tubists as one of your aspects. Select that one and whatever other ones you think I might belong in. I am now your contact! Click again on 'stream' at the top of the page to go back to your stream.

Posting / the stream

the stream page is like the feed on facebook or twitter.

at the top is the box you use for posting stuff. Let's make a test post and make it public:

I am #newhere and I really love #kittens and #anarco-syndicalism

Click 'preview' to get a preview (you will have to close the helpful welcome popup to see the preview). Click post to post.

That post defaulted to public, which means it's viewable to many people on diaspora. Remember when we said we liked #puppies,#zimba, #bicycling, #pizza, and #anarchism? Public posts usually have hashtags and those are the hashtags we said we're interested in. When people post something public containing the hastag #pizza, it will end up in our stream. We just posted about #newhere, #puppies and #anarcho-syndicalism, so people following those tags will see our post.

If we want to post to just our aspects, we could type the post and then select the desired aspects instead of public. For example, we might type:

I prefer having a #tuba with at least 4 valves to a three valve compensating tuba.

And then, instead of public, select 'pedantic tubsists'. We can set any post to as many aspects as we want.

These posts will show up in our stream, along with posts from our contacts and public posts from other people who have tags that we're interested in.


You may have noticed, at the head of every page is a little icon that looks like a satellite, that sometime shas a red number next to it. Those are our notifications. It lets you know somebody has commented on your post or started sharing with you. Etc. Click on it to get a list of notifications.

those notifications also go to your email address, which is something you might not want. To get to the settings, click on your name in the upper right hand corner, then click on 'settings'. Near the bottom of the settings page, you can select when you want to get email. the other setting may also be interesting to you.

Connecting with your friends

Unfortunately, for now, the best way to find out if your friends are on diaspora is to ask them directly or via another platform, such as email, twitter, facebook, etc.

Let's say you find out your friend Amy is on diaspora. You want to give her your disapora id. That is your username @ your pod. If you signed up as catman on sheckislove, your userid is Or, if you signed up with the username potnoodle on, your disapora id is This looks like an email address, because it's got both your username and your pod. there might be more than one catman or more than one potnoodle on all of diaspora, but there is only one on your pod.

If you are ever unsure about your disapora name, you can find it by looking at your profile. Click on your name in the upper right hand corner and then click on profile.

It says your name across the top of the profile and then, to the right of that, it has your username @ your pod. That's the ID you need to give to people you want to connect with.

Have fun

This is hopefully enough to get started. Leave a comment if you have questions.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Hug from a Stranger: Saturday Night in Lower Clapton

I was waiting with Sonia at the bus stop, when she saw a man across the road collapse. I went over and he didn't seem to speak English, so I waved Sonia over because he sounded Russian. He couldn't get up, so I lent him a hand, but then he was having trouble standing. I had a bunch of his clenched in my fist, as he swayed back and forth. Sonia decided to call the paramedics.

He noticed me touching his back and threw his other arm around me, leaning into a hug, I thought to keep his balance, but he lay his head on my shoulder. I told him everything would be ok, but his hot breath on my neck was more intimate than I expected. He moved his head and I thought he was going to kiss me, so I moved my head back away from him. He stood apart and then embraced me again. I kept my head away from his this time and he started to walk away, but was unsteady, so I lead him to the bench in a bus shelter.

He sat down and after a moment, started bashing his head against the back wall of the shelter, with an angry intensity. I put my hand on the back of his head and asked him to stop, but he didn't understand. After a while he gestured angrily that I should remove my hand, so I did. Three teenagers came up, waiting for a bus and told him to sleep it off. One of them said he was a rap star and would pay the man a thousand dollars if he quit bashing his head. The man listened and as soon as the kid stopped speaking, bashed his head with greater force.

A paramedic arrived on a motorcycle, which the kids ran over to flag down. The high-vis vests medics wear don't look all that different from the ones the police wear and the man became more alert and said a few words in English, but ran out of vocabulary quickly. Sonia and I left them to it, but after a few moments, the man had enough and walked away as quickly as he could. The paramedic spent the next ten minutes filling out paperwork. We watched from the bus stop back on the other side of the road as a young woman approached and put on his motorcycle helmet, and sat on his bike, asking for a ride, until one of her friends dragged her away. Sonia's bus came and I walked towards home, the feeling of the man's boozy breath still tingling uncomfortably on my neck.